Monthly Archives: August 2011


Relief from a scribe's tomb found in Flavia Solva
Image via Wikipedia

8th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

When I presented my first contention—that the real author of the Ignatians was Peregrinus—I argued that a proto-Catholic editor/interpolator later, probably around 200 CE, made changes to the letters to disguise Peregrinus’ authorship. To make the letters acceptable for use by his church he had to remove the apostate Peregrinus from them.  In the last two posts I have presented my second contention: that the branch of Christianity to which the author of the letters belonged was Apellean. If this second contention is correct, it is to be expected that the proto-Catholic editor/interpolator had to also make some doctrinal modifications to the letters. For although Apellean beliefs, compared to those of Marcion, were definitely closer to those held by the proto-Catholics, some would have still been unacceptable, especially to the proto-Catholic church of the year 200. Doctrinal positions had hardened in the 50 years that had passed since Peregrinus wrote the letters. The church was becoming more dogmatic as is evidenced by the appearance of the so-called Apostles Creed sometime toward the end of the second century. Thus the need for occasional interventions in the letters to make them safe for proto-Catholic consumption. The changes made to remove Peregrinus from the letters were often remarkably careless. We will see that some of the doctrinal corrections were careless too.

In the passages that follow I have bolded and put in brackets ( i.e. [ ] ) the parts that seem to be proto-Catholic modifications of the text. And I have put within curly braces (i.e. { } ) words that they would have had to delete to accommodate their modifications.    read more »

The Earl Doherty — James McGrath discussion continued

I am posting this (posts found on Dr McGrath’s ExploringOurMatrix blog) here solely for the sake of having what I consider to be significant blog exchanges involving Earl Doherty in the one place. (If I miss anything that others think should be collated in the one site then do let me know.)

Dr McGrath responded to Earl Doherty (see the post previous to this one) thus:

@Earl Doherty, thank you for your detailed comments, and I am sorry to hear that you had trouble posting them. I am glad that it seems to be working now.

Let me just address two points in is comment. First, with respect to the language you used about heavenly things determining earthly realities, I can certainly see how such a phrase could be used for what we see in Hebrews, with a tabernacle being constructed based on a heavenly archetype. The wording seems to fit equally well, and the concept seems not entirely distinct from, what we find in Daniel and Revelation, which are more apocalyptic than Platonic (although that is not to suggest that the two are mutually exclusive by any means). In one, heavenly princes battle and determine the outcome of competition between earthly princes and empires. In the other, demonic forces are said to be behind the powers of the earthly Roman emperors and empire.

Long before Descartes’ attempt to connect the spirit with the flesh by way of the pineal gland, people long assumed that there was a connection even when they had no rational explanation for how the connection worked. That the question seems obvious to us does not mean that it was obvious to pre-scientific minds, nor does their failure to provide an explanation mean that they didn’t accept that it was happening in some unexplained, or unsatisfactorily explained, manner.

Second, and mainly for the benefit of those who may not have read your book, would you agree that, in general, in an ancient Greco-Roman context, a reference to a figure bleeding and having blood would more naturally be understood to be a reference to an actual terrestrial human being? I think it would be useful for others involved in this discussion to hear a bit more from you about this.

Here is Earl Doherty’s response: read more »

Doherty’s responses to McGrath’s ch.10 (pt.1) review

Dr McGrath’s review of the first part of Doherty’s chapter 10 is here. My response is here and between that post and this I have posted a number of McGrath’s defences against my criticisms. Earl Doherty has today posted his response(s) on McGrath’s blog and I copy them here. There are two. The first is what Doherty initially attempted to post but was unable to do so because of tech issues. I have bolded some of the text for quick reference.

The areas addressed by Doherty are:

Post 1

  1. McGrath’s and some other NT scholar’s mind-reading abilities
  2. McGrath’s criticism surrounding Doherty’s supposed doubts about his own theory occasioned by placing the word blood in quotation marks
  3. The validity of Doherty’s quote from Morna Hooker

Post 2

  1. McGrath’s claim that Doherty contradicts himself over the heavenly-earthly parallel in ancient thought in relation to 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (the rulers of this age crucifying Christ)
  2. The question of Origen’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 2:8 – being the first to introduce the idea that the heavenly rulers worked through the earthly ones to crucify Christ
  3. The question of the Gospels — and their contradictory view of the crucifixion against the epistles: one earthly, the other non-earthly

read more »

My take on the “heavenly paradigm” apparent contradiction in Doherty’s argument

“This post is not for McG’s benefit but for any innocent but curious bystanders”

This is my take on one part of Earl Doherty’s argument that when Paul spoke of  “rulers of this age” ignorantly crucifying Christ he was not suggesting that the spirit powers were working through earthly potentates to do their will. Dr McGrath believes that Doherty is contradicting himself here because Doherty also notes that it was commonly believed by the ancients that “heavenly  events determine earthly realities.”

