2010-02-16

Did Jesus exist on youtube? Dismantling the “evidence” presented by James McGrath

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by Neil Godfrey

21:20 Feb 16, Edited to add a quote from Mack in a book, edited by Neusner and others . . .

The following is presented by Dr James McGrath on his Did Jesus Exist Youtube video as fundamental evidence for the historical existence of Jesus. It is a standard line, almost a “historicists’ creed”, and it is factually false and and logically fallacious.

The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . .  It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented. And the whole notion of messiah is “anointed one” . . . . and this goes back to the practice of anointing kings and priests in ancient Israel. And in the case of Jesus the connection of the terminology of the term messiah with the claim to his having been descended from David shows they were thinking of a kingly figure. And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected. Not only did he not conquer the Romans, he was executed by them. He did not institute and bring in the kingdom of god the way the people were expecting, and in fact Christians had to explain this in terms of Jesus returning to finish the task of what was expected of the messiah.

All of this makes much more sense if one says that there was a figure whom the early Christians believed was the messiah and that the early Christians were trying somehow to make sense of those things that don’t seem to fit that belief.

To dismantle this:

The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . .  It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented.

Well documented?

McGrath needs this to be true, since this central argument for historicity of Jesus depends on the Jews generally and deeply holding in a belief of an expectant messiah who was to rule as a new David. So what is the documentation that is apparently so abundant that it can be casually alluded to with a passing comment?

I have addressed the so-called “evidence” — and its complete absence — for such a belief at the time of Jesus in recent posts here and here. (Matthew’s gospel birth narrative is even structured on the assumption that there was no such general belief at that time.)

So it’s time for something a bit different. This time, from William Scott Green in the opening chapter of Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, edited by Neusner, Green and Frerichs (1987).

The term “messiah” has scant and inconsistent use in early Jewish texts. . . .

The disparate uses . . .  offer little evidence of sustained thought or evolving Judaic reflection about the messiah. . . . . the term is notable primarily for its indeterminacy.

In view of these facts, one may legitimately wonder about the reasons for conceiving “the messiah” as a fundamental and generative component of both Israelite religion and early Judaism. One may wonder about the justification for the assertion that “from the first century B.C.E., the Messiah was the central figure in the Jewish myth of the future,” . . . . or for the widespread assumption that “In the time of Jesus the Jews were awaiting a Messiah.” One may wonder, in other words, how so much has come to be written about an allegedly Jewish conception in with so many ancient Jewish texts manifest such little interest. (pp. 2-4)

And there is another comment on this so-called “well documented” evidence for the expectation of a Davidic messiah at the time of Jesus. This one from chapter two in the same book, authored by Burton L. Mack:

Jacob Neusner has challenged a long tradition of scholarship by the addition of a single letter to the magical word messiah. Messiahs it now is. And the singular notion of “the” messiah is disclosed for what it always has been — a scholarly assumption generated by the desire to clarify Christian origins. (p. 15)

Should we not expect doctors who make definitive statements for the general public, and in an area of their speciality, to speak with an authority based on evidence and knowledge? Why are the public told in this video that a certain idea important for making the historicist case is “well documented”? Can any academic specialist in the area detail the evidence that Neusner, Mack and Green (and Fitzmyer from an earlier discussion here) have all missed?

Back to McGrath’s historicist case:

And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected

Just one detail missing here. Only one. (Recently at work we had to laugh when we were trying to rationalize performance statistics, and in the process discovered a typo — someone had accidentally omitted a “1” that should have been included at the beginning of a 5 digit number. 19,500 should have been 119,500. I joke that we were only out by “1” — a mere detail.)

But James has effectively removed this one from the discussion by his preliminary remarks about the resurrection. The resurrection, being a supernatural event, is said to be off-limits from naturalistic historical enquiry. But historians can talk about the crucifixion.

This is how the presumption of historicism is made to prove itself. But the fact is that the early Christians spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus; it was a two-sided singular event with the resurrection making sense of – being the very reason for – the crucifixion.

The historicist attempt to take this belief apart to understand it does not throw light on this belief. It’s like Douglas Adam‘s attempt to understand how a cat works by taking it apart — the first thing he has is a nonworking cat.

The obvious flaw in this argument (that no-one would have made up from scratch the idea of a messiah who had been crucified) is that the belief was NOT that a messiah had been crucified, but that a messiah had overcome crucifixion by the resurrection. The messiah did not do what the so-called Jewish messiah was supposedly expected to do, true. The Christian messiah did even greater things than the Jewish “Davidic” messiah! Jesus was greater than Moses, Elijah, Solomon and David. The Christian messiah conquered the spiritual kingdoms that ruled this world. This was a principle message of the first gospel, Mark. It’s hardly a negative concept. The idea of a greater spiritual realm and activity that surpassed and paled the hopes of the mere physical was nothing novel.

Scholars have written of the socio-psychological dynamics that may underlie the story of the possession of man by “Legion” (a demonic Roman army) and how Jesus cast Legion out and into suicidal pigs, an emblem of the 10th Legion occupying Palestine.

We know the attraction that paradoxes had among ancient philosophers and religious ideas. We also know the theme of paradoxical reversal was deeply embedded in the thought of the texts of the Hebrew scriptures. Mark’s gospel itself is riddled with such riddles and paradoxes. The blind see. The called flee. Food in abundance comes from a lack of food in a wilderness. Those who know Jesus best are the ones who fail to recognize him. Forsaking the world is the way to inherit the world. Death is the way to life. It was the same throughout Jewish religious narratives. The prisoners doomed to die are the one exalted to rule the kingdoms. The suffering servant Israel is destined to be the light to all nations. The cast out are the most beloved. The destruction of the physical temple is the way to the advent of the spiritual temple.

And the way to rulership and conquest is through death and suffering. It is an inevitable paradox that gave comfort to Jewish martyrs ever since the time of the Maccabean wars. The way to life was through death. God would exalt those whom the world abased. Have discussed this in some detail here.

The idea of a divinity with whom one could identify in the face of cruel losses and lacks in this world, and who had overcome death and suffering, and all the evil of this world, must have been one of the easiest sells. The idea that it must have been “hard” to sell is derived, I think, from the apologetic paradigm that attempts to “prove” the truth of its gospel message.

Such paradoxical reversals were a comfort to people without hope in this life. They were far from being stumbling blocks. They were gateways to hope. They were always the hope of martyrs from pre-Christian times.

There is no evidence at all that the earliest Christians were struggling to make sense of the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus first appears in the evidence as a fully formed and sensible part of the message of the resurrection overcoming death.

Historicist arguments fail to deal with this evidence. By taking it apart, pulling it apart to the extend that it is no longer the recognizable belief or evidence calling for explanation, the historicist argument is trying to make sense of a non-working cat.

The mythicist argument has the advantage of advancing the more probable or likely scenario that explains the evidence as it is, that deals with the earliest Christian belief for which we have evidence, and without destroying this evidence to make sense of it.

I titled this post, “dismantling the evidence of James McGrath”. It is McGrath who has dismantled the evidence we have of earliest Christian belief to deal with something quite unlike any early Christian belief for which we have evidence.

(to be continued . . . . )


James McGrath has also asserted that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was a man and not a divinity. I have yet to see evidence for this, too.


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Neil Godfrey

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90 Comments

  • maryhelena
    2010-02-16 20:52:46 GMT+0000 - 20:52 | Permalink

    Great post, Neil

    Good point to make – that the gospel crucifixion storyline needs to be taken for what it is – a story not just about a crucified man but about a resurrection. Typical with historicists though – cherry-pick the storyline and just take the crucifixion as a marker by which to identify a historical Jesus.

    As a package deal the whole scenario is monstrous. As skeptics or atheists, we realize that no amount of a theological spin is going to turn tragedy, a bodily crucifixion, into redemption…..and salvation…with one wave of a magic wand. We can place the whole gospel crucifixion scenario right where it belongs – a theological/spiritual exercise. Thus not a historical marker of any historical figure relevant to early christianity.

    The problem with the crucifixion story – if, for argument it was historical,
    is that the early christians would have used a miscarriage of justice as the central clarion call for its atonement theories. Bizarre to say the least. Such a theory betrays a complete lack of any moral compass….Hence, we do them an injustice to presume that that is what they did. Much rather take the crucifixion story as being non historical – and that they were proposing a spiritual/theological/intellectual context not a historical flesh and blood context.

    Richard Dawkins made a very telling point re the crucifixion idea in a recent article on the Hait tragedy..

    “Jesus was supposedly tortured and executed to atone for sins that, any rational person might protest, he had it in his power simply to forgive, without the agony. Among all the ideas ever to occur to a nasty human mind (Paul’s of course), the Christian “atonement” would win a prize for pointless futility as well as moral depravity.”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/com…cle7007065.ece

    As for the crucifixion being a cherry-picked identification for a historical Jesus – well, all that does is place the whole historical Jesus idea in the proverbial haystack…Setting up a salvage operation within a haystack
    might just be the last straw – the one that broke the camel’s back – for the historical Jesus idea…

    • 2010-02-16 21:48:55 GMT+0000 - 21:48 | Permalink

      Agreed. Much of the gospel narrative, especially in Mark, makes very little sense if read as history. The idea that the god Dionysus should have been imprisoned and killed by a tyrant never troubled any of that cult’s membership, I am sure. It was part and parcel of the glory of the myth! Problems only arise when we try to read the myth as history.

  • 2010-02-16 21:23:11 GMT+0000 - 21:23 | Permalink

    I have since edited the above post to add a quote from Burton Mack in a book about the notion of Messiahs at the presumed beginning of the Christian era —

    Jacob Neusner has challenged a long tradition of scholarship by the addition of a single letter to the magical word messiah. Messiahs it now is. And the singular notion of “the” messiah is disclosed for what it always has been — a scholarly assumption generated by the desire to clarify Christian origins.

    (p. 15)

    Should we not expect doctors who make definitive statements for the general public, and in an area of their speciality, to speak with an authority based on evidence and knowledge? Why are the public told in this video that a certain idea important for making the historicist case is “well documented”? Can any academic specialist in the area detail the evidence that Neusner, Mack and Green (and Fitzmyer) have all missed?

