Maurice Casey on the Christ Myth–Historical Jesus Divide

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by Neil Godfrey

The stated purpose of Maurice Casey’s book Jesus of Nazareth is “to engage with the historical Jesus from the perspective of an independent historian.” Casey explains what he means by his independence:  “I do not belong to any religious group or anti-religious group. I try to . . . establish historically valid conclusions. I depend on the best work done by many other scholars, regardless of their ideological affiliation.” (p. 2)

For Casey, the only correct interpretation of Jesus is one which explains Jesus within a thoroughly Jewish matrix. This means he in fact begins with the assumption that there is an historical Jesus to place within that matrix. He would disagree with that and argue that his book proves the existence of such a figure. On page 43 he writes of “people who deny Jesus’ existence” that

the whole of this book is required to refute them.

This brings to mind the frequent claims of one of another independent scholar who once quite regularly left a similar comment on this blog, saying that a whole book would be required to refute mythicism. Unfortunately, when a scholar says that his book is a refutation of mythicism, one is likely to find that the arguments of mythicists are avoided rather than refuted. I will return to this point.

Casey’s assertion that only a thoroughly Jewish Jesus is a correct Jesus means that for him many publications about the historical Jesus have missed the mark:

The vast majority of scholars have belonged to the Christian faith, and their portrayals of Jesus have consequently not been Jewish enough. Most other writers on Jesus have been concerned to rebel against the Christian faith, rather than to recover the Jewish figure who was central to Christianity in its earliest period. (p. 3, my emphasis)

This reminds me of Craig Evan’s pop psychoanalysis of scholars such as Robert M. Price and Bart Ehrman, and his assumption that their motives can only be “anti-Christian”. If you’re not for us, you’re against us, is the idea. No allowance is made for the possibility that non-Christian scholars who reach conclusions that are not supportive of Christian fundamentals could be aware of their biases and make allowances for these in an honest intellectual inquiry. Similarly, Casey begins by suggesting that those who do not stand where he does are either inevitably overly motivated to support the Christian faith or rebel against it.

As for the scholars whom Casey believes have come close to the mark, he lists and discusses the work of Albert Schweitzer, Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders. He also has high commendation for Tom Wright, Bruce Chilton, James Dunn, J. P. Meier and Martin Hengel with Anna Schwemer.

On E. P. Sanders, Casey writes (p. 16, my emphasis):

Sanders’s first positive achievement was to direct attention away from sayings of Jesus to the prime importance of facts which can be established beyond reasonable doubt. At the beginning of his excellent outline of Jesus’ life for general readers, he listed the following:

  • Jesus was born c.4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
  • he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
  • he was baptized by John the Baptist;
  • he called disciples;
  • he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
  • he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
  • about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
  • he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
  • he had a final meal with the disciples;
  • he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
  • he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

In retrospect, this may look both obvious and not much. Its importance in 1993, and of the earlier version already in Sanders’s 1985 book, was the certainty with which these points can be established. Sanders showed that the main points of Jesus’ ministry ought not to be in doubt.

I have addressed two of those points in detail as presented in Sanders’ 1985 book, The Temple Act Not Historical and John the Baptist. (These and other discussions of Sanders within the context of mythicist-historicist discussion can be accessed via the Sanders entry in the “Categories” in the right margin.) I attempt to demonstrate, particularly in the Temple Act post, that there is no unanimity among scholars on the facticity of these supposedly indisputable facts of Jesus’ life. I argue that the so-called certainty of these facts is grounded in circular reasoning: the supposed “proofs” for their reality presuppose the existence of Jesus to begin with. Thomas L. Thompson has said the same of most scholarly work on the historical Jesus, and James McGrath belatedly responded to my Sanders posts — they had been written in response to his challenge that Sanders, as Casey says, did supposedly establish the certainty of the facts of Jesus’ life — with nothing more substantive than a statement that he “disagreed”.

As for the question of the existence of the historical Jesus, Casey appears to consider the question as having been settled long ago:

. . . professional scholars generally regard it as having been settled in serious scholarship long ago. (p. 33)

Casey footnotes this claim with references to 1912/1928 work The Historicity of Jesus by S. J. Case and the 1925 Jesus the Nazarene by M. Goguel. Both works are available online, and the links I provide are to my recent discussions of just how far removed they really are from either “serious critical scholarship” (S. J. Case) or actually addressing the questions raised by mythicists (M. Goguel). Doherty has shown (for the benefit of anyone who has not read Goguel’s book for themselves) how Goguel in a significant portion of his book really does little more than rationalize side-stepping the arguments of mythicists entirely. Maurice Casey’s book is for most part a discussion that sits entirely apart from Jesus myth arguments. If the entire book is required to “refute” mythicists, it only does so by obliging readers to forget mythicist arguments and immerse themselves in Casey’s assumptions and arguments instead.

Nevertheless, Casey still chooses to discuss what he says are the main arguments of mythicism “which are still being repeated.” He takes “the first ones” from Price’s book, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition. He begins:

Price proposes ludicrously late dates for the Gospels, a major feature of arguments against the historicity of Jesus. For example, he suggests that Mark 13, which predicts the destruction of the Temple, must have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE . . . . The point of these unconvincingly late dates is to allow Price to argue that the Gospels are fictional . . . . (p. 33 and 35, my emphasis)

“Ludicrous” is a strong word. It tells us that Casey thinks Price is simply, well, being ludicrous for suggesting not only that the Gospel of Mark could possibly have been written as late as the second century, but also merely for going so far as to place the Gospel a whole 40 years after Jesus’ death!

Curiously, Casey discusses the 70 date for Mark without resort to the “ludicrous” word when he addresses arguments of scholars who do not question the historicity of Jesus:

There are two different conventional dates in scholarship. Some scholars, especially in Europe, date it c.65-69 CE, not long before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, whereas others, especially in the USA, date it c.75 CE, not long after the same event. (p. 65)

One will suffer terminal brain injury holding one’s breath till one finds where Casey actually gives any reasons to explain why a second-century date for Mark’s gospel is “ludicrous” and “unconvincing”, why a 70 date is ludicrous when Price alludes to it, but conventional when other scholars use it.

