I have taken down the gist of the arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus as argued by Richard Carrier (RC) and Mark Goodacre (MG) on Unbelievable, a program hosted by Justin Brierley (JB) on Premier Christian Radio. The program is lengthy, so this post only covers the early part of the discussion. My own comments are in side boxes. Thanks to Steven Carr for alerting me to this recent program.
* Was this a slip of the tongue? Why presume anything? Decent books on history very often contain introductions setting out the evidence for how we know what we know about the figure under study. At the end of the program both RC and MG refer to arguing for the nonhistoricity of Jesus from the lack of evidence for his existence as “hyper-scepticism”. But such an argument is more than ‘hyper-scepticism’. It is the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.
But it is perfectly valid to avoid any presumption of the historicity of Jesus if there is no evidence for this. It is perfectly valid to accept as a working hypothesis that Jesus is a theological construct (only) if the only evidence we have for this figure is that he is found only within theological contexts.
RC says he began in the same position as MG, thinking that the idea that Jesus was a myth, not historical, was nonsense. As a historian one starts with a presumption of historicity and one would need pretty good arguments to overthrow this. *
It was Earl Doherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle, that made the most sense of a mythicist case. While not a perfect case, Doherty produced a strong enough argument to make the mythicist case genuinely plausible. It was this book that made RC think. For instance, Doherty pointed out that the case for the historicity of Jesus is often based on fallacious arguments and speculation (“just as much as mythicism is”). RC from that point considered himself an agnostic on the question.
RC does not think Earl Doherty has proven his case, but he also accepts Doherty’s point that the historicists have not proven theirs, either. “So someone needs to do this properly.”
JB raised Bart Ehrman’s objection that mythicism is motivated by an anti-theistic and anti-Christian bias.
RC: if one wanted to attack Christianity mythicism would be the worst way to go about it. To try to persuade other people one needs to find as much common ground to begin with, and saying Jesus did not exist is not going to help anyone trying to persuade Christians that Christianity is nonsense. RC was an atheist and against Christianity for a long time while still rejecting mythicism.
MG: The more self-conscious you are about your biases and background and context the better historian you can be.
JB: Asked RC to give the bare bones of his argument that Jesus did not exist:
RC: First, a qualification. RC does not think we can be certain that either way, that Jesus did or did not exist. But he thinks the preponderance of evidence supports mythicism. But the evidence for origins of Christianity is so scarce and problematic that we can never have certainty.
There is a mythicist theory that makes better sense of the evidence we do have and at the very least demonstrates that the idea of mythicism is not ridiculous. It is plausible. But there are other mythicist theories that are wacko. This is important to state because a person investigating this anew and googling the topic would find most of the stuff is just terrible or absurd. There are a lot of wild conspiracy theories. Even Earl Doherty, who starts with a really plausible core case, but then he just piles on a lot of additional speculation and theories about what he thinks happened which RC thinks go beyond the evidence.**
RC, on the other hand, says he just wants to get down to the core basic theory. In RC’s view, there is only one defensible, plausible theory that Jesus did not exist:
This is the view that Christianity actually began with revelations, actual or purported, of a divine being named Jesus who underwent a death and resurrection in the lower heavens and preached through revelations. If you look at the letters of Paul, Paul never refers to Jesus having a ministry, he never refers to anyone seeing or meeting him while he was alive. He only talks about people receiving revelations of Jesus. That’s what made someone an apostle. It was having a revelation of the Christ.
Start with that view, and then take the Gospels as a mythologization of that celestial being. Such euhemerization happened a lot in the ancient world. Romulus and Osiris are other examples. Such things happened. The question is, Did this also happen to Jesus?
The two positions are thus: Was there a charismatic man who started it all, a historical man who became mythologized, or was there a celestial revelatory being who became historicized? Most scholars agree there is much mythology surrounding Jesus by the time we get to the gospels. So the question is essentially if the gospels are 100% mythology or 90% mythology or whatever.
JB then asked MG for his response to this general outline of RC’s argument that Jesus did not exist. The different manners of RC and MG are striking.
MG: But Paul is really some of our best evidence for the historical Jesus.
*** This, of course, is question begging.The “very clear” evidence is only “clearly” supporting the historicist view if one begins with the historicist assumption and interprets the phrases through historicist biases and dismisses strong arguments otherwise. (Saying arguments are “unpersuasive” is not a rebuttal but an avoidance of a reasoned rebuttal.
MG is beginning with the historicist view that these names all were defined or identified in terms of their knowledge of the historical Jesus. He cannot conceive of them talking about anything outside the context of the historical Jesus.
- Paul is writing within a generation of Jesus existing
- It is “very clear” from his epistles he is talking about “a real human being” — ***
- Paul says Jesus is descended from the seed of David
- and that Jesus was born of a woman
- and refers on several occasions to different things in the ministry of Jesus
- The important point is that Paul is taking this stuff for granted.
And it’s not just Jesus: “Paul knows loads of people” from that Christian movement. He “knows these people; he talks with them”: ***
- the brothers of Jesus,
- the Twelve,
- he regularly visits Jerusalem
He didn’t meet Jesus himself in the flesh and that was a cause of great anxiety to him.
This is the argument that if Jesus were a celestial being known by revelation Paul would not have had to content, as he purportedly did, with other apostles who supposedly claimed to have seen Jesus in the flesh.
Paul is very good evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus.
JB: Refers to an earlier interview with Bart Ehrman in which he said that there was a throwaway line by Paul about James, the brother of Jesus, that would not make any sense unless there were an historical person to peg it to.
MG: Agrees, and adds that Paul refers to James “several times”:
- Galatians 1 and 2
- 1 Corinthians 15
- And ‘the brothers of Jesus’ in 1 Corinthians 9
Paul also refers repeatedly to this person called Cephas, or Peter — also known to us from the Gospels.
So Paul lives and moves with these people who spent time with Jesus. ***
RC: MG is presuming too much and importing Gospel notions into the epistles. So it’s important to note that:
- Paul never refers to Peter as a disciple — “there are no disciples in Paul’s letters” — all are apostles.
- Despite MG’s claim about Paul expressing anxiety about not having met Jesus — that’s not actually in the epistles. Rather, we have the exact opposite in Galatians where Paul went out of his way to insist he was not relying on any human tradition; he only knows what he knows through direct revelation from Jesus. He avoids direct contact with the other apostles for some years.
MG: But that is only because Paul is being challenged by other Christians over his credentials.
RC: The thing is we don’t know what that challenge was.
MG: We have a pretty good idea.
RC: There could be a number of different possible causes of the challenge. And Paul is trying to argue that his authority comes from his seeing Jesus in a revelation. And he doesn’t refer to there being an actual contest.
If we had something like Paul saying that he is being accused of misrepresenting Jesus because Peter said otherwise and he actually knew Jesus . . . . But we have nothing like this in the evidence.
MG: But in 1 Corinthians 15 we have Paul saying that he sets out what he received from those who were “in Christ” before him. And he sets this out as first importance. And the reason he gets into arguments later on in Galatians (sic) is because people like Peter and James were making a big deal of their authority. Paul is clearly deferring to these people in the early stages of his mission and sharing traditions they had passed on about Jesus. And these traditions “only really make good sense of a human being on earth.” — e.g. a death for starters.
JB: Refers to the mythicist claim that Paul refers to very few events in the life of Jesus.
MG: The problem with this line of argument is that it is “reading too economically canonically”. We read “economically canonically” because the Gospels are first in the NT and they have much more detail than the epistles, but if we start reading the epistles first “it is amazing how much stuff there is about Jesus”:
- Jesus is descended from David
- Jesus is born of a woman
- Jesus’ teaching on specifics, like
- Paul mentions Jesus’ family on several occasions
- He talks about his other disciples *****
So there’s “a surprising amount there” — it’s just that “we are seduced into thinking there’s not so much there” because of our familiarity with the Gospels by contrast.
RC: All of these things can be explained by mythicist theory. For example, Paul does not talk about Jesus being crucified by Pontius Pilate. He refers to no historical event when Jesus was crucified.
If we compare the Doherty thesis of a death and resurrection in the lower heavens, we have other examples of this happening: e.g. Groups of Osiris worshipers thought Osiris died and was resurrected in the lower heavens.
