2012-06-04

17. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.17

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Earl Doherty

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Jesus Tradition in the Acts of the Apostles

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Ehrman accepts Acts as reliable history
  • Acts as a second century product
  • Judas treated as an historical figure
  • More Aramaic tradition?
  • Quoting Paul quoting Jesus
  • The speeches in Acts
  • Adoptionism: Jesus becomes God’s son
  • Tracing the sequence of ideas about Jesus
  • Syncretizing two separate movements

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Canonical Sources Outside the Gospels and Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 106-113)

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In the midst of addressing the testimony to an historical Jesus in epistles both canonical and outside the New Testament, Bart Ehrman devotes several pages to the “Jesus Tradition in Acts.” In introducing Acts he fails to enlighten his readers that there is great uncertainty within mainstream scholarship over the historical reliability of the content of this document. Furthermore, he accepts without question that the author of Luke was the author of Acts, and thus what was known to the former was known to the latter.

Is Acts reliable history?

Ehrman fails to question any aspect of this ‘history’ of the spread of the faith. He treats everything from Acts as though it were part of known Christian tradition, and as reliable as anything else. . . .

— No matter that the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is nowhere mentioned in the epistles (despite their focus on inspiration and revelation).

— No matter that the figure and martyrdom of Stephen is nowhere attested to outside Acts.

— No matter that in Acts the settling of the issue of requirements for gentile converts is presented in an Apostolic Council which the authentic Pauline letters seem to know nothing about.

— Nor is the dramatic shipwreck episode at the end of Acts mentioned by early writers who talk about Paul, inviting us to see it as sheer fiction, emulating a popular element in second century Hellenistic romances. (The so-called “we” passages, often alleged to be from a Lukan journal, have also been identified as a common literary feature in recounting travel by sea, such as is found in earlier parts of Acts surrounding such travels.)

When and why was Acts written?

There is also no discussion about the dating of this document.

Ehrman places it in the most traditional position, some time in the 80s of the first century, shortly after the most traditional dating of the Gospel of Luke, c.80 CE. No mention is made that much critical scholarship has moved toward a date at least a couple of decades, sometimes more, into the second century (Townsend, Mack, O’Neill, Tyson, Pervo). And, of course, no mention that the first attestation to Acts comes around 175 in Irenaeus, with possibly an allusion to it a decade or so earlier in Justin. That such a ‘history’ could have lain unnoticed for so long if it had been written a century earlier (or more, for those who maintain it was written before Paul’s death), is not considered worthy of note.

As long ago as 1942, John Knox (Marcion and the New Testament) presented a compelling case that Acts was not written until the 140s or 150s, an ecclesiastical product to counter Marcion’s appropriation of Paul in which he used the letters to demonstrate that Paul operated independently of the Jerusalem apostles and with a very different view of Jesus.

Thus, Acts was written and designed to show the opposite, that Paul immediately upon his conversion subordinated himself to the pillars and subscribed to their teachings, lock, stock and circumcision. Which is why the speeches in Acts, clearly composed by the author, show the identical content between those of Peter and those of Paul. (Neither does Ehrman discuss the considerable discrepancies between Acts and the Pauline epistles.)

Independent witnesses to Judas’ death

Ehrman hardly covers himself in glory with his treatment of the figure of Judas in Acts. According to him,

the author of Acts has access to traditions that are not based on his Gospel account so that we have yet another independent witness. (DJE? p. 107)

Independent from whom? Was Luke the author of the Gospel “independent” of Luke the author of Acts? It seems that for Ehrman every saying or anecdote which can be found nowhere else, or fails to agree with some other version of that saying or anecdote, constitutes an “independent witness” to the historical Jesus.

