Highlights of the David Fitzgerald-Daniel Gullotta Discussion on Miami Valley Skeptics

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

For anyone who was too lazy or too busy or too technically challenged to listen to the discussion between David Fitzgerald and Daniel Gullotta on the historicity of Jesus here are my notes.

Of course things said on the fly are not always what we would exactly say in more considered writing so I welcome any corrections from both speakers. And we can always think of what we “should have said” in hindsight. (In a couple of places I have changed the original where an obvious slip of the tongue was made and in others added an amendment in square brackets without colour coding]. Daniel G has posted some corrections or clarifications on his blog.)

DF = David Fitzgerald [in bluish text]

DG = Daniel Gullotta [in reddish text]

HJ = Historical Jesus

JM = Jesus Myth or Jesus Myth theory

NT = New Testament

TF = Testimonium Flavianum

1:24 = approx time on audio file in minutes and seconds

Bold — the questions asked by the interviewer.

This is not really a transcription. Most of it is my own paraphrasing and precis. Only sections in quotation marks are actual “transcription”.


What led to your interest in the historicity of Jesus? 

2:30 DF: Never considered possibility of no historical Jesus until took an interest to know what he really said and did. Then red flags arose and discovered other people were also having same questions. Two years later realized he did not exist at all. Then wrote Nailed.

3:30  DG: Doing Undergrad degree in Theology specializing in Biblical Studies. Began with interest in how Jesus fitted in with his time historically, became bored with that so turned to Paul. In his undergraduate years the Zeitgeist documentary was making the rounds. That was his first intro. Then “3 Christmases ago” his younger brother re-introduced him to the to HJ notion — “If he existed!”

In same year Bart Ehrman released Did Jesus Exist? and Carrier was about to come out with his book, released a few months later.

With scholar Roland Boer at University of Newcastle (Australia) DG was more interested in studying the question of the reception of the JM.

6:30 Who has burden of proof?

DG — Burden of proof is on the one making the claim. Having said that, Paul’s letters, the Gospels, the writings of the later church and the sheer explanatory power are very weighty, so to argue against HJ is to go into an entirely different paradigm and for that one needs good evidence and the JM theory doesn’t have it.

DF – Agrees regarding burden of proof. It’s not really about HJ but about how Christianity started. It’s to make the best sense of the evidence we have.

9:00 Without HJ how could Christianity begin?

DF: Either he did these amazing miracles and taught these amazing things and no-one outside his cult noticed for better part of a century or more; or he didn’t do/teach those things and then the moment he’s dead we have all these feuding little house-cults scattered not just in Jerusalem and Judea but all over the Roman Empire. – Syria, Greece, Egypt, Rome. — and none of these seem to be able to agree on who Jesus was, who he was with, what he taught, what he was, — that for me was one of the first red flags.

10:00 Another red flag is that we have all these other messiah figures in NT and Paul’s letters, preaching other gospels and Jesuses — and it seems the further back we go into Christian origins the more variety we find — Bart Ehrman does a good job of showing some of the varieties of which we have evidence from 3rd and 4th centuries but further we go back we also see that same trend– and we have less biographical information on Jesus. The info we get on Jesus in that very first generation of Christianity is very different from the info we get on Jesus after the gospels are written.

10:50 DG: I think it’s important to establish what HJ scholars do …and something I find quite frustrating when talking to lay people or mythicists in this discussion is that they seem to equate the HJ with the Christ of faith — a lot of people conflate the two. But having said that it’s also important to realize the HJ is itself a reconstruction. Michel Foucault (“Archaeology of Knowledge”) uses the metaphor of digging through layers of interpretation. You will find dinosaur bones when doing archaeology but not a dinosaur. They are still interpretations. All history is interpreted. I just want to make that clear.

13:00 DF agrees. We cannot conflate HJ with the Christ of Faith. In fact will be referencing secular historians because “it can be argued that secular historians are the only ones doing the real work and everybody else is too busy circling the wagons and defending dogma — in my humble opinion. Your mileage may vary.”

13:30 DG: I’ll comment there. “When I look at my bookshelf I see a lot of names and I honestly don’t know what a lot of these scholars believe theologically, or theosophically [presumably meant “philosophically”]. What I care about is good history. And some of them [I don’t know] what they believe. I’m also friends with them on social media, so I get a sense of what these scholars do on a Sunday or don’t do rather. But I think if we’re fair to scholarship that does come from Christian faith it’s important to understand that there are Christians that are on the more liberal branch. I think it’s important not to conflate all scholarship from people who happen to be Christians with evangelical conservative and even fundamentalist scholarship. I think it is important to make that comment. Because there are plenty of scholars who do go to church on Sunday whose work I absolutely adore.“

14:40 DF: “Not to argue with that at all. That was a bit of a provocative statement I’ll grant you that. If you look at my bookshelf you can see there’s Bruce Metzger, there’s any number of Christians, any number of atheists, … agnostics there. But what my point was, I actually want to talk about the secular historians because a lot of atheists give you push back on that: “Oh no, that’s just the fundamentalist Jesus; oh no, that’s just the Christian Jesus, and what I want to point out is that I also have a problem the varieties of reconstructed Jesuses that we get from secular historians. None of them are improbable, none of them are unbelievable, they all have good analogies for what they are, and they all sound perfectly possible until you read the next one. And as Robert Price says, there’s so many of them out there.” — he could not have been all of them at once, so it becomes a matter of “Who’s the real Jesus?”

And again a point that Robert Price makes — to all intents and purposes there isn’t a HJ any more because all our sources about Jesus are not connected to anyone who actually lived from 1st century.

So many ‘facts’ scholars have come up with about Jesus are just a function of the context he was in and not relating to an actual person.

