2010-02-04

The legitimacy of questioning the historicity of Jesus

by Neil Godfrey
Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"

Cover of The End of Biblical Studies

To argue for a nonhistorical Jesus has been ignorantly compared with arguing “Creation Science” (“Intelligent Design”).

So it is interesting to read the following from one of the foremost public critics of Creation Science:

Of course, there are scholars who are more openly secular humanist, and are willing to depart from the religionism that permeates historical Jesus studies. One example is Robert M. Price, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, who provides a devastating critique of historical Jesus studies in Deconstructing Jesus — and we share many of his conclusions. Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. Burton Mack and Gerd Ludemann also have done much to erode our confidence in the more religionist versions of historical Jesus research. Our purpose is not to slight them, but rather to show that the predominant schools of historical Jesus research in academia have still not superseded Reimarus, who had a perfectly reasonable hypothesis centered on empirico-rationalism.

p. 197, The End of Biblical Studies (2007) by Hector Avalos.

And who is this Avalos?

From Wikipedia, Avalos “is also one of the most prominent secular humanist biblical scholars today.”

As for his credentials in detecting genuine studies from fraudulent ones like Creation Science, again from Wikipedia:

“Avalos has become an internationally-recognized critic of Intelligent Design, and he is often linked with Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, the advocate of Intelligent Design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007. Avalos co-authored a statement against Intelligent Design in 2005, which was eventually signed by over 130 faculty members at Iowa State University. That faculty statement became a model for other statements at the University of Northern Iowa and at the University of Iowa. Gonzalez and Avalos are both featured in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008).”

And from another:

Twentieth-century scholarship, with its faith in history, assumed a historical Jesus as its starting point. It shared Schweitzer’s personal dilemma: a choice between a Jesus who fits modern visions of Christianity and Mark’s failed prophet. But they always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe.

p. 7, The Messiah Myth (2005) by Thomas L. Thompson

So who is this Thompson?

Also from Wikipedia, Thomas L. Thompson was a theology professor at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009.

[He] has held positions at the University of Dayton (Instructor in theology, 1964 – 65), University of Detroit (Assistant Professor: Old Testament, 1967 – 69), Tübingen Atlas of the Near East (research associate, 1969 – 76), École Biblique (visiting professor, 1985 – 86), Lawrence University (visiting associate professor, 1988 – 89), and Marquette University (associate professor, 1989 – 93), and was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993-2009. He was named a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1988. He is general editor for the Equinox Press monograph series Copenhagen International Seminar and associate editor of the Scandinavian Journal for the Old Testament, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Holy Land Studies and Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift.

He has written 14 books, one of which, The Bible in History, is widely used as a set-text in undergraduate courses in biblical studies.

And one more for luck:

Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. . . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus.

p.402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.

Who’s Schweitzer?


Added 14 Feb, 2010:

I had thought that the heading of this post was sufficient to contextualize the quotations above. (I certainly thought it was enough not to give the biographical detail on him as I gave on the others — I assumed my concluding quip was enough to set the tone and context.) But I have recently learned that one person (here) has interpreted my reference to Schweitzer as an attempt by me to get others to think that Schweitzer is a mythicist sympathizer. That is, of course, ridiculous. I took for granted that readers who know anything about Schweitzer would know his position on this. This was, of course, my point — that even one who argued comprehensively against mythicist arguments should concede certain facts about the argument that enable it to endure.

To repeat part of my response on that blog here:

Michael Shermer is able to quite comfortably pull apart Creationist arguments in a civil, courteous and professional manner and tone. I have demonstrated it is quite possible to pull apart in an informative and clear way something as “fringe” as Atlantis theories.

It is perhaps sadly instructive that quite a number of biblical scholars appear to find such processes beyond them when confronted with mythicist arguments, and they feel a need to resort to ridicule and misrepresentation and insult.

Albert Schweitzer — and this is a key point of my references to him — would not be impressed.

You are public intellectuals and I would consider that you have a responsibility to your publics to give them more than examples of prejudice and uncivil responses when faced with a radical difference of view.


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  • 2010-02-04 18:16:17 UTC - 18:16 | Permalink

    If you’re serious about deducing historicity relative to the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, you haven’t truly begun until you’ve digested
    http://www.netzarim.co.il
    (especially, but not limited to, their History Museum pages)

  • 2010-02-04 22:26:18 UTC - 22:26 | Permalink

    But you’ve just illustrated one of the key similarities between young-earth creationism and Jesus mythicism. Both think that simply by showing that an alternative scenario is possible, they have refuted mainstream scholarship. But no historian will deny that the existence of Jesus, like everything else in history, cannot be determined with absolute certainty. The question is what is more likely, and when placed in those terms, there can be no serious doubt that some sort of historical figure of Jesus (however obscured by myth) and some form of biological evolution have the weight of evidence and theory in their favor. The biggest challenge for mythicism is that it has yet to find a proponent who offers not only challenges to specific arguments by mainstream historians, but presents a scenario for the creation of a purely mythical Jesus as well as the New Testament Gospels and other writings, a scenario that is not only possible but more persuasive than ones involving an actual Jesus.

    • 2010-02-06 23:26:28 UTC - 23:26 | Permalink

      Well, that’s certainly a Pascalian take.

      Don’t bother me with “Did Jesus exist or not?” questions. What I’m concerned about is the atrocities and the horror, being committed “in Jesus’ name” TODAY, in the present, the here and now. Like this, just for a topical for instance. And don’t give me the “well, they aren’t REAL Christians” cop-out, that’s just an excuse. They say they’re Christians? They’re Christians.

      Rehashing three-thousand-year-old arguments is a nice little diversionary tactic to avoid dealing with/resolving the real problems with Christianity that exist today, in the here and now, in my opinion.

  • 2010-02-04 22:28:55 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

    Ironic – I don’t think the term “rabbi” was used for Pharisees in the 1st century.

  • mcduff
    2010-02-04 23:51:16 UTC - 23:51 | Permalink

    James.
    But it is the lack of ‘weight of evidence and theory ” that does not allow your conclusion that “there can be no serious doubt that some sort of historical figure of Jesus” to be as confidently asserted as you have put.

    It is precisely the collection and analysis of that evidence [or lack therof] that is raising the question of the historicity of the Christ figure.

    “Presenting a scenario for the creation of a purely mythical Jesus’ is easily achieved if one leaves aside the Christian centred viewpoint.

    A mythical JC can easily be envisaged as the product similar to the process that applies to the hundreds, thousands even, of other god-figures that abound in other cultures and religions and who have been the subjects and objects of literary works and whom Christians [and Christian scholars and Christian historians] do not regard as historical but as the product of some myth creating social process.
    Surely I don’t need to give examples?

    When one considers the [obvious] paucity of evidence for YEC and the similar lack of evidence for a historical JC one is forced to conclude that the similarity that exists is between YEC and an HJ each without the massive quantity of evidence that applies to scientific evolution.
    Evolution and HJ are not both oranges.

    The only way we can approach this issue is to consider the evidence.

    And the evidence for an HJ is …..?

  • 2010-02-05 00:01:39 UTC - 00:01 | Permalink

    This is precisely one of the problems with Jesus mythicism. Comparisons are made to dying and rising gods, with little recognition of the fact that Jesus is not (or at least not unambiguously) treated as God in our earliest sources, and in those instances that could be so interpreted it is posthumous deification (e.g. Philippians 2:6-11). There is also little awareness of what the connotations of Messiah were in a Jewish context in this period, and why it seems extremely unlikely to historians well-informed about the period that anyone would invent something as oxymoronic as a “crucified Messiah.”

    • rey
      2010-02-05 12:21:39 UTC - 12:21 | Permalink

      Philippians is not our earliest source. Especially since we know Marcion’s version of Philippians came first and that he did consider Jesus to be God so much that he didn’t consider him to be totally human. Our present Philippians is just a Judaistic reworking. Surely where Marcion treated Jesus as God in Philippians, the Judaists changed it a separated between God and our Lord Jesus Christ where Marcion had our Lord Jesus Chrestos as God.

  • mcduff
    2010-02-05 00:24:43 UTC - 00:24 | Permalink

    James.
    Are we agreed that mythic god figures can arise from non-historical roots?
    As in many of the world’s numerous religions.
    That the existence of stories and literature about a god figure is not evidence for either the godliness nor historicity of such a figure?

  • 2010-02-05 01:25:42 UTC - 01:25 | Permalink

    This seems to me to be a rather strange combination of propositions, not all of which would command equal consent from historians if they are supposed to be adopted a priori.

    Can mythic God figures arise from non-historical roots? Presumably this means can someone invent a deity that is not based on a historical human being, and the answer is certainly “yes” – but there is also evidence for humans being deified and for divinities evolving into figures thought to have appeared in history. So it seems like just about anything is possible in theory.

    Your second point isn’t a complete sentence, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to say about it (apart from that).

    As I’ve already pointed out, our earliest stories about Jesus are not stories about a God, or even a God-become-flesh. Stories about individuals are frequently used by historians. The existence of a story doesn’t prove anything, but the fact that a story is told but cannot be confirmed with more concrete evidence doesn’t lead automatically to the story’s dismissal by historians. The situation will be less certain than if there were other types of confirming evidence, to be sure, but uncertainty is part and parcel of the historical enterprise. But to suggest that written texts can always be discounted seems bizarre. Of course, if the individual in question is a deity and not just a deified mortal, that places the story outside of the realm of what historians can investigate. But you would be hard pressed to find a mainstream historian or New Testament scholar who would place the earliest narratives about Jesus into that category.

    • rey
      2010-02-05 12:26:57 UTC - 12:26 | Permalink

      “As I’ve already pointed out, our earliest stories about Jesus are not stories about a God, or even a God-become-flesh.” (McGrath)

      What are the earliest sources? Paul’s epistles, you will say. Ok, so let’s look at Romans 1, shall we?

      Romans 1:1-6 “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, [proto-orthodox interpolations removed] by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name. Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Chrestos.”

      Clearly here we find Jesus Chrestos referred to as God. Paul is separated unto the gospel of God, by whom ye are called, ye are the called of Jesus Chrestos. God and Jesus Chrestos are used as synonymous.

