Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.” In other words, based on the evidence available they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity. At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.
For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians grounded in this perspective have analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.
By contrast, other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.
The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, the author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. Fitzgerald points out that for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.
Fitzgerald–who, as his book title indicates, takes the “mythical Jesus” position–is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.
More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest critics of popular Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who argued that the Romans invented Jesus) are academic Mythicists like these.
The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that serious scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
In the words of Bart Ehrman (who himself believes the stories were built on a historical kernel):
“What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.
Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!
Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded.
Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.
3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began.
For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures. The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine. But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .
4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at ExChristian.net.
The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.
5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, and nonviolent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.” John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”
For David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:
Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.
In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:”
Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.
We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.
Author’s note: Not being an insider to this debate, my own inclination is to defer to the preponderance of relevant experts while keeping in mind that paradigm shifts do occur. This means that until either the paradigm shift happens or I become a relevant expert myself, I shall assume that the Jesus stories probably had some historical kernel. That said, I find the debate fascinating for several reasons: For one, it offers a glimpse of the methods scholars use to analyze ancient texts. Also, despite the heated back and forth between mythicists and historicists, their points of agreement may be more significant than the difference between historicized mythology and mythologized history. The presence of mythic tropes or legendary elements in the gospel stories has been broadly accepted and documented, while the imprint of any actual man who may have provided a historical kernel–how he may have lived, what he may have said, and how he died–is more hazy than most people dream.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.
Easter: Was the Risen Jesus Originally Female?
Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story
Was Jesus Married? A Religion Scholar Decodes the Clues
The Same God? Twelve Beliefs the Mormon Church Might Not Want You to Know About
Reblogged this on bbnewsblog and commented:
The notion that Jesus never existed is still a minority position.nevertheless many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, remind us of mythic themes known from tales of other deities. As a matter of fact such borrowing and rework of mythic themes were not at all uncommon in the Ancient Near East region.
So calling the gospel stories historicized mythology is actually a hypothesis that can’t be excluded or repudiated.
In this intriguing article five arguments are listed and discussed by the author Valerie Tarico.
The five arguments cam be summarized like this:
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef a.k.a.Jesus (Christ).
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.
3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Valerie You may get some interesting (heated) comments on this article. Rick
You got that right!
Well-written synopsis. Opens up many avenues of thought – and the best question in the above is, “What put Christianity into motion?” which is simply answered, in hindsight: the “System” or “Matrix” realizing that the Roman Empire was in serious decline and a “new” power was needed to maintain, and spread, that particular Power. Another point which adds force to the fact that Jesus never existed and was invented for a definite political purpose – if not by the Romans, then by something even more all-encompassing – is the dogged Church persecution of any other “Christian” group that sought to explain Jesus, and his divinity, in ways that didn’t agree with those of the Established Roman Church. What were the “Church Fathers” afraid of? And why did Christianity, in blatant and completely violation of the “Jesus” teachings; the “divinely inspired” gospels, become a violent imperialistic secular power? Another source for those interested in questioning the historicity of Jesus is M. M. Mangasarian who wrote “The Truth about Jesus: is he a Myth?” in 1909.
Sorry, typo: should read “in blatant and complete violation…” (not “completely”)
Writing from the perspective of a retired literature teacher (and former Christian), I respectfully disagree. Mythicists have overplayed their hand.
It is true that there is little textural evidence outside of the New Testament for the historicity of Jesus. And there are numerous contradictions in the New Testament, etc. And it’s true that the texts show the influence of Hellenism.
But mythicists’ central claim that Jesus never existed is more like a few scholars who claim that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. Yes, it’s a possibility, and there are intriguing facts that might support this hypothesis, but most scholars disagree.
Jesus probably did exist. There are various references to Jesus in the letters of Paul (written only 20-30 years after Jesus’s death), contrary to what mythicists say. But one mythicist gets around the strongest example in the text of Paul by claiming that the text is an interpolation by a later writer. Possibly.
And the mythicists often argue from silence. Paul doesn’t mention such and such about Jesus like we think he would have if Jesus had been a historical figure. Possibly. But when the central hypothesis resides on such thin evidence, it would seem better to go with the consensus of scholars such as Bart Ehrman that Jesus did exist as a historical figure.
This case is similar to the question of whether the Buddha existed or was created. Probably the former. But if a person rejects the religious texts and the transformation of society and culture (for good and ill) that followers of such alleged individuals brought about, then a person is left with agnosticism.
As for many scholars interpreting the alleged figure of Jesus in their own image, there is a good book which shows this, The Human Christ by Charlotte Allen.
I must say that your whole point was pretty much undermined by yourself when you brought up Buddha. Now, I’m no scholar, just a comic book writer with an interest in history and the true origins of various religions, but can’t your exact argument for Jesus’ historical existence be applied in the same way for Buddha? Yet you say “probably the former” about Buddha when there is just as little evidence for Jesus.
I found it amusing.
That was my point; the question of whether or not Jesus and Buddha, or Socrates and many other leaders figures of the ancient past existed is a complex historical judgment made by scholars who speak the ancient languages, have spent years studying the primary texts, and who practice carefully making as objective evaluations of the meager information there is.
My experience with many Christian apologists and with mythicists is that they primarily have an ax to grind. They try and stuff the limited information there is into their Procrustean coffin.
My own limited educated guess (as a retired literature teacher) is that Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates all existed in some form. They weren’t created or concocted out of thin air by fiction writers of the ancient world.
Mythicists do not argue that Jesus didn’t exist. We argue that Jesus probably didn’t exist. This is virtually the same claim you are making: none of us knows the answer. What makes us different from historicists is that we want the discussion to focus on what we all can know and agree we know about Jesus. We cannot know anything about his allegedly “historic” life. That route is loaded with “probablies”: Jesus was probably illiterate, probably not related to David, probably a this or a that. It’s an empty landscape for real knowledge. Studying his myth is, always has been and always will be a far more productive road to knowledge and wisdom about him.
One of the most interesting and puzzling pieces of his myth is the very early importance of having faith in his realness. It’s in the creeds. “I believe Jesus was a man.” What other “historic” figure has that imperative tied so tightly around him? What do we make of that?
Well, you may have a different perspective from the mythicists I’ve read or read about. They strongly emphasized that Jesus didn’t exist, that there wasn’t such a Jewish person executed by the Romans.
I doubt there are many mythicists who would state with any confidence that they *know* Jesus didn’t exist. What most mythicists point out is that the historical evidence for Jesus’s existence is weak–much weaker than historicists claim–and the evidence for the Jesus we “know” and talk about being based in myth is very much stronger.
I imagine what frustrates historicists is that we, for our part, don’t put much stock in your best arguments. What frustrates us about you guys is that you ignore our main point, which is that the Jesus we *know*–the son of God and virgin, the miracle worker, the man who rose from the dead, the one who is promised to return–is virtually entirely mythical. And those have always been the salient points about Jesus–until recently, when the probablies took over.
You say, “What frustrates us about you guys is that you ignore our main point, which is that the Jesus we *know*–the son of God and virgin, the miracle worker, the man who rose from the dead, the one who is promised to return–is virtually entirely mythical.”
? Professional historians don’t think there was a Jesus who was “the son of God and virgin…” They are limited by their historical method to what are the facts or what they can with scholarly judgment theorize from the limited facts of the past.
Secondly, my main problem with mythicists (from the perspective of a retired literature teacher) is that the few mythicists I’ve read aren’t even good at basic textural criticism and literary interpretation! They even get some of textural facts wrong. We all make mistakes, but they make some glaring ones no scholar should make.
And I know enough about ancient history, just from teaching world literature, to realize why historians don’t think most mythicists are correct in their interpretations.
My point is that the Jesus we all talk about with any confidence is mythical. When we switch to speaking about a Jesus who allegedly really existed, we are all on much shakier ground. All of us. But it seems that the historicists want us to believe the conversation is on their turf. It is not. It is entirely on the mythicist’s turf. It all involves interpreting text, which entails trying to understand why the text was written.
Were the texts we have about Jesus intended to talk about a historical figure or a mythical one? That’s the key question here.
“One of the most interesting and puzzling pieces of his myth is the very early importance of having faith in his realness” — No it isn’t. I mean, it certainly is for certain people but I suspect for most believers and most non-believers what hits us in the myth is exactly those elements that we recognize so easily as real (real like in “real human”, or like in “real wisdom”). Where does that come from? Most likely “some” human being. We don’t know whether that person was the supposed Jesus figure, but that’s the personality which functions as the channel to pass the message (and it is reasonable to believe that most of this channel personality was a person named Jesus etc. etc. – but this is not the most relevant part). The importance for most of us is not “his realness” but the realness AS-IS in the story – no matter whether there is this one specific “his” behind it or some other source – but the source seems so human we recognize it intuitively.
And the reason for this recognition is of course assumedly quite simple: such figures existed, and the people who met them were usually impressed, and would write down the core principles of the teachings, or something about the qualities of this person. Because that’s what humans do when they are capable of observing wisdom.
Just my opinion.
“…I suspect for most believers and most non-believers what hits us in the myth is exactly those elements that we recognize so easily as real (real like in “real human”, or like in “real wisdom”).”
Are you saying there’s something in the stories that seems really human about Jesus and that’s what’s compelling about him? I think that is a matter of opinion. The story is pretty basic. It’s missing the majority of his life, so we really don’t get much of a sense of who he was or where he came from. Jesus collects disciples, wanders around Judaea, performs miracles, tells parables, instructs his disciples and one one occasion a giant crowd. In those parts, he doesn’t seem real human to me, but maybe that really is just me. (I mean, there’s something “real human” about a lot of fictional characters, isn’t there? What’s so amazingly real about Jesus’s adventures?)
Parts where Jesus’s poignant humanity comes out, such as the prayer in Gethsemane or the last moments on the cross, are striking (to me) for being ones where he is supposedly alone–so how could they have been witnessed or recorded? They had to have been made up, no?
As to the idea that extraordinary people existed and others remembered them and wrote about them… Why didn’t any eye witnesses do that? Why only people who had mystic visions of him (like Paul) or “amanuenses?” Why are all the earliest texts about him in Greek and not Aramaic?
Lots of puzzles about that Jesus character and the authors of the first writings about him.
“Are you saying there’s something in the stories that seems really human about Jesus and that’s what’s compelling about him? I think that is a matter of opinion.” — Yes of course it is a matter of opinion. What else would it be? If I think the Dalai Lama said something wise, it is very likely a matter of opinion, because ‘wisdom’ is something that certain people tend to discuss more than others – and some would even ridicule the whole idea of ‘wisdom’ – wanting to replace it with “scientific evidence” or some other big word. This is the thing that leads to all sorts of fierce debates – so let me just suffice to say yes, it is opinion. Or intuition. And there are no guarantees when it comes to opinion, intuition, wisdom, “daring visions” and all those things. Yet, we know that they do often work well. Because, apparently, our brain’s opinion / wisdom / intuition (etc etc) seems to outsmart our theories-about-everything. And this may be just how life works. I am, in other words, hard to push into the habit of underestimating the human mind – and this is of course regardless any such questions like “is that person a theist or not?” because in many cases what happens goes far beyond those binary divisions.
How can you be sure you’re not overestimating the human mind? Is it important to you to find the balance between those binaries, if you will?
One way to interpret your response is “I trust my intuition” or “I don’t need to second guess my instincts.” Is that a fair appraisal of what you’re saying? To bring it back to the subject at hand, if intuition is enough for you on the question of Jesus’s historicity, then do you believe it should be good enough for any person asking the question, “was Jesus real?” I don’t. I think if you’re interested in an answer to the question, critical thinking should be involved. It may be that there is no truth but one’s own truth, or 7 billion truths. But I think science makes an effort to crowdsource, if you will, a truth beyond our individual kens.
This is the Crux of the argument well stated!
The bottom line is no one can say with any degree of certainty what the historical Jesus if there was one was actually like. There is only the mythical tales of the Gospels which basically can tell us nothing of legitimate historical facts
Therefore again the actuality of if and what a Jesus figure was like is pure speculation and guesswork. There is nothing to say with any degree of legitimate scholarship if and what Jesus was like.
Unless new historical documents are discovered we basically know nothing in any way of if and what Jesus was like.
All we can see in this discussion is competing agendas 2 basically either support existing ideologies or to show that existing ideologies are not grounded in fact
As a scientist the answer to the question of did Jesus actually live as a historical figure is we simply have no good evidence to make any assumptions.
“The bottom line is no one can say with any degree of certainty what the historical Jesus if there was one was actually like.”
What he was “like” is another question entirely. The question here is “is it likely he existed?” The answer given by the overwhelming consensus of scholars is “yes”.
“As a scientist … ”
History is not a science and your opinion “as a scientist” has about as much validity as the opinion of a car mechanic or a bee keeper – ie none. We have sufficient evidence to make an evaluation as to whether he is likely to have existed or not and that evidence indicates that he most likely did.
“What he was “like” is another question entirely.”
Hardly “entirely”. If “he” was historical then inevitably “he” has some definition or quality that we can identify him as said Jesus. That is, he must be “like” something — a rabbi? a rebel? Cynic sage? a prophet? . . . — otherwise we could not identify him as the/a Jesus we are looking for in history. Of course our first impressions may need revision, but one cannot say “like” is “another question entirely”.
“The question here is “is it likely he existed?” The answer given by the overwhelming consensus of scholars is “yes”.”
Exactly. And of course that “consensus” is for most part inherited cultural or public assumption. Ehrman actually said he thought he was the very first scholar to his knowledge who sat down to investigate the evidence and whether Jesus existed or not. The method of the “consensus” is the same as the myth rationalists of ancient times. Plutarch, as one example, would establish the “historical Theseus” by rationalising the mythical accounts about him, largely through comparing competing versions of his story. That’s pretty much what historical Jesus scholars do today — with a few modern refinements. The thought that Theseus/Jesus himself was mythical is never entertained from the outset. The myth “explains” way too much for it to be let go.
“We have sufficient evidence to make an evaluation as to whether he is likely to have existed or not and that evidence indicates that he most likely did.”
Just like the myth rationalists of ancient times collated evidence to prove the historical truth about mythical persons like Theseus.
“one cannot say “like” is “another question entirely”. ”
Utter garbage. “Did he exist at all” and “If so, what was he ‘like’?” are two totally different questions.
