Introducing new students to Historical Jesus studies – 1

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by Neil Godfrey

friendsAnthony Le Donne drew our attention on The Jesus Blog to a book he highly recommended as an introduction to Jesus studies for his seminary students, Jesus among Friends and Enemies. Because Le Donne was fired back in 2012 by Lincoln Christian University over his book The Historiographical Jesus in which he argued for a way of studying the gospels that would lead us to conclude that not everything they say about Jesus was necessarily so, and because Le Donne continues to be associated with what many see as groundbreaking critical historical research into the historical Jesus, I could not resist learning more about a book he highly recommends for beginning students.

Le Donne writes:

The introduction by Chris Keith should be required reading for every seminary student.

The introduction indeed turned out to be an eye-opener.

Here is how the authors of the Preface (presumably Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado) preceding that introduction introduce Jesus studies to new students.

First, I need to point out that the book attempts to do two things and it is the first of these that most interested me:

[T]he first half of each chapter presents what scholars can know about [Jesus and other characters in the gospels] from the broad historical record and the contexts of Jesus and the early church.

The second half of each chapter then turns to consider the portrayals of that character or group of characters in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

The Preface further bluntly points out that the book “is not a historical Jesus book”, however,

we are nevertheless convinced that its primary focus is relevant to certain discussions in historical Jesus research. . . . [T]he approach of this book can be the first step on a path that leads to studying the historical Jesus and the nature of the Gospels as historical narratives. (My own bolding and formatting in all quotations)

Notice that the new students are introduced to the gospels as writings that are by nature “historical narratives”. Of course we don’t expect the authors to suggest that the gospels are historical narratives in the sense of modern historical narratives, but we see from the outset the assumption of the authors and message that is to be taught. Even the second part of each chapter where the focus is on the narrative story of the gospels Keith and Hurtado makes clear that we are reading not just theology but raw data that can potentially give us insights into the historical Jesus:

With regard to the narrative portrayals of Jesus, one may note a recent upsurge in the importance of those narrative portrayals as sources for the life of Jesus in current critical Jesus scholarship. . . . [T]he chapters of this book are relevant to current discussions of the historical Jesus in light of this trend, since they focus ultimately on how the narratives of the Gospels answer the question of Jesus’s identity via their portrayals of those surrounding him. 

The question of “Jesus’s identity” turns out to be his being the Son of God and the Christ. That paragraph contains quite a contradiction. It confuses the question of the historical Jesus with the theological question of “Who Is Jesus?” And indeed, throughout the book that question of Jesus’ identity is couched in the present tense conspicuously alongside a reminder that the discussion is around past events. With the question Who is Jesus? and Who was (or is) Jesus? (sic) appear eight times in the book readers who believe Jesus is alive today as the Christ and Son of God can be assured that the authors are on their side.

If there is any doubt that the question “Who was (or is) Jesus?” is a theological and not a historical question try substituting other names there. Who was (or is) Osama bin Laden? If one did not know who Churchill was then one would hardly even be interested in studying him historically. Eyebrows would be raised if a historian asked, Who was (or is) Osama bin Laden?

Now on to the Introduction by Chris Keith.

The second sentence declares the supreme importance of what is to follow:

As a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth casts a greater shadow over the history of Western culture than anyone who has ever lived. 


Keith has actually misquoted Bond. Bond writes “one of the surest facts of Christianity” but Keith has changed that to “Christian history”. Thanks to Evan — see comment below — for alerting me to this not insignificant modifcation.

Although various aspects of his life and ministry remain hotly debated, all serious scholars, regardless of religious persuasion, acknowledge that Jesus lived and taught in Judea in the first century CE, and furthermore that he died on a Roman cross in Jerusalem at the order of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. In fact, as one scholar says, Jesus’s crucifixion by Pilate “is one of the surest facts of Christian history.”[ 2]

Keith, Chris (2011-11-01). Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels (Kindle Locations 465-468). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That’s an interesting opening. Can anyone imagine a similar introduction to a book on Julius Caesar or Socrates?

