Crossan’s absolute certainty in the historicity of Christ Crucified

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by Neil Godfrey

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I take it absolutely for granted Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E. (p. 372 of The Historical Jesus)

That last “but also” part of Crossan’s sentence addresses the only way we can have any certainty about the past: independent evidence, external controls.

Here Crossan goes beyond the usual subjective assertion that Christians would not have made up the story. Here he acknowledges the primary importance of independent corroboration.

This is good. It is exactly what nonbiblical historians do. They work with verifiable facts. Their task is to interpret verifiable facts and explain the known “facts” of history. (Historical Jesus scholars usually busy themselves trying to find what some facts are. Was Jesus a revolutionary or a rabbi? Did he or did he not “cleanse” the Temple? If there are no verifiable facts then they don’t do the history.)

Everything we need to know we learned as children

I have discussed this in some depth in my Historical Facts and Contrasting Methods posts. It’s a simple truism that most of us learned from our parents, read in the Bible, and that carries right through to normative history and modern-day journalism — Don’t believe every word you are told. Check the facts. Test what you hear.

Bauckham has used Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting to justify a “hermeneutic of charity” that short circuits this truism. He has misapplied a rule that works just fine if you’re a stranger to a town and you ask for directions, or if you have every reason to believe someone really has experienced an event they are telling you about. But historians have learned that one cannot routinely take documentary evidence at face value.

I have cited a 1904 publication by E. Schwartz a number of times in partial support of this basic fact. I have also cited modern historians who have observed that even purportedly eye-witness testimony needs to be corroborated independently (see the Contrasting Methods link above). One should also add Rosenmeyer’s discussion of the epistolary genre and Grafton’s Forgers and Critics (scroll through the Categories drop-down list of Book Reviews and Notes for the links).

It should be obvious that if we opt to believe a narrative has in the absence of any external corroborating evidence then our justification for our belief is going to be circular. I know the Gospel is true because it really happened (or no one would make it up). I know it really happened because the Gospel tells me so.

The Circularity of the Method Is No Secret

Biblical scholars have admitted this. To point out that much that passes for biblical scholarship (or Historical Jesus studies) is based on circular reasoning is to point out the very thing that scholars such as Jim West and Dale C. Allison have made completely clear. (Check the word-search — their name and the word ‘circular’ — for posts where I cite them pointing this out.) Thomas L. Thompson has also observed that Historical Jesus scholars begin with the assumption that there is a historical Jesus to describe.

Contrary to some fatuous responses I have encountered when making this point, this does not mean that most people in ancient history should be erased from our histories. Most people known to us from ancient history are known though multiple independent corroboration and/or first-hand primary evidence. (We have no ‘primary evidence’ — that which is physically located in the time and place of the study — for Jesus.)

There is also a well-known biblical scholar who made exactly the same point. Albert Schweitzer wrote:

[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)

Crossan comes to bury Schweitzer

So let’s return to Crossan. He knows with absolute certainty the historical fact of “Christ crucified” from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it.

And these two “independent witnesses” are the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus.

But hang on. Didn’t Schweitzer say there are “no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls”?

So what’s going on here? Why does Crossan say that Josephus and Tacitus are indeed such controls?

Control 1: Tacitus

Crossan does not attempt to argue or justify why Tacitus should be a corroborating control. He simply is. But Schweitzer observes that there is nothing in the Annals of Tacitus that could not have been learned from contemporary Christians. It is, after all, hardly contemporary with the supposed events. So historians can hardly bet their houses on Tacitus being a genuinely independent control. (There is also that niggling question why no Christian explicitly referred to the Neronian persecution of Christians as we learn from the Annals for a very long time after it supposedly happened.)

Control 2: Josephus

As for Josephus, my how intellectual fashions change. Schweitzer was able to say that there was enough doubt about the authenticity of the passage in Josephus for it to have no value as an independent witness. Crossan himself in the Youtube video Does God Exist? Dr. Borg & Dr. Crossan Respond [Video has been withdrawn from public access: 3rd August 2015] describes the way scholarly attitude towards things Jewish changed in the 1950s. I find it interesting that it was from the same time that scholarly trust in Josephus as a sympathetic or neutral witness of Christianity emerged.

The modern arguments for the authenticity of the Jesus reference in Josephus have been discussed here several times (see the Categories again). In brief, to turn on its head the common “argument” that “no-one would make it up”, it is surely inconceivable that a conservative Jew like Josephus would ever speak even neutrally of a prophet who charged into the Temple to disrupt its worship. The passage in which the Jesus mention appears is also a litany of events that were said to be bringing disaster upon the Jews, and the Jesus passage breaks that thematic train of thought. There is evidence, also, that no-one knew of this passage in Josephus until the fourth century when Eusebius mentioned it.

But Crossan declares that the Josephus’ reference to Jesus enables him to take the crucifixion of Jesus absolutely for granted.

No-one would make it up?

As for Crossan’s claim that no-one would have invented a crucified messiah, this is demonstrably not true. The cult of martyrdom that emerged in the Second Temple period, the way some Jews developed an interpretation of Isaac’s sacrifice as having an atoning and salvific effect (See Levenson in the Categories for details), the biblical messiahs who die or who write psalms crying out for deliverance from death, are some of the indications that a crucified messiah was not such a bizarre idea at all. Paul finds the very notion gives him a personal spiritual thrill.

