Larry Hurtado’s Wearying Historical Jesus Question

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by Neil Godfrey

Don’t get me wrong. I have found many worthwhile nuggets in the publications of Larry Hurtado. I find some of the analysis and conclusions in his “How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?” very insightful. If I see his name in a contribution or bibliography I generally take notice and follow up. If I ever met Larry in person I would very much hope we could shake hands and enjoy a stimulating discussion. I have no doubts he could teach me much.

So let anyone who broadcasts some nonsense about my supposedly “hating scholars” please take a valium or step outside and water your garden.

And what’s more, I find myself in total sympathy with his weary plight when he writes (only a day or two ago):

The shape of Earth as envisioned by Samuel Row...
The shape of Earth as envisioned by Samuel Rowbotham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot. It’s a bit wearying to contemplate!

Hurtado, I have no doubt, believes sincerely that “the current wave of ‘mythicist’ proponents” is “ill-informed and illogical”. According to his post his only acquaintance with mythicist arguments is an eighty-year old book opposing mythicism. It is the most natural thing in the world for him to accept that this book, in 1938 published by the Student ChristianMission Press, would in a cordial and Christian manner give readers a full grasp of the basis of mythicist arguments and with good grace and irrefutable logic and undeniable evidence tear those arguments apart limb by hapless limb.

And he cannot imagine today’s mythicists being any better informed or logical because, to him, the very denial of the historical existence of Jesus is akin to denying the earth is round, the earth orbits the sun, or the moon landings really happened.

And that’s the problem! We take for granted that the earth orbits the sun because it is the conventional wisdom we have all been taught from childhood. I am sure most of us could not prove it for ourselves.

I suspect Larry Hurtado, doctor though he is, like most of us, could not prove to anyone that the earth is round or that the earth orbits the sun, etc. Those are the things we learned in school while infants. That the earth orbits the sun has by no means been obvious for most of human history. We believe these things because of the social respectability we bestow upon the institutions that teach us these things. We know the arguments and reasons we believe these things, and the longer we live the more confirming evidence we encounter for them. But proving them from scratch is another ask altogether. One would indeed find it wearying to contemplate.

And yes, we learn about Jesus as the founder of Christianity from the same institutions that teach us that the earth orbits the sun. The institutions that accept and reinforce our everyday scientific understandings also accept and reinforce the “fact” that Jesus was the founder of Christianity. And the longer we live the more we embrace “confirming evidence” of this “fact”: reputable scholars believe it, ethicists reference it, and we hear “Who would make it up?” and “What alternative explains” such and such?

There’s a difference, of course. Our knowledge of the solar system really has been slowly acquired through centuries of trial, testing and exploration that is beyond the capacity of almost any one of us to replicate. That is, real science and testing gave us our knowledge. We (almost all of us) know the moon landing was real because we have lived long enough to understand the complexity of our social system and how it works and that the thought of a hoax on the scale required to fool the world over time is, well, inconceivable.

There are other things, however, that come to us with the evidentiary sources at hand.

Napoleon crossing the Alps

So if we are asked to prove evolution, or the historical existence of Napoleon or Julius Caesar, or that the story of the lost civilization of Atlantis is a myth, I do believe that many of us, with minimal effort and direction, could easily do so. The task would not be so wearying to contemplate.

We have many resources illustrating the development of body-bits across species and over eons. Whether someone chooses to accept this evidence or not as a result of a faith-position makes our job of offering the proof no less simple. We can point to primary evidence for and the explanatory power of the lives of famous historical figures. We can invite others to read a little more widely about Plato and the place of creative mythmaking in his philosophical writings and to compare the earliest sources to the modern myth of Atlantis. None of this is particularly wearying.

Even for Socrates for whom there are no primary sources (I use the term in the technical sense of evidence that is physically dated to the time such as an inscription ) we do have independent witnesses from writers who knew him. It is not unreasonable to ask if one of these made up Socrates as a literary character, but an affirmative answer to that question is less likely when we find we have other sources taking a quite different view of the man. (This still leaves open the question of whether Socrates was a culturally shared literary persona, so we cannot be absolutely certain of his existence as we can, say, of Napoleon’s. But this wiggle room for uncertainty changes nothing in the grand scheme of things, whether our understanding of Greek society and politics of that day or the origins of western philosophy.)

So why should it be so wearying to contemplate positing the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus?

I suggest the thought of weariness is induced from the fact that the evidence for Jesus is not at all comparable to the evidence we have for other key figures in our history books. A classics or ancient history professor can settle a genuine query relating to how we know of the existence of Cicero in seconds: writings of known provenance, known purposes, and independent attestations.

Cicero, Kopiezeichnung einer Büste aus London ...
Cicero, Kopiezeichnung einer Büste aus London (Herzog Wellington) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So when a scholar pronounces on the authority of her academic credentials says we have similar evidence for Jesus, but when the curious inquirer notices that that evidence consists of writings of indeterminate provenance and debatable purposes and that are clearly related to one another and other ahistorical literature, our offended scholar all too often resorts to accusing the curious of being hyper-sceptical. “Why don’t you reject the evidence for Cicero or Caesar or Socrates? Why do you have a problem with Jesus only? You are clearly motivated by a cynical anti-Christian bias!”

But of course the fault is NOT with the student asking the question. The student is in fact alert to the qualitative difference between what she has been shown by the biblical scholar and what is presented as evidence by the classicist or ancient historian. The professor [generically speaking] too often becomes defensive and vainly tries to equate her evidence with the nature of the evidence historians of other fields work with. The blame is pushed on to the “wearying” and “unteachable” student.

No, the fact is that the existence of Jesus has always been taken for granted, just like the nature of our solar system or our belief that the earth is round. I have not read as many books as scholars but I have read probably hundreds of scholarly works about the Bible nonetheless and as far as I recall those dealing with Jesus all begin with the assumption that there was a historical Jesus to explore.

Bart Ehrman himself has declared that as far as he knows he is the first scholar to sit down and really try to prove Jesus existed.

The strongest evidence for the historicity of Jesus consists of such passages in Paul that say Jesus was born of a woman (yet even R. Joseph Hoffmann has pointed out that “it is widely believed that these words are an insertion into the text of Galatians”) and that Paul met James, the “brother of the Lord” (for which contrary arguments are legion, even among supporters of the historicity of Jesus). It is not contrary students who question the evidence offered for Jesus. The passages that are relied upon as evidence are the subject of question among scholars themselves in a way that the evidence for Cicero is not.

The weariness that comes from contemplating the task of proving the historicity of Jesus comes from the fact that scholars have always taken historicity for granted and relied upon cheap ‘proof-texting’ till now whenever the question arises.

Many who embrace mythicism have done far more homework and have engaged in far more depth with the scholarly literature than many defenders of historicity seem to realize or are prepared to acknowledge. This explains why some of these scholars resort to unscholarly ridicule and insult. Their strongest weapon very often is crude intellectual bullying. Genuine intellectual engagement with questions that have never seriously been addressed before and that threaten to undermine the foundations of all that one has worked upon throughout one’s professional career is no doubt something “wearying to contemplate!”

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58 thoughts on “Larry Hurtado’s Wearying Historical Jesus Question”

  1. Larry has time for a quick blog post. But I did not see him say, we know Jesus existed because a), b), c). It would be too tiring to do that!

    Contrast this to Carrier taking Ehrman to task for saying Pilate is not attested to by contemporaries.

    Your statement, “A classics or ancient history professor can settle a genuine query relating to how we know of the existence of Cicero in seconds” fits right in here.

    Let’s take this argument to debates about evolution or the origin of the universe. One sees Dawkins writing about why evolution is true. I believe he gives his reasons rather than citing fatigue. Stephen Hawking tries to teach lay people the basics of Physics and the origins of the universe.

    Larry Hurtado is a reputed Biblical scholar. If he can’t see _any_ reason for not being sure about Jesus’ historicity, that is indeed amazing. Of course, he could have cited his reasons for being firmly on the side of historicity… But I am sure the reasons are very very complicated, far more complicated than evolution or the big bang theory!

  2. The strongest evidence for the historicity of Jesus consists of such passages in Paul that say Jesus was born of a woman (yet even R. Joseph Hoffmann has pointed out that “it is widely believed that these words are an insertion into the text of Galatians”) and that Paul met James, the “brother of the Lord” (for which contrary arguments are legion, even among supporters of the historicity of Jesus).

