I have just completed reading How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity, a web article written by R. G. Price. It begins:
Having written several pieces on the historicity of Jesus (Jesus Myth – The Case Against Historical Christ, Jesus Myth Part II – Follow-up, Commentary, and Expansion, The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory), I think it is of critical importance to not simply cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus, but to actually put forward plausible explanations for the development of early Christian writings and how the widespread belief in a real life Jesus was established. This piece builds on the evidence laid out in my prior writings and ties everything together into a cohesive explanation for the origins of belief in a human Jesus and the development of early Christian history.
Price is not merely attempting to raise doubts about the historicity of Jesus. He hopes to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that there never was a real Jesus at the start of Christianity. He does not focus on the letters of Paul but rather on the Gospels themselves as his primary evidence. Since his argument examines the Gospel narratives and their literary sources he is led to discard even the concept of the “Jesus myth” and replace it with the “Jesus fiction”.
There is little I find myself disagreeing with in Price’s work. Or rather, I think I agree with almost all of it. Readers of past posts on Vridar will recognize some of the themes Price addresses: the literary indebtedness of Gospel narratives to Old Testament stories; the association of the Gospel of Mark with the Jewish War (compare earlier posts here addressing Clarke Owens’ “Son of Yahweh”. Price appears to have absorbed this sort of material from both his own analysis and a wide range of reading. My initial reaction was disappointment in the absence of citations but I soon learned that I was reading a print-out of a draft essay and that Price was at the time editing his work and adding citations.
While on the subject of negatives — there is one minor one I’d like to see Price address. His piece could flow more easily if he could avoid awkward language like “the Gospel called Mark” instead of more simply “Mark’s Gospel”. I can understand the desire to be particular but this sort of thing can be explained at the outset by simply informing readers that the colloquial use throughout does not represent a known fact.
I myself have been moving towards the view that the Gospel of Mark was structured around themes closely related to the (or at least “a”) Jewish War (strengthened by my reading of both Hanhart and Owens) so it is interesting to see Price strongly arguing a similar point. Price argues that the literary allusions are not simply “there” but that he can show how they acquire explanatory power or meaning when understood in the context of the recent Jewish War.
Literary allusions in the Gospels do not necessarily of themselves imply that their content is fabricated, but Price points out at length the vast extent of these allusions in the Gospels. So extensive that they leave next to no room for any additional data left over for historicity. To my way of thinking the argument can be strengthened somewhat more. There is much historical literature in which we do see a person either embellishing himself with mythical claims or in which we see the author dressing up his subject with such allusions. But in such cases there is always room to see the real person apart from these trappings. See my recent post on Lord Raglan’s Hero Types — this is the point he makes to separate mythical from historical persons. There is also the principle of Occam’s razor: once we have a clear explanation for the content of a narrative (e.g. literary logic) we have no need to seek further possible hypotheses (e.g. also historical reporting) unless there is data the first explanation cannot account for.
Price further discusses the places of famous names — Peter, James, John — in the literary evidence. The inconsistencies are clear from Price’s treatment.
After discussing the literary nature of the Gospels Price shows how subsequent literary evidence shows how knowledge of Jesus continued to rely upon Scriptures and theological writings and not independent historical traditions. Details of so-called “church history” such as the fate of the apostles were also clearly fabricated.
Price has synthesized a wealth of information from diverse sources and has produced a most interesting and (I think) strong argument as a result. In some places the wording could be tidied up a bit for snappier and less repetitive reading — but this online article is a great start.
It’s worth reading and a worthy thought and discussion starter.
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81 thoughts on “Christianity’s Rock of a Fictional Jesus”
…strengthened by my reading of both Hanhart and Owens
I know Owens but the book of Hanhart, The Open Tomb, seems not more available, unfortunately (the only info about it are only on Vridar)…. Is there any library that sells it still? I would hope…
…about the (strong) argument of Price, I wonder if it can be further strengthened emphasizing how ”Mark”, having to be inspired by the actions of a man on Earth to give form and substance to his theological Christ, has not found anything better than to be inspired by the person of Paul : why resort to an imitation, an Alter Christus? Maybe the original, the Christus, was not there?
You might find a copy in a nearby library if you look it up in http://www.worldcat.org/
(Some of the book I found too speculative, by the way, but it certainly has much of interest, too, I think.)
As for the relationship between the War and GMark and if reading German is not a problem there is Frohe Botschaft am Abgrund das Markusevangelium und der Jüdische Krieg by Andreas Bedenbender.
The problem as I see it is that R.G. Price is not skeptical enough. He says “the reality is that it’s not just that ‘Jesus did not exist’, the reality is that the majority of early Christian history is fabricated,” which is certainly true enough. And yet he inexplicably concedes a Jerusalem church led by James that became infiltrated by Paul whose Jewish followers wrote the Gospel of Mark … and just why doesn’t this qualify as fabricated history, also? We keep coming back to this … skeptics like Doherty and Carrier and both Prices taking the New Testament far too seriously as a documentary-historical text, and not seriously enough as a fictional origin myth that’s about as “historical” as the Exodus or the Garden of Eden. What’s needed are hypothetical theories on Christian origins *not* influenced by the narrative that the New Testament tries so hard (too hard) to convey, like Thomas L. Thompson’s book on the history of Ancient Israel that specifically avoids using the Bible as a source.
I see your point in general, but R.G. Price says he dealing only with the Gospels and later. So, he takes the earlier Pauline letters, which describe James leading the Jerusalem church, as given. I don’t see any problem with this approach. In fact, it is a welcome addition to the heavenly Christ of the Paulines in other non-historical Jesus work.
I am aware that there is growing skepticism of “Paul”, but quite frankly I don’t agree with the arguments nor do I see the utility in dismissing Paul. Plus the evidence clearly shows that whoever wrote the Gospel called Mark must have read the “Letters of Paul”.
Who is “Paul”? We have no idea, but someone had to have written those letters.
What I put forward in this piece is evidence that whoever wrote the Gospel called Mark had read and made use of the letters of Paul, and I think this evidence is very clear and compelling. So given that whoever wrote Mark had to have read the writings that we call the letters of Paul, its clear that they had to have been written before the Gospel called Mark was written.