“And of course that “consensus” is for most part inherited cultural or public assumption.”
Yes, because it’s not like anyone looks at the reasons this consensus was formed in the first place or how this was hashed out a century ago. And everyone now just accepts that without question and only a few brave contrarians and under-employed library assistants have the courage to rattle the cage of conformity etc etc. Keep dreaming Neil.
“Ehrman actually said he thought he was the very first scholar to his knowledge who sat down to investigate the evidence and whether Jesus existed or not. ”
Citation and quote please.
“Just like the myth rationalists of ancient times collated evidence to prove the historical truth about mythical persons like Theseus.”
No. Nothing like that. As you well know. Keep dreaming Neil – the Mythicist dawn is just around the corner and you and the rest of the elect will be vindicated!
“Utter garbage. “Did he exist at all” and “If so, what was he ‘like’?” are two totally different questions.”
I like Tim O’Neill’s professional tone of argument. Of course how do we know if we have found “he” unless we have some idea of what “he” looks like. Tim misses the nuance in my initially carefully worded statement and resorts to his typical anti-intellectual bullying style of argument. Of course there will be much refinement of what this Jesus is like once we “find” him in history, but we do have to know what we are looking for, first — and that means we have to have some idea of what the “he” is — and the only way we can define anything is by analogy, likeness to something. We inevitably have some idea of what the “he” is that we are looking for — to know if “he” exists — which means some concept of the person — which means “like” etc…
Just dogmatically sweeping the semantics and nature of what we are looking for aside as mere “garbage” is T.O’s typical MO.
““And of course that “consensus” is for most part inherited cultural or public assumption.”
Yes, because it’s not like anyone looks at the reasons this consensus was formed in the first place or how this was hashed out a century ago.”
Hashed out a century ago??? You mean Shirley Jackson Case and Maurice Goguel settled the matter? The reality is that the question was often (there were a few exceptions) dismissed by avoiding addressing the core arguments at its heart and substituting apologetics of the same kind we see today. It was ignored, as has been demonstrated several times now. See, for example, the series of posts addressing these old responses to the question at It is absurd to suggest. . .
“And everyone now just accepts that without question and only a few brave contrarians and under-employed library assistants have the courage to rattle the cage of conformity etc etc. Keep dreaming Neil.”
:-) Tim cannot argue the case without resorting to this sort of insult and bullying. He has been invited to address the posts challenging his ideas in a forum that requires only that he engage in a civil and on-point discussion but that is apparently way too demanding for him so he comes to other sites like this where he can avoid serious argument and fill in the gap with denunciation and anti-intellectual declamations.
“Ehrman actually said he thought he was the very first scholar to his knowledge who sat down to investigate the evidence and whether Jesus existed or not. ”
“Citation and quote please.”
Ehrman also disputes your claim, Tim, that the mythicist argument has been addressed a century ago. See http://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-exist-as-part-one-for-members/
““Just like the myth rationalists of ancient times collated evidence to prove the historical truth about mythical persons like Theseus.”
No. Nothing like that. As you well know. Keep dreaming Neil – the Mythicist dawn is just around the corner and you and the rest of the elect will be vindicated!”
For a start, Tim, I am not a mythicist as you ought to know if you only read and try to understand the views of those you choose to knee-jerk kick at. Secondly, Just saying it ain’t so is typical of your own denialism and anti-intellectual efforts to win arguments by bullying people into the ground. Have you actually read anything about the rationalisation of myths by Plutarch and others? It is very similar indeed to what biblical scholars do. They begin with the myth so widely accepted, then admit the miraculous could not be historical, then try to piece together the more plausible details from various sources, and then suggest the result is a likely candidate (if not absolutely certain) of what the historical Theseus etc was like and what he did. Now that is very very much like what happens in HJ studies — with a few modern refinements, as I said. The core myth or its historical basis itself is never questioned. Have a look at Greta Hawes’ “Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity” for starters –and maybe even read the ancient texts themselves. :-)
I’ll be doing a detailed post on it so you are welcome to engage critically with everything there — you are most welcome there, Tim, but of course you do have to abide by the rules re language and civility. Too hard a condition for you, is it? You mean without your style people might actually see how fallacious and misinformed your core arguments really are?
“I like Tim O’Neill’s professional tone of argument.”
“Professional”? What “profession” would this be Neil? You’re a guy who writes a blog and comments on this stuff as a hobby, as am I. Get over yourself. I can use any tone I like.
“Of course how do we know if we have found “he” unless we have some idea of what “he” looks like.”
The usual sophistic twaddle from the librarian. No, we don’t have to know what he was “like” to do that. We just have to have enough indication that the “he” is the founder of Christianity. Tacitus tells us the “he” he refers to was. So does Josephus in Bk XVIII. And then connects this “he” to his brother, who was executed in Josephus’ home town when Josephus was 25. These references on their own are more than we have for pretty much any other early first century Jewish preacher, prophet or Messianic claimant, which is why your heroes the Mythicists have to tie themselves in knots to make them go away.
“The reality is that the question was often (there were a few exceptions) dismissed by avoiding addressing the core arguments at its heart”
Says the guy for whom nothing would be sufficient to address the core arguments at its heart. The weaknesses of the Mythicist case were addressed a century ago. The fact you are too emotionally invested in this nonsense to see those weaknesses says more about you than the arguments.
“He has been invited to address the posts challenging his ideas in a forum that requires only that he engage in a civil and on-point discussion ”
I recall your idea of civil on point discussion from the time you called me a liar over a reference I made to a claim by Carrier. When I came back to your blog with a direct quote that proved what I said and made a fool of you, you banned me while declaring me a liar to the rest of your Tiny Treehouse Club. Sorry, but I don’t have as much free time as you do and so I tend to spend it more wisely.
“Ehrman also disputes your claim”
Yes, I thought that might be what you were trying to twist. Typical. Anyone who actually reads the context of that quote can see that Ehrman was referring to the current crop of Mythicists and was saying that no New Testament scholar has bothered addressing them. Not that noone has ever addressed the question. But ex-fundamentalists like yourself are skilled at ignoring context and twisting texts, aren’t they Neil?
“For a start, Tim, I am not a mythicist as you ought to know”
No, of course you aren’t Neil. You’re just someone who looks, walks and quacks like one. But you hide behind this “agnostic” smokescreen because that means you can avoid the thorny problems associated with going beyond the usual feeble nitpicking at the evidence for Jesus and getting into an actual explanation of how the Christian sect arose without a historical Jesus existing. Because when bolder (or dumber) souls like Doherty and Carrier venture into that territory, things really get stupid and the wheels really begin to wobble and come off the Mythicist bandwagon.
“Have you actually read anything about the rationalisation of myths by Plutarch and others? ”
Do we have references to Theseus written within decades of his death by reliable historians? No? How about a mention of the death of his brother by a guy who was in the town where it happened at the time? No? Or a letter that mentions, in passing, meeting his brother and best friend? No? So – nothing actually analogous and more flatulence from you and the Treehouse Club? Yes, I thought so. Since I am rather more gainfully employed and have a life, Neil, I think I’ll use my time elsewhere.
Tim dismisses as “utter garbage” the mere thought that having some idea of what Jesus is like is wrapped up with the way we approach the question of historicity. I used to think the same till it dawned on me that unless we have some idea of whatever we are looking for is “like” we can never hope to find it — or we can never know if we have found the “real thing”.
Imagine if someone was asked to check to see if Hitler was historical and they had absolutely no idea who or what Hitler was, that is, no idea of what kind of figure he was like. They did not even know he was “like a national political leader”. Starting from a completely blank slate. How and where would such a person begin their search to determine whether Hitler was historical. Obviously they would first have to find out something about what Hitler was like– who he was — in order just to begin the search. Otherwise they could come up with any number of Hitlers or similar named persons in folklore and history.
Historical Jesus scholars all have some notion of Jesus — the “likeness” of the person — before they start their study. It cannot be any other way. Of course as they get deeper into their studies they may change their perceptions of him, but they have to begin with some idea of what they think he was “like”.
And they all pretty much begin with a likeness of someone who in broad outline is something like the sort of Jesus they read in the gospels. They have to imagine he is a preacher figure of some sort, or one with a reputation for healing, who died, etc.
Now that is significant because having that “like” idea is what determines where the scholars begin and perhaps focus most intently their search. It means we inevitably find some “type” of figure who is in some broad sense an outline of what we read in the gospels. He is a real person whose identity is a matter of dispute, if not during his life then certainly after it. The entire process is determined by our concept of what Jesus is “like” from the outset.
Richard Carrier does the same with his mythicist theory. He says Jesus is like a Rank-Raglan hero figure and accordingly his search extends well beyond the canonical texts and closely related Jewish ones. Another person sees a likeness to Paul in Jesus and wonders if Jesus is based on Paul — and that determines how and where they search for their Jesus and is at the heart of the evidence they use to determine his historicity. And so on– I could cite several other “likenesses” and their respective starting points.
The next step is to put each of these models of historicity to the test. That means trying to break them with opposing arguments and evidence. But unless we know our initial biases to begin with and why and how we have come to discover the “historical Jesus” behind canonical literature we are not likely to be open to such testing. Tim would appear to consider the very idea “utter garbage”.
Having some grasp of the philosophy of history, how we know what we know, what conditions bias our search, the role of our biases, cultural and personal — they are all essential understandings for any historian. Unfortunately very few biblical scholars have studied this side of history, and it seems not all students of medieval literature have either.
For the sake of record someone else posted on this very same point today — that it is necessary first to have some idea of what Jesus is like before we can even ask if he existed. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/05/17/did-jesus-exist-ehrmans-complete-failure-part-2/#sthash.fpl46lFZ.dpuf by Bradley Bowen on The Secular Outpost.
Of course Tim finds such clarity of thought boring and therefore to be dismissed.
The problem I have with the consensus of scholars is that I can’t seem to figure out why it is what it is. It’s not based on an official document, like an execution order. It’s not based on unbiased, contemporary evidence. It’s not based on the discovery of his tomb. I cannot figure out from whence this certainty is coming.
The complaint that “mythicists,” which I never knew is what I was called until today, “have so little evidence” doesn’t make any sense to me. How do I give you evidence for the nonexistence of something? And for that matter, what makes the evidence against me so strong? I’m not seeing it.
It is especially strange because, when you look at another story, such as Exodus, the lack of physical evidence & the problems with the chronology of the story are considered very good reason to dismiss it as a fabrication.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Professional historians don’t base most of their scholarly views on official documents, executive orders, or “unbiased, contemporary evidence.
I’m not a professional historian, but I learned from some outstanding scholars at university and since who are.
Please read extensively (from all points of view including the mythicist) on various histories. The study of ancient civilizations and its alleged leaders is difficult and takes a life time. Though I don’t agree with everything Bart Ehrman writes, he is a fine scholar. I just finished his lucid book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Ehrman is an agnostic, while I am a theistic seeker. But Ehrman has a fine grasp of the historical method and is meticulous.
While we’re recommending scholars, read Richard Carrier’s devastating critique of Ehrman’s scholarship.
Lithp, as to your “I cannot figure out from whence this certainty is coming”, a couple points. First, a good number of scholars who are neither Christian nor mythicists, probably don’t have “certainty”. At least Ehrman, who I agree with another commeter as being a careful, accurate scholar, I doubt uses that term, tho he does defend the historicity of a “Jesus of Nazareth” (not as Messiah, son of God, etc., though).
I have studied the “historical Jesus” scholarship a lot, and a bit of the mythicist work. As a very progressive Christian, I can tell you that certainty is not pertinent or important for me. It doesn’t matter much to me whether Jesus is entirely a literary construction or really existed but has been distorted and embellished… “Certainly(!)” the latter is the case and possibly the former. The reason it doesn’t matter much is that it is clear we cannot know what Jesus actually said and did in any kind of detail. But that does not negate or diminish the value of many of his supposed teachings. If not his, they were those of his generation or at least the one or two following.
And even if mythicists are correct, the core things Jesus said and did, some of which are phenomenal but not truly “miraculous”, such as healings and exorcisms, were said and done by others of his time period and location. In that sense, he would be a literary “composite character” bringing together elements of known figures. One of them with a very similar message, and who is attested outside of the New Testament, is John the Baptist. And it happens that characters like him and Peter, James (the reputed blood brother of Jesus and eventual leader of the Jerusalem Jesus followers) and others seem to be key (at least to me) in anchoring Jesus in history as an actual prophet and healer, if not a messianic claimant during his own lifetime.
“Get over yourself. I can use any tone I like.”
:-) So why the defensive protest when called out on it!!?? LOL
“The usual sophistic twaddle from the librarian. No, we don’t have to know what he was “like” to do that. We just have to have enough indication that the “he” is the founder of Christianity. Tacitus tells us the “he” he refers to was. So does Josephus in Bk XVIII. And then connects this “he” to his brother, who was executed in Josephus’ home town when Josephus was 25. These references on their own are more than we have for pretty much any other early first century Jewish preacher, prophet or Messianic claimant, which is why your heroes the Mythicists have to tie themselves in knots to make them go away.”
So we don’t have to know what he was like except that we have to begin with knowing he was like the founder of Christianity (disputed by some scholars) and that he was a brother of James and was crucified in Jerusalem and was like any other first century Jewish preacher, prophet and Messianic claimant…. ?? Not very consistent, Tim. Read my adjacent comment where I explain this point my fully and demonstrate its methodological relevance.
“Says the guy for whom nothing would be sufficient to address the core arguments at its heart. The weaknesses of the Mythicist case were addressed a century ago. The fact you are too emotionally invested in this nonsense to see those weaknesses says more about you than the arguments.”
:-) If you have no come back to the evidence and argument I linked to where this is demonstrated in depth then just repeat your dogmatic assertion. That’s Tim’s MO. Then add a dash of mind-reading ad hominem for good measure. Did I mention “anti-intellectual” anywhere?
“I recall your idea of civil on point discussion from the time you called me a liar over a reference I made to a claim by Carrier. When I came back to your blog with a direct quote that proved what I said and made a fool of you, you banned me while declaring me a liar to the rest of your Tiny Treehouse Club. Sorry, but I don’t have as much free time as you do and so I tend to spend it more wisely.”
