31. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 31 (Scholarly Reconstructions of HJ)

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by Earl Doherty


Scholarly Reconstructions of the Historical Jesus



  • Consensus scholarly views of the historical Jesus
    • The tyranny of the Gospels
    • What Q does not tell us about an historical Jesus
    • How New Testament scholarship operates
  • Conflicting scholarly views about who and what Jesus was
  • Finding Jesus in the Q prophets
    • An argument for the existence of Q
  • Not finding an historical Jesus in the epistles’ Christ
  • Ehrman’s criteria for the genuine words and deeds of Jesus


* * * * *

Finding the Jesus of History

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 267-296)


What scholars claim to know about the historical Jesus

Here is Ehrman’s summation of what critical scholarship in general believes about the historical Jesus:

[T]here are a number of important facts about the life of Jesus that virtually all critical scholars agree on, for reasons that have in part been shown and that in other ways will become increasingly clear throughout the course of this chapter and the next. Everyone, except the mythicists, of course, agrees that

  • Jesus was a Jew who came from northern Palestine (Nazareth)
  • and lived as an adult in the 20s of the Common Era.
  • He was at one point of his life a follower of John the Baptist
  • and then became a preacher and teacher to the Jews in the rural areas of Galilee.
  • He preached a message about the “kingdom of God”
  • and did so by telling parables.
  • He gathered disciples
  • and developed a reputation for being able to heal the sick and cast out demons.
  • At the very end of his life, probably around 30 CE, he made a trip to Jerusalem during a Passover feast
  • and roused opposition among the local Jewish leaders,
  • who arranged to have him put on trial before Pontius Pilate,
  • who ordered him to be crucified for calling himself the king of the Jews. (DJE? p. 269 — my formatting)

This is a prime example of what I have called “the tyranny of the Gospels,” for not a single one of these biographical details is to be found in the non-Gospel record of the first century.

Furthermore, the three later Gospels of our canonical four (along with the satellite Acts) seem entirely dependent on Mark for their basic story of “Jesus of Nazareth.” Critical scholarship is essentially deriving its picture of an historical Jesus from the work of one author, at least several decades after the supposed fact.

Now, Mark and his redactors Matthew and Luke did have the Q tradition to draw on (the latter two from an actual document), though not for any portrait of an alleged originator of the sayings. The Q collection gives us nothing in the way of a biographical background, let alone presents a distinctive personality. (Remember William Arnal’s admissions: see below.)

  • The opening pericopes of Q do not tell us that he was a follower of John the Baptist, or that the Baptist even knew of his existence.
  • The Dialogue of Jesus and John (Lk./Q 7:18-35) comes from a later stratum and is an artificial construction out of previous literary elements which did not link Jesus and John.
  • And not even Q has a word to say about his death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.
  • As for teaching the Jews, the earliest stratum of Q is often claimed to be the teachings of the “genuine Jesus,” but it bears so little relevance to Jewish concerns of the time, and so much resemblance to teachings that can be identified with the Cynics, that the entire character of the earliest record of this branch of what became Christianity is brought into serious question.
That an entire discipline of historical research can accept the claims that Ehrman enumerates in the face of bizarre, conflicting and non-existent ‘evidence’ like this demonstrates that this is a discipline which operates like no other branch of historical research. It adopts a methodology of a priori conviction, special pleading, contortion of texts, reading one set of documents into another, building straws into skyscrapers, and all of it going back to a raison d’etre traditionally embedded in thoroughly confessional interests, interests which still exist in many quarters of that discipline today. The clincher is the rabid antagonism which the discipline as a whole expresses, even by those who claim to have separated themselves from those confessional interests, toward any challenge against its obsessive line in the sand: the certain existence of the figure who is supposedly ‘proven’ by such problematic and conflicting evidence (and by such dubious antics as someone like Bart Ehrman has been engaged in).That is not how any other branch of historical research, let alone any form of scholarship worthy of the name, operates.


What was the genuine historical Jesus about?

Beyond the basic biography which Ehrman presents above, we all know that further detail about the “certainly existing” historical Jesus enjoys anything but scholarly agreement. In fact, Ehrman provides us with an efficient summation of the abysmal accomplishments of the long and ongoing quest for the real historical Jesus:

But there is obviously a lot more to say, and that is where scholarly disagreements loom large—disagreements not over whether Jesus existed but over what kind of Jewish teacher and preacher he was.

Some scholars have said that he is principally to be thought of as a first-century Jewish rabbi whose main concern was teaching his followers how best to follow the Law of Moses.

Others have said that he was a Jewish holy man, like those we learn about from Josephus, a kind of shaman reputed to do spectacular deeds because of his unusual powers.

Others have maintained that he is best understood as a political revolutionary who was preaching armed rebellion against the Roman Empire.

Still others have claimed that he was a social reformer who urged the Jews of his time to adopt an entirely different lifestyle, for example, by embracing new economic principles as a kind of proto-Marxist or different social relationships as a kind of proto-feminist.

Yet others have suggested that he is best seen as a Jewish version of the ancient Greek Cynic philosophers, urging his followers to abandon their attachments to the material things of this world and to live lives of poverty, internally liberated from the demands of life.

Others have suggested that he is best seen as a magician, not in the sense that he could do magic tricks but that he knew how to manipulate the laws of nature like other workers of magic in his day.

Each of these views has had serious scholarly proponents. But none of them represents the views of the majority of scholars in modern times.

Instead, as I have repeatedly noted, most scholars in both the United States and Europe over the past century have been convinced that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who anticipated that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil now controlling this world in order to bring in a new order, a new kingdom here on earth, the kingdom of God.

This was essentially the view that Albert Schweitzer popularized in his famous book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer was not the first to articulate this view, but he was the first to bring it to wide public attention. And even though there are no scholars who agree any longer with the details of how Schweitzer worked out his views, there is still broad agreement that the fundamental assumption behind them is correct, that Jesus really did anticipate a cataclysmic break in the course of history when God would judge the world and set it to rights, establishing a rule of peace and justice here on earth, sometime, Jesus thought, within his own generation. (DJE? p. 270-271 — my formatting)

There is no doubt that in one way or another each of these scholarly views of Jesus can be extracted—sometimes having recourse to a bit of imagination—from the Gospel story, particularly (if not entirely) the Synoptics. (John presents nothing that is exclusive to him which is likely to be a reflection of historical reality, neither his character nor his words and deeds.)

A few of those scholarly views could even be extracted from Q, though not without facing some problems. Most Q scholars, I would say, accept the basic Kloppenborg stratification within Q: a “wisdom” Q1 stratum as the earliest, followed by a later (in compositional sequence) “apocalyptic/prophetic” Q2 stratum. We often hear (as from the Jesus Seminar and J. D. Crossan) that Q1 is closest to the ‘genuine’ Jesus and what he taught. But if Jesus was basically an apocalyptic prophet, where is that dimension within his teachings supposedly recorded in Q1? It is not there. Yes, there is a “kingdom here on earth” in view, but it is hardly to arrive through apocalyptic events.

Besides, where is Jesus himself in Q1? There is scarcely a mention of his name. There is good reason to think that even its isolated appearance was added later in constructing the set of three chreiai in Luke/Q 9:57-58 out of earlier elements which did not contain it (see Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.337-8).


Finding the historical Jesus in the Q prophets

In answer to these observations, scholars will point out the difference between “tradition history” and “literary [compositional] history.” Traditions may exist in the community from earliest times, but not be incorporated into a document until later. Perhaps true—theoretically. But if, as someone like Crossan claims, Q1 represents an interest in Jesus the teacher (despite the lack of any focus whatever on that teacher as an individual), why would such an initial collection of his teachings leave out anything prophetic and apocalyptic, especially if that was his essential nature, as Ehrman and “most scholars” (he says) would claim?

