Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster on the Jesus Myth

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by Neil Godfrey

The Jesus Myth Theory w/ Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster

My today began in Australia then spent most of its daylight hours in Singapore and is now in Thailand — and since it’s now over 26 hours since I’ve slept do kindly excuse the absence of comment. Just listen to a great discussion.

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33 thoughts on “Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster on the Jesus Myth”

  1. Yes, I listened to that.
    It was most informative and gave me cause for optimism – it seems the tide is turning.
    I might lash out and get Lataster’s book.

    1. I have a million books I want to discuss on Vridar but time and other books just keep whooshing past. I especially want to do more on Salm’s new book and listening to the interview here reminded me I want to address both Carrier’s and Lataster’s works.

  2. I like the point Carrier made about Paul not using the Greek word for “crucifixion” when writing about Jesus’ death.

    The New Testament uses the word “tree” five times to refer to Christ’s execution (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, Galatians 3:13 and 1 Peter 2:24). One of the five appearances of “tree” occurs in Galatians. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” wrote Paul, “for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). Paul was quoting a phrase found in Deuteronomy 21:23. Since Christ’s death in Paul fulfilled scripture (Deuteronomy 21:23), it served a theological purpose for Paul, and so there is no reason to think it actually happened, because Paul had reason to invent it. As Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES (1 Cor 15:3).”

    Paul was referring to the Torah’s prescribed form of execution by stoning for blasphemy and idolatry. After being stoned to death, the person’s body was hung on a tree to show that the individual was under God’s curse. To the Jews, hanging on a tree had become a metaphor for an apostate, a blasphemer or a person under God’s curse. That’s how the Jews viewed Jesus (John 5:18; 10:33; Matthew 26:63-65).

    Their attitude would explain why Peter and Paul sometimes used the Greek word for “tree” (xylon) to describe Jesus’ execution. Three times in the book of Acts the word tree is used to refer to Jesus’ crucifixion. In these cases, it appears in a Jewish context as well.

    1. So also the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. Enoch Powell has a similar theme in his “Evolution of the Gospel” (Yale UP, 2011). There is no extant evidence that ancient Jews regarded Jesus as an imaginary invention.

    2. The Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 21:23 also uses “xylon (ξύλου)” so that is likely the reason Paul and Peter use that word.

      What about “stauroō (ἐσταυρωμένος)” for “crucified” in Galatians 3:1?

      I have begun to think that Paul came up with the crucifixion idea himself, as he demonstrates in Galatians 3:6-14, with a logically fallacious argument. The “Who” in “Who has bewitched you?” of Galatians 3:1 would be the same people as “those who unsettle you” in Galatians 5:12 who obviously of the “circumcision faction” of Galatians 2:12, of which Cephas and James are a part. Paul spends the first two chapters discrediting both of them, and John, to justify himself. I interpret Galatians as saying that those two were involved with refuting his idea that Jesus was crucified. Paul twice makes the point in 2 Corinthians that his knowledge is not inferior to the super-apostles and he knows nothing about an earthly Jesus except what can be found in the Old Testament. I think they were all getting that information about Jesus suffering, dying, being buried, and interceding for the sins of others from Isaiah 53.

        1. I hope to resume my posts of Hengel’s argument that the authors of Daniel and Zechariah both were interpreting Isaiah 53 as a suffering messiah and incorporating that figure into their own prophecies.

          1. I’ve pressed McGrath on this point before. 1 Cor 15:3 clearly says “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES.” If Paul is not referring here to Isaiah 53, then what SCRIPTURES are he referring to?

            Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

            McGrath repeatedly denies that Isaiah 53 was used in the construction of the crucifixion narrative, but refuses to comment on what scriptures Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 15:3.

            1. “Christ died for our sins” comes from Isaiah 53:5.
              “and that he was buried” comes from Isaiah 53:9.
              “he was raised on the third day” comes from Hosea 6:2.

              In Romans 9:25-26, Paul says he is quoting Hosea and quotes Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. In Romans 9:29, He cites Isaiah and quotes Isaiah 1:9 along with several other quotes and allusions from Isaiah in that vicinity of Romans. So we know Paul read and quoted Isaiah and Hosea together.

        1. During the early 1960s, I was in a grocery store browsing through the comic books. One of them, a Superman comic, showed the Man of Steel in personal conversation with President John Kennedy. Can we safely assume that Kennedy was a real person but not Superman, whom he presumably might have know personally?

          We don’t have to assume that Cephas and James were real. We can infer that they were probably real because they were identified in certain documents as people personally known to the author. That author also wrote at length about a certain Christ Jesus, but never suggested that Cephas or James, or anyone else of the author’s acquaintance, personally knew Christ Jesus.

        2. Paul speaks of meeting James and Cephas. He never speaks of meeting Jesus. He says ” I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul loves to talk about “Jesus Christ”, “Christ Jesus”, “Jesus”, and “Christ” over 300 times in about 1500 verses in his “authentic” epistles but the few dozen things he says about an earthly Jesus can be found in the Old Testament, mostly Isaiah and Psalms. This holds in all the other epistles, except when 1 Timothy and 2 Peter are taking information from the gospels.

          When Paul makes a references to a “brother of the Lord”, it is in conjunction with someone replacing the Lord’s authority with human authority. He mentions in Galatians 1:1 that he is sent by the Lord, not by human authority, then mentions that certain people came from James in Galatians 2:12, so he is saying in Galatians 1:19, that James has made himself like the Lord’s brother by assuming the Lord’s role. We see the same thing in 1 Corinthians 9:5 and 9:8.

          In 2 Corinthians 11:4-6 and 12:11, Paul claims that his knowledge is not inferior to the super-apostles. That is an astounding claim if he thought they had actually known Jesus.