Memory theory explains the selectivity of your memory, Tim. You seem to have time to ramble in emotional responses here but you somehow lack the energy to respond civilly where your arguments are dissected and their fallacious grounding and misinformed premises are exposed point by point. Invitation is still open, Tim. I also hear others have been trying to engage you in serious civil discussion but you avoid them, too.
“Yes, I thought that might be what you were trying to twist. Typical. Anyone who actually reads the context of that quote can see that Ehrman was referring to the current crop of Mythicists and was saying that no New Testament scholar has bothered addressing them. Not that noone has ever addressed the question. But ex-fundamentalists like yourself are skilled at ignoring context and twisting texts, aren’t they Neil?”
Oh come on, Tim. You had no idea what the reference was I was alluding to and that’s why you had to ask. I quoted the full context and gave the link so anyone can see for themselves the context. Your style is to dogmatically assert something contrary as if that will intimidate or impress enough fans to not bother to check for themselves.
“No, of course you aren’t Neil. You’re just someone who looks, walks and quacks like one. But you hide behind this “agnostic” smokescreen because that means you can avoid the thorny problems associated with going beyond the usual feeble nitpicking at the evidence for Jesus and getting into an actual explanation of how the Christian sect arose without a historical Jesus existing. Because when bolder (or dumber) souls like Doherty and Carrier venture into that territory, things really get stupid and the wheels really begin to wobble and come off the Mythicist bandwagon.”
I see, so you have never bothered to read what I have said over the years about mythicism or the various posts I have invited that present alternative views. The mere fact that I am open to the ideas and can see fallacies in the arguments raised against it in your mind is enough to make someone a “mythicist”, whatever that means anyway.
How supplying some citations of your own? Or does that mean you have to rely on verifiable evidence to support your assertions? :-/
“Do we have references to Theseus written within decades of his death by reliable historians? No? How about a mention of the death of his brother by a guy who was in the town where it happened at the time? No? Or a letter that mentions, in passing, meeting his brother and best friend? No? So – nothing actually analogous and more flatulence from you and the Treehouse Club? Yes, I thought so. Since I am rather more gainfully employed and have a life, Neil, I think I’ll use my time elsewhere.”
Ah, I see, the no true Scotsman fallacy.
By the way, I do not dispute that we have a letter that mentions in passing a meeting between Paul and Jesus’s brother. But this is where historical method as outlined in manuals for prospective PhD students of history comes into the picture. Historical research requires a little more scratching the surface of the documents, Tim. See http://vridar.org/2016/03/31/how-many-bible-verses-does-it-take-to-prove-jesus-existed/ and http://vridar.org/2016/01/16/the-function-of-brother-of-the-lord-in-galatians-119/ and feel free to comment there — with a civil and, yes, even a professional tone. Is that really too hard for you?
It’s not “too hard” for me to respond in great detail to all of your sophistry and sneering waffle Neil. I just don’t see the point. You and the other contrarian fanatics are beyond help and I just don’t need to waste my time which is, unlike yours, in fairly short supply. These days I don’t bother with you and the other fanatics and only bother with people who may see reason. I also don’t bother arguing with Creationists, fundamentalists and neo-Nazis for much the same reason. It’s not because of the mighty and unbeatable puissance of their unbeatable arguments. It’s because I am not a fan of exercises in futility. So go back to your Treehouse Club and disloocate your arm patting yourself on the back if you like, but the fact is you are a nobody and your endless online flatulence simply doesn’t matter.
You don’t have time but you do have time to come hear and argue with anyone else and me, too — but walk away when confronted with someone who actually knows the evidence, how history works, and has refuted your assertions and even invited you to respond without rancor. Instead, you find yourself with time to come here and utter insults. Will you have time to respond to this, too???
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes. I’ll choose how I spend my time and I choose not to spend it playing endless word games with a text twisting pettifogging bore. You aren’t mighty and intimidating Neil, you’re simply dull. Like all fanatics who live in a bubble with other fanatics are dull. Like Creationists. Like racists. Dull.
But you can now have the last word. Bores like you usually need to do that and I wouldn’t want to rob your empty life of its few little joys.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Christ mythicists are blinkered by confirmation bias as they promote their agenda, and some of that is seen in this post, e.g., quoting snippets from scholars out of context in order to give an erroneous impression of their viewpoints. The brief quotes in this post from scholars John Dominic Crossan and Bart Ehrman are specific illustrations of this.
Another mistake is to give credence to the views of people like blogger David Fitzgerald, a sort of professional skeptic who has no academic credentials in the field. Richard Carrier’s education is in ancient history. His efforts at Christ mythicism have been invalidated by scholars trained in more relevant fields. Here’s one example.
Ehrman, who is an agnostic himself, addresses the motives of Christ mythicists in the concluding chapter of his book, “Did Jesus Exist?”:
“But neither issue–the good done in the name of Christ or the evil–is of any relevance to me as a historian when I try to reconstruct what actually happened in the past. I refuse to sacrifice the past in order to promote the worthy cause of my own social and political agenda. No one else should either. Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.” pp. 338-9.
The mysthicist agenda is to get closer to the truth. What’s the historicist agenda, besides defending the status quo in theology and ancient history departments?
“The mysthicist agenda is to get closer to the truth.”
Gosh. The “truth”. How remarkable. And you know this how, exactly?
“What’s the historicist agenda, besides defending the status quo in theology and ancient history departments?”
“Agenda” Pardon? I have no idea. What are you trying to say here?
I honestly don’t understand your reply. My reply was in response to your Ehrman quote. Is it really that difficult for you to understand what I’m saying? Ehrman implies that anyone who questions the historical basis of Jesus has a political agenda. That might be true for some, but it’s not true for the mythicists who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth. Ehrman pretends he knows the truth, that Jesus lived whether we like it or not. He does a very poor job of showing why anyone seriously interested in the question should take his word for it. Tne best he can offer is an argument from authority: it’s true because all these scholars say it’s true. But noehter he nor any of their crowd can show why we should believe them.
LikeLiked by 1 person
If some mythicists have a political agenda (ans let’s not pretend no historicists do), does that justify ignoring mysthicism altogether? I’d like a serious answer to that. Ehrman implies, and you seem to agree, that it does, but that seems like sheer laziness and cowardice to me, There are different grades of mythicist arguments. RIchard Carrier is one of the harshest critics of “bad mythicism,” and he is one of the best-educated, most qualified mythicists around, His arguments deserve a careful reading and response, but the best Ehrman seems to be able to manage is to try to dismiss all mythicism because of its least adept proponents.
Mythicism is not a faith, but historicism surely is,. Carrier is trying to apply the tools of scientific and philosophical historical analysis to get at the mysteries–by which I mean the unresolved, unknown details–of the early church. This is what historicists should also be doing, but they don’t seem any better able to get closer to the truth behind those mysteries than they have since the enlightenment made Christianity as apt a subject for unbiased study as any other, It’ s the same minuscule number of shaky extra-Biblical references, the same contradictory gospels and apocrypha. Once in a while, some Israeli archaeologist claims to have found Jesus’s or his brother’s tomb and riles up Huffington Post Religion commenters for a while before having to concede that a great deal of faith is required to think it’s *that* Yeshua or his brother, given the great number of Yeshua’s there were in 1st century Palestine.
As you’re defending Ehrman’s scholarship, why don’t you share with me his best argument for the historicity of Jesus. I’d appreciate your help there.
“My reply was in response to your Ehrman quote.”
Someone else’s Ehrman quote, actually.
“Ehrman implies that anyone who questions the historical basis of Jesus has a political agenda. ”
Ehrman notes, correctly. that many Mythicists have an ideological agenda. This is one of the reasons objective analysts have good reason to suspect their arguments are skewed. And that’s even before we analyse them and find they are tendentious crap.
“it’s not true for the mythicists who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth.”
Try this on for size: “It’s not true for those believers in Jesus Christ our blessed Lord who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth”. Does that work for you?
“He does a very poor job of showing why anyone seriously interested in the question should take his word for it.”
Explain in detail why this leading scholar in the field “does a very poor job” of making his case, according to you.
” The best he can offer is an argument from authority”
That’s complete garbage.
“If some mythicists have a political agenda (ans let’s not pretend no historicists do), does that justify ignoring mysthicism altogether? ”
It justifies being highly sceptical of their objectivity.
“the best Ehrman seems to be able to manage is to try to dismiss all mythicism because of its least adept proponents. ”
Garbage. He actually makes a point of differentiating between the New Age crackpot mythicists and ones like Carrier and Doherty.
“Mythicism is not a faith, but historicism surely is”
How the hell is historicism “a faith”?
“Carrier is trying to apply the tools of scientific and philosophical historical analysis to get at the mysteries”
Carrier is trying to justify his a priori conclusion. An ideologically driven one. He is the very worst kind of historian – one with an agenda.
“As you’re defending Ehrman’s scholarship, why don’t you share with me his best argument for the historicity of Jesus. I’d appreciate your help there.”
There’s a confluence of evidence around James, who is referred to as Jesus’ brother. We have a reference to him in Galatians 1:19 where Paul mentions meeting him. And we have a reference to him by his younger contemporary Josephus. It’s difficult for people to meet the brother of a man who didn’t exist. The Mythicist attempts at trying to make this evidence go away are pathetic.
Ah, good ol’ Timmie O’Neill again.
“It justifies being highly sceptical of their objectivity.”
Scepticism is very good, Tim. Pity you don’t seem to exercise it in relation to the views of an academy acknowledged by many of its members to be so predominantly grounded in theological bias. Also a pity you don’t exercise true scepticism in relation to mythicism: scoffing and dismissal is just silliness, not genuine scepticism.
“Garbage. He actually makes a point of differentiating between the New Age crackpot mythicists and ones like Carrier and Doherty.”
Nice sleight of hand again — twisting the meaning of the original claim. Of course Ehrman differentiates between Murdock and Carrier. But that was not the point being made now, was it. And we’ve seen how even his treatment of Carrier and Doherty in som many places indicated he had never even read more than a few snippets of their works.
“How the hell is historicism “a faith”?”
Again a nice twisting of the original statement’s meaning. Of course there is the philosophical “historicism” but we all know that in this context we are talking about the assumption of Jesus being historical. And of course it’s a faith. It’s the very foundation of the Christian religion. Even Dennis Nineham acknowledged this way back. Much else is ad hoc striving to justify this faith in terms of “historical inquiry”.
“Carrier is trying to justify his a priori conclusion. An ideologically driven one. He is the very worst kind of historian – one with an agenda.”
You clearly haven’t read OHJ. But what, pray tell, does any historian without any agenda at all look like?
“There’s a confluence of evidence around James, who is referred to as Jesus’ brother. We have a reference to him in Galatians 1:19 where Paul mentions meeting him. And we have a reference to him by his younger contemporary Josephus. It’s difficult for people to meet the brother of a man who didn’t exist. The Mythicist attempts at trying to make this evidence go away are pathetic.”
Hoo boy, you parrot the same old mantras without any attempt to apply sceptical analysis to any alternative arguments yet again, and again…. Historians, Tim, are meant to first apply critical analysis to their source documents. I invite you to critically engage with the points set out in this respect at Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test” — but only one rule, the one you have always found too hard to comply with till now- – you cannot resort to foul language or insult in your reply.
“Pity you don’t seem to exercise it in relation to the views of an academy acknowledged by many of its members to be so predominantly grounded in theological bias.”
Total nonsense. The scholars I tend to find most useful are the ones who are non-believers. This is precisely because I *am* just as sceptical of those who have religious agendas as I am of your Myther mates.
“Also a pity you don’t exercise true scepticism in relation to mythicism: scoffing and dismissal is just silliness, not genuine scepticism.”
Huffing and puffing as usual Neil.
“But that was not the point being made now, was it. ”
Yes, actually, it was.
“Of course there is the philosophical “historicism” but we all know that in this context we are talking about the assumption of Jesus being historical. ”
And that was exactly what I was referring to by the word “historicism”. Try to keep up Neil.
“It’s the very foundation of the Christian religion.”
So how the hell is my completely non-religious acceptance that a historical Jesus “faith”?
“You clearly haven’t read OHJ.”
I have. Unfortunately.
“But what, pray tell, does any historian without any agenda at all look like? ”
Not like Tricky Dicky Carrier.
” I invite you to critically engage with the points set out in this respect at Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test””
I invite you to grasp the fact that Bayes’ Theorem can’t be used in that, other than to wrap some prior assumptions in numbers for the bamboozlement of the historically illiterate. Which is why Carrier’s clunky book on the subject sank without trace. This why Tricky Dicky remains an unemployed nobody out there on the whacky fringe. Though he may have to get a job now that his long-suffering wife has found out about his extramarital shenanigans and divorced him. Given that his academic career has crashed and burned, he may end up flipping burgers, poor man.
Newly discovered ancient historical documents, recently unearthed in a cave in the Sinai desert, reveal the origin of Christianity. I’ve excerpted a translation of the relevant part:
“Oh, come on! No sober sane adult will buy this preposterous story, Yeshua. It’s riddled with contradiction and defies common sense.”
“You underestimate people’s gullibility, Isaac. They so desperately want to believe that they’ll swallow any absurdity.”
“Okay, smart guy. How about a bet? Afraid to put your money where your mouth is?”
“You’re on, Isaac.”
The speculation is the loser had to shave off his eyebrows, but there’s no historical confirmation.
What an amazing coincidence, Mark. A copy of the identical manuscript was found by hikers in a cave here, under Mount Cheam, near Chilliwack, B.C., Canada some five months ago. Of course, this being severe bible belt country, the find was quickly censored and the evidence disappeared. The two hikers who found the manuscript have also disappeared. Despite the constant fear of discovery, those who heard first hand about this have continued to meet secretly to discuss the matter. Some have come to a final conclusion: Jesus was a native shaman who walked north through what is now Alaska, crossed the ice bridge into Siberia and finally ended up in Palestine where he did some magical healings with eagle feather, spoke in alien tongues and had a strange liking for salmon – which was hard to get from the Mediterranean sea. But this matters little. What’s important is that we now know for a fact that Jesus was neither blond nor blue-eyed.
Great article, Valerie. As Robert Price once said on one of the podcasts he was on once, “if Jesus ever existed, he’s too buried in myth to find.”
