Category Archives: Fitzgerald: Nailed


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:

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)

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):

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)

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?

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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 »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate, #6: Comparing Sources for Jesus and Hannibal

by Neil Godfrey



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


If Tim O’Neill (TO) is true to form he won’t let the fact that he insisted there is only one historian from antiquity who mentions anyone who might be considered a messianic claimant in the Jewish war of 66-73 CE dismay him. He will in all likelihood dismiss his oversight as insignificant, and claim that the opposite of the fact he was trying to make to support his case will be interpreted as equally strong evidence for his point! That’s how he responded when someone pointed out another claim of his — that we have no contemporary records of Hannibal — was also wrong. (O’Neill 2011)

TO’s sophistic analogy

Despite his fame then and now, we have precisely zero contemporary references to Hannibal. If we have no contemporary mentions of the man who almost destroyed the Roman Republic at the height of its power, the idea that we should expect any for an obscure peasant preacher in the backblocks of Galilee is patently absurd. (O’Neill 2011)

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman...

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC). Marble, 1704. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But TO’s comparison of the evidence we have or don’t have for Hannibal is misleading. He is drawing a quite false and confused analogy when he says that we should not expect any contemporary evidence for “an obscure [and “unimportant”] peasant preacher in the backblocks of Galilee” because we don’t even have any surviving contemporary records of Hannibal and other famous ancient persons.

This is simply very bad reasoning. Sophism at its “best”. The first premise of the argument is that contemporary records of the great and famous like Hannibal and Boudicca and Arminius did not survive. The second premise is quite unrelated: there were no records that were ever made of Jesus. The reason we have no contemporary records of some famous people of ancient times is that they were lost. Yet the argument for the absence of records about Jesus is not that they were lost but that no-one bothered to make any in the first place.

For the analogy to work we would have to believe that there were records of Jesus made but that they also were lost in time.

But the fact is Christians themselves came to assume responsibility for what ancient writings were preserved, so there was a powerful motive and means for those interested to preserve records of Jesus if they did exist, or at least preserve mention and epitomes of such records.

Further, though we do not have contemporary records of a number of famous persons we do have records that are derived from contemporary sources about them. If we only had anything similar among secular sources for Jesus it is almost certain that no-one would ever have questioned the historical existence of Jesus.

Imagine if a Roman or Greek historian wrote something like the following about Jesus. The historian Polybius is discussing the cause of the second Carthaginian War:

Why, then, it may be asked, have I made any mention of [the historian] Fabius and his theory? Certainly not through any fear that some readers might find it plausible enough to accept: its inherent improbability is self-evident . . . My real concern is to caution those who may read the book not to be misled by the authority of the author’s name, but to pay attention to the facts. For there are some people who are apt to dwell upon the personality of the writer rather than upon what he writes. They look to the fact that Fabius was a contemporary of Hannibal and a member of the Roman Senate, and immediately believe everything he says must be trusted. My personal opinion is that we should not treat his authority lightly, but equally should not regard it as final, and that in most cases readers should test his assertions by reference to the facts themselves. (Polybius, Book 3, from Ian Scott-Kilvert’s translation, Penguin, pp. 186-187)

So we do, in effect, have more contemporary sources for Hannibal than TO want to concede, but they are explicitly conveyed to us through later historians such as Polybius. Yes, agreed we do not have direct access to them. But we do have evidence that they existed, that there were contemporary recorders of Hannibal. We have no evidence for the same with Jesus.

Why not treat the Gospel sources equally with the Historical writings? read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald: #5, Should We Expect Any Roman Records About Failed Messiahs?

by Neil Godfrey

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

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailTim O’Neill (TO) writes some very true words that enable us to identify a “careful” and “honest” treatment of a work:

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)

So let’s see if TO himself has followed his own advice and given his readers a “careful, honest or even just competent treatment” of David Fitzgerald’s (DF) book.

Read TO’s second part of that above sentence:

but Fitzgerald does not even acknowledge this middle ground position – that of a historical Jesus who was not miraculous and does not conform closely to the Jesus of the gospels – even exists.

It is very difficult to approach a topic calmly and with dispassionate reasoning if one is predisposed to have a deep loathing for what one believes is in the printed page. It is almost impossible in that mood to grasp the original meaning of what one is reading. One will project into the page what one believes is there. One needs to let go of all defensiveness in order to read stuff like that fairly and respond meaningfully. That’s no excuse, of course. Any competent writer will recognize that sort of bias, confess it, and work against it.

As we saw in our previous post DF does indeed not only “acknowledge this middle ground position” but he frames his book with it: the opening pages and closing chapter are dedicated specifically to it. The same position further appears throughout the body of the book. So TO does not simply fail or neglect to deal with the full argument of David Fitzgerald’s (DF) book, he ‘carelessly, dishonestly or even just incompetently’ tells readers the opposite of the truth about its contents. I am reminded of several James McGrath’s “reviews” of Earl Doherty’s Neither God Nor Man. If “mythicism” is such an incompetent and silly proposition why do people need to write brazen falsehoods in order to refute it?