What is especially interesting is not just the defensive tone in response to radical scepticism but the appeal to scholarly authority right from the outset. Surely a brief mention of the evidence would not be inappropriate at this point but no, we only read that “all serious scholars, regardless of religious persuasion, acknowledge” the historicity of Jesus. One of these “serious scholars” is quoted as a backup.

If “all serious scholars” do acknowledge something what need is there to say so? Why not just point to the irrefutable evidence itself? Would we expect to read in an introduction to a life of Hitler “all serious scholars, regardless of political persuasion, acknowledge that Hitler lived . . . and that his suicide in a Berlin bunker was one of the surest facts of history”? That we can presume no comparable reaction would be felt by new seminary students might suggest to us that we are already appealing not to critical thinking in the normal sense of the word but to religious apologetics.

I asked why not appeal to the evidence itself rather than to the opinion of a scholar. That would not have been difficult because when we consult the footnote we come to New Testament scholar Helen Bond‘s Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation (the publication of her doctoral thesis supervised by Church of Scotland theologian Professor James Dunn) and if we consult that work we can see Bond had no trouble citing that evidence most succinctly:

That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the imperial Roman province of Judaea, is one of the surest facts of Christianity; it is attested not only by the earliest Christian traditions but also by the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44). (Bond, p. xi)

Christian tradition and a second century historian repeating what he knew from contemporary Christians. That’s all that is required to establish “one of the surest facts of Christian history.” I guess it sounds more convincing to say “no serious scholar doubts”.

The next paragraph begins:

Important as they are, however, these barest of historical facts — his existence and crucifixion — provide mere starting points for answering the important question of Jesus’s identity. 

Thus “historical facts” are the starting point for the all important theological question. Despite Albert Schweitzer’s protests and argument that theology was all the poorer for it, theology hangs upon “historical facts”.

Why start with the gospels? the new student may ask. Keith answers:

The four canonical Gospels are the earliest surviving sources for Jesus and offer the most robust statements on his identity.

Forget that Paul and any of the other epistolographers prior to the gospels wrote about Jesus and his identity.

In later chapters we will in fact see that the student is led to consistently interpret Paul through the gospels and even later rabbinic literature:

Visionary rabbis engaged in Merkabah mysticism, a speculative tradition beginning at least by the Common Era. (Paul seems to intimate such practices in Rom. 10: 6 and 2 Cor. 12: 1– 9.) 

. . .

Jesus’s temptation, then, translates into cosmological terms the dual principle of community found in the Pauline letters: “bear one another’s burdens. . . . All must carry their own loads” (Gal. 6: 2, 5).

. . .

The criterion of multiple attestation (see the sidebar on criteria) indicates that Jesus had disciples.[ 116] Accordingly, we find references to Jesus’s disciples in several writings of early Jesus followers. The earliest reference comes in Paul. Writing in the early 50s CE about Jesus’s resurrection appearances, Paul says, “and . . . he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15: 5).

Keith, Chris (2011-11-01). Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels (Kindle Locations 1313-1315;  1561-1562; 2146-2149). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[One may argue that each of the above statements is true but they are presented without argument and through a fallacious way of handling evidence. The book’s readers may be introductory students but that is all the more reason for teaching material to be careful in how it lays the subject’s foundations.]

Keith does inform students that the gospels are not the only ancient sources for Jesus but he still avoids any hint that Paul’s epistles might have value for the historian exploring the evidence for the earliest accounts of Jesus.

They are not the only ancient sources for Jesus, however. Jesus appears outside the canonical Gospels in the writings of Jewish and Greco-Roman authors from the first to the third centuries CE, as well as noncanonical Christian writings from the same period.

If this introduction to Jesus is any guide to how countless students have been introduced to Jesus studies we can understand why the New Testament letters have been interpreted through assumptions drawn from the gospels.


