Category Archives: Uncategorized


cat’s been away

by Neil Godfrey

Hope you commenters have been behaving yourselves this past week while I’ve been awol. Looks like Tim’s not been around either. I have a lot to catch up on, but hopefully back into posting anon.


Hermann Detering confronts Richard Carrier—Part 3

by Neil Godfrey

H. Detering confronts R. Carrier—Pt. 3

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.47.01 am

Let us call a spade a spade: Carrier may be an expert on the natural philosophers of the Early Roman Empire, but he is certainly not an expert on Paul. — H.D.

If Biblical Scholars Were Classicists

by Neil Godfrey

How do classicists determine if a figure appearing in ancient records actually existed? Do they use the same methods as biblical scholars who tell us certain persons in the Bible are historical and others not?

In this post and another I will look at questions classicists ask about two ancient philosophers, Demonax and Apollonius of Tyana, and the methods they use to answer those questions, at the same time comparing those questions and solutions with those applied by biblical scholars to Jesus and the Gospels. I suggest the very different ways of answering the similar questions highlight the fundamentally ideological character (i.e. religious bias*) of historical Jesus studies.

demonaxWas there a historical Demonax?

How can there be any doubt? After all, we have a first hand account of the witty philosopher Demonax (said to have lived 70 CE to 170 CE) by his student, Lucian (125 to 180 CE). Lucian begins his biography of Demonax thus:

It was in the book of Fate that even this age of ours should not be destitute entirely of noteworthy and memorable men, but produce a body of extraordinary power, and a mind of surpassing wisdom. My allusions are to . . . the philosopher Demonax. I saw and marvelled at [him], and with [him] I long consorted. . . .

I am to write of Demonax, with two sufficient ends in view: first, to keep his memory green among good men, as far as in me lies; and secondly, to provide the most earnest of our rising generation, who aspire to philosophy, with a contemporary pattern, that they may not be forced back upon the ancients for worthy models, but imitate this best–if I am any judge–of all philosophers. (my bolding in all quotations)

If an author says he knew Demonax personally and over an extended time how is it possible for anyone to reasonably doubt his historical existence! Further support for the argument for historicity is that Lucian tells readers Demonax met an array other notable historical persons.

Yet there are indeed doubts among classical scholars about the existence of Demonax. Are classicists, then, a hyper-sceptical lot compared with historical Jesus scholars?

The historicity of Lucian’s account has often been questioned, although most scholars today would agree with K. Funk’s arguments for historicity in his study of the Vita published in 1907. Yet, there still exists some understandable scepticism in this regard. Diskin Clay, for example, makes the following non-committal statement in a fairly recent article:
My purpose in this treatment of Lucian’s Demonax is not to mount an argument against the historicity of the great Athenian philosopher. In the course of this discussion it will become apparent that I would not add the name of Demonax to the history of philosophy in the second century AD, nor would I remove it from the histories already written. (Searby, D.M. 2008. “Non Lucian Sources for Demonax”, Symbolae Osloenses 83, p. 120)

Do classicists set such a high bar for historicity that if applied across the board then most ancient persons we know of would have to be erased from the history books? Surely that would seem unlikely.

Why would Lucian make up person supposedly known to his own generation? Would not such an attempt meet with protest from his peers who knew better?

Those are the sorts of questions biblical scholars sometimes raise when asked about the historical existence of Jesus. So how could classicists have any doubt about Demonax when confronted by an account of his life by his very own student? read more »


Detering Responds to Carrier, Part 2

by Neil Godfrey

Click on the image below to be taken to Part 2:




Hermann Detering, Richard Carrier and the Apostle Paul

by Neil Godfrey

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions:

Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul

by Dr. Hermann Detering

Edited and translated by René Salm


Or you can read the original German language version on Herman Detering’s site:

Paulus, Markus und andere Verwechslungen – Richard Carrier über den Gefälschten Paulus



Ehrman Slipping

by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman puts up a pay wall barrier to his blog posts so I have not seen his full article but the teaser he makes public — Why Paul Persecuted the Christians — does not encourage me to want to see more.

