2012-04-22

Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test

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by Neil Godfrey

spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Auton...
spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Autonomy in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw none of the other apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. — Galatians 1:19

On this verse some hang their strongest assurance that Jesus himself was an historical figure. Paul says he met James, the brother of the Lord (assumed to be Jesus), so that is absolute proof that Jesus existed. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable conclusion. So reasonable, in fact, that some quickly denounce as perverse cranks any who deny this “obvious meaning”.

But should historians be content with this? Is it being “hyper-sceptical” to question this explanation?

We need to keep in mind some fundamental principles of historical research and explanations from the professional historians themselves. Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Since I am currently reading and reviewing Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus I am taking time out in this post to see what happens if I test this “obvious” interpretation of Galatians 1:19 by means of Bayesian principles. Carrier argues that Bayes’ Theorem is nothing more than a mathematical presentation or demonstration of what goes on inside our heads when we are reasoning about any hypothesis correctly. So let’s try it out on the conclusions we draw from Galatians 1:19.

The way it works is like this. (But keep in mind I am a complete novice with Bayes’ theorem. I am trying to learn it by trying to explain what I think I understand so far.) I see a verse in Paul’s letters that appears to have a simple explanation. I think of myself as a geologist looking at strata in a rock face and I think about all I know about strata and the evidence in front of me and with all that in mind I try to work out how that strata came to look the way it does. This verse is like that strata. My task is to test a hypothesis or explanation for how it came to be there and to appear as it does.

So the explanation, or hypothesis, that I decide to test is: That James, whom Paul meets according to this letter, was a sibling of Jesus. That’s my initial explanation for this verse, or in particular this phrase, “James the brother of the Lord”, being there.

It seems pretty straightforward, surely. This should be easy enough to confirm.

So let’s set it out in the theorem structure.

The probability that my explanation for Gal 1:19 is true =

The probability that my explanation for Gal 1:19 is true

=

.

(How typical the explanation is) X (How expected the evidence is if the explanation is true)

—————————————————————————————————————-

(How typical the explanation is) X (How expected the evidence is if the explanation is true)

+

(How atypical the explanation is) X (How expected the evidence is if the explanation is not true)

So the first value I need to enter is “How typical the explanation is”.

This means we need to make an assessment of its typicality given all our relevant background knowledge. I put the negatives in red and the positives in green.

According to the Gospels Jesus did have a brother named James.

Now if the phrase said “James the brother of Jesus” then of course we would all agree that such a phrase points to a sibling relationship. But we do have many instances where “brother” is used of Christians and in Hebrews Jesus speaks of having many brethren.

“The Lord” is a religious title here and Jesus is not named. So we have some small space for alternative possibilities.

But against both of the above we might think it is more typical to depart from the spiritual meaning of such a term when one is attempting to clarify the personal identity of one person.

We know of no other instances of people in this context being called the “brother of a spiritual Lord” (or God) so this reduces the typicality of the explanation.

But we have one tradition that Jesus had no siblings at all. We also have other knowledge that James was reputed to have been a renowned leader of the Jerusalem church, and his relationship with God was so close that he was known as old ‘camel-knees’, a repetitive strain injury/side-effect from overmuch praying. (Presumably this is even evidence he wore short tunics otherwise how would this be known, but we can save that little profundity for the theologians.) Our interest is in the likelihood of such a phrase in this context being an indicator that James and Jesus were siblings.

Another circumstance we do know was common enough in ancient times was the tendency for copyists to edit works, usually by adding the odd word or phrase or more. Sometimes this was entered as a gloss in the margin by way of commentary, with a subsequent copyist incorporating that gloss into the main body of the text. That’s a possibility, too, given what we know of both Christian and pagan texts.

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 based 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. (Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, pp. 61-62)

On the other side of the ledger we have the likelihood that if Jesus were known as a Son of David then it is reasonable to imagine that his royal heir would be his next-in-line brother.

I would say the typicality of our hypothesis should be “very probable”, let’s say 0.95. Or am I being overly generous here? Will I think the same tomorrow?

By assigning 0.95 as the probability for how typical our explanation is, we by default assign 0.05 as the value of how atypical our explanation is. The two values most add up to 1.

The next value we need to enter is one to indicate how expected the evidence is if the explanation is true.

This includes taking into account a lack of evidence where we have strong reasons to expect to find that evidence if our hypothesis is true.

Well, if our hypothesis were true, yes, we would expect someone who met James to inform readers of his letter that the James he met was indeed the brother of Jesus if that’s what “Lord” refers to. (And certainly Jesus is called “Lord” very often elsewhere. So is God, but Jesus is too.) So to that extent the evidence is just what we would expect.

Against this, however, is the problem that if our hypothesis were true — that James, a leader of the church, really was a sibling of Jesus — we would expect to find supporting claims to this effect in the contemporary or near contemporary literature.

But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus despite his prominence in the Jerusalem church. Additionally, we have the unexpected failure to explain how this James acquired this position of pre-eminence. The beginning of the book indicates only twelve apostles and a total of 120 brethren were the original Christian club. James is not singled out. Yet we inexplicably find James leading the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. It should further be kept in mind that we have no reason to assume that the designation “brother of the Lord” in Galatians was a reference to a “head” of the church as James appears to be in Acts.

The letter attributed to James in the New Testament gives no hint that its author knew that the name and person of James was a blood relation of Jesus. One would have expected some such indication in a letter sent to brethren far and wide (to “the twelve tribes”) to alert readers to the presumed author’s authority. This would be especially so if James were a reasonably common name. Given the often contentious nature of early Christian correspondence it is difficult to explain why any information to enhance the author’s authoritative status would not be made explicit.

The letter attributed to Jude in the New Testament is just as unexpected in the way it identifies its author as the brother of James and not Jesus — if indeed our hypothesis were correct.

The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus. There are no indications anywhere in the Gospels that this hostility was ever resolved. So on the strength of what we know from the Gospels we must suspect that the James Paul met in Jerusalem was not the same as the brother in the Gospels. If he were the same we would expect some hint somewhere that he came to have a change of heart.

Another factor in the Gospel account is the unusual combination of the names assigned to the brothers of Jesus. Any discussion on whether or not Jesus had literal siblings necessarily embraces Mark’s naming four brothers:

Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James (=Jacob), Joseph, Judas (=Judah) and Simon (=Simeon)? (Mark 6:3)

Although the names may have been common, to find these particular names all bracketed together is still striking. Jacob, Joseph and Judah are three of the most prominent of Israelite patriarchs, and Simeon, too, is strongly associated in this status with Judah. As historical Jesus scholar Paula Fredriksen remarks:

It’s a little like naming a string of Olsons Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin: the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past. (Jesus of Nazareth, p.240)

Paul in Galatians expresses no interest in learning about Jesus things that only a brother could know. He even scoffs at the idea that James might have anything to teach him.

The context in which the brothers of Jesus appear in the first Gospel (Mark) is the theological message that prophets are not accepted by their own kith and kin. The scene is presented to illustrate this message. It sets Jesus in the tradition of other men of God: Abel, Joseph, Jephthah, Moses, David . . . So the purpose is not to convey historical information but to illustrate a theological message and claim about Jesus. Given the absence of any other evidence clearly supporting historicity, this is a point against the historicity of the relationship between the two persons.

There is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 till the time of Origen (3rd century) despite its apparent potential usefulness in arguments against Marcionites by “orthodox” representatives such as Tertullian (second century).

There is a critical case of some slight cogency against the authenticity of Gal. i, 18, 19, which was absent from Marcion’s Apostolicon; the word “again” in Gal. ii, 1, which presupposes the earlier passage, seems to have been interpolated as it is absent from Irenaeus’s full and accurate citation of this section of the Epistle to the Galatians in his treatise against Heretics. (p. 76 of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith.)

This record of evidence and “negative evidence” is all very unexpected if our hypothesis were true. I would say it is “very improbable”.

“Very improbable” sounds like a 5% chance of us finding this state of evidence if our hypothesis were correct.

That is, we can assign a probability of 0.05 to the expectedness of the evidence that we do have given our hypothesis is true.

So let’s multiply these two:

[How typical the explanation is — 0.95]

X

[How expected the evidence is if the explanation is true — 0.05]

= 0.0475

Now we need to weigh the alternative hypotheses.

How atypical is the explanation? We have already assigned that the value of 0.05.

How expected is the evidence if our hypothesis were not true. That is, how expected is our evidence if James were not literally in real life the brother of Jesus?

Given the considerations listed above, I would say that the evidence is just what we would expect if James were not a literal sibling of Jesus. It is also just what we would expect (not being attested until the third century despite the anti-Marcionite value of such a concept, and slight hints it did not appear in the text known to Tertullian) if the phrase “brother of the Lord” entered as a gloss.

So how expected is the evidence if our hypothesis were not true? I have to say it is “extremely probable”: that is, 0.99.

So let’s calculate the values in the denominator:

The first one is the same as the numerator: 0.0475

This will have to be added to the following:

How atypical the explanation is: 0.05

X

How expected the evidence is if the explanation is not true: 0.99

= 0.0495

The Answer:

The probability that my explanation for Gal 1:19 is true

=

.

0.0475

—————————————————————————————————————-

0.0475

+

0.0495

= 0.4897

Conclusion

This is a very simplified use of Bayes’ Theorem applied to the likelihood that Galatians 1:19 is evidence that James was a sibling of Jesus.

The answer I arrive at is a 50% probability that it is reliable evidence Jesus and James were siblings.

I have only begun to read Richard Carrier’s book and I am sure I have much more yet to understand. I imagine Carrier and others more experienced with this sort of thing will be aghast at mistakes or oversights or oversimplifications I have surely committed.

If I juggle the figures a bit to try to be more accommodating to what evaluations I would expect historicists to make, I can bump up the figure to 66% probability the hypothesis is true.

What this exercise has taught me is the problematic nature of assigning number values. I know Carrier addresses this question later in the book. Part of that difficulty, however, was consciousness of how my own biases might be being quantified and made to stand out like a boil on my nose. It is easy to be a bit too easy on the values I assign simply to avoid any suspicion of letting my biases affect my judgment.

Until I read Carrier’s section on how to assign number values, I suggest that the difficulty must necessarily force one to air the probabilities with peers, both supporters and opponents. There needs to be some agreement for the final results to be acceptable to anyone. And that discussion can only be a good thing by forcing the various factors in an argument to the up-front attention of all stakeholders in the debate. One cannot glibly dismiss an argument on the vague grounds that it is “not persuasive”.

I could well say, with simpler figures, for example, that the numerator should be 0.18. That is, 0.9 times 0.2 (how expected the evidence is given that James was the brother of Jesus). The expectation that the evidence we have is what we would expect if James and Jesus were not siblings and the phrase “brother of the Lord” originated as a gloss: = 0.9

The result then would be 0.67 or two-thirds, 67%.

That’s when I try to bend the results as favourably as possible towards the bias that James and Jesus were siblings.

Even that result demonstrates that the argument that Galatians 1:19 is slam-dunk proof that James and Jesus were siblings is false. The verse can by no means be upheld with absolute confidence that it the guarantor of James being the physical brother of Jesus.

30% doubt leaves a lot of room for further questioning and wider investigation.

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99 thoughts on “Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test”

  1. Another thing to factor in to the equation would be the later view among the proto-Catholics that Mary remained a virgin and had no other children. Given the emergence of this view, there would be the possibility that some of the silences about James as Jesus’ brother could be explained by arguments that proto-Catholic scribes tried to expunge James, and especially his sibling relationship to Jesus from the record. IIRC Eisenmann argues that the proto-Catholics tried to de-emphasize James’ importance in the early Church because they favored Petrine and Pauline doctrines. His argument was pretty complicated to my recollection, and I don’t have my copy of James, the Brother of Jesus handy.

    Another possible factor could be an attempt to assess the probability that James would have believed that his brother created the Universe. In Galatians, it is clear that the dispute between Paul’s faction and James’ is over circumcision and adherence to the commandments of the Torah, not the metaphysical nature of Jesus.* I’m not exactly sure how you’d go about this, except maybe by sampling cult leaders who represented themselves as divine men (e.g. Sun Myung Moon, Charles Manson, Sathya Sai Baba) to see how many of their immediate family members (not counting children) accept their claims. More difficult to sample would be the number of would-be divine men whose families just quietly locked them in the attic, shuffled them off to an asylum, or kicked them out and left them raving on the street corner selling pencils from a cup.

    So yeah, it’s complicated. 🙂

    *This could lead to a discussion (and a Bayesian calculation) of the likelihood that the James faction could be unaware of Paul’s highly-spiritualized view of Jesus as creator and sustainer of the Cosmos, while being aware of his faction’s dismissal of Torah law, or that disputes on that subject were not considered worthy of debate by Paul as he wrote Galatians.

  2. You remind me of the Gospel of Thomas saying that heaven and earth were created for James. This indicates that James’ relationship was with a spirit or heavenly Jesus who revealed things to the disciples.

    1. Could you expand on this a bit? I don’t quite see how that follows. Are you arguing that this saying would not make sense in a historicist model because historicism would anticipate that such a saying would say that heaven and earth were created for Jesus rather than James (Jesus being the higher-ranking, more important man of the two), but in a mythicist model James could be upheld as the most specialest little snowflake ever, by a purely spiritual creator-Jesus?

      Also, your comment brings to mind some things I’ve read about various “twinnings” of Jesus. In the earliest Gospel manuscripts, the person released so that Jesus could be crucified was called “Jesus Barabbas” (later manuscripts omit “Jesus” from his name). I’m guessing this is modeled after the Jewish Day of Atonement ceremony, in which one goat is sacrificed (“Jesus, Son of Man”) and one is released into the wilderness as a “scapegoat” to carry away the sins of the people (“Jesus, son of the Father,” i.e. “Bar-Abbas”).

      I have also read that different Gnostic groups had notions of Jesus having a twin or “clone” or energy-based multiple of himself 🙂 so that during the Crucifixion, the spiritual one appeared to the disciples, laughing over the suffering form on the cross, because it wasn’t really him. IIRC “Thomas Didymus” (“Thomas the Twin”) is sometimes viewed by Gnostics as a twin of Jesus. OTOH, I think I read that stuff in Freke and Gandy’s works, so it may not be trustworthy.

      Anyway, your comment made me wonder, if there was a strand of tradition about Jesus having twins or copies of himself, then perhaps a scenario could be postulated where James was the original founder of the cult, teaching that he was the “brother” (and perhaps the earthly manifestation) of a spiritual Messiah/Logos. Then Paul came along, nabbed his idea and ran with it, ultimately seizing dominance of the cult by opening the door wider to Gentiles. Such a scenario could also be applied to an historical Jesus making the original claim, rather than James.

      Of course, that’s pure, non-scholarly speculation on my part with no early sources that I know of as evidence. Also, I have no idea how early or authentic that saying from gThomas about heaven and earth being created for James is, or how scholars interpret it.

      Still, if traditions about Jesus having “twins” or mirror-selves like Barabbas have early provenance, that would probably muddy the waters a bit concerning “brothers of the Lord.”

      1. The scape goat, centurion observing Jesus death on the cross are all perfect examples of the solar saviour god dying at the winter solstice. The goat is of course Capricorn the sign after the winter solstice while the centurion or centaur which is of course the symbol of Sagitarrius. Why didnt Bart examine the zodiac angle for the gospel of Mark ? Bill Darlinson and others have great resources about the astrological influence and direction given to the layout and ordering of the gospel stories.