Furthermore, I don’t see how skepticism of Paul or the early messianic cult contributes in any way to the argument that Jesus never existed, in fact I think it undermines the argument. IMO, the case made by Doherty and others, and myself included, is quite convincing that the letters of Paul are actually evidence against the historical existence of Jesus. By dismissing them you actually dismiss evidence against the existence of Jesus.
The letters of Paul could not have been written after the Gospels, they had to have been written before the Gospels. Simply dismissing everything doesn’t explain anything. The case I’m putting together shows a clear line of dependency from one set of documents to the next, showing how all of the Gospels are dependent on Mark and how Mark is dependent on the letters of Paul, and how Paul never knew of a real Jesus nor even believed in a human Jesus.
I think what I’ve been able to put together, and the picture that is increasingly coming into focus due to the work of many different scholars on this subject, shows that you don’t have to veer too far from traditional understandings of Christian origins to conclude that Jesus never existed. In fact, the less you have to depart from traditional understandings of the origin of the religion, the more convincing the argument becomes.
The case I put forward is really not very different from the traditional understanding of the origins of Christianity, which makes it all the more powerful. I think of all the major writers on this topic, I probably call the fewest Pauline passages into question as interpolations. I use datings of writings that are well accepted by traditional scholars. I have an interpretation of early Christian theology that is largely in line with the traditional understanding of Christian theology (in fact I totally reject the idea that Jesus began as a “pagan” myth, hence my book “Jesus – A Very Jewish Myth”). My assessment of non-Christian references to Jesus is perhaps the least radical, or rather my explanations for how those passages likely came into existence is the most mundane.
All of this, to me, is the strength of my argument. My argument doesn’t require a radical re-writing of Christian origins, merely a minor reshuffling. My case doesn’t require throwing out tons of long held facts, it requires merely a minor change in perspective. And that’s the beauty of it IMO.
“The case I put forward is really not very different from the traditional understanding of the origins of Christianity, which makes it all the more powerful.”
“Traditional understanding of the origins of Christianity” is first of all based on a gross misunderstanding and misreading of the texts as historical rather than allegorical pseudo-history, and epistles as real instead of artificial literary diatribes, so if your case is “not that different” then it hardly squares with your (correct) assertion that the “majority of early Christian history is fabricated.” Where do the fabrications end, and how are we to gauge their authenticity? By simply removing the miraculous and improbable? If the church can invent a Christ and a life of Christ, that makes the invention of supposedly mundane details about an origin in Jerusalem with “James” and “Paul” *more* probable, not less, as a great lie, once accepted, proves the gateway to a hundred lesser ones. The same deceptive mind that can invent details for the life of Jesus from that of Josephus’s Jesus ben Ananias is equally capable of inventing the details of James’s Jerusalem Church from Josephus’s James. And so on.
I don’t know if you have read my piece or not. Are there specific objections that you have to specific pieces of evidence I’ve presented?
I also don’t know the specifics of your theory of Christian origins. However, what I do know is that it is clear that by the end of the 1st century there was widespread belief that someone named Jesus was a real person, who had been crucified and inspired the rise of a religion. This fact has to be accounted for.
I do know that whoever wrote the Gospel called Mark made use of the letters attributed to Paul, therefore the letters attributed to Paul had to have been written before the writing of the Gospel called Mark.
The letters attributed to Paul could well be full of BS, but that doesn’t change the fact that they must bave been written some in around 50 CE and been in circulation.
The case that I put forward basically says that the Christian religion arose out of *misunderstandings* of letters and stories that were produced within a subculture that was foreign to the culture which misinterpreted them, with no original intent of deception. What my writings on this subject do is basically show how the original church fathers and apologists were confused and misunderstood the material they were dealing with. That’s basically my whole point. I do that by using the the very same texts that they were using when they drew their conclusions. I just show that, using those exact same texts, i.e. the letters of Paul, the Gospels, and other early epistles, with proper analysis it shows that in fact Jesus never existed.
That’s why I’m saying that GMark was a misunderstood fiction. The origins of Christianity were not so much a production of deceptive invention, as they were credulous misunderstanding. Now, later on, in the 4th-6th centuries and beyond, yes some intentional deceptive invention took place, but that’s not how this all got started. It got started with innocent misunderstanding.
You don’t have to throw it all out or claim that all of the writings were invented by Roman charlatans to show that Jesus never existed, and in fact, doing that just doesn’t really accomplish that goal IMO.
Neil, I too am willing to give Paul some license of credibility, albeit a bit reluctantly, as I find the heavenly Christ concept intriguing. I note that even Bart Ehrman appears to have peered over his gospel glasses long enough to touch on it in his How Jesus Became God, as I recall.
Thank you for reading and commenting on my piece. This is great feedback that will help me refine my work. I did want to highlight one (cumbersomely written) passage from the piece that I think really captures how the case I’m putting forward is more about simply changing perspective than totally re-writing our understanding of Christian origins:
“The two key assumptions that the early Christian apologists made were #1 that each of the four Gospels were independently written, and #2 that the correlations between the Gospel accounts and the Hebrew scriptures were evidence of prophecy fulfillment.
What happened was that the literary allusions in the Gospel stories were interpreted not as literary allusions, but as accounts of real world events that actually corresponded perfectly to things written about in the Hebrew scriptures. The fact that these things were attested to in four separate, “independently written”, accounts was the “evidence” that convinced them, and many others, that the Gospels demonstrated, with “solid substantiated proof”, that this individual, Jesus, had fulfilled ancient prophecies. If that were true, the logic went, then this was solid evidence of divinity, in fact the most solid evidence ever established.
But as we can see, this entire line of reasoning falls apart when we recognize that the so-called “prophecies” are really just literary allusions, and that they are attested to in the four accounts because the other authors just copied from the first story. It is rather like seeing how a magic trick is done. What appeared completely miraculous and amazing under a set of faulty assumptions is revealed to have a quite simple and mundane explanation. No, the four Gospels don’t corroborate evidence for miracles and prophecy fulfillment, they are simply different copies of one fictional story. Whoops… Talk about a simple misunderstanding that changed the course of history…”
Great job! I think that Mark was using Paul’s portrayal of Cephas, James, and John for the main three sidekicks. Peter was wishy-washy about eating with the Gentiles until he was cowed by the circumcision faction and that is shown in Peter’s denials, like Elisha’s promises to Elijah. James and John were the other two pillars and Mark has them wanting to be on either side of Jesus in glory. I think they were probably well-educated people but Mark makes them out to be illiterate fishermen who are surprised even at the second mass feeding.
