Goodacre-Carrier Debate: What if . . . . ?

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by Neil Godfrey

I have finally caught up with the comments by Dr Mark Goodacre [MG] and Dr Richard Carrier [RC] since their radio discussion on the view that Jesus did not exist.

While RC, without the burden of having to mark student papers, is able to add around 7,000 words of recap and elaboration to the case he made on his blog, MG is confined to making only a few brief comments, at least one of which is no better than the disappointment we found in Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

A horrible thought occurs to me. What if it’s never going to get any better? Is this the best we will ever hear from the historicists?

No-one is faulting MG for doing his job. What is disappointing for many, I think, is that it is just at the point where his input is most urgently needed that he is too busy to respond. Will there ever come a time when he (or anyone) will engage with the questions his claims have left hanging?

He himself has rightly said:

– Sorry to those who were disappointed with the show, or my part in it. Please bear in mind that this is just a show, a conversation, a chat, a debate even; it’s not a “case”. I must admit that I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Richard, who is clever and lively and whose discussion of method repays reflection. However, any such conversation is only going to be partial, frustrating, incomplete.

I am sure most of us enjoyed also listening to MG’s calm and pleasant manner in the way he engaged with RC. I am sure we all appreciated MG taking the time to be a part of this program. But unless there is some follow up from the historicist side even slightly comparable to the extent of RC’s followup, I think most of us will remain frustrated that one side of the debate is going to be forever partial, incomplete.

Maybe we have to face up to the reality that the historicist case is always going to be like that — that it will always lack the ability (including ability to find time) to advance a complete response to mythicism.

Interpolation: the same old . . .

Take this point for starters. MG in his latest response wrote:

– I think it’s worth underlining that the idea that 1 Thess. 2.14-17 [in which Paul appears to be saying that the Jews in Judea crucified Jesus] is an interpolation is made without any manuscript / textual evidence. Conjectural emendations are always possible, especially in weakly attested works, but should be avoided in cases like this where the impetus appears to be to eliminate a key piece of evidence, the apparent location of Jesus’ death in Judea.

Such a statement

(1) sidesteps the point I made about this passage and which (presumably) was partly the prompt for MG’s response here,

and it

(2) misrepresents the actual argument for interpolation.

On (1) —

My point was very specific. It was that 1 Thess 2:14-17 must inevitably be a very thin reed upon which to lean (even partly) a case for the historicity of Jesus given that this passage is — among mainstream scholars who have no interest in mythicism — of questionable authenticity.

On (2) —

It is surely misleading for MG to say that “the impetus [for claiming the passage is an interpolation] appears to be to eliminate a key piece of evidence, the apparent location of Jesus’ death in Judea”. MG knows that this is not the impetus for the argument for interpolation at all, but that the argument arose and continues in mainstream scholarly circles and it is clearly not motivated by a desire to remove a piece of evidence against mythicism.

Rather, mythicism exists because the evidence for historicity is so tenuous to begin with, and any evidence that appears to be strong turns out to be controversial among mainstream scholars themselves.

I also pointed to a series of posts where I discuss in detail the history of mainstream scholarly publications that became the basis of the highly respectable mainstream scholarly view that there are very cogent arguments (not “conjecture” as MG says) for these verses being a post 70 CE insertion.

In fact, what MG is doing here is exactly what Larry Hurtado is doing with Geza Vermes’ argument for the “Philippian hymn” being an interpolation. Regardless of the scholarly merits of Vermes’ argument, he surely has a point when he calls upon Hurtado to respond responsibly as a professional scholar:

Would it not be more appropriate, not to say polite, for Professor Hurtado to refute my argument against the Pauline authenticity of Philippians 2:6-11 than high-handedly reject it with the snide remark: “Well, I guess if you can’t accommodate evidence, you simply try to eliminate it”?
Geza Vermes

Scholars in fields beyond New Testament studies (e.g. classical Greek and Roman literature) know very well that there are many strong cases for interpolation that do not require manuscript evidence. To deny sound arguments for interpolation solely on the grounds of lack of surviving manuscript variations is to argue from naivety and against the well attested literary culture of the time. See a literary culture of interpolations and a case for interpolation does not rely upon manuscript evidence.