  3. “But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus despite his prominence in the Jerusalem church. Additionally, we have the unexpected failure to explain how this James acquired this position of pre-eminence. The beginning of the book indicates only twelve apostles and a total of 120 brethren were the original Christian club. James is not singled out. Yet we inexplicably find James leading the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. It should further be kept in mind that we have no reason to assume that the designation “brother of the Lord” in Galatians was a reference to a “head” of the church as James appears to be in Acts.

    Robert Eisenman is the go-to guy on this. He shows Judas’ replacement, in Acts 1 is where the election or appointment of James should logically occur, AND DOES, albeit under cover of “Joseph Barsabas JUSTUS (James the JUST), the defeated candidate. The replacement for “Judas” who is fictional himself, is Matthias, also an invention, and never heard from again. “Stephen” is also a fictional creation, STONED to death, as was James. The clothes of the condemned (James) are laid at the feet of SAUL, who is, of course, Paul. The words he utters, “Hold not this sin against them” is put into the mouth of Jesus on the cross (it is recorded as James’ by Clement, I think it is).

    So many characters are overwrites for James it is a veritable cottage industry in the NT. I just realized, reading “James the Brother of Jesus” for this post, that Jesus himself shows another attribute of James: his legs are “broken” in the fall from the Temple steps (Josephus?), and Jesus of course, did NOT have his “broken” on the cross. Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is moved from James to Jesus, and “You will see the Son of man coming with great Power on the clouds of heaven” likewise is James’. John Mark, the ones above, Judas, and Lazarus are all overwrites of James. Why not JESUS?

    1. I liked Robert Price’s comment in his review of Eisenman’s book on James. It struck a common chord with my own impression: he builds a case upon many conditional arguments — like that talented person who can keep oh so many plates spinning at once before any of them collapses. My suspicion is that if each of Eisenman’s hypotheses was put to a Bayesian test and then all of them brought together the probabilities of his grand conclusion would fall a bit short of being quite as high as Mount Everest.

      1. I think you might be confusing a review of JBJ on amazon.com with Price’s review. The former says:

        “Forgive him — he is obviously a professional academic, and writes like one. Forgive him also because his subject matter is, as he parses it, hopelessly complex. He has to raise one point only to leave it dangling in the air while he goes to deal with another related issue. His subject matter forces him to be a whirling dervish, or the intellectual equivalent of a plate spinner with too many plates.”

        But Price wrote something similar:

        “EISENMAN’S James the Brother of Jesus often seems too circuitous and redundant, but this is the result of his having to keep a number of balls in the air at once. He has to begin explaining something here, put it on hold, go to something else that you’ll need to plug into the first explanation, then return to it, go on to another, and another, then come back to the earlier items, remind you of them, and then finally assemble the whole complex device. Eisenman is like the Renaissance scientists who had to hand-craft all the intricate parts of a planned invention. The book is an ocean of instructive insight and theory, a massive and profound achievement that should open up new lines of New Testament research.”

        I don’t mind that Eisenman speculates about so many things (in fact, I think it is fascinating), and his overall theory of Christian orgins does not depend on it. I find his educated guesses inevitable because so much about Christian origins is a mystery.

  4. Gal. 1:22 following the visit of Paul to Cephas and James in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19) reads: “22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.”

    But Jerusalem is in Judea! So either Paul is directly contradicting himself, or one of these lines is fake, n’est-ce pas?

  5. I have no knowledge about the any religious or political leaders present in Judea, but could it be possible that there was a combination of a religious leader called James or Jacob that also had a brother or family member that had some sort of political power during the first century. My limited knowledge of that area seems to make this a real possibility as rulers often like cooperative religious leaders and family is a good insurance policy in this regard. The best example taken from the bible is of course Moses and Aaron.

    The title Lord does not mean Jesus exclusively it could mean any important person, as is evident in medi-evil times.

  6. You have left out the testimony in the 1st Apocalypse of James that James was not the biological brother of Jesus as well as the reported testimony of Paul himself in Contra Celsum by Origen that Jesus was not the biological brother of James. These would drop whatever probability you end up assigning.

  7. I forgot with my last post, a perfect example of brother not being limited to blood sibling. In the 19th century there was a Chinese Messiah who claimed he was the literal brother of Jesus.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Xiuquan

    Hong was the most successful Messiah, in the Jewish spirit of conquering a great kingdom, in that he had millions of Chinese followers and controlled a significant amount of land, which is more than all other false messiahs including Jesus combined.

    1. Hong’s religion was dualistic, and had gnostic elements in common with Manicheanism. He also got his start in region of China where there was strong Manichean presence before it was outlawed by Imperial government. Yet most academics vehemently insist that Hong made it all up himself, on the basis of his limited exposure to orthodox protestant missionaries, with nary a whiff of either Manichean (or Nestorian) influence. It just would not do to have to admit that memories of a heretical form of christism might have survived into modern times.

  8. I think I should also have factored in to the initial “how typical true the explanation is” the nature of ancient texts vis a vis the date of our earliest manuscripts. We know that ancient texts even in their own day (before our surviving manuscripts) became riddled with interpolations.

    Even if we lower the initial figure by only 10 percent to 0.85 we will bring down the probability that the verse is evidence of a sibling relationship to 22%.

  9. On pages 57-58 of The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty said:

    Note, too, that such designations are always “of the Lord,” never “of Jesus.” We might also note that the term “adelphos” was common in Greek circles to refer to the initiates that belonged to the mystery cults.

    Factoring in those points would presumably weaken the Bayesian probability for sibling.

    On pages 119-120 of DJE, Ehrman went to great length to make a case for the Corinthians 9:5 “brothers of the Lord” not having been intended as brothers in the spiritual sense. His translation:

    “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

    On page 335 (note 26) of The Jesus Puzzle Doherty gave this translation, which he said is literal:

    “Have we not the right to take along a sister (adelphēn), a wife, as do the rest of the apostles and the brothers (adelphoi) of the Lord and Cephas?”

    From Doherty’s discussion, it is apparent that there is nothing inaccurate about Ehrman’s less literal “believing wife,” but it would appear to be a ploy to avoid having to discuss the fact that adelphēn is not about female siblings, but rather about a fellow-believer of the female sex. Of course, Doherty had discussed adelphēn in order to point out by analogy that adelphoi referred to fellow-believers in the Lord, not siblings. Ehrman claimed that the sentence makes no sense with “brothers of the Lord” being interpreted that way because it would imply that the “apostles themselves and even Cephas (Peter) were not the ‘spiritual brothers’ of the Lord since they are differentiated from those who are brothers. And so interpreters are virtually unified in thinking that Paul means Jesus’ actual brothers.” Why is it, then, that the Kindle Bible KJV has it as “brethren of the Lord”? And wouldn’t it be possible that apostles were being differentiated from the ordinary believers and Peter from the ordinary apostles?

  10. Paul and James seem to have been enemies. If the Gospels and Acts were written to promote Pauline Christianity, it is not surprising that a fraternal blood relationship between James and Jesus would be played down.

  11. I think it would be good to keep in mind that the use of Bayes’ in this context isn’t about precision but about following the rules of probability. So the Bayes’ formula is actually Very Probable * Very Improbable / Very Probable * Very Improbable + Very Improbable * Extremely Probable. The result of all of this probabilistic language — language that historians are already using — is that the hypothesis is somewhere in the agnostic range. The numbers are just there to aid in calculation, since humans by nature are bad at thinking in terms of probability.

    Almost all of the critiques I’ve read of using Bayes’ in this context is that Carrier is attempting to feign precision using Bayes’, when in reality it’s just meant to clear up possibly muddled probabilistic thinking. And if using Bayes’ in this context really is misuse, then other inherently probabilistic arguments like Occam’s Razor and falsifiability are also misuse.

  12. Maybe I have mentioned the difference between physical labour and philosophical labour before? Look, the method can be used for making inference about when a text was written based on texts elsewhere and when..

    This is physical labour.

    Inference on political positioning within a movement by a number of possible unknown authors is philosophical labour.

    When the wife talks about doing the garden stumps, its philosophical labour. When I cajole my son into doing it in fear of my partner its.. Machiavellian.

  13. How is it that James became the leader of the church in all of Judea, im assuming because of his knowledge, political know how and such skills, and yet Jesus select Peter. How is it that Jesus prophecised that Peter would be the foundation of the church and yet in the Pauline scriptures being discussed its James ? Why doesnt Jesus raise James to the same leadership level as Peter give or take ? Why does each historical person present or select totally different people ?

  14. Bearing in mind that historical research consists of ‘an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence’ (Elton, ‘The Practice of History’, p.88), if we search a Greek corpus such as TLG, or the Duke Papyri Database, or PHI Greek Inscriptions, or Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, how many times do we find ‘X, the brother of Y’ referring to fictive kinship?

    As the immortal Christopher Hitchens once said, ‘That which is asserted without evidence, may be dismissed without evidence’. Closer to home, Carrier has warned regarding the use of Bayesian analysis, ‘Speculation in, speculation out’.

    It is therefore significant that, as Neil has pointed out, ‘We know of no other instances of people in this context being called the “brother of a spiritual Lord” (or God) so this reduces the typicality of the explanation’. Unless we have at least one prior example, the only value we can assign to the theory that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ in Galatians 1:19 refers to fictive kinship, is zero. Without evidence for the use of this term with the meaning proposed, we may dismiss the claim that it has this meaning. Without evidence for the use of this term with the meaning proposed, we are simply plugging speculation into Bayes’ theorem, and we will receive speculation in return.

    1. You have not read Carrier’s argument nor do you understand probability. Nothing is zero probability. This was a hard pill for me to swallow at first because I don’t like it when Dawkins say there’s a zentillionth probability that God exists. I want to say zero. But for the first time I was shown the argument why it is that way. I can cover this in a future post.

      If you say it’s zero then you are not allowing for any new or unique event to happen at all. You are even precluding the possibility that the evidence you are looking at is the sole known case for X. I don’t think you really want to argue that way if you are going to defend other points Christians often like to defend.

      But more to the point for this particular post, if you observe carefully you will notice that my proposition was not “That the verse speaks of a spiritual brother”. It was, “That the explanation for the evidence of the text Gal 1:19 is that James was a literal sibling of Jesus.” The text is the evidence. What is the explanation for that evidence? And that’s where a range of possibilities came in to play. We need to bring in all our background information here. And that’s where, as you so rightly point out, “an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation”, comes into play. I bounced off whatever came to mind at the time of the exercise, and others have since added information I overlooked. I am sure there is more to be considered.

      You have made the mistake of overlooking all of that, and all that background information, and the hypothesis being tested, all because you:

      (1) do not understand probability (that there can never be a zero value unless something is logically nonsense, like a circle can be square),

      (2) do not know Carrier’s argument,

      (3) did not read the hypothesis being tested,

      (4) did not understand or register all the background information that comes into play in the evaluation of that hypothesis,

      (5) reject all of the above because you refuse to allow for any possibility of anything new or unique ever being discovered or happening — despite the fact that the hypothesis being tested was not for anything unique or new at all.

      1. Neil, please read what I wrote. Let me give you the tl;dr version first: value of theory currently substantiated by evidence = x, value of theory currently unsubstantiated by any evidence = <x.

        I never said anything about assigning a a specific mathematical value of zero to a specific mathematical probability. I was not even talking mathematically. I was simply saying that a theory which has no evidence may be dismissed until it does; until it has evidence, it's not worth considering over a competing theory which has evidence. This does not mean that it's impossible for evidence to appear in the future, but it does mean that until such evidence appears, the theory is completely unsubstantiated and may be dismissed in favour of a competing theory which has evidence; in comparison with a theory which does have evidence, the theory with no evidence is worth zero (or 'nothing' if you prefer).

        I know that your proposition was 'That the explanation for the evidence of the text Gal 1:19 is that James was a literal sibling of Jesus'. Why did you think I didn't? I said nothing to indicate any such thing. Of course it is entirely possible that Galatians 1:19 is the only case of 'X, the brother of Y' being a reference to the fictive kinship of a mortal being with a non-mortal spirit being. However, without any evidence that the phrase was ever used with this meaning, we can't make such an assertion, and given there's abundant evidence for the phrase being used of biological kinship, that meaning has the greater likelihood.

        None of your numbered points are remotely true; the last in particular is completely absurd, especially since I said nothing of the kind whatsoever. This whole episode is particularly ironic given that Mytherists typically complain about special pleading and arguments asserted without evidence on the part of their opponents.

        What is also ironic is that the form of your argument (please note that, the form of your argument; I will say it again, the form of your argument), is identical to the forms of argument (please note, the form of argument), made by Intelligent Design proponents. They claim that theories providing an explanation for the diversity of species which competes with evolution should be considered equally plausible as evolution, despite the fact that the competing theories have zero evidence. They point out that evidence for such competing theories may indeed appear in the future, so we should take those theories seriously.

        Scientists rightly respond that a theory which is already supported by evidence is worth considerably more than a theory which has no evidence and is accompanied merely by wishful thinking that there may be evidence for it in the future. Accordingly, the value they ascribe ID theories competing with evolution, is zero.

        1. Calm down, Fortigurn. You have missed the whole point twice over. Let me tell you what it is NOT in case that makes it any clearer. I am not asking for the likelihood that Gal 1:19 indicates or is evidence of a relationship with a spiritual brother.

          Repeat: the hypothesis is not asking for the probability that the verse is evidence that James was thought to be a brother of a celestial lord.

          I am not denying that’s what it means. But I am not interested in testing or establishing a probability for that proposition at all for this exercise.

          I think actually the arguments are stronger that the phrase is not original to Galatians. That is where all that background information comes in. It weighs up every possibility.

          And you did say that unless there is one prior example of X then we have to assign the value of X to zero. That is wrong.

          Perhaps you would like to list all of the background information that you believe is relevant to the question or tell us what has been overlooked.

          You write: “Of course it is entirely possible that Galatians 1:19 is the only case of ‘X, the brother of Y’ being a reference to the fictive kinship of a mortal being with a non-mortal spirit being. However, without any evidence that the phrase was ever used with this meaning, we can’t make such an assertion, and given there’s abundant evidence for the phrase being used of biological kinship, that meaning has the greater likelihood.”

          Exactly. That’s why there is no assertion involved here and why certain other possibilities will have a higher probability. Gosh, I gave the hypothesis the initial probability of being true as 0.95. That’s pretty damn high and gives us an initial strong probability that it the verse is evidence of a sibling relationship. I’m starting out with the a priori assumption that, given what we know of the background information, it is almost certainly true.

          What more do you want?

          No one is asserting that Gal 1:19 is the only example of a sibling relationship with a spiritual lord. (I do not deny the possibility at all but that’s an entirely separate argument.) That’s the whole point of BT — to avoid the sorts of categorical assertions — positive or negative — that you are making now.

          1. “You have missed the whole point twice over. Let me tell you what it is NOT in case that makes it any clearer. I am not asking for the likelihood that Gal 1:19 indicates or is evidence of a relationship with a spiritual brother.”

            Why are you telling me this when it was never a point of contention? This wasn’t even being disputed. Why are you talking as if I thought you were asking for ‘the likelihood that Gal 1:19 indicates or is evidence of a relationship with a spiritual brother’?

