2010-08-13

Do mythicists read Paul’s references to Jesus’ humanity as interpolations or metaphors?

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by Neil Godfrey

No. (But historicists do argue for interpolations and interpret contrary evidence metaphorically.)

This is another misinformed assertion advanced by some who appear never to have read mythicist publications. I most recently noticed it in a response to another post by James McGrath complaining that mythicists do or don’t do or argue this and that, and again without offering any specific examples to inform readers of the basis for his accusations.

I show here that the exact opposite is the case. You know what they say about false accusations being projections etc. It is indeed the historicists who explain away contrary evidence as metaphor, and it is the “historicists” who are the ones who have made the arguments for interpolations.

Humanity and Historicity

The first point one needs to address in the implication that humanity of Jesus, or his existence in the flesh, must by definition mean Jesus was a historical figure. This is a false assumption. Many mythical figures have been described or implied as “human” or having “bodies of flesh”.

The accusation, I think, usually is targeted specifically at what the person believes Doherty argues.

Interpolations

The only interpolations singled out in Paul’s letters by anyone who advances a mythical Jesus (at least from my readings) are those that are strongly argued to be interpolations by scholars who have expressed no interest in mythicism, and who almost certainly would accept a “historical Jesus”.

The classic example is 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. This was argued by Birger A. Pearson in 1971 in the Harvard Theological Review to be an interpolation, with further linguistic evidence in favour of the passage being an interpolation published by Daryl Schmidt in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1983.

Pearson’s arguments can be summed up in 9 points:

  1. The passage begins a second “thanksgiving section” in the letter — something that appears to be an anomaly in Paul’s letters
  2. This same passage begins with a repetition of the same words and phrases (or identical ones) as had been already written in 1:13ff.
  3. The passage intrudes into a ‘travelogue’ or ‘apostolic parousia’ section, something used by Paul to declare his travel plans and desire to be with the congregation, etc. — Paul nowhere else breaks up a ‘travelogue’ section
  4. The passage urges one church to follow another church as an example — while elsewhere (including in chapter one of this same letter) Paul commands his churches to follow him, or praises them for doing so, as he follows Christ
  5. This passage points to a period of persecution of Christians in Judea between 44 and 66 (when the Jewish War against Rome began) b.c.e. — there is no other evidence for such persecution
  6. The description of Jews as “hostile to all men” is found elsewhere among secular anti-semitic literature of the time — it contradicts Paul’s favourable views of Jews in other letters
  7. This passage blames the Jews for the murder of Christ — Paul never blames them in other letters, but does accuse “the rulers of this age”, a phrase that is found in other literature to refer to archons or angels and demons
  8. The passage says that the Jews have filled up their sin quota, meaning that there is no longer any way for them to avoid condign punishment from God — something alien to Paul’s thought elsewhere about the Jews, and to the fact that Paul could boast about being a Jew himself
  9. The phrase for “to the utmost” means that the Jews have at last, finally, in the past, received their ultimate punishment without any more hope, and many commentators say that this could only refer to the event of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. — while in Romans 11 Paul speaks of ongoing and future hope and promise of salvation for the Jews.

Schmidt’s linguistic arguments arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. the passage contains content that does not fit well in 1 Thessalonians
  2. it has content that does not fit well into Pauline thought in general
  3. it intrudes into the overall structure of the letter
  4. it is built around an unPauline conflation of Paul’s genuine expressions.

I have discussed these more fully, along with attempted rebuttals of these arguments in one of my posts on Eddy and Boyd.

Robert M. Price has also suggested a few passages in Paul are interpolations, but he is hardly engaging in special pleading when he does. Firstly, I don’t think all such passages are related to Jesus’ humanity. Secondly, he generally cites scholars who have written specialist monographs on the question of interpolations in Paul, such as William O. Walker, Interpolations in the Pauline Letters, and (if I recall correctly) Winsome Munro, The Identification of a Pastoral Stratum in the Pauline Corpus and I Peter.

Finally, to reject a priori even the likelihood of interpolations in Paul is naive at best, and in defiance of all we know of the frequency of interpolations in ancient literature generally, and the evidence for varying textual readings of Paul through the second century specifically.

I know of no justification for the claim that mythicists attempt to get around references to Jesus’ humanity by claiming any such indication in Paul is an interpolation.

Since posting the above I realized a significant oversight of one recent partial exception. I discuss this in the comment #6 at the end of this post.

Metaphors

Historicists claim contrary evidence is metaphorical

As for the accusation that mythicists engage in some sort of desperate exit strategy by declaring any passage in the NT epistles as a metaphor if it speaks of Christ’s humanity, this is again simply false. In fact, it is the historicists who resort to the metaphor interpretation in order to explain away passages that make little sense of Jesus’ sacrifice being a historical one.

Take The Epistle to the Hebrews. This describes Jesus’ sacrifice being made in the Holy of Holies in a Heavenly Temple. I think that scholars and lay readers alike who believe in the historical Jesus who was crucified outside Jerusalem (and not in a heavenly temple) have regularly interpreted the descriptions in Hebrews as a metaphors or figurative language.

Hebrews contrasts the earthly Temple, priesthood and sacrificial system with a heavenly temple, high-priest and sacrifice. The heavenly counterpart is said to be superior. Just as it was the sprinkling of the blood by Moses that initiated the old covenant, so it was Christ’s sprinkling his own blood in the heavenly holy of holies that inaugurated the new covenant.

I have never heard any who believes in Jesus historically being crucified outside Jerusalem interpret Hebrews as anything but a metaphor for that historical event.

Mythicist Doherty, on the other hand, discusses Hebrews at length and demonstrates that the metaphorical interpretation fails to withstand clear-headed scrutiny. There is a very good case to make that the author of Hebrews was not metaphor, but a description of contrasting earthly and heavenly settings and actions. (Other Jewish literature, such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, also describes sacrifices occurring in heaven.)