    If James McGrath sees this, I would also like to remind him that he said he did not have any specific evidence off hand that established that Jesus was thought to be human by the earliest Christians, and only later came to be deified. In the process of discussing the Philippian hymn this lack of evidence to support his claim was made. I would like to know what evidence McGrath had in mind, and where we can find it.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-16 22:34:52 GMT+0000 - 22:34 | Permalink

    Neil, nice post as usual.

    You write” But the fact is that the early Christians spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus; it was a two-sided singular event with the resurrection making sense of – being the very reason for – the crucifixion.”

    Throughout the epistles (Paul, 1 John, 1 Peter, Hebrews) the crucifixion is seen as an atonement for the sins of the people. This doesn’t really require any resurrection. The resurrection becomes important as well, but I don’t see why these two beliefs are as tightly linked as you suggest (apart from the obvious fact that without death there is no resurrection – death without resurrection would have been enough for atonement).

    If we can agree (contra McGrath) that there was no uniform and widespread expectation concerning a messiah, I still think it is the challenge for the mythicist to explain why Jesus was called the Christ. Is there any other example in Judaism (in the 1st century or earlier) that even comes close to linking messiah and death/atonement/resurrection?

    • 2010-02-16 22:59:03 GMT+0000 - 22:59 | Permalink

      Yeh, I was thinking about Paul preaching “Christ crucified” and being “dead in Christ” etc, after I wrote the post. (Wrote it in a dash on way off to see a bit of the action in Singapore’s Chinese New Year celebrations.) But the Christ crucified and dead-in-Christ has its power through the life of Christ in him. Christ is crucified in order to live in and through him. It’s as mystical as you can get, I suppose.

      Paul’s Jesus becoming flesh and dying had nothing historical about it in any way, shape or form. It was a theological or mystical event (he says it was a mystery, only comprehensible to those with the spirit), not an historical one by any means in anything like our sense of history.

      And the atonement idea generally is one that is not original with Christianity. It is an extension of the Jewish idea of covenant renewal and all those things. And this idea is all tightly knit with the idea of a new Israel, rebirth, spiritual renewal. It is not a one sided thing at any time.

      And Paul quotes an earlier hymn, so it is widely believed, in Philippians 2. This would suggest that well before Paul Christians believed a son of God became flesh to die in order to be raised to an even higher status, (and be rewarded with the name “Jesus” for his efforts.) If Paul’s notion tended to “mystify” this earlier view somewhat, it appears to have been sharpened back into the death-resurrection idea with the gospel narratives.

      As for why Jesus was called Christ, that is only one of the terms he was called. Paul may use it as a proper name, I agree. I’m still looking into the different images and names attached to Jesus (catching up with a lot of old books I’ve had waiting for when I get the time). But if you want anything that comes close, we only have to look at Isaac in the Second Temple period. His blood was seen by some Jews as atoning, and his death a saving or atoning act for the sins of Israel. (The story in Genesis came to be interpreted with a strict literalism, it seems, in order to meet the needs of Maccabean martyrs. Abraham was said to have plunged the knife into Isaac — explaining why God/the angel had to call to him twice: the first time he didn’t listen and did indeed kill Isaac. But God resurrected him on the spot.)

      And the idea of “messiah” in your question — as a literal person and not an ideal image or metaphor from earlier literature — seems to have been a Christian development itself. We don’t have a situation where there was this clear idea of a Davidic person to come and rule, but that this idea was something created out of passages of the bible in order to create their concept of Christ or Jesus Christ. Christians were not trying to massage some existing concepts into what they preferred, but were creating what they needed anew.

      But this is something I’m still exploring from what I’m learning. Modifications to be expected. But back to work tomorrow, so I may have to slow up a bit on the hobby horse.

      • 2010-02-16 23:25:57 GMT+0000 - 23:25 | Permalink

        Woah! Correction already! — What evidence do we have that the Pauline theology we read in his epistles is what was evangelized to the world by the first Christians? (Apart from some conflicting details about various messages and rival preachers found in the self-testimony of the literature itself.) No-one seems to have heard of Paul’s letters — or rather, let’s say they were so UNinfluential that they were lost from view soon after they were ever written supposedly in the first century.

        Let’s look at the evidence external to the New Testament literature. And even within the NT literature, see the different messages that others claimed for Paul (Acts).

        No no — the evidence, I think, is consistent with the earliest Christians preaching the death-resurrection concept unambiguously. Paul’s theology extended this to something more mystical? Or was it a mystical origin that was crystalized for something more popular?

    • maryhelena
      2010-02-17 04:50:32 GMT+0000 - 04:50 | Permalink

      Its quite probable that the Christian idea of a dying and rising Jewish Messiah was not a concept that the early Christians found in the OT. What they seem to have done is to merge two separate ideas – a Jewish anointed one, messiah, with the ancient dying and rising god mythology. Crucifixion just happened to be the local method of execution at the time and thus became part of the ‘updated’ mythology. (Innana, in the ancient myth, being hung on a hook and brought back to life after 3 days in the underworld).

      The idea of a Jewish dying and rising messiah got a bit of attention fairly recently with the publishing of the text of the Gabriel Stone. A stone dated to late first century BC. However, the idea that that text relates to such an idea has been put to bed with an article by Dr Victor Sasson.

      “The Vision of Gabriel and Messiah in Mainstream Judaism and in Christianity: Textual, Philological, and Theological Comments”.
      September 3, 2009.

      http://victorsasson.blogspot.com/2009/09/vision-of-gabriel-and-messiah-in.html

      So, yes, indeed, Paul going around preaching Christ crucified would be one big stumbling block to the Jews. Foolishness to the Gentiles? Well, giving mythology a date stamp, as in the gospels storyline, would seem like taking the mystery out of it….and to top it all having to confine the mystery to a Jewish source would, again, seem restrictive.

      So Paul ends up with a message that is going to please nobody at all… Which really translates into – Paul removed the whole thing from having any relevance to physical reality – and was setting up a spiritual/theological context in which there would be neither Jew nor Greek.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-17 02:54:30 GMT+0000 - 02:54 | Permalink

    Bill Warrant wrote:
    “Is there any other example in Judaism (in the 1st century or earlier) that even comes close to linking messiah and death/atonement/resurrection?”

    No there isn´t. Maybe Neil can dig up the evidence that others haven´t found yet. Nor was there any expectation that the crucifed/resurrected Messiah was to come from an obscure Galilean village. Wonder were the author of Mark got that from? Just as I wonder why Mark had to have his crucified/resurrected Messiah speak in a galilean dialect of aramean. Just as I wonder why Mark would have be a hell of a good researcher (specially if he was writing as many mythicists claim he did) to have dug up peculiarities relating to interpretation of Jewish halakah (like 7:15-13) that had little or no relevance to his community.

    Neil wrote:
    “The idea that the god Dionysus should have been imprisoned and killed by a tyrant never troubled any of that cult’s membership, I am sure. It was part and parcel of the glory of the myth”.

    Maybe, maybe not. But the myth of Dionysios wasn´t born in a Jewish, Palestinian environment. And there it would have been hard to sell Dionysus as a fullfillment of Jewish messianic expectations. Just as Paul and the others had a hard time selling their crucified/resurrected Messiah as fullfillment of Jewish exptectations. Paul says so himself. Which makes makes me wonder why Mark and the other gospel writers would have made the rudimentary crucified Messiah concept they inherited from Paul even more difficult to sell by placing their hero in an obscure Galilean village – a place the Messiah was definitely not expected to come from.

    Neil also wrote:
    “There is no evidence at all that the earliest Christians were struggling to make sense of the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus first appears in the evidence as a fully formed and sensible part of the message of the resurrection overcoming death.”

    Well, I suppose that in a sense that is true. Christians like Paul had already made sense of the unexpected death of their “guru” through novel readings of the OT when Paul wrote his letters. But what made sense to Paul still didn´t make much sense to most Jews and Gentiles when he went around the Mediterranean preaching. Which is one of the reasons why Mark wrote his gospel. Mark skillfully wove some of the earliest Christians missionary prooftexts about the crucified/resurrected Messiah of the Jesus movement into a fullfledged narrative. A narrative that at its core has a real Galilean miracleworker.

    Neil wrote:
    “But the fact is that the early Christians spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus; it was a two-sided singular event with the resurrection making sense of – being the very reason for – the crucifixion.”

    I think it was actually more than a “twosided singular” event that the early Christians were preaching about. Maybe some Christians before Paul were just preaching that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and seen by a select few. And that was ALL there was to the story. Obviously that “triumphant” mythical reversal gospel wasn´t enough to catch more Christian converts since by the time of Paul besides the crucifixion/resurrection another ingrediant had to be added to the mix – the Parousia. The crucifixion/resurrection idea would never have been enough to win many Jewish converts since the Jewish idea was that the Jewish Messiah´s triumph should be visible to ALL. And may I add that my personal opinion is that of the three components in the crucifixion/resurrection/parousia only one – the crucifixion – is historical in the sense that it really happened.

    I am posting this on James blog also…

    • 2010-02-17 19:38:34 GMT+0000 - 19:38 | Permalink

      Nor was there any expectation that the crucifed/resurrected Messiah was to come from an obscure Galilean village. Wonder were the author of Mark got that from? Just as I wonder why Mark had to have his crucified/resurrected Messiah speak in a galilean dialect of aramean. Just as I wonder why Mark would have be a hell of a good researcher (specially if he was writing as many mythicists claim he did) to have dug up peculiarities relating to interpretation of Jewish halakah (like 7:15-13) that had little or no relevance to his community.

      Antonio, all of these sorts of objections, and the others in your reply, are merely what comes to mind from the point of view of your model of Christian origins and the provenance of the evidence. They do not engage the hypotheses on which the differences are based. They are merely repeating the counterclaims without argument. One can go back and forth arguing point by point but that will get us nowhere.

