2011-05-29

Doherty answers McGrath and others (continuation of ch. 6 criticisms)

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by Neil Godfrey

Earl Doherty has responded in detail to criticisms by James McGrath and others over chapter 6 of Jesus Neither God Nor Man. I have collated them in this post, and may add any future ones here, too. (Compare comments on my outline of chapter 6)


Updated 31st May 2011

Brother of the Lord

By now we are all familiar with how much historicists rely on Galatians 1:19 and its “brother of the Lord” to find an historical Jesus within the epistles. It’s one of a small handful of life preservers thrown into the waters to try to rescue Paul from drowning in a mythical sea. I would like to put an additional emphasis on one of the arguments I have used to poke holes in this particular preserver. I have pointed out that Philippians 1:14 uses a similar phrase to Galatians 1:19, namely “brothers in the Lord” (ton adelphon en kurio). This can hardly be taken any other way than meaning “fellow-believers in the Lord” and indicates the usage of a phrase to describe a group of sectarians Paul is acquainted with. The very fact that it is so similar to the Galatians phrase should be a strong argument that the latter is likely to have the same meaning.

We might also include here the “brothers of the Lord” (hoi adelphoi tou kuriou of 1 Cor. 9:5. It would seem that both these phrases refer to members of a sect which is known by that name, with the preposition in it somewhat fluid and interchangeable. I referred to the difference in prepositions between Gal. 1:19 and Phil. 1:14 as “slight.” (Actually, in the “of” form, the preposition is understood within the genitive of the definite article before “Lord”.[There is no ‘missing’ preposition before the genitive “Lord”.])

Bernard [Muller], with his peerless command of language both English and Greek, disputed the “slight”. But let’s see if we can illustrate how there is essentially no difference in sample phrases which interchange these two prepositions. These examples can only be in English, but I would challenge anyone to demonstrate that in Greek there would be any particular prohibition to understanding these examples as essentially meaning the same thing, no matter which preposition/case is used.

Example 1:
“We are students in the art of love.”
“We are students of the art of love.”

Example 2:
“We are fellow-seekers in the truth.”
“We are fellow-seekers of the truth.”

Example 3:
“We are practitioners in outdoor sports.”
“We are practitioners of outdoor sports.”

Example 4:
“We are advocates in the practice of rationality.”
“We are advocates of the practice of rationality.”

Given that Phil. 1:14 can only have the one meaning, these examples show that Galatians 1:19 could also have the same meaning, undercutting if not destroying any claim by historicists that the latter phrase can “only have one natural meaning,” namely that of sibling. Not even a probability of that meaning can be maintained, since nowhere else in the entire early record outside the Gospels is James identified as the sibling of Jesus, despite several inviting opportunities to do so, as in the letters of James and Jude, and also in Acts. Nor in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 12) is James identified as Jesus’ very brother (despite having heaven and earth created for him). Explanations for such silences are indeed ad hoc and entirely unconvincing (see JNGNM, note 29). And of course, we have the vast majority (if not them all) of Pauline/epistolary usages of “adelphos to mean a member of the sect.

We can also note that the Gal. 1:19 (and 1 Cor. 9:5) phrase is “brother(s) of the Lord”, not “brother of Jesus” which we might expect if Paul’s thoughts were focused on a sibling relationship; whereas Phil. 1:14, which is focused on belief and membership in a sect, uses “the Lord” for such a focus, leading us to assume the same focus in Galatians with its similar language.

The naïve claim that Galatians 1:19 can only have the meaning of sibling and is primary ‘proof’ of the existence of a human Jesus cannot stand, and is little short of ludicrous. And that’s even before we consider the feasibility of interpolation.

So what’s left? Romans 1:3? Another passage as having only one possible meaning? Galatians 3:29, the gentiles as “seed of Abraham”: obviously NOT a physical linkage but a mystical one. Ergo, “seed of David” does not have only one possible meaning. “Born of woman”? Let’s wait until Jim gets to my Chapter 15.

They’re falling like tenpins.

Earl Doherty

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Addendum — Statistical analysis

Once again, I will make a point similar to a similar situation a couple of weeks ago.

One cannot analyze the probable meaning of “brother(s) of the Lord” according to a statistical analysis of usages of individual words by Paul elsewhere. If “brothers of the Lord” is a phrase with currency, Paul will use it because of that fact, unrelated to how he normally uses the same terms in phrases of his own invention.

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Brother of the Lord — Philippians 1:14

I just posted on McGrath’s site a response concerning the issue of Phil. 1:14′s “brothers IN the Lord” which is particularly important. I’ll repeat it here:

In the matter of Philippians 1:14…

This is a good example of debaters here relying on what others say, while being incapable of analyzing a claim for themselves, particularly where the Greek text is concerned.

I have the utmost respect for Richard Carrier, but here, as Bernard has quoted him, I have to say that if Carrier is maintaining that his alternate translation is the only one possible, I cannot agree. And I’m not the only one. The majority of translations (despite what Mike Wilson claims) do NOT agree with him, and those translators, I daresay, are at least as competent in Greek as Carrier is. At best, the passage might be ambiguous. Here are the more common translations:

KJV: “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold…”

NIV: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord, have been encouraged…”

NAB: “most of my brothers in Christ, taking courage from my chains, have been further emboldened…”

NEB: “(my imprisonment)…has given confidence to most of our fellow-Christians to speak the word of God…”

The Translator’s New Testament: “Most of my Christian brothers have gained confidence through my imprisonment and are daring more…”

Carrier has translated (according to Bernard): “most of the brethren having confidence in the lord because of my bonds more abundantly dare to speak the word of the Lord without fear.” But, as you can see, the above translations take the “having confidence” idea as linked to the idea of Paul being in chains, the latter words following on the former. They do not see it as governing the phrase that comes previously, “in the Lord” (en kuriō).