The “fig tree : Temple tantrum :: Withering : _________” sequence seems to be a syllogism to me that would have been recognized at the time because the destruction of a city would come to mind as the WTC at the mention of “9/11”.
I’m not all the way through but I had only seen allusions to Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians in Mark. Thanks for pointing out more of the other letters.
I’m still digesting the essay. I have very few objections but a lot of new ideas to consider.
The redundancy seems redundant.
I think “Luke” defiantly read GJohn, though, turning around Jesus’ visit to Bethany into a pleasant occasion for Martha and especially Mary while he has Jesus making an example of Lazarus in Hades with Abraham who says, “neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Perhaps, but the other possibility is that “Secret Mark” contained the Lazarus story, which is actually what Clement of Alexandria claimed. According to Clement, the raising of Lazarus is in “Secret Mark”. In that case, Luke need not have read GJohn, he need only have read “Secret Mark”. The only reason I didn’t include this in my piece is that I was trying to keep it simple and didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole. But perhaps it is worth exploring to address this issue that you raise.
If we combine your Pauline sources for Mark with those from New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M. Price, we have sources for most of Mark. The weakest part to me seems to be from Mark 3:23-35 and 4:1-34, which sounds very much like the Gospel of Thomas.
If we look at The Sermon on the Mount Site: James and the Sermon on the Mount. by Robert I. Kirby and consider those parallels as possible sources for Matthew along with Mark, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Old Testament scripure and apocrypha, the Sermon on the Mount looks like this:
The otherwise unaccounted for gaps are the verses that look like Gospel of Thomas sayings. The same holds for the rest of Matthew with Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.
It seems unlikely that the sayings collector for the Gospel of Thomas would focus on the few passages that we in the 21st century would not have references for. Yet the unknown source looks less like Q and more like Thomas or a proto-Thomas.
I can understand the concern over accepting Paul’s letters as foundational to inquiries. I have raised the same questions myself: Questioning Paul’s Letters. Were they really “occasional”? Or rhetorical fictions? — as well as posting on Brodie’s own suspicions: Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 5 (How Paul Was Made) and Sowing Doubt That An Emotional Paul Authored Galatians.
I have sometimes toyed with the question of whether Christianity began in Phrygia (not Palestine) partly on the basis of our earliest physical evidence for the faith there (tomb inscriptions). (Galilee and Jerusalem are evidently ciphers or symbols in Mark’s Gospels.)
But then there’s also the evidence of so much of the earliest literature having a Syrian provenance (including Levant), the affinities with ideas from Alexandria (e.g. Philo, Septuagint traditions). Further, we probably need to be able to explain the Gospel of Mark’s relationship with the Pauline letters.
And it’s not just the Pauline corpus but the deutero-Paulines that I think first appear in a canon with the other letters, and the other NT letters and extra-canonical ones, too — and their relationships.
Then we need to explain the interest in Paul in the mid-second century and all the different Pauls that appear on the scene around that time. All of these Paul’s are set in a time past. Doherty asked a good question, I thought: How do we explain this high reverence for Paul unless he had been a figure of historical importance?
Roger Parvus seems to me to explain why we don’t have any clear evidence of this Paul inhabiting the mid first century — he was known by another identity: Paul was a nickname of theological significance. That earlier identity was the one that needed to be written out of history by the authors of our earliest Apologist literature. Paul was known as the apostle of the heretics — makes sense on Parvus’s explanations. And Parvus also explains, I think, how at the same time the same figure only appears in the orthodox camp as Paul from the early/mid second century on.
I’d love to have a crystal ball and see what hypotheses will be raised a century from now.
I think we already know the answer for the rise in interest in Paul in the mid-2nd century, and that is the relationship to the Marcionite movement. The interest in the orthodox camp seems to be a generation later.
The Synoptic Gospels seem to be mostly from the same era, I think slightly later. The reference to Capernaum as a “Polis” is not factual until Hadrian’s eastern tour around 129 CE, when it became a rest stop for Roman legions during construction projects, and a unit retirement camp during Bar Kokhba. The bath found outside the small Jewish fishing village date from that era. I don’t place Mark first, but order is not really critical, beyond Matthew being after Marcion, and John after Matthew. I do agree the place names are often symbolic, but we are also dealing with Genre writings, whether Paul or Gospels. There is an accepted setting and caste of characters for the drama to follow which the audience expects.
The titles and format of the Pauline letters are much easier to be ascribed as appellations of a later editor and collector(s). Paul’s name comes in at this point to tracts that can be separated by style and substance as belonging to different authors. I would argue there were at least three stages of collection, and thus three stages of appellation, the last being orthodox, when the Roman letter was expanded to double its Marcionite size and the opening greeting expanded to include the Davidic confessional to serve as the collection introduction and claim for authority. There is not much evidence any of the so-called “Acts of Paul” were present in the Marcionite collection, elements such as the Damascus escape are not mentioned by the anti-Marcionite writers of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries. (The exception being the single trip to Jerusalem after 14 years … but Tertullian thinks Galatians was “found” by Marcion much later than the other letters, and I agree).
The point being Paul was name chosen for a collection, an unknown perhaps before this. The assignment of Simon Magus (really a Simon) to Paul appears in the late 3rd century or early 4th with the Clementia. I do think there may be something with the whole Simon business (Simon Peter, Simon the Cananaean, Simon the zealot, Simon Bar-Jona, Simon the Leper, Simon the son of Mary, Simon the Tanner, Simon of Cyrene, Simon Magus, Simeon, et al), where a simple Simon (“the hearer”) might be the original element in the story, representing one close to Jesus who hears his words. But why does the hearer have to be any more real than the one he hears from?