That, I think, is the real bottom line.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Does this mean you think no Jewish figure told the story of the “good Samaritan” or the “lost coin,” etc.? Someone must have written that humans should forgive their enemies, even if his name wasn’t Jesus (“loving your national enemies isn’t a not a popular idea even now, and wasn’t the perspective of most Jewish leaders in the Roman period).
Just asking for clarification, as I don’t understand your view of history.
There may have been no historic Buddha named Siddhartha–interesting historical question also–but someone, whatever his name did start the idea of the 4 Noble Truths.
Wow. Defenders of the “Reality of Jesus” found this one fast. Here’s my opinion of the reality here, (my “tentative” opinion, as always, while the Physical and Cosmology Scientists continue their pursuit of reality): The words of Professor Bart Ehrman in original A.P. Post, and other “Pro-Mythologists” (sp?) carry more weight. The mythical origin, extension and elaboration of ALL Religions, from their most primative pre-beginnings, is a much more plausible account of the Homo species experience. From the earliest, “dawn of self-aware,” pre- Homo species. Attempting to understand their surroundings, and the natural world of which they knew next to nothing of “how-it-works.” In order to attempt to gain some psychic sense of control over their existance. Their safety, and survival. And then steadily morphing over a hundred thousand years, before the advent of the earliest “scientific” inquiry. I believe that Homo Sapien history must be viewed in it’s dependence, over all that time, upon all of the now-emerged and rapidly advancing, and all interdependent, sciences. Ancient written accounts of “historical events” which lack any means of current analysis and confirmation within known the parameters of the natural world, might well be discounted. Should there prove to be any “God-like Higher Power,” or any other as yet undiscovered additional particles, waves, forces, fields, energies, etc., we wait untill if/when found. Go Science! Strictly neutral, honest and unbaised, pure and applied Science. (Meanwhile let’s act like we’re on our own to figure out how to survive, and live together peacefully.)
Science is not neutral at all – for one thing because a number of atheists attempt to make it look like science works best when you’re atheist. And with this I don’t agree (as an atheist).
I don’t know what you mean with “defenders of the reality of Jesus” but it is not unreasonable to assume that the Jews were writing about something real. There may have been a Jesus, which has then become mythologized (and exaggerated). Even if the real events were much smaller than what most events become once they are being embedded in a grand story of mythic proportions – it would still have a “reality of Jesus” to a good historian who distinguishes reality from myth according to the rules of historical research. But I guess we agree on that one.
I don’t know anyone who says that science works best when you’re an atheist. Or, at least, nobody with more than a basic high school level of scientific literacy. I would claim that:
1. If one informs their beliefs from science, not speculation, then believing in a god–an inherently unproven & perhaps even unfalsifiable entity–makes no sense.
2. Science works best when religion is not involved. You can BE a Christian & still do science, but the moment you start trying to base your theories on the existence of a soul, for instance, you’re practicing pseudoscience. Unless you can show that souls actually EXIST, of course.
But my question is why? Given Claim 1, & the fact that inserting your theology into research generally doesn’t work out, why continue believing in it?
Also, you say it’s not unreasonable to assume that the Jews were writing about something real. Why not? A number of Biblical stories are considered to be complete myth by scholars, including Genesis & Exodus. What makes Jesus so special?
Probably due to the vast number of people who believe in Jesus, this topic is… always topical! For believers, there is, and never will be, any possibility but that Jesus exists; that he is the Son of God and that God sent him to earth as Saviour of man, that is, of all who believe in him (whatever that translates as, past the first emotional outburst of “belief” that comes by whatever means.) So, to move away from theologians, scientists, researchers, writers of history, pseudo-history and fiction, why not look inside the individual, since ultimately all this is about an individual, not group, or groups. Salvation (real or imagined) is an individual choice simply because each one of us dies alone and faces the whatever completely alone.
So, I choose me to speak for the individual. When very young – pre-puberty – I made a personal decision to dedicate my life to God and in my religious upbringing that was only through Jesus Christ. That was my stated purpose, if to no one but myself. I was quite well versed in the New Testament, particularly in the gospels, and I understood that such a purpose could not come about without help. And that was no problem: all the help I would need was clearly stated by Jesus: I would receive the in-filling of the Holy Spirit and I would possess the same powers Jesus did, and indeed more so. Divine promises cannot be broken after all. So I proceeded with my faith that I too would be granted to power to do miracles, just as Jesus did. My child-like confidence was unshakeable. I could not be wrong… and I could not have been more wrong.
Predictably, nothing happened. No meditation, prayer, pleading, bouts of asceticism or dedication to this or that church enterprise either bent God’s ear, or brought him to action on my behalf. I experienced the Great Silence of the Almighty.
Well, so God does lie, I determined for myself. Did that mean I should also lie to myself and become religious instead of spiritual? For to “do” church after being spurned by God seemed contradictory. As soon as I was old enough, I left the church. But I did not leave what I had learned about acceptance, compassion, sharing, caring. These thoughts were part of my original purpose. I changed from serving God to serving mankind – and nature (as an environmentalist). In other words, over the years I discovered personal choice and self-empowerment. I don’t need any god in my life, though I know full well “gods” exist, always will and continue to re-surface in many guises. For example, the new god of this age is science. Despite all the horrors done to this world by science through sold-out scientists, people are pushing this as the new way to believe, as does Mr. Avery. Yes, man must have his gods, his “Powers” over him. He can’t visualize going it strictly alone, believing all things, believing IN nothing. Yet such must be man’s future, so he may navigate the endless shoals put up to encompass him by ever-rising gods, transformed on the surface but always the same Powers.
Quote from Mr. Avery: “Meanwhile let’s act like we’re on our own to figure out how to survive, and live together peacefully.” Indeed, but let’s do this as self-empowered beings, in control of their own volition, not as slaves of, or believers in, this or that “new” Power.
Interesting issues are raised whenever this topic is treated. I spent many years as an Evangelical Christian, and theologically trained. After a period of being a “spiritual but not religious” believer in a pan-en-theist kind of God (not typical theism but not pantheism… sort of between), I have aligned back with very progressive Christianity. So I don’t have emotion around Jesus’ actual existence.
But I don’t believe the small group still (it was formerly more common) holding to Jesus being entirely mythological have nearly as strong a case as that for the existence of Jesus. However, it’s valid that we can’t know very much about the historical person.
I have to also concur with “thebirdsofappetite” above that it isn’t quite fair to quote Ehrman in an indirect way of supporting the mythicist case. He goes out of his way to disagree with it and effectively counter it (in my view). So do various other historians who are NOT Christians or even former Christians (which Ehrman repeatedly admits he was, and discusses it). What the lack of secular and/or historical references to Jesus shows is mainly that his movement was NOT of major notice or social significance until after the 1st century. HOWEVER, Josephus, around 90 C.E., does make at least one ref. to Jesus and possibly two. The one less disputable (as to manuscript corruption) merely identifies “James” as bro. of Jesus, and does not seem to mean only that he was said to be a brother though was not… taken together with New Testament evidence, it appears he was a blood brother, and that Josephus probably rightly knew or discovered this. (He was Jewish himself, and a Jewish defender though turned, after capture as a rebel leader, into a Roman employee but still Jewish “apologist”.)
Another less-obvious and indirect evidence for Jesus’ existence is John the Baptist…. Josephus gives more on him than on the disputed Jesus passage (not the James one). John seems clearly historical and partly contemporaneous with Jesus, although he also has little note aside from Josephus and the New Testament. So while the NT obviously muddles and probably misguides us re. the relationship of John and Jesus, their juxtaposition does lend historical credence to Jesus’ existence (among many lines of evidence I don’t find the mythicists to explain away adequately).
When I was a fundamentalist believer without any critical thinking skills, I heard the claim that the Bible contradicted itself and I just did not believe it. I was completely blinded by faith. The only contradiction I could ever recognize was a blatant one, in Proverbs 26: 4 & 5. Although I read the whole bible several times, parts of it many times, and memorized large sections of it, I really had no real understanding of what I was reading. That’s one reason why I was able to be manipulated with it.
I am convinced today that if I had encountered Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” when I was sixteen in the 60s, or someone brave enough to give me a similar message, before manipulative missionaries got hold of my mind, his insights would have saved me from a 20-year Christian nightmare.
Here are some of the arguments/evidences in favor of a historical kernel, provided by commenter Vasu Murti at http://talesfromtheconspiratum.com/2014/08/27/5-reasons-to-suspect-jesus-never-existed/.
“Jesus himself was no myth, but a genuine historical personality, like Pythagoras, the Buddha or Mahavira, around whom contradictory legends have arisen (the resurrection, genealogies, the virgin birth, etc.).
First century Pythagoreanism is described in detail in The Life of Apollonius of Tiana. The ancient texts records this neoplatonic philosopher and miracle worker having a divine birth, absorbing the wisdom of Pythagoras, practicing celibacy, vegetarianism, as well as voluntary poverty; healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, exorcising demons, foretelling the future, and teaching the innermost secrets of religion. Finally, the text says he never died, but went directly to heaven in a physical assumption.
Secular historian Dr. Martin A. Larson, an atheist, would have no personal interest in proving Jesus to be a genuine historical personality. But he debunks the argument that Jesus was a “myth.” He writes:
“…Bruno Bauer, around 1840 became the first to maintain the non-historicity of Jesus… In time he declared that Jesus himself was only a myth. When his opponents marshaled evidence to the contrary, he was eventually forced into the position that the Christian religion originated during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, 175 AD; that all of its primary documents were forged by a group of unknown conspirators; that Peter, Paul, Clement, Ignatius, Papias, Justin Martyr, Marcion, etc. were invented by them; that all documents attributed to these writers were likewise forgeries concocted late in the second century; that all references to Christianity in Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, and all mention of early Christian authors in Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrnus, Irenaeus, etc. were interpolations.
“The historicity of Paul, of course, if accepted, establishes that of Peter and Jesus also; for Paul teems with historical detail and refers often to them; and in Galatians 1:18 he states categorically that he dwelt fifteen days with Peter in Jerusalem. Certainly, no Christian would have invented the bitter feud between Peter and Paul. Bauer might almost as logically have denied the historicity of the Roman Empire.”
Dr. Larson writes:
“In Josephus we have three passages, one about Jesus, a second about John the Baptist, and a third concerning the stoning of James the Just, ‘the brother of Jesus,’ at Jerusalem.”
According to Dr. Larson, scholars accept the third passage as genuine, and NOT a later forgery or interpolation by Christians:
“It implies no belief in Christianity; it belongs in the context; the references to James and Jesus are written in as minor details; and the important element to the author is the unprincipled seizure of power by the High Priest, Ananus. It bears every mark of authenticity and constitutes conclusive evidence that by 62 AD there were in Jerusalem organized Christians…”
According to Dr. Larson, “Once the authenticity of the passage in Josephus is admitted, there is no difficulty in accepting as genuine the celebrated passage in Tacitus, written soon after 100 AD:
“‘Nero fastened the guilt’ for the burning of Rome ‘on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontus Pilate; and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea… but even in Rome… and became popular.’
“This is not the kind of forgery that a Christian, or, for that matter, any one else would have composed,” writes Dr. Larson. “We must, therefore, believe that Christians were numerous both in Jerusalem and in Rome between 60 and 65 AD; that it was common knowledge that a certain Jesus, also known as the Christ or Christos (Messiah), executed by Pilate, was their founder; and that they were generally regarded as abominable and contemptible wretches…
“Nor is the passage in Tacitus our only early classical reference to Jesus to Christianity. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Trajan dated about 111 AD, concerning the Christians of Bithynia, calls their religion ‘an absurd and extravagant superstition,’ which was already flourishing for over twenty years in that province. Suetonius, after detailing the enormities of which Nero was guilty, lists among his good works that he ‘inflicted punishment on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.
“For all practical purposes, these meager texts exhaust our authentic independent testimony; yet they prove that there were organized Christian movements in Jerusalem and in Rome before 65 AD, and that, according to common knowledge, their founder was a certain Jesus, who was called the Christ, and who suffered at the hands of the Roman procurator Pilate. The authenticity of all this cannot be successfully assailed.
“Whoever comprehends the nature of evidence will know that Gautama the Buddha, Mahavira, Zoroaster, John the Baptist, Simon Magus, and Manes were actual individuals, just as certainly as were Julius Caesar or George Washington; for we know certain definite facts about them in their historical setting which would never have been created mythologically.
“By the same token, we know also that Athena, Aphrodite, Mithra, Dionysus, Attis, Bromius, Demeter, Persephone, and Priapus were myths only, that is, purely ideological creations.
“Concerning Jesus, the evidence is much stronger than with older prophets or saviors, for when he came written records were well kept and his life is definitely fixed in the framework of current history. If we deny his historicity, we must also deny that of Peter, of Paul, of Clement of Rome, of Ignatius, of Papias, and of many others, which few indeed have ventured to do; and we must devise a sound theory to explain their writings, which bear every earmark of authenticity.
“We cannot deny that there were many Christians in Rome and Jerusalem by 62 AD, nor can we doubt that the leaders of the cult at that time proclaimed their personal acquaintance with Jesus. It is simply inconceivable that such a gospel could have developed in thirty years without some historical basis.
“The internal evidence favoring the historicity of Jesus is even more decisive; it is far more conclusive… Not only is the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) story between the baptism and the empty tomb forthright and consistent: it is also filled with details and elements which never would have been found in a myth… he traveled clandestinely by night so that he might not be apprehended; he died in utter despair, believing that God had forsaken him, he announced his coming and Day of Judgment at the middle of his career and so proved himself a false prophet We must accept Matthew 10:23 as genuine, since no believer would, at a later date, have invented a prophecy which proved false almost with its utterance.
“Nor would writers of many years later have made Jesus promise a Second Coming during his own generation. The fact that all this and more, which is so very human, appears in the Synoptics establishes the historicity of Jesus. All such material is deleted from the gospel as revised in John, where the authentic (historical) Jesus disappears entirely.”
