“It is absurd to suggest . . .” — Shirley Jackson Case on The Historicity of Jesus

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

Shirley Jackson Case
Shirley Jackson Case — Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-01582, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Way back in the previous century, I attended Ohio University at Athens. A young, naive freshman, I headed off one gloomy autumn day to the campus library, searching for source material for an astronomy paper. The stacks were vast; I was looking at more books than I had ever seen in one place.

By New World standards, OU is an old school, founded in 1804, the year after Ohio entered the Union. They’ve been gathering books and periodicals for quite some time.

According to Wikipedia, the Vernon R. Alden Library has switched completely from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress System. However, back in 1977 they were still in transition. All the old books were in Dewey, but the staff were categorizing new acquisitions using LOC codes. I gravitated to the old stacks, perhaps because I was more comfortable with the older numbering system. Or maybe I just like the smell of old books.

Ready Steady Go!

At any rate, that day I came upon Fred Hoyle’s Astronomy from 1962. Hoyle, of course, believed in the Steady State theory of the universe. This was my first introduction to it, and I found it fascinating. So I wrote a short paper on the subject, based on Hoyle’s treatment. What my naive freshman self didn’t know was that just a couple of years after Hoyle published Astronomy, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson found the echo of the Big Bang — background radiation evenly spread throughout the sky, compelling evidence for the origins of our universe.

[I find it mildly ironic that while writing this post, news has arrived that calls into question the Big Bang. Try wrapping your head around this: “Brian Koberlein from the Rochester Institute of Technology pointed out that while it may appear that the study suggests that the Big Bang did not happen, the event still occurred.“]

While reading Shirley Jackson Case’s The Historicity of Jesus, I was reminded of that incident from my youth. As I recall, the teacher’s aide who graded my paper was more forgiving than I deserved. But I learned my lesson. It’s all right to have some familiarity with older research, but the careful student will always keep up with the most recent work in the field.

On the bright side, because Case’s book is over a century old Google (before it lost interest in such altruistic efforts) has lovingly scanned it and put on line. You can even download a PDF copy or read it at archive.org. On the other hand, because he wrote it nearly 103 years ago, some of the arguments are a little stale. 

Naturally, we can’t blame Case for not knowing what the future would hold. He couldn’t have imagined, for example, the profound impacts of the two greatest text discoveries of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library. Nor could he have anticipated the growth of form and redaction criticism. But what suffers most from the passage of time are his prolonged arguments against mythicist claims that most people today will never have heard of.

Gilgamesh and the New Testament

For example, from p. 77 through the end of the fifth chapter, Case carefully and systematically dismantles the arguments of Peter Jensen. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him. Jensen’s arguments that the Gilgamesh Epic influenced the Hebrew Bible, Homer, and the New Testament are now so obscure that they’ve been reduced to footnote fodder. Perhaps in Case’s day, Jensen had a large following, or perhaps Case was taking part in the time-honored tradition of shooting fish in a barrel.

Eight pages into his treatment, Case writes:

Perhaps the greatest weakness of this whole theory lies in its omissions. Large sections of both the gospel history and the Babylonian epic have to be suppressed in order to establish even the faintest semblance of parallelism. Practically all of Jesus’ teaching is overlooked and his career taken as a whole has no counterpart in the epic. There is no character there whose religious ideas, whose inner experiences, whose motives and impulses, whose attitude toward men and God, and whose relations in life have the least resemblance to these traits in the gospel picture of Jesus. In no respect does Jensen’s hypothesis, as a theory to explain the origin of the gospels without reference to a historical Jesus, seem to have any validity. (Case, 1912, p. 85)

I can agree wholeheartedly. Then again, I would also agree that phlogiston theory “in no respect . . . seems to have any validity.” But I don’t need a modern author to rattle on for 10 pages just to drive the point home.

Late dates for gospels

In that same chapter, Case engages in a prolonged argument against “the spuriousness and the late dating” of Paul’s epistles (Case, 1912, p. 70). Later on he defends the consensus dating of the canonical gospels. In a chapter entitled “The Gospel Evidence,” he lays out his case for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John being written “within fairly defined limits,” namely “the last thirty-five years of the first century.”

