8. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Existence of Non-Existent Sources for the Gospels

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by Earl Doherty


Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.8

The Existence of Non-Existent Sources for the Gospels



  • Those “sources” of the Gospels
    • How obvious?
    • Downplaying what scholarship knows
    • Enter Q with a cardboard cutout Jesus
    • Oral tradition hypothesis fails the prediction test
    • How one story became four
    • Luke’s and Matthew’s special sources
      • “You can’t be serious!”
      • Hiding and hoping?
    • Insupportable claims for Mark and John
      • John’s sources were unique . . . the problem
    • Evolution of Jesus
    • Who invented Jesus?


* * * * *

Written Sources for the Surviving Witnesses

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 78-83)


Those “sources” of the Gospels


. . . our surviving accounts, which began to be written some forty years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, were based on earlier written sources that no longer survive. But they obviously did exist at one time, and they just as obviously had to predate the Gospels that we now have. (pp. 78-79)


This is a curious statement. Usually one uses the term “obviously” only after one has indicated the basis for the obviousness. But since any sources of the Gospels would indeed “obviously” predate the Gospels without that point needing demonstration, perhaps Ehrman is taking the obviousness of written sources as equally self-evident.

But our knowledge of such sources is extremely limited. Once again, the Prologue of Luke is appealed to: those “many” earlier authors who had compiled narratives about the life of Jesus. One of them, of course, is indeed “obvious”: the Gospel of Mark. But this is a source that we do have, and so it falls outside the range of those claimed by Ehrman which “no longer survive.” What we are looking for is evidence that written sources of the life of Jesus predated Mark, sources on which the Gospel content is based.

Ehrman downplaying what scholarship knows

Ehrman does acknowledge a debt to Mark by Luke:

But he certainly liked a good deal of Mark, as he copied many of Mark’s stories in constructing his own Gospel, sometimes verbatim. (p. 79)

Yet once again, we see Ehrman down-playing something well known to scholarship. “[H]e copied many of Mark’s stories” makes it sound like Luke cherry-picked some of these to fit into his own composition, whereas the very heart and spine of Luke’s own Gospel is Mark’s story. Luke has actually used a little over 50% of Mark. (Matthew used almost 90%.) Without those Markan parts, Luke’s (and Matthew’s) story would not exist. There would be nothing to hang their own parts upon. This bears repeating: on a fundamental level, Mark and Luke and Matthew do not represent multiple accounts of Jesus’ life, let alone independent ones. They are the same account, with Luke and Matthew each recasting it with editorial changes and additions to fit their own and their community’s agenda.

Enter Q (with a cardboard cutout Jesus)

One (or rather a group) of those additions is the one source that “no longer survives” which modern scholarship as a whole has good reason to conclude did exist, though there is a sizeable minority of that scholarship which rejects this conclusion. This is the hypothetical document scholars call “Q” which they can detect lying behind certain common passages in Matthew and Luke which they do not get from Mark. But such a source is simply a sayings collection attributed to Jesus (there are a couple of larger anecdotes, seen to be constructed at some point out of earlier discrete sayings); it in no way gives us an account of his life, let alone any mention of a death and resurrection. Jesus as an individual is in fact missing in much of it, with indications that such a source or founder figure has been introduced only in the course of the Q sect’s evolution. (Jesus: Neither God Nor Man presents this argument in detail, covering a number of chapters.)

The Oral Tradition hypothesis fails the prediction test

I have touched on this situation earlier. If, as part of a large and notably uncoordinated (the record itself shows this) sectarian movement of the time, Luke’s or Matthew’s community owed its origins to oral traditions about Jesus’ life and death, each would inevitably have formulated its own version of that life and death, its own focuses on features of the Jesus story and how to preserve and tell it. There is also no reason to think that each community would not have created its own written account of that story, with all those unique focuses and literary renditions. (Why should Mark’s community alone have come up with such an idea, impulse or need?) Yet neither Luke nor Matthew presents any such different, let alone unique, foundational version. Each simply took Mark as his starting point, his blueprint, as though he had never known a story, oral or written, about a life of Jesus before he encountered a copy of Mark. And to have two separate evangelists (and John partially) present such a picture, such a virtually infeasible situation in their literary creations, confirms this insight.

How one story became four

What we have here is the opposite of what Ehrman is trying to claim. Mythicists are indeed right. The four Gospels, inasmuch as they purport to tell the story of a man on earth who preached, prophesied, worked miracles and underwent a death and resurrection, are simply one story with differing incidental details and organization. Once that story materialized in the sect’s mind, it would inevitably have been expanded. How? By pulling into its orbit all manner of teachings, prophetic pronouncements, anecdotes about miracles performed by the sect’s prophets, controversies with the establishment, etc., and attaching them to the newly formulated Jesus figure. Some of this took place in Q’s evolution, some of it in the creation of the Gospels.

New Testament scholarship has long recognized this process, this wholesale adoption of Jesus and the attribution to him of disparate elements from truly independent (non-Jesus) sources. What they have not recognized is that this Jesus is an entirely fabricated figure, partly imagined by the sect through common sectarian tendencies, partly utilized by Mark to fashion an allegorical story about the sect as a whole and its new spiritual truths. Those truths also encompassed the entirely separate cultic Christ sect as preached by Paul, with Mark bringing Christ’s heavenly sacrifice to earth and allegorizing it in a tale of crucifixion by Pontius Pilate with the connivance of the Jewish authorities. Syncretism in spades!

Luke’s and Matthew’s “other sources”

As we’ve seen, unlike Price and others, Ehrman opts for regarding Luke’s “L” material not as his own creation but as a separate written source, or group of them, perhaps including oral elements as well. As I asked earlier, why would such an ‘independent’ source be so selective, containing nothing about the other, more important areas of the Jesus story which Luke would surely have chosen to incorporate? (The same goes for Matthew.)

But seriously?

Ehrman undercuts any chance of being taken seriously here by one of the examples he gives of a Jesus story dependent on a source:

But (Matthew) too includes many stories found only in his Gospel: the visit of the wise men to worship the infant Jesus, for example, and the parable of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment. These then must have come from Matthew’s special source(s), which scholars have therefore labeled M. (p. 81)

Now, I have encountered no mainstream scholar who even remotely believes that the visit of the magi is an historical element within an historical nativity, and I would bet any amount of money that Ehrman doesn’t believe it either. But if Matthew is using a made-up element in a made-up tale, there would be no secure way anyone could tell whether the invention was in a previous source Matthew used or whether he was responsible for it himself. If the former is possible, so is the latter, and probably more so. (I have quoted Robert Price who perceives a common hand—the evangelists’ own—in the “special sources” of both Matthew and Luke.) But Ehrman must present only the former scenario, the source idea, because to include the latter would indicate that this element of his “M” material could admittedly have been Matthew’s own creation, thereby opening the door to all of it being his creation.

My money would be on the Nativity as entirely Matthew’s creation. The worship of the ‘holy’ child is a mytheme found in other settings, notably in the Luxor mural, where three figures, representing important officials or dignitaries, pay homage and bring gifts to the Egyptian royal infant, also symbolizing the god Horus. As part of the involvement of Herod in Matthew’s nativity scene, they are also a device to alarm Herod into inquiring about this child and leading him to the slaughter of the innocents, which holds up a mirror to the story of Moses in Exodus. This comparison between Moses and Jesus is a major element of symbolism in Matthew’s Gospel as a whole.

Ehrman hiding and hoping?

In an example of typical Ehrman fudging, the magi are an integral part of the story, so it is disingenuous for him to say that “the visit of the wise men to worship the infant Jesus” is an example of the content of the “M” material—which (as with Luke) he suggests could be a combination of sources—rather than the nativity scene as a whole. But a complex interwoven story like this cannot be transmitted through oral tradition, and its interests point toward it being Matthew’s creation rather than the creation of some unknown source.

Much the same goes for the second element Ehrman throws our way: the parable of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment (25:31-46). This, too, is something too complex to transmit through oral tradition, and its nature fits very well with the rather bleak fixation on righteousness of Matthew himself. All of this Ehrman has to conceal from his readers, or at least hope they won’t notice. (Just how many nativity scenes were floating around? one wonders. Did Luke have access to an entirely different one some unknown source had created? What about the one in the Ascension of Isaiah 11, which has Mary giving birth at home in Bethlehem and not even realizing ahead of time that she was pregnant?)