The other problem is that if “being confident” (pepoithotas) is to be taken with the preceding “in the Lord”, this makes the following phrase about Paul in chains (tois desmois mou), which must in whatever case be dependent on the “being confident”, creating something of a contradiction, or perhaps better called a redundancy. Because then the “confidence” has turned its eyes in two different directions. Paul’s “brothers” are “confident” both in the Lord, and by virtue of Paul’s chains. This would be an awkward juxtaposition of thoughts. If they are confident because they have confidence in the Lord, is Paul also going to say that they are confident because of his own chains? The two thoughts are less than comfortably compatible. Why, according to Carrier above, would “the brethren have confidence in the lord because of my bonds”? Why would Paul being thrown in prison give them confidence in the lord? This strikes me as unnatural, even garbled. Whereas, simply “taking courage from my chains” (as in the NAB) is a natural thought, in the sense of being “inspired” by Paul’s chains. In fact, if we look back at the preceding sentence, the thought is focused entirely on those who recognize that Paul is in prison in the cause of Christ (as the NASB puts it). It follows that it is this situation, Paul in chains, which has given his fellow brethren in the Lord confidence to declare their message even more strongly; that it would give them confidence “in the Lord” (while not an impossible idea per se) simply doesn’t follow within the context.

The NASB and the RSV also awkward-ize the verse, but they are in the minority. (Of course, there are other translations I have not surveyed, but others may do so.)

However, one that is NOT in the minority is Bauer’s Lexicon, perhaps the most respected Lexicon of NT Greek for the last near-century. Bauer, under “peithō, def. 2.a (“put one’s confidence in with dative of the person or thing”), links the pepoithotas with the following dative “tois desmois mou Phil. 1:14.”

So I’m sorry, but I do not agree with Carrier here, and certainly do not accept his reading as reliably demonstrating that ‘brothers in the Lord’ is not to be found in Phil. 1:14. I would suggest that Bernard and others avoid pontificating in the absence of any expertise whatever on their own part.

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Brothers of the Lord — the point of using analogies

Earlier, I demonstrated several sample phrases interchanging the prepositions, where there is clearly no difference whatever in the meaning regardless of the preposition used. I think I recall (couldn’t locate the posting today) you claiming that none of this matters (huh??), that we would need an actual comparison using the word “sibling”. But then that would not be an analogy.

Do you understand the meaning and purpose of an analogy? An analogy is never exactly the same as the thing on which you want to provide insight, which is the very thing that makes it useful. The thing itself (our comparison of “brother in” and “brother of”) resists understanding–or that understanding is resisted–and we try to get around that by offering a similar situation with other referents which may be more easily understood, or may get around the resistance.

Unfortunately, you did not even try to understand the significance of my analogies in order to better see the point I was making in regard to “brothers of” and “brothers in”. I suggest you go back to those examples and try to actually demonstrate how they do not cast light on our situation.

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In/Of the Lord continued

Howard, I have never suggested that tou kurioushould be taken as “in the Lord”. It should be taken as “of the Lord.” Where did you get this idea?What I have said is that there is no identifiable difference in meaning between the two prepositions, in the context of “brethren (…) the Lord” and I illustrated that (or tried to, though Jim refused to consider it) by analogy with those sample phrases I listed a couple of days ago, such as:“We are seekers in the truth.”
“We are seekers of the truth.”Actually, your pointer toward 1 Thes. 1:3 helps make that very case, though again by analogy, since the term “brother” is not involved: “(We remember)…your endurance inspired by hope IN our Lord Jesus Christ,” in which the IN is actually a genitive phrase, not an “en” plus the dative. While most translations employ “in”, the NEB acknowledges the genitive by translating it: “your hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,” illustrating that the two prepositions are indeed interchangeable without altering the meaning.

In regard to your earlier, longer post on Phil. 1:14, you rightly point out (as I did) the grammatical ambiguity, in that “having confidence” can be connected with either the preceding “in the Lord” or the following “my chains” (you didn’t phrase it properly, but I got your meaning).

But your claim that linking “having confidence” with “in the Lord” makes better sense might be more convincing if you actually addressed my discussion of how it does NOT make better sense and rebutted the elements of that discussion. Especially in regard to the double dependency that would be created, linking the participle to a phrase in both directions.

As to whether “brothers in the Lord” should be regarded as redundant (supposedly because within Paul’s circles “brethren” referred to a sectarian membership which already assumes the object of their sectarian orientation), such commentators overlook two points. Within the mythicist option, the phrase can be seen as an identifying one for the group, which it would have adopted at its formation. At that point, an enlargement on the term ‘brethren’ would be needed to create a self-referent phrase for the group.

Also, while the actual “brothers in the Lord” may not appear anywhere else, the phrase “in Christ” and “in the Lord” are rampant Pauline fingerprints. The expression that someone (including Paul himself) is “in Christ” appears over a hundred times in the corpus. As for someone being “in the Lord” (en kuriō), let’s look at a few examples:

Romans 16:8 – Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
Romans 16:11 – the family of Narcissus, being in the Lord. (Cf. 16:12,13,22)

If so many individuals and even family groups can be spoken of as “in the Lord” (indeed, it seems to be a stock phrase), are we going to declare that “brothers in the Lord” would be unusual or unlikely?

1 Cor. 4:17 – Timothy, a beloved child and faithful in the Lord. (Who is a “brother” but one who is faithful to the sect’s object of worship? Cf. 9:2, [Paul’s] apostleship in the Lord.)

Eph. 2:21 – (the readers of the epistle are joined together) to become a holy shrine in the Lord. (Cf. Eph. 5:8, 6:1, 6:10, 6:21)

In many cases are not these “in the Lord” phrases redundant, in that the thought ought to contain the assumption that such things are automatically related to “the Lord”? Yet Paul, and those writing in his name, constantly throw this phrase in like an echo, even where it is not needed.

Colossians 4:7 – a fellowservant in the Lord. (Here we could note that “in” would be interchangeable with “of” with no change of meaning.)

There are scores of such usages of “in the Lord” in the Pauline corpus, and that’s not even counting the phrase when used in regard to an action, such as “stand fast in the Lord.” The pervasiveness of this phrase in Paul ought to sway that ambiguity in Phil. 1:14 in a decided direction, and it is not Carrier’s or the RSV’s.