Scholarly controversies are swept under the carpet and the student is told that

[Josephus] mentions Jesus twice in his Jewish Antiquities

The strongest that doubt ever enters is with reference to the second of these mentions:

In one reference, he identifies James as “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.” A few scholars have thought the Christian scribes who preserved Josephus’s writings may have inserted this reference. The majority, however, affirm that this phrase was in Josephus’s original text, primarily because Josephus does not identify Jesus directly as the Christ but as someone called the Christ. If later Christians had modified the text, they likely would have identified Jesus as Christ rather than as a messianic claimant.

No argument for the “against”, one highly questionable argument for the “for”. And that’s it.

When it comes to the Testimonium Flavianum there is less doubt – apart from the obvious phrase that declares Jesus to have been the Christ, of course.

Although scarcely anyone doubts that Josephus wrote something about Jesus and his followers here, scholars are rightly skeptical that he wrote these exact words. Among other elements of the Testimonium, Josephus’s reference to Jesus as a wise man and miracle worker and his reference to Christians as a “tribe” have a greater claim to originating with Josephus. These references to Jesus fall far short of being full faith statements, and the description of Christians as a “tribe” is not a typical Christian way of referring to Jesus followers.

Keith, Chris (2011-11-01). Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels (Kindle Locations 564-568). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

After an extensive paragraph listing reasons to believe that Josephus wrote most but not all of the famous TF, and with no hint of any counter-arguments or the history of scholarly scepticism, Keith concludes:

For these reasons, one can affirm that Josephus did write about Jesus and his followers and likely considered Jesus a wise man and worker of miracles.

I know you’re wondering what those reasons are so:

  1. If Josephus really believed Jesus was the Christ he would have written more about him.
  2. If Josephus really believed Jesus was the Christ “it is difficult to explain why he elsewhere views the Roman emperor Vespasian as the divinely appointed deliverer of the Jews”.
  3. The context in which the passage appears is a list of negative events.
  4. The Arabic and Slavonic manuscripts demonstrate that scribes did modify Josephus’s work at different times.

. . . . to be concluded in next post.


  • Tim Widowfield
    2015-09-16 15:09:54 UTC - 15:09 | Permalink

    I was wondering if you, too, were struck by the fact that in Keith’s audio interview he protests strongly that we need to approach the text as the text, and stop trying to get “behind the text.” But then in his written work, he seems completely uninterested in the genre of the text, which you’d think would be the primary question. Rather than actually approach the text as the text and ask the basic questions — (1) What is this? (2) Who wrote it? (3) Why was it written? (4) What are the sources? (5) How were the traditions transmitted? — he wants to treat it immediately as a “historical narrative.”

    Ironically, Keith continually faults Bultmann for making assumptions about the text. However, Bultmann clearly stated that the first task of the form critic was to ask what the text is (its genre) even before we can start to ask how it came to be. You can argue that the form critics were wrong about the genre, as well as their assumptions about “laws” governing how the text was transmitted. But you at least have to give them credit for asking the right questions — questions the Memory Mavens simply forgot to ask.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-16 20:16:58 UTC - 20:16 | Permalink

      Richard Evans in In Defence of History observes that very often postmodernist historians become very dogmatic and that some critics have seen significance in the observation that many of them apparently belong to less than prestigious universities or to lower academic appointments than their peers. Keith is very dogmatic in addressing the foundations of his work — his work might even be said to be faith-based. (And St Mary’s at Twickenham is hardly of world-renown as a public university.)

      I did expect a work of higher academic standard even as an introductory text and was disappointed to find something so overtly theological. But then Le Donne did recommend it for seminarian students, not for public university courses. One is reminded that Le Donne himself holds a position at an institution that is dedicated to propagating the good news of Jesus. Le Donne was fired by a blunt apologist institution but appears to have found his home in a more sophisticated apologist one.

