2012-05-11

10. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 10

Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?
    • – Does anyone on the early Christian scene deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus?
    • – Ignatius’ letters the first to show support for the Gospel story
  • Sounds in silence: Or were they?
    • – Does 1 John reveal the first dispute over an historical Jesus?
    • – Should we expect Celsus to be a New Testament exegete?
    • – Trypho’s “groundless report”
    • – Sound of Silence: Ehrman fails to hear
  • Golden silence of the Rabbis
    • – Silent rabbis on Jesus’ non-existence
  • The silence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and their heretics
    • – Why do 2nd century apologists not attack the Christ cult of Paul as a heresy?
  • The sound of transition: From Paul to Orthodoxy
    • – The process of transition from a heavenly to earthly Christ
  • The sound of diversity: A Logos religion

    • – The Logos religion of the 2nd century apologists
  • Silence complete: Revisiting Josephus and Tacitus
    • – Ehrman’s unsupportable assumptions

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 94-97)

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Later Sources from Outside the New Testament

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Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?

Ehrman spends a few pages at the beginning of his Chapter Four on the old canard which too many historicists seem to think is a knockout blow against the mythicist theory: that no one in all the documents we possess from the earliest period right up to the 18th century ever suggests, or deals with an accusation, that Jesus never existed. A moment’s reflection ought to reveal why this might be the case. (There are in fact a handful of notable exceptions to this silence that I will go into shortly, which puts the lie to Ehrman’s sweeping statement.)

First of all, if an earthly Jesus did not exist for Christians of the Pauline variety of faith in a sacrificed Savior through almost the first hundred years of the movement, how would we expect to find a denial that he had? No one would have been claiming it.

We also have to ask, who would have been in a position to know that Christians were claiming something that was false?

When do we first see that claim surfacing? One can’t point to the Gospels themselves because the very issue in question is whether there is any support for their presentation of a supposedly historical figure and set of events; and their traditional dating is dubious.

The first direct reference by a Christian to an historical man who was crucified by Pilate is found in the letters of Ignatius, which if authentic can be dated no earlier than 107 CE, or if forgeries, some time after that. Is anyone going to be around in Antioch in 107 or later who had been alive in Galilee or Jerusalem three-quarters of a century earlier—with the upheaval and destruction of the Jewish War occurring in the interim—someone who knew everything that happened there in the 10-year period of Pilate’s governorship and was thus in a position to verify that such a figure never existed? A preposterous idea. Christians themselves show no sign of being familiar with the Gospel story, let alone that it had any circulation outside their circles, before the time of Ignatius.

And what reaction would this someone have gotten? A sympathetic ear? Or Ignatius’ “mad dogs” and “beasts in the form of men” who deny that Jesus was the son of Mary, baptized by John, and crucified by Pilate.

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Sounds in Silence: Or were they?

Ignatius
While Ignatius’ language may be marginally ambiguous (though there are scholars such as W. R. Schoedel who doubt that he is simply countering docetism), this looks to be one of that handful I spoke of above: a sign that there were people denying new Christian claims that Jesus had lived on earth and suffered in a human incarnation.

The basis of that denial would not have been a personal knowledge of the period of Jesus’ alleged life, but the simple fact that such deniers would have been unfamiliar with any such tradition in their own beliefs as Christians up to that time and could not—or, unlike Ignatius, were not willing to—adopt the new fiction as history.

1 John 4:1-4
Another of that handful is 1 John 4:1-4, where the writer is condemning those in his faith circle who deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, while he himself represents those who believe that he has.

These opposing views, by the way, come to their respective adherents via revelation (“spirits” from God or not from God), with no appeal on either side to history or apostolic tradition, let alone the Gospel story. (Not even Ignatius appeals to apostolic tradition.)

Too soon for docetism
Scholars generally take refuge in the opinion that this dispute too centers on docetism, but that is anything but clear. There isn’t the slightest suggestion of docetism anywhere else in the Johannine epistles, much less a debate over it. And besides, the standard dating of these epistles (which must be placed before the Johannine Gospel) is probably too early—no later than the 90s—to postulate a community grappling with a full-blown gnostic dispute.