As for “Paul’s apparent preference for using the verb πέποιθα with the preposition ἐν,”
this is not actually the case, even if we were to restrict ourselves to that one tense (2 perfect) of the verb peithō, which would in any case not be a legitimate exercise. In the 18 usages of “peithō in the genuine Paulines, only three govern an “en” (Gal. 5:10, Phil. 2:24, and 3:3/4.) All three use πέποιθα. (We can’t include 1:14 because it is ambiguous and is the point under debate.) But six other usages of πέποιθα do not govern an “en”, and in fact, two govern the preposition “epi” (2 Cor. 1:9 and 2:3), indicating that Paul’s ‘preference’ is fluid, even in regard to the 2 perfect. For peithō in general, such a preference is non-existent. Two occurrences actually govern the dative (Romans 2:8 and Gal. 5:7) which is one of the possibilities in Phil. 1:14.

I never claimed Carrier was “wrong.” Just that he has chosen (for unknown reasons) one grammatical option which I am arguing is not the stronger and not to be preferred.

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Howard (responding to Howard’s post here): As for your sample phrases, they do not necessarily have the same meaning.
“We are seekers in the truth.” – This can be interpreted as you are someone who already has the truth, and you are seeking something else.
“We are seekers of the truth.” – This can be interpreted as you are someone who does not have the truth but you are seeking it.”

I think your first ‘interpretation’ is really strained. I hardly think anyone would say such a thing, particularly this way. No, my feeling for it is in the sense of “we are seekers in the service of the truth.”

However, let me assure you that I am not making concrete claims for any of these understandings. I am offering them as suggestions for how I would understand and suggesting that others would too. If you disagree, that’s your prerogative. I can’t twist your mind’s arm. However, in some cases here, I can question whether predisposition may lead someone to close their minds to suggestions and alternative interpretations.

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“BM (BM’s full comment here): And so what? There is no denial for that. But then if it is so
rampant, why Paul, in two instances, did not use “brother(s) in the
Lord”, but instead “brother(s) of the Lord”?
Why did Paul break his pattern in these two cases?”

Partly because the pattern was interchangeable, so there was no “breaking” of it. You might as well ask why does Paul sometimes say “in Christ” and sometimes “in Christ Jesus” and sometimes “in Christ Jesus our Lord”? While it was a stock kind of phrase, the exact wording was loose.

But I have another suggestion. All those examples of “so-and-so in the Lord” are applied very broadly to believing and proselytizing Christians in all sorts of places. Whereas “brothers OF the Lord” is used in circumstances where Paul seems to be referring to a particular core group of apostles, centered in Jerusalem. If this was a self-referential phrase they had adopted for themselves, involving an “of” rather than “in”, then Paul would use that version for them.

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. . . . and reference to Colossians 4:7

Jim: “I do not believe I have ever heard or read anyone use the
expression ‘we are seekers in the truth.’ Could you at least submit a
recognized idiom or expression so that we can discuss whether it is
comparable to the language Paul uses?” [full comment is here]

I gave you one, right from Paul himself:

Colossians 4:7 – a fellow servant in the Lord. (Here we could note that
“in” would be interchangeable with “of” with no change of meaning.)

Are you saying that the “of” and “in” are NOT interchangeable here? In fact (and I should have pointed this out before–ATTENTION ALL!!!), Col. 4:7 actually reads:

“…Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”

This passage actually constitutes another example of the phrase “brother in the Lord,” supporting the non-Carrier reading of Phil. 1:14, since the “in” is attached to all three designations of Tychicus. (Though perhaps Bernard, with his unique and superior handling of grammar, will choose to deny this.)

Jim: “Just out of curiosity, if
there is no distinction between “brothers in the Lord” and “brothers of
the Lord” in your opinion, then if Paul had wanted to indicate an actual sibling relationship, have you left him any language with which he could have done so”

The meaning of “ambiguity” is that a word or phrase can be used and theoretically entail more than one meaning. On the other hand, if Paul had wanted to say a sibling of Jesus, I think he would have said “the brother of Jesus.” And if he had meant the sibling of Jesus, I think he would have spoken of James in that epistle with a little more respect and acknowledgement that he did indeed occupy a special and enviable place, instead of heaping scorn on him in 2:6 and criticizing his stance on the dining question.

And what of 2:7-8? Here Paul goes to the gentiles and Peter (along with the rest of the Jerusalem apostles we can assume) goes to the Jews, under the authority of GOD, who works within them both. Is there the slightest hint that James is the sibling of Jesus and that he and Peter and the rest of the pillars, as earthly followers of Jesus, should have been thought of as being “entrusted” by Jesus himself with their proselytizing work?

Do my endless string of passages and indicators like this have absolutely no effect on you, Jim? All this evidence for Jesus mythicism and anti-evidence for historicism simply carries no weight with you (and others)? Your constant scramble for ad hoc explanations for all the points I bring up in my book and here, that doesn’t trouble you? Yours is the proper “historical criticism” methodology, yet all the anomalies and silences and exclusions of an HJ and the consistency of exegesis in a way compatible with mythicism which can be winnowed from the texts at every turn, this is mythicist charlatanry?

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James wrote: @Earl, I do not believe I have ever heard or read anyone use the expression “we are seekers in the truth.” Could you at least submit a recognized idiom or expression so that we can discuss whether it is comparable to the language Paul uses?

Just out of curiosity, if there is no distinction between “brothers in the Lord” and “brothers of the Lord” in your opinion, then if Paul had wanted to indicate an actual sibling relationship, have you left him any language with which he could have done so?

Earl responded: James, leaving the specific context of Galatians aside, are you telling me that the term “brother of the Lord” could in your view NEVER, in any theoretical circumstance, be used or understood as a “devotee of the Lord” in the context of a religious cult?

To which James replied: @Earl, are you admitting that mythicists are wiiling to leave context aside?

Are you suggesting that we should interpret phrases as meaning what they could just possibly, on a scenario for which we have no evidence, rather than what they appear to based on the evidence we have?