If the very genesis of the Galilean sect lay in John the Baptist, as the opening of Q (part of Q2) declares, with the Baptist preaching the imminent arrival of the apocalyptic Son of Man (with whom he makes no connection to any living person), why does no hint of that Son of Man appear anywhere in Q1, let alone as the originator of its sayings? (The “son of man” who has nowhere to lay his head [Lk./Q 9:58] is not an apocalyptic figure and is placed in a separate category of the phrase, a traditional biblical usage as a euphemism for “a man” or “this man.”)

Most of those scholarly interpretations of the historical nature of Jesus can be derived from the various layers of Q:

  • the teacher of the Law,
  • prophet of the future,
  • Cynic-style itinerant sage,
  • miracle worker and healer,
  • apocalyptic voice for the imminent Kingdom of God.

These are the activities of the Q preaching sect itself.

But I turn once again to William Arnal’s insightful evaluation of the supposed founder figure in Q (see Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.349-50). Not only is his death “taken for granted”—in other words, it is never mentioned—neither is any resurrection or any other soteriological dimension taken into account in the role he is given. Not even in the all-important theme of traditional Jewish persecution and (alleged) killing of the prophets, can Q bring itself to focus on Jesus’ own death as the culminating example. Even in regard to his miracles, which are not played up in Q, the Jesus figure cannot be differentiated from the role and activities of the Q prophets themselves. He is “embedded” in, “assimilated to” the “broader ethos of the Q group.” In other words, what scholars think to discover about the nature of Jesus in Q cannot be differentiated from the nature of the group he symbolizes, both in Q and in the Synoptics which have built upon their Q background.

(This, by the way, is a very strong argument for the existence of Q and a Q community. Without either one, we are left with a free-floating picture of what deceptively looks like a variegated preaching sect, apparently influenced by a range of sources and ideas and culminating in Mark, Matthew and Luke, but which nevertheless lacks a concrete basis. Mark’s creation becomes rootless, with no foundation in an historically real background. Where did it come from? Was Mark a science-fiction writer in addition to being an allegorizer of spiritual truths? Did Matthew and Luke also take up an entirely fictitious account and add their own inventive magic to it? To what end, if the reader could make no connection to a Sitz im Leben they could recognize or relate to, let alone be converted to? Who would be interested in such a thing? Did the evangelists simply have too much time on their hands, taking up a hobby of inventing an entire universe for reasons only they could fathom?)


Not finding the historical Jesus in the epistles

Let’s see what Paul and the other epistle writers of the New Testament, along with various non-canonical writers for almost a century, do not tell us in support of Ehrman’s list.

First, they never make the statement that he was a teacher.

Paul claims a handful of “words of the Lord,” but they look to be from direct personal revelation, something on which many scholars agree. Various writers give us Jesus-looking teachings without attributing them to him. Some Jesus-looking teachings are attributed to God.

1 Clement gives us a block of mundane moral precepts he attributes to “the Lord Jesus” which “he spoke in teaching” (Clement of Alexandria presents an almost identical block as coming from God), but he also designates passages in scripture (see ch.16 and 22), as do other early writers such as the author of Hebrews, as the voice of Jesus speaking and teaching—often his sole voice—and the same terminology is used of the Holy Spirit who also “speaks.”

Nor does any first-century epistle writer describe their Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. Considering the importance of the subject to Paul and others, this particular omission is striking.

None call him a rabbi, or a holy man, or any kind of shaman.

No one suggests he had a political or revolutionary agenda, much less that he died because of it; nor is he accorded a social philosophy.

And no one ever makes the slightest suggestion that he performed miracles of any sort.

Not even the epistles of Ignatius (c.110-130 CE, depending on the authenticity question), which supplies the most basic biographical outline of his birth, baptism and death, make any reference to teaching or miracle working. The epistle of Barnabas, probably a little later, makes reference to both, but in theory only, failing to supply any examples. Descriptions of his passion and death are still entirely dependent on scripture (Barnabas implies [e.g., 5:3, 5:12-14] that we know about Jesus through God giving us such information in scripture), as are those of 1 Clement and Hebrews.

For Barnabas, as also for the Didache (which, like 1 Clement, can be shown not to present any historical Jesus), the coming Parousia will be that of God, not Jesus.


Paul’s presentation of the present time

Consider this claim by Ehrman:

Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who anticipated that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil now controlling this world in order to bring in a new order, a new kingdom here on earth, the kingdom of God. (DJE? p. 270)

Now look at what Paul has to say on the subject in Romans 8:

For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed. . . . Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth. Not only so, but even we, to whom the Spirit is given as firstfruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free. For we have been saved, though only in hope. [NEB]

Not only is an appeal lacking to any precedent for believing all this through the teachings of the man whom Paul supposedly worships, there is not even a vibration of Jesus’ very presence detectable in the course of salvation history which Paul is describing here. (Compare the very similar impression created by Romans 13:11-12, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 2 Corinthians 6:2.) If recent times have constituted the pangs of childbirth leading to the kingdom’s arrival, Jesus’ life has been scarcely a pre-natal kick.

The “firstfruits” of what is to come have been given by the Spirit, not by Jesus, and it has been given to Paul and the present generation, not in the previous time of Jesus himself. Salvation has been provided “only in hope,” which suggests through faith in the new interpretation of scripture, not in the actual witnessing of the life, death and resurrection of the very divinity whose acts have provided it. (Compare the similar sentiments of 2 Peter 1:19, which says that it is the “message of the prophets” which shines like a lamp in the darkness awaiting the break of day, not the remembered life of Jesus himself. Scholars have been perplexed by that curiosity!)

To think that such a preaching career as Ehrman envisions could possibly have been ignored by every epistle writer who urges his readers to have hope and trust in the coming salvation, is patently ludicrous.

Finally, I have pointed out in this series the constant reference to the “revelation” of Christ the Son which characterizes the beginning of the movement, not his actual life lived on earth. This is language inconceivable in the context of an historical Jesus who would, among other things, have first announced the imminent arrival of Paul’s looked-for salvation. To think that such a preaching career as Ehrman envisions could possibly have been ignored by every epistle writer who urges his readers to have hope and trust in the coming salvation, is patently ludicrous.

It is only by the most blinkered and closed-minded preconception that scholars like Ehrman can maintain their interpretation and certainty about an historical Jesus in the face of all the contrary evidence that lies outside the Gospels and Acts before whose altar of tyranny historicist scholarship continues to bow down.


How do we establish what Jesus personally said and did?

Ehrman provides a description of first-century Judaism and its various classes—Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and the Zealot revolutionaries—and their philosophies. (All of it has the tone and content of a “101” university course, not surprising in a university lecturer and one who has admitted that this book is not aimed at established scholars.) This lays the groundwork to justify his picture of the historical Jesus as an “apocalypticist,” one who along with many others believed that the world was presently controlled by evil powers and that God was about to intervene to correct the situation—usually by sending an agent.

But I do wish that historicist defenders would realize that presenting accurate pictures of the period and its thought into which they can fit an historical Jesus does nothing to prove that there was an historical Jesus who can be fitted into such pictures.

The Jewish world at that time was full of such fantasies, and current expectations included the arrival of a Messiah or two, or an apocalyptic Son of Man who would judge the world. But I do wish that historicist defenders would realize that presenting accurate pictures of the period and its thought into which they can fit an historical Jesus does nothing to prove that there was an historical Jesus who can be fitted into such pictures. The words that can be put into his mouth can be made to fit the mouths of many who could have spoken them. (Sometimes those words can be found in previous sources, even long earlier ones.) The activities of his supposed life can be assigned to any group engaged in the same activities.

In presenting widely-accepted scholarly “criteria for detecting historically authentic tradition” in regard to Jesus, Ehrman states two principles. One is that these criteria “apply to any figure of the past described in any kind of historical source.” The other is that we must “abandon any hope of absolute certainty,” and that “historians deal for the most part in probabilities, and some things are more probable than others.” On this, mythicists would certainly agree.


Is it “contextually credible”?

As Ehrman puts it,

But if a tradition does not fit into a first-century Palestinian context, then it almost certainly can be discounted as a later legend. (DJE? p. 288)

He hastens to point out that even if it does, this does not guarantee authenticity, but only the possibility of such. Once this state of possibility is established, the other two criteria are brought into play to judge its probability.