To quote another mainstream scholar, one of whom contributed to our present understanding of the 1 Thess. 2 passage being an interpolation:

An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence, . . . (Simpson p.43, as quoted in an earlier post)

Simpson sums up the methodological argument in relation to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 best when he writes:

The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account.

Embarrassment: the same old . . .

Then there is the regular repeat of the old argument from embarrassment without any acknowledgement that it makes no dent in mythicist arguments:

MG wrote:

It’s clear that the “crucified Christ” was something that people like Paul found tough to explain to his fellow Jews, e.g. 1 Cor. 1.23.

Again MG is sweeping aside not only the mythicist responses as if he has never heard them, but he is even sweeping aside what has been written by his own mainstream scholarly peers (Morton Smith, Paula Fredriksen, Matthew Novenson) about this passage pointing out that it does not refute “the fact” that a crucified Messiah was indeed conceivable to, and even embraced by, many Jews.As RC has pointed out, the argument from embarrassment does nothing to advance the historicist case anyway, since it would apply as much to a “mythical” messiah to a “historical” one.The criterion of embarrassment is essentially an argument from ignorance, anyway. Because we cannot imagine what else Paul and his readers were thinking, they cannot have been imagining anything else.

Other unanswered questions

MG wrote:

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.

To which Earl Doherty responded:

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. . . . .

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?

Can we really expect a response to either of these points?

Historical method: something new added this time . . .

Or what about this statement by MG?

– To read some of the comments here, one would think that studying history were always black and white, a matter of truth v. fiction, the ordinary vs. the fantastic, But studying history is richer and more nuanced than these simple either / or models allow. Frankly, it’s far more interesting once one actually engages in it in all its depth. Although some commenters here appear to realize that historical Jesus scholars are not all conservative Christians, the rhetoric still works a lot of the time with that kind of model.

This is another case of avoiding the question, and worse. I am sure MG does believe the question of the existence of Jesus is indeed “a matter of truth v. fiction”. What this statement does here is to set up a smoke-screen to hide that question by turning to the problematic issues of discovering what the historical Jesus was like. Any quest for the historical Jesus necessarily begins with the conviction that a historical Jesus existed. The subtle and nuanced methods MG is referring to here are all based upon the assumption that Jesus did exist.

MG is referring here back to his concluding remarks in the radio discussion and I pointed this out in that same post where I paraphrased them:

This is the new post-modernist case being made by Anthony Le Donne, Dale Allison and others, and that I recently addressed in several posts.

This is the extrapolation of hypothetical data from material that is assumed to be derived from memories of the historical Jesus. It is, as far as I am aware, a form of “historiography” unique to HJ studies. James McGrath has boasted that it makes HJ scholars pioneers in the wider field of historiography.

Among the rocks it crashes against are the literary studies of those scholars who demonstrate that the texts are not sourced from memories at all, but from other texts.

I understand MG’s primary objection to mythicism is that it makes giant leaps of assumption or is simply not credible. It seems to be commonplace for NT scholars to resort to dismissing arguments with off-hand remarks along these lines: “I don’t find the case plausible”, “So and so did not make a persuasive case”, “I remain unconvinced”, etc.

Such lines are not rebuttals. They are not arguments. If I want to persuade someone whom I think is leaning towards “crazy” ideas like the myth of Atlantis or healing through manipulating auras, I take a bit of time to put together an evidence-based case. This is what several sceptic websites attempt to do.

One day an historicist is going to have to take the time to explain why specific claims of mythicisms are “not convincing.”

On the other side

But RC’s case is not without flaws, either.

He begins by acknowledging his debt to Earl Doherty’s Christ Myth argument. But he then dismisses Doherty for supposedly falling over the edge with mere speculations in his later book — though he offers no specific citation to support this charge. Indeed, the entire core argument of RC is in fact Earl Doherty’s. Where RC goes beyond Earl’s case — as in his point about Philo providing evidence that there were pre-Christian Jews who believed in a heavenly messiah named Jesus — it might be said that RC himself is stepping into the realm of speculation. There can be little doubt that Philo did think of the high priest and “Branch” Jesus figure in the Book of Zechariah represented the heavenly Logos, but we need something more to argue a link here to an established belief among Jews who fed the idea into what became early Christianity.