    But if, as Hermann Detering says in The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity In The Twilight, the evidence for the historicity of Paul is like that for the historicity of Jesus, what would be the significance of anything said about Jesus in the writings attributed to Paul, whether or not they include interpolations? And it seems to me that not only have scholars taken the historicity of Jesus for granted, but that an even broader mix of folks, on both sides of the issue of the historicity of Jesus, have taken the historicity of Paul for granted. Where is the evidence for the historicity of Paul?

    1. That is a good observation. And for that matter, let’s not forget the obvious, larger picture: countless scholars have noted one factual, historical error after another in our Bibles. While noting just a single error, casts doubts on any reputedly “perfect” whole. And on all its individual parts.

      On the basis of this and other evidence, some simply suggest that the Bible is full of lies; and therefore, if it seems to reference a brother to Jesus, that is simply the testimony of a liar. Carrying no weight.

      More moderately: if there is just one single demonstrable error in the Bible, then the entire text is obviously not “perfect.” And? The whole text is in doubt. Including say, individual references to a “brother of the Lord.”

      If the text is not perfect, if it contains many false things, then finally who cares what it says? It has no weight.

  3. I’m not quite so convinced of the sincerity of theologians. When they say they support for example, the historical existence of Jesus. Whenever you read theology, remember this: theologians are masters of the double, poetic style of talking; they are the masters of polysemy. The masters of saying two things at once; often two quite different things.

    In the present case? Larry Hurtado expresses “weariness” at having to prove the historical existence of Jesus. But maybe that is the weariness of an old warrior; an “emeritus” scholar. A typical “Historicist” scholar – whose work however has always carried within itself the subtext of historical questioning.

    Hurtado’s reference to a casual 1938 text, remembered from almost childhood, as if it was a scholarly citation, might be an indirect admission that after all, the sources that might support Historicism vs. Mythicism, are in fact old and uncertain; or possibly even childish.

    The weariness of Hurtado might be the weariness of a scholar … contemplating having to repeat himself again, after 30 years of teaching. Having to repeat not, however, assurances of an historical Jesus; but rather, constant hints of the opposite of that.

    The fact is, there has always been a mythicist subtext, in “Historicist” efforts.

    We all need to see … the MOMENTUM, the DRIFT of historicism. As I recently noted in Vridar: “HJ defenders [sometimes] forget just how much of Christian tradition THEY themselves already typically REJECT. Even most religious scholars for example reject a) the Old Testament, the story of the Jews and their “law”; as having been replaced or “fulfilled” by the New Testament and its “new covenant.” Thus rejecting about 3/4 of the Bible. Then b) many also acknowledge that physical miracles are disproved by Science, and/or the concentration not on physical things, but spiritual things; thus rejecting another 1/2 of even the New Testament. Then Historicists often c) reject the non-synoptic gospel of John; and d) much of Paul and so forth; and then e) even many Christian scholars reject much of anything, but Mark. So that? “Historicists” already reject as myth, essentially, about 98% of the Bible. They are already 98% mythicists. All Historicists and Mythicists are really arguing about, is the last 2%: did Jesus exist at all.

    So in effect? We need to see the drift, the momentum of things. Even “Historicism” has been a long and massive attack on conventional religion; rejecting one element after another. So that today? Even the “believers” in the Bible, and/or historical Jesus, really, actually, believe only about 2% of the Bible. So that now, “defenders” are in a last ditch final stand, over that last tiny remnant; defending the gospels; or at that, only the synoptic ones. Or even less, only Mark. Or even? Only parts of that.

    Today “defenders” of the faith have already lost 98% of their territory; and are now defending the last 2%. But the momentum? Is simply overwhelming the last 2%. And if “Historicists” are really good Historians, what would they do? Try it: extrapolate from the massively-prevailing trends, the 98% losses we’ve already seen over the last 200 years – and what do you get, as the likely final result?

    What you really finally will get, out of Historicism, is Mythicism.

  4. I think the historicity of Paul is a red herring. Someone wrote those epistles, they predate the gospels, and they exhibit no familiarity with the earthly life of the character portrayed in the gospels.

    1. How do you know they predate the gospels? Isn’t that just another thing that has been taken for granted by those who take the historicity of Paul for granted? Detering cited evidence suggesting that the letters attributed to Paul were unknown until around the middle of the 2nd century.

      1. But when does Detering date the Gospels? I’d imagine he probably likewise puts them in the 2nd century, likely also after Paul. I know Robert Price does as much. So a late dating does not necessarily equate to post-dating the gospels.

        1. IN any case though? Maybe Paul D. is right in suggesting that we might just suspend the status of the Biblical “Paul” himself; just not bothering to determine whether he was historically real or not.

          There’s an easy way to do this. Whenever he was, whoever he was, fictional or whatever? We might simply speak of “the character known as ‘Paul,'” and so forth. Or just put quotes around his name. Thus? Questioning, but not casting judgement on, whether he really existed as an individual, fl. 55 AD, or not.

      2. The first publication of the Epistles was ca. 140 AD, in the Apostolikon of Marcion, containing 10 letters (without the two Timothy and Titus). Marcion was excommunicated in Rome in 144 AD, and declared a heretic. The scribes destroyed all his manuscripts.

        Adolf Harnack reconstituted the text in Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God (1921, 2d ed. 1924)

        The oldest manuscript of the epistles is Papyrus 46 (with 8 letters plus Hebrews.)

        The canonical text is longer than the Marcion text, and the controversy has been over which one has priority. The Church claims that Marcion excised the original epistles, while Paul-Louis Couchoud, in First Edition of the Paulina, 1928, holds that the Marcion text was expanded and re-edited by the Roman Church.

        Hermann Detering and his Radikalkritik continue the Couchoud thesis of Marcion’s priority.

  5. Dr. Hurtado has been kind enough to respond in detail to two of my comments, but on both occasions he has deleted a paragraph which I believe is important to the point I am making. It is essentially this: If the moon landings really happened, we would expect to find evidence that is so overwhelming that no rational person could doubt it—and we do. On the other hand, if the historical Jesus of secular scholarship existed (i.e.,the obscure Galilean preacher whose followers consisted of a small band of illiterate peasants), we wouldn’t expect to have much evidence of him at all. Unlike a George Washington or an Alexander the Great, he wouldn’t have left the kind of historical footprint that would give us any confidence that we could separate the myth from the reality.

      1. Keep a copy of your comments on Evernote or similar.

        Dr. Hurtado should not edit comments without saying so. He is allowed not to publish them, as he is the moderator, but it is not cricket to edit comments without saying so.

        1. He admitted that he edited them, but the problem is that no one can see what it was that he edited out to judge whether he edited them fairly. At one point I was contrasting the problem of separating myth from reality for a historical figure like George Washington with the problem of doing it for Jesus. He simply removed the discussion of George Washington which provided the context for what I was saying about Jesus. He admitted he did it though.

  6. I wish when I wrote the post that I had remembered then an earlier comment in another place by Vinny — I would have included it in the original post:

    I like to think that I am a reasonably bright person. I graduated in the top 5% of my class from law school and I am an expert chess player. I took and passed the test for Mensa. I was able to follow Hawking’s A Brief History of Time without an advanced degree in physics. I have been able to follow the logic of Steven Pinker, Daniel Denett, Ronald Dworkin, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jared Diamond as well as other scholars without advanced training in their fields. I cannot do what they do, but I can generally understand how they use the evidence to reach their conclusions. For some reason, however, I’m not capable of figuring why New Testament scholars find the evidence so convincing because I don’t have enough training.

    1. Dr. Hurtado is now playing the ‘he is an expert, and mythicists are not’ card.

      When I went on a maths course, last week, I never knew nor cared about the qualifications of my tutors or fellow students. And they never knew nor cared about mine.

      All that mattered were the ideas you produced, and whether you could back them up with arguments, rather than certificates.

  7. Not to beat a dead horse, but that Hoffmann article is interesting and I recommend following the link. Contrary to what Hoffmann’s current position regarding the historicity of Jesus, you will find these keen observations:

    “The death of James is not recorded in the New Testament. For that we rely on a late 1st century work by the historian Josephus in his Antiquities (20.9). It is known by scholars, however, that Christian references in Josephus’s work are pious additions.”