But before going on to those criteria, we need to realize that Ehrman is placing himself in a very narrow box.

The question is more complex and subtle than simply: did Jesus say or do this, or is it a pronouncement later placed in his mouth or an action assigned to him based on what later believers would like him to have said or done? What of words and deeds which were initially envisioned within quite different contexts? From Hebrews to 1 Clement to Barnabas, for example, words have been assigned to Jesus as spoken in scripture. There is no “later” or “legendary” dimension entailed here. Other scriptural passages were translated, whether by a Paul or a Gospel writer, into an action or event assigned to the Jesus they believed in, and there may be no criterion involved relating to the question of whether it fitted into a first-century Palestinian context or not.

A certain degree of begging the question is involved in Ehrman’s examples in regard to Aramaic words and possible precedents. He points to Gospel sayings of Jesus which “at one time must have circulated in Aramaic, Jesus’ native tongue.” If certain sayings make “better sense when translated back into Aramaic” (which is an assumption that they originally were in Aramaic) this would not in itself increase the probability that Jesus said them, since even if they did make better sense in Aramaic they could simply be seen as having had a prior phase in an Aramaic context, spoken by who knows whom. And the couple of brief Aramaic formulas such as “talitha cum” need be nothing more than common parlance in certain activities within a bilingual culture.


Multiple Attestation

In order to produce “several sources (that) did not collaborate with one another,” Ehrman has been forced to engage in some very dubious exegesis.

Ehrman now turns to his two further criteria which can raise “possibility” to “probability.”

I have repeatedly stressed that a tradition appearing in multiple, independent sources has a greater likelihood of being historically reliable than a tradition that appears in only one. (DJE? p. 290)

And I have repeatedly pointed out that Ehrman’s enthusiasm for “multiple independent sources” cannot be supported. As for Q, it may be ‘independent’ of Mark and his redactors since it precedes them, but they in turn are not ‘independent’ of Q. Scholarship’s M and L are more reasonably products of Matthew and Luke, not separate source collections. For one thing, they show too limited an identifiable content to be judged as constituting independent sources; for another, they contain nothing in common, something less likely in source documents but to be expected if each is the evangelist’s own product. (I also quoted Robert M. Price’s view on the matter in the previous instalment.) Ehrman should be reminded of his own proviso: “some things are more probable than others.”

In order to produce “several sources (that) did not collaborate with one another,” Ehrman has been forced to engage in some very dubious exegesis. The independence of the Gospel of John is one that has been discussed and discredited (see previous instalment). Another is the claim that some of the content in the speeches of Acts precedes Mark; this, too, is highly questionable.

But the worst comes in Ehrman’s handling of the epistles. Wholesale reading of Gospel associations and meanings are imported into Paul & Co. Most blatantly, after applying his “contextual credibility” to the common practice of crucifixion by the Romans, Ehrman declares:

The crucifixion itself is attested (without Pilate) throughout Paul and in a range of other independent sources: 1 Peter, Hebrews, and so on. (DJE? p. 291)

His “without Pilate” is a serious qualification. There are scores of references throughout the first-century epistles to Jesus’ crucifixion, but is Ehrman not going to bat an eyelash at the universal lack of any mention of Pilate, let alone a time and place for that crucifixion—with a pretty clear reference by Paul to the agency of the demon spirits offered instead? Is he going to make the naïve assumption that the death of Jesus—especially a Jesus portrayed by the likes of Paul in so thoroughly spiritual and mythological terms, with no identification to any incarnated human figure—could only have taken place on earth? (Of course, that is a common naivete in historicist circles, whether lay or academic.) Making a bow to G. A. Wells’ interpretation of Paul’s Christ, should we not frown on his failure to even consider a crucifixion on earth by unknown rulers in an unknown past?

Ehrman makes separate mention of the reference to Pilate in 1 Timothy (6:13), without acknowledging that the vast majority of critical scholars regard this as a second-century writing.

Ehrman makes separate mention of the reference to Pilate in 1 Timothy (6:13), without acknowledging that the vast majority of critical scholars regard this as a second-century writing. Nor does he acknowledge the puzzling coincidence that this one reference to Pilate appears in a second-century writing when the Gospels had begun to circulate, whereas not a single first-century epistle happens to contain such a thing before they did. What is “more probable” here?

Quite predictably, Ehrman cannot resist another kick at the “brothers” can.

Or take the issue of Jesus’s brothers. As we have seen, in multiple independent sources Jesus is said to have brothers, and most of those sources name one of these brothers as James; this is true of Mark, John (doesn’t name James), Paul, and Josephus. Paul, as we have seen, actually knew James. This establishes reasonably good probability in favor of the tradition. (DJE? p. 291)

I won’t re-kick my own can about “brother(s) of the Lord” being no necessary reference to Jesus’ sibling(s). (Although I will mention a 2008 article by no less an historicist stellar light than R. Joseph Hoffmann, in which in no uncertain terms he argues for Galatians 1:19 being a reference to James as a member of the ‘brotherhood of the Lord’ and not as a sibling of Jesus.) Nor does Josephus mention multiple brothers of Jesus in Antiquities 20. (Ehrman ignores any debate over interpolation, including the aforementioned article by Hoffmann in which he declares that this reference to Jesus was a Christian insertion and that Josephus was speaking of an entirely different James.)

New Testament historicist methodology is certainly a force unto itself.

And in a blatant case of begging the question, Ehrman simply assumes that the “James” whom Paul was acquainted with was the brother of Jesus, which not only serves to ensure that Galatians 1:19 means sibling, it now constitutes another independent source in Paul for the fact that Jesus had brothers. This in turn grants “good probability” to Mark’s mention of Jesus’ brothers (6:3) as being an historical tradition and not simply a means of illustrating the proverbial point being made in the passage, or giving his fictional character a fictional family.

New Testament historicist methodology is certainly a force unto itself. I would love to see its claimed application “to any figure of the past described in any kind of historical source.” Or how regular historians outside the Alice in Wonderland world of New Testament scholarship would react.


The criterion of dissimilarity

Ehrman’s second criterion of probability has been discussed in an earlier instalment: that anything which does not conform to the interests of the movement formed after Jesus’ death is probably to be regarded as authentic. This, of course, has limited application, for it cannot pronounce on words and deeds which could have proceeded from Jesus and yet happen to have coincided with subsequent interests.

But as pointed out before, Ehrman fails to take into account that there are other reasons why ‘neutral’ elements can be inserted by an author creating an allegory or work of fiction. Thus his contention that Mark giving Jesus brothers has no bearing on his theological agenda and thus is likely to be historically accurate is simply not justified.

This section of the book has been long on what scholars believe about the man, but short on secure reasons for it or on a reliable process for arriving at it.

As a long introduction to his case for judging the real historical Jesus to have been an apocalyptic prophet, this section of the book has been long on what scholars believe about the man, but short on secure reasons for it or on a reliable process for arriving at it. We can only await Ehrman’s more focused evidence in the next chapter for his preferred interpretation of Jesus as apocalyptic prophet.


. . . to be continued


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61 thoughts on “31. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 31 (Scholarly Reconstructions of HJ)”

  1. Correct me if im wrong, but theres no historical evidence for John the Baptist outside the NT is there ?
    Are there any books that discuss why Josephus who was in the high priest family in Jerusalem tells no tales about Jesus dramatic arrest or the miracles such as the earthquake or zombies after the resurrection ?

    1. John the Baptist surely existed. When visiting a palace in Istanbul I am sure I saw strands of his hair, fingernails and other little appendages of his on display.

      Seriously, he is mentioned in Josephus. But see Zindler’s thoughts on this reference: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/5-reasons-to-suspect-john-the-baptist-was-interpolated-into-josephus/

      See also: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/scholars-who-question-the-historicity-of-jesus-baptism-and-why-they-do-not-persuade/

      1. I can understand the motivation to associate a real life character and history with your fabrication it makes things seem more genuine. However reading the links it seems John the Baptist is a creation as well. At best even from the Bible we know almost nothing about him, which is hardly surprisingly given the short words about him amounting to a few sentences. Why invent “John”, surely they could have picked a real preacher from that time.