Celsus?
Ehrman points to Celsus, writing around the 170s (surviving in Origen’s refutation). Celsus clearly is relying on some knowledge of the Gospels. How would he have been in a position to uncover the truth behind them: that they were not in any way historical documents? Did he have access to today’s entire New Testament corpus and other writings of the period to be able to perform some grand feat of exegesis and realize that the early record pointed to no human founder at all? Again, a preposterous expectation, and Ehrman being a knowledgeable textual scholar should have been able to realize that.

Trypho
Finally, there is the question of what is meant by Trypho’s remark in Justin’s Dialogue (ch.8):

But Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint him, and make him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves . . .

As I discuss at length in Appendix 12 of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, the typical historicist argument over this passage is that Trypho “is arguing that Christians invented a false conception of Christ and applied it to Jesus” (so Eddy and Boyd in The Jesus Legend, p.170). But the language is far from this specific. And it is not Trypho who is assuming Jesus existed, but Justin, who is creating the dialogue and putting into Trypho’s mouth what he himself believes and to further the argument he is constructing.

But it does suggest that Justin is countering something that contemporary Jews are claiming, and the quotation is sufficiently ambiguous to suggest even to a committed historicist scholar like Robert Van Voorst (Jesus Outside the New Testament, p.15, n.35) that “This may be a faint statement of a non-existence hypothesis, but it is not developed . . . ” (It is not developed because that is not part of Justin’s purpose.) The “groundless report” may allude to an accusation that the entire Gospel story with its central character was indeed fiction.

Sounds of Silence: Ehrman fails to hear

Ehrman claims that a document like the Epistle to Diognetus assumes an historical Jesus. He does the same for 1 Clement (which he will deal with in more detail shortly).

If he read my book, he will know that a very good case can be made that these texts do not show any such thing, and certainly not with the clarity he is claiming.

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Golden Silence of the Rabbis

The poor rabbis of the Talmud (who show any assumption of an historical Jesus only in the compilations of the 4th to 6th centuries) are also expected by Ehrman to have preserved and voiced an opinion of Jesus’ non-historicity and use it as ammunition against the Christians. (Does he really think they would do so in the 4th to 6th centuries when rabid patriarchs revelling in unlimited power and their bloodthirsty hooligans were on the rampage against the Jews and pagans generally?)

In fact, as I pointed out in Part 6 of this series, it is precisely that sort of silence in the earlier centuries, when Jews ought to have been outspoken about who Jesus really had been in opposition to Christian claims about him, which indicates that the Jews and their rabbis knew absolutely nothing about any such figure. (Trypho, tellingly, responds only to Justin’s presentation of a Jesus who is entirely based on the Gospels; he is given no independent or contrary Jesus traditions which he as a representative Jew might have been expected to possess from Israel’s century-old past.)

If they indeed knew nothing, Jews in the mid-second century would have been equally unable to falsify a Gospel story telling of distant alleged events prior to the Jewish War. For mythicism, their silence is golden.

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The Silence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and their heretics

While Ehrman does not touch on this question, I will briefly insert here another claim about silences in the second century. Apologists on the internet have brought up the fact that heresiologists like Irenaeus and Tertullian do not tackle the “heavenly Christ cult” of the Pauline variety as a heresy for its denial of an historical Jesus—or simply for its omission of him. Well, we do in fact see such a condemnation in Ignatius.

What we can perceive in the letters—whether by himself or by someone shortly after his death, certainly no more than a decade or so—is a period of transition from belief in a spiritual Christ to a belief in an historical one. (I trace evidence of this in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.302-4.)

