Dr Hurtado asked me for specific and concise responses to his recent comments and I gave them. Presumably they have got lost in his moderation queue because they have not appeared on his blog though later comments from others have since appeared. It gets to the heart, I think, of where historicist reasoning gets warped within its institutionally embedded assumptions. Larry appears to me to be genuinely confusing the logic of the argument involved and is trapped in his own belief that scholarly attention to what Jesus was like by “definition” has taken care of the question of having addressed the historical existence of such a figure. Scholars have found the answers to past questions so easily answered by the historical Jesus model that to now question its logical foundations is beyond their abilities.
In short, Jesus is said to have existed primarily because scholars have found him such a handy reference in all their questions — never mind that the questions were always ultimately predicated upon his existence in the first place.
Larry asked the following:
I stand by my characterization of your stance (and that of Vincent) [that is, that we are intellectually akin to flat-earthers]: I provide you with texts and reasoning, and the typical response has been “oh yes, but it just might also mean something else,” without offering any reason for preferring the latter.
The reason that most scholars treat Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, Neil, is that they think that makes the best sense of the data. You’re simply wrong in putting it all down to a “question-begging” assumption. Wrong. And so misleading, and unfair. It’s tiresome to keep pointing you to your errors in these matters.
I don’t expect you or anyone else to develop a ful “alternative scenario” in blog comments (God save us from any such attempt!), any more than I’ve thought I could mount the full scholarly reasoning and analysis in a blog posting or comments. Instead, I have summarized all too briefly the results of many scholars over many years, published in many articles in refereed journals and scholarly monographs and debated in academic conferences. So, again, simply cite and summarize briefly the warrants given in the scholarly work on which you base your stance.
My reply that appears to have become lost was:
I’m sorry you find this so frustrating, Larry. I do too. I think your request for a bibliography was in the other thread where we have been exchanging comments and I think you are confusing me with someone else, anyway, with your question, and I have responded to that there.
I have no problem with your claim that scholars believe the historicist scenario makes best sense of the data. I do not doubt this. And it is NOT question-begging to offer a historicist scenario to explain, say, what one thinks Paul and Peter may have discussed.
The question begging only kicks in when scholars such as yourself try to explain how they know Jesus existed at all — or how details such as Paul’s meeting with Peter supports the belief in the historicity of Jesus. It’s then that all the training and studies in areas that took the existence of Jesus as a starting assumption are of no use.
That’s not a put-down, by the way. I think it best I address these things in detail on my blog and avoid exchanges with your directly that only seem to offend you.
On another thread in his blog Larry asked me:
Neil, I don’t expect you to engage adequately my questions in a comment here. But, since you claim to have done so (and, indeed, claim that others have as well), then refer me to the journal articles, scholarly monographs, etc. where this has been done. When you’ve asked for bibliography on things I’ve referred to, I’ve provided some. So, kindly do the same. My questions aren’t in fact based on any assumption, they’re based on data that require explanation. Please ante up or leave the table. Point us all, please, to the putatively persuasive answers to them all that you claim have been produced. If you like, let’s just choose one: How about you explain for us all why it is so unremarkable for early Christianity to have talked about the crucifixion of a figure when it never happened. Could you do that in a comment of a few paragraphs? You say it’s all been worked out, so perhaps a summary would be easy (and don’t forget the data). I don’t myself cruise the blogosphere (as so little of it seems worth the time). So do give me the bibliography on the work on which you rely, concisely cite the data that overturns what most scholars think about these matters.
My response, again apparently lost in the moderation queue as other moderated comments have since appeared:
One concise pointer to the answers to the question about a religion with a crucifixion as its central idea taking off: Read relevant chapter of Richard Carrier’s “Not the Impossible Faith”. (I don’t have it with at the moment so can’t give you page references.)
I don’t recall asking you for a bibliography, so I don’t follow your request here. (Are you confusing me with someone else or have I forgotten something?) There is nothing secret or hidden about the other scholarly works to which I was referring — mostly related to literary and narrative analysis. Just have scroll through the books and authors I’ve discussed in the Categories drop down box in my blog. I’ll discuss each of your questions in separate posts — with bibliographic citations, too.
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18 thoughts on “Lost Responses to Larry Hurtado”
Larry Hurtado’s comment to Neil with this bog-standard list of loaded questions and proof-texts inspired me to wax verbose. I’m going to post it there too, but concise it is not, so who knows.