          1. That logic seems very strange. Why would anybody believe some story more because someone wrote up a classy story that lots of exciting and yet everybody knows untruths. As a simpleton i find it easier to believe that Mark was written to impress, deceive and control. I find your statement crazy, i just dont get how that could possibly be true, but then again religion is full of absurdities that impress millions for a long long time.

            1. Mabe mP is right.

              Doherty here seems to want to retain some link between Christianity and SOMETHING historical: a real Q source, whether composed of an individual or an (ecclesiastical? Roman administrative?) community. And he seems to reject the idea that Mark is writing “science fiction.” However….

              Finally, now and then we should all consider mP’s complaint that Mark and much of religion really is just TOO fantastic after all. So that maybe it was even just totally, fiction. Even a deliberate deception; as commonly hypothesized by the “White Lie” theory of religion.

              Seeing Mark as referring to or depending on Q, does seem to present some fundamental problems for Q theory in any case. Since normally, Q material was said to be material that did NOT seem to be in Mark; but that was found in Matthew and Luke. If now we see Q in Mark … then the whole two source theory seems to be on the verge of dissolving.

              1. Doherty’s argument is the same as has long been found in the scholarly literature: Mark knew of some traditions that stemmed from the Q community, but did not know of a Q document of teachings itself. Matthew and Luke used a Q teachings document.

                The existence of the Q document or community does not itself imply anything historical about the narratives told or the historicity of Jesus as the originator of the sayings. That Jesus was a later import into the sayings is argued in detail in JNGNM and also at http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/partthre.htm

              2. I said we find Q-like traditions in Mark, which he would know from being a part of the kingdom preaching movement. In a loosely organized sect spread over a considerable territory, it is not infeasible to regard Q as a document which was formed and redacted only in some communities, maybe only in a single community. That document would tend to collect and record more sayings and anecdotes (not originally attributed to an historical founder) than Mark might have been familiar with in some other community.

                The kingdom-preaching “community” was neither ecclesiastical nor Roman-adminstered. It was a lot like any sect, loosely cooperative and not necessarily in contact with every other center, and certainly not with some strict organization or governing authority. The 3 Johannine epistles give us an idea of a network of separate congregations, not each one agreeing with the other on every aspect of faith, let alone sharing processes and records. The Didache also gives us a picture of such a community, and even the Synoptic Gospels portray a movement of itinerant apostles who travel from place to place to preach, probably in friendly households where believers gathered.

                Nor do I think that the Q community ‘invented’ John the Baptist. He is clearly seen as the movement’s mentor or starting point (moreso than any Jesus), though I doubt very much that he preached the Son of Man as the opening of Q portrays him. Josephus, if his paragraph on John is authentic, does not support the Q and Gospel picture of John. And if it is not, just because it is a Christian (or Mandaen) insertion into Josephus, does not make him automatically a non-existing figure. (Just as no reference to Jesus in Josephus does not automatically prove he didn’t exist; it just takes away claimed “proof” that he did.)

                I would challenge anyone who would claim that Mark IS all ‘science-fiction’ to explain the writings of the evangelists, where they got the background for their story, and why they bothered writing it if none of it had any historical basis at all. I cannot get my mind around that, and it makes no sense to me. But if people are going to challenge that, or criticize the theory of Q and a Q ‘community’, you’d better have a clear scenario to lay out, not just simple skeptical denial motivated by who knows what. A kingdom preaching community per se is hardly beyond the feasible, in fact it hangs together quite well in the context of the first century. As does a sayings collection serving as a foundation document, something quite common in the period.

                You can’t deny or doubt that Alexander conquered the Persian empire unless you have some substitute explanation for the political situation we find in the Hellenistic era. Just as mythicism wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if it simply denied an historical Jesus without presenting an alternate explanation for the origin of Christianity.

              3. So where did the idea of dancing girls and chopped heads of prisoners originate ? I dont know enough history but i cant help but wonder if events like this ever happened. Is this just creative writing again ?

            2. I’m not the only one who thinks Mark was writing a parable or metaphorical tale. What’s crazy about that?

              Ancient historians who wanted to be taken seriously did not write bluntly that so and so walked on water or was resurrected from the dead, etc. They concede that such tales are the stuff of myth and so they make a point, very often, of acknowledging that readers will find such a tale hard to believe, and that they are only reporting “what others say” etc, and give their reasons for believing it or otherwise. Mark’s story is acknowledged by many not to make any sense as “reality”. It is a parable.

              1. “I’m not the only one who thinks Mark was writing a parable or metaphorical tale. What’s crazy about that?”

                Nothing. Unless one is sucked into a culture of biblical literalism.

              2. I noticed that you only mentioned “ancient historians” when making your statement about believing Mark and similar stories. I too concede that the educated did not believe, they would have known, witnessed and appreciate the art of controlling religion as a means of controlling the ordinary uneducated masses. We have the same situation today a lot/most historians ( i hope im right on this) do not believe the miracles in the gospels, they read the gospels as history with spice and creative extras.

                However this makes me remember the 4 so called non biblical references to Jesus, from Pliny, Tacitus, Josephus and the last name escapes me. In all cases the character is Chrestus which supposedly means something like “useful servant/slave”. COuld it be these Romans if the passages are genuine having an inside joke on the useful creation of Jesus to control the masses ? Personally I think its important to differentiate between Christ and Chrestus they are two different words with v ery different meanings.

                Personally I believe Mark to be a story that pretends to tell the story of a man in historical background. To make him special they throw in solar mythology hence all the in the clouds, walking on water (the setting sun does walk on water) an other similar language. Perhaps the lay person would have made the connection between the Sun and Jesus. They would have understood the magical stuff has been standard expectations of god men. Perhaps they would have understood the Sun became a man walked around and then went back up in the sky to do what suns do. If you read the book of mark that way, its not really that unbelievable. A simple man could have walked around and then became the sun again. This last transformation becaomes the only magical stuff requiring belief.

              3. Suetonius is the one you were trying to recall. As far as I recall off-hand he is the only one who speaks of “Chrestus”. Chrestus means “good” and was apparently a common slave name. It doesn’t mean “slave” itself, though.

                We have no idea who “Mark” was so we cannot say what his motives were. As for what early readers thought about a connection between the Sun and Jesus, again I don’t believe we have any evidence to help us here. We can speculate, but that’s all, as far as I understand.

              4. Thanks for filling the gap about Suetonis.

                The simple motivation for most things including power is of course money. I cant help but make the observation that ambitious men, i wont judge their character will try anything to get and remain in power. A brief overview of Xian history shows that the holy men have often stated their words are from God and at the same time done unmentionable evils such as slavery, crusades, inquisitions, wars and so on. One has to wonder, how much harder it would have been to motivate the humble to goto war without false promises about doing Gods will and so on.

                You did mention we dont know who or what Mark was, however that doesnt really matter. My comments are more about the legacy, which I believe shows that selfish goals are all the way back until the start.

                A quick search gives me >>Chrêstus = “useful, worthy, good”<< which is a good label if we are suspect of WHY the myth of Jesus was created.
                If I was a king and the church was a vital tool to me keeping power i would very much consider Christ useful. Lets not forget that the office of Pontifus Maximus was a very important one in ancient Rome. Its no wonder that Julius Caesar used it during metoric rise to the top. Theres also that famous quote about religion, "the masses blieve, rich ignore, rulers find useful". Sorry if my paraphrasing is poor.

                Joseph Atwill's book Caesars Messiah i believe does a good job of showing a good source for the Jesus story. In brief he states that many characters in the Jewish rebellion are the source of attributes, names and locations in Jesus life and minister. If we then recall other teachings like slaves obeying masters, paying taxes, respecting authorities, representing Romans as good, its hard to not agree with this. Why would a Jew say so many things good and favourable to the Romans and rich, while we always hear Jesus loved the poor.