      Oh, but you will now argue that “Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” is authentic in this introduction even though it serves no introductory purpose but only an anti-Marcionite purpose. Sheer stupidity.

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-02-06 04:12:18 UTC - 04:12 | Permalink

        Rey,

        Do you have any evidence that this is a proto-orthodox interpolation?

      • rey
        2010-02-06 09:07:45 UTC - 09:07 | Permalink

        IT overloads the intro. There’s a ton of scholarly work on the fact that this is a proto-orthodox interpolation. This is the poster-child of proto-orthodox interpolation. There is no need for any of that material in the intro to the letter except as anti-Marcionite rhetoric in later times. Because the Marcionites appeal to Romans so much let’s shove a reference to “according to the Scriptures” right in the first few verses of Romans and throw in a reference to Jesus being “made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Come one man! Wake up! Paul isn’t writing to Pagan in Rome. Why does he have to say all this mouthful of trivial Christian doctrine in the intro to the letter? Once you remove this stuff, you get an actual letter intro and don’t any longer get thrown off track by the introduction of anti-Marcionite rhetoric being thrown into the salutation.

        Romans 1:1-6 “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name. Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.”

        Now read it with all this added back in: “Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”

        Give me a break.

    • rey
      2010-02-05 12:29:53 UTC - 12:29 | Permalink

      Continuing in Romans 1. Romans 1:8 “First, I thank my God [interpolation:through] Jesus Chrestos for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”

      What is the function of “my” in “my God” except to indicate belief in a separate God from the God of others. I.e. I thank my God, Jesus Chrestos, not the Jews’ god, the Demiurge.

      • 2010-02-06 23:37:35 UTC - 23:37 | Permalink

        “my God, Jesus Chrestos, not the Jews’ god, the Demiurge.”

        Hmmm, you’re not of the school of thought that the Pauline pseudepigraphia were Gnostic, are you Rey? I do agree with you, that that IS what the author was getting (“his” god as a separate god, particularly when you consider the excoriation of “the unknown god” elsewhere in the Pauline canon), but IIRC, the idea of Demiurgos rose much later, than the earliest-dated manuscripts of the canonized Christian bible, and was not included in same at all, except perhaps for Logos sneaking in by way of the author of the Johaninne corpus, and Sophia, by way of the Hellenized Jews, who set the Solomonic myths down in writing.

      • rey
        2010-02-07 06:33:48 UTC - 06:33 | Permalink

        I’m of the school of thought that the ten epistles were written by Marcion then later interpolated by the proto-Orthodox when they absorbed them into the canon to better compete with the Marcionites. One big reason is we find NO REFERENCE AT ALL to Paul in Justin Martyr and earlier writers. The man doesn’t seem to exist in the ‘orthodox’ mind until the 170s. The reason is obvious. He was at first only the apostle of the ‘heretics.’ Then when the ‘orthodox’ saw how popular he was, they had to ‘take possession’ of him.

    • rey
      2010-02-05 12:33:27 UTC - 12:33 | Permalink

      Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

      It “is the power of God…because in it is revealed….” Should this not read “it is the REVELATION of God…because in it is revealed…”???

      “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the REVELATION of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew and also to the Greek. For therein is the Good God revealed from faith to faith.”

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-02-06 16:56:01 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

        Hi Rey,

        I am awake and I will give you a break :)

        Thanks for this. Do you have references to articles where this interpolation is discussed?

        If I remember correctly Doherty does not take this to be an interpolation (or does he?)

        Your arguments seem plausible, but I am always a bit hesitant with regards to interpolations. I’d like to see how this is discussed in scholarly joujrnals.

      • rey
        2010-02-07 06:45:39 UTC - 06:45 | Permalink

        This particular point of suspecting that ‘power’ might have read ‘revelation’ at one point is pure conjecture on my part.

  • 2010-02-05 02:00:34 UTC - 02:00 | Permalink

    “Creation Science” (let’s call it ID) by no means presents an alternative hypothesis that “merely” needs to show why it should be accepted rather than evolution. That it has done so is the bogus claim of the ID’ers themselves and it is this claim — that it should be seen as an alternative hypothesis or explanation of the evidence — that is simply fallacious. ID is not an explanation of the evidence. It denies its students an ability to explain the data by resorting to “God did it”.

    The comparison of Jesus mythicism and ID is simply invalid and not based on any knowledge of the Jesus mythicism arguments.

    Secondly, Jesus mythicism is not an “alternative” explanation of the evidence. Where is there any historicist analysis of the evidence to argue for the fact of the historical Jesus? Historical Jesus studies all assume there is an historical Jesus to uncover or explain.

    James, you refer to Phil. 2:6-11 as a piece of the earliest evidence for a “posthumous deification”. This is simply not so. The very first verse establishes the deity of Jesus from the very beginning. What was posthumous was his restoration to his heavenly place, and an even greater divine status than he had had hitherto.

    To say there is little awareness of what the concept of Messiah was in Jewish life at the time is simply not so. The Jewish concept was widely varied, as you know, and I don’t know what you are referring to when you say awareness of this is in little evidence in the Jesus mythicist arguments.

    But to argue from incredulity that the notion of a “crucified messiah” would not be invented but could only derive from a real history is the very fallacy of ID. “How else?” And the rhetorical question is meant to stop all further enquiry! This is the logical fallacy underpinning ID and that makes ID unworthy of being called a science at all.

    You mentioned the failure to appreciate an awareness of the extent of messianic ideas among Jews, but we do know some Jews (at least late first century if not earlier) believed in one of two Messiahs to appear was to die. If some Second Temple Jews could interpret the offering of Isaac as a death and resurrection/restoration from death and interpret his blood as an atonement for their nation or race, then how far are we removed from a mythical origin of a crucified saviour? The idea of descent (from heaven) and redemption — as per the Philippian hymn — is clearly a non-historical concept.

    And not to forget the various interpretations of the Son of Man and Messiah in Daniel!

    The notion of the martyred, rejected, pious hero who undergoes the depths of despair and loss only to be vindicated at the end is a common enough trope. It is a story that resonates easily with people who are looking for some redemption from their person sufferings. The notion of redemption through a crucified messiah is surely more plausible as originating in a story than in reality that can only repeat the experience of despair.

    As you said, it is a question of probabilities. To assert that the idea of a “crucified messiah” was so unlikely and without any precedents in Jewish or Hellenistic thought at the time that it could only derive from the hallucinatory or psychological experiences of a few distraught souls after the end of their dreams with their teacher, and spread and take off around the whole world, — especially given the unstable nature of the evidence for even such an unlikely scenario — this is hardly an argument for historicity. It is merely a Eusebian presumption of historicity and scarcely an argument that grapples seriously with the evidence. It is, as stated above, merely the same logical fallacy of ID (“How else?”) that is designed to stop any further serious enquiry.

    I suspect it is in this case the historicists who are the ones begging the question and relying on the logical fallacies, and who are the ones who are failing to grapple seriously and knowledgably with the other side of the debate, preferring to claim to have answered the other side merely by knocking down a few straw men.

    • 2010-02-06 23:47:38 UTC - 23:47 | Permalink

      “To say there is little awareness of what the concept of Messiah was in Jewish life at the time is simply not so.”

      Quite correct, there have been several claimants to the title, over the years. The most recent one died in New York, but is still regarded as Messianic by some deluded followers.

      “And not to forget the various interpretations of the Son of Man and Messiah in Daniel!”

      Judaism actually does not view Daniel as part of the inerrant, core texts of their religion. Oh, that Christianity, had only followed suit! Neil, you and I certainly would not have the religious pasts that we do, if it had! :-)

      “I suspect it is in this case the historicists who are the ones begging the question and relying on the logical fallacies, and who are the ones who are failing to grapple seriously and knowledgably with the other side of the debate, preferring to claim to have answered the other side merely by knocking down a few straw men.”

      I suspect you are correct.

  • 2010-02-05 02:10:17 UTC - 02:10 | Permalink

    Ironically, you assert as clear-cut and unambiguous things that are not. The meaning of “in the form of God” at the beginning of the Philippians hymn certainly seems to many NT scholars (although not the majority) to allude to Adam and compare Jesus to him. The “hyper-exaltation” at the end, with bestowal of the divine name, also implies that the status at the end is higher than that which Jesus had at the hymn’s beginning.

    I assume you were alluding to 4 Ezra when you mention a Messiah who dies. I don’t think that is the same as having a royal anointed one be executed by the foreign overlords.

    You mention knocking down straw men. It may be that both sides have done some of that, but I don’t see that your attempt to question this or that detail of evidence amounts to a positive case for how and why the Jesus myth was supposedly created, much less how within a generation it came to be misunderstood as a story about a historical individual.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-05 04:17:42 UTC - 04:17 | Permalink

    Hi James,

    I’m glad you have found your way to Neil’s blog. Listening to Jesus mythicists (sorry Neil, I know you don’t consider yourself a Jesus mythicist) I consider to be a huge step for a biblical scholar. It is so easy to dismiss the hypothesis when all colleagues do not take it seriously. Although I think there is almost no chance Jesus mythicism will enter mainstream biblical scholarship in the next few decades given the historicist presuppostions that everybody has been taught and has built a carreer on (not to mention the problem that almost all NT scholars believe in some sort of Christian God), I do hope that Jesus mythicism will at least be represented correctly by critics. That is not easy when the vast majority of scholars have not even read Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” and don’t really know the main arguments brought forward against a historical Jesus. I must also repeat that until the comparisons with YEC have been dropped no serious discussion is possible (as I argued on your blog).

  • 2010-02-05 07:24:55 UTC - 07:24 | Permalink

    Not speaking as a mythicist, as I tend most days to think a historical figure lurks behind Jesus, the insistence on having a “positive case,” as James puts it, is not uncommon, and in my view, also not productive. New ideas come out of noting inconsistencies, critiquing accepted theory, and reconsidering what is historically probable. It’s fair enough to ask for better evidence, of course, but there’s a limit to how generous that seems.

