Did Jesus exist for minimalist and Jesus Process member Philip Davies?

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by Neil Godfrey

Emeritus Professor Philip Davies has not been able to “resist making a contribution to the recent spate of exchanges between scholars about the existence of Jesus” in an opinion piece titled Did Jesus Exist? on The Bible and Interpretation website. It is a question that he says “has always been lurking within New Testament scholarship generally”, though the occasion of his essay appears to be the recent set of exchanges over the views of Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey and Thomas L. Thompson on that website along with some thoughts on the recently released ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’.

(Since Davies was also announced as a member of The Jesus Process (c) (TJP), it is encouraging to see someone from that august body addressing the tactic of the gutter rhetoric that we have endured recently from other TJP members Joseph Hoffmann, Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher. It would be nice to hope that Davies’ article can mark a turn for the better from that quarter at least.)

Philip Davies is (in)famous for his 1992 publication In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (partly outlined on vridar.info) that is reputed to have brought “minimalist” arguments on the Old Testament to a wider scholarly (and public) awareness. In Did Jesus Exist? Davies says he has “often thought how a ‘minimalist’ approach might transfer to the New Testament, and in particular the ‘historical Jesus’”, and infers that the collection of articles in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ is an appropriate way to open the question.

(I don’t think it is all that difficult to apply a “minimalist” approach to the New Testament: it’s a simple matter of approaching the data with the same logical validity and consistency — the avoidance of circularity [and circularity of method is confessed by several historical Jesus/NT scholars] in particular. The hard part is in acknowledging the circularity given our cultural conditioning.)


NT studies “not a normal case”, ad hominem rhetoric, and hope

He points out that what is uncontroversial in any other field of ancient history runs into trouble when suggested in the field of New Testament studies (my emphasis):

[S]urely the rather fragile historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth should be tested to see what weight it can bear, or even to work out what kind of historical research might be appropriate. Such a normal exercise should hardly generate controversy in most fields of ancient history, but of course New Testament studies is not a normal case and the highly emotive and dismissive language of, say, Bart Ehrman’s response to Thompson’s The Mythic Past shows (if it needed to be shown), not that the matter is beyond dispute, but that the whole idea of raising this question needs to be attacked, ad hominem, as something outrageous. This is precisely the tactic anti-minimalists tried twenty years ago: their targets were ‘amateurs’, ‘incompetent’, and could be ignored.

Minimalism has by and large won out in “Old Testament” scholarship after twenty years but of course the question of the historicity of Jesus has different implications. Nonetheless, Davies appears to hope for something positive around the twenty-year-away corner for Jesus studies:

[A] recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.


Questionable starting point

Davies argues that in order to assert the historicity of Jesus it is necessary to define which historical Jesus is being advocated. Is it the apocalyptic prophet, a rabbi, a revolutionary, a Cynic sage, etc.?

Maybe, but I’m not sure. If the historical question of how best to account for the existing evidence for Christian origins does not lead to a historical Jesus at all, then it makes no difference what sort of Jesus one postulates. The historical question is surely first and foremost to account for the evidence. And Davies himself intimates as much when he says that

it is how [Jesus] was understood that matters, it is that which created Christianity.


To argue for a particular Jesus, rabbi or whatever, is getting things back to front. That is to make the same mistake historical Jesus scholars have always made from the beginning. As Thomas L. Thompson puts it:

[New Testament scholars] always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe. (p. 7, The Messiah Myth)

He wrote the same about the methods of the Old Testament scholars:

They have chosen rather a rhetoric that supports the assumption of historicity. (p.38, The Mythic Past)

And most recently we even have New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman concurring:

Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. (Did Jesus Exist as Part One on Bart’s Blog)

We can’t begin by begging the question that Jesus existed. First let’s understand what the exact nature of the evidence is and how best to explain it. If it points to a historical Jesus then we can begin to explore what sort of historical person answers more questions than it raises.


Faith and sophistry

Davies then makes a point I have also liked to raise. Why should faithful Christians be worried by the arguments for Jesus not being historical? The very meaning of faith is to embrace a belief without evidence. So I appreciate this from Davies:

I have . . . . no ability nor desire to prove such religious experiences wrong. . . . What I do find ridiculous are those so-called believing Christians who are trying to prove from ‘historical’ reasoning that what they believe is true, even (as in the case of Dr Wright, it seems) stories about saints let out of their graves [Matthew 27:52-3] who, it seems, never went back. Well, at least this explains the existence of zombies. But what else?