                Now for the solar connection with Jesus. I have seen and read many videos that show many interesting parallels and patterns with Jesus. Firstly i will say that this personification of the Sun is not foreign to the Jews. THere are many scriptures that say Jehovah is the Sun, the zodiac and so on. The numbers 7 and 12, the fact many of the major holidays are simply celebrations of the key points in the seasons show their religion is very much a different take on explaining nature and the world. The temple pointed East and even Josephus himself said the Zodiac was present in the temple. The more you look the more you will find. If one just read the NT text in Mark we can find that the chapters follow a theme, each one showing a specific sign of the zodiac starting with Aries in order. If we simply realise that the Son of God is the Sun of God and read all the magical Jesus in the sky stuff and think "Sun" then the text is simply man admiring the power of nature. Also if we look at modern cathedrals and xian art we always find halos(=sun), east, stars and other solar themes.

  2. Earl?

    On this Mythicist blog, we have often supporting your position vociferously; that there is no histroical “Jesus.” While we have often been considering the question of just exactly where our ideas of “Jesus” might have come from. And here is one of the hypotheses many of us have been seriously considering. Based partly on your own writings; but adding in a bit of knowledge, methodology, from Folkloristics, and Mythography.

    One of the most popular current explanations for the origin of the Jesus legend, accepted by at least one scholar today it seems, is “accretion.” That is to say: by the accumulation over centuries, of various tales; to create what folkloristics calls a ” legend.”

    1) First there were always rumors, hopes in the Jewish community of Jerusalem, for at last a good Jewish revolutionary leader, a king or hero or “lord,” who would at last punish the wicked, and reward the good; and who would defeat the many enemies of the Jews. Particularly throwing out any one of the many various occupying foreign powers that usually controlled Israel/Judah; which would have been Rome in the time of Jesus. In order to establish a true Jewish “kingdom.” A kingdom headed by a loyal Jew, a Jewish “lord,” and/or ultimately the Jewish God.

    2) No doubt, various historical figures were often thought to be this promised christened or anointed king or savior. Including the heroes of the Maccabean Revolt, c. 167 BC. Including many heroes, martyrs, who die, in the attempt to “save” their country (as in 2 Mac. 7). Or any one of the thousands of Jews killed – 2,000 specifically crucified – by Archelaus, c. 4 BC. Or the two sons of the lord god Herod, by his wife “Mary” or Mariamne; who were accused of trying to assert they were the lord god themselves, and usurping the lord god; and who were therefore executed (c.6-4 BCE).

    3) All these various traditions and current historical events, finally amalgamated, accreted; forming a vast organized body of hopes and rumors ready to attach themselves to any name, any new home rule hero that presented himself.

    4) Bruno Baur for example supposed that finallyone source emerged. Possibly semi-biolographical or even entirely fictional. Perhaps in answer to this climate of expectation, this extreme desire for a hero.

    5) Though some of us here have speculated – following apparently one of Earl’s own themes? – that specifically what set it off, was Philo’s startling new idea, that in effect there was a “Logos,” or rational “Word,” that formed a “son” of God. Possibly this became a catylist, for a new “search for” this new salvational “son”; and/or for the simple creation of a “biography,” or made up midrashic “parable,” that would en”vision” this Logos/son a little more concretely; proving it with a biography borrowed from hundreds of rumors of dozens of earlier possible home rule/kingdom heros; 2,000 of them having been recently crucified (c. 4 BCE?) by followers of Archelaus.

    The evolution of a Legend, according to folklorists, is not a simple process; dozens of rumors, dozens of sources, dozens of iterations can take place in complicated combinations and permutations, to finally make up a core person or event. But overall, the process is known by folklorists and mythologists; and at least one current Religious Studies scholar is apparent using the standard concept of “accretion,” to describe the process that eventually created a rather concrete-seeming “person,” known as “Jesus.”

    Yet while this process is rather complex, and oral culture rumors are often vague and scattered, it is quite come that at some point(s) in history, a sort of early folklorist or compiler, historian, or secretary will appear, to try to assemble the rumors into one organized narrative. Rather like Luke say, in Luke 1. And however scattered the rumors might have been before that date, from that point on, they have acquired a linear narration as their core; imposed by the organizing mind of the secretary or scribe, if nowhere else.

    As for Q? One of the many sources, traditions, that were finally incorporated. Or likely it was itself an early (priestly? Philosophical sagelike?), already semi-organized “body” of these perennial rumors, sayings, hopes, for a home rule (“kingdom”) hero, a revolutionary war hero (“Apocalypse”), that would save his country from foreign occupiers.

    The process by which all this happens, Foklorists and Mythographers know, can be rather complicated. But it is commonly described in a few simple terms: as the creation of a “legend,” through a process of “accretion.”

    1. BrettonG – your comment is going beyond the content raised by Earl’s post. Do read again my recent post about Vridar Comments. More general discussions about mythicism are better raised on another venue. Why not try FRBD or one of the groups dedicated to such discussions? This is not, by the way, “a mythicist blog” – see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/vridar-not-a-mythicist-blog-but-a-blog-for-christian-origins-and-the-nature-of-the-early-evidence/. Tim is, I understand, not a mythicist. Do keep your comments concise and directly relevant to specific content of the posts.

    2. Yes, as Neil says, my comment about mythicism in general (as with the comment on Alexander) was meant only as an analogy. I was speaking specifically about a dismissal of a Q community as the background to the Synoptics requiring an alternate explanation if we are to consider it.

    3. Could the 2000 sacrificed be a part motivation for the babies being killed when Jesus was “born”. Perhaps we read the Bible today as babies, but it would work just as well if the audience understood the story referencing the aforementioned babies, and not literal babies. The parallels between this and other myths where the hero is persecuted and babies killed, think Zeus make this very powerful.

      1. mP: Neil (and Doherty?) seems to feel this approach distracts a bit too much from Doherty’s concentration on just Q theory, by itself. But if you send me some kind of e-mail address, I’ll send you my lengthy response. In which I partially agree with you; but also outline some even more probable mythicized historical events, behind “Q.” And behind the massacre of the innocents specifically, in Mat. 2.


  3. “As for Q?” – Counter to your Q arguments significantly, “Earl argues that the Q community (the one responsible for many sayings in the Sermon on the Mount) was a rival or alternative strand of “Christianity” to that of the Christ Myth strand represented by Paul.” At least Earl’s argument, as far as it goes, could be extended to the idea that origins of Jesus traditions involve two strands, two communities: one, the Q community (the one responsible for many sayings in the Sermon on the Mount) was a rival or alternative strand of “Christianity” to that of the other the Christ Myth strand represented by Paul. This is the path which our top NT scholars take which leads to their understanding that the writings of the NT, imaging the Christ Myth sources upon which Christianity is based, is not a source for knowledge of Jesus, By contrast the Q material with its Sermon on the Mount stands nearer to the Jewish thought of Jesus of Nazareth and manifestes its afinity and distance over against later “Christianity”. Christianity is set in quotes because significant origins of the Jesus tradition began with the two starkly different communitie, strands, before Christianty and before the Gospels, in the period 30 CE – 65 CE. The fateful mistake of NT history is the fact of the early church fathers (Gentiles, in a centre where Paul’s Christ Kerygma had severed Jesus from his sayings and his Jewish roots) mistaken choice of apostolic sources, chosing the writings of the NT, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later NT writings, over against the Q material which contained apsotolic eyewitness material.

  4. Earl, I’d like to focus on the strategic points in this debate, which you ably summarise in your final paragraph of the section “What Scholars Claim to Know About the Historical Jesus”. (quoted below)

    We see here how belief in Jesus is adopting the methods and trappings of classical fundamentalist creationism. When an idea is central to people’s personal and social identity, their response to critique is primarily emotional rather than rational. Hence we find that believers cite Ehrman as having decisively refuted mythicism, even though your patient analysis shows quite the reverse. The evangelical method is primarily rhetorical, relying on powerful emotional argument to build fervour around simple points of conventional social unity. This method readily translates from inculcating fear of hellfire to rejection of any ideas that undermine traditional faith.

