Search Results for: myth


Maurice Casey’s Mind “Boggles” Reading Thomas L. Thompson’s Messiah Myth

by Neil Godfrey
Cover of "The Messiah Myth: The Near East...

Cover via Amazon

Maurice Casey (Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?) critiques Thomas L. Thompson’s The Messiah Myth without giving his readers any idea of its stated purpose or overall argument. I suspect Casey himself did not know what it was about and could not explain its argument if he tried since he had made up his mind before reading it that it was an attempt to prove there was no historical Jesus.

Casey is already on record as being quite perplexed when he encounters new perspectives on old problems and he remains true to form when confronted with Thomas L. Thompson’s work.

I will explain what Thompson’s was attempting to achieve with the book in a moment but notice that Casey from the start faults it for not being about what he thought it should be about:

A supposedly scholarly attempt to cast doubt on the historicity of the teaching of Jesus is an extraordinary book by the Old Testament ‘scholar’ Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth, published in 2005. It demonstrates lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and of New Testament scholarship, and has remarkably little to say about Jesus. (Jesus: Evidence and Argument, p. 221)

Casey cannot even bring himself to fully acknowledge Thompson’s credentials as an Old Testament scholar of high international standing. What Casey means by The Messiah Myth‘s “demonstration of lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and NT scholarship” and its paucity of information about Jesus is that the book is not about Casey’s assumptions of what first-century Judaism looked like, nor is it about NT scholarship or Jesus as these are traditionally addressed in studies on the historical Jesus. Casey might as well have added that the work “demonstrates a lack of knowledge of” knitting and abseiling.

Thompson’s book is about the messiah myth as it is found throughout ancient Middle Eastern literature. It is an attempt to offer a new perspective for how scholars might approach the Bible as historians. Too rarely biblical scholars have stopped to ask if the authors of the historical books of the Bible had the same sense of past history as we do. The first task of historians should be to fully grasp the literary and theological nature of the works they are studying. Full justice to that enquiry can only be accomplished if the historian first and foremost has a thorough grasp of comparable literary and theological sources throughout that region’s cultural history. Before we assume that the narratives in the biblical works are windows to historical events it is better first to acquaint oneself with other literature of that cultural region and what it often meant to convey when speaking of the past.

The assumption that the narratives of the Bible are accounts of the past asserts a function for our texts that needs to be demonstrated as it competes with other more apparent functions.

. . . . Are archaeologists and historians dealing with the same kind of past as the Bible does? This, I think, is the central question of the current debate about history and the Bible, rather than the questions that have dominated. Can biblical stories be used to write a modern history of the ancient past — whether of the individuals or of the events in which they participate? . . . The Bible uses . . . historical information for other purposes, in the way that literature has always used what was known of the past. (The Messiah Myth, p. x)

At this point I think I can justly point to some recent posts I have written about the nature of ancient historiography. Ancient historians were quite capable of fabricating stories about the past when it suited their ideological or pedagogical purposes. Those fabrications could well be considered “true” if they were written “true to life”, that is, realistically. read more »


Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

by Neil Godfrey

This is a followup to my previous post, Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted, where I set out Casey’s list of

the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’ today (p. 10)

Casey’s list counted seventeen names. Of those seventeen we saw that six were not mythicists at all (e.g. Bart Ehrman) and one was deceased some years before Casey even began to write his draft for his book.

For easy reference I set out here in two tables the names of

  • genuine contemporary mythicists along with their religious backgrounds,
  • others who raise the question of mythicism or examine Christian origins without reference to assumptions of a historical Jesus.

Three possible conclusions to be drawn from these tables (updated 10th March):

  1. Liberal religious backgrounds are twice as likely as American Fundamentalism to breed future mythicist or mythicist sympathizers (15 to 7);
  2. Ex-fundamentalists who are mythicists are more as likely to be favourably disposed towards Christianity as disinterested in or opposed to it;
  3. Pending further investigation, it appears that American Fundamentalists are the least likely to gravitate towards mythicism or mythicist sympathies than those with liberal or no religious backgrounds.

I’m tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the tables do demonstrate that claims that mythicism is a symptom of psychological derangement among ex-fundamentalists is as ignorant and bigoted as stereotyping Jews with hook-noses and greedy.

Since Casey proposes what he calls the “striking fact” that . . .

the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American (p. 2)

. . . I list the names according to their past religious affiliations using Casey’s own accounts as my primary source. (Casey’s point about “claiming to be ‘scholars’” is a bit of puerile churlishness that I ignore. Earl Doherty does not claim to be a professional scholar and other names are well known to have recognized academic credentials in related or other fields.)