Ehrman calls “an interesting tradition” the statement in Acts

. . . by the apostle Peter about the betrayer, Judas Iscariot, who is said to have purchased a field with the money he received for turning Jesus in to the authorities. Judas is said to have fallen headlong on the field and spilled his innards out. It is for that reason, Peter indicates, that the field came to be known as “Akeldama,” an Aramaic word meaning “Field of Blood” (1:16-19). (DJE? p. 107)

Ehrman points out that, in addition to Mark and John, not even the Luke of the Gospels mentions the death of Judas. How this helps the case for common authorship is uncertain, but he contrasts the Acts scenario with that of Matthew, who presents a different version of Judas’ death: by suicidal hanging. What is common between them is that both involve a “Field of Blood”: in Acts, the place of Judas’ blood-spilled death; in Matthew, a field purchased as a cemetery by the priests, to whom Judas has returned his 30 silver-piece “blood money.”

This amounts, for Ehrman, to two independent traditions about the death of Judas (and it serves to bring an historical Jesus into those two independent traditions). But this is to ignore two considerations.

One is that hardly a single critical scholar today thinks that Judas is anything but a fictional character created by Mark; even his name is a stereotype for the hated Jew who failed to accept the Christian Jesus. He surfaces nowhere outside the Gospels in early Christian literature. Ehrman fails to mention this to his readers.

Second, if Acts is increasingly seen as a second century product, it follows in the tradition of the Gospels, and once Mark’s Judas gained exposure, he was bound to attract some attention. That writers and preachers would portray him as undergoing a gruesome death as a consequence of his betrayal of Jesus would be a foregone conclusion. Papias is reported to have said (fr. 18) that Judas did not die from his hanging, but went about for a time swollen to a size bigger than a wagon. Is this, too, an independent tradition, another witness to Jesus? Or is it all simply creativity on the part of writers and preachers based on the Gospel story, much of it quite bizarre?

Ehrman himself suggests that the “field of blood” motif common to Matthew and Acts could have been based on a “potter’s field” (mentioned by Matthew) which had a red cast from the red clay used by potters, and that such a place became associated “with the death of Jesus’ betrayer.” He has simply provided more evidence that the human imagination works in wondrous ways, and that once the Gospel story was let loose in the world, it generated all sorts of associations and creative expansions.

More early Aramaic evidence

Not surprisingly, Ehrman uses the presence of the Aramaic word “Akeldama” in Acts to claim that this tradition must be early. This eliminates any ambiguity one might allow to Ehrman on the question of whether he is maintaining that Judas existed, and in essentially the role allotted to him in the Gospels. Here he clearly is, since this ‘early tradition’ must predate Mark. And it is an Aramaic word which could have had no other context in tradition than its Gospel one. (Where the author of Acts derived it is unknown; it is not included by Matthew, who refers to the place in Greek.)

Ehrman has dealt with these ‘Judas traditions’ on a level no higher than the most unabashed and undiscriminating apologist.

Putting Jesus’ words into Paul’s mouth

Ehrman follows with this statement:

Moreover, that Luke has access to sayings of the historical Jesus not recorded otherwise, even in his Gospel, is clear from a passage such as Acts 20:35, where the apostle Paul is recorded as saying, “I have shown you that it is necessary by hard work to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (DJE? p. 108)

When the Gospels have been judged to be full of sayings accorded to Jesus which only the most conservative scholars regard as authentic, Ehrman can confidently state that the author of Acts is giving clear evidence of access to genuine sayings of the historical Jesus? This couldn’t possibly be a case of the author putting words in Paul’s mouth which put words in Jesus mouth? Especially since those words served the author’s purpose in his context. It couldn’t possibly be a case of drawing on a saying attributed to Jesus at some time after the Gospels were written?

If we had that saying — quite a memorable one — witnessed to anywhere else as the product of Jesus, Ehrman might have been on more solid ground (though still with no guarantees). As it is, we have no more logical reason to judge authenticity here than for, say, any of the “Sayings of the Lord” by Papias. A second century attribution tells us nothing. (Of course, Ehrman slots it into the first century, datable to shortly after Jesus’ death, on account of Paul allegedly being familiar with it and its single-word Aramaic content.)