(1) Explain the eruption of a Jesus-movement about 30 CE, in which the figure of Jesus was central, and among devout Jews of Roman Palestine;
I dispute that it is known that “the figure of Jesus” was central to the earliest movement(s), if by that you mean Jesus of Nazareth, itinerant exorcist, feeder of multitudes, disputer with Pharisees, and parable-preaching leader of disciples Greek-sage-style. That figure appears no earlier than the gospel of Mark, a singular literary novelty. And the effect of the term “eruption” would appear to reflect greater confidence than is warranted in any numerical estimate of the numbers involved. Certainly neither Philo nor Josephus nor any Gentile chronicler noticed this “eruption”.
So what remains to be explained is the origin of a particular eschatological mindset or orientation to Messianic ideas in the minds of some indeterminate but probably relatively small number of Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine. Now, I’m aware that I left out “devout” and I did so because it loads the challenge in your favor. Are sectarians “devout Jews” necessarily? Does not the well-attested widespread adherence to diverse heterodox beliefs suggest that something was found wanting in late Second Temple Judaism for many who nevertheless retained a Jewish identity? Whatever nascent Jewish Christianity was, it wasn’t the only sect “among devout Jews of Roman Palestine” unless we grant a special plea that requires members of other sects not to qualify as “devout” due to heterodoxy. And we simply don’t know what the beliefs were of most of the sects that were active at the time, or whether they were a greater or lesser departure from normative Temple-cult and Torah observant practices and beliefs.
I don’t think there’s a whole lot that requires extraordinary effort to account for in your (1) once the question-begging and the loaded terms are excised. We certainly get the sense from sources like the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls, the Enbochian texts and Josephus that Messianic ideas of a quite immediate and even improvisational nature were in the air. And it’s not hard to see why, when faced with the implacable reality of Roman hegemony, some lost faith in the traditional royal and military trappings of the hoped-for deliverer and turned to mystics preaching a revealed mytho-literary reversal of those traditionally messianic roles, to sacrificial death and cosmic exaltation. Furthermore, a commonplace reinterpretation of the Danielic timeline would put the coming of the anointed one right around this time. At least one sect arose who found the Messiah in their scripture and some creative syncretic mythmaking began a trajectory that would ultimately lead to the historicized figure of the gospels. Too vague for you, I’m sure, but I’m failing badly by the criterion of concision, so best to move on; If I’m able I’ll answer such specific challenges as may arise.
(2) Explain Saul of Tarsus’ indignation and sense of obligation to destroy this movement
Pharisees were sectarians also. The proto-Rabbinic Pharisee ideal was all about halakhah and bringing the center of gravity of holiness out of the Temple and into everyday life via legalistic readings of Torah. Certain elements within this movement were probably “socially conservative” and hostile to Hellenizing sects who proposed schemes by which the Messianic Age could be proclaimed as imminent, especially if they were universalist in their soteriology, i.e. Gentile-inclusive. They seemed radical in their Torah interpretation. They were mystics who looked to scripture for esoteric meanings rather that the key to an ultra-observant way of life in an idealized Jewish-only village setting. If you can conceive of the formation of a sect without a founder figure as its object of worship, you can conceive of conservative elements on or around the mainstream telling them to put a lid on it.
(3) Explain his focus on Jesus’ crucifixion (if it never happened)
It may have been his primary original contribution to the development of the suffering Son as anointed servant of all concept. In credal material that is regarded as pre-Pauline, Christ is said to have “died” with no detail, and stoning would be assumed in the context of Jewish law, Mark’s clumsy hand-off to the indecisive Pilate not having been written yet.
(4) Explain the origin [of] the body of Jesus-tradition in the Synoptics that all seems to have a Palestinian flavor, includes such remarkable stories as some of the parables, etc
The literary creativity of the author of Mark and his expanders and redactors should be regarded as a perfectly viable explanation. The trajectory of parables is particularly interesting, in that in Mark the parables serve primarily programmatic and typological literary purposes intrinsic to that text. “Teaching (with authority)” in Mark is not clearly delineated from healing, exorcism and other non-sapiential actions. I submit that a goodly amount of this supposed tradition originated in response to Mark. However, I could be wrong about that and still not worried overmuch, if what you’re asking me to explain is something like Q, because an accreting collection of formerly free-floating or otherwise unattributed wisdom material finding its way to being included in the false biographies of a fictional idealized sage is quite simply not an improbable outcome in antiquity.
Your “all seems to have a Palestinian flavor” begs two questions if you honestly intend to adduce it as evidence for a historical figure behind the gospels. “Palestinian flavor,” however that might be made objective, does not entail Palestinian origin: the flavor of the tradition tastes to me somewhat closer in time and place to the likely arena of the evangelists (Post-70 diaspora with proto-Rabbinical Pharisees and scribes mediating the various literary set-pieces that taste in an artificial way of the questions and controversies the authors imagine might crop up). But the biggest problem is the unargued assumption that sufficient confidence in a Palestinian provenance for some number of units of supposedly traditional material entails any statement whatsoever about any individual alleged to have lived at any time. I am baffled that this basic logic eludes so many otherwise astute scholars.