More insupportable claims for Mark and John

Ehrman champions both oral and possibly written sources for Mark. For John, he posits “an earlier written account of Jesus’ miracles (the so-called Signs Source), at least two accounts of Jesus’ long speeches (the Discourse Sources), and possibly another passion source as well.” He appeals to April DeConick’s study of the Gospel of Thomas, which argues that the core of Thomas goes back to “a Gospel in circulation prior to 50 CE.”

One should note here that Ehrman fails to clarify for the uninitiated reader that the word “Gospel” when applied to a known sayings collection does not mean a Gospel of the narrative kind, like the familiar canonical four. These sayings ‘gospels’—like Thomas and Q—are simply collections of sayings with no overall narrative elements; thus they do not present a “story” of Jesus.

This applies even to the posited sources for John. The “Signs Source” is a collection of miracle tales, the “Discourse Sources” a collection of extended sayings—if either in fact existed. But even if they did (and including sayings collections like Thomas and Q), they do not constitute stories of Jesus, independent or otherwise, for it is difficult to peer behind the curtain of their incorporation into the Gospels (or, in the case of Thomas, into the second century expanded version with a gnostic-like stratum extant today) to be able to identify what form they originally took or to whom they were previously attributed. We cannot tell what sort of revision was made to these supposed sources used by the evangelists. Consequently, for Ehrman to claim that they not only existed but can be confidently identified as relating to an historical Jesus figure is insupportable and a monumental case of begging the question.

If John’s sources were unique . . . .

Should we, for example, be suspicious of a collection of Jesus’ miracles circulating as far as northern Syria where the community of John is usually located, when not a single reference to any miracle performed by Jesus can be found in the entire epistolary record of the first century? Should we think that someone prior to John created a Discourse document which supposedly recorded traditions about Jesus’ sayings, when the particular voice of Jesus in John is heard absolutely nowhere else? (We have to assume that sayings like “I am the Resurrection and the Life” were completely unknown elsewhere.) Where would such a compiler have garnered this utterly unique set of sayings? It was hardly a case of collecting “oral traditions” circulating about what Jesus said.

Thus, our theoretical compiler would have had to create this body of sayings and discourses out of his own mind, though probably as an expression of some particular outlook or religious philosophy limited to his own community or circle of congregations (the Johannine community is often regarded as a separate and unique expression on the early Christian scene).

But then, this theoretical compiler would not represent an “independent source” about the historical Jesus and his teaching, but rather an isolated phenomenon, and who is to say what sectarian concept this compilation originally represented, or to what sort of Jesus figure it was attached, historical or mythical? Who is to say whether these “Signs” were not a record of the community’s own miracles in support of their unique Christology about a heavenly figure? Who is to say whether the sayings dimension in John was pre-Johannine, or whether John is simply incorporating into sayings and discourses the ideas and expressions about a spiritual Revealer Son current in his own circle?

The evolution of Jesus in Q and Thomas

Similarly with Q and Thomas. One can trace the evolution of a Jesus founder figure throughout the successive strata in Q (as has been done in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man), pointing to no specific historical figure at the root of the Q sect. And a Gospel of Thomas stripped of its “Jesus said” tags and reduced to its core “wisdom” stratum (equivalent in large part to Q1 and no doubt bearing some literary relationship with it on the mid-first century scene) cannot be securely identified with any historical figure, let alone the one from the Gospels.

Ehrman’s circularity

Yet Ehrman has simply pointed to all these ‘sources’ and designated them as reflecting the historical figure he is trying to defend, and in the same breath proceeds to make part of that defence the existence of all these independent witnesses to him. A gigantic circular exercise.

Who invented Jesus?

Thus, this summary statement by Ehrman is based on reasoning shot through with fallacy:

We cannot think of the early Christian Gospels as going back to a solitary source that “invented” the idea that there was a man Jesus. The view that Jesus existed is found in multiple independent sources that must have been circulating throughout various regions of the Roman Empire in the decades before the Gospels that survive were produced. Where would the solitary source that ‘invented’ Jesus be? (p. 82)

Once we realize that Ehrman’s concept of “independent” is exceedingly questionable, and that he has not even attempted, let alone proven, a case that all these sources can only be identified with an historical Jesus, his lethal blow against mythicism loses its force. The “invention” of the historical Jesus of the Gospels was first begun in the Q sect as an artificial wisdom-preaching apocalyptic prophet who had first spoken the sayings and performed the deeds of the Q preachers themselves. As Q specialist William Arnal admits (see Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.349-51), he is in Q simply one of a “collective,” indistinguishable as an individual from the body of Q preachers, what they do and what they teach. And thus he becomes something which is undifferentiated from the Q community.

Mark took that ‘symbolic Jesus’ (to what extent he regarded him as entirely symbolic cannot be said) and expanded him in a biographical direction, essentially creating a life for him. And as part of that life, he wedded him, again in symbolic fashion, to the spiritual Christ of the Pauline cult by leading him to a sacrificial death and redeeming resurrection on earth. Magnetic forces drew to this appealing creation over many decades other expressions on the religious scene, so that to speak of a “solitary” source as inventing the historical Jesus is clearly simplistic.

But when one presents only simplistic questions, one can only produce simplistic answers.


. . . . to be continued


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51 thoughts on “8. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Existence of Non-Existent Sources for the Gospels”

      1. Ok thx Earl, will look forward to it. BTW does anyone else using Google Chrome have the “https” slashed-out in the address bar here for this site? Maybe it’s just on my end here.

        1. To Willie Buck Merle:

          With this “https” slashed-out in the address bar for Vridar, does Google Chrome still allow you access to the site, or are you obliged to resort to another browser to reach the site?
          There should be some way for you to find out in the Google Chrome FAQ page the meaning of this slashed-out “https”.
          No such problem using Apple’s Safari, and I suppose Windows’s Explorer.

          Note that Google is receiving DMCA (Copyright) complaints from copyright owners asking Google to remove results from its searches, which apply to Google key words searches, Google Books searches, and Google Images searches.

          Google indicates the reception of such complaint with a text at the bottom of the results list, such as “In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org.”
          Chilling Effects Clearinghouse reports such “Cease-and-Desist” (C&D) notices on its site.

          For instance a current one is shown for the “Priapus Gallinaceus” search, as
          “Notice Unavailable – DMCA (Copyright) Complaint to Google – Sent by: Dorothy Murdock To: Google – The cease-and-desist or legal threat you requested is not yet available. – Chilling Effects will post the notice after we process it. ”
          A few more such restricted Google searches have been spotted showing “StellarHouse Publishing” among the complaint senders.

          The question becomes whether such DMCA complaints sent to Google have an impact on Google Chrome access to sites, which might be reflected in this slashing out of “https” for some sites.

        2. Dont quote me on this but i believe that a crossed out https means the https is not secure typically because the certificate from the site for that domain has expired, was never signed or something similar. I would only worry about these sorts of things for banking websites, there is no need for ssl just to read a blog 🙂

  1. It is my view that such “Q” material as may have been collected before Matthew used it did not predate Mark, but was composed and compiled largely in imitation of the wisdom material in Mark. (In light of your remarks here I might say that if any of that material did predate Mark it was still in its “free-floating” form and had not yet been attributed to a single founder figure.)

    My reasoning is largely from the curious treatment of “teaching” in Mark and the way parables of Jesus in particular developed in the Synoptic tradition. It seems to me that in Mark, teaching, as a specific domain of activity, is not yet differentiated from any of the other sorts of ministerial activity that Jesus engages in, like exorcism, healing or miracle working. At the very outset, for example, after the first exorcism in the synagogue, witnesses are made to exclaim about the “new teaching” “with authority, not like the scribes” but Jesus has not done any teaching, certainly not of a form recognized as such by later accounts. I find this strange on the hypothesis that there was an untapped wealth of sayings available to the author of Mark. It’s as if he’s tentatively inventing the very idea that the nascent faith could look to such a figure as a teacher at all, and that his actions fit this mold as much as anything that might be put in his mouth by way of instruction to the devout.