Mythicist does not accept metaphorical interpretation

As for how Earl Doherty does interpret passages that speak of the “flesh” of Christ, or his being “the seed of David”, one does not have to make uninformed assertions. One can read in his Jesus: Neither God Nor Man that he generally denies a metaphorical or figurative interpretation of such passages.

The word “flesh” is also applied to Christ, first in descriptions of him, both in a ‘literal’ and mystical context. Paul sometimes speaks of Christ’s flesh in ways that could never be interpreted as referring to a human Jesus of Nazareth on earth; they are to some metaphysical, supernatural dimension of Christ — and not merely in a metaphorical way. (p. 160)

Then there are those cases where the word “flesh” is used quite mystically, hardly a reference to an earthly event of life, such as joining Jews and gentiles in his “body of flesh,” or entering a spiritual sanctuary “through the curtain of his flesh.” This is not mere metaphor; this is Paul’s view of metaphysical reality and Christ within it. (p. 163)

Since this idea [‘the body of Christ’] crops up repeatedly throughout the Pauline corpus, always with a tone of literal actuality, we ought to take Paul as referring to what is for him a literal spiritual “body of Christ.”

There is no reason to dismiss all this language as poetic metaphor . . . . (p. 167)

And since the thought of people like Paul already contained so much of a mystical nature that could hardly be rationally explained, such as the inclusion of humans in the spiritual “body” of Christ . . . (p. 172)

1. Christ’s form/substance when he descends to the realm of corruptibility to suffer and die and take on an inferior nature (the “likeness” of something belonging to that realm). Here, the term Paul always uses is “flesh”.

2. The heavenly form/substance which Christ regularly possesses when he is not in the realm of No. 1. This includes the mystical entity . . .  Here, the term Paul always uses is “body”.

These writers talk of Christ’s “body” entirely in the mystical, spiritual terms we have been examining (p. 176)

I recently posted my own observations of the use of “flesh” in the NT epistles with a mystical or spiritual meaning, and certainly not a metaphorical one.

I also addressed a few points on Doherty’s own argument for the meaning of “according to the flesh” in another post.

A full exposition cannot be undertaken here. Anyone new to the idea might consider the many mystical references to Christ’s body, such as Christ being united with the fleshly bodies of believers on earth, and the implications of such ideas throughout Paul’s writings. (I would also suggest the possible relevance of a Jewish belief that a Davidic messiah did not have to be a literal son of David.)

So,

If anyone parrots the claim that mythicists explain away passages referring to Jesus’ “humanity” as interpolations or metaphors, hold them to account. Require them to justify their assertion.

http://publicfrenemy.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/welcome-to-the-symbolism-hall-of-fame/
http://publicfrenemy.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/welcome-to-the-symbolism-hall-of-fame/

http://edition.cnn.com/books/news/9904/01/onion/titanic.html

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Neil Godfrey

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  • 2010-08-14 03:35:41 GMT+0000 - 03:35 | Permalink

    From the McGrath post you cited above a writer known as terri writes: “It isn’t that Mythicism couldn’t be possible…anything could be possible. It’s that Mythicism relies on too many assumptions and arguments from silence.”

    Sigh. Too many assumptions? And how many assumptions would be “just right”?

  • 2010-08-14 04:40:59 GMT+0000 - 04:40 | Permalink

    Thanks for pointing this out. It’s another common piece of disinformation that deserves addressing separately.

    The fact is, of course, again the reverse. Projection and all that. Silence is only brought in to compare the mythicist case against the historicist one — if the evidence for the latter is “silent” then the case made for the former is the stronger one.

    And the unwarranted assumptions are also on the historicist side. Paul is read, contrary to the widely accepted assumptions and arguments about the relative datings of Paul and the Gospels, on the assumption that he was writing against the backdrop of something like the narrative found in the Gospels.

    The mythicist attempts to read the evidence without these questionable assumptions and make the case on what is said without these assumptions dictating the interpretation, not on what is not said.

    • 2010-08-14 07:30:22 GMT+0000 - 07:30 | Permalink

      The historicists’ explaining away of Paul’s silence never rang true to me. Imagine any theologian, minister, or bishop writing about a moral issue of today. Certainly if he or she can find a quote from Jesus (the *founder*, for Pete’s sake) that supports his or her argument, however tenuously, then that’s going to take center stage.

      If I understand the consensus historicist explanation for Paul’s silence on Jesus’ words and deeds, it goes this way: The believers at Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, etc. already knew the stories and the sayings. Paul didn’t “need” to bring up the words of the Lord, because it would be redundant. That just sounds like a cracked bell.

      Now add the fact that Paul is quite adamant that he learned his gospel directly from the risen (i.e., dead, non-earthly) savior. So even if he didn’t have access to a written gospel and couldn’t recall a pertinent saying from the (highly questionable) oral tradition, why didn’t he just ask his invisible friend? “I was talking to the risen Jesus last night and he told me that Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised.” Case closed!

      This is a major problem for me when it comes to Borg and Crossan’s view of the historical Jesus. I just don’t see any evidence in Paul’s writing for a wandering peasant Jewish Cynic sage.

      We have to ask, what is Paul’s conception of Jesus? Yes, his death and resurrection lie at the foundation of Paul’s Christianity. But what about his life? You know, I could almost buy into the historicist apologies for Paul’s silence if it weren’t for the epistle to the Romans. Paul’s canonical letters are all based on situational theology — except for Romans. Here he’s saying, “Look, I haven’t met you guys yet, and maybe you’ve heard some crazy things about me. Here’s what I believe.” This is the perfect time for him to tie in his beliefs about faith, works, grace, redemption, etc. with the “known” words of Jesus. But what does he do? He starts riffing on Abraham. He goes a-midrashing on the the book of Genesis. What gives?

      The only logical conclusion I can come up with is that Paul saw Jesus as the path to eternal life and redemption, but not as the source of wisdom. Truth still comes from God and from a close and mystical reading of scriptures. For Paul, imparting wisdom and truth is not Jesus’ function. If this theory is correct, then Doherty’s idea of a Jesus killed by the archons in the sublunar realm makes a great deal of sense.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-14 14:17:25 GMT+0000 - 14:17 | Permalink

    Historicists simply claim that, eg, the Epistle of James *does* use Jesus-sayings.

    They claim there is no silence.

    See for exampled http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/the-narrative-shape-of-mark/

    ‘James does seem to most scholars to make use of Jesus-sayings (see the commentaries). ‘

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-14 14:29:52 GMT+0000 - 14:29 | Permalink

    How do historicists explain silence?

    By boasting about their knowledge of Greek.

    Paul says that God appointed apostles. There is no mention of Jesus appointing anybody.

    There is no problem here for Professor James McGrath because he knows Greek.

    ‘I hope you are aware that, when we are dealing with earliest Christianity, “apostle” basically means agent. It eventually becomes a technical term for a category of Christian leader, but the term itself in its wider secular usage means someone who is sent, usually to represent another much as an ambassador, emissary, agent or other such figure. And so instead of a quick sentence without evidence, you really do need to specify whether you are using apostle in its modern or original ancient sense, and then discuss actual texts about the sending of agents.’

    So there is absolutely no problem about Paul claiming that it was God who appointed apostles, and making no mention of Jesus appointing anybody.

    Because ‘apostle’ means ‘agent’. Therefore, there is no problem. QED.

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-14 16:16:01 GMT+0000 - 16:16 | Permalink

    The only logical conclusion I can come up with is that Paul saw Jesus as the path to eternal life and redemption, but not as the source of wisdom.

    Tim, good point. There have been a number of parallels found to Jesus’ sayings, so I wondered if the ethics would have been seen as particularly theirs or just as general ideas endorsed by Christianity but not invented by it?

    Steven, thanks for the Hurtado link, i had thought my self that Mark has this message that the reader is himself to follow Jesus, so his “life” is presented to emulate, so that may be why there is no interest in a back story unlike the more thorough Matthew and Luke.

    Steven, I am confused here, I was reading Galatians today and in chapter 1 Paul claims he gets his revelation from Christ then says that God reveled the son in Paul so he would preach to gentiles. So who again called Paul to be an apostle?

    • 2010-08-15 00:34:34 GMT+0000 - 00:34 | Permalink

      mikelioso: There have been a number of parallels found to Jesus’ sayings, so I wondered if the ethics [?] would have been seen as particularly theirs or just as general ideas endorsed by Christianity but not invented by it?

      I think that’s a good way to put it — endorsed by early Christians, but not originally assumed to be uttered by the founder. We see similar evidence in the writings of Ignatius where we find apparent parallels for gospel sayings, but never any attribution. I think wisdom sayings and other bons mots that were beloved by the early church eventually became linked to Jesus, just as in the preceding centuries proverbs became attached to Solomon and bold deeds, to David. Here in the U.S. all orphan curmudgeonly sayings are eventually attributed to Mark Twain. It’s human nature.

  • 2010-08-15 05:28:50 GMT+0000 - 05:28 | Permalink

    I overlooked the one chapter in Doherty’s new book that originally impressed me as a significant change from his earlier view on Galatians 4:4 (born of a woman, under the law). A significant oversight. (A reason I was impressed was because I personally think the interpolation argument is stronger, and think Doherty has been way too conservative with his resistance to the ideas of interpolations. Not that I blame him. I also think from another perspective that he has been very wise in this in this respect. The accusations that he relies on interpolations that preceded his new book have been quite misinformed.)

    In his chapter 15 Doherty does in fact argue a case for this verse being an interpolation. It must be said at the same time, however, that he also discusses it from two points of view: one, as original to Paul; and two, as an interpolation.

    So my original post does need a significant qualification. (I have now referenced this comment in the original post.)

    For what it’s worth, I have attempted to apply the principles laid out by William Walker in “Interpolations in the Pauline Letters” to questioned the authenticity of the introduction to Romans that includes the “seed of David” phrase. http://vridar.info/xorigins/Romans/1_2-6.htm I have applied these principles to Detering’s argument for interpolation. (Detering might be a Paul-mythicist and a God-mythicist too(?), but I don’t think he’s a Jesus-mythicist, is he?)

  • 2010-09-28 14:02:05 GMT+0000 - 14:02 | Permalink

    I’ve blogged at this over at the CADRE blog, but briefly, here are the interpolations in the NT epistles that Doherty has entertained in support of his theory:

    * 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (getting rid of a reference to Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death)
    * Timothy 6:13 (getting rid of a reference to Pilate).
    * Galatians 1:19 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus’ brother, James).
    * Galatians 4:4 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being “born of a woman, born under the law”).
    * 1 Timothy 6:3 (getting rid of a reference to the “wholesome teachings of Jesus Christ”).
    * Hebrews 13:7 (getting rid of a reference to “leaders” who taught them the “word of God”).
    * Hebrews 13:20 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus’ resurrection).
    * Corinthians 6:9 (getting rid of a reference to the brothers of Jesus).
    * Romans 1:3 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being “born of a descendant of David, according to the flesh”) (As I note on my blog, Doherty kind of punts to Ehrman on this but leaves the possibility hanging).

    But why are we limiting this to NT epistles? Doherty racks up the interpolation count when we turn to troublesome passage in non-New Testament writings:

    * Doherty rejects the two passages in Josephus’ Antiquities which refer to Jesus: 18 (the Testimonium) and 20 (reference to “James, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ”). 

    * Doherty has argued that Tacitus’ reference to Christians in Annals may be an interpolation. 

    * Doherty argues that 11:2-22 in the Ascension of Isaiah is an interpolation. 

    * Doherty appears to argue that all references in the Ascension of Isaiah to “Jesus” or “Christ” in Chapters 6-11 are later additions. 

    * Doherty has argued that the reference to John as the author of the Gospel of John by Theophilus of Antioch, Book II, ch. 22, is an interpolation.
    * Doherty suggests in footnote 83 of his book that Pliny the Younger’s reference to Christians could be an interpolation.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-09-28 16:10:54 GMT+0000 - 16:10 | Permalink

      Where does Doherty claim that ‘Born of a woman, under the law’ is an interpolation? It would be interesting to see where.

      Where does 1 Corinthians 6:9 claim there were ‘brothers of Jesus’, as Layman claims it does? Has Layman interpolated the word ‘Jesus’ into a passage which does not contain it, so he can prove that ‘brothers of Jesus’ was not an interpolation? Surely not even a lawyer would do that!

      Admittedly Layman’s ‘Corinthians 6:9’ appears to be a scribal error. As we all know, no scribe has ever accidentally messed up the Biblical text….

      LAYMAN
      born of a descendant of David, according to the flesh

      CARR
      Once again,Layman changes the Biblical text, in his quest to prove that the Biblical text was not changed.

      There is no word in Romans 1:3 which can be translated ‘descendant’, despite Layman’s claim that ‘descendant’ is not an interpolation, when he himself has put in that interpolation of ‘descendant’.

      LAYMAN
      Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.

      CARR
      Hebrews 13:7 does say that.Layman has got that one right!

      Sadly though, Hebrews 13:7 appears not to know that there was this guy Jesus who allegedly spoke the word of God.

      Otherwise it is a fairly accurate post by Layman.Perhaps he should frame it. Just a few wrong translations, wrong references and only a couple of cases of adding words to the Bible that are not in the text. This is astonishing accuracy by Layman’s standards, and does him great credit.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-28 16:16:15 GMT+0000 - 16:16 | Permalink

    CARR
    Where does Doherty claim that ‘Born of a woman, under the law’ is an interpolation?

    CARR
    I can now answer my own question. Doherty does it in chapter 15. I must confess to not having read that bit. Of course, all of Galatians 4 is about the allegorical significance of births and Jerusalems-above-us, and how Hagar is allegorical,and all sorts of mystical stuff like that.

  • 2010-09-28 16:46:54 GMT+0000 - 16:46 | Permalink

    1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is one I referenced in the post above. It is not Doherty’s argument, but that of mainstream biblical scholars, in particular Pearson and Schmidt. Read the post above and also the one I linked to discussing the arguments of mainstream biblical scholars for regarding this as an interpolation. See pp. 657-659.

    1 Timothy 6:13 Again this is not Doherty’s argument, but evidence of Doherty engaging with mainstream biblical scholarship. He writes: “Most critical scholars date [1 Timothy] between 100 and 125. They can be a product neither of Paul nor of his time.” Doherty cites the arguments as detailed in J. L. Houlden “The Pastoral Epistles” and J.N.D. Kelly “The Pastoral Epistles”. See pp 660-662.

    Galatians 1:19 Doherty’s addresses this verse at length – 3 pages, around 500 words a page – as NOT being an interpolation. His argument works WITH this verse as authentic. It is merely as an afterthought or addendum that he suggests the possibility of an interpolation, with arguments, but only as a possibility. He only adds this as an afterthought because there is no manuscript evidence to support his case. He only gives reasons for this as a possibility. His argument is an engagement with the text as authentic! See pp 60-63.

    Galatians 4:4 Doherty writes of this verse: “While noting factors which might suggest interpolation, we have so far been analyzing this passage while adopting the assumption that ‘born of woman, born under the Law’ could have been written by Paul.” His argument is with the text as authentic. He additionally discusses the possibility of it being an interpolation, but only as an alternative consideration to his main argument that accepts it as original. See pp. 197-212.

    1 Timothy 6:3 See the rejoinder to 1 Timothy 6:13 above. Doherty cites the arguments of mainstream scholarship. He adds that his mythicist argument does NOT require the verse to be an interpolation: “Note that taken by itself, the passage in 6:3 is not required to be an interpolation in order to maintain that the Pastorals know of no historical Jesus.”

    Hebrews 13:7 You’ll have to give me a citation for that. It is not indexed in his book, “Jesus Neither God Nor Man”, nor can I see its relevance to his mythicist argument. The only place I can find where Doherty does address this verse is on his site at: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/silhebrs.htm and he gives no hint that he thinks there is any interpolation anywhere here.

    Hebrews 13:20 Doherty does not touch on this in his argument as far as I can recall. Where does he argue this? In his book he only mentions mainstream biblical scholarship’s “questioning” the authenticity of the postscript to Hebrews in an Appendix! It is not part of his argument. All he does is cite the questions raised among mainstream biblical scholars. “Authenticity for these verses has been questioned, including in association with various amounts of the preceding text, sometimes encompassing the whole of chapter 13. It is uncertain that we need to go that far back, and few scholars do. But while verses 17-19 may seem a little out of character with the body of the work, that issue is not important here.”

    Corinthians 6:9. I think you mean 1 Corinthians 9:5, which refers to the “brothers of the Lord.” If so, I never knew Doherty ever said that was an interpolation. You’ll have to cite a source here. Brothers in 1 Cor 6 definitely indicates believers, not physical siblings; and in 9:5 they are referenced along with “sister-wives”, so the meaning is obviously believers, not siblings. This is Doherty’s argument.

    Romans 1:3 Oh come on, now! No fair! Everyone opposed to Doherty LOVES that he tries to explain this verse as original and they all say his explanation is baloney. I myself believe it is an interpolation using the criteria of mainstream biblical scholar William Walker: http://vridar.info/xorigins/Romans/1_2-6.htm But Doherty is very conservative with the texts as received and ventures into suggesting interpolation generally on the strength of mainstream biblical scholarship. On pages 87-90 Doherty discusses the verse as original to Paul. Almost every sentence he is saying it’s what Paul said. So if Doherty ever suggested the possibility of interpolation, he may have been referring to arguments of Dr Herman Detering, but his own argument addresses the verse as original to Paul. What’s your source to indicate otherwise?

    As for Josephus. Yep. Doherty is so conservative that he has not budged from the scholarly consensus before World War 2, as expressed by the likes of Albert Schweitzer. Not that Doherty hasn’t engaged the current scholarship on the question. He has probably written one of the most extensive discussions of the passages that exists. I also have argued at length for the TF being a complete fabrication (no Josephan core) on other grounds. See my Josephus archive in the “Categories” box on the right margin of this blog.

    Tacitus: Yup, you are right. He says it “may be” an interpolation. But his argument does not hang on it, and it matters neither way – whether it is an interpolation or original. In fact, Doherty discusses it as authentic to Tacitus across 7 pages from 589 to 596, but gives the arguments (not original to Doherty, by the way) that it may be in an interpolation a mere one page treatment.

    Ascension of Isaiah: No, those are not Doherty’s arguments, but the arguments of mainstream biblical scholarship and Doherty cites the standard references. I don’t have one of Doherty’s sources, Michael Knibb’s OT Pseudepigrapha. But my copy of Henneke’s collection of “NT Apocrypha”, and Spark’s “The Apocryphal OT”, both explain the manuscript variations and consensus that the Ascension was originally a Jewish text that was later added to (interpolated) by Christians at a much later date.

    On Pliny, you are right. Doherty adds the possibility in a footnote. He at no point bases his argument on it being an interpolation.

    As for the Theophilus note, yes, Doherty says on page 478 “The name ‘John,’ . . . could be a marginal gloss. . . .” but also says on page 489 he writes: “Theophilus also gives evidence of knowing ‘gospels,’ perhaps even John . . . .” So no-one can say that Doherty argues on the basis that it definitely IS an interpolation at all.

    So, the only verses that Doherty insists are interpolations are those argued as such among mainstream biblical scholars. That is the point of my post. Doherty frustrates some who are persuaded to the mythicist view because he does not argue for nearly enough interpolations. Doherty will not go there without strong scholarly support. He does, nonetheless, indicate where others (or he himself) have suggested the possibility (no more than that) of an interpolation.

  • 2010-09-29 02:21:41 GMT+0000 - 02:21 | Permalink

    A few notes of clarification.

    I originally posted about Doherty’s entertainment of interpolations in support of his mythicist case back in 2007, Interpolation Inflation in Doherty’s Jesus Myth Theory. The links apparently do not work anymore given Doherty’s revamp of his website, but they were valid at the time. Here is the link: http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2007/02/interpolation-inflation-in-dohertys.html. I’ve found most of them again already.

    I explained this in my current post at the CADRE, which I referenced above but apparently went unread here. This is the pinpoint link to the present discussion: http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2010/09/does-neilgodfrey-understate-mythicist.html

    I will respond in more detail either here or at the CADRE re: Doherty, but first a word about Robert Price which I think helps illustrate a problem I have with your apparent methodology. Regarding Robert Price, I have not done a similar overview of his interpolation appeals. I have responded in an article (http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_interpolation.html) and on the CADRE blog to his argument that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation. When Dr. Price responded to my posts (I posted the e-mail exchange, http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005/01/email-exchange-with-dr.html), he claimed that William Walker agreed with him that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 was an interpolation. I then e-mailed Dr. Walker to ask him about this, and Walker denied (http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005/01/dr.html) making this assertion or concluding that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation (he hasn’t opined either way). Dr. Price also noted that others had concluded that this passage is an interpolation, but I was unimpressed with his references to G.A. Wells and Arthur Drews. He also referred to J.C. O’Neill, who was a New Testament scholar but was also famous for being interpolation-happy. Interestingly, Richard Carrier rejects the idea for the most part.

    But let us assume that Walker agreed with Dr. Price or that J.C. O’Neill stands alone. Does that fact standing alone insulate Dr. Price, Doherty, and any other Mythers that they tend to use arguments for interpolations to buttress their mythicist case? I don’t see why. It certainly does not make the argument “mainstream” in the sense that it has much scholarly support. Finding a few reputable scholars that may agree with you on a particular verse does not render the argued interpolation “mainstream”, the methodology “mainstream,” or the ultimate conclusion “mainstream.”

    Further, Walker may not be a Jesus Myth advocate, but he also was not cherry picking scholars to find interpolations to promote his own historical Jesus Myth agenda. Doherty did not go through the NT or some sub-set and find interpolations; rather, he suspects many interpolations that happen to be troublesome for his theory. If your point is just that Doherty often finds some other scholar who also suspects interpolation and that scholar may not be a Myther, then you haven’t proven much. If you are trying to say that it is invalid for people to note that Mythers tend to play the interpolation card a lot when they run into troublesome passages, then you haven’t made a strong case.

    I find it interesting that we started with no mention of Doherty’s entertained interpolations, to you admitting one in a comment, to you now admitting several others (though trying to negate them as being in the “alternative”). The fact that Doherty finds it expedient — as any good advocate would — to argue in the alternative hardly removes these examples from the table. Doherty still entertains them and still thinks they help make the mythicist case. That he argues that no single verse even if original does not sink his case is hardly surprising. So, I think your initial post might have been more persuasive if you had copped to the fuller story of how Doherty uses interpolations.

    • 2010-09-29 09:47:25 GMT+0000 - 09:47 | Permalink

      You’re a funny character, Lionel Hutz. If I want to know what Walker says about 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 I look up his book where he lists Robert Price’s argument as one that raises “serious questions about the authenticity of” the passage. If I want to know what Price says about others on this passage I look up his book and see he lists Arthur Drews, G. A. Wells, Winsome Munro and J. C. O’Neill, and R. Joseph Hoffmann on vv 5-11, and notes the anomalies found in the passage by Adolf von Harnack. I have read the correspondence you posted from Price and Walker, and think you need to go and have a quiet lie down.

    • 2010-10-03 14:29:14 GMT+0000 - 14:29 | Permalink

      ChristianCadre contributor, the sophistic Layman, posts links in this comment to about 4 lengthy posts on ChristianCadre’s blog. I see nothing wrong with that on the face of it, but questions about integrity do arise when one notices that ChristianCadre’s blog comment policy bans anyone else from attempting to do the same on their own blog. I had one comment deleted from their blog some time ago, and was told this was because I included one link to a post of mine here. I think that post was eventually restored, but then other replies of mine to their critiques of my posts were removed without explanation.

      CC policy statement:

      This blog is open to comments by anyone interested provided: (1) the comments are civil, (2) they are on point, and (3) they do not represent efforts by the comment authors to steer readers to long posts on other websites.

  • 2010-09-29 02:35:06 GMT+0000 - 02:35 | Permalink

    1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is one I referenced in the post above. It is not Doherty’s argument, but that of mainstream biblical scholars, in particular Pearson and Schmidt. Read the post above and also the one I linked to discussing the arguments of mainstream biblical scholars for regarding this as an interpolation. See pp. 657-659.

    Yes, it is Doherty’s argument. Yes, others have made the same argument. That does not mean that it is not Doherty’s argument. Rather, it is his too. I think it misleading that the only interpolation you point to by Doherty is the one that has the most support among other scholars.

    1 Timothy 6:13 Again this is not Doherty’s argument, but evidence of Doherty engaging with mainstream biblical scholarship. He writes: “Most critical scholars date [1 Timothy] between 100 and 125. They can be a product neither of Paul nor of his time.” Doherty cites the arguments as detailed in J. L. Houlden “The Pastoral Epistles” and J.N.D. Kelly “The Pastoral Epistles”. See pp 660-662.

    I am not talking about Doherty’s acceptance of a late date for Timothy. He goes further. He accepts a late date and still argues that this is an interpolation. “Personally, I support interpolation since the Pastorals as a whole contain strong indications that their writer is still unfamiliar with an historical Jesus.” http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp03.htm

    Galatians 1:19 Doherty’s addresses this verse at length – 3 pages, around 500 words a page – as NOT being an interpolation. His argument works WITH this verse as authentic. It is merely as an afterthought or addendum that he suggests the possibility of an interpolation, with arguments, but only as a possibility. He only adds this as an afterthought because there is no manuscript evidence to support his case. He only gives reasons for this as a possibility. His argument is an engagement with the text as authentic! See pp 60-63.

    Doherty often uses interpolations as his back up or “alternative” position. This should not be surprising, I have never accused Doherty of being stupid or an incompetent advocate for his position. And he uses the interpolation back up escape hatch here as well. Thus, I consider them fair game. “Only two of these passages, possibly a third, would I put down to later interpolation, the first with much support by liberal scholars: 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, with its reference to “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus,” and 1 Timothy 6:13, with its reference to Pilate. (I will direct the reader to full discussions of these two items.) The third, a possible marginal gloss, is Galatians 1:19’s “the brother of the Lord” in reference to James, which I discuss in the Appendix.” http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/silintro.htm

    Galatians 4:4 Doherty writes of this verse: “While noting factors which might suggest interpolation, we have so far been analyzing this passage while adopting the assumption that ‘born of woman, born under the Law’ could have been written by Paul.” His argument is with the text as authentic. He additionally discusses the possibility of it being an interpolation, but only as an alternative consideration to his main argument that accepts it as original. See pp. 197-212.

    Yes, exactly. Playing the “interpolation card” as an alternative is still using interpolations in support of the mythicist theory. You do not make it go away by also arguing that even if it is valid you have an explanation. Indeed, this was no passing reference. Doherty has a lengthy argument for interpolation on his website: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp15.htm. So I think it is fair game for critics of the Jesus Myth to note this use of interpolations. They should acknowledge that some of these uses are “in the alternative,” which I did in my original post on the matter. But mythicists should also admit that Doherty is entertaining the interpolation argument for these verses.

  • 2010-09-29 02:35:33 GMT+0000 - 02:35 | Permalink

    1 Timothy 6:3 See the rejoinder to 1 Timothy 6:13 above. Doherty cites the arguments of mainstream scholarship. He adds that his mythicist argument does NOT require the verse to be an interpolation: “Note that taken by itself, the passage in 6:3 is not required to be an interpolation in order to maintain that the Pastorals know of no historical Jesus.”

    I would be surprised if Doherty admitted that any of the scriptures he entertains as interpolations would completely sink his theory. But you admit now though not in your original article that this is yet another appeal to interpolation to strengthen the mythicist case.

    Hebrews 13:7 You’ll have to give me a citation for that. It is not indexed in his book, “Jesus Neither God Nor Man”, nor can I see its relevance to his mythicist argument. The only place I can find where Doherty does address this verse is on his site at: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/silhebrs.htm and he gives no hint that he thinks there is any interpolation anywhere here.

    Hebrews 13:20 Doherty does not touch on this in his argument as far as I can recall. Where does he argue this? In his book he only mentions mainstream biblical scholarship’s “questioning” the authenticity of the postscript to Hebrews in an Appendix! It is not part of his argument. All he does is cite the questions raised among mainstream biblical scholars. “Authenticity for these verses has been questioned, including in association with various amounts of the preceding text, sometimes encompassing the whole of chapter 13. It is uncertain that we need to go that far back, and few scholars do. But while verses 17-19 may seem a little out of character with the body of the work, that issue is not important here.”

    As I noted in 2007, Doherty’s website included a response to criticism or a question that questioned both 13:7 and 13:20. The link does not work anymore so this may have been removed from his site when he revamped it. Here was the context: “Writing about Hebrews 13:7 (referring to the “leaders” who taught them the “word of God”), Doherty describes the verse as written by “an early epistle writer (or interpolator).” A few verses later, Doherty makes the following statement about Hebrews 13:20 (referring to the resurrection of Jesus): “in a passage which has in any case been questioned as authentic to the original epistle….”” I’ll let you know if I can track down where this moved to, though it may not have made the transition.

    Corinthians 6:9. I think you mean 1 Corinthians 9:5, which refers to the “brothers of the Lord.” If so, I never knew Doherty ever said that was an interpolation. You’ll have to cite a source here. Brothers in 1 Cor 6 definitely indicates believers, not physical siblings; and in 9:5 they are referenced along with “sister-wives”, so the meaning is obviously believers, not siblings. This is Doherty’s argument.

    Yes, sorry, I meant 1 Corinthians 9:5. Doherty writes, “Let’s take a look at that related and similarly disputed phrase “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5.” It is possible that Doherty means “disputed” in meaning rather than authenticity, but he later states, ” Which brings me back to the Galatians 1:19 phrase. As with its ‘brother’ in 1 Corinthians 9, this phrase does not appear in extant documents until at least the 3rd century, maybe the 4th (I don’t offhand know if either of them appear in the fragmentary parts of some Pauline epistles dating to the 3rd century).” http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/rfset22.htm

    Romans 1:3 Oh come on, now! No fair! Everyone opposed to Doherty LOVES that he tries to explain this verse as original and they all say his explanation is baloney. I myself believe it is an interpolation using the criteria of mainstream biblical scholar William Walker: http://vridar.info/xorigins/Romans/1_2-6.htm But Doherty is very conservative with the texts as received and ventures into suggesting interpolation generally on the strength of mainstream biblical scholarship. On pages 87-90 Doherty discusses the verse as original to Paul. Almost every sentence he is saying it’s what Paul said. So if Doherty ever suggested the possibility of interpolation, he may have been referring to arguments of Dr Herman Detering, but his own argument addresses the verse as original to Paul. What’s your source to indicate otherwise?

    I was quite clear here and on my own blog that Doherty kind of holds this one out there without embracing it. Remember, “As I note on my blog, Doherty kind of punts to Ehrman on this but leaves the possibility hanging.” Which he did, here: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesRefut1.htm. He is affirmatively arguing that Galatians 4:4 is likely an interpolation, but quotes Ehrman on Romans 1:3 as both being “suspiciously useful” for the conflict with Docetism.

  • 2010-09-29 02:35:55 GMT+0000 - 02:35 | Permalink

    As for Josephus. Yep. Doherty is so conservative that he has not budged from the scholarly consensus before World War 2, as expressed by the likes of Albert Schweitzer. Not that Doherty hasn’t engaged the current scholarship on the question. He has probably written one of the most extensive discussions of the passages that exists. I also have argued at length for the TF being a complete fabrication (no Josephan core) on other grounds. See my Josephus archive in the “Categories” box on the right margin of this blog.

    I did not argue that Doherty has failed to make arguments in support of his claimed interpolations. Nor did I think to argue that he was out of the pre-World War II “consensus.” Moreover, I am skeptical that there was such a consensus even pre-World War II, especially as to both passages. Certainly if there were then the consensus has shifted toward partial authenticity in the last 70 years. And appealing to yourself is hardly establishing Doherty’s position as “mainstream scholarship.”

    Tacitus: Yup, you are right. He says it “may be” an interpolation. But his argument does not hang on it, and it matters neither way – whether it is an interpolation or original. In fact, Doherty discusses it as authentic to Tacitus across 7 pages from 589 to 596, but gives the arguments (not original to Doherty, by the way) that it may be in an interpolation a mere one page treatment.

    Yes, again, an argument in the alternative. This counts. And I did not claim that Doherty invented all of these interpolation arguments from nowhere. You seem have erected your own strawman in an attempt to defeat what you view as another strawman.

    Ascension of Isaiah: No, those are not Doherty’s arguments, but the arguments of mainstream biblical scholarship and Doherty cites the standard references. I don’t have one of Doherty’s sources, Michael Knibb’s OT Pseudepigrapha. But my copy of Henneke’s collection of “NT Apocrypha”, and Spark’s “The Apocryphal OT”, both explain the manuscript variations and consensus that the Ascension was originally a Jewish text that was later added to (interpolated) by Christians at a much later date.

    Yes, again, this counts as an interpolation. Several in fact.

    On Pliny, you are right. Doherty adds the possibility in a footnote. He at no point bases his argument on it being an interpolation.

    Another argument in the alternative, which counts.

    As for the Theophilus note, yes, Doherty says on page 478 “The name ‘John,’ . . . could be a marginal gloss. . . .” but also says on page 489 he writes: “Theophilus also gives evidence of knowing ‘gospels,’ perhaps even John . . . .” So no-one can say that Doherty argues on the basis that it definitely IS an interpolation at all.

    I see now that the standard you are using is that the only interpolations that count are those that Doherty argues were “definite.” I can see how that might help you justify your initial pronouncements, but I still see no need to cut the line that fine.

  • 2010-09-29 10:26:19 GMT+0000 - 10:26 | Permalink

    Apparently you are wanting Doherty to argue without any reference to mainstream biblical scholarship, but to address inerrantists only. As I pointed out in my post, I was attempting to demonstrate that mythicism does not rely on rationalizations that “all the references to Jesus’ humanity” are interpolations. One often reads that ignorant dismissal of mythicism, and that is what I addressed.

    So when Doherty exhaustively tackles those passages as genuine, engaging the mainstream biblical scholarship in the process, and builds his argument on the assumption of their authenticity, you still hang him because he happens to raise alternative possibilities to his arguments as appendices or footnotes or afterthoughts.

    I think your approach casts a cloud on your own intellectual integrity rather than Doherty’s.

    Finally:
    Layman writes: “Moreover, I am skeptical that there was such a consensus even pre-World War II, especially as to both passages. Certainly if there were then the consensus has shifted toward partial authenticity in the last 70 years. And appealing to yourself is hardly establishing Doherty’s position as “mainstream scholarship.”

    Neil responds: All you need to do is have a look at the archive I pointed out and you will find there where I have copied transcriptions of the “primary evidence”, and links to same, demonstrating that such indeed was the consensus.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-29 18:44:57 GMT+0000 - 18:44 | Permalink

    LAYMAN
    Yes, sorry, I meant 1 Corinthians 9:5

    CARR
    I see Layman is totally unapologetic for his bizarre claim that ‘brothers of Jesus’ is not an interpolation in 1 Corinthians 9:5, when he himself is the person who added ‘Jesus’ to the text.

    And Layman is still unapologetic about his claim that Hebrews 13:20 is evidence for an historical Jesus living on earth.

    And Layman is still unapologetic about his claim that Hebrews 13:7 is evidence for an historical Jesus living on earth that Doherty has to magic away. When Hebrews 13:7 is evidence that the author had no idea that Jesus was supposed to have taught things.

    Layman is being a lawywer, and throwing up obfuscation,picking on anything he can raise as a quibble, magnifying anything he can shout ‘objection’ to regardless of how secondary it is.

    If only Layman could actually find a real, named person who claimed to have seen Judas, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene,Thomas, Bartimaeus, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, his sons etc etc.

    But he can’t. Hence his quibbling to cover up his lack of any case for the Jesus of the Gospels – a person allegedly surrounded by people who are as imaginary as the second gunman who shot JFK.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-29 18:48:32 GMT+0000 - 18:48 | Permalink

    LAYMAN
    * 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (getting rid of a reference to Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death)

    CARR
    Jewish ‘involvement’?

    Let us look at the text,and see Layman weasel his way out of what it says.

    You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men

    The text says flat out that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus.

    As this contradicts Layman’s Gospels where the Jews did not kill Jesus, Layman has to change the text so that when it says ‘killed the Lord Jesus’,he now claims it says they only had an ‘involvement’.

    It is ironic that somebody changes the text to make it say what he wants it to say, so that he can then claim that the text is original and has never been changed.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-29 18:54:46 GMT+0000 - 18:54 | Permalink

    And of course Romans 13 makes utterly plain that the ‘innocent’ had nothing to fear from the Roman authorities.

    Bizarre words from somebody allegedly preaching that the Romans had mocked, stripped, whipped, flogged, beaten, tortured and crucified the Son of God.

    • 2010-09-29 19:37:47 GMT+0000 - 19:37 | Permalink

      I’m still trying to figure out how an “authentic passage” in 1 Corinthians listing eyewitnesses to a resurrected Jesus proves Jesus’ historicity.

      • Steven Carr
        2010-09-29 19:40:16 GMT+0000 - 19:40 | Permalink

        And ‘humanity’ as such is not always evidence for historicity.

        There are lots of passages in Harry Potter, stressing that Harry is a boy. That doesn’t mean he existed.

        Zeus became a swan on Earth. That is not evidence for historicity.

  • 2010-09-29 20:32:30 GMT+0000 - 20:32 | Permalink

    Just for the record, I did not think it worth the time and effort to respond to each or most of Layman’s responses to my post (or underscore his ignoring of Steven Carr’s valid points). But if there is any reader who is relatively new to this particular little scene and genuinely interested, do either ask here or send an email and I will be happy to discuss further any points raised.

    I might also add just one note: Though Doherty sometimes refers to possibilities of interpolations in some texts, he very often only does so only after addressing the text as authentic; and furthermore it should be noted, when he does concede the possibility of interpolation, he will also be found not to resile from his original argument — sometimes, as in the case of 1 Timothy for example — and remark that the mythicist understanding was still conveyed by the copyist/redactor.

    Edited to add after posting: The reason I dismiss Layman’s “logic” is that it comes across to me at least as a caricature of the quibbling lawyer who argues his case without conscience or scruple. (He is apparently a lawyer in real life, too, by the way.)

  • 2010-09-29 20:32:34 GMT+0000 - 20:32 | Permalink

    Just for the record, I did not think it worth the time and effort to respond to each or most of Layman’s responses to my post (or underscore his ignoring of Steven Carr’s valid points). But if there is any reader who is relatively new to this particular little scene and genuinely interested, do either ask here or send an email and I will be happy to discuss further any points raised.

    I might also add just one note: Though Doherty sometimes refers to possibilities of interpolations in some texts, he very often only does so only after addressing the text as authentic; and furthermore it should be noted, when he does concede the possibility of interpolation, he will also be found not to resile from his original argument — sometimes, as in the case of 1 Timothy for example — and remark that the mythicist understanding was still conveyed by the copyist/redactor.

    The reason I dismiss Layman’s “logic” is that it comes across to me at least as a caricature of the quibbling lawyer who argues his case without conscience or scruple. (He is apparently a lawyer in real life, too, by the way.)

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