Jesus’ life in eclipse: Reviewing chapter 6 of Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man

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by Neil Godfrey

Added two concluding paragraphs 2 hours after original posting, along with typo corrections.

total_eclipse-thumbIn the first section of the Jesus Neither God Nor Man Earl Doherty had in part argued that the early Christian correspondence is silent on

  • ethical teachings from Jesus,
  • Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions
  • and Jesus’ calling of apostles during an earthly ministry.

In the next two chapters he argues that New Testament epistles are just as silent with respect to the life of Jesus itself.

This survey will . . . demonstrate that Christian documents outside the Gospels, even at the end of the 1st century and beyond, show no evidence that any traditions about an earthly life and ministry of Jesus were in circulation. Even in regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection, to which many of the documents refer, there is no earthly setting provided for such events. (p. 57)

Doherty also states that while modern critical scholarship has long rejected many elements of the Gospel narrative as unhistorical, he intends to examine all of them — miracles included — to show that the Gospels are unreliable as an historical record and provide no basis for supporting the historicity of Jesus.

In chapter 6 he examines the silence in the epistles concerning the life of Jesus from birth to the Last Supper. I offer my own perspective on a couple of Doherty’s points, the genre of the gospels and characterization in them, and the significance of geographical references.

To prepare against any criticism that the arguments in this chapter are “merely based on silence” and therefore invalid, Doherty has discussed in an earlier chapter that there are certain times when silence in the record can be very compelling, and I have posted on Doherty’s discussion about this some time back in The Argument from Silence. Remember the significance of the dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes mystery.

A Mortal Son of Mary

Doherty begins with the testimony of Ignatius, conventionally dating him around 107. He cites his epistle to the Trallians 9 in which he pleads that Jesus “really was” the son of Mary, “really was” born, “really was” crucified under Pilate. Ignatius appears to be arguing for the very literal historicity of Jesus Christ. But, Doherty remarks,

He does not seem to be familiar with a written Gospel, for he does not appeal to one to support his claims.

Doherty adds that no-one before Ignatius shows any knowledge of biographical details about Jesus (apart from the Gospel authors). The one possible exception, he notes, is 1 Timothy 6:13 which he thinks may have been written a little later than the letters of Ignatius, and which he reserves for discussion in a later chapter.

1 Peter 3:1-6 instructs Christian women how to live and offers Sarah from the patriarchal era as a model.

Mark 6:1-6 simply enumerates the names of Jesus’ mother and brothers and never mentions them again. It appears, writes Doherty, that a family lineup has been introduced simply to illustrate the proverb, that is the message of this anecdote, that a prophet always has honour but not in his own home town or with his own family.

Other Mary’s are mentioned in the gospel, and some have suggested another of these is also the mother of Jesus, but Doherty writes that there is no proof of that, and with reference to that other Mary in chapter 15 and 16, adds

it would certainly be an oddity to think that Mark decided to spread his “Mary” references around to touch on her as the mother not only of Jesus but of two of his brothers, one being totally obscure. (p. 58)

Of the Nativity scenes in Matthew and Luke, all other 1st-century Christian record is silent. Not even non-Christian historians mention an unusual star at the time or the slaughter of the infants by Herod.

The author of Revelation (John) depicts a woman giving birth to a son who is destined to rule the nations, but her babe is snatched up to heaven the moment he is born and the woman is driven into the wilderness. Doherty points out that there is no indication by this author that he has any knowledge at all of the Nativity of Jesus in Matthew and Luke in mind when writing any of this. The scenario is, rather, an adapted from mythical elements from a story Apollo and Leto.

Was Jesus Circumcised?

Luke 2:21 is about the circumcision of Jesus. The oddity that Doherty points out, however, is that though circumcision was a major controversial issue in Paul’s ministry, one that is tied up with the question of the observance of the wider Jewish law and salvation itself, the supposed fact of Jesus’ own circumcision at no time enters the debate. Paul does not even feel any need to address arguments of his opponents who might have been expected to appeal to Jesus’ circumcision for support. Paul even writes in Galatians 5:2-4 that anyone who is circumcised is cut off from Christ. Doherty asks how it is possible for anyone who had been aware of Jesus’ own circumcision could write that anyone appearing to emulate Christ would be cut off from Christ.

There are anomalies within contradictions here. (p. 60)

Brother of the Lord

I will simply summarize in point form the opening arguments Doherty raises here in addressing Paul’s claim to have met “James, the brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19.

  • The term “brother” appears throughout Paul’s letters meaning nothing more than “fellow Christians”: 1 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1. 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 6:5-6.
  • “Brothers in the Lord”, as in Philippians 1:14, suggests that this is the meaning of James as the brother of the Lord.
  • James seems to have been the head of a Jerusalem community, bearing witness to a spiritual Christ, who called itself “brethren of/in the Lord”
  • The phrase is alway “of the Lord” and never “of Jesus”, and there is always the possibility that Lord refers to God.”
  • “Brother” was also a designation for initiates in Greek mystery cults.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5 refers to both brothers of the Lord and to a sister wife. While many commentators assume the brothers refer to male siblings of Jesus, the word for sister is always said to refer to a female member of the sect.

The more archaic rendering as “brethren of/in the Lord” conveys the right connotation: it refers to a community of like-minded believers . . . . (p. 60)

  • Ephesians 6:21 and Hebrews 2:11-12 speak of “brother” being linked with Jesus in a spiritual sense — as spiritual brothers of Jesus.

Doherty sums up:

It is surprising how frequently apologetic argument maintains that “brother” in Galatians 1:19 has the ‘natural’ meaning of sibling when the vast majority of cases use the word in a sense which has no such meaning. (p. 61)

There is sometimes more to the argument, however, and in addressing this Doherty offers his own suggestion for the significance of the term as applied to James.

Some of the argument revolves around the fact that the phrase “brother(s) of the Lord” does not seem to be applied to everyone in the sect, but rather to a group within it. While this may be due to a certain looseness of language (Peter, for example, is mentioned separately in 1 Corinthians 9:5, but this may be for emphasis and need not mean that he is not one of the ‘brothers’), other explanations are available. My own would be that the Jerusalem sect known to Paul began a number of years earlier as a monastic group calling itself “brothers of the Lord” (possibly meaning God) and after those initial visions revealing the existence of the dying and rising Son as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, this group expanded its ‘mandate’ to encompass apostolic work and attracted satellite members who, while being refered to as “brothers,” were thought of as distinct from the original core group. (A separate reference to “the apostles” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 may address this.) . . . .  (p. 60)

Another aspect to the debate is the particular wording that speaks of “the” brother of the Lord in Galatians 1:19. Some have suggested that this is an indicator that James was a literal sibling, but Doherty replies that no other single individual is ever called “the” brother of the Lord.

In his earlier book The Jesus Puzzle Doherty had argued (with other mythicists) that the term pointed out James’ status as head of the Jerusalem church, but he no longer accepts this view. He posits three important considerations. The first, I think, is worth quoting in full.

  1. First of all, historicist apologists tend to place an astonishing reliance on this particular phrase, Ιακοβον τον αδελφον τον κυριου, as virtually ‘proving’ the existence of an historical Jesus. But the idea that any secure argument can be made in any direction based on such fine wording in a text is an ill-advised one. That article (τον), together with the phrase itself, is first witnessed to in a manuscript written at the time which is almost two centuries after the original. Given what we know about the evolution of texts, the alterations to manuscripts and so on, it is by no means sure how secure any wording, especially a slight one, in a New Testament text should be considered which is that far removed from the autograph. How can a decision be made about key questions base on this inherent degree of uncertainty, an uncertainty justified by the general instability of the textual record visible in the manuscripts we do have? And yet arguments are formulated on such slender reeds all the time — and not excepting by mythicists. (pp. 61-2)
  2. Second, the phrase itself cannot have been understood as singling out James from others in the sect or as the head of a group. Was the word τον written in big caps?
  3. Third, even if we accept the phrase as original to the text, the grammatical significance of the article τον is virtually nil. There is no indefinite article (‘a’ or ‘an’) in Greek, but in Greek grammar the inclusion of the definite article τον, even in Koine Greek as we find in the New Testament, does not mean Paul is placing special emphasis on the brother. Doherty demonstrates this by showing in Romans 16:21 and 1 Corinthians 16:12 three instances where the definite article does not bestow special emphasis on the relationship or role of the persons, and is sometimes not even translated.