    ” The basis for the suggestion that James is the brother of Jesus depends on early references in Paul, especially Galatians 1.19. There is no doubt that James was regarded by Paul as a significant player in the Jerusalem community, together with Peter and John (Galatians 2.9, repeated in the legendary primacy-catalogue of Mark 9.2ff.). But his use of the word adelphos, as many scholars recognize, refers to James as a member of the brotherhood,…”

    I just find it interesting to point this out.

    1. Grog:

      Which article? You forgot to include the link.

      I read your comment on The Oxonion about “Does Atheism Hate Women”?
      That was really “touché”. Let’s wait for his duplicitous answer.

      I tend to believe that Hoffmann is not a real scholar. He is dishonest. His method is to exaggerate, to distort, or misapply words. The result is worthless.

      He misses no opportunity to sling mud at the people and things he hates. Hoping that over time, some of it will stick.

      In a previous article, he called Arthur Drews a “Nazi.”
      In today’s article he likes to propagate the rumor that “atheists” are “women-haters”.

      In this article he calls Bruno Bauer a “Marxist”.

      This man is so deceptive that we cannot trust anything he says. The truth is, people of future generations will hear and know of Bruno Bauer when nobody in the world will ever remember who the devil was R. Joseph Hoffmann.

      I was so incensed at the hypocrisy of this man who spent time at Harvard and Oxford and who should show more honesty in his writings. I sent him a comment that I know he will never publish. Here it is, at least his Girl Friday will read it as well.

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      July 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

      Dear Mr. Hoffmann:

      Your inveterate and glib use of loaded labels to disparage people based on the current negative connotations of key words such as Marxist, Nazi, etc…is again too visible.

      You mention “theologically trained Marxists like Bauer (who believed Cty was a myth)”.
      I don’t know how much real 19th-century history you have studied. But it is clear that you have only scant knowledge of the impact and aftermath of Hegel in Germany.

      After the death of Hegel (1770–1831), his students and followers, the Young Hegelians, picked as their new mentor Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872), a student of Hegel, who strove to go beyond Hegel in completely separating philosophy from religion. In “Das Wesen des Christentums” (1841), translated as “The Essence of Christianity” by George Eliot, Feuerbach followed his naturalistic stance and affinity for Spinoza’s atheism. He asserted that God was a projection of man’s inner divine nature. God had not created man, but it was mankind as a species that had created the image of God. A radical thinker, Feuerbach urged that all religions had to be eliminated, along with their tools of using deception to instill fear and invoking the mystical powers of God.

      Young Karl Marx (1818–1883) adopted this radical view of religion and atheism, but modified it later by giving priority to the material and social conditions that favored the rise and power of religion. With Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), he developed his dialectical materialism calling for a political separation of state from religion.

      The Young Hegelians were being labeled Left or Right Hegelians according to their stance on the question of state and religion. Bruno Bauer was labeled both in turn, but claimed he was in-between and rejected the label.

      Bruno Bauer, also started as a student of Hegel and as a Young Hegelian. He also became a close friend of the young Marx in those heady days, from 1839 to 1841, when Marx was only 21 to 23 years of age. Engels was 2 years younger than Marx, while Bauer was 9 years older.

      But Bauer split from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when they became too political for his taste, and started sketching a program of socialism and communism.

      Bruno Bauer was more interested in analyzing the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on early Christianity, and developing a Rationalist vision of theology in the model of Hegel. His rationalist critique of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels had not been well received by the Christian theologians of Berlin Un. and he was transferred to Bonn.

      In 1842, Bauer, only 33, was forced to quit his professorship in Bonn on account of his Rationalism, described as “atheism” by the conservative professors of his university. He never taught again, and spent his life deconstructing the New Testament, and focusing on the Greco-Roman input in the theology of early Christianity.

      He became convinced that the Gospel of Mark was the original story of Jesus. And came to the conclusion that the Gospel stories were pure fiction, regarding Mark as the sole inventor of the Gospel stories and of Jesus historicity.

      Bruno Bauer, by temperament a radical all the way, adopted the view that the Pauline epistles were 2d-century forgeries meant to counteract the character of Paul in the Acts.

      In reality, contrary to your deceptive allegations, Bauer never was a Marxist. Marx was far too young when the two were friends and had not created any movement of his own.
      And later, Bauer formally rejected the Communist Manifesto published by Marx and Engels in 1848. But the two younger men adopted Bauer’s doubts about the historicity of Jesus. Marx and Engels both included in their Communist ideology the atheism of Feuerbach and the Jesus denial of Bauer.

      Far from Bauer being a Marxist, it is Marx and Engels who had become not only Feuerbachians, but also Bauerians. Engels always had an interest in the question of the origins of Christianity and the origins of religion.

      Bauer died in 1882, and Marx a year later. After the death of Bauer, Engels wrote a eulogy of Bauer and his epoch-making role in the study of early Christianity.

      Here then is a wonderful example of how easy it is for you to denigrate and vilipend a scholar of the past with no ability to respond, by sprinkling him with abusive epithets and distorting the image of his real achievements.

      Bruno Bauer, a Marxist? What a joke, what knowledge of history!

      I would be most surprised, Mr. Hoffmann, if, with your Catholic choirboy devotion to dear little Jesus, you dared to publish my correction of your distortion of history.

      1. I don’t understand some people, especially some I only know through internet communications. I have sometimes seen some scholars so grossly distort or flatly deny the facts of what they say they have read that I find it difficult to understand how they can be doing anything other than deliberately lying.

        But I am told, essentially, that there is no such thing as lying, and the charge of “lying” is itself always a culpable falsehood. (I don’t know if this principle applies when scholars accuse non-scholars of lying or if it only applies when the reputations of scholars are at stake.)

        I was recently pulled up in my thinking by a serious article presented with humour (the old ‘teach and delight’ thing) on logical fallacies at http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

        An excerpt:

        Think about all the people you’ve disagreed with this month. How many of them do you think were being intentionally dishonest? Experts say you’re almost definitely overshooting the truth. . . .

        The problem, as another study found, is that when you assume someone is lying, you rarely find out that you’re wrong. You just walk away congratulating yourself on being able to sniff out an ambush from a mile away. . . .

        Either admit that maybe this person honestly thinks what they’re saying is true, or just talk about sports.

      2. In the case of Joseph Hoffmann, it is obvious that on the objective face of the facts, he is lying.

        However, from the subjective viewpoint of intentions, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and just say that he is talking out of ignorance, and driven by malice, a devilish pleasure to put down people and launch vicious barbs at them by using his half-baked notions about the meaning of words, the applicability of conceptual categories, the appropriateness of labels, and a confused perception of realtity.

        This is a man who has for the most part of his life only studied biblical texts, who has never seriously studied history, philosophy, mathematics or any hard sciences. He seems never to stop over any of his barbs, asking himself “but is what I am saying really true?” No fact-checking for him. Don’t confuse him with the facts. That would turn off his faucet.

        There’s no time, he does not like to check, open books, consult articles on Google, and refresh his aging memory. Too time-consuming, and for no useful results. What’s the matter, if he makes mistakes? Most of his audience is young people who don’t know too much anyway. Better to continue with his stream of sarcastic and nasty comments to get the oohs an aahs from the gallery. The desire to whiplash and impress is far more important for him than spell out some hard facts.

        Drews living in the 20s and 30s and writing books related to German spirituality? No doubt a Nazi, or a crypto Nazi. They all were, Drews, Heidegger, etc…Nazis, all of them.

        Bauer at age 30 was the tutor of Karl Marx at the University of Berlin when he was only 21, and they went drinking together? No hesitation, Bauer was a Marxist, one of the true ones. What can we call him that sounds interesting? “theologically trained Marxist”? That sounds good, let’s go with it.

        Some guy in Dublin offers an invitation for coffee in his room at 4 am to a young female while riding in an elevator after an atheism conference? Hey, that never happens at all those conferences for magazine marketing and sales representatives, stockbrokers, real estate brokers, sports meetings, theatrical and movie parties? Make no mistake, all those atheists have shown they are marked by the devil (a nice Catholic concept to explain people’s behaviors), no doubt they are “women-haters”! How do you like that? A pretty nice deduction, right?

