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

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by Neil Godfrey

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

Response 1:

(This was my first response, which I didn’t get a chance to post at the time as I could not access the page.)

I see that James has developed a new technique for discrediting mythicists. He simply reads their minds, finds what he wants to see there, and uses it accordingly. Is there a name for that methodology? It is somewhat related to a methodological technique used by some mainstream scholars to find something they want to imagine was in Paul’s mind, even if he didn’t mention it.

A classic case of the latter is outlined in my book. In discussing 1 Cor. 15:44-49, C. K. Barrett confidently looks into Paul’s mind and finds no problems. Here’s how I describe it (p.194-5):

We can further observe the problematic consequence for Barrett in his attempted solution of identifying the second Man, the “spiritual body,” as the coming “eschatological” Christ at the Parousia. Is he perturbed by the void staring out at us regarding the supposed previous coming of Christ in a “physical body”? Evidently not, for he dismisses it with this comment: “It is not part of Paul’s argument here to say that the heavenly man has already come in the form of earthly man.”.…Earlier, Barrett has admitted that in 15:22 Paul speaks of neither Adam’s nor Christ’s activities specifically in terms of historical events. Yet he says: “As Paul knew, this event had happened very recently, and its character as an historical event raised no doubt or problem in his mind.” But Barrett is attributing his own assumed knowledge to Paul, and because he himself has failed to perceive the consequent problems, he attributes the same lack of concern to the apostle. His ability to read such a mind even at a two millennia distance, and to absolve it of concerns it never had an inkling of, is clearly an invaluable asset in dealing with the anomalies in such passages.

James, too, has sought to read my mind:

James:”I suspect that the quotation marks around “blood” are a recognition of the awkwardness of Paul’s and other epistolary references to blood in connection with Jesus’ death, as fitting poorly with the purely celestial understanding that Doherty is promoting.”

A few lines later, I put double-quotes around “mysteries”, and a few lines after that, around “dualistic.” Do those instances make one suspicious that I find the concepts awkward?

In my experience with single and double quotes, if one wishes to convey that a word or phrase is being used with less than exact or secure application of its literal meaning, one puts *single* quotes around them; it conveys the idea of “so to speak,” or suggesting an oblique usage, perhaps even irony or sarcasm. Double quotes are simply quotes, but using them may place emphasis or highlight a concept that might be unfamiliar to the reader.

Since I was saying that Christ’s sacrifice took place in the heavenly realm, I highlighted “blood” to convey the idea that it was indeed the sacrifice of his blood that was applicable here, despite it not being human or earthly blood. (Note my reference [p.159] to Cicero and his statement that the gods possess something that is “analogous to blood.”) And I was quoting the fact that the epistles (which is where mythicism is to be found) actually use the word “blood” in connection with Christ’s sacrifice.

Going back to Barrett, this brings up a criticism often made against me, and which James has done here in regard to a quote from Morna Hooker. She stated a principle (Barrett once stated a possible meaning in regard to a Greek phrase which I was able to make use of, though in a manner he did not). It is completely legitimate for me to appeal to such observations when they can be applied to a mythicist interpretation, even if the scholar himself or herself does not choose to make the same application of their observations. Hooker pointed out the principle involved in counterpart guarantees: “Christ becomes what we are (likeness of flesh, suffering and death), so enabling us to become what he is (exalted to the heights).” That principle stands, it works in both cases, whether it is applied to a Christ perceived to be acting on earth, or a Christ perceived to be acting in the heavens. I am well aware that Hooker applies it to the former; she understands it in that context. That doesn’t necessitate her being right. I can take the same principle and understand it in the context of a heavenly death and rising. Because I don’t conform to Hooker’s context does not necessitate me being wrong. This is simple logic, something in short supply around here.

Response 2:

First of all, I have been having trouble accessing this page, which is one reason (but only one) why I have not replied sooner to this installment of the review. So this will be a piecemeal effort, and I will jump into James’ accusation that I have contradicted myself in the matter of heavenly vs. earthly.