Questions I would suggest be posed to him by those who are privileged financially to be able to donate to a charity of Bart’s choosing (or privileged enough to donate over and above what they already donate elsewhere) as well as interested enough:

  1. Does he address the arguments and evidence advanced by Candida Moss in The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom?
  2. Why does he appear to cite the Dead Sea Scrolls as if they are evidence for what Paul (or Jews generally) believed in the Second Temple era? Does Ehrman consider the wealth of evidence advanced by scholars (e.g. Hengel, Boyarin, Novenson….) that Jews of this period did indeed accept as par for the course quite different notions of a messiah than we find in the DSS — including the notion of a suffering and/or dying messiah? Such an idea was hardly cause for Jews of the day to go out and start stoning or beating one another.
  3. Have the arguments advanced quite some time ago by Morton Smith in relation to the question of Paul persecuting the church been addressed and refuted? See
    • “What is Implied by the Variety of Messianic Figures?” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 78, No. 1 (Mar., 1959), pp. 66-72
    • “The Reason for the Persecution of Paul and the Obscurity of Acts” (1967) in Ubach, E.E., Werblowsky, R.J. Zwi, Wirszubski, C. (eds.), Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on his Seventieth Birthday, pp. 261-268
      • Or more simply go to Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ? where I tease out the relevant points in those articles. Hint: The offence Paul speaks about — and the one that presumably upset him before he converted — is not the message of a crucified Christ but the implication that that event meant the end of the law for salvation.
  4. Does Ehrman factor in the transmission history of the documents he relies upon as sources when addressing the question of whether or not Paul persecuted the church, and if so, what did such persecution mean, exactly?
    • If we leave aside Acts (especially given the problems surrounding establishing an early date for it that is based upon sound historical methods) then we have to ask why for the Marcionite followers of Paul there was no awareness of Paul as a persecutor in the sense that orthodoxy has since given us.
    • We also have to explain other images of Paul (as in Acts of Paul and Thecla) that appear ignorant of this record.

It is a shame to see a scholar with a reputation for secular critical nous appear to limit his analysis (analysis that is presumably shared without charge, or paid for ultimately by taxpayers, in the professional journals, yet that he only gives to the affluent — who are presumably also taxpayers — if they donate again to his own preferred charities) to the narrow range of sources and assumptions that are approved by the faith-dominated majority of his field.





Discussion Forum for Biblical Criticism and History

by Neil Godfrey

A place to discuss questions relating to biblical questions that are not covered in posts on this blog is at Biblical Criticism & History Forum. Check it out. It’s a pretty comprehensive site. I sometimes drop in with a point of view or response to others.

I am sure there must be others around. I have not been to serious academic discussion lists for a while now but I think some of those also allow amateurs to join and occasionally raise questions.

There are also many blogs run by biblical scholars who would be happy to discuss a range of questions.

And there is of course Rene Salm’s Mythicist Papers but I suspect Rene would also appreciate comments and questions relating to the topics of his posts.

If you know of any sites of interest then do add them in the comments below.




What Does a “Life of Jesus” Look Like?

by Neil Godfrey
"This worthless slave has learning?" asked the gardener. Aesop laughed and said to him, "You should talk, you miserable wretch!" "I'm a miserable wretch?" exclaimed the gardener. "You're a gardener, aren't you?"

“This worthless slave has learning?” asked the gardener.
Aesop laughed and said to him, “You should talk, you miserable wretch!”
“I’m a miserable wretch?” exclaimed the gardener.
“You’re a gardener, aren’t you?”

I have in the past argued that our canonical gospels are not really about the life and person of Jesus but rather they are a dramatization of core theological beliefs of the early Church. Jesus is a personification, a mouthpiece and a role constructed to play out this dramatization. One could say I have sided with Adela Yarbro Collins when she expresses doubts about the gospels really being biographies of Jesus when she writes:

With regard to the gospel of Mark at least, one may question whether the main purpose of the work is to depict the essence or character of Jesus Christ. (Collins 1990, p. 41)

The fundamental purpose of Mark does not then seem to be to depict the essence or character of Jesus Christ, to present Jesus as a model, to indicate who possesses the true tradition at the time the gospel was written, or to synthesize the various literary forms taken by the tradition about Jesus and their theologies. (Collins 1990, p. 44)