But maybe we are being harsh and he was tired and distracted while reading the arguments in DF’s Nailed that he tells his readers are not there.

So let’s give him another chance.

Another of TO’s damning indictments begins:

Fitzgerald insists that there are elements in the story of Jesus which should have been noticed by historians of the time and insists that there is no shortage of writers then who should have recorded some mention of them . . .  (O’Neill 2011)

He quite correctly quotes DF to support this:

There were plenty writers, both Roman and Jewish, who had great interest in and much to say about (Jesus’) region and its happenings …. We still have many of their writings today: volumes and volumes from scores of writers detailing humdrum events and lesser exploits of much more mundane figures in Roman Palestine, including several failed Messiahs. (Fitzgerald, p. 22)

DF did say that these other writers, both Roman and Jewish, did have enough interest in Palestine of the day to make mention of it in their writings — and he does say that their writings “included” mention of “several failed Messiahs”.

Manipulator or Debater?

TO then moves in to close the semantic trap. He accuses DF of saying that “scores of writers” wrote of failed Messiahs in Palestine: 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.

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O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate #3, Are Most Biblical Historians Christian Preachers?

by Neil Godfrey



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


In Nailed David Fitzgerald (DF) wrote:

It’s true enough that the majority of Biblical historians do not question the historicity of Jesus – but then again, the majority of Biblical historians have always been Christian preachers, so what else could we expect them to say? (p. 16)

Tim O’Neill (TO) responded:

This is glib, but it is also too simplistic. Many scholars working in relevant fields may well be Christians (and a tiny few may even be “preachers” as he claims, though not many), but a great many are definitely not.

Leading scholars like Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Ludemann are all non-Christians. Then there are the Jewish scholars like Mark Nanos, Alan Segal, Jacob Neusner, Hyam Maccoby and Geza Vermes. Even those scholars who describe themselves as Christians often hold ideas about Jesus that few church-goers would recognise, let alone be comfortable with and which are nothing like the positions of people like Geivett and McDowell. Dale C. Allison, E P Sanders and John Dominic Crossan may all regard themselves as Christians, but I doubt Josh McDowell would agree, given their highly non-orthodox ideas about the historical Jesus. (O’Neill 2011)

DF answered:

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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 »


Hypocritical Christ-mythers: Cameron’s response to Neil Godfrey at Vridar — & my response back

by Neil Godfrey
Русский: Григорий Распутин . English: Grigorij...


4 evolutionists (1873)


Herodotus and Thucydides


Cameron, a critic of Dave Fitzgerald’s Nailed, has responded to my remarks (Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists) about his accusation that those who reject the historicity of Jesus are hypocritical if they also criticize Creationists for rejecting an academic consensus. As seems to be par for the course with these sorts of attacks, derisive labels and character attacks are deployed against anyone who argues that Jesus was not a historical figure. Hence the generic title of his response: Hypocritical Christ-mythers.

Cameron begins his response thus:

In my review of David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed, I criticized Christ-mythers for ignoring the consensus of biblical scholars on the historical Jesus, while simultaneously attacking creationists for rejecting the consensus of scientists on evolution. Fitzgerald didn’t like the comparison, and neither did Neil Godfrey over at Vridar. But he’s wrong for the same reasons Fitzgerald is. His comments are in quotes, followed by my responses.

“Of course there is one professor who asserts that to the extent that biblical studies does have a degree of certainty (even though only a fraction of anything in the sciences), to that extent mythicists should respectfully submit to this consensus just as creationists should be rational and accept the authority of scientists. That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course doesn’t matter. What matters is that the most honourable professors in each have certainties. One just happens to have greater certainties than the other, that’s all.”

Of course there’s a degree of uncertainty involved when investigating historical figures, but to call biblical history a “Mickey Mouse course” is to reach a new level of special pleading. People like Godfrey make the entire field sound like a collection crazy, right-wing evangelicals bent on defending their worldview. The truth is that these scholars, whatever their ideological commitments may be, are interested in the truth. That most of them (even those skeptical of Christianity) have rejected the Christ-myth speaks volumes about its lack of validity. Furthermore, if mythicists are aware of the limitations of history, though they exaggerate them, don’t you think historians areas well? Yeah…they are. But somehow the experts rarely throw up their hands and exclaim, “well we weren’t there; Jesus probably wasn’t real!”

Whatever their ideological commitments?

Cameron portrays theologians who study “the historical Jesus” as reasonable enough to set aside their ideological commitments in order to objectively seek out only “the truth” of the matter. This is a naive Pollyannish portrayal of a scholarly field dominated by faith-committed theologians. Let’s break down Cameron’s comment and examine each piece.