I think here the weight of circumstantial evidence can be marshalled by drawing upon a cluster of such ideas among Second Temple Jews. As I recently wrote in response to a comment here:

Margaret Barker in The Great Angel pointed to Philo’s identification of the Logos with the Branch of Zechariah 6:12 — whom we all know is the high priest Joshua/Jesus standing alongside Zerubbabel as one of the two anointed ones in the newly resettled province of Jehud.

It’s one of many indicators that Second Temple Jewish beliefs were precursors to what emerged as Christianity.

I have posted here a series on Jewish scholar Levenson’s work, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, in which he traces the threads of a Jewish belief that Isaac was actually sacrificed by Abraham and restored to life again and that his blood was believed to be an atonement for the sins of all Jews for all generations. (The term “Beloved Son”, well known in the Gospels, turns out to be a virtual technical term for one destined to be sacrificed — it was used of Isaac and others who suffered this fate.) Levenson also sees some evidence that elements of this interpretation found their way into Paul’s writings. (I don’t know if Carrier is even aware of Levonson’s study.)

Another Jewish scholar, Daniel Boyarin, sees 1 Enoch as containing some core beliefs of Christianity: he sees in it evidence that some Jews came to believe that Enoch himself was, though entering the world as a human, really the pre-existent Son of Man and was eventually restored to his former glory when “God took him”. He sees here the earliest evidence of the belief that one of the two beings in the god-head (Son of Man and Ancient of Days) could become a man and return to his celestial status.

(Incidentally, Larry Hurtado expresses a strong dislike of Boyarin’s case and scoffs at his interpretation on the grounds that the Ethiopic version of 1 Enoch on which it rests has variant terms for the “Son of Man” so it’s not a fixed title; but Hurtado failed to notice that Boyarin is actually referring to other scholarly arguments to the contrary, especially those of Colpe in volume VIII of The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, who argues — on the basis of context — that these Ethiopic variants were translations of a fixed Greek term. Nickelsburg has since argued the same point, but Nickelsburg is a good mainstream scholar in Hurtado’s eyes, it seems, so Hurtado is much more respectful when addressing this view when it comes from him.)

The point is that we need to know a lot more about Second Temple Jewish beliefs. Christian scholars have done a good job for most part of explaining why they are mostly irrelevant to Christianity. It is ironic that it seems to be the Jewish scholars are are the ones noticing what their Christian counterparts have tended to obscure.


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Neil Godfrey

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50 thoughts on “Goodacre-Carrier Debate: What if . . . . ?”

  1. On Doherty, I think it is a common perception that The Jesus Puzzle is a better book than Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, mainly because the extra material doesn’t add much to the previously stated case. I don’t think RC meant more than that. And he certainly wasn’t going to go into the extra material on this radio show.

    On Boyarin, I happened to find this Hurtado post just this week: http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/schafers-review-of-boyarins-the-jewish-gospels/ He links to the review that appeared in The New Republic, which is well worth reading.

    1. Yes, and it’s also worth reading Boyarin’s original article and comparing it against what Hurtado says of it. I plan to post on it some time, but am following up some of the references in the various artiles, on both sides, first.

        1. Carrier is, as far as I can see, addressing Verme’s argument that the Philippians hymn is an interpolation. That’s not the point I am interested in. For starters, the hymn comports well with the theology of Paul as seen as a model based on Stoic philosophy (Paul and the Stoics 1 and Christian Conversion: an idea crafted by Paul from ancient philosophy). Though I haven’t read Verme’s detailed argument so it’s not something I can weigh into. My point is that Hurtado’s refuses to engage with Vermes in like a professional scholar, opting to merely dismiss his point on his own grounds that clearly Vermes does not consider decisive. NT scholars do this all the time. I used to think Hurtado was just a jerk with me because I was arguing a mythicist point, but I see he can be like that with his peers, too.

          (I don’t know where Carrier stands on that sort of thing. He can be very rude himself and does not always take the time to justify his own assertions.)

  2. Neil: A horrible thought occurs to me. What if it’s never going to get any better? Is this the best we will ever hear from the historicists?

    Most probably. Why? Because 1) the gospel JC historicist position has no historical evidence. 2) a mythicist position that upholds a historizing of a Pauline cosmic JC has no historical evidence. Ergo – there is no rational basis upon which a debate can function. It’s all speculation. Fine, if that is what one wants to engage him – but NT scholars, like Mark Goodacre, have work on their hands – making papers etc. Both these positions are unable to move forward the search for early Christian origins.