      • James Raynard
        2016-06-09 13:35:31 UTC - 13:35 | Permalink

        “St Mary’s at Twickenham is hardly of world-renown as a public university”

        St Mary’s was until recently a teacher training college, founded in 1850 to produce Roman Catholic schoolmasters – and, from 1966, schoolmistresses. It only became a University in 2014; nonetheless, it claims to be “the oldest Catholic university in the United Kingdom”.

        Its alumni list is dominated by actors, TV and radio presenters and athletes (none of them very well known), plus a couple of bishops. No mention of eminent scholars or distinguished researchers, in any discipline.

  • Evan
    2015-09-16 17:54:53 UTC - 17:54 | Permalink

    As I read it, the section Keith quotes from Bond ending “Christian history” is actually an inaccurate quotation and should end “Christianity.” Do you think this is a deliberate misquote to create a greater sense of historical veracity or is it a typo?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-16 19:42:33 UTC - 19:42 | Permalink

      You are correct. I had overlooked that misquotation. “Christianity” does change the point Keith is stressing. Whether deliberate or not I can’t say — it may be he was relying upon memory and we see here an illustration of Le Donne’s “memory refraction” at work as an illustration of how memories change to meet the ideological needs of each new recollector. 😉

      I have made a note on this in the post. Thanks so much for pointing it out.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2015-09-16 23:31:23 UTC - 23:31 | Permalink

        I thought maybe her original dissertation might have had a different wording, but no — it says “Christianity” in both the book published in 1998 and in her dissertation published in 1994.



        It’s worth the effort to check these sources. Nobody else is doing it.

        Evan, I very much doubt that any of this is deliberate. It’s just sloppy editing. For example, I spent a good chunk of time last night trying to track down a source from Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite. It didn’t help that he had written the title of the book and the title of the paper incorrectly.

  • Blood
    2015-09-17 00:40:27 UTC - 00:40 | Permalink

    My favorite aspect of the TF “partial forgery” theory is that there is never, ever an acknowledgement of how damaging this is to the credibility of the early church … anyone who felt free to literally re-write history in this utterly fraudulent matter was perfectly capable of inventing “gospels” and “lives of Jesus” wholesale. And yet people like Keith never act like it’s a problem at all. Somebody just got carried away with Josephus, that’s all.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2015-09-17 03:56:01 UTC - 03:56 | Permalink

      Agreed. Here are two other questions (among several) that I think scholars ignore:

      1. Why would Josephus expect his audience to have any idea what Christos means? Shouldn’t he have given at least a one-sentence explanation as to what “the oily one” meant? Is it a good thing?

      2. What might be missing? As soon as you concede that parts of the TF have been forged, then you have to admit that parts may have been excised or rewritten. That, in and of itself, should be enough to force us to admit, “We don’t have any idea what Josephus wrote, but it wasn’t this.”

      • Pofarmer
        2015-09-19 04:07:37 UTC - 04:07 | Permalink

        Just one other note, probably conspiracist nonsense. But, If Josephus could be altered, and it almost certainly was, then why couldn’t the James “brother of the Lord” passages have been altered in the same way for the same purpose. Easy Peasy. I nominate Eusebius.

  • Aaron
    2015-09-17 12:05:51 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

    That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the imperial Roman province of Judaea, is one of the surest facts of Christianity;

    Since the crucifixion under Pilate was made a creedal statement, which implies there was concern over another group that insisted Jesus wasn’t crucified and/or Pilate, I’m not sure how much of a bedrock “surest fact” of Christianity that is.

    • Pombal
      2015-09-17 17:03:54 UTC - 17:03 | Permalink

      Actually the fact that they made a creedal statement show’s they could not produce any official Roman Empire documents or any second hand testimonies or accounts. If what the Gospels said happened was true there would be records of such incredible event’s. And the proto orthodox if there were any records would have definitely preserved them. And there is plenty of evidence they forged and redacted writings.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-17 20:37:11 UTC - 20:37 | Permalink

      Indeed. And we have evidence of alternative views: the Gospel of Peter tells us that Jesus was crucified by Herod and Irenaeus that he was crucified in the reign of Claudius and “gnostics” saying he was not crucified at all or that he did not die by crucifixion.

