2015-11-18

“Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists” by Raphael Lataster w/ Richard Carrier

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by Neil Godfrey

doubtBy Richard Carrier in his Introduction to a new book, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists:

In early 2014 I published On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. It passed professional peer review. It was published by a major, well-respected academic press that specialized in Biblical Studies, Sheffield-Phoenix, the publishing arm of the University of Sheffield. And it is the first book of such tested merit to argue that Jesus probably did not exist. It argues instead that Jesus began life as a revelatory archangel, and was transferred to human history decades later through the writing of myths for educational, missionary, and propagandistic purposes. This would have proceeded, in both cause and procedure, much like the invention of the life and teachings and miracles of Moses, whom the mainstream Academy now concedes probably did not exist.

Now late in 2015, the book you hold in your hand, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists by Raphael Lataster, contains the first thorough and expert treatment of my argument in print. In fact his chapter summarizing my book is the best brief summary I have read anywhere. . . . 

And his book as a whole is the first analysis of its argument from anyone of graduate status or above in a relevant field that does not ignore or lie about its contents. Its motivation is evident from its author’s argument: Biblical studies is inhabited by experts too close to the material to approach so controversial a question critically. Someone who hasn’t settled their careers and access to grants and conference invites on there being a historical Jesus is indeed needed, to look objectively at what’s going on.

That there is a problem is widely acknowledged within the field itself. It has been remarked on by numerous observers, from John Crossan, who would write the famous line describing most historical work on Jesus “a disguise for doing theology and calling it history, doing autobiography and calling it biography, doing Christian apologetics and calling it academic scholarship”, and who then ironically did pretty much the very same thing himself, to James Crossley, who has argued that historians keep constructing a historical Jesus that conveniently agrees with who they want Jesus to have been, even writing two whole books on the point: Jesus in an Age of Terror and Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism.[ 2] That the problem is even more extensive than this is demonstrated by Hector Avalos in The End of Biblical Studies. These are all leading insiders, well qualified in the subject.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 37-59). . Kindle Edition.

First heard via John Loftus of Debunking Christianity: New Book by Raphael Lataster and Richard Carrier: “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists”

I’ll no doubt be writing more about this book.

40 Comments

  • Lowen Gartner
    2015-11-19 21:44:11 UTC - 21:44 | Permalink

    This book is included in Kindle Unlimited.

  • George Hall
    2015-11-19 23:13:01 UTC - 23:13 | Permalink

    Just out of curiosity, is there a similar book on the same topic, but with the debate being among believers?

    It’s almost a given with atheists, but what studies have been done regarding Christians who realize they may have to ask the same question? Did Jesus exist?

    It’s interesting to be of Christian background, spend almost all your life in belief of his existence, then come to terms the evidence might point to the fact he did not.

  • 2015-11-19 23:57:44 UTC - 23:57 | Permalink

    “Biblical Studies is inhabited by experts [who are] too close to the material to approach so controversial a question critically.”

    Ditto the subject of Roman crucifixion. It appears that all scholars with Ph. D. degrees in relevant fields who study it have some vested emotional interest in a certain cruci-fiction and a certain type of cross the Romans would never fabricate to hang a criminal from it, with nails. Although Gunnar Samuelsson at least did a competent study, whereas, from what I’ve seen of his work (including quite a few mistranslations from Latin ), John Granger Cook appears very wedded to “The Cross” when evidence tells him otherwise.

    Maybe Richard Carrier or another qualified unbelieving scholar can do a disinterested study on it; I remember Richard called the device a stick, shaped like a tee.

  • John MacDonald
    2015-11-20 20:27:07 UTC - 20:27 | Permalink

    Can anyone recommend the book? Is it worth picking up?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-11-20 21:29:42 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

      I have begun reading it, but am doing so slowly and am still in the preliminary pages before the first chapter. I’ll probably post ideas arising from it from time to time.

      • John MacDonald
        2015-11-20 21:41:56 UTC - 21:41 | Permalink

        Thanks. I’ll wait to hear your thoughts on it before I pick it up.

  • Darth Ballz
    2017-06-01 23:12:02 UTC - 23:12 | Permalink

    I’m about half way through Lataster’s book. He makes the interesting point that Jesus and his atoning death that effectively rendered useless the temple cult “coincidentally” emerged at just the time in history when a big problem for the Jews was the “inaccessibility caused by the temple being controlled by the Roman-loving Temple cult. One noteworthy example would be the more ‘progressive’ Pharisees, what with their synagogues and Old Torah, who had less need for the Temple; likewise the Essenes who thought the Temple leadership so corrupt that they developed and performed their own religious rituals elsewhere. (Lataster, Jesus Did Not Exist, 223-224)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-06-02 02:26:08 UTC - 02:26 | Permalink

      Worth comparing this viewpoint of the state of play re the temple with the one expressed by Stanley K. Stowers: http://vridar.org/2017/05/31/earliest-christianity-did-not-look-like-a-religion/

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-06-02 03:55:46 UTC - 03:55 | Permalink

        Thanks for the link. I read it. Very interesting.