So why would Paul have identified James as a brother of the Lord?

Doherty acknowledges we can only speculate: were the readers more familiar with Peter than with James? was there another James in the Jerusalem circle who was not a member of the original sect?

Another point he makes I consider very pertinent also:

All of this having been said, we cannot rule out an even simpler explanation, despite the lack of manuscript evidence to support it. The phrase may have begun as an interpolation or marginal gloss. (Its wording would ideally fit such a thing.) Some later copyist, perhaps when a 2nd century Pauline corpus was being formed and after James’ sibling relationship to the new historical Jesus had been established, may have wished to ensure that the reader would realize that Paul was referring to James the Just and not James the Gospel apostle. In such a case, a marginal gloss of “brother of the Lord” would have been meant in the sense of sibling, but governed by the Gospels, not by any knowledge of how Paul actually viewed the James of his day. (pp. 62-3)

Indications the early Christians knew of no sibling relationship between James and Jesus

In my estimation Doherty’s strongest argument against there having ever been a sibling of Jesus, in particular one named James, lies in the evidence of other first-century evidence. If, as in Galatians 1:19, it was known that there was a church leader James who was a physical brother of Jesus, then we would expect some awareness of such a privileged relationship among others who presented the authority of James to their readership.

The Epistle of James begins by introducing James as a servant of God and Jesus Christ. Few believe the real James wrote this, but Doherty points out that common sense would have led a forger to have identified his James persona as the brother of the Lord Jesus had he known of such a tradition.

We have a similar situation with the letter of Jude. Jude is introduced as the servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, suggesting again that the author had no knowledge of a sibling relationship with the earthly Jesus.

In response to the various attempts to explain the failure of these epistles to identify the blood relationship of their apparent authors to Jesus, Doherty writes:

Attempted explanations for this silence are unconvincing. They ignore the overriding fact that in the highly contentious atmosphere reflected in most Christian correspondence, the advantage of drawing on a kinship to Jesus to make the letter’s position and the writer’s authority more forceful would hardly have been passed up. (p. 63)

Jesus’ Personal Life

Doherty next addresses a characteristic of Jesus in the Gospels I myself had once considered very significant (see the section headed “Characterization in Mark” in my online article discussing Mark as parable) — the two-dimensional character of Jesus in the Gospels. The Gospels nowhere indicate any interest in any personal details of Jesus, his mannerisms, his appearance, etc. despite natural instincts of people to want to know such things of anyone who is so important to their lives. We do, after all, find this sort of information about historic figures in other ancient biographies.

Doherty says that the Gospels are not biographies, but that they are presenting Jesus as little more than a mouthpiece for a group’s teachings and as a figure whose miracle-working deeds are based on stories in the Old Testament. He acknowledges that the Gospels are traditionally called biography, but suggests that they are more like morality plays with their central figure appearing no more real than Pilgrim in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The main book that a number of scholars apparently still continue to cling to to argue the case for the Gospels being of the Biography genre is Burridge’s 1995 What Are the Gospels? (reprinted 2004). Doherty does not discuss Burridge’s work, but I have discussed it in a post outlining and questioning Burridge’s arguments, Are the Gospels Really Biographies?  Since Burridge’s work, a far more scholarly-disciplined approach to the subject of genre has appeared, which is built upon a substantial theoretical understanding of the nature of literary genre itself, and I am thinking in particular of Michael Vines’ The Problem of Markan Genre: the Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel, which I have discussed in the post The First Gospel Was a Jewish Novel? Against such works more deeply grounded in a theoretical base, Burridge’s case for the Gospels being Biographies looks like a superficial list of CliffsNotes.

Other Markan scholars in particular would not disagree with Doherty’s conclusion that the characters in Mark “bear the marks of allegory”. Mary Ann Tolbert, for example, has argued (Sowing the Gospel) that the disciples, and even the name of their leader Peter (‘rock’), are allegorical representations of the seed sprung from rocky soil with its unstable and finally disastrous destiny.

Was Jesus married? — a no-win situation for those claiming Paul knew of a historical Jesus

Doherty points to “a very telling silence in the epistles” — the marital status of Jesus. We know it was the norm for Jewish rabbis and itinerant apostles to be married. If Jesus had been married, then what do we think when Paul asserted the right for himself and other apostles to be married without appealing to Jesus as the example? But then again, what would we make of Paul’s claims that celibacy was a preferable state than marriage? Paul did warn against marriage “in the present circumstances” — presumably facing persecution. So if Jesus (who also faced persecution) was not married, is it not curious that Paul did not appeal to him as a model? If Jesus had been married then would Paul’s instructions on marriage have implied that Jesus was married because he could not control his sexual desires?

Either way, the loaded question of Jesus’ marital status could not have been ignored. (p. 64)

Doherty points out that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, claims not to have had any instructions from the Lord on the question of celibacy.

But Jesus’ own status as a celibate man would have spoken volumes. How could Paul speak of having no instruction from Jesus and not think of his very lifestyle, an action that would have spoken louder than any verbal instruction?

If, on the other hand, Jesus was married, it might be no wonder that he had no instruction from him as to celibacy, yet mention of the Lord would have instantly conjured up images of Jesus being anything but celibate, images that would at the very least have interfered with the efficacy of Paul’s pronouncement. And how could paul offer “his own judgment” if it had been the very contradiction of the Lord’s own behavior? For those who claim that Paul knew of a recent historical Jesus, this is a no-win situation. indeed, it is a virtual smoking gun. (p. 65)

The Waters of the Jordan

Doherty argues that since baptism is the primary sacrament for Paul, and in Romans 6:1-11 he breaks the ritual down into its mystical component parts yet without relating any of these to the experience of Jesus’ own baptism, it is surely unlikely that Paul knew of any tradition that Jesus had been baptized. Had Jesus been baptized, Doherty suggests, the event would soon have become invested with mythic significance, as we can see from the Gospel details of a heavenly voice and a descending dove representing the holy spirit. Yet when Paul writes of the spirit giving new life to the believer by entering him after having emerged from a descent into symbolic death beneath the water, there is no thought of the experience of Jesus at hand. And in Romans 8 which speaks of the adoption of believers as sons of God, there is no knowledge of a voice from heaven declaring Jesus the beloved Son at his baptism. Such mythical trappings were unknown to Paul, and Jesus’ baptism itself is lost from his view.

Doherty also points to the absence of John the Baptist — the herald of Christ — from all other first-century Christian literature. 1 Clement 17 begins

Let us be imitators also of those who in goat-skins and sheep-skins went about proclaiming the coming of Christ; I mean Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel among the prophets, with those others to whom a like testimony is borne [in Scripture].

Doherty quotes this to stress the anomaly of an early writer singling out Old Testament prophets as being heralds of Christ yet without thinking to mention John the Baptist.

He further argues that given the expectation that Elijah was to precede the advent of Christ, it is remarkable that no Christian would have seized upon the role of John to justify their claim that Jesus had been the Messiah — if Jesus had been baptized by such a figure.