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Contextualizing the ant-mythicist argument’s appeal to “Brother of the Lord”

A prosecuting attorney is preparing his case for trial. The accused has been charged with murder. The prosecution has three witnesses who will testify that they saw the accused outside the scene around the time of the murder. The accused’s fingerprints have been found at the scene and the murder weapon in a dumpster close to his home. The accused recently attended a shooting course at a local gun school. The victim is a relative of the accused who had just made out a will to leave all his money to the accused.

On the other hand, the defense attorney has a witness who says he saw the accused in a bar on the other side of town at exactly the time of the murder.

What is the prosecuting attorney going to do with that piece of apparently contrary evidence? Will he throw up his hands and admit defeat? Will he cave in to the defense claims that their witness’s testimony can only mean one thing: the accused was at the bar and thus could not have committed the murder. After all, isn’t that the simplest most natural way to take their witness’s testimony? Wouldn’t some other explanation be a case of contravening Occam’s Razor? Isn’t the prosecutor’s attempt to find some other explanation a case of sheer idiocy and incompetence on his part, and shouldn’t he be disbarred for suggesting any alternative explanation?

Of course, we all know that the prosecuting attorney will quite legitimately attempt to find some other explanation. The witness’ recognition was faulty. Perhaps he was drunk at the time. He was wrong about the hour. The prosecutor may check the bar’s clock and find that it hadn’t been changed when Daylight Saving Time arrived. It might even be that the witness is lying.

And what would we think of the defense attorney heaping scorn on the prosecutor for not seeing “the only natural interpretation” of the witness’ testimony, for conducting such investigations to find an alternative understanding? What would we think of him ignoring all the evidence for the accused’s guilt as though it didn’t exist and had no bearing on how that (alleged) contrary piece of evidence should be approached?

And what would we think of that defense attorney if he continued his scorn and his stubborn adherence to his “only interpretation” claim, if the prosecutor did indeed find that the witness had had a dozen drinks, that some people remembered that the clock was indeed off, that the witness actually was a friend of the accused?

Of course, these are rhetorical questions.

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To which Jim replied: Earl Doherty, I appreciate your taking the role of prosecuting attorney. However, scholars not only make the best case they can for a particular view in that sort of role, but also as a group serve as a jury and try to reach a verdict. As in a court of law, sometimes one piece of evidence is enough to acquit someone, in spite of other circumstantial evidence which, if that one decisive piece had been missing, might have led to a different verdict.

Historians, like detectives, lawyers and juries, are dependent on what evidence happens to be available. It will always be the case that, if other evidence had survived, a different conclusion might have been called for. But can you understand why, given the state of the evidence, and in spite of your making the beAre you claiming that nothing is ever proposed in the discipline of historical research to account for an anomaly in the evidence? Even if there isn’t a clear-cut surviving reference of it? You can’t hamstring historical research like that. Scholars make deductive proposals all the time from incomplete historical evidence, not the least NT scholars! And if their arguments and surrounding evidence were strong, I would not simply dismiss it per se. What I would do, if I did not agree, was try to come up with evidence and/or analysis which would undermine that proposal. (Just as I have in regard to Carrier’s reading of Phil. 1:14.)

Which is something that by and large you do not do. Your idea of a counter-argument is to ask, is that the most natural way to take it, and if not (so you claim) doesn’t that discredit the possibility entirely? Is that the way the majority of scholars have always taken it? I don’t know if you can recognize that these are not logical and scientific forms of argument, let alone sufficient rebuttal.st case you were able to, the scholarly jury still finds Jesus “not guilty” of being a myth?

Are you claiming that nothing is ever proposed in the discipline of historical research to account for an anomaly in the evidence? Even if there isn’t a clear-cut surviving reference of it? You can’t hamstring historical research like that. Scholars make deductive proposals all the time from incomplete historical evidence, not the least NT scholars! And if their arguments and surrounding evidence were strong, I would not simply dismiss it per se. What I would do, if I did not agree, was try to come up with evidence and/or analysis which would undermine that proposal. (Just as I have in regard to Carrier’s reading of Phil. 1:14.)

Which is something that by and large you do not do. Your idea of a counter-argument is to ask, is that the most natural way to take it, and if not (so you claim) doesn’t that discredit the possibility entirely? Is that the way the majority of scholars have always taken it? I don’t know if you can recognize that these are not logical and scientific forms of argument, let alone sufficient rebuttal.

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Paul Had No Need To Speak of the Life and Teachings of Jesus?

Mike: Your observation here, which you think is best answered by your theory, is completely erroneous, so your opinion on “The expectations quoted just above are things we have no reason to think would not be timeless and universal; they would be part of human nature,” is worthless. Conversation on this site have shown several reason why Paul is not fielding questions on “speculation as to when and where he had lived” or “whether or what he might have taught”.

Oh? And what has that “conversation” contributed to proving my expectations worthless, Mike? The claim that Paul never addressed anything to do with Jesus’ life, teachings, prophecies, anything before the bare fact of crucifixion, because everyone, in every community Paul and every other epistle writer ever wrote to, already knew everything there was to know about Jesus and none of those writers felt any need or urge to say anything of what they supposed everyone already knew? Because no one ever had any doubt or question to ask Paul about what Jesus had done or taught, or Paul never had any occasion to back up what he says by mentioning features of Jesus’ life? Is this a joke, Mike? Do you really consider such an explanation likely, let alone rational, with my expectations about such things “worthless”?

Aside from you, Bernard and Jim, is there anyone else here who will stand up with a straight face and make such claims? Oh, I forgot. There’s Don as well. Why don’t we invite J. P. Holding to join the club, he’s made similar claims. When the defence of historicism is built on nonsense like this, mythicism might as well depart to more rational climes.