        I’m trying to put together the big picture:

        1) Love seems to be a central theme of early Christianity.
        Paul wrote

        – 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not give false testimony, You shall not covet,” and if there are any other commandments, are summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love works no evil to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

        Paul seems to echo the commandment of love as we find it in Mark:

        – The Great Commandment: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them reasoning together. Perceiving that Jesus had answered them well, he asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. 30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

        (2) The problem of trying to create a benevolent, just society was that the Christians believed the central feature of that society, the Temple, was corrupt. Mark has Jesus say: “17Then He began to teach them and declare, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17). Jesus and his atoning death that effectively rendered useless the temple cult “coincidentally” emerged at just the time in history when a big problem for the Jews was, as Lataster says, the “inaccessibility caused by the temple being controlled by the Roman-loving Temple cult.”

        (3) To rectify this problem, the first Christians invented a story of an atoning Christ, keeping the philosophy of love paramount, but substituting the temple cult with, to use Paul’s words, a simple and pure (2 Cor 11:3-5) faith in Christ.

        • Darth Ballz
          2017-06-02 20:04:33 UTC - 20:04 | Permalink

          It’s interesting to speculate about that other faction of early Christianity that didn’t preach atonement (who Paul says taught another Christ and another Gospel). Scholars like Tabor and Wilson theorize they might be a more direct line to what the historical Jesus taught, rather than the atonement theology of Paul meant to replace the temple cult. Dr. Tabor speculates in “Paul and Jesus” that the Jesus movement, as opposed to Paul’s Christianity, may have believed in something like what we see in the Didache. It’s hard to get at them because Paul’s Christianity colors so much of the New Testament.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-06-03 00:18:44 UTC - 00:18 | Permalink

            I have my doubts that Paul did teach an “atonement theology”. Paul, it can be argued, taught only that Christ conquered the powers of the demonic world to release us from death. A rather “crude” message of the hero rescuing the captives from the power of their captor.

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-06-03 00:21:35 UTC - 00:21 | Permalink

              “Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3).”

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-03 00:39:54 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

                Why Many Interpolations in Paul’s Letters are Very Likely

                Several scholars have offered reasons for 1 Cor 15:3 not being authentically Pauline but a later redaction.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-03 01:23:53 UTC - 01:23 | Permalink

                Regarding the Corinthian Creed, Ehrman says:

                “It is widely thought that it may have been some kind of creed that was recited in the Christian churches, or possibly a statement of faith that was to be recited by recent converts at their baptism, a creed that is being quoted by Paul here (not composed by him when writing the letter).  It is often thought to have been crafted by someone other than Paul.  It was a tradition floating around in the church that encapsulated the Christian faith, putting it all in a nutshell. Paul inherited this creed, just as he inherited the theology it embodies.  He didn’t invent the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation.  That was the view of Christians before him.”

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-03 01:34:18 UTC - 01:34 | Permalink

                Ehrman also points out that Paul saying he received the Corinthian Creed from others doesn’t contradict the claim that he received his gospel directly from Christ. Ehrman writes:

                “What does Paul mean in his letter to the Galatians when he says that he did not receive his gospel from humans but direct from God through a revelation of Jesus?  Does he mean that he was the one (through direct divine inspiration) who came up with the idea that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than, say, Jesus’ life and teachings, that brings salvation?  And if so, doesn’t that mean that Paul himself would be the founder and creator of Christianity, since Christianity is not the religion of Jesus himself, but the religion about Jesus, rooted in faith in his death and resurrection?

                It may seem like that’s the case, but it’s not.  Not at all.   The belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection were around before Paul and that Paul inherited this belief from Christians who were before him (the pre Pauline Corinthian Creed).   But then what would Paul mean when he explicitly says in Galatians 1:11-12 “For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me – that it is not a human affair; for I neither received it from a human nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”?

                That sure sounds like he is saying that his gospel message came straight from Jesus, not from humans, right?  Yes, right, it does sound that way.  But it’s important to know – and not just to assume – what Paul means by his “gospel” in this passage.  He doesn’t mean what you might at first think he means.

                Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with a rebuke.   Uncharacteristically, he does not start the letter by thanking God for the congregation.  On the contrary, he’s angry and he tells them so.  He says that he is “astonished” that the Galatians are “deserting” the one who “called” them in order to turn to a “different gospel.”  He goes on to say that if anyone preaches a “different gospel” from the one that he preached when he converted them to the faith – even if it’s an “angel from heaven” – that one stands under God’s curse.   The gospel that Paul first proclaimed to them is the only true gospel and any other gospel is not a gospel at all.