  • 2010-02-05 11:05:33 UTC - 11:05 | Permalink

    Bill and Mike, I think you are making claims that support rather than counter the comparison with Young-Earth Creationism. Bill, you suggest that the problem is the closed-mindedness of mainstream scholarship. Where have I heard that before? And Mike, one of the reasons various forms of creationism fail to be taken seriously by mainstream science is that they, at best, point out things that are still unknown, uncertain, or perhaps problematic in evolutionary theory. But even if they were right about all these points, they have no better theory to offer. Pointing out problems is not the way to change a paradigm. Offering a better solution to the problems is. And so as long as a “historicist” paradigm makes sense of most or all of the available data, admittedly with many puzzles and uncertainties, it is unclear why anyone should even consider mythicism seriously, which has the early Christians inventing a crucified Messiah and then trying to persuade their fellow Jews why that isn’t an oxymoron.

  • 2010-02-05 12:06:44 UTC - 12:06 | Permalink

    Ay, but there’s the rub. The burden of proof is assumed to be on any challenger, even if the dominant/established theory has problems, and everyone simultaneously forgets the burden of proof is just a dialectical guideline, not a principle of logic. Only jurisprudence wields the BOP well, as it goes. (I’m in the middle of writing a paper on how scholars evoke perceived “fallacies” that aren’t logical fallacies by any logical standard to preemptively shut down certain kinds of arguments, so this is fresh on my mind)

    Again, I am neither a mythicist nor a creationist (which I think is a really poor analogy in any case to the matter at hand, bordering on Godwin’s law), but I think anyone taking on the mantle of the BOP’s opposite, the benefit of assumption, has an special ethical responsibility to be a little extra open-minded, knowing that any attacks on the definition of what is probable have the odds stacked against them. Otherwise, established theories can rarely improve because budding alternate theories are squashed in the name of efficiently cutting down on extra ontological possibilities.

    Q is a great example of this – a theoretical Titanic with so much momentum that it still seems quite impressive even as it is majestically sinking – very, very slowly – as the prevailing definition of what is ‘probable’ shifts, and along with it, who is perceived to hold the burden of proof among several probable explanations.

    Is it more likely than not that there is a historical person behind the Jesus material? It’s a reasonable working hypothesis for me. There are problems with it, though, given we arguably have nothing written by anyone that knew or even just saw such a person, much of the secondhand information is suspect, and there is no physical evidence. As a result, I am open to alternatives, including the possibility that Jesus was never more than a character.

  • rey
    2010-02-05 12:15:06 UTC - 12:15 | Permalink

    “it is unclear why anyone should even consider mythicism seriously, which has the early Christians inventing a crucified Messiah and then trying to persuade their fellow Jews why that isn’t an oxymoron.” (McGrath)

    Perhaps you don’t get it because you’re the oxymoron. The early Christians didn’t invent a crucified Messiah. They preached about an Alien God who came down in the likeness of men and kicked the OT god’s butt by dying on a cross and forcing him to accept the blood that he shed in his jealous rage as a ransom payment for humanity. Then the Jews got pissed and corrupted the new religion by making the Alien God into the Messiah by splitting the one gospel (Marcion’s) into four and interpolating those four full of bogus OT prophecy fulfillment claims and putting words in Jesus’ mouth like “thing not that I have come to destroy the Law” and by interpolating Marcion’s epistles with idiotic OT argumentation and renaming Marcion to Paul and writing a totally non-historical book called Acts to Judaize him. (Personally I think their Alien God Jesus figure was a historical reality, but that’s beside the point, which is that “historical Jesus” scholarship is always stupid and wrong because it assumes that “orthodoxy” is a trustworthy foundation.)

    • 2010-02-06 23:53:06 UTC - 23:53 | Permalink

      “Perhaps you don’t get it because you’re the oxymoron.”

      Now there’s a mature response.

      • rey
        2010-02-07 07:04:51 UTC - 07:04 | Permalink

        He is an oxymoron in the sense of his being totally committed to the ‘orthodox’ non-gnostic view of Jesus even though he isn’t himself ‘orthodox.’ He basically just thinks Jesus is some historical man and people wrote gospels about him. He doesn’t really believe all of what the gospels say, Jesus being God and such. Why therefore the extreme commitment to the Catholic view of history? Why couldn’t the Marcionites have been the original Christians? These agnostic or atheist scholars who are so committed to Catholic and Protestant ‘orthodoxy’ are all oxymorons.

    • 2010-02-06 23:55:42 UTC - 23:55 | Permalink

      “They preached about an Alien God who came down in the likeness of men and kicked the OT god’s butt by dying on a cross and forcing him to accept the blood that he shed in his jealous rage as a ransom payment for humanity.”

      Yeeeeeeeah, NO. That’s not gnosticism at all, Rey, at least not what I’ve read of it. Hell, even the deutero-canonical Acts of John II, insist that the christological figure was docetic!

      How can you “shed blood in a jealous rage” if you’re a hologram?

      • rey
        2010-02-07 06:41:21 UTC - 06:41 | Permalink

        “How can you ‘shed blood in a jealous rage’ if you’re a hologram?”

        Tertullian accuses Marcion of preaching that Christ had a ‘phantom’ body, yet there is a point in his treatise Against Marcion where Tertullian admits that Marcion actually believed Jesus did have a flesh-body but that he wasn’t born into it. He presents an analogy which he attributes to Marcion (which of course could have come from later Marcionites) that Jesus had flesh in the same way that the angels of the Demiurge had flesh when they came to visist Abraham and Lot. In other words, flesh was not a proper part of his nature, but it was something he could turn on and off. Tertullian wants to present Marcion’s view as though its just a ‘hologram’ (as you put it) but he clearly is forced to admit at points in his treatise that this is not the case. The Docetic nature of Marcion’s doctrine (if not other Gnostics too) is highly exaggerated by their Catholic opponents. His Docetism meant that Jesus wasn’t born into the flesh, not that he didn’t have any sort of flesh. Look also at Apelles’ doctrine that Jesus created a body of celestial flesh as he descended from heaven by pulling matter out of the stars.

      • rey
        2010-02-07 06:49:12 UTC - 06:49 | Permalink

        Also, the Valentinians that Ephrem deals with in his commentary on the Diatessaron use John 6:51 to teach that Jesus brought some sort of celestial flesh down with him from heaven.

        John 6:51 “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” — I.e. My flesh is the bread from heaven. I.e. I brought my flesh down from heaven, it is a celestial flesh.

        See also 1 Corinthians 15:39-40 “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. (40) There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”

  • 2010-02-05 12:16:21 UTC - 12:16 | Permalink

    There’s a reason why a critic of Q can get his work published in peer reviewed journals and other comparable academic forums, while mythicists tend not to be able to. It is possible to make a strong case for alternative scenarios than Q. Both remain hypothetical, and it is not without reason that the Q hypothesis retains the assent of the majority: with all the problems and uncertainties, it still seems to explain certain features of our extant documents better than other scenarios.

    Scholarship thrives on challenges to consensus. In order to even get a PhD you need to be able to come up with something “original.” If evolution or the historical Jesus were “theories in crisis” as their detractors claim, there would be vibrant academic activity and scholarship focused on the reasons for the crisis.

    • rey
      2010-02-05 12:34:43 UTC - 12:34 | Permalink

      Q was Marcion’s gospel.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 16:22:52 UTC - 16:22 | Permalink

    JAMES
    The meaning of “in the form of God” at the beginning of the Philippians hymn certainly seems to many NT scholars (although not the majority) to allude to Adam and compare Jesus to him.

    CARR
    What?

    James thinks it is not a devastating argument refuting a position that a majority of scholars are against it?

    Historicists cannot explain why a crucified criminal was made into the Messiah.

    ‘….why it seems extremely unlikely to historians well-informed about the period that anyone would invent something as oxymoronic as a “crucified Messiah.”’

    In fact, they claim that because they cannot explain why a crucified criminal was made into the Messiah, it must be true that a crucified criminal was made into the Messiah, because nobody would have thought of making a crucified criminal into a Messiah, unless they had thought that the crucified criminal had been the Messiah.

    This is just not an explanation.

    It is a claim that a crucified Messiah is a contradiction in terms and so must be true, otherwise they cannot explain it.

    But historicists cannot explain why people thought a crucified criminal was the Messiah,other than that some people though so.

    People who claimed to have gone to the Third Heaven.

    If people can claim to have gone to the Third Heaven and that their Messiah spoke to Satan in the desert, then they can invent almost anything.

    If people can claim that Moses and Elijah returned and walked the Earth, then they can invent almost anything.

    If people can read the Scriptures and learn that their Messiah must have been born in Bethlehem, then they can invent almost anything.

    JAMES
    As I’ve already pointed out, our earliest stories about Jesus are not stories about a God, or even a God-become-flesh.

    CARR
    Yes they are.

    Unless you claim Paul has no stories about Jesus.

    The ‘Last Supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11 is about how the Lord told his cult how to obtain access to his body.

    In terrms of historicity, you may as well have Satan telling Satanists how to conjure him up.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 16:30:45 UTC - 16:30 | Permalink

    JAMES
    Bill, you suggest that the problem is the closed-mindedness of mainstream scholarship.

    CARR
    I find mainstream Biblical scholars very open-minded.

    They can have a Jesus as a Cynical sage, apocalyptic prophet, Messianic candidate, wandering Rabbi, devoutly orthodox Jew etc etc.

    Mainstream Biblical scholars come up with all sorts of theories.

    Paul explains in Romans 10 that Jews would never have heard of Jesus if not for Christians preaching about him.

    Mainstream Biblical scholars ,like NT Wright, solve this problem, by a simple declaration that Paul was talking about how Gentiles would never have heard of Jesus if not for Christians preaching about him.

    Romans 10
    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.

    You have to be very open-minded indeed, to think that verses 14 and 15 are about preaching the good news to Gentiles.

    But Wright does that, as perhaps subconsciously he knows there is a huge problem in what Paul says , if people like Josephus and Tacitus are supposed to have heard of Jesus independently of Christians.

    Not to mention that Jews were supposed to have heard of Jesus by having Jesus appear amongst them.

    Romans 3
    What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

    Yes, and they had the Son of God living among them as well…..

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 16:36:21 UTC - 16:36 | Permalink

    JAMES
    There’s a reason why a critic of Q can get his work published in peer reviewed journals and other comparable academic forums, while mythicists tend not to be able to.

    CARR
    Perhaps if the rejection letters stated that criticism of Q was ‘of no interest’ to the journal’s readers and that such subjects as the existence of Q were distractions from the purpose of the journal?