The gospel begins with a reference to Jesus Christ [son of God], not out of interest in his character, but to present him as God’s agent. . . . (Collins 1990, p. 62)

That was yesterday. Today I am being pressured to re-think that viewpoint. The reason is chapter 2, “Civic and subversive biography in antiquity” by David Konstan and Robyn Walsh in Writing Biography in Greece and Rome: Narrative Technique and Fictionalization, edited by Koen De Temmerman and Kristoffel Demoen. [In the interests of disclosure I must confess that this book cost me an arm and half a leg so one may suspect that I am motivated by a need to justify my extravagance by an over-willingness to be persuaded by its contents.]

Konstan and Walsh begin by proposing that there are two types of ancient biographies. (I’ll call them biographies even though that term carries more rigorous understandings of how one should write seriously about a life of a person than were applicable to their Greco-Roman counterparts. These ancient “lives” or “biographies” are usually called “bioi” (Greek) or “vitae” (Latin) to remind us of their often quite different attributes.)

Type 1: civic biographies

These are the universally acknowledged great and good, the pillars of society, whose lives shine as exemplars for us all to emulate. They

highlight the virtues of their subjects, often great statesmen or military heroes who exemplify justice and courage, or else brilliant thinkers and writers, the philosophers and poets whose lives might serve as models . . . (Konstan and Walsh 2016, p.28)

Type 2: subversive biographies

read more »

Signs of Fiction in Ancient Biographies — & the Gospels

by Neil Godfrey

writingLet’s be sure we apply the same critical standard to the Gospels as we do to other ancient literature of the day. And let’s be sure we have a fair grasp of the wider Greco-Roman literature of the first and second centuries so we can improve our chances of making informed interpretations of the Gospels. And let’s do away with these apologetic arguments that the colorful and minute details in gospel narratives are sure signs of eyewitness testimony and therefore of historical reliability!

Professor Rhiannon Ash is the author of one of the many gems in the newly published Writing Biography in Greece and Rome: Narrative Technique and Fictionalization, edited by Koen De Temmerman and Kristoffel Demoen. Her chapter, “Never say die! Assassinating emperors in Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, examines the range of techniques the Roman biographer Suetonius employed to add verisimilitude to create “the illusion of historical accuracy.”

Suetonius in the early second century wrote biographies of a dozen Roman emperors. Sometimes he would narrate details that apparently occurred behind closed doors (and that would consequently be unknown to anybody else), sometimes he wrote about a person’s private dreams foretelling the future, often he included supernatural prodigies and sensational personal details worthy of any tabloid press today. But at the same time he did want to be taken seriously and impress readers with the diligence of his research. Thus. . . .

he generally takes some trouble to deploy devices which invest each account with verisimilitude and contribute significantly to our sense of his own auctoritas as a researcher. (p. 205)

Accordingly Suetonius rarely passed up “a chance to enhance the credibility of his account” by means of:

  • the weighty presence of numbers, times and dates“:
    • more than sixty men conspire against Caesar
    • three slaves carry Caesar’s body
    • two men initiate the conspiracy against Caligula
    • there were twenty-three, thirty, and seven wounds administered to three targets of assassination
    • Caesar sets out almost at the end of the fifth hour
    • Caesar made his will on 13th September 45 BCE
    • Caligula is undecided about adjourning for lunch on 24 January just before midday
    • Caligula left the games at midday
    • Domitian has a premonition of the last year, day and hour of his life
    • lightning strikes occur eight successive months
    • Domitian jumped from bed at midnight on the night before his assassination
    • conspirators falsely tell Domitian the time is the sixth hour when it was really the fifth — to lull him into a false sense of security
    • Caligula ruled for three years, ten months and eight days
    • Domitian was murdered in his forty-fifth year and fifteenth year of his office

read more »


In Praise of Forgetting

by Neil Godfrey

What’s the point of remembering historical traumas? Has remembering the Holocaust prevented genocides? What of 9/11? Why do we remember these things? To what purposes do we put our memories? Are they always for good?