                To understand what he means it is important to know what the historical situation is that Paul is addressing in the letter to the Galatians.  The situation becomes pretty clear in the context of his comments.  Paul had established this church (or these churches) among gentiles (pagans) in central Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  After he left the region to start churches elsewhere, other Christian missionaries arrived who taught the Christians in Galatia a different version of the faith.
                According to these others, faith founded on Jesus was a fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures (on this Paul agreed).  Jesus was the Jewish messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfilment of the Jewish law.  Thus, for these other missionaries, to believe in Jesus required a person to be a Jew.  Yes, gentiles could join the people of God and find salvation through Jesus.  But to join the people of God – they had to join the people of God!  The people of God were the Jewish people.  God had given his people a sign to show that they were distinct from all other people on earth.  This is way back in the Old Testament where God tells the father of the Jews, Abraham, that everyone who belongs to the coventant community needs to be circumcised (see Genesis 17).  Jews are circumcised.  Those who convert to Judaism need to be circumcised.  Belonging to the people of God means being circumcised.  The Christian believers in Galatia need to be circumcised.  When God gave the covenant of circumcision to Abraham, he called it an “eternal covenant.”  It wasn’t a temporary measure.  It was permanent.  And God had not changed is mind.  So say Paul’s opponents.
                P
                aul writes his letter to the Galatians in shock, disbelief, and white hot anger.  This is NOT, this is DECIDEDLY NOT, what he had taught the Galatians when he converted them.   Paul’s view was that the death and resurrection of Christ was absolutely the goal to which God’s plan of salvation had been moving from the days of Abraham.  But the point of Jesus’ death was that it brought salvation to all people, Jew and Gentile.  Salvation could not come by keeping the law of God, starting with circumcision.  If the Law could make someone right with God, then there would have been no reason for Christ to have died.  A person could just get circumcised and join the Jewish people.  But salvation didn’t work that way.  Salvation came only through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And since it came apart from the law, a person could participate in it apart from the law.

                This was the “gospel” that Paul preached.  When Paul indicates that a salvation came completely “apart from the works of the Law,” he is not saying that salvation comes apart from doing any good deeds — the way Martin Luther and most Protestants since his day have read Paul (until the last 50 years).  Luther read “works of the Law” as “doing good works” – that is “earning one’s salvation.  But that’s taking Paul out of context.  Paul instead is saying that no one needs to do the demands of the Jewish law (such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher food) to be right with God.  One needs only faith in Christ.  As he says most clearly in Galatians (in a message he remembers having forcefully delivered to Peter, Jesus’ disciple), “We ourselves (i.e., he and Peter), who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 2:15-16).

                When Paul speaks of the gospel that he preached to the Galatians, this was it.  This is what he learned directly from a revelation of Jesus.  He did not learn merely that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation.   This is what other Christians before Paul were saying; that was the belief held by those Paul had been persecuting.  What Paul came to realize when he “saw the light” – that is, when Christ appeared to him after his resurrection – was that this message of salvation was for gentiles as well as Jews.  And it was to go to gentiles without them first having to become Jews.  The salvation of Christ was for all people, Jew and gentile, and was not tied to observing the practices prescribed in the Jewish law.    Paul was the one who first realized this (he claims).  His mission to the gentile lands was part of God’s plan of salvation.  God now was working to save not only the Jews, but also the gentiles.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-03 04:47:02 UTC - 04:47 | Permalink

                Ehrman’s ramble is just a lot of waffle trying to disguise the fact that he is trying to find a way to directly contradict what Paul wrote, and that many other critical scholars also acknowledge. Compare my recent William O. Walker Jr’s post — he at least has the honesty to admit the plain sense of what Paul wrote.

                Many of Ehrman’s comments like the one you quote read as if they have been lifted straight from an undergraduate’s text at an apologist’s seminary. Ehrman can be quite critical when he wants to be. But often in addressing the public he dumbs down to the point of abandoning all his critical nous and even appears to have forgotten or not even kept up with the scholarly literature that critically assesses these topics.

                Paul is very clear and consistent that his gospel is “Christ crucified”, and he does not imply that it is merely a subtle interpretation of applying the law differently for different races that is worthy of the intervention of divine curses. Ehrman’s interpretation can only be arrived at after a lot of exhausting non sequiturs that leave a reader pummelled into accepting the conclusion from mental exhaustion.

                It is significant that you have to quote him at length to convey what he appears to be trying to argue against what critical scholars know full well about Paul’s gospel and what he says here in Galatians.

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-06-03 00:30:32 UTC - 00:30 | Permalink

              From the post from the other day you wrote:

              Early Christian groups did not look anything like the above religious communities. They lacked
              temples
              ties to land
              animal and other types of sacrifice
              agricultural festivals or festivals for other types of productivity
              They also lacked rituals and other practices related to intergenerational continuity, not having
              rituals for birth and death
              sacrificial practices related to purification from birth and death pollution
              sacred spaces, i.e. altars, so that purity and pollution became moral metaphors
              nothing like circumcision
              no marriage rituals or sacrifices (Paul did not even encourage marriage!)