Casey also faults Price for representing the “worst of all things American”. Thus Casey explains that R. M. Price was to be one of the co-chairs of the “Jesus Project”, which he describes as “another American subgroup”. On the same page Casey speaks of another American “social subgroup” as being the source of “bizzare discussion”. The term “subgroup”, and especially an “American subgroup”, within a chapter that never fails to repeat the “American” adjective with every mention of a study or author Casey despises (e.g. the “American Jesus Seminar”) is obviously intended to be as pejorative as one can get. So Price is doubly tarnished.

But I will leave this post at this point and save discussions of Casey’s specific responses to certain authors for another time.

This post is an attempt to bring out some of the more general views of Casey on the “mythicist-historicist” divide, and to point to a couple of strands of evidence that suggest a certain amount of prejudice fuels his discussion. Unfortunately, Casey has clearly brought nothing new to the debate, apart from addressing some of the details of arguments of the likes of Price and Zindler. I will be addressing some of these specifics in future posts, though this post should indicate to anyone familiar with the debate the sorts of responses to expect.

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54 thoughts on “Maurice Casey on the Christ Myth–Historical Jesus Divide”

  1. ‘Jesus was born c.4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great’

    As we all know,President Obama was born in Kenya.

    Scholars even now are reading the stories of President Obama being born in Kenya, and using them to try to work out when Obama was born. Some favour one date, some favour another,although almost all of them agree that the stories of Obama being born in Kenya contain historical impossibilities and blatant anachronisms, and even contradict each other,and were written for purposes of propaganda.

    There is nothing wrong with doing this. This is cutting edge scholarship.

    As we all know, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

    Scholars even now are reading the stories of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, and using them to try to work out when Jesus was born. Some favour 5 BC, some favour 4 BC.

  2. Casey also faults Price for representing the “worst of all things American”. Thus Casey explains that R. M. Price was to be one of the co-chairs of the “Jesus Project”, which he describes as “another American subgroup”. On the same page Casey speaks of another American “social subgroup” as being the source of “bizzare discussion”. The term “subgroup”, and especially an “American subgroup”, within a chapter that never fails to repeat the “American” adjective with every mention of a study or author Casey despises (e.g. the “American Jesus Seminar”) is obviously intended to be as pejorative as one can get. So Price is doubly tarnished.

    Oooh, ouch. So, why, oh why, would Casey’s friend, James Crossley, jump over the pond to risk association with the likes of the “American subgroup”, “The Jesus Project”?

  3. Hi Folks,

    Casey :
    “There are two different conventional dates in scholarship … c.65-69 CE, … c.75 CE”

    Robert H. Gundry and John Arthur Thomas Robinson give a significantly earlier date and I am quite sure that you can find other scholars who agree with them or arrive at an early date independently.

    And any scholar who accepts the Theophilus proposal for Luke (Luke-Acts was written to Theophilus, the high priest .. Luke around 40 AD when he was in office) is likely to see Mark as significantly earlier than 50 AD.

    Now I’m not sure what qualifies a date as “conventional” .. or if the word is more obfuscation than help since it can be defined to purpose. While the mythicist proposes an “unconventional” later date, a variety of scholars offer an “unconventional” early date. The issue is not what is conventional but what is sensible and consistent with the evidences.

    Steven Avery

    1. The dates 65 to 75 are the ones generally accepted in most of the scholarly discussions one reads online, in books and scholarly journals. Casey is using “conventional” in the conventional meaning of the word. Everyone knows of exceptions that are out there, but that does not change the common every day meaning of the word and anyone with a reasonable acquaintance of the main texts and works that refer to gospel dates knows that Casey’s remark is not the least controversial. Casey himself has long argued a date contrary to the conventional dates that he refers to.

    1. Normal, maybe but not always. For instance most of my source for the date of the Iliad have c.725-675, obviously not based on first citation or date given in text.

  4. So the Iliad was dated , roughly it seems, by abnormal methods.

    ‘Scholarly consensus mostly places it in the 8th century BC, although some favour a 7th century date. Herodotus placed Homer 400 years before his own time, i.e. around 850 BC.’

    It seems that when it comes to non-Biblical texts, scholars are happy with a century difference in dates, while it is ‘ludicrous’ to think Mark’s Gospel might be after 70 AD.

    ‘Though they could not agree about the details of his life, ancient Greeks did not doubt that there was a poet named Homer who had written the Iliad, the Odyssey, and possibly a number of other poems. Many modern scholars dispute even this. Scholars in the last two hundred years have established that the Iliad and Odyssey are products of a long oral tradition which became fixed sometime in the eighth century BC. How exactly the poems took their final shape (Was it the work of one person or several? Did the process involve writing?) is still a matter of speculation.’

    Gosh. It seems creationist thought has struck historians really badly, as many are doubting the existence of Homer.

    1. Not to mention the prevalent scholarly acknowledgement that the Iliad was riddled with interpolations, and few scholars any longer think there was a historical Achilles. This was not always the case, but has become the norm since the application of normal rules of historical evidence have been applied to studies of the Iliad.

      Bettany Hughes in her book “Helen of Troy” can conclude her introduction of Helen with:

      If Helen is a confection, an artistic construct, she was originally the construct of the pre-historic mind; if she is a nature divinity, her worship began in pre-history; if she is real, she lived and loved as a pre-historic princess. To understand all three Helens, we have to start our journey in her pre-historic world.” (p.13)

      Who is that theologian who deludes himself that he is a historian and who says that mythicism does not apply the same treatment to biblical and secular topics equally?

  5. Hi Folks,

    The precise historicity of Luke-Acts, as gone over in great depth by William Ramsey, titles, offices, Jewish and Romans, locations, dates, buildings, etc. really mitigates against the late date theories.