This kind of picture illustrates how the Christ cult represented in Paul and other NT epistles of the first century morphed from one into the other, a process that took place over the course of the first half of the second century, gradually and unevenly. But it would certainly have been completed before the time (late second century and early third) when Irenaeus and Tertullian came to tackle the great threat of orthodoxy’s rival, Gnosticism. (We have lost all of Justin’s anti-heresy works of a few decades earlier.)

By that time, the sacrificed heavenly Christ of Paul would have been lost sight of, and the whole movement and soteriology surrounding him would have been reinterpreted in terms of orthodoxy’s new historical assumptions based on the Gospels.

Even without their preoccupation with Gnosticism, someone like Irenaeus could not possibly have recognized and attacked the heavenly nature of the Christ of Pauline tradition, since this would have entailed the realization that such was the nature of the earliest phase of their own faith movement.

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The Sound of Transition: from Paul to Orthodoxy

To tie up this aspect of the situation, it must be noted that the bulk of the writers we know as the second century apologists fail to witness to either side of this heavenly-earthly dichotomy and transition process. Unlike Ignatius, they have no faith in an incarnated Son but only in a heavenly Logos. Unlike Paul’s, their heavenly Son figure is not a sacrificed one; there is no atonement doctrine, no redeeming death of the Logos. We saw hints of this in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 Corinthians 11, where Paul is promoting his own version of the Son as a “Christ crucified,” with the strong implication that he is dealing with rivals and other circles of faith which do not believe in a crucified or sacrificed figure, but simply in a spiritual Revealer Son who saves by bestowing knowledge of God (just as survives in the Gospel of John from before the grafting on of the Synoptics’ human Jesus and his crucifixion).

This stream of thought, which probably arose out of the whole intermediary Son/Logos philosophy of thinkers like Philo, seems to have blossomed as a distinct religious expression in the second century:

  • Theophilus of Antioch
  • Athenagoras of Athens
  • Minucius Felix
  • early Tatian

All of them present no sacrificial Son of any sort, nor an incarnated one. (In Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, Appendix 11, I argue that even the Apology of Aristides belongs here, since the passage containing elements of the Gospels can be shown to be an insertion.)

The little-known Discourse to the Greeks, erroneously attributed to Justin Martyr, is a prime example (see JNGNM, p.499) of a Logos religion which can be nothing else, having no connection to a Jesus of either Paul or the Gospels; and the content of its faith can hardly be differentiated from that of those second century apologists.

Later, just as Paul and the other NT epistle writers did, these apologists entered the orthodox fold through reinterpretation—something that has required to this day infeasible scholarly explanations for why they do not present an historical Jesus in their “detailed” accounts of the faith. The apologist Minucius Felix requires an additional dance to explain away his condemnation of the very idea that his faith would be based on a crucified man and his cross: a true smoking gun in the early Christian record.

Bart Ehrman makes no attempt to counter any of my extensive study of the second century apologists in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, chapter 31.

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The Sounds of Diversity: A Logos Religion

Justin Martyr’s faith also looks to have begun as simple belief in a Revealer Logos (as we can perceive in his account of his conversion experience at the beginning of the Dialogue with Trypho), and only by the time he wrote his Apology in the 150s and shortly thereafter the Dialogue, had he encountered some Gospels and adopted their Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos on earth. Tatian seems to have followed suit in his later career. All of these writers moved in philosophical circles similar to pagan religio-philosophical groups, not in ecclesiastical ones.

As a body, the second century apologists represent this Logos religion, something quite distinct from the Pauline cult and from Gospel orthodoxy. This entire picture, including the varied Gnostic sects which critical scholars now acknowledge did not simply grow out of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, presents us with an “intermediary Son/Christ” movement—we now label the whole of it “Christianity”—which was extremely diverse and uncoordinated. That is, until the juggernaut that grew from the humble Gospel allegory created by the author of Mark overflowed its banks and swamped the entire landscape, establishing the artificial features it would enjoy for almost two millennia.