              This would make sense if Paul thought faith in the atoning death of Christ replaced the Temple cult.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-03 00:36:53 UTC - 00:36 | Permalink

                And after all, Paul says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”’ (Galatians 3:13)

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-03 00:55:48 UTC - 00:55 | Permalink

                That passage ties in directly and most simply with the view that Jesus rescued humans from death. I don’t think that’s “atonement theology”. It could just as well fit as a commentary on the Beloved’s sacrifice in the Ascension of Isaiah. Perhaps we have different views on what is meant by that term.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-03 00:49:14 UTC - 00:49 | Permalink

                Every hypothesis needs to be tested. We can always find ways (hypotheses) to explain whatever we see but the trick is to test them, to look for evidence to disprove them. Otherwise we are most likely falling into the sin of confirmation bias.

                Often we read that a hypothesis would make sense of certain data, but that view must always remain hypothetical until tested against alternatives, predictions and the hard evidence itself.

                Atoning death is far from being the only (or even simplest) hypothesis to make sense of Paul.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-03 02:05:31 UTC - 02:05 | Permalink

                Regarding the mythicist atonement interpretation of Paul, Carrier writes:

                “The peer reviewed mythicist thesis is that the first Christians genuinely believed there was an archangel named Jesus who underwent a cosmic ordeal to fix the universe using standard Jewish atonement magic (OHJ Chapters 3 and 4). They “met” this Jesus in visions and “discovered” what he said and what happened to him by finding hidden messages in the Old Testament (this is not conjecture; we know it for a fact: OHJ, Chapter 12.3-4).” http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/10134

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-03 05:04:13 UTC - 05:04 | Permalink

                Carrier glosses over the scholarly debate on whether or not the earliest Christian cult considered Jesus’ death to be “an atoning sacrifice” on pages 92 and 93 and cites 4 passages 3 of which have been subject to some question as to their authenticity. I don’t think Carrier’s larger argument is affected, however.

        • Darth Ballz
          2017-06-03 02:18:31 UTC - 02:18 | Permalink

          Carrier agrees on this point. He writes:

          ‘A better question is “Why did they invent the idea that the messiah got crucified?” Because they needed one, is the mythicist answer. It accomplished what they needed: the elimination of dependence on the Jewish temple cult and its Jewish leadership. It also created a plausible Jewish variant of a massively popular fashion among salvation cults at the time.’ http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/10134

    • Darth Ballz
      2017-06-03 20:02:59 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

      Lataster seems to be a little hyper skeptical concerning Paul. Lataster writes:

      “[e]ven if Paul did refer to an Earthly and historical Jesus, which seems increasingly unlikely, it would not be decisive, as he, like the Gospel authors, is certainly not a trustworthy historian (Lataster, JDNE, pg. 242 note 491).”

      He dismisses the Gospels and Paul a priori!

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-06-12 19:01:39 UTC - 19:01 | Permalink

        I just wanted to share one further thing about the book “”Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015).”  Carrier sums up a core aspect of the prior probability of his position in the afterword to the book when he writes:

        “It must be acknowledged that unlike most average people in antiquity, Jesus belongs to several reference classes that more commonly contain mythical people than historical ones … Worshipped dying-and-rising savior gods.  Conveniently exemplary counter-culture heroes.  Tragic god-kings.  Suffering righteous holy men.  Angels.  Pre-existent creator beings … It must be acknowledged that all of the non-existent dying-and-rising savior gods, conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes, tragic god-kings, and suffering righteous holy men, were all placed in earth history somehow and somewhen, often with whole biographies.  Not one was left without this development.  Whether they actually existed was never relevant to this outcome … It must be acknowledge that these two facts entail Jesus is more likely to be non-existent, like them.  Not certainly to be.  But more likely.  Because that is true of all the others:  most dying and rising savior gods placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most tragic god-kings placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most angels and pre-existent creator beings are mythical … We cannot privilege Jesus.  If they are most likely to be mythical, he is most likely to be mythical (Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015), pp. 417-418).”