I do not think Paul need to have been historical anymore than Sherlock Holmes or James Bond or Harry Potter or Clark Kent. And entire industry of writing has built up around these characters (excepting that JK Rowling still keeps tight control on her intellectual property) filling in the backgrounds and history. Look at the Star Trek series or any popular comics to see this phenomena as well. There need not have been a Paul anymore than there needs to be a Peter or Judas or Jesus. So Doherty’s premise is just as weak on Paul as the same argument for HC.
That is my take FWIW.
The difference is that “Paul” wrote letters, “Jesus” didn’t. It doesn’t really matter what you want to call the guy, or whether you think the details of the letter are true or not, the fact is that someone wrote the letters attributed to Paul, and whoever wrote the Gospel called Mark used those letters as the inspiration for their Jesus character and for Jesus’ teachings.
There are many compelling reasons to place the writing of Mark around 70 CE, which means that the letters of Paul had to have been written before that time. Trying to place the writing of the Gospels later, in the 2nd century and such, has many problems and does nothing to advance the case against historicity, it really just undermines credibility in the case.
The case I am making is that the entire idea of a “human Jesus” originated with the Gospel called Mark. Before the writing of Mark, there was no such idea as a human Jesus. Given that we know people believed in a human Jesus by the last 1st century, the Gospel fo Mark had to have been written before that time if it were the inspiration for the idea of a human Jesus.
In the back of my mind I am always prepared to discover that the famous names (Peter, James, John) and the scenarios built around them are as mythical as anything else. It’s an exercise in working with the literature to find the best fits. While I can think of several reasons to argue for their fictional status I don’t believe I can make a case anywhere near as strong as I can for a Jesus myth/fiction. And there are a few pointers (however slight) that do point to historicity for some of them. I can more easily believe mythology attached itself to historical persons such as “the pillars of Jerusalem” than I can for a historical Jesus.
Whoever Paul was we know that the second century saw several mythical Pauls being constructed for propaganda purposes.
Yes, there was definitely invention around Paul, just like there was invention around Peter, etc. And obviously many of the so-called Pauline epistles are pseudonymous, but the letters deemed the authentic letters of Paul, aside from a few quite apparent interpolations, show no sign of any knowledge of the Gospel stories, and quite a lot of statements that point to the writer not thinking of Jesus as a real historical person. So its not as if the letters of Paul present a challenge to mythicism anyway, indeed the just strengthen the case.
I’ve never cared for the idea of trying to push back the date of authorship of the Pauline letters or the Gospels anyway, because it is clear from multiple sources that there was widespread belief in some “Jesus person” by the end of the 1st century, and that has to be accounted for. The best way to account for that belief is through these writings. These writings are what inspired the belief.
If you push the date of these writing up to the late 1st century or 2nd century, then what accounts for the irrefutable fact that some people believed in “Jesus” by the last 1st century? Then you are left back with a set of beliefs in a real human Jesus that had to have originated from oral tradition at best, if not from some real person.
The whole idea of pushing the date of the writings into the 2nd or 3rd century was always an absurd idea advocated by historicists who simply thought that the information about Jesus being a god and miracle worker was unreliable. These are the people who wanted to strip away the supernatural elements and leave just the man. The whole idea of “late dating” ASSUMES that there was a REAL Jesus, and that died in the early first century, and that thus the longer the period before the first accounts where written after his life, the less reliable they are. But this whole duration argument only makes sense if there was a real person to which a duration of time could pass.
No, late dating is not only not supported by the evidence, it actually undermines the case for a-historicity, because then you have to account for how a legend of Jesus grew and spread on its own prior to being spread by writings.
In the case of late dating of Paul and the Gospels the only scenario can be that the legend of Jesus grew BEFORE the documents were written. That many a-historicity less likely. What I’m saying is that it was the writing themselves that inspired the idea of Jesus, that there was no oral tradition or popular concept until the writings created it.
That’s a much more likely scenario for a-historicity.
“I have sometimes toyed with the question of whether Christianity began in Phrygia (not Palestine) … ”
Have you written on this here?
No. The idea remains inchoate. Probably always will.
It would interesting to know what you think about this episode described in Josephus:
In particular, Josephus refers to the activity of a certain Jew who escaped to Rome because he had been accused of transgressing some laws, who pretended to explain the wisdom of the laws of Moses, who worked with a missionary team of three other persons, who was active among proselytes belonging to a high-ranking Roman family, and who used for his own needs the money that should be collected for the Jerusalem Temple (Ant. 18.81-84). It is not difficult to detect in this enigmatic story the features of Paul’s activity in Rome (cf. e.g. Phlp 3:3.20; 4:10.14.22). Accordingly, it may be reasonably assumed that by means of the strange bipartite story that follows the remark concerning Jesus, Josephus suggested in a narrative-allusive way that the disgraceful expulsion of numerous Jews from Rome, which most probably took place not long after Jesus’ death, had been caused by Paul’s only apparently Jewish (but in fact law-breaking and financially anti-Jewish) activity among the Gentiles in Rome, which had been a direct consequence of Jesus’ messianic-missionary activity (according to Jos. Ant. 18.63, also among the Gentiles) in Judaea.
(Bartosz Adamczewski, Constructing Relationships, Constructing Faces, PETER lANG 2011, P. 27)
1) Adamczewski wrote this to increase the probability of autenticity of Testimonium (of which there is very much for doubt, pace Adamczewski).
2) if the ”fugitive Jew” was Paul, then this Paul is not Samaritan like Simon.
I addressed this event in some detail in an older post and argued that it actually speaks against the authenticity of the TF. It was part of a larger series in which I argued that the TF was as out of place as a boil on the tip of one’s nose:
Jesus in Josephus, a cuckoo in the nest. 1
Cuckoo in the nest (2) — Jesus in Josephus
Cuckoo in the nest, 3 — why ALL proposed TFs are unJosephan
The episode appears in the second post of the series addressing the larger context and themes of Josephus.
I see Richard Carrier also points to this passage as evidence against the authenticity of the TF (p. 336 of OHJ):
This is similar to the case I make on the TF, except that I don’t think the writer of the TF was a “forger”, I think the TF originated as a marginal note, than was then accidently incorporated into the text.