And just when I was beginning to conclude that the arguments from incredulity have unassailable status among New Testament scholars Davies writes:

Let’s abandon fatuous reasoning such as accepting miraculous stories because no-one would make them up . . . or placing faith in ‘eyewitness’ accounts while actually admitting how unreliable they are (Bauckham). Sophistry of this sort betrays an already accepted dogma looking for rationalization: fides quaerens indicium.


Simplistic questions yield simplistic answers

From this point, however, Philip Davies expresses a limited view and understanding of the full scope of the question. He implies that Paul’s writings must be the filter through which we study “the emergence of [the] new sect”. (He references Mogens Müller’s chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’. I have not read this chapter yet so am unable to comment on Davies’ use of it.) But it is a mistake to think of Christianity being spawned as “a new sect”. This is far too simplistic and a misreading of the extant evidence.

  • Paul in fact speaks of many rivals — preachers and sects — he is competing against.
  • If he uses earlier material in his letters (many scholars think the Philippian hymn is one instance of this) then we are reading pre-Pauline evidence that Jesus was a name given to a cosmic being only after he returned from death to heaven.
  • And what exactly did Paul himself preach? To what extent can his letters be taken as prima facie evidence in the face of major studies on the corruption of those letters long before the time of our earliest manuscripts (Munro, Walker)?
  • And why assume the validity of interpreting Paul through Acts — a document many scholars have dated to the mid second century and that is arguably in ideological conflict with the letters?
    • Davies appears to be falling into this trap himself to some extent by his regular use of “S/Paul” to express uncertainty or ambiguity as to even the name of Paul/Saul. But “Saul” only appears in an arguably mid to late second century proto-orthodox work of Acts of the Apostles when various Christianities were vying for ownership of Paul.
  • Marcion’s Christianity was the first to claim allegiance to the thought of Paul and Marcion did not believe Paul ever persecuted the church.
    • Yet most studies of Paul assume the orthodox canon’s portrayal of Paul as an erstwhile persecutor without question or reflection upon the possible ideological function this portrayal serves. (I am not denying that Paul did persecute the church — though one must ask if there was “a church” in his time? — but I am arguing that we need to be a lot more aware of the real nature of the existing data at our disposal.)
  • Paul’s canon appears in the historical record at the same time as evidence for competing Pauls appears — Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Pastorals, Acts of the Apostles. There was not one single Paul until one of the Christianities competing for him emerged powerful enough to banish the rest from the scene.
  • And Paul is only one set of letters in the canon: other very early testimony presents figures of Jesus sharply contrasting to anything we read about in Paul — the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Book of Revelation, other Johannine literature, James. And beyond the canon we have other Christian-related literature that can reasonably be dated to the first century. The evidence does not support Christianity beginning as “a new sect” but rather as a coalescing of or struggle among a wide diversity of newly emerging religious views. The Christ of the Gospels is among the last myths to appear.

These are all significant questions that need to be addressed or at least registered before embarking on any reading of Paul as a source for understanding Christian origins.

It is not good history to assume from the outset that the narrative of the ecclesiastical victors is the correct one. Paul’s status “a founder” of the Christian religion is an ideological claim of the later church and one that appeared relatively late in its history. The early evidence points to Paul as an unknown quantity or a divisive figure within a wide constellation of emerging Christianities. Paul’s letters themselves point to a pre-existing cluster of faiths that he entered and challenged.


Direct testimony from those who claimed to have met Jesus

Davies is right to drive home the fact that Paul’s writing

is almost certainly the only extant direct testimony of someone who claims to have met Jesus . . . .

We have many such writings testifying to be written by persons claiming to have met Jesus. Most of them have been rejected by the orthodox church as heretical. (Many scholars think at least one of these is based on a writing to be dated around the same time as Paul’s letters.) Should historians accord Paul the same exceptional status bestowed by the orthodox church? When Paul speaks of others who also met Jesus as he did, do we subliminally shift gears and inject the much later Gospel scenarios?

Certainly Paul must have a special place in any study of Christian origins simply because of the volume of the writings attributed to him. But we can’t assume that the canonical literature itself is representative of how it all started.