16:25 DG: There have been a lot of important directions in the quest for the HJ. — In the last 2 decades — especially the last decade. “Less and less scholars talking about the real Jesus’ because all we can get back to is the remembered Jesus or the interpreted Jesus. We can’t get to the videotape — only get to the memory (not to say Jesus didn’t exist) or earliest tradition or as far as the tradition will take us back.

The other important thing is the relationship between the HJ and early Christianity is starting to be understood in new ways as well.

And DF says that every HJ is plausible until the next book — but DG says “I find that hard to believe” “because in scholarship typically that’s not the case because predominantly you will get America, United Kingdom, France and Germany that the reconstruction of Jesus that has stood out across the last two decades is Jesus understood as an apocalyptic figure.”

That is the direction where “scholarship overwhelmingly” in the last years has headed. Other reconstructions — magician, proto-communist, are very popular, very marginal, you don’t see them at SBL, or in university published presses. The question is “What sort of apocalyptic figure”.

And “the more we research the context he was in the more we can attempt to reconstruct Jesus. And that’s not trying to find facts about Jesus. That’s trying to reconstruct him to the best of our scholarly ability.”

DF: I’m not saying all secular Jesuses are created equal and I agree that the apocalyptic Jesus is one of the better ones. But here’s my problem with it and with every other secular reconstruction of Jesus regardless of whether it is backed up by a growing consensus or not, is “What’s our source for that?” Every Jesus is against that same roadblock — how trustworthy are our sources for ANY reconstruction of Jesus…. Because Paul’s Jesus does not sound like an apocalyptic prophet. And you could say the first generation had more than one Jesus to kick around.

That gets us into sources

20:40  Was Jesus Noticed by any of his contemporaries?

DG: “It’s difficult to explain that because technically no, but then nobody in the ancient world was. If you’re asking was somebody while Jesus was alive writing down things as they [were happening], then no. But having said that, when you look at somebody like Josephus for example, Josephus was writing about the Jewish war in the year 90 but they took place in the mid 60s and then in the year 70. So even though [Josephus] is a contemporary witness to those events it’s not like he was writing them down as they happened. So i just wanted to clarify that.”

“But that’s not really surprising that we don’t have that many sources for Jesus.  I think it’s really important to note how many people in the first century could read let alone write. “
And materials needed to write were expensive. These skills and materials were reserved typically for upper crust of society. 

So when we go to rural Palestine, a backwater in the Roman Empire in the far east [presumably meant Near East] — and mostly agricultural peasants in satellite villages across the countryside except for cities like Sepphoris, and Jerusalem and Caesarea Maritima — it’s not  a big stretch not to expect sources.
And what we know of revolutionary times and economic hardship as was Palestine at that time — literary skills go down even further. So this is why I stress that we need to look at the culture in which Jesus’ contemporaries could have noticed him. — If that’s likely they would have reported it and when we look at Jesus as a failed apocalyptic/messianic figure, I’m not surprised.
But when we look at letters of Paul, and earliest gospels — this is a community with high eschatological expectations. Jesus is expected any day now — Paul prays for this all throughout his letters — like 1 Cor 16:22, — so I doubt these people were very concerned about writing details about the HJ.
And when the gospels are written I think it’s doubly important to stress they are not written as historical documents but are written by Christians for Christians with Christian theology in mind. — Not for us — “It’s our task to try and reconstruct what they meant, what was the purpose of their writing them, how much of this is accurate, what traditions go back to other sources.”

24:30 DF — Agrees with DG there… But we must note that there were authors with an interest in Judea at the time and we have other messiahs who were noticed and were not nearly so interesting as Jesus. And regarding Paul — he talks a lot about Jesus coming, but never says anything about Jesus coming back.

26:00 DG — It is extremely subjective to say Jesus was more noteworthy than other messianic figures . Let me give you an example: the impression we get from Paul was that early Christians were not a violent revolutionary movement. These other messiahs in Josephus all lead open revolts and are far more fascinating .. Simon set fire to palace etc….

When Paul goes to Jerusalem (after Arabia) there are only 2 Christians there — James and Peter — so it’s not a very sizeable movement. The same at Antioch. And house churches would not be more than 30 people at any locality. So why would we expect Jesus to be noticed. He’s not even a blip on the radar. 

29:00 DF The problem with that — when you look at the distribution and spread of early Christianity, yes the house cults were of small size but they are all over the place. And if he’s not interesting to these guys then how did he start a religion that spread throughout so much of the Roman world. – Tiny tho it was. It took 300 years to get to size of minor Roman cults but it was everywhere.

29:30 DG — I think the issue there is that you’re conflating the HJ with the founder of a new religion. “As far as most scholars can tell Jesus did not envision starting a new religion. Something about the experience after his crucifixion– his resurrection — whatever that experience was, clearly it transformed several facets of their belief and their relationship with Judaism, many of their practices, their world-view. So whatever that experience was, while it was related to Jesus I don’t think we should correlate that with Jesus as if he is some sort of founder of this religion.”

30:20 DF: And yet we have all these Christian movements even before the time he was meant to have died. Or at least we have the echoes of the evidence of that. . . 

DG: Can you elaborate on that?

DF: Example: Apollos of Alexandria seems to be a completely different sort of Christian than Paul. Paul complains of other Jesuses and gospels so different he curses them. They are agents of Satan. He also talks about different Lord’s suppers that are out there. — with pagan Lord’s suppers warning members not to mix this up with ours. It’s talkng about the mystery faiths.

31:00 DG — That’s not correlating it with the Christians.

DF – How do we know that?

[Some confusion here. See Daniel Gullotta’s comment on his blog about this.]

DG — I’m trying to reconstruct it. 