    Why is the existence of Q a legitimate topic of discusssion (illustrating as it does how mainstream Biblical scholars cannot decide on matters of existence), while articles about the existence of Jesus are rejected on the grounds that the subject is of no interest?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 16:43:26 UTC - 16:43 | Permalink

    Historicists won’t even entertain the possibility that Judas did not exist.

    And still claim to be open-minded, and not driven by assumptions that the Gospels are historical….

  • 2010-02-05 18:54:05 UTC - 18:54 | Permalink

    James McGrath Says:
    2010/02/05 at 2:10 am

    Ironically, you assert as clear-cut and unambiguous things that are not. The meaning of “in the form of God” at the beginning of the Philippians hymn certainly seems to many NT scholars (although not the majority) to allude to Adam and compare Jesus to him. The “hyper-exaltation” at the end, with bestowal of the divine name, also implies that the status at the end is higher than that which Jesus had at the hymn’s beginning.

    What do those scholars say about “thought it not robbery to be equal to God”, and the bestowal of the name “Jesus” at his exaltation?

    I assume you were alluding to 4 Ezra when you mention a Messiah who dies. I don’t think that is the same as having a royal anointed one be executed by the foreign overlords.

    But this is not a clear cut datum, is it? The earliest executors are “rulers of the age”.

    You mention knocking down straw men. It may be that both sides have done some of that, but I don’t see that your attempt to question this or that detail of evidence amounts to a positive case for how and why the Jesus myth was supposedly created, much less how within a generation it came to be misunderstood as a story about a historical individual.

    Correct. I certainly don’t pretend to think that raising questions about this or that detail amounts to a positive case. This is hardly the place for that, and I don’t think I have ever attempted at any time to present “a positive case” for a mythical Jesus. My interest is in exploring and trying to make sense of the evidence as we have it, and I can do no more than point out places where it seems it imply a mythical or allegorical entity of some sort. I don’t pretend that is a solid case at all. But it does seem that historicist arguments are often less able to step outside their question-begging (historicist) assumptions that they bring to the evidence.

    Your reference to the implausibility of how a supposedly mythical/allegorical narrative came to be completely misunderstood within a generation reflects that, it seems to me. Such a protest strikes me as a response to a caricature view of the mythicist arguments, and an inability to think outside the general Eusebian-Acts type of framework. Okay, I am speaking here in generalities, I admit. Time and space, etc. I am thinking of many specifics, however.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-05 19:51:35 UTC - 19:51 | Permalink

    James,

    The comparison between YEC and Jesus mythicism is nonsense, because while there is not a shred of evidence for YEC there is quite a bit of evidence for Jesus mythicism. I see just as many (if not more) comparisons between Jesus historicism and YEC. First, the fallacy of the argument from personal incredulity is common between Jesus historicism and YEC. Second, the religious bias is common between both Jesus historicism and YEC. Of course there are similarities between YEC and Jesus mythicism, because both go against mainstream scholarship. Yet, Jesus mythicism needs to be countered on the basis of real arguments, just like YEC is countered by real arguments. By the way, have you already read Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” (not just bits from his website)?

  • 2010-02-05 20:27:00 UTC - 20:27 | Permalink

    Neil, if you ever try to make a positive case for mythicism, let me know. I’d be interested in reading it and interacting with it.

    In the mean time, the “defenders” of mythicism who have posted at length in multiple comments illustrate well why YEC and mythicism are compared. You may be frustrated by it, and I may think it is fair from my perspective, but presumably it is equally clear to both of us why it gets done, when voices like these are associated with it.

    Bill, please do present your positive evidence for mythicism. My impression still is that it offers merely an attempt to problematize this or that verse’s interpretation, but if positive evidence for historicism would be early sources referring to Jesus as a historical figure, then surely if you want to claim that there is positive evidence for mythicism, you’ll need to offer something like an early Christian author that acknowledges that the story of Jesus was created from scratch. One thing that would persuade me that mythicism is fundamentally different from YEC would be to see such fair and equal standards of evidence being applied.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 20:36:01 UTC - 20:36 | Permalink

    So no answers from James, except slurs.

    Oh I forgot.

    He is now using arguments from silence.

    He wants to see the transitionals.

    Where are the Christians who were intermediate between Paul and Ignatius ?- the ones who admitted they were using cleverly designed stories. (2 Peter)

    James wants to see the ones who were readily accepting the different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11)

    This is what James wants to see – the transitionals….

    If he can only see the transitionals between the different concepts of Jesus , he will accept mythicism.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-05 20:38:08 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

    JAMES
    Neil, if you ever try to make a positive case for mythicism, let me know. I’d be interested in reading it and interacting with it.

    CARR
    James has already claimed that he has refused ever to read Doherty’s book.

    SO less of the garbage of being interested in mythicism, except as something to hurl names at.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-05 21:27:45 UTC - 21:27 | Permalink

    James,

    I am not a Jesus mythicist. It is Doherty who has made a case for a mythical Jesus and I find it just as plausible as a historical Jesus. I asked whether you know and understand Doherty’s arguments, but I still do not know whether you have read his book. You want me to make a case for Jesus mythicism? Well, apart from the fact that I am agnostic on this, this would take a book length treatment of the issues. At present I am awaiting a critical evaluation (and not just bad apologetics from people like Eddy and Boyd) of Doherty’s thesis. I am not going to repeat his arguments. He does a better job than I could. If you read Doherty, write a review of his work then I’ll be glad to respond. I might even agree with you :)

    You write:

    “It is possible to make a strong case for alternative scenarios than Q. Both remain hypothetical, and it is not without reason that the Q hypothesis retains the assent of the majority: with all the problems and uncertainties, it still seems to explain certain features of our extant documents better than other scenarios.”

    So Q explains the data better than alternative theories? With all due respect, you are not a source critic. You are attempting to say that Q is the dominant theory because it best explains the data. Well, you don’t know that it best explains the data. I have not yet seen your detailed examination of the synoptic problem (though I have seen a brief interaction between you and Mark Goodacre where he comes out on top as one would expect given that he HAS examined the synoptic problem in detail). Of course, Goodacre may still be wrong and you may still be right, but you have nowhere demonstrated that “Q best explains the data”.

  • 2010-02-05 21:39:29 UTC - 21:39 | Permalink

    Bill, perhaps I should have said that it is perceived as explaining the data better. Presumably that claim can be made uncontroversially. Whether the perception is right is another thing altogether. But that really was my point – at present, the perception of historians is that positing a historical Jesus provides a better explanation of the data. It is not a perception that results from a conspiracy theory to suppress alternative views, and should someone step forward to challenge that perception at a level of scholarship that can pass peer review, I don’t envision them finding difficulty getting their work published.

    I think I’ll leave it at that. Steven seems determined to accuse me of things, even though (1) I asked him for examples of Doherty’s peer-reviewed work to interact with and he has yet to provide them, and (2) I mentioned my intention of rereading and interacting with Doherty’s work in the near future. You’re not going to persuade many that mythicism isn’t like YEC as long as such proponents use the same tactics and rhetoric.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 00:43:12 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

    I stand corrected on James intention to read Doherty’s book.

    My apologies.

    James has yet to provide any peer-reviewed articles refuting Doherty.

    I wonder if historicists will explain why early Christians thought a crucified criminal being a Messiah as being both a) what they believed and b) a contradiction in terms.

    Clearly, it can only be one or the other.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 00:43:56 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

    And does James entertain any doubt as to the existence of Judas?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 02:38:30 UTC - 02:38 | Permalink

    Here is what the editor of a journal said about the topic of the existence of Jesus ‘I’m not presently inclined to devote an issue to questioning the existence of Jesus. The topic is a perennial one among skeptics. If someone wants to doubt the existence of Jesus, my experience is that no evidence or argument will change his mind. Such is the nature of skepticism. But the existence of Jesus is not a living issue among historical Jesus scholars. Perhaps it should be, but it just isn’t, at least at present. With so many other living issues to explore, I don’t think it would be responsible to devote the limited space in the 4R to your suggestion.’

    Science magazines can publish articles questioning the number of dimensions in the universe or if time actually does flow forward as we experience.

    But , unlike the number of dimensions in the universe or the existence of Q, the idea that Jesus existed is not one that can be debated.

  • 2010-02-06 02:44:47 UTC - 02:44 | Permalink

    Like the question whether evolution happened cannot be debated in biology journals?

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-06 03:59:12 UTC - 03:59 | Permalink

      Is the question whether evolution happened debated in biology journals?? I hope facts like that are not really still debated. I cannot imagine they would still waste time on that! The fact of evolution must surely be presupposed in any peer-reviewed biology article.

    • rey
      2010-02-07 06:44:50 UTC - 06:44 | Permalink

      Evolutionists wouldn’t allow the historicity of evolution to be debated in their journals, so Historicists won’t allow Jesus’ historicity to be debated in their journals? Makes sense, but what’s point?

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-06 03:48:56 UTC - 03:48 | Permalink

    James,

    Personally I have no intention of even attempting to argue for a mythical Jesus in a peer-reviewed journal. I would like my work to get published and therefore I will presuppose a historical Jesus when I submit a paper to a theology journal. I think I know a bit about the peer review process and I do not think it is as objective as you suggest (even in fields where religious presuppositions do not play a role).

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 05:31:20 UTC - 05:31 | Permalink

    JAMES
    Like the question whether evolution happened cannot be debated in biology journals?

    CARR
    So James thinks it is reality that if ID people attempt to submit articles to peer-reviewed journals they would automatically be dismissed simply because they were attempting to argue for ID, and that subject can not be debated in biology journals?

    Creationist arguments are routinely dismantled. And the dismantling is done consistently, as they are based on real data. Different scientists will come up with by and large the same refutation.

    But Doherty’s arguments about say , Romans 10, Romans 13, are hardly ever addressed.

    And when they are, the refutations are usually inconsistent with each other – being as they are the mere rationalisations that have been thought up by individuals to ‘solve’ the problem.