Unfortunately I do realize that nothing I can say will change Dr McGrath’s mind at all in relation to his belief that Doherty’s argument is “a self-contradictory mess” since he made it very plain that “no one with sense will believe” Doherty and that any attempt of mine to explain it will at best be “entertaining”. He does not ask whether or not Doherty’s argument is self-contradictory so any attempt to point out that it is not will not be accepted by him. (Further, since McGrath has online access to Doherty online it is to be noted that he has not chosen to raise this with Doherty himself.)

When I responded that I would be happy to explain it and that the perception of a contradiction was partly the consequence of continuing to read Gospel presuppositions into Paul, McGrath responded that he believed I would be objecting to the “methods [he shares] with those who work in the discipline of history”. (I have publicized theologians’ ground-breaking contributions to the field of history at NT scholars are pioneers and contrasted the way nonbiblical historians handle mythical and legendary sources at Can Hobsbawm recover the historical Robin Hood?)

I can’t argue with a mind closed. So this is not for McGrath’s benefit, but for any innocent but curious bystander. read more »


7th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

In my previous post I called attention to the assortment of unusual beliefs held by the author of the so-called Ignatian letters. That assortment and the description of his Judaizing and docetic opponents have convinced me that he was a follower of Apelles, and that the churches he addressed in his letters were Apellean. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with that little-known early Christian and his sect I will start by reviewing what the extant record says about them.


Apelles, the founder of the Apelleans, was at first a disciple of Marcion. If, as is thought, he was born early in the second century, he could have been Marcion’s disciple as early as the 120s, assuming Marcion was already actively proselytizing at that time. It is not known how long Apelles was associated with Marcion, but at some point he broke with him and adopted doctrinal positions that were at odds with those of his teacher. Tertullian says the break was sparked by Apelles’ rejection of Marcion’s rigorist teaching regarding celibacy: “Apelles … deserted Marcionite chastity and withdrew from the presence of his most holy master to Alexandria. Returning after some years, he was in no way improved except he was no longer a Marcionite” (“On the Prescription of Heretics,” 7). Their differences went beyond the issue of celibacy, however, and the split was likely not an amicable one. Apelles abandoned Marcion’s dualism and returned to belief in one supreme God. He repudiated Marcion’s docetism, emphatically insisting on the real and non-phantasmal nature of Christ’s body. From Marcion’s canon he retained only the Apostolicon, replacing Marcion’s Gospel with one of his own. He did continue to view the Old Testament negatively, and his position in regard to it, as will be seen, is in a way even more negative than Marcion’s. But on the other hand, Origen concedes that Apelles “did not entirely deny that the Law and the Prophets were of God” (“Commentary on Titus”). read more »

McGrath’s further defence of his review and responses to my criticisms

Dr James McGrath has written another defence of his review in response to my discussion of it and I think it would be useful to post it here so it can sit beside my criticisms. I am still trying to understand the hostility towards mythicism as well as the apparent inability of even some of the most educated among us to minimally comprehend what they read in its defence.

At least it must count in Dr McGrath’s favour that he is willing to even look at mythicist works outside his normal scholarly exchanges. At least one other blogger is not even interested in doing that much though he is at the same time quite prepared to denigrate the character and works of authors he has never met or read simply because they are not published in the scholarly arena. And this blogger sometimes murmurs sympathetic noises towards mythicism. It looks like he needs to protect his standing with the scholarly community by denouncing the “unclean” outsiders. Compared with one like that one has to appreciate Dr McGrath’s willingness to at least read Doherty’s book.