MG: But Paul does refer to Judea and Judeans in 1 Thessalonians 2. *****
RC: But Paul doesn’t say that it happened in Judea. That’s the thing.
MG: But he talks about Judeans.
RC: Either theory can explain the death and resurrection so we have to look at each to see which one explains all the evidence better. We don’t have anything that clear-cut.
RC: Refers back to MG saying that Paul received the traditions from those in Christ before him. RC counters by pointing out that Paul says no such thing. Rather, Paul very adamantly says he only received them by direct revelation from Jesus.
MG: But 1 Corinthians 15 clearly says that Paul received the traditions from those in Christ before him and he passed them on to the Corinthians as of first importance.
RC: I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s worded. I can look it up.
JB: What was Paul doing, then? Was he trying to make an historical Jesus from the heavenly being?
JB: Or was he only having in mind the heavenly Jesus?
RC: Yes. Paul really did think Jesus was a real heavenly being who did take on flesh and die and was resurrected in a superior body. — In the same way Osiris worshipers and Romulus worshipers also thought these things.
The best mythicist theory assumes that Paul believed that Jesus really did take on flesh, and that that flesh assumed the character of Davidic royalty, and rose from the dead. And all this occurred in a real cosmological realm.
RC: (Having looked it up) Reads 1 Corinthians 15: . . . “for I delivered unto you that which I also received . . .” — that’s the same wording in Galatians where Paul says he only received it by revelation. Paul is saying he and Galatians do not trust human tradition, but only revelation.
MG: But Paul’s letters are occasional. Each one has to be looked at in its own right. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is setting up the tradition: he says he received the tradition. He then goes on to mention Peter and James. So we know these are the people he went to talk to in Jerusalem early on. “When we get to Galatians” Paul is wanting to stamp his authority on the Gospel he has been preaching. So of course he says he got the Gospel from God. “But of course the content of what he’s picked up is from those who are “in Christ” as he described it before him. That’s how he sets up these things.”
So very often we have to take seriously the way Paul is addressing a particular congregation. 1 Corinthians 15 is “pretty rich in Jesus tradition”. What MG thinks happened is that earlier on Paul was more willing to use “Jesus tradition” but later on he has to be much more careful because “he’s been challenged on some of these things and Peter is becoming more of a popular person” in some of these communities.
——————————————- A short break in the program here ——————————————-
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85 thoughts on “The Carrier-Goodacre Exchange (part 1) on the Historicity of Jesus”
Great summary of the first part.
I have liked a few lectures of MG that I have listened to.
But in this debate, he was blatantly obfuscating the discussion and not admitting to his confusion. He did not appear to be listening.
And RC was calms, clear and patient in helping MG to try and understand.
RC was fantastic so far. I have never read his work. I look forward to his upcoming book.
And I look forward to your Part II
Agreed that MG expressed himself in what came across to me as a quite defensive tone throughout. But I did not know if that was just my own bias hearing him that way.
Thanks, Neil. Somewhat surprised by your reaction. I didn’t feel defensive. On the contrary, felt quite relaxed and good humoured. The only difficulty was that the guys at Premier Christian Radio could not get my audio working, so had to do the whole thing holding a phone for an hour and a half.
Thanks, Sabio. I love the idea of Richard “helping” me “to try and understand” 🙂
“•Paul is writing within a generation of Jesus existing”
“•Paul never refers to Peter as a disciple — “there are no disciples in Paul’s letters” — all are apostles”
A vastly misunderstood point. The terms “apostle” and “disicple” are thrown about too loosely. A disciple is actually someone who studied with the master. An apostle is just a salesman for the master’s ideas. He does not need to heve ever met or seen the master.
RoHa wrote: “An apostle is just a salesman for the master’s ideas. He does not need to have ever met or seen the master.”
It depends on the author. For the author of Acts, an apostle was synonymous with the Twelve, especially in his capacity as one “sent out” on a mission to preach the gospel.
And Paul did not see himself as a simple follower (disciple) of Christ or as a salesman for God, but rather as a special emissary of the Lord, whom he had seen in his resurrected glory, and who told Paul to go and preach the gospel.
“For the author of Acts, an apostle was synonymous with the Twelve”
By the time Acts was written, the idea of Jesus as a historical character had appeared, so the Twelve could be disiciples as well as apostles. As far as Paul is concerned, though, there only seem to have been apostles. He does not refer to anyone as a disciple, so he does not say that anyone actually knew a historical Jesus.
Thanks for your attention to the discussion, Neil. One correction: “The problem with this line of argument is that it is “reading too economically”. We read “economically” . . .”: the word was “canonically”, not “economically”, which would of course make no sense.
“Economically” made sense to me — I understood you were saying that to find very little that can be taken as a reference to the historical Jesus was being, well, too austere or parsimonious or narrowly strict in the way one read Paul’s letters to come to that conclusion. But have corrected it anyway, thanks.
Thanks, Neil. My point is that I think mythicists often read canonically, i.e. they allow the Gospels to generate their expectation of what we ought to find in Paul, and then they express surprise that these things are not found in Paul. But when we begin with Paul, as our earliest source for the historical Jesus, it is surprising how much we find.
Is that true? I don’t recognize this characterization [that mythicists read the gospels canonically and express surprise when they find those things are not in Paul] of mythicist arguments in the works I have read: Wells, Price, Doherty, Thompson, Ellegard — to mention the contemporary ones. These mythicists are on the whole very familiar with works on the historical Jesus by mainstream scholars (e.g. Crossan, Borg, Vermes, the rest) and do not confuse the myth in the gospels with the historical expectations. What they may say they do not find in Paul are the core facets that these HJ scholars themselves all agree upon — that is, the bare necessities of historicity of one from or off whom Christianity conceivably emerged.
Thanks, Neil. It even happens in this discussion when, if I remember correctly, Richard expresses surprise that there is no mention of Mary in Paul. This is reading canonically, so that the Gospels set up the expectation that one should find Mary. But understanding the way that Paul writes is about understanding the occasional nature of his letters, and his lack of mentioning Mary is not in the least surprising.
Ah, but the author of the Fourth Gospel, also omits the name of Jesus’ mother. At first I was surprised, but then I realized I was reading John “Synoptically.” (Not really. I’m still surprised.)
Dr. G., you have used the term “occasional” so many times now that it’s beginning to look like a magical trump card. What about the letter to the Romans? Here we have a letter to a congregation that Paul has never met. He’s stating his case, explaining what he believes. So the “occasion” isn’t a response to an occurrence at one of Paul’s churches, but the impending visit of Paul to Rome. And it would appear that Paul wants to be sure they know where he really stands.
Yet even in this situation Paul appeals to the OT — many times, often in excruciating detail — rather than to teachings of Jesus.
The truth, of course, is that many scholars have been surprised by the lack of concrete references to Jesus in Paul’s letters. They have different ways of explaining it. Perhaps Paul was ignorant of the tradition. Perhaps Paul’s audience was already aware of everything and he didn’t “need” to retell it. And then there’s the old “occasional nature” chestnut. But there wouldn’t be so many interesting ways of explaining away Paul’s silence if scholars weren’t surprised.
Mark, I think you are reading Carrier “too economically” or literally here. Carrier (and I am speaking of not just Carrier) has made the point repeatedly of the “sorts of information” we should expect in Paul if an historical Jesus lay somewhere behind the faith and its traditions that he had entered. His Mary reference is surely taken by most of us (certainly by me) as metonymy. His point stands if he never raised Mary as an example in the first place.
Speaking for at least a few educated mythicists, Mark, I think you have it exactly backwards. Mythicists are generally the ones harping on reading Paul by his own lights, without importing the Gospel identities of various characters and historical settings into the epistles.
Furthermore, could you PLEASE give some clarification on two very troubling comments you made:
1. Why on earth would you try to portray a relative consensus about Galatians being composed after 1 Corinthians? At the very least, I’d say half of all NT scholars would put Galatians first…and doesn’t that totally destroy your argument about transition of Paul’s rhetoric regarding credentials?