  • 2010-02-17 03:22:50 GMT+0000 - 03:22 | Permalink

    With respect to your cat analogy, the evidence seems to indicate that the original Christian “cat” involved spiritual resurrection, not “resurrection in the flesh”. Following what seems to me to be a natural trajectory of Christian writings, the idea of physical resurrection noticeably absent from, say, Hebrews, becomes more and more pronounced over time, with the addition of increasingly-detailed “proofs” that the resurrected Jesus had a physical body (not Paul’s spiritual “body”). It’s not immediately clear to me whether this counts for or against the mythicist case, but it does seem to be something that should be taken into account.

    If I may add another point: if the idea of a crucified divinity was such an easy sell as you maintain, how do you account for 1 Cor 1:23? Was the writer of that passage guilty of the same sin as McGrath, i.e., illegitimately “taking apart the cat”?

  • 2010-02-17 04:01:42 GMT+0000 - 04:01 | Permalink

    Expanding a bit on the last point of my previous note, it seems to me that both McGrath and yourself have over-simplified the matter. Neither of you specifies what audience would find execution/resurrection to be a hard/easy concept to accept, nor under what assumptions. Would whatever audience you’re thinking of assume a priori that Jesus was rightfully convicted or wrongfully? Is the audience you’re thinking of Jewish, Roman, or what? Without these particulars, it seems that what you’ve done is not so much dismantle McGrath’s point as to take advantage of its oversimplicity to substitute another oversimplified view in its place.

    • 2010-02-17 19:53:50 GMT+0000 - 19:53 | Permalink

      Agreed I was giving a broad-brush overview in my post.

      The details take more time to present.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-17 04:47:02 GMT+0000 - 04:47 | Permalink

    Mike,
    you are absolutely right. Neil is too sweeping in his talk about a crucifiction/resurrection reversal myth being a thing that wouldn´t
    be too difficult to sell. Maybe it wouldn´t have been that difficult in
    a pagan context where myths of dying/rising gods weren´t unknown
    (although Paul still claims that he is having a hard time selling it) but
    in a Jewish context it would have been an almost impossible sell. Which
    is why Jewish Christianity died out while Gentile Christianity ultimately flourished

    • 2010-02-17 19:49:03 GMT+0000 - 19:49 | Permalink

      What was this Jewish Christianity and how do you explain it?

      I’m reminded by these black and white arguments of those who found evolution such a hard concept to accept because they could only conceive of different species and failed to appreciate the nature of evolution.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-17 06:14:08 GMT+0000 - 06:14 | Permalink

    ‘The obvious flaw in this argument (that no-one would have made up from scratch the idea of a messiah who had been crucified)….’

    This is just the standard argument from incredulity.

    McGrath is incredulous that something would happen, so it could not have happened.

    Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, Jude etc, never have to defend the idea that the Messiah had been crucified.

    For them, it was a self-evident fact that the Messiah had been crucified.

    It was not something that had to be justified.

    So how did Christians ‘sell’ the idea of a crucified Messiah?

    It would have been a lot easier for them if they were dimissed as fools, rather than blasphemers.

    Claiming a recently executed criminal was sitting at the right hand of God would have got them stoned. It would have been a causus belli.

    Claiming that their new reading of scripture showed that the Messiah was crucified would have got them dismissed as just plain wrong. It would have been a stumbling block.

    Indeed there are traces in Acts of Romans baffled by this inter-Jewish dispute over what their books of Law meant.

    And Jews in Acts leaving Christians alone in order to see if this new movement came from God. It seems they had forgotten that this new movement came from a crucified criminal.

  • 2010-02-17 19:31:05 GMT+0000 - 19:31 | Permalink

    So those Jews who appear to have extended the Isaac story into one of an atoning blood sacrifice for the sins of Israel is not even close to a messiah who dies etc? The Jewish martyrs of the pre-Christian era found no hope or reassurance in identifying with this particular Isaac?

    The regular tropes of the Old Testament of despair to the extent of prison and coming to the point of death before salvation and exaltation that also means the deliverance of a wider community — none of this is likely to have had any impact on the thinking of any Jews in such a direction?

    I certainly agree that we need to keep the audiences in mind, and that part of the problem is that we do not know who the audiences are. I have made this point repeatedly, yet still people make definitive absolute statements about what “must have been” or “could not have been”.

    I am surprised that given the doubts and uncertainties that face us there can be any dogmatism at all. This is one detail I find so unprofessional on the part of James McGrath.

    As for the “easy sell”, I meant only what I said in my post that, in the context of despair such a message of hope is one that we can see did take hold of people’s imaginations. Not all, obviously. Many people when they first hear the message today find it comforting. Again, not all, obviously. The message encapsulates so many “memes” (metaphorically) of human existence generally.

    I discussed 1 Cor 1:23 earlier. Acts says Paul preached another type of message, and Paul’s writings also add that there were other Christians preaching different messages about Christ. Paul was writing to people who were persuaded, Jews and gentiles. I am certainly not suggesting everybody just lapped up the Christian message. That would be ridiculous. But we know it did find a growing number of adherents and never looked back as a movement. That’s obvious.

    My point was to put up some qualification to the constant refrain that Christianity had such a paradoxical message it could not have ever started unless it were true. That is really an extension of the logic of Tertullian and St Augustine, and finds its crudest expression among fundamentalists today. It is a claim that is based on the assumption of historicity, while at the same time being, by its own admission, a very improbable thesis. It needs to be examined and questioned. Not repeated like a mantra.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-17 21:16:32 GMT+0000 - 21:16 | Permalink

    Neil wrote:
    “What was this Jewish Christianity and how do you explain it?”

    Do I really have to repeat solid arguments made by others that there was once in a time a Jewish Christianity? Or are you arguing that the Jesus movement didn´t start in Palestine among a group of basically Torah obedient Jews.
    I think maybe our discussion would be more fruitful if I could see your whole hypothesis about the origins of Christianity laid out in detail and in a way where you place most of the pieces in the puzzle into something resembling a picure. And hopefully a picture that makes sense. So far I have only seen you nitpicking at the pieces in the puzzle one at a time without giving us any real reconstruction of your own.

    • 2010-02-17 23:00:59 GMT+0000 - 23:00 | Permalink

      No no. Sorry. Was assuming when I should have been explaining. We know about Jewish Christianity, of course. What I was meaning to address was your claim that very few if any Jews would have accepted a crucified messiah. But according to the traditional model of Christian origins, that is exactly what did happen. And this Jewish faction was presumably seen as a threat by Paul to his form of Christianity.

      Fundamentalists have used this “fact” to prove that Jesus really was resurrected — they could not deny the evidence.

      The same argument is used by historicists, is it not?

  • Pingback: James McGrath’s reply and my response: Vridar / Neil

  • 2010-02-18 03:27:15 GMT+0000 - 03:27 | Permalink

    “Joseph,
    I really wonder what kind of works on the historical Jesus you have ever read. Sounds like you have been forcefed on too much evangelical apologetic proganda. It is ridiculous to suggest that all historicists swallow the NT evidence without asking any real questions. Why not try John P Meier´s work on the historical. I think he looks at the origins of Christianity from most angles and ask the right kind of questions. Except that he doesn´t waste time on crackpot amateurs like Earl Doherty.”

    I’ve seen what’s come through FRDB which includes the main ones including Meier. I have not seen any who properly deal with the issue. When I list proper historicity standards @ FRDB the HJs just ignore it and now we can add McGrath to that list. The one who’s book I actually read was Baukham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). This book is twice as bad as the HJ think Doherty is. A professional like McGrath and the mainstream scholarship should be spending their time criticizing Bauckham’s nonsense instead of amateur MJ arguments.

    If you knew of any HJ using proper historical methodology you would have listed their arguments here. That’s the problem, either they are mythical or they are really hard to find. (Neil, feel free to use The Mythical HJ Standards for Historicity as a label.)

    A good analogy is the National Enquirer’s standards for reporting Elvis sightings. Is the National Enquirer’s evidence (witness testimony) here better or worse than McGrath’s evidence for Jesus sightings?

    Joseph

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-18 05:43:26 GMT+0000 - 05:43 | Permalink

      Joseph,
      nice to see that you are keeping up with some of the litterature on the subject, including Meier. But I guess that with your very, very hard standards for what would be admitted as “evidence” for the very probable existence of persons mentioned in ancient texts historians could just as well
      doubt the existence of Muhammed or Zabbatai Zvi. I really think that the whole problem boils down to the simple fact we have different ways of sifting and weighing “evidence”. It really doesn´t have anything to do with religious affiliation, since I am an atheist. Maybe Robin Lane Fox and me have that peculiar lack of phantasy that would make us see how you go easily from a non-existent figure in the sublunar sphere (or some other of the mythicists scenarios) to a Galilean carpenter son, who speaks in ways very different from Dionysios or Osiris, acts in accord with peculiar 1st century Palestinian customs etc etc. Maybe that is what makes us into such bad historians? Who knows?
      And I agree with you that Bauckham´s book stinks. But so does also most of the mythicist litterature I have read.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 05:40:13 GMT+0000 - 05:40 | Permalink

    Is Antonio claiming that Robin Lane Fox uses the criterion of embarrassment to decide that Jesus really was crucified?

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 05:48:46 GMT+0000 - 05:48 | Permalink

    Steven,
    go and read Robin Lane Fox yourself. Or write to him. But why waste time on a supposed expert on Antiquity who doesn´t even know the ground rules for doing proper history?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 05:59:07 GMT+0000 - 05:59 | Permalink

    I have read Robin Lane Fox for myself, and no he does not use the accepted criterion of mainstream Biblical scholarship.

    He has this old-fashioned view that what counts are primary sources and witnesses.

    No wonder he never got a job as a Professor of NT studies.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 06:07:08 GMT+0000 - 06:07 | Permalink

    Meier claims ‘Quite plainly, the early Church was “stuck with” an event in Jesus’ life that it found increasingly embarrassing, that it tried to explain away by various means, and that John the Evangelist finally erased from his Gospel.’

    I see.

    So if there is no baptism mentioned, Meier know that the baptism must have been historical because , look, John the Evangelist never mentions it.

    The baptism is historical because one Gospel never says a word about it happening!

    And you are claiming Meier knows what logic is?

    Are there any other things which must be true because they are not in one Gospel?