    While many other evidences will vary as to your overall perspective, (such as what is shown by Bible referencing from Clement of Rome to the mid-2nd century or the 3 major Josephus references) the precision there could not have been reached long after the times. Yes, there are attempted dismissals of little weight. The probative evidence is in the mass of super-precise historicity. At the very least, I suggest anyone interested in the topic read verse by verse the Ramsey (and others in the Luke-Acts historicity lineage) carefully, with your AV at your side and internet available for research.

    Steven Avery

      1. Tyson’s book has been discussed many times on this blog. Check the Categories in the right margin and scroll through “Book reviews and notes” to Tyson.

        Another scholarly work well worth reading is Pervo’s discussion of Acts. Again, check the “Categories” if interested.

    1. Steven: …the precision there could not have been reached long after the times.

      Funny how that precision (or accuracy) does not extend to the treatment of Paul. Funnier still is Gamaliel’s anachronistic mention of Theudas. People who are impressed with Luke’s accuracy conveniently ignore the huge inaccuracies and anachronisms that pervade Acts.

      Steven: The probative evidence is in the mass of super-precise historicity.

      In my head I heard that in the voice of Daffy Duck.

      1. ‘Luke’ of course could not find one single date for any episode in the life of Jesus, and could not even get Jesus’s brothers correctly.

        But I accept Stephen Avery’s general point that no Christian in the second century could have had accurate information about Jesus, as accurate information did not exist after 70 AD.

  6. Amazon says the title has not yet been released, but there are two being sold used. I guess some reviewers weren’t too impressed and are selling their copies already.

  7. Yup, on page 38 he has half a paragraph responding to this very point as it is made by Wells.

    “All this [the silences] means is that Paul wrote epistles about the problems which he found in his (largely Gentile) churches in the Graeco-Roman world, not an account of the life of Jesus, which the epistles tke for granted. Consequently, they mention only a few main points, mostly when there was some point of controversy.”

    He cites 2 examples in support:

    1. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 — and the reference to the crucifixion of Jesus
    2. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 — the old divorce ruling

    “That the churches would invent the points listed by Wells [i.e. John the Baptist, Judas, Peter’s denial, time and place of Jesus’ earthly existence, trial before Pilate, Jerusalem as his place of execution] would be ‘truly staggering’, as would their absence from the Gospels. Their absence from the epistles is nothing more remarkable than a definition of what kind of documents they are.” (p. 38)

    Any comment necessary? But I probably will comment at some future point.

    1. So Paul has to remind people that Jesus was ‘born of a woman’, because , of course, that was not something that was not ‘taken for granted’.

      If it had been taken for granted that Jesus was ‘born of a woman’, Paul would never have mentioned it.

      ‘Paul wrote epistles about the problems which he found in his (largely Gentile) churches in the Graeco-Roman world…’

      Romans is about the problems which his churches found in reconciling how Jesus had changed the relationship between Jew, Gentile, the Law and Salvation.

      Naturally Paul is not going to mention anything Jesus said and did when writing 16 chapters about how Jesus had turned everything upside down.

      The church invented stories of the infant Jesus killing somebody. That is ‘truly staggering’, so it must have happened.

    2. ‘All this [the silences] means is that Paul wrote epistles about the problems which he found in his (largely Gentile) churches in the Graeco-Roman world, not an account of the life of Jesus, which the epistles tke for granted. Consequently, they mention only a few main points, mostly when there was some point of controversy.”’

      Strangely. Maurice Casey expects ‘important figures’ in the life of Jesus to feature in the Epistles.

      In ‘Is John’s Gospel True?’, Maurice Casey claims that Lazarus was not an important figure because ‘he does not turn up in Acts and he neither wrote nor figures in any epistle for the same reason’ (The reason is not being an important figure.)

      It is interesting how easily and naturally arguments from silence flow from the pens of mainstream /independent Biblical scholars. They use arguments from silence as naturally as breathing.

      Secondly, Casey’s whole sentence is predicated on the rather natural assumption that you expect important figures to appear in Epistles. We can imagine him writing his book against mythicism, and reminding himself on virtually every page that he expects important figures in the life of Jesus to appear in Epistles.

      Where does Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Thomas, Bartimaeus, Nazareth, Nicodemus , the crowd of well-to-do female followers Casey mentions, etc etc, appear in epistles?

  8. What I find “truly staggering” in Casey’s book is the blunt assumption that the Gospel stories of the miracles and visions and heavenly voices and resurrection appearances are all historical! Casey simply rewrites the Gospels in his own mind/reading and thinks when a Gospel says God spoke to Jesus, or the resurrected Jesus showed himself to disciples, that what the authors really meant was, Jesus had “typically Jewish visionary experience” or the disciples had something like that.

    I wonder how he reads Homer or Virgil’s Aeneid or Livy’s account of the death and resurrection appearances of Romulus. Does he interpret these the same way? I wonder how he explains ancient historians describing miraculous experiences that were recorded or passed on by others, and then expressing some scepticism about the reports. Does he think such ancient historians (e.g. Herodotus, Livy) were “hyper-sceptical”?

  9. This is slightly off topic.
    In the US state operated supposedly secular tax supported institutions of higher learning have theology departments which seem to be primarily staffed by graduates of theological colleges which were founded for the purpose of proselytization. Thus there is a strong tendency for the religion classes taught at these institutions to act as venues for the distribution of a theologically correct history of christianity, and for the tenents of christianity not to be examined critically. In short the classrooms of secular universities are being used to distribute “dogma lite”. There are a few exceptions like Ehrman and Avalos, but they are also roundly critiqued by most of their more orthodox colleagues.
    The other problem is it is very hard to tell what most of these people are publishing. The typical academic web page biography will list a long bibliograpy, but most of these are inaccessible to the university outsider. They are published in non circulating journals that are likely to be found only in a large university library. Most of us do not have the ability to take the time to drive half way across out state to dig into the holdings of the state university library.
    The articles which were written by these tax supported university professors are only available on line on a pay per article basis, and again most of us cannot afford the 20$ fee to read a single article.
    My gripe is that if the author’s salary was paid with public money, then his output should be readily accessible by the public and not hidden away behind a firewall of geographic inaccessiblity of the paper journals ( and many public universities also will not let the general public access their holdings unless they are a paid up member of the alumni club), or behind a barrier of subscriptions fees if one tries to get to tem on line.