2. What in the world were you referring to the mention of Judeans in 1Thess2 for? You know full well that Paul is talking about the activity of later Christ followers there, and the activity of Jesus himself is nowhere in view! Is that the best verse you can point to in trying to counter Richard when he says there’s a lack of historical anchoring in the words of Paul?
Please clarify these things, if you would. Thanks.
Thanks for your comments, NateP, though I would add that in general you are more likely to get a response if you phrase your remarks more gently. (1) I don’t recall trying to portray a relative consensus on the dating of Galatians. I can only speak for myself, as Richard speaks for himself. (2) 1 Thess. 2.14-15: “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets . . .” Paul here speaks of Judeans who killed Jesus and relates them directly to Judea.
Here is Richard’s take on 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
The one thing I like about Mark Goodacre is that he does argue his case with civility. In this respect he is a very rare find among scholars who have anything critical to say about views or persons they feel are in the least sympathetic towards mythicism. It is easy for some of us on the receiving end to let this treatment get the better of us. NT scholars who oppose mythicism are, unfortunately, too often prickly, rude and provocatively offensive, but Mark is not one of them. (I have had the fortune of “meeting” online a few others like Mark but who prefer to avoid discussing the topic publicly here. I would love to have the opportunity to meet in person McGrath, Hurtado, Stephanie Fisher — to prove I am not an alien but a fellow-earthling.)
As for the authenticity of the1 Thessalonians 2 passage about the Jews killing Christ, I have posted a comprehensive discussion of the scholarship that established the case against authenticity for many liberal scholars in four posts on Eddy and Boyd’s book, The Jesus Legend.
Now some scholars may choose to disagree with these arguments, but they cannot be ignored. And besides, even the fact that there is doubt on the authenticity of this passage is enough to disqualify it from being considered secure evidence.
Warning: I wrote those posts at a time when I was becoming thoroughly disgusted at the shoddy standards of scholarship I was encountering in so much online and in print work by too many NT scholars, and at a time when a few of these were, for all I could see, telling blatant falsehoods about certain mythicist arguments and delving more into gratuitous psychoanalysis of authors than addressing their arguments. I have since learned that expressing myself in the way I did in those posts is unhelpful and the points I wanted to make could have been better served with a different approach. I have begun posting photos of scholars I discuss on my blog whenever I can to help us all remember we are discussing the works of other people just like us.
I could be more gentle, Mark, and I apologize that I wasn’t, but I think in like kind you should apologize for being a little disingenuous (even if you did so in a kind tone). On the show, and now on this thread, you ARE acting as if you can establish certain premises needed for your argument, when in fact you know that these things are far from established. That’s not being totally honest, is it?
1. You could have said, “Now I realize that many NT scholars would want to date Galatians prior to 1Cor., but in the interest of time I’ll spare you my reasons for dating 1Cor. first, and I’ll explain why I think that sheds light on Paul’s transition of thought”. But you said no such thing, which absolutely implies that you think we can take your chronology as accepted fact. You led listeners to believe that your conclusion follows straightforwardly from the premise, without mentioning that the premise itself is debated. Isn’t that misleading?
2. Regarding 1Thess 2, I raised the question I did because I wanted to try to save you from the more obvious problem (namely, that there are numerous good reasons to suspect interpolation in this passage…only one of which is that Paul nowhere else blames the Jews for killing Jesus…but since it’s possible to argue that 1Thess2 constitutes the lone instance of something Paul actually believed, I thought an argument about interpolation would just go round in circles). Instead I chose to examine your appeal to the word “Judea”. I argued that this can’t be a genuine instance of historical anchoring, since Judea is not mentioned as a place where Jesus physically was, but rather a place where converts are living. I feel that you knew this at the time of the show, and aren’t being fully intellectually honest, or at least obfuscating the matter by translating Ioudaiwn as “Judeans” when obviously it can equally be rendered “Jews” (the difference is not immaterial, note….the former connotes more a place of residence, the latter more an ethnicity (obviously there were Jews outside of Judea, Paul is writing to them)). So lets be more reasonable and translate the word as “Jews”….from that you can still claim that they killed Jesus, and still make the same historicist point on those grounds. Then the mythicist has two choices:
A) argue for interpolation (which many have, and have good reasons to do so),
or B) argue that Paul saw the Jews as responsible for a celestial Jesus’ death, despite the fact that Jews weren’t in the firmament to do the killing.
It would ultimately be a way of Paul expressing blame on the Jews, not unlike the way that the Gospels and other epistolary texts can blame the Jews for killing Jesus, even when the “actual” executioners were Romans. With either approach, I think it’s clear that the mention of “Judea” and “Ioudaiwn” in 1Thess2 is hardly Paul’s attempt to anchor Jesus in history, nor can it be easily used to service an argument against mythicism.
Mark, I think you’re a good guy. I nearly came to Duke to study under you and Richard Hays. I went elsewhere, but that’s not the point. I do like the work you do, and don’t mean to be insulting or overly critical here. I’ve just seen far too many NT scholars (ones that I studied under included) be dismissive of theories they don’t like. Mythicism is only one such theory within theology that I could point to. By all means, critique a theory with all ya got in the name of quality scholarship! Just don’t represent a line a reasoning as demonstrably sound when you are already aware that there are numerous points of contention within that line of reasoning. In future, take the time to iron out those points of contention first, if it’s possible to do so, and then proceed with your argument. You’re the distinguished professor, not me, so I’m sure you already know the importance of doing this. Otherwise, I commend your work and look forward to more from you.
My impression is rather the other way around — that we who assume Jesus’ historicity read the Gospel Jesus into Paul at every turn, so it seems like he’s saying things he isn’t. Even your discussion on Unbelievable shows this, as you referred to, for example, Paul knowing Jesus’ “disciples” — which is a conclusion one cannot possibly come to from reading the Pauline epistles unless one is already assuming prior knowledge of the Gospels.
The fact that Paul does not use the word “disciples” is hardly a problem given that he refers to the Twelve, to Cephas, to John, the apostles. The word “apostle” is a big deal to Paul because he is thinking from a post-resurrection-experience standpoint.
Conversely, one could argue that the word “disciples” (οἱ μαθηταὶ) is a big deal to the evangelists, because they are constructing a pre-resurrection account. The word “disciple” is never used in any epistle or in Revelation.
Chapter 9 of Acts is especially interesting with its cluster of eight occurrences of the word “disciple.” Here, Saul has “seen the light” on the road to Damascus, and to cement his credentials as a trustworthy follower he stays for several days with the disciples in Damascus. Later in Jerusalem, “he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” Oddly enough, the author of Acts reserves the word “apostle” for reference to the twelve, while disciples refers to the general community of believers. Mark, on the other hand, simply calls them “The Twelve,” not the “twelve apostles,” not the “twelve disciples.”
However, I think the most important point that mythicists would try to convey is this: Paul does not shy away from the word “disciple” because his is “thinking from a post-resurrection-experience standpoint,” but because the idea of Jesus as an earthly teacher with followers who learned at his feet is a later innovation — unknown to Paul, unknown to the writers of the other epistles, and unknown to the author of Revelation.
And it isn’t simply a matter of semantics. It goes to the root of the matter — the very identity of Jesus. The messianic role envisioned by these authors is not one of a teacher or prophet (much less a healer, exorcist, or wonderworker), but of a cosmic redeemer, sacrifice, and judge.
Thanks for the reply, Dr. Goodacre. Your willingness to talk and answer questions is appreciated.
You write: “The word “apostle” is a big deal to Paul because he is thinking from a post-resurrection-experience standpoint.”
The problem is that no pre-resurrection-experience standpoint is ever taken in the Pauline epistles, so to make the leap from “the Twelve” to “the twelve disciples (presumably including Judas!)”, you have to import what you “know” from the Gospel of Mark.
Not that this proves a mythical Jesus, of course. It simply means we have no good historical evidence at all from which to reconstruct the life of a hypothetical historical Jesus. Everything in the early epistles of the NT seems to focus exclusively on the post-resurrection saviour, exalted to Heaven after death and then bestowed the name Jesus, the name above all names.
It is surprising how much you find in Paul about Abraham, Sarah, Esau, Adam etc etc.