It is important to ensure that the question of Christian origins begins with the literature that preceded Paul and Christianity as well as literature that appeared in the same era and whose ideas, images, motifs Paul and early Christian-like literature drew upon. That extends beyond the Jewish sectarian literature. It draws upon the Messiah and Son of Man literature, and the Enochian and Isaac-death-and-resurrection motifs of Second Temple sectarians, as well as source of Paul’s Stoic-like Logos counterpart in Christ. Studies of ascent-visions in Jewish religions and comparable visionary experiences in Hellenistic culture cannot be relegated to sideline curiosities, either. The anthropology and sociology of religious mythmaking must also take centre stage. Interdisciplinary studies are inevitable.

Christian origins, in other words, needs to be studied as an evolution of ideas and beliefs. That does not a priori exclude a historical Jesus. It would merely situate such a figure in the context of his time.


Is Jesus an answer or a quest?

I’m not clear why Davies speaks of “historical Jesus quests” as if to imply that such quests are equivalent to historical quests for understanding Christian origins. I may have misunderstood something Davies has said, but it seems to me that it is a mistake to equate the two as I understand Davies to have done.

A historical Jesus quest has always been based on circularity — on the assumption that there is a Jesus to study — as mentioned above. If there is an historical Jesus he will be found as the answer to the quest for Christian origins, not from a quest in his own right. Davies writes:

The problem at the heart of the Historical Jesus quests is to get behind S/Paul to some earlier historical knowledge. It’s hard to see that we can, not through sources that we must suspect of having been influenced by the claims of S/Paul.

Above I mentioned the materials that do need to be investigated in the historical quest for Christian origins. That’s all that matters. Let Jesus be found if he is there, but let’s not do things backwards.


Does Jesus exist in a simplistic cliché?

So does Philip Davies think Jesus did exist? Yes, he does. But the reason he gives is in reality unfortunately closer to a cliché than an argument:

[Parallels and] mythic types ought to have been provoked by something, and the existence of a guru of some kind is more plausible and economical than any other explanation—which, by the way, does not necessarily make it the right one, but historian’s rules apply: plausibility and economy are the trump cards.

One could just as easily say the same of William Tell, Rama, Abraham, Moses, Juan Diego, Ned Ludd. The devil is in the detail and the detail cannot be overlooked in the name of plausibility and economy.

It is the very implausibility and lack of economy that the historical Jesus hypothesis raises in the first place that is the whole reason for the question. Only to the culturally or religiously conditioned, I suggest, does it look otherwise.

Consider: Within half a decade of his supposed execution for insurrection Jesus is worshiped as an emanation or hypostasis of God and the personification of Wisdom, functioning in the same manner as the Stoic Logos, with Jews symbolically eating his flesh and drinking his blood? Not everyone is persuaded that a historical person of any name can possibly come close to being a plausible or economic explanation.


More oversimplification and abnormality

Davies acknowledges that

Jesus in the New Testament is composed of stock motifs drawn from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world.

He further acknowledges that

These parallels are valid: in trying to provide an account of who and what Jesus was such resources were inevitably drawn upon, consciously or unconsciously by the gospel writers.

But parallels and mythic motifs are not the whole story. The literary analysis of the gospels points to their narratives originating not as attempts to set down oral traditions (and by inference traceable to historical memory), but that they are primarily re-writings of Old Testament and other mythical narratives. (This is not a denigration of the gospels but simply placing them in the context of comparable ancient literature — see Brodie and Vines.)

Davies warns against drawing conclusions from mythical “overlays”:

But one should not argue from these, as do Thompson and Verenna, that Jesus was invented. . . . Awareness of such types and tropes should inform the historian how easily traces of historical reality can be painted over in the colours of myth and the conventions of storytelling.

Of course. But if a historical person has been completely lost beneath myth then any question of historicity becomes irrelevant. There is simply no way to know what such a person was like nor even whether there really is any person beneath all that “overlay”.

Besides, the historian cannot be prejudiced toward the conclusion that the existence of “such types and tropes” does “paint over” a traces of a historical person. “Historical reality” may in fact well be the evolution of ideas.

The notion of a single person generating an entirely new and revolutionary social movement that in turn buried him beneath all its subsequent mythology is surely a tad romantic and antiquated. Far more plausible it is to think of a new religion emerging through processes of syncretization, mutations and evolution, with later legendary or mythical explanations emerging to explain the origins of the rituals etc. That’s the normative explanation for such social phenonoma, I believe. New Testament studies are indeed “not a normal case”.