        Carrier commits such a glaring non sequitur here it is a wonder the God of Logic didn’t have an aneurism when Carrier wrote it, lol.  It is irrelevant that Jesus fits into these reference classes, because while this might suggest he was mythical, it just as easily might suggest that Jesus was being interpreted as being greater than figures like Moses and Dionysus, and so it makes sense that there would be some legendary material added to his biography.  Think about it!  If you were telling stories about a man who you thought was terrific beyond words, would you talk of him in terms of being a normal average guy, or better than the best heroes you know of?I think what people need to come to realize is that Carrier’s appeal to fantastic sounding math is just a show with no actual conceptual rigor standing behind it.  Whether other non-existent being belong to a certain reference class is not evidence that Jesus was non existent, since there is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why an historical Jesus would have such legendary embellishment.  It certainly isn’t evidence in favor of the contention that Jesus didn’t exist.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-06-13 01:30:25 UTC - 01:30 | Permalink

          Are you reading any of my responses to your criticisms? You seem to be repeating the same criticisms again and again despite my attempts to point out to you the several key points where I am sure you are mistaken. Your understanding of Carrier’s argument does not match what I read and what I have pointed out several times now in response to comments like this one.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-06-13 02:13:08 UTC - 02:13 | Permalink

          It is irrelevant that Jesus fits into these reference classes, because while this might suggest he was mythical, it just as easily might suggest that Jesus was being interpreted as being greater than figures like Moses and Dionysus, and so it makes sense that there would be some legendary material added to his biography.

          I have addressed this criticism in my responses to your comments several times now. Please do engage in a discussion.

          You say the mythical features were “added to” the biography of Jesus. But that’s simply not what we read in the gospels. There is no biography of Jesus apart from those mythical and theological and literary-mimetic-emulative details. In cases of historical persons who were compared with great legendary or mythical figures of the past we can always remove the mythical comparisons and elements and still be left with a historical biography. That is simply not the situation with Jesus. If we remove the mythical/theological elements from Jesus we have nothing left, just as if we removed the mythical elements from Zeus or Heracles we are left with zilch.

          In other words, we can explain Jesus entirely by what we see in the gospels — myth and theology. There is no need for any other explanation to explain details of his life. Occam’s razor. That is not how it works with figures like Socrates or Alexander or Hadrian etc.

          Further, you seem to be confusing “evidence in favour” of a proposition with “proof” of a proposition. Have you read my other comments explaining the real significance of Carrier’s probability argument and starting assumptions? You are correct and Carrier would not dispute that the RR archetypes do not “prove” Jesus was nonexistent. Not at all. But I am repeating myself. Please indicate that you do read my replies.

          • Darth Ballz
            2017-06-13 16:25:05 UTC - 16:25 | Permalink

            The natural reference class for Jesus is ‘purported Jewish messianic figures’, and they all exist.

          • Darth Ballz
            2017-06-13 17:31:51 UTC - 17:31 | Permalink

            Hi Neil

            I have 2 points I would like to offer to the discussion:

            1. I’m afraid you commit the possible/probable fallacy when you make the overgeneralization that “There is no biography of Jesus apart from those mythical and theological and literary-mimetic-emulative details.”

            Take the following example from Robert M. Price when he tries to deny the historicity of Mark (16:1-8):

            “The Empty Tomb (16:1-8)
            Crossan (p. 274) and Miller and Miller (pp. 219, 377) note that the empty tomb narrative requires no source beyond Joshua (=Jesus, remember!) chapter 10. The five kings have fled from Joshua, taking refuge in the cave at Makkedah. When they are discovered, Joshua orders his men to “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (10:18). Once the mopping-up operation of the kings’ troops is finished, Joshua directs: “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave” (10:22). “And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (10:26-27). Observe that here it is “Jesus” who plays the role of Pilate, and that Mark needed only to reverse the order of the main narrative moments of this story. Joshua 10: first, stone rolled away and kings emerge alive; second, kings die; third, kings are crucified until sundown. Mark: Jesus as King of the Jews is crucified, where his body will hang till sundown; second, he dies; third, he emerges alive (Mark implies) from the tomb once the stone is rolled away.
                         The vigil of the mourning women likely reflects the women’s mourning cult of the dying and rising god, long familiar in Israel (Ezekiel 8:14, “Behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz;” Zechariah 12:11, “On that day the mourning in  Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo;” Canticles 3:1-4, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but found him not; I called him but he gave no answer,” etc.).”

            This analysis demonstrates a “possible” typological origin for the empty tomb pericope. But possible doesn’t mean probable. Tombs with stones rolled in front of them were simply a part of life back then, so there is no reason to assume Mark’s story has a literary genesis rather than an historical one.

            2. I completely agree that historical Jesus research has put into dispute the historicity virtually every element of the Jesus portrait with exception of the Baptism and the crucifixion. I would even go further to say the Baptism may be modelled on Elijah’s bequeathing of a double portion of his power to Elisha, and the crucifixion could have been invented out of whole cloth by an allegorical reading of Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Deuteronomy 21:23 (which Paul cites saying “13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” – Galatians 3:13), and is possibly modelled after Plato’s example of the impaled just man (Republic, 362a).

            But literary parallels are irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed. The fact we have identified a “possible” literary imitation doesn’t mean the imitation must be true, or even the case for an entire pericope.

            For instance, Matthew’s Jesus infancy story recapitulates the story of Moses.  Does this mean (1) the author of Matthew started with facts about Jesus and then added material to make it resemble the account of Moses, or (2) The author of Matthew started with the account in the Old Testament about Moses and then rewrote it using Jesus as the central character?”  This is a hard and sophisticated question. The two possibilities represent two poles of possibility, with lots of room in between.