And how much you find in Jude about Enoch, Moses, etc etc. (but no mention of Jude being a brother of Jesus, of course)
And how much you find in James about Job being a role-model for Christians (but nothing about Jesus, of course)
These Old Testament characters feature so much in the Epistles that it is hardly surprising there is little room left over for accounts of what Jesus might have said or done.
Steven: one would not expect to find “accounts of what Jesus might have said or done” in occasional epistles. What is striking is the mention of things from Jesus’ life / death in Paul notwithstanding the occasional nature of his epistles.
But there are no mentions, apart from a strange belief that Jesus told his cult how they could conjure up his body and blood in a ritual meal.
Not that that reeks of mythicism, of course.
Paul, naturally, explains in Romans 10 that Jews had never heard of Jesus until apostles were sent (by God, of course, not Jesus) to preach about Jesus….
If Paul had mentioned anything Jesus of Nazareth might have said or done, wouldn’t it have almost certainly survived and been included in the NT? Or do you think Paul wrote less than 10 letters and we have all or nearly all of them?
[O]ne would not expect to find “accounts of what Jesus might have said or done” in occasional epistles.
Why not Dr. Goodacre? Those epistles were occasioned by questions and disputes, and it is hard for me to imagine any question or any dispute in which someone (or everyone) wouldn’t have tried to cite something Jesus said or did during his earthly ministry as support for his particular position. It is equally hard for me to imagine that at least some people wouldn’t have put words in Jesus’ mouth to support their positions (in much the same way that some people wrote letters which they attributed to Paul). Surely those false brothers who plagued the churches in Galatia would have claimed that they had been there when Jesus said or did things that supported the requirement that gentile converts be circumcised. Peter and James would surely have cited the fact that they knew Jesus to be an observant Jew. Even if Paul were not able to muster such support for his own positions, he would have had to grapple with opponents who did, and I think one might reasonably expect to see that reflected more clearly in his letters.
I think this, at the very least, would cast serious doubt on the “teacher” or “sage” variety of historical Jesus. If Jesus were a man remembered for his teachings, sermons, and general wisdom, both sides of any serious dispute in the mid-first-century church should have been appealing to it, yet they did not.
That is my thought, too. Perhaps the historical Jesus actually was a political activist who was only turned into a religious figure as a result of the visions some of his followers had after his crucifixion. Even then, however, I would expect that people would have started ascribing religious teachings to him pretty quickly.
I can certainly see why Paul would have wanted to steer the conversation away from the significance of the things that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry. I just think that it would be very difficult to accomplish that as completely as he seems to have done when everybody else was citing the earthly Jesus right and left. Moreover, I cannot think of any reason why the authors of the other epistles, including the pseudo-Pauline letters, wouldn’t have enlisted the earthly Jesus as support for their arguments frequently.
Let’s also not forget that if there really was an oral tradition underlying the gospels, then an important part of the worship and practice of the early church must have been discussing the the things that Jesus said and did. Paul’s congregations would have needed to know how to determine the significance and authenticity of the stories that they heard about Jesus.
If Paul’s rivals were regularly citing their experiences with the earthly Jesus as support for their positions and Paul’s congregations were regularly discussing the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry in their meetings, I think we could reasonably expect to see this reflected more in the epistles than we do. It may not be dispositive of historicity, but at the very least, I think we have to be much more surprised by how little we find of the historical Jesus in Paul than by how much we find.
Romans is not an ‘occasional letter’.
Why would you not expect James (especially if fictional) to try to emphasise that he was the brother of Jesus, or at least mention something Jesus did, or urge his readers to ditch Job as their role model and replace it with Jesus.
But as Earl Doherty shows, and as Mark clearly does not know his Epistles as well as he thinks he does, (he specialises in the Gospels, not the Epistles), Paul goes out of his way to leave no room for a Jesus who taught and preached.
I don’t blame Mark Goodacre for not realising this.
He clearly has never studied the Epistles in the depths needed to match Doherty’s understanding.
As Mark devotes most of his time to Gospel studies, this is not surprising. You can’t study everything!
Here Mark expects Paul to mention what Jesus said or did, and concludes that he did not mention what Jesus said or did, because there were people who actually knew Jesus, and they were quoting what Jesus had said.
‘Paul knew the tradition but did not think to use it in this context, especially as he is up against the practice of those who actually knew Jesus, and who were quoting his words.’
You can’t go wrong if you are an historicist.
Any speculation will do if it fills the silences even historicists find puzzling and have to explain away in blog posts, while they simultaneously reassure people that there are no silences which have to be explained away.
But if there are no puzzling silences in Paul, why does Mark Goodacre write blog posts explaining away the puzzling silences?
“But if there are no puzzling silences in Paul, why does Mark Goodacre write blog posts explaining away the puzzling silences?”
Perhaps for the same reason biblical inerrantists write books explaining away all the Bible’s contradictions. 🙂
It was an interesting podcast, and Mark Goodacre is to be congratulated for not descending into false apologetics arguments about the Gospels or Josephus like others have done (Witherington and Ehrman, I’m looking at you). Thus, Goodacre and Carrier were able to agree on various points about the legendary embellishment of Human Jesus’ portrayal in the canon.
I think Carrier perhaps made his strongest point later on in the discussion, when he responded to the common trope that “no one would make up a humiliated, crucified god” by showing how exactly that thing took place, in an even more extreme form, in the Attis cult.
Thanks, Paul. I think it is helpful to try to come to terms with the Jewish nature of the early Christian movement and to ask what is more important to someone like Paul, the Attis cult or his background as a Pharisee?
Considering only the Pauline epistles, just how non-Hellenized Jewish was the early Christian movement? Paul gained converts among God Fearers and persuadable diaspora Jews – those that respected the Jewish scriptures more than Hellenistic or Egyptian gods – but how much can you claim Paul’s congregations were strongly traditionally Jewish in nature?
It seems RC missed a number of opportunities to call out MG’s arguments. If Paul “received” the tradition from others who were “in Christ” before him, this implies that they were “in Christ” in the same way that he himself was, namely through personal revelation and spiritual contact. In any case, 1 Cor. 15 (or anywhere else) does not say that Paul “received” his gospel from anyone in Christ. The “received” is ambiguous there, but must be governed by the “received” in Galatians 1:11-12 which was from “no man” let alone anyone else “in Christ.” It can also be governed by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:23 saying that he “received” his info about the words of Christ at “the Lord’s Supper” from the Lord himself, meaning by revelation.
MG’s statement that Paul says he “received the tradition” is simply wrong. “The tradition” does not appear in the text, and MG is insisting on interpreting “received” in one of two available meanings.
Romans 1:3 does not say that Christ was “descended from David”. That’s an erroneous English Gospel-determined translation. It says Christ was “of David’s seed” and we can see Paul using that phrase of the gentiles in their relationship to Abraham in a sense that is definitely not “descended from Abraham” (Romans 9:8).
MG, like so many others, insists on shorthanding Galatians 1:19 and 1 Cor. 9:5 as “brother(s) of Jesus” when it is “brother(s) of the Lord” which opens up quite different possibilities.
And those “teachings of Jesus” (divorce, mission, apocalypse) show every sign of being more personal revelations Paul has received from Christ in heaven. Even a segment of mainstream scholarship has always looked upon them that way (Bultmann, for example).
As for “born of woman”, its inclusion within the Galatians 4 context makes little sense, and various ancient indicators suggest that it was not authentic to the original.
As for MG’s “surprising amount” in Paul about the HJ, it’s virtually nothing compared to what we should expect to find in the epistles as a whole about the man they turned into a part of God. And not a shred of it is unambiguous.
Thanks, Earl. Well, we disagree on the Pauline evidence. I’d draw attention in particular, though, to the problematic idea that we should allow what Paul says in one epistle (Galatians) to “govern” the interpretation of another (1 Corinthians). It’s important to read Paul’s letters in their historical context and not to extrapolate a desired meaning from one into another.
I am puzzled by this comment since it seems clear to me that your interpretation of the passage in Corinthians is governed by your understanding of the meeting with Peter and James that Paul describes in Galatians.
I would agree that the events Paul describes in Corinthians certainly look like things that Paul could have learned from his predecessors in the faith although he seems to be quite careful (as he is in Galatians) not to give those predecessors any credit for his knowledge and understanding. I think it is certainly possible that he was concerned to establish his own standing, but it also seems possible that Paul really did view these as matters that were part of the revelation he got from God.