Signs and Wonders

If Jesus had been declared Messiah soon after his death, Doherty argues, then traditions of miracles performed by Jesus should have soon followed, since miraculous signs were an indispensable sign of the coming kingdom (e.g. Isaiah 26:19; 35:51).

In that case, it seems strange that Paul, in urging his readers to be confident that the advent of Christ and God’s Kingdom lay just around the corner (as in Romans 8:19, 13:12), would never point to tradition about miracles by Jesus as the very fulfilment of the wonders that were expected at such a time. In 1 Corinthians 1:22 he scoffs at the Jews who always call for miracles to prove Christian claims, but here he should have had the perfect answer for such calls: the signs which Jesus himself had provided, nor would the scoffing have been appropriate. (pp. 66-7)

Doherty points to an apparent anomaly in Hebrews 2:3-4 if the author had any knowledge of traditions that Jesus performed miracles:

3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, 4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

Salvation began to be spoken about by the Lord, was confirmed to those who heard him with God — not Jesus? — backing up the word by miracles. Doherty suggests that if this passage were a reference to an earthly ministry of Jesus it would have been more natural for the author to have spoken of Jesus’ own miracles rather than some testimony by God.

Doherty reasons that the fact we read of an abundance of miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels — and in the earlier Q source of Matthew and Luke — demonstrates that such miracles were expected of a coming Messiah, and that such traditions would inevitably have attached them to anyone who was thought to be the Messiah. He is implying, of course, that though Paul is writing before the Gospels, such traditions should have been widely known by his time if a recent earthly Jesus was thought to have been the Messiah.

Thus, traditions about healings and other signs and wonders should almost immediately have been developed and preserved. (p. 67)

Doherty asks readers to think about James 5:15 in which the author says that if one is ill, he should pray in faith and be anointed, and what will follow is that he will be raised up and his sins forgiven. It appears, he says, that the author has never heard of an event we read about in Mark 2:1-12 where that very thing happened: in response to faith Jesus raised up a man and declared his sins forgiven. Doherty suggests that had the author of James known of this tradition attached to Jesus he could hardly have passed up referring to it to support his promise.

Doherty makes a similar argument in relation to 1 Clement 59:4

59:4 We ask thee, Lord, to be our helper and assister, save those of us who are in affliction, have compassion on the humble, raise the fallen, appear to those who are in need, heal the sinners, convert those of thy people who are wandering from the way, feed the hungry, ransom our prisoners, raise up the sick, encourage the feeble-hearted, let all the nations know that thou art God alone and Jesus Christ thy Son, and that we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture.

Doherty comments:

The Gospels tell us that Jesus did these very things, from healing the sick to feeding the hungry. In God’s own name, as he walked the sands of Galilee and Judea, he pitied, he supported, he comforted, he revealed God. Yet Clement and his community show no knowledge of such activities. (p. 67)

Doherty again refers to Q to show that Paul could have been expected to have known of these traditions of miracles by Jesus. Q (the document widely understood to have been a common source for Matthew and Luke) refers to Jesus’ miracles and raising the dead, thus indicating that such traditions would have been known at the time of Paul. Yet, Doherty points out, when Paul is attempting to respond to doubts that the dead can be raised, as in 1 Corinthians 15:12f, he could simply have ended the debate by referring his readers to the traditions that Jesus himself had raised the dead. Nor does he appeal to Jesus’ own teaching, if we can expect it to have been known to Paul, that the dead do rise.

Four decades later, neither Lazarus nor Jesus’ own promises have yet surfaced. 1 Clement (24, 26) offers examples in nature of “the processes of resurrection,” and God’s promises that the holy and faithful shall be raised are all from scripture. (p. 68)

Unto the Holy City

Doherty remarks that it is no surprise that there is no mention of Galilee as the centre of Jesus’ activities in the NT epistles since the epistles never refer to his earthly ministry.

I have argued that the entire Galilee setting was originally inspired by Isaiah 9:1, and biblical scholar R. Steven Notley argues that the problems of Jesus’ itinerary that are raised in discussions of Mark are resolved once one realizes it is the Isaiah passage that is in Mark’s mind — not any historical or real geographical traditions. Other scholars (Kelber, Weeden) have also argued that the geographical settings of Mark are primarily intended to convey symbolic meanings. And it is hard to avoid, I think, the conveniently apt puns that come with place names such as Capernaum (comfort), Bethsaida (fishing), Bethany (misery) and Bethphage (unripe figs).

But what of Jerusalem? This would surely be harder to avoid if the climactic moments of Jesus’ career took place here. Doherty argues that the absence of any reference to Jerusalem in this context in all first-century Christian literature outside the Gospels is most significant.

Hebrews also fails to associate Jesus with the earthly Jerusalem. His sacrifice is always “outside the camp” or “outside the gate”, as in Hebrews 13:11-13.

For this writer, Jesus’ experience in the realm of myth is being portrayed wherever possible as paralleling the sacrificial cult established in Exodus. . . . referring to the Israelite camp at Sinai. . . . (p. 68)

Doherty discusses these verses in Hebrews showing the way the author had changed his motif as he wrote to settings between the (heavenly counterpart to the) Sinai camp and “the gate”, “more than likely meaning the gate of Heaven.” Had the author meant the gate of Jerusalem, Doherty points out, he would not have reverted in the next verse believers joining Jesus “outside the camp.”

Doherty then considers the earlier passages in Hebrews (7:1-3) where the author is drawing as many parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek — king of Jerusalem and priest of God — as he can.

In comparing Melchizedek to Jesus in the epistle, the writer is anxious to draw every parallel he can between the two figures. Yet he fails to make what should have been an obvious comparison: that Melchizedek had officiated in the very same city where Jesus later performed his own act as High Priest — the sacrifice of himself on Calvary. (p. 69)

Doherty concludes this section by arguing that if the Gospel scenes of Jesus entering the city to a rapturous welcome and then confronting the priests so dramatically, even violently, in the Temple, had been historical, legends about the would have mushroomed very quickly. Yet no one else in the first century indicates any knowledge of them.

The Last Supper

Doherty continues with Hebrews to ask why an author whose central theme is the establishment of the new covenant established by Christ should never once glance at what came to be understood as the institution of the sacramental meal inaugurating that new covenant. Instead, the author finds only parallels in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus — see Hebrews 9:19-20 — and it is surely odd that he fails to make any link at all with Jesus’ supposed last supper. This is especially so if Jesus himself was reported to have used words very similar to those of Moses in Exodus 24:8.

19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”

Again Doherty points to a problematic omission in the earlier comparison of Jesus with Melchizedek. Melchizedek brought food and wine to share with Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20).

Despite the concern for parallels between the two figures, between his own brand of Christian theology and its embodiment in the sacred writings, the writer fails to point to this “food and wine” as a prefiguring of the bread and cup of the eucharistic sacrament established by Jesus. (p. 70)

Doherty calls on the witness of the Didache (compiled toward the end of the first century and later presented as a teaching of the twelve apostles) as evidence that early Christian tradition placed no sacramental significance upon the bread and wine and Eucharist was not even associated with the death of Jesus. See chapters 9 and 10 in the online translation of the Didache.

1. Now as regards the Eucharist (the Thank-offering), give thanks after this manner:

2. First for the cup: “We give thanks to Thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy servant:

Doherty includes a detailed appendix arguing that the Didache knows nothing of a historical Jesus, and that the document always presents the words and teachings of God himself with nothing from Jesus. So in the above passage, this context leads us to understand that the way God “made known” by Jesus is through spiritual channels.