  • 2010-02-06 15:11:45 UTC - 15:11 | Permalink

    James McGrath Says:
    2010/02/05 at 1:25 am

    The existence of a story doesn’t prove anything, but the fact that a story is told but cannot be confirmed with more concrete evidence doesn’t lead automatically to the story’s dismissal by historians. The situation will be less certain than if there were other types of confirming evidence, to be sure, but uncertainty is part and parcel of the historical enterprise. But to suggest that written texts can always be discounted seems bizarre.

    It’s not a matter of dismissing written texts. It’s a question of avoiding any default position at all about the content of a narrative without some support for it external to the text. I don’t think that’s controversial at all as a principle. It only seems to be an issue for many when it comes to the gospels. Suddenly we hear of “hermeneutics of charity” versus “suspicion” in place of good old normal healthy scepticism that historians normally bring as a testing tool to any documentary evidence. I am speaking of the content of the narrative itself. (There are other things we can learn about texts by comparing them with other literature of the era.)

    A case in point might well be the “narrative” of the Philippian hymn to which we earlier referred. Being in the form of God can trigger our predisposition to refer to our model of an historical Jesus being a “man” or “adam”. Or we can compare the image with other Jewish literature of the Second Temple period in which we learn that there were heavenly forms of Adam and other patriarchs before they appeared on earth. The former is to inject our model into the evidence; the latter is to compare literature with literature and trace the development or reference to an idea. Now of course the second method is as much a construct as the former, obviously. But it does have the advantage of referencing fewer hypotheses in between or along the way, and it does avoid interpreting this hymn in a way that is simply begging the question of historicity.

  • 2010-02-06 15:25:36 UTC - 15:25 | Permalink

    James,

    As for presenting an argument for mythicism myself, I do not think I can do much better than what has already been done by such names as in my post. I have not seen any coherent or consistent refutation of the key reasons for the mythicist view. (I am not saying that arguments for how every alternative mythicist scenario may have emerged are equally convincing. That, like studies of the different brands of historical Jesuses is another investigation.) And I do not see these mythicist arguments standing in opposition to an argued historicist paradigm. I don’t know that such a historicist argument exists. It is, as far as I can tell, primarily an inherited assumption. Its strongest supports seem to me to rest on ad hoc interpretations of a few Pauline verses and passages in Josephus as if these are unassailable bedrock evidence.

    To the extent I am a “mythicist” it is not something I have ever gone out of my way to argue. My leanings in that direction are the by-products of learning as much as I can about the evidence we have that relates to Christian origins. How it all emerged is something I am still exploring and admit I may never be able to know.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 16:14:07 UTC - 16:14 | Permalink

    JAMES
    As I’ve already pointed out, our earliest stories about Jesus are not stories about a God, or even a God-become-flesh.

    CARR
    But Philippians 2 is about a god.

    Paul’s letters are about a god whose body the cult had access to in a ritual meal.

    Does James think Judas existed? I see he never answered that question….

    And how did Christians come to believe that their Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, when the historicist line is that Christians took the history of Jesus as a starting point and then found proof-texts to support that history?

    This is another failure of historicists to explain anything, just as they cannot explain how a crucified criminal became a Messiah.

    JAMES
    ‘Most historical figures who are regarded as the Messiah, or as heroes, or as anything else, have some things about them that actually inspire that view, while they also tend to accrete legendary material as well.’

    CARR
    SO no explanation from historicists there, except that there must have been ‘some things’ about Jesus that inspired the view that he was the Messiah.

    How did a crucified criminal become the Messiah, which is like claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald is the true President of the United States.

    Historicists have no answer. Or rather they have lots of answers.

    But none of these answers are allowed to be questioned, or else you will be accused of being a creationist.

  • 2010-02-06 21:34:21 UTC - 21:34 | Permalink

    Neil, it seems to me there is a perfectly logical reason why historians don’t revisit the topic of the existence of Jesus in detail. There is no reason to keep making the same arguments over and over again for the benefit of a small minority who don’t seem to agree on the terms of the debate. As soon as I mention to a mythicist Paul meeting Jesus’ brother, I get insistance that such passages do not mean what the seem to mean. (This is then usually followed by a wild rant that makes one doubt the mythicist’s sanity, climaxing either with unsubstantiated claims about anti-Marcionite redaction or random mentions of Lee Harvey Oswald). Such individuals make clear that they are working from the starting point of wanting Jesus to be a myth.

    The few sane-sounding people one encounters in discussions of mythicism, on the other hand, usually say they aren’t mythicists but think that mythicism ought to be taken more seriously. Why, exactly? How many people are both interested in hearing the arguments and willing to listen to views other than their own?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-06 22:11:17 UTC - 22:11 | Permalink

    So still no answers from James to direct questions.

    Is the guy even interested in dialogue?

    Is he not even embarrassed that he continually appears in public only to show people that he cannot answer questions?

    He is getting quite a reputation as somebody who cannot defend his views in public.

    Why did the early Christians think a crucified criminal was the Messiah – something James himself claims is an oxymoron. Perhaps a bit like claiming Lee Harvey Oswald was the true President of the US?

    Why do the Epistles of James and Jude have no reference to any relationship of James to Jesus?

    Nor does Luke/Acts.

    But historicists cannot entertain even the possibility that these ‘brothers of the Lord’ in 1 Corinthians 9 did not come from the womb of Mary.

    It cannot even be entertained as a possibility by people like McGrath.

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-06 22:30:50 UTC - 22:30 | Permalink

      Steven,

      What is the earliest evidence that Christians saw James as a sibling of Jesus? Why would they have made such a mistake if some prominent early Christians were known as “brothers of the Lord”?

      • 2010-02-07 00:08:24 UTC - 00:08 | Permalink

        Then there’s the quasi-gnostic take on it, that “Jesus” was the ‘spiritual twin’ (i.e., all in their heads) of either James the Just, or Judas. Or the author of the Gospel of Thomas, if you want to take it entirely out of canonized Christian territory.

  • 2010-02-07 00:35:04 UTC - 00:35 | Permalink

    Steven, you’re hilarious. How many times have I repeated the last question I asked you, without response. Is there any chance you’re projecting your own self onto your opponents?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-07 01:10:47 UTC - 01:10 | Permalink

    ‘What is the earliest evidence that Christians saw James as a sibling of Jesus?’

    The unsourced ,anonymous Novel ‘Mark’ has a James as a brother of Jesus, without any hint in the text that this James would ever grow up to be a follower of Jesus. Luke/Acts writes James , the brother of Jesus, totally out of history.

    Wouldn’t it take James 1 second to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question of whether Judas existed…..?

  • 2010-02-07 02:01:58 UTC - 02:01 | Permalink

    Umm, what?

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-07 02:31:43 UTC - 02:31 | Permalink

      James,

      You wrote in one of your comments that it’s not necessary to keep making the same arguments over and over again for a small minority that doesn’t play by the rules. I’m not sure what rules you are referring to, but more importantly I’d be interested to hear where these arguments have been made. Do you have some specific books or articles in mind that have refuted Jesus mythicism? I haven’t seen it addressed except in a few apologist works. Which books have made the arguments against Jesus mythicism that you find most persuasive? I’ll definately take a look at them if you could point me in the right direction.

  • 2010-02-07 05:36:04 UTC - 05:36 | Permalink

    I don’t think the term ‘refute’ is helpful in discussion of history. It will never be possible to ‘prove’ things about the past in such a way that no one could ever suggest that a group of conspirators fabricated the evidence for some reason. In historical study, all one can do is show a conclusion to be more probable, and in a best case scenario, certain beyond reasonable doubt. But that certainty is based on available evidence, and thus always open to being overturned in light of new evidence.

    Having clarified that, let me mention some evidence that is usually mentioned as making the existence of Jesus more probable.

    First, we have details that are unlikely to have been invented – again, not impossible but unlikely. Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership; Peter’s denial of him; Jesus’ prediction that his twelve apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (even though one later betrayed him); Jesus’ prayer that he wouldn’t have to undergo suffering (why invent a Jesus who dies to save humanity and then invent such a prayer); and so on. The presence of such material is most easily explained as data that simply happened and thus had to be dealt with.

    Next we can mention hostile or outside sources. Josephus mentions James brother of Jesus called Christ. Tacitus’ hostile reference.

    This isn’t the sort of material that provides the degree of certainty one gets if a person actually wrote things, or conquered armies, or in other ways left tangible traces. But that just means that Jesus was like most people in history.

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-07 06:01:18 UTC - 06:01 | Permalink

      James,

      I was asking about published books or articles in which the Jesus myth is reviewed (I’ll leave out the word “refute”, I’m just interested in responses). You say that these arguments for a historical Jesus have been made over and over again, while all I see in the books I read is a presupposed historical Jesus. I’m interested in publications that argue for a historical Jesus instead of presupposing this. I’d love to read them and see how they interact with the mythicist arguments.

    • rey
      2010-02-07 06:58:34 UTC - 06:58 | Permalink

      “First, we have details that are unlikely to have been invented – again, not impossible but unlikely.”

      1.) “Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership;”

      I believe this was historical, yet I don’t see why it is ‘unlikely to have been invented.’ Anything that can be supported by an appeal to prophecy fulfillment loses the status of ‘unlikely to be made up.’ Are you forgetting about “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner”?

      2.) “Jesus’ prayer that he wouldn’t have to undergo suffering (why invent a Jesus who dies to save humanity and then invent such a prayer);”

      This one I think is easily explained as anti-Marcionite polemic. It could very well be an interpolation intended to make Jesus more human. The writer of John (who has clear gnostic sympathies) clearly sees it that way, and therefore has Jesus Himself makes fun of it. John 12:27-28 “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I into this world! Father, glorify thy name.” Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (Note, no voice from Heaven in the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. Note also the response: “The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.” Certainly would have woken up the sleeping disciples of the synoptics.)

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-02-07 07:29:46 UTC - 07:29 | Permalink

        Rey,

        I’m getting the impression that everything that apppears to suggest a human Jesus you see as an anti-marcionite interpolation. How then can one ever argue for a historical Jesus if every piece of evidence is so easily discarded as an anti-marionite interpolation? In any case, I can’t really see this example as an anti-marcionite interpolation, because every Gospel has some version of it. You therefore must presume that Matthew (and Luke and John) was written later than the anti-marcionite interpolation was added to Mark. That seeems implausible to me.