    So my two questions are should bible college graduates be hired by secular tax funded universities and allowed to use their classroom as a pulpit? Is this a violation of the principle of church/state separation? Should the theology departments at public universities be disbanded and the subject matter taught in the folklore division of the literature department?

    Should not the publications of university staff who are tax funded be freely available to the public? This of course should apply to all university departments not just the theologians. I am frustrated because I cannot see what the cutting edge opinions of the academics are and have to be content in wallowing around in pre 1923 out of copyright materials, or else pay through the nose to browse an article that I helped pay for.

    1. …or else pay through the nose to browse an article that I helped pay for.

      Reminds me of how breakthrough medical procedures and drugs frequently come about through tax money and charity donations to public universities, but are then privatized just to make sure we get to pay for everything twice.

    2. I take it you are in the US and speaking of the US experience. I have worked with academic libraries and one of the major thrusts of recent years as been the introduction of open source digital repositories for the publication of pre-prints and other copyright free versions of the scholarly output of universities.

      This has been driven by academic libraries and motivated by the philosophy that publicly funded research should be publicly available. Many academics have resisted this for understood reasons, but those who have been won over to the idea have come to see that by having their research and publications made freely available to the public in digital online format, they in fact become more well known and studies show they have higher citation rates. Publishers have agreements with thousands of institutions to allow the publication of pre-prints of articles and sometimes post-prints for this purpose, and the exceptions are becoming increasingly the minority. Academics find that with these open source digital repositories others can discover their work much more readily now with a Google search (not just Google Scholar, either). And the academic institutions are increasingly realizing that their institutional public profile is also lifted. Academics are also discovering they are able to tap in to someone else’s work with a single key stroke rather than wait for weeks for interlibrary loan materials to arrive. These are the facts that are persuading more and more to make their publications freely publicly avaialable through their library digital resource software.

      My understanding of the US experience with this is that it is mixed, varying greatly from university to university, as a result of the governance structures there. There is more national cohesion with cooperative and sharing mechanisms among universities in other countries and success rates are much higher in these, such as Australia and the UK and Europe.

      Maybe the moral of the story is for publics to pressure groups in the US to support academic library programs to push this open source philosophy through open source technologies such as DSpace as developed by MIT.

  10. As someone who thinks there is a very strong case against the historical existence of Jesus, I also think that one of the problems with the mythicist field is that there are a large number of quacks in the field, and the mythicist arguments are often dominated by some pretty absurd claims.

    This is very unfortunate because I think there is a very strong case to be made, but unfortunately sometimes the more absurd claims grab the headlines. In particular there are a lot of claims out there based on clearly invalidated 19th century claims of so-called “pagan” storied that are parallels with the Jesus story, but the problem is that many of these claims made by folks like Kersey Graves (The World’s 16 Crucified Saviors) are just plain bogus and without merit, and they have tarnished the field.

    I’ve attempted to address this by putting together what I think are strong cases that are not based on any of these kinds of claims.



    I’ve most clearly laid out the issue in my book “Jesus – A Very Jewish Myth”, which looks at the origins of the Jesus myth within Jewish literary traditions of the 2nd and 1st century BCE.

    Also, I’ll soon be working on a new article for my website that will be addressing the origin of the Jesus myth and the development of early Christianity through about the 6th century at a more high level, to kind of tie together all of the details presented in my other articles.

  11. Hi Folks,

    Without going into a lot of detail.

    The Theudas (Judas) chronology question is covered well by William Paley, John Gill and others. An interesting study.

    Steven Carr is welcome to agree with me that late dates common today are untenable. I believe the skeptics make a reasonable point there, and also believe, from many evidences, that the NT was a fully pre-70 AD document. With Luke in 41 AD, exactness marked by the high priest Theophilus.

    As for super precise Lukan historicity, which is attempted to be hand-waved, it is actually quite amazing. A few years ago I think I put a number of them on that skeptic (infidels at the time) forum, and would be happy, in the right forum, to address it again in super-depth. On any reasonably fair internet forum (not blog).

    For now I would just ask readers to go to the primary source material of historicity discussions, like William Paley, rather than either :

    a) skeptic hand-waves and harumphs as above “Daffy Duck” which only demonstrate ignorance or bias
    b) Christian apologetic shorthands (most web articles) or polemic (e.g. JPH)

    It is a fascinating read.

    Thanks for the feedback. I realize this is not the forum (either in style or focus) for in depth studies of these questions.

    Steven Avery

    1. From that FRDB site I can only repeat Toto’s admonition that was clearly lost on you:

      You reject all of modern NT analysis, which is your right, but if you are going to persuade anyone else, you need to at least try to engage with it rather than just asserting that your ideas are correct and everyone else is [insert your favorite dismissive adjective here.]

      1. Hi Folks,

        It is simply silly to quote the mythicists and ultra-skeptics all of a sudden trying to claim alliance with “all of modern NT analysis”.

        #1) They themselves are often hit with the same accusations. And they kvetch .. what about Robert M. Price, what about Dougherty, what about our Columbia “historian” .. all marginal, but they have a point that truth is not on credentials.

        #2) It simply is not true. e.g. The early dating and Theophilus proposal both have a rich modern NT analysis. The Theophilus proposal also was understood well at the time of Michaelis. The proponents are simply not the analysts a Toto can prefer.

        Beyond that, they did pretty much everything possible to suppress my writing on that forum, so they are hardly exemplars of fair scholarly discussion. You can, however, still read some of my writings there from some years ago and interact with me about them elsewhere.