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McGrath’s objection re Jesus and Circumcision

I’ve already dealt with a few of the points raised by Jim about my Chapter 6 of JNGNM.  I’ll catch up on this instalment of his review by sweeping a few others up for comment, just so nothing of import is left by the wayside. (“Brother of the Lord” has developed its own chain of debate, which I will return to presently.) Jim addresses the following:

First, the lack of any appeal, on either side of the issue about circumcision, to the presumed fact that Jesus himself had been circumcised. Jim dismisses this silence by pointing out that Jesus was a Jew, automatically circumcised after birth, whereas the debate for Paul centered on whether gentiles also needed to be circumcised in order to join what was essentially a Jewish sect (even if it incorporated Hellenistic soteriological principles). Therefore, one had nothing to do with the other. Does this make sense? Hardly. Those urging circumcision for gentiles, whether they were Jews or not, though most likely they were, would have had every reason to appeal to Jesus’ own circumcision, arguing along these lines: “You want to join us Jews, subscribing to our God, our scripture, our way of life? You need to be circumcised, just as the very Messiah you want to worship and seek salvation from was himself circumcised. Now, even if Paul himself had wanted to avoid having to address such a consideration, his opponents would hardly have let him. He would have had to counter this sort of argument.

‘The gentiles were gentiles and the Jews were Jews’ hardly solves Jim’s conundrum. If a foreign national wishes to immigrate into another country, he can hardly refuse to conform to its laws and primary practices. (No, I won’t pay your income taxes, because we didn’t have such a thing where I come from! No, I won’t get a license to drive a car because we didn’t need a license in my country!) Right. And those pressing for adherence to those laws would have used any argument at their disposal, including that the man they were accepting as their new divinity had been circumcised. (What, you will refuse to emulate him?!) Paul himself, even in his own thinking, would have had to face that elephant in the room. As usual, Jim’s counter doesn’t work. And him appealing to the fact that Paul was not advocating that the Jews reverse their own circumcision, as though this has any relevance, is particularly ludicrous. He accuses me of various lacks of understanding, but his is abysmal if he does not recognize that Paul is trying to exempt a class of audience (an important target for him) because they would be much more amenable to conversion given that exemption, not because he thinks there is anything inherently wrong with circumcision, and Jews should ‘undo’ it.

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The Personal Characteristics of Jesus

Second, Jim ridicules my pointing out that the epistles contain absolutely nothing about any personal life or characteristics of Jesus. He points out that the Gospels likewise contain none of these facets of Jesus. But he overlooks or ignores the fact that I myself point out the latter (page 63: “Even in the Gospels such things are scarcely to be found. There, Jesus of Nazareth as an individual and personality cannot be distinguished.”) I haven’t ignored the Gospels in this regard—they are part of the perplexing picture. This sort of counter is characteristic of GakuseiDon, who would have put it this way: We know that the Gospel writers believed in an HJ, yet they are silent on any personal data about Jesus; therefore, if Paul is equally silent, this cannot be an argument against him believing in an HJ.

As usual, however, Don’s argument is as shallow as Jim’s. First of all, it is by no means sure that Mark believed in an HJ or was merely treating his Jesus figure as a symbolic one: something I address later in the book. If he did believe such a figure existed, the mythicist case entails the idea that Mark would have known nothing personal about this figure who in fact did not exist, a situation the other evangelists would have found themselves in as well, which is why no personal material about what is a very two-dimensional Jesus is included in the Gospels. So such silence in the Gospels and the silence in the epistles are actually mutually supportive of the no-Jesus theory. Of course, the subtleties of such a situation would be lost on both Jim and Don, who are capable of thinking only from a firmly entrenched position inside the box.

Jim says that ancient literature had a lack of interest in their characters’ psychology. Is he referring to fictional characters, as in novels? That might be so, given the limitations of the ancients’ knowledge and understanding of human psychology. And that is part of my point about the lack of any in-depth portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels. He was a fictional character. And even if they envisioned their character as rooted in an actual historical man, they knew nothing about that man. They make no attempt to portray such a man’s experiences but concoct everything out of scripture.

On the other hand, if the evangelists, and the epistle writers, were portraying and speaking of a man who lived on in the Christian mind through oral traditions (the usual claim), then something about that man and his features, his practices in life, would have been known and of interest, since he was supposedly a real man whom missionaries like Paul are making claims about, and trying to persuade potential converts to believe in as the Son of God. I’m not asking for deep psychological analysis here. But is Jim trying to tell us that not a single ‘history’ of Alexander the Great, or Hannibal, or Julius Caesar, ever tells us anything personal about him, his physical features, his motivations, never tries in the slightest to get inside his mind to understand him? Has he never read Thucydides?

He claims to have read Pilgrim’s Progress. Where is the characterization of Pilgrim in that work? There is none, because Bunyan was not talking about, let alone trying to portray, a real individual. Pilgrim was a two-dimensional symbol and the reader knew it. That same lack of characterization in the Gospels spells the same thing. And the lack of it in Paul and the rest of the epistles, who speak only of their Christ as being “revealed” through scripture, similarly spells the lack of any human incarnation for their object of worship.

.

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Silence in Paul on the Miracles of Jesus (etc)

Third, Jim is similarly ineffectual in countering my observation that there is no mention anywhere in the epistles about Jesus having performed miracles. The best he can do is query why the heavenly Christ was not described as having performed miracles from heaven. Well, he was. Paul does not itemize particulars, but he refers more than once to “signs and wonders” he has performed as “Christ’s instrument” (Rom. 15:18, cf. 2 Cor. 12:12). And what about Hebrews 2:2-4? Traditional scholarship twists this account of a revelatory experience at the sect’s beginning into the preaching of Jesus, something that is demonstrably wrong, which he will find out in my Hebrews chapter. But if it were the preaching of Jesus, why are the accompanying miracles in verse 4 said to be by God, and not by Jesus?

Jim suggests there were no legends of miracles by Jesus as early as Paul’s letter-writing days. But Q supposedly preserves such traditions, indicating that Paul ought to have at least encountered the idea, even if it were a post-Jesus development. Besides, how could a preacher of the Kingdom not have been claimed virtually from the start to be a worker of miracles, especially of healing, since that was an indispensable sign of his legitimacy and the coming of the Kingdom? And I have pointed out before that the fixation on the activities of the demons and the need to overcome them (as in Eph. 6:12) should have required of Jesus that he could exercise control over them through exorcist healings, as the Gospels were later to do. The Pauline corpus, along with all the rest of the early non-Gospel documents, are silent on any such thing. We might note that Jim simply accusing me of “not logically evaluating evidence” does not constitute a counter-argument or explanation.