    • John MacDonald
      2015-09-25 22:07:43 UTC - 22:07 | Permalink

      What can be said for certain about Jesus (eg. the crucifixion)?

      (1) Regarding the historicity of Jesus, the only two events subject to “almost universal assent” among New Testament Scholars are that (A) Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and (B) was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. (A) can somewhat be put into dispute because the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist seems to serve a theological function, and so can’t be traced back to the historical Jesus: Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.). He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on). And it would make sense Mark would model John the Baptist on Elijah because Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” And, as Price argues:

      “Jesus’ Baptism ( Mark 1:9-11)

      The scene has received vivid midrashic coloring. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.” And as William R. Stegner points out, Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice. In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.”

      (B) can somewhat be put into dispute because Paul says Jesus died “According to scripture (1 Cor 15:3),” which could either mean that (i) Jesus’s crucifixion was fulfilling scripture, or (ii) that Paul discovered Jesus’ crucifixion through an allegorical reading of Hebrew scriptures. In either case Jesus’ crucifixion in Paul serves a theological function, so it can be doubted as to whether it can be traced back to the historical Jesus. Paul also doesn’t mention Pilate, so this may be a Markan invention.

      (2) Elements whose historical authenticity is almost universally disputed include the two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus, the miraculous events including the resurrection, and details about the crucifixion (because of the apparent exegetical use of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 by Mark to construct the crucifixion narrative).

      Any more thoughts on if there are any indisputable data we have about the historical Jesus?

  • David Ashton
    2015-09-17 22:13:00 UTC - 22:13 | Permalink

    The reference to the “crucified sophist” and all the other extant early references to [Jesus] Christ outside the NT indicate a consensus that he was an actual person not just a totally imaginary supernatural deity, with one possible exception of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho where the Jew says that “Christ – if he has been born and exists anywhere – is unknown.” However, this would seem simply a challenge from Jewish expectation of the character of the true Messiah against the Christian theology. Any comments?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-17 22:42:38 UTC - 22:42 | Permalink

      As far as I am aware most references to Jesus outside the NT date from the time when major Christian cults — proto-orthodox and Marcionites at least — spoke of Jesus as having appeared on earth in historical time, whether as a real man or spirit in appearance as a man to be crucified at least.

      Except for the earliest reference we have, I think, which is Pliny’s letter. The Christ there is said to be no more than an odd sort of god.

      Josephus does not count as far as I’m concerned. I cannot believe that he mentioned anything at all about Jesus. The context of the TF just doesn’t allow for it.

      • David Ashton
        2015-09-18 10:25:12 UTC - 10:25 | Permalink

        Why didn’t the Jewish and pagan critics point out that Jesus never existed? Pliny didn’t actually say the Christ was “odd”. But I take your general chronological point. As for the TF your guess is as good as anyone’s. The erudite RC apologist Hilarin Felder in “Christ & the Critics” (my first boyhood initiation into these matters) also dismissed it altogether. What I am sceptical about is the assumption that HJ and his Palestinian disciples never existed in any shape or form, and could not have done so, and therefore everything that suggests otherwise must ipso facto be deliberate fake or elaborate fiction.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-18 11:04:37 UTC - 11:04 | Permalink

          The gospel narratives did not appear until the second century — or at the very earliest late first century. And the earliest of these sought to explain why no-one had ever heard the story until it was then written. I don’t understand why anyone would ever think to doubt Jesus had existed a generation or two or three earlier in pre-War Palestine. Or if anyone did, I don’t know what records would have been made of the doubt, by whom, or how they would have been preserved.

          • Pofarmer
            2015-09-19 04:11:07 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

            The ones who doubted wouldn’t have become Christians. It’s pretty simple.

