How Many Bible Verses Does It Take to Prove Jesus Existed?

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by Neil Godfrey

The view from where I am writing this post.
A view from where I am writing this post.

There is no need for any argument to prove Jesus existed. In Galatians 1:19 Paul says he met Jesus’s brother so of course Jesus existed. What need is there for any further discussion?

That’s how the case for the historicity of Jesus goes. But some would say that I’m being unfair. Paul also says in Romans that Jesus was descended from David and again in Galatians that Jesus was born to a woman so of course Jesus was a real human being and mythicists who suggest Paul’s Jesus was an entirely celestial figure must be crazy. So some would say even though one verse is enough to prove Jesus existed they can nonetheless provide at least three — or more.

Hence some people (even scholars) can read Richard Carrier’s peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus and have nothing more to say of its 600 page argument than that it is wrong because Galatians 1:19 says Jesus had a brother.

I have said before that there is a chasmic disconnect between the way theologians or other biblical scholars “do the history” of Jesus or Christian origins and the way critical historical research is undertaken in history faculties. I don’t have ready access to some of the books I own explaining to doctoral students how to do historical research but I am sure my memory is not failing me when I say that one key step they all point out is that the historian must test his or her documentary sources before knowing what sort of information they might yield.

One form of test is to check to see if a document is genuine or a forgery. Another is to ascertain its provenance. That can have two meanings: one, to know where the manuscript was found, by whom, under what circumstances, etc; two, to know who authored it (not just the name, and not even necessarily the name, but the background and interests/motivations of the author) and when. It is also important to understand its genre in order to assess its probable function and/or purpose. The manuscript history is important. And also important is to learn of its context. It is one thing to make sense of the contents of a document but we fall into a circular trap if that’s all we have to go on. At some point we need to know where and how the document fits into its wider context. What other sources do we have that are related to it in some way? What was its status, or the status of its author, in relation to other sources? How does the content in the document cohere with that derived from other sources?

The Hitler Diaries are a recent example of document forgery that deceived even reputable historians for a while; Liverani is one historian I have quoted several times on Vridar reminding scholars that too many of them are too often lazy in the way they seize upon the easy face-value of texts because it so readily meets their needs.

Often, and especially in modern history, many of these steps are undertaken (almost) subconsciously. The genre of a telegram, for example, is apparent from the outset. And because even experienced scholars in modern history deal so regularly with documents that are easy to authenticate and assess for reliability that some of them sometimes forget the above steps and themselves too easily fall into traps. Fortunately there are enough in the academy to be with-it sufficiently to expose forgeries and/or demonstrate that a face-value reading of a text is misleading and thereby remind their colleagues that laziness is not an option for a professional.

There is ample evidence and abundant testimony from biblical scholars themselves that New Testament studies is dominated by academics with a personal attachment to the Christian faith. Place this fact alongside perhaps the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity — that Jesus entered history — and you have an inevitable predisposition of the guild to understand the source documents testifying to the historical founding events of the faith that became Christianity. It is surely a truism that the same scholars would likely be a lot more critical if they were studying the documents of a non-Abrahamic religion. It can be difficult to step outside the bias of our cultural attachments.

So what is going on here? Why is it that lay persons and scholars alike can apparently glaze their eyes over 600 pages of argument and conclude with what they began: that Jesus had a brother so he had a historical existence? Are mythicists really crazy not to acknowledge that “simple fact”?

To avoid a theoretical discussion I’ll explain how I have learned to do historical research into Christian origins.

I approach the documents the way several of the manuals for PhD candidates in history advise. I don’t take them at face value by default. (Some biblical scholars even argue that as Christians they should take the biblical texts at face value by default and only depart from their testimony if and when forced to do so. It’s called a hermeneutic of charity. Initial scepticism is even seen as unchristian. Devout persons who followed Jesus deserve to be believed.)

I first attempt to understand the nature of the documents, what they are, how they came to be composed, by whom, when, why, for whom. To avoid circularity it is necessary to make these assessments in conjunction with other texts or evidence from the relevant time and place.

The first thing one discovers when exploring these questions is just how tentative our knowledge and understanding of these texts really is. There is very little that we can take as absolute bed-rock fact for all time. So one does learn to avoid dogmatism along the way as one learns more including learning more about how uncertain so much of our knowledge is.

