Jesus Did Not Exist — A New Contribution

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by Neil Godfrey

latasterI am finding Raphael Latater’s book, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists, a most invigorating and fresh approach to the topic. Caveat: I am taking it slowly and so far have not even completed the first chapter. I have read Richard Carrier’s introductory remarks and Raphael Lataster’s own background introduction and am only about half way through the first chapter. Along the way I’m stopping to study and follow up most of the footnotes, too. But if what lies ahead is as insightful and thorough as what I have read so far then I can see this book being the last word on the flawed attempts of Casey, Ehrman, McGrath and others who have attempted to shriek their conviction that “Yes, Virginia, there really was a Historical Jesus and anyone who doubts that is a very bad person who should be shunned.”

Interestingly, Lataster points out that the only serious attempts by scholars to publish arguments for the historical existence of Jesus — those by Erhman, Casey and McGrath — have done outside the scholarly peer-review process. On the other hand, the two serious attempts by scholars to publish reasons to doubt the historicity of Jesus — Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster — have gone through the scholarly peer-review process.

The irony of that little datum is not lost on anyone who is aware of the complaints of “historicist scholars” (those arguing for the historicity of Jesus and against the mythicist hypothesis) that mythicism does not subject itself to scholarly peer-review.

Who is Raphael Lataster?

He may be among the first to have a thesis sympathetic to Jesus Mythicism approved by a world-class university.  —  Raphael Lataster’s New Book on Jesus Mythicism 

Raphael Lataster is

a professionally secular PhD researcher at the University of Sydney (Studies in Religion) and teaches on religion at various institutions. His main research interests include Philosophy of Religion, Christian origins, logic, Bayesian reasoning, sustainability, and alternative god-concepts such as pantheism and pandeism. . . . 

Raphael wrote his Master’s thesis on Jesus ahistoricity theories, concluding that historical and Bayesian reasoning justifies a sceptical attitude towards the ‘Historical Jesus’. For his doctoral work, Raphael is analysing the major philosophical arguments for God’s existence (as argued by William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne and Thomas Aquinas), . . . 

Being passionate about education, Raphael hopes to continue teaching in Religious Studies and Philosophy, and makes every effort to engage with the public, through popular books, speaking engagements, and public debates.  (from his website)

Lataster, a supervisor specializing in early Christianities and whose main interests have been religion and education, “(un)fortuitously” came to the topic of Jesus’s historicity while looking for a Master’s degree topic that would have been more manageable than “a comprehensive treatment of pantheism”. A few mythicist books intrigued him and Bart Ehrman’s book for the historicity of Jesus he found to be unconvincing. He needed a topic to complete his postgraduate studies so this was it. He has not sought the limelight in this field, well aware of its controversial nature. Lataster is well aware of the bullying engaged in by a good number of historicists and reminds readers of other scholars today whose careers have suffered when they radically questioned certain foundational assumptions in both the Muslim and Christians religions. He sees his foray into the question of Jesus’s historical existence as a way-stop in his academic career.

Is Lataster qualified in the relevant fields? (My own bolding and formatting in all quotations.)

Also, while it is true that I have not formally undertaken undergraduate units or subjects on Biblical history or the Biblical languages, I have through my postgraduate work (including professional supervision and self-guided training in the relevant areas) specialised in the New Testament, and early Christianity, published on these topics through peer-reviewed academic journals, and even taught on them at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions and universities. Furthermore, I am proficient in what is arguably the most important language of all: logic. My work in the philosophy of religion, which I shall very much return to after the conclusion of this project, has given me the ability to easily – and brutally – identify logical errors.

Nowhere do I say that Ehrman or Casey have mistranslated the ancient Greek sources. But they do make logical errors, which should have us questioning the soundness of their conclusions. The errors of logic that they make are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore”. . . . 

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 417-427). . Kindle Edition.

Carrier writes opening and concluding sections in Lataster’s book. What is Lataster’s place in the discussion here vis à vis Carrier?

[35] Both of our recent books are starting to become referenced (non-negatively!) by mainstream scholars, in their academic books. For example, see Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), p. 10, n. 41.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 9034-9037). . Kindle Edition.