1 Clement is also without any link to a ritual meal originating as Jesus’ last supper.

As for 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and Paul’s words on the Last Supper, Doherty has discussed this earlier in chapter 4 and does so again in chapter 11. He argues that this institution in Paul was comparable to sacred meals in other saviour god cults. The terminology is unique to Paul, and the introduction indicates Paul is basing his teaching on divine revelation. But this is an argument best made in a discussion of chapters 4 or 11.

Doherty’s next chapter considers the Passion story itself.

Till I look at that chapter, I will finish off this survey of Doherty’s argument in chapter 6 by commenting on a common “rebuttal” against the claim that Paul nowhere speaks of Jesus’ as a recent historical figure: Paul in Galatians says that Jesus was born of a woman and in Romans that he was of the seed of David. Doherty discusses both of these references at length elsewhere in his book, but it surely must be considered a poor rebuttal that points to Jesus being “born of a woman” to answer the evidence of Sherlock’s dog who did not bark at what must have been on the grapevine about the miracles, including raising of the dead, the family, the baptism by an Elijah figure, the last days of Jesus, and his personal state regarding the hot topics of marriage and circumcision. My own view is posted at Paul’s Understanding of an Earthly Leprechaun Jesus. Even mythical figures are known to have been “born” and to belong to legendary kingly lines.

As for the details of Romans 1:2-6 in which Jesus is said to have been of the seed of David according to the flesh, I take a different view from Doherty — which he discusses in another chapter. I think that by applying the criteria for interpolations that are set out by William Walker in his Interpolations in the Pauline Letters, there is a very good case for treating this passage as an anti-Marcionite interpolation. I have set out the argument on my resource website. Doherty is much more conservative than I am, however, being more reluctant to consider the possibility of interpolations unless they are much more widely acknowledged in biblical studies literature.

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58 thoughts on “Jesus’ life in eclipse: Reviewing chapter 6 of Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man”

  1. “1 Clement is also without any link to a ritual meal originating as Jesus’ last supper.”

    And 1st Clement is nothing but a quotefest from 1st Corinthians. So its a late addition even to 1st Corinthians, and thus also to the gospels. Undoubtedly the Didache’s symbolism was first, bread = Jesus’ teaching, wine = Jesus is vine of David or Messiah. Paul himself can’t even be credited with imposing the pagan symbolism onto the “Lord’s Supper.” Someone subsequent to Paul borrowed this symbolic cannibalism from Mithraism.

  2. Might I suggest on the phrase “brother of Lord” that Paul uses it sarcastically to refer to James as the one who’s teaching is the closest to the original Christian teaching and hence no as enlightened. In Galatians Paul makes a big deal about not listening to those who were apostles before him, and James the brother of the Lord is clearly the one apostle before him that he is most antagonistic to. It could be a title denoting the old-school nature of his doctrine, a taunt.

    1. Or if Paul is a Gnostic it could be a way of identifying James with the Demiurge rather than the Higher God. Brother of the Lord = brother of the Demiurge. Again, it would basically be the same as attacking James for being too old-school.

  3. “All of this having been said, we cannot rule out an even simpler explanation, despite the lace(sic) of manuscript evidence to support it. The phrase may have begun as an interpolation or marginal gloss.”

    I’m wary of simple explanations that lack evidence to support them. We have all been though the discussion of the brother of the lord, so I won’t rehash the arguments. But if Doherty is so confident, why the need to resort to this? I think he realizes that a lot of people, people who are partial to the idea of a mythical Jesus, are not going to buy this argument. This is why I don’t find Doherty worthwhile, after seeing arguments like this presented by a supporter, why should I think the book has better material?

    Concerning what you think is the most important support for the idea of James not being Jesus brother. First, I will congratulate Doherty for bringing you around to more conservative dates for Galatians, James and Jude. First century? I am impressed, gives us more common ground. Limiting it to first century works is smart, as the later James material doesn’t play up his relation to Jesus either. I’m not sure that Doherty’s common sense should be trusted here. I mean, do the letters receive less authority from people who presume that the letters are from Jesus brothers because they don’t point that out? Since the author call James and Jude, Jesus’ slaves, making a point about Jesus being their brother might undercut the humble tone he is establishing with slave. Of course this is speculative on an authors motive, but Doherty wrote a couple a books using that, so I’ll indulge a bit here.Frankly I don’t know why the letter James doesn’t use the relationship for authority. I also don’t know why Paul doesn’t make use of Jesus’ marital status, but I don’t feel they are proof of doherty’s conclusion.

    1. Doherty has pointed out something that some scholars do acknowledge about the nature of the evidence — and the necessity for us to be tentative in conclusions we draw from it given the uncertainties attached to so much of that evidence. Doherty’s point is valid:

      Given what we know about the evolution of texts, the alterations to manuscripts and so on, it is by no means sure how secure any wording, especially a slight one, in a New Testament text should be considered which is that far removed from the autograph. How can a decision be made about key questions base on this inherent degree of uncertainty, an uncertainty justified by the general instability of the textual record visible in the manuscripts we do have? And yet arguments are formulated on such slender reeds all the time — and not excepting by mythicists.

      The evidence of Galatians 1:19 for James being a sibling of Jesus is ambiguous. It is not at all certain given the ambiguity of the term “brother” and the failure to even mention the name “Jesus”. But even if we lean towards it meaning a sibling of Jesus, then any fair and reasonable approach (as opposed to an apologetic or dogmatic one) needs to balance that against all the other factors that Doherty (and others) point out also must be accounted for in any final judgment.

      (Oh, and I was presenting Doherty’s arguments, by the way. I don’t know why you assume my own views of dating of the epistles have changed. My views are the same: I simply don’t know if Paul’s epistles belong to the mid first century or the second century.)

      1. It would be best to ask a Greek expert, and i am always dependent on them myself. adlfwn en kuriw seems different from ton adelfwn tou kuriw. There a number of places where the phrase x en kuriw (something in the lord), such as friend in the lord, which is what Paul call’s a friend of his in Romans 16:8. I suppose it means that he is a Christian friend, but again, I’m not Greek expert. in light of that I would take Philippians 1:14 to mean Christian brothers. the other, I can only trust the Greek experts that I should read the brother of the lord and not the brother the lord. But the key word en is missing, so I don’t think we should read brother in the lord for James. thats what i make of it.

        As Neil points out there is a probability that any particular word or phrase is not what was originally intended, and I avoid arguments that hinge to much on a word or phrase. I’m not sure what the expected percentage of disintegration on NT books, but there is at least a couple of percentage points chance a particular word is not right, i call it the blur of documents. Don’t know if that will catch on, but basically your never sure exactly what was meant to be said. I brought this up because we have discussed it before, and it is symptom of the Doherty hypothesis that it has a number of these passages that need fixes so they don’t read counter to his understanding of the epistles. Of course I might be willing to accept the arguments if the rest of his arguments made it likely that the Epistles are discussing a purely mythical Jesus, but they don’t. So given the uncertainties of the other arguments, I don’t have much reason to entertain the outside chances on the trouble verses.

        1. Mike it strikes me that Doherty has a lot fewer of these passages than the historicist. If you abandon Galatians 1:19, you lose any early attestation of Jesus having an earthly family. It strikes me that you, Dr. McGrath and the historical Jesus-industrial complex have placed a lot of weight on that single text. Whereas Doherty has large numbers of textual citations from the epistles that suggest the idea that Jesus is a mysterious or mythical entity, and there are very few other verses in the Pauline epistles besides Gal 1:19 that suggest he was not. So if you want to avoid arguments that hinge too much on a word or a phrase, you shouldn’t agree with posts like this where you yourself seem to mock the idea that there was a group called “brethren of the Lord” even though you now seem to think that there was such a group called “Christian brothers” at a time when Christian didn’t exist as a word.