        Steven Avery

          1. Hi Folks,

            Toto’s advice was based on poor logic, as explained above. It simply is incorrect to try to intimate that I am not basing my ideas on solid NT writers. e.g. Richard Anderson wrote a scholarly paper on the Theophilus proposal some years ago that has been quite well received, I personally consider it one of the more important Bible papers of the last decades. I augmented this a bit by studying the 1800s history of the understanding and also discuss some particulars with Richard Anderson and Lee Dahn.

            The other Toto part was this.

            “engage with it rather than just asserting that your ideas are correct and everyone else is [insert your favorite dismissive adjective here.]”

            However, I do not think anyone can read my posts on your blog and claim I have done name-calling and have not engaged in dialog on the issues we are discussing. In fact, the blog tone has been rather civil on both sides, with the usually Carr sarcasm being a humorous minor component.

            Ultimately, the skeptic has to decide if he wants the Bible believer to really express his views and defend them in public dialog. If the skeptic decides to make his blog or forum “in-house” (solid Christian apologists need not apply) that is surely his prerogative.

            The problem with the Toto-land is that they put up a front about wanting sincere dialog, yet only will accept relatively milquetoast defense of the pure Bible position.

            To be fair, there were a number of administrators and posters on that forum who did not like the way the situation was handled, but Toto was really simply a skeptic politician playing moderator.

            At least here you have been fair to allow me to express the pure Bible view without tons of provocation and attempted censorship, which is appreciated.

            Steven Avery

            1. Which specific — specific — points in Toto’s advice are based on “poor logic, as explained above”?

              For convenience, I repeat that advice here:

              You reject all of modern NT analysis, which is your right, but if you are going to persuade anyone else, you need to at least try to engage with it rather than just asserting that your ideas are correct and everyone else is [insert your favorite dismissive adjective here.]

            2. Why would a Jewish High Priest of 41 AD want a Gentile to write him a Greek account of what had happened just a few years earlier?

              What evidence is there that this Theophilus was the one ‘Luke’ was writing to?

              You know, actual real evidence ,of the sort that can be put in writing.

              And why was ‘Luke’ unable to produce a single date to do with Jesus, and was unable to name the brothers of Jesus correctly?

    2. Precision has to do with the degree of measurement. A “super-precise” ruler might measure down to the nanometer. Super-precise dating would, perhaps, measure down to the minute or second. I guess with respect to Luke you’re referring to Peter’s protestation against his comrades’ drunkenness with, “It is but the third hour of the day.” Yes, that’s pretty precise, but to call it “super” I would have expected something like: “It is only six minutes past nine o’clock.”

      For historical purposes, we would hope for accuracy over precision. And given that Luke quotes Gamaliel talking about Theudas, we have to wonder about the accuracy of the evangelist. I’m aware of many attempts to explain away the problems posed by Luke’s anachronisms, but they all have a strained feel to them.

      If Luke published his gospel in 41 CE, does this mean that Mark started scribbling on Monday after the resurrection? That’s a stretch. I’d love to see the evidence for these early dates.

      1. Hi Folks,

        Tim, you raise a few good issues.

        First, I mentioned precision because in this context it includes accuracy plus depth. A superficial account can be accurate yet it never will be precise. This was no intention to disclaim accuracy, I was simply trying to be precise as to which adjective to choose.

        Markan priority is a weak theory, even without the Theophilus proposal. (Too long to go into here.) So under the Theophilus proposal Mark was probably written shortly after Luke. Some TP people may go later, I would say within a decade. And I do not think it impossible that Mark was written before Luke, simply very unlikely.

        With literally dozens of precise historical elements, there are about three or four that are commonly raised about the Lukan accounts. This includes the taxing of Luke 2:2 (which is a fav or Richard Carrier) one that was raised on the infidels forum about Lysanias that is clearly weak (a spin favorite).

        And the Theudas issue, which is easy to understand once you look at the number and names of rebels, and the precise components of the Lukan and Josephus references.

        Now if your general view has not seen and studied the dozens of ultra-precise references from Luke, you might try to find a conclusion that he was blunderama winging it. “Daffy Duck” as you put it. That is why I recommend you do a full review before trying that tact, you might actually learn a lot.

        Now you seem to think there are many anachoronisms in Luke and have emphasized Theudas and I have suggested that the better discussions of Theudas I have seen are by William Paley and John Gill.

        If you have another supposed anachronism issue to share (and I definitely consider Theudas a legitimate point of study and cannot fault the attempted accusation for those coming from a skeptic perspective) I would be interested to know if you could list the next three most significant.


        Steven Avery

    3. T. Avery wrote: “With Luke in 41 AD, exactness marked by the high priest Theophilus…”

      J. P. Holding may be the only person in the world to agree with you; see the table in Pervo, Dating Acts, pp. 359-363.

      Alvin Boyd Kuhn simply guessed that, if Theophilus was a real person (which is not necessarily true), then the Lucan author must have been thinking of Theophilus of Antioch. The guess makes sense. Today, Luke-Acts is increasingly seen as an anti-Marcionite work, meaning that dates prior to 130 CE should be excluded. According to John T. Townsend, it is only after about A.D. 170 that definite citations are found. Justin apparently quotes from Luke 23:46, but the quotation may have been derived from Psalm 30:6 (LXX).

      Lucan influences have been discerned in Theophilus’ writings (see R. M. Grant, Jesus after the Gospels, pp. 68-82), and I am wondering whether this adds weight to Kuhn’s argument. However, as Earl Doherty points out, Theophilus never mentions Christ, or Jesus, at all. If he knew the gospel stories, they left him cold.

      The converging point may turn out to be that the Lucan author belonged to a group of anti-Marcionite Christians living in Antioch some time after 180 CE.