  • 2010-02-07 07:35:03 UTC - 07:35 | Permalink

    Bill, sorry, I did understand your request – all my books that are in any way relevant are at the office, and so I’ll try to remember to get back to you on Monday. Two that came to mind that I was able to glance at in preview form online and thus check from home are John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew and James D. G. Dunn’s The Evidence For Jesus. Both address the question of Jesus’ existence more directly than others do. That said, I think it is clear that every book on the historical Jesus addresses the issue – the reason such books exist is to survey the evidence about Jesus, and if assessing the available evidence and figuring out which if any is reliable is not the way to figure out if Jesus existed, what is?

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-07 07:45:20 UTC - 07:45 | Permalink

      Thanks James,

      I have Meier, so I’ll check it out. I’ll also take a look at Dunn’s book (I only have his “remembering Jesus” which does not really deal with the question of Jesus’ historicity, but presumes it).

  • 2010-02-07 07:50:03 UTC - 07:50 | Permalink

    Just a quick question. Doesn’t even Dunn discuss why he considers certain passages are authentic and provide information that has some connection to the historical Jesus? Isn’t that a discussion of evidence for Jesus rather than merely presupposing his existence? I can’t imagine how else one can discuss the existence of Jesus than by assessing each piece of available evidence. Although some do try to address the question in the introduction for the sake of skeptics, it seems that that is treating the matter as though it is something that could be settled a priori, on the basis of reason or theory rather than what historical study actually does, namely evaluate and interpret evidence.

    Could it be that mythicists, and those with mythicist sympathies, fail to find what they are looking for in mainstream historical scholarship because they are looking in the wrong places, or for the wrong things?

  • 2010-02-07 11:18:22 UTC - 11:18 | Permalink

    James F. McGrath Says:
    2010/02/06 at 9:34 pm |

    Neil, it seems to me there is a perfectly logical reason why historians don’t revisit the topic of the existence of Jesus in detail. There is no reason to keep making the same arguments over and over again for the benefit of a small minority who don’t seem to agree on the terms of the debate. As soon as I mention to a mythicist Paul meeting Jesus’ brother, I get insistance that such passages do not mean what the seem to mean. (This is then usually followed by a wild rant that makes one doubt the mythicist’s sanity, climaxing either with unsubstantiated claims about anti-Marcionite redaction or random mentions of Lee Harvey Oswald). Such individuals make clear that they are working from the starting point of wanting Jesus to be a myth.

    The few sane-sounding people one encounters in discussions of mythicism, on the other hand, usually say they aren’t mythicists but think that mythicism ought to be taken more seriously. Why, exactly? How many people are both interested in hearing the arguments and willing to listen to views other than their own?

    Where have historians begun with “the topic of Jesus’ existence in detail” that they have no need to revisit? Are you referring to assertions relating to verses in Paul, Josephus and Tacitus? (Since writing this I see you have referenced Dunn’s book. I have yet to see that. But Meier, from what I recall, is certainly interpreting the evidence through historicist assumptions.)

    I think the reason you get the response you describe in relation to mention of Gal.1:19 is because raising this verse would appear to demonstrate an a priori dismissal or lack of awareness of, or reluctance to address the mythicist case (based on detailed references to a wide spectrum of Paul’s writings) which places this verse in a context that opens it to question from a number of angles. The questions do not all relate to the meaning of phrase itself (such as “brother” per se), either. I can’t speak for others, but I myself in addressing that verse would not be approaching it from “a starting point of wanting Jesus to be a myth” — but from a hypothesis that seems to me to account in a more coherent way for the bulk of the other evidence.

    We know Christian texts were subject to redaction and editing over many years, and we know that our knowledge of early Christianity is limited. So to build a hypothesis on just one or two verses, or to think that one or two verses on their own can overturn a hypothesis that is built on a wide contextual base, and has coherent explanatory power for a complex web of texts, is not the way to present a strong case.

    P.S.

    I have looked at the amazon notes on Dunn’s book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Evidence-Jesus-James-D-Dunn/dp/0664246982

    and the available pages of the book on Google books:

    Are you sure Dunn seriously addresses the question of the historicity of Jesus?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-07 16:12:52 UTC - 16:12 | Permalink

    Dunn actually cites Romans 15:3 as evidence for a historical Jesus.

    This says ‘For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’

    This is no more evidence for the historical Jesus than the following is evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem ”But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel. ‘

  • 2010-02-07 18:27:46 UTC - 18:27 | Permalink

    When I saw Dunn mentioned here in this context I expected a scholarly work, but though it might be biblical-scholarly it certainly has all the appearances of being for a lay audience, and not something addressed to critical scholars. I am still waiting to see where the scholarly arguments for the historicity of Jesus (as distinct from “the historical Jesus”) took place the first time — the ones that we are told the scholars don’t need to revisit.

    Regarding the letter of Paul to Galatians and the reference to James brother — quite apart from any meaning of the verse or questions of originality of it, etc, the mere fact that we have a letter which contains a certain note is not in itself evidence of anything. To claim that the self-witness of a letter is “evidence” of this kind is to once again claim exceptional methodologies for biblical studies.

    I’ve quoted the following so often now, but no-one seems to have taken any notice of it — not since 1904 at any rate:

    Why do we so often see scholars toss out any methodological nous when it comes to their canonical scriptures? This methodological gaffe of relying the Gospels [or Epistles] as a priori sources of historical information has been calling out for attention and correction at least since 1904. The following initially addresses this gaffe in relation to how historians read Papias (not inappropriate here) but continues by applying the same argument even more to the case of the Gospels:

    With regard to the recurrent inclination to pass off Papias’s remarks about the first two Synoptists as “ancient information” and to utilize them in some fashion or other, a somewhat more general observation may not be out of place. The history of classical literature has gradually learned to work with the notions of the literary-historical legend, novella, or fabrication; after untold attempts at establishing the factuality of statements made it has discovered that only in special cases does there exist a tradition about a given literary production independent of the self-witness of the literary production itself; and that the person who utilizes a literary-historical tradition must always first demonstrate its character as a historical document. General grounds of probability cannot take the place of this demonstration. It is no different with Christian authors. In his literary history Eusebius has taken reasonable pains; as he says in the preface he had no other material at his disposal than the self-witness of the books at hand . . . . how much more is this not the situation in the case of the Gospels, whose authors intentionally or unintentionally adhered to the obscurity of the Church, since they neither would nor could be anything other than preachers of the one message, a message that was independent of their humanity? . . . .

    This is from an academic paper delivered in 1904 by E. Schwartz: “Uber den Tod der Sohne Zebedaei. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Johannesevangeliums” (= Gesammelte Schriften V, 1963,48-123). It is cited in a 1991 chapter by Luise Abramowski titled “The ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ in Justin” pp.331-332 published in “The Gospel and the Gospels” ed. Peter Stuhlmacher.

    The same applies to ancient letters, as Rosenmeyer’s work surely testifies.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-07 20:47:19 UTC - 20:47 | Permalink

    Apparently James now argues that those who doubt Jesus’ existence do so because they do not understand how historical inquiry works: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/02/mythicist-misunderstanding.html

    He refers to sayings that are more likely to be authentic than inauthentic. In an earlier comment here he mentions Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership, Peter’s denial of Jesus, Jesus’ prediction that the 12 disciples will sit on twelve trones and sit in judgment on the twelve tribes of israel, and Jesus’ prayer against temptation.

    So these are apparently prime examples of more likely authentic than inauthentic. Well, I picked up the first work on the historical Jesus that I had near me, the Five Gospels (from the Jesus Seminar, who all believe in a historical Jesus) and what would you know? All of these examples are seen as quite likely inauthentic. The twelve thones saying gets a black color (meaning Jesus did not say this) and so does Jesus’ prayer against temptation, the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leadership is seen as Christian polemic against the Jews, and finally concerning Peter’s denial (which does not get a color, because only Jesus’ words do) it is argued that “It is possible that these narratives are part of a polemic against Peter, constructed by those who opposed Peter’s leadership in the early Christian movement.” (p. 119)

    I think something is seriously wrong here.

  • Steven carr
    2010-02-07 21:52:17 UTC - 21:52 | Permalink

    Contrast that with refutations of creationism, where scientists are consistent in their refutations. One scientist will produce pretty much the same refutation as another.

    But mainstream refutations of mythicism are no more than what individuals have come up with.

  • 2010-02-08 01:33:44 UTC - 01:33 | Permalink

    I wrote it before the comments from Neil and Bill above, but I wonder whether this attempt on my blog to articulate my most recent point more clearly and fully addresses the concerns you both raised. If not, let me know!

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-08 02:26:37 UTC - 02:26 | Permalink

    James,

    You are not addressing the mythicist arguments at all in that post. Besides, the mythicist does not demand you PROVE the existence of Jesus. The mythicist argues that a mythical Jesus best explains the data. I think the only way we can really have some progress here is to address the mythicist arguments brought forward by Doherty. I understand that his work is not published in a peer-reviewed journal, but he is currently the most influential Jesus mythicist and ignoring his work therefore appears to be the end of any discussion (before it has even started). I’d love to hear your response to actual mythicist arguments.

    With regards to historical Jesus research I observe a field that has not really achieved much. Each new work appears to be severely critical of the criteria used by other researchers (criteria of dissimilarity, of multiple attestation, of aramaisms, etc…) and they are heavily critiqued. There is clearly no consensus as to which criteria allow us to get at the historical Jesus. James Dunn, whom you mentioned earlier, in his book Jesus Remembered starts out very critical of earlier criteria, but was does he replace them with? The idea that much of the material comes from oral tradition and we don’t need all these older criteria, but can just examine the way Jesus “was remembered”. That would of course be fine if any of the 1st century epistles gave us any confidence that this material came from very old oral traditons going back all the way to Jesus or the earliest disciples (there is so much in this material that the epistle authors could have used for their arguments, but don’t – it is a very striking silence). Oral tradition is a very weak piece of evidence, since we have no access to it by definition. When we go through his work it reads very much like “well, I see no reason why this couldn’t come from Jesus, so I’ll assume it does.” It reminded me very much of a book on the Gospel of Thomas by Gilles Quispel I was reading the other day where Quispel argued that he saw no reason why most of the says couldn’t come from Jesus and then proceded to discuss most sayings as coming from Jesus.