But when the appearance of a term in one epistle is semantically ambiguous, then we are indeed entitled to search other writings by the same author to acquire a clue as to which way we ought to lean in interpreting the ambiguity. What would be much less appropriate is to go to the Gospels and interpret an epistle in light of the Gospels–which, of course, is done all the time.
If the Gospels purport to tell the life story of the man supposedly behind the epistles’ faith, we are also entitled to expect to find some interest in and appeal to that supposed man. NT scholars do indeed appeal far too much to the “occasional” idea of the epistles. It simply doesn’t hold water. That “occasional” context offers us countless occasions on which we would expect the writers (all of them, not just Paul) to appeal to words and deeds of Jesus on a far greater scale than those paltry four “words of the Lord” in Paul which sound so much like personal revelation. I’ve itemized 200 of those occasions on my website, and it is hardly legitimate to dismiss them all by using the “occasional” argument. It is the astonishing scope of the unfulfilled expectations, covering multiple documents and authors, bolstered by positive descriptions of aspects of the faith movement that often allow no room for an historical Jesus, which is the main thrust of the problem.
And to simply say “we disagree on the Pauline evidence” tells us nothing, much less advances the debate. Nor does it indicate that you or anyone else actually has any counter-arguments against them. Why not take at least some of my points and try to rebut them in a substantive way?
The “received” is ambiguous there, but must be governed by the “received” in Galatians 1:11-12 which was from “no man” let alone anyone else “in Christ.”
I think that “must be governed” is much too strong. It is certainly a possibility for which we must allow, but we must equally allow for the possibility that Paul had something completely different in mind. For example, there is no reason to assume that Paul was entirely consistent or static in his thinking. He might have claimed a completely independent revelation when it suited his purposes and claimed continuity with his predecessors on another occasion. Maybe it had something to do with geography. Galatia was much closer to Jerusalem than Corinth. Maybe Paul could afford to be more respectful of his predecessors in a place where they had much less influence.
“MG, like so many others, insists on shorthanding Galatians 1:19 and 1 Cor. 9:5 as “brother(s) of Jesus” when it is “brother(s) of the Lord” which opens up quite different possibilities.”
Indeed it does. Jesus is never referred to as “the son of the Kurios” anywhere in the New Testament, so I’m not sure how “brothers of the Kurios” could literally mean “Jesus’s brother.”
And the next problem is – which Paul are we talking about? The Marcionites certainly had the oldest notion of Paul and they rejected Acts and did not seem to have any of the ‘historical’ information that now appears in Epistles. The Marcionites did not have the last few chapters of Romans it would seem. Nor did they have the first few two chapters of Galatians save for Galatians 1:1). Tertullian complains that the Marcionites don’t provide any information about who their apostle is other than to reject the ‘Paul’ construct developed by the Catholics through Acts and this missing material.
As such the appeal to Paul isn’t worth much especially since the Marcionites certainly used their Apostolikon to help their argument that Jesus was a heavenly being.
This does not mean however that the Marcionites thought that their gospel was a ‘myth.’ It just means that while they rejected the ‘historical Jesus the man’ paradigm that we have come to accept they likely envisioned a ‘historical Jesus the God’ scenario much like Moses encounters with ‘the Being’ throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy (LXX).
The whole question then of whether there was a ‘historical Jesus’ or not is misleading, with the ‘mythicists’ mostly wanting to reinforce a big lie and the apologists mostly wanting to defend a ‘big truth.’ The historical reality, I think, is much more nuanced – something like a matryoshka doll where the final historical layer will likely never be revealed to us with any degree of certainty.
On a personal level, I think the narrative where the god of the Jews was rejected by his people and then ultimately punishes them with the loss of their temple and punishments which mirror those inflicted on his person sounds like the mythical core at the heart of the gospel but even that doesn’t preclude a historical figure being crucified and who was in turn understood to represent (or perhaps better yet ‘to have adopted’) this very same god through some sort of mystical rite (and which later continues to be practiced by the new community). Even when you read the Patristic evidence however it is rarely that clear whether Jesus was adopting Christ or Christ Jesus. The material is corrupt and its hard to tell head from tails here.
Also it has to be noted that there is an added difficulty with reconciling the Marcionite notion use of the name ‘Jesus’ with the idea of him being a divine figure. While Jews and Christians today typically assume angelic or divine names (Michael, Raphael, Gabriel etc) it has to be acknowledged that this is a rather recent phenomenon. There are no examples that I can think of in the early common era where real live ‘of the flesh’ humans were named after divine beings or vice versa. Jacob’s adoption of the name Israel doesn’t count because it was a later adoption. The Marcionites seemed to distance their Isu from the Syriac Ishu (= diminutive of Joshua), but does that mean that they thought the name wasn’t rooted in the human name Joshua? I really don’t know. I am trying to get Michael Toth who is working at St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai to fully bring to light the rest of Ephrem’s Against Marcion which has a section dealing with this very topic and which is now only available in fragments. Until then I don’t see how the deadlock can be broken.
I have yet to see evidence of anyone from antiquity who didn’t think that Passion ‘happened’ in a certain year and thus was entirely historical event. To this end Jesus whether a human or a god was viewed as a historical ‘being’ of some sort and thus the application of the term ‘myth’ is really unfortunate. The fact that there are mythical elements in the gospel narrative in no way obscures the fact that the author has attempted to incorporate historical dates and historical individuals at every turn (Pilate, Herod, specific months, years). If mythicists were honest they used the term ‘lie’ because that’s the army that lies in waiting inside the Trojan Horse labelled ‘myth’ here.
What’s the big deal about admitting that there are mythical elements in the gospel? Does anyone really believe that there isn’t ‘exaggeration’ here? But that isn’t what is being debated. No one is honest enough to admit that this entire debate is exaggerated. It’s about whether Christianity is all lie or all truth but neither side is honest enough to admit the real game. Instead we have ‘debates’ that leave us more alienated from the truth than when we began.
I say we should strive to have discussions – preferably high or with some truth serum of some sort preventing each side from letting ego get in the way of honesty. But then again I live in Washington State so what do I know?
It’s weird that each accuses the other of looking at the epistles through Gospel-tinged glasses. Carrier is viewing the material through the Gospels when he questions why so many details are missing from the epistles. Goodacre is viewing the material through the gospels, for example, when he assumes that the Peter in Galatians is the same character as the Peter we find in the Gospels.
Thanks, Shad. I don’t “assume” it; it’s something that is the result of historical study. Ehrman once attempted to argue that Cephas is a different character from Peter, but he backed off from it.
Hello Mark, allow me to argue this a bit more.
Here is what, it seems to me, you assume. In the Epistles, Paul speaks with Peter. In the Gospel, Peter is a disciple of Jesus. You seem to conflate the two and (seem to) assume that Paul spoke with Peter, the disciple of Jesus.
What if when the gospels came to be written, the character of Peter was perhaps modeled on the legendary Peter/Cephas whom we know from the epistles? Isn’t that the mythicist hypothesis?
In other words, how do we get to “Paul lives and moves with these people who spent time with Jesus” without begging the question?
But in 1 Corinthians 15 we have Paul saying that he sets out what he received from those who were “in Christ” before him. And he sets this out as first importance. And the reason he gets into arguments later on in Galatians….
SO 1 Corinthians 15 is earlier than Galatians, is it?
And all Paul has to do to claim equality with the apostles is to claim that he too had seen the Lord. But if these apostles had spent years living with Jesus, a mere claim to have seen Jesus in a revelation would hardly get close to claiming equality.
Just as a claim to have seen the Beatles in a concert does not make you as much of an authority on Paul McCartney as being his brother does.
Yes, I think 1 Cor. is earlier than Galatians. And yes, you’ve put your finger on Paul’s problem nicely!
Yes, Paul claimed he was an apostle because he had ‘seen’ the Lord.
I guess that makes Pilate an apostle as well, and all the Pharisees. They had also seen and spoken to the Lord, which in Paul’s view is what was need to become an apostle.