        And so on, without a stop. Hoffmann seems to rely on his hazy notion of realities, his confused perception of relationships, his poor (or nonexistent) knowledge of history, to throw off ambiguous, confused, hazy statements, in a kind of more cubist than impressionistic way of thinking, as the distortions are much more frequent than merely hazy ambiguities.

        The net result is that Hoffmann is not trustworthy, there’s nothing to learn from him. It’s all water over a duck’s back. And one cannot believe any of his pronouncements. It’s all for show, for the gallery. Nothing quotable, nothing memorable.

        It’d be worthwhile to run some interviews with his former colleagues at the Jesus Seminar to get their views of the matter. What was Hoffmann’s net contribution to the Seminar, any substance or just hot air, with funny or phony comments?

        Just look at the product of his Jesus Process, and the quality of his crew too. He sure is not attracting big reputable names to join his act.

        This so-called pundit is an immense disappointment. He seems more a stand-up comedian than a real scholar.

      1. Thanks Grog.

        It simply shows that no sure light has been thrown on the enigmatic character of James. It is clear that the controversy continues, as proved by Robert Eisenman’s James the Brother of Jesus of 1,074 pages.

        Back in 1912, Arthur Drews, after devoting many pages to the “Brother of the Lord”, honestly confides:

        “This does not dispose us to place very much confidence in the references of the New Testament to the brothers of Jesus, and when Weinel says in regard to James, “It is all so simple, intelligible, and straightforward that it needs a good deal of art to evade the testimony of the connection of Gal. i and 1 Cor. ix and the terminology” (p. 116), I can only reply that, in spite of all my efforts to understand James from the writings of theologians, I have never been able to get at the real nature of the man. And as I find that others have had the same experience, it does not seem to be due to any defect on my part that the James-problem seems to me hopeless; every attempt to throw light on the obscure problem fails. To base on an isolated passage such as the reference to “the brothers of the Lord” in Paul a belief in the historical character of Jesus seems to me too “simple”; I am not modest enough to do it. I can only see in the “brothers of Jesus,” as far as they are supposed to have been brothers in the flesh, and in his parents, the carpenter Joseph and Mary, mythical figures.

        (Arthur Drews, The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus, Part III, The Witness of Paul, Ch. 1, Proofs of the Historicity of Jesus in Paul, 1912)

  8. Neil, the simple answer on geocentrism is that we see the planets move retrograde for a few months either side of the time they rise at dusk. Geocentrism had an answer (or thought it did), that the planets do a complex loop the loop, which Ptolemy detailed in his tables of epicycles. While these provided fairly good prediction, they suffered from failure to know what a planet was. Now, with basic knowledge of gravity, the idea of Jupiter, ten times as wide as the earth and with massive momentum, performing a pirouette whenever the earth passes between it and the sun is frankly absurd. Newton’s discovery of the inverse square law of gravity provides a simple, elegant and compelling refutation of Ptolemy. Earth orbits faster than Jupiter, so it looks like Jupiter goes backwards when we pass it each year.

    A similar paradigm shift is occurring with the Historical Jesus. The pirouettes to save the data include the absurd idea that Paul had no need to tell people what everyone knew, that his revelation was from an actual founder. Christianity emerged in a way that conformed to a broad idea of an Anointed Saviour as shared myth, rather than from a single founder. Nazareth did not exist at the supposed time of Christ, showing the whole myth is far better explained as fiction rather than fact.

    Honing the elegance and parsimony of the mythicist hypothesis still needs more work. This is where I contend the big issue is the need to place ancient religion in its proper astronomical framework, especially the basic idea of zodiac ages, which gives a compelling explanation for the timing and symbolism of the Jesus story. Carrier calls any talk of this topic cranky, showing he just doesn’t get it. The cultural problem is that the zodiac is so linked to old hermetic ideas that anyone with a scientific attitude regards discussion of it with extreme suspicion. But astronomy has to be seen as the cornerstone of the arch for mythicism as a scientific hypothesis of Christian origins.

    Matthew 21:42 “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”

    1. Robert: The assertion by Historicists, is that Paul was silent on details of Jesus’ life, because … “everybody knew them already.” But that just doesn’t quite ring true. It seems to involve a kind of logical fallacy.

      In fact, the “Everybody Knew About It” argument is possibly, itself, a kind of perverse “argument from silence.” OR maybe the “argument from ignorance.”

      Example? If it IS true that nobody talks about something, that’s because everyone knows it, then say: “Nobody talks about the full mathematical details of quantum mechanics … because everybody already knows about it.” Or “Nobody describes exactly what is going to happen in world events in a years’ time … because everybody knows it.”

      So where did the stories come from? In part from Paul. While Paul got it in turn, as Doherty suggested, “cosmic” mid-Platonic cosmology. Which would no doubt include at least SOME ancient astronomical ideas. Probably Persian as much as anything; recalling the Three Magic – or Persian “Magi”cians or wise men; seeing a “star.” Recalling that the idea of dating Christmas, corresponds to Winter Solstice, and the return of the light, of longer days, etc.. And recalling Plato’s attachment of great importance to math, and even astronomy. In Christianity, God himself is said to live in part, in the “heavens.”

      Ancient religions were absolutely, constantly, tied to ancient cosmologies. Religions, were constantly correlated to ancient astronomical ideas, and ancient superstitions about the ‘stars.” . Though we need to be careful that we express this as past – not current – belief.

      Since otherwise we look like believers in astrology, ourselves. Better to simply refer to historical beliefs in astrology; in neo-Platonism, Persian, and biblical thought.

      1. Bretton– I have mentioned before, probably on FRDB, that the “Everybody Already Knows It” argument is unprecedented in the area of religious rhetoric. You can cite numerous examples of religious acolytes or successors repeatedly appealing to the authority of the founder’s teachers. Examples abound: ex-Scientologists attack the Church of Scientology by recalling the “true teaching” of L. Ron Hubbard. I have pointed out how members of the MOVE group in Philadelphia begin just about ever sentence it seems with “As John Africa taught us…” Listen to speeches by Malcolm X during his NOI times. “As the prophet Muhammad Elijah taught us…” This, to me, is an example of the special pleading fallacy. What was different about Paul, his circumstances, or the circumstances of early Christian teachings that would cause us to expect Paul to remain silent about details he knows regarding the life and teachings of Jesus? As far as I know, no one has offered any argument as to why we should expect that. In fact, what we have in Paul is NOT what we would expect (and this is often acknowledged by scholars who refer to it as a “paradox” or an unfortunate circumstance), but it is EXACTLY what we would expect if, to Paul, there was no “Jesus of Nazareth” but instead a “Jesus of Heaven” whose earthly existence was in an historical-mythical time.

        I read your comments here and the New Oxonian and elsewhere. Keep up the good work!

        1. Thanks to everyone!

          I agree that it is curious that Paul would not quote Jesus directly much, if at all. If he had such great respect for him and his Authority.

          Even before Doherty, countless scholars suggested that Paul was really adding to/amending – or even wholly inventing – Jesus. In order to seem to give some kind of “real” historical underpinnings to, after all, his own rather Platonistic ideas.

          Paul himself seemed to have felt some guilt over something. Even Hoffmann, who sees Paul as “jealous,” say, might acknowledge Paul calling himself the “worst of sinners,” a “fool” who is not a fool, but who might be a fool after all; Paul confessing his im”perfect”ion. Paul openly disagreeing at times with an “insincere” or even “hypocritical” Cephas, or Peter.

          What did Paul feel guilty about? Maybe Paul felt guilty about … making up so much of Christianity. And using, briefly, the name of “Jesus” as a cover story.

          Which even Hoffmann seems to agree to, in recent post. As do many Historicists.

      2. BG: “Robert: The assertion by Historicists, is that Paul was silent on details of Jesus’ life, because … “everybody knew them already.” But that just doesn’t quite ring true. It seems to involve a kind of logical fallacy.”
        – I’m not sure if it is a fallacy or just an error of fact. But I am not very good at the classification of fallacies, so perhaps a logician like Carrier could help out, if he could avoid withering scorn in conversation. As with any rationalisation, if you start from a wrong hypothesis (that the Gospels are history, or that the sun orbits the earth), then you are forced to say what must be the case in consequence. Paul’s near-complete failure to use the ‘as Jesus taught’ line of argument is treated in the historicist apology just like Ptolemy’s planetary pirouettes, a necessary logical product of an initial error. The fallacy in Ptolemy only arises when observation contradicts the theory, with the failure of epicycles to provide accurate prediction over time. With Pauline apologetics, the fallacy of the HJ thesis is that a necessary component is absent, with Paul’s failure to reference Jesus as founder, teacher and real man.