    Neil, in your first post on the Carrier/Goodacre debate you presented the two positions being put forward in the debate.
    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?.

    While the first position is the historicist position – the second position is not a position upheld by all ahistoricist/mythicists. It is this particular mythicist position that is taking a lot of flack from the JC historicists. i.e. the particular mythicist position that upholds the idea that the gospel JC is a historizing of a Pauline cosmic JC figure.

    And that’s it, is it not – the ‘stone’ that keeps getting aimed at some mythicists? It’s being thrown around, now, over on Mark Goodacre’s blog:

    Mike Gantt :At the heart of mythicism is something utterly anti-history: that is, the intent to prove that something did not happen. Historians, by contrast, don’t want to know what didn’t happen; rather, they want to know what did happen. If, as you say, Jesus was a myth who came to be historicized, then give us a plausible and compelling historical account of how this took place. Don’t just keep throwing out “Well, no one can know any of this for sure” as Richard did on the podcast. When you stop trying to un-write history and start trying to write it, you might begin to get more of the scholarly respect that you seem so desperate to attain.”

    But what is the mythicist position?

    1) An ahistoricist is simply someone who denies that the figure of the gospel JC is historical.

    2) A mythicist is one who views the gospel JC figure as being a literary figure, a mythological or symbolic figure, a composite figure. i.e. mythicism is an attempt to define, explain, understand, what constitutes the gospel JC figure.

    There is nothing in the mythicism position that requires that history be ruled out. Historical figures could have been used as models for the gospel JC figure. A literary figure can reflect historical figure relevant to the gospel writers who created that JC figure. (a position upheld by Doherty….yet Doherty, unfortunately, does not seek to further this avenue of research for early Christian origins)

    “I can well acknowledge that elements of several representative, historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus, since even mythical characters can only be portrayed in terms of human personalities, especially ones from their own time that are familiar and pertinent to the writers of the myths.”


    If some mythicists have understood mythicism to mean the gospel JC story is completely devoid of any historical relevance, that the gospel story is completely and utterly a historizing of a Pauline cosmic JC figure – then they will lose out as far as their theories finding some relevance in the HJ/MJ debate and the search for early christian origins.

    It’s not good enough for the ahistoricist/mythicist argument to turn one mystical idea, Pauline JC, into another mystical idea; a historicized gospel JC that, supposedly, pulled the wool over the eyes of those early Jewish Christians. i.e. they believed the gospel JC story had no relevance for Jewish history. It was all just a means to an end – an aid to understanding the Pauline cosmic JC. Pauline technicality made user friendly via an easier to understand story set in real time. (that scenario reflects present day theologians and the huge knowledge gap between their theology and that of the man in the Sunday morning pew…… patronizing superiority.)

    Yes, people, today, believe the gospel JC story – as history. But to assume that, in the early days of this story, that people believed it had no relevance to Jewish history is absurd. Without a foothold in reality, in Jewish history, that story would not have been able to ‘walk’.

    If, as Doherty acknowledges in the above quote, “several historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus” – then, for heavens sake, name them. Provide some historical background for ones theories. (and no, quoting figures from Josephus, figures that have left no historical evidence, won’t cut it for those who uphold the historicists JC position.)

    The JC historicists want the ahistoricists/mythicists to provide an historical argument. Quoting Paul and presenting theories re a historizing of that Pauline cosmic JC – will not engage the JC historicists in any meaningful debate. The JC historicists are asking for apples – some ahistoricists/mythicists are offering oranges. And then they wonder why the JC historicists are showing no interest in engaging in any meaningful debate…

  3. Is it true that the only reason for not taking 1 Thessalonians 2 at its word is a desire to change what Paul wrote and replace it with something more congenial?

    This charge usually comes from people who automatically swap out the claim in 1 Thess. 2 that the Jews killed Jesus and replace it with a claim that the Romans killed Jesus. Or at least, they deny that the Jews killed Jesus,as that is anti-semitic, even though that is what ‘Paul’ says happened in a passage they maintain is totally authentic.