  12. Hi Folks,

    Please understand, I do not think the skeptic needs a 2nd century date for Acts. Even a late 1st century date, considering the interrelationships of Paul, Luke, Peter, et al essentially falisfies the NT. btw .. Fudging the issue with parse language and not rejecting late dating is the Richard Bauckham achilles heel as well. To me, and what I would call full Bible believers, it really makes no difference if you date various books at 90 AD or 130 AD or 180 AD .. any which way, the center can not hold. The skeptics have defeated an ephemeral foe, the modern late dating ethereal inerrantist.

    If J P Holding actually mentions or intimates Luke-Acts as to Theophilus, I wold appreciate a small extract here. If he simply dates the books early, that is of less significance to my studies.

    Steven Avery

  13. Hi Folks,

    The Theophilus proposal does not make Theophilus a Christian when Luke was written. A greater possibility when Acts is written. Richard Anderson or Lee Dahn or John Lupia especially may have addressed that question. It is definitely true that the NT says specifically that believers were in the household of Herod and that many priests became “Christians” (which is anachronistic to Acts 6):

    Acts 6:7
    And the word of God increased;
    and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly;
    and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith

    Steven Avery

  14. Hi Folks,

    “I don’t understand how any of this is a reason to think Acts contains any genuine history”

    Neil, my point is simple. If the skeptic really, really thinks that Acts is simply a fictional account, sans historical events and facts of consequence, then the issue of dating is irrelevant.

    And the attempt to find potential discrepancies like the chronology of Theudas is senseless. Why would anyone look for a small ahistorical component in an account that they believe is simply fiction ? Clearly some people do feel they have to find some verses where Luke is not an historical writer. To try to prove their point. Thus all the skeptic emphasis and attempt on Theudas and Lysanias. Clearly those who see the Bible as an accurate account will respond to such attempts.

    Have you actually looked at many of the William Ramsey Luke-Acts historicity examples ? My other point is that readers who want to comment and conclude on Luke as a historian .. or not .. would be in a stronger position if they looked carefully at the examples he studies. And then write specifically about the detail and logic of the Luke-historian position as given in the Ramsey studies. Isn’t that a reasonable request ? I ask this partly because I have never seen any skeptic or mythicist really address this question other than hand-waving and harumphing.

    Steven Avery

    1. So you are asking us to read a book but will not read the books we have read.

      But more to the point, you seem to be operating from some sort of confrontational and defensive position. My interest is to understand the nature of the texts. I think the idea of trying to find evidence of unhistoricity for the sake of undermining Christianity is a pointless exercise. (If anyone believes in resurrections from the dead and walking on water they will believe anything regardless of any sceptical questioning. Faith, after all, is about belief in defiance of evidence.)

      I, and I think most who comment here, are not the least interested in attacking Christianity, but in understanding Christian origins and the nature of the biblical texts. That does sometimes mean a few posts and comments attacking the methods of scholars who have the status of public intellectuals and who foist on publics their inconsistencies (treating biblical texts with a certain exceptionalism that they do not grant other ancient texts), and ignorant (criticizing what they have not read and even mis-reading and mis-representing what they have read) and logically fallacious (circular) arguments.

      But I have discussed many times in posts here (e.g. on Pervo’s books) reasons to understand Acts within the context of Hellenestic novels, and sound methodological reasons for placing the book in the middle of the second century as part of a propaganda political campaign against Marcionism. Merely pointing out that there are instances where the author gets a few names and titles and places right is all beside the point. Fiction is just as capable of such feats, while we can allow some leeway for errors in genuinely historical sources.

      Am on the road half way to Melbourne at the moment and might respond later to your other comment.

    2. ‘Have you actually looked at many of the William Ramsey Luke’

      Yes. Have you looked at the Homeric influence on Luke, or the way Luke plagiaries Euripiedes?


      Luke also seems to have based some of Acts on classical Greek literature, especially Euripides’ Bacchae. In Acts 26:12, Luke says that Paul heard Jesus say , in Aramaic or Hebrew, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the pricks’. ‘Kick against the pricks’ (laktizo pros kentron) was a well known Greek saying, which first seems to appear in line 790 of Euripides’ Bacchae.

      In Euripides’ Bacchae, line 447, we read the following ‘Of their own accord (autamato), the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors (thura) without human hand.’ In Acts 10:12, we read how doors opened for Peter of their own accord (automatos) and in Acts 16:26, we read how an earthquake loosed the chains from everybody and all the doors opened by themselves.

      Did an earthquake really loose a chain from a prisoner, not a noted result of seismic activity? Or did Luke base his account of Peter and Paul’s escapes on Euripides’ play about the persecuted followers of a persecuted and misunderstood deity, the son of Zeus and a young , mortal woman?

      Just out of curiosity, Euripides play ‘Alcestis’ is about a person who dies voluntarily in the place of another and then conquers death by being raised from the dead by a god. This is speculative, but perhaps ‘Alcestis’ is what first drew Euripides to Luke’s attention.

      Less speculative is the admission by F.F.Bruce in his book ‘The New Testament documents – Are they reliable?’ that Acts 14:12 ‘ho hegoumenon tou logou’ comes from ‘The Egyptian Mysteries’ of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as ‘the god who is the leader of the speeches’ (theos ho ton legon hegemon). Clearly, Luke was well acquainted with Greek classical literature.

      As for Luke writing to Jewish High Priests…

      Compare Luke’s description of where Mount Olivet was (Acts 1:12) and his need to explain names like Tabitha or Akeldama and his description of ‘a city of Galilee named Nazareth’ and ‘ Capernaum a city of Galilee’ with the casual reference to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns , and Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli in Acts 28 , with no explanation. These were all in the vicinity of Rome. Luke assumed that his readers were familiar with Roman geography.

  15. Hi Folks,

    Neil Godfrey
    “So you are asking us to read a book but will not read the books we have read.”

    Really, I refused to read some books ? Over the years I have read a lot of skeptic and mythicist material, if you want to recommend more, I will surely consider.