I have added seven names to Casey’s list. Two of those have not published arguments that Jesus did not exist but they are of interest in this context because they have written (in print and/or online) radical hypotheses on the identity of Paul. The names of those whose methods of argument are controversial among mythicists and/or who appear to be promoting a belief system that approximates to a contemporary version of gnosticism (Freke and Gandy) or pantheism (Murdock) are in italics.

Let me know if I have overlooked any significant names. (HJ = Historical Jesus)


Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background


Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] George Albert Wells
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
 Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Raphael Lataster*

* Raphael Lataster, author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God, had has quite a spiritual journey. Unfortunately Casey does not have a category for  ambiguity. read more »


Maurice Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted

by Neil Godfrey

devil_450If Maurice Casey’s book Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths? were about Jews or Gays or Blacks or the Disabled he and his publisher may well be charged with inciting hatred against “the other”. Mythicists are portrayed as all alike, they are all psychologically twisted and motivated by evil intent, their faults are never innocent but always wilful, and they are a baleful influence on society generally. This book demonizes “mythicists”.

And like racist or homophobic literature it peddles its own myths and falsehoods.

There is never a lighter moment of human understanding and toleration or acceptance that the different views of “mythicists” might be honestly informed and sincere. Casey hammers into readers the message that mythicists are flat wrong about everything and that’s because they are incorrigibly unlearned and without exception despise genuine scholarship. If their evil motive is not the consequence of the way they have been psychologically and permanently ruined by their past association with a fundamentalist form of Christianity it is because they are, well, “bizarre”.

This book is the equivalent of a McCarthyist or anti-semitic tract. We need a new term to describe this demonization of mythicists. In the wider community now we even have the equivalent of racist and homophobic epithets that convey the contempt and loathing of “the other”. Myther and mythtic join the ranks of wog and fag.

A major theme of Maurice Casey (and one persistently expressed by his student and carer, Stephanie Fisher, in her almost 300 comments left on this blog two to four years ago) is that most mythicists are psychologically bent. The reason is simple. They (most of them) were once fundamentalists. Reading Casey’s book is a tiresome déjà vu experience: I find myself reading the same phrases, the same accusations, the same projections, the same misunderstandings as Stephanie continually unleashed between 2010 and 2012 on Vridar. At the time Stephanie petulantly repeated her threat to “go and tell” her “big brother surrogate”, Maurice Casey, all the complaints she had against me and to persuade him to write a book exposing me and all mythicists. So here it is. Steph’s revenge!

Sorry, Steph, but I cannot take it seriously. Anyone who does take it seriously despite the obvious vindictiveness that pervades it is not worth worrying about. It is a joke. My greatest amazement is that a publisher accepted it in the first place. Surely there’s a story to be told there one day.

Steph used to repeat the nonsense over and over that anyone who was a mythicist was motivated by a hatred of religion. And here we see the same old myth: when those who are now mythicists left their former religions they switched to being just as fundamentalist in their hatred of all forms of Christianity. They hate God and Jesus so much that they are determined to believe neither exists. The exceptions to the rule are, as we just noted, “bizarre”.

This crudely bigoted portrayal of mythicism was apparently picked up by Casey from Stephanie Fisher. In his Preface he writes:

Stephanie Fisher persuaded me to write this as she was concerned with a growing phenomenon, enhanced by amateur blogs on the internet and inspired partly by publications by Price and Doherty, that there was no historical Jesus. . . . She felt this mythicist element was fuelled by atheism and anti-religion which attacked scholarship as religiously motivated. . . . She therefore persuaded me to write this book.

Something “bizarre” often happens whenever Casey quotes words by those who have crossed him or his carer Stephanie. He quite often demonstrates a distinct inability to detect nuance and humour. Tim Widowfield and Richard Carrier in other posts have pointed out his failure to recognize humour in works he believes to be by mythicists; the same applies to nuance.

So, for example, when Casey finds an author whom he wishes to compare with mythicists he quotes him saying that a particular period of the Roman history is “one of the most historically documented times in history”, Casey immediately assesses the claim through either/or categories: “This is not the case”, he jumps in emphatically — look, “a normal province in the British Empire in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries” is far more “well documented” than “first-century rural Galilee”!

Or when another writer speaks of Joseph and Mary taking the baby Jesus down to Egypt and later “returning” to Nazareth, Casey cannot accept that the author might be using the term “return” in a general or short-hand sense and that he does not literally mean to imply that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Everyone knows the birth took place in Bethlehem, but it seems Casey is a product of a low-context culture and needs to have every nuance explicitly spelled out for him.

The pity of this is that Casey (and Stephanie) have embraced a black-and-white, one could even say Manichaean, two-dimensional view of those with whom they find themselves in disagreement when it comes to what they see as certain fundamentals.