Later Lataster writes:

Whatever my intentions, my work has now reached over a million people and counting, thanks largely to my debates, podcast interviews, my heavily summarised article in The Conversation that was republished by The Washington Post (a significant moment for this issue entering the mainstream media), and peer-reviewed journal articles. With the latter, I find numerous ‘allies’ in the Academy. Well-qualified scholars that are happy to question Jesus’ historical existence. People that supposedly don’t exist if the majority historicists are to be believed. It is also noteworthy that these articles appear in various journals, published by different academic presses – none of which is Sheffield Academic Press, who published Carrier’s book. In other words, we cannot blame a single person or group for this ‘proliferation’ of proper scholarship on the question of Jesus’ historicity. There are clearly a lot of scholars, all over the world, that are willing to question this paradigm, if not deny it outright.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 477-485). . Kindle Edition.

Carrier and I have many suitable qualifications for this endeavour, and between us, our work on the Historical Jesus (and skepticism regarding Christianity) has been received by millions, and has also attracted positive attention from scholars.[35] This collaboration should truly prove a useful endeavour.

We complement each other well, somewhat patching up each other’s apparent deficiencies:

  • Carrier is a historian proper and is proficient in Ancient Greek, while I specialise in Christian claims (both historical and philosophical), am not so aggressively anti-religious, and am certainly no outsider to the Academy. 
  • While it is true that I am not a specialist historian and have not learned Ancient Greek (none of which is necessarily relevant), the same cannot be said of Carrier.
  • And while Carrier is an outsider to the Academy and is fairly anti-Christian (none of which is necessarily relevant), the same cannot be said of me. 

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 429-439). . Kindle Edition.

So what does Lataster have to offer that’s new?

A criticism I encounter often on the blogosphere – just as with Robert Price and Richard Carrier – is that I offer nothing new. I dispute that, and my Master’s thesis and associated books and articles on the topic seem to refute that. Let us unpack that a little, to realise how significant my publishing efforts have been. My successful postgraduate thesis means that it received the backing of at least one supervisor, the head of my Religious Studies department, the highly regarded University of Sydney, and several examiners, from other (local and international) universities. The suite of articles means that several referees, editors, and academic publishers deemed it worthy.

The aforementioned paper on a particularly woeful method used by historicist scholars was accepted by the organisers of a prestigious History conference. Even my earlier popular book on the topic had been reviewed and praised by proper scholars in my field. All this adds scholarly credibility. This is no longer a crackpot theory that has long been refuted. This is the real deal, and the scholarly world cannot help but notice.

Earl Doherty . . . formulated an interesting theory on Christian origins . . . and Carrier then – and much more significantly – put the theory to the test . . . Scholars like myself, then, have an important role in critiquing Carrier’s work and, if it is found to be sound, we have a duty to be supporting and promoting it.

As I continue to stress the inadequacy of historicists’ methods, the number of scholars in the relevant and related fields who will question Jesus’ historicity, or at least find it worthy of questioning, will grow.

[40] For example, certain aspects of the Gospels might indicate purposes other than to present historical information. Also, the poor evidence of the Gospels, relative to better-attested historical figures, can negatively affect the probability of historicity. This sort of thinking about reader bias and counterfactual probability is likely something that Carrier will discuss further in future.

Also, various scholars have a role to play. For example, Earl Doherty, building on the work of those before him, formulated an interesting theory on Christian origins. I effectively endorsed that theory as reasonable, and Carrier then – and much more significantly – put the theory to the test, probabilistically, finding it to be the theory that best fits the currently available evidence. Scholars like myself, then, have an important role in critiquing Carrier’s work and, if it is found to be sound, we have a duty to be supporting and promoting it. Even if it draws the ire of the public, and our peers. . . . I did not formulate the theory that Doherty earlier adopted/refined (and nor did I ‘invent’ the notion that the unreliability of the Gospels could make it more probable that Jesus did not exist);[40] and yet I am playing an important role in arguing for its plausibility and in promoting the theory to scholars and laypeople alike. I could concede that the criticism I received is true and still note its irrelevance.

And something is in the air now. People are ready to hear it.

A scholar can contribute greatly to public knowledge simply by reintroducing the Academy and the populace to a concept that had previously been rejected by a people unready for it. And something is in the air now. People are ready to hear it. Great contributions are also to be made in refining previous research, so that it is more robust and defensible. Indeed, new discoveries (particularly those involving the varied beliefs of early Christians) may make previously unpopular theories more plausible. It may also be the case that asserting that Jesus sceptics are offering nothing new is an attempt to indicate that we are only considering old and long-refuted matters. This too is erroneous as ‘the problem of Paul’ and the poor state of the sources for Jesus have never been resolved, and again, new evidence can reinvigorate old arguments.