  • 2010-02-17 22:15:38 GMT+0000 - 22:15 | Permalink

    I had a few interactions with McGrath at his blog and he either does not understand what historical methodology is or is ignoring it. The subject of this post is representative. You do not prove historicity by an argument from unlikeliness. This is actually evidence against historicity. The standards are always the same:

    1) Witness

    2) Witness

    3) Witness

    Who are the witnesses for the supposed crucifixion? We need something better than McGrath.

    Is Paul a credible witness?

    Who was “Mark”?

    Is there contradictory evidence?

    These are the questions that need to be asked and answered. That supposed authority like McGrath are ignoring/denying what they should do indicates that they do realize the problems and are indeed assuming their conclusion.

    Where they are right is that MJ can not be proven. But that does not prove HJ.

    Joseph

    • 2010-02-17 23:06:29 GMT+0000 - 23:06 | Permalink

      I don’t mind McGrath being a liberal Christian or whatever, and I don’t mind him being a historicist and arguing against mythicism.

      I am also happy that in the long run he is doing a disservice to Christianity and Christian or biblical scholarship. They deserve to have negative press. (The more academics are prompted to argue publicly the way they do, the better.)

      What I find objectionable is his betrayal of his position as an intellectual and a member of that “group” who have a responsibility for setting some sort of intellectual and rational and civilized leadership for the wider community.

      He is fostering prejudice, ignorance and uncivil discourse, not fighting against it as his profession demands. And he has many supporters within his guild.

      Should we really be surprised to find that it is from the faculties of biblical studies that we find intellectual leaders resorting — as they have done in ages past — to the same tactics that speak of intolerance and slurs and ignorance?

    • 2010-02-17 23:19:59 GMT+0000 - 23:19 | Permalink

      McGrath, like so many “New Testament” scholars who has written something “historical”, claim that they are “historians”, yet I have seen very few of them demonstrate any of the understanding of rules of evidence and relevant methodologies that are par for the course in nonbiblical historical studies.

      How does one begin to argue with those who are convinced an unprovenanced narrative without any external controls can be considered a source for “historical evidence” on the basis of a priori discussions about its plot!

      The argument that there should be no separate bible history, archaeology or literature departments is, I believe, a very strong one.

      • Antonio Jerez
        2010-02-18 02:59:21 GMT+0000 - 02:59 | Permalink

        Neil,
        I suppose you would also call Robin Lane Fox a pseudohistorian. He probably doesn´t know either anything about the fundamentals of doing real history. Or why not go for an atheist like Bill Arnal also.

      • Antonio Jerez
        2010-02-18 03:15:04 GMT+0000 - 03:15 | Permalink

        Could also add that I think James McGrath is a pretty good historian, and much more intellectually honest than most folks in the biblical guild. Where you notice that he is still tied to his Christian heritage is when he claims that a historian can´t really say anything about the reality of the resurrection. A historian certainly can. At least if he asks the right sort of questions.

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-18 03:09:13 GMT+0000 - 03:09 | Permalink

      Joseph,
      I really wonder what kind of works on the historical Jesus you have ever read. Sounds like you have been forcefed on too much evangelical apologetic proganda. It is ridiculous to suggest that all historicists swallow the NT evidence without asking any real questions. Why not try John P Meier´s work on the historical. I think he looks at the origins of Christianity from most angles and ask the right kind of questions. Except that he doesn´t waste time on crackpot amateurs like Earl Doherty.

  • 2010-02-18 06:27:59 GMT+0000 - 06:27 | Permalink

    “I have read Robin Lane Fox for myself, and no he does not use the accepted criterion of mainstream Biblical scholarship.

    He has this old-fashioned view that what counts are primary sources and witnesses.

    No wonder he never got a job as a Professor of NT studies.”

    Who wants to chip in with me and frame this and send it to McGrath as a Christmas present?

    Joseph

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 06:29:17 GMT+0000 - 06:29 | Permalink

    Steven wrote:
    “He has this old-fashioned view that what counts are primary sources and witnesses.”

    Well, if Robin Fox Lane really has the view you ascribe to him (that the only thing that counts if you are to conclude that a figure mentioned in very old texts very probably existed is firsthand accounts from persons who had met that figure) then it makes me wonder how Lane Fox can argue that Jesus existed. Wonder how a person with such sloppy methodology ever got one of the most prestigious history chairs on this planet?

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-18 06:35:39 GMT+0000 - 06:35 | Permalink

      Sorry, I mistook Steven for Joseph. Which makes me even more surprised if Joseph really wrote what he appears to have written. Joseph, have you even read Robin Lane Fox book on the Bible? Where does he say that only firsthand testimony counts when you reconstruct history?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 06:33:56 GMT+0000 - 06:33 | Permalink

    Antonio is about to give us the reasons Robin Lane Fox cites as his reasons for believing Jesus existed.

    Or possibly not?

    So far Antonio has a non-argument from authority, which is even worse than an argument from authority.

    If I remember correctly, Robin Lane Fox believes (or believed) that a disciple of Jesus wrote the 4th Gospel.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 06:37:41 GMT+0000 - 06:37 | Permalink

    Does Antonio think it correct methodology to argue
    1) if ‘John’ mentions something in other Gospels, then it must be true by the criterion of multiple attestation.
    2) if ‘John’ does not mention something in other Gospels, then it must be true by the criterion of embarrassment.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 06:38:53 GMT+0000 - 06:38 | Permalink

    Robin Lane Fox doesn’t say that only first hand testimony counts.

    What counts are sources, preferably primary, but secondary if they are good sources.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 06:40:15 GMT+0000 - 06:40 | Permalink

    I should have made that clearer when I wrote what I did about Lane Fox and witnesses.

    Sorry about my mistake. I shall try not to repeat it.

  • 2010-02-18 06:41:10 GMT+0000 - 06:41 | Permalink

    Antonio:
    “Sorry, I mistook Steven for Joseph. Which makes me even more surprised if Joseph really wrote what he appears to have written. Joseph, have you even read Robin Lane Fox book on the Bible? Where does he say that only firsthand testimony counts when you reconstruct history?”

    I did not say that and neither did what you are referring to.

    Joseph

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 06:45:52 GMT+0000 - 06:45 | Permalink

    Discussing with Steven Carr is at the moment like being part of Alice in Wonderland. So Robin Lane Fox believes that a DISCIPLE of JESUS wrote Gospel of John. In my earthly dimension my reading is that Robin Lane Fox believes that a real Jesus had a direct disciple who´s memories are partly recorded in Gospel of John. But in Steven Carr´s Alice in Wonderland dimension Lane Fox can obviously believe that a one can be a direct disciple of a real Jesus without Jesus ever being real.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 06:55:01 GMT+0000 - 06:55 | Permalink

    Joseph,
    so what does this mean:

    “He has this old-fashioned view that what counts are primary sources and witnesses.”

    Was it just some ironical touch that I happen to have missed? Maybe it is because English is not my first language (it´s my third after swedish and spanish) but a straight reading of the passage is what makes me believe that you were arguing that Robin Lane Fox believes that only primary sources count. Which is obviously not the position Lane Fox has since he believes that Jesus existed.
    And maybe you can share your opinions on Lane Fox. Is he as worthless a historian as James McGrath?

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 07:07:51 GMT+0000 - 07:07 | Permalink

    And Joseph. Are you suggesting that no true historian would ever be in a position to conclude that Muhammed existed since we don´t have any primary sources or firsthand accounts about him. The earliest “biography” we have about the Prophet is the Siras of Ibn Hisham and Al Tabari, who are secondhand accounts of another Sira written by Ibn Ishaq. And those Siras are written at least 150 years after the Prophets dead, which in itself cannot be proven since the earliest extant copies of those Siras are even later than that.

  • 2010-02-18 07:22:29 GMT+0000 - 07:22 | Permalink

    Antonio, the question is not so simplistic as being a matter of primary versus secondary evidence. That is not at the heart of critiques of Jesus ‘historicism’. Sometimes secondary evidence can be more useful and informative than primary evidence. What counts more is the nature of the evidence, its provenance, and external controls relating to the contents of its narrative.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 07:35:04 GMT+0000 - 07:35 | Permalink

    Neil,
    that is the position of any sensible historian. But reading Joseph´s comments carefully that is not the position I get the impression that he is arguing for. Instead he lambasts historians of all colours (christian and atheists) for relying on non-primary sources without asking the kind of questions that should be asked of all sources. Joseph is entitled to disagree with James McGrath, Robin Lane Fox or me, but the reasons we come to opposite conclusions of Joseph or other mythicists is definitely not because we don´t ask the right sort of questions or credulously swallow everything Paul and the others serve us.

  • 2010-02-18 07:49:16 GMT+0000 - 07:49 | Permalink

    The fallacy at the heart of so much “Jesus-history” as I see it is that so much of it is nothing more than plot analysis of an unprovenanced narrative, mixed with a lot of unsupported assumptions of historicity (e.g. traditions), that masquerades as historical methodology. (e.g. E. P. Sanders)

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-18 18:54:14 GMT+0000 - 18:54 | Permalink

      Neil,
      about that we can be in agreemeent. E P Sanders is much to credolous in not seeing that much och the plot narrative in Mark and the other gospels is a fiction. But then I think you are much too sceptical when you claim that all of the plot narrative plus all the sayings are made up.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 15:27:16 GMT+0000 - 15:27 | Permalink

    ANTONIO
    Discussing with Steven Carr is at the moment like being part of Alice in Wonderland. So Robin Lane Fox believes that a DISCIPLE of JESUS wrote Gospel of John. In my earthly dimension my reading is that Robin Lane Fox believes that a real Jesus had a direct disciple who´s memories are partly recorded in Gospel of John. But in Steven Carr´s Alice in Wonderland dimension Lane Fox can obviously believe that a one can be a direct disciple of a real Jesus without Jesus ever being real.

    CARR
    I have no idea what Antonio is talking about.

    Robin Lane Fox believes Jesus existed and believes (or believed, I am not sure) that a disciple of Jesus wrote the 4th Gospel.

