Biblical Studies: Surely the Softest of Options!

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by Neil Godfrey

Jesus was born in Israel, into an observant Jewish family. . . . His father was Joseph, called after a major patriarch who ruled over Egypt under the Pharaoh. Jesus’ mother was Miriam, whom we call Mary, so she was called after Moses’ sister. Jesus’ own name, Iesous in our Greek Gospels, is the Greek equivalent of Yeshua’, which we usually render into English as Joshua. Thus Joseph and Miriam called Jesus after the major figure of Jewish history who succeeded Moses and led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. At the time his name was understood to mean ‘YHWH saves’ or the like, with the name of God at the beginning, so effectively ‘God saves’. Joseph, Miriam and Jesus must have been aware of this understanding of his name, and it is reflected at Mt. 1.21, where an angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary will bear a son ‘and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’.

Jesus had four brothers. The most famous was Jacob, whom we usually call James, who later led the Jerusalem church and became famous for his piety. He was called after the eponymous patriarch of the whole nation, Jacob who was also known as Israel. The other brothers were Judah, who was probably the author of what we call the epistle Jude, Joseph and Simeon. . . . All known names are patriarchal names. Thus the names of the men in Jesus’ family are straightforward evidence that he was born into a traditional Jewish family, who were expecting the salvation of Israel. (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 143)

There you go. What evidence do we have that Jesus’ parents were an “observant Jewish family”? Why, the father was named Joseph and the mother Mary. That alone tells us — obviously Joseph was named after the patriarch and Mary after Moses’ sister! What other explanation could there possibly be for anyone being given these names? (Anyone curious about the frequency of biblical names in Palestine around this time can thank Richard Bauckham for providing lists for us. These can be accessed via my Bauckham’s Names Tables post.)

And if two people named Joseph and Mary got married and named their five sons (or was it only four from Joseph?) Joshua, Jacob, Judah, Joseph and Simeon, then don’t we have the clearest evidence of a family as pious as any Jewish family, eagerly praying daily for the “salvation of Israel”? Do not the very names themselves confront us with the clearest evidence that Jesus could not possibly have been illegitimate? And if not illegitimate. . . . ?

Some may relish this sort of argument and find it persuades their already willingly seduced intellectual proclivities. Others may wonder if a more sensitive nose would smell a layer of fabrication somewhere in this mix. Some more steeped in apologetic tracts may find the rationale resonating with a nostalgic familiarity.

In days gone by (when genuinely independent scholars were burned at the stake) the less bright sons of well to do families were shunted off to the clergy of the C of E for a career.

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27 thoughts on “Biblical Studies: Surely the Softest of Options!”

  1. Do not the very names themselves confront us with the clearest evidence that Jesus could not possibly have been illegitimate? And if not illegitimate. . . . ?

    The answer to that last question wasn’t always unanimous among early Christians.

    From The Gospel of Philip:

    Some said that Mary conceived by the holy spirit: they are mistaken, they do not realize what they say. When did a female ever conceive by a female?

  2. So the names have such huge symbolic significance that any scholar can detect the piety of a family that had those names.

    And yet we know that these names were historical and not chosen by Christian authors for any symbolic significance they might have had.

  3. It is hard to determine someones politics or relgious fervor based on a name, but it is telling they don’t have Greek names. A devout Muslim might give his children Christian names, but it is less likely.

  4. Neil, I genuinely thought the opening two paragraphs were a satire by yourself on the standards of historical Jesus scholarship. If Casey’s whole book is similar to what you’ve blogged than I’m completely stunned. The level of argumentation is shocking.

    FWIW, I seem to remember that some scholars link Jesus having four brothers to Matthias, the founder of the Maccabean dynasty, who had five sons. Not sure how the sisters fit into this situation. Who knows?: but I’d imagine this literary-textual solution to a historical problem probably goes down quite well with Catholic scholars 🙂

  5. I think Neil’s point was that even after 2000 years of the religion we are arguing about its textual historicity. Neil comments here that the NT seems to be promoting multiple cases of the romantic establishment of a biblical figure.

    The fact that (whether you agree with Neil or no) such establishment occurs all around this particular figure. Authority by name, descent, position and myth as it occurs for many biblical figures.

    It’s only in one of Robert Prices recent discussions that he politely, but humorously, chides a questioner about a possible historicity regarding Yahweh worship. He basically said that to establish this position, you would have to accept the historical veracity of the story being told. In the case of Moses and Yahweh, the story of Moses prior to the establishment of Yahweh was not intended to establish Yahweh, only Moses.