        BG: “In fact, the “Everybody Knew About It” argument is possibly, itself, a kind of perverse “argument from silence.” OR maybe the “argument from ignorance.” Example? If it IS true that nobody talks about something, that’s because everyone knows it, then say: “Nobody talks about the full mathematical details of quantum mechanics … because everybody already knows about it.” Or “Nobody describes exactly what is going to happen in world events in a years’ time … because everybody knows it.””
        – Yes, well said, especially the quantum mechanics example. Where the foundation supports the construction built upon it, the natural compelling defence of the construction routinely and regularly refers back to the foundation as a simple matter of logic. Paul never does, so apologists have to ‘save the data’ from its obvious meaning.

        BG: “So where did the stories come from? In part from Paul. While Paul got it in turn, as Doherty suggested, “cosmic” mid-Platonic cosmology. Which would no doubt include at least SOME ancient astronomical ideas. Probably Persian as much as anything; recalling the Three Magic – or Persian “Magi”cians or wise men; seeing a “star.” Recalling that the idea of dating Christmas, corresponds to Winter Solstice, and the return of the light, of longer days, etc.. And recalling Plato’s attachment of great importance to math, and even astronomy. In Christianity, God himself is said to live in part, in the “heavens.””
        – Astronomical ideas in the Bible are from Persian, Egyptian, Greek and Assyrian sources, and indeed Israeli sources as Philo and Josephus attest. The nativity story matches precisely to the stars visible in the south from Israel at Christmas – Orion’s Belt as the three kings, Sirius as the star in the east, and Argo (invisible from Europe) as the manger of Christ with the three kings in attendance. But the Jewish Deuteronomic tradition was hostile to star worship, and this legacy within Christianity appears to have resulted in the systematic expungement or concealment of all stellar references. I argue the Gnostics still managed to retain these star references in the New Testament as code, comprehensible only to initiates and now in need of reconstruction from the fragments. Plato’s Timaeus (which I discussed in the Vridar thread on Bar-Timaeus) shows the centrality of cosmology to ancient thought and religion. And Plato’s Academy had a sign on the door (shades of Dante) saying ‘let no one ignorant of geometry enter here’. I would like to write a journal article on the cosmological framework of Christianity, especially the Alpha and Omega as referencing the zodiac ages, but I have no idea who might publish such work.

        BG: “Ancient religions were absolutely, constantly, tied to ancient cosmologies. Religions, were constantly correlated to ancient astronomical ideas, and ancient superstitions about the ‘stars.” . Though we need to be careful that we express this as past – not current – belief. Since otherwise we look like believers in astrology, ourselves. Better to simply refer to historical beliefs in astrology; in neo-Platonism, Persian, and biblical thought.”
        – The status of astrology is a very complex problem that links in to modern cultural prejudice. I have studied astrology in much depth. I am not a ‘believer’, as any positive claims should be formulated as scientific hypotheses, and so far there is no persuasive evidence for any astrological claims. But still, the negative status of astrology is often based on misunderstanding, largely caused by astrologers themselves who routinely exaggerate and make things up, poisoning the well for serious research. But you are right that the key here is what the ancients themselves believed, and how they used these beliefs in the construction of the Christ myth. For example the ‘as above so below’ cosmology of the Thoth school actually has a simple logical axiomatic truth, as for example acknowledged by the great scientist Stephen Jay Gould who said in discussing chaos theory that ‘microcosms reflect macrocosms.’ Biblical cosmology is a topic where serious research is very scanty, but which can help provide the foundations for the mythicist hypothesis.

        1. Good comments.

          Regarding your advocacy of elements of Astrology? I have a few very controversial and socially-unaccepable ideas of my own; there’s a way to present them. Usually I talk about 1) the many other people that have believed such things; describing what they said … without however explicitly advocating it. Then? I 2) might briefly suggest that this or that extremely contoversial idea, “might make a kind of sense, in that ….” There are lots of ways to present very, very controversial advocacies, in a form that does not mark you as a zealot.

          By the way? Of course, the idea that our lives here on earth are just examples, in micro”cosm”, of the macro”cosm” in Heaven? Is of course a major idea in many ancient religion – and philosophies. And in fact, I’m currently mentioning Plato’s version of this in the post on Bar-Timaeus.

          Plato and platonism of course, is thought by countless scholars, to be the second major element that formed Christianity. Especially note Plato’s central Theory of Forms. The idea there, was precisely that the “heavens” were the place of many ideal forms, or master models (“paradigms”?), for all things in heaven and on earth. But his theory was that, things here on this material earth are mere im”perfect,” “perish”able “copies” of those ideal forms.

          So of course your concerns with astrology, Doherty’s interest in “cosmic” roots to Jesus, are absolutely dead center, in say Classics scholarship.

          Check the curren discussion here on interlinguistic puns on Bartimaeus (SP?).

          Thanks for your contributions; you are absolutely right in so many things. The major blind spot and error of current Historicism, is its xenophobic, ethnocentric failure to appreciate the decisive influence of non-Jewish influences, that created and distinguished Christianity from Judaism.

          1. Historicists such as Hurtado accept the fallen, corrupted, popularised version of an old high teaching, refusing to take on face value the repeated advice in the Bible itself that the stories presented about Jesus are parables for a higher wisdom which even the disciples fail to understand. We can see this corruption process in the reception of Plato, where his theory of Ideas (the actual Greek term usually translated as Forms) is degraded into a magical claim about heavenly entities, even though Plato himself made clear that ideas – truth, love, beauty, good – are not entities but are outside time (eternal), meaning they provide the durable conceptual unity between things within time. The essence of an idea is what is universally present in things that display that idea, so good things display the good. Plato is not simply refuted by a crass materialism, any more than Jesus Christ is simply understood as a historical individual.

            Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton, picked up this theme of allegory in the New Testament by identifying a real meaning directed to pneumatic initiates hidden within a surface meaning intended for the hylic ignorant. But Dr Pagels seems to be intimidated by the fundamentalist bullies and does not discuss the obvious implication of her work, that Jesus Christ was invented.

            All of the New Testament can be productively interpreted against a mythicist paradigm. At the moment I am in a Bible Study reading the Letter to the Hebrews with some Christians. What I find really disturbing in the study guide, which presents a conventional orthodoxy, is how it provides a framework of good and evil in which any questioning of historical faith is a ‘falling away’ from the truth. Against this dominant style of popular indoctrination, a scholarly reading of the text as allegory is marginal, and appears confronting and absurd to those who have been heavily embedded within traditional readings.

            1. Mr. Tulip:

              Your remarks here help to at last outline a good, central response to use against Historicism. And especially its now-frequent assertion that Mythicism is too “fundamentalist.” Here we are responding that Historicism is itself, fundamentalistic. In that its insistence on a physical Jesus, ignores or seems ignorant of, the lesson of higher criticism, of spiritual religion: that the better sense of religion does not emphasize physical things, but SPIRITUAL things instead.

              If religion is supposed to be spiritual, not crassly materialistic? Then the physical – or historical – existence of Jesus would not be important. Nor would the physical existence of his family, his “mother” and “brother” be important for that matter. As in fact, the bible itself says often.

              Regarding therefore the specific current Historicist claims? That the Historical Jesus is important; that 1) references to Jesus “born of a woman”; 2) references to a “James, the brother of Jesus,” prove a 3) significant physical/historical Jesus? We argue a) that the Bible itself often suggested at times that such physical things in general were not important. Indeed c) Paul argued specifically that a physical family was not important. Paul arguing that it was not biological relation to Jews, a Jewish mother, but spiritual “faith” that makes even gentiles “heirs” (Gal. 4). While d) for that matter? In one passage in the Bible, regarding the physical family in particular, Jesus himself is pictured as pointedly leaving his real, historical, biological family outside; while asserting that it is his followers (his spiritual kin), that are his true family.