Davies is apparently addressing only the recent exchanges of a handful of scholars. Perhaps the limitations of his essay that I have addressed are a consequence of the question being hush-hush for so long in the guild. Perhaps they are partly the consequence of the separation of Old from New Testament studies. But everyone has to start somewhere. Most work addressing Christian origins without the constraints of theological assumptions has for over a century now been done by scholars and well-educated lay persons beyond the confines of theology departments for good reason. Ever since David Strauss and Bruno Bauer it has been deliberately banished from those departments.


The valid historical question

We return once again to the truly historical quest: the origins of Christianity.

And that does, as Davies rightly says, hinge upon questions of plausibility and economy. But we can’t be so economical that we exclude or minimize questions and evidence central to that quest.



  • Blood
    2012-08-30 23:17:51 UTC - 23:17 | Permalink

    “I am not denying that Paul did persecute the church — though one must ask if there was “a church” in his time? — but I am arguing that we need to be a lot more aware of the real nature of the existing data at our disposal.)”

    Or, the supposed persecutions could just be midrashic rewrites of King Saul’s persecution of David in the Book of Samuel. Given the highly midrashic nature of the gospels, and the NT’s total lack of historical credibility, this is entirely probable.

    • 2012-08-31 05:54:40 UTC - 05:54 | Permalink

      Confirming that theory, would be this interesting point I have uncovered: that though of course in the NT, the idea of raising people from the dead is the very center of theology, in much of the OT in contrast, the whole idea of resurrecting and consulting the dead, is said to be the work of evil witches and sorcerers. And this practice is banned, under pain of death. By what do you know, King “Saul.” Who at first persecutes all those who believe in “necromancy”/resurrection … but then comes to accept it.

      King Saul is sometimes good … but then goes bad. The story there is that the first Saul banned such practices as raising and consulting the dead … but then engaged in them. Saul consulted “necromancers” and the dead, himself. Much to his eternal shame.

      But to the point here: the story of the Old Testament “King Saul” is oddly parallel to Paul, in many interesting ways. Not the least being 1) his name. And 2) his good/bad transition. And the fact that 3) that the good/bad NT Saul/Paul, ALSO advocated necromancy; in Paul’s case the raising of the dead Jesus. And indeed 4) both Sauls are is also pictured as experiencing such a resurrection. In Paul’s case, Paul experiencing consultation with the dead Jesus; on the Road to Damascus. (King Saul for his part resurrecting the prophet Samuel; who chastizes Saul for doing so).

      Finally, there’s another interesting problem therefore here for HJ fans; those who insist on the reality of the crucifixion and resurrection. Which is? Resurrection is essentially the dead coming back to life; but raising the dead is known in the Old Testament, as the evil practical of deceitful magicians and witches; as “necromancy.” And it it firmly banned by Saul, under pain of death.

      While indeed furthermore? Those who believe in such things as resurrected dead persons, and follow them, are regarded as largely bad people and traitors to Israel. (1 Sam. 28.7-23; the “witches of Endor”). Like Saul.

  • vinnyjh57
    2012-08-31 00:28:03 UTC - 00:28 | Permalink

    I don’t think that Davies is suggesting that Paul be taken at face value in the simplistic way that the historicists do. I think he is saying that any theory we have has to make sense of the reasonable inferences that we can draw from Paul’s writings. I note that the first three bullet points you cite come from Paul’s writings.

    I also think that you go a little too far in suggesting that one must be culturally or religiously conditioned to consider a historical Jesus to be a more economical explanation than a mythical one. I suspect that many who reach that conclusion are but I don’t think that it is a point upon which reasonable minds cannot differ.

    • 2012-08-31 07:30:42 UTC - 07:30 | Permalink

      You misread my point about the approach to Paul. It is a mistake, I believe, by default to treat Paul as essentially “the real” founder of Christianity as if Christianity grew out of “the sect” he founded. This approach is, I think, erroneously justified on the basis of Acts and the surviving volume of his letters in the canon.

      You will have to argue a case for the second point. Arguments that I have seen to date rely on diluting the actual evidence that requires explanation.

      • 2012-08-31 22:56:23 UTC - 22:56 | Permalink


        I have a hard time seeing how we avoid Paul as founder at least as our starting point for investigating Christian origins. He gives us hints that he operated within a bigger context, but we are still stuck with him for the most part as our source of information for that context. In that sense, I think his writings really are the filter through which Christian origins must be studied.