    1. It’s not the only reason, but it *is* a reason. Bible students, aka scholars, do not want Paul to have said the outrageously anti-Semitic 1 Thess 2:14-17, because it is indefensible. So they then went looking for reasons to exclude it, and quickly found a couple: “Paul” hopes for the conversion of “the Jews” in Romans 9-11, so he couldn’t have written anything this mean; and “God’s wrath has come upon them at last” can only refer to the fall of the Temple, which happened in 70, and of course Paul was dead by then. How do we know “Paul” was dead in 70? Church tradition. How do we know there even was a “Paul”? Church tradition.

      It’s all circular — assume “church tradition” is true, and then build a case for historicity from there. A truly critical evaluation would begin by not assuming anything from church tradition. Thus, 1 Thess 2:14-17 is not seen as an “interpolation” to save Bible students embarrassment, but a vital clue that this letter was probably written after 70. “Paul” is either still alive by then, in which case “church tradition” is wrong, or he’s dead and the entire letter, like Colossians and Ephesians, is pseudepigrapha.

      1. I don’t believe we can say all scholars are motivated like this. Reading the articles of Pearson and others who argued that the passage is an interpolation were clearly seriously and engaged with the scholarship in their quest for understanding. Same for “church tradition”. These traditions extend well beyond “the church”. There are also good reasons for arguing that Paul’s letters were written in the mid first century — it is not all knee-jerk submission to church tradition.

        1. It all seems pretty arbitrary to me. Not *all* scholars are motivated by these ulterior rationales, but many (most?) of them are.

          What’s the best reason for believing that Paul’s letters are pre-70?

          1. We can’t talk about other peoples motivations. (There is nothing arbitrary in the scholarship of Pearson, Schmidt or Simpson behind their conclusions that 1 Thess 2:14-16 is an interpolation.)

            Not long ago I posted something on “scientific dating” of texts, and I’ll be doing something similar again, soon. What this involves is establishing a latest possible and an earliest possible date. The latest possible date is based on some clear reference in some other datable work that the text (say Paul’s letters) are known. This points to the second century. But it is not valid to assume that that is the date of origin of the letters. We must also establish the earliest possible date — and that is usually from internal evidence in the letters themselves. Once we have that range established, we need to look for clear reasons to shift the probabilities toward one end or the other.

            Some reasons for shifting it to the first century end have been posted at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/reasons-to-assign-pauls-letters-to-the-first-century-distilled-from-doherty/

            One of the strongest arguments for a first century date is the way Paul enters the second century records as already being a well-known authority reputed to have lived in the first century. This suggests he had a well-known profile before the second century.

            Recently I posted on a view that suggests Paul’s letters were composed by a school. If so, this would almost certainly be a first century activity — by the time we reach the second century all knowledge of such a school is gone and the provenance of the letters is taken from a face-value reading of them.

            There is also the problem of Justin appearing to know of Paul’s writings but not knowing of a Paul. That leans us to towards the possibility that the letters were not originally known to be by “Paul” — and again we are brought back to a very early period of Christian history.

            1. This was one of Doherty’s reasons for adducing a first century date:

              “The strong and emotional personality that emerges in the genuine Paulines is not conceivable as the product of a deliberate forger living in a later time and slaving over a writing desk to create a fictional character of a century earlier.”

              But you just questioned such an approach in your precis on Rosenmeyer, and Brodie’s section on Paul in “The Birthing of the New Testament.”

              Note that I’m not disputing first century, just the pre-62 dogma.

              1. I was giving my own as well as a link to Doherty’s reasons for thinking Paul’s letters are mid-first century. I question lots of things and expect others to do the same. The point is one cannot say there are not valid reasons for arguing a mid-first century date — regardless of our own views. Our own views are no doubt tentative anyway and likewise open to question.

          2. This sounds like a flippant comment by someone who has not read the scholarly work. Blood, read Birger Pearson, first, then comment on the article. It is the defining article on this topic, but not the last word. I think if you read that, you would see that Pearson’s reasoning goes far beyond an ad hoc attempt to cover an embarrassing anti-semitic remark.

  4. “Maybe we have to face up to the reality that the historicist case is always going to be like that — that it will always lack the ability (including ability to find time) to advance a complete response to mythicism.”

    You know what they say, scholarship/science advances one funeral at a time.