    Also the profusion of parables in Matthew and Luke is interesting. I think we have to at least consider that the Parable of the Sower is the ur-parable. Certainly the author of Mark is not using it in the way that his successors used parables. First, it gets its private explanatory discourse, even though, as an allegory, it’s not exactly difficult to get the gist of. Which anomaly of itself we could attribute to the author’s overriding concern to portray the disciples as a little thick when it comes to receiving the Way, but I think we’re also supposed to take note of the strong emphasis the precise interpretation takes and make it our guide for understanding much of the action to follow. The casual and profuse employment of parables by the other two synoptic authors is completely different.

    Likewise the sermonizing found in the long discourses of the later works would fit poorly in Mark, where the pronouncement or “controversy” pericopes dominate the discursive episodes. Again, I draw attention to the relative poverty of these pronouncements as far as intelligible instruction to believers. The point of these episodes in Mark is more to show that Jesus’ wisdom utterly confounds those who would trap him in rhetorical snares, not to present a coherent teaching program. For all the ink spilled over, for instance, whether Jesus meant to instruct his followers to pay Roman taxes with the “render unto Caesar” line, I find the question utterly beside the point. Jesus’ interlocutors are trying to put him in an untenable position where any answer will condemn him as either a collaborator or a dangerous agitator, and he neatly steps out of the snare by turning the question back on them by inviting them to affirm that a man can in fact make little bits of creation his own, not God’s, by having his image stamped on them. Most of the other barbed pronouncements in Mark are similarly light on useful advice, and appear to be responses to a given situation or rhetorical ploy invented by the author. Just as with the parables, I think we see that later authors had an interest in presenting this material and similar material composed in imitation of it as a kind of coherent doctrine. That this interest seems lacking in Mark could be attributed to a paucity of this kind of material associated with Jesus prior to his authorship.

      1. I’m not sure I see just exactly what the bottom-line observation constitutes in O’Brien’s comment, so I’ll just make a few comments of my own on it. First of all,

        but was composed and compiled largely in imitation of the wisdom material in Mark.

        composed by whom and compiled in what form? The beauty of a Q is that it provides a window onto the predecessor communities prior to the Synoptics, whose communities would have grown out of the broader kingdom-preaching sect they were a part of. Otherwise, the Synoptics spring into being full-grown with no roots and no explanation or sources for their ideas. And what in Mark was such a composition imitating? Aside from the parable in ch.4, there is virtually nothing of “wisdom material” in Mark. Why assume that Q, however one styles it, waited until Mark gave them the odd prime example as inspiration to the whole Q catalogue rather than that Q represents a teaching tradition evolving over time and predating Mark?

        The Q-like material in Mark is essentially the foundational ideas of the movement: the Kingdom of God is coming, the Son of Man as judge will arrive, Jesus’ miracles as a sign of the imminence of the Kingdom, the roots in John the Baptist, the itinerant nature of the preachers, and so on. An echo of Q’s Temptation story, or the odd saying which resembles a Q one, shows that Mark drew orally and in limited fashion on sayings recorded in the Q document but almost certainly did not possess that document. Even the ‘Q’ movement would not have been monolithic, with variety and incompleteness of traditions spread across a wide area in Galilee and Syria and maybe beyond. (The Didache is part of that wider movement, yet it seems to have no historical Jesus in its outlook.)

        Your observation that Mark shows no sense of a specific teaching role for Jesus as opposed to the other more physical activities fits in very well with this. Some part of the Q movement (perhaps it was quite localized) came to envision a founding teacher, which made for a focus on the formation of a collection of his teachings, giving their set of traditions a greater emphasis on the teaching role which Mark does not have. Those wider areas of the movement, lacking a Q document, would be missing such an emphasis. The “untapped wealth of sayings” would not have been universally available.

        Mark is essentially using his Jesus figure to symbolize the entire preaching movement. For him, the latter’s miracle-working, prophecy of the Son of Man, the controversies, were the experiences of that sect now focused on Jesus as a symbol (as William Arnal is forced to concede even about the picture in Q with its greater number of teachings). Other teachings were a side issue, leading Mark to give them less attention. And if he gave a focus to Jesus’ besting of the establishment in controversy anecdotes, this represents the group’s own claims to success in these matters.

  2. “My money would be on the Nativity as entirely Matthew’s creation. The worship of the ‘holy’ child is a mytheme found in other settings, notably in the Luxor mural, where three figures, representing important officials or dignitaries, pay homage and bring gifts to the Egyptian royal infant, also symbolizing the god Horus.”

    Richard Carrier is much more precise (“That Luxor Thing”, Feb, 20, 2012): “The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke look like a combination of Jewish nativity apocrypha (e.g., extant and lost Moses haggadot in Matthew; and Isaac haggadot in Luke) and Hellenistic king nativities and their influence on Roman imperial nativities (e.g., tales told of the births of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Roman Emperors), structured in specific ways unique to Christian needs.”

    He argues that the magi were priests mentioned only in the book of Daniel: “Thus, Matthew is not copying Egyptian religion, much less the story at Luxor, where there are in fact no magi … which is not an irrelevant point, since we have to explain why magi are in Matthew’s story, and “he copied Luxor” simply doesn’t explain that, whereas “he is constructing a midrashic haggadah on Daniel” does (magi being specifically Persian priests, not Egyptian).” Matthew’s magi come from the East, i.e. Persia, not from the South (Egypt).

    “Other elements of the story are just commonplaces in divine king nativities (even in real life, not just stories), and thus do not connect directly to Egyptian mythology at all. By analogy, the elements of the nativity of Moses that Matthew borrowed also match elements of the Akkadian Sargon narratives, but Matthew is not borrowing from the Akkadian myths (he probably had never even heard of them), he is borrowing from the Jewish myths. That those myths just happen to be adaptations of earlier Akkadian myths is something we now know, but is not likely anything the early Christians knew…it was the Hellenistic stories and practices that most likely influenced Matthew and Luke, not the earlier Egyptian material. They probably never heard the story told at Luxor, and would have been repulsed by it if they had. (See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78.)”

    The influence of Luxor was most likely just physically impossible. There cannot have been any direct causation.
    Luxor stood 500 miles away from Alexandria. It is most likely that no Gospel writer, Matthew or Luke, ever visited the temple of Luxor, or the panels at the Deir el-Bahri Temple Complex built by Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC.
    Why would have they picked those two temples to visit in the immensity of Egypt’s religious monuments, without the equivalent of our modern touristic guides? Those temples were 1,500, if not 1,700 years old. The priests would not have allowed those importune foreign visitors access. The writers had not flashlights or cameras to examine or record the inscriptions. If they had seen them at all, they would have been unable to decipher the 18th dynasty hieroglyphs. They were elite Greek-educated scholars, who had never gone to the schools of Temple trainees to learn and study the hieroglyphs. reserved only for use by the priests in their communication with gods and the pharaohs. In the 1st and 2d centuries, the population in Alexandria used Greek for administrative and civil life, and had no use for the “sacred characters”.

    Of course it is easy to imagine that records of temple inscriptions had been collected by special envoys and brought back to the Alexandria library for cultural record-keeping, where everything had then been nicely translated and ready to use by the Gospel writers. But that is a nice fantasy without the shadow of evidence.

    It is much more likely that those ancient panels were unknown in Alexandria, and remained unknown until an interest in ancient Egyptology artifacts developed after Napoleon’s invasion in 1798, giving rise to a scholarly passion in the 19th and 20th century. We are now using the fruits of the research of hundreds of professional Egyptologists who have dedicated their whole lives to the exercise of documenting and decrypting the ancient monuments.
    Mentioning the Luxor panels as illustrating a mytheme that pervaded the ancient world (“floating in the air”, as some explain it) is a simple retrojection of our modern knowledge learnt from the German and English-American archaeologists who have done all the work and produced our modern books. It is an illusion of our modern perception of simply using ready-made books in our libraries. Bruce Metzger has pointed out the simplifications and illusions involved in this modern perception.