And their inability to understand others in any normal rounded sense is not restricted to those they believe are mythicists. Casey uses this book to kick hard and personally at a number of scholars who have nothing to do with mythicism — apparently for no reason other than that they have criticized his work in the past. Americans particularly come in for a sound hiding. Casey stereotypes “the others” and their views.

So, with the occasional exceptions, for Casey

  • Americans are regrettably deficient in every way — in scholarship, in social decency, and so forth;
  • To move from fundamentalism to atheism is a mark of improper extremism: Casey even remarks (surely with a touch of ASD?) that such people could not have been aware that there are many “decent and reasonable Christians” who are not fundamentalist!
  • Any argument that concludes that Hellenism more than Judaism is to be found in the earliest evidence for Christianity must by definition be anti-Jewish.

My next point may not really be related, but it comes to mind so I’ll leave it here in passing. Casey’s style is marked by starkly uniform, dogmatic, simple sentence expressions. He varies his style very little. His tenses are often bluntly simple with fewer subtleties (past perfects, third conditionals) one normally associates with educated expression. Grammatically complex sentences that manage to carry multiple thoughts related to each other with any degree of complexity — the sorts of expressions one expects to find in scholarly literature especially — are noticeably absent from Casey’s writing. The overall effect is that one feels one is being bludgeoned page after page with dogmatisms. Casey lacks any ability to engage the reader in a vicarious dialogue.

Dominant message

It is very striking that the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American. (p. 2)

This was a major theme introduced in the Preface and on page two it is launched. But an irony is soon to follow. read more »


How History Was Done in Bible Times: Myths about Herodotus and Thucydides

by Neil Godfrey

Was it acceptable for Greek, Roman and Jewish historians to invent accounts of the past?

Did even historians imitate and creatively reproduce entire passages from the great epic poems and tragic plays of their day?

Can we trust ancient historians who declare they relied upon eyewitness reports?

How does our understanding of history differ from the ancient concept of “historia”?

What implications do the answers to these questions have for the way we interpret the historical books of the Bible?

Thucydides has long been reputed to have been the first “scientific historian”. In his introduction he clearly indicates that his account of the Peloponnesian War is to be based on eyewitness reports and his own personal observations. He will eschew all myth and fable. His prose is austere, complex and compressed. He is accordingly judged to be a sober, critical, authoritative historian.


A.J. Woodman

Classicist A. J. Woodman in a 1988 publication, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies, showed us that these views of Thucydides were in fact myths. Moderns have naively taken Thucydides’ words at face value or sometimes misinterpreted them in the light of modern ideals of how history should be written. We have also failed to recognize that even this “founder of scientific history” is in fact writing creative fiction that very often has more in common with Homeric epics and Greek tragedies than dry, scientific history.

So how is this possible? And if we can err in attributing our ideas of historical interests to Thucydides can we be sure we are not making the same mistakes with, say, Luke-Acts?

Before Thucydides we have Herodotus. Woodman begins by pointing out a few important details about this “father of history” that we will soon see carry over to Thucydides despite the many obvious differences between these two historians. read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #10: Josephus as Evidence & the Arabic Version of the Testimonium

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate


Tim O’Neill (TO) rightly says of some of the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus:

quote_begin After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. (O’Neill, 2011) quote_end

Yet curiously not a single aspect of evidence addressed by either David Fitzgerald (DF) or himself in his reviews of DF’s work has hit on anything that he finds ambiguous or difficult to interpret. In every point of disagreement TO suggests DF is nothing but a liar or a fool.

The first unambiguous retort TO makes to DF’s treatment of Josephus is the dogmatic assertion that Josephus mentions Jesus twice. No argument. No ambiguity. No uncertainty.

Josephus does mention Jesus – twice.  So any Myther book or article [arguing the Christ Myth thesis] has to spill a lot of ink trying to explain these highly inconvenient mentions away.

Then again,

[T]he passage has Josephus saying things about Jesus that no Jewish non-Christian would say, such as “He was the Messiah” and “he appeared to them alive on the third day”.  So, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald takes the usual Myther [Christ Myth] tack and rejects the whole passage as a later addition and rejects the idea that Josephus mentioned Jesus here at all.

Interpolation a “mythicist” argument?

This is most curious. The actual fact is that most mainstream scholars until after the Second World War generally agreed that the entire passage was an interpolation. Or if not entirely an interpolation, the fact that it had been tampered with at all rendered it useless as historical evidence. I have quoted the evidence for the prevalence of these views in my post, What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus.

Today, however, it seems that “the majority of scholars” accept the contrary view, that Josephus did indeed say something about Jesus beneath the obvious Christian overlay. Given that most New Testament scholars are ideologically predisposed to belief in Jesus, and that Josephus’s testimony is the only non-biblical evidence we have from the first century for Jesus, I would not be surprised if a majority did think this. But so what? If a significant minority still leans towards the view that the entire Josephan passages is a forgery or useless as evidence, then it hardly seems reasonable to dismiss this view as the preserve of Christ Myth supporters.

Sociological explanation for the revised view of Josephus as evidence

The evidence is essentially the same. (Although in 1971 Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium were also brought to light.) What has changed are the trends in interpretation of the evidence.

One sees a possible explanation for this new trend in Alice Whealey’s 2003 book, Josephus on Jesus, and again in her article, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic” in New Testament Studies, Vol. 54, Issue 4, Oct 2008, pp. 573-590. In the latter she explains:

In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become. (p. 575)

This says loads. It is a virtual confession that the shift in interpretation has been motivated to a significant extent as a reaction against both real and perceived strains of anti-semitism in earlier scholarship. The error here is that the personal bias and values of Josephus himself are trumped by an impulse to undo an earlier generation’s sins of negative stereotyping. The context in which the passage occurs is also bypassed. Josephus personally loathed any movement that stood in opposition to the political and religious status quo under Roman rule. Taking seriously both the personal bias of Josephus and the context in which the Testimonium Flavianum is found (it is in a list of calamities befalling the Jews in which the TF fits as comfortably as a pimple on one’s nose), even the so-called “neutral” core of that TF is problematic. read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #9: Josephus, 1 – Dave Fitzgerald on the Testimonium

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate


Tim O’Neill (TO) expresses a most worthy ideal in an exchange with David Fitzgerald (DF):

quote_begin What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis . . . . (O’Neill, 2013) quote_end

One would expect to find in TO’s review of DF’s book, Nailed!, therefore, at the very least, an honest acknowledgement of arguments in that book. Unfortunately anyone reading TO’s review would have no idea of DF’s overall argument on any point TO chooses to address.

Since I began these posts taking the trouble to expose TO’s bluff, ignorance and pretentious nonsense, the good man himself has responded by saying my posts are “nitpicking” and symptoms of a man “obsessed with him”. I can only smile with contentment over a job done reasonably well if that’s the best his vanity can muster in his defence.

Now it’s time to address TO’s criticism of DF’s discussion of the evidence of Josephus for the historicity of Jesus. This will take a few posts to complete. Let’s begin the way any honest reviewer of a work should always begin — that is, set out the arguments of the author one is reviewing. Since TO forgot this step I will outline the first of DF’s points here, and then we will compare TO’s initial critique.

I hope that these posts will have more value than they might if they were nothing more than responses to TO’s nonsense. Hopefully issues and arguments will be raised that some readers will find informative for their own sake.

DF’s chapter 3 is titled “Myth No. 3: Josephus Wrote About Jesus”. The first passage he addresses is the famous “Testimonium Flavianum” from book 18 of the Jewish historian’s Antiquities of the Jews. It translates as:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.

He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.

He was (the) Christ.

And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.

And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #8.5: Who did make it into the historical record?

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate


I have been neglecting to include David Fitzgerald’s (DF) own responses to some of Tim O’Neill’s (TO) diatribes against Nailed. Let’s make amends here. After all, TO did post a reply last year to DF’s response, so it’s only reasonable to see how the debate went. My own weariness with addressing TO’s rhetoric is also showing. I stated earlier that I intended to point out some of the small fry personalities that are recorded in our sources, making it doubly mysterious why Jesus should not have gained any attention, and it is time I kept my kept my promise. (Will do Josephus in the next post.)

TO skips around DF’s response above by saying all these other would-be messiahs are irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant to TO is that DF has been caught out on a semantic trap. The details were covered in Part 5 — clicking HERE will take you directly to the relevant section headed Manipulator or Debater. In that section we see how TO ignores the clear argument of DF and instead directs his readers to DFs initial ambiguous wording, and in 2013 he simply repeats his same tactic:

But the flaw in Fitzgerald’s argument does not lie in the lack of “would-be messiahs”. As he says, I listed plenty of those. What Fitzgerald skips around here is that the problem lies with the complete lack of these alleged (dare I say it mythical) “plenty” or even “scores” of writers who mention these other figures but fail to mention Jesus. He claims these writers exist and then backs that claim up with … nothing.

Never argue a substantive point if you can find an ambiguity in the original wording that you can twist for your own advantage. Of course DF “backs that claim up with …. nothing” because it is clear to anyone reading the book that he makes no such claim and TO’s entire rebuttal is based on an interpretation that goes against the grain of DF’s entire argument.