Faith or Fact?

So where does that leave Crossan’s absolute certainty that Christ crucified is both a theological and historical “fact”?

The Threat of Mythicism Creates Crossan’s Need for Absolute Certainty

It is not hard to see why Crossan must stress his certainty in the historical factness of the crucifixion.

My point, then, is not that there is the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. The point is the provenance of those specific details, quoted dialogues, narrative connections, and almost journalistic hour-by-hour accounts of the passion of Jesus. (p. 375)

Crossan argues at length and in detail that “the province of those specific details, quoted dialogues, narrative connections, almost journalistic hour-by-hour account” is the literature of the Jewish Scriptures — the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets.

Mythicists have argued the same. But Crossan cannot afford to be mistaken for allowing room for mythicism.

Schweitzer was certainly no mythicist, but a partial response to the mythicist arguments was to argue that Christianity needed to build its faith on a “metaphysic” and avoid placing a view of earthly history at the centre and foundation of one’s faith. Crossan appears not to have agreed.

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55 thoughts on “Crossan’s absolute certainty in the historicity of Christ Crucified”

  1. “unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it”

    This is a really poor kind of argument to make. There is no way to prove or disprove it, not way to analyze or evaluate it. This is just another sort of faith argument.

    1. It’s also pretty nonsensical since it’s a quantitative statement (we’re discussing probabilities here) without any kind of quantitative data to back it up. Probabilistic vocabulary being used in areas where quantitative analysis is not being done always raises a red flag for me because it’s usually the mark of someone trying to bully a point into place using the fear of statistics and mathematics that many people have.

      How is it “unlikely”? What is the “likelihood” of a myth like this emerging? What does that even mean? How do you measure it? How can you know? Without answers to questions like these throwing out the word “unlikely” is meaningless. It really seems to mean “I don’t have a good argument for why I believe this, but it seems like the counter would be a strange thing to have happen, so I’m going to call it ‘unlikely’.” But that’s not evidence – that’s not even an argument. And it doesn’t seem at all strange to me that a crucified messiah myth might crop up over time – there are far, far weirder myths out there in the world as anyone who has studied ancient religions should know.

    2. Perhaps there is, though, some pretty strong ‘non-subjective’ counter evidence to such arguments that the story was unlikely to be invented.

      Arguments like Crossan’s suppose that those who would invent such a story would do so because they thought it could form a basis for a successful sect; but that they wouldn’t have invented it because, at the time, it was, in fact, an unappealing story (or so it is claimed).

      One powerful counter to this argument is that it did, in fact, form the basis of a successful sect and therefore it was not, in fact, an (at least) fatally unappealing story.

      So for the likes of Crossan to deny that it was invention on these grounds is to claim that their own judgement (from 2000 years hence) as to what was an unappealing story at the time is more reliable than the judgement of the purported inventors themselves, whose judgements have been proven to be correct.

      I know who I’d go with.

  2. Admitting our Ignorance about the Historical Jesus

    By Mark Goodacre

    “The fact is that we just don’t know. We can’t know. Our knowledge about the historical Jesus is always and inevitably partial. If we take the quest of the historical Jesus seriously as an aspect of ancient history, we have to admit that many of the key pieces must be missing.

    The problem is that we are in denial. We simply do not want to admit that we do not have all the data we need to paint a complete picture of the historical Jesus. Good scholarship is sometimes born from a desire to fill in the gaps, and informed speculation can be a virtue. But over-confidence born out of an unrealistic expectation of the evidence will make future generations wonder what we were playing at.”

    ‘will make future generations wonder what we were playing at.”

    An interesting statement from a Jesus historicist!

    The ‘game’ being played is some version of the Emperor’s new clothes: Endeavouring to dress up, to tart up, the gospel Jesus in ‘historical drag’ (that’s spin on RS). But all it takes is a pesky ‘child’ to see through the facade and expose the emperor’s nakedness….

    1. Mark Goodacre writes ‘According to almost everyone, one of the most certain things that we can know about the historical Jesus is that he was a disciple of John the Baptist.’

      According to Mike Kok, we know that John the Baptist baptised Jesus partly because the Fourth Gospel never says any such baptism took place.

      If the association with John the Baptist is one of the most certain things, then everything must be very shaky.

      After all, Josephus calls John ‘a good man’, hardly a word to be used by Jews about somebody who endorsed a blaspheming wanna-be Messiah, justly executed and later worshipped by idolators.

      I should point out that historical Jesus studies has reached such a degree of sophistication that leading scholars cannot even agree on whether or not Jesus was worshipped, so some scholars will disagree with my last statement.

      1. “If the association with John the Baptist is one of the most certain things, then everything must be very shaky. (Steven Carr)

        Indeed. Why? Because to rely upon Josephus as the final ‘authority’ on anything related to the gospel Jesus story, in this case John the Baptist, is to rely upon very shaky ground. Shaky ground simply because Josephus is not just a historian. Josephus is a prophetic historian – with all the subjective baggage that such a designation incorporates.

        Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis: Robert Karl Gnuse.(1996)

        (Josephus) “He observes that his father, Matthias, belonged to the first twenty-four priestly classes (Life), and through his mother he was connected to the old royal Hasmonean or Maccabean family (Life 8). These priestly and royal credentials not only provided him with respect but gave credibility to his mission as a prophetic historian. Priests were perceived as being well-versed in the skills of interpretation, and a Maccabean ancestor (John Hyrcanus) was portrayed by Josephus as having prophetic skills in addition to being priest and king………………

        “Josephus’ prophetic role as historian merits special attention…..In War 1.18-19 he declares that he will begin writing his history where the prophets ended theirs, so he is continuing this part of their prophetic function. According to Ap.1.29 the priests were custodians of the nation’s historical records, and in Ap.1.37 inspired prophets wrote that history. As a priest Josephus is a custodian of his people’s traditions, and by continuing that history in the Jewish War and subsequently by rewriting it in his Antiquities, he is a prophet. For Josephus prophets and historians preserve the past and predict the future, and he has picked up the mantle of creating prophetic writings. Perhaps, in his own mind he is the first since the canonical prophets to generate inspired historiography….”

        Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus: Rebecca Gray (1993)

        “Josephus presents himself in two different, but overlapping, prophetic roles. He appears , first, as a Jeremiah-like figure, a priest who denounces sin and preaches repentance, whose message is the submission to foreign rule is God’s will, who stands fast against the delusions of false prophets and rebels, and who is concerned, above all, with preserving God’s holy temple. He claims to have been called to perform this role in a dramatic moment of revelation in which he appears, secondly, as a Daniel-type figure, an esoteric wise man who can interpret the meaning of even the most difficult dreams and omens, who understands the prophecies of the sacred books, and who knows God’s plans for kings and kingdoms’ in this portrait, too, I noted a certain priestly element. Like Daniel, Josephus was to rise to a position of prominence under a foreign ruler as a result of his prophetic gifts and would be subject to accusations from envious opponents and rivals.”

        Josephus: War book 3 ch.8

        “….he called to mind the dreams which he had dreamed in the night time, whereby God had signified to him beforehand both the future calamities of the Jews, and the events that concerned the Roman emperors. Now Josephus was able to give shrewd conjectures about the interpretation of such dreams as have been ambiguously delivered by God. Moreover, he was not unacquainted with the prophecies contained in the sacred books, as being a priest himself, and of the posterity of priests: and just then was he in an ecstasy; and setting before him the tremendous images of the dreams he had lately had, he put up a secret prayer to God, and said, “Since it pleaseth thee, who hast created the Jewish nation, to depress the same, and since all their good fortune is gone over to the Romans, and since thou hast made choice of this soul of mine to foretell what is to come to pass hereafter, I willingly give them my hands, and am content to live. And I protest openly that I do not go over to the Romans as a deserter of the Jews, but as a minister from thee.”

        High time, methinks, that NT scholars give Josephus his full title – prophetic historian – and deal with its consequences. Consequences that mean Josephus cannot be taken at face value, cannot be taken literally, cannot be taken historically without outside validation. Historical errors in Josephus? Most probably – but such would necessitate an inquiry into any possible prophetic motivation or interests that may be involved. A prophetic historian deals with historical interpretations as much as historical realities ie. a mix of the real, the historical, and the assumed meaning or interpretation of such.

        1. Thank you MaryHelena, it seems to be forgotten that Josephus, and in fact all historians, particularly, especially, definitely, pre-modern ones cannot be taken at face value. Just because it is Josephus and not Eusebius does not mean that his statements get to slip by with out a criteria check. Is independently attested? Does Josephus have any motive to alter this? This should be applied to all ancient historians.

  3. Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? effectively demolishes the idea that the gospels contain any reliable eyewitness accounts of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It seemed to me that his ultimate goal was to prove that the antisemitic character of the Passion, especially the grotesque commemorations in Medieval Europe, were later, spurious additions. He did such a good job proving the Passion narratives were fabricated from the quarry of the Hebrew Bible, that he cast doubt of the crucifixion itself.

    I think he realized how good a wrecking job he’d done and was compelled to pretend that the external sources are airtight witnesses.

    Have you ever noticed that in NT studies “witness” has a different meaning from common usage? Even an guy who wrote 40, 50, or 100 years after the fact, passing on hearsay evidence, can be called a “witness.”

  4. TIM
    Have you ever noticed that in NT studies “witness” has a different meaning from common usage? Even an guy who wrote 40, 50, or 100 years after the fact, passing on hearsay evidence, can be called a “witness.”

    Not only a ‘witness’.

    But also an ‘independent witness’, even when people also argue that this independent witness was so embarrassed by the traditions in other Gospels that he doesn’t confirm what they say did happen, thus proving by his silence the historicity of the events in the other Gospels that he never writes about.

    1. Are you saying that, for instance, John was unaware of Mark’s gospel, which makes him an independent witness, and that John is silent on the Baptism, because he’s embarrassed by what he read in Mark? Wow. And I thought the Doctrine of the Trinity was complicated.

      I guess you’d call this the Independent-Attestation-Embarrassed-Silence Argument.

  5. Mythicists often point out that Jesus is not mentioned in contemporary writings of historians. I often wonder which sources they mean. Which 1st century historians would we expect to refer to Jesus if it were true that he gathered some sort of following and was crucified by Pilate?

    1. Timeline of Ancient Greek and Roman Historians: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/greekhistorians/p/081309GreekHistorians.htm

      Ancient Historians, Geographers and Biographers: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/historians/Historians_Ancient_Historians_Geographers_and_Biographers.htm

      These lists do not include those whose works are now lost, such as Justus of Tiberius, but who can reasonably be understood not to have contained any reference to Jesus either.