A noble effort but it fails to re-ignite my fire. I find the article contradictory and misleading. Personally I no longer care whether there was a historical Jesus or not. If there was, what possible difference does that make to history and the impossible impasse the followers of his myth have come to? Modern Christianity bears not the least resemblance to what the rag-tag group of pre-Pauline brainwashing was, as per the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The same argument can be used with landing on the moon. Did the Americans land people on the moon who then came back to tell about it? Was the “evidence” created in a studio, Hollywood style, or did it in fact happen? Most people will immediately scream their outrage that anyone should dare question this historical event, despite the fact that no technology existed in 1969 to make this “historical event” possible. I’ve heard people say their very lives would be destroyed if they had to admit the moon landings were faked by NASA. That’s faith; that’s religion, pure and simple. But that’s not the closing of the argument. It simply does not matter unless, in some very real way, the moon landings made this world a better place for all to live in. Unless that particular bit of science proved itself to have been beneficial to not only mankind as a whole, but to all life on earth. Now backtrack that to Jesus: did his passage really make this world into a better place for all, or was it all for naught? What has Christianity accomplished historically that anyone can point to it and say, certainly such a movement had to originate with a truly divine, compassionate leader. Billions of believers, most of which fear and hate their “competitors” and are involved in every sort of corruption they decry from their pulpits and books. That’s what “believers” should be looking at, but cannot because they are brainwashed and blinded by their unquestioning faith into their comfortable pews, blinders and lies. Whatever the historical truth regarding Jesus, it remains that Christianity, the only real evidence of his doings, is a blatant lie, completely false and contrary to all the gospel teachings of its pretend leader. That’s the problem.
Shantara, I agree with you in part… that Jesus’ historicity may well be of little actual significance (though clearly established historically…. with the major problem that the history is impossibly mixed with the mythology). Your issue seems to lie mainly with any/all organized religion (with possible exception of Buddhism, among the top several world religions?).
Now, one area (of a few) I can’t go as far as you do: “Christianity” can’t be treated as a unified whole, which it clearly is far from. Your comment re. Christians being “… brainwashed… by their unquestioning faith…”, etc. fits some Xns but definitely NOT all….In fact, the main forces fighting against the very things you rightly object to come from within Xnty… “higher critical” scholars, church leaders, etc., with often very progressive orientation and HIGH critical thinking skills… even relative to “secular” historians and other disciplines.
Then one must combine that discerning kind of approach with the not-so-obvious positives of participation in a faith community. They are significant! Besides the personal benefits often gained (longevity, better mental and emotional health… overall, with some MAJOR exceptions, such as Valerie, myself, and many others point out, etc.), there ARE social plusses… again, often not so obvious. But Xn faith often IS part of the motivating force that pushes people and helps them organize for social justice and progress.
Thanks for adding this, Valerie. The parts about the historical linkages and what has to be denied or unreasonably contorted to deny any historical Jesus are well summarized. Also, the elaboration on Josephus and his mentions of John the Baptist, James the Just and Jesus… important points. It’s important to pay attention to careful scholars as Larson appears to be, and others such as Ehrman, who don’t have a “dog in the fight”.
It may be hard for some hurt by Xnty or generally skeptical in all regards about Christian faith to grasp this, but there are at least a fair percentage of us progressive Christians who really DO follow the truth wherever it leads…. And can even imagine accepting the non-existence of an historical Jesus, without having to abandon all aspects of Christian faith. (But then some of this group, like me, are not traditional theists or “supernaturalists”.) We just believe there are more viable options than two: theism or atheism, supernaturalism or pure (“scientific, materialistic”) naturalism. For anyone willing to engage with some careful, detailed scientific/philosophical/theological thought, Process theology is probably the leading additional option. Not to say it is highly technical or difficult to grasp, basically. But the approach of the vast majority today works against the kind of sustained careful building of definitions, categories and tentative models that it takes to make some consistent patterns for one’s world-and-life-view. But I can say that the results are very satisfying and stimulating!
Sorry, I just noticed I misspelled the name you post under, Shatara.
“He points out that for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. ”
The idea that this has somehow paralyzed all but a tiny number of fringe scholars, who could be counted on the fingers of one hand, is absolutely absurd. Virtually no scholars of any kind accept the Jesus Myth thesis because of its many flaws, not because of some monolithic hold that Christianity has over the field.
“Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.”
Yet this is the same Fitzgerald who tries to make an argument based on the great variety of interpretations about Jesus, most of which are completely at odds with any form of Christianity. So why are these scholars so ready to posit a Jesus who is a magician, a Stoic sage, a hasid or an apocalyptic preacher but not one who didn’t exist at all? This “default” excuse doesn’t make sense. Modern scholars are regularly taken to task by evangelical apologists for precisely the opposite idea: readily accepting versions of Jesus which are decidedly not orthodox Christian in any way. The idea that they would be open to so many other ideas about Jesus but closed to this one out of rigid orthodoxy is silly. It’s just Fitzgerald’s way of waving aside the awkward fact that, apart from his “mentor and hero” (his words) Richard Carrier, Rob Price and about two or three others, the Jesus Myth idea has zero credibiity in scholarly circles.
“A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity.’
Several other commenters have already pointed out that this claim is not supported by anything in the article. The number of scholars who accept this fringe idea has stayed about the same for many years, and consists of the usual suspects, including several who just happen to be anti-Christian activists. That last detail is another reason why the objectivity of this small group is not highly regarded.
Then to take the “Five Reasons” in order:
1. We also have no first century evidence for almost all analogous figures – first century Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants. Given that this is the case, then we have about as much evidence for someone like Jesus as we would expect. So why is this a reason to think he *didn’t* exist? This makes no sense.
2. This one has very little force, given that we have much later epistles like those of Paul by Christians who clearly *did* believe in all the things we find in the gospels yet they make even less reference to the earthly Jesus’ life. Read 1Clement or 2Clement and you’ll find none of the things this argument seems to somehow expect or require in a pastoral epistle, yet the writers of those documents definitely believed in a historical Jesus and knew the gospels. So this is a matter of genre and context. The fact remains that Paul does refer to an earthly, historical Jesus, refers to teachings by him which are reflected in the gospels, says he was a Jew and a human being as well as having a heavenly pre-existence and says he met his friend and his brother. All that makes it clear that he was not talking about some purely celestial being or mythic figure. This one fails as well.
3. This is pretty weak. Very few of our ancient sources are first hand accounts” – virtually none in fact. If we decided that anyone who isn’t attested in first hand accounts didn’t exist then we’d end up with an ancient Mediterranean that was virtually uninhabited. Which is patently absurd. This is a typical Mythicist tactic – raise the bar of evidence absurdly high given the nature of ancient source material, ignoring the implications for any other ancient figure. Fail.
4. Also weak. To expect any group of ancient sources on a single subject to be totally consistent is ridiculous. I’ve examined multiple sources on the Battle of the Teutoburgerwald and on the destruction of the Serapeum, just to name two examples. They contradict each other on many key issues. Does this mean these things never happened? Of course not. On the contrary, in the case of the gospels, some of the contradictions indicate that the gospel writers were having trouble shoehorning the historical Jesus into expectations about the Messiah. The birth narratives contradict each other because they take two different tacks to “explain” how someone from Nazareth came to be born in Bethlehem. The four accounts of the Baptism of Jesus contradict each other by dealing with the awkward fact of Jesus being baptised by someone who was supposed to be inferior to him in different ways. These and other contradictions indicate a historical figure being (awkwardly) retrofitted into expectations, not expectations giving rise to a mythic figure.
5. And this one is just ridiculous. Scholars disagreeing with each other? Gosh. Go to any humanities department, raise any topic with more than three scholars present and watch the wildly differing interpretations fly. Welcome to academia. But it’s also a bit rich for the Mythicist fringe to make this argument given the rich variety of “mythic Jesus” theories on their side of the fence. Which non-existent Jesus do you want? Doherty and Carrier’s sub-lunar celestial Jesus? How about “Acharya S” and her “astrotheological” pagan hybrid Jesus? Or R.G. Price’s Jewish Messianic archetype Jesus? Then there’s Atwill’s “the Romans made him up” Jesus, Carotta’s “he was a Jewish form of the Julius Caesar cult” Jesus and even a “Constantine and Eusebius invented the whole first four centuries of Christianity wholesale” Jesus. Given the fact that there is almost as many different mythic Jesus theories as there are Jesus Mythicists, this “argument” is pretty ironic.
And that’s it? They are the “five reasons to suspect Jesus never existed”? I think we can see why this idea is off on the fringe and has zero traction with any leading scholars.
One thing we can take from a thorough analysis of a given case (like the mythicist one of the article), such as you nicely provide here is this: When one wants to show the problems in a commonly assumed picture, such as the Gospels being basically historical, one should be careful NOT to overstate or “throw out the baby with the bathwater”. Such an approach may please or convince a few but in the long run, it is likely to defeat its own purpose.
Your arguments would have been more credible to me had you not assumed the veracity of the gospel stories. To assume the existence of a historical Jesus is one thing; to assume the existence of a historical gospel is another matter.
Your arguments would have been more credible to me had you not assumed the veracity of the gospel stories.
I don’t assume any such thing, so I have absolutely no idea what on earth you’re talking about.
to assume the existence of a historical gospel is another matter.
What the hell is a “historical gospel”?
My bad, I misunderstood your argument #4. By historical gospel I meant a gospel based on history.
My argument #4 could be misconstrued I suppose. I believe very little in the gospels is reliably historical, though some elements give an indication that they are and many others at least could be. But no-one with any understanding of historiography takes any ancient source at face value anyway, particularly not obviously polemical ones that are clearly at least partially symbolic like the gospels.
But to conclude, as Fitzgerald does, that unless they are consistent the whole thing has zero historical basis is absurd. And evidence of his incompetence as an analyst, even as a amateur one. As I said, look at multiple ancient accounts about anything or anyone and you find serious discrepancies, and often elements which are mutually exclusive. Did the Battle of the Teutoburgerwald last one day or four? Was Varus a noble hero or a bumbling incompetent? Did the Romans counter-attack or didn’t they? I depends on which account you read. This is the case for many or even most ancient sources, but to reject any event or person who we find attested this way as somehow “mythical” is absurd.
The link from “rework mythic themes” goes to an earlier post with a question as a title: “Easter: Was the Risen Jesus Originally Female?”
The answer to that question is emphatically “no.”
There is no historical link between the goddesses “Easter” and “Ishtar”.
There is no evidence that a goddess named “Easter” existed *at all*. The Venerable Bede is the first source to mention such a goddess in a short paragraph on the fact that the Anglo Saxon calendar had a month called Eosturmonath in it.
Bede was very likely *guessing* this was the case. He admits as much in his discussion of another month “Modranecht” – he had no first-hand knowledge of pagan England.
There is no evidence for a cognate goddess in other Germanic countries. Jacob Grimm made a bunch of things up in the 19th century in the service of Nationalism, but it was all slightly desperate nonsense.
There is no etymological link between the month “Eostur” and the goddess “Ishtar”.
Eostur either means “East” – as in: the dawn month – or “opening” – as in: budding flowers.
Greetings–The article is not about the Anglo Saxon goddess “Easter” but about the Sumerian/Akkadian goddess Ishtar, and not about the name of our holiday but about the fundamental mythic structure of the dying and rising god. It is an entirely different question.
Pingback: The Genre of the Gospels | Stepping Toes
Just to clarify: I have no expertise in evaluating the arguments of antiquities scholars, and I’m no insider to their methods. The article came out of a conversation with Dave Fitzgerald in which I was simply fascinated with the fact that this debate exists, and why.
My tendency generally is to defer to the preponderance of the relevant experts–knowing full well that sometimes paradigm shifts do happen. I also winced, btw, when the one phrase AlterNet and Salon chose to emphasize was “growing number.” I think that it may be factually true but it implies a shift in consensus that simply doesn’t exist at this point.
But this is the point David Fitzgerald is not an “expert”. He is a self-trained, self-published amateur. I tutor a class in early Christian history (although my real training is in Classical Roman history). I use two books to highlight pseudo-scholarship. One is McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and the other is Fitzgerald’s “Nailed”. A basic check on his credentials and who published his book should raise alarms over whether he should be given space in a conventional media outlet, let alone be given the epithet (as you have just done again) “expert”. Words mean things, and apparently your article has made his book jump to #1 in the atheist category on Amazon. This is not helpful for a well-informed atheist movement. I am sure that on your own areas of expertise you are competent. We can all be taken in by people who spin fine-sounding arguments and have a pleasant and congenial manner,.but this is why free thought and logical thinking exist to help people mediate such dangers :)
Valerie, I think you are too self-deprecating here. You may not have technical in-house knowledge of the methods (and lang. tools, etc.) of antiquities scholars. But your psychology PhD and considerable knowledge of Christian history and theology, the Bible, etc., definitely gives you insights and some basis for discernment.
But I do appreciate knowing the stimulus for the post…. didn’t see AlterNet or Salon’s comments, but sounds like they fell to “journalism speak”. Without being a full insider with true expertise, I keep up a bit on such issues and the “growing number” I doubt is much of a trend. The mythicist view was pretty well tried out and found wanting roughly a century ago… a few decades on either side. Yes, there have been advances since, esp. around discovery of the Nag Hammadi docs (1945/6) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947-53 or so). But nothing there or in other discoveries or advances of analysis adds anything supportive of the mythicist case, that I’m aware.
Rather, the consensus for the existence of Jesus historically has grown much stronger. The real rub is in separating myth from history and in understanding what the earliest disciples and the “Twelve Apostles” really believed about Jesus. Among the few things that seem clear is that both they and Paul (who often disagreed and contested things with them) expected the “appearance/presence” (what moderns think of as “return” or “second coming” or “rapture”) of Messiah, Jesus, within the very near future. Even the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E. didn’t fully change this for the succeeding generation of believers, but it certainly began to. And all the NT aside from probably 7 (possibly 9) “genuine” letters of Paul was written right about 70 (Mark, possibly) or a number of years after. So the historical Jesus, already mythologized before the war, quickly got disguised in substantial myth-development and theological invention.