“For a long time this was believed to be the case, indeed it was Protestant reformers in the late Renaissance and Enlightenment who proposed this and proscribed to it, but they proposed that the Catholic Church historian Eusebius intentionally inserted the passage in an effort of deception. This is important to note, because it is important to recognize that the belief that Eusebius inserted this passage was intentionally a claim that was made by anti-Catholic Protestants, it is not a recent claim of religious skeptics. Nevertheless, because of the fact that this claim had been well established in the literature for centuries, it is still the most widely discussed possibility for a fully insertion.
This claim really has very little merit however, and is unlikely. The much more likely scenario, and I argue the most likely scenario for how this passage came to be, is that the Testimonium is a marginal or interlinear note that was accidentally incorporated into the text. This is actually the most common way that ancient texts got corrupted, and the passage has all the hallmarks of a note.”
“At this point we can only speculate, but I propose this scenario:
Someone, either a Christian of Jewish heritage or a non-Christian, in the 2nd or 3rd century was reading the section on Pilate and added a marginal note about Jesus at the location where he thought Jesus would have fit into the timeline of history. The person may have read the passage and thought, “oh this is where Jesus came along”, and added a note accordingly. The Testimonium passage appropriately starts out, “About this time there lived Jesus…”. This is exactly what one would expect to find in a note. Some later scribe then thought that this note was supposed to be part of the text and incorporated it into the work. Later variations on the “Christ” sentence could have occurred from that point on, but the rest of the Testimonium was simply inserted in full.
From that point on the copies of Antiquity of the Jews that contained this passage were the ones most likely to have been used and copied by Christians, thus a form of “natural selection” took place, selecting for the preservation of copies that contained this passage over ones that didn’t.
This is what the evidence suggests. We don’t have any evidence of a small neutral passage that could have reasonably been written by Josephus, and we have no evidence for a hostile passage. The only evidence that we have is evidence from absence of for the first 200+ years of the existence of Antiquity of the Jews, and then evidence for the existence of the full fledged passage. That the Testimonium was a marginal note which got integrated into the text explains why the Testimonium is short, dense, interrupts the flow of the text, is not in the Table of Contents, is not mentioned in The Jewish War, and why Josephus never wrote anything else about Jesus Christ, and it is the only explanation that does explain all of these things.”
P. S. I would note that the Muhammad historicists point out to the Doctrina Jacobi as reference to Prophet, although that specific source doesn’t quote his name explictly.
There’s an interesting discussion on Salon of how Shakespeare came to be such a famous name. In his own day he was not considered so outstanding and were it not for the collation of his works into a single volume and some fierce promoters in a later day most of us may otherwise never have heard of him today. I don’t know the “real history” of Paul but such a comparison does throw up what is in the realm of possible scenarios when trying to understand the how Paul appears not to have become well known till well after his own time.
And, I would contend, that the fact that GMark is based on Paul itself propelled Paul’s letters into importance, because that’s what created the apparent corroboration between the letters of Paul and the Gospel story.
In other words, had the Gospel of Mark never been written, the letters of Paul, and “Paul” himself, would never have been a subject of interest. It was only AFTER the Gospels were written than the letters of Paul become of interest because at that point they were seen as earlier “pre-Gospel” writings that helped to corroborate the story.
That’s what I’m really getting at. To me, what I’ve laid out explains so many things like this.
Before the Gospels the letters of Paul appear like bizarre nonsense. After the Gospels they appear to supported by the Gospel story. That appears to be the case, of course, because the Gospel story is itself based on the letters of Paul, that’s where the apparent agreement between the two sources comes from, the one is based on the other.
Another thought-provoker from Michael Kok: New Article on Comparisons between Paul and Mark. Kok’s published article is titled “Does Mark Narrate the Pauline Kerygma? Challenging an Emerging Consensus on Mark as a Pauline Gospel”.
Ya never know what’s around the corner in this game!
I can already guess the follow of your thoughts:
Mark decided to emphasize ”the soteriological signiﬁcance of the cruciﬁxion of Jesus” because the Markan version of crucifixion of Jesus mirrors what had happened to many Jews during the siege of Jerusalem (a crucifixion en masse, to quote Owens) – ”the evangelist’s social location on the margins” (?) – and therefore it was necessary a theodicy.
But then it raises the question: before Mark, the emphasis was more on crucifixion or on resurrection? I think that before Mark the Jesus crucifixion had already expiatory value.
I have yet to read Kok’s article so I can’t say how or if it will change anything. Meanwhile I’ve almost completed Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement by Williams which argues for a martyr’s death having an expiatory in the thought of many Jews long before Paul and Mark, and that Paul was clearly influenced by these with respect to Jesus.
prof Markus Vinzent argues almost the same in Christ’s Resurrection: all the focus of first Christians were on crucifixion (with expiatory meaning) but Paul alone emphasized the resurrection (and even him together with theme of atonement).
In the first two centuries, hovewer, Christ’s Resurrection was soon of little theological importance and influence to the wider Church, except for Paul, and only began to become recognized when Marcion of Sinope made Paul’s writings resurface, and when he introduced the Gospel into Christianity.
Withou Marcion, the Christian creed might have ended with the passion, as the earliest baptismal questions did: do you believe in Jesus Christ – who was born and suffered (natum et passum)?
I’m sorry, but this article is absolute nonsense. The quote given is not exemplary of Dryden’s view of Shakespeare (see http://web.uvic.ca/~mbest1/engl366c/tn3.html. The idea that “There’s an interesting discussion on Salon of how Shakespeare came to be such a famous name. In his own day he was not considered so outstanding and were it not for the collation of his works into a single volume and some fierce promoters in a later day most of us may otherwise never have heard of him today” is absolute nonsense. Jonson (who the author can’t seem to spell right). Jonson was basically the leading poet at the time, and his poem on Shakespeare (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173731) is ample evidence of the respect he had for him. You can go well before Dryden as well to Milton (https://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/on_shakespeare/text.shtml) to see Shakespeare’s impact. The reason Shakespeare is so well known today is because he has been regarded by pretty much every generation of poets, even those who were diametrically opposed like the Neo Classicists and the Romantics, as the best the English language has to offer. If all it took were a bit of promotion, Jonson, who was the first to publish his plays, which weren’t seen as worthy of preservation by many, would take Shakespeare’s place in the popular imagination. There’s also the fact that he wrote more plays than any other playwright of his time. There are a thousand better reasons to explain Shakespeare’s success than aggressive promotion by Hemings and Condell who, without copyright to what they were printing, weren’t going to get much of a return on it anyway.