DF writes (2012) in response to the points TO made in his 2011 review:

. . . . O’Neill makes my point for me. He proceeds to name a few would-be messiahs from the first century:

  • Athronges (Athronges the Shepherd);
  • the unnamed Samaritan Taheb/messiah;
  • Theudas (also known as Theudas the Magician) . . . .:
  • and “the Egyptian” another failed Jewish messiah . . .

In actuality, as I alluded to in the section he quoted, there are many more loser messiahs and messiah-like figures that he could also have brought up:

  • Simon of Peraea,
  • Judas of Galilee,
  • John the Baptist,
  • Simon Magus/Simon of Gitta,
  • Yeshua ben Hananiah,
  • Jonathan the Weaver,
  • Apollonius of Tyana,
  • Carabbas,
  • Simon bar-Giora and still more.

(And if you’re interested, I do go into more detail on many of them in “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”) None of these failed messiahs, prophets and rabble-rousers succeeded anywhere near as well as our Jesus of Nazareth. But every one of these loser messiahs did beat Jesus on one crucial matter: all of them managed to leave a trace in the contemporary historical record – so why couldn’t Jesus? If O’Neill is right, the real Jesus was just “small fry” and his exploits and supposedly radical new teachings were ignored by history for his entire life – actually, for over a century. But if that’s so, O’Neill (or rather, those historians whom he’s parroting) can’t explain what for me is the central paradox of the Historical Jesus:

Either: he did and said all these amazing, earthshaking things – and no one noticed.

Or: he was just one more failed messiah of the early first century – and yet after his death, a fringe cult springs up, scattered all across the Roman Empire from Spain to the Egyptian Desert to Asia Minor, made up of bickering house churches that can’t agree about the most fundamental basics of his life and teachings.

This oft-encountered “Stealth Messiah” approach to the problem simply doesn’t hold up. (DF:2012 My formatting and bolding)

None of this is addressed by TO. He repeats (2013) his “gotcha” argument over the ambiguity of DF’s wording when he spoke about “many writers” and tells readers that all of the supposed would-be messiahs in the historical record attracted attention because they were responsible for major military confrontation with Roman armies. So let’s look at a few of these and compare with the record for Jesus.

Comparison with Athronges the Shepherd-King

read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #8: Why should anyone have noticed Jesus?

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.


quote_begin What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis . . . . (O’Neill, 2013) quote_end


Tim O’Neill (TO) repeats, and repeats again and again in both 2011 and 2013, another common apologist mantra in his review of David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Why would any Greek or Roman or even Jewish author have even noticed Jesus, let alone have bothered to write about him? After all, Jesus was just another nobody Jewish peasant and miracle worker — they were a dime a dozen — and this one was, even worse, in the “backblocks of Galilee”. Why, no-one apart from Josephus even mentions much more politically significant Jewish figures (various Jewish rebels) — (not true, as we saw in an earlier post) — so why would a Jewish peasant who didn’t even lead an armed rebellion against Rome have attracted any notice?

As I explained earlier, I have struck out some of TOs manipulative language and substituted more civil terms. In an effort to make an honest man of TO I have also struck out some blatant falsehoods and substituted statements that are verifiable.