Why the “Outsider” is necessary

In the introductory section of his book Lataster argues why scholars outside the field of Christian studies are at least as well equipped and probably even in a better position to critically examine the question of the historical existence of Jesus.

[26] Such as a Richard Carrier. Of course, if he can now be considered such an expert, he certainly was not when he began investigating.

[27] Leaving open the door to highly logical and critical philosophers, such as a Stephen Law.

[28] Such as a Hector Avalos, or myself. Note that truly objective scholars of religion are especially valuable, as they do not privilege particular religions, or their sacred scriptures.

cover[29] Consider this useful resource on the lack of objectivity in much of the research undertaken about religion: William Arnal, Willi Braun, and Russell T. McCutcheon, eds., Failure and Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion (Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2012). Of particular note are the comments, “There seems little doubt that such questions are more apropos in the study of Christian origins in which Christian theology and Christian scholars are so pervasive. Many scholars of the historical Jesus seemed bound by theological constraints or have theological agendas, such as creating an image of Jesus that would still allow Christians to be followers of Jesus… many, or even most, of these scholars imagine a Muhammad or a Jesus who either bears a remarkable resemblance to the Muhammad or the Jesus of their respective confessional tradition, or who is made religiously significant in some other (fashionable) way”, and, referring to Christian origins, “the majority of those in the field hail from religious backgrounds and likely entered the discipline with theological baggage if not an agenda”, on pp. 112-115. Interestingly, regarding the latter quotation, Bart Ehrman was specifically named. The book also includes Donald Wiebe’s warnings against crypto-theology (that many scholars are covertly apologising for religion). 

[30] This incidental mention contrasts with the grand claims made about apparently ‘incidental mentions’ of Jesus found in Josephus and elsewhere, which we shall later discuss. For the quotation, see the soon to be published Sarah Balstrup, “Interpreting the Lost Gospel of Mary: Feminist Reconstructions and Myth Making,” Literature & Aesthetics 25, no. 1 (2015).

[31] I make it very clear, throughout, that prominent historicists seem completely unable to argue logically. If they can’t even make good arguments for Jesus’ existence, I struggle to comprehend why they should be considered experts on this particular issue.

I posit that those more suitably-equipped, and with less questionable motives, would be secular historians who, though it may seem odd, are specifically not experts in the New Testament or the Historical Jesus,[26] and also secular scholars of religion, familiar with the philosophy,[27] history, and sociology, of Christianity and related faiths.[28] This is especially important when we consider that many New Testament experts are oblivious to the vast pre-Christian Jewish literature that expresses belief in, amongst other things relevant to Christianity’s origins, a celestial messiah. Furthermore, the Religious Studies scholars are typically very knowledgeable about non-cognitivist religions, and realise that religions are not always concerned with the facts.

In other words, proper Religious Studies scholars will be more prepared, than, say, a specialist Historical Jesus or Christian Origins researcher, who is undoubtedly interested in self-preservation, to examine the relevant texts without the assumptions that they describe literal historical events.[29] (One particularly noteworthy example is that of Sarah Balstrup, who brazenly and incidentally included the phrase, “if he was indeed a historical person”, when making mention of Jesus’ alleged lifetime.)[30] Above all, these consults ought to be proficient in logic, critical thinking, argumentation, and probability theory – we are, after all, trying to determine what is the most probable hypothesis, or, at least, if a particular scholar’s case is sound.[31] If what I have said makes an ounce of sense, it should be clear that our ‘outsider’ status is not a weakness, but a strength. It may even be necessary. Consider a recent experience of mine.

That personal experience was a paper Lataster had written “on a disturbing, ridiculous, and idiosyncratic method used by [Jesus] historicists” titled, “The Gospel According to Bart: The Folly of Ehrman’s Hypothetical Sources”. The Society of Biblical Literature rejected it. However, it was subsequently accepted presentation at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association (Sydney, 7th July 2015).

This paper dealt with what I call Ehrman’s law, which shall be explained later and discussed throughout this book. My presentation of the paper was very successful, with almost everybody (a room full of proper historians) agreeing with me that this method used by Biblical ‘historians’ is ridiculous and not typical of historians proper.