I respect your right to dismiss the whatever you please about the New Testament, but if you are going to make these sorts of claims about other things, please have a bit more evidence than a Salon article you happened to read.
in this scenario :
Mark 100-110 CE (by Paulines, whoever they were)
Luke-Acts 130-140 CE (by Marcion & Proto-orthodox)
Matthew after 140 CE (by Proto-orthodox)
all other gospels, etc..
you think that your Case for a-historicity becomes more strong or more weak?
Weaker, because then you have to account for how it was that belief in a human Jesus existed and spread prior to the writing of these documents.
What do you see as the earliest evidence for a belief in a historical human Jesus?
Well at the very least I view the Tacitus quote as authentic and evidence of belief in a human Jesus, though of course not evidence or the actual Jesus. But I think the tacitus quote shows that by the beginning of the 2nd century at least there was a concept of a human Jesus well established enough that even non-Christians were aware of it.
Also, the works of the apologists from the early to mid second century speak pretty clearly to the fact that the Gospel had been written by that point and that the idea of a human Jesus had been established. I’m also inclined to accept the consensus dating of 1 and 2 John to around 100 CE, both of which clearly speak to the establishment of a belief in a human Jesus.
Tacitus has long been a problem for me. Carrier’s conclusion to his discussion of the passage in Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ does little to restore confidence:
What don’t you like about Carrier’s treatment of it? Actually I hadn’t read that before and it makes some sense to me. Still, I never bothered trying to call it an interpolation because IMO it wasn’t evidence for an actually Jesus anyway.
But I can see his point as well, and it always did strike me a quite odd, because we have nothing else that provides evidence that Christian were a large group of people who might even be persecuted at that point in history. It always did strike me as testament to extremely early recognition and persecution of them.
So I do think there is something odd about the passage, and I doubtful that Christian really were persecuted under Nero or even recognizable. But my assumption was always that Tacitus got it wrong but really wrote the passage. I assumed that maybe by the time he was writing Christians were recognizable and he had just somehow cast the Christian of his present day back in time to Nero somehow.
That was my backward subtlety at work — I do find his arguments informative and believe they do strengthen the case for the passage not being penned by Tacitus. (My lack of confidence was meant to apply to my confidence in the passage being Tacitean.)
But if the passage is not original to Tacitus then we are left without any clear evidence for a belief in a human-historical Jesus until around the mid-second century and Justin’s writings, are we not? Or we can infer back to the earlier second century given what we can infer about Marcionism.
(I’m discounting the passage in Josephus, of course. And Pliny says nothing about such a belief.)
What do you make of the passages in the works of Tacitus, Pliny, and Suetonius calling the beliefs of this group a “new”, “superstition”? If they are referring to “Christians” who held a belief in a human Jesus derived from “oral tradition” about a Jesus crucified by the same government Pliny worked for from 30 CE onward and if there were numerous “Christians” in Rome around 64 CE, why would they say their beliefs are “superstition” and “new” around 112-120 CE? I thought the supposed events happened 85 to 95 years earlier?
That is the equivalent of someone today saying that the Model T Ford is new or that the belief in The Great Depression of the 1920’s is new.
I am also puzzled as to why there seems to be so much trust in what early “orthodox” church fathers are saying and why claiming an interpolation or forgery in certain instances is treated as if one is being overly skeptical. half of the letters attributed to Paul are deemed forgeries by scholarship, as are half the letters attributed to Clement, half of the letters attributed to Ignatius, and at least half the supposed passages in Josephus, and these are supposedly the earliest references to Jesus.
“Orthodox” Christians in the 3rd and 4th century were smart enough to use these passages that supposedly existed in the first and early 2nd century in their debates, but the earliest “orthodox” Christians weren’t smart enough to present them in their debates, even though they would have been a slam dunk against their opposers?
I think it could be argued that the idea of a “new” religion was set against comparisons with religions known to be many centuries old.
Having said that, however, I do believe that the points you raise are very pertinent to the whole question of Christian origins. Richard Carrier nails the state of so much biblical scholarship in a chapter “Ignatian Vexation” in Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ: so very little of what is commonly said to be “agreed upon by the scholars” is in fact without substantial support at all in the evidence.
This is especially so when it comes to dating documents.
Carrier’s chapter is looking at just one aspect of how Matthew is dated and shows how the evidence is quite inconclusive – yet scholars are generally “agreed” and write as if it is an established fact that the letters of Ignatius were composed after the gospel.
In fact it is really quite possible to date Matthew anywhere between 70 and 170 CE.
In ancient history where we find such an inconclusive state of the evidence this is admitted and no firm conclusions are drawn. Not so biblical studies.
This is why all someone like McGrath can only justify the claims of biblical scholars by saying that they are the “considered judgment of the profession”. That’s code for the evidence being very murky indeed and what scholars have decided to be true anyway.
And not only what Neil said, but I’ve always been completely critical of the idea that theologians have any credibility when it comes to Biblical scholarship. This doesn’t make any sense at all.
The way Biblical criticism is viewed, is that someone with a PhD in theology is viewed as credible, while someone with a degree in anthropology is viewed as less credible in terms of anything to with with Biblical criticism, yet theology is not at all about objective analysis, so IMO having a theology degree shouldn’t convey any kind of credibility at all.
As for my analysis of those works mentioned by Tim, you can see what I had to say about them here:
I probably need to brush up on this topic, however.
In which time exactly you put the first extra-evangelical manifestation of the act of faith historicist? From which document?
There’s a scholar that thinks that Mark did know the works of Josephus to derive midrash from it (between other things, in particular the wordplay implicit in the name of ”Zebedee”).
For this the above question about especially Mark.
Interesting stuff. One more thing I’m going to have to read :p I’m quite doubtful about the dependence on Josephus and other Greek sources though. I’ve researched these things myself. I’d have to read his specific proofs however.
let me know, please :), what you think after reading the book with regard to the dating of Mark and the potential effects on your arguments.
Is it possible to connect directly Mark to the War of 70 CE even by placing the first Gospel in the first years of second century?