But I am coming to believe that there is nothing I can say, or that any mythicist can say, that will in the present circumstances make any dent in Dr McGrath’s beliefs, attitudes, and inability to comprehend what he reads of mythicist arguments. I wonder now if his mind is made up and whatever he reads or hears will only confirm what he believes because that he cannot read or hear a mythicist point any other way. I might be quite wrong since I am trying to reach back into my own experience and nature to understand his. I once read a book that I found myself disagreeing with totally. I wrote indignant notes in the margins declaiming the author’s ignorance and shallow understanding of the issues, etc etc. Years later I looked again and saw how I agreed with everything the author wrote and how incapable I was of comprehending and accepting what he said the first time I read his book. The reason was simple. The book was addressing something that I was still very close to, that had been a core part of my identity for many years. It took me a long time before I could gradually wean myself off my past allegiance to that old self and accept how utterly wrong I had been about something once so important to my identity. The funny thing was that at the time I first read this book I knew I had been wrong, but I did not want someone else telling me just how wrong, or that I was wrong-er even than I could believe. It’s like family. I am free to argue with a close family member, but don’t you dare say a word against them!

Anyway, enough of that. What I write is written for those not trapped in one way of thinking but who are open to exploring new idea and who do not hold to any belief about Jesus (mythicist or historicist) with the arrogance of the ignorant. One thing most people who learn most know is that the more they learn the more they know how little they know.

McGrath’s criticisms and defence read more »

Why I don’t trust a scholar’s review of Doherty’s book

I don’t mean “scholar” generically, but one scholar and his reviews in particular. The reason is, not to put too fine a point on it, that he blatantly misrepresents and suppresses what Doherty actually says. I even wonder if he bothers to read Doherty and merely skims, sees a few words that feed his prejudice, and sets to writing outright falsehoods.

I quote here what this reviewer has to say about Doherty’s argument in relation to the evidence of Origen for our understanding of what Paul meant by “rulers of the age” crucifying Christ. (My own emphases throughout.)

And perhaps Neil’s point over on his blog is correct, and I should indeed have pointed out what Doherty does with Origen. He finds evidence that Origen understood the “rulers of this age” as demonic forces. So? There are interpreters today who do the same, and just like Origen, do not understand this to be evidence against a historical Jesus.

I apologize for not mentioning this example of Doherty’s willingness to engage in apologetics-style prooftexting, citing a church father whose understanding of Paul and of Jesus he actually thinks is wrong, because he believes that he can appeal to him as an authority to bolster his case.

What do others think? Do I really need to mention every single one of Doherty’s claims in order to have demonstrated that he is engaging in apologetics for a predetermined view, rather than treating the evidence in scholarly, historical-critical manner?

How is it possible for any reviewer to write the above when Doherty’s whole argument in relation to Doherty is not about Origen understanding the rulers of the age as demonic forces at all, but about his being the pioneer to lay the basis of the modern interpretation that Paul meant the demons were working through earthly princes?

Here is what Doherty writes about Origen and the early interpretations of Paul’s meaning. Would a scholar ever be so careless with truth if he were addressing works of his scholarly peers? read more »

A scholar reads Paul without Gospel presuppositions

The Last Supper
Image via Wikipedia

Not every scholar thinks it is silly to read Paul’s letters without bringing to them assumptions from later documents like the Gospels. Some think it is a sounder method to interpret the later literature in the light of what we can understand from what went before it — and not the reverse.

Associate Professor William Arnal is one scholar who does know how to avoid bringing Gospel presuppositions into his reading of Paul’s letters. What he does in “Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus: An Assessment of the Historicity of the Narrative Tradition” (Toronto Journal of Theology, 13/2, 1997, pp. 201-226) is use earlier sources to try to shed light on how the Gospel narrative came about.

Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 about the Last Supper saying of Jesus is often pulled out as evidence that Paul knew about the scene we read in the Gospels of Jesus having a final meal with his disciples just prior to being betrayed by Judas. But that is reading the evidence backwards, Arnal rightly argues. First we need to understand what Paul does say, and then compare with the later narrative in the Gospels, and ask what evidence we have to explain the relationship between the two. read more »

McGrath’s defence of his review

Dr McGrath has responded with the following defence against my criticisms of his review:


Neil, Earl says what I quoted him as saying at the start of chapter 10, stating something that he has been saying all along, and still without providing evidence. By the end of the chapter, little has changed. The only “evidence” he offers is a claim that everyone in those days thought in such terms, and so the idea of a purely celestial Jesus ought to be read into the epistles. read more »

McGrath’s review of Doherty’s chapter 10, part 1 — a response

Updated with links and headings. 

