I trust I have set out Professor McGrath’s proofs for the historical existence of Jesus fairly and accurately in my previous post. Since the Professor has declined to engage in discussion with me I wonder if any interested readers would like to raise the following questions with him and alert us here of his responses.
Paul says Jesus was of the seed of David according to the flesh — thus indicating he believed him to be historical. Here Paul is talking specifically about “the Davidic anointed one” and referring to a “kingly figure” and the “expectation that the kingship would be restored to the dynasty of David”. That expectation meant that the messiah would be made the king, not crucified. So crucifixion was almost automatic disqualification from being the Davidic messiah.
“So if you’re inventing a religion from scratch and trying to convince Jews that this figure is the Davidical anointed one, then you don’t invent that he was crucified.”
If Jesus was crucified then is it not equally unlikely that the early disciples would have come to interpret him as having been the Davidic Messiah? Yet they obviously did interpret Jesus this way despite his crucifixion. So how can we explain a historical crucified man being interpreted as having been the Davidic Messiah? Is not your argument invalidated by the very fact that the early Christians chose to interpret a crucified one as the Davidic Messiah?
Is not the answer to this question found in the fact that the crucifixion was not seen as the end of Jesus’ life but only as the beginning of his highly exalted heavenly life from where he was believed to have subdued all evil powers, even death itself? In other words, is not the crucifixion of Jesus interpreted as the gateway to his being the exalted Davidic Lord having destroyed a far greater enemy than Rome?
Do we not have evidence that the first evangelist to write a gospel interpreted the Davidic Messiah in just this way when he had Jesus utter the opening words of abandonment of a Psalm said to be about David — Psalm 22:1? Does not the same evangelist portray Jesus as like David in other ways, too — e.g. being rejected by his family; the prayerful night-time ascent to the Mount of Olives as he was about to face death? And it is of this point in David’s life that Psalm 22 is thought by some to reference.
Is it not highly conceivable that anyone wanting to create a messiah who emulate and even transvalues the Davidic King, that he would create a figure undergoing similar but even greater trials than David — and having even greater reward and authority at the end of them all? Is that not what we see in Jesus — a Davidic figure warring against demons and undergoing the extreme stress that called to mind Psalm 22? And all of this as a prelude to being exalted to the spiritual throne of David and of his Lord? (Recall Jesus reminded his hearers that the son of David was David’s Lord!)
Do we not have the studies of Hengel and others to support this when they demonstrate the close association between the Son of Man in Daniel and Suffering Servant in Isaiah and one pierced in Zechariah and the strong indications that some Jews were indeed toying with ideas of a messianic figure with Davidic associations who would die and be resurrected to glory and power?
Mythicists often credulously swallow what historians find problematic. Example: mythicists often claim Jesus was based upon Old Testament prophecies as their fulfilment. It seems to McGrath that these mythicists have only heard this claim from Christian apologists or the NT authors themselves and that they haven’t actually looked carefully at these texts. In fact most of the scriptures are not prophecies at all and the few he seems to fulfil he doesn’t really (unless one forces the interpretation) so — if you’re inventing someone who fulfils the prophecies, you invent one who fulfils the prophecies. (Jesus doesn’t fit this bill.)
When we see the evangelists trying to link Jesus’ life with texts that don’t really fit him at all, then we have a situation where they have a real figure and they are struggling to make him fit — they can’t just make up anything about his life that they wanted to.
Understood. But at the same time don’t we have a problem if Jesus’s life did not really fit anything in the scriptures then why did his followers go to such extreme and unpersuasive lengths to try to say he really really did if we just use our imaginations a lot and pretend that these Jewish Scriptures almost say something like what he almost did? Does that make sense if that’s what they did — as you seem to be implying in your criticism here?
On the other hand, don’t we have many examples of Jewish authors using a form of haggadic midrash (and I’m relying on Jewish scholars of midrash when I raise this point) finding what look like bizarre or unnatural connections between Jewish scriptures and literary figures they create? Is not the way Jesus is portrayed in the gospels just another example of this sort of Jewish creative writing?
McGrath: No one would say that Socrates did not exist if the earliest evidence for Socrates came from a disciple of his. So it is bizarre to discount the evidence of early “Christians” for Jesus.
Is not the point of the mythicists that unlike case of Socrates we have no writings from any eyewitness disciples of Jesus? If we had the sort of evidence for Jesus as we have for Socrates — contemporaries, disciples and opponents alike — then there would be no question about the existence of Jesus. Atheists don’t need Jesus not to exist, after all. In fact it’s much easier for atheists to discredit Christianity (if that’s what they want to do) by pointing out the sorts of bad behaviour and teachings that Avalos and Price have dwelt upon in their books (Bad Jesus and Blaming Jesus). I think the problem is that the evidence for Jesus is so much less than it is for, say, Socrates.
Paul says he met the “brother of Jesus (sic)”
I think you’ll find the actual word used in Galatians is “Lord”, not “Jesus”. But this is a common mistake and we can leave it aside for now. The bigger questions pertain to the implications of this passage in Galatians actually being penned by Paul and literally referring to a sibling of Jesus. If James really had been the brother of Jesus then why do we not find a single other reference to this surely most highly significant relationship in any other epistle, in Acts, and why no hint that this James was to become the leader of the Church in any of the gospels? And we have so many other questions relating to Paul’s attitude toward James and the Jerusalem church if this James was so related. Is it not reasonable to at least pause and think through alternative possibilities for Galatians 1:19 given the very major questions our traditional interpretation raises?
If anyone does take any of these questions to Professor McGrath please do remember to approach him humbly, respectfully, politely and sincerely. We don’t want any hint of “despicable behavior” coming from this quarter! 😉
This is my last night in Bangkok. Tomorrow night I’ll be somewhere over Indonesia heading back to Australia after a holiday that really has been a total break from all normal routines. Pity me on Monday morning when I front up to work at 8 am after having landed around 3 or 4 am. Ouch. Reality is about to bite.