I know this is a complex and to many an unfamiliar subject, but James perceives a contradiction where there is none. He has simply given an erroneous interpretation to my first statement, and then compounded it by misapplying it my second one:

“(Doherty) writes on p. 104 of “that most fundamental of ancient concepts outlines earlier: the idea that the earth was the mirror image of heaven, the product proceeding from the archetype, the visible material counterpart to the genuine spiritual reality above. Heavenly events determined earthly realities.”


“The suggestion that since earthly rulers are considered to be controlled by heavenly ones the latter are seen as operating “through” the former is simply reading the idea into the text.”

These two ideas are completely separate. That should be clear. The first statement is about the archetype-copy concept. As in Hebrews, the heavenly sanctuary is the archetype, and through instructions to Moses, an earthly copy was made of it. Or, as the Ascension of Isaiah 7 states, “as above [i.e., the heavens], so also on earth, for the likeness of what is in the firmament is here on earth” (apparently referring to the warring of the demons being a counterpart to warring among nations on earth). Thus we have two separate things, one in heaven, one on earth, with counterpart characteristics; and usually it is a matter of the earthly counterpart being the copy of the one in heaven.

What this has to do with the question of whether the demons control earthly rulers, I don’t know. There are no counterparts in the matter of who crucified Jesus. Either the demons did it in the heavens, or the earthly rulers did it on earth, under the influence of the demons. But that is not the ‘archetype-copy’ concept or anything like it. When Platonic philosophy says that the archetype in heaven “determines” the copy on earth, it is hardly the same as the idea of the demons controlling or manipulating the earthly rulers. Where is the archetype here? Where is the copy? If the demons have not crucified Christ in the heavens (which James denies), there is no “genuine spiritual reality” of which an earthly crucifixion is the copy. If the demons working on earth (whispering in the rulers’ ears?) simply persuade the rulers to crucify Jesus of Nazareth, there is only one event. There is no archetype and copy. This has nothing to do with Platonism.

There is no contradiction between my two statements. They are about two different things. As usual, James is off on his own tangent of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The only “mess” is James’ consistent misreading of my book and its arguments.

As for Origen, he is anxious to understand 1 Cor. 2:8 as meaning that the demons were working through earthly rulers. But he admits that the language of the passage is the language of non-earthly forces, and he actually makes no attempt to claim that Paul meant the demons working through rulers on earth. I have demonstrated in the book that Origen is the first we can see to adopt this explanation, in an attempt to reconcile what to many seemed to be a reference to the demon spirits, and modern scholarship itself takes a page from Origen. (Tertullian before him did not: he rejected Marcion’s reading that it was the demons and countered that 1 Cor. 2:8 simply referred to earthly rulers.)

As I said on Vridar, the Greek for “rulers” was applied both to the earthly type and the heavenly type in both pagan and Jewish/Christian parlance. If Paul uses it in Romans 13 as a clear reference to the former, that does not mean that one is justified in applying that meaning to all of his usages of it when the reference is *not* clear. That would be question-begging, even if historicists do that sort of thing all the time (such as in “brother of the Lord”).

As for the Gospels, James says:

“Yet the Gospels much earlier than either of those church fathers have a different perspective than the one Doherty is trying desperately to read into Paul.”

You’re darn right they do. Their perspective is so different, they don’t bring in the demons at all. It’s entirely earthly authorities (king, high priest and governor) in sight. Aside from an allusion in John, there are no demons working through earthly rulers, so James can hardly appeal to the Gospels to support modern scholarship’s contention that the way to interpret 1 Cor. 2:8 is that the demons crucified Christ through earthly rulers. The two ideas are separate and contradictory. The Gospels have no demons involved in the crucifixion; the epistles have no earthly authorities involved in the crucifixion (not even an earthly time and place). Thus they are contradictory and incompatible views. James is the one desperate to read something into Paul, as have many scholars since Origen, namely that while Paul meant demons, he meant them working through earthly rulers. This is not supported by the text or the epistles in general, but only by imposing one meaning of “rulers” (earthly ones), used with clear meaning in other contexts in the epistles, on a passage and a topic (Christ’s crucifixion) which is anything but clear and unambiguous, and which fits with far more coherence with mythicist interpretations elsewhere in the texts.