Dr James McGrath continues with his chapter by chapter review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man by posting a part one review of Doherty’s chapter 10. It will be clear from what follows that McGrath expresses much more about his own intolerant attitude towards mythicism than he does in informing readers about Doherty’s argument.

Losing the thread of the argument

McGrath writes:

Chapter 10 begins part four of the book, “A World of Myths and Savior Gods,” and the chapter itself bears the title “Who Crucified Jesus?” Doherty summarizes the interpretation of New Testament letters he has offered thus far, writing

“In the epistles, Christ’s act of salvation is not located in the present, or even in the recent past, and certainly not within the historical setting familiar to us from the Gospels. . . . “

McGrath has fallen over right at the starting line. The quotation he takes from Doherty simply does not summarize Doherty’s interpretation of the NT letters “he has offered thus far”. Here is Doherty’s explicit summary of a key argument he has offered thus far taken from the opening sentence of the chapter:

The pieces of the Jesus Puzzle in Part Three demonstrated how the New Testament epistles present Christ as a spiritual force active in the present time, functioning as a channel between God and humanity. (p. 97)

What McGrath quotes is not any summary of earlier argument but a summary or what Doherty is about to argue in Part Four of the book.

Between that opening summary sentence and the one McGrath quotes Doherty writes the following to introduce the theme of the new book Part this chapter is introducing:

But there is another, more important role, being given him. . . .

So McGrath, in doing his chapter by chapter reviews, has clearly lost the train of thought that he is addressing. This suggests that he is not bothering to read Doherty with a serious intent to understand the argument of the book he is reviewing.

read more »

Why Mark Created a Gospel Role for Pilate

Wenceslas Hollar - Jesus before Pilate 2
Jesus before Pilate : Image via Wikipedia

The earliest Christian records make no mention of Pilate. It is only with the composition of the Gospel of Mark that he first appears. And when he does appear, he is certainly not the bloodily efficient “historical Pilate” but almost a hapless figure who has no argument with Jesus at all.  Thinking through the narrative of Mark’s Gospel while walking home from work this afternoon it suddenly occurred to me that Pilate’s appearance fits a tidy theological-literary pattern that is introduced and sustained throughout the first part of the Gospel. Mark wouldn’t be Mark if he didn’t have a balancing book-end arrangement so that this pattern is repeated at the end to complete the full impact of his theological message.

Pilate missing from the earliest record

The New Testament epistles (excepting the Pastorals) are earlier than the Gospels according to widespread scholarly agreement. There are only two passages in these epistles that identifies those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion:

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:8  — “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
  2. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 —  “. . . the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus . . .” read more »


6th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.


In my previous posts I have presented my case for identifying Peregrinus as the real author of the so-called Ignatian letters. That case—if I may say so myself—is a strong one. And going forward, when I speak of the author of those letters it should be understood that I am referring to Peregrinus. I want to now continue on to the second part of my theory and identify, from other passages in the letters, the branch of Christianity that was his. To determine that, it is indeed the letters and not TDOP that must be examined, for Lucian simply calls Peregrinus a Christian. If he is aware that there were different types of Christians he doesn’t show it. He does not devote much of his treatise to what Christians believe, and the only Christian beliefs he mentions are ones that would apply to many of the various types:

“They still worship the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world… The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence” (TDOP 11 & 13, Harmon).

In contrast to TDOP, the seven letters provide information about their author’s beliefs that is more detailed. And the letters show that he and his confreres subscribed to many beliefs that were not held by proto-Catholic Christians, at least not in the combination that is found in the letters. I think the distinctive combination of those beliefs can reveal to which brand of Christianity Peregrinus adhered. The original letters, assuming I am correct in my identification of Peregrinus as their author, were written sometime between 130 and 150 CE, for based on the information provided by TDOP the arrest of Peregrinus almost certainly fell within that period. I will argue that the unique assortment of beliefs expressed in the letters can in fact be closely matched with the known beliefs of one particular Christian church that existed in that same time period. In this post I will make a start by looking at some of the peculiar beliefs found in the letter collection. read more »

How modern historians use myths as historical sources – or, Can Hobsbawm recover the historical Robin Hood?