Finally, in his closing paragraph before his final round of insult and accusations of charlatanry, Jim refers to Hebrews 13’s “outside the gate” and the Didache’s eucharistic meal. But I can’t answer mere allusions to non-existent arguments that are not actually given.

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  • John
    2011-05-29 22:20:46 UTC - 22:20 | Permalink

    If Jesus existed (and I’ve said before that I don’t care if he did or not), I wouldn’t expect Paul or any Pauline writer to know much (or anything) about him beyond what Paul and they imagined, since Paul never “met” Jesus and was not, in any event, considered an “insider” by James’ group, so he was “out of the loop” on that front as well.

    I expect to see “mythical” ideas in Paul’s letters because the Jesus he “knows” is, to paraphrase Eisenman, a heavenly Supernatural Redeemer figure that he has personal contact with via revelations. As far as I can tell he had nothing much else to write about, hence the few “life preservers” for HJ’ers.

    But regardless of what anyone thinks he “ought” to have known given his contacts with James’ group, I think it is valid to suppose that the latter may have practiced the sort of doctrinal secrecy we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus’ Essenes and the Clementine literature. This secrecy may have been necessary not only to preserve their doctrines from corruption, as it says in the Clementines, but also to protect the group from persecution for their messianic (and not necessarily HJ) beliefs, of the sort we see inflicted on them by people like Paul, and the scribes and Pharisees and Ananus in Hegesippus and Josephus.

    I have the impression that early “Christians,” like others who followed “magicians” or “bandits” in Josephus, were faced with opposition from Roman and Jewish authorities, so it would not surprise me if anyone who had messianic beliefs (whether mythical or not) of the sort we see ascribed to early Christians would want to keep them a “secret” from outsiders for that reason, too.

    Consider that what “little” we do hear from early “Christians” about “Jesus” was enough to get them into trouble with authorities. Even Paul, with what little he knows after his “conversion,” seems to have had his share of problems with authorities.

    I think these reasons explain the “silence” we are seeing in the NT epistles (and even the silence concerning the messiah in the Mishnah) and the consequent “midrashic” fantasies we see in the gospels
    and Acts (though that alone does not necessarily mean that Jesus was any less “real” than James in Hegesippus, who also fulfilled “the declarations of the prophets concerning him,” or the Righteous Teacher in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

    In addition, it would appear that prior to gospel production, Jesus was expected to arrive soon, and for that reason alone, from a Jamesian perspective, I wouldn’t expect much focus on what he “did” (mythically or not) as much as what he will do: come on the clouds of heaven and judge everyone. So I’m not surprised by any other “silence” in the letters of James and Jude because these were written to “outsiders” with the thrust of countering Paul. All NT literature is written by or to “outsiders.”

    My only concern is with the other things that indicate that Jesus may have existed, such as the James passage in Josephus and the “Lord’s family” references in Hegesippus, and the beliefs of the Ebionites that Jesus was a man and that James was, without qualification, his brother, as reflected by the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Clementine literature, the chuch fathers and possibly Paul.

    • 2011-05-29 23:00:59 UTC - 23:00 | Permalink

      Just to address one of your details here: I don’t know of any reason to think Roman authorities gave Paul or Christians generally a hard time in the first century. Paul seems to like the good those authorities do. Acts is late fiction and so almost certainly is the Neronian persecution.

      Real persecution of the very bloody kind sets in from both Jews and Romans in the second century.

      • John
        2011-05-30 00:39:00 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

        As far as evidence for persecution of first century “Christians” goes, we have Paul in Galatians 1:13: “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” I think it’s fair to assume that this met with the approval (if not support) of the ruling authorities, and this is reflected in the Clementine literature and Acts.

        And whether or not John the Baptist was a “Christian,” according to Josephus he was executed by the authorities for fear that he would inspire a revolt. And while his crucifixion, according to Hegesippus, was in the early second century, “the Lord’s cousin” Simon was said to have lived most of his life in the first century.

        In the case of James, we have the letter of James: “But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over you?” (2:6-7), and “You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man” (5:6), and the letter’s general revengeful tone: “Come now, you rich, weep, howl over the miseries that are coming upon you” with “the coming of the Lord” (5:1, 5:7), which indicate a problem with authorities.

        There is also the James passages in (possibly) Josephus and Hegesippus, which show the hostility of the authorities to James (also reflected in the Clementine literature and the gnostic writings from Nag Hammadi, however fantastic the latter may be).

        In the case of Paul, regardless of his attitude towards rulers, by his own admission he had a hard time with them:

        “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one … with … far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned” (2 Cor 11:23-25).

        In Philippians 1:13, Paul is writing from a Roman prison: “[I]t has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

        And in Philemon, Paul says he is “a prisoner for Christ” (1:1, 1:9).

        • Steven Carr
          2011-05-30 02:40:30 UTC - 02:40 | Permalink

          Paul says in Galatians 6 that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision, and that by compromising on this issue, Christians could avoid persecution.

          Indeed, in chapter 5, Paul gives his being persecuted as evidence that he has not compromised on the issue of circumcision, or else he would no longer be persecuted.

          • John
            2011-05-30 05:38:15 UTC - 05:38 | Permalink

            It looks like you are referring to Gal. 5:11:

            “But if I, brethren, still preach circumcission, why am I still persecuted? In that case, the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.”

            and Gal. 6:12:

            “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

            However this may be understood, it doesn’t change the fact that Paul and other early
            “Christians” were persecuted by those in authority, at one time even by Paul himself.

            So if Paul preached against circumcission, why did he persecute “Christians” before his conversion, if James’ group preached circumcission?