It’s significant that many of Paul’s disputes are not about Jesus. The problem is rival praxis, not rival theology.
e.g. 1 Cor 7 — there are no questions regarding Christ. They are not interested in learning about Jesus. They are using the common vernacular to understand their common experience of Jesus. They’d agree Jesus is Son of God but disagree on how to become a Christian. I think….

Is it the case that Josephus and Tacitus should have known Jesus but never talk about him?

DG: But I want to clarify some things. Technically they are not contemporary like Christian sources.

Tacitus makes a passing reference to Jesus. This doesn’t prove their wasn’t a historical Jesus. He’s well removed from the time of Jesus. And he’s not writing about Jesus — he writes to prove how insane Nero was. It’s also unlikely Tacitus did any research on the Christians. — I’m open to arguments the passage has been being forged.

But even so (if not forged) we see details of Jesus. He tells us what early Christians are saying about themselves — and that can help us understand the HJ.

37:00 DF: Assumes Tacitus is genuine and agrees with Ehrman — even if everything in Tacitus is true, he is not telling us anything about HJ — only what Christians at that time agreed on.

38:30 — On Josephus

39:00 DF: TF seems like an advertisement for Jesus in one of his books. It’s not controversial in historical circles that its’ a forgery, so the argument is to how much of it is forged. For 300 years no-one knew about it. –

There’s another passage in Josephus, the James passage. This makes no sense if about Christ but makes perfect sense if about Damneus

Without these two passages we have no 1st century sources about Jesus.

41:00 DG –-On the fence about it, could go either way. TF blames Pilate and not the Jews for the death of Jesus. That’s interesting because early in Christian tradition was to shift blame on to the Jews — and Josephus likes to put Romans in the good light.  — So that’s a reason for authenticity of the TF.

Another reason: Origen says Josephus does not believe Jesus is messiah. Does this refer to this passage without the messiah comment? Or does it mean there’s nothing there.

This a a really complicated debate requiring textual criticism and manuscript history. A good start is Van Voorst’s book.

Similarly with Tacitius — even if the passage is authentic it is not slam dunk evidence for HJ. But still it gives a clearer picture of existence of Jesus.

44:30 -DF Origen owned the library that was inherited by Eusebius — Origen said we don’t have any information about Jesus apart from the gospels. That’s a hint that Josephus is total forgery.

I’m not a graduate student like DG — I’m just a guy — most of this comes from other scholars and historians. — I’m not taking credit for any of these points.

47:00 questions from audience…..

  1. How do we know gospels were not written in Hebrew first then translated into Greek?

DG: — The lingua franca was Greek; we see that in libraries — all in Greek; earliest manuscripts were in Greek. There are some early Christian traditions that Matthew was in Hebrew first but that’s not the reality. No, they just were in Greek.

DF: — We know it for a fact because Jesus has puns and literary references that only work in Greek.

2. Any possibility there was a twin brother who was crucified instead of Jesus?

DF: There is a fascinating tradition about Jesus with a twin — Thomas Didymus [= twin twin] — No reality to it.

DG: How often do we suffer from mistaken identity after someone has died? Ancient people weren’t dumb. People did not come back from dead. They knew the difference between divine births and human births. It just frustrates me, this superiority complex people bring to the past.

3. What factors may have helped earliest Christians gain popularity?

DF– There was Messianic fever in 1st century; that’s a big reason for acceptance of Christianity. But once the empire’s social structures fell apart it emerged from a small cult in Roman society — Mithraism had limited appeal, only for army and men; Christianity included women and slaves, so Christianity becomes more popular when Rome losing all the wars.

DG: Disagree with DF comparing early Christianity with early mystery cults. But very subjective about how Christianity began small. It wasn’t an explosive religion. But the role of women was very strong in early Christianity — women controlled the household– especially the table where people came to eat and drink — in Christianity people were sharing a common meal and women run that meal. 

54:45 — Mark seemed a mystery cult-gospel.

DF: I think Christianity was a mystery cult.

DG: I’m not saying they are chalk and cheese. There are similarities: common meals, initiation, divine figure they fixate on — but no evidence for mystery cults in Palestine especially where early Christians operated. There were civic cults in Caesarea Maratina and part of Jerusalem. But a major difference was that mystery cults consisted of people of same backgrounds but Christianity attracted all levels of society, and Christianity has no problem revealing its mystery to anyone who comes across it.

Paul says cross was an offence. There was no going through the initiations levels up to higher rank. So Christianity was not like Mysteries … and Paul says all will be one in Christ.

DF: I take all your points. I don’t see any of them are enough to exclude Christianity being a Jewish mystery cult.

DG: Agree to disagree.

DF: We can agree to disagree. We can talk and not be enemies. Fake history and ignorance are the enemy.

ca 58:00
4. Did Gnostics only believe in a non human Jesus?

DG: Scholars have tried to avoid lumping gnostic beliefs together. But they don’t like human fleshy Jesus. Some have a human taken over by Christ; others Christ only appears to be human; in others Jesus changes his identity at will. Why do they feel this way about the body? They believed it was a prison to the pure soul. The goal was to cast off the flesh.

60:45  DF Reiterates DG’s points. The term gnostic becoming useless — not a useful term.

Bart Ehrman notes how quickly the Jesus of faith spiraled into all these views. To Kurt Noll- Jesus is not important enough to debate. He had no impact on what came later which is the real question.

5. Why did Jesus not come from Bethlehem?

DF: Chris Hitchens makes the same argument – there is no prophesy to say messiah comes from Bethlehem. Matthew had Jesus born in Bethlehem for same reasons Mark had him come from Nazareth — both had symbolic reasons.

DG: I disagree — Mark doesn’t use scriptures very much and when he does its very important. He has no theological significance for Nazareth. But later evangelists have to remove Nazareth from being his birth place. Jesus was from Nazareth — that’s historically accurate.