Apologies for issuing another comment (!), but you quote Ehrman as if he believes that the argument that no pagan contemporary source mentions Jesus is a useful one over whether he existed or not. Here is what he says on it:
“The absence of eyewitness accounts would be relevant if, and only if, we had reason to suspect that we should have eyewitness reports if Jesus really lived. That, however, is far from the case. Think again of our earlier point of comparison, Pontius Pilate. Here is a figure who was immensely significant in every way to the life and history of Palestine during the adult life of Jesus (assuming Jesus lived), politically, economically, culturally, socially. As I have indicated, there was arguably no one more important. And how many eyewitnesses reports of Pilate do we have from his day? None. Not a single one. The same is true of Josephus. And these are figures who were of the highest prominence in their own day..[in fact[ from Roman Palestine of the entire first century we have precisely one, only one, author of literary texts whose works have survived [Josephus…] We have no others” p.49 and later “So would we expect eyewitness accounts about Jesus if he had lived? How could we possibly expect them? The one and only Palestinian author of books of any kind that we have was an author (Josephus) who was born several years after Jesus died”. p.50 Ehrman “Did Jesus Exist” HarperOne (2012).
These three interesting pieces discuss how mainstream scholars view the authorship and nature of the canonical gospels, how they differ from histories written during the same period, and why the number of copies doesn’t increase their credibility: http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/why-scholars-doubt-the-traditional-authors-of-the-gospels/ “The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure – Jesus Christ – to confirm the faith of their communities.” and this: http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/ancient-historical-writing-compared-to-the-gospels-of-the-new-testament/ ; http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/leveling-a-mountain-of-manuscripts-with-a-small-scoop-of-context/
This site provides numerous scholarly references for the mythicist position: http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/scholars.html
And this one offers a fascinating window into the history of the debate: http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2013/03/21/thomas-brodie-pt-1/
Thanks for providing these links. Matthew Ferguson is a fine scholar, his prose is clear, and his analysis was a very good review for me of what I learned years ago but am a bit rusty on now (Besides Ferguson went to UCI where my wife also went–great university:-)
My question is why you think the mythicists might be correct, when most fine scholars such as Ferguson do state they aren’t mythicists.
Ferguson and other textural critics are very careful with the ancient texts. In contrast, when faced with a NT text which doesn’t agree with their mythicism, mythicists resort to what seems to me very poor reasoning. (I wouldn’t have let my students get by with such twisting of texts!) Or they argue from silence.
To me, and I think to most people, the game-changing question isn’t whether the Jesus stories derive from a historical kernel but whether and to what extent the stories in the Bible are mythology. I care about moving toward a world in which our shared priorities are not driven by the worship of Iron Age texts, a world in which individuals can embrace reason and compassion, unshackled by viral ideas we know to be false and harmful including many that have been metaphorically written in stone by the Abrahamic religions. Given my goals, I have little emotional investment in the question of whether most Jesus stories are historicized mythology or mythologized history.
Most scholars who approach the gospels from an academic perspective rather than an apologetic perspective (ie. as defenders of faith), agree that the biblical stories are highly mythologized. In a world where almost half of Americans say the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, this is what lay people need to know. The debate between mythologists and historicists is interesting in part because it opens up to lay people the arguments and methods relevant to this question.
If I had been more privy to the these methods and arguments before writing this article, for example, if I had spoken with Bart Ehrman in addition to David, or had read some of Ehrman’s frustrated rants on the topic, I certainly would have worded some things differently. But while I assume that the consensus position is probably correct,I don’t dismiss the mythicists or their position, for several reasons. 1. The mythicists I know may or may not be right, but in contrast to the accusations hurled against them, they are serious and rigorous in their approach. 2. I come at this as a psychologist, not a classics scholar, and one lens that psychology brings to this debate is the knowledge that humans are highly prone to historicizing otherwise vague stories. Psychological processes in which this happens include confabulation (when alcohol addled brains invent histories to fill gaps) and false memory syndrome, in which an expert asking leading questions actually prompts a person to create memories which become more detailed and solid over time. In split brain research a message can be sent to the right side of the brain, for example, go get a diet coke. When the person stands up and the left side of the brain is asked why, it provides a perfectly coherent story. To my mind, in other words, psychological and social mechanism exist that would make the mythicist position feasible.
LikeLiked by 1 person
” … they are serious and rigorous in their approach”
Serious, they certainly are. Polemicists with an ideological agenda usually are. “Rigorous”? Few scholars who have looked at their arguments would agree with that one. They certainly work hard to create an illusion of rigor, but Fitzgerald, in particular, is demonstrably sloppy.
“To my mind, in other words, psychological and social mechanism exist that would make the mythicist position feasible.”
No arguments there. But merely “feasible” doesn’t get you very far in the study of actual history. Lots of things are merely “feasible” – a historian works to analyse what is the most likely explanation of the evidence they have, working toward what is called “the argument to the best explanation”. The problem with the Mythicist position is not that it is infeasible, it’s that it requires too many ad hoc work arounds and suppostions to keep it propped up. First it has to work hard to make some pretty clear references to a historical Jesus in Josephus Ant. XVIII.3.4 and XX.9.1 and in Tacitus Annals XV.44 go away, usually by some highly contrived arguments about interpolations. Then they have to radically reinterpret a range of references in the Pauline material that seem to be pretty clearly about a recent historical Jesus known to people Paul knew, to make them say things other than they seem to say. So a clear reference to Jesus being “born of a woman” (Galatians4:4) has to be made to mean something else, even though this is a common Jewish circulocutory phrase meaning “a man, a human being”. And a clear reference to Jesus being a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3) also has to be reworked. As does a reference to Paul meeting James “the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19).
On top of all this, the Mythicists must not only make these references to a historical Jesus disappear, they also have to come up with an alternative way that the idea of a historical Jesus arose in the first place if there was no historical Jesus. This usually involves a series of suppositions about some form of proto-Christianity that believed in a purely mythic/celestial/allegorical/fictional Jesus, hung around long enough to give rise to an offshoot that came to believe this figure actually existed and then vanished. Without trace. Since there is zero record of any such form of early Christianity, despite a wealth of information about other rivial forms of Christianity in early Patristic literature and in surviving texts from these rival faiths, Mythicist then has to descend into conpiracy theory to explain the total absence of its supposed mythic proto-Christianity from the historical record.
It’s usually at this point that even the most open-minded but objective analyst tends to realise that Mythicism just doesn’t stand up to Occam’s Razor. That there was a historical Jewish preacher who was elevated to the status of Messiah and then, post mortem, to divine status simply fits the evidence better, doesn’t require any ad hoc excision of evidence and doesn’t need to be propped up with evidence-free suppositions and conspiracy theories. It is the most parsimonious read on the evidence.
I detail the flaws in the Mythicist case and the reasons a historical Jesus makes more sense in my article Did Jesus Exist? – The Jesus Myth Theory, Again. The question of how much of the traditions and stories about Jesus are later accretions, symbolic, allegorical and theological is another question entirely. But a historical Jewish apocalyptic preacher fits the evidence best. A mythic/celestial/fictional one does not fit it well at all.
Reactions: http://vridar.org/2014/09/03/fear-in-the-heart-of-a-bible-scholar/ ; http://criticalrealismandthenewtestament.blogspot.cz/2014/08/putting-myth-in-mythicism.html
Similar article: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/
Pingback: Do You Believe? | Static
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy wrote the best books I’ve read on this subject: The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God and The Lost Goddess. I highly recommend reading them both, in that order, to anyone interested.
“Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy wrote the best books I’ve read on this subject”
Seriously? Then you really need to read more books. Freke and Gandy are a joke.
Perennial problems with the ‘historic Jesus’ are the fact that ancient Jews would treat it as blasphemy to worship a man with god – yet it seems that’s what they did in Jesus’ case. So a man had to convince the Jews to violate their deepest convictions and declare him god. Yet the man able to accomplish this stunning feat was so unremarkable that no writer of his own time noticed him. What explains this?
The earliest form that Jesus existed in was that of a heavenly being; being manufactured by god and dying in a heavenly realm.
This explains verses like Phillipians 2:5-6, and Hebrews 1:3, and 8:4.
The root of the cult was most likely influenced by the writings of Philo of Alexandria, another silent contemporary of the alleged ‘historical Jesus’. But Philo wrote theology that was copied almost verbatim into the new testament:
“the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated.”[ Philo, De Profugis, cited in Gerald Friedlander, Hellenism and Christianity, P. Vallentine, 1912, pp. 114–115.
Then compare that with Colossians 1:17, and the first opening verses of the Gospel of John.
This hypothesis explains both why Jesus was worshipped by Jews (He was a part of god, emanating from god, so it was easy to rationalize), and why he was unnoticed by contemporaries – there was nothing TO notice; just hallucinating cultists dreaming about a heavenly savior. It also explains why Paul and other early epistle writers did not know the most basic teachings of Jesus, even when it would secure their arguments – because the basic teachings of Jesus were evolved through later fiction based on Paul’s writings. And there were none to begin with.
There are a number of problems with your argument above. To begin with, the evidence indicates that the earliest followers of Jesus did *not* worship him as a god and that, in fact, that idea about him developed over time as Christianity drifted from its Jewish roots and became a gentile saviour cult. Nowehere in the synoptic gospels or in Acts is Jesus ever presented as being divine. He is certainly the Messiah, but that is a Jewish conception – a man ordained by God, but not God in human form. The writers of these texts, like Paul before them, seem to have believed that he had a heavenly pre-existence, but that was a common Jewish idea about the Messiah at the time.
The claim that Paul believed in a purely celestial Jesus is simply wrong. Paul says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4). He repeats that he had a “human nature” and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3). He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15). He says that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4). And he says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians1:19). Paul’s Jesus was a human being who had lived very recently, not a celestial figure.
And the fact that Philo doesn’t mention Jesus tells us nothing at all about whether he did or didn’t exist. Philo makes no mention of any of the other early first century Jewish preachers, prophets or Messianic claimants of the time, so the fact he doesn’t mention this one means little or nothing.
Of course Jesus started out as a god. Who else could have a ‘heavenly pre-existence’? Philippians portrays Jesus as being equal to God; Hebrews 1 portrays Jesus as sitting at God’s right hand. And these are the EARLIEST epistles. If you are equal to a god, then you are a god. Period. No OT prophet, and certainly no carpenter would be described this way.
Then, in Colossians 1:17 it says the Jesus is actually upholding the Universe! If that’s not a deity, I don’t know what is.
The examples you cite from Paul represents new information, not a prior tradition. Here’s why the divorce chapter is not historical: If I start quoting well-known lines from the Gettysburg Address, you should recognize them, and I don’t need to tell you that this didn’t come from me. But that’s what Paul does in Corinthians; he says this is – From the Lord, not I. So his audience wouldn’t otherwise be able to distinguish between his teachings and heavenly Jesus’ teachings. That means there wasn’t some historic tradition that had been circulating for twenty years, if there were – the cult members would know them to be teachings of Christ, not Paul’s opinions. He must make this distinction to avoid confusion.
Same with the Thessalonians passage you cited. This is new info in response to questions.
Luckily Paul explains where he gets this information from. Romans 16: 25-26. Scripture, and Revelation. That’s it. Then, if you go to Galatians 1:11-12, Paul flatly denies that any man taught him his ‘gospel’. All these commands from Jesus are coming through divine revelations, and interpretations of the O.T.
Moreover, consider Romans 10:14 = “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Wait a sec, the only one Paul wants people to believe in is Jesus – this verse seems to be literally saying that the Jews have not heard of Jesus! Think about that; if they cannot believe in whom they have not heard, doesn’t that mean they haven’t heard of Jesus? And they need an apostle to preach to them?
This has alarming implications, didn’t Jesus just get done preaching a few years ago in Galilee? But Paul thinks no Jew or Greek had the chance to hear about him; how could he think that if Jesus ever had a teaching ministry on Earth?
As for the ‘Brothers of the Lord’ argument, it is never corroborated anywhere else;
‘Jesus is the Firstborn of many Brethren’. There are lots of references to Christians as brothers and sisters that can’t all be biological, we can’t rule out some sort of fictive kinship classification among Christians. Also, if James was his real, human brother – why doesn’t James mention this? Jude should have been James brother; but neither of their epistles claims blood kinship with Jesus. That kind of credibility should have been invaluable in the early doctrine wars with other Christians. But nobody ever claims this relationship that should have been to their advantage.
So we can’t rule out some kind of fictive kinship, the way modern monks or nuns might call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.
What about the reference to dying on a tree? Here’s a question – if there really was a place on Earth where Jesus died and (was believed) to have resurrection, why didn’t Paul cite the well-known ‘Empty Tomb’ that fundies are always claiming existed? Why not cite the Empty Tomb (or belief in it) in response to the doubters in 1 Conrinthians 15 who think there is no resurrection of the dead? Or for that matter, why not cite the traditions that should have existed for the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, or Lazarus?
Because there was no such tradition.
So where did the crucifixion occur?
So here’s a brief introduction to platonic cosmology:
In short, there is an imperfect, material world – then *there is another world of pure forms* Salvation means leaving your imperfect body, and getting into the realm of pure forms. We can see this idea echoed in… where else but Hebrews:
Hebrews: 9:24 – For Christ is not entered into the Holy Places made with hands, which are *Figures of the True* but into heaven itself! Figures of the True; the platonic view that there are these heavenly worlds with celestial copies of earthly things.
Heaven, it turns out, has layers. Like one of Shrek’s Onions. Higher layers are more spiritual, lower layers more earthly. Here’s an explanation:
It gives evidence that Paul was influenced by this cosmology in 2 Corinthians 12:2.
Jesus was never on Earth at all, or Paul would know of at least a few examples that could be placed in an earthly context.
“Of course Jesus started out as a god. Who else could have a ‘heavenly pre-existence’?”
The Messiah, God’s anointed one and subordinate. Second Temple Judaism had traditions about various examples of heavenly pre-existence. Both the Torah and the Temple were believed to have existed in heaven since the beginning of time long before they came into existence on earth, for example. Ditto for the Messiah. Like a lot of Jesus Mythers you seem to have little understanding of the Judaism that the Jesus sect grew out of and a curiously Christian understanding of things that need to be understood in their first century Jewish context.
“Philippians portrays Jesus as being equal to God”
Another weirdly Christian reading. If you actually look at Philippians 2:6 in the original Greek it actually says that he was not equal to God. The key word there is ἁρπαγμός, meaning “something to be seized, plundered”. But you can’t seize or plunder something you already have. So most Christian translations twist the text to conform to their theology and claim it means “grasped, retained”. That is not what the word means at all, but they have to change the meaning, otherwise what Paul is actually saying is that Jesus WASN’T equal to God. That doesn’t fit with Christian theology but it does fit with a first century Jewish idea of the Messiah as a heavenly subordinate to God before coming to earth. This seems to be precisely what Paul, a first century Jew, believed. Once again, you are reading the evidence with the blinkers of Christianity on and with no grasp of the Jewish context of a Jewish writer talking about his Jewish beliefs about the Jewish Messiah.