    Sociologically, considering this debate against the model of military strategy, Ehrman functions like an advance scout for the armies of the Lord, peering into the mythicist camp to report on progress. The church propagandists falsely inform the ‘infantry’ in the pews that the scout has achieved a decisive rout and they can sleep easy. Facts are of no interest for this purpose, as refutation of mythicism is regarded as peripheral and simple. But meanwhile, the forces of mythicism are conducting guerilla operations across numerous fronts, including as a fifth column within the church. These operations lack coordination and strategic direction, and are often confused by personal emotional baggage. Nonetheless, they are supported by truth and reason, and contribute to a steady rapid shift in the terms of engagement, opening up points of possible unity to enable a shift of terrain from the current hidden world into the visible context of the mass media.

    Earl Doherty wrote: “That an entire discipline of historical research can accept the claims that Ehrman enumerates in the face of bizarre, conflicting and non-existent ‘evidence’ like this demonstrates that this is a discipline which operates like no other branch of historical research. It adopts a methodology of a priori conviction, special pleading, contortion of texts, reading one set of documents into another, building straws into skyscrapers, and all of it going back to a raison d’etre traditionally embedded in thoroughly confessional interests, interests which still exist in many quarters of that discipline today. The clincher is the rabid antagonism which the discipline as a whole expresses, even by those who claim to have separated themselves from those confessional interests, toward any challenge against its obsessive line in the sand: the certain existence of the figure who is supposedly ‘proven’ by such problematic and conflicting evidence (and by such dubious antics as someone like Bart Ehrman has been engaged in).That is not how any other branch of historical research, let alone any form of scholarship worthy of the name, operates.”

  5. Hi Earl & Neil,

    I would like to get your thoughts on an argument against Q made by the excellent (but little known) Jesus Myth theorist R.G Price. He says: ‘It seems quite likely that neither Matthew nor Luke copied their version directly from what we now call the Gospel of Mark, rather there was an additional expanded narrative based on Mark that is intermediary between what we call the Gospel of Mark and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Alternatively, what we call the Gospel of Mark could simply be a shortened version of the original, which was longer, and which is what the authors of Matthew and Luke copied from. In any event, what we are dealing with is simply another version of the Gospel of Mark…..That no such complete version has been found is really no more of an issue than that no such version of a “Q” document has been found, and actually there is no evidence at all for an additional and separate Q source document, while there is abundant evidence for multiple versions of Mark.’ Found here: http://web.archive.org/web/20150704163240/http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/gospel_mark.htm

    I would like to see your response to this argument. To my mind, the Q thesis is messy, and the above scenario is simpler. I think Mark is the bedrock of the entire Jesus narrative. But I have not considered the arguments for Q in detail, so there could be something knock down I have not considered…thanks!

    1. Earl may well have a different response, but I have difficulties with R. G. Price’s suggestion of another version of Mark being used by Matthew and Luke. Price says that the idea of Q appeals to Christians for ideological reasons, but the argument for Q is not ideological. It is very technical — syntactical — and explains economically many points in the gospels.

      Matthew’s and Luke’s changes to Mark (not just their additional material, but changes they made to Mark’s text) are consistent with the respective ideological perspectives of Matthew and Luke. That to me is a strike against an intermediate Mark — Matthew and Luke are punching Mark as we have it into the shape they want it for their own theological purposes.

      Further, Mark as we have it is, I believe, not a crudely told story, and certainly not a summary of something more eloquent. Or rather, its crudeness is not the consequence of an under-achieving author. It is a very powerful (and to us very dark) literary work in its own right, with many signs of creative skill. Matthew and Luke have each tamed Mark, brought its Jesus into a more benign persona and its fearful narrative into a positive spin.

      That is, I see Mark as a consummate work in its own right and Matthew and Luke grappling with the problems it posed for their own views of the faith and with evidence they were dealing directly with the dark original.

      That in summary is my view.

    2. Jonathan,

      Most things in history are messy. The process of the first Gospel being redacted by later evangelists was messy. I don’t see a problem with a messy Q.

      Anyway, my biggest objection to R. G. Price’s theory is the idea that anyone would shred an Ur-Mark which contained “Q” and produce canonical Mark. That’s not messy, that’s inconceivable. What possible purpose would there be to excise all that material, all those good sayings? Who would think that the Sermon on the Mount would deliberately end up on the cutting-room floor?

      Besides, the “Q” material has its own character; one aspect of that character is that it contains nothing relating to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is simply not feasible to think that the creator/redactor of canonical Mark would end up removing a large collection of material which just happened not to contain the D & R kerygma.

      Moreover, the Q material when examined on its own, contains unmistakeable signs of internal redaction. We can identify parts of it that were added to earlier pieces, or blocks that were put together out of earlier discrete pieces. There is no way that an Ur-Mark would show that situation, unless the original Mark had himself incorporated an earlier body of material which had itself undergone that redaction. And then to think that a canonical editor just happened to remove that block of material…

      As far as I’m concerned, “messy” wins out over “impossible” any day.

      1. Thanks Earl and Neil, very helpful and though provoking. Some quick thoughts.

        Neil, I would like to know more about what you mean when you say Mark is not a crudely told story. I mean I – and R.G Price – would totally agree that Mark is anything but crude…but it IS a story, indeed a very clever and witty story and, as you note, with some dark undertones (i.e the ending ‘they ran away in fear and told nobody.’ You seem to agree that it is a story; as you say in a post above: ‘Mark, was not meant to serve or be read as history.’ While I am no scholar, and have not read all the stuff on Mark, R.G Price’s analysis of Mark, I believe, is absolutely brilliant and I found it very convincing. Definently think it should be added to the Christ myth toolbox.

        Earl, you are probably right (I don’t know) that a Ur-Mark would shred an earlier Mark, removing all the ‘Q’ material. But Price offers another possibility. That a later writer added to our current version of Mark, incorporating the ‘Q’ material – but this later version of ‘Mark’ is now lost. Matthew and Luke, however, never knew of this version, and instead copied the earlier version of Mark. What is so ‘impossible’ about that? Against this, you say Q shows ‘unmistakable signs of redaction’ – maybe I will have to learn more, but I would like some powerful examples, before I am convinced. Furthermore, as Price points out, we do have some, admitedly dotty evidence of additional ‘Mark’s’ (secret Mark)…wheras we have no direct evidence for Q.

        Anyways, we won’t resole this here. Thanks for your responses. Earl, keep up the demolition on Bart!

      2. I think I might see one POSSIBLE explanation for our final Mark having edited out an itself-edited Q: the perception by the later editors of Mark, that Q material came from an identifiable but suddenly-discredited source. Like a rival church, or some such.

        Much of Q material like the Sermon on the Mount – “blessed are the poor” – to me often seems to contains a kind of resigned philosophicality, the acceptance and even romanticization of loss and poverty. A kind of resignation that is typical not only of a defeated regime (Hasmonean or whatever), servants and Stoics and clerks. But that is also typical soon enough, of the servile ascetic clerks that we were to call clerics, or priests. And various churches.

        Here therefore we might have been dealing with a rejected, identifiably-discrete group of persons. One later anathematized by the Markians.

        That’s just a quick guess though.

          1. Could Q be a snapshot with a jewish feel taken from other mythological ideas common in the time. We can certainly see many similarities with pagan myths. It would not be the first time higher authorities have invented religions from scratch and presented them to the masses with Serapis coming to mind. Could it be this simple?

          2. In defense of Dr. Price: how firm is knowledge of “Q” and so forth? Much of our entire knowledge of “Q” and so forth, are of course speculative, and are offered explicitly as “hypothesis.” Furthermore, in general such things as rejection of parts of holy books, are known to have happened VERY frequently in history. And are found mentioned in effect,. directly and indirectly, even in the New Testament itself.