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5 thoughts on “Doherty’s responses to McGrath’s ch.10 (pt.1) review”

  1. I still have to digest what Origen and Tertullian say about 1 Cor. 2:8, but however it may be, we already know that it was understood long before them in an “earthly” and “cosmic” sense. But what’s more primitive, Acts 3:17, 13:27-28 or the Ascension of Isaiah 9? Mason and Eisenman convince me that Acts used Josephus and must be after 93 CE. Perhaps Asc. Isa. 9 is earlier than Acts, but I don’t know when it was written or if it can be known. These are the earliest “interpretations” of 1 Cor. 2:8, as far as I can tell.

    The deutero-Pauline Ephesians and Colossians do not say that cosmic rulers killed Jesus. Eph. 3:10 says that God’s wisdom was made known to them through the church, and 6:12 says that the church fought against rulers in the cosmic sense, something an earthly Jesus could have done, too. We already know that the word rulers can be understood in a cosmic and earthy sense. The question is what sense does Paul mean it in 1 Cor. 2:8, and these verses don’t seem to be addressing that.

    Though it might be implied by the context, Col 2:15 also doesn’t say that the rulers killed Jesus, and it is uncertain what the meaning is here anyway because it says in 1:16, “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.”

    This sounds similar to what Ignatius (or should I say Perigrinus?) says in Smyrneans 6:1, which Neil brought to my attention: “Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation.” According to the Wikipedia page on Ephesians, Ignatius “seemed to be very well versed in the epistle to the Ephesians, and mirrors many of his own thoughts in his own epistle to the Ephesians.” He is also regarded as being the earliest witness to Ephesians, so maybe he wrote it. In any event, like Colossians (which Ephesians may have used as a source), for Ignatius rulers are “both visible and invisible.”

    But when it comes to the earliest texts that specifically “interpret” 1 Cor. 2:8, as far as I can tell, we are left with only Acts and Asc. Isa. 9. I can’t say which one is earlier or “right,” but
    whether they originally really believed it or it was only meant symbollically, it seems clear that the “historicist” understanding, for whatever reason, had a bigger impact on Christians.

    I think it is worth pointing out that James 5:6 says that at least one member of James’ group was condemned and killed by humans, after which it immediately says, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7).

    1. He [Ignatius/Peregrinus] is also regarded as being the earliest witness to Ephesians, so maybe he wrote it.

      If Ignatius/Peregrinus really did know about Ephesians, he couldn’t be the earliest witness to it. If Ignatius/Peregrinus was an Apellean Christian, then he would necessarily be after Marcion – Apelles was a former Marcionite. And Marcion, at least to me, seems to be the earliest witness to Ephesians (c. 120 CE).

      1. If Ignatius was Peregrinus and an Apellean Christian, I suppose so. I’m only relating that I gather that Ignatius is regarded as the earliest witness to Ephesians, which I assume entails regarding Ignatius as dying c. 117 CE, before Marcion comes on the scene. And since the letters of Ignatius (whoever he was) and Ephesians are considered so similar, I’m only speculating that perhaps “Ignatius” wrote them all, and not arguing for it.

        Ignatius seems like a tricky subject in any event, and I’m happy to let Roger Parvus deal with it.

    2. Hi John. The word for “rulers” can be used of earthly or heavenly beings, but it’s a long time since I looked at detailed scholarly discussions on the meaning of “rulers of this age”. Doherty says it is acknowledged as technical term for the heavenly rulers, I think. I do know that his argument for the location of the sacrifice extends across the spectrum of the NT epistles and other early Christian lit. As for the date of Ascension of Isaiah, you probably know of my earlier 3 posts discussing prominent views of this?


  2. I have before and have now looked them over again to refresh my memory. It sounds like the conjectured time frame for Ch. 9 is simlar to Acts, anywhere from roughly the mid-first to the mid-second century CE. I’m comfortable with the idea that Acts is after 93 CE, which puts it in the same ballpark as ch. 9 of the Ascension. If it could be determined that Asc. Isa. 9 is older than Acts, then that would be interesting.

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