The one objector turned out to be a sociologist rather than a historian, is a Christian, failed to backup his claim that many other historians do likewise, and eventually agreed with my conclusions. He – surprisingly – was also happy to agree that Mark is likely an allegory of Paul’s writings, which we shall certainly discuss later.

At the conference, I was also advised to avoid attempting to publish the eventual article/s through journals associated with organisations such as the Society of Biblical Literature, as it would apparently be a waste of time. Clearly outsiders perceive these self-styled experts very differently from how the alleged experts perceive themselves; truly a salient point. 



Forget the mythicists; just listen to the historicists argue their case

What I like about Lataster’s approach so far is his sharp analysis of the best arguments of the historicists. He goes through Bart Ehrman’s arguments for historicity step by step and shows how, with just a moment’s reflection, they often really argue for the Jesus agnostic/mythicist side.

In fact, that’s a main thrust (at least so it appears from the little I have read so far) of Lataster’s argument:

I find it quite amusing when my detractors point to the seeming implausibility of mythicists’ theories and to apparent errors in my case for Historical Jesus agnosticism, when the justification of agnosticism is already made obvious by consulting the people arguing for Jesus’ historical certainty. Forget what I have to say. Forget the more aggressive overtures of outright mythicists such as Richard Carrier, Robert M. Price, David Fitzgerald, and Acharya S. Simply peruse the sources for yourself. Do that, and also hear from the historicists how they ‘prove’ Jesus’ existence. If the case for Jesus is unconvincing, then agnosticism is already justified. You needn’t bother with the various active cases against Jesus’ historical existence, many of which honestly sound ridiculous. For your convenience, I condense my years of doing just that into this 400-odd-page book.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 676-683). . Kindle Edition.

And Lataster finds it difficult to adequately describe the utter nonsense of Bart Erhman’s attempt to prove the historicity of Jesus by postulating imaginary sources and then announcing what those imaginary sources used as their sources and what their imaginary authors intended to convey. Recall that Lataster’s critique was rejected by the Society of Biblical Literature but it was accepted by a prestigious historians’ conference in Sydney earlier this year.

djeMany readers will recall the arguments. What we read in the Gospel of Matthew, for instance, that is not found in the Gospel of Mark, is assumed to have been derived from another written source only known to Matthew, and called M. This M document was based on oral traditions that themselves underwent various mutations. Some of Matthew’s sources were clearly fictitious, such as the virgin birth narrative. Never mind that we can discern clear literary antecedents for many of Matthew’s “M” material in the fictitious narratives of the Old Testament and elsewhere as well as evidence that Matthew made up things to support his particularly theological perspective, Ehrman still insists that the existence of M is an additional “independent source” that somehow adds “proof” to the historical existence of Jesus!

I simply cannot find enough negative superlatives in all the thesauruses in all the libraries in all the world to describe the complete and utter ridiculousness and bankruptcy of Ehrman’s approach: The generally unreliable, untrustworthy, and fiction-filled Gospels can occasionally be considered excellent sources of objective and accurate historical information because of their foundational written sources, which do not exist, which contained many fictions if they did, and which cannot now be scrutinised for authorship, age, genre, intent, and so forth. These hypothetical written sources are themselves based on oral traditions, that also cannot be scrutinised, that changed over time, and that may well have been made up whole cloth. Therefore we have conclusive proof that Jesus definitely existed. This is enough to make supremely logical analytic philosophers suffer aneurisms. In what universe can this be considered good history, and good scholarship?

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 1203-1210). . Kindle Edition.

Raphael Lataster may not be the first to have made such criticisms of Ehrman (Carrier, Doherty, and Yours Truly have done so at length) but Lataster’s analysis comes with an extra shine and sharpness and has the potential to reach more people within the Academy — that refuge so many historicists have declared out-of-bounds to mythicism.



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25 thoughts on “Jesus Did Not Exist — A New Contribution”

  1. I’ve just downloaded it today and am still only in the early stages of reading it…

    …though I noted this part:

    “It is astonishing that just about everything about Jesus is questioned by mainstream secular scholars except his very existence; that is anaethema.”

    Really…I don’t see why that should be anaethema. Sometimes it’s that final, last little question that NEEDS to be asked.

    Even if the answer doesn’t turn out as we’d like.