        As to the second point, I take as my default position that reasonable minds can differ about the relative economy of mythicism vs. historicism and I would place the burden of argument on the person who denies the possibility.

        • 2012-09-01 02:22:39 UTC - 02:22 | Permalink

          You have missed what I said. I was addressing the assumption that Christianity began as “a new sect” (singular) that was for practical purposes founded by Paul. Of course his writings are a vital source — even a filter (certainly not “the” filter as I argued) — for the context in which he operated and as you pointed out in your first comment that’s exactly how I have used him.

          As to the second point, one might reply that the sign of a reasonable mind is that it addresses the point made and does so with valiid argument. The reasonable discussion must first begin at methodology and that is where I think confusion arises — many dive in with cliched opinions that resolve nothing. I attempt here to pick up on one such cliche and will be getting to the heart of what the question is really all about in discussing the next chapter.

          • 2012-09-01 06:57:28 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink


            It is certainly possible that I have missed what you said, but I’m not sure. I think where I am disagreeing is that I don’t see Davies making the kind of assumptions that you seem to see. You have to start somewhere and I think that he is asking the right kind of questions. His inclination towards historicity seems to me to be more of a plausible working hypothesis than a culturally conditioned assumption.

            • 2012-09-01 18:08:33 UTC - 18:08 | Permalink

              Methinks you sometimes try too hard to be the middleman, the 50-50 broker, always arguing to redress a balance if it ever appears one side claims too much territory to upset the balance.

              • 2012-09-01 22:35:35 UTC - 22:35 | Permalink

                That may be, but the more I look at the problematic nature of our sources, the less convinced I am that either side can reasonably hope to do more than suggest some interesting possibilities.

  • 2012-08-31 00:36:22 UTC - 00:36 | Permalink

    It seems to me that quests for the historical Jesus are never really meant for understanding how Christianity came about. A historical Jesus is only valuable for believing Christians who want to know what their god was “really” like while he was on Earth. We would have similar repeated quests for the historical Socrates if Socrates was the idol of worship for billions of people.

    I think that a historical Jesus is useless for understanding how Christianity came about. A wandering, preaching Jesus had no role on what his death and resurrection meant, no role in how to establish the church(es) of the resulting religion and its leadership, no role in the debates between orthodoxy and Gnosticism/the role of Paul, and just about every other historical turn that formed Christianity. A “historical” Jesus that did have such a role would obviously be anachronistic and/or a literal god who knew what his death would entail. As you rightly point out, a historical Jesus would NOT have instituted the normative Eucharist ceremony; only a god would do such a thing.

    What should be pointed out is that many of these questions are things that the Gospels attempt to answer. Prima facie this means they are not about the “historical” Jesus.

    I’m still agnostic about whether a Jesus existed or not. Saying that the historical Jesus was a guy named Jesus who was crucified isn’t specific enough to pinpoint in history. There are probably a hundred Jews in the 1st century named Jesus who was crucified, not all of them can be the “historical” Jesus; a wholly mythical Jesus explains the evidence just as well. Understanding Christian origins will have to focus on the sociological and theological thought-world that went into the mix (one of the reasons why I like Doherty’s writings), a historical Jesus has very little — if any — role in such a movement.

  • 2012-08-31 10:04:10 UTC - 10:04 | Permalink

    “Davies appears to hope for something positive around the twenty-year-away corner for Jesus studies: ‘[A] recognition that [Christ’s] existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.’”

    What an extraordinary statement! Philip Davies acknowledges here that Jesus scholarship is disreputable within intellectual circles because of how the theologians snarl at anyone who questions their taboos. The weird thing is that Earl Doherty is using the methods of academic respectability – rigorous analysis of evidence – but is despised and rejected on all sides. People just don’t want Jesus Studies to be normalised because that would diminish the popular status of Jesus Christ as holy icon, and bring theology within the horizon of reason.

    And why the bad reputation of theology schools? Neil picks this up with his observation that “The very meaning of faith is to embrace a belief without evidence.” I’m not sure this definition quite gets the nuance right. Faith often relies on evidence. For example I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow and that the laws of physics are stable. Faith can be justified or unjustified, depending on whether its axioms are reasonable. But religion has corrupted the meaning of faith by restricting it to claims that conflict with evidence. We can still have ‘confidence in things unseen’ as Hebrews puts it, such as the inverse square law of gravity, and axiomatic faith that the future will exhibit continuity with the past, without assenting to anything contrary to evidence.