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Complete Silence: Revisiting Josephus and Tacitus

Ehrman returns briefly to Josephus and Tacitus to make the admission that whatever they knew about Jesus was almost certainly the product of hearsay; they would not have read any Gospels. And it might have been second- or third-hand hearsay. This, however, becomes for Ehrman another source of “independent attestation to Jesus’ existence,” presumably because both would have been repeating Christian opinions attesting to his death under Pilate, and presumably because such opinion was not based on the Gospels.

The latter presumption, of course, cannot be supported, and especially not given Ehrman’s acceptance of traditional scholarly dating for the Gospels, which is that Mark had been around since shortly after 70 and the rest of them by the years 80-100. Even given my own and others’ dating of Mark about 90, there was ample time for Mark, or even Matthew, to have had some impact in Rome by 115 when Tacitus was writing the Annals, although hardly when Josephus was writing the Antiquities by the early 90s.

The other grand assumption which cannot be supported is that the references to Jesus in Josephus and in Tacitus are reliably authentic to them. I have dealt earlier with the difficulty in claiming an original Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus, along with the “called Messiah” in Antiquities 20, as well as the sheer infeasibility of a genuine Tacitus account of the Neronian pogrom against Christians accused of setting the Great Fire, an event which Christians and later Roman historians alike know nothing about for centuries.

Without a reliable Josephus and Tacitus, the silence on an historical Jesus across the entire swath of the ancient world, Christian, Jewish and pagan, is complete. As I say in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.461):

After the events depicted in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus of Nazareth and the great panoply of characters surrounding him sleep in a silent limbo for many decades. Their resurrection comes only at the beginning of the second century, when Mary and Pontius Pilate steal from the shadows onto the pages of Ignatius of Antioch’s letters. That resurrection is rather a whimper than a bang, for it would be many decades more before the Gospel events emerge fully into the light.

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. . . to be continued

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  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-05-11 10:29:45 UTC - 10:29 | Permalink

    Hate to be a nitpicker. But I have been confronted by juggernauts, and I can vouchsafe that none was a torrent that “overflowed its banks and swamped the entire landscape”.
    I always thought that a juggernaut was an irresistible machine that nothing could stop and crushes everything in its path, or, figuratively, a force that might be comparable. But never a stream of water. Same power as a tsunami, but not exactly working in the same manner.

    Double-checking in dear old Wikipedia, which is reliable enough on this subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juggernaut

    “A juggernaut in colloquial English usage is a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable. Originating ca. 1850, the term is a metaphorical reference to the Hindu Ratha Yatra temple car, which apocryphally was reputed to crush devotees under its wheels. The word is derived from the Sanskrit Jagannātha (Devanagari जगन्नाथ) “world-lord”, one of the names of Krishna found in the Sanskrit epics.” It is a great word, beloved of pundits and all their avatars.

    • 2012-05-11 11:15:10 UTC - 11:15 | Permalink

      Agreed. Now what?

      Ever heard of poetic license?

    • 2012-05-11 11:17:29 UTC - 11:17 | Permalink

      “Hate to be a nitpicker.”

      No you don’t.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-05-11 16:49:24 UTC - 16:49 | Permalink

      There’s too much unintended “poetic license” in these discussions already, where quite a few words are bandied about without any clear meaning.
      But in this case, this is not poetry, but a tight discussion of accurate meanings.
      Pundits build their reputation as experts on an accurate knowledge of documents and mastery of their meanings.
      There was no intention of writing poetry here, only a visible effort to inject some literary color. One word simply got confused for another, in the flow of writing fast, that’s all. A juggernaut is not a tsunami, even in our new era of permissible English, where everything goes among a certain age group.

      There’s a certain value in keeping a certain meaning to basic words, and not blurring them.
      Ask Jerry Coyne, or PZ Myers. No need to have a heavy science or mathematical background to respect some essential words. Carl Sagan and Michael Shermer have spent their lives fighting for the meaning of words.
      When Plotinus tries to define the One, or John Locke “understanding” or Darwin “evolution”, they take great care not to fudge on the meaning of these key words.
      And Alan Sokal or Tony Judt had a great time taking to task the phony use of scientific terms by master-of-logorrhea French intellectuals.