    This view of the authorship is very much not the mainstream view as Robin Lane Fox conceded in his book on the Bible ‘The Unauthorised Version’

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 19:08:54 GMT+0000 - 19:08 | Permalink

    Steven,
    maybe it is a matter of confusion. My original position was that professional, secular historians who has studied the subject usually conclude that Jesus has existed. Among those scholars are Robin Lane Fox and Michael Grant. So Robin Lane Fox, Grant or others scholars don´t butt up yours, Joseph´s or Neil´s arguments about a purely mythical Jesus. But one could of course argue like Joseph that those who do history the way Lane Fox and Grant do are simply bad historians. Personally I think you can guess whom I really think is the amateur and whom I think is the professional.

  • 2010-02-18 19:14:27 GMT+0000 - 19:14 | Permalink

    Antonio Jerez Says:
    2010/02/18 at 6:54 pm | Reply edit

    Neil,
    about that we can be in agreemeent. E P Sanders is much to credolous in not seeing that much och the plot narrative in Mark and the other gospels is a fiction. But then I think you are much too sceptical when you claim that all of the plot narrative plus all the sayings are made up.

    How do you decide which is which? What is made up and what is historical? What is “the criteria”? What are the only conceivable criteria in historical enquiry? I am attempting to be consistent and justifiable. We are faced with an unprovenanced narrative. What questions can we ask of it, and where can we find answers? It is not a matter of hyper-scepticism. It is simply a matter of consistent, justifiable approach to unprovenanced narratives.

  • steven Carr
    2010-02-18 19:22:21 GMT+0000 - 19:22 | Permalink

    Antonio is producing a non-argument from authority.

    What is his point? Is his point that Robin Lane Fox can explain why Paul says in Romans 10 that Jews could not be expected to believe, because they had not heard of Jesus, and that Christians had been sent to preach to Jews about Jesus?

    I’m more than happy to hear what professional historians like Lane Fox and Michael Grant say about such passages. Feel free to quote them.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 19:24:27 GMT+0000 - 19:24 | Permalink

    Neil,
    I suppose you think all of the criteria used by John Meier are worthless. I don´t. I may be a lot more sceptical than Meier about the usefulness of most of the criteria, but I do not find them useless.

  • 2010-02-18 19:26:08 GMT+0000 - 19:26 | Permalink

    As for “other” historians like Grant writing as if Jesus existed, this is beside the point. It is apparent that they have simply taken the main assumptions/conclusions (same thing) from biblical scholars and written the histories they want. They have no more investigated the core evidence anymore than the biblical historians. And we do know of some such historians also having a personal faith investment in what they write. So appealing to a few nonbiblical historians writing about the historical Jesus answers nothing.

    We would do far better by looking at the discussions of the likes of Niels Peter Lemche in particular on historical method in relation to biblical studies:

  • steven Carr
    2010-02-18 19:30:04 GMT+0000 - 19:30 | Permalink

    What do you think of Meier concluding that the baptism by John the Baptist is historical because it is NOT in the Gospel of John?

    The logic is that because the Gospel of John never mentions any such baptism, then ‘John’ must have been embarrassed by it, and so it must be historical.

    I quote Meier ‘‘Quite plainly, the early Church was “stuck with” an event in Jesus’ life that it found increasingly embarrassing, that it tried to explain away by various means, and that John the Evangelist finally erased from his Gospel.’

    How does Meier know John the Evangelist wrote it in his Gospel and then ‘erased’ it?

    How does Meier know the Evangelist had even heard of such a baptism, when there is no mention of it in John’s Gospel?

    It is so easy to prove that the baptism by John the Baptist must be historical, that I should really be made an Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies.

    Mark mentions a baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

    If the Gospel of John mentions this baptism, then it is historical by the criterion of multiple attestation.

    If the Gospel of John does not mention this baptism, then it is historical because of the criterion of embarrassment. ‘John’ was obviously too embarrased to mention it….

  • 2010-02-18 19:46:01 GMT+0000 - 19:46 | Permalink

    And if John was the earliest gospel, he must have been too embarrassed to have mentioned it, but his audiences faulted him so later evangelists learned to confess the “truth” of the baptism to avoid the same censure.

    Where does Alice in Wonderland enter in all of this?

    (Okay, I made that bit up about the implications of the early dating of John. But those who do date John early — well, how will they answer this question?)

  • 2010-02-18 19:49:34 GMT+0000 - 19:49 | Permalink

    Thanks Steven — your example of how multiple criteria can be deployed to rescue any event one chooses for historicity / nonhistoricity will be used again, if you grant me permission.

    As I have asked on James McGrath’s blog recently, what other historical discipline (apart from biblical studies) uses “criteria” like these to establish the historicity of an event or fact? Embarrassment can be used to establish motives, interpretation of evidence, etc. . . . . but the fact of an event itself?

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-18 21:21:43 GMT+0000 - 21:21 | Permalink

    Steven,
    thanks for mentioning the episode about John the Baptist. I think this a good test case for judging the strengts of various critieria used by Jesus scholars. Not the least the criteria of “embarrasment”.
    First I think it is important to mention that my own position is that Mark wrote first, Matthew and Luke are both dependant on Mark, Luke also used Matthew, and John is last in line and copied from both Mark and Luke (and possibly also Matthew).
    No, I don´t agree with Meier that “erased” the Baptism scene from his gospel because he felt embarrased about it. John leaves out a lot of things found in the synoptics because of reasons other than “embarrasment – like the Eucharist (which he alludes to in chapter 6 in a highly creative rewriting of the story. Just as John alludes to the baptism accounts in the gospels in 1:32-34). I think John was just as aware as the synoptics that Jesus was baptised by John, and he had to tackle the problem that contemporary disciples of JB and other Jews could and did argue with Christians that Jesus must have been minor to JB since he was baptised by him and not the other way around. Which is why John puts clearly fictional words in the mouth of JB to show who is really the greatest.
    And not only is John engaged in a discussion with non-Christian Jews, he is even in opposition to some claims made on behalf of JB from other gospel writers like Mark. Mark sees JB as Elijah redivivus who paves the way for the Messiah. John agrees that John paves the way for Jesus but he emphatically denies that John is Elias redivivus (John 1:21).
    So what we have here is an interesting example, John, arguing with other Jews and other Christians. Which makes me wonder why John would even bother arguing with Mark if the baptism was just an invention. Why couldn´t John just have left JB out of his gospel altogether? He couldn´t because it appears to have been a wellknown fact among some Jews around 80-100 AD that a Galilean exorcist named Jesus had either been a disciple and/or been baptized by a preacher named John. The only way John could have tackled the problem was not by denying the baptism or by hiding it away like Meier claims, but by putting more fictional words in John´s mouth that made it a lot clearer than in the gospels that JB is subordinate to Jesus.
    And my guess is that if it weren´t for the fact that it is hard to explain away the mention of JB in Josephus as a later Christian interpolation I could probably find Neil Godfrey sitting in a parallel universe arguing that JB is also an invention by the Christian movement since he doesn´t show up in non-Christian sources.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-18 22:28:49 GMT+0000 - 22:28 | Permalink

    ANTONIO
    Why couldn´t John just have left JB out of his gospel altogether?

    CARR
    Why couldn’t religious people leave out altogether anything which displeased them?

    If the baptism by John the Baptist had been embarrassing to Christians, it would have been written out of the life of Jesus before Jesus was even dead, let alone decades later.

    If Hollywood can do biopics of Al Jolson which leave out some family relatives and add in others, then why was the anonymous author of John compelled to write about John the Baptist?

    Are religious people just inherently more honest than Hollywood screenwriters?

  • 2010-02-19 00:02:40 GMT+0000 - 00:02 | Permalink

    Antonio:
    “Joseph,
    nice to see that you are keeping up with some of the litterature on the subject, including Meier. But I guess that with your very, very hard standards for what would be admitted as “evidence” for the very probable existence of persons mentioned in ancient texts historians could just as well doubt the existence of Muhammed”

    JW:
    What a great comparison. Look at the Wikipedia article on Muhammed:

    1) He is 6 centuries later when recorded history is much better.

    2) The witnesses write as history.

    3) The witnesses are successors of his followers.

    4) The witness testimony is believable.

    5) The witnesses are known.

    This analogy is useful to help demonstrate the comParable weakness of the evidence for Jesus but there is still no substitute for looking at the witness evidence for Jesus. I fear that Jesus may actually return (actually if he did we would need to ask him who’s Jesus he was) before McGrath ever considers this, so let me get it started:

    1) Paul = no evidence that he ever met Jesus. Claims that his knowledge of Jesus comes from God and dead Jesus. Emphasis is on dead Jesus. A few implications that he knew people who knew Jesus but the related problem is that he discredits the witness of his Jesus competition.

    Confesses to us that after Jesus is gone God reveals to him that Jesus can be found in the Jewish Bible but only if you have faith and the spirit of God (think “Mark”). Thinking that Jesus is in the Jewish Bible would normally be dishonest but Paul does qualify his reasons for thinking so.

    Paul is not a credible witness and gets Christianity off to a bad start as far as historical support. The Christianity that comes to us is first witnessed by someone who did not know Jesus and was not a successor to Jesus’ followers. That’s a big problem. Jesus’ witness is started by an outsider who goes to outsiders. Paul’s audience does not know Jesus either.

    We need something more than Paul here. Something from an insider. Paul does not require an HJ and neither does his audience in order to believe in HJ. Someone who knew Jesus would require HJ. Next witness.

    Joseph

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-19 00:54:54 GMT+0000 - 00:54 | Permalink

      Joseph wrote:

      1) He is 6 centuries later when recorded history is much better.

      Is it really? We don´t actually have any muslim texts mentioning Muhammed before the 8th century. And the extant copies are even
      older than that. There seems to be a few Christian sources mentioning
      Muhammed from the 7th century, but their “witness” appears to be based on hearsay, just like the mythicist claim that Tacitus “witness” is just
      based on hearsay.

      2) The witnesses write as history.

      Which witnesses? Do you mean Ibn Hisham and Al-Tabari? How can they be witnesses when they themselves never claim to have seen the things they recount. They are basically doing a rehash of Ibn Ishaq who wasn´t a witness either. And neither Ibn Hisham or Al-Tabari can be with the best will in the world said to be writing history. Not even by the standards of Antiquity. Just like in the gospels the heroes life is filled with miraculous portents and happenings. How mych history is there in the story about Mohammed being taken to heaven by the “donkey” Al-Burg?