(5) Explain how in the numerous indications of opposition to the early Jesus-movement there is no claim that the figure of Jesus never existed (surely it would have occurred to someone to make the charge if there were any doubt)
Any doubt, no matter how fleeting? Or a firm conviction that one could demonstrate that no Galilean preacher named Yeoshua had run afoul of the authorities in Jerusalem at Pesach during a given period? How would one come by such a conviction? And lacking it, why would a doubter play that game, instead of granting in passing the mundane claim of mere existence by way of disputing any possible significance to the fact? If someone were to tell you, “my second cousin, who lives in Duluth, is the son of god and the savior of the world”, is the first thing you think that the person is lying about having a cousin in Minnesota?
Furthermore, I’ll remind you that, again, you’re importing Jesus of Nazareth into an early milieu in which he is not in evidence. By the 70s and 80s, the grounds on which one might form the firm conviction that no Galilean preacher named Jesus had run afoul of the authorities in Jerusalem two generations ago was simply no longer available, to anyone. In the earliest period, first, we don’t have any detailed denunciations, just the disputes reported in the genuine Paulines, and on the mythicist hypothesis it wasn’t an issue at all because no historicized figure had been developed; all the various sects were searching scripture for esoteric messages from Beyond and speaking in tongues and having visions, and that’s just how it was done. In such a climate you don’t tend to accuse your enemies of doing exactly what you are doing too, you attack whatever is different or antithetical in the content of their revelations.
(5) Explain why Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus
Of course, by his account, he had been operating in that fashion for quite awhile. Whatever his other interests were, he was certainly interested in the success of his gospel and the communities under his wing. There is no reason to believe their discussions concerned matters otherwise foreign to the evangelistic and pastoral concerns of the first century epistles, unless one is committed to reading them exclusively in the light of later texts.
(6) Explain why Paul seems so convinced that there was such a figure, born a Jew (Gal 4:4)
I have never found the generic typological formulae of that passage in the least suggestive of a conviction on the part of Paul that he is proclaiming a recently-deceased near-contemporary. If anything its very artificiality only adds weight to the argument that it’s quite like what an anti-docetist might say, but that’s a corollary; the argument needn’t depend on an interpolation just because one also allows for the possibility, especially when mainstream scholars can innoculously argue the same.
and who operated among the Jewish people (Rom 15:8)
According to the Psalms, 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah! (not Kephas)
and left teachings (e.g., 1 Cor 7:10-11)
and was raised from death by God (e.g., Rom 4:24-25, and many others)
Paul’s beliefs about such supernatural matters (impossible events, not facts in principle generally available) do not have any bearing on historical questions. I’m perplexed actually. That seems like a challenge for you, like Paul’s Christ was some kind of mythical demigod or something.
(7)Explain how and why early Christians referred to Jesus’ crucifixion (when everything was against them doing so) if it never happened, and how a crucifixion of a recent contemporary (which is what they claimed) would have flown if everyone knew otherwise?
This is really just a special case of (1) with questions subsumed under (3) and (5) and so those answers apply, as deficient as they may be. I will only add that “everything” and “everyone” here act as hyperbole. “Everything was against” early Christians referring to a crucified savior only if we have confidence that we know what “everything” was (where the term presumably stands for “the total scope of Jewish messianic beliefs”), which is not the case. And “everyone [knowing] otherwise” subjects a cosmic, scriptural and revelatory reality to an anachronistic concern for a figure that must be inferred in the earliest evidence by recourse to later evidence. Nobody party to the composition of the canonical New Testament knew anything, on either hypothesis, and the novelty of the cosmic Christ should be at least as much a puzzlement for those convinced he began his career as a condemned criminal as for those who figure he was what he was.
I agree that Larry Hurtado is genuinely at a loss here; as former head/dean of the often still rather seminary-like School of Divinity at Edinburgh, Larry is used to living in a hybrid environment of ardent believers, and scholars. An environment where some objective scholarship gets through; but where blind Belief still plays a subtle role. Until very, very recently.