64:30  6. WHere does this topic go from here? What is future of mythicist/historicist debate?

DF: Mythicism will always be a fringe position as long as there is Biblical Studies. I’m fascinated by Christian origins. — Mythicism is the one solution that makes sense to me.

Future is in the next generation of biblical scholars– hope for more atheists and agnostic scholars who will be looking into their current methodology and their sources more critically.

DG: “As a young budding scholar who is interested in the HJ”, this is an exciting time, a new phase — especially with work of Le Donne, Crossley and Keith and others who stood up and took a look at methodology and use it. Instead of throwing it out they are seeing what works. Social memory theory is new and I’m excited to see where that will take us. And new studies in Aramaic sources, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they tell us about Judaism;  and more is being learned about Josephus and the fall of Jerusalem; and the archaeology of Galilee — all hoping to enrich what could be 4th quest for the HJ.

Mythicism will always be on fringes because it lacks (I’m sorry but with respect) explanatory power. This podcast is a good example of why some people are so concerned. It is so entrenched in the atheist movement. One can’t differ the philosophy of one from the scholarship of another.

It is only being entertained by atheists, podcasts, talk shows. Atheism has done itself a disservice by being so fascinated by this idea. Although it is an interesting topic.

So if some in the next generation do flirt with it they need to stop self-publishing and stop podcasting like this and go to conferences and get in peer review journals and write respectable books and engage with peers well before the lay people get involved.

I have thought of writing about mythicism some time (but not yet).

71:30 — DF: Plenty atheist have no time for mythicism

Not all atheists are mythicists but all mythicists are atheists.

What troubles me is someone like Carrier writing one book and then going to all these conferences and then going to the lay people — there’s a problem there.

DF: — Most don’t care; though some are entrenched — so it does skew to atheism. 

DG: I enjoyed this chat — thank you for chatting.

DF: Compliments DG on his scholarship and his hard work in the field.

74:20 DG: To be at Yale next 2 years and hopefully can get a job in this field. Recently talking to Avalos who said biblical studies might just end through financial cutbacks anyway. 




  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-09-02 00:27:48 UTC - 00:27 | Permalink

    To early readers: apologies the version you read had not gone through the spell check rinse cycle! Much easier to read now, hopefully!

    • Greg G.
      2015-09-02 01:30:17 UTC - 01:30 | Permalink

      Great job. Thank you for the transcription.

      Two little tweaks are the statements beginning with “DF: We can agree to disagree” and “DG: I disagree — Mark doesn’t use scriptures” need color.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-09-02 02:10:11 UTC - 02:10 | Permalink


  • Blood
    2015-09-02 00:42:38 UTC - 00:42 | Permalink

    “these feuding little house-cults scattered not just in Jerusalem and Judea…”

    Actually there’s no evidence of any Christian cult in Jerusalem, Judea, or Galilee outside the New Testament literature, which, as David says, is fantasy. Christianity did not have any roots in Palestine.

    • Scot Griffin
      2015-09-02 14:12:45 UTC - 14:12 | Permalink

      “Christianity did not have any roots in Palestine.”

      That is a provocative statement.

      • David Ashton
        2015-09-02 17:13:35 UTC - 17:13 | Permalink

        Nearly as unlikely as the statement that Islam did not have any roots in Arabia outside the Qur’an which is also fantasy? Why were the gospels given a “Palestinian” topography, and content of Aramaic origin?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-09-02 20:27:38 UTC - 20:27 | Permalink

        I’m open to the question. After all, Galilee takes on theological symbolism, as does Jerusalem, in the Gospel of Mark (Kelber, Weeden, Tolbert). So if theological symbolism is sufficient to explain Palestine as the setting of the gospel narrative on what grounds do we add any additional reason? The first literature, it has been argued, originated in Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Rome. Palestine as the origin of Christianity requires argument; it cannot be assumed.

        • David Ashton
          2015-09-02 20:47:23 UTC - 20:47 | Permalink

          Tyre & Sidon? John the Immerser? Is “theological symbolism” really sufficient? We are getting into Ptolemaic epicycles rather than Copernican simplicity.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-09-02 21:54:16 UTC - 21:54 | Permalink

            I don’t think the symbolic interpretation is particularly controversial. (I’m not saying that scholars discount the historicity of it — only that it is not uncommon to read arguments identifying the symbolic meaning the evangelists have injected into the settings.)

            See, for example, Kelber’s little book: Discussed here.

            Galilee is often seen as the place of the kingdom in contrast to Jerusalem, the place of the Temple and priesthood where the Kingdom met its “demise”. The two are in geographic-symbolic opposition.

            Matthew makes explicit what is implicit in Mark — that Galilee was chosen for its prophetic symbolism from Isaiah — the place of the mixing of the peoples. Just as was the church, especially Paul’s church.

            The gospel story is the culmination of the “OT” narrative so the setting naturally follows.

            What evidence do we have for actual Palestinian origins — or for any particular place of historical origin for that matter?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-09-02 21:59:31 UTC - 21:59 | Permalink

            Add to the above the unusual proportion of names, both topographic and personal, that bear obvious theological symbolism relating to their functions or settings in the narrative itself.

            Tyre and Sidon, the places you mention in particular, are also soaked in meaning drawn from Isaiah.

            • David Ashton
              2015-09-03 01:51:58 UTC - 01:51 | Permalink

              Thank you for these replies which I shall follow up.