  • Given that these historians make no mention of any other Jewish peasant preachers or miracle workers, it is hard to see why Fitzgerald thinks they should have done so with this one. As for things like his entry into Jerusalem, his trial and his crucifixion, it is equally difficult to see why they would be more than a one day wonder even locally. Why Fitzgerald thinks such minor events would be the talk of the whole Empire is a mystery. (2011)
  • A chanting crowd greeting his entrance to Jerusalem, a trial that no-one witnessed and a run-of-the-mill execution are hardly big news compared to mass movements that required the mobilisation of troops and pitched battles. Yet how many other historians so much as mention Athronges, the Samaritan, Theudas or the Egyptian? None. (2011)
  • Like many Mythers [Christ Myth theorists], he seems to think that the lack of any contemporary reference to Jesus is somehow a particularly telling point . . . (2011)
  • But in every case his argument suffers from the same fatal flaw: given that none of these writers mention any other Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants, there is absolutely no reason to think they “should” have mentioned Jesus. (2011)
  • None of his writers mention any such figures for the same reason they do not mention Jesus: because these writers had no interest in any such Jewish preachers and prophets. (2011)
  • Like most Mythicists, Fitzgerald attempts to make an argument from silence to support the idea that Jesus did not exist. These arguments usually boil down to this:
    • 1. Jesus is not mentioned by {insert First Century writer/writers here},
    • 2. {First Century writer/writers} should have mentioned Jesus if he existed,
    • 3. Therefore Jesus did not exist. (2013)
  • The key point to note here is that the weakness of the Mythicist argument from silence lies in its second premise: in order for the argument to work, it is not enough for the Mythicist to merely note that the writer/s in question don’t mention Jesus, but they have to also show they should have done so. That is slightly more tricky [and DF to his credit has managed to do just this]. This is why kooky Mythicist claims that, say, because Marcus Annaeus Lucanus [more than a dozen ancient names with an interest in the sorts of things Jesus was noted for, names listed below] makes no mention of Jesus he therefore didn’t exist [it is reasonable to ask why] are so utterly ridiculous. It is very difficult to show why a Roman poet from Spain whose sole remaining works are a single poem and a history of the war between Caesar and Pompey (in the century before Jesus was even born!) “should” have mentioned Jesus when he shows zero interest in Jewish affairs and makes no mention of any other Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers or Messianic claimants [so it should be noted that DF makes no such assertion and my example here is merely a cheap shot presented as a silly substitute for the many pertinent examples of authors DF does list and explain. I have no intention of mentioning any of the names he uses to make his case lest anyone think he might have a case after all]. (2013)
  • This [DF's supposedly "inferred claim" that there were scores of writers who spoke of failed messiahs -- see part 5] is because they don’t exist and his claim is complete garbage [flawed -- if one ignores the Roman historian exceptions who do indeed mention some messianic hopefuls and whom I completely forgot about]. Which means his whole argument collapses. . . . . (2013)
  • And these people [Christ Myth theorists like DF, at no time I know,] pretend [have ever claimed] they can’t get taken seriously by real scholars because of some vast academic conspiracy [-- we all know people like DF are not "conspiracy theorists" and that they do no more than point to the fundamental conservatism of the academy as explicitly addressed often enough by their own peers: Crossley, Hoffmann, Avalos . . . ]. Any rational person can see that someone like Fitzgerald can’t [can] be taken seriously because he can’t [can and does] back up his claims and keep his key arguments from collapsing in a heap. [My] Bluster doesn’t obscure[s the] basic [arguments that DF has presented -- and I think I have done a good job of suppressing them completely with my bluster. No reader of my review would have the slightest notion of his real case.] incompetence. (2013)

In case you didn’t get TO’s message:

  • There was nothing distinctive about the public acts of Jesus so we should not expect any contemporary to have noticed him
  • Other writers had no interest in any Jewish preachers and miracle-workers anyway — so why would they have noticed Jesus?

read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #7: Generalities on the lack of corroborating evidence

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.


quote_begin What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis . . . . (O’Neill, 2013) quote_end


Tim O’Neill (TO) leads readers to think that David Fitzgerald (DF) argues that

– because there is no contemporary record for miraculous and other clearly spurious events . . .
– therefore Jesus did not exist

Thus Fitzgerald goes on to detail things in the gospels which he argues should have been noticed by writers of the time: the taxing of the whole Roman Empire, the massacre in Bethlehem by Herod the Great, Jesus’ ministry generally, his miracles . . . . . For anyone other than a fundamentalist, this argument has zero force. Critical scholars, including many Christian ones, would simply chuckle at the idea that things like the story of an Empire-wide census or the Massacre of the Innocents are historical, so arguing they did not happen counts for nothing much when it comes to arguing against the existence of a historical Jesus.

Fitzgerald even seems to think that the fact the “Star of Bethlehem” and the darkness on Jesus’ death are unattested and therefore most likely did not happen (which is true) is somehow a blow against the existence of a historical Jesus (which is not).

Does DF suggest that arguments against the impossible count against the historical Jesus?

With respect to the empire-wide census, on pages 22 and 23 of Nailed DF makes it very clear that we would expect some record of such an event if it really happened. At no point does he link this absence to the conclusion that not even a more modest Jesus of the scholars existed. In fact, as we have already seen in previous posts in this series, DF explicitly points out that even though we have no evidence for all the miraculous or unlikely events we may still wonder if there is a “lesser Jesus” who really existed.

TO’s review suppresses this clear fact about DF’s argument and implies that he argues the very opposite — that DF thinks by disputing the empire-wide census and miraculous events such as the star of Bethlehem that he is somehow striking “a blow against the existence of [even a modest, non-Gospel] historical Jesus”. read more »


Universal Floods and Australian Dreamtime Myths

by Neil Godfrey

firstfootprintsI have almost completed reading First Footprints: The Epic Story of the First Australians by Scott Cane. It is based on the recent TV series of the same name. So few Australians know much about the history of aboriginal Australia and reading/viewing a work like this inspires one to call out for making such knowledge a core part of every Australian school’s curriculum. It not only has the potential to encourage an unprecedented respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, but also the hope of deepening our understanding of the way our environment changes and challenges its inhabitants over the long term.