            “And you did say that unless there is one prior example of X then we have to assign the value of X to zero. That is wrong.”

            The problem is that you misread me as making a mathematical statement, when I was doing no such thing. I said ‘Unless we have at least one prior example, the only value we can assign to the theory that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ in Galatians 1:19 refers to fictive kinship, is zero’. Note that, ‘the theory’.

            “Perhaps you would like to list all of the background information that you believe is relevant to the question or tell us what has been overlooked.”

            I listed a wealth of such background information; ‘a Greek corpus such as TLG, or the Duke Papyri Database, or PHI Greek Inscriptions, or Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum’. This lexical information wasn’t mentioned once in your assessment.

            “What more do you want?”

            I want you to stop treating subjective speculative arguments as influential on the lexical meaning of a Greek word or phrase. For example:

            * But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus
            * The letter attributed to James in the New Testament gives no hint that its author knew that the name and person of James was a blood relation of Jesus
            * The letter attributed to Jude in the New Testament is just as unexpected in the way it identifies its author as the brother of James and not Jesus
            * The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus
            * Another factor in the Gospel account is the unusual combination of the names assigned to the brothers of Jesus
            * Paul in Galatians expresses no interest in learning about Jesus things that only a brother could know
            * The context in which the brothers of Jesus appear in the first Gospel (Mark) is the theological message that prophets are not accepted by their own kith and kin
            * There is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 till the time of Origen (3rd century

            None of this is relevant to determining the typical lexical meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’. This is a critical step you have completely omitted; determine, using diachronic and synchronic analysis, the most likely meaning of the Greek term in question.

            “No one is asserting that Gal 1:19 is the only example of a sibling relationship with a spiritual lord.”

            I agree. But you claimed I was excluding this categorically, which I didn’t.

            “That’s the whole point of BT — to avoid the sorts of categorical assertions — positive or negative — that you are making now.”

            Please describe the kind of categorical assertions you think I am making. I have made one single point; hat the likelihood of a Greek word or phrase having a meaning attested in the relevant literature, is greater than the likelihood of it having a meaning which is completely unattested in the relevant literature. You have already told me you agree with this. So what’s the problem?

            1. Fortigurn, it would be a lot more pleasant if you left aside your belligerent tone and tried to discuss the matter civilly. If you are here just to demand I accept you are right and yours is the only way of understanding or framing the question then you are wasting your time. Try to be open minded. There really might be another valid way other than yours of looking at something.

              Be a little accepting of the fact that you have not read Carrier’s book or know much about what his argument is, for starters. You say you are not making a mathematical statement because it is a “theory” that you assign a zero value to. But that IS a mathematical statement. I don’t understand how you can say it’s not. A theory in this context — and you should know this from what I have posted on BT — is another word for an explanation. You are saying an explanation has zero chance of being possible. You are ruling it off the table altogether.

              You wish to frame the problem so narrowly that it can only lead to the outcome you want. Others see it differently and do see the relevance of other background information. What if the phrase began as a very late gloss and was not original to Galatians? That is a possibility. You may assign it a value of 0.000001 possible. But you have to admit it is a possibility that can be assigned some non-zero value.

              1. Neil you are tone trolling again. I am not being belligerent or uncivil. I am not making any demands. I am simply asking you for evidence. I haven’t read Carrier’s book, but I have read reams of posts by him explaining his method in copious detail. Regardless, it’s your calculation which is under discussion here, not his.

                “You say you are not making a mathematical statement because it is a “theory” that you assign a zero value to. But that IS a mathematical statement. I don’t understand how you can say it’s not.”

                Because as I already explained, in English ‘zero’ has more than one meaning. It has the non-mathematical meaning ‘none’, or ‘nothing’, or even ‘loser’ (as in ‘He’s a complete zero’; hardly a mathematical term). As I already pointed out, you can replace the word ‘zero’ in my statement with the word ‘nothing’, and it expresses my meaning perfectly; I said ‘in comparison with a theory which does have evidence, the theory with no evidence is worth zero (OR ‘NOTHING’, IF YOU PREFER)’.

                “You are saying an explanation has zero chance of being possible. You are ruling it off the table altogether.”

                No I didn’t say that. I said an explanation WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER IS WORTHLESS AS A COMPETITOR for an argument WHICH HAS EVIDENCE. As I said:

                * ‘I was simply saying that a theory which has no evidence may be dismissed until it does; until it has evidence, it’s not worth considering over a competing theory which has evidence;

                * ‘This does not mean that it’s impossible for evidence to appear in the future, but it does mean that until such evidence appears, the theory is completely unsubstantiated and may be dismissed in favour of a competing theory which has evidence’

                * ‘Scientists rightly respond that a theory which is already supported by evidence is worth considerably more than a theory which has no evidence and is accompanied merely by wishful thinking that there may be evidence for it in the future. Accordingly, the value they ascribe ID theories competing with evolution, is zero.’

                I don’t understand why you are arguing with me over this point, when you previously agreed with it.

              2. I recognized your “name” from McGrath’s blog but I had forgotten you are the one who speaks of tone-trolling. McGrath welcomes his attack dogs on his blog but that sort of uncivil accusation is not welcome here. My rule applies to all sides. I have deleted comments that are abusive against McGrath and others who disagree with me, too. I am not one-sided about this.

                It is surely pedantic to say that an explanation has a value of zero or nothing (a mathematical quantifiable value however you word it) yet say you are not ruling it out of the debate.

              3. My patience has run out and I have put Fortigurn on moderation (again) — his response was again an attempt to assert that the lexical meaning can not possibly refer to a fictive relationship.

                I think it should be clear that my exercise is not about fictive versus biological relationships. Personally I suspect that interpolation is the most likely explanation for Gal 1:19’s phrase and I have no interest in addressing the question that obsesses Fortigurn.

  15. LIkelihood of a Greek word or phrase having a meaning attested in the relevant literature, X. Likelihood of a Greek word or phrase having a meaning which is completely unattested in the relevant liteature, <X.

    1. Your black and white reasoning is not allowing for the probability that there was a group of (spiritual) brothers of the Lord — Acts 12:17 may suggest that. Was it a technical term within a cult and if so, would it make any difference even if we did discover the exact phrase in the way present it in some other unrelated context? We don’t know. But that’s what the whole idea of Bayes’ theorem is meant to help us work through.

      Mainstream scholarship argues that Christianity started with a unique event. Something the Jews would never have invented they, well, invented. So that’s pretty unique. Let’s test that with Bayes. Not that BT as a mathematical formula is the solution or key to it all. What is the key to everything is the laying out on the table of all the conceivable possibilities and their non-zero probabilities. In other words, it’s about addressing all the options and not dogmatically disallowing any to appear on the table as you appear to be wanting to do.

      1. Neil you are not reading what I write. I am simply pointing out that the likelihood of a Greek word or phrase having a meaning attested in the relevant literature, is greater than the likelihood of it having a meaning which is completely unattested in the relevant literature. Do you agree or disagree with this point?

        You are responding with speculation, not evidence. Come back when you have evidence please, instead of speculation.

        1. Of course I agree with that point. So what have I actually written that you disagree with? What speculation have I offered as opposed to evidence? I am speculating or asserting nothing. I am trying to assign all the possibilities with a value. I gave 0.95 value to your side of the argument being right. That left the mythicist with the a priori stance of being only 0.05 right.

          The starting odds are all stacked in the favour of the point you want to argue.

          But you appear to be not satisfied with that. You seem to want there to be no possibility at all that the mythicists might even have a mere 0.05 chance of being right.

          1. “Of course I agree with that point. So what have I actually written that you disagree with?”

            I disagree with you assigning a value of 5% to a possibility for which there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever. You could do that if 95% of the lexical evidence supported the biological reading of ‘X, the brother of Y’, and 5% of the lexical evidence supported the fictive kinship reading of ‘X, the brother of Y’, but you have provided no evidence whatsoever for the fictive kinship reading of ‘X, the brother of Y’, let alone ‘X, the brother of the Lord’.

            I also disagree with you saying “So how expected is the evidence if our hypothesis were not true? I have to say it is “extremely probable”: that is, 0.99”. This is a completely arbitrary assignation for which you provide no justification at all; you don’t even explain the mathematical process by which you calculated it, you just say ‘I have to say it is “extremely probable”: that is, 0.99’.

            This arbitrarily high value results in an artificially high value for the possibility that Galatians 1:19 refers to fictive kinship. However, you assigned this value not on the basis of evidence and a verifiable mathematical calculation, but on what you feel deep in your heart. It’s completely arbitrary and entirely subjective.

            1. You don’t understand. I am saying the exact reverse of what you are accusing me of. I am saying that the very high value of 0.99 is the possibility that Galatians 1:19 refers to a natural physical real historical sibling kinship!

              I am not assigning ANY value for the possibility of it referring to a fictive kinship. I am assigning a 0.01 value to it NOT being a historical physical real kinship. Included meshed somewhere in that 0.01 is, maybe, if you like, the fictive kinship possibility.

              And you accuse me of not reading what you are saying!

              I was bending over backwards to be as favourable to the view I do not hold myself up till now. I think I may even have overdone it.

              It is not entirely arbitrary to assign a value of around 90% to something we believe to be very very probable, or 50% to something we think could go either way. It is possible to assign values to that extent. And it is the ratios between values that will count most in the end. I will be covering all this in future posts.

              1. “You don’t understand. I am saying the exact reverse of what you are accusing me of. I am saying that the very high value of 0.99 is the possibility that Galatians 1:19 refers to a natural physical real historical sibling kinship!”

                Your hypothesis, as stated, is that Galatians 1:19 refers to a natural physical real historical sibling kinship. You present various passages from the New Testament. You say ‘This record of evidence and “negative evidence” is all very unexpected if our hypothesis were true. I would say it is “very improbable”’, and also say ‘“Very improbable” sounds like a 5% chance of us finding this state of evidence if our hypothesis were correct’, and ‘That is, we can assign a probability of 0.05 to the expectedness of the evidence that we do have given our hypothesis is true’.

                So without explaining why, you claim it is so unlikely that we would find this evidence if it were true that Galatians 1:19 refers to a natural physical real historical sibling kinship, that you assign it a value of 0.05.

                Conversely, you say ‘Given the considerations listed above, I would say that the evidence is JUST WHAT WE WOULD EXPECT if James were NOT a literal sibling of Jesus’. Please note your words; ‘JUST WHAT WE WOULD EXPECT’, and ‘NOT a literal sibling of Jesus’.

                You then say “So how expected is the evidence if our hypothesis were NOT true?’. Please note your words; ‘NOT true’. You then say ‘I have to say it is “extremely probable”: that is, 0.99″’. You are assigning a value of ‘0.99’ to the expectation that we would find this evidence if the biological kinship hypothesis were NOT true. You are assigning a value of ‘0.99’ to the expectation that we would find this evidence if ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ is NOT a reference to ‘natural physical real historical sibling kinship’. You are saying that it is almost certain that we would find this evidence of Galatians 1:19 referred to FICTIVE KINSHIP.

                So can I clarify? You provided this list of textual evidence which you plug into your analysis:

                * But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus
                * The letter attributed to James in the New Testament gives no hint that its author knew that the name and person of James was a blood relation of Jesus
                * The letter attributed to Jude in the New Testament is just as unexpected in the way it identifies its author as the brother of James and not Jesus
                * The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus
                * Another factor in the Gospel account is the unusual combination of the names assigned to the brothers of Jesus
                * Paul in Galatians expresses no interest in learning about Jesus things that only a brother could know
                * The context in which the brothers of Jesus appear in the first Gospel (Mark) is the theological message that prophets are not accepted by their own kith and kin
                * There is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 till the time of Origen (3rd century

                Are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship?

                Or are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship?

                Which is it?

                “I am not assigning ANY value for the possibility of it referring to a fictive kinship.”

                You describe the probability for how typical the fictive kinship explanation is, as 0.05:

                “I would say the typicality of our hypothesis should be “very probable”, let’s say 0.95. Or am I being overly generous here? Will I think the same tomorrow? By assigning 0.95 as the probability for how typical our explanation is, we by default assign 0.05 as the value of how atypical our explanation is.”

                You now say “It is not entirely arbitrary to assign a value of around 90% to something we believe to be very very probable, or 50% to something we think could go either way. It is possible to assign values to that extent”. That depends on the basis of your calculation. In this case your calculation does not start with any assessment of the lexical evidence whatsoever, and gives weight to your own personal subjective reading of various passages in the New Testament.

              2. I got as far as your line where you said: “You are saying that it is almost certain that we would find this evidence of Galatians 1:19 referred to FICTIVE KINSHIP.”

                For the googillianth time I did not say that at all. You like to quote my words but you don’t quote me for this one because I never said it. I do not say that. I do not argue that. I have never said that. I have tried to tell you repeatedly I have not said and do not say that.

                What is being tested is the hypothesis that the evidence of Gal 1:19 is explained as a result of James being a sibling of Jesus (not fictive) is true.

                If it turns out that that explanation is less than 90% likely — say 67% or 50% or 25% likely, then it follows that we have a 33%, 50% and 75% chance of it being NOT true.

                Please note: I did not say that we have a 33/50/75 percent chance of it meaning a fictive relationship. I did not say that. That is not what is being tested. All that the 33/50/75 figure refers to is the possibility or probability that there is some explanation OTHER than Jesus and James being nonfictive siblings.

                That does not mean — it does not follow — that we are talking about a fictive relationship as the alternative.

                There are a range of alternatives that I have tried to lay out on the table. I do not know which of these might be a viable alternative from this particular exercise. But from this exercise I have even let you take away the two-thirds probability that your interpertation is the correct one.

                I see you also repeat your assertion later in your comment: “You describe the probability for how typical the fictive kinship explanation is, as 0.05:” No, I did not. You are making that up. I said no such thing.

              3. Neil I not you haven’t answered my question. You provided this list of textual evidence which you plug into your analysis:

                * But in the Book of Acts we have what is surely a strange silence about James being related to Jesus
                * The letter attributed to James in the New Testament gives no hint that its author knew that the name and person of James was a blood relation of Jesus
                * The letter attributed to Jude in the New Testament is just as unexpected in the way it identifies its author as the brother of James and not Jesus
                * The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus
                * Another factor in the Gospel account is the unusual combination of the names assigned to the brothers of Jesus
                * Paul in Galatians expresses no interest in learning about Jesus things that only a brother could know
                * The context in which the brothers of Jesus appear in the first Gospel (Mark) is the theological message that prophets are not accepted by their own kith and kin
                * There is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 till the time of Origen (3rd century

                Are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship?

                Or are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship?

                Which is it? This will help clear things up.

                “Please note: I did not say that we have a 33/50/75 percent chance of it meaning a fictive relationship. I did not say that. That is not what is being tested.”

                I am so glad you agree with me that you didn’t say this, and that this is not what is being tested. We progress!

              4. Are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to BIOLOGICAL kinship?

                Yes

                Or are you saying that the likelihood of finding this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship is 0.99, that it is virtually certain we would find this evidence if Galatians 1:19 refers to FICTIVE kinship?

                No.