    There really is a world of difference between historical Jesus research where a historical Jesus is presupposed (yes, it is) and the question is asked whether a saying comes from Jesus or later tradition (very typically the option that the author might have created something is ignored – it’s Jesus or early tradition, I suppose because of the still lingering influence of the methodological disaster called form criticism), compared to the question whether a historical Jesus or a mythical Jesus best explains the data.

  • 2010-02-08 07:40:59 UTC - 07:40 | Permalink

    Bill, I’ll let you know when I begin interacting with Doherty. In the mean time, I’m not sure what else to say except for the following. First, I have yet to find a mythicist who understands that what they need to do is present a more plausible scenario, much less succeed in actually doing so. Second, I presented a fairly clear explanation of why the whole of historical Jesus research is dealing with the only sort of evidence we have to go on in deciding whether or not Jesus existed, and does not simply presuppose Jesus’ existence. Your answer as I understand it is “Oh yes they do.” I hope you’ll understand why I’m not persuaded.

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-08 18:27:14 UTC - 18:27 | Permalink

      James,

      None of the historical Jesus studies I’ve read seriously address the issue of Jesus’ existence. I hope you’ll understand that I’m not persuaded that they actually examine this issue when they say nothing about it (saying something is likely to be authentic when you presuppose his existence is something completely different – if he existed surely something must go back to him, so let’s think of the best criteria to get to his authentic words given that he actually lived – it’s not the same thing and the results have not been very persuasive). You ask for a more plausible scenario. I hate to keep mentioning Doherty, but I’ll just wait for your review of his book and see what you think of his scenario. I have yet to see a plausible explanation for the silence on Jesus’ life and teachings in the first century epistles or even a cursory mention of Pilate, Mary, Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Herod, etc…., that it is always God who is doing the revealing and not Jesus, that parallels between epistles and Gospels are almost never attributed to Jesus, etc… It is the content and very nature of the epistles that needs explaining to make a good case for a historical Jesus (and one or two references in this massive collection of material do not convince me given the frequency with which early Christians made interpolations). There are just too many problems for me.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-08 10:02:31 UTC - 10:02 | Permalink

    So James continues to duck the question of why a crucified criminal was made into somebody equal with God, while proclaiming that only historicists can answer that question….

    But he can’t answer that question. He doesn’t. He won’t.

    Meanwhile, Paul continues to state that Jesus was revealed through scripture and that Jews would never have heard of Jesus if not for Christians proclaiming him.

    Romans 16
    Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him

    I would quote more of what the earliest Christians believed about the Son of God that they worshipped, but the Colts are only up by 1 with a 3rd and 12, so it is back to the game/.

  • 2010-02-08 10:28:01 UTC - 10:28 | Permalink

    Steven, I’m guessing it is pointless to try to persuade you that Jesus existed, since you repeatedly say that conversations we had do not exist. How many times do I have to respond to the same questions before you stop saying “Can’t answer. Won’t answer”?

    You may not find someone’s arguments persuasive. But to claim that they cannot or worse still refuse to answer, that’s just dishonest. And it gives an impression not only about you, but about the mythicist enterprise you represent.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-08 10:38:25 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

    So James has no answers, but says he has.

    If James really had answered these questions, he could simply cut and paste. The work of a second to shut me up.

    But he has no answers. He never does cut and paste these imaginary answers.

    Either his life is so busy he cannot spare 30 seconds to cut and paste his previous answer or he has no answers.

    He can’t even answer the question ‘Did Judas exist?’

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-08 10:41:35 UTC - 10:41 | Permalink

    I should point out that other people are now noticing that James does not answer these questions.

    People even set up web sites to record James answers but had to leave them blank,when James was somehow unable to provide the references to refutations of mythicism that he claimed existed.

  • 2010-02-08 11:11:00 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

    Actually I do have better things to do than cut and paste my answers. And I also think it is rude that you would think someone ought to copy and paste their answers the way you copy and paste the same questions over and over again.

    I’d be delighted if a third party wanted to find the last time you asked the same question and check whether I replied in a way that was pertinent.

    For now, I’ll just repeat something I’ve said more than once before: Please stop changing the subject. The question of whether Judas existed is not same question as whether Jesus existed.

  • 2010-02-08 11:19:47 UTC - 11:19 | Permalink

    Here’s the address of the previous exchange with Steven where he essentially said the same things he’s been saying here, and allegedly was never responded to:

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/01/review-of-doubting-jesus-resurrection.html

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-08 18:48:46 UTC - 18:48 | Permalink

    James provides a link to where there are no answers.

    Why can’t he just cut and paste these answers?

    Did Judas exist? Why is that a question that can get no answer from historicists?

    It is not just me that notices this.

    Bill pointed out, in the link James provides to his ‘answers’ I noticed that you point out some difficulties with the Jesus myth hypothesis, but you don’t really address the problems Doherty sees for the historical Jesus view and you don’t address the material from the epistles that Doherty believes fit better with a Jesus myth. All these need to be accounted for too and not just the one or two references that fit the historical Jesus hypothesis better than the Jesus myth hypothesis.’

  • 2010-02-08 20:18:55 UTC - 20:18 | Permalink

    Bill, if you don’t consider historians’ careful sifting through the details of the earliest texts about Jesus germane to the question of his existence, would it be fair to say that you think that Jesus’ existence cannot be ‘proven beyond reasonable doubt’ on the basis of such evidence?

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-02-08 23:55:38 UTC - 23:55 | Permalink

      James, I’m not interested in proof beyond reasonable doubt (which is impossible in historical investigations), just the best evidence for all the data (which includes the early NT epistles). If (1) there were a few more historical details in places where they might be expected in the early epistles (Jesus crucified under Pilate would be a nice one instead of by the archons of this age) there wouldn’t be an issue and (2) if some of the paralllels to words of Jesus in texts like 1 Peter, James, 1 Thessolonians and Romans had been attributed to Jesus and (3) if texts like Hebrews would make more sense under a historical Jesus view, (4) if there was a little bit more plausible historical material in the Gospels corroborated by independent sources and a little less midrash and legendary material, then there obviously would not be an issue.

      • 2010-02-09 01:29:36 UTC - 01:29 | Permalink

        Bill, would the teaching about divorce, which Paul prefaces in 1 Corinthians by saying that this comes from “not I, but the Lord” meet your requirement in #2? It matches up with teaching about divorce attributed to Jesus in the later Gospels.

        On #1, Paul uses terminology akin to yours once, in 1 Corinthians 2:8, but it is “those ruling” and not “the archons” which sounds like something Gnostic. One can certainly see in the verse an inclusion of demonic powers or something of that sort. But the passage makes perfectly good sense as referring to actual human rulers. And since we know of historical human rulers who crucified individuals, is there any particularly compelling reason to understand the reference here as to something else? Or is that something that mythicism reads into the text rather than finding it there?

        On #3, Hebrews affirms that Jesus was a human being and that he offered himself as a sacrifice and then took it to present it before God in the heavenly sanctuary. It includes much that deserves to be categorized as mythical, but it also assumes a human Jesus who offers his sacrifice and then enters the heavenly “holy of holies” to offer it (9:12). But Hebrews is odd and distinctive, and I’m not sure it should be central to discussions of either the historical Jesus or the theology of early Christianity.

        As for #4, no historian would disagree that it would be preferable to have such evidence. But surely not having ideal historical evidence shouldn’t lead one to mythicism in every instance, wouldn’t you agree? In short, I don’t see why people would choose to adopt the stance “Jesus was a figure created purely from scratch as a heavenly, mythical figure” rather than “The evidence about Jesus is such that I don’t feel confident saying much if anything about him at all.” The latter I can understand, even if I wouldn’t share precisely the same degree of skepticism. But opting for the former suggests that the individual has reason not merely to feel historically uncertain, but to claim knowledge about the process that gave rise to the traditions and writings in question, and what motivates that still seems to me to be predispositions and assumptions rather than positive evidence for mythicism.

  • maryhelena
    2010-02-08 23:03:13 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

    Perhaps there is a way out of this continual argument between the historicists and the mythicists…
    The basic mythicist position is that Jesus in the gospel story is not historical. Beyond that, different mythicist arguments arise – Doherty, Wells, and whoever else.
    The basic historicists position is that Jesus in the gospel story is historical. Beyond that, different historicists arguments involve just what kind of person Jesus was – cynic sage, apocaloyptic prophet etc…

    Perhaps, at the end of the day, both sides in this debate have something of value to offer the other side. The historicists insist there is a historical core related to the gospel Jesus story. The mythicists insist that Jesus is not-historical.

    The solution – or a way out of this impasse – is that, yes, the historicists have an argument – there was most probably a historical figure that was relevant to early Christian understanding – but that this historical figure was not Jesus of the gospel storyline. The mythicists are right here – that figure is not historical – however, they are wrong if they maintain that there is no historical, human, figure relevant to the gospel storyline.

    The jump from historical person X to Jesus of the gospel storyline is a very big jump – and needs a magic carpet to get there…

    Assuming, as the historicists do, that a carpenter, named Jesus, from nazareth, is that historical core – is an assumption that there is absolutely no possibility of ever having evidence for.

    If there is a historical person X to be found – then putting aside the ‘Jesus’ tag might well be a way forward…Another step might well be to take cognizance of Marcion’s heresy – and start removing all the Jewish, OT, veneer that Marcion would have nothing to do with…
    Just some suggestions….

  • 2010-02-08 23:04:57 UTC - 23:04 | Permalink

    With apologies to everyone else that might read this blog, here’s what Steven Carr asked me to do. I’m doing it this once just to illustrate why I won’t do it again. Copying and pasting a discussion from elsewhere is obnoxious to say the least.

    In the future, if Steven would be so kind, I’ll ask him to copy his rants together with my replies, to save time and effort.

    STEVEN CARR

    Please restate one more time mainstream historians view of why Paul says in Romans 10 that Jews did not believe either because they had never heard of Jesus apart from Christians preaching about him, or they rejected Christian preaching about him.