    Is the naming tradition that Neil alludes to the intent to establish Jesus’ historicity or to establish Jesus was rightfully placed to take the mantle of a “biblical” gold medallist.

    Sometime a question that is easy to answer opens up a new can of worms.

    Again, Thanx Neil and commenters, you make my morning coffee taste so much the better!

    1. My point was fairly vague and open because I was kind of stunned by Casey’s paragraphs and really had no idea where to begin.

      Tim’s point is instructive — that Casey’s background qualifications seem to be kept hidden from easy public access. (I would welcome being proved wrong.)

    1. Jude, of course, could not bring himself to write a single word about what his brother had done or said.

      Enoch, Adam, Moses, Michael, Balaam, Cain, Sodom and Gomorrah are all used to give context to teaching.

      But not Jesus.

  6. The level of “scholarship” presented above is actually a typical representation of what is taught in undergraduate religion and history classes at most state colleges and universities in Bible Belt southern states and lower mid west in the USA. The book of acts is treated as if it were a historical document and not a crudely written propaganda piece. Thses classes are typically taught by bible college graduates who have no scietific training, no training in historical methods or journalistic methods. From personal acquaintance and attempts at rational communication with them I am left puzzled, and unable to decide if they are merely stupid and credulous and brainwashed to the point where they can not longer think for themselves, or if they are deliberate liars perpetrating a multi generation fraud designed to provide their ilk with employment.
    The English class system and educational system was designed so that the surplus sons of the upper classes could be ensured employment as curates and teaching religion in order to keep the lower orders in line. Their daughters of course were used as trading peices in their status struggles.
    The Brits produced an entire generation of upper class twits who became theologians and fantacists in the post WW1 era, who were deeply damaged by their war experiences, and many of whom were closetd frustrated homosexuals, reacting to their first crushes on working class men whom they commanded when they were junior officers in the trenches.
    The result was some awful very twee theology. CS Lewis was the worst of the lot. Other writers in this category though not neccessarily theologians were Graves, Lawrence, Tolkien, Sassoon.
    Unfortunately some of the traditions of the Brit university system leaked into the US system, with its ivory tower isolation, tenure practices which reward those who bolster the system, and do not raise questions about the quality of past scholarship, and promote traditional religion’s teachings as a way of producing unthinking graduates easily manipluaed by the state.
    The academic theologians still over value Greek and Latin texts, ignore the semitic language literature, sideline any one who introduces non christian or texts into his analysis, or studies “heretical texts” as a possible source of historical information, and ostracize any scholar who uses Rabinical texts in anything but a “spititual” fashion, or seeks out uncensored “politically incorrect” texts that where critical of christism.
    I have sat in on a lot of lectures given by these wolves in sheeps clothing, ie bible college graduates paid with taxpaer money teaching at supposedly secular state sponsered colleges. I took a few of these courses when I was a student, and learned very quickly not to disagree and toe the party line, or my GPA would be destroyed by one of these tenured bible thumping twits.

    What is most appalling is that universities are becoming the support system of multiple generations of families of the religeously orthodox. Check out Alice Whealey’s bio for example. She as written a lot of poorly reasoned articles about Flavius Josephus, and close examination of them shows she has played fast and loose with her sources. She comes from a family of professioanl religionists. A search of the backgrounds of the teaching staffs of east coast private and public colleges will yield many more like her.
    Where the theology and classics departments of the Brit univeristies were designed to provide employment for the surplus sons of the parasitic classes, the Theology departments of US colleges are being turned into an employment system for the offspring of the parasitic puveyors of religion in the US.

    1. From personal acquaintance and attempts at rational communication with them I am left puzzled, and unable to decide if they are merely stupid and credulous and brainwashed to the point where they can not longer think for themselves, or if they are deliberate liars perpetrating a multi generation fraud designed to provide their ilk with employment.

      This could cover mainstream (including self-described “independent”) New Testament scholars from a much wider field than the Bible Belt.

  7. “Do not the very names themselves confront us with the clearest evidence that Jesus could not possibly have been illegitimate? And if not illegitimate. . . . ?”

    Actually, using the same kind of cheap-jack exegetical reasoning: does not the inclusion of whores, adulteresses and rape victims in the genealogy of Jesus clearly demonstrate that the fabricators of the nativity story clearly and un-equivocally knew that Jesus was an illegitimate bastard?