Unless, of course, Paul meant he had seen the risen Lord, which made him just as much an apostle as anybody else who had seen the risen Lord. The idea of being an apostle because you had seen the earthly Jesus never rears its ugly heard (or else you would rub mythicist faces in that verse….)
I found the argument from embarrassment particularly interesting.
Is there really no way any Christian could have found the idea of a crucified Messiah by searching the Old Testament?
After all, Christians claimed that their own Lord and Saviour had declared that the Scriptures foretold that the Messiah would suffer and die.
How embarrassing for them, as their own Lord and Saviour had claimed something that was patently false and was known to be false by everybody.
Why does Paul have to write that Jesus was ‘born of a woman’ (in a chapter of Galatians that has symbolic births galore!)?
Was being born of a woman something Paul could ‘take for granted’?
Could Paul ‘take for granted’ that Jesus was executed by the Romans – the agents of God, who did not bear the sword for nothing, and who held no terror for the innocent?
“Could Paul ‘take for granted’ that Jesus was executed by the Romans – the agents of God, who did not bear the sword for nothing, and who held no terror for the innocent?”
That’s an interesting point. It’s hard to imagine that someone who believed Jesus was legally tried and executed by the Roman government could have written Romans 13.
Mind you, Romans 13 was almost certainly an interpolation into Paul’s letter, but the possibility of interpolation in Paul’s letters is not something you want to discuss if you are pushing the view of historicity, since phrases like “the brother of the Lord” might be next on the chopping block.
I am not so certain that Romans 13 in an interpolation, or not written by Paul. That argument is usually advanced by historicists confounded by Romans 13, which is clearly at odds with the notion that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. If we don’t hold to that, then there is nothing out of tune in Romans 13. It does appear slightly out of context, but there isn’t much else to argue from other than reading in later motives to clear the Roman guilt. That might not have been a problem for Paul.
What I find most confusing or incomprehensible in Mark Goodacre’s arguments is that he makes them at all as if he has never engaged with any mythicist response to any of them before. Yet I am sure he has indicated that he has engaged with mythicists and their arguments. If so, I don’t understand why he repeats points when he surely knows the mythicist response — and knowing the mythicist response, one would expect him to at least address it in future exchanges. But that does not seem to happen.
I don’t know what I am missing.
Thanks, Neil. Well, one has to bear in mind the audience for the show, which will be unfamiliar with mythicist arguments. Moreover, I think mythicist responses to the data are often weak, and so I am quite happy to continue to put the key data forward again, especially for listeners who may not be familiar with the texts. I know from teaching, for example, that few realize until they study the NT historically just how important James was in the early Christian movement.
And equally few know that Paul wrote that the Jews killed Jesus…..
Now that you mention it, it’s a bit curious that Dr. Goodacre would use the passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 about the Jews/Judeans as a Pauline reference to the historical Jesus. The same passage makes a clear allusion to the destruction of the temple and must have been written after 70 CE (if not 135 CE). That means either Paul didn’t write it, or everything we think we know about Paul is wrong and much more skepticism about the epistles is warranted.
Some NT scholars have said “there is no reason to assume” that this passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, but they err. They try to say it could refer to some other general condition of ongoing general judgment before that time. But such questions have been dealt with in the scholarly literature. I have outlined them in the second half of my post at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/taking-eddy-boyd-seriously-3/
Assuming, of course, by the wording of Gal. 1:19 that the James in Galatians is the same James who was not a disciple or even a follower of the gospel Jesus. The same James, who, along with his mother, thought that Jesus was beside himself. The same James who did not even visit the empty tomb along with the women and Peter. NO, really, I’m thinking the James in the letter to the Galatians is James Zebedee who was one of the three that were everywhere with Jesus in the gospels – Peter, James and John. No where does James, the brother of Jesus, become one of the twelve but James Zebedee was and so was James Alphaeus – but not the unbelieving brother of Jesus from the gospels. Therefore, I doubt that James in Galatians is who you think he is.
But Mark, why not let the mythicists express their own arguments? Carrier was there to express the one he believed is the most credible. Any other argument in that interview was irrelevant, and might be seen as an attempt to muddy the waters and divert readers from argument of Richard you were being asked to engage with. Unfortunately you were not expressing the mythicist arguments, though, but were expressing your interpretation of them — which you must know is not how they are argued by mythicists themselves. (Or if you are thinking of “some” mythicist who argues one way and another somewhere else who argues your second point, then that is hardly fair. I would not expect to be treated seriously if I argued against historicism by selecting arguments from fundamentalists mixed with arguments from liberals or atheists, etc.)
If I were to present the historicist argument I would make clear why they see it the way they do and explain their point of view as well as my own to make clear to readers a fair and balanced understanding, of what was my own interpretation and how it differed from theirs, and why I disagreed with theirs. You did not do that. No, you were expressing your own interpretation of their argument — without their responses to your interpretations — in order to show why you disagreed with them or thought them bad arguments. That’s not educating an audience but attempting to influence an audience.
Here, in these discussions, I see many sound and reasonable responses to your points, but I (hopefully wrongly) suspect that you will still be repeating again and again the same “mythicist arguments” as you like to present them as if none of these responses have been made.
Of course I understand you lack the time to engage with every response in detail, — I myself have not yet had time to fully read all comments — but it would be interesting if you could spell out your core objection to mythicism. From the interview, I understand it to be that you think it inevitably relies upon very strained explanations.
If so, I would like to see a clear statement of one or two of those strained explanations, and a reasoned case to explain why you believe it beyond the bounds of credibility. In other words, I often see scholars rely upon something like “I’m not persuaded” or “that’s not a persuasive argument” as “grounds” for their rejection of a view they do not like. This reminds me of Daniel Dennett’s warning against rhetorical questions — they paper over whatever cracks there are in the arguments. A sound argument can spell out its reasons. I can give specific reasons why, for example, conspiracy theories re 9/11 or the myth of Atlantis or astrology etc are unsound. I don’t have to resort to “bunk” or “strains credibility”. I’d like to see something similar from you or anyone opposed to Carrier’s or Doherty’s mythicism to do that.
On further reflection I recall now that Richard Carrier’s argument re Mary was not at all about an expectation of finding canonical gospel material in Paul, but used as an illustration to point out that Paul’s supposed historical details are really vague generalities and not at all biographically specific. So we read that Jesus was “born of a woman” — the way people have always spoken of one another to remind ourselves that we are human, of course (tinge of sarcasm here) — but the historicists would have a case if we read that Paul said Jesus was born of Priscilla or Elisabeth or Salome. Carrier chose to use Mary as the illustration of the sort of detail we would expect for obvious reasons, but not because his argument against historicity is based on a “canonical reading” of the Bible.
It is disappointing for many of us, not just me I am sure, when you, Mark, apparently fail to grasp the point of Richard’s arguments in such cases as this — and then, it seems, repeat that mythicists read the bible canonically. But we know you are very intelligent and do not normally misread others arguments like this. That’s why some of us do see here evidence of more bias in your approach to the question than you seem to recognize.
(As for your joke about wondering how James would think of Paul thinking his brother never existed, this reminds me of other talks you have given, or one in particular, where you said if Jesus goes, then what about Peter, James, and the rest. This again indicates to some of us that you have not really engaged with the mythicist arguments but continue to repeat your own construction of them.)
If so, I don’t understand why he repeats points when he surely knows the mythicist response ….
But Mark doesn’t know the historicist response to many mythicist arguments.
Few people do.
For example, Bart Ehrman simply did not touch Earl Doherty’s Top 20 Silences in his ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ book.
I don’t think Bart knew what the correct historicist response was.
But the problem is, Mark, that you are reading the Gospels into “Paul’s problem.” Paul himself shows no sign that he faces a problem in Peter having been Jesus’ chief disciple. He never argues against the supposed superiority of Peter in having been in such a position. The only thing worse than begging the question is refusing to understand that one is in fact begging the question. If nowhere in the epistles does any writer even intimate that anyone, let alone the Jerusalem group, were “disciples of Jesus in the flesh on earth”, then you have no logical right to bring that assumption into the argument. You are simply importing the Gospels into the epistles.