            It was because, as the evidence in my post above shows, that people we associate with the Jesus movement were perceived by authorities as being dangerous enough to be murdered, like John the Baptist in Josephus, James in Hegesippus and (possibly) Josephus, and the “righteous man” in James’ letter.

            Are you suggesting that the authorities were fine with James’ idea that the “rich” would soon be overthrown by “the coming of the Lord,” and that he was only murdered because he preached against circumcission (which he does not appear to have done in any event)? I’m not sure what you’re saying. Maybe I don’t know what Paul is saying here either.

            But I can imagine that to be associated with someone like Paul, who preached against circumcission, did not help the image of early “Christians,” so it is understandable, given their already difficult situation (as evidenced by their persecution by Paul before his conversion), that they desired to “make a good showing in the flesh.”

            • Steven Carr
              2011-05-30 07:09:00 UTC - 07:09 | Permalink

              ‘It was because, as the evidence in my post above shows, that people we associate with the Jesus movement were perceived by authorities as being dangerous enough to be murdered,…’

              Why? Paul was not murdered, even though there was plenty of opportunity.

              Paul pointed out that Christians who compromised on the issue of circumcision were not even persecuted, let alone murdered.

              • John
                2011-05-30 08:04:18 UTC - 08:04 | Permalink

                In the case of Gal. 5:11, the issue is circumcission, and the context is Paul imploring Galatians to stand fast in the “freedom” of Christ, and “not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (5:1), meaning circumcission as preached by someone who “hindered you from obeying the truth” (5:7) and “is troubling you” (5:10). So Paul is asking, if he (Paul) preaches circumcission, why is he still being persecuted? Who is persecuting him? Well, the next thing he says is, “I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!” (5:12). He sounds angry. Perhaps they are the ones persecuting him.

                As for Paul’s fate, I don’t think anyone knows what happened to him, so I couldn’t say whether he was or was not murdered (though this is what I suspect). Incidently, he vanishes around the same time that Saulos does in Josephus, and I think Eisenman makes a good case that he is Paul.

                As for why other early “Christians” were murdered, in John the Baptist’s case, according to Josephus, it was because Herod the Tetrarch “feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion” (Ant. 18.118).

                In the case of James, according to Hegesippus, it was because “there was an uproar among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ” (EH 2.23).

                In the case of “the Lord’s cousin” Simon, according to Hegesippus, it was because he was “charged … with being a descendant of David and a Christian” (EH 3.32).

                I’m not sure I understand your last comment, but in any event I suspect that the “Christian” issue of whether gentiles should become circumcised or not was not a big deal to Jewish opponents of James’ group, considering that the general recommendation for gentiles in the Talmud is the Noahide laws, which do not require it.

                But I admit that I’m not really sure what Paul means here, as he seems to be sarcastic and bitter.

        • 2011-05-30 08:15:39 UTC - 08:15 | Permalink

          Re Galatians 1:13 (Paul saying he persecuted the church and tried to destroy it): I might be wrong, but I find it difficult to accept Roman authorities allowing this sort of thing, and equally difficult to understand Second Temple Jewish authorities instigating anything like this. Recall the diversity of Judaism pre 70 ce. What exactly does “pursuing with hostile intent” mean in this context? Should we really imagine executions? In the most peaceful of times we can expect serious political rivalries and power struggles that must still fall short of persecution in the bloody sense we read of in Mark 13 etc.

          We also need to ask when the various myths and stories of Paul first emerged. I believe it was only in the second century, such as during the Bar Kochba war, when we do know of real (bloody) persecutions by Jews against Christians. Until then, persecution might mean hostility, abuse, excommunication after 70/90. (Acts and the Clementine literature are very late, and I suggest they reflect a time of real persecutions that were known from the second century.)

          John the Baptist’s execution is not related to Christianity as a faith. It is also problematic and I suspect little more than a fiction.

          As for the letter of James, this is nothing more than a series of platitudes common to Wisdom literature throughout the ancient Middle East and Jewish scriptures. It was probably the sort of thing memorized even by the rich and more or less orthodox religious.

          The 2 Corinthians passage highlights the contradiction with the narrative of Acts where Paul has certain privileges because of his supposed Roman citizenship. We must understand this passage as listing punishments he faced at the hands of the Jews for breaching Jewish laws. (He says elsewhere that Roman authorities only punish the wrong-doers.) The passage only makes sense if Paul is saying that this is his lot as an apostle — it is not the lot of Christians generally.

          If Paul was ever in a Roman prison because of his Christianity then I suggest that his words are the only testimony we have that this was the lot of Christians at the hands of Roman authorities in the mid first century. I suspect that we are reading anachronisms. There is certainly difficulty in making sense of such references among biblical scholars who try to fit them all in order.

          But even if Paul was in prison because of his Christianity, does it not seem strange that he never once offers condolences or encouragement to any of his flock for suffering anything similar? And that he encourages them all to trust in the goodness of the authorities?

          • John
            2011-05-30 09:06:37 UTC - 09:06 | Permalink

            Okay, one thing at a time.

            In Paul’s case, I suppose we could imagine anything, even executions, but I’m not arguing for anything in particular, only citing that he says he persecuted the church violently and tried to destroy it, whatever that may mean.

            Eisenman makes a convincing case that Paul was a Herodian, which explains little things such as his connections to the household of Caesar (Php. 4:22) and the family of Aristobulus (Rom. 16:10), his kinsman Herodion (Rom. 16:11), the presence of “Manean, a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch” in the Antioch church (Acts 13:1), as well as how Paul could have gotten the authority to persecute early “Christians.”

            I do think that Galatians was written by Paul in the first century, but if one thinks that it was written the second century, then I suppose his reference to persecuting the church (again, whatever that may mean) could be seeen as a myth.

            Offhand, I can’t think of any similar examples of persecution in the second temple era, but that is in interesting question and I will think about it.

            As for John the Baptist in Josephus, I didn’t say he was a “Christian,” but he was certainly claimed by some, including the Ebionites, and he was executed by someone in power.