      It’s only writers of novels who may be tempted to invent connotations or concoct outrageous images, within limits.
      It’s relatively easy with words of feelings or perceptions or motions. Global words in philosophy or theology also allow a lot of extensive connotations: the Logos of God? The Spirit of Man? Who can define them?
      But there is much less freedom with words of precise technical value. Nobody has ever heard of driving an airplane to the office, or drowning in a juggernaut, or escaping the wheels of a tsunami. There’s no poetry in such associations.
      Too bad William Safire or Jacques Barzun are no longer doing their Language columns. It’d been interesting asking an authentic nitpicking pundit.

      • 2012-05-12 04:11:43 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

        Is this what you waste your time on, Roo?

        A “juggernaut” can be anything that is unstoppable, whose force is irresistible. That’s how I used the word. Liberties like that are taken by writers all the time. I don’t go around with a dictionary chained to my wrist.

        Give it a break and give us something that is truly relevant and useful.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          2012-05-12 05:47:23 UTC - 05:47 | Permalink

          No, sir. We all know that a juggernaut is a great force, but nobody had ever heard of a juggernaut that “overflowed its banks and swamped the entire landscape” until you came along to enlighten us.
          You just confused “juggernaut” and “tsunami”, that’s all, and we all know it. No need to berate me.

          One of the charms of Richard Carrier is the gracious ease and gentility with which he quickly acknowledges mistakes.
          What we appreciate about Tim Widowfield is the care he takes to define and analyze words at great length. The care for words and their meaning is essential to mathematics, science, history, philosophy, and biblical studies as well.

          What I have wasted my time on, sir, is reading the main articles on your blog, and the 16 “Supplementary articles” as well. Between the parts I, part II, etc.. No 13B or 13D, my head started spinning. The numbers kept obfuscating the contents of the articles. What is No. 12 about again? I couldn’t say off hand.
          I have read more of those articles than most people on this blog. I took the trouble of alerting you that their presentation on the Web made them extremely difficult to read and absorb. Those immense texts without many breaks, on single-line spacing, are immensely discouraging. It’s an infinite improvement to now read your production in the elegant and comfortable layout of Vridar. If posted on your site, in its usual format, there probably would have been far fewer readers for this series of nitpicking Bar Ehrman.
          So I am pretty conversant with your idiosyncratic style, very convoluted and sometimes impenetrable. Calling a spade a spade is so unpoetic, right?

          I even took the trouble to read your last novel, the “Jesus Puzzle”. I can remember fondly some key passages, as for instance:

          ” I tried to let whole areas of the room imprint on my vision at once, but nothing corresponding to the face of Robert Cherkasian impinged on my awareness.

          With David’s added pressure at my back, I found myself penetrating the eddying clump of braying humanity and arrived at its core, where Nelson Chown was crouched over a supine figure wet with blood.

          My feet retreated awkwardly, a numbness seizing my body. Shauna took a couple of steps, randomly, as though not knowing what to do. Then she turned and stared at me, eyes streaming. Anguish, guilt, stubbornness etched her face. She moved hesitantly toward me.

          She seemed caught on a line pulled in both directions. Suddenly she sagged and just stood there, weeping like the flow of a collapsed reservoir [Gott sei Dank, it wasn’t a collapsed juggernaut!]. For another moment I could not move, and Phyllis, having witnessed the exchange between us, stepped into the gap and went up to Shauna, embracing her.

          She managed to let me know that my longstanding reluctance to make a wholehearted investment in the business of living—and loving—had sapped some of her own commitment, leading to a fateful weekend in Philadelphia.

          Tonight, however, I cared more that the evolution of the telephone had provided a lifeline no letter could equal.”

          So yes, we can accept a lot, but we are not yet ready for drowning in a juggernaut or being crushed under the wheels of a tsunami.

          Robert Graves insisted that the greatest values in English writing were directness, clarity and elegance. But that was a generation before electronics arrived.