By doing so, you then have to explain the resulting anomalies, which is usually done either by claiming “occasionality” or by the device you use here: yes, Paul faced a problem. But the “problem” is created by the importation of the Gospels, not within Paul, who can be easily understood and rendered problem-less by acknowledging that the epistles taken by themselves indicate no HJ. I don’t know how many scholars I’ve read who have to dismiss the problems inherent in the epistles by simply saying that such-and-such a writer faced a problem (of scholarship’s making), or that he “had no interest in mentioning such-and-such” or “it was not part of Paul’s argument” to bring in something which we would have had every right to expect him to bring in. (Moffatt, Barrett, Wilson, Attridge come to mind just off the top of my head, and I’ve called them all out on such things in my writings.)
“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” is more directly seen as Paul placing himself on the same footing as the others by virtue of having enjoyed their same revelation of Jesus, not as some kind of ‘substitute’ experience to having been a follower of Jesus on earth. This supposed substitution is never even hinted at. It’s a level playing field, with an advantage enjoyed by the Jerusalem group solely in terms of them having been ‘apostles of the Christ’ earlier than Paul. There is a claim only of seniority, not a huge gulf between sitting at the Master’s feet and claiming a revelation from heaven through scripture.
All well said, Earl. In fact, splendidly said.
“If nowhere in the epistles does any writer even intimate that anyone, let alone the Jerusalem group, were “disciples of Jesus in the flesh on earth”, then you have no logical right to bring that assumption into the argument.”
Exactly! “Apostle” carries no implication whatsoever that anyone ever knew a historical Jesus, and Paul only refers to apostles, never to disciples.
Just a few remarks on some points:
“The two positions are thus: Was there a charismatic man who started it all, a historical man who became mythologized, or was there a celestial revelatory being who became historicized?”
BM: Why did HJ had to be charismatic? Was Rosa Park charismatic? But, due to a specific set of circumstances, with the immediate social & historical context, she accidentally “ignited” the modern Civil Rights Movement, led by others from the start (including the boycott). That’s how I think HJ started Christianity (unintentionally, without even trying). For HJ, add religious context. And by “historical”, I do not take that as “historic” (as one who makes history by a series of prolongued efforts & actions) but simply as someone who lived in the past.
So there is a third position.
“Most scholars agree there is much mythology surrounding Jesus by the time we get to the gospels. So the question is essentially if the gospels are 100% mythology or 90% mythology or whatever.”
BM: But that makes a huge difference when making a reconstruction on how Christianity started. The 100% force you to thrash the gospels and ‘Acts’, any normal reading about an earthly & human Jesus in any other early Christian literature such as the Paulines and “to the Hebrews”. And for the gospel, especially gMark, how can we be so sure it is 100% untrue?
Of course I oppose MG holding on 1 Th 2:14-16. Also I oppose MG & RC about 1 Cor 15:3-11. Both passages are interpolations in my books (as also the whole of the main TF).
“If you look at the letters of Paul, Paul never refers to Jesus having a ministry, he never refers to anyone seeing or meeting him while he was alive.”
BM: But we have HJ as “minister of the circumcision” (Ro15:8) and the normal way to be one would be by facing Jews.
“MG is presuming too much and importing Gospel notions into the epistles.”
BM: what do we have in the epistles of Paul:
A minimal Jesus (but also, for Paul, pre/post-existent as a heavenly deity) who, from “Israelites, … whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] the Christ, according to the flesh …” (Ro9:4-5 YLT) and “come of a woman, come under law” (Gal4:4 YLT) (as a descendant of (allegedly) Abraham (Gal3:16), Jesse (Ro15:12) & David (Ro1:3)), “found in appearance as a man” (Php2:8) “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Ro8:3), “the one man, Jesus Christ” (Ro5:15) (who had brothers (1Co9:5), one of them called “James”, whom Paul met (Gal1:19)), “humbled himself” (Php2:8) in “poverty” (2Co8:9) as “servant of the Jews” (Ro15:8) and, after “the night in which he was delivered up” (1Co11:23 Darby), “was crucified in weakness” (2Co13:4) in “Zion” (Ro9:31-33 & Ro11:26-27).
And we see the same in gMark, buried under this 90% of mythology. So there is no reason to discard the remaining 10% of the gospel.
I’m not completely sure what you’re saying about Parks and the modern civil rights movement, but if you think anything she did was an accident or that it was an accident it was Parks who played the role of igniter, you’re wrong.
I have decided to delete Bernard’s response as irrelevant to the discussion of Jesus’ historicity. I may have decided differently if I had any hope at all that Bernard would be open to genuine discussion and comprehension of the alternative viewpoints he opposes.
Moderation policy is set out @ http://vridar.wordpress.com/comments-and-moderation/
“If Paul “received” the tradition from others who were “in Christ” before him, this implies that they were “in Christ” in the same way that he himself was, …”
BM: No that does not imply the ones before Paul were “in Christ” the same way that Paul was. Paul’s Christology was itself a work in progress during his ministry. I studied the question and those “in Christ” before Paul, just like Paul at the beginning, did not believe in pre-existence & Son of God. But they did about “Christ”, of course, and saviour of some sort, and post-existence in heaven close to God. The notion of “Sacrifice” came later.
“Romans 1:3 does not say that Christ was “descended from David”. That’s an erroneous English Gospel-determined translation. It says Christ was “of David’s seed” and we can see Paul using that phrase of the gentiles in their relationship to Abraham in a sense that is definitely not “descended from Abraham” (Romans 9:8).”
BM: Sure, those Gentiles were either considered by Paul to be honorary descendant of Abraham, or adopted descendant of Abraham. In any case, those Gentiles were earthly humans, from human mother and father. They were not heavenly creatures.
“MG, like so many others, insists on shorthanding Galatians 1:19 and 1 Cor. 9:5 as “brother(s) of Jesus” when it is “brother(s) of the Lord” which opens up quite different possibilities.”
BM: but with Jesus qualified as a man, descendant of David, Jesse, Abraham & Israelites (see my earlier post), from a woman, that would definitively narrow the possibilities.
Maybe Paul never used the term brother(s) (not considering Gal 1:19 & 1 Cor 9:5) for blood brother(s) but he used sister for blood sister (Rom 16:15).
And what about the meaning of Lord? Normal reading would command that one individual later referred by only a title, is the same than one identified earlier with the same title (with nobody else with the same title in between). For Gal1:19, the Lord is then identified as Jesus sixteen verses earlier (1:3). For 1 Cor 9:5, Lord is identified as Jesus in 9:1 (which also would identify the Lord of 9:2 as Jesus).
“As for “born of woman”, its inclusion within the Galatians 4 context makes little sense, and various ancient indicators suggest that it was not authentic to the original.”
BM: Actually “born of woman” in Galatians is absolutely crucial for Paul. He used the common knowledge Jesus had been an earthly man (from a woman) and a Jew (under the law) in order to clinch a long & complicated argument. If the existence of Jesus on earth was not accepted or even doubted, then the argument would simply not work.
This is how I read it:
Paul started by making a claim: “But to Abraham were the promises addressed, and to his seed: he does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed; which is Christ.”(3:16 Darby)
That seems to refer to Genesis17-22 but it is never specified here according to Paul’s words. Anyway, the promise is about inheritance (3:18) for all (Gentiles and Jews –3:8,14,28-29) but that is put on hold by the Law “until the seed [Christ] came [‘erchomai’, clear expression of the first coming!] to whom the promise was made” (3:16,19). Then everyone would be liberated from the Law by Christ (3:13,22-25) & his crucifixion (3:13) and “the promise, on the principle of faith of Jesus Christ, should be given to those that believe.” (3:22), allowing Paul’s Galatians to be God’s sons & heirs and (by “adoption”?) seed of Abraham (3:7,29).
What remains is for the Son/Christ to come as the seed of Abraham, that is as a Jew and earthly human (as other seeds of Abraham, like Paul, as previously discussed), in order to enable the promise. So we have:
Gal4:4-7 Darby “but when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, come of woman [as an earthly human], come under law [as a Jew], that he might redeem those under law, that we might receive sonship. But because you are [Greek present tense] sons … So you are [present again] no longer bondman, but son …”
So Paul was thinking about an earthly “flesh & blood” mother! And Christ had already come and gone (1:1)!