    How come NO orthodox scholar of “christism” has pointed out that GABRIEL, the name of the incubbus who impregnated Mary, is a pun on the Hebrew “Gibor Hayil”, which can be translated as “Strong (or overpowering) Soldier”.

    To me it looks like “Luke” was trying to over write and pretty up a tale of brutal rape, by mistranslation and by adding fantasy elements. In short, he was trying to put one over on his Greek readers.

    Dump the super natural crap, correctly translate “Gibor Hayil” and you have the ugly story of a young girl who was assaulted and raped by a slick talking soldier, while her fiance?/husband? was out. Please Mr Casey, can you tell me if this disguised story of a sordid rape is history or allegory, and if the latter, then is it an allegorical rendering of the historical rape of Mary?

    Mr. Casey, how come you so called scholars trained in oh so many languages and oh so subtle analytical methodology, cannot see beyond tradition, leaving it to the intellectually unwashed to disclose the obvious?

    Mr. Casey, you and your kind are not real scholars, you are brainwashed propagandists, who pass off fantasies as truth, who have allied yourselves with a hierarchical organization that has justified its past priviledges with lies, that has a past and present history of murderous and tyrannical behavior, and that enforced its powers with brutality and state supported terrorism.

    How can you so called christian scholars continue to associate yourselves with a blood stained belief system that is the basis of a religion that was spread at sword point and by immolating those who resisted or dissented. The dissemination of christism was historically characterized by slaughter, and now that mass murder can no longer be used as a motivator to encourage conversion, christism is spread by tearing communities apart and the destruction of indiginous cultures.

    Why did the christian organization that lays claim to all christians appoint a member of the Hitler Youth to be its head, when it presumably had a huge number of untainted men it could have called upon. I can only imagine that the college of cardinals thought this early training by the Nazis would be of present value to the christian church, that the values imparted by the Nazis to the current pope, are compatible with those of christism.

    Christism is a brutal, blood thirsty and blood stained sect that should be denounced and repudiated by all thinking, honest, decent human beings.

    Mr. Casey, the fact you and your kind have not done so, shows clearly that you are no more than petty bullies who have allied yourselves with a greater bully. And as petty intellectualy dishonest bullies you and your works are deserving of nothing but ridicule, loathing and contempt.

  8. JW:
    Check out my award winning Thread at FRDB:

    http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=202511 “Mark’s DiualCritical Marks. Presentation Of Names As Evidence Of Fiction”

    which as near as I can tell and straight forth makes me the foremost authority the world has ever known regarding “Mark’s” use of names as intentional Fiction. “Mark” appears to use Contrived names in a number of Ways (like every way) but let’s just look at the offending verse here:


    “Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.”

    First note that this verse resides in a Country which is no country for old son of men (a Gospel which consists primarily of the Impossible). The specific neighborhood is also stricken with very high implausibility textes. The reaction is to Jesus doing the Impossible in general, we have the previously noted Contrivance of hands (carpenter/”miracles from the hand”) and the unexpected (which is the point of the story) reaction that the Home ton (so to speak) roots against its own Star player. The COMBINATION of the Impossible and Literary Contrivance here makes the default position that any information here is Fiction (it needs to be resurrected as possible historical outside of “Mark”). This is the biggest fault of McGrath El-all. In weighing historicity, you have to also look for evidence of Fiction and Way that evidence.

    Specifically, regarding the names of Jesus’ supposed brothers here, James, Joses, Judas and Simon, note that all Names are prominently used elsewhere in a Gospel where positive characters are generally not named. “James” is also one of the Big 3. “Joses” is also Joseph of Arimathea, Judas is also The Betrayer and Simon transforms into a leper and cross carrier. This would be contrived enough yet the author is kind enough to make the family replacement theme explicit.

    There are no disciples witnessing the crucifixion but there are:

    “Mark 15:40 And there were also women beholding from afar: among whom [were] both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;”

    So the names “James” and “Joses” are there instead and I wonder if “Salome” was originally “Simon”. Mikeloseo will object that there is no mother of “Judas” but “Mark” explained that too:

    “Mark 14:21 For the Son of man goeth, even as it is written of him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born.”

    Note that before the Passion the characters are traditionally defined by their parents. During the Passion the definition flips and characters are defined by their children. This is the author’s theme that “The Jews” were defined by their ancestors in opposition to the Christians who will be defined by their descendants = Literary Contrivance.

    By the Way, none of this proves that “Mark’s” names for Jesus’ brothers is fictional. I have all the same source problems that HJ has and worse, no institutional (Church) support. As evidence for Fiction though it does prevent these names from being proven historical.


    1. Nope, No objection. While creative thought can make these people who ever your theory require, their is no clear consensus on who they are. My guess is that the first readers would have known, but that information has slipped from us. While many have suspected Mary mother of j and J is Mary mother of Jesus, it can’t be confirmed. Mark has the name diversity of Spanish Harlem.

    2. Some years back I raised this inclusio structure of reversed parent-children identification with an otherwise very astute scholar and real gentleman, Mark Goodacre. My recollection tells me that he opted for the historicity of the Mary/Joses-James names because it was so unusual for parents to be identified by their children that for it to appear in the gospel suggests something genuinely historical. I replied that yes, it is so unusual, so it is surely especially noteworthy that it appears TWICE at the end of the gospel. But his response was that this made the historicity of the names even doubly certain, or something to that effect.

      Have raised this point in discussing Bauckham’s very lightweight (floating in the sky) book: B’s Jesus and the Eyewitness – ch.3.

      And noted other naming patterns, but am not sure if this is taking things too far, in the second half of the gospel: Cyrenian-Cyrenius.

      Other reasons to see them as fictional: Fictive and parabolic character

      Not forgetting, of course, the suggestive meanings of the personal names (as with the geographic names), like the names of the characters in the Happy Families card game.

  9. The canonical gospels list a varying number of disciples with name inconsistency. If you start wacking away at them eliminating those with duplicated names as being the same personlisted twice you can get down to there being only five or six or them. Interestingly the Talmud while being obscure by doing midrash on disicple names, says Jesus had only five hard core followers.

    1. There are only seven named in the Gospel of John, too. (The isolated references there to “the twelve” have all the smell of “redactional insertion”.)

      I can’t justify simply wacking out of the picture any apparent duplicate names. It’s more useful to find something more than an ad hoc explanation for them.

      For example, this is where April DeConick’s discussion of the appearance of that extra Judas in John’s Gospel leads the way. The details will have to wait (for anyone who does not have access to her Voices of the Mystics, that is) but she presents a coherent case for that “Judas not Iscariot” who joins the dialogue in John 14 as being another form of the name Thomas the Twin. He was known among the Syrian Christians as Judas Thomas, and the different name forms in the Gospel match other indicators of redactional layers.

      1. Neil

        Thanks for kind reply.

        I was being a little tongue in cheek, the problem being that whether one whacks or carefully analyses, one is still dealing with just a few horribly noisy (in the engineering sense) bits of 2000 year old information.

        Only when a intact datable manuscript of Hegisippus, or Gospel of Hebrews, or an uncensored Talmud, or a pre Eusebius copy of Josephus Antiquities, or a Super 8 film or audio cassette of the Sermon on the Mount are dug up will the Jesus controvery be put to rest.

        And the likely-hood of turning up any of the above is on the order of geting a authentic photograph of a Sasquatch or jackalope (or a bunyip).

  10. Regarding the historical, mythological, legendary, literary, unreal and real Jesuses.

    This posting my have meaning only for middle aged Americans, others with have to come up with an equivalent historical/mythological figure from their own cultural baggage.

    The David (or Davey) Crocketts from American history provides a historical analogue to the proliferation of Jesuses (Jessi).

    In the far future, an historian studying David Crockett is going to have hair pulling fits.

    The future historian would find evidence of a Crockett cult, and Crocket academics would endlessly debate what constitutes the real Crocket canon, old documents and if so which ones, or the movies or the TV series. Crockett academics would divide themselves into the mythicist and historical camps and engage in nasty name calling, and neither camp would accept the others criteria for authenticating a source.

    He might be lucky and find a few dry as bones records in the early 19th c. confressional record about a rural Tennessee career politician. However, these would be discounted by the Crockett mythicists as later forgeries created to “make real” the already existing Crocket legend.

    Some Tennesse newspaper archives might contain fragments about Crocketts re election tours and stump speechs. He might be mentioned in passing in a few diaries.
    Period newspapers if he could locate any, would contain far fetched self promoting tall tales that Crockett told while campaigning.
    Almanacs and dime novels written after his death would contains spurious quotes attributed to him and fictional stories about him. These latter documents would by the Crockett mythcists to show tat he was a literary creation, never a real man.