To his credit, Hurtado 1) confesses that his existing knowledge on the question of Mythicism/Historicism, is a single book from 1933-8. And so he is looking for, asking for a solid academic foundation for Mythicism, or a published rebuttal of Historicism. What we need to say here though is that 2) for many centuries there were not many employment opportunities for religious scholars who obviously, publicly rejected religion; public outrage made sure of that. This suppressed lots of religious critiques. When 3) such things were not simply burned. But indeed, 4) to get around public opinion, for many centuries scholars did not make their findings explicit; but a criticism of religion was implied in the point-by-point critiques of the Bible. There were countless articles showing Greco-Roman influence on Christianity; and therefore in effect, showing mythic influences. So 5) many of these that finally … arguably, there was nothing left. Jesus, as a prominent atheist said, was rather like the Cheshire cat; there was more and more of him that disappeared, until there was nothing left of him but the smile.
To 6) avoid public outrage, all this was done rather subtly though; and many seemed to have missed it. While it was all too convenient for believers to reject all that, even in “scholarly” programs.
Much of the evidence was presented in rather subtle ways. Then too, much evidence has been suppressed. In his own case, Larry does not publish the most telling criticisms of his position; out one or two dozen submissions to him, less than one half have gotten through. And typically? The most telling. This I find is typical of believers; they are in simple Denial; when there is evidence that their beliefs are not true, they disappear the evidence. Just as they once burned books they didn’t like.
To be sure though, there is something curious in Larry’s recent demand for “data” or “evidence” that needs to be addressed individually. Something half true, half false: 7) Larry’s demand that we provide evidence or “data” to prove that Jesus does not exist.
This might seem reasonable. But what he is asking for is commonly said to be illegitmate in scholarly circles. In effect, Larry is asking us to “prove a negative”; a commonly noted error in logic. As many logicians have noted, when being asked to prove the non-existence of something, we can only point to precisely … emptiness, the lack of data. Which might not seem like a strong argument full of data, to some. But that’s the nature of it. The argument is precisely … that THERE IS NO DATA from early history, to unequivocally support the existence of Jesus.
It is hard to “prove a negative”; indeed most say it cannot be done. But it is also commonly said that we should not be asked to do that either. Instead, the burden of proof is on the other side: provide proofs that your asserted entities exist. Use real data. Use science. PROVE that there really was a guy from 30 AD who walked on water, and/or merely said he was God etc… And prove it … without using data, a Bible, that has been shown over and over again, in a thousand scholarly articles, is not reliable in any single aspect or passage.
Regarding Bretton Garcia’s reference to an “environment of ardent believers,” I would make this observation:
I used to think that the reason educated people like St. Paul believed the revelations they received was because of the era that they lived in– more accepting of miracles. But I find that even nowadays, educated people accept miracles because they and millions of others have experienced the love of Jesus and cannot be persuaded otherwise. Hurtado no doubt is motivated by such beliefs to the extent that it would tend to override the data he sees.
The experience, for example, of recently deceased Dr. Reynolds Price places things in perspective for me. According to his testimony in Time magazine’s December 6, 1999 issue, Price experienced what I would call a vision, but what he has called something else. Here are his words:
As any believer might point out, there is the chance that Jesus was right. Perhaps he was what he claimed to be—the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel. Since his Resurrection, he has become—in the minds of billions—a transnational Messiah who continues to care for individual humans and to save them from internal and external evil.
I am one who believes himself a direct recipient of such care. Fifteen years ago, as I was about to undergo five weeks of withering radiation for a 10 inch long cancer inside my spinal cord, I found myself—an outlaw Christian who had, and has, no active tie with a church—transported, thoroughly awake, to another entirely credible time and place. I was lying on the shore of the Lake of Galilee with Jesus’ disciples asleep around me.
Then Jesus came forward and silently indicated that I should follow him into the lake. Waist deep in the water, I felt him pour handfuls down the long fresh scar on my back—the relic of unsuccessful surgery a month before. Jesus suddenly told me, “Your sins are forgiven.” Appalled by my dire physical outlook, I thought ungratefully, “That’s the last thing I need”; so I asked him, “Am I also cured?” He said, “That too.” Then, as though I’d forced his hand, he turned and climbed ashore with me well behind him.
Despite succeeding years of more successful but unavoidably devastating surgeries, permanent paralysis of my legs and a nonstop assault of spinal pain, I’ve experienced no similar encounter. That fact tends to validate, for me, an objective core to the experience. If I manufactured one visionary self-consolation, why wouldn’t I have repeated that solace in ensuing years of even worse trouble? In any case, to the surprise of my doctors, I’ve survived without apparent return of the cancer, and my life is more rewarding and productive than before that washing in Galilee. My lifelong sense that Jesus of Nazareth stood in a unique and redeeming relation to the Creator of this universe at least has intensified, though I have felt no right to claim intimacy with him. As for so many others, he has never seemed less than mysterious, and my experience of his overwhelming but oddly business like healing and the memory of the unstinting mercy in his grave face and eyes are indelible.