    Like Carrier, we have to be “Luxor-panel influence deniers”. They had no demonstrable influence on the Gospel writers, as Bruce Metzger also emphasized. The Christian writers used what THEY effectively knew well, the examples mined in the Septuagint, and the stories of king nativities described in the Greco-Roman literature. And those nativity stories were added only as accessory embellishment of a Jesus story already firmly constituted by Mark and owing nothing to Egyptian religion.

    1. I don’t know why some people seem to jump on any reference to the Luxor mural. I am not claiming (nor I assume does Murdoch) that the author of Matthew ever visited Egypt, copied the mural on his iPhone and consciously copied its elements. I used Luxor to give an example of a mytheme which was relatively common in the ancient world. (I think I recall it being used for one of the Sargons.) You can’t say it “owes nothing to Egyptian religion” as though the two inhabit separate planets, when the Egyptian religion shows common features with widespread motifs which the Gospels also share in. Direct lines of borrowing or ‘in the air’ knowledge are of course impossible to trace, but one can’t get one’s shorts in a knot by getting hung up over general observations which simply comment on the larger picture.

    2. Because the ” general observations which simply comment on the larger picture” seem to select the Luxor panel example as their major citation, instead of referring to the many Greco-Roman stories of king nativities which were actively described in the literature to which all Greek-educated scholars, such as Mark or Matthew, had immediate access. “Egyptian religion” is a vague, amorphous, gigantic edifice that existed nowhere in a detailed script, or any voluminous scroll or codex, and still today exists nowhere in a definitive encyclopedia.

      Always quoting those Luxor panels as if they had a direct impact on the nativity tales of the Gospels is propagating an illusory connection that did not exist at the time the Gospels were written.
      Both Carrier and Murdock have engaged in a furious battle of wits in their articles and on their blogs. As a professional historian, Carrier woudn’t give in anything. He made his clearest case in “That Luxor Thing”, but came back to the fray with another go, his last contribution, “That Luxor Thing Again”, March 16, 2012.


      Not only Murdock indulges in this fantasy of the Luxor panels having been a direct, causative, influence, but also the British popularizer Kenneth Humphreys, who repeats the same line in his site “Jesus Never Existed” and ebooks, repeating the tale of Egyptian origin in “The “Holy Family”? The Whole Nativity Sequence, Luxor 1700 BC !” (not even checking his dates!) in his “Matthew — A Gospel for Messianic Jews”.


      But he cleverly covers his rear by citing Geza Vermes: “A Professor Speaks — “We are led inescapably to this conclusion: that the awesomely influential Nativity story in the first book of the New Testament is a speculative, rather than a historical text. Far from being a report of a literal happening, it is an amalgam of flawed Greek-Christian scriptural references, and of “birth tales” current in Judaism in the first century AD. The story with which we are all so familiar is not fact, but folklore.” – Géza Vermes, The Daily Telegraph, 19.12.2004″
      This prudent quote in his left-hand column, inserted after the body of the article had been written, as a later add-on, so as not to disturb the organization of the main article! One day he may even be tempted to correct his dates, and perhaps, later, modify his dogmatic presentation.

      Bruce Metzger clearly underlined that such contemporary writers are dealing with a story written in modern English that injects far more precision than was in fact implied in the hieroglyphs carved 1,500 years earlier. The English texts are a modern construction, an interpretation of the hieroglyphs, adapted to our need for precision that the ancients may not have felt.
      And Carrier adds that, no matter, those panels were unknown in Alexandria and remained unknown until modern times.

      If we care to review what Murdock recently wrote in her “Parallelophobia, personal attacks and professional jealousy: A response to Richard Carrier’s ‘That Luxor Thing’ ” of March 9, 2012 on her blog “Freethoughtnation/forum”


      She explains: “The Christian religion was not created for scholars who would have known about Hatshepsut’s sexy divine-birth inscription. Christianity was created largely for the people – lay people – who were quite likely well aware of the divine-birth stories concerning their various leaders, birth scenes in clear and easy-to-understand images, as on the walls of these rulers’ birth rooms, which the people visited and admired much like we do today at these ancient sites and in museums…The fact is that Luxor was visited as a pilgrim destination and tourist attraction into the common era, and many thousands of people would have seen the Amenhotep narrative scene there.”

      Murdock imagines that ordinary Egyptians (the local folks, distinct from the invading Greeks) were going to Luxor and visiting the private rooms of “their various leaders” (i.e. the pharaohs) and contemplated the panels “in clear and easy-to-understand images…much like we do today at these ancient sites and in museums”. In her quick-leaping mind, the Luxor panels played a similar role to the stained glass windows of medieval churches.
      Of course, if this had really been the case, sophisticated Greek-elite Matthew and Luke would have followed the native crowds of naive and illiterate Egyptians, and may have had a Eureka moment, thinking “Hey, I could use a story like that!”, conceiving right there their own stories of Jesus’s birth.

      Now, speak of retrojection of modern ways back on the Egyptians populations of antiquity! This is pure fantasy. Murdock is losing sense of our anchorage in time, freely floating in her imaginary Egyptian past. That is the beauty and attraction of comparative mythology and religions — it allows all kinds of fanciful flights of free-rein intuition (i.e. imagination)

      Murdock, pundit-like, adds “Since it is my contention – and that of many others – that much of Christianity was created at Alexandria”.
      And we know who those unnamed “many others” are: Godfrey Higgins, Robert Taylor (who both picked up Philo’s mention of the Therapeuts and ran with it, making them the secret brotherhood which propagated Christianity), Kersey Graves, Helena Blavatsky (the prophetess of Theosophy and spiritualism), her disciples Gerald Massey and G.R.S. Mead, Alvin Boyd Kuhn (who got his History PhD at age 50 with his thesis “Theosophy — A Modern Revival of the Ancient Wisdom” from Columbia U. in 1930), and, recently, Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light, 2004), the “Lost Light” being Theosophy’s “Ancient Wisdom” of Alvin B. Kuhn, Gerald Massey and Helena Blavatsky.
      This is the kind of New Age historical construction — pure Theosophist propaganda — we are being battered into accepting.

      1. Good grief, you really have a bee in your bonnet, don’t you? I guess I should apologize for stirring it up by daring to refer to the Luxor mural even as a well-known example of a mytheme which we can find a parallel to in Matthew’s Nativity, without suggesting any direct link.One wonders if your antagonism toward Luxor and all things Egyptian is tangled up with an obvious antagonism toward Murdoch. The two seem inextricably interwoven. (The same might be said for Carrier.)

        Setting aside that Luxor thing, the entire scholarly study of the Old Testament postulates a heavy influence on early Hebrew religion and expression from Egyptian precedents, hardly infeasible or offensive since they were right next door with many historical contacts. To insist that early Christianity was more reliant on Jewish precedents than Egyptian is only inserting an intermediary between the outer two.(Not that I’m saying that everything Jewish borrowed by Christians ultimately went back to Egypt, so don’t jump on that one.)

        1. Sorry for the insistence, but I feel that you didn’t get my point correctly.

          Bee or no bee, the fact remains that you have to read in Ch. 23 “Out of Egypt or India?” (The Christ Conspiracy) that “Taylor, Massey and Kuhn all agree that EVERYTHING OF CHRISTIANITY IS OF EGYPTIAN ORIGIN” (shouting it in caps so that dummkopf readers like us can get the message), including the Hebrew bible.
          And those writers just mentioned by Murdock are those leaders she religiously follows, presenting herself as a simple disciple exposing the themes and theses of her pioneers and supporting them with her majestic abundance of quotes.
          Speaking of bees, Murdock is surely an extremely diligent one in setting up her collection of citations. “Hut ab” to her.

          And she explicitly mentioned in her blog article I quoted earlier, as anybody who cares to read it can confirm, that “…it is my contention – and that of many others – that much of Christianity was created at Alexandria”.
          It is obviously clear that those “many others” include the writers mentioned above, her famous fundamental sources, Taylor, Massey, Kuhn, as well as Graves, Blavatsky, and Mead.
          However Higgins and Walker seem to prefer India as an origin. No sweat: real ancient liturgical Sanskrit words can be “traced back to their Egyptian origins” in the mists of times (How? Just don’t ask).