  5. I agree that it is appropriate to look at Paul’s use of the word “received” in Galatians when considering its meaning in 1 Cor. 15:3, but I am starting to think that mythicists may be overplaying that card. Even without looking at the gospels, I think that 1 Corinthians gives us some reason to think that Paul might be acknowledging his predecessors contribution to his understanding. (1) Paul uses “received” in 1 Cor. 1:1 to refer to the gospel being transmitted man-to-man rather than God-to-man. Admittedly he is referring to how the Corinthians received the gospel from him rather than how he received it originally, but it is an example of Paul using “received” to refer to something other than revelation (2) What Paul claims to have “received” includes a number of appearances to his predecessors. Perhaps Paul is claiming that these events were revealed to him by God directly in some sort of vision, but it also seems plausible to me that Paul expected the Corinthians to understand that the information originally came from those who witnessed the events.

      1. One thing I find plausible based on my knowledge of other people trying to sell their particular set of religious beliefs is that Paul may have been willing to say whatever he thought would work best with a particular group regardless of whether it was consistent with what he said to some other group. If he was worried about the Galatians listening too much to the Jerusalem crowd, he might insist that he had learned nothing from the pillars. He might do this even if he had told (or would go on to tell) the Corinthians that he was simply passing along what he had received from his predecessors in the faith.

        1. This is all plausible insofar as it encompasses all that humans are known to do. But it does not advance the discussion. What evidence is there that the author of the letters was doing any of these things?

          1. A couple thoughts come to mind Neil:

            (1) How much evidence do we need? I would say that we have evidence that Paul was specifically worried about the Jerusalem community somehow undermining his communities in Galatia with teachings contrary to his own. On the other hand, Paul seems to be trying to convince the Corinthians that everybody was on the same page (1 Cor. 1:10-17). That seems to be sufficient basis to me to be wary about reading into Corinthians what Paul has to say about his predecessors in Galatians.

            (2) As much as we would like to advance the discussion, maybe the the evidence doesn’t support much more than laying out some possibilities. It seems to me that the most relevant passages to understanding Paul’s use of “received” in 1 Cor. 15:3 are 1 Cor. 15:1, 1 Cor 11:23, and Gal. 1:12. That’s not a very big sample.

            1. From your original comments I thought you were simply addressing “possibilities” and “plausibilities”.

              As for (2), if we don’t have the evidence we need to answer a question (beyond arriving at a range of human possibilities) then it seems pointless asking the question, I would think. Besides, as far as I am aware the argument does not hang upon just one word. At least, I have never rested any point on a single word as far as I can recall. Even if the author was thinking of a humanly conveyed tradition (something we cannot know because he does not say this, we can only speculate) I don’t see how that impacts upon “mythicism” per se, Mark Goodacre’s suggestions notwithstanding.

              As for (1) I would simply say “some”. I have no problem with “being wary” about reading one letter through the words of another — it was that wariness years ago that led me to my views today. Interpretations that are open to debate are not themselves secure evidence upon which to build an argument either way, though. I’m sure we both agree. No doubt a plausible view of mythicism can incorporate Paul receiving traditions from others.

              But where there are different interpretations of a point then maybe — just maybe — it might be helpful to bring to bear all the factors we know might hinge upon the argument and work through these with something like Bayes’ theorem? 😉

              Just by the way, on the 1 Corinthians passage you mention, one does notice that there is no faction of James there. Later in the epistle Paul draws the line between those who believe the gospel of Christ crucified against those who don’t, whether Jew or gentile. Yet in Galatians, I think, Paul would consider the faction of James to be a de facto enemy of that gospel. Later in 2 Corinthians 11 he speaks of false apostles who also appear to diminish the role of the crucifixion in preference for visions (cf. the Revelation of John). From the body of 1 Corinthians I don’t know if we can assume that the divisions were of the same nature as the ones addressed in Galatians.

              1. I think that we probably have to ask and examine the question in order to determine whether we have enough evidence to reach a conclusion.

                I quite agree that mythicism can incorporate Paul receiving traditions from others and I don’t know many mythicists who would deny that Paul had predecessors in some sense even if his contributions and alterations may have been so great as to effectively establish a new message. That is why I think it likely that there is some degree of bombast in Paul’s claims in Galatians that no man taught him anything and I am puzzled by mythicists who try to play that claim as a trump card every time the historicist interpretation of 1 Cor. 15 is advanced.