Reading his set of arguments today, I’m struck by how little has changed. The consensus has remained remarkably constant. And remember, Case was writing 12 years before Streeter published The Four Gospels. What has changed, of course, is that today’s mythicists, for the most part, wouldn’t quarrel with that consensus. (See Neil’s post: “Earliest Manuscript of the Gospel of Mark Validates Earl Doherty.”) In fact, much of Earl Doherty’s thesis rests upon several mainstays of the current consensus positions of source criticism: e.g., a late first-century date for Mark, the existence of the Q document that underlies large parts of Matthew and Luke, and a historical Paul from whom we have a number of authentic letters.

Frequent readers of Vridar will recall that Maurice Casey spent a great deal of time defending early dates in his wretched swan song, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? He asserted that mythicists depend on “ludicrously” (p. 40), “hopelessly” (p. 65), “very” (p. 83) late dates for the gospels. I have to think that part of the reason many anti-mythicist crusaders still spend so much time on this subject is that while they may have skimmed Case’s The Historicity of Jesus, they’re far too lazy to read mythicists’ works, and what little they do read they misunderstand with hostile intent.

Flies in amber?

I mentioned earlier that Case wrote before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but modern readers may be surprised that he was aware of the “Teacher of Righteousness,” a figure who played a prominent role in the Qumran community.

A recently discovered document published by Schechter is of great importance.[1] It gives us new information about one of these obscure Jewish movements, but there is not the slightest intimation that these sectaries worshiped a special cult-god. They looked back with reverence to a “teacher of righteousness” who was the founder of their society, and awaited the time when “the teacher of righteousness shall arise in the last days” and “the anointed shall arise from Israel and Aaron.”

Whether the teacher yet to appear was the same who had died is disputed,[2] but at any rate this individual is no dying and rising Adonis-like savior-deity. Jehovah the God of Israel is the sole object of worship. So in general the thought-content of Jewish parties or heresies, as far as known at present, did not concern itself with the worship of any special deities, but with the best means of rendering acceptable service to the common god of their fathers. Thus the sectaries were often rigid separatists, but they were not worshipers of other deities. 

[1] Documents of Jewish Sectaries, I, Fragments of a Zadokite Work. Edited with Translation, Introduction, and Notes by Schechter (Cambridge University Press, 1910).

[2] The editor of the document thinks a resurrection is implied; G. F. Moore is of the contrary opinion (“The Covenanters of Damascus; a Hitherto Unknown Jewish Sect” in the Harvard Theological Review, IV [1911], 330-77). Cf. Kohler, “Dositheus, the Samaritan Heresiarch, etc.,” in the American Journal of Theology, XV (1911), 404-35, who sees here an example of the Samaritan doctrine of the Messiah’s disappearing and reappearing at will.

(pp. 121-122, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

Here we see two examples of how out of date Case’s arguments have become. First, he’s railing against defunct mythicist arguments that arose from a Religionsgeschichtliche Schule interpretation of the birth of Christianity. Second, he has heard about this tantalizing figure — the Teacher of Righteousness — but is ignorant of Qumran. If he were writing today, Case would arguably have much more ammunition to fire at these long-dead, mostly forgotten mythicists. On the other hand, one supposes Case would direct his arguments not at them, but at the current crop: Doherty, Price, Carrier, et al.

His criticism of Arthur Drews’s treatment of Pauline interpolations would at first glance also appear to be another fly in the amber; an apt appraisal, but a fossil nonetheless. For Case, references in the epistles to the “brothers of the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:5) and “brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19) are clear signs that Mary’s sons truly existed. He mocks Drews (pronounced “dreffs“) for his cursory dismissal.