              So that? The whole complaint that Mythicism is just a frustrated Fundamentalism, is wrong; is projection in fact. As Carrier noted somewhere, the whole Historicist emphasis – on a physical/historical Jesus – is itself fundamentalistic. In that it conflicts with a traditional “higher,” “spiritual,” “allegorical” idea of God. Specifically, the Historicist emphasis on Jesus “born of a woman,” and “James the biological brother of Jesus,” are oddly, perversely, out of touch with the at times largely spiritual, not crassly-physical sayings, of the NT.

              The fact is no one is more neo-Fundamentalistic, than the Historicist. Who only sees or cares about the physical/historical Jesus … and not the spiritual one.(To be sure, ultimtely I believe that BOTH the physical and spiritual Jesus have importance; still the Historicist over-emphasizing just the physical, would not be good. And in any case misses the studied opposition of much of the NT, to attaching much importance to specifically, historical, biological family or provinance).

              The most useful text might be this one: Mark 3.32-36: “And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brohters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And lookin around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.'”

              So that’s the answer to three or four major Historicist assertions; relating to say Gal 4.4., and Jesus “born of a woman, ” etc.. Even in that specific passage too, as it turns out, the whole point of the passage is once again, to note that our biological/historical provinance does not make us “heirs” of God.

              Jesus himself rejecting the importance of a physical family, 1) shuts down Gal. 4.4. It is also a quick 2) answer to the today all-too-common assertion that Mythicists are frustrated Fundamentalists.

              1. Yes, this question of the relation between fundamentalism and Jesus Historicism is important. Fundamentalism is the clinging to a belief in denial of compelling contrary evidence. In the nineteenth century, the church was reeling from the impact of Darwinism, which removed the evidentiary basis of the Genesis story. Christians still wanted to maintain belief in the presence of a miraculous factor showing that our universe is not as it appears to science, so false myths such as the virgin birth and physical resurrection kept a strong hold, even as young earth creationism retreated to a sectarian rump (still 40% of Americans though). Mythicism at that time presented a fairly easy and isolated target. The vituperative debate of that era set the tone for church response ever since, especially the lame argument that mythicism has already been refuted so should be ignored and suppressed.

                The Historical Jesus is the new fundamental belief for Christians who cling to the hope of an interventionist supernatural God as the source of salvation. The Biblical evidence has been sawn up to fit on a Procrustean bed to comply with the demands of literal faith. The psychology of Jesus Historicism is really just the same as YEC in its contempt for logic and facts, even if the JH case seems more plausible for those who have not studied the evidence.

                Liberal faith has retreated to the citadel of Christ, allowing YECists to skirmish at the outer ramparts using the fanciful story of Adam as their shield while the supposedly rational scholars in the keep defend their besieged fundamental belief that the Gospels describe real events. Dawkins has continued to mop up resistance at the crumbling creationist ramparts of faith, but he lacks the focus and knowledge to engage with the story of Christ. Mythicists have meanwhile advanced to the cidatel to demolish supernaturalism once and for all by showing that the Jesus story is fictional.

                One key issue here, in my opinion, is that Christianity has a legitimate back story, concealed within its farcical public dogma. Sorting the wheat from the tares involves identifying the scientific gold within the supernatural dross. Christian myths, symbols and rituals have an enduring appeal and meaning. Shifting their basis to a scientifically plausible account could well increase their power, rather than diminishing it.

  9. By the way? Here’s the gist of my as-yet unpublished challenge to Larry H.. Which is still “waiting approval.” (Possibly it IS a bit too aggressive?). In it, first in response to one writer’s advocacy of the arch-conservative, essentially Baptist, Dallas Theological Seminary, I note that such seminaries are precisely, the problem: the takeover in religious studies, c. 1980-2012, by arch-conservative, fundamentalism; that insists that “Jesus is real,” etc.. Seminaries like DTS were at the center of the neo-con takeover of our academic centers. And then next, I am challenging Larry to defend Historicism, point by point. First suggesting that most biblical scholarship c. 1980-2012, was highly biased and politically motivated; by the Neo-Conservative New Religious Right’s overreaction against Liberal theology. And then I am finally, here, suggesting a public debate on the “refutation” of Mythicism, point by point:

    TEXT: “Bobby? You quote with approval, a scholar from Dallas Theological Seminary. But DTS is a case in point, of what has been wrong with the 1980-2012 generation in religious Scholarship. Dallas in fact is infamous as a highly partial, conservative seminary. For many years, it did not offer a PhD; and to this day, its graduates are not looked upon with favor, by our elite/competent institutions. Arlandson’s ideas as described above, are not “new”; they are ancient, “traditional.” And are not supported even by many other confessional colleges; to say nothing of the Religious Studies programs.

    Then too? Your remark to the effect suggesting that longstanding traditions were preserved in part in the interest of “history” but also “the church’s desire,” indirectly acknowledges one of the major forces at work: the churches’ desire to preserve accepted ideas. Which is not the same, as academic values….

    Larry: I have lived in Muslim countries; have spoken to Imams. And studied Comparitive Religion; and yet I am unaware of the overwhelming cross-cultural consensus on the historical existence of Jesus, of which you speak. Perhaps in the current liberal climate, many religions are willing to make public concessions in the name of international peace; but privately? Or in the literature? For that matter? Your assertion of an overwhelming consensus even in just western regions, ignores the recent work of Price, Doherty, and so forth; as well as tons of classic scholarship.

    Yes? I’ve heard you say a half dozen times that many liberal Mythicist arguments have been decisively refuted by recent literature. But since here on a simple blog, many people are not fully familiar with the literature? Suppose you simply mention one of your alleged refutations, for those who are not familar with the original (and the counterarguments). Then we might simply discuss here … those ideas on their own merit; by logical examination. Rather than by simple Reference to Authority.

    Brettongarcia permalink

    Even conceding the existence of an historical, Jesus-era Nazareth, is a very, very long way from establishing the historical existence of a Jesus Christ – or even a simple human Jesus.

    We might try to use the rest of the Bible to triangulate some kind of central, “real” Jesus. But the Bible overall is not longer regarded as “perfect”; and most of the parts are now separately in question.

    Then too, other evidence external to the Bible and the early Christian community (as Vinny notes?) is rather against the claims of any significant historical Jesus.

    Today it looks as if only a residual piety or blind “faith” really sustains the percepetion that Jesus was historically real.”


    1. It is impossible to conduct a serious conversation with apologists such as Hurtado and Hoffman (and for that matter with Verenna) on their blogs since they systematically censor the arguments made against them, publish only the voice of their echo chamber, and rapidly melt down into emotive flame wars at the hint of disagreement to the party line. It is scurrilous and a disgrace.

  10. Paul as understood by our top NT Scholars: Paul’s passion kerygma is the basic tenet of Christianity derived from the myths of dying and rising gods of the Roman Empire. The passion kerygma permeates the writings of the NT, the Scriptural source for Christianity. Its summary statement is the Apostles Creed. “In that familiar creed Jesus own history, what he himself said and did, is fully bypassed. Not what he said and did, but only what they said about him counted as saving information: Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate. But what lies in between? Paul himself had not met the historical Jesus, but only the “resurrected” Christ, who for Paul literally and figuratively so outshown Jesus as to leave Jesus out of sight. A conspiracy of silence has obscured what happened to the church in Galilee ever since Luke;s Acts told the story of the church’s beginnings with only one passing allusion to there even being a church in Galilee (Acts 9:31). Paul knew very few of the sayings of Jesus and did not have a kind of religiosity, much less theology, built on Jesus’ sayings, and even argues that this is not really necessary (2 Cor 5:16), so as to argue he is in no regard less qualified than Jesus’ own disciples. Also the book of Acts presents such a Pauline Christianity: Jesus has ascended to heaven, and it is the Holy Spirit who since Pentecost leads the church in Acts. But when one turns to Matthew, the contacts with the Sayings Gospel Q are so striking that one has to come to realize that the Gospel of Matthew was written in a congregation that itself had been part of the Saying’s Gospel movement. So it has become a new scholarly task of our time to supplement the standard version of church history based on Paul and Acts with the church history that leads from Jesus via the Sayings Gospel to Matthew, that is to say from Galilee to Antioch. For the Gospel of Matthew probably comes from Antoch, from a small congregation that had begun in Galilee and continued there for some time. Perhaps the war with Rome in the 60s, which devastated Galilee before reaching Jerusalem, that finally forced the remnants of the Q community to join the refugees fleeing north to Antioch. The small and failing Q community had perhaps haltingly, to give way to the Gospel of Matthew, which ended up repudiating (Its Q gospel). But Matthew, before turning to the Gentile Christians, produced an enlarged, improved, concentrated version of the first major section of Q in chapters 3-11 of the Gospel, but this was in effect the swan song of the Q community, as it took over the Gentile Christian of Mark, and copied it out pretty by rote in Matt 12-28.”