Well, what can we say that would persuade Paul or Price or Hurtado otherwise? It’s interesting how Paul and Price seem to think that what happened to them happened where heaven and earth connect.
Explain why Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus
15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.
So Hurtado claims Paul was ‘concerned’ to interview Cephas.
Yes, so ‘concerned’ that he waited 3 whole years before talking to him.
You have to laugh, haven’t you?
And , for some reason, Paul’s reason for going was to get acquainted with Cephas, when you would think that Paul’s reason for going was to speak to the brother(s) of Jesus. (Hurtado assures us lots of brothers of Jesus were believers)
Corroborating all this? Here’s my latest lost response to Larry; another reply to Larry that he has (at least not yet) chosen to publish:
Addressing your seven or eight major points
1) Explain the sudden eruption of a Jesus movement c. 30 AD. Dozens of traditional responses to this. One is that a) were are not sure there was any such thing; the best information we have is from fully two fatal decades later, with Paul, fl. 55 AD. To be sure, I’m not satisified with this quick answer myself; so b) note that the whole Jewish world was constantly under the thumb of occupier nations; and ready to follow a home-rule revolutionary at any time. This tremendous climate of expectation – and a long history of would-be messiahs, from the days at least of the Mac revolt – “accreted,” they say, into the rather firm vision, of an ideal Jewish leader or Lord, who would be saving them “soon.”
2) Saul was apparently indignant abuot this PERENNIAL movement – because it was always there. (And as a highly Hellenized Jew he supported the oppressors, the ROman, as much as anyone).
3) Why Paul’s focus on the crucifixion? HOffmann suggests it is because Paul simply wanted Jesus dead; so Romans could be emphasized. More moderately, I suggest that it is because Paul’s main orientation, was to apologize for the weakness of Judaism; its defeat over and over by foreign empires. To to this? The concept of the MARTYR, the HERO, the man who dies for his country – and turns defeat into victory – was useufl.
4) Why did Jesus tales have a Palistinian flavor? Because they were largely made up in or about, Jerusalem; where the main Temple was.
5a) Why, in the midst of many objections to Christianity, didn’t anyone just say he never existed? Because in the many wars, burnings of information (and nonbelievers, dissenters), there was not much evidence that he did not exist; only the ardent assertions of zealots.
5 b) Why was Paul interested in meeting James in Jeruslam, if he had no interest in the details of Jesus’ life (if any)? Paul wanted the seal of approval for his religion, from Jerusalem. Which only authorized him however, to speak to “Gentiles.”
6) Why did Paul seem so convinced there was such a person? Paul, as an extremely Hellenized Jew, was in love with the image and romantic message, of The Martyr. The Hero who dies for his country. He ws in the grip of a romantic vision.
7) Why did early Christians refer to an early crucifixion, if it never happened? First a) we are not sure that early Christians DID refer to it; we have no extensive early corpus … except for Paul, f. 55 AD. Better: b) there had fairly recently been many crucifixions of Jewish sons and lords; (including by one account the crucifixion of 3,000 in Damascus?). The memory of dying, crucified sons of God – and the desire to memorialze them – was extremely vivid in the minds of Jews in the region.
Here are three or four MORE responses to Larry, that he so far has chosen not to publish.
[July 30, 2012, regarding his insistence that bloggers present their real names]: One observation or caveat: for centuries, it has been accepted that the use of a “nom de plume,” or a pseudonym, was acceptable for authors. Especially in those involved in writing about Religion. Since religion is often an explosive subject; in which the penalty for being known publicly, was often literally, death by torture. As a heretic.
Though Religion is today a slightly less explosive issue. But is still a dangerous issue in an armed and dangerous America, say. And it is probably no accident that the pictorical representation chosen by Oxford U. Press for its Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993; Bruce Matzher, ed.), was the subject of Daniel in the Lions’ Den. Daniel walking very quietly and carefully; hoping not to be noticed or identified, after all.
For that reason? I’d like to respectfully request some latitude regarding the “clearly identify yourself” challenge.
Religion might be a safe subject in England or Scottland; but it is still not an entirely safe subject in America or in the Islamic countries, after all. To clearly identify yourself in many countries, can still be literally, a death sentence.
Could you re-consider this extreme – and in some cases, literally fatal – requirement?
Even in Europe you should remember the cases of Salmon Rushdie, and the late Theo van Gogh?