          In the same article on her blog, she did clearly explain “The Christian religion was not created for scholars who would have known about Hatshepsut’s sexy divine-birth inscription. Christianity was created largely for the people – lay people – who were quite likely well aware of the divine-birth stories concerning their various leaders, birth scenes in clear and easy-to-understand images, as on the walls of these rulers’ birth rooms, which the people visited and admired much like we do today at these ancient sites and in museums…The fact is that Luxor was visited as a pilgrim destination and tourist attraction into the common era, and many thousands of people would have seen the Amenhotep narrative scene there.”
          She is thus setting a conceptual stage so that the Luxor panels become understandable as “models” for the Matthew tale. And this, uniquely for building her case of the Gospel stories coming from Alexandria.

          Carrier has explicitly declared that there are no “magi” in the Luxor scene. And if we look closely at the Samuel Sharpe drawings of 1879, reproduced by everybody, there are no magi to be seen. A royal birth is certainly surrounded by a lot of attendants, and such figures appear in many Egyptian carvings, birth or no birth.

          Again, Richard Carrier is firmly denying any influence of the Luxor engravings on the Gospels’ nativity stories. Real parallels and direct influences can be more easily and more realistically found in the classical stories of the birth scenes of Hellenistic god/heroes and Greek kings such as Alexander.
          There is no star either in the Luxor story, no search for the house, etc…Matthew is a vastly creative writer who had no need for Luxor. The stories of the Septuagint were more obvious sources (Daniel, Moses, etc…)

          Whereas you quickly write “… notably in the Luxor mural, where three figures, representing important officials or dignitaries, pay homage and bring gifts to the Egyptian royal infant, also symbolizing the god Horus”. For some reason you are fixated on this legend of “three important figures..bringing gifts” in the Luxor panels, whereas there is none to be seen in the drawings.

          In addition, Matthew never said that there were “three” magi or wise men. That is a popular legend concocted in medieval times (because of the three gifts), and popularized in the famous Xmas carol “The Three Kings”.
          The bee got buzzing when it seemed that you had a vested interest in promoting the example of the Luxor scene over the descriptions of nativities from the Jewish scriptures or from the Greek gods and kings like Alexander. I read that as a bias, one that is unfounded in the facts.
          (However, disclosure: Doherty is granted four long quotes in the “Christ Conspiracy”, including a major 322-word one in the last concluding chapter.) Among writers, a gesture deserves another, right? Murdock always repeats this principle of reciprocity.
          She warned Carrier he can’t expect any gesture from her part in helping boost the favorable votes to any Amazon review for his books, whereas her 5-star review for Doherty’s book attracted a huge number of positive votes.

          Then, in the same ch. 23 of the “Christ Conspiracy” you have to read about her Druids, her take on the “Mysteries”, dedicated to the worship of the sun “which became the Christian religion”, her Black Buddhas and her “Pygmies”, all borrowed from Higgins, Taylor and Albert Churchward, to realize that, when reading Murdock, you have to put on your safety belt tight and keep your thinking cap firmly on.
          The ability of Murdock to so easily read “thousands of years” (which comes back like a Wagnerian motif all through the book), and even deeper back into the pre-historic past is mind-boggling.

          It would be frankly amazing if Price and you did really swallow such big tales.
          Whenever I read Murdock I can’t help remembering a famous scream, not Munch’s scream but John McEnroe’s exploding at the referee at Wimbledon “You can’t be serious!”

        2. Generalities are fine, and the debate is not about Murdock. She is not a scholar, but a popularizer of ideas and facts all borrowed from previous writers. No historian or authentic scholar would ever trust her in anything, without going back to the very source of any of her statements, and identifying the original scholars used by her to provide her with ideas or facts.
          It is depressing to see fine minds led astray and naively repeating her cockamanny nonsense.

          However, details have to be precise.
          Matthew never mentions the number of magi. Imagining that they are three in the tale because of the relation to the “three” gifts is a simplification. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon bringing also three gifts (1 Kings 10:1-2):
          “10 (A)Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. 2 She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind.”
          The Queen of Sheba came with a great retinue. And so did the magi. They were not traveling all the way from Persia alone. Their retinue carried everything needed for the journey and the gifts. For such a long trip, there were more than three camels (not mentioned), and any number of magi. 12 would have been a nice number. But their number is indeterminate and best left that way.

          The popular imagination jumped and filled in the blanks. The magi became 3, the magi turned into “kings” (a pretty unrealistic assumption), and they were made to follow the star to Jerusalem, which is never mentioned in Matthew. Matthew very explicitly said that the star reappeared only in Jerusalem to guide the magi to Bethlehem only. There was no star of Jerusalem, only a star of Bethlehem.

          And now to see magi in crouching figures on the walls of Luxor, and again in the number of 3, is another wild jump of imagination. It is also a vivid example of the power of projecting existing popular images into the reading of uncertain documents.

          1. While the Mt never mentions the number of magi or even calls them kings nor give them names, that does not seem to worry the establishment such as the Catholic Church. They seem to always state that tradition and other magical sources are their proofs and all other xian religions are happy. What im basically saying is if the RCC and other protestant churches accept this as a “fact” and undisputed then its perhaps fair to stitch these detals with the remainder of the story found in Mt.

          2. Yes, and you still give me the impression that it is Murdoch’s championing of the Luxor mural that leads you down the apoplectic road to railing at all things Luxorian and Egyptian. By the way, there are three figures to the right in the sketch of the mural bearing something in their hands, with the implication of attending on the royal birth. Sure, you can deny anything at all if you want to, since the muralist didn’t label the figures in his picture, but to interpret them along the lines which Massey did is perfectly legitimate, even if it happens to be wrong. Carrier isn’t infallible, either, despite his opinions of himself.

            Calling attention to something well-known like those figures as representative of a mytheme also found in Matthew is something I don’t have to apologize for (and nobody, much less me, is calling them “magi” or foreigners, and who cares whether Matthew’s number three or not).

            Get a grip, Roo. Consider yourself ignored in future.

          3. Your avuncular admonitions are well-meant and generous to the heart.

            But they do not obviate the fact that G. A. Wells noted: “Yet neither Bowden nor most of his theological colleagues show any inclination to read early Christian documents which are clearly independent of gospel material without importing into them the gospels’ ideas about original Christianity”. (“Early Christianity, 1999)
            That is the problem, the analyst importing known ideas into uncertain material.

            In most Egyptian illustrations there is a multitude of attendants every time a god appears, they are standing, sitting, crouching, etc…They fill the space allowed on the wall or the object, or the papyrus. There can be two, or three, or six, even more, if space allows. They add to the artistic impact of the illustration. Most are sensationally beautiful.

            The problem is to arrive armed with a fictional rendering of Matthew’s nativity and start reading a meaningful similarity in some anonymous sketched figures in Luxor. “Magi?” “attendants?” “Offering gifts?” “Three”? All this can be singled out only if you already know the Matthew nativity, or its folkloric adaptation in medieval times. Best, reading the Xmas carol “The Three Kings” in the Luxor drawings! “Hut ab”, as German scholars salute such breathtaking readings!

            In most births in a royal family, the event calls for pomp and retinues, celebration and crowds. It can be an Egyptian, Roman birth, or one in the Windsor family, or the court of Versailles.
            All those intrepid pioneers of comparative mythology of the end of the 18th century and the 19th were all animated by a desire to debunk the oppressive Christian interpretations of the world and of history. Be they Dupuis, Higgins, Taylor, Graves, Blavatsky and Massey, they were all impregnated with Christian images and were incapable of deciphering any foreign or ancient culture without “importing into them the Gospels’ ideas about original Christianity”, exactly the reproach made by G. A. Wells to his theologians.

            Kersey Graves, copying Higgins, started with selecting a sensational list of 35 stories, that he “saw” all similar to Jesus Christ’s, and then reducing it to 16 pre-Christian “god-men” who also endured “crucifixion” in “The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity before Christ” (1875). His cases of crucifixion have been disputed ever since by most historians, including Murdock’s arch-critic Richard Carrier.
            Massey followed suit, and spent his life self-educating himself in Egyptology, to produce monumental books that extolled his discovery of the origin of Christianity in Egyptian religion. And Wallis Budge was not left behind.