      3) The witnesses are successors of his followers.

      How do you know? So we cannot trust Paul who lived in the same generation as the non-existent Jesus and claims to have met the direct disciples of the non-existent Jesus, but we can trust Ibn Hisham who is far from a primary witness to the events he narrates.

      4) The witness testimony is believable.

      Is the story about the birth of Muhammed in the Sira or his ascension to heaven really more believable than than stories about Jesus birth or his Transfiguration on the mountain.?

      5) The witnesses are known.

      Ibn Hisham just gives a bunch of names. Just like Paul and the gospel writers do from time to time. So why totally dismiss Paul and put trust on Ibn Hisham

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 00:04:13 GMT+0000 - 00:04 | Permalink

    Steven,
    you just go on bypassing the problems like usual. What I want you and your mythicist companions to answer as plausible as possible is.

    1. Why tie a wholly mythological figure like Jesus to a known historical figure like JB?
    2. After somebody like Mark tied his wholly mythological figure to a known historical figure like JB, which later created problems for later Christians like Matthew and John, why not just erase JB again altoghether?

    Explanations like “anything happenes among religious people” is not a satisfactory answer.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 00:18:58 GMT+0000 - 00:18 | Permalink

    That one gospel writer could erase or deny statements or theological points made by another gospel writer is pretty obvious. The author of GJohn had no problem denying Mark´s idea that JB was Elijah. Why? Because he knew that tradition did not go back to Jesus himself. So he didn´t take any risk by denying Mark on this point. He couldn´t bypass John altogether since that was a known historical fact. Just as he couldn´t bypass Jesus provenance from Nazareth since that was historical fact. The gospel writers were good at making things up to score theological points but it seems like their phantasy had some limits constrained by some historical facts like JB and Nazareth.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 01:20:47 GMT+0000 - 01:20 | Permalink

    Joseph wrote:
    Paul is not a credible witness and gets Christianity off to a bad start as far as historical support. The Christianity that comes to us is first witnessed by someone who did not know Jesus and was not a successor to Jesus’ followers. That’s a big problem. Jesus’ witness is started by an outsider who goes to outsiders. Paul’s audience does not know Jesus either.”

    OK, so let´s imagine that Jesus was just an imaginary figure whom Paul had only seen in visions from the sublunar sphere or some other mythicist dimension. And since you appear to admit that Paul had met other members in the Jesus cult who had been part of the cult before him we have to suppose that Kephas, James and the others had also had visions of Jesus from the sublunar sphere or mythicist dimension. Which makes me wonder that if we are only dealing with members of the Jesus cult who had never met a living Jesus why does Paul have to argue so strenously that he is also an apostle as good as Kephas and the others? If all there was to the experience of meeting Jesus was about having met the figure from the sublunar sphere or some other mythicist dimension, why couldn´t Paul just have said that my experience of Jesus is just as good as Kephas´ or James´which is why I have the same right to be called an Apostle.
    And I suppose that Luke´s “testimony” in Acts doesn´t count for nothing. Why is Luke just reserving the name Apostle for those he believed had only met Jesus in his earthly incarnation. Why didn´t he consider his hero Paul to be an Apostle? Or are we to believe that by the time Luke wrote he had no way of disentangling fact from fiction in the Jesus myth?

    • maryhelena
      2010-02-19 02:48:18 GMT+0000 - 02:48 | Permalink

      Good points you raise Antonio…
      If all Paul has is his vision – and all those who were before him also had their vision re a mythical Christ figure – then what differentiated Paul and from those others? Who is to judge which vision is ‘the’ vision to out do the others?

      If the whole thing is a question of competing visions – then all that can surely produce is chaos. There has to be some measuring stick against which the visions are checked out – reality in other words – physical reality.

      I’m a mythicist so I don’t believe that Jesus was a historical figure. However, that basic mythicist position does not rule out the possibility that a historical figure was relevant to early Christianity – relevant, if only in some type of inspirational role. For argument, someone, or some people, found a particular historical figure to be inspirational. Whatever the particulars, whatever the inspirational thoughts, interpretation, meaning etc that others found in such a person, these ideas could have become the genesis of a Jesus storyboard – a storyboard that could then be continually updated etc as the history, and understanding, of the Christian movement developed. After all its not what any particular man said or did – it’s what others found in him, saw in him, it’s how such a person impacted the lives of others that is the only truly relevant factor.

      Consider, for a moment, the figure of Nelson Mandela: Mandela is a myth in the making, a living legend. At the end of the day, what he himself did can be questioned (his role in the armed wing of the ANC). But as an inspirational figure, in Africa, and in many parts of the world, he stands at the pinnacle of renown. A humanitarian figure par excellence. One can question just what exactly he did while president of SA. But that is, again, to miss the point – it is Mandela’s life, his very existence, that is the inspiration to so many. Yes, he was the symbol of the anti apartheid movement – and it is as a symbol that Mandela will forever be remembered. That is his legacy – that at the right time and place such a figure as Mandela was able to capture the moment and inspire others to walk that long road to freedom with him.

      Mandela is, of course still with us – but methinks the storytelling, in Africa at least, is only about to begin…Sure, the Mandela storytelling will most probably carry his name – for sometime at least. However, already, Mandela is most often referred to as ‘Madiba’ – so down the line – just for argument – the storytelling could easily drop the Mandela name – since that name can also carry some baggage – and the ‘Madiba’ name could become the focus of the future storytelling – with embellishment tagged on so that in time the ‘Madiba’ storyboard itself far overshadowed anything Mandela ever did. Later generations could then be asking the question – ‘just who was Madiba’ – and might well be surprised that the historical figure behind the ‘Madiba’ storyboard was not a bit like the embellished ‘Madiba’ of the storytelling – so much so that it would be impossible to make a simple equation. (Things like origin stories might be retold – obscure humble beginning having more resonance with the common folk than a royal connection might have – inspirational figures uplift both themselves and others – hence coming from nowhere is a good starting point in such a storyline).

      I’m not suggesting the early Christians did exactly the above…
      Their interest was theological and prophetic from the start – not mere history but interpretation of that history. Hence, using a ‘Jesus’ storyboard would have been more involved than a simple ‘Madiba’ storyboard. But the general idea, an inspirational historical figure being the impetus for a theological/prophetic movement – is perhaps worth considering. And being a theological and prophetic storytelling – the ‘meaning’ of the storytelling going way beyond its historical core – that historical core gets shifted onto the back-burner – and the storyboard, the mythology, the embellishments, takes centre stage. To attempt to make a simple equation – Jesus equals such and such a historical figure – would be to miss the whole thrust of the gospel storyline. A gospel storyline dealing not with a physical crucifixion and resurrection (a storyline which Richard Dawkins has recently labelled ‘moral depravity’) but with spiritual/intellectual renewal.

      That’s my take on things as of now….
      (PS – intellectual movements don’t spring from uneducated fishermen or carpenters – they spring from the intellectual elite – and as the gospel storyline demonstrates – we are dealing with sophisticated storytellers…)
      ________________________________________

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-19 03:22:52 GMT+0000 - 03:22 | Permalink

    ANTONIO
    1. Why tie a wholly mythological figure like Jesus to a known historical figure like JB?

    CARR

    So no arguments, simply a claim from incredulity that a mythological figure could be tied to a known historical figure.

    Please produce some evidence that this baptism was historical.

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-19 03:38:31 GMT+0000 - 03:38 | Permalink

      Steven,
      I can well understand why you leave out point 2 from my argument. Point 1 and 2 are tied together. And your only counterargument seems to be the usual one from you – “please show some EVIDENCE that this happened.”.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 03:29:32 GMT+0000 - 03:29 | Permalink

    Maryhelena,
    thanks for acknowledging that I have finally managed to make a good point. From what I can see I don´t really think I would put you in the mythicist camp, at least not among the pure mythicist. You do seem to argue that there was some kind of person of flesh and blood at the beginning that the later Jesus movement drew inspiration of from (how far in time do you think that person was from Paul?). So essentially our disagreements boils down to the fact that you seem to believe that the Christ cult embellished the inspirational person to the point were neither the deeds nor the words of the Christ of NT have much resemblance to the original person while I believe that the embellishment is indeed large though we have distinctive deeds and words that we can atribute to a person with a name and a provenance.

    • maryhelena
      2010-02-19 12:12:01 GMT+0000 - 12:12 | Permalink

      Sorry, Antonio, my two feet are set down very firmly in the mythicist camp…Perhaps its your own understanding about what a mythicist is that might be causing you a little difficulty. Look at it this way. The historical Jesus position has many types of Jesus; from cynic sage to apocalyptic prophet. Why think that a mythicist position must confine itself to just one position? Its all just variations on a theme – or better still, two different frameworks from which to develop a gospel storyboard; two different frameworks with which to examine the gospel story.

      Your position, the historical Jesus position, seeks to maintain there is some sayings or deeds of the gospel Jesus that relate to a historical Jesus. That is pure assumption. Whatever maybe the sayings within the gospel story that can be attributed to a historical figure – that figure cannot be the gospel Jesus. Surely, it is not beyond the mythmakers to have put sayings from a historical figure into the mouth of a figurative, symbolic, figure, a literary figure.

      I am sure, as the Mandela mythmakers get going, as Mandela the historical figure fades into history, that the famous words of Mandela at his treason trial will take center stage as the sayings the mythmakers would attribute in their storytelling of ’Madiba’: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Along with all the mythmaker embellishments in a ‘Madiba’ storyboard – would come these original words of Mandela. Eventually, as I wrote earlier, the ‘Madiba’ storytelling would outshine the historical Mandela. So much so that in time it would be the ‘Madiba’ myth that held his essence, held the hopes and dreams of those who found inspiration from his existence. The ‘Madiba’ myth taking on a life of its very own.

      (as a side note, it recently emerged that Mandela’s lawyer at that time advised him to remove the last sentence from his court speech – Mandela sent back the altered speech and in essence said, ‘no way…’).