Biblical studies is probably the most ideologically oriented of all academic disciplines. Hector Avalos has shown that clearly enough in The End of Biblical Studies. R. Joseph Hoffmann remarked on this blog that the reason the Christ myth theory is not given more attention among scholars has more to do with conditions of academic appointments than common sense. Stevan Davies recently pointed out that a list of the Westar Institute Fellows shows nearly all are or have been affiliated with seminaries and theological institutions. Most of the scholarly books one picks up on the historical Jesus contain prefaces or concluding chapters in which one reads reflections that sound more like homilies or spiritual confessions. James Crossley has publicly denounced the way biblical scholars so regularly open their academic get-togethers (seminars, workshops) with prayers. Blogs of theologian scholars are dominated by spiritual reflections and sayings. Atheists and atheism are generally derided. Ideology is important. The Christian faith dominates the entire field of biblical studies. To suggest that these scholars are all committed to setting aside their personal faith and seeking truth regardless of where it may lead sounds about as plausible as expecting Nazi era scientists to set aside their political ideology in order to study the biological grounds for racial differences.

That most of such scholars have rejected a model that undermines the entire ideological and faith foundations of this scholarly field tells us absolutely nothing about its lack of validity. read more »


Dave Fitzgerald sequel: Is the “Jesus of History” any more real than the “Jesus of Faith”?

by Neil Godfrey
The following post by David Fitzgerald is posted here with DF's permission; the original is at

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Is the “Jesus of History” any more real than the “Jesus of Faith”?

(From the upcoming book, Jesus: Mything in Action, by David Fitzgerald) 

Christianity had a good, long run. But we are long past the point where it’s reasonable to be agnostic about the so-called “Jesus of Faith.” It’s ridiculous to pretend the lack of historical corroboration of the spectacular Gospel events, let alone the New Testament’s own fundamental contradictions, aren’t a fatal problem for Jesus the divine Son of God.

For example:

  • Why does Philo of Alexandria discuss the contemporary state of first century Jewish sects in several of his writings, but not a word on the multitudes who followed the miracle-worker and bold, radical new teacher Jesus throughout the Galilee and Judea – or of all the long-dead Jewish saints who emerged from their freshly opened graves and wandered the streets of Jerusalem, appearing to many?
  • If Jesus was really found guilty of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, why was he not simply stoned to death, as Jewish law required (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:4 h & i)? Why is the original trial account of Jesus so full of other unhistorical details and just plain mistakes that could never have actually happen as portrayed? How can each successive gospel continue to overload the original story with their own additional layers of details that are mutually incompatible with the others?
  • Why does Seneca the Younger record all kinds of unusual natural phenomena in the seven books of his Quaestiones Naturales, including eclipses and earthquakes, but not mention the Star of Bethlehem, the pair of Judean earthquakes that were strong enough to split stones, or the hours of supernatural darkness that covered “all the land” – an event he would have witnessed firsthand?
  • Why can’t the Gospels agree on so many fundamental facts about Jesus’ life and ministry, such as what his relationship to John the Baptist was – and why was John the Baptist’s cult a rival to Christianity until at least the early second century? read more »


David Fitzgerald responds to Tim O’Neill’s review of Nailed

by Neil Godfrey

David Fitzgerald‘s essay, Ten Beautiful Lies About Jesus, that received an Honorable Mention in the 2010 Mythicist Prize contest has been expanded into a book, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Showed Jesus Never Existed At All. The book is clearly a hit:

Nailed continues to garner more fans and accolades, and generate cranky hate mail. I was especially proud to see Nailed voted one of the top 5 Atheist/Agnostic Books of 2010 in this year’s Reader’s Choice Awards! It’s a real thrill to have my book honored alongside world-class authors like the late, great Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawkins and all the contributors of John Loftus’ awesome, paradigm-wrecking collection The Christian Delusion. (From DF’s blog)

I’m especially pleased that David has given me permission to post a large chunk of his recent blogpost here. I began a couple of times to address Tim O’Neill’s ‘review’ of Nailed but never got beyond his first few points — Tim was so far from relating to anything that is actually written in the book that I could see it would take more time than it was worth to point it all out. (Perhaps we can coin a word for these sorts of anti-mythicist non-reviews; someone has suggested Grathneilians — though David happily reports he got along well with Dr McGrath, so that’s good.)  So I usually ended up just posting two links: one to the first part of Tim’s review and the other to the relevant portion of Nailed online so anyone could read for themselves how off the planet Tim’s remarks were.

(There is another review of the bookhere.)

So I’m especially pleased David himself has taken the time to respond. Check it out on his blog where there are other comments. Since I know many hate following links I’ve sought permission to post it here, too:

And Then There’s This Guy

That said, there is one review that I do want to respond to here; not simply because it’s almost completely wrong, but because it’s often so ass-backwards wrong in ways that actually prove the points I argue. (and because demonstrating all this gives a surprisingly high entertainment value) It’s the screed-in-book review’s clothing from an Australian blogger, Tim O’Neill. O’Neill calls himself a “wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, silly, rather arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard,” so you would think we would get along like a house on fire. Sadly, no. As George Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago, if you roast an Irishman on the spit, you can always get another Irishman to turn the crank… read more »