        • Scot Griffin
          2015-09-03 03:01:41 UTC - 03:01 | Permalink

          I am open to the question, as well. It is just such an audacious question (says somebody who is pursuing a pretty audacious question of his own). Even under my theory of the Hellenistic authorship/patronage of the Primary History, the local Yahwist priests of Judea and Samaria had a central role to play in what was a cult/state located in Palestine. While I can imagine Christianity as a cult not having roots in Palestine, it seems pretty clear to me that the Gospels rely heavily on and essentially restate Old Testament stories and allegories.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-09-03 06:55:53 UTC - 06:55 | Permalink

            Even a bigger question than the historicity of Jesus! 😉

            I’m juggling between Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. But then if we go with the Doherty-Mack thesis (Mack was not a mythicist, of course) about the “riotously diverse” origins of Christianity — the riot not being only in ideas but also (of necessity, it seems) in points all over the map — then Palestine is already reduced to just one of many (at most) little flickerings that eventually came together to create the bush fire.

            • Scot Griffin
              2015-09-04 04:58:14 UTC - 04:58 | Permalink

              Is any of the diverse origins of Christianity not found in the Old Testament? Thanks.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-09-04 10:36:28 UTC - 10:36 | Permalink

                Sorry but I don’t think I follow the question.

      • Greg Pandatshang
        2015-09-03 16:20:00 UTC - 16:20 | Permalink

        I assume that this means “Christianity did not have any roots in Palestine other than its generally Jewish roots.” Palestine is obviously not a randomly-selected location, but it could be that it is the setting of the Gospels purely because it was already the setting of the Hebrew bible.

  • Blood
    2015-09-02 00:43:28 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

    “all mythicists are atheists.”

    Wrong. See Thomas L. Brodie.

  • Blood
    2015-09-02 00:47:16 UTC - 00:47 | Permalink

    “Mythicism will always be on fringes because it lacks (I’m sorry but with respect) explanatory power.”

    No one can accurately “explain” how any ancient religion arose without authentic primary data, and in the case of most of those religions including Christianity there is none. In fact in Christianity you have large scale fakery of primary data, which strongly suggests there never was a “history” until they invented one.

    • Mark S.
      2015-09-04 17:33:21 UTC - 17:33 | Permalink

      What _agent_ are you thinking of when you say ‘they’ invented a history? This way of thinking seems to belong to idealist historiography of the 18th c, when ‘priestcraft’ was supposed to explain everything… evidently by effecting miracles, and even without actual priests…

      There was clearly some sort of ecclesiastical selection (and falsification of course) among the extensive range of documents that existed in, say, 200. I guess by that time one might claim to see something that is worth calling ‘the church’ beginning to appear. But way before this every piece of evidence presupposes that there was a Jesus to whom messianic pretensions were attributed. The trouble is that the falsification would have to happen in the first century, when there just _isn’t_ an agent to perform it. Everything looks exactly like every other catastrophically failed Jewish messianism, such as we find in Sabbatai or Menachem Shneerson. Check out Sholem’s discussion of the Dönmeh if you really want to understand so-called Western Civilization.

  • 2015-09-02 14:53:43 UTC - 14:53 | Permalink

    I would have liked to have heard some discussion of the long string of sayings and parables obvious in the synoptics and also present, but often submerged, in John. C.H. Dodd made the case that it was this series of consistent and distinctive teachings, reflecting a common viewpoint and “take” on both theological and practical issues, which provided the strongest evidence of an historical Jesus.

    It would seem to be one thing to manufacture genealogies, dramatic healing stories, symbolic meal events, etc., and quite another to put together a body of sayings and parables that cohere in a compelling fashion and engage the controversies of late Second Temple Judaism from what appears to be a novel, idiosyncratic stance.

    Parallels between the beliefs and rituals of Christianity and various mystery religions, and gaps in an already sketchy historical record, are not a sufficient foundation upon which to build the mythicist’s case. Where is there a collection of comparable sayings and parables–in the rabbinic tradition, Stoicism, teachings of Eastern sages, etc.–to undermine the distinctiveness Dodd thinks he sees?

    • Scot Griffin
      2015-09-02 15:43:32 UTC - 15:43 | Permalink

      Please cite a specific work or works of Dodd upon which you rely. The way you present his arguments makes them seem underwhelming, at least to me.

      Also, when you demand “a collection of comparable sayings and parables” what makes such a collection “comparable.”? Do you really need the collection to be “comparable”? If there is a collection of sayings and parables attributed to a particular tradition, even though substantially different, isn’t that enough to establish that a collection of such sayings and parables does not necessarily originate with a single person? I just don’t see how

  • David Ashton
    2015-09-02 17:23:32 UTC - 17:23 | Permalink

    Notable features of the utterances of Jesus are their audience-entertaining imagery and wit. Equally inventive, and industrious, unknown fakers would be required to make them up, or ransack rabbinical sayings for such a collection.

  • 2015-09-02 17:27:08 UTC - 17:27 | Permalink

    Dodd’s great book, “The Parables of the Kingdom,” begins with this statement: “The parables are perhaps the most characteristic element in the teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels. They have upon them, taken as a whole, the stamp of a highly individual mind … Certainly there is no part of the Gospel record which has for the reader a clearer ring of authenticity.”

    On Vridar (2015-04-17), Neil further quoted Dodd as follows: “It remains that the first three gospels offer a body of sayings on the whole so consistent, so coherent, and withal so distinctive in manner, style, and content, that no reasonable critics should doubt whatever reservations he may have about individual sayings, that we find reflected here the thought of a single, unique teacher.”

    You may consider Dodd underwhelming based upon one small point he made in his landmark NT studies, but you have the right to whatever snap judgment you wish.

    The entangled questions in your second paragraph would require a lot more space to even begin to answer than can be taken up here by me. Maybe Vridar could open up the topic for a fuller discussion, with a post that more adequately develops Dodd’s thought, including how his realized eschatology (which he found in the self-authenticating sayings and parables) conflicts with Schweitzer’s future eschatology that currently has come into prominence.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-02 20:18:08 UTC - 20:18 | Permalink

      Earlier posts on works by Drury and Goulder have addressed the question of whether Jesus himself spoke in parables. In addition I looked at Crossan’s Power of Parable.