            As for the letter of James, it is a little but more than a collection of platitudes, because it is antagonisitic to the rich, which is presumably in keeping with Ebionite doctrines, it is antagonistic to someone who sounds like Paul, which is definitely in keeping with the opinion of the Ebionites, and it promises the coming of the Lord who will judge people, which is similar to what James says will happen in Hegesippus. I can’t prove the author is James, but it is certainly in harmony with what we know about James elsewhere.

            2 Corinthians is critical, because it illustrates that Paul was not the only “Christian” who suffered, becasue he’s comparing his sufferings with what appears to be James’ group, as he says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one … with far greater labors, far MORE imprisonments…” (11:22-23). He’s boasting that he has suffered MORE than them, and been imprisoned more.

  • Pingback: In Mythicism but not of Mythicism | Exploring Our Matrix

    • 2011-05-30 09:49:51 UTC - 09:49 | Permalink

      Quaint the way JMcG has to drag in innuendo against the character of both myself and Doherty — in Doherty’s case over a disagreement about Greek grammar and in my case for simply giving Doherty’s argument another platform for a hearing. Wonder what he thinks of Howell Smith.

      • 2011-05-30 12:29:04 UTC - 12:29 | Permalink

        Dr. Jimmy’s behavior reminds me of another well-worn conservative Christian phrase: “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

        Of course, in practice this never seems work out well.

    • 2011-05-30 15:27:23 UTC - 15:27 | Permalink

      MgG: “If words and grammar are infinitely flexible, then there is no point in debating further, since there is no basis for drawing one conclusion over another. If they are not, then clearly this terminology represents a weak link in the mythicist argument.”

      Unfortunately for Dr. Mythbuster, we’re talking about prepositions. Anyone with a passing knowledge of languages should know that idiomatic usage always determines the meaning of a preposition and, consequently, that prepositions are often the hardest words to translate. Anyone sitting in the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University should also know that there’s almost never a one-to-one correspondence between an English word and a Greek word.

      Depending on the context the preposition ἐν, for example, can mean “in,” “on,” “at,” “by,” “with,” etc. Consider Romans 8:29. The noise of the arguments over predestination could cause us to forget the main thrust of this verse, namely that believers become brothers of God’s firstborn Son. Paul writes that they were predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he (Jesus) would be πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς — literally, “the firstborn in many brothers.” In this case most English Bibles translate ἐν as “among.”

      So while the term “brothers in Christ” could be understood as signifying the fact that all believers are brothers within the body of Christ, we should not forget there was also a doctrine that people became brothers of Christ thanks to God’s adoption. Romans 8:15b — “…but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

      Finally, we would not be arguing over prepositions if the frequent historicist claim about a “mountain of evidence” were true.

  • Steven Carr
    2011-05-30 07:11:36 UTC - 07:11 | Permalink

    ‘Are you suggesting that the authorities were fine with James’ idea that the “rich” would soon be overthrown by “the coming of the Lord,” and that he was only murdered because he preached against circumcission (which he does not appear to have done in any event)? ‘

    Evidence that the author of James was murdered please,or that the authorities ever read the Epistle of James.

    (I know .I used the e-word again. Evidence….)

    • John
      2011-05-30 08:12:13 UTC - 08:12 | Permalink

      As I said above: “In the case of James, according to Hegesippus, it was because “there was an uproar among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ” (EH 2.23).”

      I can’t say if the authorities were familiar with the letter of James or not, but it says in Hegesippus that James publicly told people that there was “One who is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve,” and “Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven” (EH 2.23).

      • steven carr
        2011-05-30 15:52:24 UTC - 15:52 | Permalink

        If Hegesippus (circa 170 AD) said it, it must be true.

        What was Hegesippus source for what James did, other than his piety and imagination?

        Even the Catholic Encyclopedia says ‘Eusebius quotes from Hegesippus a long and apparently legendary account of the death of St. James, “the brother of the Lord”‘

        If even Catholics are calling your theories, ‘legendary’, then they can be quickly dismissed as unevidenced.

        • John
          2011-05-30 21:01:29 UTC - 21:01 | Permalink

          “If Hegesippus (circa 170 AD) said it, it must be true.”

          Not necessarily. But he is a unique source, as he is said to be a Palestinian “Jewish Christian” who knew the Gospel of the Hebrews and a Syriac gospel. What he says about James concerning “One who is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve,” and “Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven” is similar to what the letter of James says about “the coming of the Lord” who will judge people.

          He also knows about the “door” of Jesus, which is in the letter of James. So it is possible that he knew the letter of James and thought it was written by James the Just, and presumably there was nothing in the Gospel of the Hebrews to counterindicate this. He is a great source for what Palestinian “Jewish Christians” in the second century thought and what sources they used.

          “If even Catholics are calling your theories, ‘legendary’, then they can be quickly dismissed as unevidenced.”

          Lots of things from early Christianity could be called “legendary,” but it’s fair to say that legendary stuff that is “Pauline” tends to more acceptable to people who are Pauline than the the legendary stuff that is Jamesian. Acts vs. the Recognitions of Clement come to mind as an example of this. And we can only wonder what else Hegesippus may have said in his five books, because whatever it was, for some reason it was not preserved by the orthodox.

    • Geoff
      2012-04-20 04:34:39 UTC - 04:34 | Permalink

      I am so sorry to be commenting on these old posts. But I find it funny that Jon puts such stock into what the authorities would think of James’ predictions for the rich. Clearly, such pronouncements don’t hold much terror. Even today we see many wealthy people holding to their Christian beliefs despite the Son of God himself saying, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24. If Christians can so disregard the teachings of the Son of God (who is in the know on this subject), I would think the dire predictions coming from prophet of an obscure prophet of doom would be unlikely to cause too much alarm. Sure, as the Roman siege engines rolled toward Jerusalem, Jesus ben Ananias’ pronouncements of doom were not well received, but he was only flogged to the bone.

  • 2011-05-31 13:19:19 UTC - 13:19 | Permalink

    31st May: I have updated this post with additional arguments/rejoinders by Earl Doherty on the meaning of “brother of the lord”.

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