          • 2012-05-12 14:31:36 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

            Earl’s allegory of the swamping juggernaut is apt. The juggernaut of early Christianity was the fictional idea of the historical Jesus – which initially may have been a popularising allegory for the Cosmic Christ. As the church evolved, the idea of the historical Jesus from the Gospels did indeed become a juggernaut, an unstoppable force that overwhelmed everything else. To mix the metaphor, it overflowed its banks and swamped the entire landscape, as the church banned and suppressed every non-orthodox reading.

            Such mixed metaphors are a perfectly legitimate and informative literary device. This mixed metaphor works well as a description of history, of how Christianity became a universal faith for Christendom. The juggernaut of literal faith was ‘within its banks’ while Christianity was just one religion among many, but it ‘swamped everything else’ after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.

            Another possible metaphor here is from the story of the sorcerer’s apprentice, the mop that came to life and flooded the basement because the apprentice did not know how to reverse the spell that had brought the mop to life. The Gospel authors seem to have imagined their historical allegory would remain under the control of the Gnostic teaching that the parable of Christ pointed to a higher mystery, but the wild popularity of the historical Jesus allowed the church to isolate and suppress the Gnostics. Having cast the spell of inventing Jesus, the Gospel authors had created something that would evolve well beyond their original intent.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            2012-05-12 14:47:14 UTC - 14:47 | Permalink

            Does everybody also know the meaning of the word “sycophant”? A very apt word too.
            It’s really fun when everybody claims to be a language maven and starts using apt words,

            • 2012-05-12 16:16:34 UTC - 16:16 | Permalink

              oh poor Roo, tired of cyber stalking murdock and now want to waste people’s time here with baseless insults just because you don’t understand mixed metaphors.

              • 2012-05-12 18:25:13 UTC - 18:25 | Permalink

                I think we’ve had enough of beating a dead horse upstream without a paddle and just going with the flow after the horse bolted before the stable door was shut.

  • gmalcolms
    2012-05-11 14:28:10 UTC - 14:28 | Permalink

    Earl,
    Why couldn’t the idea that Jesus had been on earth in the unspecified past (a la Wells) have coexisted side-by-side with the idea that he a purely heavenly being, as you believe Paul thought? Surely not every early Christian was as sophisticated a thinker as Paul and even for some pagan gods, such as Osiris, there were those who thought they had been on earth in the distant past.

    These 2 groups of early Christians, those that Jesus had been on earth and those that thought he hadn’t, wouldn’t really have been that different, since no one would be placing him in the recent past at that point and there would be no historical details on either account. But eventually, the notion that he had been on earth would’ve led some Christians to create stories and quotes of what he did and said then (as Christians invented these stories for Jesus even on the hypothesis of him being an actual historical person). At first these stories wouldn’t be set in any time period, but eventually some people would seek to determine when he had actually lived. Some put him around 70 BCE, others, including Mark, around 30 CE. Mark in his Gospel could’ve been relying on earlier stories and quotes that had been developed by people who thought Jesus had lived on earth but had not assigned him to a particular time, and these stories could even have been circulating for decades. Mark may have been the first to place Jesus in the time of Peter and Pilate, or perhaps the idea preceded his Gospel by a short while, depending on how late it was written.

    • 2012-05-12 04:20:15 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

      There are two basic reasons why I don’t subscribe to Wells’ theory. One is that if the Christ cult began (pre-Paul) with the idea that Jesus had been on earth at some unknown time in the past, there would have immediately (not some time later) arisen a survey of scripture to try to ascertain some information about that life. There is no sign in the epistles of any such survey. At the very least, we would surely see at least some reference to the idea that he had been on earth. I don’t see any. What Wells and others point to in that regard is certain language which they maintain points to this. I feel that such language can be interpreted otherwise, in a non-human spiritual context.