    • Scot Griffin
      2015-09-02 22:45:44 UTC - 22:45 | Permalink

      Thanks for the cite.

      To be clear, I have yet to read what Dodd said, so it was your presentation of his argument that I found underwhelming, not Dodd’s actual argument (which I assume is more complete than your quick paraphrase). That is why I asked for a cite: I want to judge Dodd’s argument directly and not based on your ability to convey it. Thus, if I made a snap judgment, it was about your original presentation of Dodd’s argument, not Dodd’s argument itself.

      As to the second paragraph, let me rephrase: what objective criteria are to be used to judge whether or not a collection of parables and sayings is “comparable” to that of the Gospels? Dodd must have stated those criteria, right? How can we test his conclusion (and yours, apparently) if we don’t know what we are supposed to look for?

      • 2015-09-02 23:57:28 UTC - 23:57 | Permalink

        We’ve got a long string of parables prominent in the synoptic accounts. Many books have been written by many scholars about the meaning of those parables, which center directly or indirectly around the principal thrust of Jesus’ teaching, something called the kingdom of god or heaven (Matthew). Do the mythicists have a similar series of parables that they can point to, which mirror this material in form and substance? The burden is on them to produce it IMHO.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-03 00:05:28 UTC - 00:05 | Permalink

          It’s not about “mythicist” arguments. I don’t know of any and wouldn’t be interested in any if they existed.

          I have read the critical mainstream scholarship and that’s what interests me — mainstream arguments that relate to source criticism. What are the evangelist’s sources for the parables?

          The evidence in the posts I linked to is pretty overwhelming, I think, that the parables we read in the gospels were not originally spoken by Jesus. I don’t know how to rebut Goulder’s evidence, for example.

          (It’s nothing to do with mythicism. It’s a question of the origins of the gospels.)

          • 2015-09-03 15:55:58 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

            I think the following comment by Allison about Dodd, as quoted by Neil in a prior post, gets to the heart of the matter and indicates that, after a certain point of informing oneself in order to think critically, one’s judgments about issues like the historicity of the parables, how much of the historical Jesus can be recovered (perhaps, even whether there WAS a historical Jesus to try to recover), and the NT scholars one favors over others among the myriad minds that have grappled responsibly with NT issues over many decades, move inevitably from objectivity into subjectivity, which does not imply that some subjective decisions are not more objectively supportable than others.

            Obviously, in a blog format, it is virtually impossible to get into any of these subjects in sufficient length and depth to even begin to do them justice. Vridar, as I have come to experience it, is a thought-provoking exercise, exposing one to views and opinions that Neil and Tim find worthy of note and deserving of their readers’ attention and further investigation. It’s certainly not a venue where one settles things in terms of differing readers’ opinions or one’s own positions or conclusions. Is it not this recognition of tentativeness that helps create an hospitable environment for the interchange of views? Without it, we can easily wind up only sniping at each other.

            Here’s that quote I previously referenced in part: “C. H. Dodd maintained that when we have made due allowance for the distortions of the tradition, ‘it remains that the first three gospels offer a body of sayings on the whole so consistent, so coherent, and withal so distinctive in manner, style, and content, that no reasonable critics should doubt whatever reservations he may have about individual sayings, that we find reflected here the thought of a single, unique teacher.’ I understand this comment, with which I am, on most days, sympathetic. . . . . Dodd’s words, however, constitute not an argument but an opinion, albeit an informed one; and my own conviction is inevitably a personal, subjective response. . . .
            I can think of no line of reasoning that is not, in the end, strictly circular. Nonetheless, there remain some observations that, though they do not firmly establish anything, remain suggestive, observations that may encourage those of us who are otherwise inclined to side with Dodd. (p. 23)”

            Googling around, I came across an academic paper that seems to do a decent job in looking at the synoptic parables, and their distinctiveness or lack thereof, in light of other teachings current or at least available at the time when the parables seem to have been composed, whether by Jesus, the gospel writers, or unknown authors: https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/bbr18a03_snodgrass.pdf.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-09-03 20:39:45 UTC - 20:39 | Permalink

              As Scott asks, is there anything more than an impression, a sense of awe or similar, leading one to “believe” that the parables “must have been spoken by a unique teacher” or something like that?

              I don’t buy arguments like that if that’s what you do mean. I have set out my own reasons for believing the evangelists themselves invented the parables for their own purposes and those arguments are based on evidence, not a subjective impression.

              My interest primarily is understanding gospel and Christian origins. Most of the scholarship has theological interests, such as we see in the Snodgrass paper you linked to.

              Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood something here.

              • 2015-09-04 16:05:55 UTC - 16:05 | Permalink

                So is scholarship–and I might say rather respectable, well-sourced scholarship as embodied in the Snodgrass paper–to be summarily dismissed because theological interests are involved? Is the same then true of scholarship which reflects a different metaphysical orientation, if a good piece of scholarship is produced by an author with a clearly anti-theist standpoint, for example?

                Certainly you are familiar with Dodd’s criteria and methods for trying to ferret out the earliest layers of the Jesus tradition. In Thatcher and Williams’ comprehensive overview of scholarly analysis of the Gospel of John, “Engaging with C.H. Dodd on the Gospel of John”(2013 Cambridge University Press), these criteria and methods are spelled out in considerable detail. Dodd’s volume on John is still considered a breakthrough event in the recovery of John’s veiled historicity.