[July 7/31 Regarding Hurtado’s insistence that it is extremely hard to prove Greco-Roman influences on the character known as “Jesus,” himself]
I don’t think it is quite so hard to establish countless likely ANE and Greco-Roman influences, even on the hypothetsized early character we know as “Jesus.” Even “before” Paul and his obvious Hellanizations. Here, we might have to write a rather long post – just to barely indicate the evidence. The sheer volume of evidence for a partially non-Jewish, rather Hellenized Jesus.
Among other things, 1) Jesus, even in early gospel accounts, often said bad, but then good things, about non-Jews. Including Samaritans, like the Good Samarian. Who Jesus said was a better person than even a Jewish rabbi or priest. While indeed, Jesus said the Roman centurion, had more “faith” than the Israelis. To be sure, 3) Jesus at first referred to gentiles, non-Jewish Samaritans as “dogs” it seems; but then Jesus agreed to save a Samarian woman because of her faith. While 4) Jesus accepted water from a Samaritan woman; and told his disciples next that he had “sources” of sustenance of which they were unaware. While 5) the Pharisees and conservative Jews are pictured as objecting to Jesus as a heretic, deviating from Jewish tradition. Some scholars added that 6) Jesus was from Galilee; close to the new Roman towns of Caesarea and other towns on the Sea of Galilee. Though 7) it is unfashionable for scholars to stress these things in some circles today – in the “Jesus is Wholly Jewish” circles – there is a notable body of literature to back the thesis that Jesus himself – not just “Jesus” as presented to us by (the quite Hellenized) Paul – was quite influenced by foreigners. Indeed, 8) Jerusalem in the time of Jesus had been occupied by Rome since c. 64 BC; 9) nativistic “Jewish” movements had been defeated by Rome over and over; and 10) Jerusalem was run by a half-Jewish collaborator with Rome; and with Greco Roman Culture. While 10) Jesus’ own immediate environment, seems to have included a few possibly Greco-Romans (the name “Mark” is quite Roman); and 11) Jesus was accused of hanging out with “unclean” persons, by the Jews; possibly with Jews with Greco-Roman ties. While the Intertestemental works – written in Greek? – seem to provide much evidence of continuing Greco-Roman influence even in the Jewish world, just before Jesus. Then too, 11) even if we reject the Jesus of the gospels per se, as interpolated, still even “genuine” Q elements indicate a rather eastern “Sage”; whose teaching seem quite eastern or even Persian (I might suggest). Indeed 12) the nativities picture Jesus surrounded by three Wise Men from the “East”; known as “Magis”; the Persian word for wise men. Then too 12) famously, the “drink my blood” command, was absolutely antithetical to conservative Jewish tradition. As we choose to define the conservative Jewish tradition here; as the tradition expressed in the OT.
These are just a few of the hundreds of indications, even in the gospels, of likely foreign, Greco-Roman influence on some of the earliest Jesus traditions; and on “Jesus. ” And so we see the influence of in effect foreign “myths,” in even some of the very earliest “Jesus” in the gospels.
[Aug. 8 2012 Answering Larry’s summary rejection of my reading of Paul, Which has Paul confessing himself, his own ignorance of much of the story of Jesus]
You have asserted that I can’t do solid exegesis. But let’s see.
Take a closer look at Paul’s fuller statement: Paul is NOT just suggesting that he comes to know nothing more, than lots and lots about Jesus. Paul over and over suggests that his own knowledge (in the time of 1 Corin) of Jesus might be inadequate.
With Doherty’s thesis in mind, then look at Paul’s fuller statement. Which contains many references to signs of doubt by Paul, regarding the adequacy of his knowledge of Jesus: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom…” 2.1 – 3. RSV.
Over and over this passage, in many different turns of phrase, confirms Paul’s basic point: that his knowledge and/or verbal presentation of Jesus – was quite sketchy and minimal. The passage confirms Paul over and over, as hesitating about his language and the fullness of his message, over and over. Paul speaking about his a) “weakness,” and b) poor “speech.” And c) the lack of “plausib”ility in his arguments. Paul d) knowing nothing.
In answer to your objection: perhaps another reading of this passage, has Paul doubting his own abilities, and the adequacy of the knowledge he had of Jesus, at that point in time. As you yourself suggest, it is commonly thought and said, Paul might believe that FULL knowledge of Jesus is ultimately great; and that his apparently foolish words about Jesus are actually more powerful than many might think. But here I suggest that there are ALSO indications that Paul is at least e) concerned that his OWN personal knowledge of Jesus, and/or say DELIVERY and presentation of it, is not adequate; Paul is “in much fear and trembling”; his speech is “not … plausible.” (You yourself ask elsewhere: why indeed would Paul be talking to James … but to ask about Jesus? But then why ask .. if Paul already knew enough? What things did Paul lack?).