      1. It’s unremarkable that no contemporary historian took notice of Jesus. Far more interesting is the NT epistle-writers’ lack of interest in the earthly Jesus. Think of all the descriptions of Jesus that are common by the third century CE: Teacher, Great Physician, Miracle-Worker, etc. Now try to find examples in the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John. It’s a conundrum.

        1. Agreed. The conspiracy of silence, as Doherty calls it, is a much stronger argument against a historical Jesus.

          But what if we turn this around and argue that there is also a silence on this mythical Jesus? Why is there so little information given on the words and deeds of this mythical person in the epistles?

            1. No,Mark hasn’t dealt with the way Paul is unaware of anything Jesus said or did , other than revelations from the Lord. The Lord often spoke to Paul after his death.

            2. I did like the comment by a Respected New Testament Scholar on that page, that Paul did not mention much about Jesus in case his letters fell into the hands of the Roman authorities.

              They really are desperate to think of anything to explain why Paul writes 16 chapters without referring to the deeds of the person who had allegedly changed his entire world with his teachings.

    2. ‘Which 1st century historians would we expect to refer to Jesus if it were true that he gathered some sort of following and was crucified by Pilate?’

      Mythicists – stop expecting there to be evidence of Jesus.

      A True Scholar does not even expect evidence that Jesus existed, and regards with wonder the naivety of people who expect evidence that Jesus existed. Such people have no concept how history works.

      Why was Jesus regarded as threat to the Roman Empire and somebody his followers regarded as a True King, and yet was so obscure that nobody in the Roman Empire would have written about him?

      1. I’d push it a little further, if you want to prove a “historical” jesus, you are only on a path to prove (if possible) a jesus that nobody wants..

        eg Fred from that capernaum carpentry service..who spoke up about taxes..”which fred was that?” .. “Fred, Joseph’s son!” “you mean Hairy Mary’s nutty Kid?”.. no he was Fred the plumber!”.

        1. This is the point of some “minimalists” who observe that those who attempt to salvage some historical David by transforming him into an insignificant petty chieftain are hardly doing anything to validate the biblical tale.

      2. That really isn’t an issue. I think if you look though the sources the number of historically confirmed instances of some one being executed for a capital crime in the Roman empire, you should come to the conclusion that there were either a lot more executions than the records document or that the Roman empire was an extraordinarily blissful place except when it exploded into full scale rebellion. But this is a good argument for people that don’t read much history, so keep it up, I bet someone will buy it!

        1. Nobody needs to “buy it”. Its just obviously true. People want a Jesus who is a god, and when you find the historical Jesus you will find a man. So, that’s not what people want so they go on believing their Pauline mythology.

          The problem with the mythicist Jesus, by the way, is that it can’t explain where the idea came from that Jesus told the rich young ruler he would have eternal life by keeping the moral commandments from the Torah and other anti-Christian (if you take Christian to mean Paulinist) statements found in the gospels. Especially since the gospels themselves immediately undo the statement by making Jesus say that the man has to give up all his possessions, thus prompting the man to go away sorrowful and without eternal life despite having kept all the commandments perfectly and despite Jesus having just told him he already had eternal life. The gospel writers clearly feel compelled to mention Jesus’ statement to the rich young ruler that he could have eternal life by simply keeping the moral commandments, but they don’t actually agree with the theology that this implies. Its as if they are forced to admit he said it because it is common knowledge, but they have to find a way to explain it away or nullify it in order to keep up their Pauline orthodoxy.

          In other words, it seems to me that both mythicists and historicists are somewhat right. Paul indeed tosses the idea of a historical Jesus and comes up with his own mythological Jesus who is nothing but a contrivance to validate his ludicrous doctrine of justification by faith alone in the blood of a dead god. But that doesn’t mean there was no historical Jesus. Paul is kind of a flake set on changing a religion that was already well established. Even in his epistles this is clear, and the conflict he gets into with the real authorities is undeniable in his own epistles. Paul’s view of Jesus is not the original one but a very personal modification. Despite the fact that the gospels have been written or re-written to conform to Paul more or less, they still testify to a Jesus who certainly didn’t teach Paul’s justification by faith alone (outside of John’s gospels) and didn’t proclaim himself to be God (outside of John). The synoptics present a Jesus who is calling men to repentance and to moral purity, not to faith in himself as God. These gospels preserve something of a historical Jesus despite all their mythologizing and their occasional agreement with Paul’s kooky ideas.

          In the end, the best perhaps we can say of the historical Jesus is that he was a moral reformer who objecting to ceremony being made more important than morality within Judaism: but isn’t that enough? If James is really his brother, then we have confirmation from his next of kin to the same affect: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to help the orphans and widows in their time of need, and to keep yourself unspotted from the world.”

          1. “Its as if they are forced to admit he said it because it is common knowledge…”

            Rey, why does it have to be common knowledge that Jesus, a real person, said it? Couldn’t it have been that there was common knowledge of a (perhaps fictional) story in which he is portrayed as saying it?

      1. Is that the same JP Holding who claims Roman historians wrote about Jesus, as Tacitus got his information from Roman historians?