        3. Yes, you have to “presume” Cephas and James knew Jesus personally, because Paul never says it. In fact, Paul, as Greg G. Has stated says pretty much the oposite, that Cephas and James got their knowledge the same way he did, and he didn’t get it “from any man.” Basically, you are making up what you would like to be true, despite the evidence available.

        4. It is never safe to assume anything unless we have very good arguments to do so. Where there remains any doubt then all our assumptions must always remain tentative.

  3. The trouble is that anything inside or outside the letters attributed to Paul that appear to suggest that there was a real Jesus known to real people known to a real Paul can either be glossed to the contrary or dismissed as a partial or complete interpolation (e.g. the resurrection appearance list). To quote a notorious metaphor, trying to argue with such critics is like nailing jelly to a wall.

    1. Apologists insist they can build on jelly as reliably as on cement. There are very good reasons for suspecting Galatians 1:19 (meeting James the brother of the Lord) and indeed the entire “first trip to Jerusalem” is an interpolation. That’s not being silly. It’s being scholarly and treating the evidence seriously – as too few mainstream scholars are willing to do, unfortunately. It is difficult in the extreme to understand why Tertullian glossed over this passage in his use of Galatians to counter the Marcionites if it were indeed in his copy of Galatians. But too many mainstream scholars of the NT are there to explore their faith, not to do serious historical investigation the way it is done in other faculties.

      See also Tim’s post: http://vridar.org/2016/01/16/the-function-of-brother-of-the-lord-in-galatians-119/

      1. “But too many mainstream scholars of the NT are there to explore their faith, not to do serious historical investigation the way it is done in other faculties.”

        I think this is actually the great big elephant doing cartwheels in the room. He who should not be named dismisses it out right. But I think it’s exceptionally disshonest to do so.

      2. Paul doesn’t say “James The Brother Of The Lord” ever MET Jesus, just that they were “related.” All Paul might have meant was that the same divine being who impregnated James’ mother also was responsible for Jesus coming into creation. That would have been a common typology in the ancient world. Hercules had human brothers, for instance.

        1. Everyone is assuming that Paul meant Jesus and James had the same mother (which would follow from what the gospels says). But maybe what Paul meant is that Jesus and James had the same father, but not the same mother.

          1. It could also simply be an interpolated passage based on the Josephus passage about “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” but who was actually, if you read the whole thing, the brother of Jesus Ben Damneus.

            Once again, nothing about these books and manuscripts is certain. Nothing.

            1. I think that’s also a fairly safe assumption, given James really isn’t given any special consideration elsewhere by Paul. Even in the same letter.

              1. I think Paul gives James a great deal of attention. Galatians 5:12 expresses Paul’s desire that the circumcision faction go the whole way and emasculate themselves. James is identified as a head honcho of the circumcision faction in Galatians 2:12. In Galatians 2:6, Paul expresses disdain with the leaders in Jerusalem and says God agrees with him, then in Galatians 2:9, he identifies those leaders as James, Cephas, and John. When Paul says he received nothing from human authority, he tells that he met with Cephas and James. Paul identifies James as someone who sends people on missions after making a big deal in Galatians 1:1 about being sent by the Lord’s authority and not by human authority.

                Paul seems to be discrediting James and Cephas throughout Galatians.

              2. Interesting. Yes, Paul gives James a great deal of attention, but he doesn’t pay special deference to him as if he had been the brother of the originator of the sect.

              3. Interesting. Yes, Paul gives James a great deal of attention, but he doesn’t pay special deference to him as if he had been the brother of the originator of the sect.

                Exactly. I think Paul uses “the Lord’s brother” to refer to people who use human authority for what he thinks is the Lord’s authority. We see him making references to that in Galatians plus the “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 is followed by a rhetorical reference to “human authority” in 1 Cor 9:8.

    2. I think this is actually a good point, and one that I’m succeptible to. The problem is, though, that pretty much all scholars agree that the letters of Paul were collated, interpolated, and changed by later authors. Other authors even wrote in his name, so there’s not a 100% gaurantee who wrote any of it. There’s even an outside chance that the entire charachter of Paul is fiction. Ancient sources, such as Celsus, even accused early Christians of modifying their texts. And why wouldn’t the early Christians have done this? Modern Apologists certainly would if they could. I think the point is, that certain biblical scholars, and apologists, place way to much certainty in texts that have extremely limited veracity.

    3. The gospels appear to be based on the Greek, Jewish, and Christian literature of the day, but even with the Christian literature, the words of the authors are put into Jesus’ mouth even though the authors don’t say they are quoting Jesus. If the gospels are literature written a generation or more later in various locales that are not Jerusalem or Galilee, one should not read them back into the epistles as Christians have done for nearly two thousand years. If the epistles are read in terms of the Septuagint and Jewish scriptures, the Jesus character seems to have been thought of as ancient.

      Paul seems to have thought Jesus was descended from David (Romans 1:3, 2 Samuel 7:12) but died before Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 53), then 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16 is not necessarily an interpolation as it lists Jesus as being killed before the prophets. If Jesus appeared to Cephas, the twelve, the 500, and James the same way he appeared to Paul, which was through the scriptures as a hidden mystery, the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 need not be an interpolation.

  4. “and James the same way he appeared to Paul, which was through the scriptures as a hidden mystery, the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 need not be an interpolation.”

    It need not be completely, but it certainly could be partially interpolated for reasons we’ve discussed before.

  5. The problem is that, at this distance of time, we don’t KNOW more or less anything for certain, except that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity did not actually become a human and rise again from the dead to save (some of us) from eternal torture by shedding his blood.

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