Note: Paul used the common knowledge Jesus had been an earthly man (from a woman) and a Jew (under the law) in order to clinch a long & complicated argument. If the existence of Jesus on earth was not accepted or even doubted, then the argument would simply not work.
“As for MG’s “surprising amount” in Paul about the HJ, it’s virtually nothing compared to what we should expect to find in the epistles as a whole about the man they turned into a part of God.”
BM: Did it occur to Doherty that HJ could have been turned into a part of God well after his death, by the like of Paul and others? Paul offered a different picture of HJ, as a humble & poor Jew, with little interest, except he was crucified as Christ (whose meaning, through the OT, overlaps with “king of the Jews”).
Does a Deity, when visiting earth, need to be flashy, obvious and aloud (as depicted in gJohn)? I do not think so.
“Why on earth would you try to portray a relative consensus about Galatians being composed after 1 Corinthians?”
BM: Galatians was written at about the same time as Romans, because of the many similitudes between the two letters:
Look at the bottom half of this webpage for explanations:
Bernard, you would have more credibility if you were less dogmatic and indicate that you acknowledge your conclusions are views that are debatable. You come across as if you think a case is closed once you have completed a study on it. This may be the approach of a number of NT scholars but it is not a credible scholarly approach.
Maybe that’s debatable, but why should I write, after all my conclusions, it is debatable? Of course anything is debatable, and about everything has been debated. I cannot prevent anybody to find my conclusion debatable (and I learn that by experience!). But is it a sin to think your own researched conclusions (but not necessarily all) are most likely to be true?
And why, about years of research, I should be in a state of flux?
Does Doherty or Carrier or others (including Christian scholars) always say what they conclude is debatable? I do not think so.
You’re missing the point. It’s not the words you say; it’s the attitude and approach to knowledge that you express. Letter and spirit and all that. Doherty and Carrier do not convey dogmatism. You do.
Of course I think my opinions are the most reasonable as far as all I know and understand about the topic otherwise I would not have them as my opinions. But I am very conscious that my knowledge and point of view is limited and there will always be fresh perspectives to consider. What I think now about many things is very likely not going to be what I think in a few years time. All my “research” findings are tentative. It’s more important to have an approach that is always open to new ways of understanding and new insights into one’s own biases.
So when I post an argument, no matter how sure I am that it is “true” given my present understanding, I know very well there are other ways of looking at the question and whatever I argue is not likely to be the final word. I might even, embarrassment! embarrassment! discover someone showing me I made a mistake or used a faulty line of reasoning or failed to consider another possible way of viewing some of the evidence that changes everything.
If I invite others to look at an older post on a topic it is not because I think there they will find “the truth”, but because there I have left my thinking and understanding on the topic for review. I am quite open (I hope) to people showing me the shortcomings of what I write. In fact I like to think that I generally welcome that. It’s how we learn.
I get the impression you stop learning about a topic once you have researched it and written it up. You don’t see any further need to examine the topic. (I have learned from experience that I cannot discuss your views with you from an alternative perspective because you see them as “truths” to be defended instead of as hypotheses to be tested.)
Think of the world 500 years ago. How many of those scholars’ arguments would be valid today? Then think ahead 500 years from now. Where do you think your arguments will stand, then?
Thank you for opening to us Neil. But do not think I stopped learning about the issues. I always keep looking at websites and blogs (like yours). I learn some new things from time to time which I integrate in my website. But my research, based on the primary evidence (not on the works of scholars whose opinions are constantly changing and with disagreements with each other –that’s the nature of their business), has, I do confess, solidify my understanding. I feel I went beyond having opinions (but on all other matters which I did not fully researched, I have opinions which can vary day by day).
That was not so when I started: total confusion first, but little by little, from the chaos came more and more clear ideas which eventually gelled together. And I do not hesitate to reject as interpolations or frauds texts which would further “evidence” my understanding.
Yes, I am fairly confident my arguments will stand in the mind of reasonable people in 500 years. I do not see anything wrong with that thought.
By overlooking the “opinions of others” towards the same primary evidence you have failed to see your own opinions in the broader human context and confuse them with truth. That’s dogmatism. The 500 year boast is something worse.
I am not overlooking the opinions of others, and, at times, I may spend a lot of time in order to debunk them. Furthermore, I titled my website: Jesus, a historical reconstruction, NOT Jesus, the historical reconstruction. Right from the title, I admitted the possibility other reconstruction would be valid. But if I expressed I have confidence in my conclusions, after so much research, is it a crime!
Neil has already hit the nail on the head here, Bernard….but just to drive the point home…I acknowledge that one can make a case that Galatians is later than 1Cor. I once took a whole course on the book of 1Cor, so I had to compose cases for a variety of potential datings. So I’m aware that the case can be made, but what I was saying to MG is that he implies a CONSENSUS on his dating in the way he spoke on the show. No such consensus exists, and I dare say that even more than half of NT scholars would disagree with the conclusions of the website you linked. Maybe it’s less than half, that’s ok…I’m not trying to produce an argument from authority anyway, just merely saying that we shouldn’t pretend to have a consensus about an issue that the jury is clearly still out on. An analogy would be Gospel chronology: Some people argue for Matthean priority, others (probably a solid majority) argue for Markan priority. Those that support Matthean priority shouldn’t be excluded from a discussion about the Gospels, since they have a right to make their case…but IF they’d like to make further claims about Jesus that absolutely depend on Matthean priority in order to have force, then they should proceed with caution. In other words, they should say “I know I’m in the minority on my ordering of the Gospels, but I want to present a theory that I feel has explanatory power, if you’ll grant me, for the time being, the unproven premise of Matthean priority.” If people argued in this manner, with that principle in place, it would go a long way to keep intellectual honesty at the center of things, don’t you think?
I agree more civility would make any dialogue more fruitful. But not saying I am proposing something which is debatable should not be considered offensive. Anyway, did you read my arguments for Romans and Galatians written at about the same time? What do you think?
Not offensive, Bernard, no. Just disingenuous for someone who wants to do scholarship in a field that has tons of competing theories.
Just for those who may not already be aware of it: I have a longstanding policy of ignoring Bernard Muller and that will continue here. It is not just his dogmatism, but the deficiencies of reasoning and argumentation on which that dogmatism is based, which are usually obvious to most people other than himself.
I have nothing to add apart from a thank you to Neil for the transcript and Mark for engaging in such a nice and professional manner.
I want to thank everyone from Tim Berners-Lee to Gabriel above that this post and comment thread exists. Isn’t it amazing that I can type something from my couch and engage with a top notch NT professor, a damn good amateur from the other side of the globe, several authors and many smart people? Even 10 years ago this never would have happened. 20 years ago, it was a ridiculous fantasy. All hail the internets!
It was late 1999 that I discovered the wonder of the internet and its amazing power to bring me into the (online) rooms where scholars discussed these things (not blogs then, but discussion groups) and where I could question by email authors of books I had read. It was the beginning of my education. I read voraciously, but having the ability at my fingertips to question the authors as well as their supporters and critics, now that was an education equal to any face-to-face tutorial at a university. It took me a few years, but once I caught up with a sufficient critical mass of reading I could no longer hold back. I am very lucky to have worked, for most part, in modern academic libraries where digital and online resources are acknowledged as the way of the future.
I thought it was actually a great discussion between two superb scholars. The time constraints were obviously stifling to both men, as should be expected. For example i noticed that Dr. Carrier was pulled away from the topic of ‘james the Lord’s brother’ just by the flow of the conversation. And i’m sure Dr. Goodacre had more to say on various issues as well. I think for the issue to be fully hashed out it would mean a detailed review by Dr. Goodacre of Carrie’s next volume in which he lays out the entire case. Carrier was hoping for that and I would also love to see it because I think Dr. Goodacre has a very subtle analytical ability (think of his work on the synoptic problem).. so if errors exist in Carrier’s full exposition, he would be able to tease out those problems with a fine tooth comb. just my take on it anyway.
“Paul never refers to Jesus having a ministry, he never refers to anyone seeing or meeting him while he was alive.” — RC (A bit misleading; as if xians didn’t regard Jesus Christ as ‘alive’!)