Yet we are not told why Paul in the same context should not have included Peter and Barnabas in this brotherhood. Moreover brothers in the Lord, not brothers of the Lord, is Paul’s mode of thought for the community relationship. These are typical examples of both the brevity and the method Drews uses in disposing of the Pauline evidence. It is difficult to take arguments of this sort seriously, particularly when they are presented so briefly and with no apparent ground of justification except the presupposition that a historical Jesus must not be recognized. (Case, 1912, p. 74, emphasis mine)

Bart Ehrman falls back on this same argument in defending the biological, corporeal nature of the brothers of the Lord. He writes:

“It should not be thought here that Paul is referring to ‘brothers of the Lord’ in some kind of spiritual sense, in that in Christ all men are brothers. If that were what he meant, then the rest of the statement would make no sense because it would mean that the apostles themselves and even Cephas (Peter) were not the ‘spiritual brothers’ of the Lord since they are differentiated from those who are brothers.” (Ehrman, 2012, p. 146)

Ehrman, as you may already know, used to hold to the notion that Cephas and Simon Peter were two different people. He has since renounced the idea, of course, since it’s not permitted within the narrow confines of the mainstream. However, back in 1990, noting that the witness list in 1 Cor. 15 contains structured parallels, he wrote:

“Could it not be that, given the parallel nature of the two lists, Cephas should be construed similarly, namely, as one who was not Jesus’ earthly disciple but who was thought to have had a personal revelation of Jesus and was, as a result, converted?” (Ehrman, 1990, p. 471)

When it suited his purposes, he was willing to argue that Paul’s reference to Cephas apart from the twelve indicated that Cephas was not Peter. But now we are supposed to believe that when Paul mentioned Cephas outside the twelve it doesn’t mean anything at all, while on the other hand when he referred to Cephas independently of the brothers of the Lord, it is extremely significant.

I find these arguments of convenience difficult to take seriously.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I am amused at Case’s argument that the “brothers of the Lord” cannot mean followers, since Peter is apparently excluded from them in 1 Corinthians:

Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife [literally, sister-wife], as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? (1 Cor. 9:5, ESV)

And I will assume that it’s yet another example of a hermetically sealed argument, since no scholar in the Case camp would insist that Peter was excluded from the twelve, because of the wording in chapter 15:

And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. (1 Cor. 15:5-7, KJV, emphasis mine)

Upon this non-serious argument and the use of a single preposition (“of” vs. “in”), Case claims to have debunked Drews. But Case’s stinging reproach works best if one never has and never will read Drews. In this respect, at least, there is no new thing under the sun; many of today’s NT scholars still rely on the fact that you’ll probably never read their source material. So what did Drews actually say about the subject? Let’s take a look at the reasons he offers for thinking “brothers” in these Pauline passages does not mean literal brothers.

Drews’s arguments

♦ Jesus’ followers were called “brothers”

First, Drews establishes the fact that in other parts of the NT we know that followers of Christ were called “brothers.” He especially wants to draw our attention to the places in the canonical gospels in which Jesus himself calls the disciples “my brothers.”

Certainly that James whose acquaintance Paul made in Jerusalem is designated by him as the “Brother of the Lord”;† and from this it seems to follow that Jesus must have been an historical person.

[†] Gal. 1:19 [But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (ESV)]

The expression “Brother,” however, is possibly in this case, as so often in the Gospels,‡ only a general expression to designate a follower of Jesus, as the members of a religious society in antiquity frequently called each other “Brother” and “Sister” among themselves.

[‡] Matt. 28:10 [Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (ESV)]; Mark 3:33 sqq. [And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (ESV)]; John 20:17 [Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”]

(Drews, 1910, p. 172, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

♦ “Brothers” as a religious designation is intrinsically more likely

If Paul is claiming that the brothers of Jesus were traveling around as itinerant preachers, either alone or in a group, with the aid of “sister-wives,” then where is the external evidence for it?

Next, he acknowledges the fact that Paul refers to the brothers of Christ, but insists that we should best understand that term as a religious, not a fleshly, relationship.