    The historian would have to decide how the Crockett, the Alamo hero and martyr died, was his body found clutching a knife or clubbed rifle under a heap of the Mexican soldiers he had killed, or did he survive the final mexican assault only to be “adobed” (put up against a wall and shot) at Santa Ana’s orders.
    Does the fact that there are two conflicting stories about hisdeath show that he was a myth with no basis in fact, so that conflicitng stories were created at seperate times by two different Crocket communities.

    Or did Ben the Slave tell thenoble death story to curry favor with his white american hearers, while the female survivor and Mexican army officer tell their story about the execution of Crockett either to blacken Santa Anna’s reputation, or to suggest that Crockett was not a hero who dies fighting.

    Are the movies which would be the most numerous surviving “records” about Crockett myth or history. Does the format or date of these prodcutions affect their historical value.
    Crockett enthsiasts would claim the movoes present the real Cockett, and are accurate and real because they are the most numberous of the surviving records about him. The lateness of the witness does not matter, nor the fact they are mostly duplicates of one another, they would claim what is important is the sheer number of these shiny polycarbonate disks with Crockett data, as opposed to the paucity of old paper records.
    David Crockett was a man who bcame myth, and the mythtookon a life of its own and over shadowed the historical man.
    However, one could also use Paul Bunyon, the giant woodsman and his blue ox, as the basis for ones analogies. In this case there was no underlying man, only a myth or tall tale from the very start, that propagated and became a collection of stories.

    The question one is left with is: Is Jesus like David Crockett or is he like Paul Bunyon.

  11. The Jesus historicists are desperate to find Tennessee-Galilee political-figure type evidence and for this reason clutch through the most obvious slippery layers of Josephan forgery to hang on to a few threads of belatedly attested inconsistencies. Q is essential, and some need invisible Aramaic documents as well. Or failing these, there is also Paul, but only studied as filtered through the prism of the Gospels, never directly. And the foundation of it all is that final and unassailable QED:”Can’t think of no reason anyone would have made it up!”

  12. JW:
    I see at least 4 (Irenaeus, look out!) potential (mis)uses of Names by “Mark” for Literary reasons:

    1) Using the same name to compare/contrast characters

    2) Using names to support/make a theological point

    3) Selecting names with a meaning useful for presentation of a character

    4) Using names to parallel the past

    The use of the “Bar” pre-fix may be the best potential evidence of Contrivance with “BarAbbas” and “BarTimaeus”. You have the Aramaic pre-fix “bar” meaning “son”. This is A’s pleasing language, the use of special/unusual wording to emphasize and what could be more important than the contrast of choice between Barrabas and Bar Abbas? Note that here we have the contrivance on both ends, with “Bar” and “Abbas” meaning “father” in Aramaic”. We also have the link to the source Paul, who does the same thing, in a Greek writing, refer to God as “Abba”. Not very subtle once you know the meanings but to an original Greek audience that did not know the Aramaic meanings, to be able to discover/have revealed the meaning of “Bar” and “Abbas” and “BarAbbas” comes straight from Paul saying you have to look for and discover with Spirit the meaning of what was written (think of a treasures in Heaven hunt where “Mark” has laid out all the Easter eggs to be found). The contrivance is so clear here one can only wonder how “Mark” could have made it more contrived and as my ancestor Caiphais said, “What more criteria evidence do we need?”. I think you can see now Neil how important Timaeus dual theology was to “Mark” (BarTimaeus).

    More requiring of criteria to detect contrivance and with apologies to Mikeloseo are the names of Jesus’ supposed brothers. Criteria always consist of two broad categories, the Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitatively, the question is HOW important is the contivance potential, or specifically here, the replacement of family with new family. We would all agree that the answer here is “very”. The Quantity criteria is based on repetition and percent. To what EXTENT is there quantity of potential contrivance. All four names of Jesus’ brothers are used for other characters:

    “Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?”

    “Simon” is used for 3 other characters, (also note that Simon is last here). “James” is used for 2 other characters, “Joses” is used for 3 other characters and Judas is used for one other character. Note that the mother of James and Joses witnessed the Passion from “afar”. We have the repetition here for all names AND individual names. This also coordinates with the “BarAbbas” for Jesus. The percent consideration would be for other names in “Mark” how many are repeated and how important are the characters? Do the Matthew and you’ll see a high weighting here for Contrivance.

    An individual type of contrivance for names is also supported by “Mark’s” contrivance in general and specifically other types of contrived use of names.

    Regarding Goodacre and his pathetic HJ argument, Argument from unlikely historicity (he forgot to add “Matthew” having Joseph names his son Joseph) the objective student should be more concerned with Goodacre’ El-alls evidence than his conclusions.


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