              2. If Mark Goodacre is right, and that in Galatians Paul is trying to show that he also is an authority figure, despite not having the advantage of being the physical brother of Jesus, why would Paul remind the Galatians that James was the physical brother of Jesus?

                Was Paul just dumb?

                And if Mark Goodacre is right, and in 1 Corinthians , Paul is trying to show that he is part of this chain of tradition, passed on by the people who knew Jesus best, why does he not tell the Corinthians there that he, Paul, was being kept in the loop by James, the very brother of Jesus?

              3. Steven,

                I think that Goodacre could be right insofar as Paul might be claiming to be part of a chain of tradition in 1 Corinthians while claiming in Galatians that his authority is independent of that chain. On the other hand, I do not think that either of these two somewhat inconsistent claims necessitates a historical Jesus as the anchor of that chain.

              4. I think that chain of tradition and individual revelation are two different sources of authority, each of which Paul might have claimed when it suited him to do so. In Galatians, Paul was trying to isolate his communities from someone farther back in the chain who disagreed with him about the tradition, so he was concerned to establish his independent authority. In 1 Corinthians, he was trying to draw into his community believers who had been converted by someone else, so he was concerned to establish that they were all on the same page.

              5. Odd, then, isn’t it, that he did not make this clear? If he wanted to emphasize that he received the traditions from respectable names then why not say so? Why leave the statement so generic as to be vague, even ambiguous? But on the other hand, how could one who started out insisting that there was no valid faction of Cephas or others turn around and say he owed his teaching to Cephas and co? The solution proposed may bring up more questions than it answers.

              6. Neil,

                Since the problem in Corinth is factionalism, I can imagine that Paul might not want to emphasize that he got the tradition from any specific predecessor. He might simply want to present it as a shared tradition without singling anyone out as its source.

              7. I can imagine it all being as you say, but this does seem to be getting all very ad hoc — reminds me of reading Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” where he can think up a reason to explain why every bit of evidence or text was transmitted just the way it was. No evidence, just a ready imagination to explain why everything just happened to fit the theory.

              8. The problem Neil is that the game can be played from the historicist side as well. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul includes as part of what he received several events to which people he knew were witnesses. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that those people were the sources of his information about those events? If Paul wanted the Corinthians to think that he learned about the appearances to Peter and James by divine revelation rather than from Peter and James, isn’t it odd that he didn’t make that clear?

                The historicist can even argue that 1 Cor. 11:23 supports them. After all, a speech at a meal is the kind of thing that you would normally learn about from someone who was at the meal and yet, Paul is careful to tell the Corinthians that he received it from the Lord. Why wouldn’t he make the same thing just as clear regarding the appearances rather than leaving them to assume that the information came from witnesses?

                In Galatians, Paul doesn’t give any details about the content of what he received like he does in 1 Corinthians and he is addressing different issues and disputes. Why should we assume that he is talking about the exact same thing being received in the exact same way?

              9. I agree that Bauckham’s method, and yours, is in large part a game. Sure it is “reasonable” to assume that the author got his information from those he names; it is just as reasonable to assume any other scenario. This is a pointless game of “let’s imagine”. So we assume “Paul wanted to Corinthians to think” a certain thing? This is a game and not how valid literary analysis or historical research ought to be done. It’s all make-believe and mind-reading and rhetorical questions.

              10. Neil,

                Do you really think that it is just as reasonable to assume that Paul is indicating that he learned about the appearances to Peter and James by direct revelation from God as it is to assume that he is indicating that the information came from Peter and James? If so, I would be interested in your reasoning. I’m not claiming that Paul couldn’t have believed the former or that he never wrote anything that might not support that interpretation, but I think that the most natural interpretation is that Paul is indicating that the risen Christ appeared to people with whom Paul personally communicated.

              11. No Vinny, you’re missing the point. “Just assuming” is not what literary analysis or historical research is supposed to be about. “Just assuming” a naive or any other reading of any text has paved the way to all sorts of nonsense in the literature, as I’ve attempted to point out many times here.

              12. Fine Neil. Let’s try the question this way: Do you think that it is as reasonable to interpret Paul as indicating that he learned about the appearances to Peter and James by direct revelation from God as it is to interpret him as indicating that the information came from Peter and James? I’m not suggesting that our inquiry stops there or that the answer to that question is dispositive of every relevant issue, but we’ve got to start somewhere, don’t we?