“Hebrews 1 portrays Jesus as sitting at God’s right hand.”
Yes, the place of honour for a favoured subordinate. Again, this fits with the Jewish idea of the Messiah as God’s anointed underling, raised to a position of honour. And once again you are reading this the way a Christian would, despite the fact that God sitting at his own right hand is absurd.
“Then, in Colossians 1:17 it says the Jesus is actually upholding the Universe”
Because Paul accepted the Jewish idea of the Messiah and the Logos being the same being and that was the role of the Logos. Again, your problem is both that you don’t understand the Jewish theology of the time and you are crippled by a residual Christian reading of these things.
“If I start quoting well-known lines from the Gettysburg Address, you should recognize them, and I don’t need to tell you that this didn’t come from me.”
If you wanted to emphasise the authoritative nature of the source, then you might say “Remember that it’s not me saying this, it’s the great democratic hero Abraham Lincoln no less.” This would not mean that this was some kind of news to the listener and that they had never heard of Lincoln saying these words. It would, in fact, mean precisely the opposite.
“Moreover, consider Romans 10:14”
Try reading that in context. Before it he says that it is not enough to believe, the believers also have to proclaim the good news, otherwise no-one will know about it. But obviously at least some of the Jews had heard it proclaimed, because he goes on to talk about how “not all the Israelites accepted the good news” and then says “Did they not hear? Of course they did”. Try reading all of the text, not disconnected gobbets.
“There are lots of references to Christians as brothers and sisters that can’t all be biological”
Except there are two that are distinct from the others. In Philippians 1:14 we get a reference to “brothers in the Lord” (τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ), and we have several other such references using this term for Christians generally. But in these examples Paul uses the phrase “brother/s IN the Lord”. Whereas in Galatians 1:19 he uses “brother OF the Lord”. There is only one other place where he makes this grammatical distinction – 1Cor 9:5, where he refers to “the brothers OF the Lord” (ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου) having wives. And in both Galatians 1:19 and 1Cor 9:5 these “brother/s OF the Lord” are mentioned alongside other Christian believers. So clearly whoever these “brother/s OF the Lord” are, the term does not simply mean “Christians, followers of Christ” – they are evidently a distinct sub-group amongst the believers.
So what is this sub-group? Mythers like Doherty and Carrier have to tie themselves in knots to avoid the obvious answer – that this sub-group is made up of James and Jesus’ other siblings. So they invent a whole fantasy about a completely unattested “sub-initiatory group” – a sub-group of Christian believers who are somehow distinct from the general believers and known as the “Brothers OF the Lord”. There’s zero evidence to support this baseless supposition but they have to cobble together this ad hoc fantasy because otherwise … their whole thesis collapses.
And then these guys wonder why no scholars take them seriously.
“Also, if James was his real, human brother – why doesn’t James mention this? Jude should have been James brother; but neither of their epistles claims blood kinship with Jesus.”
Because both those epistles are second century pseudepigraphical works dating from a period when any blood relationship between them and Jesus was being downplayed and eventually excised from the tradition for theological reasons.
“if there really was a place on Earth where Jesus died and (was believed) to have resurrection, why didn’t Paul cite the well-known ‘Empty Tomb’ that fundies are always claiming existed?”
Because the empty tomb story came later and had no developed at this stage. As the story Jesus’ resurrection evolved it went from a matter of “appearances” and visions, like Paul’s, to an increasingly physical revivification. As it did so the “resurrection” stories became increasingly detailed and increasingly concrete, including elements which are almost certainly not historical. Like the tomb. There are traces of earlier traditions where there was no convenient “Joseph of Arimathea” who pops up out of nowhere to offer a convenient tomb (that conveniently fulfils a prophecy in Isaiah), and where it’s actually the Jews who bury Jesus. There’s even a tradition that him being buried “under the sand”. Paul doesn’t mention a tomb because that detail hadn’t developed yet. And no tomb was venerated because no tomb existed.
“So here’s a brief introduction to platonic cosmology: “
I don’t need a “brief introduction” to ancient cosmology and its influence in both Jewish and early Christian theology thanks. I know far more about that stuff than you. Your problem is that you don’t actually have enough of a grasp of the relevant material, especially the Jewish context of Paul’s writings. Which is why all your arguments above are so completely wrong-headed and – weirdly – based on Christian misreadings of the evidence.
Adding the title ‘Messiah’ does not change the fact that this is clearly a deity. A subordinate projection of God, similar to Philo’s Logos. And in Corinthians 10:4 Paul says that Christ was the rock that Moses got water from during the Exodus. That would be a tall order for a 1st century Jewish carpenter. This is undeniably a pre-existent heavenly being.
Not God himself; but a projection subordinate to Him. And with the potential to equal god, as Philippians says – until he chose to humble himself.
When he did he became ‘the firstborn among many brethren,’ as Roman’s 8:29 tells us. Paul never spells out whether Brothers ‘of’ the Lord has a distinct meaning.
But if this distinction didn’t matter, then your argument about James and Jude becomes self-defeating: The reason why their books have authority is the presumption that they were literal earthly brothers of Jesus. Saying that 2nd century Christians weren’t interested in that means they would have no reason to respect these letters.
If you admit the empty tomb was a later development, then you’re essentially admitting that Jesus’ death and resurrection was nothing more than a vision. Couldn’t his existence be just another vision? It’s good that you know so much about ancient mythology and cosmology; so there’s no reason to bring up the tree he died on – because Platonic heaven is where these events supposedly happened.
No one else on Earth heard of them. And if I read further past Romans 10:14, the only ones the Jews have heard are Esias and Moses. Verse 13 tells us to call on the name of the Lord; but in 14, they can’t do that – because they can’t call on him in whom they have not heard. Just the words of the Prophets; by way of scripture, and revelation – that’s all Paul knows about according to Romans’ 16:25.
And since he never tells anyone to remember lessons taught by Jesus on Earth, his statement on divorce, (and the Lord’s supper) is clearly new information his audience did not have. Why else would they be fighting about it if the words of the Lord were known since the beginning of the cult?
“Adding the title ‘Messiah’ does not change the fact that this is clearly a deity.”
A heavenly being is not a “deity”. Jews like Paul believed in a whole hosts of heavenly beings, but only one God. He makes it perfectly clear that Jesus and God are two separate beings, with one clearly lesser than and subordinate to the other.
“A subordinate projection of God, similar to Philo’s Logos. And in Corinthians 10:4 Paul says that Christ was the rock that Moses got water from during the Exodus. That would be a tall order for a 1st century Jewish carpenter.”
You keep getting confused. Of course Paul saw Jesus as more than a Jewish carpenter – he saw him as Yahweh’s Messiah. But he also knew that this Messiah had recently had an earthly existence where he had fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah and been executed and then raised by God from the dead.
“This is undeniably a pre-existent heavenly being.”
As I keep telling you. But not divine and definitely not God. So we see Jesus going from a Jewish apocalyptic preacher to a Jewish Messiah and then to a Messiah who had a heavenly pre-existence and then to a Messiah who had existed since the beginning of time and finally to a God. This is apotheosis – something quite common in the ancient world.
“Paul never spells out whether Brothers ‘of’ the Lord has a distinct meaning.”
Paul makes it clear that these “brothers of the Lord” were not simply followers of Jesus but were a distinct sub-group. We have clear evidence of a distinct sub-group who fit this description – Jesus’ siblings. There is no rational reason to pretend it would have any other meaning.
“But if this distinction didn’t matter, then your argument about James and Jude becomes self-defeating: The reason why their books have authority is the presumption that they were literal earthly brothers of Jesus. Saying that 2nd century Christians weren’t interested in that means they would have no reason to respect these letters.”
That simply isn’t true. Firstly, it’s not clear which of the several people called James and Jude are supposedly the writers of these pseudoepigraphical epistles. Secondly, James and Jude continued to have high status and authority within the second century tradition when they were considered first half-brothers of Jesus and then his cousins. So the fact that the tradition distanced them from Jesus because of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary does not mean that they had no authoritative status at all.
“If you admit the empty tomb was a later development, then you’re essentially admitting that Jesus’ death and resurrection was nothing more than a vision.”
The resurrection was a vision. His death was not. On the contrary, his execution by crucifixion is one of several very awkward elements in his story that his followers struggled to reconcile with the idea that he was the Messiah. Paul refers to this awkward fact as “a stumbling block to the Jews and a scandal to the gentiles”. This is because there was no precedent in Jewish tradition for a Messiah who dies, let alone one who is executed in the most shameful manner imaginable. Christianity arose out of some of his followers managing to reconcile the awkward fact of his execution with the Messianic tradition despite this lack of any precedent in the tradition.
“Couldn’t his existence be just another vision?”
The evidence doesn’t support that idea. There is simply too much in the story that indicates historicity and the Mythicist alternative has to constantly resort to ad hoc workarounds, baseless claims of “interpolations” to make inconvenient evidence go away and supposition-laden hand waving to keep the whole thing from collapsing. Occam’s Razor simply favours a historical Jesus. Which is why Mythicism is such a fringe idea.
“It’s good that you know so much about ancient mythology and cosmology; so there’s no reason to bring up the tree he died on – because Platonic heaven is where these events supposedly happened.”
Please cite any scholar of Middle Platonism that says things like curcifixions of gods happened in the sub-lunar heaven. Just one will do. The atheist Biblical scholar Jeffrey Gibson has engaged Doherty and his followers in online debate and came away scornfully unimpressed. He noted:
“… the plausibility of D[oherty]’s hypothesis depends on not having good knowledge of ancient philosophy, specifically Middle Platonism. Indeed, it becomes less and less plausible the more one knows of ancient philosophy and, especially, Middle Platonism.
If you think that this is not the case, please name anyone among the actual and recognized experts in ancient philosophy and/or on Middle Platonism who thinks D’s views on what the ancients thought about the way the world was constructed, and who did what where, has any merit.”
No-one had been able to take Gibson up on that challenge. That’s because no scholar of Platonism has any conception of the things that Doherty and his clueless followers claim was a commonplace idea in that school of thought. That alone should be telling you something.
But if the penny hasn’t dropped yet, here is Doherty himself admitting that this “sub-lunar fleshy realm” full of gods being crucified and rising from the dead etc is actually not something found in Middle Platonism after all. Responding to some pointed questions about this whole idea a few years ago, he responded:
“I get the idea that you have interpreted me as though I were saying: the pagans placed the myths of their savior gods in the upper world, therefore we have good reason to interpret Paul that way. Actually, my movement was in the opposite direction. I have always worked first with the early Christian record, and come to a heavenly-realm understanding of it through internal evidence (supported by the unworkability of an earthly understanding of that record)”
This is a remarkable admission by Doherty. All through his work he blithely gives the impression that he’s interpreting Paul by reference to Middle Platonism. Yet here he is forced to admit that he has invented the whole idea of a Platonic realm in the heavens where earthly-like events take place and done so working from Paul! In other words, his whole argument is perfectly circular.
And then these people wonder why no scholars take them seriously. You’re defending a failed thesis. Seriously – give up.
“There is simply too much in the story that indicates historicity”
This is a circular argument. We know from ancient rhetoricians that verisimilitude and the air of “historicity” was an art taught writers of fiction in ancient times. We have “historical fiction” from ancient times where we have a blend of fictional and historical persons interacting in real historical places. It is only because the gospels have been deemed historical as a fundamental tenet of Christian dogma for two thousand years that we treat them any differently.
“baseless claims of “interpolations” to make inconvenient evidence go away”
Name one. such “baseless interpolation” used as a central element of Price’s, Doherty’s, or Carrier’s or Wells’s mythicist argument. Just one that does not have strong support in the mainstream literature.
Pingback: 9 things you think you know about Jesus that are probably wrong: | redlegagenda
A general comment relevant to one key aspect of Tim O’Neill’s method of argument can be found in Madsen Pirie’s How To Win Every Argument. From pages 126-128:
When Tim encounters someone who does not fall for his style of argumentation but continues to press him to justify his assertions he digs in deeper with the abuse and walks off. Meanwhile, the invitation for him to engage in civil debate or discussion remains open to him where I have dissected his claims on my blog. I think it is clear, however, that Tim “only has time” for audiences who enjoy is abusive language or who are cowered by it into agreeing with him. He avoids invitations to engage in discussions that might expose weaknesses and fallacies in his claims.
By coincidence, I came across an e-mail I received from a Holocaust denier three years ago last night and the similarities with the sneering above was uncanny. Some extracts:
“Of course, you know that comparing a scholar like Irving or even Faurisson to ‘skinheads and pinheads’ is just poisoning the well. And Fred Leuchter has none of these “ideological biases” you keep accusing Revisionists of, let alone any ‘rabid anti-Semitism’. These are just ad hominem smear tactics.”
Sound familiar? You could substitute “Irving” with “Carrier”, “Faurisson” with “Doherty”, “Leuchter” with “Brodie” and swap out “Revisonist” for “Mythicist” and this would be a vintage Godfrey whine.
Then we get precisely the same sneering taunts and passive aggressive false politeness:
“Of course, if you aren’t the coward others I know say you are, you’ll take up my offer and come over to [the Holocaust Denier/Neo-Nazi Treehouse Club] where we can discuss this intelligently. No name calling or smear tactics – just rational, professional historical analysis and discussion. If you don’t, however, we will just have to chalk you up as another slave to mere academic consensus who simply couldn’t back his claims up with argument and walks away when confronted by people who know more than he does. Your call, little Timmy.”
I think we’ve found your soulmate Neil. Though I find that these fringe ideas tend to attract the same types of personality – ranting fanatics and narcissistic, largely autodidactic contrarians whose self-worth is pinned on the idea they know better than most and so who find a perverse validation in mainstream rejection. Much like fundamentalists and cultists do.
Did I take the sneering neo-Nazi up on this offer? No, I didn’t. Does this mean the Holocaust didn’t happen and the neo-Nazis are right? I let others see if they can work that one out on their own.