      Second, the epistles in many passages (such as Titus 1) still don’t make any room for a human earthly Jesus in the past, whether they knew when and where he lived or not.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-05-12 06:31:45 UTC - 06:31 | Permalink

        I know I am risking the thunder of Zeus, but it strikes me that — “…with the idea that Jesus had been on earth at some unknown time in the past, there would have immediately (not some time later) arisen a survey of scripture to try to ascertain some information about that life.” —
        this is a major assumption, an interesting one, for sure. But the opposite is as valid.

        G. A. Wells said: “it is not just that the early documents are silent about so much of Jesus that came to be recorded in the gospels, but that they view him in a substantially different way — as a basically supernatural personage only obscurely on Earth as a man at some unspecified period in the past, ’emptied’ then of all his supernatural attributes (Phil.2:7), and certainly not a worker of prodigious miracles which made him famous throughout ‘all Syria’ (Mt.4:24).
        I have argued that there is good reason to believe that the Jesus of Paul was constructed largely from musing and reflecting on a supernatural ‘Wisdom’ figure, amply documented in the earlier Jewish literature, who sought an abode on Earth, but was there rejected, rather than from information concerning a recently deceased historical individual. The influence of the Wisdom literature is undeniable; only assessment of what it amounted to still divides opinion….
        Moreover, Paul does not say that the crucifixion and the resurrection three days later were recent events. It is the visions of the risen one which he and some of his contemporaries experienced which he designates as recent. He specifies eyewitnesses of these visions, but not of the death and burial, which he represents only as having happened ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. ‘Scriptures’ here certainly designates the sacred books of the Jews, and he may well have had in mind allegorical interpretations of Old Testament passages.”
        (Earliest Christianity, 1999)

        G. A. Wells’s is also a most valid assumption, and one worthy of attention and respect. Also, who would not be wowed by the beauty and clarity of George Albert Wells’s language?

        See the interesting discussion in “Review of Can We Trust the New Testament? (2005) by Robert M. Price
        http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/trust-nt.html
        and also the post on Vridar, March 2010″G. A. Wells on mythical and historical Jesus”
        http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/g-a-wells-on-mythical-and-historical-jesus/

      • gmalcolms
        2012-05-12 21:39:55 UTC - 21:39 | Permalink

        Earl,
        I’m not suggesting that the idea that Jesus had been on earth necessarily was the original version of Christianity that predated Paul’s letters, but it could’ve arisen any time between then and Mark’s Gospel, rather than having necessarily originated with Mark. And we do see in the epistles precisely what you’re talking about with regard to “a survey of scripture to try to ascertain some information about that life,” it’s just that that life would’ve been thought to have been on the earth. In this context, for example, the idea that he was born in Bethlehem could’ve gotten started.

        Q, assuming it exists, which you do believe is true, also would’ve placed Jesus on the earth, at least in it’s later stages, and this dates to around the time of Mark, given the Mark/Q overlaps. How would the Q people have attributed their collection of quotes and anecdotes to Jesus if they still were thinking that he had never been on the earth? It seems more natural to conclude that that group of Christians at least were envisioning an earthly ministry, and it was in that sort of community that the Gospel authors lived.

        Moreover, by the time Titus and the other Pastorals, along with, e.g., 2 Peter, were written, the first Gospels were already decades old and Ignatius’ letters more than a decade as well, yet those authors (of those NT epistles), in your opinion, still write as if Jesus had never been on earth, so clearly these 2 different conceptions of Jesus existed side-by-side in the early 2nd century, without any argument in the Pastorals against the idea of an earthly Jesus, so why couldn’t that have started a few decades earlier?

        • 2012-05-12 23:52:21 UTC - 23:52 | Permalink

          You are meshing the founder Jesus introduced into Q as that movement’s source of the sayings and activities, with the Jesus of Paul, when in fact the two are completely separate until the Gospel of Mark which syncretizes them in his Gospel allegory, perhaps reflecting a syncretization in his own community of the two trends of thought.