According this scholar, the first Gospel was written as reaction to second Jewish War (132-135 AD) because ”The Bar Kokhba war, then, was incomparably more bloody and more devastating than the first”.
I’ve never been convinced by any of the Bar Kokhba arguments.
RG: What do you think about the structural similarities between the gMark’s passion narrative and Josephus’ story about Jesus ben Ananias in Jewish Wars 6.5.3?
Not sure. It’s been a while since I read that one. I remember thinking is was a little interesting but not much more.
I was more taken by the similarity between the story of Carabbas by Philo and the the trial of Jesus.
RG, you write in your article:
From a complete analysis of the Gospel called Luke my conclusion is that the author of Luke most likely thought that the Markan text he was copying from was a basically historically true account of a real-life Jesus.
Do you think the same for Matthew?
From the reply I can already infer when there was the first belief in a human, historical Jesus.
So the chronology for Adamczewski :
1 Thes 40-45
1 Cor 46
2 Cor, Rom 47
Gal, Phlm 48-49
Eph, 2 Thes, Tit, 1-2 Tim, Jas, 1 Pet 120
Jud, 2 Pet, 1-3 Jn 120-140
Hebr, Rev 130-140
(Bartosz Adamczewski, Constructing Relationships, Constructing Faces, Peter Lang 2011, p. 165)
I would disagree on Hebr and Rev (before 80?) and Luke-Acts (possible reply to Marcion?) but I would agree with Matthew being Proto-orthodox that ”succeeded, by means of the use of the technique of ethopoeia, in composing a work that presented itself as distinctively Jewish Christian and, for this reason, presumably apostolic.” (p. 157)
Roger Parvus is also of this idea about the Gospel of Matthew.
I’m not sure about Matthew actually. I’ve always assumed that Matthew came before Luke, but it seems many people want to put Luke before Matthew. My assumption was always that the birth story of Matthew proceeded and possibly influenced the birth story of Luke. I don’t know their reasoning for putting all the gospels so late.
Is there some challenge to Papias? Supposedly Papias mentions Mark and Matthew in 130, so I would think that both had been in existence for some time by then. (Unless there is some reason to think that the Papias quote is not authentic or not from 130).
The arguments for Matthean posterioity appear to be outlined on the Wilke hypothesis Wikipedia article. From the little I know of it I find it a difficult proposition to accept.
When I was studying up on it, I seem to remember that our earliest copy of the gospel of Matthew doesn’t even contain the birth narrative in it and starts with chapter 3. Can anyone confirm this?
My recollection is that the absence of birth narratives from the original Matthew was a hypothesis rather than manuscript evidence. But I will try to check.
Papyrus 70 contain 2:13-16
“The manuscript palaeographically had been assigned to the late 3rd century.”
It was manuscript p64, which is our oldest dated copy containing parts of Matthew 3,5, and 26, Matthew 3 beginning with Jesus’ baptism. Our oldest dated copy of Luke, p75 (slightly older than p4) also begins with Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3. So we have our oldest copies of Matthew and Luke, the gospel of John, and the gospel of Mark all being devoid of the birth narrative. And as Neil has pointed out, that’s assuming their 200 CE dating is relatively close.
I suppose I would say “doesn’t contain”, rather than “begins with”.
Actually, what I could use the most help with in terms of research, if anyone is interested in helping, is information regarding the role of prophecy fulfillment in early apologetics and adoption of the religion prior to the 5th century. It’s my contention that the idea that the Gospels provided “proof” of prophecy fulfillment played a major role in the adoption of the religion, and I have some evidence to that effect, but I could use a lot more suporting quotes.
I have read very little about the apologists. The closest I can think of are the writings of Justin who argued for Christianity on the basis of fulfilled prophecy. I am currently looking at the way the author of Daniel (and other apocryphal works) reinterpreted prophecies in Isaiah to create his (their) own prophetic book(s) but that’s not what you are after it seems.
Yeah, what I’m looking for are basically accounts of why people converted to Christianity prior to the 5th century. Specifically people of means, like officers, governors, emperors, etc.
James Crossley explains the conversions in the light of economic-social pressures in “Why Christianity Happened” but this accounts for the lower classes. Justin Martyr, I think, gives us clues re the intellectually curious. — Christianity was seen as a rival (and superior) philosophy by many. Paul’s theology is an easier form of Stoicism with Christ and faith replacing (and filling the role of) “Reason/Logos”. Gregory Riley argues Christianity represented a reawakening and even strengthening of traditional classical values.
Well, doing some searching through various Catholic sites I’ve been been able to come up with a few good things so far. Pretty interesting. One particularly interesting article about how Julian the Apostate’s plan to combat Christianity was to re-build the temple in Jerusalem to thus disprove “Jesus’ prophecy” in Matthew. This speaks to quite a bit of how the Gospels were viewed by people and the role of prophecy at the time.
I recently read John Chrysostom and the Jews by R. L. Wilken. He has quite a bit to say about this specific prophecy and its importance for Christians and those opposed to Christianity.
there is this historicist scholar with the intention to challenge seriously (and not apologetically) Carrier and the other mythicists.
In the link given, he describes 4 distinct views on Jesus a-historicity.
The Amalgamation/Syncretism Thesis: The historical Jesus never existed but was rather an amalgamation of various Pagan mythologies and mythological figures (eg. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc.). The figure of Jesus was the result of a process of syncretism akin to many religious cults within the ancient world.
The Angelic/Celestial Jesus Thesis: Jesus was understood by the earliest Christians not to be a historical figure, but rather as a celestial/angelic being. In the years following, this celestial/angelic Jesus was historized and later considered a God-Man who actually walked and preached on the earth.
The Fictional/Literary Jesus Thesis: The story and figure of Jesus represent fictional narratives and literary stories that were later mistakenly (or intentionally) understood as historical and theological realities. Jesus was originally mean’t to be understood symbolically/allegorically, not literally.
The Composite Figure Thesis: The figure of Jesus was a composite of an individual or various figures from ancient history and/or Jewish mythology. Given its composition, no single person can be identified with the historical Jesus.
the point 1 in my view is totally not-credible. I want know where exactly you are in this list. I think that you are between 3 and 4.
I’m 2 & 3. Original Jesus was a heavenly messiah. Then a fictional story was written about Jesus, which was believed to be historical.