As you note, to be sure, Paul and others will eventually argue that the fuller knowledge of Jesus, would seem foolish at first, but will eventually be proven adequate. That it might not seem wise at first – but would later come to be regarded as better wisdom than say, the Greco-Roman knowledge of the Corinthians. (Though ironically, many scholars argue that Paul’s own knowledge was often Greco-Roman). Yet if we tentatively keep the quite widely-accepted hypothesis in mind – that Paul just didn’t know much about the details of Paul’s life – we do find that there areparts of Paul’s writings that can be read as Paul confirming as much. Specially there are many tentative indications in say 1 Corin. 2.1 ff. Then furthermore, we suggest finally that f) the Christian virtue of Humility demands an occasional statement of the inadequacy of our own knowledge of Jesus.
Finally, many scholars today need to be more fully aware of the virtue of Humility; of expressions of self doubts, about the adequacy of our knowledge of Jesus. Here we need to see Paul’s frequent self-doubts and self criticisms, of his knowledge of Jesus for example. Paul elsewhere in fact, a) frequently, anxiously, equivocally comparing his own “untimely” authority, to the apostles; Paul elsewhere b) confessing that he himself was not yet “perfect”; Paul c) calling himself the “worst of sinners”; Paul d) in obvious conflict with other apostles like Peter/Cephas; who Paul called “insincere” or a “hypocrite.” Paul and others suggesting e) that the then-present understanding or manifestation of Jesus, would not be entirely completed or “full” enough, until a second “appearance” or Second Coming.
It is a pious commonplace among Christians, to briefly acknowledge their own weakness and lack of knowledge. But is this commonplace a mere hypocritical show? What if we took these formal formulas seriously? Confessing your inadequacy, is just a superficial and false humility. Uless we accept that there might be a genuine, very REAL inadequacy in us, and other Christians. And in our sense of – and “knowledge of” – Christ.
Possibly 1) Paul was entirely certain that he knew lots, as you insist. But in that case his doubts about himself expressed elswhere, his own im”perfect”ion and “weakness,” were merely a posturing, false humility. Or 2) my thesis/reading is this: Paul was expressing real doubts about his own – sketchy – account of Jesus. Paul affirming that he just didn’t know much about Jesus.
Paul knew nothing much beyond a very, very sketchy assertion of the a) bare existence of Jesus; and b) that he was crucified. Paul knowing nothing beyond the very, very bare bones of a narrative.
[These are just a few of the remarks to Larry, that he chose not to publish on his blog. Presenting them here will give readers a chance to judge on their own, whether Hurtado’s rejection was justified … or suppression of evidence]
Bretton Garcia, I sympathize with Larry for not publishing your comments. They are indeed long-winded and I doubt any but yourself will read them. I had enough respect for Larry not to publish anything as rambling as these on his blog. I do not believe his refusal to let comments like these through his moderation is a case in “suppression of evidence”.
Normally I try to be concise. But Larry’s “concision” amounts to cutting off his opponents, and giving Larry the last word. Which amounts to the traditional strategy of religion: simple censorship of opposing arugments. For that reason, I thought it might be amusing to load up this one discussion, with lots of responses; to point to this strategy (and give Larry a backlogue of responses). A strategy others seem to verge on here, too.
Sorry for any temporary problems this may have caused. This should be the only time I employ THIS strategy.
Quite a few of my postings to Dr.Hurtado’s site never made it.
I think this is because they pointed out the embarrassing nature of New Testament scholarship, and they way these experts can’t even find out basic things like the existence of Q, the Synoptic problem.
In fact, I quoted Dr, Hurtado lamenting the execrable nature of New Testament scholarship when it comes to ‘the Markan community’.
As Dr. Hurtado’s words then contradict the line he is trying to sell now – that New Testament scholars are experts – he refused to post his own words.
Several of my replies to Unhappy as Larry did not make it through his moderation filter either. I had pointed out that it was begging the question to argue for the existence of a historical Jesus by assuming his existence in his answer, but he chose to tell readers I was “falsely” accusing him of begging the question when he proposed the Gospels were based on Jesus traditions. I really wonder if he is so blinded by his own assumptions that he cannot even read or comprehend anything that approaches him from any other quarter.
His knowledge of mythicism appears to be entirely based on “the brief summaries of such analysis that are unavoidably brief in a venue such as [blog comments]” — and this is not surprising, since he accuses others of knowing nothing of scholarly arguments except through “the brief summaries of such analysis that are unavoidably brief in a venue such as [blog comments]”. It’s the intellectual snobbery of people like Hurtado, McGrath, Ehrman, Hoffmann, no doubt a few others, their apparent inability to even imagine lay people would familiarize themselves with much of the scholarly literature, that surely is advertising more and more their irrelevance to the wider community. They write as if they think we should be as awed by their learning as if it were as intellectually demanding as nuclear physics or neurological surgery.