  11. Ed:

    Thanks for your summary! May need your help in any debate with Hurtado!

    My own present hypothesis? The Sayings attributed to “the lord,” were actually hundreds of sayings in oral folk culture, from dozens of DIFFERENT, but primarily Jewish heirs, sons of god/lords; including the Tetrarches and the other sons of Herod, especially. Though also going back to earlier jewish home rule (home “kingdom”) resolutionaries, through the era of c.167-100-10 BC.. Many of these were from the northern, Galilee region. With Samaritan/Persian influence.

    Many different says of different Jewish “lord”s and “sons” of lords or gods, were taken, “accreted,” conflated together, as sayings of “the” lord. (As each of the many lords was locally referred to.). Some sayings of Hellenistic Jews were included. To form the composite we know as “Jesus.” Or “the” lord.

    This tradition in turn, was taken later , and modified by Luke, Acts … and then Paul. And then edited/”translated” dozens of times, by hundreds of hands (“Poly-Carp”?s). In dozens of churches.

  12. Significantly? Many, many Jewish heroes, countless would-be saviors or Christs, were executed by Romans. In fact, very significantly indeed: thousands were actually literally crucified. When the Romans crucified 3,000 Pharisees, Jews. In Damascus? (Source?).

    So the very, very vivid memory of a crucified Jewish “son,” and so forth, would have been extremely vivid in the minds of the Jewish communities of c. 100 BC, thru 10-90 AD.

    And there were not just one or two historical sources for the idea of the crucified jewish hero; there were literally thousands of crucified martyrs to choose from. And to conflate, as “the” crucified lord.

    1. Josephus famously said “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies..” His references to crucifixion are collected at http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/cruc-josephus.html

      My reading is that the scale of trauma in the Jewish War was a significant factor in the Christians displacing the massive systematic Roman torture by crucifixion onto the myth of Christ, the ‘one for all’,

    2. Bruno Bauer first, in his 1850-2 exegeses of the Gospels and his later books in the 1870s, followed by many scholars of the Dutch Radical School in the 1880s-1900s (Pierson, Loman, Naber, van Manen, Steck, Bolland, van Eysinga) argued that the early Christian writers lifted a lot of their historical details from Josephus.

      Some of their texts have been translated into English from the Dutch (that nobody else can read) and from German (much more accessible). The comparison with Josephus has been a staple of NT criticism for nearly 130 years.

      Kenneth Humphreys in his entertaining book and site, Jesus Never Existed” often runs a side column, asking: Where did they Get their Ideas from? Very often it is from Josephus.

  13. It is now most amusing to see Dr. Hurtado use arguments from silence.

    Philo cites Zechariah 6:12, and claims it is about a celestial being. The verse previous to 6:12 names this being as ‘Jesus’.

    As EVERYBODY would have known. The Bible was a book that was often referred to by Jews.

    Philo is silent about the name of ‘Jesus’ although it is in the verse immediately prior to the one he cites.

    Is Philo silent about the name because everybody the name – after all , it was in the verse just before the one he cited.

    No, according to Dr. Hurtado, Philo does not mention the name , not because everybody knew what was in the Bible, but Philo is silent about the name because he is not interested in it.

    A wonderfully bad argument from silence!

    A true expert like Dr. Hurtado knows how to make it up as he goes along , even if his specious reasoning today contradicts his specious reasoning of yesterday.

  14. Just a thought to share with you – prompted by the above -sort of.

    I think we are entering a period of a paradigm shift.

    From unquestioned acceptance of an HJ towards a rejection of such.

    The present era will, I suspect, be recognised in the future as the decade of a few when the tide turned and no longer could Christian apologists take for granted that their baseless asertions would be blindly accepted on face value without being subjected to analysis.

    Its a similar process that occurred with the rejection of the OT as history that started seriously as a movement exciting comment and controversy,in the 70s of the last millenia and has now reached the point where the exodus, the Canaan conquest, the Unified Monarchy, are now pretty much acknowled as dead in the water as other than literary ideas..

    The fall of ‘bible archeology,’ to be replaced by a credible academic and technological field of study that rejects the bible and shovel approach of yore is ongoing and, IMO, analogous and related to what is starting to be whispered in the hallowed academic halls now with respect to the evidence, or rather lack of, an ostensible HJ. The symptoms of the rearguard action should be deja vu to persons such as Thompson et al.

    Soon, measuring ‘soon’ in decades perhaps, the HJ concept will take a battering from ‘acceptable’ academics because, thanks significantly to those such as Earl and Vridar, Carrier and others, the shell of protective armour has started to be chipped away from the apologists..

    It is, I reckon, pretty close to inevitable, the juggernaut is building up steam.

    Mind you I doubt I’ll see it come to full fruition.

    1. It’s a nice thought. The biggest difference today (compared with earlier Christ myth forays) is, of course, the instant democratization of information through the internet. The ad hominem tactics and logical fallacies and otherwise silly arguments of many of the “historicists” are open for all to see now.

      1. Not just to see, but to expose for what they are, and vigorously rebut them.
        There’s definitely a tilting of the balance.
        What this remarkable campaign of revelations is doing, is further pulling the curtains up and exposing the mystery of Christianity.

        The Christian Churches have always kept hidden or obscured the element of mystery cult in Christianity.

        But the more we publicize the investigative writings of Wells, Doherty, Price, Carrier, and further back, revive the exegeses of Couchoud, Drews, Robertson, Smith and Bruno Bauer, the more we keep dissecting the Pauline epistles and other 1st and 2d-century documents, the more it becomes apparent that Christianity started as a mystery cult, or an adaptation of one.

        Even today, baptism, the eucharist, the blessings and the laying of hands by bishops are extremely mysterious to modern minds. The visits of the “Holy Spirit” are no less mysterious. The faithful “believe” in them by force of tradition received from the Church and their families during infancy, (why not call it brainwashing), not by any real understanding of a critical human brain. The fact that those actions are public and performed by millions of people all over the globe does not really affect their mysterious and magical character.

        In his review of Gerd Lüdemann, Paul the Founder of Christianity (2002), Robert Price points in that direction, when he says:

        He invokes Paul’s use of the eucharistic words of institution “on the night he was delivered up” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) as evidence that Paul knew the rudiments of the gospel Passion Narrative, but in the same context Paul claims to have received this knowledge (i.e., of the supper and the words said over the bread and cup) directly from the Lord, not by way of tradition from people who were there at the time. I think we must recognize that this eucharistic etiology is new in this very passage, provided as a replacement pedigree (such as we often find in the Old Testament) for a hitherto-pagan observance, namely Christian participation in Mystery Cult sacraments (discussed explicitly in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22). The table of demons has become the table of the Lord, just as Brumalia, the Nativity of Mithras (December 25), would later become the Nativity of Jesus.

  15. I agree that a paradigm change is occuring; centered around the New Atheism, and now Mythicism. But it’s not going to be easy; we’ll need everybody’s help.

    Just got the censorship and denial treatment from Hurtado; anything he couldn’t face, got censored out. About 1/3 of my material made it through. Primarily my examples were eliminated; so he could claim I made “sweeping claims” without examples. Most of my material was presented … only in the eviscerated form he chose to present it in. He’s as pious, sanctimonious, self-satifisfied, and as contolling as the Pope.

    It’s bad out there. Conservative religion survives primarily through censorship and other forms of social control, and psychological Denial (and projection;projecting their own sins on everyone else). But that’s where the Internet can help; getting around censorship.