        But I agree there is no evidence for Jesus, and Holding is right to point out that mythicists should not expect to be shown evidence for Jesus.

      2. Does anyone use the absence of any undisputed record in secular history as a positive argument for mythicism? I suspect such a detail is mentioned as a necessary and valid bit of information, but other arguments are used as the basis of a mythical Jesus.

        1. I think it usually occurs as a response. The historicists claim that there is reliable, early, external, independent evidence (see Crosssan above). The mythicists say there isn’t, and explain why.

          The historicists’ catty response: “Well, what did you expect?!”

          The argument from silence, however weak one might consider it, is generally focused on figures such as Paul (or whoever wrote those epistles). Imagine you’re the Apostle to the Gentiles and you’re writing a thesis paper for the Roman church. You’ve never been there; you haven’t met the congregation yet. You want to make a good impression, and you want to explain your gospel to them in the most persuasive terms you can think of. Don’t you think you would have quoted Jesus or used incidents from his life to make your points? Don’t you think a midrash on Abraham is bit obscure?

          In his letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, Exodus, Malachi, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joel, 1 Kings, Job, and Proverbs. Didn’t the Great Teacher say anything that Paul could have used to further his case? Apparently not. Paul’s gospel is not the gospel “of” Jesus but the gospel “about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings…” (Rom 16:25b,26a, NIV)

          1. TIM
            In his letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, Exodus, Malachi, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joel, 1 Kings, Job, and Proverbs.

            Maurice Casey says we should not expect Paul to write about incidents in Jesus’s life, because people who expect that simply do not understand the genre of letters, which were about particular problems facing churches Paul was writing to.

            This is, of course, totally ad hoc, and an explanation made up after the fact that Paul does not use examples from Jesus life.

            As is shown by the way Paul quotes from Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, Exodus, Malachi, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joel, 1 Kings, Job, and Proverbs.

            There is no way of explaining Paul quoting from Joel but Paul not explaining what Jesus said to the disciples without ad hoc explanations.

            But then historical Jesus studies consist of producing one ad hoc explanation after another.

            1. It might prove to be an interesting exercise to go through Paul’s letters to see what Paul does find it necessary to refer to — presumably because his readers were unfamiliar with X. I’m thinking already of the Jewish scriptures — were his Jewish and gentile audience simply unaware that Jesus was supposed to have fulfilled any of the scriptures?

              We have the Roman church presumably established by Jews returning from Jerusalem after the events of Pentecost after the Passover at which Jesus was killed. What did they fail to share with their gentile brethren that Paul found necessary to explain?

            2. “There is no way of explaining Paul quoting from Joel but Paul not explaining what Jesus said to the disciples without ad hoc explanations.”

              He was hired by the High Priest to destroy the church. He tried violence. Didn’t work. He faked a conversion and call to apostles. Then he destroyed the church from the inside by de-jewishizing it and turning it into a pagan thing. He doesn’t quote Jesus because Jesus was totally against everything he is trying to teach. He isn’t coming as an interpreter of Jesus but a destroyer. His message is not “this is what Jesus really meant when he said xyz.” His message is “Jesus really wasn’t a teacher. He was a sacrificed god. You won’t be saved by obeying his teachings. You’ll be saved by believing that he was sacrificed for you.” And to prove that the Messiah’s purpose was not to teach you something by which you would be saved but was to be SACRIFICED for you, Paul runs all over the Tanak picking up whatever he can contort to his purpose.

              Even the Jews who wrote the Toldoth Jesu picked up on this, when they asserted that the Sanhedrin hired a wise man, who among the Notzrim is called Paul, and sent him for the express purpose of separating the Notzrim from Israel by giving them new ordinances which would make it impossible for there to be any unity. Obviously the Lord’s Supper, the cannibalistic feast of drinking Jesus’ blood, is intended here, since that would certainly forever affect the separation of Christians from Judaism.

              Is this ad hoc?

          2. Tim, the depiction of Jesus in the Epistles is an interesting question, but I don’t think it gives as much support to mythist as is claimed, as B. Warrant mentioned earlier, they never spell out what the Myth is. I think then the slight bit of evidence that the silence of the epistles might bring to a Myth theory is counterbalanced by the parts where it does refer to Jesus as a human on Earth. Doherty has alternate reading for these, but well, that was a whole other discussion.

            1. It goes to the heart of the historicist claims. Whether it’s Casey, Crossan, Borg, or Ehrman, the claim is that we can reconstruct what the earthly Jesus “must have been like” by examining the earliest evidence. He’s supposed to have been a Jewish teacher from Galilee who either did or did not proclaim an apocalyptic message. He was a sage/healer/magician whose followers remembered his sayings and deeds.

              I submit that every book after the Acts in the NT portrays a different sort of Jesus from this itinerant preacher.

              1. “I submit that every book after the Acts in the NT portrays a different sort of Jesus from this itinerant preacher.”

                Do you mean all works written after the book of Acts was written, or the works in the New Testament canon as arranged in the Bible, or works written after the time period depicted in Acts?
                I am assuming the works as they are arranged in the Bible since that would suppport your position.

          3. “In his letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, Exodus, Malachi, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joel, 1 Kings, Job, and Proverbs. Didn’t the Great Teacher say anything that Paul could have used to further his case? Apparently not.”