Several days went by, but my comments were eventually published. Check again.
Neil, can you recommend the proof book Hurtado wanted me to read for Paul’s citing Jesus’ teaching, David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul. 1971. Or don’t bother?
I have never read it. I see its subtitle is “the use of the synoptic tradition in the regulation of early church life” — so it appears he is arguing Paul draws on the same traditions said to have fed the synoptic gospels. But Larry is not easy to reason with. He is impatient, fails to see when he is denigrating others but very quick to see slights against himself, confuses data with conclusions, fails to discern the distinction between assumptions and evidence, and assumes anyone who disagrees with the scholarly establishment has never engaged with the scholarly literature. Reading anything to engage with such a one from a radically different stance would be a waste of time, I think.
Well, I wouldn’t read it to engage with Larry, but to see if it could convince me that Paul knew about an earthly Jesus and cited his teachings. As the only instance Larry ever cited was 1 Cor. 7:10-11, I have to think that the evidence doesn’t support that view, but I was willing to give it a shot.
Larry has closed comments on the two “Did Jesus Exist” posts, so if it’s not up now, it got deleted.
Larry Hurtado emailed me to tell me he had no intention of posting my reply to him on his blog. He says he wants an explanation of mythicist arguments, but then says blog responses will not do, but of course his own peers hold the peer-review gates to scholarly publications so it is clear that avenue is also closed. He also faults arguments addressing his blog comments for failing to address the wider scholarly literature beyond the blog comments. In other words — he says he wants to play but he sets up all the rules to make it impossible for anyone arguing a mythicist position to even get a kick at the ball.
I think we should be cautious about attributing a high Christology to the risen Jesus in the Gospel of Mark as Hurtado does.
BY ANALOGY, we wouldn’t want to argue that Jesus was the “Son of God” in Mark in the sense he is in the Gospel of Matthew or Luke just because Mark has God call Jesus his Son. It is just as likely, if we don’t read Matthew and Luke back into Mark, that Mark meant Jesus was the Son of God in the sense that Jesus was kingly in nature or fit to be King of the Jews. With no further explanation in Mark, this latter sense is what Mark’s Jewish readers would have understood Mark to mean. This follows the notion of “Son of God” in the Hebrew scriptures. For example:
(i) “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam. 7:12-14).”
(ii) In Psalm 89, in which the psalmist indicates that David was anointed by God (that is, literally anointed with oil as a sign of God’s special favor; v. 20), he is said to be God’s “firstborn, the highest of the kings of earth (v.27).”
(iii)God says to the king: “You are my son; today I have begotten you (Psalm 2, v. 7)
From the point of view of source criticism, Jesus as the offspring of God and the virgin birth in Matthew and Luke probably came in germ form from the Q source, or Luke copied and edited the story from Matthew if there was no Q (It is almost unthinkable that both Matthew and Luke would share a virgin birth story if they didn’t get it from a common source, just like the two genealogies that just magically seem to appear for the first time in Matthew and Luke)
It seems absurd to think Mark knew of the virgin birth, because he certainly would have included it in his gospel had he known about it. A virgin birth would have been a tantalizing evangelizing tool.
This line of reason, by analogy, also applies to attributing a high Christology to Jesus after he died in the Gospel of Mark. Mark would certainly have portrayed his Jesus in a high Christological light after his death because that would make Mark’s gospel a more effective evangelizing tool. Common sense says Mark doesn’t include any of this because he was either unaware of it, or thought that though some attributed high Christology to the risen Christ, Mark thought these people were wrong and that high Christology of the risen Jesus was foreign to the Jesus of history.
On the son of God question I have come to like Peppard’s views: http://vridar.org/category/book-reviews-notes/peppard-son-of-god-in-roman/
I think if I had to sum up Jesus’ personality in one word, it would be “dedicated.” As Jesus sums up the Jewish scriptures, he believed the essence of life was loving God with all his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself. In fact, Jesus was so “dedicated” to God that he was willing to die to fulfill God’s plan, even though Jesus fundamentally didn’t want to die (as the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated).
Given this, it would be odd to have a high Christology for Jesus. After all, one of the main commandments in Hebrew scripture is to have “no other Gods beside Yahweh.” Given Jewish monotheism, if Jesus was supposed to be worshipped on the same level as God, there should be a very direct instruction in the New Testament (possibly from God) explaining that, and why, this is.