          Isn’t it possible that Phil 1:14, along with 1 Cor 9:5 is the clear “external evidence” that you requested in your first comment to that post that there was indeed a group called “brothers of the Lord”?

            1. Mike, you refer to a line in Doherty’s argument as a “fix” as if it is an ad hoc safety net for a tenuous argument. That is misunderstanding what he writes as much as you have regularly misunderstood much of anything I have ever written.

              What Doherty is covering is the nature of the evidence and the caution we need with that, and how other options are always possible given what we are dealing with. That is not a “fix”. But it is historicists who often do place more weight on very little without regard for the whole state of the evidence.

              Doherty’s approach is defensible.

              And calling someone “odd” is not an argument.

  4. I’m still thinking that, at least in Paul’s case, he did not have access to all the doctrines of James’ group, perhaps due to a rule of concealing them from outsiders, like we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes in Josephus. I also don’t expect to find much (or perhaps any) NT gospel info reflected in pre-gospel writings, mostly because that information appears to be largely made up by people who weren’t “there.” In any event this type of literature doesn’t appear to exist before 70, unless you count the pesharim or messianic proof-texts from Qumran. Another thing I consider is that there may have been no need to write a history of Jesus before 70 because he was expected to return soon. Not trying to defend “HJ’ers,” this is just what I’m thinking.

    1. Doherty’s arguments concerning the failure of the first century Christian literature to reference the Jesus we find in the Gospels are built around what we could expect to surface in the evidence that does exist IF the authors had any interest in a Jesus of recent times. If there had been a historical Jesus who generated such an worshipful response among so many, then we do find so many anomalies and contradictions and avoidances and misdirections and ambiguities against this background in the evidence that does exist.

      The simplest explanation for lack of evidence of X is that X did not exist or had no relevance.

      Then when we do read the Gospels we can see immediately that the narratives and characters do have clear antecedants – they are all in the Old Testament.

      It seems simple enough: no evidence for historicity, or at best a little evidence that is ambiguous; clear evidence for literary fabrication of the Gospel narratives.

      1. I don’t see it as a “failure” of first century Christian literature to reference the Jesus we find in the gospels, since I agree that of course it wouldn’t because the gospel Jesus did not exist yet.

        As for why there is little mention of a “recent Jesus,” I’m only suggesting that, like “other” second temple sects (the Dead Sea Scrolls group and the Essenes), perhaps James’ group also concealed their doctrines from outsiders. The writings in the NT were all written by or to people who were presumably not “insiders.” Paul was free to say whatever he liked, whether the authors of the epistles of James and Jude liked it or not. But the important thing James wanted “others” to know, in any event, is the imminent “coming of the Lord” (5:7-8), and that “the Judge is standing at the doors” (5:9), which is also all he tells the public in Hegesippus: “‘[T]ell us what is meant by the door of Jesus’ … ‘Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, he is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven'” (EH 2.23).

        So dangerous would it have been to say much more than this is evidenced by the fact that even saying this much, according to Hegesippus, caused James to be murdered. I think this is a possible reflection of the climate that James’ group operated in, and explains their “silence” and need for secrecy of the messianic doctrines they held. Only after the war do we see the Gospel of the Hebrews, or, if it’s different, “Q.” By then there was a different set of needs, to explain why Jesus never came back, and time (and freedom) to speculate what he might have done when he was here the first time.

        I admit I’m just guessing, and I just wanted to share the thought with you, and I enjoy your feedback and I’m learning a lot here.

        1. John, if Jesus was a mythical or heavenly being, then it would make sense to make him a mystery concealed from outsiders. But if he was a real, historical person who had been alive during the lifetime of people who were alive at the time the epistles were written, how could you keep him a secret?

          1. It wouldn’t be the existence of Jesus that was the secret, but rather the “meaning” of his life or death. I imagine that it would have been hard (if not impossible) to keep a crucifixion secret, which is why (if it really happened) it was known to the scribes and Pharisees who question James in Hegesippus: “[T]he people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us what is meant by the door of Jesus.” The only things that James was willing to say publicly about what Jesus “meant” (in both Hegesippus and the Epistle of James) were that he was coming and would judge people, and that alone, in the former, ended up getting him killed, which shows how dangerous these ideas were. It even says so in Hegesippus: “[T]here was an uproar among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ.”

            He tells the same things (in Hegesippus) to representatives of sects who also wanted to know what was meant by “the door of Jesus, and he replied that Jesus was the Savior. Some of them came to believe that Jesus was the Christ: the sects… did not believe in a resurrection or in One is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve, but those who did believe did so because of James.”

            It could be argued that this Jesus is mythical (and maybe he is), but Hegesippus, however late, knew the Gospel of the Hebrews, and says that he had relatives.

    2. “I’m still thinking that, at least in Paul’s case, he did not have access to all the doctrines of James’ group, perhaps due to a rule of concealing them from outsiders, like we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes in Josephus.”

      In the Pseudo-Clementine literature Peter sends a copy of his sermons to James with a cover-letter explaining that they must only be read by those who meet certain criteria.

  5. My only problem with the “brother of the Lord” question is that it could be interpreted the way Doherty does or the way Christians like Mark did, and that the convenience of the latter view is that there is then no need to explain what Paul means in Galatians 1:19 or regard Josephus’ “brother of Jesus” comment to be an interpolation (though it’s also debatable). As for 1 Cor. 9:5, I agree that “sister” appears to be used to describe a member of the sect, but a minor quiblle is that the difference here is that they are not being called “sister(s) of the Lord” like the Lord’s “brothers” are. It’s not that I insist that there was an “HJ,” it’s just that these questions don’t seem to have certain answers.

    Another issue I’m starting to have is with the use of the Ascension of Isaiah as evidence that Jesus’ descent was a myth and that the “rulers of this age” are (only) demons. I know it is considered a composite work, and I don’t know if I could say exactly where the “seams” are, but according to the info on earlychristianwritings.com, 9:14 could be regarded as belonging to the same section as ch. 11, which places the crucifixion and resurrection on earth:

    “16. And I saw, O Hezekiah and Josab my son, and I declare to the other prophets also who are standing by, that (this) hath escaped all the heavens and all the princes and all the gods of this world.

    17. And I saw: In Nazareth He sucked the breast as a babe and as is customary in order that He might not be recognized. 18. And when He had grown up he worked great signs and wonders in the land of Israel and of Jerusalem.

    19. And after this the adversary envied Him and roused the children of Israel against Him, not knowing who He was, and they delivered Him to the king, and crucified Him, and He descended to the angel (of Sheol).

    20. In Jerusalem indeed I was Him being crucified on a tree: 21. And likewise after the third day rise again and remain days. 22. And the angel who conducted me said: “Understand, Isaiah”: and I saw when He sent out the Twelve Apostles and ascended.”

    1. Personally, I think that “brother of the Lord” is a late addition to Galatians to harmonize it with Acts. Acts has James the apostle killed off early so the James that Paul is in conflict with can be a new hitherto unknown James. The obvious intent is to defend Paul by saying “the James that Paul was in conflict with was not an apostle.” So when we see Paul in conflict with Peter, James, and John in Galatians, the church didn’t like the idea of allowing this James to be the apostle James, so they tacked on “the brother of the Lord” to imply it is a different James, and thus give Paul leeyway to attack him. James “the brother of the Lord” could then simply be an invented character to hide that it was James the apostle the son of Zebedee that Paul was in conflict with.

  6. The other issue I have is over the meaning of words like Lord and kata sarka. I realize these questions have been dealt with by Doherty and his critics, and however that may be I still tend to approach them by seeing how the words are used elsewhere.