                Are these sorts of observations not in sync with Vridar, not welcome here? Are more traditional scholars too tame for this blog? The bit from Allision about circularity and subjectivity comes from an article posted on this blog. I guess I’m the one who is misunderstanding something.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-09-04 16:40:03 UTC - 16:40 | Permalink

                You seem to have failed to notice that most posts on this blog are addressing “rather respectable, well-sourced scholarship”. I have directed you to Vridar posts examining the Parables of Jesus from the perspective of some very well respected scholars: Crossan, Goulder, Drury, for example. My criticism of the oral tradition thesis underlying Dodd’s perspective is founded upon other “rather respectable, well-sourced scholarship”, also.

                They are not engaging with Dodd. They are simply asking different questions.

                Do you dismiss these scholars? No, I suspect you leave them aside because they do not address the questions that interest you. There are dozens of biblioblogs that do take an interest in theology where your interests can be discussed. I am simply not interested in theological questions. Full stop. Snodgrass’s article — as you can see from the subheadings/questions serving as the subheadings throughout it — is about theological questions.

                Dodd’s method of removing “layers” to find the original contains many assumptions that have been addressed by “rather respectable, well-sourced scholarship”. Dodd’s assumptions are all very find for a theologian, but I’m not interested in theological discussions any more than I am interested in mathematical or cookery or medical questions here.

                It is the same in the field of “rather respectable, well-sourced scholarship” itself. Not every scholar is interested in historical questions. They all have their specialist interests and no-one accuses someone of “dismissing” the work of others just because they are engaged in answering different questions.

                Dodd is seeking to understand the meaning of the teachings of Jesus as a literary scholar might seek to understand the philosophical messages in the plays of Shakespeare. Like Goulder, Crossan, Drury, you might say I happen to be interested in understanding Shakespeare’s sources and how he weaved them into something distinctly new.

        • Scot Griffin
          2015-09-03 03:49:41 UTC - 03:49 | Permalink

          “Do the mythicists have a similar series of parables that they can point to, which mirror this material in form and substance?”

          To be clear, then, you are saying that unless the mythicists can prove that the parables found in the synoptic gospels were essentially plagiarized from some prior body of work, then Jesus was historical and the author of the parables found in they synoptic gospels.

          How does the proof of plagiarism prove that Jesus was not historical? Maybe historical Jesus was a plagiarist. You got a problem with that?

          How does the failure to prove plagiarism prove that Jesus was historical? Maybe the authors of the synoptic gospels were highly disciplined team players able to convey the same message over time and space, much as modern political operatives do with their talking points.

          And whether or not the synoptic gospels are entirely original, somewhat derivative or completely plagiarized, what does that have to do with whether or not Jesus was the author of parables contained therein? In literature, authors put words in the mouths of their characters all the time, but that does not make the characters actual historical people.

          In any event, it is pretty clear that the synoptic gospels are derivative of the Old Testament. That in itself is cause to question the historicity of the synoptic gospels, which in many cases simply recast Jesus in the role of Moses in a deliberate display of intertextuality. Derivative works can themselves be innovative, but the fact of innovation does not tell you the source of that innovation (or whether it was one person or many), nor can the fact of innovation stand as proof that other aspects of the narrative reflect historical events.

          Please note, I’m not making any assertions about Jesus at all. This entire time, I’ve focused on trying to understand Dodd’s argument and what your litmus test is to be convinced that Jesus was not historical. You’ve proven to me that your litmus test proves nothing by itself and is, in fact, entirely arbitrary.

  • David Ashton
    2015-09-02 18:57:58 UTC - 18:57 | Permalink

    Is it too crude a simplification to say the disagreement boils down to whether a god was given a human “biography” or a human was given a “deification”? Any reasons for these options still seem to me more compatible on all the available data with the latter explanation rather than the former, but who I am to second guess the Bauers, Couchouds and Robertsons de nos jours, notwithstanding the strong case Price makes for the weaving of “OT” material into the Christ Story?

  • Ken
    2015-09-02 19:30:34 UTC - 19:30 | Permalink

    “Every institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • John MacDonald
    2015-09-02 22:18:23 UTC - 22:18 | Permalink

    Hi Neil. Will you be responding to James McGrath’s recent article in response to Carrier on the “Bible and Interpretation” website? Here it is: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/08/mcg398026.shtml

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-02 23:58:28 UTC - 23:58 | Permalink

      I’ve read his review twice and I don’t know where to begin. How such absurdity ever passed peer-review I have no idea. Does anyone really suspect Carrier is using any form of argument like Barbara Thiering’s? Can anyone really believe that Carrier is using allegory to make his argument as distinct from arguing that Mark is allegorical and in other ways symbolic just as a raft of other NT scholars also do?

      McGrath begins by grappling with Carrier’s use of three points to identify fiction and makes it very clear — with abundant examples — that though any one of them by themselves does not dispute historicity, when all three appear in combination then we have an issue. So what does McG do? Proceeds to demonstrate how each one by itself, sometimes two of them together, don’t prove fiction!

      Does McGrath really think the whole scholarly field of intertextuality and mimesis and midrashic narratives are themselves all fatuous allegorical readings of text with no discipline, no controls, no method behind them at all? Or does he only think that when he sees the same arguments being touted by a mythicist?

      McG also lets his viscera show when he effectively accuses Carrier of being motivated by atheistic antipathy to all religious believers and bent on proving the Bible completely untrue.

      And bibleinterp actually publishes this splenetic idiocy and claims to be a serious peer-reviewed site?

      McG’s obvious interest is to banish altogether any possibility of anyone seriously engaging with Carrier or any mythicist argument. He won’t hear of it and I really don’t think he can bring himself to actually read the arguments without his spleen steering his responses. I had thought that the way McG handled Doherty could not possibly be repeated on bibleinterp but he has indeed stooped to the same level of blatant misrepresentation, even outright falsehood.

      I don’t know if I’ll respond. Still thinking about it. It’s too depressing to think about, though.