            So Neil, you simply assume too much when you argue from the proposition that a pericope “may” involve literary imitation, to the unjustified conclusion that the genesis and entire content of the pericope is entirely fictional.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-06-14 09:09:44 UTC - 09:09 | Permalink

              The fact we have identified a “possible” literary imitation doesn’t mean the imitation must be true, or even the case for an entire pericope.

              Am I right in thinking you really are ignoring most of my replies to your comments?

              Or perhaps you do not understand them. If that is the case it would be useful if you asked for clarification.

              Tombs with stones rolled in front of them were simply a part of life back then, so there is no reason to assume Mark’s story has a literary genesis rather than an historical one.

              I addressed this same comment of yours back on 23rd May in the thread on the Carrier/Lataster post.

              If you wish to comment then I request that you do so in the spirit of wanting to engage in a critical discussion and engage with replies that try to suggest problems with your arguments.

              Otherwise I will have to conclude you are only here to troll.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-06-14 09:21:13 UTC - 09:21 | Permalink

              Darth, please reply to this comment so I know that you are interested in genuine discussion.

              So Neil, you simply assume too much when you argue from the proposition that a pericope “may” involve literary imitation, to the unjustified conclusion that the genesis and entire content of the pericope is entirely fictional.

              I have never “simply assumed” what you say here. I have always presented a sound methodological argument. I don’t understand why you have simply ignored it.

              Please engage with it here.

              If we have a story X and we can see on the basis of widely agreed criteria that there are many sound reasons for concluding that story X is modelled on story Y, then in the absence of any other evidence we are justified in concluding that story X is indeed derived from story Y.

              That does not prove that there might also be a historical factor X that inspired the same story. But we need evidence before we can assume that X did influence the story. If the explanation that story Y is sufficient to explain story X, then it is sound method to believe story Y is the origin of story X. It is not sound method to believe story X comes from BOTH story Y AND historical factor X without evidence.

              That does not mean we close our minds to the possibility that historical factor X played a part. It may have. But we need to wait till evidence emerges before we accept that is the case.

              We can’t just say that a story is based on historical factor X because “it could have been”. We need evidence.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-14 19:30:20 UTC - 19:30 | Permalink

                Neil, I am understanding perfectly what you are arguing. I am just disagreeing with you.

                (1) Neil said: “If we have a story X and we can see on the basis of widely agreed criteria that there are many sound reasons for concluding that story X is modelled on story Y, then in the absence of any other evidence we are justified in concluding that story X is indeed derived from story Y.”

                – In such as case, it would be unclear whether the story is being invented according to the model, or taking a few historical elements and largely shaping them according to the model. And regarding Jesus, if it could be shown that many or most pericopes resemble prior types, this is still not evidence in favor of the claim that the subject of these stories never existed.

                (2) Neil said: “That does not prove that there might also be a historical factor X that inspired the same story. But we need evidence before we can assume that X did influence the story. If the explanation that story Y is sufficient to explain story X, then it is sound method to believe story Y is the origin of story X. It is not sound method to believe story X comes from BOTH story Y AND historical factor X without evidence.”

                – It’s a paralogism to conclude from the fact that since we have no reason to conclude historical factor X “inspired” the story, to the assumption historical factor X wasn’t “included” in the story. That the inspiration of a pericope can be traced back to a previous type is irrelevant to the question of whether that pericope contains historical nuggets – even if we can’t find them. Building a positive case for mythicism means moving beyond the claim that a pericope seems to be influenced by literary source Y, to the claim there is good reason to think there is no historical content.

                (3) Neil said “That does not mean we close our minds to the possibility that historical factor X played a part. It may have. But we need to wait till evidence emerges before we accept that is the case. We can’t just say that a story is based on historical factor X because ‘it could have been’. We need evidence.”

                – In the same way, we can’t make a positive case for mythicism by saying we can’t conclusively detect historicity in a pericope, so we can conclude there probably isn’t any.

                One big problem for the mythicist position is that positing a “possible” literary imitation model for a particular for a New Testament pericope requires considerable evidence to grow beyond the status of “mere possibility” to “probable complete basis for the pericope excluding any historical content.” .