    I’ve also been reading in the introductory parts about how stripping all religious elements or “miraculous” from the story should result in a “historical” Jesus. Not necessarily. Either one could be fictional.

    Going by WHAT groups were actually there (using Josephus to some degree)…you could get a mythicist Jesus from Essenes…you could get a “historical” Jesus from the Ebionites…or go back before the Ebionites to the Zealots trying to make an allegory themselves out of Judas the Galilean’s backstory. Didn’t mean either Jesus existed.

    And it still won’t explain why a youth in a linen cloth turns up in all forms of Christianity.

    1. Lataster does not argue that stripping the miraculous from the narrative should result in a historical Jesus. He is criticizing that idea that seems all too prevalent in the scholarship.

      As for the question that is anathema, again Lataster is not arguing what should or should not be, but what is in fact the current situation — as I think most of us well know.

    2. Psychologists tell us that people with certain kinds of psychological disorder are obsessed with the cleanliness or whiteness of their underwear. A concern that actually appears in the Bible by the way. See “Undergarments.”

  2. Delighted with the acknowledgement of Lataster. Responding without taking time to think through. Having long followed Vridar, been impressed by Brodie, read Kings 1, ch 16 on, then the Gospel of Mark, I have come to some personal, if uneducated, conclusions. I see Jesus Christ as a metaphor, and a beautiful one, for a religion that developed from Judaism in a way not yet fully understood. I accept that the Gospels may be Jewish novels. My belief in Christianity is not threatened, Catholicism perhaps.”There is no God” is not a conclusion I can reach if God is perceived as the unseen, transcendent core of being.
    It is puzzling, almost amusing, that “mythicists” are called on to demonstrate non-historicity when historicists are assumed to have nothing to prove for their claims.
    should it not be the reverse?

          1. I’ve lent it out, so I just did a quick search and found this: “No Jesus and no Paul”

            Hermann Detering, 1992, Paulusbriefe ohne Paulus?: Die Paulusbriefe in der Holländischen Radikalkritik (The Pauline Epistles Without Paul). 2012, Der gefälschte Paulus – Das Urchristentum im Zwielicht (The Falsified Paul. Early Christianity in the twilight). German minister in the Dutch radical tradition. No Jesus and no Paul. The latter Detering identifies with the Samaritan sorcerer Simon Magus.

            His sermon that comprised Chapter four was all about how to save Christianity from that lack of Jesus Christ. Perhaps he believes in a some man that was the foundation. I don’t recall him naming one. What do you recall or do you have the book with you?

          2. Also here (ambiguous): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denial_of_the_Historicity_of_Jesus_in_Past_and_Present

            G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga (1874–1957): the last of the line to hold a professorship. His important writings came after 1926. Van Eysinga endorses the view that the epistles of Clement and Ignatius of Antioch are not genuine. There is no evidence of the Paulinae before Marcion, all produced by the Marcion circle. Paul does not sound Jewish, (in opposition to Harnack). Paul’s epistles are full of incongruities.[15] There’s no evidence of the existence of Jesus the Messiah.[16][17]

            In 1930, van Eysinga dedicated an article to Arthur Drews, “Does Jesus Live, or Has He Only Lived? A Study of the Doctrine of Historicity”, commenting on Drews’s 1926 book The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present[18]

            Van Eysinga expressed his conviction that the Jesus movement had started as a mystery cult in his article Das Christentum als MysterienReligion (1950, “Christianity as a Mystery Cult”).[19]

            The attention to Drews and the Dutch School was revived by Hermann Detering and his Website, Radikalkritik[20] in German and English.[21]

            1. Hi Lowen

              This is from my Kindle version of the Falsified Paul:

              nevertheless the theories put forward until now radically disputing the historicity of Jesus seem insufficient to me. As Albert Schweitzer rightly recognized, one of the greatest problems for a consistent symbolic interpretation of the gospels is, above all, the apocalyptic Jesus with his disappointed expectation of the end of the world… it is obvious that involved here is not only literary design but also tradition historical memory, the river of tradition here flowing through time, which on its slow current drags along what in the meantime has long since become out of date and unusable.

              Location 4036

              I think it’s a rather weak argument (especially coming after his excellent arguments concerning the Pauline epistles), but it does seem to say that he’s not a mythicist. Again, he may have since changed his views.