      • David Ashton
        2015-09-03 19:10:47 UTC - 19:10 | Permalink

        Don’t get depressed, Neil. Just pray to Our Lord Jesus and He will guide you to the Truth. Exactly same truth that all the others received, for He shed his Blood to save those He had predestined from Eternity when He created the Cosmos…. (Only joking.)

        • Rob
          2015-09-04 08:30:45 UTC - 08:30 | Permalink

          Do Christians think that God is a being who has blood in his veins ?

          Didn’t he shed his veins not for humans but his own death sentence which he wrote for himself ?

          • David Ashton
            2015-09-04 11:35:30 UTC - 11:35 | Permalink

            Christians (used to, or say they) believe that Jesus was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to which his “Body” was “hypostatically” united. When I last checked, Mormons are trietheists who think that the Father and Son are human lookalikes and the Holy Spirit is a sort of fuzzy blur (although it was on a CLDS website that I found one of most accurate summaries and scholarly critiques of Christ Myth theories). The more one thinks about the whole Atonement theology the more ridiculous it all seems. (Add Baptist predestination to eternal torture and the more revolting it all seems.) Yet ironically it has given rise to beautiful music.

            • rob
              2015-09-04 12:26:47 UTC - 12:26 | Permalink

              have you ever heard christians say jesus died for you?

              one who dies for his country is called a soldier

              one who dies for his lady is called a lover

              one who dies for his religion is called a martyr

              soldiers , lovers and martyrs die for a people because they think that the people have worth

              in christianity god sees no worth in the human

              so what exactly did he die for?

              to me it seems that he died for his death sentence which he set up in the beginning.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-06 12:16:20 UTC - 12:16 | Permalink

      Does anyone know of any other critiques of McGrath’s latest review of Carrier’s OHJ on Bible and Interpretation. I have been attempting to frame my response to his main criticism – that Carrier is engaging in allegorical interpretation comparable to Thiering’s methods, and that his method allows him to arrive at whatever conclusion he wants. I am at a loss because each time I read McG’s words I shake my head in disbelief that anyone could allow such utter falsehood to be published. He has ripped a quotation from Carrier’s book out of context and asked a series of questions about it that are impossible to answer apart from the context with the result that he is attempting to make Carrier’s method look like a complete sham. McG has failed to give any indication whatsoever about the nature of Carrier’s actual argument. it looks like he has not read the book but simply skipped and skimmed isolated pages here and there, only half read them, read nothing around them, imputed his own fantasies about mythicism into the texts, and been blessed with having his works published in a peer-review site.

      I would like to know how anyone else has handled McG’s lack of professionalism and, well, what I find difficult to think of as anything other than blatant dishonesty.

  • richard
    2015-09-03 07:48:20 UTC - 07:48 | Permalink

    “Paul complains of other Jesuses and gospels so different he curses them”

    is this talking about the verse where he says he believes in christ crucified?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-03 10:25:32 UTC - 10:25 | Permalink

      It comes from Galatians 1:6-9

      6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him, that called you into the grace of Christ, for another gospel.
      7 For this is not another; but there are some who trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Christ.
      8 But should we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
      9 As we said before, so say I now again: If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which ye have received, let him be accursed!

      And 2 Corinthians 11:3-4

      3 But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
      4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit which ye have not received, or another gospel which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

  • Steven Carr
    2015-09-03 13:50:45 UTC - 13:50 | Permalink

    ‘That’s interesting because early in Christian tradition was to shift blame on to the Jews ‘

    So that passage in Thessalonians isn’t a forgery after all!

    I wonder if Gullotta thinks there is any person mentioned in the Gospels who never existed.

  • David Ashton
    2015-09-04 16:34:24 UTC - 16:34 | Permalink

    To return to the earlier argument on this thread, there is the hypothesis that Jesus was a teacher with a repertoire of striking verbal utterances or one that he never existed at all and his alleged sayings (and actions) were all composed by a number of anonymous persons with striking literary artistry. I still remain open to either possibility and have read interesting arguments on both sides, but is it unreasonable prima facie to expect a adherents of the second to present a more convincing challenge? Can they agree on what fills the empty sandwich between a real John the Baptist and a real Saul of Tarsus?

    • buttle
      2015-09-05 16:21:17 UTC - 16:21 | Permalink

      Granting the existence of John, Paul and even Jesus, was there a sandwich at all? Surely Gullotta would call this overskepticism by uninformed laypeople, but what’s the evidence produced by professional scholars for the apocalypticism of John the Baptist and his link with Jesus? I can only see an appeal to the criterion of embarrassment, but that requires assuming that the author was writing history and was actually embarrassed by it, here Mark just isn’t.

  • RoHa
    2015-09-15 05:11:30 UTC - 05:11 | Permalink

    Came in late. Sorry.

    ” Burden of proof is on the one making the claim.”

    Nope, that’s not how it works. It depends on the type of claim.

    The basic rule is that the burden is on the one making the positive claim. That is the claim that X exists or existed, the claim that Y happens. Claims that things do not exist, or do not happen, are negative claims.

    If I claim that there is a hole in my pocket, and that a coin fell out, the burden is on me to prove it.
    If I claim that there are no carnivorous rabbits on the moon, I do not have to prove it. If you disagree, you have to prove me wrong.

    That’s the easy bit. The tricky part is the secondary rule: the burden is on a person making a negative claim that goes against what seems to be well-established positive claim for which the burden of proof has, apparently, already been met.

    If I claim that Canberra is not the capital of Australia, or that Harry, a fully functioning human being, does not have a brain, then it is up to me to prove it.

    But in the debate about Jesus, both sides can argue that the other side has the burden. Those who claim Jesus existed are making a positive claim. Those who claim that he didn’t are making a negative claim which goes against what the believers think is well-established.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *