Category Archives: Earl Doherty


2012-06-23

21. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 21

by Earl Doherty

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“Key Data” in Proving Jesus’ Historicity – The Crucified Messiah

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The conflict between messianic expectation and result
  • Assumptions based on the Gospels and Acts
  • Why did Paul persecute the early church?
  • Paul’s gospel vs. Ehrman’s view of early church beliefs
  • Christ as “curse” for being “hanged on a tree”
  • Paul switching horses in mid-stream
  • A new view of Christian origins
  • The traditional Jewish Messiah
  • Jesus as lower class Galilean peasant
  • Who would make up a crucified Messiah?

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 156-174)

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A conflict between expectation and history

To introduce his second piece of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure,” (p. 144) Bart Ehrman offers this:

These early Christians from day one believed that Jesus was the messiah. But they knew that he had been crucified. (p. 156)

This is a good example of what happens when one’s thinking is stuck firmly inside the box. The point Ehrman is making is that the concept of the “messiah,” the expectation of what he would be and what he would do, conflicted with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. In other words, historical expectations were at odds with (alleged) historical events. But if that is indeed one’s starting assumption, and if it is wrong, then it will lead us down all sorts of problematic garden paths and into conclusions which are not only erroneous but unnecessary.

The first part of this assumption, entirely based on the Gospels and Acts, is that certain people made judgments about a certain historical man. If that were the case, then an anomaly would certainly exist between traditional ideas about the messiah and what the life of that man actually entailed. Why, then, the question arises, did those people come to such a judgment when it conflicted so much with standard messianic expectation?

But all we have to do is ask: what if no judgment was initially made about any historical man? Everything that follows would then be entirely different, and perhaps more amenable to understanding how Christianity began and showing a conformity to what some of the texts themselves are telling us.

Paul’s persecution of the church

For reasons that may not seem self-evident at first, claiming that Jesus was crucified is a powerful argument that Jesus actually lived. (p. 156)

Ehrman’s route to supporting this statement is a complicated one. He first calls attention to Paul’s persecution of the church in Judea prior to his conversion. He notes that Paul says nothing specific about what the beliefs of that early church were, or on what particular grounds it was subjected to persecution by the authorities, with himself acting as their agent. Nothing daunted, Ehrman steps into that breach. But because he has made the initial assumption that an historical man was interpreted as the messiah, he embarks on a chain of speculation which not only contains problems, but also looks to be completely off the path of reality. read more »


2012-06-18

20. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 20

by Earl Doherty

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The Brother of the Lord

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • brother of the Lord
  • the meaning of “brother” in the epistles
  • brethren of a sect?
  • plain meanings
  • apologist objections:
    • who is “the Lord”?
    • battle of the prepositions
  • question begging as methodology
  • why not “brother of Jesus”?
  • or “brothers of Jesus”?
  • separating Cephas and James
  • G. A. Wells: a Jewish messianic group?
  • more grammar: genitive vs dative
  • Josephus’ James
  • Ehrman on Robert Price
  • “brother of the Lord” as a marginal gloss
  • question begging as methodology: Ehrman as beggar

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Paul’s Associations

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 145-156)

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English: James the Just, Lord´s brother. Russi...

In his 5th chapter (approximately halfway through the book), Ehrman says he will “wrap up” his discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus by putting forward two points, two pieces of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure.”

The first of these is a favorite of apologists everywhere, because it is so straightforward, so plain. No complex study of a text is required, no knowledge about ancient philosophy or obscure languages is necessary. We merely need to bring an obvious meaning to a five-word phrase, a phrase that is simple even in the original Greek where it is only four words, prefaced by a man’s name: “Iakōbon ton adelphon tou kuriou”:

James, the brother of the Lord

What could be simpler? We ‘know’ from the Gospels that Jesus had a brother named James. Here Paul is declaring that when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion to get to know Cephas, he also saw “James, the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19). How could Jesus have had a brother if he had not lived on earth? Can mythicists not read?

Fortunately, we can. We can read a host of other appearances of the word “brother” (adelphos) in the epistles. Here are a few:

Rom. 16:23 – Greetings also from . . . our brother Quartus.

1 Cor. 1:1 – Paul . . . and our brother Sosthenes

1 Cor. 5:11 – you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is immoral or greedy . . .

1 Cor. 7:12 – If any brother has an unbelieving wife . . .

1 Cor. 8:13 – If food causes my brother to stumble . . . I will not cause my brother to fall.

1 Cor. 16:11-12 – I am expecting (Timothy) along with the brothers. As for brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers.

2 Cor. 2:13 – . . . because I did not find my brother Titus there.

2 Cor. 8:18 – We are sending with him the brother who is praised by all the churches . . .

Phil. 2:25 – . . . to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker . . .

Col. 4:7 – (Tychicus) is a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.