      To be able to equate a historical Jesus, ie the assumption of a historical Jesus, to a specific historical figure would be an impossible task. There is just too much contradictory elements within the gospel Jesus for these contradictory elements ever to have been part and parcel of one historical figure: A cynic sage and an apocalyptic prophet, for instance, are two characteristics that don’t sit well together. They suggest rather that the Jesus storyboard developed over time and incorporated later historical interpretations made by the early Christian community. I think one should keep in mind that an inspirational figure usually has ‘followers’ who take things further along – various people start interpreting the sayings of an renowned teacher – and very often add their own twist as well…

      Once one starts dismantling the gospel Jesus, once one starts up some sort of salvage operation from the mythological ‘wreck’ – one is in danger of losing the plot, losing the essence of the gospel storyline. The gospel Jesus story is a never ending story; an ancient story that has taken input along the way from the interpretations, the visions, the dreams – and, yes, probably the sayings, of historical figures. To attempt to concretize it, to make it specific to one historical figure – is truly to deny that story any rational relevance whatsoever.

      That said, if its history we are after, the history of early Christianity, then, yes, perhaps its good to have a clear historical picture. However, the simple equation cannot be made – ie clear historical picture equals the gospel storyline. The gospel storyline is about interpreting that historical picture, finding meaning in it and focusing with a prophetic lens.

      So, while I am a mythicist re the gospel Jesus, I, nevertheless, can still uphold the possibility of a historical core, a historical figure, that was relevant to the early Christian movement. It is just that that historical core is not a historical Jesus.

      The Mandela/Madiba analogy is useful only in that it shows the type of mythmaking that can develop. The Jesus myth is much more complex – yet at its core could well have a similar foundational element to the Madiba analogy. While a ‘Madiba’ mythology might well have a stronger link to Mandela (at this stage in history anyway) the gospel Jesus myth might have only a faint reflection of its historical core.

      Big question re how far in time was Paul from a historical figure that was relevant to early Christianity. The Paul issue itself is problematic…However, since the storyline is that Paul never knew such a historical figure and that some people were alive that did know such a figure – then possibly the time lapse would not be too long.

      • maryhelena
        2010-02-19 17:34:04 GMT+0000 - 17:34 | Permalink

        footnote: Mythmakers at work…(and the man is still alive…..)

        “Bongani Khumalo, chairman and chief executive of the Lottery’s operator – said he told Nelson Mandela’s great-grandson, Luvuyo Mandela, that if he came to the draw with some Madiba magic, there would be a winner.

        “Coincidentally, there was a winner and the amount won was R91-million, which is the same figure as Mandela’s age.””

        ( a great-grandson with some Madiba magic – now that gives one an idea what Paul would have been up against with family members of any historical figure that was inspirational to early christianity – no wonder he wanted to have things his way – in order to move the party forward – and nip the whole bloodline danger in the bud…..)

        “Inevitably, all the former houses of South Africa’s first black president are a tourist draw.
        Last week another former Mandela home was named a national memorial site.
        The former Victor Verster jail in Paarl, near Cape Town, is where he spent the final months of his 27-year incarceration.”
        (local newspaper Mail and Guardian and Times Live)

      • Antonio Jerez
        2010-02-19 20:25:33 GMT+0000 - 20:25 | Permalink

        Maryhelena,
        then you appear to be the kind of mythicist that isn´t arguing that there ever was a historical person that gave rise to the myths in the NT. And you appear to believe that the words and deeds of that historical person are totally lost to us since the NT writers have not preserved on single word or deed that goes back to that historical personer. Please correct me if I have mistunderstood you.

        You also wrote:
        “There is just too much contradictory elements within the gospel Jesus for these contradictory elements ever to have been part and parcel of one historical figure: A cynic sage and an apocalyptic prophet, for instance, are two characteristics that don’t sit well together”

        I am not really sure if we can blame Paul or the gospel writers
        for the confusion in the historicist camp that give rise to all from a cynic non-apocalyptic sage to an Endtime Prophet. I actually think the cynic sage says more about the scholars who propose it than about picture the NT writers paint of Jesus and his message. Remember that Crossan and the others are all practicing liberal Christians who have no interest whatoever in preaching about an apocalyptic Jesus. And remember that to unearth a cynic Jesus you always have to go by the tortuorous path of grounding your reconstruction of Jesus on hypothetical documents (like Q) plus further speculations which finds further layers in Q such as Q1, Q2, Q3…. I hardly need to repeat again that it is scholarship like this has me say that most Christian scholars doing Jesus research are just in to it to reconstruct a Jesus that is useful for them when they preach to Christian audiences. Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg being prime examples of this trend.
        As for us others who don´t belong to any of the theological camps in the Jesus search we see the apocalyptic Endtime Prophet right across the board in NT. And we don´t have to use hypothetical documents with further hypothetical layers to unearth him.

      • 2010-02-19 21:20:02 GMT+0000 - 21:20 | Permalink

        Antonio, there is evidence for Q and evidence for the various layers of Q1, 2 and 3. You may disagree with the interpretation of that textual evidence and draw different conclusions about what it suggests. But you have not presented any evidence for your historical scenarios. You have only made made hypothetical arguments about what you think motivated the gospel authors to write what they did. Q has more substantial evidence than this with its careful comparisons of words and phrases — not speculative guesswork — that lead many to conclude the existence of Q and its layers.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 03:31:26 GMT+0000 - 03:31 | Permalink

    Sorry, i meant:
    “though we have SOME distinctive deeds and words that we can attribute to a person with a name and a provenance in 1st century Palestine.”

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-19 04:18:10 GMT+0000 - 04:18 | Permalink

    Maryhelena wrote:
    “If all Paul has is his vision – and all those who were before him also had their vision re a mythical Christ figure – then what differentiated Paul and from those others? Who is to judge which vision is ‘the’ vision to out do the others?
    If the whole thing is a question of competing visions – then all that can surely produce is chaos. There has to be some measuring stick against which the visions are checked out – reality in other words – physical reality.”

    I actually forgot to thank you Maryhelena for putting in print more succinctly than me what I was trying to express in my earlier message. Yes, there appears to have been a “measuring stick” against which to check competing claims in the early Church – some of the words of the historical Jesus. Paul has this yardstick in the back of his mind when makes pronouncements on such things as divore. He distinguishes between the words of Jesus and his own additions to update the divorce command to new circumstances

    • maryhelena
      2010-02-19 22:10:58 GMT+0000 - 22:10 | Permalink

      Antonio
      then you appear to be the kind of mythicist that isn´t arguing that there ever was a historical person that gave rise to the myths in the NT. And you appear to believe that the words and deeds of that historical person are totally lost to us since the NT writers have not preserved on single word or deed that goes back to that historical personer. Please correct me if I have mistunderstood you.

      Maryhelena

      You do appear to have misread what I wrote…Perhaps give it second read and come back to me….

      Antonio

      You also wrote:
      “There is just too much contradictory elements within the gospel Jesus for these contradictory elements ever to have been part and parcel of one historical figure: A cynic sage and an apocalyptic prophet, for instance, are two characteristics that don’t sit well together”

      I am not really sure if we can blame Paul or the gospel writers
      for the confusion in the historicist camp that give rise to all from a cynic non-apocalyptic sage to an Endtime Prophet.

      Maryhelena

      Q or no Q – there are ‘sayings’ in the gospels that are put into the mouth of Jesus that can well go back to an actual historical figure. What those exact words are is not really here or there – it’s most probably memory anyway on the part of the gospel writers – or oral tradition. The point is that if there is a historical figure that has inspired the mythmakers in putting together the storyline of the gospel Jesus – then, most likely, they would want some ‘sayings’ to fill out the picture. Now, they could get those ‘sayings’ from any passing Tom, Dick or Harry – or they could get them from one historical source. And if those sayings have a ‘voice’ – if they have a ‘character’, then, most probably, they would be from one source.

      The cynic sage verse the apocalyptic prophet – it’s only by wanting a historical Jesus that is all things to all people that one can put all this, plus all the rest of the ‘types’ of Jesus, in one pot. Choosing between them, likewise, gets one nowhere. Seeing the different ‘types’ of Jesus is perhaps best understood as a developing of the myth. That’s why I say that one cannot equate a historical Jesus, ie the assumption of a historical Jesus, with any specific historical figure. If one goes with the idea of an inspirational figure (like a Mandela) then a cynic sage character, a more benevolent character, is more likely than a fire and brimstone apocalyptic prophet, to be at the grounding of the Jesus myth. Especially so if one wants any early date for Christian origins. End-time scenarios are best viewed as being near the end….start all that 20 or 30 years too early and one could end up being like the person who cried ‘wolf’ just too many times – and when it mattered nobody listened. What apocalyptic that is in the gospel storyline is most probably a later addition and had nothing at all to do with an earlier cynic type – inspirational type – philosophical type, character. I think it was Detering that referred to an ‘apocalyptic handbill’ – apocalyptic boiler plate – that the gospel of Mark “appropriated and reworked”.

      Whatever the theological interests of the early Christians, they did, in their mythmaking with the gospel Jesus figure, use that storyboard to accommodate not only an origin story but also a developing story. Sure, there is a prophetic voice, or voices, in that story – who knows for sure – but does not Acts refer to the four daughters of Philip that prophesied. And a prophet named Agabus. With an open-ended Jesus storyboard – any relevant later history involving apocalyptic could easily be accommodated without any great upheaval. If one sees the Jesus story itself as being historical – then one could end up missing the boat for early Christian origins…

      In other words – it’s the mythicist position that has forward movement within its grasp – the historicists are in a cul-de-sac…

  • 2010-02-19 08:31:52 GMT+0000 - 08:31 | Permalink

    Antonio, there is no evidence before Mark’s gospel that John baptized Jesus. The story first appears in Mark’s gospel. Mark tells the story without any hint of embarrassment. He was not at all embarrassed by Jesus being baptized, presumably because his Jesus was either an adopted Son of God, or possessed by the Son of God at baptism. It is the later gospel authors, with different Christologies, who are embarrassed by Mark’s tale.

    John the Baptist had several narrative functions. One was the common literary one of being the typical dramatic character who comes onstage to introduce the main character and story to follow.