        • Pombal
          2015-09-18 13:13:10 UTC - 13:13 | Permalink

          “Why didn’t the Jewish and pagan critics point out that Jesus never existed?”

          Any volumes that didn’t (embarrassingly) mention Jesus in an historical setting when they should have(Philo of Alexandria) were left to rot, not preserved or destroyed.

          • David Ashton
            2015-09-18 13:53:58 UTC - 13:53 | Permalink

            Possible but not proven.

            • Geoff
              2015-09-18 14:50:21 UTC - 14:50 | Permalink

              In my Jack Crabb analogy on McGrath’s website, I would say the same thing: if Jack Crabb never really existed, why didn’t anyone question his existence even really until now? In fact, we’ve known about Jack Crabb’s life since 1964 and between then and now, no one has thought to question whether he really existed.

            • Pombal
              2015-09-18 16:43:29 UTC - 16:43 | Permalink

              Philo of Alexandria wrote 5 volumes about his embassy to Caligula, we only have 2 volumes.
              One of the missing three was about persecution of Jews under Pilate in Judea. Christians would expect that volume to mention Pilates execution of Jesus and it probably did not mention it and given there track record i am suspicious. Its conveniently missing.

              • David Ashton
                2015-09-18 17:22:51 UTC - 17:22 | Permalink

                You could be right. Who knows? If there had been a reference to the execution of Jesus it would have suggested that he was a real person, not some retrospective creation by some literary geniuses, but if it contained anything supportive, even indirectly, of the NT narrative(s) no doubt the mythicists would claim that it was a Christian interpolation, alteration or forgery. I still think that this religion would never have got off the ground in the first place without a real HJ and his followers.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-18 21:31:46 UTC - 21:31 | Permalink

          The same could be asked of any number of mythical figures taken to be historical throughout history. I cannot recall now the sources but I can well imagine situations (e.g. Ned Ludd??) where voices at the time do raise doubts about the historicity of the figure but without effect. They are soon lost or drowned out — people believe because needs are being met.

          William Tell, — we know he originated as a mythical figure. One might ask how he ever came to be believed for so long to have been real. Surely some people in “the early days” knew he was not historical. Equally, clearly such voices were drowned out by “believers”.

          In the case of Jesus some scholars are ironically presenting us reasons for us to believe that Jesus was not responsible for Christian origins — and his lack of wider importance in his own day explains why he made no contemporary historical mark. It was the beliefs of his followers that produced Christianity, and Paul stresses the visionary and heavenly nature of the place of Christ in relation to believers.

          By the time stories emerged of Jesus’ earlier historical appearance (not with Mark, by the way, but with some time after Mark first appeared and was no longer interpreted symbolically) anyone who questioned the historical reality of Jesus would have been a voice soon lost in the wilderness.

          • David Ashton
            2015-09-18 23:28:09 UTC - 23:28 | Permalink

            William Tell, yes.
            Arthur, probably not. Robin Hood, probably not. Examination of the growth of legends is the useful area, and this could apply to Jesus and even Moses.

        • Pombal
          2015-09-18 22:53:10 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

          The patriarchs are considered non historical by most historians and Moses also, yet he like Jesus performed miracles, had a family and many followers. No mainstream historian today believes Deuteronomy was written by Moses let alone in his supposed century. So there is your model of a religion started by mythical people and events – Judaism in this example.

      • John MacDonald
        2015-09-26 23:59:22 UTC - 23:59 | Permalink

        In terms of Josephus’ TF:

        (1) Mythicists seem to have a point because When Ehrman reconstructs Josephus on page 61 of “Did Jesus Exist”, he takes out the word “messiah” as an interpolation and has, in part, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man … And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”

        Why would Josephus say a tribe of “Christians” were named after “Jesus?” That makes no sense. There should be no connection in Josephus’ mind between the Word “Jesus” and the word “Christian.” The word “Christian” is named after “Christ.” And “Christ” shouldn’t be here in Josephus. So there may be good reason to argue the last line is an interpolation. Christians are named after Christ, not Jesus.