The Speeches in Acts

Ehrman now turns his attention to the speeches made by Peter and Paul in Acts. He admits that these speeches, as was the practice in the ancient world, are the product of the author. But he also maintains that they incorporate ideas which go back to earliest views of the historical Jesus, long before the Gospels were written. Those ideas also predate Paul, and what he and others like him made of the human man. In other words, Acts allegedly preserves views of Jesus which did not originally involve the idea of pre-existence or any of the other cosmic features — such as being creator and sustainer of the universe — given to the human Jesus by thinkers like Paul.

(We need to inject here that the epistles are totally lacking any indication that such cosmic features were in fact bestowed upon a human man known to those thinkers. That is simply assumed. It’s called importing the Gospels into the epistles. Scholars prefer to call it the “interpretation” of a human man, though that man is never mentioned, let alone designated as being so interpreted.)

Did God adopt a human man?

As an example of the pre-Pauline type of view preserved in Acts, Ehrman refers to the doctrine of “adoptionism,” that Jesus was regarded as a man, born in a normal way, but adopted by God as his “son” — which did not mean a divine emanation of him — on the day of his baptism. Ehrman argues that when he was baptized by John,

. . . the heavens opened up, the Spirit of God descended upon him (meaning he didn’t have the Spirit before this), and the voice from heaven declared, ‘You are my son. Today I have begotten you.’ One should not underplay the significance of the word today in this quotation from Psalm 2. It was on the day of his baptism that Jesus became God’s son. (DJE? p. 111)

While Ehrman cautions us not to underplay the “today,” it is possible that he is overplaying it. After all, the word is in the Psalm and would hardly have been dropped, let alone changed. Moreover, Ehrman himself needs cautioning on another point. This “adoption” of a human man by God first appears in the record in the Gospel of Mark, not before. He is thus without warrant in simply telling his readers that the Markan presentation is based on traditions going back to views and ‘story-telling’ by earlier Christians that God had so pronounced at Jesus’ baptism and adopted him as a son. Not only do the Gospels regularly get read back into the epistles, Ehrman is now reading them back into the pre-epistle period, ensconcing them in an alleged oral tradition.

He can even detect such a period within the epistles themselves. This one can be located, he says, even further back than the idea of adoption at baptism. Since Paul, within a handful of years after Jesus’ death, was converted to a “church” which he says preaches the same thing he does (1 Cor. 15:11), a lot of evolution through successive phases must have been zipped through in a very short time!

Ehrman’s ‘earliest phase’ saw Jesus as becoming God’s son only at his resurrection. As he puts it:

It was then that God showered special favor on the man Jesus, exalting him to heaven, and calling him his son, the messiah, the Lord. (DJE? p. 111)

Creeds and hymns about an adoption?

This is derived from a couple of passages in Paul regarded as pre-Pauline creeds or Christological hymns. The one Ehrman points to here is Romans 1:4,

. . . and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness at his resurrection from the dead.

But this does not specify that it was at this point that Christ became the son of God. What happened after the resurrection is that Christ was given power. This “creed” alludes only to verse 8 of Psalm 2:

Ask of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession.

Regardless of what verse 7 has said (the original “You are my son, today I have begotten you”), here the focus is on the “power” aspect of being the Son of God. If this creed was meant to reflect adoptionism, there should be no question that it would have worked verse 7 into its content.

In fact, we can support this by looking at the other passage on which Ehrman’s contention is based (though he does not present it here): the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. Here, too, the consequence of the hymn’s figure undergoing death and being exalted to heaven is not being adopted as God’s son, but being given the name at which every knee in the universe will bow and every tongue confess him as Lord. In other words, the conferring of power, just as in Romans 1:4.

That “name,” by the way, is “Jesus” — something which verse 10 unequivocally states—indicating that this figure was not previously a Jesus known by that name who had begun his existence as a human man on earth. In fact, the very first line of the hymn declares this figure, now to be known as Jesus, to have shared in God’s very form and nature. This is pre-existence, God’s emanation, leaving no room for any subsequent transformation of a human being to an adopted “son of God.” (The longstanding desperate measure of interpreting the “name” here conferred on this divine entity as being the title “Lord” continues to be indulged in by scholarship.)

In verses 7 and 8 of the hymn, we encounter the image of the Son taking on a state of inferiority, the nature of a servant, along with two further statements of a motif recurring throughout the epistles: that he assumed only a “likeness” to humans. Not only does this not speak of actual human incarnation, it repeats the idea three times, apparently to fill in needed lines in the hymn’s chiastic structure. Why, then, was that available space not taken up with some reference to a life on earth, to his original human activity as a prelude to the adoptionist understanding which Ehrman and others claim the hymn entails?

In any case, this ‘phase’ Ehrman has discovered in the epistles is unlike the one in the Gospels. In the latter, a human Jesus on earth is clearly in view. In the epistles it is anything but.

Flipping the sequence

We can clearly see what Ehrman is about.

The epistolary record precedes the record surrounding the Gospels and Acts. In the former only the cosmic Christ is in view. Somehow, the features of the latter have to be relocated to a time preceding the former.

This is accomplished by declaring those features to go back, through an oral tradition process of which there is no sign in the former, to a postulated earliest response to an historical Jesus. Signs of that response are to be located in the speeches and other elements of Acts. This requires an early dating for that document, as well as a dismissal of any possibility that it is a product of the second century having its own agenda based on the Gospels, Gospels which have only recently begun to show up in the wider record.

Ehrman quotes from three of the speeches in Acts. That they

. . . contain very ancient material, much earlier than the Gospels, is significant as well because these speeches are completely unambiguous that Jesus was a mortal who lived on earth and was crucified under Pontius Pilate at Jewish insistence. (DJE? p. 112)

Unambiguous, yes. But in what way is this “very ancient material, much earlier than the Gospels”? His quotes from the speeches Ehrman calls “primitive traditions,” but there is nothing in them that is not found in the Gospels. Not a single phrase in them can support Ehrman’s contention that they are “independent of the Gospels.”

In fact, there are a couple of items which can only be regarded as derived from the Gospels, such as the choosing of Barabbas over Jesus (which no critical scholar regards as a remotely possible event, let alone one instigated by Pilate). These speeches sound like nothing so much as a crude distillation of the basic Gospel story, point by point. Certainly there is nothing in style or content to suggest they represent a throw-back through oral transmission to circulating pre-Gospel traditions.

And in the “ancient material” we do have earlier than the Gospels, there is not a hint of these alleged traditions to be found.

The enigma of Acts

Acts has always been something of an enigma to scholars. Despite Ehrman’s direct pipeline to early oral traditions, they have always lamented that specific sources for Acts cannot be identified. Everything sounds like the voice of “Luke.” No ‘seams’ can be perceived on the edges of any pre-existing ingredients.

And yet, it is perhaps understandable that when scholarship has compared the content of Acts with the content of the earlier epistles, it has seemed to make sense that its material must in some way represent the Christian movement prior to Paul. It begs to be seen as a more “primitive” state of the movement, representing the first part of a logical sequence of development from man to God.

The problem is, this is not what the actual state of the record shows. Not without the kind of contortion and wishful invention Ehrman is imposing on it. Where is all this oral tradition prior to and contemporary with the epistles, which go right up to and beyond the end of the first century, with Paul himself going back with his cosmic Christ to less than a decade after Jesus’ reputed death? If the earliest movement — squeezed into a handful of years — did not recognize Jesus as part of God, what led Paul and countless others to elevate him almost immediately to such a status while jettisoning all interest in the human man and his life?

Indeed, the impossibility of conceiving such a process has led some modern scholars to reject the traditional interpretation of the epistles and declare that those early apostles and writers did not view Jesus as a part of God, thereby bringing them into some kind of feasible line with the assumed view of the Gospels and Acts. (To do this requires an extreme reinterpretation of the texts.) Others ask: would the Gospels and Acts have adopted such a reduced conception of Jesus, coming down so far from the lofty cosmic Christ of Paul as the emanation of God and creator of the universe, if it did not in fact represent an earlier response?

Comparing Jewish-Christian sects

Before answering that question, I would point to a similar dilemma often perceived in regard to Jewish-Christian sects like the Ebionites. It is pointed out that such groups did not regard Jesus as a divine figure, but only a human prophet-Messiah. But those views are witnessed only for the later second and third centuries; it is difficult to trace a sect like the Ebionites back into the first century, let alone to the Jerusalem group around Peter and James. In other words, the insistence on a merely human Jesus by Jewish-Christians comes only after his humanity on earth has been created by the Gospels. And in fact, fragments from Epiphanius suggest that the Ebionites originally did indeed possess a heavenly Son (“They say that he was not begotten of God the Father, but was created as one of the archangels”).

Such a response to the Gospels by Jewish-Christian sects reveals how impossible it would have been for Jews to make out of an historical man the cosmic divine figure we find in the epistles. But that they could believe in an emanation of God as a separate divinity in heaven (under the influence of Greek philosophy and their own personified Wisdom) is another matter, though even for that the Jewish authorities seem to have persecuted them.

Not a sequence but a parallel merging

The answer to the enigma requires us to step outside the traditional box. Neither the Pauline type of heavenly Christ nor the preaching tradition embodied in Q preceded the other, and did not represent a sequence in either direction. They were independent expressions on the first century scene.

The movement epitomized in Paul, whose faith had nothing to do with an historical man, went on its merry way into the early second century.

Meanwhile, the sect preaching the coming Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, covering Galilee and parts of Syria, evolved during that period into envisioning a founding individual who had first spoken its teachings, performed its miracles and engaged in its controversies with the establishment. (See Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, chapters 22 to 27.) Such a view became embodied in the Q document, though it is difficult to be sure to what extent its Jesus figure was seen as historical or as only symbolic of the sect itself.

Mark, as part of this sect, created a narrative ‘biography’ of this imagined founder (it also served to impart lessons to the community through a representative figure, as allegories usually do), with a setting based on oral Q-type traditions (Mark did not possess the document itself) and using scriptural precedents to craft its structure and details. His innovative dimension (it was not part of the Q ethos) of a sacrificial death for the founder figure, now both Messiah and Son of Man, seems to point to some sort of syncretism with the cultic Christ movement, an allegorization of the spiritual Christ’s sacrifice in heaven. But the extent of this syncretism cannot be certain; little else of the Pauline type of thinking can be found in the Gospels. And the death and atonement idea in Mark could have had some derivation from strictly Jewish precedents.

But if, as seems likely, there was some syncretization between Paul’s Christ and the Galilean Jesus, Mark’s Gospel was nevertheless derived mainly from the latter, and it is this figure’s character that predominated. Thus,

  • the reduced divinity in comparison with the heavenly Christ,
  • adoptionism instead of pre-existence,
  • the lack of development in the mystical directions characteristic of Paul,
  • the greater simplicity of soteriological theory.

The Synoptics never much rise above their Galilean roots, and as Acts followed in their footsteps, it reflected that more primitive character.

So yes, the Gospels have early roots despite being later than the epistles, but those roots were entirely independent from the world of the epistles.

Whatever ‘primitive’ ideas reside in Acts, they simply go back to the creation of a crucified Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and even further back, for its ministry dimension (without a death and resurrection), to the kingdom preaching community reflected in Q.

Paul and his Christ cult were not a part of this sequence until some time into the second century when that movement’s exposure to the Gospels (as in Ignatius) began to make an association between the two, and Paul and Jerusalem became linked with Galilee. In response to the Gnostic use of Paul, it seems that the church writer who edited Luke some time after 140 was also the one who created the Acts of the Apostles to seal the unification of the two movements, anchoring Paul and his heavenly Christ to the Gospel story.

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. . . to be continued

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23 Comments

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-06-04 04:42:08 UTC - 04:42 | Permalink

    Tongue-in-cheek: I loved the concept of a “human man”!

    • 2012-06-04 08:14:55 UTC - 08:14 | Permalink

      Well, there is also the concept of the “heavenly man” as in Philo and all through ancient world philosophy, and of course in Paul. So a differentiation must be made!