  16. This is a really cool post. I wish there was a companion workbook with Carrier’s “Proving History” that actually goes through and takes you through like 10 easy examples of how to plug the numbers in correctly. You could imagine it taking you step by step for the first few examples, and then making you brainstorm your own list of evidences and theories for you to evaluate for later examples. I don’t think I can do that from just prose though.

  17. I want describe (apologizing for my English) what I think would be missing in OHJ about this controversial argument of brother.

    The different reasons given to brother affair in Mark 6:1-6 are the following:

    1) pastoral reason/etiological myth (Jesus is being used as a fictional character to exemplify how Christians are to behave, and how this switch from biological to fictive kin group was supposed to work, and to give it a supreme authority; Carrier’s position and not only his)

    2) biographical reason (the episode happened really how it is written; apologist’s position)

    3) political reason (disparage the biological family of historical Jesus) that reflects a historical dispute between Paul and James (secular historicist’s position).

    The proof in OHJ pro myth is simply perfect only is you grant Carrier his premise that the James ”son of Zebedee” in Mark is not a literary clone of the same James of Gal 1:19 but is a distinct person.

    My proof pro Myth of the same point (that James is not biological brother of Jesus) is based on:

    4) literary reason (exaggerate the James identity) that reflects a political reason (disparage the historical opponent of Paul). Note that this literary reason is not the same of ‘Patriarc names’ reason.

    MY PROOF THAT JAMES IS NOT BROTHER OF JESUS ACCORDING THE FLESH:

    1) a persuasive case may be made that Mark derives strongly from pauline epistles.

    2) Mark reads Gal 1:19 and Gal 2: he didn’t know prima facie if the James there mentioned is the one and same (or not). In doubt, even if he in his mind suspected that James in all Galatians is one and the same, he cloned James in 2 Jameses: James the brother of Jesus and James son of Zebedee (with a pun anti-Pillars in the name ”Zebedee”, you can read this books.google at page 143).

    3) Then is very probable, by (1) & (2), that there is a direct literary link between ”James, the brother of Lord” (Gal 1:19) and the James of Mark 6:1-6 (and other references to Jesus relatives in Mark).

    4) the fatidic question: Mark was inventing that ”biological” meaning for the pauline costruct ”James the brother of Lord”? Or Mark was only making explicit his original prima facie obvious meaning (brother of Lord = brother of Jesus in the flesh)?

    5) the more probable solution: Mark was introducing for the first time the ”biological” meaning for the expression ”James the brother of Lord” (read in Gal 1:19) because he want to vehicle a literary hiperbole with esoteric meaning: James the Pillar (the same James Lord’s brother of Gal 1:19) can be reputed even the biological brother of Jesus ( = the hiperbolic exaggeration – and then literary, not historical – of James’ reputed identity) but if he doesn’t believe to Paul’s Gospel about Christ, then he will never be the true Christian, i.e., the true brother of Lord (= the true original meaning of Gal 1:19 – Carrier docet – for the esoteric Mark).

    Then the conclusion is cruel: James is not an apostle (for the reasons described in OHJ) and he is even a false brother of Lord: he is out from Church.

    6) then the messianic secret (or part of it) get to climax when the mother of James (i.e. James the Pillar) – and simbolically, the mother of old, corrupted Israel – is responsible to prevent with her silence an already degraded Peter to meet the risen Jesus in Galil of Goym, where is already present the first and the greatest of apostles, Paul. (the esoteric meaning: The historical James is guilty of having opposed Peter against Paul)

    Possible objection:

    why from (4) it follows (5) and not other historicist plausible conclusion? Because the first that introduces the idea that James is supra-valuated from other Christians, at the point of be considered Pillar – although God didn’t consider him more important than other ”brothers of Lord” at all – is Paul in Gal 2:6, 9.

    Mark, in virtue of points (1) and (2), is very likely to bring to the extreme hiperbolic conclusion this implicit point of disparagement anti-Pillars in Paul, given how is evident that Mark derives from pauline epistles so diffusely (especially regard the disputes theme in his Gospel).

    I’m curious to know why in OHJ this point is not made (only his gratuitous premise is that the Jameses of epistles and the Jameses of Gospel are all the same historical person). Maybe Carrier has a little neglected the strong weight of literary dipendence of Mark on Paul.

    Giuseppe

  18. I haven’t read “On the Historicity of Jesus” in depth yet so can’t speak for Carrier’s reasons. From what I understand what you are suggesting is an alternative hypothesis to explain the data. Presumably Carrier is more interested in testing the historicity hypothesis than evaluating alternative possibilities?

    I tend to agree with your point — if I understand you correctly — that Mark may well have adapted a church leader to become a literary/theological cipher to represent such messages as you suggest.

  19. Presumably Carrier is more interested in testing the historicity hypothesis than evaluating alternative possibilities?

    I don’t know in what measure my ‘proof’ is affected from fallacy of possibiliter. But surely I think that it’s necessary to consider all the possibilities, and I find a little reductive that Carrier considers only one (that if James of Gal 1:19 is the same James of Gal 2, then he cannot be the biological brother of Jesus because in Mark James the Pillar is son ”of Zebedee” and not of Joseph: if ”Zebedee” is a pun, then Carrier’ premise is not more assured and then it’s necessary to ponder if Mark cloned more Jameses from the unique historical James of epistles).

  20. I came up with this little thought (I report this comment here for convenience and I apologize with Neil):

    1) ”Apostle” is one who sees the angel Jesus during a hallucination.

    2) James saw the angel Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7)

    3) So James is Apostle.

    4) This James is probably James the Pillar mentioned in chapter 2 of Galatians.

    4) Therefore, if this James is the same James also mentioned in Galatians 1:19, then the apostle James is apostle like Peter and therefore the costruct ”brother of the Lord” is not introduced to indicate that James was not an apostle like Peter (against Carrier’s conclusion that ”the brother of Lord” = generic Christian not apostle). On the other hand, the James Pillar in the Gospels will be ”the son of Zebedee,” and not the ”son of Joseph of Nazareth”. Contradiction.

    5) So to avoid this insoluble problem, taking up OHJ‘s interpretation of Galatians 1:19 (which I find really good) the best solution to this puzzle is to assume that the James of Galatians 1 is not the same James of Galatians 2: the first James was a generic Christian not apostle, while the second James was Pillar & apostle.

    Question: it’s possible to insist that the James of Galatians 1:19 is the same James Pillar of Gal 2 even if he is an apostle (having seen the Risen Lord like a true apostle)? I’m afraid not, unless 1 Cor 15:7 is an interpolation.

    Giuseppe

  21. Why would Mark be so critical of Jesus’ family in Chapter 3 of his Gospel if there were no historical family of Jesus? And why would scribes of the Law come down from Jerusalem to see a country preacher in Galilee? This episode in Mark Chapter 3:21-35 is linking Jesus’ family and brothers with the scribes that came down from Jerusalem and from James to Antioch in Galatians 2:12-14. This seems to suggest that Mark used his typical sandwich technique to associate the Galatians 2:12-14 episode to Jesus’s family and brothers, the scribes, and James. Which would tend to confirm or at least suggest that Mark also thought that James was a member of Jesus’ family, one of his “brothers”. This is not to say that “brother” in Paul’s letters is not an editorial comment, only that the comment might possibly be a correct one.

    1. And of course we know why Mark is critical of Jesus’ “family”, for the same reason Paul is critical of those sent by James to Antioch. Why do we have to go to such great lengths to discredit the plain and historical meaning of the word “brother”? Is it because like the early church fathers that Jesus having a brother is an embarrassment? But in our case the embarrassment is because it might suggest that Jesus was a real historical person, even if not the Jesus of Markan Pauline allegory we find in Mark’s Gospel?

    2. Did you read the post? You do not address the arguments made in it and the points in it actually demonstrate how your solution or interpretation raises huge problems. I am following a line that fits seamlessly with the whole tenor of Mark and the evidence as it is understood.

      It is your argument that is going against the grain of how Mark is written and everything scholars of literary analysis have demonstrated about the gospel. Your solution raises far more problems than it solves.

      You are not doing historical analysis but speculation and arguing the same way McGrath and Hurtado argue — why would the story be written that way unless it were true? Well, such a rhetorical question simply avoids and sweeps aside the many very plausible options that do indeed confront anyone who reads Mark as a story.

      Many commentators have identified the symbolic character of Mark’s story, episodes and characters. He uses names as theological symbols, for example Jairus. Many commentators identify the symbolism of Galilee, of Jerusalem, of the priests in Jerusalem, etc. It would be strange if we suddenly find that the only time he is not writing symbolically is when he writes about Jesus’ family.

      The answer is very obvious, or should be. Almost every scene in Mark can be identified as a “midrashic” weaving of tropes and themes from the Jewish Scriptures. Mark is presenting Jesus as a prophet without honour in his own country. Typically OT men of God were rejected by their own, by their families. That’s one of the many sufferings they endure. Mark is writing up a Jesus in the same mould.

      Then just look at the names: even Paula Fredriksen mocks the obvious lack of realism.

      And then there are the many, many bizarre anomalies that arise if your solution is correct and James really was a literal brother. But your comments indicate that you have not yet read the post and are not even aware of these problems.

      And that’s before we even begin to address the questions raised by Tim in his post: http://www.vridar.org/2016/10/20/price-ehrman-debate-wish/

  22. Thanks Neil. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. But I am like a little kid when I think I now the answer, my enthusiasm is greater than my ability. I can’t address all your arguments right now, but concerning the statement:

    “Mark is presenting Jesus as a prophet without honour in his own country. Typically OT men of God were rejected by their own, by their families. That’s one of the many sufferings they endure. Mark is writing up a Jesus in the same mould.”

    I quite agree. But why is Mark writing up Jesus in this same mold? To only prove that Jesus was real and a prophet like the other OT prophets? That is part of it, to give Jesus “authority”. But as Dominic Crossan and Joachin Jeremias have pointed out, Mark’s Jesus is also rejecting those who reject him. But why are the Jews rejecting Jesus (according to Mark)? Because he eats with publicans and sinners like Paul. And that is exactly what happens in Galatians 2:12-14. The Jews reject Paul, and Paul rejects them for being hypocrites.

    1. Hi again Steve. There are plausible reasons to all of those questions that can be drawn from the OT scriptures alone without reference to Paul. But let’s suppose for sake of argument that Mark’s Jesus is based on Paul. I don’t think anyone would suggest that Mark is implying James was one of the brothers of Paul (represented by Jesus). Rather, if the Lord was “in Paul”, then we return to the argument that there was a group of followers of Christ who claimed to be brethren of, some special class of relationship with, a spiritual Jesus. — And this relationship has been allegorized in the Gospel.

      That’s just one possibility.

      The problems of a literal physical brother of Jesus named James who became a leader of the church having ever existed are enormous. Why are the NT writings and other writings so quiet on the matter — as discussed in the post.

      But I’m not sure if I’m addressing all of your questions … feel free to try again.

      1. Hi Neil. I too have thought that maybe Paul was just referring to James as one of the “Christian brethren” of Jesus, that is “brethren” in the sense of Jews who were members of the Jerusalem Church. But Eisenman thinks that the Judaizing James and John were such an embarrassment to Mark that Mark may have covered him up as James and John the sons of Zebedee who want to sit on Jesus left and right hand in his temporal messianic glory. After the destruction of a Roman war brought about by this messianic belief, James and John, the pillars of the church, would have only been more of an embarrassment, if not out right dangerous if recognized as avowed leaders of the Christian movement.

        1. My own view is that Eisenman’s reconstruction is highly speculative with precious little in the evidence to substantiate it. Each one of E’s steps of the argument is speculative — in fact there are other more plausible explanations all along the way — that in the end it comes across to me like a very fragile house of cards.

          Less controversial but just as tenuous is the common view that the Jewish war was inspired by messianism. There is simply no evidence for such a view. There is a mountain of speculative interpretation, but that’s all — and the speculative interpretation again simply bypasses the simpler and more direct explanations of the evidence. — That’s more than just my opinion. Steve Mason demonstrates it most clearly in his discussions on the fundamentals of historical research methods.

          What these speculative scenarios are doing is really beginning with the narrative found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke and assuming their historicity building on and extrapolating a historical thesis. In fact, the gospels are writing theology. The entire approach to the study has been based on faulty premises.

          1. Thanks Neil for your valued opinion on Eisenman. Eisenman can certainly be a tedious read, as he himself admits, and he does bounce around all over the place. But Josephus, if Josephus can be trusted, was quite adamant that the war with the Romans was a result of messianism.

            Josephus (War 6.5.4) says “What did the most to induce the Jews to start this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings (Numbers 24:17, Dan 2:44), how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the WISE MEN (Matt 2:1-2, Dan 2:48) were thereby deceived in their determination.”

              1. Josephus’ claim is consistent with the Dead Sea Scrolls, Revelation, other Jewish apocalyptic literature. What more evidence do we need? Is there a problem? What sacred dogma am I attacking, other than the literal interpretation of scripture which you do not subscribe to any how? I am not much of a fan of mythicists, but even my beloved Robert Price has gone over to them.

              2. No, the inference and world view you draw from Josephus is consistent with the inferences and world-view you draw from the DSS etc. http://vridar.org/category/religion/messianism/

                We need to understand the origin and the nature of the texts we have, how they came to be written, why and for whom, and to analyse their contents accordingly. You are skipping the surface of selected parts of the texts and building a case on such a superficial process.

                It’s not entirely your fault. Too many biblical scholars who think they are historians follow the same ill-informed and untrained process and set you a bad example.

    2. This also rasises the question, Why does Jesus need the “authority” of Midrash? By what authority does he do all the things that the Markan Jesus does, like eating with sinners, and forgiving sinners, like Paul? Indeed what authority did Paul have to do the things he did? Paul did not have any authority, at least not any authority given him by the Jerusalem Church. Mark’s Pauline Jesus receives his authority directly from God, and Paul receives his authority directly from Jesus. And as Dykstra has pointed out, that is exactly what Mark is doing, anonizing Paul’s authority directly from his Pauline Gospel using Jesus as the authority, and denigrating the authority of Jesus’ family, the disciples, and the “chief priests” of the Jerusalem Church. This again all suggests that Mark had some type of historical conflict in mind, one involving James, which even if Paul did not use the word “brother”, then Tim Widowfield thinks that some editor may have wanted to make it clear that is who Paul was referring to, James “the brother” of Jesus.

      1. typo: that is exactly what Mark is doing, canonizing Paul’s authority with Jesus’ authority, and canonizing Jesus’ authority with Midrash on the OT. As you can tell, I especially like Dykstra’s book 🙂

      2. Sorry Steve but I still think you are one step ahead of me and I am not sure I understand what it is you are arguing. Are you suggesting that there had to be an historical set of brothers, disciples, etc in the early church whom Paul fought with and that this historical conflict was the template for the gospel narratives?

        1. I apologize for not always making a fully connected argument. That is my bad.

          Robert M. Price writes on Embassy of Relatives (3:13-35)
          http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm
          “Mark, acting in the interest of a church-political agenda, has broken the story [Midrash] into two and reversed its halves so as to bring dishonor on the relatives of Jesus (representing a contemporary faction claiming their authority)”

          Mr. Price argues that any number of Midrashes may have been created by the Jerusalem Church to assign authority to their Jesus to convince their fellow Jews. That may be true. But Mr. Price also recognizes that Mark has either created or adopted and adapted the Midrash to serve his own “church-political” agenda of having his Pauline Jesus teach with “authority” Mark 1:22 (like Paul) and unlike the scribes [of the Jerusalem Church]. Paul lacked the authority of the Jerusalem Church, but Mark allegorically reverses this deficit by giving his Pauline Jesus the “authority” and therefore by extension Paul’s teaching and how own Gentile Church the “authority”.