            But now, Egyptologists are more cautious. Seeing Christ and Christianity in everything Egyptian is not that obvious nor immediate.
            The additional problem is even to extract the real meaning of the drawings and the hieroglyphs. Translations can vary, as there is no one-on-one equivalence between groups of hieroglyphs and Greek or English meanings. The Egyptian mindset did not correspond to the ancient Greek one or the modern English one. There’s no guarantee that our neat English texts correspond to the nexus of connotations the ancient Egyptian carvers had in their mind. Already Greek and Roman writers were not as precise as we are concerning dates and quantities. The imprecision of hieroglyphic texts could be even more, so that the precision we now read could be injected by our modern translators. This was the case for Wallis Budge’s translations, now criticized my modern Egyptologists.

            Yes, it’s easy to evoke “mythemes” as floating in the air and drifting through the atmosphere from the Nile to Alexandria, where nobody used hieroglyphs in real civil life, and spot these mythemes as reappearing in the interpretation of Matthew, which is not even completely defined.
            What is the fundamental “Christ” mytheme, as a “bundle” of connotations at its core? Another word invented by Levi-Strauss, useful as an idea, but not easy to spot in practice. In reality, it’s the observer, the anthropologist, the historian, who defines what the mytheme is. You have to know the Christian story intimately to recognize it in Egyptian renderings, or tales of Buddha or Krishna.

            The optical illusion denounced by G. A. Wells still holds. Start studying the cases of Krishna, Buddha, and Horus with this Christian perspective, and what do you find:
            “In actuality, the legend of Jesus nearly identically parallels the story of Krishna, for example, even in detail, with the Indian myth dating to at least as far back as 1400 BCE. Even greater antiquity can be attributed to the well-woven Horus myth of Egypt, which also is PRACTICALLY IDENTICAL TO THE CHRISTIAN VERSION BUT which preceded it by thousands of years.” (Murdock, “The Christ Conspiracy”) [My caps].

            Plus there’s the thorny problem of transmission of mythemes. They are not abstract tales floating in the air, as some want us to believe, but they are passed physical information from country to country. And in antiquity this transmission took place exclusively among the literate elites who could travel and communicate with foreign cultures, and their languages. It is a fair guess that none of the Gospel writers could read and understand hieroglyphs, the “sacred characters” reserved to priests and temples.
            Describing those physical transfers of thousands of years past is a tremendously difficult task. It is bewildering to read popular authors glibly asserting easy transfer from one country to another, or between periods of time of “thousands of years”. Where do they get their special eyeglasses? Even Google has not yet invented any for this kind of all-knowing reading.

            Carl Jung had a better idea to finesse the problem of physical transfer, with his invention of “archetypes”, kernels of stories to be found spontaneously generated by the human mind in function of the common features of our earthly existence: birth, growing up, competition, sex, dominance, power, prestige, conquest, resistance, death, etc… Joseph Campbell picked up and amplified the idea with his myth as a “hero journey”.

            So, start from Jesus Christ, and you’ll find his “mytheme” spread all over India and the Mediterranean.
            This was good enough for the handful of charismatic pioneers in comparative mythology of the19th century, who were fascinated by the parallels they found everywhere. But now, instead of a few experts, we’ve had hundreds, even thousands of researchers since, less obsessed with debunking Christianity, and equipped with far better physical tools of analysis.
            They are now more willing to have a fresh look at the “Ding an Sich” in foreign or ancient cultures. The 19th century parallels are no longer held valid. They were astonishing to Graves and Massey, and filled them with awe, but they are now disputed by most historians and slightly ridiculed as “parallelomania”.
            Using and abusing the term “mytheme” does allow all kinds of linguistic legerdemain and to sweep under the carpet the fundamental problems of meaning and transmission.

            “Getting a grip” is good advice, sir, full of wisdom, like not swallowing any new-fangled interpretation without checking and double-checking the original sources of information, and also allowing freedom of expression to those who don’t accept ex cathedra pronouncements like some kind of new truth unveiled.

            1. So when Mt wrote the early life narrative featuring the virgin birth, visiting magi, the Bethlehem star, manger , the question is why include these particular mythical like instruments. What was the audience who read or listened to this message suppose to think or understand after this story ? If Jesus is not a myth but real why use such miraculous copy cat themes in the message ? Why create such a strange story with astrology and other themes we are told are anti xian ?

  3. This material on evolution of the Christian mytheme bears comparison to empirical analysis of the evolution of the human genome, which has reconstructed the tree of causation to show how homo sapien emerged from Africa, for example in the work of Stephen Oppenheimer. We similarly have a causal tree for the Gospels that goes through Mark, as Earl explains above.

    On the three kings, it seems most likely to me that this story is one of those oral folk traditions that uses the constellations as a mnemonic. This is a hard one for people in Europe and North America to grasp, because the constellation of Argo, forming the manger with the three kings kneeling before it, is not visible from northern latitudes. But viewed from Israel and Egypt, we see the three kings of Orion’s Belt pointing past Sirius as the star in the east to a manger with the three kings kneeling before it that rises at midnight around Christmas.

    This is a simple account, but it is completely absent from history so is my speculative reconstruction. Why I say it is plausible is that we have lost such an immense quantity of ancient cultural tradition that we are dealing mainly only with the fragments that Christianity allowed to survive. These fragments have to be put into a plausible logical framework. Observation of the stars was a big part of ancient oral cultures, and it makes sense to look at the stars as viewed from Israel and Egypt to see if they match to any of the myths. In this case they do extremely well.

  4. Yes Bart completely ignores the astrology angle that is present in many otherwise un-explainable portions of the gospels. Nothing so simply explains the entire 3 wise Magi sorry astrologers sorry kings. The simplest way to explain the entire story is Matthew is trying to say the Horus in the stars is Jesus, the three kings in the stars are pointing to the great one Horus who is but another name for Jesus.

    Why does Bart not explain each of the unbelievable chapters in some of the gospels ? Why does he not explain why Matthew the gospel to the Jews starts his narrative off with an astrology featured and impressed stage ? Most xians completely ignore this aspect, calling the magi or astrologers a different kings to hide the indefensible. How is it that Judaism which supposedly worshipped an invisible God and hated astrologer uses that very evil at the start of the gospel to the Jews ?

    Why does Bart not fail to summarise or define the common properties of the so called saviour gods, how and why they match up ?

    1. And that’s hardly the *only* astrological reference in the gospels (or the bible itself).

      Jesus, the LAMB of god, is ARIES, with his story set at approximately when the precession of the equinox carries the equinox out of Aries and into PISCES.

      Pisces, the fish, is of course an abundant Christian symbol, and explicitly connected with the Disciples (who shall be fisher’s of men)

      And there’s even a reference to AQUARIUS, ie the man with the water jug near the start of the Passion story.

      The astrological symbolism is unescapable. Now, interpreting it is up to a competent astrological historian, which I am not, all I can do is recognize its there.

      1. Of course there is a lot more astrology mixed up in the structure of the stories , i was just attempting to show that Matthew himself does not even attempt to hide but rather promotes astrology as a way of validating and explaining his Messiah to the Jews. If Matthew thinks this is a good way to impress, how exactly did Bart not comment on this ? With this start its reasonably easy to assume there may be more astrology in the remainder of the story and dig and find and come to realise that even simple unfanciful stuff is only included because of astrology and not because its true.

      2. Opposition to astrology derives both from the modern scientific enlightenment, which found that magical traditions were not supported by observation, and from Christian orthodoxy, which sees the nature worship inherent in astrology as incompatible with the view that God created the universe. Strong hostility among these powerful institutional circles towards analysis of any astrological content in the Bible leads to derision and intimidation of anyone who researches it seriously. As well, much openly astrological analysis is very weak, based on incoherent speculation. So study of this material starts from a very dubious origin and faces a heavy burden of proof.

        However, rigorous analysis of cosmic motifs in the New Testament suggests that astrology, as a pervasive ancient belief system, contributed importantly to the rise of the Christ Myth. For example, the equinox precessed across the first fish of Pisces in 21 AD, providing a clear natural correlation with the myth of Christ as alpha and omega, as lamb and fish, as founder of a new covenant, and as the point of contact between the eternal logos and temporal history.