          It is not the Christ cult of Paul which has introduced an HJ into the Q record before Mark, but simply the Q community itself which had nothing to do with Paul. Once they had developed the idea of a founder figure, the Q people weren’t associating him with any heavenly Christ. That came only with Mark.

          The Pauline Christ cult continued on as before in its own circles throughout virtually the whole of the first century, and only after it began to receive reports about the content of Mark (or perhaps Matthew) did some of its members (we’ll see that when Ehrman and I get to Ignatius two installments down the road) start to impose that Gospel story on their own heavenly-Christ faith.

  • 2012-05-11 15:05:27 UTC - 15:05 | Permalink

    The Sound Of Silence
    From Paul Simon, 1964

    Hello Jesus, my old friend
    We’ve come to look for you again
    Because a vision softly creeping
    Left its seeds while we were sleeping
    And the vision that was planted in our brains
    Still remains
    Concealing the sound of silence

    In faithful dreams of days of old
    A great conspiracy was sold
    ‘Neath the halo of invented lies
    The Gospels tell how Jesus dies
    And the stories ignored the clash with history
    They refused to see
    And they buried the sound of silence

    And in the naked truth I saw
    Ten million people maybe more
    People talking without meaning
    People hearing without listening
    People writing songs that reinforced the lies
    No one tries
    To understand the sound of silence

    “Fools,” said I, “you do not know
    Religion like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Open up that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence

    And the people bowed and prayed
    To the Christian god they made
    And the writers flashed out their warning
    about the myths that the church was forming
    And the sign said “The words of the gospels should be taken with a grain of salt
    Time to call a halt
    And listen to the sound of silence.

    Robert Tulip

  • Nikos Apostolakis
    2012-05-11 17:59:40 UTC - 17:59 | Permalink

    The last paragraph of the first chapter in the other DJE book, by Wells, reads:

    Porphyry seems to have been close to the standpoint of those modern writers who hold that, although Jesus existed, we can know nothing of him; from the contradictions between the gospel passion narratives he infers that the evangelists are in general unreliable, and he calls them `inventors, not narrators’ of events (309, pp 62, 69).

    The reference 309 is

    Nestle, W., `Die Haupteinwände des antiken Denkens gegen das Christentum’, Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft, 37 (1941-2), 51-100.

    So it seems that even if we don’t have evidence for a full blown mythisict position the reliability of the Gospels for any kind of historical information was indeed questioned quite early. Of course, the fifteen books of Porpyry’s treatise against Christians are lost as well all counter treatises by Christians. One might suspect that this is not entirely coincidental.

    In any case I assume that it won’t be hard to find examples of assumptions that nobody questioned until the eighteenth (or indeed the twentieth) century, but have been proved baselless upon modern critical examination. Christianity gaining state power dealt the coup de grâce on rational inquiry on many (all?) subjects especially on its own claims. So I fail to see why we should be suprised that nobody questioned the historicity of Jesus until the eighteenth century—if indeed that is the case.

  • Lowen Gartner
    2012-05-12 04:51:57 UTC - 04:51 | Permalink

    I am reading this series with keen interest. Thanks for doing it. One day I may also attempt the 800+ page read. I gather it is an excellent book, well documented, and analyzes most if not all evidence that is used on any “side” of the discussion.

    My question, is there in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, a summary of Early Doherty’s theory as to what really happened? If not, has Earl Doherty ever published an essay explaining what he thinks is the history of the development of Christianity? I would sure like to see something like this. It seems to me this would not need to be a scholarly document with references, etc., as all of that exists in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man.

    • 2012-05-13 00:00:01 UTC - 00:00 | Permalink

      Actually, at the conclusion of my chapter (31) on the second century apologists, I give a 5-page summary called: “Conclusion: The broader Picture of Early Christianity”

      I would suggest taking that in conjunction with early chapters 8 & 9 which shows how the whole thing got off the ground.

      • Lowen Gartner
        2012-05-13 07:07:37 UTC - 07:07 | Permalink

        Thank you

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