                For instance, I am currently reading amateur bible enthusiast David Fitzgerald’s three volume work “Jesus: Mything In Action (2017).” Fitzgerald tries to argue in favor of a positive case for mythicism by tracing New Testament pericopes back to Hebrew Scripture and Greek literary types, as is the common tactic among mythicists. But Fitzgerald is betrayed by his own analysis when he concedes things like, regarding Simon the Cyrenaean and sons and his argument for possible imitation, that besides his own analysis, “there are other intriguing ‘possibilities’ [of imitation], (Volume 1, pg 283).” Crying “literary dependence” here is not “probable,” but merely “possible.” We can push this deconstructive reading of Fitzgerald further in showing how bankrupt mythicism is for providing a ‘positive’ case for literary dependence when Fitzgerald writes a little further down the page that: “If all these [apparent examples of imitation] sound unduly speculative, we should keep in mind there is every bit as much evidence for any one of these theories as for the notion that [the example in question] … derives from authentic historical tradition (Volume 1, pg.283).” In other words, Fitzgerald spends three books arguing against the historicity of Jesus’ various characterizations in the New Testament (some of which are interesting), while failing to offer positive evidence in favor of mythicism using the core mythicist’s “imitation argument.” Not exactly a major accomplishment for a book series called “Jesus: Mything In Action.”

                And even in cases of obvious literary dependence, like when Amy-Jill Levine points out that Jesus’ infancy narrative in Matthew recapitulates the story of Moses, does this mean (1) Matthew started with some facts about the historical Jesus and then shaped them to imitate the story of Moses in the Hebrew scriptures, or did Matthew start with the story of Moses and then invent the infancy of Jesus out of whole cloth? This is a hard and sophisticated question, with two poles of possibility with lots of room in between, and so excludes the mythicist from citing apparent literary dependence as a positive argument in favor of mythicism.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-14 20:07:02 UTC - 20:07 | Permalink

                And on some level, Fitzgerald understands constructing an argument that shows the Gospels are not reliable sources of history about Jesus is not evidence that Jesus didn’t exist, it’s just that the Gospels are very problematic sources for extracting historical information. Hence, Fitzgerald writes:

                “Even if we still insist there once was a real Jesus somewhere under all these layers of allegory and symbolism, any idea that any of the evangelists are faithfully recording Jesus’ biography as it really happened goes out the window when you see how freely all four felt to invent events and shuffle them around in time and space. This is theology, not history (Vol 1, pg. 293).

                So Neil, as you can see, building a negative case for the unreliability of the Gospels as sources of information about the historical Jesus does nothing to make the positive case that Jesus didn’t exist, because, to use Carrier’s language, a completely legendary account of Jesus would be just as much expected on minimal historicity as it would on minimal mythicism.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-14 23:59:06 UTC - 23:59 | Permalink

                And I will concede that higher criticism has left it basically impossible to say anything about the historical Jesus, if he did exist. It has ever raised significant questions about the historicity of the crucifixion, as Fitzgerald competently illustrates in volume 1 of J:MIA

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-15 13:35:37 UTC - 13:35 | Permalink

                Darth, Can you please indicate you have read this comment and respond directly with its arguments?

                Your comments only tell me you have not comprehended what I have written at all. You are not addressing my points but actually avoiding what I have argued or changing it to something else I have never argued.

                That is not “disagreeing with” me. That is ignoring me and simply repeating yourself.

                Take just the first point you wrote:

                (1) Neil said: “If we have a story X and we can see on the basis of widely agreed criteria that there are many sound reasons for concluding that story X is modelled on story Y, then in the absence of any other evidence we are justified in concluding that story X is indeed derived from story Y.”

                – In such as case, it would be unclear whether the story is being invented according to the model, or taking a few historical elements and largely shaping them according to the model.

                I was not talking about what mythicists do, let me be clear. I was talking about what mainstream biblical scholars do when they study how NT writers rewrote parts of the OT. They use criteria and apply them strictly. (For examples of a number of criteria see http://vridar.org/2007/09/20/3-criteria-lists-for-literary-borrowing/)

                The whole point of the criteria to decide if a text has almost certainly being borrowed and rewritten from another story is to be sure we are not guessing or making things up but that we have very visible and concrete and strongly valid reasons, evidence, to support our claim for a rewriting of an earlier text. Dale Allison is one such biblical scholar who is certainly no mythicist and he wrote a book attempting to show where sections of the gospel of Matthew were a direct rewriting of the story of Moses.

                If you don’t accept that sort of method — something used outside biblical scholarship, too, by the way — then you are dismissing an important area of recognized scholarship that is used by scholars who have no interest in mythicism.

                We CAN know through sound scholarly methods if there is a very strong chance that one text is a rewriting of another.

                The second point is that if there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE to tell us that a story derives from other historical sources then we are not being intellectually honest if we keep thinking that there MAY have been historical sources. NO Evidence for a thesis forces the intellectually honest person to accept the conclusion that there is NO REASON to believe the thesis.

                But that does not mean we become dogmatic and close our minds to the possibility that one day evidence will emerge. We always keep an open mind that new evidence might emerge and change things. But until that time comes we have NO REASON to believe the thesis for which there is at present NO Evidence.

                That leads to the conclusion:

                On one hand we DO have evidence that a story was a rewriting of another story. On the other hand we have NO evidence that there was any historical source for the story.

                Therefore there is only one intellectually honest conclusion to make.