    Let’s take the “brother of the Lord” reference in Galatians 1:19, for example. Let’s even forget how in most cases in his letters Paul means Jesus when he says Lord, or what he may mean by “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Cor 9:5, and look at the five times he uses it in Galatatians. Three of them clearly refer to Jesus, and though I am willing to say that a fourth could possibly refer to God (5:10), I’m not certain that it does, especially considering the other three uses. That leaves 1:19. In the context of the letter, why should that one be different?

    That’s how I approach kata sarka in Romans 1:3 as well. Regardless of what it could mean, elsewhere in Romans it is applied to “real” human beings, like “Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh” (4:1) and “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3), and “the fathers, and from whom is the Christ, according to the flesh” (9:5). Why should 1:3 be different?

    I know I’m not bringing anything up that others haven’t already, but setting regardless of the back and forth I’ve read about this, this is the way I look at it, and it’s not because I “want” there to be a “historical Jesus,” because I don’t care one way or the other and never have. My mind is certainly open to Doherty’s interpretations, and I find them really thought provoking, but this is what I can’t help thinking when I consider certain passages.

  7. The possibility that “brother of the Lord” was a gloss cannot be discounted. Galatians contains several scribal modifications that appear to be clarifying for second- and third-century readers who Cephas was by replacing each instance with “Peter.”

    Some manuscripts take the list of people in Galatians 2:9 — James and Cephas and John — and change it to — Peter and James and John. You can imagine later readers seeing “James and John” and thinking Paul might be talking about the son of Zebedee, not the Jerusalem bigwig. So there were indeed factors in play that could cause scribes to want to differentiate James, and we know they were comfortable with making changes for clarification purposes.

    By the way, you can actually see a gloss in the Codex Sinaiticus next to Gal. 1:18. The body text says KEPHAN (ΚΗΦΑΝ), while the marginal note says PETRON (ΠΕΤΡΟΝ). By the time we see this verse in the Textus Receptus, Peter has completely replaced Cephas.


    1. I can understand the confusion over Cephas and Peter (I’m confused by it myself), so it’s not surprising to see it reflected in glosses or textual changes. But are there any texts of Galatians without the “brother of the Lord” reference in the main body, or with it only in a marginal note?

      If we assume that it is a gloss (and I could), we will then have to wonder where (and why) Mark says that Jesus had a brother named James, and why Hegesippus (who was said to know the Gospel of the Hebrews and a Syriac gospel) thought so too, and believe that Jospehus’ comment is an interpolation. If we have no reason to assume that it is a gloss, then those other things make sense.

      1. John: ‘But are there any texts of Galatians without the “brother of the Lord” reference in the main body, or with it only in a marginal note?’

        Would I have pointed to the precedent of Peter vs. Cephas as a gloss if I knew of a manuscript in which “brother of the Lord” appeared as a marginal gloss? If I knew of such evidence then it wouldn’t be a plausible conjecture; it would be a fact.

        I don’t assume a gloss, but there is good reason to think there was confusion over which James was which. I know that in Acts 1:13 we have three people named James.

        1. James, the brother of John (sons of Zebedee)

        2. James the son of Alphaeus.

        3. James the brother of Judas (Jude). Isn’t it odd that Jude is called James’ brother but not Jesus’ brother?

        Are any of these Jameses the one Mark called James the Less? Or does that make four? It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where the all the Australian university faculty members are named “Bruce.”

        1. I didn’t know if you were aware of a gloss for the James reference, that’s all, and didn’t think anything beyond that. I was just curious. So there isn’t any evidence for one then.

          But I grant that over time there could have been some confusion over which James Paul means in Gal. 1:19, and thus perhaps for that reason “the brother of the Lord” could be an interpolation. But then that makes me wonder why no one needed to clarify which James Paul means in 1 Cor. 15:7.

          1. Did Paul really write that? http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/rp1cor15.html

            Given what we know of interpolations in very many ancient texts — not only biblical ones (ancient scholars were also engaged with sorting out interpolations in Homer and others) — and especially given what we know of the irregular history of manuscript transmissions and the controversial status of Paul in particular, interpolations should be expected.

            I don’t mean that we should be cavalier in deciding on interpolations. But where reasonable arguments can be made for them then we do have a right to be cautious in any conclusions we derive from those passages. Not saying we should declare them interpolations but that at least we have a right to read them with a question mark hanging over them.

            1. I am aware that this passage is debatable. But regardless of who wrote it, I have to wonder why no one needed to clarify who James was here if someone needed to do so in Gal. 1:19.

              1. It seems to me that a gloss would not be necessary for the self-clarifying 1 Cor 15:7. That is: the James referenced was not one of the 12 and thus not James the brother of John. Maybe if we could better discount Josephus’ reference to the brother of Jesus, it would be easier to discount “the brother of the Lord” in Galations. I have tried to highlight some difficulties I see with making Josephus’ reference an interpolation. I have those difficulties posted at http://www.bobmoorepainting.com/BlogPhotos

        1. That’s interesting, J. Quinton. I’m looking into this question, but so far in this translation (I don’t know what it is based on), it says “brother of the Lord”:


          I also looked up Tertullian’s Against Marcion (book 4), but I don’t see anything yet that indicates that there was no “brother of the Lord” reference in Marcion’s Galatians.


          I feel like I might be missing something. Where are you getting this idea?

          1. It looks like the one on the gnosis library is an uncritical translation. Why would Marcion have Paul meet a brother of a divine hypostasis that only had the appearance of a body? Marcion’s Jesus was never born; he first appeared on Earth during the reign of Tiberius.

            If “brother of the Lord” was originally in Galatians, Marcion would have snipped it. If it wasn’t originally in there (or at least in Tertullian’s copy of Galatians) he would have mentioned Marcion’s necessary removal of the passage. If it was in Marcion’s version of Galatians, and Marcion was not apt enough to remove it to promote his particular Christology, then imagine the mockery that Tertullian would have heaped upon Marcion for his inconsistency (suddenly a son, suddenly sent, suddenly Christ, suddenly with brothers! *3rd century version of lol*).

            This looks to be a more critical reconstruction http://www.deusdiapente.net/science/Bible%20Research/Paul%20to%20the%20Galatians%20(Marcion).pdf

            1. I need to chew on this. My thought when you first mentioned this, not out of desperation to defend HJ, was that, if this is true, it’s understandable why Marcion would remove it (if it was there). Tim also mentioned that others would have had a reason to add it. Personally, I’m okay with it being there, but I’m also okay with it not being there, if it could ever be figured it out.

            2. On the other hand, proto-“orthodox” Church Fathers would have good reason not to point too hard toward James as a “brother of the Lord,” since they were trending toward support for a doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, IIRC.

              1. I just noticed that Eusebius saw the need to clarify who the James in 1 Cor. 15:7 was, when he cites Paul’s passage on resurrection appearances:

                “Next, he says, He was seen by James -one of the reputed brothers of the Lord” (EH 1.12).

                I agree with KevinC above. The family of Jesus seems to have been an awkward subject for orthodox Christians. I’m just wondering off the top of my head, but at the moment I can’t think of any sources besides (maybe) Paul, Josephus and Hegesippus, who thought that James was Jesus’ brother without trying to explain what it “really” means. I’m too lazy to look it up right now, so I could be wrong.

              2. I wonder why the Gospel writers had no details of Jesus childhood or birth and so felt free to invent details, when James would have been pestered for information about his brother, and would have spent all of his time retelling this oral tradition that circulated so freely among early Christians.

              3. But what do we know about Paul’s childhood or birth, or James’, or anyone else in early Christianity? What do you suppose would have been so important about these details of Jesus’ life to James’ group?

              4. It is baffling why early Christians had no interest in their Saviour’s birth, so felt free to invent stories of his being born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin, showered with gifts etc etc,almost as though there were no true stories about his birth.