1 Cor. ix. 5 runs: “Have we [i.e., Paul and Barnabas] not also right to take about with us a wife that is a sister, even as the other Apostles and Brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” There it is evident that the expression by no means necessarily refers to bodily relationship, but that “Brother” serves only to designate the followers of the religion of Jesus.§ 

[§] In the opinion of the Dutch school of theologians, whom [Gustav] Schläger follows in his essay, “Das Wort kurios (Herr) in Seiner Beziehung auf Gott oder Jesus Christus” (“Theol. Tijdschrift,” 33, 1899, Part L), this mention of the “Brother of the Lord” does not come from Paul; as according to Schläger, all the passages in 1 Cor., which speak of Jesus under the title “Kurios,” are interpolated. “Missionary travels of Brothers of Jesus are unknown to us from any other quarter, and are also in themselves improbable” (op. cit., 46; cf. also Steck, op. cit., 272 sq.).

(Drews, 1910, p. 172, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

(See the German Wikipedia page on Gustav Hermann Theodor Brinkama Schläger.)

I had not heard that last argument (in bold) before reading Drews. NT scholars focus so tightly on the idea that Jesus had brothers that they often fail to consider the consequences of what that means. That is, if Paul is claiming that the brothers of Jesus were traveling around as itinerant preachers, either alone or in a group, with the aid of “sister-wives,” then where is the external evidence for it?

Why does no patristic writer ever bring it up? What happened to the “rich oral tradition” that would have sprung up as a result? It is highly improbable that James, Jude, Joses, and Simon would have become preachers for Christ, sent out like the other apostles with their sister-wives in tow, and the only place we ever hear about it is in one of Paul’s obscure side comments. Naturally, this oddity never occurs to today’s historicists, who take their particular interpretation of Paul’s statement as historical fact.

They are Jesus’s actual brothers, who along with Cephas and Paul were engaged in missionary activities. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 146)

On the other hand, Richard Carrier states the problem quite clearly:

The authors of the Gospels show no knowledge of these brothers even having been believers, much less apostles; even less, privileged ones. Except Luke, who alone imagines them in the first congregation (in Acts 1 ), but then shows no knowledge of them ever doing anything, much less being apostles; even less, apostles of special status. For none of them appear anywhere in Acts’ record of the church’s public history . . . . That they don’t exist in the earliest recorded history of the church argues for the conclusion that they didn’t exist altogether. It certainly does not argue for the opposite conclusion, that they were a recognized privileged group in church leadership. (Carrier, 2014, p. 587)

♦ Patristic writers on “brother” and “brothers” of the Lord

Drews continues:

Accordingly Jerome seems to have hit the truth exactly when, commenting on Gal. i. 19, he writes : “James was called the Brother of the Lord on account of his great character [though the Pauline epistles certainly show the opposite of this], of his incomparable faith and extraordinary wisdom. The other Apostles were as a matter of fact also called Brothers, but he was specially so called, because the Lord at his death had confided to him the sons of his mother ” (i.e., the members of the community at Jerusalem).*

[*] Similarly Origen, “Contra Celsum,” i. 35 ; cf. [William Benjamin] Smith, op. cit., 18 seq.

(Drews, 1910, p. 172-173, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

The Origen passage Drews referred to is actually found in Book 1, Chapter 47:

Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. (Origen, Contra Celsum)

Historicists tell us we must ignore Jerome and Origen on this matter, because they were deluded by their belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

♦ Biblical references and other patristic to brothers in the religious sense

Some people are too busy to read footnotes, which is a pity, since we often find some of the most interesting information there — hidden in plain view, so to speak. After discussing the fact that scholars of his day could not come to a consensus as to the proper relationship of James to Jesus (i.e. — Full brother? Half brother? Cousin? Similarly virtuous?) Drews adds this footnote:

Cf. as to this [Friedrich] Sieffert in “Realenzyklop. f. prot. Theol. und Kirche” under “James.” In Ezr. 2:2 and 9 there is also mention of “Brothers” of the High Priest Joshua, by which only the priests subordinate to him seem to be meant; and in Justin (“Dial c. Tryph.,” 106) the apostles are collectively spoken of as “Brothers of Jesus.” Similarly in Rev. 12:17, those “who keep the word of God and bear testimony to Jesus Christ” are spoken of as children of the heavenly woman and also as Brothers and Sisters of the Divine Redeemer, whom the dragon attempts to swallow up together with his mother. As Revelation owes its origin to a pre-Christian Jesus-cult, the designation of pious brothers of a community as physical brothers of Jesus seems also to have been customary in that cult, antecedent to the Pauline epistles and the Gospels.