            There are countless historical examples of once-thought holy books, even Christian holy books, being rejected or revised. And of holy books being rejected and thrown out. This can be seen in: 1) early changes in the Christian canon, 2) the rejection of spurious “apostles” in the Gospels themselves; and 3) doubts “false” or “other gospels” as Paul noted; 4) rejection of pseuepigraphica; 5) the adding and subtracting of the ending of Mark; the 6) constant fights throughout history as to which is the authoritiative canon; including say, in more modern times, the 7) current Protestant Bible which is seven whole books shorter than the Catholic one. Due to rejection of intertestental Apocrypha (and evidence of their non-canonical status even in the Jewish days). And so forth.

            Much of Q theory depends on subjective evaluations of what is “reasonable.” Appeal to Q scholarship as absolutely authoritative therefore seems like a strangely conservative appeal to authority; something normally spoken against by Mythicists.

            Though to be sure, it is covenient to believe in Q; it is currently widely accepted. And to question it would take a very long and powerful series of arguments. Though note that Q theory cuts itself off, just before reaching the critical point: it points to a written document, without saying whether that document authentically reflects say a real person – say Jesus – or not. Thus Q theory leaves what comes BEFORE it, open to much speculation. Giving us at least room to speculate about mythic sources for example.

            Though here of course, in the New Mythicism, we should not be irresponsible about very wild speculations; the New Mythicism should be characterized by a new, reserved professionalism.

            1. It is idle speculation to wonder if scenarios we know about elsewhere applied to x in the absence of any supporting evidence that they did so. I have many speculative ideas, too, but I do not post them because I have no way of linking them with any evidence and would look foolish and ignorant of the scholarship. There is no place for such speculations here. I have already suggested that a more appropriate place to raise your speculations or other theories might be on other venues such as FRDB (www.freeratio.org/) or one of the mythicist discussion boards (e.g. Jesus Mysteries in yahoo groups where I think you will get more people willing to give you an honest appraisal and engagement with your views.)

  6. Look at a reconstructed Q and then at Mark as we have it. There is so much in common between them that it makes no sense that the Q material would have been ‘rejected’ while leaving other material in Mark that is in the same vein.

    The “reversal of fortunes” philosophy in much of Q1 is hardly defeatist. It is promising a dramatic change for the better. Why would that be ‘rejected’? The material in Q2 is apocalyptic in exactly the same vein as much of the apocalyptic material left in Mark.

    One has to think these things through with a little more care than is given with some of the ‘pink elephant’ scenarios that have been put forward here.
    It continues to baffle me how so many people, especially the uninformed, have such a fixation on rejecting Q at any price. Very often they are not even familiar with its content, let alone the detailed arguments as to why the theory makes sense and why alternatives hold together less well. They play up the “hypothesis” angle as though the latter is some kind of dirty word, offer Occam’s Razor as though it is one of the Ten Commandments, and treat Q advocates as some kind of blind fundamentalist worshippers. What the hell is going on (not only here but on DBs in general)?

    There is nothing wrong with arguing the pros and cons of any hypothesis, and some alternatives to Q certainly do not constitute crackpot theory. But let’s stop bringing this attitude of ‘Q as creationism’ to the discussion. We get enough of that from historicism’s approach to mythicism. Q may not be laboratory science, but it is anything but “wild speculation.”

  7. Earl:

    I agree to tentatively accepting Q and Dual Hypothesis ideas here, for purposes of discussion. Though Dr. Mark Goodacre and others seem to reject Q, I do agree that Q material at least ,seems clear and evident within the texts itself; whatever its provenance and significance may be.

    My remarks on “wild speculation” were directed toward problems my own area of interest: pre-Q, probably mythic and legendary sources.

    In particular, I like the (your?) idea of taking Paul’s c. 53-59 corpus, as the definitive one; agreeing that there is little biographical information there on Paul; and agreeing that quite possibly it therefore all came from a general – probably Platonic – philosophical origin.

    And along those lines, I’d add that if we admit Q into the mix, then for that matter Q is often taken as a Stoic – or more exactly, “Cynic” document. Which I suggest here, fits the notion of Platonic origins to Christianity: Cynicism, the embrace even of poverty, was attributed to Anithenes; a student of Socrates, with Plato.

    The conceptual link I might find between Platonism and Cynicism, with its philosophy of embracing poverty itself (“blessed are the poor”), is and outgrowth from Plato’s hierarchial dualism. Which suggested that things here on this material earth, are just pale “shadows” and inferior “copies,” of the real truths: the ideal but invisible/”spiritual” models or “forms” or “paradigms” … in “heaven.” This hierarchial dualism minimizes the importance of material, physical things,in favor of – as you noted, “celestial”- or heavenly forms. But minimizaing the importance of things here on this earth, physical material possessions, therefore one logical consequence of Platonism would be .. the embrace of poverty itself. Which is in fact, one of the implications of Plato, that Antithenes, Cynicism, seems to have developed. A Cynical conclusion that also appears in Q material; “blessed are the poor.”.

    Is it all a philosophy of despair? To be sure, there is something forward-looking in expecting a better future “kingdom.” On the other hand though, deep within Q material like the Sermon on the Mount, you can also see in fact, a developing Platonicist/Cynical thesis: that after all, being deprived of a physical kingdom, being subjected even to poverty (thanks to subjection to the Romans), might be a good thing. Since, as Paul and others sometimes hinted philosophically, Stoically, material things, possessions are not so important after all. Indeed, material possessions (and a material kingdom) are only distractions. Since indeed, they are only pale shadows, inferior “copies” as “Paul” said in Heb. 8, of the more important, ideal forms or “models” or “paradigms,” in “heaven.”

    So I accept the existence of Q material; however it got there. And agree that it is “Cynical.” And for that matter, it also fits in with your Platonic/cosmic model as well. The essence of that fit between Q’s cynicsim and Platonic cosmic sentiment, would involve … a philosophically-resigned acceptance of – or beyond that, even an ascetic embrace of – the rejection of the material, phsyical “world,” and “flesh,” and “lust” and “desire” for “possessions,” for physical material “wealth.” In favor of the intellectual/spiritual life, that seeks instead Knowledge, wisdom, about ultimate things.

    So I agree with much of your work as I understand it second-hand; and I think that the Cynicism of Q in fact, can be reconciled to your emphasis on the cosmic or Platonic side of say, Paul. the two pieces fit together.

  8. It seems to me that the best explanation for why “Mark” did not include more material from “Q” than he did was because, although he had Q material, Mark attributed to John the Baptist. John was a really famous guy (at least according to the gospels), “wisdom’s child” who lived in the wilderness and cared for the poor. That’s the story, anyway, and Mark tells his “pre-story” for the Passion Play about Jesus, anchoring him with the “historical” John.

    Q is John’s wisdom text. The Q material is used by the later writers as Jesus’ words, but they never really fit: “foxes have holes” indeed, and reeds flutter in the wind, but Jesus had a house in Capernaum, women followers to pay his bills, and a rich friend in Jerusalem to bury him. Every story Jesus tells is about middle-class or above characters like the people he hung out with: he never spends a night on the ground, he always has a boat when he needs one. Poor people didn’t kill a fatted calf or plant vineyards; those are the middle class or better.

    Although Mark leaves John’s Q text mostly alone, it’s eventually raided by the Jesus clan, like the prologue to the Gospel of John, that takes time to break the poetry to say “this is not about John the Baptist”.

  9. @Earl

    Perhaps this is off topic, but in all these discussions do we have so little said about the factual or historical accuracy of Nazareth the town. My limited knowledge and reading has shown that Helena when she visited during the 4th C could not find the place and eventually just picked a spot. Why is there so little focus on the confusion of Nazarene the spiritual undertaking and the place ? Nobody seems to know of Nazareth before or even around Jesus time. Nothing in the OT, Josephus and so on. Why does this get so little focus ?