                Once we make that conclusion, we still remain open to the possibility of new evidence, but to be honest we run with the evidence we do (and do not have) at the present.

                I know some apologist biblical scholars don’t use such fundamentally honest and sound methods like the above and they do just imagine that there “could have been” some other source — but that’s apologetics. It is NOT how serious historians work.

                —–

                And regarding Jesus, if it could be shown that many or most pericopes resemble prior types, this is still not evidence in favor of the claim that the subject of these stories never existed.

                Darth, I was talking about criteria, not prior types.

                Besides, even when I was addressing your point about prior types, I said I AGREED with you and YES OF COURSE they are not reasons to believe the person never existed. You really do seem to be ignoring my comments. I explained that we have cases where HISTORICAL persons did indeed try to imitate certain mythical or heroic figures and some writers compared them with those mythical “types”. I also explained how we know some are historical and how others are very likely not.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-06-15 20:35:22 UTC - 20:35 | Permalink

                @ Neil:

                Hi Neil!

                Neil wrote:

                “On one hand we DO have evidence that a story was a rewriting of another story. On the other hand we have NO evidence that there was any historical source for the story.
                Therefore there is only one intellectually honest conclusion to make.”

                I’m not sure where or when you studied logic, but you are clearly not using it here. I understand that people like you and Carrier do not have a graduate degrees in Philosophy like I have, but you are making very rookie logic errors.

                The fact that imitative techniques were used in composing Mark is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed, because those techniques were historically used both for creating historical fiction that was about a historical figure, as well as historical fiction that was about purely legendary figures.

                I think the long and the short of it is we can’t decide whether Mark was using imitative techniques such as those classically taught in Greek schools to (1) create a piece of historical fiction starring famous historical figures he knew of like John The Baptist, Jesus, and Pilate, or (2) if Jesus was a purely mythical creation. As Fitzgerald says about imitative writing techniques back then, in volume 2 of ‘Jesus: Mything In Action,’ he concedes “They were taught to invent narratives about famous or legendary figures, and to use this platform to construct a symbolic or moral message for their readers (Fitzgerald J:MIA, Vol 2, pg. 36).” So the subject of the imitative narrative could have been historical, or not. Who knows in the case of Jesus? I think the most reasonable position is that the truth about the historicity of Jesus has been lost to the past.

                Anyway, those are my ideas. I’ve outlined my position and why I believe it, so I’ll bow out of the conversation.

                It was fun debating with you!

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-06-16 15:27:48 UTC - 15:27 | Permalink

                Darth, do you know what criteria are used by literature scholars and biblical scholars too to assess whether an author has adapted other texts to create his story?

                You keep referring to “imitative techniques” but that seems to indicate you have not understood what I have written or what literature scholars and biblical scholars (NOT mythicists) do in studying literary compositional relationships.

                I posted a link to some of the criteria used. Did you read it?

                What do you think I am talking about when I point out what literature scholars do, what classicists do, in determining whether, for example, Virgil created his Aeneid out of a rewriting of Homer’s epics, or how ancient authors regularly imitated and rewrote earlier texts.

                But now you choose to bow out of what you call a “conversation” — it was NOT a conversation. You evidently don’t read replies to your comments or if you do you skim them without care to understand them.

                Nor was it a debate. It was a rude monologue with you ignoring whatever was said in response.

    • Jim Nisverter
      2017-06-16 04:11:46 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

      I apologize for my laziness, and not finding the reference.
      The PseudoClementine Recognitions contains a series of debates between christian sectarians and their opponents. One of the arguments offered by the sectarians against the temple cult and for rejecting temple sacrifice, is that the temple was a physical location that could be controlled or conquered by outsiders. This passage might be in Book 1. There might be a parallel passage in the Homilies. I leave it up to the interested and less lazy reader to find exact references.

  • grampus
    2017-06-16 04:27:28 UTC - 04:27 | Permalink

    @Jim Nisverter
    Is this what you were referring to:
    From the Pseudo Clementine Recognitions, Book 1
    Chapter XXXVII.-The Holy Place.

    “… and that on the other hand they might hear that this place, which seemed chosen for a time, often harassed as it had been by hostile invasions and plunderings, was at last to be wholly destroyed.29 And in order to impress this upon them, even before the coming of the true Prophet, who was to reject at once the sacrifices and the place, it was often plundered by enemies and burnt with fire, and the people carried into captivity among foreign nations, and then brought back when they betook themselves to the mercy of God; that by these things they might be taught that a people who offer sacrifices are driven away and delivered up into the hands of the enemy, but they who do mercy and righteousness are without sacrifices freed from captivity, and restored to their native land. … .”

    It is better to do good and trust in god, that to kill critters at a specific place

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-06-16 15:30:18 UTC - 15:30 | Permalink

      Why did you write a comment as Jim and then reply to your own comment as grampus?

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