1 Thes. 3:2 – Timothy, our brother and fellow-worker of God in the gospel of Christ.

1 Tim. 3:15 – Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

1 Pet. 5:12 – Silvanus, the faithful brother . . .

2 Pet. 3:15 – Paul, our friend and brother . . .

Rev. 1:9 – I, John, your brother, who share with you . . .

Brethren of a sect

All of these refer unmistakeably to men who are members of the sect (and there are a handful of occurrences of the word “sister” referring unmistakeably to a female member of the sect). The above amount to 14 out of a total of over 40 in the epistles.

In addition, there are about a dozen which, while ambiguously worded, are also virtually certain to be meant as members of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 6:6 – Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers [brothers], but one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers?

James 2:15 – If a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day . . .

James 4:11 – He who disparages a brother or passes judgment on his brother disparages the law and judges the law.

1 Jn 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.

1 Jn 3:10-11 – No one who does not do right is God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love his brother. The latter means a member of sect, since: For the message you have heard from the beginning is this: that we should love one another.

And that’s just in the singular. References to “brothers” in the plural also abound in the dozens, with a clear meaning of “brethren” of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 15:6 – Then he was seen by over five hundred brothers at once.

Heb. 2:11 – . . . for which reason, he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call (the ones made holy, i.e., believers) his brothers.

1 Pet. 5:9 – You know that our brotherhood throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And at this point we need to note the reference in 1 Corinthians 9:5 to “the brothers of the Lord” which is regularly paired with Galatians 1:19 as allegedly referring to siblings of Jesus.

Plain meanings

In the singular, I have been able to locate in the epistles and Revelation only two usages of the word “brother” having the clear meaning of “sibling”: a reference in 1 John to Cain as the murderer of his brother Abel, and the ascription heading the epistle of Jude: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” In the plural there is technically one, in 1 Timothy 5:2. As far as the world of the epistle writers is concerned, a “plain meaning” of “brother” equals the sense of “brethren” in a religious group; it is at least as natural as the sense of sibling. We in the 21st century rarely employ that sense, so to impose our idea of ‘plain meaning’ on theirs is an unjustified anachronism.

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But the apologist objects: “Your examples don’t refer to any of these ‘brothers’ in relation to Jesus!” read more »


2012-06-11

19. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 19

by Earl Doherty

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The Pauline Epistles – Part Two

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • “Words of the Lord”: from earth or heaven?
  • Why doesn’t Paul quote Jesus more extensively?
  • The epistles exclude an historical Jesus
  • Paul’s conversion chronology
    • Paul’s crash course on Jesus from Cephas and James
  • How much interpolation in Paul?
  • Surveying the counterarguments
  • Ehrman answering G. A. Wells
  • Why did Paul not use Jesus’ miracles to prove the imminence of the kingdom?

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The Witness of Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 125-140)

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The Teachings of Jesus in Paul

In this category, Bart Ehrman has precious little to work with. (He has actually referred to the two parts of Jesus’ Eucharistic pronouncement at The Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as “two sayings,” an attempt at ‘padding’ I’ve never seen before!) Now his focus is on the two little “words of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 9:14. Not only are these precious little, they are of paltry substance compared to the great ethical teachings of the Gospels, on which Paul and every other epistle writer has not a word to say.

The first is given by Ehrman as:

But to those who are married I give this charge—not I, but the Lord—a woman is not to be separated from her husband (but if she is separated, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and a man should not divorce his wife.

Ehrman refers to this as a paraphrase of

. . . a saying of Jesus [as in Mark 10:11-12] in urging believers to remain married; that this is a saying tradition going back to Jesus is shown by the fact that at this point Paul stresses that it is not he who is giving this instruction but that it was already given by the Lord himself. (DJE? p. 125)

Ehrman would do well on the staffs of New Testament publications like the NEB who regularly wear Gospel-colored glasses when doing their translations. His “it was already given by the Lord himself” nicely conveys a saying delivered by Jesus in the past, which Paul knows through oral tradition. But if those glasses are set aside, one gets a very different impression. And one that fits what the text actually says:

To the married, I enjoin—not I, but the Lord . . .

The words are saying that the Lord enjoins you now: ‘It is not I who enjoins you this way, but the Lord who enjoins you this way.’ In the present, not the past. How is the Lord doing this in the present? Through Paul as his spokesperson.

From earth or from heaven?

Ehrman makes only a cursory reference to a prominent thread in mainstream scholarship over the last several decades which sees Paul and other Christian apostles/prophets proclaiming words which they believe they have received directly from the Lord in heaven. Werner Kelber (The Oral and the Written Gospel, p.206) says: read more »


2012-06-08

18. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.18

by Earl Doherty

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The Pauline Epistles – Part One

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Born of woman, born under the Law: authentic to Paul?
  • Jesus ministering to the Jews
  • a “missing equation”: Paul’s Christ = the Gospel Jesus
  • Romans 1:3 – “of David’s seed kata sarka
  • “brother(s) of the Lord”: a preliminary look
  • “the twelve”
  • Paul’s “Lord’s Supper” a revelation
  • “betrayed” or “handed over” by God?
  • “at night”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus”

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The Witness of Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 117-125)

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I would like to think that Bart Ehrman could at least have provided a few new insights, some new arguments to explain the silence in Paul on an historical Jesus (and by extension in all the other epistle writers). But once again he disappoints the hungry historicist. This is the same old stale table fare, and it provides no nourishment for those starved of healthy evidence that Paul knew an historical Jesus.

By way of introduction to his ‘evidence,’ Ehrman appeals to the old bugaboo that mythicists are nothing more than interpolation experts, throwing out inconvenient passages right and left. Not only is this a vast exaggeration (certainly where I myself am concerned), he fails to grapple with mythicist arguments in favor of interpolation when they do occur.

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Born of Woman?

The first Pauline passage Ehrman spotlights is one of those cases. Galatians 4:4 allegedly contained the phrase “born of woman, born under the Law.” While it is possible to interpret this in a mythicist context (see below and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, chapter 15, which discusses both the authentic and inauthentic options), I now believe interpolation to be the preferable choice. Ironically, Ehrman himself has given us some grounds to consider this.

In his (far superior) book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, he points out that in the manuscript record this phrase was a favorite for doctoring by later scribes, who changed the operative participle to supposedly better reflect a fully human Jesus in opposition to Gnostics who were claiming that Christ was docetic.

Taken with the fact that Tertullian seems to indicate that the phrase was lacking in Marcion’s version of Galatians, we are justified in suggesting that the phrase could earlier have been inserted in its entirety for the same purpose. It can also be demonstrated that the idea in the phrase itself serves no practical purpose in the passage. And it has been asked why Paul would have needed to make the obvious statement that an historical Jesus had been “born of woman.”

Ginomai” vs. “Gennaō”

On the authenticity side of the coin, for the word translated as “born” in regard to Jesus (including in Romans 1:3) Paul uses a different verb (ginomai) than that used for every other reference to anyone being born in the New Testament, including by Paul himself only a few paragraphs later, and for Jesus’ birth in the Gospels (gennaō and occasionally tiktō). What distinction requiring a different verb (one generally meaning “come/become” or “arise”) would Paul have had in mind for Jesus? Possibly a mythical ‘birth’ such as we see in Revelation 12, where the Messiah is born in the heavens to a woman “clothed with the sun”?

It is certainly true that he never tells us the name of this “woman.” Was he simply giving voice to the ‘prophecy’ in Isaiah 7:14 about a young woman about to bear a son, just as he seems to have done in calling Jesus “of David’s seed” on the basis of predictions in the prophets (Romans 1:2-3)? Did he have to understand any of it on a rational basis as long as it was to be found in scripture?

Either way, there is much reason to doubt the reliability of this phrase in Galatians 4:4 as a reference to an historical Jesus, and it hardly deserves to be characterized as simple mythicist interpolation mania. read more »


2012-06-04

Debating the Place of the Ignatian Letters in Christian Origins: Doherty & Parvus

by Neil Godfrey

I and many other readers have been interested in Roger Parvus’s alternative explanations for some aspects of Earl Doherty’s arguments. Roger has posted a detailed comment on Earl’s Part 12 Response to Bart Ehrman but I am repeating it here as a post in its own right. Where Earl argues that the incipient docetism addressed in the Ignatian letters is best explained as an early variant of the emerging belief that Christ came down to earth, Roger finds the simplest explanation in the Ignatian letters being written as a reaction against Marcionism — but not an “orthodox” reaction. Rather, Roger has argued that the Ignatian correspondence originated in the major Marcionite schismatic movement led by Apelles.

Before posting Roger’s comment in full here is the outline of Earl’s argument in Part 12:

  • Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?
  • What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
    • anti-docetism?
    • historical fact?
  • Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
    • implications of this
      • This is the year 110 (or later if the letters are forgeries) in Antioch, a stone’s throw from the Syrian-Galilean region where Jesus conducted his ministry, where the evangelists Mark and Matthew wrote (Matthew is commonly dated c.80 CE with a suggested provenance in Antioch itself!), and yet the bishop of that city does not possess a copy of a written Gospel?
    • rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
      • [This can be explained if] Mark was originally written as a piece of symbolism, not meant as history, and it took . . . decades for the story’s basic features to filter out to the surrounding Christian world, through rumor and missionary contact, through expansion and redaction of the story in other nearby communities, eventually to be accepted by some as historical fact — particularly those who would have found it appealing and useful.
    • no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
    • no apostolic tradition
      • Not only does Ignatius not possess a copy of a Gospel, he also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”
  • Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
    • two reactions to the historical Jesus
      • The whole issue of docetism is a perplexing one. Why, whether here or in a developing gnostic community, would it suddenly appear after almost a century of traditional belief in an historical Jesus, during which no one voiced any objection to believing in a divine son of God who had actually suffered in flesh, who actually partook of human nature?
      • The traditional view of docetism sees it as a sudden about-face by certain Christian teachers and thinkers, the complete rejection of a presumably universal view of Jesus held for three-quarters of a century as a human being born of a human mother and suffering in human flesh. What would explain this throwing of the Christian faith train into reverse?
      • The solution is to realize that prior to the end of the first century, no one had believed the opposite. Christ was a heavenly figure who suffered, died and rose in the spiritual dimension. But at precisely the time when the first idea that Christ had been on earth arose (largely through an evolution within the Q sect and a misunderstanding of the Gospels which grew out of it) we find the first objections to a human Jesus, a philosophically-based resistance but one dependent on the new claim that the heavenly Son of God had been on earth in a human incarnation.
      • This is why a type of docetism could arise in a ‘traditional’ Christian community (of the Pauline type) which had nothing to do with Gnosticism, and why it had not arisen earlier. It is why Ignatius cannot appeal to traditional belief, because both outlooks — an historical Jesus and a docetic Jesus — are of recent vintage, competing on the same level playing field.
  • A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians

Roger Parvus’s response

As some Vridar readers are aware, my own theory is that the original author of the so-called Ignatians was Peregrinus and that he was a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles. And I think the two groups of opponents in the letters should be identified as Marcionites and proto-orthodox Christians—Marcionites, of course, being the docetic adversaries, and the proto-orthodox being the Judaizers.

I hold that Peregrinus wrote the letters in the early 140s with his execution at Antioch in view—a martyrdom that was thwarted when he was instead released by the governor of Syria. Peregrinus’ subsequent apostasy from Christianity rendered his letters unusable by Christians. That changed when later, toward the end of the second century, a proto-orthodox Christian made modifications to them, turning them into letters of “Ignatius.” (Those interested in a fuller exposition of the theory can find it on this Vridar site in a series of posts entitled “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch”).

Earl Doherty makes some excellent observations regarding the Ignatians. He has noticed not just one but several peculiarities that, to my knowledge, have been overlooked by patristic scholars. I maintain, however, that my theory can plausibly account for the curious features. They in fact confirm the identifications I have made above of the principal parties involved.

Here’s what I mean:

1.  Non-gnostic docetism

Earl points out

that Ignatius is also dealing with an issue of docetism, although it seems not to be within any gnostic context . . .  and no other doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism contribute to raising his ire.

To me this feature is an additional confirmation that the prisoner’s docetic adversaries were Marcionites. Marcion’s system lacked many doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism. It didn’t include, for example, the many divine emanations that were a part of so many Gnosticisms. Or, another example, the fallen sparks of divinity in man. Earl is aware of this Marcionite peculiarity. On page 293 of his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man he writes: 

Ironically, the most famous ‘Gnostic,’ Marcion, almost fails the Gnosticism test, since he lacked more than one essential feature of that generality.

But perhaps because Earl dates the Ignatians to no later than the third decade of the second century, he appears not to have considered the possibility that the docetists in question were Marcionites.    read more »


17. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.17

by Earl Doherty

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Jesus Tradition in the Acts of the Apostles

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Ehrman accepts Acts as reliable history
  • Acts as a second century product
  • Judas treated as an historical figure
  • More Aramaic tradition?
  • Quoting Paul quoting Jesus
  • The speeches in Acts
  • Adoptionism: Jesus becomes God’s son
  • Tracing the sequence of ideas about Jesus
  • Syncretizing two separate movements

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Canonical Sources Outside the Gospels and Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 106-113)

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In the midst of addressing the testimony to an historical Jesus in epistles both canonical and outside the New Testament, Bart Ehrman devotes several pages to the “Jesus Tradition in Acts.” In introducing Acts he fails to enlighten his readers that there is great uncertainty within mainstream scholarship over the historical reliability of the content of this document. Furthermore, he accepts without question that the author of Luke was the author of Acts, and thus what was known to the former was known to the latter.

Is Acts reliable history?

Ehrman fails to question any aspect of this ‘history’ of the spread of the faith. He treats everything from Acts as though it were part of known Christian tradition, and as reliable as anything else. . . .

— No matter that the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is nowhere mentioned in the epistles (despite their focus on inspiration and revelation).

— No matter that the figure and martyrdom of Stephen is nowhere attested to outside Acts.

— No matter that in Acts the settling of the issue of requirements for gentile converts is presented in an Apostolic Council which the authentic Pauline letters seem to know nothing about.

— Nor is the dramatic shipwreck episode at the end of Acts mentioned by early writers who talk about Paul, inviting us to see it as sheer fiction, emulating a popular element in second century Hellenistic romances. (The so-called “we” passages, often alleged to be from a Lukan journal, have also been identified as a common literary feature in recounting travel by sea, such as is found in earlier parts of Acts surrounding such travels.)

When and why was Acts written?

There is also no discussion about the dating of this document.