            Right, because Paul’s doctrine is absolutely contrary to what the historical Jesus taught and to what his actual Jewish followers believed. That was his whole point in creating the mythical Jesus who is nothing but a sacrificed god and in going around and contradicting Peter, James, and John everywhere he could. The real Jesus taught that “he that does righteousness is righteous” (as James says) and Paul wants to teach that all you have to do to be justified (i.e. made righteous) is believe in the death of a sacrificed god. Well, obviously, he’s not going to be able to find a saying from the real Jesus to that affect, so either he has to make one up or try to prove his strange doctrine by an obscure midrash on Abraham. Now the gospel writers after Paul opt to make up these sorts of sayings, particularly John. But apparently Paul thought he would be better off relying on the sophistry skills he learned in Pharisee school about how to twist the Tanak and contort it.

  6. PS, thanks for exposing me to that youtube video.

    Please, give me W.L. Craig any day. These guys sound like the dalai llama on a day where they have lost faith.

    I much rather watch Craig’s comedy math routine than telling me that the apologist fall back is the general view of god rather than sheepish tradition.

    Christians love Jesus (and Mary). Islam loves the prophets and Mary but above all {God]. Christians have a MAJOR problem with God.

    Its what Christians do in their traditional separation from god that makes them unique. I’ve never seen Craig and the populist cohort (for and against) address this. Now, I see a separation from separation from God in a youtube.

    No wonder we nihilists get confused. Goodness knows how christians feel.

  7. Often when one studies the history of Christianity they hear the name Josephus. And often people argue about a reference to Jesus in Josephus. The reference is called the “Testimonium Flavianum”. Many years ago, religious professionals decided that these 126 words were inserted into copies of Josephus by Christians. The inserted text reads as follows;

    Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

    There is another collection of words from Josephus that I would like to consider today.

    AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.


    I have wondered over the last few days if this paragraph may tell us more about early Christianity than the more famous one.

    You will notice that I bolded a very short mention of “Jesus” and “Christ” in this paragraph. But here is what I want you to notice. If you take out the 11 words I have put in bold, it has nothing to do with Jesus. It is an account of the killing of James the Just.

    Why might this be interesting? Well, we read in some of the “pauline” letters, and the text of Acts there was disagreement between the character we call Paul, and the Character we call James. In fact, it is the first of a long series of disagreements within the Christian community. Not between Christians or people that would be come to be called Christians and others, but a disagreement inside the community of What would eventually be called Christians itself.

    Could what we call Christianity have begun as an argument between the James the Just group, and Paul group? Now, let me be clear… I don’t mean between two sets of follows of Jesus that argued after his death. I am saying, for a moment, pretend that a Jesus character never existed. Could the very early Christian arguments between this James group, and a Paul group have taken place?

    Robert Eisenman in his book James, The Brother of Jesus, talks in great detail about a James character, being the head of the Essene community at Qumran, and even an alternate Jewish High Priest that entered the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple. He also makes a case that it was the killing of James that started the uprising that that lead to the fall of Jeruselam. This idea is also traditional from other sources, that the riots that lead to the fall of Jerusalem were a result at Jews being outraged at the killing of James the Just.

    Eisenman also provides a role for the character we know of a “Paul of Tarsus”, as the character in the Dead Sea Scrolls called “The Spouter of Lies”. This is important because we also see in certain early Christian scriptures disagreements between The Paul character and the James character.

    Also, if you look at a very interesting sentence from what is considered an early “Pauline” document, it reads;

    Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia

    Notice the bold. Now read the text ignoring the bold. Without “the Lord’s brother”, the text makes perfect sense as Paul saying that he went to visit Peter and James in Jerusalem.

    There are a number of other little things that have gone through my mind that makes me wonder this general idea…

    The more famous Josephus text about Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum, which historically has been accepted as a later addition by Christians, makes perfect sense when we look at the OTHER “Christ” reference in Josephus. The addition of “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was” allows us to SHIFT the importance of that paragraph from what might been Josephus reason for including the paragraph. To tell use about this very famous priestly figure known as James the Just, that he was killed, and why. And it allows the reader to overlook that and see it simply as a mention of the the brother of the “Christ”. Who is this “Christ”? Well that is why the Testimonium Flavianum is now needed to explain to people that would then say “But this ‘Christ’ he talks about here, he doesn’t mention anywhere else”. Well, once the Testimonium Flavious is added, he HAS talked about the Christ, so when you read the James the Just reference you can now concentrate on the “ah! that’s Jesus brother”.

    This is something to look into a bit further.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    1. Or how about Josephus having in mind something other than the assumed gospel Jesus and his assumed brother James. In other words, the passage is neither historical re these NT figures or a forgery or an interpolation.

      The Roman Governor Lucceius Albinus is dated around 62/64 CE. A date that is 100 years from the 37 BC siege of Jerusalem by Herod the Great and the crucifixion and beheading of the Hasmonean King of the Jews, Antigonus. 100 years since the murder of an anointed (messiah figure) King of the Jews. All Josephus is doing here is remembering that event, drawing attention to it, in a manner that could get by under the Roman radar. Lets not forget we are dealing with a prophetic historian writing during a time when his own Jewish people are under Roman domination.