    I can restate the view of mainstream historians, as Bart Ehrman said in an email to me ‘The historical problem is that Paul in his letters almost never (just a handful of times) refers to anything Jesus said and did while alive, even though he is constantly reminding his converts what he taught them. So it’s hard to know how interested either he or they were in knowing these traditions — as counterintuitive as that might seem.’

    So mainstream views of what we should expect from early Christianity are counterintuitive.

    And therefore not to be questioned….

    JAMES MCGRATH

    Steven, first it would help if you explained why you think Jews (other than in Galilee and perhaps some in Jerusalem and its vicinity) would have heard about Jesus without someone telling them.

    Kilo, I am happy from time to time to address just about any subject. But what I’m most interested in spending my time on is making progress in understanding the historical Jesus.

    Steven’s comment provides a useful illustration of why. On the one hand, there are indeed many puzzles in our sources. On the other hand, mythicists like creationists misinterpret unsolved problems as indicating that mainstream science/scholarship has failed.

    STEVEN CARR

    In Romans 10, Paul makes no distinction between Jews in various places.

    That non-existent distinction has to be imported into the text by people who need to reconcile the text with their views.

    So which of the many Quests for the Historical Jesus has not failed?

    JAMES MCGRATH

    How is interpreting the entirety of Israelites in Paul’s time to include people outside Galilee and Judea “importing” something into the text? It is importing a knowledge of where such people were to be found in that era. How is that inappropriate?

    And what do you mean by “failed”? Failed to reach a consensus on many points? Yes, they’ve all done that. Failed to lead scholars to conclude that Jesus didn’t exist? They’ve all done that too. You’ve apparently misunderstood references to the failure of these quests to mean “failure to find any trace of Jesus” rather than “failure to come up with a well-rounded picture of Jesus that historians of all stripes can have confidence reflects the historical figure of Jesus accurately in detail.” Failing to reach agreement about what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God” is a far cry from failing to conclude that he said it, and much further still from concluding that because of uncertainty about what he meant, he must not have existed.

    But we’ve had these conversations so many times, and it is interacting with you, more than anything else, that persuades me that spending much time interacting with mythicism is not time spent productively.

    STEVEN CARR

    So James simply doesn’t bother to produce a word from Romans 10 to support his claim that Paul was referring to Jews outside Galilee/Jerusalem.

    No wonder his time is not productive when he cannot refute mythicist claims.

    To the extent that he has now just given up and has taken to claiming things in the text that are just not there at all.

    There are web sites devoted to refuting creationist claims.

    But then historicists can’t even find evidence for Judas, Thomas,Joseph of Arimathea,Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Nicodemus,Bartimaeus etc etc, so a web site devoted to refuting mythcisist claims is going to look very shallow.

    (Here it may get confusing to follow when we quote one another)
    Steven Carr said…
    JAMES
    Steven, first it would help if you explained why you think Jews (other than in Galilee and perhaps some in Jerusalem and its vicinity) would have heard about Jesus without someone telling them.

    CARR
    James carefully distinguishes between those regions.

    And when it is pointed out that Paul makes no such distinctions…

    JAMES
    How is interpreting the entirety of Israelites in Paul’s time to include people outside Galilee and Judea “importing” something into the text?

    CARR
    SO you are now including people INSIDE Galilee and Judea in Paul’s ‘entirety of Israelites’ who have never heard of Jesus apart from Christians preaching about him?

    And presumably Tacitus and Pliny the Younger also fall in the group of people who only heard of Jesus from what Christians said about him.

    January 25, 2010 9:30 AM
    James F. McGrath said…
    JAMES

    Jews did not only live in those places where Jesus and his followers are said to have been during his public activity. Paul knew there were Jews and Gentiles all over the known world, and made it his mission to bring the message to them. I interpreted the text against the background of what we know of that time and what we know about Paul’s own aims.

    STEVEN

    La la la, I can’t hear you, I’m going to miscontrue what you wrote, you didn’t answer my question, mythicism wins, mainstream historical scholarship has been refuted, la la la.

    (I then ask Steven several times for anything Doherty has published that has undergone peer-review and am ignored. Permit me to skip ahead a little…)

    STEVEN CARR

    As Dunn cites Romans 15:3 as evidence of a historical Jesus, although it is clearly derived from Old Testament Scripture, I can only assume that I am going to be accused of misunderstanding him by people who will never say how I did that.

    JAMES MCGRATH

    Paul echoes the language of Scripture all the time, when talking about himself, when talking about those he is writing to, and when talking about Jesus. An echo of the Jewish Scriptures doesn’t automatically prove that Paul and his audience didn’t exist, not does it automatically prove Jesus didn’t exist, it just shows what readers of Paul know well, that he echoes Scripture. And of course, you ignore everything else Dunn says on that page and focus on a minor detail that is irrelevant to the argument.

    I’m still waiting for the list of Doherty’s peer-reviewed publications, which I asked for all along so as to help me figure out whether it is reasonable to expect a peer-reviewed response. If there are no such publications by Doherty, please do just admit it rather than avoiding the subject, if it isn’t too much to ask.

    STEVEN CARR

    SO James cannot show how quoting Old Testament scripture is a proof that Jesus existed, as Dunn claimed.

    The passage Romans 15:3 obviously supports Doherty’s claim that Paul searched the scriptures for information about Jesus.

    Nor can James produce these peer-reviewed refutations of Doherty, and has now taken to asking for something other than Doherty’s book which he was asked to review.

    And we still have not had Dunn’s references to Doherty.

    Perhaps there is an Old Testament quotation proving that Dunn referred to Doherty….

    This is adding up to a very embarrassing defense of historicism.

    JAMES MCGRATH

    Steven, “surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”

    I just applied a text from the Jewish Scriptures to Steven. “Obviously” he doesn’t exist.

    QED

    As for Doherty and Dunn, I already mentioned that Dunn addresses the arguments of G. A. Wells rather than Earl Doherty. Are they that different? Are their views as similar/different as those of Henry Morris and Ken Ham? I focus on keeping track of those who’ve published peer-reviewed works of scholarship, so sorry if I don’t manage to keep track of these guys, whose academic publications you’ve been asked several times to list. Presumably someone applied a verse from the Old Testament to them and made them vanish along with Jesus…

    _ – _ – _

    That’s how the exchange ended: with a post by me illustrating that Steven’s claim was illogical. He did not reply, but did come over here and accuse me of not replying to him.

    If the owner of this blog wants to delete this post, I completely understand. I consider copying and pasting like this rude, but since so many have been defending Steven’s views and never challenging either his attitude or his approach, I hope that my own rudeness in copying and pasting so much of our exchange will be forgiven.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-09 03:50:57 UTC - 03:50 | Permalink

    James,

    Thanks for your comments. Doherty deals with all these issues. I think I’ll just await your response to his thesis if you don’t mind. I am not at all against a historical Jesus (maybe you are right), but I find Doherty’s case quite reasonable. I’m still neutral I’m afraid. By the way, concerning Hebrews one of the texts he points to is Hebrews 8:4: “Now, if he had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest…” Wait, IF he had been on earth?? Perhaps you will say that the author meant “If he had been on earth NOW”, which Doherty disputes. Anyway, have a look at what he writes, I’m sure it will amuse you. :)

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-09 04:04:55 UTC - 04:04 | Permalink

    JAMES

    Steven, “surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”

    I just applied a text from the Jewish Scriptures to Steven. “Obviously” he doesn’t exist.

    CARR
    That answer from James isn’t an answer.

    James has no answers to why Paul claimed in Romans 10 that the Jews needed Christians preaching about Jesus or else they would not have heard of him.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-09 04:15:20 UTC - 04:15 | Permalink

    Paul claims the following.

    Romans 16
    Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him…

    Historicists cannot explain why Paul claims things had been revealed and made known through the prophetic writings.

    But never claims Jesus revealed anything or testified to anything.

    Romans 3

    But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

    The Law and the Prophets testified to this.

    Paul is so vocal about where his Christianity comes from that James cannot make any answer other than to say that if Christianity came from the Old Testament, that does not prove Jesus did not exist.

    He should rest his case. His case is so weak that it needs the rest.

    • 2010-02-09 04:17:29 UTC - 04:17 | Permalink

      Steven, clearly if the mythicist James had not existed, it would have taken him only one second to prove the non-existence of Judas as well. Can anyone who follows the logic of your arguments fail to elect Lee Harvey Oswald as president?

  • 2010-02-09 11:12:56 UTC - 11:12 | Permalink

    James, it is nonsense to suggest that the mythicist case argues that if a scripture is used to describe or address a person then this somehow suggests the person is not real. I am beginning to doubt you are serious about understanding the mythicist case. You seem too willing to embrace rumour or second hand information and the opinions of critics without bothering to investigate the matter youself. Regretfully, you do not give the impression that you are prepared to consider the arguments with anything but ill-will.

    This is the tone and attitude toward the debate of which Schweitzer himself complained. Admittedly it has come from both sides at times.

    • 2010-02-09 11:30:13 UTC - 11:30 | Permalink

      Neil, I won’t say that is “the mythicist case” since there doesn’t appear to be a unified single mythicist view. But it is the view of Steven Carr, expressed to me clearly, and responded to by me with the ridicule I think it deserves.

      Perhaps we’ve found something we can agree on? :-)

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-09 16:05:17 UTC - 16:05 | Permalink

    So James has no answer to why Paul claims in Romans 10 that Jews needed Christians to preach about Christ before Jews could be expected to have heard of him, other than to create strawman arguments.

    Romans 16
    Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him…

    Historicists cannot explain why Paul claims things had been revealed and made known through the prophetic writings.

    Except of course through what James describes as ‘ridicule’.

    • 2010-02-09 20:18:41 UTC - 20:18 | Permalink

      So how is this supposed to work next, Steven? I copy and paste my reply again? I still don’t get the point of your saying the same thing over and over, ignoring anything anyone wrote in response to you.

  • 2010-02-09 23:21:14 UTC - 23:21 | Permalink

    James F. McGrath Says:
    2010/02/08 at 1:33 am

    I wrote it before the comments from Neil and Bill above, but I wonder whether this attempt on my blog to articulate my most recent point more clearly and fully addresses the concerns you both raised. If not, let me know!

    Hi James, I reply to your post in a new post of mine, here.

    It is the historicists who appear to me to be the ones too often lacking in rigorous methodologies of history.

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