  • RoHa
    2012-06-04 10:57:43 UTC - 10:57 | Permalink

    “(The so-called “we” passages, often alleged to be from a Lukan journal, have also been identified as a common literary feature in recounting travel by sea, such as is found in earlier parts of Acts surrounding such travels.)”

    There have been a number of pretty strong arguments brought against this by, among others, Peter Kirby.

    http://www.christianorigins.com/wesea.html

    http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_wepassages.html

    • 2012-06-04 13:06:48 UTC - 13:06 | Permalink

      You can correct me if I’m wrong, since I don’t have time now to check Kirby’s site, but if I remember correctly, his argument boiled down to pointing out that there are Hellenistic authors who do not follow that “we” protocol for sea voyages, and that the “we” passages in Acts extend onto land for a few paragraphs in some cases. I don’t consider this sufficient to disprove Robbins’ contention, which are based on his own examples (I daresay more than Kirby’s) he has found in other Hellenistic authors.

      • RoHa
        2012-06-04 16:33:02 UTC - 16:33 | Permalink

        Kirby’s argument looks at Robbin’s examples, and finds that they do not support the contention that there was a “we” protocol for sea voyages. His conclusion is ” There are no known examples of a simply generic first person plural (where the person speaking is not present but rather employing an expected style) in an ancient sea voyage story, and this suggests strongly that an ancient author would not have slipped into the first person plural in response to a supposed demand of a sea travel genre. There is no precedent, and, thus, there is no such literary device.”

        For my own part, I find the “we” passages inexplicable. Like you , I suspect that “Acts” is a second century product, and largely fiction.

      • Peter Kirby
        2012-06-06 04:38:55 UTC - 04:38 | Permalink

        Okay, you’re corrected.

        Why bother to comment on something you don’t bother to read?

    • 2012-06-04 13:32:59 UTC - 13:32 | Permalink

      There are several characteristics about the we-passages I would like one day to return to examining.

      Firstly, they are all ambiguous and vague as indicating who the “we” really are. The author was not so incompetent that he lacked any ability to smooth out his source material if he really was working from a “we-text”. Nor was he so modest that he wished to avoid all indication of personal role in events. The ambiguity, I wonder, is deliberate. If so, we must ask why.

      Secondly, the we-passages are all travel itineraries and the “we” is dropped the moment attention turns again to Paul’s central role in a new adventure.

      Thirdly, all we-passages are found in voyages that begin at Troas and that accompany Paul, as a result of divine calling, as he ultimately heads for Rome or a city that represents or is an extension of Rome. (The second voyage is broken by several adventures and speeches of Paul yet the we-passages maintain the readers’ consciousness that these breaks are merely pauses in what is essentially the one long journey to Rome (Acts 19:21).)

      Fourthly, both extended we-passages result in Paul being made a prisoner among the Romans in the Roman city, even though the prison in both cases is an open one through which he can preach and make conversions.

      I have outlined this in an older post at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/the-we-passages-in-acts-a-roman-audience-interpretation-pt-4/ (and discussed each point in detail in other posts).

      The point, I wonder, is that the “we” is used to vicariously include the Roman audience of the work. The Roman church sees in the adventures of Acts a new founding epic to surpass the epic of Aeneas founding Rome from Troy and establishing a new centre or spiritual home in Rome to replace the old in the East.

      It’s just an idea. Very thin at the moment. I’d love to see if there is enough material to investigate it further.

      • RoHa
        2012-06-05 09:55:37 UTC - 09:55 | Permalink

        So your idea is that it was a “How we, Roman Christians, ended up in Rome” sort of thing? That makes at least as much sense as any other explanation I have seen.

        I’ve always been struck by how underplayed the “we” passages are. As an “I was there, so I know what I’m talking about”, they are a flop. As you point out, they never say who “we” are. There is no “That’s me with Paul, in the middle. And there’s Carl, and that one is Bazza, and next to him is Larry…”

        So the idea that he is inviting a Roman audience to feel themselves part of this journey of the Good News to Rome does seem a possibility.

        It has interesting implications. It suggests that Luke was written in Rome, or at least for a Roman audience.