LOL!!!!!! So for someone who has no time to bother with this discussion you sure have a lot of time to come back to try once again to poison the well!! “Sneering” indeed!!! The old Hitler/Holocaust trick. Tim — you really cannot bring yourself to engage in a reasoned discussion without resorting to insult and “talking in any tone you like”, can you.
You are here posting the exact same logically fallacious analogy that James McGrath repeats. Do you write his script? One expects such buffoonery and blindness to the simplest reasoning fallacies from McGrath — I really thought you were a bit smarter. I guess when your spleen takes over then out goes the cerebral matter.
Anyone who does not submit to your argument on this topic is a “denier”, a “sneerer”, an “idiot”, etc etc etc — You cannot accept the mere possibility that your point could indeed be fallacious, can you — Anyone who does not give in to you is, as you say, a “bore”. :-)
You really are incredible, Tim. — You have given me a good belly laugh to start my day so thanks for that.
There is a difference between choosing to take the three minutes to draw attention to the uncanny parallel between your sneer above and that of the neo-Nazi and choose not to bother with the hours of pointless effort to refute every point you make, all your replies to those refutation and then all the replies to the replies, <ad nauseam. Anyone can see that. And i have no idea what analogy another target of your endless petty vendettas may have made, but the clear analogy between your weak sneer tactic above and the identical tactic by the neo-Nazi three years ago is there for all to see in black and white. His declaration of victory is as hollow and pathetic as yours.
Speaking of Nazis, they will feature prominently in a blog post I’ll be dedicating to you in coming weeks.
From the above, it appears that according to Tim when I insist on a civil discussion free from insult is “like a holocaust denier”????? From the above, when I identify his tactics as “poisoning the well” I am being “like a Holocaust denier”???? (Only a McGrath, I thought, capable of such fallacy.)
Insisting on freedom from insult is “a tactic” that makes one “like a Holocaust denier”. A murderer demands his dues. I guess anyone who demands what is rightfully theirs is like a murderer.
X insists on civil discourse as a tactic for hypocrtical ends
Y insists on civil discourse
Tim said he wants to use any tone he likes — including freedom from civil discourse
Therefore Tim concludes that Y insists on civil discourse as a tactic for hypocrtical ends.
Tim substitutes what he calls a “tactic” for substance. And he further “poisons the well” by describing normal civil discourse when used dishonestly by, say, a mafia boss, or any other X, as “a tactic” — and then saying that someone he doesn’t like who uses normal civil discourse is also like that mafia boss or X…. There’s a bit of a fallacy there, Tim. See it?
Tim, you do not have to come to my blog to discuss civilly. You can do it right here. I only mentioned the blog venue because you HAVE been there and DID attempt to answer my critique and it was only after you resorted to insult that I gave you the ultimatum — and you have used that as your excuse not to return.
I have even gone to another site where you posted and attempted to argue with you there, too — but again just the same insults and no attempt to deal with the evidence or argument presented.
So why not here, Tim? Begin by discussing calmly and professionally my responses to your arguments?
Oh, that’s right, you don’t have the time, do you. It does not take much time to simply respond briefly to my specific points countering your argument.
And now Tim resorts to threats of further defamatory abuse by writing “Speaking of Nazis, they will feature prominently in a blog post I’ll be dedicating to you in coming weeks.”
Just by the way……
Holocaust Deniers do indeed need to be countered with the evidence and valid argument. Their own perspective does indeed need to be understood and addressed. I disagree fundamentally with some types of mythicist arguments such as those involving “astrotheology” (Acharya S and co), but I have never resorted to abuse — I have actually taken the time to engage with them and attempt to demonstrate the flaws in their arguments and methods. It does not change their minds, of course, at least not immediately, but it is good to have on record for others and for future reference what is exactly wrong with their case.
I have done the same with other “whacky” ideas like the Atlantis myth and conspiracy theories.
Tim ought to have taken up the Holocaust Denier’s invitation rather than resorted to abuse — such a response only entrenches their misguided views. I believe had he done so he could have done some of them and others who might be influenced a real service. The Deniers’ arguments would have been exposed.
I should add that I believe Tim is completely sincere in what he says he believes about me personally and others who are open to the mythicist point of view. But he attributes bad character or something similar to us when we fail to agree to his POV.
I have posted about this tendency to resort to accusations regarding motives, character, personality, etc of those who disagree with us. It emanates from a type of thinking that is . . . . well…. read it here: http://vridar.org/2016/05/09/once-more-on-system-1-and-system-2-thinking/
A core argument for the historicity of Jesus that is repeated here by T.O. that we have clear and plain evidence for the historical existence of James who was known as the brother of Jesus and to dispute this evidence is as strong as it gets when we are digging into ancient history.
The evidence T.O. cites:
1. Paul writes that he met James the brother of Jesus;
2. Josephus in Book 18 of the Antiquities writes about one he calls James the brother of Christ — clearly referring to his earlier reference to Jesus.
If I have misstated T.O.’s case I am sure someone can call me out on that.
However, there are sound reasons to question both pieces of evidence.
Before I mention the problems with those two pieces of evidence there is another consideration that needs to be assessed. If indeed James was the brother of the Lord Jesus then we are left with a number of very strange anomalies or gaps in the remainder of the evidence we have for earliest Christianity. Now there might be very good reasons for these and maybe they can all be explained but we do at least need to be aware of the problems that arise if indeed Paul and Josephus do reliably inform us that James was a prominent leader in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus.
If James, a leader of the church, really was a sibling of Jesus we would expect to find supporting claims to this effect in the contemporary or near contemporary literature.
But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus despite his prominence in the Jerusalem church. Additionally, we have the unexpected failure to explain how this James acquired this position of pre-eminence. The beginning of the book indicates only twelve apostles and a total of 120 brethren were the original Christian club. James is not singled out. Yet we inexplicably find a James (not said to be a relative) leading the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. It should further be kept in mind that we have no reason to assume that the designation “brother of the Lord” in Galatians was a reference to a “head” of the church as James appears to be in Acts.
The letter attributed to James in the New Testament gives no hint that its author knew that the name and person of James was a blood relation of Jesus. One would have expected some such indication in a letter sent to brethren far and wide (to “the twelve tribes”) to alert readers to the presumed author’s authority. This would be especially so if James were a reasonably common name. Given the often contentious nature of early Christian correspondence it is difficult to explain why any information to enhance the author’s authoritative status would not be made explicit.
The letter attributed to Jude in the New Testament is just as unexpected in the way it identifies its author as the brother of James and not Jesus — if indeed our hypothesis were correct.
The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus. There are no indications anywhere in the Gospels that this hostility was ever resolved. So on the strength of what we know from the Gospels we must suspect that the James Paul met in Jerusalem was not the same as the brother in the Gospels. If he were the same we would expect some hint somewhere that he came to have a change of heart.
Another factor in the Gospel account is the unusual combination of the names assigned to the brothers of Jesus. Any discussion on whether or not Jesus had literal siblings necessarily embraces Mark’s naming four brothers:
Although the names may have been common, to find these particular names all bracketed together is still striking. Jacob, Joseph and Judah are three of the most prominent of Israelite patriarchs, and Simeon, too, is strongly associated in this status with Judah. As historical Jesus scholar Paul Fredriksen remarks:
Paul in Galatians expresses no interest in learning about Jesus things that only a brother could know. He even scoffs at the idea that James might have anything to teach him.
The context in which the brothers of Jesus appear in the first Gospel (Mark) is the theological message that prophets are not accepted by their own kith and kin. The scene is presented to illustrate this message. It sets Jesus in the tradition of other men of God: Abel, Joseph, Jephthah, Moses, David . . . So the purpose is not to convey historical information but to illustrate a theological message and claim about Jesus. Given the absence of any other evidence clearly supporting historicity, this is a point against the historicity of the relationship between the two persons.
There are more issues relating to the use of the expression “brother of the Lord” — I do not dispute its “natural” meaning, the same one T.O. assigns it. These details are set out here and here.
So there are problems if there was indeed a prominent Jerusalem leader, James a brother of Jesus, known to both Paul and Josephus. But maybe the evidence for this James is so strong that we have to accept or find other solutions to those problems.
Historians must always assess the reliability and validity of the primary source material. The letters of Paul have not come down to us pristine copies of exactly what he wrote. We know for a fact that Paul’s letters were fought over by competing sects and that each accused the other of interpolating passages into the letters or erasing passages from them. In fact these are the accusations flying around from the very first moment we find external attestation to any knowledge of Paul’s letters in the second century.
I have not seen a mythicist argue that Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation (maybe there is someone I have overlooked — I can’t recall off-hand) but I have read an anti-mythicist, someone arguing against mythicism, suggesting that there is some evidence that the passage of Paul meeting James is an interpolation.
There is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 (Paul’s claim to have met James the brother of the Lord) till the time of Origen (3rd century) despite its apparent potential usefulness in arguments against Marcionites by “orthodox” representatives such as Tertullian (second century).
There is also a critical case of some slight potency against the authenticity of Gal. i, 18, 19, which was absent from Marcion’s Apostolicon; the word “again” in Gal. ii, 1, which presupposes the earlier passage, seems to have been interpolated as it is absent from Irenaeus’s full and accurate citation of this section of the Epistle to the Galatians in his treatise against Heretics. (p. 76 of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith.)
So there is indeed some wiggle room for doubt about the authenticity of Galatians 1:19 given the unexpectedness of all the above factors if indeed Paul had met such a brother of Jesus.
As for the Josephus passage, it is indisputable that there is some oddity or awkwardness in the way James is said to be the brother of one called Christ. The details are addressed elsewhere and I can certainly provide links to anyone interested. There is also the difficulty of the passage identifying James’s brother as one known as “Christ” — because pretty well all scholars agree that the term would be meaningless to his Roman audience, and he would never have used the word without explanation when he first mentioned Jesus in an earlier passage. Of course we can suggest that the earlier passage did have a more detailed explanation etc etc but then we are going beyond the evidence.
There are other serious problems if that Josephan James was the same one Paul met. The description of him is entirely Jewish without any hint of Christian associations at all – which makes sense given the way Josephus says approvingly that all the Jews admired him.
I suggest that these points all offer us reasonable grounds for having some doubt that the two pieces of evidence T.O. uses to prove the historicity of Jesus do really support the historicity of Jesus.
This has taken more than three minutes, but I thought it worthwhile to have the alternative argument set out so that the thread did not conclude on a pointless dispute over whether T.O. gains anything by calling those who dispute his claims “idiots”, like “Holocaust Deniers”, “bores”, etc etc etc.
I do indeed hope T.O. would see fit to address these above points here in a civil tone. Or is that me using the tactics of Holocaust Deniers again?
I see the Jesus story as part of the evolution of human worship. The dying/resurrected God-King myth had been around long before Jesus. Take a generation or two after his death for local remembered historical worship of Adonis to start mixing with his story. The personality cult of Jesus takes hold and spreads until eventually the Roman Empire seizes its story to rally its failing unity. Given the circumstances of the World at the time the gospels were curated, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the tale of a local folk ‘hero’ would become enveloped in the religious melting pot to eventually produce a uniting force for the Empire to rally around, and past it’s death to be used as the foundation for the post Roman rule.
As a progressive Christian, I recognize and basically agree with your observations. The implicit acceptance that Jesus WAS a real person is important. Both extremes are misleading and potentially harmful: That he is entirely fictitious or that the New Testament (or non-canonical gospels, etc.) record accurate history and “quotation” of him. It’s important for Christians and non-Christians both to realize that the Gospels as well as Acts represent a novel (i.e., new) kind of literature not quite paralleled by previous styles. The style/purpose involves a mixing of recent actual events with creative story-telling, mythological elements, inclusion of important Jewish history and teachings, Gentile perspectives, etc.
They, along with Paul’s letters in a different genre, are a “smooshing” together of a lot of elements in a time of highly disturbing, often tragic social/economic/political changes… climax in the 1st century being the starvation and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and its cultural/religious/economic center, the gorgeous, elaborate Temple. This kind of thing WILL stimulate new, inventive ways of understanding and dealing with conditions. (Paul, of course, wrote prior to the Jerusalem destruction, but all the rest of the NT apparently after it, although maybe Mark during the war, just before the climax.) In a little informal surveying, I’m appalled at how few people (Christian or not) know just when/how Jerusalem was destroyed and the massive impact it had on the subsequent development of both Judaism and Christianity.
LikeLiked by 2 people
BTW, some of my blog posts deal with these (just referred to, above) historical and literary elements in relation to the development of Christianity… around the fall of Jerusalem, and around the conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders during the unsettled period building up to the full outright rebellion that began in 66 CE, and of which our main source is the Jewish captured general, Josephus. He wrote later under Roman imperial employ but still in defense of Judaism, as a sort of “Jewish apologist”, and an “historian” about as historical as any writer of that time (not a modern-type one). I include a review of the little-known but important book for deeper study of the fall of Jerusalem in relation to developing Christianity, “The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church” by SGF Brandon.
Hello Howard, thanks for your reply. Just to be clear I’m not stating either way whether Jesus existed or not. I’m not privy to any empirical data that proves, or disproves his existence nor have I read anything which does likewise. Your point about Jerusalem is very interesting and may have have an effect on the narrative of the story being formed.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Vridar » Breitbart’s War on Jesus “Mythicism”
Pingback: History writer: Jesus probably never existed — here’s why Christianity emerged anyway | Έλληνες Μυθικιστές
So in regards to #3 that’s a very weak argument. One of the easiest way to spot a lie is when accounts of events are identical. Any detective will tell you if they have three suspects who give exact same testimony or story that is a gigantic red flag. If me, Jane, and John Doesn’t are suspected of armed robbery 6 months ago and we all three state at the time of the robbery we were watching a specific movie and paused movie at the exact same moment and give all exact matching details we become even greater suspects. This argument has no bearing on proving or disproving Jesus’ existance. I will go even further by stating using this argument hurts, substantially any other argument because If you’re willing to use such a weak argument it looks like a straw grasp.
Nobody can prove or disprove Jesus existing. Well, perhaps you can disprove some kinds of Jesus, like the ones in the gospels. In terms of whether there’s a single Jewish rabbi at the heart of the stories, it’s all about probability.
Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.