              1. Thanks Daryl. I clearly remembered wrong about his views (I have no reason to think he changed them). The whole last chapter seemed to be why an historical Jesus is not needed to be a Christian. But maybe the point was that a miraculous Jesus is not needed. I will admit I got bored with that part and skimmed it over. I would rather he hadn’t written that chapter at all, it weakens the book. Cheers!

            2. Also see the interesting Wikipedia entry on Arthur Drews, re “Astralmythologie”, the “Aryan Jesus” issue, & religion under Hitler on which much erroneous comment has been written from different angles.

              Drews stated that the Gospel story rendered into history a religious myth, manifested by “great heroes” such as Jason, Theseus, Perseus, as the “old Aryan sun” struggled against the “powers of darkness”. His idea of a Zodiac pattern to Mark’s gospel was recently revived by Bill Darlison. If my memory is correct, the Temple curtain which was rent significantly had a stellar decoration. Christ versus the Devil fits into powerful western mytheme of the Divine Hero in – eventually – successful combat with the Evil Reptile, and probably contributed to its psychological success in Europe.

  3. Nobody should forget that Jesus is the son of God (not Joseph) and the Virgin Mary. This truth has been confirmed in 325 at Nicaea. Some ancient historicists have maintained that Jesus was adopted by God but they have disappeared after 325. Some were killed by christian djihadists. Oh, my God !

  4. If Jesus had no biological human father, he would have been a clone of his mother, an interesting idea for anyone who thinks that making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake could be quoted in favor of currently fashionable gender transition operations. However, if in those circumstances, he was actually a man, whence his SRY gene? If this was created specially by his sky-father, how would that make him a “True” Man. He would be an artificial hybrid replica, which must be the case anyhow if he was also the Second Person of the Deity who “came down to earth from heaven” (as the boring but almost topical Xmas Carol tells us).

    If Jesus really existed, it seems likely that his real father was a man other than Joseph. The Fourth Gospel quotes his opponents calling him a Samaritan, whose people were regarded by Jews as the descendants of irregular unions with pagans; and other reasons exist for suspecting that he was a mamzer. His supposed birth-date roughly coincides with ancient prophecies about a savior-hero arising in that part of the world, and could explain the story of Zoroastrian magi in search of their predicted Saoshyant – regarding which see e.g. the Wikipedia entry and my separate comment on the divine hero who fights the evil reptile.

    1. It’s ironic that Simon Magus too is claimed to said his own mother Rachel was a virgin too.

      But let’s use Occam’s Razor on it.

      There are extremely rare ways to be a virgin mother that don’t utilize Spirit beings. I’m sure a good gynacologist will explain this. But really…we all know there had to be at least one drop of something involved for the realistic story. If it were ever based on anything real or historical.

      This is different, however, from CLAIMING your mother was a virgin. Or your MOTHER claiming she was a virgin when she had you.

      I’m still going with the idea those looking at the whole phenomenon in the early-mid-second century might have already given us better clues to where some ideas directly came from.

      For example, Celsus references Harpocrates…

  5. “Scholars outside the field are . . . better equipped” — This is precisely the argument that someone finally needed to make. The fact that the data from the historicist Jesus people seems often strangely to argue for the opposite position and then is presented as a vehement defense of historicity demonstrates the problem with Ehrman’s forceful assumption that NT scholars and ONLY NT scholars have any right to weigh in on the subject. It is the need for disinterested study. NT scholars are not disinterested, although they sometimes claim to be. Often, they do not even make the claim (Meier, Spong). Erhman does make it. The very nature of NT studies is attractive, in the first instance, to people with religious backgrounds and interests. They then enter a field where their careers rest on this cultural foundation. We can’t expect them to be disinterested, and their work (e.g., methodology; see Crossan for extensive examples) reveals the obvious technique of rationalization toward a pre-determined goal. These are the wrong people to be looking at the issue of the historicity of Jesus.

    1. Raphael Lataster does argue for the benefit of the “outsider” (meaning outside the specialist field of New Testament studies) investigating this question at some length. Much more than I’ve hinted at in this post. He has a few catchy analogies — one of which sticks in my mind: Imagine turning up at a UFO convention and raising the question about the very existence of UFOs. Theologians are not engaged in questioning God’s existence — that’s a given — but in understanding other things about God. Ditto for Jesus studies. They seek to work out what Jesus (or it might be the Iron Man) said and did — the existence is taken for granted.

      We have raised this problem before. But it’s good to see it set out formally in this publication.