Ehrman places it in the most traditional position, some time in the 80s of the first century, shortly after the most traditional dating of the Gospel of Luke, c.80 CE. No mention is made that much critical scholarship has moved toward a date at least a couple of decades, sometimes more, into the second century (Townsend, Mack, O’Neill, Tyson, Pervo). And, of course, no mention that the first attestation to Acts comes around 175 in Irenaeus, with possibly an allusion to it a decade or so earlier in Justin. That such a ‘history’ could have lain unnoticed for so long if it had been written a century earlier (or more, for those who maintain it was written before Paul’s death), is not considered worthy of note.

As long ago as 1942, John Knox (Marcion and the New Testament) presented a compelling case that Acts was not written until the 140s or 150s, an ecclesiastical product to counter Marcion’s appropriation of Paul in which he used the letters to demonstrate that Paul operated independently of the Jerusalem apostles and with a very different view of Jesus.

Thus, Acts was written and designed to show the opposite, that Paul immediately upon his conversion subordinated himself to the pillars and subscribed to their teachings, lock, stock and circumcision. Which is why the speeches in Acts, clearly composed by the author, show the identical content between those of Peter and those of Paul. (Neither does Ehrman discuss the considerable discrepancies between Acts and the Pauline epistles.)

Independent witnesses to Judas’ death

Ehrman hardly covers himself in glory with his treatment of the figure of Judas in Acts. According to him,

the author of Acts has access to traditions that are not based on his Gospel account so that we have yet another independent witness. (DJE? p. 107)

Independent from whom? Was Luke the author of the Gospel “independent” of Luke the author of Acts? It seems that for Ehrman every saying or anecdote which can be found nowhere else, or fails to agree with some other version of that saying or anecdote, constitutes an “independent witness” to the historical Jesus. read more »


2012-06-01

16. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 16

by Earl Doherty

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Epistle to the Hebrews (Part Two)

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Telling us that Jesus was never on earth
    • First smoking gun: Hebrews 8:4 – a denial that Jesus had been on earth
    • Platonic parallels between heaven and earth
    • Christ could not be a priest in the same sphere as the earthly priests
    • no sense to a present sense
  • The Coming One
    • Second smoking gun: 10:37 – “the coming one” has not yet been to earth
    • 9:27-8 – a “second coming” or a sequence of events?
  • Jesus “suffered outside the gate”
    • Jesus “passing through the heavens”
  • The inauthenticity of the epistle’s postscript

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)

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1 — Telling us that Jesus was never on earth

In addition to a smoking gun, I have called Hebrews 8:4 a “time bomb.” The first half of the verse can be translated in either of two ways:

In a present sense: “If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…” [NIV]

In a past sense: “Now if he had been on earth [i.e., in the past], he would not even have been a priest…” [NEB]

Which “time” does the writer mean?

read more »


2012-05-28

15. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 15

by Earl Doherty

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The Epistle to the Hebrews (Part One)

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  • God speaking through a Son in a new reading of scripture
  • Hebrews’ Son a heavenly entity like the Logos
  • Hebrews 101: a sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary
  • an event of revelation at the start of the sect
  • no words of Jesus on earth to be found
  • another motif of “likeness” to humans
  • “In the days of his flesh”: not Gethsemane
  • Christ “out of Judah”
  • Hebrews’ sacrifice in heaven
  • taking on a “body” in the scriptural world

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)

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Reading an historical Jesus into scripture

Those who have become familiar with my writings over the years will know that I have a soft spot for the epistle to the Hebrews. In many ways it is the most revealing of the New Testament documents.

  • It gives us a Son who is entirely known from scripture.
  • It presents a heavenly event that could only have been imagined out of a Platonic application of scripture: a sacrifice by the Son, performed in a spiritual sanctuary, in which he offers his own “blood” to God — a blood which can hardly be regarded as being human, hauled up from Calvary.

Indeed, anomalies like this have increasingly forced modern scholars to take refuge in interpreting Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary as intended by the author to be merely a metaphor for the earthly Calvary event — an interpretation for which there is no justification in the epistle. Most significantly, Hebrews contains two verses which make it clear that its Jesus had never been on earth, two smoking guns that would do any mythicist gunslinger proud.

Ehrman, true to form, simply seizes on any and all words and phrases in the epistle which he thinks could have an earthly or human application and declares them as such. He admits that this epistle, too, shows no knowledge of the Gospels — which he ought to have extended to no knowledge of the Gospel story, whether written or oral — but nevertheless “it contains numerous references to the life of the historical Jesus.

Ehrman itemizes some twenty of them (pp. 116-117, DJE?):

  • Jesus appeared in ‘these last days’ (1:2).
  • God spoke through him (that is, in his proclamation; 1:2). read more »

2012-05-25

14. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.14

by Earl Doherty

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Non-Pauline Epistles – Part One

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  • Apostles with no connection to an historical Jesus
  • Pilate in the 2nd century epistle 1 Timothy
  • 1 Peter knows a suffering Christ through Isaiah 53
  • Christ “hung on a tree”
  • The “flesh” and “body” of Christ and his “likeness” to men
  • The epiphany of Jesus in 2 Peter
  • Reading an historical Jesus into the epistles of John
  • No historical Jesus in Revelation

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 113-117)

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Is Ehrman being naïve or deliberately misleading?