              13. I am sure a “reasonable” interpretation could be made either way. Humans are pretty good at proving whatever they want to prove. The trick is to “disprove” the other argument and to present an alternative that is falsifiable.

              14. I know. Instead, I point out why the question is a pointless one. People can always find “reasonable” grounds to argue any point of view or interpretation they want and forever go around in circles of argument. That’s the problem that needs a solution and why we have (good) scholarly ways of meeting that solution.

              15. Neil,

                The question is only pointless if the answer wouldn’t matter either way. Do you think it doesn’t matter whether or not Paul is talking about traditions he received from his predecessors either in whole or in part in 1 Cor. 15 as opposed to things knowledge he received by direct revelation?

              16. Your choice Neil, but I am going to be much less sympathetic next time you accuse some historicist of ducking one of your questions.

              17. Oh Vinny. I do not ask the sorts of questions you ask. “Is an alternative interpretation also reasonable?” I’m addressing the way you frame the question — it leads nowhere. You are the master of always finding the alternative to anything that’s proposed. You are avoiding what I have urged is a more productive way to approach a problem.

              18. VINNY
                In Galatians, Paul was trying to isolate his communities from someone farther back in the chain who disagreed with him about the tradition, so he was concerned to establish his independent authority.

                So why remind the Galatians that James had been the very brother of Jesus? Did Paul like shooting himself in the foot?

              19. NEIL
                I think that chain of tradition and individual revelation are two different sources of authority….

                In 1 Corinthians 1 (the letter where Paul is supposedly claiming his authority from the disciples and brother of Jesus), he writes ‘What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”’

                Who was Apollos? How come he had followers, when supposedly the only authority figures were people who knew Jesus personally?

                And where did James go in this list?

                Why doesn’t Paul remind people of the chain of tradition here, in the very place where he discusses who should be authority figures?

              20. Yep. See above, but in case that’s too difficult I copy here what I wrote up there:

                On the 1 Corinthians passage . . . one does notice that there is no faction of James there.

                Later in the epistle Paul draws the line between those who believe the gospel of Christ crucified against those who don’t, whether Jew or gentile. Yet in Galatians, I think, Paul would consider the faction of James to be a de facto enemy of that gospel.

                Later in 2 Corinthians 11 he speaks of false apostles who also appear to diminish the role of the crucifixion in preference for visions (cf. the Revelation of John). From the body of 1 Corinthians I don’t know if we can assume that the divisions were of the same nature as the ones addressed in Galatians.

              21. I can’t see why we would expect to find every faction represented in every Christian community. James may have not generated much of a following in Corinth while Apollos had less influence in Galatia. I cannot see anything odd about that.

                Paul could have claimed a chain of tradition while keeping the identify of the specific links in the chain vague as Luke does in his prologue.

  6. I’ve said this here before, but I think it deserves constant repeating as I think the following point is crucially important and under-appreciated: Not enough scholars are taking seriously the high degree of interpolation that exists in the Pauline corpus.

    Even scholars who argue for particular passages being interpolations aren’t taking it seriously enough how many other interpolations exist in the corpus. There isn’t merely a few interpolations here and there. There was a deliberate extensive rewriting of the Pauline corpus in the second century, which overall made the corpus about a third longer. There are several places where extensive passages we added, along with myriad places where single sentences were changed. Scholars need to be much more aware of the difficulty this creates for understanding the original layer of Pauline thought.

    My reason for being convinced of the above is the impressive arguments made by Couchoud and others after him. Those arguments are primarily based on critically comparing the canonical version of the texts against the shorter version used by Marcion as we can approximately reconstruct from the writings of Tertullian and others. The result of such comparison is that it very unlikely that Marcion’s shorter text was an abridgment of the canonical text (as Tertullian thought), and instead that it is much more likely that the canonical version is a deliberate theologically-motivated expansion to and revising of the older Marcionite version.

    1. Agreed. The root of the problem, it seems, is the “need” for scholars to have “the evidence” required in order to answer questions they want to ask. To throw open even the scarce amount of evidence we have to even further doubt means revising the questions we can validly put to it all. Ideology lies at the heart of the problem. That’s not going to be banished soon.

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