(Drews, 1910, p. 173, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

(See the German Wikipedia for more on Anton Emil Friedrich Sieffert.)

The Ezra references contain a typo. It’s actually chapter 3 we need to look at:

3.2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God. (NASB)

3.9 Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God. (NASB)

Some English translations render the term “his brothers” (wə-’eḥāw, וְאֶחָ֣יו) as his fellow priests. In other words, it’s well understood that brothers here means “coreligionists” of some sort.

The reference from the Dialog with Trypho is also instructive:

He had compassion on all races of believing men, through the mystery of Him who was crucified; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren the apostles (who repented of their flight from Him when He was crucified, after He rose from the dead, and after they were persuaded by Himself that, before His passion He had mentioned to them that He must suffer these things, and that they were announced beforehand by the prophets), and when living with them sang praises to God, as is made evident in the memoirs of the apostles. (emphasis mine)

Sieffert thought that the book of Revelation originated from a pre-Christian cult, which is an interesting idea, albeit quite an eccentric one by today’s standards. Nonetheless, in Rev. 12:17 we find:

So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (NASB)

And the point stands: Those who believe in Jesus and keep God’s commandments are brothers and sisters of the “man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.”

♦ Evidence from anti-Pauline circles

Drews argues that one probable reason for the elevation of James at the expense of Paul comes from those who didn’t like Paul and what they would have seen (presumably) as his antinomian heresy.

Moreover, if we consider how the glorification of James came into fashion in anti-Pauline circles of the second century, and how customary it was to connect the chief of the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem as closely as possible with Jesus himself (e.g., Hegesippus, in the so-called Epistles of Clement, in the Gospel of the Nazarenes, &c), the suspicion forces itself on us that the Pauline mention of James as “the Brother of the Lord” is perhaps only an after-insertion in the Epistle to the Galatians in order thereby to have the bodily relationship between James and Jesus confirmed by Paul himself.*

[*] This is actually the view of the Dutch school of theologians.

(Drews, 1910, p. 173, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

♦ Evidence from Paul’s silence

Only after all of the literary and historical arguments stated above does Drews begin to speak of Paul’s silence as an indicator that Jesus’ physical brothers didn’t exist.

. . . Paul never refers to the testimony of the brothers or of the disciples of Jesus concerning their Master; though this would have been most reasonable had they really known any more of Jesus than he himself did. “He bases,” as Kalthoff justly objects, “not a single one of his most incisive polemical arguments against the adherents of the law on the ground that he had the historical Jesus on his side; but he gives his own detailed theological ideas without mentioning an historical Jesus, he gives a gospel of Christ, not the gospel which he had heard at first, second, or third hand concerning a human individual Jesus.”†

[†] A. Kalthoff, “Was wissen wir von Jesus? Eine Abrechnung mit Prof. D. Bousset,” 1904, 17.

(Drews, 1910, p. 174, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

He continues:

From Paul, therefore, there is nothing of a detailed nature to be learnt about the historical Jesus. The apostle does indeed occasionally refer to the words and opinions of the “Lord,” as with regard to the prohibition of divorce,‡ or to the right of the apostles to be fed by the community.§ But as the exact words are not given there is no express reference to an historical individual of the name of Jesus; and so we are persuaded that we here have to do with mere rules of a community such as were current and had canonical significance everywhere in the religious unions as ” Words of the Master,” i.e., of the patrons and celebrities of the community (cf. the “αὐτὸς ἔφα” [autos epha]: he himself, viz., the Master, has said it” of the Pythagoreans).

[‡] 1 Cor. 7:10.

[§] Id. 9:14.