There is an astonishing naivete to much of Bart Ehrman’s case for historicism. Perhaps it is aimed at a naïve readership, but it must leave such readers wondering if mythicists do indeed suffer from mental retardation or a simple inability to read texts. After all, the way Ehrman presents things, there can be no question that each and every writer in the early record clearly refers to an historical Jesus. Consider this statement:

But even in a letter as short as Jude, we find the apostles of Jesus mentioned (verse 17), which presupposes, of course, that Jesus lived and had followers. (p. 106, DJE?)

Well, it presupposes no such thing. The epistles contain many references to “apostles” who are not in any way represented as followers of a Jesus on earth. The epistle of Jude is only one of several referring to “apostles” that makes no such identification.

Independent Apostles

Paul himself, even in the orthodox view, was such an apostle. His apostleship was the result of a ‘call’ from God (e.g., Romans 1:1) and from ‘seeing’ the Lord Jesus in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1 and 15:8). In 2 Corinthians 11:4-5, in the midst of a diatribe against rival “apostles” who preach a ‘different Jesus’ from his own, he refers to both himself and his rivals as having received their respective kerygmas through the “spirit” (only his own, of course, was the valid one).

No connection here to an historical Jesus.

When he goes on in 11:12-15 to condemn those rivals for “masquerading as apostles of Christ” and being virtually agents of Satan, many scholars (such as C. K. Barrett) recognize that this kind of absolute condemnation is not being directed at the Jerusalem group, but other unspecified “ministers of Christ” (12:23) who proselytize independently, and certainly were not followers of a Jesus on earth.

Ehrman also conveniently ignores that in the entire body of epistles, not a single statement is made indicating that any apostles of the Christ were followers of a Jesus on earth, or traced any authority or correct preaching back to him.

It is impossible to believe that Ehrman could be ignorant of this wider application of the term “apostles” in the epistles, and only a little less difficult to believe that he is ignorant of mythicism’s arguments in this regard. He is either deliberately misleading his readers, taking advantage of their ignorance, or his own naïve reading of the texts is nothing short of an embarrassment. read more »


2012-05-23

Earl Doherty’s Response to Maurice Casey

by Earl Doherty

Maurice Casey has posted his foray against mythicism on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s blog. This post is Earl Doherty’s initial response. It has also been sent to Hoffmann’s blog but at the time of this posting on Vridar it is awaiting Hoffmann’s approval to be posted there.

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I see Casey’s basic ‘arguments’ against mythicism, and me in particular, as:

A — More unworkable reasoning to justify why Paul and all the other epistle writers have nothing to say about an historical Jesus. Casey thinks we should not expect to find “later Christian tradition” in the writings of Paul, ‘later tradition’ like the fact that Jesus was crucified on earth, by Pilate, that he taught anything about loving one another or any of the ethical teachings of the Gospel (not even inauthentic ones), that he performed miracles, prophesied the End-time, and so on.

Boy, what an HJ that leaves to champion! Imagine devoting one’s professional life to protecting the existence of such an undetectable mundane figure, no matter what the cost in surrendering one’s scholarly principles!

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B — Of course, in a “high context culture” no one, not a single writer of the non-Gospel/Acts New Testament and several non-canonical ones, felt the slightest urge to mention anything that was said or done by Jesus on earth, even in support of key arguments and debates they were engaged in, even when describing the genesis and ongoing forces within their movement. They so lacked such an urge that they routinely speak of that genesis and ongoing force in ways which exclude such a figure. All their readership and audience were so “high context” that they never expected, let alone demanded, any reference to the words and deeds of the historical figure they believed in and regarded as Deity incarnate.

I guess mythicists, in their misguided expectations, are all of us “low culture” idiots.

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C — Absolutely everything in the Gospels (even the titulus on the cross!) was so thoroughly known to all of Paul’s and other epistle writers’ readers, in every corner from Galatia to Rome, that it would have been a sin and an insult to even mention a single one of them. read more »


2012-05-18

13. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.13

by Earl Doherty

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 3: 1 Clement (with Addendum on the Epistle of Barnabas)

San Barnaba

San Barnaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Issue of authenticity of 1 Clement
  • Does 1 Clement know any Gospels?
  • Christ speaking out of scripture
  • Clement knows of the Passion through Isaiah 53
  • Christ’s sacrificial ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’ belong in the mythical dimension
  • Prophecy in scripture not fulfilled in history
  • Epistle of Barnabas: still lacking a written Gospel
  • Barnabas points to scripture as his source
  • New Testament math: 0 + 0 = ?
  • A progression from mythical to historical

Is 1 Clement in any way authentic?