The story starts with the staggeringly incomprehensible eruption of Mount Toba in central Sumatra, Indonesia, around 74,000 years ago. It dropped up to three metres of ash over much of India and Pakistan. It pushed out a 40 metre tsunami that was registered in the English Channel. “It blew 3000 cubic kilometres of volcanic rock into the air, beyond the world’s atmosphere and at least 40 kilometres into space at a rate of about 10 million tonnes per second.”

Darkness covered much of the world; forests turned to grassland; extinctions occurred; temperatures fell; and a world already facing droughts from an emerging ice-age plunged into even more devastating “mega-droughts” and perhaps the coldest the earth has ever been in the past 125,000 years.

The human population suffered horribly — reduced, perhaps, to a population of 50,000 people in which there were as few as 4000-10,000 breeding females. (p. 13)

The first evidence for human settlement in Australia comes in the wake of this event. Human survivors downwind and east of the eruption may have been the first to arrive; or perhaps the first settlers belonged to those who began their trek from Africa and followed the southern Asian coastline till they reached here. The founding population of Australia came in a wave of around 1000 people — according to genetic research.

They were met with megafauna: 3 metre high kangaroos, 7 metre long “lizards”, 2 metre high “geese”, herds of “wombats” standing 2 metres at the shoulder, lions lurking in trees ready to pounce on prey below. One way to control wildlife threats was to burn the forests and long grass around their dwellings and so remove the cover for the predators. Aborigines have continued to use fire for the same purpose into modern times — clearing out the long grass to remove threats of snakes and expose the holes where edible goannas hid. Later more sophisticated “fire-farming” was developed and changed much of the landscape of Australia into liveable “gardens” of plots that were regularly recycled for hunting and foraging.

I’d love to talk also about the nomadic feats of these early colonizers, all that we can learn about them from their rock art, and the way they used “Dreaming” (collections of tales of myths) to hold their communities together and to even guide them across vast distances like topographical maps. But the real reason I began this post was to talk about something of interest to those of us who have grown up with the Bible as our “foundation stone” of “true myths”.

The Dreamtime and the Flood Myths

18,000 to 15,000 years ago retreating glaciers ushered in a “wholly new” (Holocene) era of a warmer and wetter world. Sea levels rose. read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate the Christ Myth: #4, A False Dichotomy?

by Neil Godfrey



All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.


Tim O’Neill (TO) excoriates Dave Fitzgerald (DF) for

consistently depict[ing] the topic as some kind of starkly Manichaean conflict between Christian apologists on one hand and “critics who have disputed Christian claims” on the other (O’Neill 2011)

What’s more, he produces the evidence. It’s found in the “first pages” of Nailed. By “first pages” he does not mean the first two pages — he skips those, and for good reason, as we will see — but the third and fourth pages where he complains that DF mentions

evangelicals, conservative Christians and populist apologists like F.F. Bruce, R. Douglas Geivett and Josh McDowell in rapid succession. . .

So from the start Fitzgerald sets up an artificial dichotomy, with conservative apologists defending a traditional orthodox Jesus on one hand and brave “critics who (dispute) Christian claims” who don’t believe in any Jesus at all on the other. And nothing in between.

This is nonsense, because it ignores a vast middle ground of scholars – liberal Christian, Jewish, atheist and agnostic – who definitely “dispute Christian claims” but who also conclude that there was a human, Jewish, historical First Century preacher as the point of origin for the later stories of “Jesus Christ”. . . .

Most critical scholars have no time for the McDowell-style Jesus either, so the Jewish preacher they present as the historical Jesus behind the later gospel figure is left totally unscathed by Fitzgerald’s naive arguments. (O’Neill 2011)

That sounds pretty damning.

To anyone who has read Nailed, however, it sounds pretty confusing.

Confusing because anyone who read the first page would wonder what TO is talking about. Anyone who went on to read the second page would wonder why TO has chosen to ignore DF’s clear statement of purpose for the book. TO claims to be “reviewing” the work so it is astonishing by any standard that he makes no reference anywhere to the author’s clearly stated intentions.

One would also wonder why the “reviewer” failed to notice how DF presented “scholars” and “historians” throughout Nailed, in particular the way they are so very often depicted as holding positions opposed to those of most apologists and conservatives!

Before continuing, I have an apology to make. I promised to keep posts in this series down to around 1000 words. In this instance, however, in order to do justice to the claims of both TO and DF that is impossible.