        (2) However, as Dr. James McGrath points out even before we had Agapius’ version of the Testimonium Flavianum, some suspected that, rather than “He was the Christ” being an interpolation in its entirety, the original may have read “He was called/said to be Christ” or something along those lines. The later mention of James as the “brother of Jesus called Christ” would also fit well with this.

        • John MacDonald
          2015-09-27 01:22:36 UTC - 01:22 | Permalink

          Carrier disagrees with McGrath and argues “we know the Arabic of Agapius derives from Eusebius, via a later Syriac edition, and thus ‘he was believed to be’ is a later emendation and not an early form of the text. See On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 336-37, esp. w. n. 88 where I show that proposing the sequence the other way around requires the most improbable conspiracy theory, to alter three different manuscript traditions, and not just three manuscripts but all existing manuscripts of all three texts—that of the Jewish Antiquities, the Historia Ecclesiastica, and the Praeparatio Evangelica—when we know a single alteration in a single later Syriac manuscript explains all the evidence without any such astronomical improbability. So we know Eusebius had no knowledge of a ‘believed to be’ being in the text. On the rest, see OHJ, Ch. 8.9.”

    • Pombal
      2015-09-18 05:07:48 UTC - 05:07 | Permalink

      The proto orthodox were for the most part in control. They decided what the “consensus” was, there historical Jesus narrative. They also modified existing writings (TF) to support there narrative because they could. Imagine what else they might have done that we did not detect and is lost to history.

  • Ken Olson
    2015-09-18 17:54:54 UTC - 17:54 | Permalink

    To be fair to Chris Keith, he does cite my opinion on the Testimonium in n. 14 on p. 6, immediately following “a greater claim to originating with Jesus.”

    14. Cf., however, Ken Olson, who argues that the Testimonium as we have it reflects so
    much Eusebian influence that Josephus’s original is unrecoverable (“A Eusebian Reading of
    the Testimonium Flavianum” [paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical
    Literature, New Orleans, LA, November 23, 2009]).

    Dr. Keith presented in the SBL Historical Jesus section with me that year, and subsequently contacted me about the TF when he was researching the book. I was making major revisions at the time and didn’t feel the paper was ready to circulate, but I did answer some of his questions about my position. I contacted Dr. Keith again when the much-revised version of the paper was published and he asked if I’d be interested in doing a guest post on the Testimonium on The Jesus Blog, which I did, including a link to the paper.


    In the comments on the post, Dr. Keith wrote:

    “Ken, thanks for this interesting post! I confess my guilt in being one of the people who have simply repeated scholarly consensus in publication! You’ve given us much to ponder. All that oversight is good for your PhD, though!”

    Any scholar might lapse into simply repeating scholarly consensus in publication rather than investigating every issue for him or herself. I’ve certainly done it on occasion myself. But I think it’s important not to confuse this with willful neglect or deliberate misrepresentation of the opposing case, which admittedly occurs far more often than it should.



    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-18 21:52:55 UTC - 21:52 | Permalink

      Thanks, Ken. If my memory is not deceiving me when I first read that footnote what struck me was that Keith suggested no more than that your arguments made the original words of Josephus unrecoverable. My own take on your arguments was that we have grounds for rejecting the entire passage as a Christian interpolation.

      You’ve had more positive relations with Chris Keith than I have. My only exchange with him was when he forwarded me a spam email from a Nigerian banker in response to my approach to him once to share a review on this blog about which another scholar had positive things to say. I have since learned of his close association with Larry Hurtado who also seemed to be going out of his way to distorting a few of my comments in negative ways to treat me as some sort of anti-Christian and anti-intellectual bigot.

      It’s a shame, because I found some of Hurtado’s work quite rewarding reading and would have loved to have had a serious exchange of views with Keith on historical methodology.

      But that’s another story.

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