But most times they are not memories at all, not really. They are political stories we have chosen to latch on to for specific reasons. No-one in Ireland “remembers” the Irish Easter Rising. No-one in Australia “remembers” Gallipoli. Why do we sacralize certain political stories we call memories? And why do we even call them memories? To what use do we put these “memories”?

Remembrance as a species of morality has become one of the more unassailable pieties of the age. Today, most societies all but venerate the imperative to remember. We have been taught to believe that the remembering of the past and its corollary, the memorialising of collective historical memory, has become one of humanity’s highest moral obligations.

But what if this is wrong, if not always, then at least part of the time? What if collective historical memory, as it is actually employed by communities and nations, has led far too often to war rather than peace, to rancour and resentment rather than reconciliation, and the determination to exact revenge for injuries both real and imagined, rather than to commit to the hard work of forgiveness?

That’s quoted from an article by war correspondent David Rieff in a Guardian article, The cult of memory: when history does more harm than good.

Provocative, yes. Thought-provoking, too.

The questions I opened with are based on an interview with David Rieff on the Late Night Live program on Australia’s Radio National. Interviewer Philip Adams: In praise of forgetting. That’s the link to the most excellent interview. Promise to listen to it before you go any further. (I have not yet fully read the Guardian article I quoted from above but this post is inspired by the interview.)

The two related books by David Rieff:

His recently published In praise of forgetting : historical memory and its ironies. And not forgetting his earlier Against Remembrance.

Esteemed American journalist David Rieff argues against our passion for the past. He looks at how memory serves nationalistic history every ANZAC Day and annual pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and how memory of past horrors inflame deep-seated ethnic hatreds, violence and wars.

Esteemed American journalist David Rieff argues against our passion for the past. He looks at how memory serves nationalistic history every ANZAC Day and annual pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and how memory of past horrors inflame deep-seated ethnic hatreds, violence and wars.

 "The conventional wisdom about historical memory is summed up in George Santayana’s celebrated phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Today, the consensus that it is moral to remember, immoral to forget, is nearly absolute. And yet is this right? David Rieff, an independent writer who has reported on bloody conflicts in Africa, the Balkans, and Central Asia, insists that things are not so simple. He poses hard questions about whether remembrance ever truly has, or indeed ever could, “inoculate” the present against repeating the crimes of the past. He argues that rubbing raw historical wounds—whether self-inflicted or imposed by outside forces—neither remedies injustice nor confers reconciliation. If he is right, then historical memory is not a moral imperative but rather a moral option—sometimes called for, sometimes not. Collective remembrance can be toxic. Sometimes, Rieff concludes, it may be more moral to forget. Ranging widely across some of the defining conflicts of modern times—the Irish Troubles and the Easter Uprising of 1916, the white settlement of Australia, the American Civil War, the Balkan wars, the Holocaust, and 9/11—Rieff presents a pellucid examination of the uses and abuses of historical memory. His contentious, brilliant, and elegant essay is an indispensable work of moral philosophy." -- publisher

“. . . Today, the consensus that it is moral to remember, immoral to forget, is nearly absolute. And yet is this right? David Rieff . . . poses hard questions about whether remembrance ever truly has, or indeed ever could, “inoculate” the present against repeating the crimes of the past. He argues that rubbing raw historical wounds—whether self-inflicted or imposed by outside forces—neither remedies injustice nor confers reconciliation. If he is right, then historical memory is not a moral imperative but rather a moral option—sometimes called for, sometimes not. Collective remembrance can be toxic. Sometimes, Rieff concludes, it may be more moral to forget. . . . “





On Parallels

by Neil Godfrey

Image from a related post: When is a parallel a real parallel?

How do we determine the best way to interpret patterns and parallels between the Gospels and other literature?

Here is one parallel that someone asks us to consider:

Fishing for men.
While at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus predicted that his followers would fish for men.
“From now on you will catch men.” Luke 5:10

Titus’ followers then fish for men on the Sea of Galilee.
“And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels.” Wars of the Jews, 3, 10, 527

I am not convinced for the following reasons:

There is no overlapping of theme or idea. The context of the passage in Luke tells us that the idea of “fishing for men” is to “catch” disciples, converts. The metaphor originates in Jeremiah where it means judgment:

“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. — Jeremiah 16;16-17

So the evangelist (author of the Gospel) has inverted the metaphor from one of condemnation to one of salvation.