      Ant.book 14.ch.16

      “….so they were murdered continually in the narrow streets and in the houses by crowds, and as they were flying to the temple for shelter, and there was no pity taken of either infants or the aged, nor did they spare so much as the weaker sex; nay, although the king sent about, and besought them to spare the people, yet nobody restrained their hand from slaughter,”

      The 100 year anniversary of this terrible siege of Jerusalem would be of more interest to a prophetic historian than any current gossip regarding some unknown brother of some unknown Galilean itinerant preacher.

      Regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran and the Essenes. I’m on the side of Rachel Elior in this debate. Josephus has taken Philo’s idealistic Essenes, his philosophical Essenes, and dated them – thereby turning them into pseudo-historical Essenes. Three of the Josephan Essenes are prophet like figures; the fourth a general in the army. Philo’s Essenes have been given a new life and new identities under the pen of our prophetic historian Josephus.

      1. It couldn’t be that these guys read Philo and then styled themselves Essenes? I mean your certainty that Josephus is making fictional essenes historical smack of the same desperation as when Christians say that the government putting a chip in people is a fulfillment of the mark of the beast passage. What, it couldn’t be that the evil monsters in the government just read Revelation and said “heh, that sounds like a good idea! lets do that mark of the beast thing”? You too much underestimate the tendency of people to pick up ideas from books and put them into practice.

        1. Judas the Essene:

          Ant.13, book 11, par 2, page 282 and War. Book 1, ch.3. par 5. Page 432

          Judas, ‘who never missed the truth in his predictions”, predicted the death of Antigonus = who was killed in 104/103 BC.

          That’s the dating of the first of the Josephan Essenes – backdated long before Philo put pen to paper…Whether a later day community used the writing of Philo to name themselves is something that would have to have some historical verification. The situtation as it stands relates to the fact that Josephus has backdated his Essenes to a period of time long before Philo put pen to paper…

    2. ‘and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James,’

      Was that the best way to make sure that the readers of Josephus knew he was referring to Jesus of Nazareth?

  8. Someone recently emailed me a draft of a book he is hoping to publish about the origins of Christianity, and his argument was very similar to what you are suggesting here, Rich. (Names quoted for the cover blurb offering praise of the book included Bruce Chilton, Richard Dawkins and James Crossley — so the argument is persuasive.)

    Granting the assumptions underlying the argument, it is plausible. My doubts arise over whether we can take Galatians at face value. Some dismiss the idea of Paul’s letters being second century productions to be extremist crackpotism. I think the idea is a reasonable conclusion derived from standard means of dating ancient documents. But I obviously could be wrong, of course. So I simply prefer to avoid making a case based on Paul’s letters: I just don’t know how to read them.

    It would be interesting to find ways to test your view — does the other early Christian literature contain evidence that supports this possibility?

    (Unfortunately the author who emailed me his draft — he had tried to send it to me twice earlier since January this year — did a Steph/Crossley like tizzey when I finally, after repeated urgings, spilled out the reasons for my reluctance to offer unqualified praise for it. C’est la vie.)

    1. The idea that Paul’s letters are second century productions possibly by Marcion is one that I at one time accepted. But then I realized that the likelihood of Marcion making his hero look like an egomaniacal crackpot who couldn’t even keep control over his church is very small. The psycho that we are reading is definitely the real Paul. Someone creating a hero would have created something more ideal. I also accepted at one point that the pastorals are not Paul’s work but are deutero-Pauline. But there also we find the admission in Timothy “all Asia has rejected me.” That I’m not sure what to do with. Since Marcion didn’t accept the pastorals it can’t be from Marcion. Would the orthodox have made Paul rejected by all Asia? Or are we dealing with the real Paul admitting to his close friend that in the aftermath of his failure in Galatia to convince the Galatians that he was a real apostle, the epistle to the Galatians backfired very badly and all Asia woke up and smelled the false apostle and gave him the boot. The orthodox making up a rejection of Paul by all Asia doesn’t fit their supposed purpose for forging the pastorals, i.e. to make Paul orthodox and get his less orthodox sounding works accepted into the canon. Nor would Marcion who didn’t even accept the pastorals have invented them, and what good would invented a rejection of Paul by all Asia have done for him? Again, it seems we are dealing with the real Paul.

      1. I have heard it argued that the second century author of the Pastorals was planting the idea that the area of Asia turned away from the original Paul, and this served the purpose of associating the Marcionites (who dominated throughout Asia) with the descendants of those who had really apostasized from Paul’s teaching. Seen this way, the Pastorals were an attempt to claim Paul for the “orthodox” and brand the Marcionites as “twisting Paul to their own destruction”.

  9. McGrath is now relying on the criterion of embarrassment as an ‘healthy antidote’ to mythicism,with the baptism by John as centre stage.


    Here is my latest response to McGrath’s claim that the Christians could not drop the story of the baptism, no more than biographers of JFK can leave out the assassination , as the two events are presumably equally famous in their time.

    “JFK’s supporters would have dropped his assassination from the story if they found it embarrassing.”

    You mean in the way that ‘John’ dropped the baptism because he found it embarrassing.

    ‘You cannot deny embarrassing realities because others, particularly your opponents, won’t let you simply forget inconvenient happenings and rewrite history.’

    You mean like the way John dropped the baptism altogether?

    Are you seriously saying that Christians would be unable to write a Gospel without saying Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist?

    When you know perfectly well that ‘John’ did precisely that?

    ‘You can often simply fabricate when it comes to things like teaching, when it is plausible to suggest that maybe others just weren’t around at the time. Public events are a different story.’