        • 2012-06-05 10:29:06 UTC - 10:29 | Permalink

          More than simply how “we Christians ended up in Rome” — more along the lines of justifying Rome as the centre of the new faith — i.e., how Rome became the heir to Jerusalem as the spiritual centre or focus from which the gospel came to be proclaimed as the fulfilment of the commission to go to all nations. (I treat Acts as a product of the mid-second century and am incidentally recalling a study that indicated Rome could be seen as the equivalent of a gateway to “all nations/ends of the earth”.)

  • Mark Erickson
    2012-06-04 13:27:08 UTC - 13:27 | Permalink

    First, as only recently aware of mythicism, I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from this series. Thanks!

    Second, while I haven’t been impressed with Erman since his Huffington Post article, I lost all respect due to his reputation when he recently wrote on his public blog that he teaches his NT class the gospels first and then Paul. He actually said since Paul talks about Jesus Christ, he wants his students to know something about this Jesus before reading Paul. I don’t think I need to elaborate here on how messed up that is.

  • 2012-06-05 05:43:33 UTC - 05:43 | Permalink

    You might be interested to know that the Westar Institute’s Seminar on Acts (similar in scope to the Jesus Seminar project) recently concluded that very little in Acts of the Apostles is historical. Unfortunately, they have not yet published their results, except in the Westar journal – the 4th R.

    • sahansdal
      2012-06-05 08:45:49 UTC - 08:45 | Permalink

      Ha. Anybody who has read Eisenman knows that already.

  • Paul.J
    2012-06-07 11:54:13 UTC - 11:54 | Permalink

    Are you a bit delusional?
    I love the idea that Jewish christians didn’t exist before the second century. Jewish Chrisitian DO represent a bit of a “dilemma” for mythicists, don’t they?

    • 2012-06-07 14:06:37 UTC - 14:06 | Permalink

      Did I say that Jewish Christians did not exist before the second century? That’s another characteristic of knee-jerk opponents of mythicism. They misread what mythicists are saying and trumpet their misinterpretation because they think it can be used against them.

      I said that we cannot trace Jewish-Christian groups like the Ebionites back into the first century to identify what their beliefs were at that time. That doesn’t mean the Ebionites didn’t exist in the first century. Perhaps they did, since fragments indicate beliefs about Christ which wouldn’t have been possible in the second, when the Gospels forced them to adjust their beliefs about Jesus into an entirely human direction.

      And to some extent we do know of Jewish-Christian groups in the first century from someone like Paul, who speaks of elements in his communities who advocate Jewish practices. Perhaps we can even assume that certain congregations of converts to the new faith were Jewish. But what were the beliefs about Christ of those Jewish groups? From the epistles, we simply see that they were basically beliefs like Paul’s and the Jerusalem group. Namely, faith in a heavenly Christ. There certainly is no witness within the epistles to any group, Jewish or not, who believed in an historical Jesus.

      So Jewish-Christian sects in the first century pose no problem for mythicists.

      • Paul.J
        2012-06-08 11:31:37 UTC - 11:31 | Permalink

        Well Earl, we know they wrote gospels about the man Jesus. Many fragments and quotations from them are quoted in Patristic authors.
        And we know they didn’t join the evolving, Pauline, gentile church.

        So it does give you a big problem.

        • 2012-06-08 11:44:50 UTC - 11:44 | Permalink

          Can you explain where the problem lies, exactly?

        • gmalcolms
          2012-06-08 16:29:06 UTC - 16:29 | Permalink

          We don’t have any Ebionite or more generally Jewish Christian gospels known to (or even believed to) predate Mark’s. Mark presents a man Jesus who is probably the primary basis for all the accounts of his earthly existence.