      People like McGrath like to say that “every historian” knows Jesus existed — as if they have all seriously studied the question. But of course that’s nonsense. I suggest very few have ever studied the question of Jesus’ existence. He is taken as a given, a cultural artefact.

      Also like Lataster’s rejection of the term “Christ Myth” theory. Of course the Christ is a myth. It is Jesus whose existence is in question.

  6. Scholars from outside the field or people with expertise in areas you wouldn’t think would be able to work with it…but who understand elements of it a bit better.

    Like those who understand key elements of fiction, for example.

    I’m sure that might get some lively debate…but to all intents and purposes, a Jesus WITHOUT real proof of historicity is essentially a fictional character. Don’t see why an expert in fiction can’t be called in to explain just how such a fiction is done.

    No one would consider a comic fan valid as “expert,” I’m sure…yet one could tell you that Jesus requires the same thing as Superman…”SUSPENSION of disbelief.”

    An expert with fiction might also point out that there’s a plot thread running through both the Gnostic and proto-Catholic Jesus stories that the story is REALLY about. Fiction specialists would spot that a lot quicker.

    Or explain allegory and metaphor better?

    Probably too revolutionary an idea to apply to the subject…

    And if we even consulted a comic fan or expert…there’d be some necessary discussion on the type of scholarship comic fans can do with fictional characters. Yes, that happens…and you should hear scholarly opinion on whether Superman and Lois Lane can have sex. But tying that back to the real world…we find in the ancient world whole schools based around religious figures who really were all fictional. As with priesthoods based around the exact same figures.

    Suspension of DISbelief.

    1. I’m currently working on 1) the fiction-writer’s perspective.

      Or just 2) almost as good, editor’s. Frankly calling ” redaction” by it’s plain English equivalent: editing.

      Today, scholars edit the Bible. Adding or subtracting say,the long ending of Mark. Just as Protestants edited out seven whole books from the original Bibles. Even as Luke introduced himself as a compiler with his own agenda. And as John admitted there were many other things Jesus was said to have done. But which were too numerous to include.

      Here we see severe editing being acknowledged. Severe to the point if rewriting any presumed originals.

      Even as finally, even the Bible warned about writers themselves. Or ” scribes.” And as it also warned about pitfalls in language and translation, the confusion of tongues.

      There was plenty of room for errors and perfidy in even religious writing. Even according to the Bible itself.

  7. “A criticism I encounter often on the blogosphere – is that I offer nothing new. I dispute that”

    Well, honestly, I sure hope so because I purchased Raphael’s first book, “There was no Jesus” and there certainly was nothing new in it as most of that book was quoting what everybody else had already said so, I can’t understand why it has so many reviews at Amazon except to show support for the cause.

    I’d like to hear from others to see if this new book is actually worth getting because the last one definitely was not. In my view, with all the blogs/articles I’ve read from Raphael Lataster he really just comes off as another Richard Carrier cheerleader so, I hope this new book is different but, I am doubtful since he got his hero to write some in the book which got Carrier’s name on it so, it could just be more gushing for Carrier again, who isn’t nearly as great as he’d like everybody to believe.

    1. Do not buy the book if you are looking for a completely new argument against the historicity of Jesus. Lataster supports the Doherty-Carrier thesis. His contribution is in fresh criticisms as a scholar of religion to the two sides of the argument.

    2. Lataster offers a devastating critique, from an insider, academic perspective, of recent historicist attempts to put beyond a shadow of doubt the contention that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Lataster does a much more focused job of pointing out the methodological and logical errors of Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey. In particular, he points out that only in historical Jesus studies is the appeal to hypothetical (Lataster calls them “imaginary”) sources as keystone, foundational texts or oral traditions. His observation that hypothetical (“imaginary”) sources can be made to say whatever one wants them to say, and, in fact, they could just as well support a mythicist case as an historicist case.

      While you might not find anything “new,” in Lataster’s book, it is an important contribution. This work combined with Carrier’s two books deliver knock out strikes against the assumption that the historicity of Jesus has been established beyond doubt. I have not read the section yet that presents Lataster’s own analysis of the material in his defense of an agnostic position, which seems to me to be the clearest position given the state of the evidence, but it seems unlikely that there is a new argument to present in that case. I enjoy reading Lataster and his discussion of methodology is little bit like indulging in a guilty pleasure.

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