(Drews, 1910, p. 174, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

Again, we’re so accustomed to arguing for and against the historicity of Jesus within the framework of the historicists, that we often cannot see the plain facts before our eyes. We’re so focused on the fact that Paul appears to know the teachings of Jesus that we fail to notice that he does not quote what Jesus said. Paul knows the gist of the rule, but knows nothing of the actual saying of Jesus let alone the supposed historical context in which Jesus said it or the arguments that he used when he said it.

On those extremely rare occasions when Paul refers to the words of Christ he knows only the that, and nothing of the what — except for one occasion, namely 1 Cor. 11:23 ff. Here Paul quotes the words at the Last Supper. Drews, of course, argues that all of that is an interpolation. I would continue on from here, but in this post I’m focusing on the arguments about the “brother” and “brothers” of the Lord, and I don’t want to babble for another 4,000 words. If you’re interested, you should continue reading on for yourself and see whether Drews really does make his case or not.


At what point does pigheaded incompetency become dishonesty?

From the start, I was completely prepared to accept Case’s The Historicity of Jesus as a good rebuttal for its time, but not necessarily relevant today. Clearly, his focus on old mythicist arguments make his book less than useful for the modern reader. But what makes Case’s book almost completely useless is his dishonest treatment of mythicists’ arguments.

Recall that Case berated Drews for his brevity and his method when it came to discussing the siblings of the Lord. He wrote:

It is difficult to take arguments of this sort seriously, particularly when they are presented so briefly and with no apparent ground of justification except the presupposition that a historical Jesus must not be recognized. (Case, 1912, p. 74, emphasis mine)

An honest analysis could not possibly conclude that Drews’s arguments as laid out above are too short and lacking in justification. On the contrary, it is Case’s counterargument that is brief, churlish, dismissive, and wholly without merit. He attacks Drews’s motives, while ignoring the substance of his arguments.

When Ehrman committed similar errors in his book on the historicity of Jesus, we were scolded for assuming dishonesty rather than incompetency. When we questioned McGrath’s academic integrity after his precog Amazon review of Jesus, Neither God Nor Man, we were told to cut the poor guy some slack. Really, though, at what point does pigheaded incompetency become dishonesty? By that I mean if a scholar claims to have read Earl Doherty, and then proceeds to get nearly every point wrong while misrepresenting the basic arguments, he has clearly demonstrated his incompetency — but this behavior indicates a kind of systemic, willful misrepresentation that is incompatible with honest scholarship. Why is it allowed to continue? Why is it rewarded?

Similarly, Case either did not read the several pages of arguments Drews presented in The Christ Myth, or he simply pretended they weren’t there. That in itself is scholarly malpractice. However, when he implied that he did consider Drews’s arguments but found them too brief and “with no apparent ground of justification,” that is more than incompetence.

And what of the people today who tell us we need to read Case’s book, since it was the last word on the subject? Are they being serious? Are the being honest?

I apologize if I’m sounding a bit testy, but for me it’s starting to feel like those house fixer-upper shows on HGTV that originate in Canada. Everywhere they look they find rotted wood, knob-and-tube wiring, infestations of mice, water damage, asbestos, and any number code violations.

And so it is with biblical scholarship. It seems that no matter where we dig, we find rot. We find scholars who misrepresent their sources, who don’t understand the basics of their own craft, and who, truth be told, probably ought to be working at an automobile oil changing facility or taking money at a toll booth.

Again, I apologize for the outburst. Probably after a good night’s rest, I’ll feel better.

Carrier, Richard

On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014

Case, Shirley Jackson

The Historicity of Jesus: A Criticism of the Contention that Jesus Never Lived, a Statement of the Evidence for His Existence, an Estimate of His Relation to Christianity, University of Chicago Press, 1912

Drews, Arthur

The Christ Myth, T. Fisher Unwin, 1910

 Ehrman, Bart D.

“Cephas and Peter,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 109, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990)

Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, HarperOne, 2012

[Note: I finally bought the print version of Did Jesus Exist? because trying to figure out the Nook location of a passage was too much of a hassle. I was somewhat embarrassed when I got to the counter at Half Price Books. These are the sacrifices I make for Vridar.]