So then “Paul” first wrote about a heavenly mesiah first was subsequently historicized in the Gospel of Mark? For this to be plausible wouldn’t the Pauline writings be dated early to mid first century and the gMark mid to late first century? Why couldn’t it be the other way around?
All that would be necessary is for Paul’s writings to pre-date the Gospel of Mark.
There are several reasons for this sequence of dating: the main one is that Paul’s writings suggest a context of Second Temple Judaism while the Gospel of Mark contains various indications that it was post 70 CE.
The Gospel also bears signs of Paul’s theology while Paul gives no indication of Mark’s narrative.
So a modern analogy is that someone in the year 2015 who listened to “I Am the Walrus” thought it was ’bout a real walrus which existed in the sixties. For some odd reason this idea gained currency despite lack of any social memory of such a walrus ever having existed. Maybe the Walrus became symbolic of global warming and people began to worship the Walrus sitting on a cornflake in an english garden, goo, goo ja go.
Yeh, of course. Why not? For anyone who loves sophistic games, bizarre analogies and smoking interesting stuff anything goes.
I find this article from a Christian apologist: Talmudic Evidence for the Messiah at 30 C.E.
We read in the Jerusalem Talmud:
“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open” (Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157). [the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE]
A similar passage in the Babylonian Talmud states:
“Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves” (Soncino version, Yoma 39b).
What are these passages talking about? Since both Talmuds recount the same information, this indicates the knowledge of these events was accepted by the widespread Jewish community.
Maybe this is evidence of a theological meaning associated to the number 40: if ”Mark” is allegory of destruction of Temple at to CE, then the reason to put ”Jesus” (Israel crucified) in ”historical” setting 40 years before finds in a larger Jew culture his more natural explanation.
I advice to read the entire article. What do you think?
Excuse me if this is a dumb question, but:
“The Q material is clearly dependent upon the narrative from Mark, and was either part of an original longer version of Mark or was added later by another author to an expanded version of Mark, from which both the authors of the Gospels called Matthew and Luke copied.”
Why can’t one simplify that by omitting the longer version of Mark? Thus, Matthew worked from and embellished Mark, and then Luke used and embellished both Mark and Matthew.
Thus, no need for either Q or “secret Mark”. If I recall, Mark Goodacre’s “Case against Q” seemed to be consistent with that.
This has to do with the “Synoptic Problem”.
Both Matthew and Luke share word for word copies of text that isn’t found in Mark, thus they must have both copied from some common source other than canonical Mark.
The more widely accepted Q theory is that the Q material was a “separate source” that was independently integrated by both “Luke” and “Matthew”. My position is simply that this can’t be the case, both “Luke” and “Matthew” must have copied from the same document in which the Q material was already integrated.
“Both Matthew and Luke share word for word copies of text that isn’t found in Mark, thus they must have both copied from some common source other than canonical Mark.”
Or perhaps that Luke copied from both Matthew and Mark? Is there a good reason for rejecting that?
“… both “Luke” and “Matthew” must have copied from the same document in which the Q material was already integrated.”
Perhaps “Matthew” was that document (Mark+Q-additions) that “Luke” then copied from?
Another issue is Price’s presumption (see quote below) that the writers of Matthew, Luke and John weren’t aware of the allegorical nature of the the gMark and instead thought it described historical events.
” . . . From a complete analysis of the Gospel called Luke my conclusion is that the author of Luke most likely thought that the Markan text he was copying from was a basically historically true account of a real-life Jesus. It appears that whoever wrote Luke was using multiple sources, including perhaps Josephus and Philo, among others, to piece together what they believed to be a “real historical document.” As such, the author of Luke appears to have had no understanding of the literary allusions in Mark whatsoever. . . “
I cannot say what those authors actually thought or knew about the Gospel of Mark but the evidence is very clear that their own sources for additional stories and for the way they rewrote some of Mark’s were literary and theological and not consistent with what we would expect from independent oral traditions.
According to Anthony Le Donne, in his book “Historical Jesus,” the gospel discrepancies are a result of independent oral traditions. Furthermore, these discrepancies in social memory allow what Le Donne calls historical triangulation to occur when examining conflicting gospel accounts.
Le Donne writes, ” But how does the historian responsibly move from Mark’s story to the plausible origins of this story in memory or fiction? I will answer this question by demonstrating historical triangulation.”
Well, its total speculation, and he’s wrong.
There is no evidence whatsoever for any of the Gospels being products of “oral tradition”, and tons of evidence against it.
Well, you speculate that the discrepancies in the gospel narratives are a result of the writers of Luke, Matthew, and John misunderstanding the allegorical nature of Mark. Le Donne has a hypothesis that certain discrepancies the the gospel narratives are a result of refracted social memory. To continue Le Donne’s previous quote. .
“. . . I have described memory refraction as the way in which memories are altered to make them intelligible to the present. I am convinced that by analyzing the conflicting interpretation in the gospels ,the historian can plausibly suggest the historical memory that shaped these interpretations. “
Keith and Le Donne’s theories of memory refraction and triangulation as tools for uncovering historical data (however blurry), and their particular way of applying “social memory theory” are critically discussed on this blog. See:
How Can We Know If the Jesus Narratives Are Memories Or Inventions?;
the Keith/Le Donne archive;
and most recently in Tim’s series on the Memory Mavens.
The arguments in favour of authorial creativity are addressed in many posts, the most recent ones being the arguments for the parables of Jesus being authorial creations and not from Jesus.
And others addressing scholarly critiques of the oral tradition source theory are also being covered in depth.
Hopefully you can see that such views are not mere assumptions but have strong critical and well-informed foundations.
I am convinced that by analyzing the conflicting interpretation in the gospels ,the historian can plausibly suggest the historical memory that shaped these interpretations. “
Let’s see the numbers which have convinced Le Donne that his methods work. What did he take as a control group? What success rate has he had applying these techniques to other fields of history?
If he has developed an onion-peeler to peel back the layers of myth to reveal what lies behind, let us see some onions he has already peeled , so we can see that his onion-peeler really does work.
Rather than an onion-peeler, I picture a kind of magic image-rectifier that somehow “undistorts” the funhouse mirror images we have in the gospels.