    There is no need to speculate some historical traditions behind any of this. John the Baptist in Mark, and the way he is handled in other gospels, is all explicable within the terms of reference of the gospels themselves, and comparable contemporary literature.

    I’m surprised that you should find Steven’s request for evidence for an argument in any way objectionable. Making a priori arguments based on historicist assumptions, as you and biblical scholars seem to generally do, is not evidence for historicity.

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-19 19:34:06 GMT+0000 - 19:34 | Permalink

      Neil,
      I agree with you that the author of GMark doesn´t show the least sign of being embarrassed by Jesus being baptized by John. Maybe the simple explanation is that he wasn´t embarrassed because no Jew on the street had yet turned up and questioned how Jesus could be greater than John if he had been baptized by him. By the time Matthew, Luke and John were writing that problem had appeared since the use different strategies to deal with it. And I think it is worth asking you again: if all Mark had was a wholly mythological character (Jesus) whom he fictionally connects to a minor, known historical figure like JB, then why couldn´t Matthew, Luke and John just drop JB out of the picture altogether. Why keep a story that they knew was fictional if they knew it created problems for them?
      I also think it is worth asking you again that if all Kephas, James and Paul had to go on was common visions of Jesus from the sublunar sphere or heaven, why does Paul have to argue so strenously that he is a true Apostle? If all the first generation Christians had was visions, then Paul could just as easy earlier members of the cult claim that his visions of Jesus were just as good as Kephas or James. And if competing claims in the Church could only be settled by competing, unverifiable visions from different individuals then Maryhelena is perfectly right to argue that what we would expect to find in the early Church is “total chaos”. And total chaos is definitely not what we find in our earliest texts. Theological creativity yes, but creativity tempered by some traditions going back to the founder of the cult that you couldn´t bypass that easily.

  • 2010-02-19 20:11:16 GMT+0000 - 20:11 | Permalink

    Are you suggesting that no-one wondered how Jesus could be greater than John until after Mark had written his gospel? Did Paul ever think to wonder this?

    You are asking me to consider your explanation for Mark’s lack of embarrassment even though it is entirely hypothetical. There is simply no evidence that anyone ever heard of the story till Mark wrote it. Yet we can see within Mark’s gospel itself why he would not have been troubled by it: his adoptionist christology, his rhetorical ploy to introduce his main character. Why do we need to go beyond the evidence in the text and try to imagine a purely hypothetical historical scenario, complete with “tradition” and all?

    I personally feel more comfortable with the known evidence than in stepping out in faith and turning to imaginary evidence.

    I don’t think we have very strong reasons for assuming JB’s historicity, but I am happy to accept it for the sake of argument. You seem to have missed my original point here. The later evangelists appear to be (1) seeking to counter the story that Mark had initiated. Maybe they felt if they left it out they would be allowing adoptionist christology to win the day and they did not want that. They wanted to re-write the story so that audiences would no longer think of Jesus as being adopted or possessed at baptism, and so present him as the sort of Christ they wanted them to believe in.

    (2) they found the rhetorical role of JB was an unbeatable way to introduce the main character. Especially if they knew their audiences were thinking of an Elijah figure preparing the way of the Lord, as per the prophecy. JB served the purpose well.

    (3) Novels and plays of the day were very commonly “prophecy driven”. Prophecy was a neat way to drive the plot along and give the audience some frame of reference to make sense of the story. JB introduces the story with the appropriate prophecy of the one to come.

    I don’t see any problems for the later authors at all — except the need to rewrite the bit that suggested Jesus was not originally Christ or Son of God until his baptism. JB is a great way to start the story. He links the story to the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures. He gives the story a continuity with the past. Why not keep him? But in keeping him, it was a small matter to modify the original just enough to ensure he introduces the “doctrinally correct” Jesus.

    As for why Paul had to argue for his apostolic status against the Jerusalem crowd, I thought that was obvious from Galatians — and even Acts. He was believed (and he himself believed in Galatians) that he preaches a different gospel for his audience. The gospel he preaches to the gentiles is contrary to the one the Judaizers were insisting upon. He fears the “false apostles” and messengers of circumcision coming in and taking his flocks away from him.

    Paul says he was the new boy on the block. But that didn’t make him inferior to the well-established “pillars” in any way.

    My reading is that Paul was having problems with “Jerusalem apostles” because of doctrinal differences, and the fact that he was the new boy made his position in this regard all the more vulnerable.

    Where do you find any evidence that he had to compete with the other apostles on the basis of his vision versus their literal association with the human Jesus? I don’t see that anywhere.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-20 03:47:34 GMT+0000 - 03:47 | Permalink

    Neil wrote:
    “Antonio, there is evidence for Q and evidence for the various layers of Q1, 2 and 3. You may disagree with the interpretation of that textual evidence and draw different conclusions about what it suggests. But you have not presented any evidence for your historical scenarios. You have only made made hypothetical arguments about what you think motivated the gospel authors to write what they did. Q has more substantial evidence than this with its careful comparisons of words and phrases — not speculative guesswork — that lead many to conclude the existence of Q and its layers.”

    Neil,
    have you been drinking too much lately or are you joking with me? I really didn´t expect this kind of answer from you because normally you sound like a sensible person.
    So you think there is no evidence whatsoever for Jesus but you claim that there is “evidence” for the existence of Q. What evidence? Have you been able to find some magic scrolls that Q supporters like Mack, Kloppenborg and Crossan haven´t been able to show us yet? Or do you think books like “The real Q” count as evidence for the existence of a hypothetical document? And given your penchant for asking me and other historicists for hard evidence I think it a bit laughable to hear from your mouth that there is “evidence” for the existence of a hypothetical document with multiple hypothetical layers.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-20 04:05:33 GMT+0000 - 04:05 | Permalink

    Neil,
    your last answer on Q actually convinced me that I am dealing with another one of those highly intelligent crackpots that can be found in the mythicist camp. You ask others for hard evidence but think you yourself can get away with presenting wild speculations and hypothetical documents as “evidence”. I opt out from further discussions on your blog. Have fun with Joseph Wallack. I think you and him are more on the same wavelenght…

    • 2010-02-20 08:29:30 GMT+0000 - 08:29 | Permalink

      Well I am sorry you feel that way, Antonio. Have you read Kloppenborg or Mack and the evidence they present for Q? Yes, it is hypothetical, but there is evidence for the hypothesis.

      I think there is also good evidence for an alternative hypothesis to Q, and have raised this here, on the old Crosstalk and on FRDB and at various times with Earl Doherty who is persuaded to accept Q. But anyone who has looked at the reasons for the Q hypothesis cannot deny that there it is based on evidence — and not speculation.

      Have a look at some of the websites linked from this article to get an intro into the evidence itself:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_problem

      My references to comparing statements in the narrative to other similar types of tropes in other literature of the time, the rhetorical effects within the narrative itself, and so forth — all of this is evidence on which to base my interpretation of scenes such as John the Baptist.

      But your claims for historical events and background to the gospel narrative are entirely speculative. You have no evidence undergirding your speculative assertions. Not that I am faulting “you” — the arguments you make are the normal ones of so much of biblical scholarship.

      (Incidentally, some mythicists have faulted Doherty on his reliance on Q. They believe that he his making his mythicist argument weaker by referencing Q. But Doherty has replied that he cannot reject Q simply because it would make it easier to argue a mythicist case. Q seems to me to be generally interpreted by scholars as a document that is evidence that a historical Jesus had followers keen to write down his teachings much sooner after his death than any of the gospels.)

      • 2010-02-21 10:21:43 GMT+0000 - 10:21 | Permalink

        Neil,

        Are you familiar with Mark Goodacre’s view? I am not sure if he created it, or it it is Griesbach’s? That Luke had a copy of BOTH Mark and Matthew. I recently listened to him outline it on his NT pod, and it had a number of good point.

        I would like to pick your brain some time on an idea that struck me after reading parts of Eiserman’s _James the brother of jesus_, I have to admit I have not finished it, cause it is so horribly written that I can only read like 40 pages at a time, before I want to throw it accorss the room and say, enough with the asides, just make your fucking point! 🙂

        What is the best way? Should I just post the question in your most recent blog post, or would you like me to make a page up and point you to it? OR perhaps via email? You can find my email address on my site below, but I would appreciate a bit of your time you get your thoughts on this new thought I have.

        Cheers!
        RichGriese.NET

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-20 04:11:22 GMT+0000 - 04:11 | Permalink

    Of course, theories about Q were what led G.A.Wells to abandon his claim that Jesus was a myth (Mythicists are so dogmatic, aren’t they?)

    And now we find people scoffing at the idea that Q existed.

  • Joseph
    2010-02-20 04:17:15 GMT+0000 - 04:17 | Permalink

    Antonio (farewell):
    “Neil,
    your last answer on Q actually convinced me that I am dealing with another one of those highly intelligent crackpots that can be found in the mythicist camp. You ask others for hard evidence but think you yourself can get away with presenting wild speculations and hypothetical documents as “evidence”. I opt out from further discussions on your blog. Have fun with Joseph Wallack. I think you and him are more on the same wavelenght…”

    JW:
    Antonio still has not noticed that I am HJ.

    Joseph

    • Antonio Jerez
      2010-02-20 04:25:32 GMT+0000 - 04:25 | Permalink

      “Joseph”,
      no, I actually think you must be a figment of my imagination. I think I´d better invent a nice story about you so I can start a religious cult. Maybe I will go to the prophecies of Nostradamus to see if I can get appropiate verses to flesh out my narrative 🙂

  • Pingback: Ten myths about mythicist argumentsm, as advanced by James McGrath « Vridar

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  • keith
    2010-02-27 18:20:32 GMT+0000 - 18:20 | Permalink

    Antonio Jerez–” why does Paul argue so strenously that he is a true apostle?”

    Because he at first vehemently persecuted the early believers?

  • Pingback: “Partisanship” in New Testament scholarship « Vridar

  • Joan Cameron
    2019-01-27 23:33:07 GMT+0000 - 23:33 | Permalink

    No, Jesus did not exist on Youtube. He’s the Son of God, fer Christ sake! He don’t need no social media – he IS social media.

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