The following two tabs change content below.

Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

23 thoughts on ““It is absurd to suggest . . .” — Shirley Jackson Case on The Historicity of Jesus

  1. Isn’t the last supper passage in Paul now widely considered part of a lengthy interpolation? Second, drews seems to be making an argument that I myself advance, that when Paul says “Cephas, and James, the Brother of the Lord” that it is a way of identifying Cephas as the head of the movement, which he certainly seems to be, and James as one of the “Brothers” and this usage seems consistent elsewhere.

    1. I would suspect that since it’s an extremely rare case of Paul quoting Jesus, the historicists will hang onto it tooth and nail. Each time I read through all the evidence I come away wishing we had more to work with.

  2. I arrived at Ohio University in 1979. I spent way too much time in Rosie’s Phase One on Wednesday night Drink and Drowns during Winter Quarter but settled down after that and found Alden.

    There was a big fire that took out most of the block with The Union recently.

    Go Bobcats!

    1. Small world! I remember a place called Souvlaki’s where you could get all kinds of great Mediterranean food. Good heavens, that was a long time ago.

      1. I remember Souvlaki’s. It was across from Casa Que Pasa. I haven’t been down there in a few years.

        About “the brother(s) of the Lord”, I think Paul was being sarcastic. In Galatians 5:12, he wishes the circumcision party would castrate themselves. The circumcision party that intimidated Peter includes the men sent by James and thus James himself. He shows disdain for the position of “pillars” by not caring what they are. Then when you look at Galatians 1:1, we see Paul making a big deal about sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but by Jesus Christ. Since he points out that James sent people to the same place that Jesus sent Paul, James must think he is at the same level as Jesus or “the brother of the Lord.” Paul was upset that someone was teaching a different gospel than his. Since he was trash-talking James and Peter, it was probably they who were talking to the Galatians.

        In 1 Corinthians 9, it appears that someone had been questioning whether the Corinthians should be financially supporting Paul so he could have been indignant and sarcastic there, as well.

        I once checked all the uses of the Greek root “adelph-” in the New Testament. In the Gospels, it was about half and half whether it was used literally for siblings or figuratively in the religious sense. But in the Epistles, it was used 192 times. It was used 187 times in the figurative, religious sense. In Romans 16, it was used for a literal sister in a greeting, and twice, in 1 John 3:12, it was used about Cain and Abel. So, if the uses in Galatians 1:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:5 are about male siblings who actually existed, they would be the only two such uses in the Epistles.

        1. My own thoughts on the matter — mostly conjecture, but logical I think — run this way.

          Paul knew of a small group in Jerusalem he called the Pillars, which included James, Cephas, and John (Gal. 2:9). He also knew of another group under them called either the Twelve or the Brothers of the Lord. The Pillars formed the head of the movement, while the Twelve served as a kind of mini-Sanhedrin.

          In its original form, Gal. 1:19 had no reference to “brother of the Lord,” just as Gal. 2:9 does not. When Paul wrote “James,” there was no ambiguity. However, once the gospel fictions were constructed, along with the legendary names of the twelve, people began to wonder which James he was talking about.

          The author of Mark invented James the son of Zebedee, and author of Acts, you will recall, killed off that character (Acts 12:2). Early in the transmission process (before any extant manuscript), scribes added the parenthetical note “the brother of the Lord” much in the same way that later scribes added the note “Peter” to explain who Cephas was.

          At any rate, I think the plural “Brothers of the Lord” was synonymous with the Twelve for Paul, and the singular “Brother of the Lord” was a later interpolation to let readers know that Paul was referring to one of the Pillars.

          But I could be wrong.

          1. My pet theory is that Paul, and the other apostles, read the Suffering Servant as a “hidden mystery” that wasn’t a metaphor but a description of a man who was descended from David but was known by Isaiah. In the least disputed Pauline epistles, he refers to Jesus over 300 times in about 1500 verses but only gives a few dozen facts about Jesus, which can all be found in quotes of or allusions to OT verses. I think Paul believed in the Messiah and that he was coming within his lifetime since it was revealed to that generation.