        Just as Greek myth told legends like Andromeda and Perseus against the framework of the stars, it is arguable that early Christianity saw the story of Christ in the stars, in the slow precession of the spring equinox from Aries to Pisces. The Revelation also presents numerous astrological motifs, for example in the twelve foundation jewels of the holy city, the dragon and bear-lion, the queen of heaven, and the river and tree of life. But all these motifs are concealed as mysterious symbols, apparently because mainstream Christianity was hostile to astrology, and would have deleted any overt references. This debate can be seen more clearly in ancient texts such as Hippolytus’ critique of the Gnostic Peratae. I discuss the Peratae at http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=4125

        The hypothesis arising from all this material is that astrology was central to an oral secret mystery tradition that established the story of Christ, but this cosmic framework was suppressed and ignored as the Christ Myth was syncretised with Jewish tradition. Christianity accepted Jewish opposition to nature worship and its hostility to pagan culture in which astrology was central, even though Judaism included astrological motifs such as use of the zodiac in the breast plate of the high priest,as attested by Josephus and Philo. This all meant that the secret Gnostic astrological origin for Christianity was largely forgotten.

        1. Im not sure if your commentary about orthodoxy is meant to refer to what people today perceive as xianity or what period of time. Xianity has always uses astrology in its art and architecture. Take a look at St Peters in the heart of the Vatican. The first or second largest obelisk to Ra is at its center and this instrument may be used to calculate the equinoxes and solstices against the markings laid out around it. You cant just hide this stuff its right there. As a reference i would suggest an easy search on Youtube which give tours of famous cathedrals and shows the zodiac symbols on many many of this places in plain sight. There are also some other vids posted that show the orion nebula, its stars, outline etc being used a template to help arrange the layout of famous paintings including the painting by Michelangelo where God reaches out to touch Adam and others. We cant also ignore the names of nearly many positions in the church, such as deacon, minister, cardinal and others. Etymology is a fascinating source of information, i personally find it hard to find discussions on this area of christology. Either way these art works, architecture and terms are more have astrology roots, nobody cares to ask why.

          1. The Bible contains no overt discussion of astrology, but a wealth of concealed discussion. Astrology is an esoteric tradition within Christianity, seen especially in the Gnostics, who were suppressed partly to shift the Christian consensus from a natural cosmic framework to a supernatural transcendal metaphysics. As you note, there is abundant use of zodiac motifs in Christian art. I have argued that even The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci uses the stars of the zodiac as its coded template, indicating Leonardo’s secret endorsement of the hermetic tradition revived in the Renaissance. For example see http://www.booktalk.org/post104606.html

            1. I would agree with most of your initial comment, with a few added points. I believe many people in the ancient world, accepted astrology as a fact and that the authors of the Bible did not need to convince or dictate this fact. Most of the OT particularly can be described as an effort for the priests of YHWH to eliminate their competitors, and to convince the layperson that they were the best or right way to keep the big God happy. Sometimes they were violent, sometimes they assimilated. We can see many adoption of other pagan gods into the Jewish belief system particularly early on in Genesis. Its pretty obvious that Jehovah does not have many names but rather the Bible is attempting to assimilate other gods and present them as the same as Jehovah. The only unique point of view they wish to enforce is that they are the only priests who can administer the religious rights. Religion then was big business, the priests made lots of money from it as can be seen by the sacrificial rules. After all that the Bible does say as you allude, in many places that the zodiac does influence the lives of the world.

              Yes the last supper has a few asstrology themes, the most obvious being the grouping in threes of the apostles amongst other things. Thanks for the link.

      3. even the beheading of John the Water-Bearer is astrological in nature . . . although I can’t remember it in exact detail, there is a point astronomically where the constellation Aquarius is “beheaded” by the horizon . . . there is also the famous one where the sun walks (reflected) on water . . .saggitarius (okay I’ll look up the spelling) the archer/centaur (centurion, get it?) pierces the side of the sun whereupon it hangs (crucified) in the same spot in the sky for three days, before it is reborn in Virgo rising (virgin birth) on the morning of the 25th (winter solstice) or if you prefer resurrected after three days and begins to move northward again, the first harbinger of spring . . .Jesus in Gemini the twins “I and my father are one” which is actually stolen from Horus

  5. Earl–First, I want to thank you for the major work that you have done. You and Wells really deserve credit for opening up the question of the historicity of Jesus to critical attention in the modern era. That scholars like Ehrman feel the need to address these ideas is a substantial advance. On the other hand, I worry about putting too much stock in Q as an example of the evolution of Jesus-belief. While I have not fully accepted it (and Kloppenborg’s response was pretty thorough), Goodacre makes a compelling case against Q. It seems to me, the case for the evolution of the Jesus myth can be made without appeal to Q.

  6. What do people think of Joseph Atwills book which details how the Flavian family created Jesus the peaceful messiah ? From what i can tell the history checks out. Somehow i find it easier to believe that the elites create a religion to fool the masses which conveniently explains how jesus simply appears after the destruction of Jerusalem. If i recall Bart also mentions Atwill, but never comments on whether the premise is possible, or even wrong.

    1. I don’t buy Atwills’ theory that the gospels were created to be read together along with Josephus and disguise an intent to get Jews to worship Titus. However, I do think he is at least talking about the right kind of people who could have created a gospel like Mark, or letters like Hebrews, Barnabas and 1 Clement, like the intellectual circle of Josephus’ publisher Epaphroditus.

      Eisenman speculates about them in JBJ (pp. 793-800), and historyhuntersinternational.org takes a deeper look in articles like this: http://historyhuntersinternational.org/2010/06/05/chrestians-and-the-lost-history-for-classical-antiquity/

      1. Perhaps the premise about disguising Titus indirectly by using Lord, might require some faith or imagination, but the historical parallels are hard to deny. The assumptions of organic growth and evolution imho is a lot weaker especially when we consider a lot of this is assumption and theorectical rather than backed by hard evidence.

    2. We generally agree here that Christ was fabricated – the Flavian theory is just a different idea about how that fabrication could have come about. Majority opinion here is that Christianity came about as a sort of organic syncretism of legend and myth over time within the sect. (as the above blog post shows)

      The Flavian theory, on the other hand, proposes that Christianity is a deliberate fiction – created pretty much all at once – for the purpose of propaganda. Instead of an organic “from the ground up” it’s a deliberate “from the top down” fabrication.

      1. I dont quite agree with your later summary that xianity was created as propaganda particularly satisfy some ego. I do however think its particularly strange that Jesus completely ignores what must be the one group in society that needs relief, the slaves. Rather than give them hope, he tells them to be satisified and serve their masters, which is completely wrong. Most xians probably believe or want to believe that Christ actually was against slavery but the scriptures tell the opposite. Given the timeline or background of some of the events in the gospels, for me its hard to argue that the gospels or perhaps the primary source was not created at this time. Given Titus and his family were in power at the time, it makes sense to point a finger at them or perhaps one of their many supporters. Then again one of the biggest government departments in Rome, was actually in charge of managing religion, thus it is fair to assume the romans had some expertise in this area and had used this tool in the past.

        1. The line about slaves obeying their masters is in the Epistles, attributed to Paul not Jesus, and is balanced by Paul’s teaching that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. In the Gospels, Mary prays in the Magnificat “he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” Christianity was probably more popular among slaves than rulers, because of these ‘last will be first’ type of ideas. Atwill’s Flavian theory is against interest for Rome, and makes no sense. A source is http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav1.htm

          1. There are other events in Jesus gospel story where a slave or master is one of the foreground characters and Jesus never criticises or attempts to express disgust against slavery in any form.

            I stand corrected the obeying your masters line is from Paul, however there are a few statements from Jesus that show is fine and quite comfortable with slavery and considers it a just way to pay ones dues.

            Matthew 18:25: “But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.”