              5. Steven, I have to reply to your following post under my preceding post, as I don’t see a reply button under yours.

                I don’t find it baffling, because I expect Pauline Christians to be “out of the loop.” We can see that the Dead Sea Scrolls group, the Essenes in Josephus and Jamesian Christians in the Clementine literature all (if they are any different) kept their doctrines secret from outsiders, and judging from the letters of Paul, James and Jude, the Clementine literature and other Ebionite sources, Paul was considered an outsider.

                So I can understand why they would make up stories about Jesus, whether he was a myth or not.

                And since Ebionites are said to have believed that Jesus was a normal man, I don’t understand what more they would need to say beyond what they did say, that he was the son of a man and a woman by normal generation. Or what Hegesippus says, that “the Lord’s family” was of David’s line. And even Paul says (mythically or not) that he was born of a woman, of the seed of David.

                If other people wanted to say more than this in their “pious fiction,” that’s understandable.

  8. I approach the meaning of “brothers in the Lord” in Philippians 1:14 the same way as kata sarka: how does Paul use these words elsewhere.

    In Romans 16 there is a long list of people associated with Paul who are referred to as being “in the Lord” and “in Christ” and people who are variously called saints, beloved or brothers, like Timothy is in 1 Cor. 4:15-17: “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. Therefore I am sending you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

    “Lord” and “Christ” are interchangable to Paul, like in 1 Cor. 7:22: “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.”

    And the people he refers to in this way do not seem to be members of a Jerusalem group: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Cor 9:1-2).

    Philippians is addressed to “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (1:1), to whom he also says in 1:12, “I want you to know, brethren …”

    In Philippians, as in Romans and 1 Corinthinans, “saints” and “brethren” who are “in the Lord” or “in Christ” are the same, and do not appear to be members of a Jerusalem group: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the household of Caesar” (Philp. 4:21-22).

    What Paul usually means by “brothers” (like in 1:12) and “in the Lord” is evidence that “brothers” in Philippians 1:14 means those who are associated with Paul, and that “in the Lord” means “in Christ.”

    If Galatians 1:19 is not an interpolation, then perhaps James is just another “brother” like this, but I suspect that of “the Lord” means of “Christ,” since that what it usually means in Paul’s letters.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t know what else to think.

  9. We can easily get lost in arguments about kata sarka and ‘brother of the Lord’ but how we understand these will always come back to our understanding of some other verses or hypotheses or whatever.

    The reason I like Doherty’s case is that it stands upon the core thoughts expressed in the NT epistles (not only Paul’s) as interpreted against the philosophical/theological background thoughts of the time.

    That leaves a couple of verses still hanging in ambiguity: ‘kata sarka’ in Romans and ‘brother of the Lord’ in Galatians. Only an apologetic fundamentalist type of thinker would insist on starting with an exclusive interpretation of an ambiguous verse and forcing everything else into that. Doherty makes his case on the strength of the bulk of the passages, and shows that a couple of left-over ambiguities do not necessarily overturn his argument.

    There are too many variable and uncertainties that can be brought to bear upon those two passages that it is pointless, I think, ever trying to pin them down into something so definitive that that they deserve to be the pivot upon which the entire NT epistolic corpus should be interpreted.

    1. ‘Only an apologetic fundamentalist type of thinker would insist on starting with an exclusive interpretation of an ambiguous verse and forcing everything else into that.’

      Mainstream NT historians despise fundamentalists who force the picture of Jesus in John’s Gospel to conform to the picture of Jesus in the synoptics, just as these scholars despise people who do not try to force the picture of Jesus in Paul to conform to the picture of Jesus in the Gospels.

  10. Ga 5:2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing allthat means is ur not gonna get anything extra
    For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.if u wish to do things and demand the law from others thats what u get
    Ga 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. no man can justify himself by the law most off these debated things r there simply to show u that ur no better than anyone else even if u think u got somthin special god gave it to u and gave me mine neither has a greater value Ga 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

  11. and to some off u perhaps ur efforts would be better used if u just tried to propperly interpert the bible its not gonna hurt u theres tons off idiots out there that talk abunch off crap thats not in the bible or is a mis representation off it and the context there off its all good wen u get to the core off what matters
    http://www.gnosis.org/library.html put that in ur pipe and smoke it o look for the pistis sophia most devote christians r stupid the wont accept anything not in the bible but will read all sorts off commentaries and such how stupid iff u cant see and allow others to see other stuff written by the same people how stupid gods word is not bound by any book not even king lames

  12. and yes king lames was intentional
    Joh 9:1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him
    Isa 25:7 And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.
    Mt 22:35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandmentAnd the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

  13. I have posted this on McGrath’s blog:

    By now we are all familiar with how much historicists rely on Galatians 1:19 and its “brother of the Lord” to find an historical Jesus within the epistles. It’s one of a small handful of life preservers thrown into the waters to try to rescue Paul from drowning in a mythical sea. I would like to put an additional emphasis on one of the arguments I have used to poke holes in this particular preserver. I have pointed out that Philippians 1:14 uses a similar phrase to Galatians 1:19, namely “brothers in the Lord” (ton adelphon en kurio). This can hardly be taken any other way than meaning “fellow-believers in the Lord” and indicates the usage of a phrase to describe a group of sectarians Paul is acquainted with. The very fact that it is so similar to the Galatians phrase should be a strong argument that the latter is likely to have the same meaning.

    We might also include here the “brothers of the Lord” (hoi adelphoi tou kuriou of 1 Cor. 9:5. It would seem that both these phrases refer to members of a sect which is known by that name, with the preposition in it somewhat fluid and interchangeable. I referred to the difference in prepositions between Gal. 1:19 and Phil. 1:14 as “slight.” (Actually, in the “of” form, the preposition is understood within the genitive of the definite article before “Lord”.[There is no ‘missing’ preposition before the genitive “Lord”.])

    Bernard [Muller], with his peerless command of language both English and Greek, disputed the “slight”. But let’s see if we can illustrate how there is essentially no difference in sample phrases which interchange these two prepositions. These examples can only be in English, but I would challenge anyone to demonstrate that in Greek there would be any particular prohibition to understanding these examples as essentially meaning the same thing, no matter which preposition/case is used.

    Example 1:
    “We are students in the art of love.”
    “We are students of the art of love.”

    Example 2:
    “We are fellow-seekers in the truth.”
    “We are fellow-seekers of the truth.”

    Example 3:
    “We are practitioners in outdoor sports.”
    “We are practitioners of outdoor sports.”

    Example 4:
    “We are advocates in the practice of rationality.”
    “We are advocates of the practice of rationality.”

    Given that Phil. 1:14 can only have the one meaning, these examples show that Galatians 1:19 could also have the same meaning, undercutting if not destroying any claim by historicists that the latter phrase can “only have one natural meaning,” namely that of sibling. Not even a probability of that meaning can be maintained, since nowhere else in the entire early record outside the Gospels is James identified as the sibling of Jesus, despite several inviting opportunities to do so, as in the letters of James and Jude, and also in Acts. Nor in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 12) is James identified as Jesus’ very brother (despite having heaven and earth created for him). Explanations for such silences are indeed ad hoc and entirely unconvincing (see JNGNM, note 29). And of course, we have the vast majority (if not them all) of Pauline/epistolary usages of “adelphos to mean a member of the sect.

    We can also note that the Gal. 1:19 (and 1 Cor. 9:5) phrase is “brother(s) of the Lord”, not “brother of Jesus” which we might expect if Paul’s thoughts were focused on a sibling relationship; whereas Phil. 1:14, which is focused on belief and membership in a sect, uses “the Lord” for such a focus, leading us to assume the same focus in Galatians with its similar language.