So let’s begin. How does DF explain what the book is about and what its purpose is? Let’s start with the first two pages — the two pages TO overlooked.

read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald Christ-Myth Debate; #2, Point of Agreement

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.


The Ambiguity and Difficulty of the Evidence

Tim O’Neill in his initial review:

No-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. This, of course, merely means the idea he did not exist is simply valid, not that it’s true. (O’Neill 2011)

Dave Fitgerald’s response:

So much of what I argue should not sound controversial. O’Neill admits as much when he dismisses Myth No. 1 (“The idea that Jesus was a myth is ridiculous!”) as “not really controversial” and that: “After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence.” He and I are in almost in perfect agreement here. (Fitzgerald, 2012)

In the following series of posts it might be worth keeping this little exchange in view.

Which one of the debaters does in reality concede that any point relating to the historical existence of Jesus might indeed by “ambiguous” or “difficult to interpret with any certainty”.

In the following post we will see TO accuse DF of framing the debate in a black and white manner, but readers should note the ensuing exchange and decide which of the contestants is taking a dogmatic stance and denying any possibility of ambiguity or “uncertain interpretation” in the evidence under discussion.



The O’Neill–Fitzgerald Debate over the Christ Myth: Round 1, the Agenda

by Neil Godfrey



All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.


I don’t imagine very many people interested in the debate over the historical existence of Jesus would have the time to read Tim O’Neill’s 12,000+ word response David Fitzgerald’s response (10,000 words) to Tim O’Neill’s review (7,500 words) of David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All. Even fewer interested readers, I am sure, would have the time to stop and compare each of O’Neill’s points with its related Ftizgerald passage. However, it is only by comparing point by point claim and counter-claim that one can make a fair assessment of the validity of each of O’Neill’s responses.

Well, it has been a very quiet set of rainy days here so I have had time to set out the three articles side by side in columns and colour-code the matching sections of the discussion. So that makes it a little easier for me to follow and evaluate the arguments that have spanned tens of thousands of words and two full years.

But I promise I will not attempt to cover it all in a single post. I’ll do it in small chunks — I really will try to keep every post to around 1000 words — one point at a time.

I will attempt throughout these posts to censor O’Neill’s language to make it fit for readers who prefer exchanges to be civil and respectful in tone. And as usual all bolded font is my own emphasis. I’ll be adding my own perspective from time to time, too.

The Agenda!

One of the first points O’Neill made against Fitzgerald was that he represents a group of Christ Myth theorists who are driven by a desire to undermine Christianity. read more »


Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 4 (To Believe Or Not To Believe the Parable) — Conclusion

by Neil Godfrey

brodie3Brodie’s final chapter* is essentially an attempt to justify religious faith or belief. How can one believe in the New Testament (or God)? (This is the final post on this book: the complete series is archived here.)

He begins by suggesting it is quite possible to believe the New Testament’s message “as a parable”. One can “believe a parable”, he writes. He means that one can believe that its story conveys “an ultimate truth”. The details of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son stories are not true but “we believe” their message. One can even accrue some reassurance from reflecting upon all the witnesses of countless others who have believed through the ages.

Recall John Dominic Crossan’s The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus. As pointed out here over three posts Crossan argues that the Gospels are not historical reports but theological “parables” about the meaning of Jesus. One may wonder if he is stretching the meaning of “parable” to breaking point, but larger argument is really not very distant from Brodie’s. Naturally readers will ask themselves whether Jesus himself is a parable if all the stories about him are parables, so Crossan reassures readers that yes, Jesus was historical nonetheless. Indeed, it was his remarkable character that inspired all the parables about him. John Shelby Spong argues the same (Liberating the Gospels and Jesus for the Nonreligious). No doubt Crossan and Spong are not the only scholars to have settled upon such a view.

Virtually all the stories about Jesus are judged to be adaptations of Old Testament narratives in the judgment of Crossan and Spong (not too far from Brodie’s own argument) but Jesus himself was real. Jesus is real even though he is the central character of “parables” and “theological fictions” and his own name is itself a pun on his role in those “Gospel myths”.

Unlike Crossan and Spong, Brodie has concluded that the character Jesus is just as “parabolic” as any other person in the Gospels. (Even the historical Pilate was turned into a fictional character of “parable” in order to fit the theological agendas of the different evangelists.) In the same sense that he can “believe” the parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son he can “believe” the parable of Jesus Christ.

What good is Reason?

Brodie acknowledges the “struggle” many have with believing in a deity or spiritual dimension and this leads him into a discussion of belief and reason. Of course we know reason alone is not enough to create a good society, but Brodie appears to assume that what is missing is a spiritual dimension. For Brodie, the big questions revolve around reason and belief. read more »