    • 2012-06-07 12:32:32 UTC - 12:32 | Permalink

      Paul, I don’t know who you are or what you have heard about the Christ Myth idea, but you have a choice. You can either approach something you have not heard of before or have only heard from one point with knee-jerk scoffing or you can suspend judgment till you make an effort to be more fully informed. The Christ Myth idea is and has been seriously proposed by well respected scholars and the majority of New Testament scholars who are leading the attack on mythicism clearly have vested interests in denouncing and discrediting mythicism. They regularly resort to character attacks, blatant misrepresentation of mythicist arguments (one might even say outright lies) and comparisons with holocaust deniers, etc. Intellectuals who are interested in public education (e.g. countering creationist arguments) have no need to resort to such tactics.

      The following is from Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things”:

      Holocaust deniers find errors in the scholarship of historians and then imply that therefore their conclusions are wrong, as if historians never make mistakes. Evolution deniers (a more appropriate term than creationists) find errors in science and imply that all of science is wrong, as if scientists never make mistakes.

      Holocaust deniers are fond of quoting, usually out of context, leading Nazis, Jews, and Holocaust scholars to make it sound like they are supporting Holocaust deniers’ claims. Evolution deniers are fond of quoting leading scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Ernst Mayr out of context and implying that they are cagily denying the reality of evolution.

      Holocaust deniers contend that genuine and honest debate between Holocaust scholars means they themselves doubt the Holocaust or cannot get their stories straight. Evolution deniers argue that genuine and honest debate between scientists means even they doubt evolution or cannot get their science straight. (p. 132)

      Every one of these points, from my observation, applies to scholars who are attempting to denigrate mythicism, but I have not seen mythicists like Doherty or Wells or Price or Zindler or Salm or Ellegard or Thompson fall into any of these types of fallacious reasonings.

      How many times do we see scholars attacking mythicism by means of declaring the whole conclusion false because of a few errors in some of the arguments, quoting mythicists out of context and misleadingly, and contending that because mythicists disagree the whole thing must be wrong? — Yet each one of these grounds is applicable to the holocaust denier — whom several biblical scholars compare with mythicists –, so says Michael Shermer.

    • Blood
      2012-06-08 00:19:11 UTC - 00:19 | Permalink

      “Jewish Chrisitian DO represent a bit of a “dilemma” for mythicists, don’t they?”

      Not as much of a dilemma as they do for Jesus Historicists. For, if there were such entities, it’s inexplicable why they seem to have disappeared from history before the ink was dry on the Pauline epistles. The only “Jewish Christians” we can be certain of are the Ebionites, and they were excommunicated and called heretics by the Gentile Christians.

      • 2012-06-08 16:01:39 UTC - 16:01 | Permalink

        Historicists just cannot explain how the Romans crucified Jesus and left alone for decades the same movement, but now led by his brother.

        To be fair, they haven’t tried to explain this.

        The Americans killed Osama bin Laden (which I can only imagine will lead to Al Qaeeda writing about how the Americans are God’s agents, sent to punish wrongdoers, and who do not bear the sword for no reason.)

        But if Al Qaeeda were smart, they would now appoint Jake bin Laden (Osama’s brother) as their head, and take the heat off themselves.

  • 2012-06-07 23:35:20 UTC - 23:35 | Permalink

    Earl: See comment (2.) above to at least get some insight into present understanding of our top scholars of the Guild of NT Studies. Jewish-Christian sects (more appropriately the Jerusalem Jesus Movement of 30 CE – 65 CE, pre Gospel, pre Christian), produced our most certain source of apostolic witness to the historical Jesus, to stand as the historical fact against any legitimacy of mythicism. This is said fully aware that the atheists stance can hardly view the Guild as a legitimate discipline.

    • RoHa
      2012-06-08 12:26:28 UTC - 12:26 | Permalink

      “Jewish-Christian sects (more appropriately the Jerusalem Jesus Movement of 30 CE – 65 CE, pre Gospel, pre Christian), produced our most certain source of apostolic witness to the historical Jesus”

      What is the source of your information about “the Jerusalem Jesus Movement of 30 CE – 65 CE”?

    • gmalcolms
      2012-06-08 16:49:57 UTC - 16:49 | Permalink

      “our most certain source of apostolic witness to the historical Jesus”?!

      We don’t have ANY source of apostolic witness to the historical Jesus.

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