Despite doubts going back to the Dutch Radicals of the late 19th century, Ehrman accepts the non-canonical epistle 1 Clement as authentic in regard to its ostensible purpose (a letter from the Christian community in Rome urging the settling of a dispute going on in the community in Corinth) and its traditional dating (the last decade of the first century), though its attribution to a Clement reputed to be the fourth bishop of Rome remains highly dubious.

With all of that I would agree, and have defended this degree of authenticity against a continuing radical view that the work is a much later forgery designed to encourage other Christian communities to acknowledge the hegemony of the Church of Rome. This issue need not be addressed here, except to say that I find the arguments for such a view quite unconvincing and unnecessary. (See the reasons given in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, note 169.) However, I will hereafter refer to the author as “Clement.”

Does 1 Clement know any written Gospels?

Some of those reasons will be evident in the present discussion. Ehrman makes the following admissions for 1 Clement:

The letter quotes extensively from the Greek Old Testament, and its author explicitly refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. But he does not mention the Gospels of the New Testament, and even though he quotes some of the sayings of Jesus, he does not indicate that they come from written texts. In fact, his quotations do not line up in their wording with any of the sayings of Jesus found in our surviving Gospels. (p. 104, DJE?)

If we agree on a reasonable dating of the 90s of the first century, or even the first decade of the second, we find here a similar situation to that of the Ignatian letters. At this period, even in Rome, there is no sign of actual written Gospels available in major Christian communities. When we see the same situation existing for Papias even later, we know that there is something wrong with the traditional view of the Gospels as historical documents all written before the first century was completed.

What does Clement know about a life of Jesus on earth? 

Despite this situation, Ehrman argues that “the author of 1 Clement, like Ignatius and then Papias, not only assumes that Jesus lived but that much of his life was well known.” The latter two writers may indeed have made such an assumption, but there is little sign that either one of them knew very much about their assumed Jesus’ life or teachings. As for 1 Clement, both of Ehrman’s claims are suspect. Here is what he offers as evidence that the author is speaking “about the historical Jesus” (I’ve altered Ehrman’s order for better efficiency in addressing them):

(1) Christ spoke words to be heeded (1 Clement 2.1).

This is first of all a misleading translation. Literally, it is “you paid attention to his words,” which eliminates the image of Christ standing before one and speaking. In any event, considering that spiritual figures such as Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are often presented as conferring advice and guidance, this statement in any form could easily apply to a spiritual figure. read more »


12. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 12. Three Voices . . . Ignatius

by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 12

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 2: Ignatius of Antioch

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch

    Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?

  • What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
    • anti-docetism?
    • historical fact?
  • Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
    • implications of this
    • rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
    • no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
    • no apostolic tradition
  • Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
    • two reactions to the historical Jesus
  • A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 101-104)

Ignatius of Antioch

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Did Ignatius write the Ignatian Letters?

Bart Ehrman seems to assume the authenticity of the story that Ignatius was caught up in a persecution of Christians at Antioch around 107-110 CE, was condemned to death and sent to Rome under military escort to die in the arena. Along the way, he wrote letters to six churches in Asia Minor and one to bishop Polycarp of Smyrna.

Many doubt the feasibility of such an enterprise, including the likelihood that the authorities would have undertaken to send him all the way to Rome for execution. But that is the story told in later tradition, and it is to be found within the letters themselves.

I will not go into the arguments for and against authenticity here, but if they are later forgeries (that is, the versions known as the “Shorter Recensions” which have traditionally been considered the originals, with the Longer Recensions coming much later in the century and filled with obvious insertions based on the Gospels), such forgeries cannot have been made much later than a decade or two after Ignatius’ death. (I myself might opt for forgery, but I will continue to refer to the writer as “Ignatius.”)

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Arguing for a “true” life on earth

One of the principal purposes of these letters is to attack fellow Christians who espouse doctrines and practices Ignatius cannot countenance. Ignatius makes a set of claims about Jesus which he declares to be true, in opposition to those who deny them. The fullest statement of these claims is found in the epistle to the Smyrneans (as translated by Ehrman):

For you are fully convinced about our Lord, that he was truly from the family of David according to the flesh, Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born from a virgin, and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him. In the time of Pontius Pilate and the tetrarch Herod, he was truly nailed for us in the flesh. . . [Smyrneans 1-2]

How does Ehrman (and scholarship traditionally) interpret a passage like this? What is Ignatius arguing for and what is the position of those he criticizes? According to Ehrman, the latter are

. . . Christians who insisted that Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human. These opponents of Ignatius were not ancient equivalents of our modern-day mythicists. They certainly did not believe that Jesus had been made up or invented based on the dying and rising gods supposedly worshipped by pagans. For them, Jesus had a real, historical existence. He lived in this world and delivered inspired teachings. But he was God on earth, not made of the same flesh as the rest of us. (p. 102)

In other words, Ehrman sees Ignatius’ opponents as docetists (from the verb dokein, to seem), holding the doctrine that Jesus only seemed to be human, only seemed to possess a body of human flesh. In reality, this was only an illusion; he was and remained in spiritual form, so that he did not partake of human nature and did not suffer on the cross.