The Josephus passage makes no reference to “fishing” and any normal reading of the slaughter would scarcely bring to mind images of “fishing”.

The reason I am persuaded that the Lukan saying is taken from Jeremiah and not from Josephus is that it matches a core criterion often listed as a vital indicator of a genuine literary relationship:

Dennis MacDonald calls it “interpretability”. I have summarized the idea as:

interpretability or intelligibility — the capacity of the original text to make sense of some detail in the new work (e.g. Is there some detail or theme in a story that has mystified modern readers over why it was included, with a satisfactory explanation appearing if the author knew another text where the same detail made more sense? Sometimes borrowing from another text may produce awkwardness or some incoherence in order to fit it in the new work.)

Andrew Clark calls it “parallel theme” and says it adds meat to other indications of borrowing:

parallel theme – this cannot stand on its own but adds strength where it exists to other criteria

Thomas Brodie also uses the term “interpretability” — “or the intelligibility of the differences”

Differences will sometimes be very great, but what counts is whether the differences can be explained in a way that deepens our understanding of the new text. Sometimes such explanations can reveal new surprises about the nature of the reworked document.

One may object that the proposed parallel between Luke and Josephus in the above example may not work on its own but does carry weight when set in the context of a number of other parallels. My objection to this argument is that there is no reason to see the massacre in the sea as a parallel at all no matter what setting it appears in.

Is it possible that the evangelist has used both Jeremiah and Josephus? Anything is possible, but since the argument for the use of Jeremiah as the source is entirely sufficient there is no need to involve the Josephan passage.

But what about the following parallels between Theudas (in Josephus) and John the Baptist, this time from Lena Einhorn: read more »


Golden Dawn party attempts to shut down Mythicism Conference

by Neil Godfrey

Golden Dawn party attempts to shut down Mythicism Conference

A translation of part of the letter by Golden Dawn to the Mayor of Athens:

The Greek Constitution stated that the Orthodox Christian Faith is the dominant religion of our homeland. How can the ministry protect protect the holies of 2000 years of our homeland, if it does not intervene and allows the conference to take place, which is potentially heretical and aims to destroy the faith of Greeks?


A new review of Einhorn’s Shift In Time

by Neil Godfrey

Herman Detering has begun a series of posts reviewing Lena Einhorn’s work at Mythicist Papers.




ISIS on the downhill roll, but…

by Neil Godfrey

ISIS just delivered its ‘weakest message’ ever by Pamela Engel (Business Insider Australia, h/t IntelWire)

Indeed, we do not wage jihad to defend a land, nor to liberate it, or to control it. . . . 

We do not fight for authority or transient, shabby positions, nor for the rubble of a lowly, vanishing world. … If we were able to avert a single fighter from fighting us, we would do so, saving ourselves the trouble. However, our Quran requires us to fight the entire world, without exception. . . . 

Do you, oh America, consider defeat to be the loss of a city or the loss of land? Were we defeated when we lost the cities in Iraq and were in the desert without any city or land? And would we be defeated and you be victorious if you were to take Mosul or Sirte or Raqqah or even take all the cities and we were to return to our initial condition? Certainly not!

ISIS is on the ropes. They once propagated a message and aura of invincibility and recruits came to them from around the world. That’s all in reverse now.

Unfortunately other news has pointed to Al Qaeda and its “partner” Al-Nusra re-emerging in Syria (Al Qaeda About to Establish Emirate in Northern Syria and Al Qaeda Blessing for Syrian Branch to Form Own Islamic State). I have almost completed Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Afshon Ostovar. Ostovar has answered a question I had about the exact nature of Iran’s involvement in Syria. Just as an Islamist militia has been built throughout Iran to violently cower dissidents and to be prepared to wage asymmetric warfare against a future invasion, so Iranian trainders have been training Syrians by the thousands to replicate the same type of organized gangs in Syria. Syria is the most depressing news.