            Im not sure why you make the statement that Atwill’s Flavian theory is against the interests of Rome, I had quite the opposite conclusion, if anything its very much pro Roman. Atwill says in his introduction or early in the book, that what grasped his interst was the dramatic contrast between the rebel leaders like Simon of Gamala (sp) who were violent and Jesus who had followers but was always peaceful or simply put the exact opposite. In the Gospels the Jews are blamed for his death even though its quite obvious that Romans were in charge of the judiciary and execution of the punishment. How exactly the Jews as a people got blamed is absurdity to large degree. Atwill states it would appear that this curse being placed upon the jews was a punishment the flavians wished upon them for the many troubles and deaths of his soldiers that they caused. Given the many unfortunate pogroms, that curse or payback really worked. If we examine all the roman characters in the gospels they are always respectful – think the soldier who states this was the son of god when Jesus dies and never unjust. Half the point according to Atwill is that Jesus was meant to be the last messiah that told the jews to give up rebellion and accept their way and wait for the kingdom of god. He also says that Jesus said he would return to rule which did happen with Titus. The gospels predict that god will bring forth a messiah and he did come, even Josephus says the same of Titus.

            Did xianity solve the rebellious Jews problem, perhaps it did not, but it did serve the empire of Rome and other kingdoms, as the clergy actually were messengers of the king in tehir role of shepherding the masses to obey the ruler placed on earth by God.

          2. Jesus hisemfl says in Matthew 5 that Jews should love their enemies – aka the Romans and they should help their soldiers carry their load for more than a mile. Apparently in those days soldiers could and often did demand locals carry their loads while they were travelling hence the message from Jesus. There might be other similar directions which we, particularly myself miss because i am not particularly aware of those and similar customs in the ancient world.

            Mt 5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

            If we look we can find many sayings from jesus that are compatible with the Romans and their rule and very much against the Pharisees and other religious leaders which were often the source or inspiration for the common jews to fight the romans.

            1. The whole Christian story of a crucified savior aims to show that Rome’s method of dealing with sedition by crucifixion is evil, suggesting that Rome is in conflict with the mandate of heaven. Jesus speaks of the “desolating sacrilege” when armies surround Jerusalem, hardly a message likely to have been endorsed by the Flavians who are the obvious targets of this description of sacrilege. These problems make Joe Atwill’s interesting speculation that Rome wrote the Gospels highly implausible. The Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. The situation was that the authors recognised that military combat was not feasible, so the Jews and their allies had to resort to mobilisation of doubt about Rome’s moral legitimacy. Therefore any policies leading to direct political conflict, such as opposition to slavery, were ruled out for Christianity. Instead the Gospels and Epistles provide a framework that looked to long term change. From an early transformative Gnostic mystery doctrine of a cosmic Christ, seen especially in the Apocalyse, the message was steadily carnalised through Paul, the Gospels and the Patristics. By the time of Constantine, Rome had managed to coopt and neuter the Christian message, turning the transformative prophetic vision of the Beatitudes into a myth of stability, with Christ replacing Sol Invictor, the invincible sun, as the shared narrative mythic basis for imperial unity and legitimacy.

              1. Your commentary about desolating sacrilege and other similar negative views that can be found, i think are required otherwise the message would be completely absurd and definitely un-jewish. How could any Jew honestly believe the proto gospel was written by a Jew if it never said a bad thing against the Romans.

                I dont agree with ATwill in his entirety but i believe the end goal for the gospel was to change the rebellious nature of the rebellos elements in the Jewish people. Not every single Jew was a siccarri but there were enough that meant this was a problem for Rome. By inventing jesus and the peaceful message, any believers would hopefully accept their plight rather than fight. How can Rome possibly be seen as losing from such an outcome. Given the entire country did not believe or convert immediately, we cannot reasonably assert that this message was understood and respected and believed until a much later time. It may have taken many years, but eventually large populations outside of the jewish community came to believe this message. The irony is the message for the Jews is still rejected today but large portions of Europe and other Western places actually believed and submitted to this. The poor in the French reovlition acknowledge the power of message when they removed the church from all politics when they replaced the King. From the perspective of understanding the motivations of the Empire, one can only say xianity was a great tool and definitely a success. Nothing else has contributed for so long to the power and longevity of Rome and the Kings of Christendom. All other measures by kings and emperor have costed significant amounts of manpower and money, the jesus message did not require an army to keep the lay under control. Naturally the King still rquired an army but the clergy were great servants for a long time.

              2. Nothing else has contributed for so long to the power and longevity of Rome and the Kings of Christendom.

                Replace “Rome” with “Jerusalem” and “Kings of Christendom” with “Priests of Judaism” and your theory might actually make some sense.

              3. The problem is that both you and Robert Tulip construct your theories of the origins of Christianity from a politically correct philo-Semitic viewpoint. Approach it from the opposite angle and your theories become much more accurate.

                Robert Tulip has it almost right. But his political correctness and philo-Semitism prevent him from deriving a correct scenario.

              4. Z.O.G.’s use of the vague term ‘political correctness’ appears to be a mysterious shorthand for unstated assumptions. It is hardly ‘politically correct’ to argue that Jesus Christ was invented when this view is systematically censored from almost all public discussion in mainstream media and academia. My view is that the Gospels blame the Jews and the Romans equally for the death of Christ.

              5. Yes, I realize that the Jesus myth theory is censored by the (Jewish controlled) mainstream media and academia. And I agree that Jesus is most likely a myth. But the Jesus myth theory is not what I was referring to.

                There is another alternative to the Jesus myth theory. It is possible that Jesus did exist and that he was some kind of anti-Roman revolutionary zealot and was crucified for being a political insurrectionist.

              6. So if my comments and Roberts are wrong, what is your suggested source for jesus or xianity ?

                Your comments include a lot of words that dont really help say why i am wrong, id be interested if you gave a few examples of what i stated was wrong and why !

  7. Hello friends: what is meant by the term “historicity”? The online dictionaries say historical authenticity, fact, historical actuality. Those definitions imply 100% certainty. If secular HJ people are claiming 100% certain fact that some guy named Jesus who was vaguely substantially like Mark’s Jesus and ministered as a religious guru in the forth decade of first century Palestine, then they’ll be needing a confluence of evidence essentially as reliable as that attesting to the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Perl Harbor. How can they so confidently assert the Gospels constitute such evidence in the teeth of a complete dearth of physical, archaeological evidence?

    If this is too far off topic, feel free to move it or delete it.

    Best Wishes for Continued Success.

    1. Your commentary about using historicity with the same weight for events in modern times and with Jesus is quiet valid. Unless another Dead Sea Scrolls appears and mentions Jesus, he will always remain for honest amateurs scholars at best a maybe. Then again its also interesting that nobody from the believer side ever uses the Dead Sea Scrolls as a gospel or source.

      1. the only dead sea scroll that remotely applies to Christianity is the Last Jubilee which calls for a Messiah as Melchizedek Redivivus. at least one Israeli historian is coming around to the idea that it was written by a northern Israelite sect tossed out of the temple. Two epistles of Paul ascribe Jesus to the priestly line of Melchizedek. The authorities have never tried to make this link and declare that Jesus is Melchizedek Redivivus both as declared by Paul and thus mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why? presumably because it would create even more historical difficulties as the scroll could have been deposited as late as 136 AD. Since throughout the first century Christianity would have been considered merely just another jewish sect, the Dead Sea Scroll silence on early Christianity is all the more deafening. in the 80s some scholars tried to show a fragment of Mark is found among the Hellenized section of the Qumran library, but after several computer studies this is now almost universally rejected. The actual importance of the Last Jubilee is it could be a clue as to the original inventors of jesus, members of the northern sects wanting to divorce themselves from strict Judaism, the Diaspora being the opportunity to rewrite or create history, and/or that members of these sects either created or joined the Q Group, that they were the original mysterious Pauls (for example Earl Doherty believes each Pauline epistle had a different author)

  8. One crying in the wilderness.
    I ‘m in big trouble. Yes, the 4 gospel accounts are really 1, yes, Q is really just sayings [ no life facts] yes, Mark forms the spine of both Mattie/ Luke, yes, sects should have developed their own specific oral traditions [ Luke/ Matt] but did not.
    But. Having just listened to a basic undergraduate lecture on Luke [beginner level] I can say though, Luke certainly had at least one other source [ probably written and quite apart from L material he added]………..this can be seen in Acts 8 : 34 to 11:9? where after his insertion of Cornelius etc material , the narrative picks up again IN EXACTLY THE SAME WORDS THAT IT BROKE OFF . Same for the gospel of Luke.
    So Ehrman et al look right to so claim it. I’ll get back on Matt.

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