    The naïve claim that Galatians 1:19 can only have the meaning of sibling and is primary ‘proof’ of the existence of a human Jesus cannot stand, and is little short of ludicrous. And that’s even before we consider the feasibility of interpolation.

    So what’s left? Romans 1:3? Another passage as having only one possible meaning? Galatians 3:29, the gentiles as “seed of Abraham”: obviously NOT a physical linkage but a mystical one. Ergo, “seed of David” does not have only one possible meaning. “Born of woman”? Let’s wait until Jim gets to my Chapter 15.

    They’re falling like tenpins.

    Earl Doherty

  14. Once again, I will make a point similar to a similar situation a couple of weeks ago.

    One cannot analyze the probable meaning of “brother(s) of the Lord” according to a statistical analysis of usages of individual words by Paul elsewhere. If “brothers of the Lord” is a phrase with currency, Paul will use it because of that fact, unrelated to how he normally uses the same terms in phrases of his own invention.

  15. I had a look at some of the discussion on McGrath’s blog where Earl Doherty posted the comment above (#17). Those arguing against his earlier comments etc – at least those responding posts I read – are simply not even listening to (or reading) Doherty’s arguments in large part.

    Doherty gives specific and detailed arguments concerning the significance of a certain phrasing or wording found in Paul, and people simply respond that the argument is void without ever attempting to demonstrate why any of the particular arguments are void. Is this what is called in the business “hand-waving” things away?

  16. I just posted on McGrath’s site a response concerning the issue of Phil. 1:14’s “brothers IN the Lord” which is particularly important. I’ll repeat it here:

    In the matter of Philippians 1:14…

    This is a good example of debaters here relying on what others say, while being incapable of analyzing a claim for themselves, particularly where the Greek text is concerned.

    I have the utmost respect for Richard Carrier, but here, as Bernard has quoted him, I have to say that if Carrier is maintaining that his alternate translation is the only one possible, I cannot agree. And I’m not the only one. The majority of translations (despite what Mike Wilson claims) do NOT agree with him, and those translators, I daresay, are at least as competent in Greek as Carrier is. At best, the passage might be ambiguous. Here are the more common translations:

    KJV: “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold…”

    NIV: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord, have been encouraged…”

    NAB: “most of my brothers in Christ, taking courage from my chains, have been further emboldened…”

    NEB: “(my imprisonment)…has given confidence to most of our fellow-Christians to speak the word of God…”

    The Translator’s New Testament: “Most of my Christian brothers have gained confidence through my imprisonment and are daring more…”

    Carrier has translated (according to Bernard): “most of the brethren having confidence in the lord because of my bonds more abundantly dare to speak the word of the Lord without fear.” But, as you can see, the above translations take the “having confidence” idea as linked to the idea of Paul being in chains, the latter words following on the former. They do not see it as governing the phrase that comes previously, “in the Lord” (en kuriō).

    The other problem is that if “being confident” (pepoithotas) is to be taken with the preceding “in the Lord”, this makes the following phrase about Paul in chains (tois desmois mou), which must in whatever case be dependent on the “being confident”, creating something of a contradiction, or perhaps better called a redundancy. Because then the “confidence” has turned its eyes in two different directions. Paul’s “brothers” are “confident” both in the Lord, and by virtue of Paul’s chains. This would be an awkward juxtaposition of thoughts. If they are confident because they have confidence in the Lord, is Paul also going to say that they are confident because of his own chains? The two thoughts are less than comfortably compatible. Why, according to Carrier above, would “the brethren have confidence in the lord because of my bonds”? Why would Paul being thrown in prison give them confidence in the lord? This strikes me as unnatural, even garbled. Whereas, simply “taking courage from my chains” (as in the NAB) is a natural thought, in the sense of being “inspired” by Paul’s chains. In fact, if we look back at the preceding sentence, the thought is focused entirely on those who recognize that Paul is in prison in the cause of Christ (as the NASB puts it). It follows that it is this situation, Paul in chains, which has given his fellow brethren in the Lord confidence to declare their message even more strongly; that it would give them confidence “in the Lord” (while not an impossible idea per se) simply doesn’t follow within the context.

    The NASB and the RSV also awkward-ize the verse, but they are in the minority. (Of course, there are other translations I have not surveyed, but others may do so.)

    However, one that is NOT in the minority is Bauer’s Lexicon, perhaps the most respected Lexicon of NT Greek for the last near-century. Bauer, under “peithō, def. 2.a (“put one’s confidence in with dative of the person or thing”), links the pepoithotas with the following dative “tois desmois mou Phil. 1:14.”

    So I’m sorry, but I do not agree with Carrier here, and certainly do not accept his reading as reliably demonstrating that ‘brothers in the Lord’ is not to be found in Phil. 1:14. I would suggest that Bernard and others avoid pontificating in the absence of any expertise whatever on their own part.

  17. “The main book that a number of scholars apparently still continue to cling to to argue the case for the Gospels being of the Biography genre is Burridge’s 1995 What Are the Gospels? (reprinted 2004). Doherty does not discuss Burridge’s work, but I have discussed it in a post outlining and questioning Burridge’s arguments, Are the Gospels Really Biographies? Since Burridge’s work, a far more scholarly-disciplined approach to the subject of genre has appeared, which is built upon a substantial theoretical understanding of the nature of literary genre itself, and I am thinking in particular of Michael Vines’ The Problem of Markan Genre: the Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel, which I have discussed in the post The First Gospel Was a Jewish Novel? Against such works more deeply grounded in a theoretical base, Burridge’s case for the Gospels being Biographies looks like a superficial list of CliffsNotes.”

    In my reveiw of Burridge’s book at Amazon:


    I have added an Appendix summarizing my findings at FRDB:


    Where I demonstrate that using Burridge’s own criteria from What are the Gospels? and comparing “Mark” to http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Julius*.html Suetonius, The Life of Julius Caesar and http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/sophocles/oedipustheking.htm Oedipus the King, to see which would parallel better, “Mark” parallels somewhat better here to Greek Tragedy. I’ve also created my own suggested criteria to help DISTINGUISH between characteristics of Greek Tragedy (GT) and Greco-Roman Biography (GRB):

    1) Sources = GRB identifies sources

    2) Background = GRB gives background to the writing

    3) Theme = GT has a definite theme

    4) Literary Form = GT is a connected narrative

    5) Structure = GT has a formulaic structure

    6) Style = GT has significant style

    7) Irony = GT features irony

    8) Divine = GT features Divine intervention

    9) Impossible = GRB tries to avoid the Impossible

    10) Effect = GT has emotional effect

    Using these criteria I have Faith that “Mark” will parallel significantly better with GT. It’s safe to say that Burridge’s conclusion that the Gospels are simply Greco-Roman Biography has been discredited. I think his book will still be considered a classic, but a classic of bad scholarship (Apologetics). Basically, he only created a sample to test for parallels to Greco-Roman Biography, created generic criteria with broad applicability to many genres, evaluated the Gospels as a whole to shield “Mark” from failure to match and claimed matching criteria no matter the extent of the characteristic in the Gospels.

    A proper study of the genre of “Mark” will create contemporary samples of all competing genre, (Greek Tragedy, Greco-Roman Biography, Religious and Greek Hellenistic novel) and evaluate the extent of the characteristics in “Mark”. The combination of the known existing characteristics of different genre in “Mark” and the lack of contemporary clearly defined genre, suggests that the question of Markan genre should be phrased in terms of multi-genre (extent of each) rather than which (only one) genre.


    1. It might be interesting to produce a grid table with various criteria listed in rows and different genre in columns.

      You refer to “emotional” effect. More precisely, let’s use “cathartic” — specifying the type of emotion. (Even mathematics involves an emotional element.)

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