    However, the precise topic here is Luke-Acts historicity. I am simply saying that anyone who discusses that topic who is unfamiliar with the details of William Ramsey is blowing in the wind. And I have explained in some depth why this is so.

    And Ramsey’s material is available free online, so I am not asking anybody to put out $30 or make special arrangements or time at a University library.

    Steven Avery

  16. Hi Folks,

    “I think the idea of trying to find evidence of unhistoricity for the sake of undermining Christianity is a pointless exercise.”

    Yet there are a large number of skeptic and mythicist writers who believe that debunking Lukan historicity is a primary consideration, especially to support their theories such as 2nd-century fictional authorship. Thus .. “Theudas…” .

    Neil . I believe they understand the basic literary-historical issue in a sharper manner than you do .. however I do not begrudge you a position that says .. “resurrection account .. virgin birth .. Luke cannot be history, not my topic”.

    Then my request to study the specifics of William Ramsey is really to those posters on your blog who do properly consider questions like Theudas and Lukan historical precision as salient.

    “defensive position”

    Simply put, if you attack the Bible as fiction in a public forum, you should not be surprised to see some neat spirited defense. This is your blog, you can always knock the Bible believers off (hint: try ‘troll’ 🙂 ) .. however so far the dialog has actually been rather spunky on both sides and I think you realize you would lose some sincere discussion and more.

    Note that you just put forth a couple of threads for which I have little interest (the last two blogs) .. they are more in your literary conception genre. And I have no intention of intervening on such threads with posts, I want to make sure my posts are directly related to the discussion going forth. I actually got involved because I thought the “make a way” translation issue was rather interesting and A led to B to C.

    Steven Avery

  17. Steven Avery:

    Neil Godfrey
“So you are asking us to read a book but will not read the books we have read.”

    Steven Avery’s reply:

    “Really, I refused to read some books ? Over the years I have read a lot of skeptic and mythicist material, if you want to recommend more, I will surely consider.

    NEIL: Re-read the context. You will see I am asking you take on board one particular point of advice from Toto. Your response here looks like a classic avoidance/denial tactic.

    Steven Avery wrote:

    However, the precise topic here is Luke-Acts historicity.

    NEIL: It is? My post was addressing an “independent scholar’s” stance on the historicity-mythicist question. You were the one to raise and push the Luke-Acts historicity question presumably in the interests of an apologetic/evangelical agenda. We are at cross purposes, not simply disagreement on the point of historicity. Your ultimate interest is not scholarly or academic, but to prove the divine inspiration/authority of the Bible, is it not? My interest is in understanding the nature of the biblical texts through the norms applied to any other ancient literature. I see no common ground for a dialogue.

    I have never read the William Ramsey you keep urging us to read, but cannot recall if I have read a similar name, William Ramsay, or not. Is that the author you mean? I have regularly addressed specific arguments, and the principle itself, that accuracy of detail — even across the entire known world — has no logical relationship to the historicity of any particular narrative. My conviction that Luke-Acts is unhistorical has nothing to do with the accuracy or otherwise of specific titles, personal and geographical names “across the Mediterranean”. Accuracy of setting is irrelevant, unless you can break new ground and demonstrate otherwise.

    Steven Avery writes:

    Yet there are a large number of skeptic and mythicist writers who believe that debunking Lukan historicity is a primary consideration, especially to support their theories such as 2nd-century fictional authorship. Thus .. “Theudas…” .

    NEIL: I am not one of those “sceptic or mythicist writers who believe that debunking anything biblical is a primary consideration” (as you put it), so if they are your concern you may be better off addressing them at their venues.

    You imply I am “attacking” the Bible “as fiction”. Rot. If you consider any analysis of any part of the Bible that concludes its fictional character as an “attack”, then we are, as I said above, with agendas that simply do not meet. If you consider serious scholarship that produces results that deny the inspiration or total accuracy and historicity of every point in the Bible as an “attack” on the Bible then you are on the wrong forum on this blog. I am not interested in “attacking” the Bible, but in understanding it according to the norms of scholarly principles as they are applied to any ancient literature.

    The posts of mine that you say do not interest you ought to flag to you that my interests and motives are something other than your interests, and that your criticisms (more like accusations) that I am an attacker or debunker of anything other than biblical scholarship that belies its professionalism by pretending to be “historian” when it knows nothing or little more than theology

  18. Hi Folks,

    Now I realized that I did not directly answer this question:

    Neil Godfrey
    “I don’t understand how any of this is a reason to think Acts contains any genuine history”

    Today, one judge of any history is simple : “are the details right”. Forgers and fiction writers do trip up on details. The fiction writer may spend years trying to get the cultural and historical background yet he generally will have some gaffes picked up by those who lived at the time and place. More so if he is from a distant locale and culture.

    There are dozens of details in the Luke-Acts account, details that we have verified today through painstaking archaeology and historical research, details that would have been very difficult to determine even when the events are internally dated around 50-60 AD. Luke would have needed primary source attestation of this harbor, this title, this ruin in this city, etc. (This is why I suggest you actually peruse the book with the examples, it is fascinating.)

    These places, titles, positions, cities, harbors, buildings were not in one locale, they were all over the Mediterranean region. A person writing 100 years later could never have gotten them right, even a decade or two later would require primary source reports and/or a yeoman’s effort subsidized by a research stipend.

    Now what perplexes me is that you do seem to understand this in your reference to Colin Hemer as defending an early date in the blog review in 2007:

    Dating the Book of Acts: 1, Evidence for the early date (before 70 c.e.)

    And you say:

    “The significance of the dating of Acts is enormous”

    So all I am asking is : why not interact with the evidence ?

    See also your article, especially the J D Walters comments, putting aside some sharp language, at:

    On an early date for Acts — and its problems

    For some level of completeness, similar issues are discussed a bit here:

    The sea adventure of Acts 27 an eyewitness account?