    Philosophically, the need for faith arises from the psychological fact that evidence alone is insufficient for decision-making. Daniel Kahneman’s current bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow helps to explain how ordinary life relies on fast intuition (ie faith) while logic is reserved for slow, detailed and complex analysis of evidence. But with religion, the intuition (“Jesus Saves”) bleeds across into the logic as rationalisation. This produces the conundrum that the legitimacy of faith rests on the coherence of the rationalisation, with the problem that the emotional paradigm fails to match with evidence.

    The current religious strategy among Christ Historicists is to ignore and ridicule the evidence. This is not a reputable or legitimate intellectual stance. So the Jesus Guild builds walls around its academic ghetto, reliant only on the mass support of the ignorant true believers, using similar irrational methods as the Orthodox originally did in their suppression of Gnosticism in the early days of the construction of the Christ Myth. Popularity is not a durable substitute for truth.

    • Grog
      2012-08-31 13:45:04 UTC - 13:45 | Permalink

      I think what we are seeing, and what Stephanie Fisher has said in her acerbic, incoherent fashion of argumentation, is a retreat from positivist arguments. Ehrman argued from a position already abandoned as fruitless when he pointed to precise data points (e.g. Gal 1:9) as evidence in favor of the real Jesus. The trend it seems is to look for broad patterns behind which we can discern the shadowy figure of an actual preacher, possibly even named Jesus. We are applying fuzzy logic here. In “Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity,” Dale Allison writes, “The larger the generalization and the more data upon which it is based, the greater our confidence.” In essence, the historical Jesus is still lost, but we must still assume that, as Allison says, “our sayings are still informed by memories of him.” (p. 198). Chris Keith concludes, “This general method thus requires an initial big-picture approach to the historical Jesus by including all available sources and socio-historical factors in a given theory. It also stands in stark contrast to the atomistic approach of the criteria of authenticity…” (p.202). This is a significant shift away from Ehrman’s approach in DJE. I do see this as a positive step in understanding the origins of Christianity at least in the abandonment of the criteria of authenticity. Interesting times…

      • 2012-08-31 13:58:17 UTC - 13:58 | Permalink

        I am currently reading Pfoh’s chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ in which he discusses the problems for “historical reconstructions” from literature that is not the least interested in historical functions or historical persons/events — only in myth/theology. Criteria of authenticity are not raised at all. The very idea of introducing them to this sort of evidence would only mark one out as a dunce who failed to understand what he was actually working with.

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-08-31 17:26:11 UTC - 17:26 | Permalink

    nothing in the reception which we have not seen in the maximalist attacks on the minimalist positionin OT studies, beginning in the 1990s. Especially the tactics not to discuss but to denegrade your opponents as incompetent (and worse). Read some of Bill Dever’s tirades. It took some time for an European like me to understand that this is not about scholarship, it is about politics: Get most voters and you win. These people have no idea what scholarship is about, and worse, they don’t care.

  • Mark Erickson
    2014-03-24 04:53:01 UTC - 04:53 | Permalink

    “Within half a decade of his supposed execution for insurrection Jesus is worshiped as an emanation or hypostasis of God and the personification of Wisdom, functioning in the same manner as the Stoic Logos, with Jews symbolically eating his flesh and drinking his blood?”

    This sounds like Larry Hurtado. Are you mocking this claim or is there source material that can be dated to the mid-thirties (assuming the tradition date of the cruxifiction.

    • 2014-03-24 06:35:15 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

      Not mocking Larry Hurtado by any means, but respectfully deferring to his scholarship. Paul quotes an earlier hymn about a highly exalted Christ figure. Now that hymn did not just appear suddenly prior to Paul’s letter. There must have been some history behind it. If we take Paul’s conversion dates from his letters we are getting back to his call being within half a decade of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul knew only the exalted Christ, I think.

      Besides, the trajectory of the gospels is not from low to high christology but actually begins with what is surely the highest christology in Mark — Jesus is the very mouthpiece of God, quoting the words of God from the Psalms to wield the the power of God to subdue the forces of nature. The last gospel, Luke, has the most “human” Jesus — more a human martyr than a God-figure as in Mark and John.

      So if we accept the view that the gospels are based on historical events then we must paraphrase the gospels in order to explain the rise of Christianity — it began with belief in a real God coming in the flesh. There is no evidence to the contrary that I know of. Or maybe I’m being very forgetful.

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