          While this does not prove that Jesus existed or that James was the brother of Jesus, it does appear to give some insight into Mark’s method and why he was doing it. Hopefully I have explained ok.


          10.40 pm

          typo: but Mark allegorically reverses this deficit (of authority) by giving his Pauline Jesus the “authority”. Mark uses Midrash (and John B. and Elijah) (perhaps borrowing from the Jerusalem Church canonizing their own Jesus, as Price has suggested), to also canonize his own Pauline Jesus, which by extension canonizes Paul and Mark’s Pauline Church.

          That at least is my guess, and also seems to be Mr. Price’s guess.


  23. Are you suggesting that there had to be an historical set of brothers, disciples, etc in the early church whom Paul fought with and that this historical conflict was the template for the gospel narratives?

    I wouldn’t say “had to be an historical Jesus with historical brothers”, but only that the narrative in Paul and Mark (if Mark is taken allegorically) seems to be consistent with such a hypothesis. I was trying to explain the paradox of a Quisling Sadducean “chief priests” being “envious” of Jesus and agitating the crowd to release an insurrectionist against Roman rule. And not only that, but a notoriously intolerant Roman governor like Pilate releasing an insurrectionist. There had to be an explanation for that. If Mark is using the Sadducean Chief priests as a parable for the “chief priests” of the Jerusalem Church, and Jesus as a parable for Paul, then the paradox is resolved.


    11.49 pm

    “There had to be an explanation for that – other than the obvious apologetic one suggested by S.G.F Brandon.” And then looking at the fact that the Markan Jesus was doing all the same things that Paul was doing suggested that there was method in Mark’s madness: “Mark 4:13 Then Jesus said to them, Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Mark is all parable, all allegory (and Midrash). And I think Mark’s parable was meant to denigrate Paul’s enemies, the “chief priest” James and his crucified brother Barabbas. But that is just a guess. And I apologize, but that could be an inconvenient truth.


  24. Sorry Steve. I still don’t follow why the scenario (I may be missing something, I admit) supports a historical Jesus and brother James. If Jesus is a code for Paul in Mark…. where does a historical Jesus fit in?

    1. Hi Neil, sure no problem. Robert Pierce is quite possibly correct to point out that Mark 3:11-35 is a Midrash on Jethro bringing Moses wife and children to him. But Mr. Pierce then goes on to add that Mark has changed the Midrash to a [Pauline] Church political-agenda to bring dishonor on the relatives of Jesus because some in Mark’s own time were claiming the authority of Jesus family.

      Now implicit in Mr. Pierce’s statement is that Jesus was historical and that he had an historical family. But why would Mark want to bring dishonor on Jesus’ relatives, his mothers and his brothers (as they are referred to later in Mk. ch. 3)? If Mark is a Paulinist then the thing that most would have irked Mark is when James sent scribes of the Law down to Antioch (Galatians 2:12-13) to spy out and then “excommunicate” Paul’s Gentile Christians. If just so happens that Mark 3:21-35 also has scribes of the Law come down from Jerusalem. And these scribes like Jesus’ own family consider Jesus possessed or beside himself like Paul in Acts 26:24. If the hypothesis is correct that Mark is creating a Jesus who is a parable for Paul, then that implies the “scribes” in Mark are a parable for the scribes send by James, and that the “mother and brothers” in Mark are a parable for James in Galatians 2:12-14.

      Now it is possible that Mr. Pierce is wrong and no one in Mark’s time was claiming the authority of Jesus family, because an historical Jesus never existed. Perhaps Mark did not really believe that James was a blood relative of Jesus and that Mark was simply playing off the word “brethren” and those who were “false brethren” to Paul to create a wholly fictional and parabolic family of Jesus, as you have suggested. They were simply a parable for Paul’s “false brethren”. And maybe when Paul references James the brother of the Lord it is a later editorial comment to bring Paul into line with Mark’s Gospel. All these things are possible.

      But why would Paul refer to a crucified Jesus if there was not an actual crucified historical Jesus? This was a very shameful thing, to die like this, because it symbolized sedition and failure. Was Paul identifying Jesus with an ancient wholly mythological conception of Yahweh as a lifted up and crucified Serpent Lord hung upon a tree? If so then why does Paul refer to “Jesus in the flesh” 2Cor 5:14-16?

      But if I understand Paul correctly, and Jesus was in the flesh (an historical person), then it seems likely that Jesus did have historical relatives and that Mark too may have believed in an historical Jesus with historical brothers. That then implies that Mark is not being completely allegorical in Mark 3:21-35, and that Mr. Pierce may be correct. Mark is denigrating those who claimed blood relation to Jesus, including Jesus’ brother, James.

      Where then is the real Jesus, the Jesus other than Mark’s Jesus who is only a parable for Paul? I think Matthew answers that question in the Caesarean Greek text when he lets slip that there was another Jesus, one called Barabbas (son of the Father). It was this “other Jesus” who was the historical Jesus, and the brother of James. And this seems to be what the Gospels are saying in a very subtle way. I don’t know where that puts Jesus or James “the brother of the Lord” on the scale of historical probabilities, but I think the above analysis at least increases that chances to 50/50. So I just wanted to make sure you had more data points before the calculations were done 🙂

      I hope I have explained well enough.

      1. Steve:
        Where then is the real Jesus, the Jesus other than Mark’s Jesus who is only a parable for Paul?

        I agree that the ”other Jesus” is allegorized by Barabbas, but this because Barabbas is a not-crucified Jesus, the exact contrary of the ”crucified Jesus” preached by Paul. A not-crucified Christ is really a perfect allegory for the Christ of the Pillars, from a pauline point of view, as a Christ still slave of the Torah and therefore one who would make vain the true meaning of the crucifixion (the end of the need of the Torah).

        The Mark’s logic (sharing with Steve a pauline midrash and allegory as Mark’s genre) is linear:
        1) who follows still the Law makes vain the crucifixion of Christ
        2) therefore he follows de facto a not-crucified Christ
        3) therefore he is still sinner
        4) therefore he has to be punished as all the Jews for their sins and crimes
        5) the more great sin of Israel is sedition against Rome, when Mark wrote
        6) therefore the followers of the Pillars (allegorized by scribes and pharisees as Steve argues) choose rightly a seditious (and not-crucified) Christ: the path to sin, to war and to final perdition.

      2. I think your questions are best raised with Robert Price rather than me. They are his arguments, not mine, so I can’t speak for him. If something appears to be implicit in his argument then it is best raised with him to be sure we are truly understanding his whole picture.

        My own view is that it is only one speculative extrapolation from the gospel that Mark was attacking Jesus’ family in his (Mark’s) own day. Even if there was a group who claimed to be “brothers and sisters of the Lord (not Jesus)” it does not follow that they necessarily were literal siblings — even if Mark did choose to represent them as such allegorically (as he represented everything) in his gospel.

        Secondly, as for why Paul would refer to a crucified Jesus if there were no historical Jesus? — Many reasons. The arguments are legion. See Doherty, Carrier, Couchoud, Wells, others. But I would say first of all that Paul certainly believed in a crucified Jesus. That’s not the same as saying there was a real crucified Jesus. Paul tells us that he learned of this great mystery of the gospel through revelation, etc.

        The idea that this was a shameful thing is a line scholars pick up and repeat from apologists. There is nothing shameful in Judaism about a man of God suffering the worse and lowest only to be exalted as the overcoming victor and the one to be worshiped in the end. The gospel is not about a crucified criminal but about a messiah who conquers death and the demonic powers by means of death. That’s what the Philippian Hymn is all about. The glory is to be matched by the shame — the height of one by the depth of the other. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ. There was nothing at all shameful about it for Paul. Paul never thought of Jesus as a crucified criminal.

        And no, Jews were not offended at the idea of a Christ dying or even being crucified — as other scholars have also argued (the usual apologetics of many scholars notwithstanding).

        I am not sure if you have read much of the mythicist arguments. I assumed you had, so I am not sure why you have a problem with Paul referring to Jesus being in the flesh or the other questions you have raised. There is nothing problematic about the realm of the flesh within the question of mythicism. What is the specific concern for you? Why do you think being in the flesh equates with historicity?

        Mythicist arguments are not stupid. Mythicists do read the Bible and see the same verses everyone else does. That Christ was crucified, was born of woman, of the seed of David, etc. So just reading back those verses doesn’t get anyone very far. What arguments have you read?

        It would help if you could tell me what you have read about the mythicist arguments.

        1. The idea that this was a shameful thing is a line scholars pick up and repeat from apologists. There is nothing shameful in Judaism about a man of God suffering the worse and lowest only to be exalted as the overcoming victor and the one to be worshiped in the end. The gospel is not about a crucified criminal but about a messiah who conquers death and the demonic powers by means of death. That’s what the Philippian Hymn is all about. The glory is to be matched by the shame — the height of one by the depth of the other. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ. There was nothing at all shameful about it for Paul. Paul never thought of Jesus as a crucified criminal.

          Hi Neil, I guite agree. It was not shameful for Jews to die a horrendous death for zealous dedication to the Law. In fact Jews like Eleazar in 4 Maccabees glorified martyrdom as an atonement for the sins of those Jews who were less zealous for the Law and afraid of martyrdom. But Mark is writing for a Gentile Christian audience for whom rebellion was shameful and embarrassing, hence the pacifying of the Jewish Messiah in Mark’s Gospel, and the apologetic that an “innocent” Jesus was crucified by a Roman governor who was duped by the scheming Jewish “chief priests” and scribes of the Law. And I agree with you it was not “shameful” for Paul that Jesus was crucified. But Paul also kniew it was shameful if not pure folly to many Gentiles.

          I have read some of the mythicist arguments, like Freke and the “Jesus Mysteries”, probably not the best resource. And I have read some of the “Radical Criticism” by Pierce and other suggesting that even Paul’s letters were either heavily edited or a fabrication. I have read many of these things. But to me they all seem to be a desire on the part of modernists to avoid an unpleasant truth, that Christianity started in Jewish rebellion against Rome, and not as a desire to escape the cares and woes of this world. Jewish Christianity was in heaven and on earth.


          2.40 pm

          So I was kind of hoping you and others on this blog would take up the challenge of verifying or debunking the hypothesis that Giuseppe and I have put forward. I am just one person, and although I feel a certain obligation to put the ideas out there, I would never be so bold as to think I could fully defend these ideas on my own.


          3.05 pm

          Aslo, sorry for writing “Pierce” instead of “Price”. It was late. Also, I guess I will need to look into the resources you mention, as to why Paul would advocate a “crucified Jesus” if it was not true that there was an historical crucified Jesus at the core of his believe. I pointed out one possibility in the ancient worship of Yahweh, in which Yahweh was symbolized by the brasen Serpent, the living God, that Moses lifted up on a staff so that all who looked to the Lord might live. And the people burned incense and worshiped the Serpent until the days of Hezekiah.

          But again, I think the mythicists are themselves engaging in apologetics like the early church fathers. They desire to distract people from the plain and obvious truth of rebellion against Rome by their constant and endless digressions into the realm of myth making in which nothing is real and nothing is as it seems. The mythicists love to play a shell game. But that is just my opinion.


          3.20 pm

          Hi Neil, but yes feel quite free to suggest to me why the mythicists might be correct. Again, I looked at some of their arguments, briefly, and they seemed like endless digressions to divert from the truth. But I could be wrong. Maybe they are honest attempts to arrive at the truth.


          3.40 pm

          But yes, I looked at Wells books early on, and they were fairly persuasive. But then I started reading S.G.F. Brandon, “Jesus and the Zealots”, “After the Fall of Jerusalem”, “The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth”, and was captured by the new Tubingen School of Eisenman, and Dykstra’s resurrection of Volkmar, and Crossan’s “The Power of Parable” (although some of Crossan’s other books seem to fall wide of the Mark (pun intended)), and April DeConick the “Gospel of Judas”, and Paula Goodman, Weeden “Traditions in Conflict”. And of course Joseph Atwill’s challenging “Caesar’s Messiah” which made me work really hard come up with a more plausible answer. But of course I stood on Mr. Atwill’s sholders, and Mr. Eisenman, and that of many others, and still do. How else can short people like me see above the crowd?


          1. At last you have opened up to tell us where you are coming from. We have entirely different approaches to the evidence and are seeking to resolve quite different questions. Your approach is deductive: you are interpreting the evidence within the framework of your view of how Christianity started. There can be no resolution to any discussion between us.

            I am not interested in pushing a particular theory of Christianity but in applying analytical methods to our evidence to see what best accounts for the way it is.

  25. Hi Giuseppe, I quite agree with your analysis. As you suggest, Barabbas may well be an allegory on the part of Mark as you have outlined. Which I quite agree with. But it is also possible there may be a kernel of historical truth to the story of Barabbas; a story in which it was Barabbas who was crucified in ~30AD for rebellion, and a later overlaid story of Paul and Paul’s indwelling Christ who was crucified by Nero in 64AD, after the great fire of Rome, for the sin of Barabbas and the Jewish Christians who advocated the burning of Rome (as in Revelation, the “smoke of her burning”, the great city, Babylon). Note that many Jews were already captive in Rome (Babylon) from previous rebellions, like the rebellion against the taxation in the time of Cyrenius. And it was because of Paul’s “betrayal” by the “chief priests”, and the scribes, and the Judas Sicariots of the Jerusalem Church that the “innocent” Paul was “delivered up” into the hands of the Gentiles. And of course, since Paul was a fund raiser for the seditious sect of the Nazarenes in Judea, Nero was all too happy to crucify Paul after the great fire of Rome.

      1. Hi Steve,

        I think the best case for a seditious Jesus is been made by the prof Bermejo-Rubio. I wrote about it here. I have written there also a confutation (by collecting answers by Carrier and Detering). In short my criticism against the Zealot thesis (in all his forms) is the following: a Christ described deliberately in terms reminiscent of failed revolutionary or prophets, combining traits of various messianic contenders and prophets mentioned by Josephus, is just the Christ that any Christian source of the first hour (the first Gospels, not only Mark) would want to paint (despite the necessary apology for the Roman sensibilities).

        When you realize that point, in my view, the evidence for a Zealot historical Jesus disappears.

        1. Hi Giuseppe, isn’t Detering one of those “Radical Critics” who even questions his own existence? I will look into the link you have provided. I always like your insight, and Neil’s, and Tim Widowfield’s. At least I am not talking into an echo chamber, and that is good.

          It is not essential for me that Jesus be historical, or that James be a historical and blood brother of Jesus, or even that they be 1st century Jewish revolutionarys along with their fund-raiser Paul. I don’t hate any of these guys or the movement they “may” have started. But I do think that first century Judaism and Jewish Christianity was infected with a Waco, or Jones Town apocalyptic mentality that has sometimes passed into modern Christianity and is dangerous in a thermonuclear age. So I must admit my own views are not always totally objective. So while it may be close to “end of days” for me, I guess we owe it to our children and grand children that it not be “end of days” for them.


          5:50 pm

          Thanks for the link “The New Testament: Paul and Mark.”. by Di Paul Nadim Tarazi This looks like a really good book. I quote from below:

          ‘Jesus then does the same with James and John, whose names recall the “pillars” that met with Paul at the Jerusalem meeting (Gal 2:1-10). They too are immediately put in a negative light in that they are the sons of “Zebedee” and are together with the “hirelings” The latter term is clearly intended to express something beyond mere historical fact; in the entire New Testament it occurs only here, and in John 10:12-13 where it also carries a negative connotation: “He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.”‘

          That reminds me of Acts “grievous wolves”: Act_20:29 For I [Paul] know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

          When you look at all these consistencies, then the probability of a first century Jewish Christianity that is intent on revolution against Rome goes up significantly. Now does that mean there was a real revolutionary Jesus or a real revolutionary James the brother of Jesus? But more importantly, does it really matter if there was or there wasn’t? The facts invariably leads one to the conclusion that first century Jewish Christianity led by the Pillars of the Jerusalem Church was revolutionary.

          So what else needs to be said?


          5.55 pm

          Act_20:29 For I [Paul] know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

          Being interpreted, what this means is that Judaizing apostles, “false brethren”, will attempt to take over Paul’s flock to fleece them so as to fund and support the rebellion in Judea. My take of course.


          6.35 pm

          Detering: ‘Jesus is in all probability a late literary construct, the product of various messianic and gnostic streams of tradition that have flowed “synthetically into one. Elsewhere I have described how a savior entity, conceived in purely mythological terms, underwent a process of “historization.”/

          Yes, I have heard Detering’s arguments before. And I suspect that Detering is like so many others. They were so opposed to the irrationality and paradox in Christianity that any talk of an historical Jesus was “anathema”.

          But I think one must look deeper for the method in the madness of the Gospels, but not TOO deep. Even in the late first century, Mark and the other Gospel writers were quite sophisticated in fighting the Ebionite Heresy of the Jerusalem Church by creating their own alternative history of a Jesus who was a parable for Paul. Again, I can’t say that such a parable necessarily implies that there was a real Jesus, but Paul does refer to “another Jesus” apparently being preached by the Jerusalem Church, and another Gospel. Maybe even that “other Jesus” of the Jerusalem Church and James was not real. Maybe Paul’s Jesus and the Jesus of James were always imaginary, and only seen in visions. Maybe these two Jesus’ were like God, invisible, a manifestation of our own schizophrenic personality. And so we are all trying to assign probabilities to an imaginary friend, for which Bayesian statistics is a perfect tool. There are lies, durn lies, and the there is statistics.


  26. Hi Neil, I am going through your post one item as a time. I will avoid the math, because I have no expertise there. I will comment on items that I strongly object to, of which there are not many.

    “The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus. There are no indications anywhere in the Gospels that this hostility was ever resolved. So on the strength of what we know from the Gospels we must suspect that the James Paul met in Jerusalem was not the same as the brother in the Gospels. If he were the same we would expect some hint somewhere that he came to have a change of heart.”

    I would not come to that conclusion at all based on the hypothesis that the Gospel Jesus is Paul’s Jesus, and that the Jewish James who was a zealot for the Law (Acts 21:21-22) who would be hostile to that “other Jesus” being preached by Paul who was teaching against the Law. And therefore, James hostility to [Paul’s] Jesus was never resolved. But of course James was never hostile to the other Jesus, Barabbas, even though James was apparently more moderate than his brother.

    1. We have opposing ideas on how to approach the evidence and historical questions. If you are tackling the post without reference to the discussion of what constitutes sound analytical reasoning about the evidence and how to use it to answer historical questions (that’s what the post is about after all) but through your own theory of how Christianity started then you are wasting your time. Your starting position is quite different from mine and there is no point at which we can meet to discuss anything.

  27. What is the function of “brother of the Lord” in that sentence? Notice we can ask this question without raising the hackles of either the mythicists or historicists. — Tim Widowfield

    So that is the problem, right? Well of course I find it difficult to agree with the mythicists. Their dating is so late. It just doesn’t make sense to me. The kind of issues being addressed in Paul’s letters and the Gospels and Revelation would not even be relevant (I don’t think) at such late dates. So why would anyone invest so much thought and energy into creating narratives that had no political significance for them at that time? How late do the mythicists think the Gospels and Paul’s letters are? I have always heard a very late date.

    1. Why do you rely on hearsay? Every serious mythicist I know of — Wells, Doherty, Carrier, Brodie, Fitzgerald, Lataster, Parvus — all accept the period the same dates more or less as most mainstream scholars. I only know of one, maybe two (Price, Detering) who argue for much later dates.

      And those who do argue for the later date demonstrate the interest at that time in the topics of the letters.

      So the whole premise or reason for your rejection of a particular view is based on misinformation twice over.

      1. I was reading Wells many years ago. And I liked his writing, but even Wells partially recanted at the end. But then I got side tracked by S.G.F. Brandon and other modern historicist views. When I picked up the the mythicist trail again, I wanted to be more modern than old-hat Wells, so I picked up Price and Detering on the Radical Critics and was shocked at the late dates, which even Price and Detering claim are problematic and possibly only provisional for re-interpreting the texts or sub-components of the text in a new light. So I dropped mythicism because it might be going in a way that might only explain some small editing of the text but would not address the overarching political themes and polemic of the NT narrative. For me, politics is what is important, 1st century politics and the politics of our own time. Politics has never changed, just as human nature has not changed over the centuries. Man’s nature is inherently territorial and he defends one political view or another, historicist or mythicist, as just another manifestation of that territoriality. The same applied in the first and later centuries with conflicts between Gentile Christians and “Jewish Christians”, and between Orthodox and Gnostic. But the truth suffers as a result of man’s territorial desire to shape the narrative (old and new) for both social and territorial control. So man’s all too fallible territorial nature must to be taken into account any time we are searching for the truth, in our own time, or in the 1st century.

        1. Human nature is the same but it does express itself differently across various times and cultures. It is obviously important to be aware of the danger of projecting our own experiences and cultural assumptions into other times and peoples.

          There’s no such view as “mythicism” in the way you seem to be using it, by the way. And modern authors, including some of the “mythicist” names I mentioned, are generally most worthwhile when they make use of the scholarship that has preceded them, and Brandon’s ideas were published 50 years ago. Scholars change their views but that of itself does not prove their earlier views were in error. Far from it, especially in the humanities.

          I learn from most works I read whether I agree with their framework agendas and conclusions or not.

          (I find it difficult to fault some of the radical arguments most people find shocking, by the way. I suspect most people reject them for the same reason you did — they are “shocking”. But that doesn’t mean they are not well argued. On the other hand, I also have, I hope, sound reasons for most part using the more conventional dates.)

  28. Steve, you are flooding the comments with your posts. I have withheld several of yours on this section because they appear to be written without any fore-thought. I request you write your comments offline and only add them as a single comment here after some time when you feel you have no more to say at the moment.

    Further, I am unwilling to allow comments through any more if they continue to indicate you have not read or do not appear to be prepared to address the points in the post. Many of your thoughts are actually undermined by evidence I have attempted to direct you to in the above post.

    Just arguing for a point of view while at the same time continuing to demonstrate ignorance of alternative explanations, and worse, brushing aside some of those explanations on the basis of misinformed perceptions about “mythicists” (indicating you not read what you are dismissing), is not getting us very far.

    I am not interested in analysis for its own sake as you imply in one of your comments. I am interested in forming and testing hypotheses. You appear to be interested in only arguing for and interpreting everything through your own pet hypothesis that as far as I am concerned has no substantial support in any of the texts apart from tendentious readings and assumptions about the context etc. but actually creates more problems then it solves.

  29. About the James affair, I find another evidence in the same Hegesippus (!) about his identity with a mere baptized Christian.

    So Hegesippus, per Eusebius:

    No iron implement had touched his head, he had never visited a bath house, had never eaten meat. He did not own a change of clothing and wore only a threadbare linen garment, as it says in the Gospel, “The young man fled, and left the cloth where with he was clad.”

    Hence, according to Hegesippus, “James the brother of Jesus” is the “young man”.

    But in Mark the “young man” is often considered an allegory of all the baptized Christians. For example, this old article makes a case that the young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and the young man (reappearing?) in the tomb to announce Jesus’ resurrection were originally created as symbols of the baptism ritual for new converts to Christianity.

    Hence the next logical step is short: if even Hegesippus identified the James of Gal 1:19 with the “young man” of Mark 14:51-52 and Mark 16:5 – himself a symbol of all the Christian “brothers”- , then the evidence is very strong that the James of Gal 1:19 was originally a mere baptized Christian even for who invented an earthly brother of Jesus: Hegesippus (or his source).

  30. “The result then would be 0.67 or two-thirds, 67%. That’s when I try to bend the results as favourably as possible towards the bias that James and Jesus were siblings. Even that result demonstrates that the argument that Galatians 1:19 is slam-dunk proof that James and Jesus were siblings is false. The verse can by no means be upheld with absolute confidence that it the guarantor of James being the physical brother of Jesus. 30% doubt leaves a lot of room for further questioning and wider investigation.”

    But the problem is inherent subjectivity and arbitrariness of the assigned values to begin with, which are not rigorously anchored in anything quantitative or capable of empirical demonstration.  

    I understand the appeal of Bayes Theorem and the use of said mathematical calculus to try to bolster and legitimize the soundness of one’s conclusions (as opposed to the ‘methods’ of ‘conventional scholars’ which seem to be much derided on this and related websites).  But I have to be honest (and I am being sincere in my assessment; I’m not being glib nor trying to slight anyone), when I compare those methods with the methods here, I see more speculation and conjecture here than I do with the conventional scholars.

    I, too, wish we had a one-size-fits-all rigorous, mathematical calculus like Bayes Theorem that we could apply to everything, but we don’t.  While we can apply the reasoning and logic encapsulated in Bayes Theorem qualitatively, there is simply no practical, objective, meaningful way to quantify in many cases.  

    *Not everything is amenable to rigorous mathematical analysis.  

    You, yourself, note this problem when you wrote, “What this exercise has taught me is the problematic nature of assigning number values.”

    But then you seem to forget this caveat as quickly as you state it when you go on to claim in more emphatic terms what your ‘results demonstrate’.  True, you made that statement after plugging in numbers more favorable to a Jesus-James literal brothers hypothesis.  But in so doing you evidence the inherent problem: If your assigned values were rigorously established to begin with, then there would be no justification for even entertaining the notion of alternate values–especially widely divergent ones from your own.  But that’s just it: there’s no objective way to quantify the inputs.  This makes the ‘results’ meaningless at best and misleading at worst by the false sense it creates of thinking such a result is somehow more rigorous and reliable than it actually is and superior to ‘conventional methods.’

    This is further evidenced by many of the comments I read that are rife with unbridled speculation and conjecture that I find worse, more outlandish and ad hoc than the ‘conventional scholars’ derided by some of the same commenters.  

    Second, you seem to put a great amount of weight (against the Jesus-James-literal-brothers) based on evidence we dont have and what in your estimation we should have and what should have been said.  And yet I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the inherent weakness of arguments from silence.

    True, you qualify that “This includes taking into account a lack of evidence where we have strong reasons to expect to find that evidence if our hypothesis is true,” but that’s just it: it is not at all clear that we have ‘strong reasons’ for the expectations you list.

    For example, you write:

    “The Gospels indicate that James, though a brother of Jesus, was hostile to Jesus. There are no indications anywhere in the Gospels that this hostility was ever resolved. So on the strength of what we know from the Gospels we must suspect that the James Paul met in Jerusalem was not the same as the brother in the Gospels. If he were the same we would expect some hint somewhere that he came to have a change of heart.”

    And yet ‘a change of heart’ can be logically inferred by his now being a follower of Christ (at minimum, this certainly would qualify as ‘some hint’ of such a change).  But laying all that aside, there is no ‘strong reason’ to expect an explicit statement to that effect in passages where the reference to James is incidental to the subject matter at hand, and therefore, we cannot justifiably place such demands on the text.  

    Your assessment, itself, also does not factor in the probability of what we know is ‘typical’ in human relationships: namely, that it is common in sibling relationships for feelings of affection (or lack thereof) to ebb and flow, wax and wane.  The undeniable fact is that rarely are such feelings unwaveringly static/constant.

    When factoring that in, what is more likely?  You have separate references to what appears on the face of it to refer to the same individual, but one reference depicts a strained/antagonistic sibling relationship earlier in life, while the other indicates lack of said antagonism later in life, but we have no supplementary information that tells us the details of how that ‘change of heart’ took place.  In light of that and also what we know about the typical changing dynamics in human relationships, is it more reasonable to conclude that the face value references to the same person couldn’t possibly be of the same person, or that we are simply not privy to the details of said ‘change in heart’?  Is a change of heart in sibling relationships so unheard of and so improbable an occurrence in an individual that we are compelled to believe that surely we must be talking about two different individuals?  I think not.  That hardly seems reasonable at all. 

    But not only that, even if we accept what you say for argument sake, Galatians 1:19 still makes the claim that Paul met one ‘James’ who was the brother of Jesus, and a hostile brother James in the Gospels does not change this fact.  Thus, even if we accept your reasoning that the Gospels and Paul can’t be referring to the same James, then all that does is leave us with two brothers of Jesus who were both named James.

    Contextually, Paul’s identification of James as the brother of Jesus sets James apart from Paul and Cephas/Peter in Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5.  There is also no strong case from textual evidence and patristic quotations that Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation (*and on a related side note I find your citation of a book from 1942 on the subject curious).

    ***But even more notable and significant is what your calculus leaves out (unless I missed it; if so, I apologize).  You speak of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ evidence, when strictly speaking absence of evidence isn’t negative evidence, but no evidence.  True negative evidence would be counter evidence, and it is rather surprising that you don’t address this issue (unless I missed it).  That is, in your consideration of what evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is/isn’t true, I find it curious that you left out what seems to be the most obvious expectation if it isn’t true: namely, that if it wasn’t true that James was the literal brother of Jesus, then by your same reasoning we would expect there to be contemporaneous counter claims (true negative evidence) disputing the statements of Paul, Mark and Josephus that stated otherwise, and yet we lack such evidence.  

    ***So in sum, there is no objective way to assign quantitative input values for Bayes Theorem on this issue with any reliable, empirically defensible rigor.  We have multiple traditions that report Jesus had actual brothers (e.g. Mark, John, Paul, Josephus); multiple of which also identify one of these brothers as James (e.g., Mark, Paul, Josephus); and we have no contemporaneous negative evidence or ‘hostile sources/witnesses’ that dispute or counter these reports by claiming otherwise.  Based on this, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Jesus had actual brothers, one of whom was named James; and there seems to be no reasonable basis–based on actual evidence (such as negative, counter evidence directly disputing the claim)–to doubt this conclusion.  And in point of fact, the number of ‘facts’ of antiquity recognized as such by historians on the basis of far less is immense.

    1. No one said the calculations or assigning of numbers is a “rigorous” process but the process is most certainly not “arbitrary” as you claim. To be arbitrary I could have pulled numbers randomly from a hat. But the numbers are clearly not arbitrary.

      Yes, there is subjectivity. That is so in all reasoning with probabilities, surely. That’s why they are “probabilities” and not exact measures.

      When I look at the sky and see clouds coming I draw on my experience with changing weather patterns and make a probable guess that we might have rain coming in a few hours- – I might even say it’s very probable, around 80 or 90% but I can’t be certain (100%). What is wrong with that process? It is entirely valid.

      It is the same with the variables in historical reasoning as I have set out above. No-one is claiming rigorous, absolute certainty.

      But when someone says to me it is far more likely that Paul wrote in the mid first century about James the Lord’s brother than that he did not, then they need to have reasons. They can say, for instance, that it is 90% or more probable that the received text has been preserved accurately because of several factors:

      1. people valued the writings of Paul
      2. followers were keen to preserve Paul’s writings
      3. there were too many people to check what was being written and passed on to allow errors to be admitted in the process.

      It is not arbitrary to say that those reasons can, in lay terms, give us strong probability that Paul’s passage is genuine. Probability is a number concept: by strong probability the person does not mean we have a 50-50 chance of the passage being genuine. They mean “almost certainly” genuine. We can, for argument’s sake, say that to me, “almost absolutely certain” suggests 75 or 86 or 95 percent certain. It doesn’t matter what value we actually decide upon, so long as we are consistent. That’s where “rigour” comes in. And we make the reasons for our decisions clear — and maintain consitency. Then others can follow our reasoning and engage with it profitably.

      But we could never say by “almost certain” that we assign a value of 10% likely. That’s clearly absurd. So the process is not arbitrary, as you claim.

  31. “***But even more notable and significant is what your calculus leaves out (unless I missed it; if so, I apologize).  You speak of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ evidence, when strictly speaking absence of evidence isn’t negative evidence, but no evidence.  True negative evidence would be counter evidence, and it is rather surprising that you don’t address this issue (unless I missed it).  That is, in your consideration of what evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is/isn’t true, I find it curious that you left out what seems to be the most obvious expectation if it isn’t true: namely, that if it wasn’t true that James was the literal brother of Jesus, then by your same reasoning we would expect there to be contemporaneous counter claims (true negative evidence) disputing the statements of Paul, Mark and Josephus that stated otherwise, and yet we lack such evidence.”

    ***In fact, by the same reasoning, not only would we expect there to be contemporaneous counter claims directly disputing a biological relationship between Jesus and James if it were true that Jesus did not have any actual brothers, we would also expect such counter claims to go even further—if the overall ‘Jesus is a myth’ hypothesis was actually true—by disputing the very existence of Jesus himself, who obviously couldn’t have brothers (biological or otherwise) if he never existed.

    1. On your first point, you miss the argument being made. The interpolation, if that’s what it is, clearly was made in the late second century. By then the story of James as a brother of the Lord was part of the conversation but that’s an entirely different era of history.

      If you want to say we would expect counterclaims then you need to tell us what your scenario is — when and where and in what context are you addressing? Make your case. Presumably there were counterclaims somewhere. But what sort of scenario are you postulating that presumably would have these leave their mark in the historical record?

      At what point in my analysis would you factor in your counterclaims scenario as a weight against what I have set out?

      We know from historical records that people simply don’t “check out” claims being made when those claims meet some need of others — people do believe lies, even believe in false persons as historical. That’s what history tells us.

      By the way — as for your earlier point about “rigour” — have you read the story of Bayes’s billiard table “experiment”. Yes, everything about the process was subjective; rigour was impossible — except in applying guesswork based on previous information step by step. That’s how it works.

    2. I encourage you to revise my list of evidence and expectations etc and factor in your additional ones and see where we are taken? I have justified each step of my process and tried to be specific in its application. I would welcome any improvements to what I have done — so add yours.

  32. “Yes, there is subjectivity. That is so in all reasoning with probabilities, surely. That’s why they are “probabilities” and not exact measures”

    Actually, most probabilities are calculated on the basis of quantifiable measurements.  We see this all the time in science and medicine.

    “It is the same with the variables in historical reasoning as I have set out above. No-one is claiming rigorous, absolute certainty.”

    But then we can’t require ‘absolute confidence’ in historical conclusions or pretend that BT can reliably evaluate such confidence levels.

    “But when someone says to me it is far more likely that Paul wrote in the mid first century about James the Lord’s brother than that he did not, then they need to have reasons.”

    Of course and expert scholars provide such reasons.  But they are not always quantifiable and amenable to mathematical analysis, nor is BT (as much as I like it) the end-all-be-all or only method available to us or applicable in every case.

    “On your first point, you miss the argument being made. The interpolation, if that’s what it is, clearly was made in the late second century”

    My point is I’m not convinced that such a change ‘clearly was made’.  There is no text critical evidence to warrant such a conclusion; at least not that I can see (see below for more on this).

    “We know from historical records that people simply don’t “check out” claims being made when those claims meet some need of others — people do believe lies, even believe in false persons as historical. That’s what history tells us.”

    What specific ‘historical records’ are you referring to that support your claim?  And what does that have to do with applying your same line of reasoning to the ‘atypical’ part of the calculus where ‘the evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is not true’ surely would include contemporaneous counter claims that dispute the Christian claims? (To me this is one of the greatest weaknesses of the mythicist position.  If it’s true that Jesus did not exist but is essentially a whole cloth invention, then surely we would expect the enemies of early Christianity–of which there were many–to counter and dispute the claims of Christians that Jesus even existed).  My point here is that you make extensive use of non-evidence and what you think we should expect, but correspondingly don’t extend your same line of reasoning to the ‘atypical’ part that the evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is not true would surely include counter claims disputing the Christian claims, but we lack such evidence.

    “I encourage you to revise my list of evidence and expectations etc and factor in your additional ones and see where we are taken? I have justified each step of my process and tried to be specific in its application. I would welcome any improvements to what I have done — so add yours.”

    Thank you for your kind invitation.  I like your style.   Collaboration is certainly the best way to promote productive discourse.  I don’t have extensive time to devote to the topic to do it justice but I will have an initial go at it.

    First, as a general rule I am wary of arguments from silence based on non-evidence and what we expect there should be.  I find such an enterprise prone to devolving into wild speculation and conjecture.  Even when we have good reasons to expect an author or text to include such-and-such information we still always have to factor in the hit-or-miss chance circumstances surrounding long-term ancient document preservation, which on the whole is spotty.

    But second, I am not personally convinced that there are strong reasons to expect we should have most all of the non-evidence you expect we should have, and therefore I don’t think they warrant inclusion in BT.  While I know you don’t state it exactly this way, the entire line of reasoning based on this non-evidence to me comes across along the lines of ‘we have reports that Jesus had actual brothers, but because these reports don’t elaborate or provide us with additional information we would like to have that renders the report improbable’.

    But to me, this misses the simple yet fundamental (and imho, far weightier) points that if it is true that Jesus had actual brothers, then the the type of evidence we would expect to have are reports to this effect—and this is what we, in fact, do have.  And conversely, if it is not true that Jesus had actual brothers, then we would expect there to be either (a) no reports claiming so, or (b) if there are such reports, counter testimony disputing such claims—but we don’t have this.  To me, these are the factors that should receive the greatest weight in any probability calculus.

    The one, important caveat I would add is that we must first establish the textual tradition. That is, there is a rhyme and reason to critical biblical scholarship.  The first step is to establish the integrity of the text.  Thus, all inquiries like this should begin with textual criticism, because if there is evidence that the text in question is not original–like the long ending of Mark, which consensus scholarship agrees is not original but a later addition to Mark–then we cannot accept the report to begin with.  We cannot even get out of the gate.  That said, I find no evidence of textual variants or disputes in the critical textual apparatus of the Greek New Testament edition that I have (used by textual critics and NT scholars) that would call into question the integrity of Galatians 1:19.  Admittedly, I don’t have the latest edition, so to be sure I’d like to compare, but based on the critical textual apparatus I do have the textual tradition seems well established for Galatians 1:19.

    After establishing the text, biblical exegetes then go through a fairly well established rigorous step by step method that factors in any number of variables and consideratios (e.g. form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, literary and genre criticism, socio-cultural criticism, rhetorical criticism, and more)–all with the goal of establishing as best as possible the intended meaning of the text and its historical socio-cultural context….It is then and only then that they can even begin to consider questions of historicity and whether the intended meaning of the text along with any claims therein are historically accurate.

    1. Actually, most probabilities are calculated on the basis of quantifiable measurements. We see this all the time in science and medicine.

      There is a 50-50 chance of rain today. That’s a quantified statement of probability. There is a good chance this horse will win the race: how good a chance? if slightly good chance, I can quantify that statement to, say, 69% chance, and bet a small amount of money on the horse; if a very good chance, I can quantify that statement to something like 80 to 90 percent chance and bet a larger sum.

      Bayesean reasoning is applied to many fields well beyond science and medicine. Recall the billiard ball scenario.

      “It is the same with the variables in historical reasoning as I have set out above. No-one is claiming rigorous, absolute certainty.”

      But then we can’t require ‘absolute confidence’ in historical conclusions or pretend that BT can reliably evaluate such confidence levels.

      Correct. We cannot require “absolute confidence” in any historical conclusions. All historical conclusions are subject to revision, to discovering further evidence that changes our conclusions. Conclusions are always tentative, provisional.

      “But when someone says to me it is far more likely that Paul wrote in the mid first century about James the Lord’s brother than that he did not, then they need to have reasons.”

      Of course and expert scholars provide such reasons. But they are not always quantifiable and amenable to mathematical analysis, nor is BT (as much as I like it) the end-all-be-all or only method available to us or applicable in every case.

      Can you give me an example of a reason for X provided by “an expert scholar” or anyone else that is not “quantifiable”? I have shown how reasoning about evidence is indeed “quantifiable” in a general sense (not a precise to the third decimal point sense, but in the odds ‘that someone will recover from an illness’ or ‘that it will rain’ or ‘that this horse will win’ sense.)

      Look at Q. The more scholars studied the details of the relationship — similarities and variations — between the synoptic gospels the more many of them became convinced that the odds were very good, better than even, that Matthew and Luke used a lost source, Q. That view became the dominant one. One might say that they considered it very highly probable that they used a source, Q. Very highly probable does not allow them to say “only a 10% chance likelihood” they used Q. But it does allow them to think something close to 90% chance. The lower the confidence level a scholar had the more open she was to alternative hypotheses, like the view that Luke copied Matthew (no Q).

      “On your first point, you miss the argument being made. The interpolation, if that’s what it is, clearly was made in the late second century”

      My point is I’m not convinced that such a change ‘clearly was made’. There is no text critical evidence to warrant such a conclusion; at least not that I can see (see below for more on this).

      Fair enough. Then you will assign a different probability value to that point. That would open up a discussion between us — not about numbers, but — about the evidence that does exist for the interpolation hypothesis.

    2. “We know from historical records that people simply don’t “check out” claims being made when those claims meet some need of others — people do believe lies, even believe in false persons as historical. That’s what history tells us.”

      What specific ‘historical records’ are you referring to that support your claim? And what does that have to do with applying your same line of reasoning to the ‘atypical’ part of the calculus where ‘the evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is not true’ surely would include contemporaneous counter claims that dispute the Christian claims? (To me this is one of the greatest weaknesses of the mythicist position. If it’s true that Jesus did not exist but is essentially a whole cloth invention, then surely we would expect the enemies of early Christianity–of which there were many–to counter and dispute the claims of Christians that Jesus even existed).

      Ah, so you are worried about mythicism and not Bayes per se, then. Is that what worries you about Bayes? That it is being used to support a case that you dislike?

      Let’s look at William Tell. How did belief in William Tell ever get started if he was a fictional creation? Someone must have said from the beginning, It’s only a story and not true. But somehow belief grew and he became a historical figure until modern times when historical criticism found he was not historical.

      Ditto for Ned Ludd.

      My point here is that you make extensive use of non-evidence and what you think we should expect, but correspondingly don’t extend your same line of reasoning to the ‘atypical’ part that the evidence we would expect if the hypothesis is not true would surely include counter claims disputing the Christian claims, but we lack such evidence.

      If you read my post again I think you must acknowledge that I am actually making use of evidence and — just as you do — asking what we would expect on the basis of that evidence. If we would expect other evidence to turn up from the existence of evidence A, and it doesn’t exist, then we have a problem with our theory.

      You are the one making the use of non-evidence:

      First, you say there is “no evidence” that anyone denied the historical claims of Christianity from the get-go, so therefore — on the basis of this non-evidence — the claims that Jesus existed were true.

      But historians know very well how unreliable reports in history so often are. That’s why they look for independent confirmation. Most historical Jesus scholars are an exception to this historical rule, unfortunately.

      But second, I am not personally convinced that there are strong reasons to expect we should have most all of the non-evidence you expect we should have, and therefore I don’t think they warrant inclusion in BT. While I know you don’t state it exactly this way, the entire line of reasoning based on this non-evidence to me comes across along the lines of ‘we have reports that Jesus had actual brothers, but because these reports don’t elaborate or provide us with additional information we would like to have that renders the report improbable’

      I don’t think this is entirely fair to my position. I did try to be very specific to what we do have and what the arguments actually are. Can you address a specific line of reasoning I did make?

      But to me, this misses the simple yet fundamental (and imho, far weightier) points that if it is true that Jesus had actual brothers, then the the type of evidence we would expect to have are reports to this effect—and this is what we, in fact, do have. And conversely, if it is not true that Jesus had actual brothers, then we would expect there to be either (a) no reports claiming so, or (b) if there are such reports, counter testimony disputing such claims—but we don’t have this. To me, these are the factors that should receive the greatest weight in any probability calculus.

      Okay. But what will you do with the points I made? Do you want to simply toss them out and replace them with yours? You do have to address each of my points, too, and balance it against your own. That’s where a profitable discussion can be had.

      As for your expectation of surviving records of accounts disputing a claim, on what basis do you make this expectation? Let’s start with that. What surviving records do we have of counterclaims to events and persons that were reported and known to be false in the ancient world? How often do we expect to have these sorts of reports? Let’s start with the evidence we do have for the existence of such reports.

      The one, important caveat I would add is that we must first establish the textual tradition. That is, there is a rhyme and reason to critical biblical scholarship. The first step is to establish the integrity of the text. Thus, all inquiries like this should begin with textual criticism, because if there is evidence that the text in question is not original–like the long ending of Mark, which consensus scholarship agrees is not original but a later addition to Mark–then we cannot accept the report to begin with. We cannot even get out of the gate. That said, I find no evidence of textual variants or disputes in the critical textual apparatus of the Greek New Testament edition that I have (used by textual critics and NT scholars) that would call into question the integrity of Galatians 1:19. Admittedly, I don’t have the latest edition, so to be sure I’d like to compare, but based on the critical textual apparatus I do have the textual tradition seems well established for Galatians 1:19.

      But in the post I did point to an instance of textual criticism making this very point. One made by an opponent of mythicism — so rare to see an honest disputant on this quesion! Tertullian and Irenaeus provide us with that evidence.

      After establishing the text, biblical exegetes then go through a fairly well established rigorous step by step method that factors in any number of variables and consideratios (e.g. form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, literary and genre criticism, socio-cultural criticism, rhetorical criticism, and more)–all with the goal of establishing as best as possible the intended meaning of the text and its historical socio-cultural context….It is then and only then that they can even begin to consider questions of historicity and whether the intended meaning of the text along with any claims therein are historically accurate.