    If there is a real counterpoint to this historicity precision issue offered by the late daters (rather than hand-wave and harumph)in the Richard Pervo book, or another source, I would be very enthusiastically try to study and understand their dismissals.

    On the forum posts I mention, the basic issues appear to be unaddressed. Although I do compliment your blog for at least giving them an airing.

    Steven Avery

  19. It is interesting that Biblical historians will refuse to give any evidence, even when asked point blank to do so. Instead they will claim that I regard them as ‘ignorant’ and ‘worthless’, even when you have as polite to them,as they have been obnoxious about you.


    Here is my reply to Professor Hurtado, although I doubt that it will be allowed.

    Paul, of course, is a primary source, so letters by him are primary documents. Claims by Paul to have existed and to know of the existence of Apollos,Priscilla etc are valuable primary affidavits.

    Mischaracterising my views by pretending I do not know the difference between primary and secondary sources is not nice of you.

    The Gospels are secondary anonymous sources. They mention a lot of characters who,like a lot of characters in the Book of Mormon, do not exist outside their pages.

    Therefore , the gospels are not evidence of the existence of Judas,Lazarus, Barabbas, Thomas, and the vast cast of Gospel characters who are never mentioned by Christians writing to each other.

    ‘ You ask for an affidavit signed by first-century Christians, but unfortunately we don’t have any such affidavit for most people from history.’

    Is this an explanation of why there is no evidence for Judas? Because no evidence should be expected?

    Explaining why there is no evidence of their existence is not producing evidence that they existed.

    The difference is the sheer number of people mentioned in the Gospels who vanish into thin air as soon as there is a public church, in precisely the same manner that the Angel Moroni vanished when Joseph Smith went public.

    No Christian ever named himself as seeing this vast cast of Gospel characters.

    And when Christians write to each other, and tell each other of examples of people who behaved in a certain instructive manner, they almost invariably use Old Testament examples,even if the actions of Judas, John the Baptist, Lazarus, Thomas, Joseph of Arimathea etc would have been far more suitable material to use.

    ‘you misconstrue Paul’s comment in Romans 10:14-15, if you take it to mean that no Jew had ever heard of Jesus.’

    As I already pointed out, Paul is clear that Jews HAD heard of Jesus. People had been sent to preach about him.

    Paul asks rhetorically, how can they believe in the one they have never heard of, and how can they hear unless somebody is sent to preach.

    He then points out that people have been sent to preach about Jesus, so that Jews do now know about Jesus, and not all have accepted the good news.

    The implication is obvious that Paul thinks Jews heard about Jesus by people sent to preach about him.

    Mischaracterising my views by pretending I claim Paul says Jews have never heard of Jesus is not nice of you.

    1. I should point out that all Biblical historian can do is say ‘These people are in the Bible, so they must have existed.’

      But this is just the same sort of circular reasoning that Thompson pointed out was invalid.

    2. S. Carr wrote: “Paul, of course, is a primary source, so letters by him are primary documents. Claims by Paul to have existed and to know of the existence of Apollos, Priscilla etc are valuable primary affidavits…”

      You wrote in a different comment: “The normal way to date books from antiquity is to see when they are first cited, or what date is given in the text as date of writing.” What conclusions can be drawn, if this principle is extended to the “genuine” letters of Paul?

      Speaking of Apollos and Priscilla, there is an essay by Peter Carls on some of the names appearing in Philippians: “Identifying Syzygos, Euodia, and Syntyche, Philippians 4:2f,” Journal of Higher Criticism 8/2 (Fall 2001). His idea is that personal names used in Pauline writings may have an allegorical meaning. Apollos and Priscilla are not necessarily real persons.

      As to the “primary” character of the Pauline letters, I feel that Patricia A. Rosenmeyer’s book, Ancient Epistolary Fictions, should be read as a warning that different conclusions are possible.

    3. CARR: It is interesting that Biblical historians will refuse to give any evidence, even when asked point blank to do so.

      The thing is, they know there isn’t any evidence, and they know that you know there isn’t any evidence. You have asked one of the emperor’s tailors, “Since I cannot see the emperor’s lovely new clothes, can you describe them to me?” The tailor knows the emperor is naked, and he knows that you know. Therefore, by the very act of asking, you are being terribly impolite.

      “Oh! And I suppose my colleagues and I are totally ignorant about the use of magical fabric! It involves the weighing of difficulties, comparison of various evidences [sic], and then inferences set out for other tailors to assess. If, Steven, you have so little regard for the emperor’s council of tailors, then desist from engaging on this (in your eyes) worthless site, and proclaim your settled views elsewhere where you will not have to contend with ignorant people like me. OK?”

      It’s funny LH said your opinions are “adamantine.” So he thinks he’s Magneto?

      1. Oh historians and all their flippidy, dippady, doopadty, methods! Always spinning non-sense no one can understand! Falling back on their Ph D’s and ABC’s and insisting that we read their stupid books to understand them!

  20. What I dislike most about Steven Carr’s questions is that they bring out the worst in scholars. Steven has developed the knack of constructing questions that go straight to the heart of Historical Jesus scholarship’s assumptions and methods, and that force the scholar to either:

    — admit that his/her methods are invalid and inconsistent with those generally used of other ancient histories

    — declare that Stephen’s questions have been answered many times, without ever citing exactly where

    — answering with red-herrings and straw-men

    — twisting Stephen’s words and phrases to mean something he has not said or even implied

    — insult and/or ban

    — answer directly and demonstrate where his questions are are in ignorance of scholarly methods and arguments.

    We have seen them respond with all options except the first and last listed here.

    Mikelioso, you fail to grasp that it is their books that Stephen and others have read and understood all too well. The methods Historical Jesus scholars use are either not the same as those used by other historians, or they are used in ways for which they were never designed, and their arguments for historicity are circular. If scholars responded to these criticisms with argument and evidence to the contrary then they would be able to maintain their public respectability and avoid resorting to malicious insult, ridicule and outright misrepresentation.

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