But is this the meaning that can reasonably be taken from some of Ignatius’ statements? read more »


2012-05-14

11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias

by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 11

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 1: Papias

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COVERED IN THIS POST:papias3

  • Papias’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord as revealed by Eusebius
  • Papias’ uncertain chain of oral transmission
  • Had Papias read any Gospels?
  • Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”: not the canonical Gospels, and not read by Papias
  • Papias quotes nothing from any version of our Gospels
  • The bizarre things Papias does give us as sayings of the Lord
  • By c.125, no written Gospels have reached the bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 98-101)

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PAPIAS

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Ehrman now turns to three Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries who “convey information about the historical Jesus and certainly attest to his existence” in alleged ways which are “independent” of the Gospels. The first is Papias, a Christian bishop in Asia Minor writing around 120-130 CE, for whom we rely on Eusebius two centuries later, since Papias’ one known work is lost.

Despite Eusebius’ judgment that Papias was “a man of very small intelligence,” what is quoted from his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord is supposed to represent good evidence of an historical Jesus. Ehrman quotes from Eusebius’ quote of Papias introductory words (History of the Church, III, 39.3-4), in which we learn:

that Papias will give an orderly account “of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders. . . . Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said . . .

Juggling Elders, Companions and Disciples

Of key interest here is the question of what Papias meant by these “elders”. Scholars will admit to an ambiguity, that “elders” may not refer to the disciple followers of Jesus subsequently named (as some older scholars have preferred to read it), but only to earlier Christians who themselves had known those disciples of Jesus. (That is, “inquire after their words” refers back to the preceding “elders,” but not to the men he goes on to name, which are two different groups and layers of tradition.) This would give us a chain of:

disciples → elders → companions of elders → Papias

And indeed, such a chain would make better sense given the amount of time between the disciples’ activity supposedly following Jesus’ death and Papias himself.

that Papias enquired of anything said by “Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew” or “any of the other disciples of the Lord.” But then he goes on to refer to things said by “Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord.”

This is exquisitely confusing. read more »


2012-05-11

10. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Listening to the Sounds of Silence

by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 10

Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?
    • – Does anyone on the early Christian scene deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus?
    • – Ignatius’ letters the first to show support for the Gospel story
  • Sounds in silence: Or were they?
    • – Does 1 John reveal the first dispute over an historical Jesus?
    • – Should we expect Celsus to be a New Testament exegete?
    • – Trypho’s “groundless report”
    • – Sound of Silence: Ehrman fails to hear
  • Golden silence of the Rabbis
    • – Silent rabbis on Jesus’ non-existence
  • The silence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and their heretics
    • – Why do 2nd century apologists not attack the Christ cult of Paul as a heresy?
  • The sound of transition: From Paul to Orthodoxy
    • – The process of transition from a heavenly to earthly Christ
  • The sound of diversity: A Logos religion

    • – The Logos religion of the 2nd century apologists
  • Silence complete: Revisiting Josephus and Tacitus
    • – Ehrman’s unsupportable assumptions

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 94-97)

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Later Sources from Outside the New Testament

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Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?

Ehrman spends a few pages at the beginning of his Chapter Four on the old canard which too many historicists seem to think is a knockout blow against the mythicist theory: that no one in all the documents we possess from the earliest period right up to the 18th century ever suggests, or deals with an accusation, that Jesus never existed. A moment’s reflection ought to reveal why this might be the case. (There are in fact a handful of notable exceptions to this silence that I will go into shortly, which puts the lie to Ehrman’s sweeping statement.)

First of all, if an earthly Jesus did not exist for Christians of the Pauline variety of faith in a sacrificed Savior through almost the first hundred years of the movement, how would we expect to find a denial that he had? No one would have been claiming it.

We also have to ask, who would have been in a position to know that Christians were claiming something that was false?

When do we first see that claim surfacing? One can’t point to the Gospels themselves because the very issue in question is whether there is any support for their presentation of a supposedly historical figure and set of events; and their traditional dating is dubious.

The first direct reference by a Christian to an historical man who was crucified by Pilate is found in the letters of Ignatius, which if authentic can be dated no earlier than 107 CE, or if forgeries, some time after that. Is anyone going to be around in Antioch in 107 or later who had been alive in Galilee or Jerusalem three-quarters of a century earlier—with the upheaval and destruction of the Jewish War occurring in the interim—someone who knew everything that happened there in the 10-year period of Pilate’s governorship and was thus in a position to verify that such a figure never existed? A preposterous idea. Christians themselves show no sign of being familiar with the Gospel story, let alone that it had any circulation outside their circles, before the time of Ignatius. read more »