      And each of those steps is, I would suggest, “quantifiable” in a general sense (not a precise decimal point sense, but in a weather prediction or horse race sense).

      However, all methods will only be as good as the people applying them. Sometimes even the best intentioned of us — even scholars — can be blind to the fragility of their assumptions.

    3. If it’s true that Jesus did not exist but is essentially a whole cloth invention, then surely we would expect the enemies of early Christianity–of which there were many–to counter and dispute the claims of Christians that Jesus even existed.

      This is a reasonable surmise. So how could we test this assertion or expectation against historical sources?

      One way would be to identify persons who have been believed to have existed but were later found out to be fabrications. We can check to see how often we have evidence of people trying to tell everyone that those people did not exist at the time that the belief was taking hold.

      Some examples we could consider:

      King Arthur — long treated as historical in British history but recent discoveries have indicated that he was in all likelihood a fiction

      Demonax — Lucian wrote a biography of his teacher Demonax but some historians now think that this teacher was fictional, contrary to beliefs in ancient times

      Damis — Philostratus claimed that Damis was his source for Apollonius. Many have long assumed Damis was historical but recent studies have led many historians to believe Damus was made up

      Dictys and Dares — long thought to be genuine historical eyewitnesses to the Trojan War; only centuries later did scholars begin to suspect their genuineness.

      Abraham — long thought to be a historical person but almost generally considered fictional today

      Moses — ditto

      David and/or Solomon — Many historians consider at least one of these to have been fiction

      Theseus — first king of Athens; no longer believed to be historical

      Romulus — founder of Rome; most historians consider him fictional

      Heracles — though a god, “eyewitnesses” claimed to have seen him participating in a famous battle

      William Tell — long cherished as a Swiss national hero and many Swiss reacted in horror when historians started questioning his existence

      Ned Ludd — believed by contemporaries to be a real culprit who smashed machinery

      Judas — argued to have been a fictional creation by many scholars who believe in the historical Jesus

      — So the historical record informs us that people do come to believe that persons who never in fact existed were historically real, sometimes even in their own lifetimes.

      — So perhaps if we ask how it came about that people believed in these figures, then maybe it might not be so unreasonable to think that people came to believe Jesus was real in a similar way.

      — To make this a probability statement, in the light of the above examples, we cannot say that it is 99% probable that if Jesus was a made-up myth then people who knew the truth have stopped that belief from gaining any traction. Given the record of history we would have to say the odds are a little less than even 95%, yes?

  33. “Ah, so you are worried about mythicism and not Bayes per se, then. Is that what worries you about Bayes? That it is being used to support a case that you dislike?”

    Actually no, not all.  I have no problems with Bayes Theorem whatsoever.  It’s a valid tool.  It’s just not applicable to everything, nor is it always properly used.  I do not think it is being properly used here.  I would say the same thing if you were a Christian apologist trying to use BT to prove Jesus existed.  The probabilities are far too poorly constrained and subjective to assign meaningful values.  In addition, there seem to be some problems with the way you have set up the calculus and some of it is unclear.  For example, the basis for your prior is unclear to me, and it’s unclear to me what your posterior probability is conditioned on.  And technically (if I were to be a bit pedantic), the statement of your hypothesis presupposes the existence of James from the off as a fact, which then conflicts with some of your arguments.  I would also argue the focus on Galatians 1:19 as the H you are testing is misplaced.  To me, it seems more appropriate for the H to be that Jesus had a brother named James, and for Galatians 1:19 simply to be one item on the list to consider in possible evidentiary support of H.  In fact, it shouldn’t be considered at all until the text and exegesis is established first (which I discuss more below).

    “You are the one making the use of non-evidence:

    First, you say there is “no evidence” that anyone denied the historical claims of Christianity from the get-go, so therefore — on the basis of this non-evidence — the claims that Jesus existed were true.”

    You lost me. I said nothing about the ‘historical claims of Christianity’; unless, by that statement you meant my reference to Jesus’ existence and lack of hostile sources countering this.  More importantly, I’m not the one using non-evidence.  I simply made the statement as a point of contrast to your use of non-evidence/arguments from silence.  I was pointing out the inconsistency of resorting to non-evidence/arguments from silence in a one-sided way.  

    “But historians know very well how unreliable reports in history so often are. That’s why they look for independent confirmation. Most historical Jesus scholars are an exception to this historical rule, unfortunately.”

    We actually do have evidence for independent confirmation (that mythicists often hand wave away).  Also, unfair characterization of historical Jesus scholars.

    “I don’t think this is entirely fair to my position. I did try to be very specific to what we do have and what the arguments actually are. Can you address a specific line of reasoning I did make?”

    An example I discussed at length was the tenuous conclusion that James the brother of Jesus referred to in GMark & Galatians are supposedly incompatible and therefore must be referring to two completely different people.  There’s greater variation in the four gospel portraits of Jesus, yet neither historicists nor mythicists believe four different Jesus’ are being referred to.  

    I agree with you about the differences though.  But these differences–far from indicating two different people instead argue for them being independent sources (which mythicists simply can’t allow because of how that would dramatically improve the probability, so they have to posit the extreme ‘completely different individuals’).

    This seems a common trend among mythicists: everything is either derivative from a single source or if the differences in accounts suggest independent sources then it ‘must’ be two different people instead.  The martyrdom of James as told by Josephus and Hegesippus is another example that comes to mind.  The divergent accounts lead some mythicists to claim they’re talking about two completely different people even though both accounts identify James as the brother of Jesus and death by stoning.

    Another example you gave is the supposed “silence” in Acts about James being the brother of Jesus.  Even Paul doesn’t always add that additional information about James.  That’s hardly “evidence” against their identification.  To the contrary, the identification of ‘James the Just’ the bishop of the Jerusalem church  with James the brother of Jesus is a strong, well-attested tradition.

    I also find your summary dismissal of the GMark reference on the ‘grounds’ that ‘a prophet is not accepted’ is ‘theological’ and therefore can’t be ‘historical’ completely unjustified.  Surely, you can’t really believe that.  That would rule out everything in history that contains a religious element or mere hint of one.  By that reasoning, it can’t be historical that Jesus and the disciples ever celebrated Passover–or any Jew in history for that matter–because that’s OT theology.  And if that’s the type of belief you subscribe to, then we’re not going to get very far in any discussion.  I think that argument is really thin.  It’s one thing to question the miracle stories, but to question this NON-miraculous pericope in GMark on the ‘grounds’ that Jewish rejection of Jesus as a prophet is, well, Jewish theology, so it can’t have actually happened goes too far and is a really strained assessment that seems solely motivated from a desire not to recognize it as a straightforward, unadorned statement that Jesus had brothers and sisters.

    “But in the post I did point to an instance of textual criticism making this very point. One made by an opponent of mythicism — so rare to see an honest disputant on this quesion! Tertullian and Irenaeus provide us with that evidence.”

    Yes, and I’ve read your statement over and over, and tried to see your point and get it to work, but I can’t get it square with all the facts.  And the source you cited is pretty old, from 1948.

    There are many problems I see:

    •There’s no significant history of textual variants when it comes to Galatians 1:19.  In fact, as I noted already the critical text used by scholars lists no variants whatsoever for that verse.

    •The issue with Marcion is not specific to Galatians 1:19 but to the entire book of Galatians.  To focus just on 1:19 is myopic and gives the impression that no one countered him on Galatians 1:19, when in fact Marcion sliced and diced large parts of the book of Galatians and was taken to task by others like Papias, Tertullian, Origen and more for doing this, who objected to the number of deletions he made to the epistle as a whole. For example, with Galatians 1 alone he deleted 17 of 24 verses.  He starts with v. 1, then jumps to v. 6 and cites v. 6-9, then omits v. 10-15a, then cites the second part of v. 15, and first part of v. 16, and then jumps to chapter 2!  

    •With all the large number of changes Marcion made to Galatians you can hardly fault others for rebuking him on the whole. You can hardly expect or require every omission to be addressed when a criticism for the totality of his actions will suffice and cover it all.  He doesn’t simply omit Galatians 1:19 or just ‘the brother of the Lord’ part—if that was the only change he made, then you might have a case–but he didn’t simply do that.  He deleted v. 16b all the way through v. 24, and as I said omitted v. 2-5, and v. 10-15a as well.  In addition to many other changes, Marcion omitted ALL Paul’s autobiographical information in Galatians 1, including not just his visit with Peter and James, but also Paul’s Pharasaic background and persecution of Jewish Christians, and more.

    •But couldn’t it be that it was the other way around and Marcion’s Galatians was the original and all these other verses were not original to Paul but added later???  Good luck with that one. Those verses are Pauline through and through. This counter hypothesis would require someone to invent an entire new tradition and fabricate a biography for Paul that was fictitious, and not only that but to do it so well that they would fool modern statistical analysis on Pauline syntax and grammar to trick scholars into accepting its very Pauline characteristics and structurally insert it into the narratio part of Paul’s epistle (matching the Hellenistic rhetorical practices of the day) so it would be wholly integrated and seamless in reading and logical flow of Paul’s argument.  AND THEN, all the other 2nd century church fathers would have to collude and pretend that all those added verses were there all along from the beginning and before Marcion’s version and claim that he had deleted large portions of Galatians.  It doesn’t really make sense.  It’s far, far easier to delete 17 verses from an original 24, than to add 17 verses to an original 7 and not simply as a collective whole but by inserting 4 verses here, and then another 5 there, and then half a verse here, and then 7 there, etc.  Not only is deleting much more likely, but we have patristic testimony that Marcion did exactly that with the book of Galatians.  Your interpolation theory requires us to ignore this testimony.

    •But on top of this, it’s not just Galatians 1:19. There is a pervasive, strong, early attested tradition of one ‘James the Just’ who was the Lord’s brother and bishop of the Jerusalem church who was martyred that we see in sources contemporaneous with Marcion like Hegesippus, for example.  But we also have the Gospel of James, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Hebrews, the First & Second Apocalypse of James–all second century.  We also have the independent account in Josephus (and yes, I’ve read your posts disputing this, but remain unconvinced, so we’ll have to disagree on that one).  We have the Pauline references in Galatians and 1 Corinthians. We have the independent reference in GMark (as I argued above)….

    •From the 1st century into the 2nd, we have evidence of a strong tradition that connects James the Just the bishop of the church in Jerusalem also being the brother of Jesus.

    •And on top of that, we don’t see anyone disputing this tradition, which again if we use your same line of reasoning we would ‘expect’ there to be statements disputing the tradition.  And for all the attempts to show Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation, we don’t see Marcion disputing the tradition about James the Just, or the GMark reference, etc. 

    •What we do see disputed is James being a direct brother of Jesus by blood.  Very early on mid 2nd century we see disputes that James is the direct blood relative in light of teaching on perpetual virginity of Mary in, for example, the Infancy Gospel of James.  The church never denied that James was related to Jesus (even Catholic).  What was disputed was whether the reference to James being the brother of Jesus meant that he was a direct sibling or instead a step brother or cousin.

    •So there was a controversy about James the Just’s relationship to Jesus very early on in church history no later than mid 2nd century, BUT importantly that controversy presupposed and did not question that there was a relative relationship.  No, to the contrary, it was a debate about what type of relative James was to Jesus (i.e., direct brother, step brother and son of Joseph from a previous marriage before he married Mary, cousin, etc.).  But in all cases, some type of relative relationship was argued for, and at no time in these early centuries of Christianity do we see someone arguing that James the Just wasn’t related to Jesus in some familial way, which in turn could only be true if Jesus existed. 

    “— So the historical record informs us that people do come to believe that persons who never in fact existed were historically real, sometimes even in their own lifetimes.

    — So perhaps if we ask how it came about that people believed in these figures, then maybe it might not be so unreasonable to think that people came to believe Jesus was real in a similar way.

    — To make this a probability statement, in the light of the above examples, we cannot say that it is 99% probable that if Jesus was a made-up myth then people who knew the truth have stopped that belief from gaining any traction. Given the record of history we would have to say the odds are a little less than even 95%, yes?”

    There are a number of problems with the argument. First, they are not all equivalent examples. There is a huge difference, for example, between Romulus & Heracles vs. King David & Solomon, and much greater consensus among scholars that the former category are fictitious, than the latter, and then for some on your list it’s simply a question about historicity, but not an outright denial or firm conclusion.  Your list should only include examples that are firm conclusions and fairly unequivocal in order to be a valid comparison. 

    But even if we accept your list for argument sake, it’s still not a valid comparison, because when it comes to Jesus it’s not simply an academic matter of whether he existed or not that people in antiquity would have had little investment in–a mere intellectual, mental exercise, if you will. The origin and rapid spread of Christianity throughout the entire Roman empire and beyond within only a few hundred years, replete with all the changes that this caused to the fabric of society—changes that the Roman empire didn’t like and tried to eradicate–made Christianity a societal, economic, and political issue; not a mere academic exercise or mental pondering for people to muse about. The Roman empire tried to stamp it out.  So if it was true that the one at the center of if all didn’t actually exist, then that would be a powerful bit of information for the Romans to use in their eradication efforts.

    In addition, the temporal proximity of the origin of Christianity to when Jesus lived leaves little time for legendary development.  And even if they tried the temporal proximity becomes a liability because witnesses are alive to tell everyone that it’s not true.  That’s why legendary development most often occurs long after the events in question when memory has faded and no witnesses are alive to set the record straight (*speaking of what history tells us).  I mean think about it: mythicists are proposing that all the travels of Jesus around Galilee and Judea and his teaching and parables and interaction with Jewish aristocracy and Roman governors and Herod, etc., etc., etc.—that a wholly fictional character was invented to have all these points of contact with real history.  What on earth for???  And if you’re inventing a fiction, then why tie it to such prominent public figures like Herod & Pilate when it would be so easy to dispute it???

    But we can go further still.  This theory of Christians giving historical ‘legs’ to a ‘celestial Christ myth’ doesn’t even make sense when it comes to Christianity itself.  The entire NT theology and apostolic teaching (didache) and preaching (kerygma) is entirely predicated on the physical death and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  That is an indisputable fact, regardless and quite independent of questions of history.  The entire religion of Christianity could be complete an utter hogwash and mentally deranged, but that still would not change the fact of said ‘deranged’ beliefs.  And these beliefs and theology–all of it–from the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the ascension to the second coming to christology to the end time resurrection of believers to atonement to salvation to baptism in Christ, etc., etc., etc.—it was all predicated on the real physical death in history under Pontius Pilate and bodily resurrection of Jesus.  And if the resurrection never happened, then the entire thing–all of NT theology comes crashing down in a heap.  Even as Paul noted, if Christ is not raised, then Christian faith is in vain and Christians are most pitiful.  

    But in order for the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus to occur, he had to physically exist as a person.  So why on earth would Christians take a ‘celestial Christ’ who didn’t really exist, and then historicize this and present Christ as a real person Jesus of Nazareth who physically was born, lived, and died by crucifixion and then invent an entire theology that was predicated on the physical existence of this Jesus that they already knew was a fiction that they had invented???  It really makes no sense.

  34. Neil, I’ve enjoyed our recent dialogue, and wish I had more time to devote to it, but alas I’m up against deadlines and family obligations so I will have to leave it there. Best to you and yours in the land Down Under.

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