    1. Even if your analysis is true I don’t think it is helpful. If challengers to the prevailing paradigm focus on political and psychological perspectives they have been deflected from what they hope to achieve. We cannot know that Hurtado “censored” your comments because “he couldn’t face” them. We cannot read his mind. He may not have seen them in the least threatening or challenging to his viewpoint and in his own mind he may have simply thought them irrelevant or repetitive — who knows?

      It is best to focus on trying to understand his arguments, and to analyze these publicly, I think.

  16. Neil, I hope you don’t mind all my comments here. It is a very interesting thread.

    I see Steven Carr is engaging with the estimable Dr Hurtado, over Philo’s discussion of Zechariah 6:12. Steven provides a model of courtesy which I could not hope to match in the face of such witheringly idiotic rebuttals.

    Steven says “This is an excellent point by Dr. Hurtado. Philo does not mention the name of the being in the verse previous to the verse he cited. He is silent about the name, implying , as you rightly say, a total lack of interest in what he is silent about. He must have known the name of the figure he talks about, but he is not interested in it. It is good to see how a true expert uses arguments from silence – judiciously, accurately, and in a way that is a model example of what we can deduce from an author being silent.”

    From the little I have read of Steven’s ideas, and from his previous comment on Philo, I detect something of a tone of mockery in his term ‘true expert’, feigning to agree with Hurtado that Philo had no interest in the Logos. Philo discusses this name as indicating that “the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son”. Zechariah says the name of this son of the eternal father is Joshua (also translated Jesus) son of Jozadak (not unlike Joseph). Yet the infinitely wise Hurtado can easily rebut any notion that Philo is talking about Jesus, saying: “there is NO evidence of a pre-Christian cult of a “Jesus”” and “Neither Philo nor any other pre-Christian Jewish text reflects a cult of “Joshua/Jesus”.” I assume that silence includes the Jericho ramhorn guy too. Philo discusses a man named East whom all his readers (except Hurtado) would know was really called Joshua by Zechariah.

    This conversation is comical. Philo is speaking in purely messianic terms (eldest Son of the Father of the universe) about a man whom Zechariah names as Jesus. This Jesus Philo describes as “imitating the ways of his father, looking to his archetypal patterns.” But for some weird reason, Hurtado asserts that Philo, despite his Logos theology, “seems to be utterly uninterested in the name of the figure.” Zechariah has told us his name – Joshua. Intriguingly, Philo says the name of Joshua/Jesus given in 6:12 is East (or dawn), where modern Bibles say his name is Branch (rather like the root of Jesse). But if it good enough for omniscient Larry, we can say case closed, Philo is not/not talking about Jesus.

    I may be missing something, but there appears to be a rather obtuse quality to the apologist input, with its inability to join obvious dots.

    The text at Zec 6:11-14 says “make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him [ie tell Joshua] this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is [ie you (Joshua/Jesus) are] the man whose name is the Branch. and he [ie you Jesus] will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. [ie Joshua is the Messiah] It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne [ie the priest-king Joshua (or Jesus son of Joseph) is the centre of pre-Christian cultic hope].

    Oh, and Philo calls Zechariah a “companion of Moses.” Bit skewy on the dates there Phil, unless of course you regarded Moses as an archetype like Jesus.

    Philo – On the Confusion of Tongues http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book15.html

    1. To add, Philo says “I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!”{18}{#zec 6:12.} A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity.”

      Here Philo says the name of Jesus makes no sense as applied to a real man, but only as applied to an incorporeal being. Philo was a mythicist.

    2. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have not read Carrier’s book in full so must return to it and catch up with what we can make of Philo’s discussion of that Zechariah passage. I am still working through Philo’s treatment of Moses as the ideal model for the spiritual person as well as any likely relationship with the Gospel of Mark, so it will be interesting to add this Zechariah passage to the mix. (One also recalls Jesus being called the Dawn Star in Revelation.)

  17. I see that Larry Hurtado has commented on my post: larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-did-jesus-exist-controversy-and-its-precedents/#comment-3279
    For what it’s worth I have replied as follows:

    Hi Larry,

    You reference my words “intellectual bullying” as if I am confusing this for healthy disagreement. You have misread my post. Expressing disagreement or pointing out where others are mistaken is certainly not intellectual bullying and I have never suggested anything like this. You fortunately appear not to have encountered some anti-mythicists relying upon hostile insult and ridicule to attack mythicist ideas rather than attempting reasoned argument. Note I did specifically say that this was a tactic used by only “some” scholars.

    As for the second point about textual integrity, I was in fact citing anti-mythicist R. Joseph Hoffmann’s claim for this. Just saying that there is no basis for the claim when you appear not to have even read his arguments does not do away with the basis that others do see. Hoffmann is not the only anti-mythicist to have pointed out the uncertainty surrounding this passage. (I do think Hoffmann overstated his point but there certainly are reasons for questioning the authenticity of the passage. — But this is really an incidental point, and simply having a reason to question something does not, of course, mean it IS an interpolation or should be treated as such. My point was to alert readers to the range of views among conventional scholarship.)

    The weariness I find is in anti-mythicists failing to read posts critical of the conventional wisdom with due care or having read widely in alternative viewpoints even from among their peers.


    1. Oh, always the last to be in the know. I see that Larry has posted a whole new article about the responses he received to his first. And he again insinuates that I claim any healthy disagreement or correction is “intellectual bullying”. Will write another post dealing with the rest, though it seems pretty clear Larry himself is not interested in actually engaging with the points I raise — except where he misreads them to mean something other than I actually did.

    2. The extraordinary thing in this lively debate is the absence of impartial interest, for example from journalists exploring both sides of the argument or presenting a neutral public forum for discussion that could reach a mass audience. I suspect they are in fear of the church. Discussion of mythicism ought to be the next stage in public discussion after the ‘new atheism’, recognising that Dawkins et al do not really engage with theology in any depth but simply present a dismissal that can be easily waved away. I have never heard a mythicist except Tom Harpur interviewed in the mainstream media. Hurtado’s blog, or McGrath’s cheer squad, present a litany of spurious assertions and calumny, but the censorious attitude extends well beyond these blogs. There really is little difference in principle between fundamentalism and the quality of rhetoric emanating from supposedly scholarly defenders of the Historical Jesus. It is all an evidence free zone, a house built on sand, seeds on stony ground.

      1. I don’t buy “fear of the church” as a factor keeping public debate from flourishing. Journalists are as much a part of the society as anyone else and have the same sets of values and beliefs, by and large, as the majority of us. Their professional training embeds them into the acceptable values and range of belief systems as their mentors and predecessors. Some journalists are no doubt more open and tolerant of the question than others, but we can’t blame journalists for the larger situation.

        The defensiveness of the scholars and many others in society generally is quite understandable. Major shifts in social thinking are usually generational. It really is a matter of waiting for the old to die out. It is best to focus on those who are willing to have an open mind. They will see through the tactics of the supporters of the established beliefs. By all means engage with the mainstream scholars if and when any are willing, but it’s the undecided onlookers who are ultimately the ones to keep in mind.

        1. Religious journalists are the main media people who you should expect to cover this debate. Why they don’t is a mystery. Perhaps they consider the argument that Jesus did not exist is not worth attention, or maybe that it vilifies Christianity. If it is just not on their radar, they are not doing their job properly. If they think it would upset people, that does constitute a deference to the church that has a strong element of fear, knowing that they would face a backlash from the pious. Journalists would not want to court the crazy venomous intimidation that apologists spew out towards mythicists. This response of religious bullying of free thinkers has a long history, given the shunning, imprisonment and dismissal that mythicist scholars have experienced over the centuries, and going back to premodern attitudes towards heresy. A book called Heresy by Joan O’Grady is an informative history of this topic. She comments, rather surprisingly, that the modern world welcomes heresy, a comment that made me wonder why the mythicist heresy, with its docetic and scientific enlightenment heritage, is so vigorously excluded from the public square. Some heresies are taboo, it seems few more than questioning the received account of the origin of the Gospel Jesus in a single messiah.

  18. In the original post I wrote “I am impressed with his grasp of the “tomb hewn out of a rock” in the Gospel of Mark being a “midrash” on the Greek version of Isaiah 22:16.” — I have removed that since I was just realized I was confusing Larry Hurtado with Karel Hanhart. Odd that Larry misread my post as an accusation that he was guilty of “intellectual bullying” but failed to correct me on this.

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