Can criteria used by New Testament scholars to uncover the historical Jesus (i.e., it is probably true if it is embarrassing, multiply attested, etc etc.) also be used on early ballads to see if we can know anything “probable” about the historical Robin Hood? Some people have “entertained reasonable doubts” about Robin Hood’s historicity, but at least one New Testament scholar has argued that if we can establish the probability of a deed or saying of Jesus Christ then it follows that he did exist. And we must not forget that “even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus Christ [ergo Robin Hood?] was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned” (from Dr McGrath’s review of Dr Dale C. Allison).

There is one modern historian who has much to learn from these pioneering advances in historiography made by historical Jesus scholarship, though since he is 94 years old now he had better hurry. Eric Hobsbawm has himself pioneered the historical study of social banditry (bandits who are accepted and honoured by societies as heroes) and, like the New Testament scholars, has made abundant use of mythical or legendary material. Unfortunately he never seems to have attended the same conferences as  Jesus historians and so has missed out on the methods they have pioneered:

  1. the rigorous application of precisely articulated criteria to dig beneath the surface of unprovenanced mythical tales to discover the probable historical nuggets at the root of them all
  2. the use of even fabricated material, however inauthentic its specific details, in order to arrive at the true historical “gist” of the historical person at the centre of the narrative. (See NT Scholars are Pioneers for details)

Here is what Eric Hobsbawm has explained about his use of mythical or legendary material across the three different editions of one of his more famous works, Bandits. His bandit and bandit myth subjects ranged from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.

A rather tricky historical source: read more »

hiatus, hopes, reflections

I’ve been having a break from real blogging since the past week. Need a breather and time for real life responsibilities. But when I return to the serious stuff that interests me most I want to address

  • Roger Parvus’s latest three posts on the “Ignatian” letters,
  • complete what I started with the study of George Athas’s arguments re Tel Dan,
  • have a closer look at that Nazarene word, especially in light of Rene Salm’s recent articles and translations,
  • finish notes from Horsley’s history of messianic movements up to the outbreak of the Jewish war,
  • return to studying Herodotus and the Primary History of Israel and the relationship between the two,
  • outline the evidence for the Persian and Hellenistic era provenance of the OT writings,
  • catch up on some publications about Marcion and Paul’s letters,
  • do more on the Lévi-Strauss model of myths and its application to Old and New Testament narratives,
  • continue doing chapters of Earl Doherty’s book,
  • try to finish my posts on midrash (if I can — I contacted one of the authors of one of the books I have been using to ask for clarification on a particular point I was about to address and have come away with more than I expected to think about),
  • and a whole lot more in the back of my head that escape me at the moment.

Hence my lazy off-the-top-of-my-head reflections on things I’ve covered a million times before and that still seem to bug  the arrogant and ignorant.

I was reading Richard Carrier’s comments that Dr McGrath pointed to recently and note him saying that a PhD is the equivalent of 10,000 hours of training. I wish I had the time and opportunity for that (my circumstances did not permit me to take up an invitation for higher studies at the end of my post grad educational studies degree) since I painfully aware of my limitations as an amateur hobbyist in the area of biblical studies. I know I often present a slapdash argument or statement assuming that what I have said somewhere else a week or more ago is on any other reader’s minds, too. And I look back and am embarrassed at how often I have presented a point very badly.

I get a lot out of reading many formal scholarly works from a range of disciplines, and Doherty’s works, and it’s not always the raw content — often I’m studying the argumentation, the logic, the presentation and structure of the argument, etc. (And yes, this is where I find a lot of historical Jesus works a very mixed bag of flashes of brilliant insights and absurdly baseless circular and incredibly blinkered arguments.)

Anyway, before I get back to what I love to blog about the most, I have at hand some notes I hope to do up soon – one on the way a historian of relatively modern history uses myths and legends as sources in his historical inquiries, and another on how a historian uses certain kinds of analysis of ancient inscriptions in order to reconstruct historical events. I believe both illustrations demonstrate the point I have made for some time now about the different approaches of New Testament historians (I hope that’s a valid term — I copy it from Dr McGrath after he chastised me for using the term “biblical historians”) to the Gospels for their inquiries into the historical Jesus and the way other historians handle material that is mythical or in need of close literary analysis to decipher its meaning.