            In 1 Corinthians 15, where he uses the same word for “appeared to” for everybody, including himself, as if he doesn’t see any difference between theirs and his. Was it RM Price who noted that? So the “according to the scripture” is about a revelation of history from reading the scriptures. Paul says he didn’t get knowledge from human sources and he claims that his knowledge is not inferior to the other apostles.

            The Twelve may have been Temple officials: Paul’s Cephas is Caiphas – Author of 1Peter and Hebrews by A.A.M. van der Hoeven.

          2. Also, if it was thought that Jesus came before the prophets, then it is no big deal whether 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 is interpolated because it has Jesus killed before the prophets were. If it is an interpolation, then the person who interpolated it also thought Jesus was already a long gone figure.

  3. Mmmh, I could get over the speaking fee demand(/suggestion?) of Ehrmann if some people start a 10.000,- crowdfund to compensate both scholars equally for such a debate.

    1. Fully agree with DoublePlus. Robert Price should get as much as Ehrman, even though Ehrman donates it all to charity. Can anyone share a link to the crowd funding page for the debate? Couldn’t find it.

  4. Tim Widowfield deserves gratitude for the work he has put into this interesting essay.

    H.G.Wood’s book in the picture deals with a few points from J.M.Robertson quite well, but is a slim contribution to a partly dated debate. Not as detailed as F. C. Conybeare’s critiques of the mythicists. I don’t think we should discard Edwin Yamauchi’s attacks on “borrowed pagan parallels” out of hand just because he is a True Believer. The RC Jungian Victor White OP said he wasn’t fazed by “dying and rising gods” because the true God would be expected to have similarities with other regional religions and have a popular appeal accordingly!

        1. So we would expect to see it everywhere. Though particular versions had influence, and spread

          Christianity is mostly from Judaism. But other lesser influences seem highly likely

  5. “And so it is with biblical scholarship. It seems that no matter where we dig, we find rot. We find scholars who misrepresent their sources, who don’t understand the basics of their own craft, and who, truth be told, probably ought to be working at an automobile oil changing facility or taking money at a toll booth.”

    Somewhat off-topic because the article deals with the hard sciences, but I think it is relevant to what drives a great deal of biblical scholarship, archaeology, linguistics scholarship and genetics scholarship:

    “In short, scientific research can flourish only in alliance with some religion or ideology. The ideology justifies the costs of the research. In exchange, the ideology influences the scientific agenda and determines what to do with the discoveries. Hence in order to comprehend how humankind has reached Alamogordo and the moon – rather than any number of alternative destinations – it is not enough to survey the achievements of physicists, biologists and sociologists. We have to take into account the ideological, political and economic forces that shaped physics, biology and sociology, pushing them in certain directions while neglecting others.”


  6. I would be a little more optimistic about finding history in The New Testament if the central event of the religion didn’t stink so much of midrash.

    (1) It is likely that the passion and resurrection of Jesus are just made up historical fictions. In “On The Historicity of Jesus,” Carrier demonstrates the passion narrative may be constructed by a haggadic midrash rewrite of Isaiah 52-3, the Wisdom of Solomon, Psalm 22, Daniel 9 and 12, and Zechariah 3 and 6. ________________________________________________________________

    (2) Crossan and Miller & Miller point out the empty tomb is a midrash or pesher of Joshua chapter 10, and the vigil of the mourning women likely reflects the women’s mourning cult of the dying and rising god, long familiar in Israel (Ezekiel 8:14, Zechariah 12:11, Canticles 3:1-4, etc.)

    (3) Jesus’ resurrection narrative is a pesher of Psalm 16. Peter stressed the significance of the resurrection and cited the prophecy predicting it in Psalm 16: “God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it … Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:24, 29-32). Of course, Psalm 16 was not making a prophesy about Jesus, but rather Psalm 16 was used in a midrash to invent the story of Christ’s resurrection. Matthew also used the book of Daniel to construct the resurrection narrative.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading