2016-02-02

Another review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

onhistoricityIt’s more of a few notes or a “book write up” than a review per se. PhD candidate and Bible scholar James Pate has posted Book Write-Up: On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier on his blog James’ Ramblings. He explains the purpose of his brief notes:

I would like to wrestle with some of Carrier’s arguments.  This post will not be comprehensive, but it will wrestle with key points that Carrier makes in his book.

Unfortunately what I missed from the “key points” that follow was an acknowledgement of the central methodology and case made by Richard Carrier. What troubles James Pate more appear to be some of the old chestnuts that I thought Carrier had addressed, but evidently not to the satisfaction of James. But credit where credit is due: James Pate does not engage in subtle or overt innuendo, put-down, and cavalier dismissal of Carrier as some other reviewers have done. Nor does he engage in outright distortion of the arguments. [There is one point made by James Pate that is incorrect, however, and I addressed this in a comment below.]

I suspect the limitations of Pate’s post are really the outcome of simply wanting to jot down notes of some key questions that a reading of Carrier’s book failed to dispel rather than write a formal review. We ought not be faulted for not doing what we did not set out to do. So I would like to think that Pate’s points should provide a good spring-board for further discussion and an opening into the wider arguments presented by Carrier.

Pate’s first point:

A.  Carrier does ask good questions. . . . 

Pate lists several of them. Of course Carrier does more than simply ask such questions: he raises such questions in the context of probabilities against the relevant background knowledge of Christianity and its wider cultural matrix. Potentially fruitful discussion topics here.

B.  On why first century extra-biblical sources fail to mention Jesus, many would respond that they would not mention a backwater Galilean peasant. . . . 

C.  . . . . Carrier notes that so many extrabiblical sources fail to mention Christianity. . . .  Why did so many first century sources fail to mention Christianity?  Was it because Christianity was obscure, or not well-established yet, or kept to itself?

Carrier’s discussion of the lack of evidence is more far-reaching than indicated here. We need to account for the compromised evidence (forgeries) and the broader implications to be drawn from that. Among the most crucial absences are so many instances of larger surviving works that just happen to be missing key sections that were about to give us an account of the time, the place, the early movement in the first century — passages that we expected to give some account of either Jesus of the early movement and that Christian authors and scribes would surely have had the strongest motivations to preserve.

Further, as for the question of Christianity being too obscure, we would expect that question to engage with Carrier’s comparison with the evidence for Socrates, and for the implications of an early Christianity keeping to itself (e.g. how did it grow and attract persecution by remaining obscure and keeping to itself? what of the difficulty of subsequently inventing hyperbolic stories about a person known to be obscure in his own day? what of the failure of late first century and early second century fathers and others to leave no stone unturned to search out eyewitnesses or hearers of eyewitnesses to learn more about the man they were worshiping as an emanation of God?). . . .

D.  There are sources that Carrier mentions that, in my opinion, are open to interpretation.  Did Ascension of Isaiah, . . . Ignatius . . . 

Fair enough. But at the same time one needs to keep in mind the marginal significance that these have for Carrier’s theory according to his own probability weightings.

E.  Carrier argues that there were Christ mythicists during the time of the church fathers. 

Pate raises reservations about Carrier’s view without addressing Carrier’s arguments. This is just a question starter.

F.  Carrier offers his own interpretation of passages that have been cited to argue that Paul believed in a historical Jesus.  . . . Some of what Carrier said took me aback. 

Again, more discussion starters here. Some of Carrier’s views are debatable, of course. I myself tend to think of Galatians 4:4 as an interpolation (see the various views on this verse at The “Born of a Woman” / Galatians 4:4 INDEX and Roger Parvus’s post). But I know such a view would be seen by opponents of mythicism as a cop-out. There are sound arguments, however.

I can understand being taken aback by interpretations that are contrary to what two thousand years of tradition have established. By the time I read these arguments in Carrier’s book I had already grappled in some depth with them as a result of Earl Doherty’s books and website. One can understand difficulty in rethinking Paul in radically new ways if one has been habituated to orthodox Christian teachings.

H.  Is Jesus’ name too good to be true? . . . I.  On a related note, there is the high priest Joshua in the Book of Zechariah.

My own take on this question is to add the names of Peter, Paul, Jairus, Judas, Bethphage, Bethsaida, and a good number of others. But I guess that’s not really relevant to origins of Christ belief itself as found in Paul.

J.  A final item.  Some Christian apologists argue that Christianity was true because Christians would not make up a doctrine about a crucified savior, since crucifixion was stigmatized in the ancient world.  As Carrier notes, however, people were offended by the castration of Attis (Augustine, City of God 6.10-11), but that does not mean that Attis was actually castrated.  People can believe offensive doctrines; that does not mean the doctrines are true.  Some Christian apologists make a big deal about Matthew 28:17’s acknowledgment that some people saw the risen Jesus and still doubted, heralding the apparent honesty of the Gospel writer, and thus his authenticity.  But, as Carrier says, Plutarch said that people had doubts about Romulus’ ascension.  And yet, in the latter case, what was Plutarch’s agenda?  Plutarch often sifts through different sources and makes judgments.  The Gospel writers, however, are faith documents, and perhaps they were more dogmatic than Plutarch was; consequently, their admission of doubt may have a different significance than what is in Plutarch’s book on Romulus.

There are enough points James Pate raises here to start a conference full of discrete discussions.

But again, focusing on specific questions like some of the above does miss Carrier’s primary argument and methodology. Let’s remove from Carrier’s argument some of the points above and see how much their absence (or weighting against mythicism and in favour of historicity) changes the final assessment of probabilities.

The alternative — insisting that one’s interpretation of a few such points is enough to virtually “prove” the historicity of Jesus — is to bypass Carrier’s argument altogether. One needs to grapple with the totality of our background knowledge and full implications of the state of our surviving evidence and to seriously discuss interpretations of specific points (such as the early movement keeping to itself or a passage in Paul meaning X) against the full backdrop of “everything else”. Or at least demonstrate why Carrier’s method fails to make any difference to traditional reasons given for accepting the historicity of Jesus.

 

48 Comments

  • HoosierPoli
    2016-02-02 13:02:47 UTC - 13:02 | Permalink

    Having gone back through OHJ a couple of times, what strikes me is how useful the Bayesian approach is for making one’s argument clear. On multiple occasions, Carrier discusses at length obvious problems, omissions, suspicious coincidences, or other evidence that strongly hints that the Jesus myth theory is probably correct…and then says, more or less, that the evidence is highly suggestive but not watertight, and then throws it out completely, or allows to count more heavily in favor of historicism than is even remotely reasonable. In other words, Carrier’s argument FOR the historical Jesus is as strong as it can possibly be; the fact that it is still so weak in the end is the problem that I would like to see historicists address directly.

    • Eric Breaux
      2016-08-30 17:07:14 UTC - 17:07 | Permalink

      Richard Carrier is oblivious to the scholarly consensus on Jesus’ historicity. It’s selective of a minority opinion that happens to agree with a vendetta.

      There’s plenty of well known ancient historians who wrote about Jesus, one of which being Luke who also wrote a gospel.

      There’s about 42 documents saying something about Jesus, a lot of which are either hostile or indifferent to Jesus and Christianity. Some historians also mentioned a few of the miracles recorded in the gospels or just mention Jesus as being famous for miracles that they dismiss as illusionist tricks, or otherwise sorcery.

      An example is a record from Thallus in the 50’s A.D. mentioning the darkness that occurred during Jesus crucifixion and attempting to explain it as a solar eclipse.

      Africanus, who quoted this record about 2 centuries later, mentioned that an eclipse wouldn’t be possible because it happened during the Jewish Passover, when the moon is full and diametrically opposite from the sun. both of these historians records only survive as quotes in other historical writings, like in the records of Eusebius, from what was still left of their respective work during the time.

      Tacitus references in 115 A.D. in his Annals that Christians who were killed for saying Jesus was resurrected. He recorded “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular”.

      Suetonius recorded “After the great fire at Rome . . . . Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief”. The only way that many people would believe that Jesus was resurrected was if they actually saw him. Even his first disciples doubted him until they saw him.

      There’s no way other Jews or Romans would want to make something up that would challenge their religious customs especially when the only good it seemed to do anyone was get them killed for professing it.

      The witnesses couldn’t have hallucinated it because group hallucinations don’t happen. And it’s recorded that one of the disciples touched Jesus after he appeared to them and Paul records having met about 500 witnesses. These new testament accounts are consistent with the Roman historical records talking about the teaching of Jesus resurrection.

      Hardly any scholar, regardless of background, doubts Jesus was a real historical figure, it’s mostly the miracles that are controversial, but with no evidence against them, just skepticism that miracles can even happen.

      No one who ever wrote about Jesus was ever questioned by anyone about if he actually existed. People who knew anything about Jesus would be around to say how accurate these claims were that were being recorded.

      There were plenty of people who hated his teachings who would have loved to refute that he was real, if he was made up. The problem is he was seen by many people in person.

      There are over 5000 copies of the new testament in it’s original language, all of which are mostly consistent with each other and modern translations. The only differences are the story of Jesus and the prostitute not being in the oldest copies and textual variants.

      We know the new testament was completed before the second century because Clement of Rome quotes it in the late first century. The gospels would be some of the earliest of the new testament compilation. http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm#ch9 https://bible.org/article/historical-reliability-gospels

      • Neil Godfrey
        2016-08-30 20:31:41 UTC - 20:31 | Permalink

        It never like to tell people they have believed falsehoods but every single one of the claims you have been led to believe has been shown over and over to be extremely problematic or outright false.

        Just to take your first example, the one about Thallus. All he wrote was that in the early 30s CE there was an eclipse and an earthquake experienced in Bithynia 600 miles from Jerusalem. It appears that later Christians desperate for corroborating evidence to back up the gospels took his reference to the eclipse out of context.

        Your next example about Tacitus tells me that you have forgotten or misread what was said about Tacitus and have swallowed uncritically what Habermas or other apologists have said about Tacitus without looking into the matter for yourself. You are certainly unaware of anything except the world of apologetics.

        Perhaps one day I can go through the works you linked to and show why every claim they make about the historicity of Jesus is false. But there are plenty of sites on the web already doing that. Here’s one that addresses some of the points you make; here’s another.

      • Mark W.
        2017-06-11 15:22:32 UTC - 15:22 | Permalink

        Group hallucinations don’t happen? Ever heard of the “Miracle of the Sun”? Supposedly over ten thousand “witnesses” said they saw something, some kind of miracle, and no miracle occurred. Just a bunch of Christians primed by the power of suggestion, and religious faith who fell for the story telling ability of a child that suffered from an overactive imagination and personal delusion.

        Neil is also correct. Everything you claimed above is apologetics nonsense that has been thoroughly debunked by various academics around the internet.

  • s. levin
    2016-02-02 14:40:00 UTC - 14:40 | Permalink

    James Pate wrote: But Bruce Metzger argued that one reason Christianity was not influenced by mystery religions was that mystery religions were not really a phenomenon in Palestine.

    Neil wrote: There are enough points James Pate raises here to start a conference full of discrete discussions.

    I will pick only this, the least important point in Pate’s review of Carrier’s treatise. Pate is here discussing the writers who had created the gospels. I don’t know of any details regarding authorship of the gospels or Pauline letters. We certainly don’t know the location of the texts’ authors–Pate’s notion that they wrote in Palestine seems illogical, in view of many inconsistencies in their text with actual locations there. We don’t know the dates when the original texts were composed.

    We do know Bayes’ theorem. That mathematical formula may well be useful to predict outcomes in horse racing. Camels too, perhaps. Possibly even Greyhound contests.

    I do not know how Bayes can help ascertain whether or not Muslims destroyed the texts of Clement of Alexandria, when they conquered that famous burg. If we possessed Clement’s original texts, or those of some other Greek scholar living in the second century, maybe we could address authorship of the gospels. Absent authentic second century Greek text, it is impossible to claim anything about the gospel’s origins.

    • 2016-02-02 17:24:32 UTC - 17:24 | Permalink

      Hi S. Levin! I just want to respond to this point, to make where I was coming from clearer.

      “I will pick only this, the least important point in Pate’s review of Carrier’s treatise. Pate is here discussing the writers who had created the gospels. I don’t know of any details regarding authorship of the gospels or Pauline letters. We certainly don’t know the location of the texts’ authors–Pate’s notion that they wrote in Palestine seems illogical, in view of many inconsistencies in their text with actual locations there.”

      I was speaking more about the founders of early Christianity (or the Jesus movement) than the authors of the Gospels. I’m roughly aware of the debates about where the Gospels were composed, and the problems some have with saying they were written in Palestine or for Palestinian Christian communities. But wouldn’t every scholar, including Carrier, acknowledge that the Jesus movement originated in Palestine? Carrier does seem to argue that, at its earliest stage, Christianity was similar to a mystery religion. That was why I referred to Metzger’s point about whether mystery religions could have influenced Palestine.

      • MrHorse
        2016-02-03 04:52:12 UTC - 04:52 | Permalink

        “But wouldn’t every scholar, including Carrier, acknowledge that the Jesus movement originated in Palestine?”

        ” …Bruce Metzger argued that one reason Christianity was not influenced by mystery religions was that mystery religions were not really a phenomenon in Palestine.”

        The NT narrative is that the Jesus movement is centered in Palestine, but several key texts seems to be centered on Asia Minor – eg. the Pauline epistles; the books attributed to John/the Johns; 1 Peter – and several key early-Christian personalities originated in or were more active in Asia Minor: Polycarp (a student of John), Irenaeus, Ignatius, Marcion, etc.

        (there was an Antioch in Asia Minor as well as what is now northern Syria – how accurate are the early geographic or spatial narratives?)

        Does anybody know where the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, or Luke) were written or finalized?

        Those people that originated in Palestine early – Justin Martyr, Simon Magus, Cerdo, Hegesippus – were more active outside Palestine: mainly in Rome.

        Those active in Palestine later – Origen, Pamphilus, & Eusebius – were active in Caesaerea Maritima after Origen moved there (temporarily ~231-5 AD/CE, & then ~238-251 AD/CE).

        Interestingly, both Clement of Alexandria & Origen are reported to have died in Caesarea in Cappadocia (central Anatolia, now Turkey).

      • Neil Godfrey
        2016-02-03 11:01:42 UTC - 11:01 | Permalink

        Carrier in his extensive Background material addresses some of the characteristics of mystery religions and how they are found also among Jews and early Christians. The evidence is against Palestine of the Second Temple era being a mirror image of much later rabbinic Judaism — I think very often that little anachronism colours our assumptions. James C. Hanges has also written studies that in places draw out the strong similarities between Paul’s “Jewish-gentile” churches functioning much like local mystery cults. (I’ve touched on a couple of his works here.)

        Carrier places Christian roots in Palestine. Understandable. That is where certain prominent leaders were apparently based at the time they clashed with Paul. (I don’t think we can use the gospels as evidence of the Palestinian origins, however — since the first of these and the one from which the others are derived (even probably John) uses geographical topoi as theological symbols, as demonstrated in a number of studies. And as many scholars point out, Jesus did not found Christianity — that was a movement that emerged after his death.

      • Bee
        2016-02-03 14:11:14 UTC - 14:11 | Permalink

        It is commonly claimed Mystery religions did not exist in Palestine. Even though 1)Greece conquered the region in 332 BCE. And 2)countless Greek communities and villages are found there. Not much is known about them to many. But 3) if Dionysiac religion is part of mystery religion, as seems likely to me, then see evidence in 2Mac. 5. Of immense, if resisted, Dionysiac influence in the Jewish community. c. 160 Bc.

        In fact, I am convinced that further objective research (possibly including my own, now in draft) will reinstate the earlier opinion that there was immense Greco Roman influence in Palestine. Especially after the 64Bc takeover of Jerusalem.

        The Mystery Religions of course, were studiously secretive. However, I think they have been partially reconstructed. More to follow. They definitely had to be present after the Greeks invaded in 332 BCE. And redoubled when the Roman army occupied Jerusalem after 64 BC.

    • 2016-02-02 20:12:30 UTC - 20:12 | Permalink

      “We do know Bayes’ theorem. That mathematical formula may well be useful to predict outcomes in horse racing. Camels too, perhaps. Possibly even Greyhound contests.

      I do not know how Bayes can help ascertain whether or not Muslims destroyed the texts of Clement of Alexandria, when they conquered that famous burg. If we possessed Clement’s original texts, or those of some other Greek scholar living in the second century, maybe we could address authorship of the gospels. Absent authentic second century Greek text, it is impossible to claim anything about the gospel’s origins.”

      Bayesians vs frequentists: Yours is the frequentist philosophy of probability. The Bayesian view of probability is that it probability represents our state of knowledge. Whether it is knowledge about the past or future is not a relevant distinction.

      The frequentist view of probability leads to things like the Gambler’s Fallacy and losing at the Monty Hall game.

      Pop quiz: A man wins the lottery. When he collects his winnings, the police arrest him. The prosecution claims that people who cheat the lottery always win, so the man must have cheated to win. Since this event, the man winning the lottery and possibly cheating, took place in the past, do we say that probability doesn’t apply? No. The prosecutor’s mistake of logic in this case is a probabilistic one; in fact, the fallacy itself is called “the Prosecutor’s Fallacy”.

      So no, Bayes theorem doesn’t only apply to the outcome of future events like horse races.

  • 2016-02-02 19:02:22 UTC - 19:02 | Permalink

    I’d like to address this point that you make, Neil, since a commenter on my blog made a similar point, and that helped me understand what you were saying there, and maybe where I was unclear:

    “Further, as for the question of Christianity being too obscure, we would expect that question to engage with Carrier’s comparison with the evidence for Socrates, and for the implications of an early Christianity keeping to itself (e.g. how did it grow and attract persecution by remaining obscure and keeping to itself? what of the difficulty of subsequently inventing hyperbolic stories about a person known to be obscure in his own day? what of the failure of late first century and early second century fathers and others to leave no stone unturned to search out eyewitnesses or hearers of eyewitnesses to learn more about the man they were worshiping as an emanation of God?). . . .”

    That is a good point, but my point of wrestling is this: Carrier seems to argue that the lack of references to Jesus in first century literature is at least one indication that Jesus did not historically exist. The thing is, though, Carrier also argues that there is a lack of references to Christianity in first century literature, and yet he seems to acknowledge that Christianity existed then. He may think that Acts is fiction, but he still seems to date the New Testament writings to the first century, and to posit a scenario in which Christianity originated and developed in that time.

    My question was how Carrier reconciled Christianity existing in the first century with there being no extrabiblical references to it at that time. Is it because he thought that Christianity was obscure or kept to itself in the first century? As you say, there would be problems with that proposal. I was not making it myself, but I was wondering how Carrier resolved that tension.

    • Jer
      2016-02-02 19:24:18 UTC - 19:24 | Permalink

      First of all, you can’t focus on just one fact. The lack of extrabiblical references is one piece of evidence against a historical Jesus, but it isn’t sufficient to say that there was no historical figure. Likewise the lack of extrabiblical references is one piece of evidence against a first century origin date for Christianity, but would not by itself be enough to say that Christianity didn’t start in the first century – you would need more evidence than that.

      Secondly, as HoosierPoli indicates above – there are many places where Carrier will grant whatever the current conventional expert opinion is as he wants to argue against the strongest version of the Historical Jesus argument that he can, rather than arguing against a weaker version. For the start date of Christianity, the strongest HJ argument would indicate that Christianity starts in the first century, so Carrier grants that it starts in the first century and argues from that as a given. It’s a case where if later we were to discover evidence that Christianity actually started later or earlier it would only make his argument stronger anyway, because he’s already chosen to argue against what he at least believes to be the strongest version of the HJ hypothesis.

      • 2016-02-02 21:29:42 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

        On the first point, I tried to avoid doing that in my comment by saying that, for Carrier, it is “at least one indication that Jesus did not historically exist.” I realize that Carrier has other arguments. Of course, your point is that, by itself, it is not an indication that Jesus did not historically exist. Perhaps I could have phrased that differently—-it is one piece of the puzzle, or one factor among others.

        Your second point is helpful: Carrier is assuming things for the sake of argument. I do recall places where he does that in his book: he does not believe that Tacitus’ reference to Jesus (or whoever Chrestus is) is necessarily authentic, but he assumes its authenticity for the sake of argument, and shows that it is not a strong argument for the historicity of Jesus. Maybe he is doing the same with the dates of the New Testament writings—-even though I do recall that, at the end of the book, he offers some model of the origins and development of Christianity, and he places a lot of it in the first century. That was glaring to me.

        • HoosierPoli
          2016-02-03 08:26:42 UTC - 08:26 | Permalink

          On the particular point (the argument from silence generally) I think you’ll find Carrier leaves it out of his final probability estimates; that is, it’s an example of what I was talking about, that it’s perhaps suggestive, and is included in the discourse, but is not actually incorporated into the formal argument. Which is to say, poking holes in that particular point doesn’t impact his conclusion.

          Now, the arguments from silence in early sources we DO have which discuss Jesus (authentic Paul, Hebrews, etc.) DO form a major part of his argument, but I think that’s justified. After all, if people who should have known of the historical Jesus never mention any specific details about his life, nor even seem to show any interest, nor seem to expect their audience to show any interest, and what’s more seem to attribute to Jesus sayings that we know for a fact are NOT his but in fact come from Psalms (as we see in Hebrews)…this is a much, much more problematic kind of silence then, for example, that of Josephus.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-02 20:40:55 UTC - 20:40 | Permalink

      Hi James, I am unable to respond now (time zone difference: time for me to get to work now) but meanwhile I have one query I forgot to address in my original post. You write: “They relied on alleged testimony from and connection to historical apostles who supposedly knew Jesus, not personal revelation, to buttress their authority.” — Can you remind me where Carrier spells out that view? Thanks! N

      • 2016-02-02 21:21:48 UTC - 21:21 | Permalink

        I returned the book to the library, so I do not have access to it right now. Even if I had it, it would be difficult to find because the remark was offhand, and I doubt it would be easy to find in the index. I do recall him saying something to that effect—-that belief in a historical Jesus was, at least partly, an attempt to eliminate the subjectivity that reliance on personal revelation can bring. As you know, he also mentions other considerations that are relevant to the transition from a ahistorical Jesus to a historical Jesus, which I did not discuss in the blog post: about stories being symbolic, for example.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-02-03 10:02:16 UTC - 10:02 | Permalink

          Carrier sums up his theory of what happened from the start of Christianity up to the time the Gospels came to be written on pages 607 and 608, arguing that “no element of the theory I just outlined is ad hoc.” The relevant section:

          Between the 30s and 70s some Christian congregations gradually mythi­cize the story of their celestial Jesus Lord, just as other mystery cults had done for their gods, eventually representing him rhetorically and symboli­cally in overtly historical narratives, during which time much of the more esoteric truth of the matter is reserved in secret for upper levels of initiation (Elements 1 1 – 1 4, 44-48).

          He then speaks of the “dark age” with the war of 66-70 destroying the Jerusalem church and possibly a Neronian persecution…. then . . .

          It’s during this dark age that the canonical Gospels most likely came to be written, by persons unknown (Chapter 7, §4), and at least one Christian sect started to believe the myths they contain were real, and thus began to believe (or for convenience claim) that Jesus was a real person, and then preached and embellished this view. Because having a historical founder represented in controlled documents was a significant advantage (Chapter 8, § 1 2; and Chapter 1 , §4), this ‘historicizing’ sect gradually gained politi­ cal and social superiority, declared itself ‘orthodox’ while condemning all others as ‘heretics’ (Chapter 4, §3), and preserved only texts that agreed with its view, and forged and altered countless texts in support. As a result, almost all evidence of the original Christian sects and what they believed has been lost or doctored out of the record; even evidence of what happened during the latter half of the first century to transition from Paul’s Christian­ity to second century ‘orthodoxy’ is completely lost and now almost wholly inaccessible to us (Elements 2 1 ·22 and 44).

          I cannot find any suggestion that the evangelists relied upon alleged testimony of historical apostles who supposedly knew Jesus. I don’t recall any idea like that from my own reading, either, and in fact the concept, to the extent I understand Carrier’s argument, is actually contrary to his theory of how Christianity began and developed in the early years.

          HoosierPoli: The Gospel of Mark makes no claim to have been sourced from eyewitnesses. The evidence of the Gospel itself is that it is a literary adaptation of various Old Testament narratives and themes. If my memory serves, I think Carrier would say the same.

          • HoosierPoli
            2016-02-03 10:57:24 UTC - 10:57 | Permalink

            “The Gospel of Mark makes no claim to have been sourced from eyewitnesses.”

            This is not only true, but also highly suspicious. Mark doesn’t seem to think his readers would be interested to know where he got the details of Jesus’s life, a conceit which cannot be taken for granted because later authors (John) begin to acknowledge the importance of lacking eyewitness attribution by lying about it.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2016-02-04 09:24:02 UTC - 09:24 | Permalink

              Exactly. And that’s how historians of the time generally wrote: as a rule they went out of their way to identify themselves and their sources for the stated purpose of giving readers confidence enough to believe what they wrote over anything else they might have heard. Of course they did not cite with footnotes and follow anything as rigorous as historians do today, but see some of my earlier posts for some examples. One that comes to mind off hand is Comparing the sources for Alexander and Jesus.

          • 2016-02-03 17:16:57 UTC - 17:16 | Permalink

            That second passage may be the one I had in mind. Carrier says:

            “Because having a historical founder represented in controlled documents was a significant advantage (Chapter 8, § 1 2; and Chapter 1 , §4), this ‘historicizing’ sect gradually gained politi­ cal and social superiority, declared itself ‘orthodox’ while condemning all others as ‘heretics’ (Chapter 4, §3), and preserved only texts that agreed with its view, and forged and altered countless texts in support.”

            The question would then by why it is advantageous to have a historical founder represented in controlled documents. What does Carrier say in Chapter 8.1-2 and 1.4?

            • 2016-02-03 19:10:57 UTC - 19:10 | Permalink

              Come to think of it, the answer to my question is probably obvious: the controlled documents become the authority for what Jesus said and did, and some thought that was better and more stable than people having personal revelations of Jesus.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-04 10:17:13 UTC - 10:17 | Permalink

                I am reminded of Werner Kelber’s arguments about the transition from oral to written gospel with the advent of the Gospel of Mark.

                Paul (and some of the later Church Fathers) stressed the truth of spirit over the letter. Revelation as a source of authority appears in the data trail to have been countered by the gospel narrative establishing the authority of traditional disciples prior to the visions — to the time of those who heard Jesus in the flesh before the visions started. And of course the factions that produced these documents (in particular Matthew, John, Luke) claimed their authority to be traced through a “genealogy” of leaders back to those pre-visionary disciples.

              • HoosierPoli
                2016-02-04 12:40:34 UTC - 12:40 | Permalink

                A historical founder for the source of Christian documents establishes an OBJECTIVE authority on which to build doctrine. When that authority is undermined, the results are chaotic and unpredictable. By analogy, the Reformation was an insistence that the authority of the Catholic Church could be circumvented and the result was a proliferation of ever-more divergent schisms and quite a lot of actual violence (see the Münster rebellion.) Imagining such a process in reverse, where schismatic understandings of the Gospel based only on personal revelation are replaced by centralized, fixed, and hierarchical understandings. The institutional survival value is, I hope, obvious.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-04 14:25:33 UTC - 14:25 | Permalink

                controlled documents become the authority for what Jesus said and did, and some thought that was better and more stable than people having personal revelations of Jesus.

                Yet is not the evidence against this speculative solution? Written documents were forged — and known to be forged — left, right and centre. Even the canonical literature, both in the “Old’ and “New” Testaments, contain strong evidence of being in dialogue with one another, thus demonstrating that a written document was never in itself final. Besides, when it comes to the lives of Jesus (gospels) we are looking at a very late development in the life of Christianity, yet Paul in his epistles indicates that there were rival visions even in his own day, long before the first Gospel appeared.

                Biblical scholarly literature is replete with ad hoc rationalisations. Applying Carrier’s Bayesian methodology helps sift the wheat from the chaff.

                I still wonder what you think of Carrier’s methodology and overall argument. You seem to have avoided that and focussed on aspects that sidestep that.

              • 2016-02-05 07:34:06 UTC - 07:34 | Permalink

                “I still wonder what you think of Carrier’s methodology and overall argument. You seem to have avoided that and focussed on aspects that sidestep that.”

                I didn’t really feel qualified to interact with the Bayesian parts. I know that Carrier deems that significant, though.

                I did think, in writing the post, that I was interacting with key aspects of his argument as opposed to old chestnuts. Was there more I could have addressed? Yes. But the old chestnuts struck me as essential elements of his case. If the question is whether, when all of his arguments are taken together, I agree with his conclusion, that is a good question. Some arguments that he made were more convincing to me than others. Of course, as you seem be saying, some arguments may carry more weight than others.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-06 09:11:46 UTC - 09:11 | Permalink

                I did think, in writing the post, that I was interacting with key aspects of his argument as opposed to old chestnuts. Was there more I could have addressed? Yes. But the old chestnuts struck me as essential elements of his case.

                Yes, I understand and as you know I did point out that your post was more about some “old chestnuts” rather than a review proper.

                You speak of “the Bayesian parts” but of course the Bayesian analysis was the beginning, centre and end of his entire thesis, not just “parts” 🙂 Every chapter is written as an element in the larger Bayesian equation or analysis. — See my comment below this one.

                And as you point out, I think, or at least imply, to deal with Carrier’s argument one is free to disagree with his interpretations of specifics, but having done so, to then see where those disagreements leave the substance of his case.

                The arguments coming from scholarship to “prove” the historicity of Jesus do seem to be like simplistic one-line dot-points or even mantras that cannot be questioned. But the reality is not so simple. Other historical approaches (probably all of those outside the field of biblical studies) do not do history according to “proof texts” or “criteriology”. Even the dating of the source documents is ideologically based and reinforced by general acceptance than critical analysis.

                Of course there are many mythicist arguments that are fallacious, too, and some are more mystical than critical. But my interest is in understanding the evidence and the light scholarship — not only of biblical scholars but also of classicists and other ancient historians — can shed on it.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-06 09:18:59 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

                I didn’t really feel qualified to interact with the Bayesian parts.

                By the way — there’s nothing extraordinarily technical or esoteric about Bayesian analysis. Historians use it all the time — at least when they are doing good history. By introducing the logical and probabilistic principles all Carrier is doing is bringing the way our best reasoning works to our attention so we can hopefully be more conscious of applying it more often.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2016-02-04 09:08:23 UTC - 09:08 | Permalink

              The question would then by why it is advantageous to have a historical founder represented in controlled documents.

              You did not find my comment addressing this question satisfactory?

              What does Carrier say in Chapter 8.1-2 and 1.4?

              From pages 291-3 — 8.2, The Socrates Analogy

              There are really only two options available to the historicist that have any plausibility:

              • (1) that Jesus was not at all famous but in fact so insig­ nificant and uninfluential that he inspired almost no following whatever and was completely unnoticed by any literate person ofthe age (until-and except-Paul, though even he didn’t know Jesus, and showed next to no interest in his actual teachings and story: see Chapter II); or
              • (2) massive quantities of documents were deliberately destroyed or allowed to rot away unnoticed and unread (somehow no Christian of the second century hav­ing any access to them or showing any interest in them).

              Neither is a par­ticularly attractive hypothesis. A conspiracy to suppress vast quantities of information is perhaps least attractive of all; yet the alternative must be that Jesus was an uninfluential, unimpressive, unknown rabbi whom no one of any note noticed, and who made no significant impression on any literate person who ever saw or met him, and attracted no literate person into his circle of disciples or admirers-a person of such actual insignificance as not to resemble in the least the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. An unsavory conclusion indeed. Yet, what else can we suppose?

              On the other hand, this vastly peculiar absence of documents is readily explicable if there was no historical Jesus about whom any such documents would be written, but instead only a small mystery cult targeting primar­ily illiterate converts and aiming to keep the bulk of its teachings secret (and thus ‘off the books’ as it were), from whom later churches diverged so greatly in aims and ideology that they had no desire to preserve more than a minuscule selection of the original documents (a mere handful of letters) from the movement’s earliest missions, then forged a great many more to suit their needs instead (Elements 11 to 14, and 44).

              Or we could resort in either case to noting again the great disruption in the church’s transmission of authority and information in the middle of the first century (Element 22), and posit a third option for the historicist:

              • (3) that this great disruption resulted in the loss of nearly all the documents there may have been.

              But that requires granting that so awesome a destruc­tion and loss of records really did occur, and was really that incredibly pervasive, even spanning three continents and dozens of cities. Which I suspect scholars will find even more unsavory than options (1) and (2). All of these options – whether (1), (2), or (3), or the denial of historicity-have consequences that must be accepted and not ignored. You have to pick one; because if you don’t like the consequences of it, you can only avoid them by picking another. And that is going to pin you down, hemmed in on all sides by undesirable consequences.

              The most desperate and implausible move is

              • (4) to explain the absence ofsuch writing among the disciples and apostles ofJesus as an apocalyptic disinterest in creating a written record (on which I’ll have more to say in Chapter 11).

              Because if we grant such a disinterest, then we cannot explain the letters of Paul (which not only in their very existence refute such dis­interest, but whose contents betray on every page the continuing need for writing things down and transmitting and preserving them in physical rather than oral form), which likewise leaves us unable to plausibly explain why only Paul wrote letters. No other missionary for the whole first three decades of the cult’s spread ever wrote any letter to anywhere or anyone? What about the letters we know that churches wrote to Paul? (1 Cor. 7.1)

              We would then also have to dispense with the idea that there was any effort to preserve the story of Jesus orally, either. For any interest in the latter would entail an interest in the former. If preserving his sayings and narratives accurately was at all valued by anyone, they would have been recorded in writing early and often, so that missionaries would have aids to memory (and church leaders a means to control doctrine, a key need evinced throughout the letters of Paul: Element 21) as well as a means of leaving communities and congregations with accurate information to rely upon and meditate on after their departure (since, as Paul’s letters attest, the apostles were not always present among every active congregation, yet dis­putes and questions constantly arose). These needs would be just as press­ing in the face of a looming apocalypse – as again, Paul’s letters attest (as well as simple common sense). In other words, historicists cannot claim the Christians strove to accurately preserve information, while simultaneously claiming that they saw no need to accurately preserve information. It can only be one or the other.

              Thus, there are only a few possibilities with any respectable chance of being true. Either all the evidence of the first decades of Christianity was actively (and very successfully) suppressed, or it was uncontrollably (and very thoroughly) lost despite every desire to preserve it, or Christianity was so small, insignificant and pervasively illiterate that such evidence never existed (and Paul was a lone educated freak in a sea of illiterate country hicks spinning yarns far and wide). You may choose the one you prefer. But you must then accept the actual consequences ofthat being true. First among them is the fact that we simply cannot claim to know the story and teachings of Jesus even the minutest fraction as reliably or well as we do those of Socrates-and yet even for Socrates every expert concurs that we do not know his story and teachings with superlative reliability. Plato’s dialogues, for example, are universally regarded as predominately a fiction promoting the views of Plato rather than Socrates; indeed Plato himself entitles those dialogues a Peirastikos, ‘Fiction’. If such is the state of our knowledge of Socrates, our knowledge of Jesus must be regarded a thou­sand times less.

              • 2016-02-05 07:14:46 UTC - 07:14 | Permalink

                Hi Neil. You say: “The question would then by why it is advantageous to have a historical founder represented in controlled documents.

                “You did not find my comment addressing this question satisfactory?”

                I think I asked the question before you made the comment addressing it. It depends on which of your comments you mean.

                I’d like to interact with this one you made, since it appears to answer my question head-on:

                “I am reminded of Werner Kelber’s arguments about the transition from oral to written gospel with the advent of the Gospel of Mark.

                “Paul (and some of the later Church Fathers) stressed the truth of spirit over the letter. Revelation as a source of authority appears in the data trail to have been countered by the gospel narrative establishing the authority of traditional disciples prior to the visions — to the time of those who heard Jesus in the flesh before the visions started. And of course the factions that produced these documents (in particular Matthew, John, Luke) claimed their authority to be traced through a “genealogy” of leaders back to those pre-visionary disciples.”

                My question would be if that is too different from my statement in which I said, according to Carrier, “They relied on alleged testimony from and connection to historical apostles who supposedly knew Jesus, not personal revelation, to buttress their authority.” There is a reliance on the alleged testimony, or teaching, of “pre-visionary disciples” in Kelber’s scenario: at least people are claiming to be preserving a tradition that goes back to them (and I am not here commenting on whether they are right or wrong).

                Of course, there is more than one issue going on here: there is the question of what Carrier believes about why it is advantageous to have a historical founder with controlled documents, and whether that agrees with Kelber’s view.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-06 08:47:23 UTC - 08:47 | Permalink

                I may be misunderstanding something here, but it seem to me that your question hangs on the following:

                …according to Carrier, “They relied on alleged testimony from and connection to historical apostles who supposedly knew Jesus, not personal revelation, to buttress their authority.”

                But as I indicated previously, I am sure this claim is a mis-remembering of Carrier’s argument. I can find nowhere in OHJ where he says anything like this and as I understand your point, it stands in fact contrary to what his argument actually is.

      • HoosierPoli
        2016-02-03 08:36:25 UTC - 08:36 | Permalink

        I think by “relied on alleged testimony” he means that the Gospels claim to be derived from eyewitnesses, not that the Gospel authors definitely talked to people who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The former is literally true, at least in the case of John, the latter would be total speculation. Does that resolve the question?

        • 2016-02-03 17:18:17 UTC - 17:18 | Permalink

          Yeah, or Luke 1 referring to eyewitnesses. Of course, Carrier does not buy that claim. But Luke makes the claim.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2016-02-04 09:18:10 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

            Yeah, or Luke 1 referring to eyewitnesses. Of course, Carrier does not buy that claim. But Luke makes the claim.

            Is this really a fair presentation of what Carrier says? Does he really simply deny what Luke 1 says? That soft of rebuttal is found often enough but it seems more like a dismissal of an opposing argument rather than a genuine effort to address it. A knowledge of the classical literature of the day — and especially prologues of biographies and historical works — soon shows how unusual Luke’s prologue is among biographical and historical writings. It is very consistent with fictional prose, however. The Lukan prologue avoids giving readers clues as to whom these eyewitnesses might be and thus undercutting the whole point of addressing sources as we find in other more or less contemporary literature.

            But what I am most interested in is whether any scholar has addressed John N. Collins’ 2010 demonstrating that the term for “eyewitnesses” is not what most translations presume it to be. Collins is by no means a mythicist, by the way: See my Luke Prologue archive for details.

            • 2016-02-05 07:27:18 UTC - 07:27 | Permalink

              I actually wasn’t aiming to dismiss Carrier’s argument here. I wasn’t intending to comment on whether it is correct or not.

              I vaguely remember Carrier’s discussion of the Lukan prologue—-the comparison of Luke with biographies and historical works that were actually specific about who the eyewitnesses or sources were. Carrier was expressing doubt over whether Luke was drawing from eyewitnesses. Your comment makes me wonder, though, if there was more to Carrier’s argument: that Luke was intending to write fiction, and for what he was writing to be understood as fiction. On the one hand, as you know, Carrier argues that mythmaking was significant in the development of stories about Jesus. On the other hand, Carrier portrays Acts as at least claiming that there was a historical Jesus.

              I am still wrapping my head around your posts (that I read) about the Collins article: the claim that the term translated “eyewitnesses” refers to scribal preservers and authenticators of literary tradition. Was this tradition believed to go back to Jesus?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2016-02-06 09:00:15 UTC - 09:00 | Permalink

                I doubt we can know what the author of Acts was “intending” to write, but there is abundant evidence (published in the literature as I’m sure you know) demonstrating that Acts contains many of the features of fiction. It strikes me as most like a “historical novel”. I have read in translation probably most of the ancient historical and biographical works of the era and have discussed these several times in connection with Burridge’s thesis about the gospels being of the bios genre — and the arguments that leave Burridge’s thesis wanting apply to Acts.

                There is certainly an appearance of historicity to the tale. But the differences from other historical works are stark. Josephus talks about pseudo-historians of his day and his worst censures would apply to everything we read in Acts. (Again, I am not going into details because I have posted in some depth on all of these things before.)

                I believe the final redactor of Luke-Acts surely was creating a work that presented a Jesus who came from God into history. The story certainly reads that way. But it imitates in more ways than one the Septuagint tales — one might even interpret it as a new book to be added to or subsequent to the “Old Testament” Scriptures.

                My biggest question about the Collins article is whether it has been engaged by other scholars — or mostly simply ignored?

                (Not sure what to say in reply to your last question: We don’t know anything more about “the tradition” than what is said in the prologue, yes?)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-03 10:30:15 UTC - 10:30 | Permalink

      Hi James. You wrote:

      but my point of wrestling is this: Carrier seems to argue that the lack of references to Jesus in first century literature is at least one indication that Jesus did not historically exist. The thing is, though, Carrier also argues that there is a lack of references to Christianity in first century literature, and yet he seems to acknowledge that Christianity existed then. He may think that Acts is fiction, but he still seems to date the New Testament writings to the first century, and to posit a scenario in which Christianity originated and developed in that time.

      My question was how Carrier reconciled Christianity existing in the first century with there being no extrabiblical references to it at that time. Is it because he thought that Christianity was obscure or kept to itself in the first century? As you say, there would be problems with that proposal. I was not making it myself, but I was wondering how Carrier resolved that tension.

      I cannot speak for Carrier of course, but my own understanding of the argument is that we have data indicating that Christianity began as one of many Jewish sects in the first century. That of Christianity paid special attention to a Logos or such as a focus of worship. We would not expect any extrabiblical evidence for this early form of Christianity any more than we would expect it for any other Jewish sect of the day.

      On the other hand, were there a figure who was attracting followers and making a sufficient impact to even be worshiped in the wake of his demise, then given the attention of extrabiblical sources on such figures, we would expect the same for Jesus. Various factors contribute to this probability. One that Carrier explains at some length, if I recall correctly, is that history demonstrates that it is far harder to invent spectacular legends around a real person who was a nobody than it is to invent such a character from scratch. Jesus had to have some remarkable and attention-grabbing qualities for his death to have resulted in the revolution that it did. Such persons are likely to be found noted in literature — and Carrier points to the specific authors of the time and place we might expect to have noticed. And even though some of those authors’ works are now lost to us, had they mentioned anything at all there are very good reasons for thinking what they said would have been noticed and passed on in surviving Christian testimony.

      It is all a question of probability of course. And given Carrier’s method, one can adjust the probabilities of the evidence (or lack of evidence) we have on this point. Carrier, as you know, plays the devil’s advocate to some extent and tries to stack the probabilities as reasonably in favour of historicity in each case.

      So the argument in this instance is not presented as a black or white make or break indicator of either historicity or mythicism.

      Carrier asks the inquirer to assess the full extent of the data and the range of its implications before leaning (not falling) one way or another.

  • s. levin
    2016-02-03 19:27:04 UTC - 19:27 | Permalink

    Neil wrote:
    I cannot speak for Carrier of course, but my own understanding of the argument is that we have data indicating that Christianity began as one of many Jewish sects in the first century.”

    Thanks for that comment.

    I believe you do share Carrier’s position, as outlined in OHJ. He clearly identifies the nascent Christian movement as a messianic Jewish sect. In my opinion, Carrier has erred in that regard.

    In OHJ, page 100, Dr. Carrier wrote:
    “snip, …; Mithraism was a syncretism of Persian and Hellenistic elements; the mysteries of Isis and Osiris were a syncretism of Eyptian and Hellenistic elements. Christianity is SIMPLY [my emphasis] a continuation of the same trend; a syncretism of Jewish and Hellenistic elements.”

    I disagree on so many points here, it is difficult to restrain myself. I will impose a limit of two issues, but this topic could easily become subject of an eight hour debate, in my view.

    two points then: a. The late Dorothy Murdock argued with Carrier, and so maybe, some of the vitriol exchanged between them, bore some relation to this (dare I write “rigid”?) view of Carrier’s, that Christianity is fundamentally a Jewish sectarian outgrowth, with a jot of Hellenistic flavorings.

    I observe zero, zip, nada in the Christian tradition that represent faith in or agreement with, Mosaic Judaism. If anything, Christianity is a repudiation of Judaism, rather than a new tradition, derived from the essence of Judaic ideas, notions which, for me at least, MUST embrace monotheism, not “triune” anything.

    b. Christianity is ABSOLUTELY, no question about it, a full flavored syncretic focus, which borrows from MANY different traditions, including Judaism, Mithraism (more properly, Zoroastrianism–and Carrier errs here, because Mithraism began in India, not Persia), and yes, thank you Dorothy, Egyptian mythology, as well as its sine qua non: (NOT Abraham, NOT Moses, NOT David, NOT Solomon) Greek mythology, in particular: Herakles and his life.

    It is to Herakles and his utterly fictional tradition, that the Gospel writers pointed, when creating the mythical character, Jesus of Palestine. Look at creation of Batman, aping the success of Superman. Herakles, with his huge temples in Syria, and enormous following throughout the eastern Mediterranean, combined with the true history of Alexander of Macedonia, represented a source of geld that could not be ignored by creative dramatists of the era. Give me your shekels, and you will have 79 virgins in paradise.

    I am very curious, Neil, and hope you will identify one of your sources, one that provides your “data indicating…”, from the first or second century CE.

    s. levin

    • Bee
      2016-02-03 20:59:15 UTC - 20:59 | Permalink

      Especially that will be supported, if you look at say/ Bulfinch’s account of the burning, partial death of Hercules. Which has in common a dozen elements, with Paul’s and others notion of the mortal flesh, inherited from the mortal mother, being burned away. To leave the immortal soul, or spirit. Inherited from the father. The father God. .. Zeus.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-04 10:33:48 UTC - 10:33 | Permalink

      Paul’s epistles are rich in Jewish thought. I have posted here on the scholarship demonstrating how Paul’s concepts even of the Messiah are entirely Jewish of the Second Temple era. See my posts on Novenson as one example.

      The Second Temple Jewish concept of God was not uniform — various sects held different views. Not all held the same type of monotheism we associate with the much later rabbinic Judaism. Again I have posted on this very often. The works about Enoch, Ezekiel, and others — show us that an “emanation” of God could in one sense be separate from God, pray to God, yet also “be God” and sit on his throne.

      The first stories of Jesus were structured upon and fleshed out by literary reference to the Old Testament narratives.

      The Jewish of earliest Christianity can scarcely be doubted.

      Yes there are also Hellenistic elements in earliest Christianity. Stoic philosophy is one. The nature of early churches are structured like household cults in the Greek world. There are also allusions to Homer’s and Virgil’s heroes. But these come later — with the gospel narratives.

      As for Mithraism — the Mithraism at the time of Christianity was a Roman product, and quite dissimilar from the earlier religion of Persia and India.

      To decide influence I look for clear evidence of intertextuality. Yes, there are similarities between Jesus and other pagan gods, but they are the same sorts of concepts also found in the Biblical literature in many cases — and mere similarity simply shows the sorts of ideas that were in the culture, in the air, so to speak. It takes detailed evidence, especially intertextuality, to make judgements about specific influences.

      (I have posted on one passage in the Gospel of Mark owing a debt to the myth of Heracles, by the way. But it does not follow that Jesus originated as an adaptation of Heracles. All it shows is that such stories were adopted and added to a Jesus who had an origin otherwise demonstrated to be very Jewish — as we learn from the epistles.)

      • Bee
        2016-02-04 20:17:14 UTC - 20:17 | Permalink

        Neil: I am sure that you yourself are not an apologist. But there might be a common apologetics motivation in much of the scholarship that wants to show that Paul, Jesus, were wholly Jewish.

        The reason is that the New Testament , Jesus, constantly tried to tie themselves, to the Old; to prove they were the legitimate heir of Judaism, and of God. But the problem was, that there were often perceived differences. At random: 1) Christianity was not accepted by the Jews themselves; it 2) was eventually felt by both Jews and Christians, to be a different religion. Paul conflicted with many Jews. Eventually in fact, Christianity broke away from Judaism. To the point that most Christians did not think of themselves as Jewish. Even as in fact, the 3) New Testament and Paul, spoke of a “new covenant,” different from Jewish “law,” or Torah.

        There were many statements in Jesus and Paul, to be sure, that constantly proclaimed their loyalty to the Old Testament and its God. But I see those moments counterbalanced, by some very real differences. And not just interpolated ones; but differences from the very beginning. We after all, had a Paul who originated in the rather hellenized town of Tarsus. Who spent much time in Greek cities, like Ephesus. And who – if you allow Acts – even claimed to be a Roman citizen.

        I’d politely submit therefore, that there are actually many, many non-Jewish elements in Paul. But I’d suggest that it was due mostly to emotional reasons, apologetics reasons, that many Christian scholars sought to deliberately obscure and minimize those differences. For centuries, one of the most popular kinds of Christian sermons, were “harmonizations”; attempts to prove that the New Testament was absolutely consistent – harmonious – with the Old. But so many of them? Where there is smoke, there is fire: there was a perceived need; a problem that needed to be addressed. The reason there were so many hamonizations, so many attempted proofs of the consistency of Christianity, Paul, with Judaism, was to try to counter the all too common impression that there were actually, very, very notable differences between Christianity, and Judaism. Differences that caused a huge credibility problem for Christianity.

        The New Testament, Jesus, often presented themselves as wholly loyal to God of course; to the god of the Jews. And so? If there were any actual differences? That would suggest that the New Testament was a fraud. Which apologists could not allow.

        So I’m suspicious, even as a Jewish-surnamed American myself, about the motivations of the traditional scholarship that tries to firmly establish that Paul, and/or Jesus, as purely Jewish. I see a possible Apologetics intent behind much of it. The character named “Jesus” to be sure, presents himself most of the time as completely loyal to – even as the “son of” – the old Jewish God. This is done to the degree, in fact, that if it turned out that there were any real, actual differences between Jesus and Judaism, its God, then Jesus would have to be perceived as a deceiver, a hypocrite. Which is something apologists cannot accept.

        So it has always seemed to me that there is quite possibly an emotional, defensive, apologetics reason behind scholarship that seeks to “harmonize” the New and the Old Testament, Christianity and Judaism, or even Paul and Judaism. If they are not all totally congruent, then Christians have to face this to-many devastating conclusion: then Christianity itself must be false. Christianity was not actually loyal to the Jewish God.

        I’m sure that you yourself are not an apologist. But much of the scholarship out there, might be. Harmonizations of the Old and New testaments, were a common type of apologetics sermon, in Christian churches, for many years. Such sermons attempted to smooth over any appearance of differences between Christian figures, like Paul, and earlier Jewish ideas. They did this for an ideological reason: because any such differences, seemed to suggest that after all, our highest Christian heroes like Paul, were after all, not really following God.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-02-04 23:12:49 UTC - 23:12 | Permalink

          Hi Bee, I think I understand where you are coming from. I should have clarified more what I meant by Jewish thought in Paul’s letters. Yes, I agree that Paul’s letters contain more than what we label as “Jewish thought”. I have posted on some aspects of this in the past, in particular the place of Stoicism in Paul’s theology.

          On the other hand, I have come to understand that “Jewish thought” is a problematic term. We too easily tend to associate it with a rather monochrome rabbinic Judaism of later centuries. Some roots of that rabbinic system were quite likely part of the Second Temple era, but that school had many more competitors before 70 CE/135 CE.

          The most distinctive Jewish element of Paul’s epistles, as I see it, lies in the way he interprets “OT” passages. Allegory and midrash. And Jews certainly did embrace his teachings — if we can believe his own claim to have been a Jew and his claim that a small handful of elect from among the Jews had been “saved” in his own time. (I suspect the attribution of Roman citizenship to Paul in Acts is an apologetic pro-Roman addition by that author.)

          What I think we see in Paul is a blurring of the boundaries with gentiles, but I don’t think there is anything “non-Jewish” about that process.

          Reading Daniel Boyarin’s Borderlines one encounters the argument that Christianity was not considered a distinctly separate religion from “Judaism” until some few centuries into our era. That may be a hard argument to accept for many, but I don’t see Paul’s religion being clearly identified as “non-Jewish” in his own day. From what we know of various Jewish sects of the era there were sharp rivalries among them — even to the point of one Jewish sect condemning all the “Jews” of apostasy. That sort of denunciation seems to have been par for the course in the “riotous diversity” of Jewish thinking of the Second Temple era.

          I don’t know if what I have said here resolves any of our differences.

          • Bee
            2016-02-05 09:16:53 UTC - 09:16 | Permalink

            Well, our differences are mostly very minor on by far, most subjects.

          • Bee
            2016-02-05 10:15:51 UTC - 10:15 | Permalink

            Boyarin has done some good work. In the present case of Boyarin though, I’d see that as probably either 1) a generous ecumenism, that seeks to emphasise links, and not differences, between religions. Or, less positively, 2) the opposite: an extreme pride in his own faith. That wants to emphasize its predominance, even in a different religion like Christianity.

    • HoosierPoli
      2016-02-04 12:43:27 UTC - 12:43 | Permalink

      Hebrews places words from Psalms in the mouth of Jesus as though it is quoting him directly. Unless Psalms doesn’t count as Mosaic Judaism, I find it hard to take such an absolutist claim at face value.

  • gary
    2016-06-29 17:57:42 UTC - 17:57 | Permalink

    Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus’ death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60’s, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can’t list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole…or…the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

  • Darth Ballz
    2017-05-30 14:51:54 UTC - 14:51 | Permalink

    People may be interested to know that Ehrman says that he has read Carrier’s “On The Historicity Of Jesus” and that he didn’t like it. Ehrman says “it would take three books as long as his to explain all the problems!” Here are Ehrman’s remarks on Carrier in the comment section of his blog post here: https://ehrmanblog.org/would-i-be-personally-devastated-if-the-mythicists-were-right-a-blast-from-the-past/

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-05-30 16:04:48 UTC - 16:04 | Permalink

      Deja vu all over again. A few years ago I pleaded with and implored and begged a scholar to explain where I had been mistaken in my criticism and each time, every time, the same response: it would take a whole book to explain it so I won’t be bothered doing it — too many things are wrong.

      That’s a copout. Just start with one thing and tell us what’s wrong with that, please.

      (No, I haven’t bothered to click on and go to the linked site. Should I? What would I learn? I have seen too much of Ehrman’s methods to know what to expect. Has anything changed this time?)

      P.S. I don’t believe anyone who says they have read something until they demonstrate that they have read it. (Ehrman said he read Doherty’s book, too, but his comments about it indicated he was fibbing.)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-05-31 02:47:41 UTC - 02:47 | Permalink

      And let’s not forget Ehrman’s palpable public loathing of Richard Carrier, too. Carrier’s tone obviously does not help but he did confront Ehrman with some blatant instances of careless and flatly wrong “scholarship” in his DJE. Ehrman, everyone knows and Ehrman does not hide, hates Carrier.

      What do we expect Ehrman to say of Carrier’s book? How do we expect Ehrman even to read his book?

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