    1. Basically because it’s not conclusive. And it is a difficult question to resolve, requiring extensive knowledge about the archaeological issues. The average reader is not going to be able to evaluate the debate in the same way one can evaluate arguments regarding texts that can be read and reasoned about.

      1. I would disagree, the Nazareth problem is very much like the gospels. There are a lot of unanswered questions that seemingly should not exist, if everything was right and true given current xian perspectives.

        We have many many maps and writings that never mention the town outside the gospels. I dont want to repeat them here because I know you already know what im referencing. We also have the fact which can be debated that Mt appears to have misapplied the NZR root from the OT making it a place. I cant help but wonder if ordinary people even knew that Nazareth is basically unknown until the 4th century they would be shocked and simply realise just how absurd and little the entire Jesus evidence is. The Jesus existed side uses many packages of proofs, speculations of word meanings in commentaries from later authors, but i have yet to encounter them using the historicity of Nazareth the town, its an embarrassment. Could it be they avoid and hope this is never brought up because its a lose lost situation ?

        1. I’ve long made a point of referring to a possible historical Jesus as “the Nazarene”; more recently, I’ve managed to quell my righteous indignation over “Jesus of Nazareth” by reading it as “Jesus of the Nazarenes”. But I’m starting to get the impression that some mythicists use “of Nazareth” as a deliberately ironic dig at his historicity…

          1. Not at all. I’m not sure why you’re indignant, but it’s just a way of referring to the character as he appears in, and as he is referred to in, Mark and his redactors. Why would a mythicist refer to that character as Jesus the Nazarene? The change of title implies that one accepts the existence of someone of that name outside the character of “Jesus of Nazareth” in the Gospels. I don’t. And using Mark’s moniker does not imply that one accepts the existence of a Nazareth. (Personally, I have no decided opinion on the matter. I don’t consider it crucial.)

            1. I’m not really indignant – “righteous indignation” was facetious reference to a religious usage I’ve heard too often. Your point about the “Jesus of Nazareth” character is well-taken, but mythicists don’t always refer to him in an exclusively fictional context. They have to deal with claims of historicity, after all. It seems almost condescending to call him by a likely fictional place-name.

          2. Simply saying Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Nazarene are quite different meanings. One is just a place the other is quite more involved. Even the gospels mix and match sometimes its one sometimes the other as you have mentioned. Ask any lay person and they will say they are the same. This of course never discussed and quickly dispatched because of the uncomfortable problems by Jesus is historical scholars and other apologists. They love that nobody questions this, because its very hard for them to actual explain or prove. They like the status quo, because it gives them one less absurd problem to address, not that long ago the concesus was that Jesus was most definitely not a myth. The more doubt the better.

            1. I fully agree. “Jesus of Nazareth” is appropriate for either the Gospel character (when “Jesus Christ” may be too prejudicial) or a more apologetic conception of the historical Jesus, while “Jesus the Nazarene” works for a more historically plausible prototype of the character.

  10. The history of Nazareth, and the evidence that there were no Christian shrines established in Nazareth until the late fourth century, is covered by Joan Taylor in her book Christians and the Holy Places. The relevant chapter on Nazareth can be read pretty much in full by flipping between the Google-books and Amazon previews.

    The whole idea that Jesus would historically have been known by an obscure village that probably most Palestinian Jews had never heard of doesn’t make any sense. As as been pointed out by others, religious leaders are never given epithets of their birth towns. The Gospel of Matthew is evidently attempting to re-write the meaning of whatever the epithet applied to Jesus really was by construing it as the name of a humble village. It had to be a very humble — that is, otherwise unknown — village for his artifice to work. He could hardly suddenly introduce a name of a well-known place for this purpose without raising obvious questions.

    1. Perhaps Matthew made NZR into a town called Nazareth to create a home that had absolutely no other members. Its hardly special to be a member of a big city like Jerusalem, but being part of a special city called after Nazarene somehow elevates Jesus to another unique club. Its almost like saying nobody before has ever been good enough to be from Nazareth. I cant help but wonder that the ancients believed some places were special or magical, like temple holy places and holy cities like Jerusalem and this is another example of that idea at play. To everybody else these places all look the same but we have a very different viewpoint because our minds dont believe in the holy soil and places.

      The same device was also used by associating Jesus with Bethlehem. Somehow being born contributed to his specialness, after all the new king of the Jews had to be born in the same place as mighty King David. The fact they also managed to squeeze that other scripture in Malachi was a special bonus. My guess is the ancients would have been duly impressed.

          1. I understand through Rene Salm’s book that the priestly course of Hapizzez settled in Nazareth but that was after the Second Jewish Revolt of the 130s. Archaeology unfortunately rarely gives us precise dates, but my understanding is that all the evidence points to a growth in settlement in Nazareth from around the end of the first century (presumably related to the outcomes of the Jewish war) and early second century. There appears to be nothing specific in the evidence to tell us exactly who these new settlers were.

            1. Im not doubting your sources, but why is Nazareth an unknown place when Helena did her world tour of the holy sites in Palestine ?

              Given the holy aspect of the name, when was the town named ? Did the name of the town come after the holy men moved in or was it that before ?

              1. My understanding is that Nazareth was known at the time of Helena. But for details I suggest you turn to others who have more knowledge about this. Why not try Jesus Mysteries or the Freeratio discussion board?

        1. If Jesus came from a really small place, doesn’t that reduce the prior odds of his existing?

          Isn’t that something to be factored into any Bayesian calculation of his historicity?

          Suppose we are told that Sally has very strong views of female equality.

          Which is more likely?

          Sally is a bank teller.

          Sally is a bank teller and a feminist.

          Sally is a bank teller and a feminist and was born in Red Bank, New Jersey.

        2. That’s right and the issue is a complete non starter because no one associates JC with Nazareth until g.Mark by which time, as you say… Like Dec. 25 it’s a late appearing fiction with absolutely no bearing on historicity or otherwise.

          1. I think the reference to a backwater, nothing place like Nazareth being where Jesus is from is part of the whole “the first will be last and last will be first” theme: A nobody like Jesus and his band of peasants reconcile mankind to God! And there is no reason to think Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, since this might just reflect the theme of “Join me and I will make you fishers of men.” On Nazareth as a “nowhere-burg,” Compare John 1:46.

    2. Good ref; thanks, Neil. But, though Taylor’s rightly skeptical of many of Bagatti’s claims, she still just assumes a 1st century Nazareth. The closest thing to support seems to boil down to this:

      “The story of the grandsons of Jude (Eusebius [citing Hegesippus], Hist. Eccles, iii. 20. 1-5) suggests that there may have been some Jewish-Christians living in Nazareth at the end of the first century.” – Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places
      These grandsons were supposedly brought before Domitian himself (presumably from Nazareth) to defend their faith. Seeing how poor they were, the Emperor let them go.

      Even that is pretty slight stuff. But I don’t find any reference to Nazareth in Eusebius’ story. Do you have any other references?

      Two (not necessarily exlusive) hypotheses seem warrented: that Nazareth was named for the Nazoraeans, or after a fictional Gospel city. Given the gospels’ tendancy to call their characters by unplacable place-names which can easily be read otherwise (Arimathea, Iskariot, Magdela…), well…

      Archeologically – despite perennial claims otherwise – there’s still no evidence for anything more than a cemetery and farmland there in the 1st c. (A polis with a synagogue is, of course, out of the question.)

  11. Bart has very simple criteria for deciding what is genuine and what is not.

    On page 113 of Did Jesus Exist, Bart Ehrman quotes Acts 3 saying Jesus was ‘the author of life’ and follows that up by claiming that that very passage supports his view that the earliest Christians did not think of Jesus as divine.

    Bart now says on his blog http://ehrmanblog.org/peter-as-literate/ the following -.’ But someone probably did “make up” the account.’

    It is genuine when trying to sell books saying Jesus existed, and made up when trying to sell books saying lot of the NT was forged.

  12. Pingback: Desperately Seeking Jesus: (A Deeper Look at) Why Christianity’s Main Man Remains So Elusive | ValerieTarico

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