    Public events are a different story?

    These people also claimed that there was a world-wide darkness that lasted 3 hours.

    And yet they were somehow compelled to write the truth about public events, because everybody would have called them on fabricating public events?

    ‘You seem to envisage a fantasy world where Christians never tell their beliefs and stories to anyone else, and reality has no impact or control on their storytelling.’

    I live in a fantasy world where Christians write Gospels omitting details like baptisms, and fabricate public events that everybody knew did not happen?

    But that is the world of the Gospels- a world where public events were fabricated and where Christians could and did omit baptisms when it suited them.

    This is not a fantasy world I have created. As you well know, Christians certainly found it easy to simply cut out from history anything they found embarrassing.

    Luke/Acts could even remove all mention of Jesus having James as a brother,so there is no need whatever to accuse me of living in a fantasy world where Christian Gospellers could select the ‘facts’ they wanted to report and omit others.

    The fact remains that the embarrassment over the baptism can be traced to when Mark wrote it, thus by the criterion of embarrassment it had not been subject to 30 years of Christian spin-doctoring that would have happened if there had been 30 years of embarrassment.

    1. McG: “You cannot deny embarrassing realities because others, particularly your opponents, won’t let you simply forget inconvenient happenings and rewrite history. In such cases the best you can do is damage control.”

      That’s an interesting claim. Does it hold up under scrutiny? Again and again they tell us, “No early Christian would have made that up.” We counter, “Here are several reasons why an early Christian might have made that up.” Their response? Silence.

      They say that as successive authors revise earlier stories, they re-frame them because of embarrassment, but they can’t drop the story altogether, because “others won’t let you . . . rewrite history.” And when we say, “In every case we can demonstrate that later Christians did change or omit the story, thereby rewriting history, and that antiquity does not prove authenticity,” what’s their response? Silence.

      One of the most absurd uses of the embarrassing criterion of embarrassment is the attempt to prove the historicity of the crucifixion. People will actually argue that it must have happened, because it was a shameful way to die. Seriously? That’s the story. First of all, in contradiction to the criterion we know that Thomas and presumably Q were gospels with no Passion narratives. We know of gnostic gospels in which the death and resurrection of Jesus are either downplayed or completely missing. But more importantly for Paul and Mark the whole point of the story is the triumph over death and the atonement by sacrifice.

      The criterion of embarrassment can only convince those who desperately want to be convinced, and that’s a real shame.

      1. Exactly. One might extend this to say that McG et al accuse mythicists of not engaging with the scholarly arguments, but the fact is the reverse. Mythicists DO engage with the scholarly arguments; historicists avoid engaging with the mythicist arguments. As I posted in another series of comments on another post:

        I don’t think they bother to listen to mythicist responses — even when mythicist arguments are repeats or quotations from the same arguments of historicists. I was trying to understand why our recent friend Steph would persistenly ignore opposing arguments and cry abuse or respond with abuse herself when pushed on this glaring fact often enough.

        I was reminded of an interview with an American general I once saw: he was asked how he would respond to those who claimed that the people he was fighting believed they were merely trying to defend their homeland from occupation and be responsible for their own affairs, etc. His repy was memorable: “If you said that then I would say you are on the side of the enemy.”

        That is, there is no interest in dialogue. People like McGrath and Casey/Steph et al are in an adversarial position against mythicism and to engage with the arguments of mythicists seriously is not the way one attempts to destroy those one sees as the enemy.

    2. Oh Steven! Are you resorting to the facts and non-circular logic to rebut a theologically grounded faith argument, again? How many times do you have to be told that faith is offended by facts. The only biblical scholars or people who want to get along with biblical scholars who are allowed to address the facts and logic of the arguments are those who are mentally robust enough to happily live with incomprehensible mystery of double binds.

  10. RE Comment by Tim Widowfield

    “It’s unremarkable that no contemporary historian took notice of Jesus. Far more interesting is the NT epistle-writers’ lack of interest in the earthly Jesus. Think of all the descriptions of Jesus that are common by the third century CE: Teacher, Great Physician, Miracle-Worker, etc. Now try to find examples in the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John. It’s a conundrum.”

    Tim, The entire Josephus issue may be something that others have not thought of. Josephus not addressing Jesus at all may not have been a “issue” until later. If christianity initially grew with a Pauline type Spirtual “Christ” character, and only later evolved into a human Jesus idea (perhaps during their battles with other Christian groups) We don’t really know all the early Christian groups, and what exactly they battled about. While Irenaeus mentions well over a dozen other Christian groups, we don’t really know what they believed, because later all their documents were destroyed. We only know what Irenaeus wants us to know about the other groups. So again, we have no REAL idea exactly how the Christianity story developed, either initially, or through it’s multi-group battles.

    Josephus issues may have developed early or later, it is impossible to tell at this point. This problem may have been that Josephus DID mention a John the Baptist, and a James the Just. And the problem was that these two characters were mentioned as living around the time that the Christians created the Jesus story to have taken place.

    By adding a few extra words to Josephus facilitated both the prior problem of Josephus not mentioning Jesus, but also gave just enough connection between the two religious characters of that time that Josephus did mention to fit into developing Christian story.

    Also see my essay at http://t.co/moxxcOu for more details of the few words that would be required.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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