We have some letters that claim to be by Paul. These letters vary from one another in style and content. They clearly owe a debt to authoritative Jewish writings. We have no idea who or what “Paul” was until we find references to these letters and a Paul in the second century when we encounter heated debates over who this Paul was and what (if anything) he wrote. Some of the earliest second century commentary of Paul’s letters and polemical writings over what Paul taught indicate that our current canonical texts of the letters are not always identical to what was originally written.

Other apparently early writings that became central to orthodox Christianity include teachings that sometimes overlap with what we read in Paul’s letters but more often bear little obvious relationship to them. The dates for these other early (now canonical) writings appear to date from at the earliest 70 CE and at the latest late second century. Earlier (mid-second century) we do encounter oblique references to what sometimes sound like these canonical writings but if they are the same they are not known by the titles they came to bear some decades later. The content of those texts referenced in the mid-second century sometimes coheres with our canonical texts but other times differs. A comparison of the canonical gospels is further evidence that they were not considered authoritative in the early years of their circulation. (It is evident that composers of copied and made changes to earlier ones.

All of the above gives us good reason to be cautious and tentative in drawing conclusions about Christian origins from our canonical texts.

Now back to focusing on that James the brother of the Lord passage in one of the letters attributed to a Paul. When we try to identify this James in the other early writings we run into difficulties arising from scarcity of mentions and ambiguities where there are mentions. These few references all evidently date from after Paul’s letters and what they indicate about the various James figures raises major questions when placed beside Galatians 1:19. Even more curious oddities arise when we consider 1:19 in the context of the remainder of the canonical Pauline corpus.

Here’s where the historian must wade through ambiguities, contradictions, seemingly disconnected content. If, as Paul said, he met the brother of the Lord (let’s take “Lord” as a title indicating Jesus) who was a leader of the Jerusalem Church, then a myriad of questions in relation to his other letters arise. Tim Widowfield not long ago further realized that a significant question arises even within the context of 1:19 itself. See The Function of “Brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19. All valid historical reasoning is Bayesian whether we know it or not and most detective-like investigations are conducted on Bayesian principles. Assigning probability numbers is an optional extra, a luxury if you like, that helps the thinker maintain a conscious awareness of his or her reasoning processes, so we don’t need to use numbers to think fruitfully when trying to find answers through a mass of data. I mention Bayes here for the simple reason that I have previously raised a number of the questions that Galatians 1:19 poses for the historian of Christian origins in a Bayesian context. See Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test.

If this question interests you and you would like to know the sorts of problems (that is, the other questions) that the “James the brother of the Lord” phrase in Galatians raises for historians, then do read that post because that’s where I set many of them out.

What follows assumes you have either read that post or know well the sorts of questions about the remainder of the early evidence for Christianity that inevitably confront us when we think through the implications of Paul saying he met the brother of Jesus who was a pillar of the Jerusalem church.

So where does all of this discussion leave us now?

Yes, I am quite prepared to think that there is a passage in Galatians speaking about a James who is the brother of the Lord Jesus. That passage is, I am quite willing to grant, unambiguous. A simplistic “biblical reading” (that is, reading the Bible as a cultural sacred text testifying to the founding of the Christian religion) makes it clear that Jesus had a brother whom Paul met.

But if we approach the documentary data as historians are taught to approach their source material then I believe one is drawn to the conclusion that the simplistic “proof-text” method used by so many theologians (but not by diligent historians worth their salt) raises far more problems than it would appear to answer about Christian origins.

(Note: I am writing this post from a sensational Japanese hotel beside Lake Kawaguchiko and, having had more interesting things to do till now, have not yet read the recent comments on my previous post where the question I discuss here arose. So I expect I will catch up and address still outstanding points sometime tomorrow or the next day or maybe later.)

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125 thoughts on “How Many Bible Verses Does It Take to Prove Jesus Existed?”

  1. Nice commentary on the subject. I’m still slowly working on my book and I’ve come up with even more, and more convincing, material along the same lines as what I’ve already published. But, clearly my view is that the Gospels themselves provide rock solid evidence that Jesus never existed, as I lay out in my arguments here: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/fictional_jesus.htm

    And remember that Paul also said that he learned about Jesus from no man, but from revelation. If he tells us that he met “Jesus’ brother”, how could he not have learned about him from his own brother. Of course the person he met was not Jesus real brother.

    But again, the real proof is in the Gospels and nothing found in the letters of Paul can possibly save Jesus from the evidence put forward there.

    It is undeniable that the narrative in the Gospel called Mark is 100% fabricated and fictional. Totally undeniable. It is also undeniable that every single narrative written about Jesus in the first and early 2nd century is based on that singular narrative.

    Every single story about Jesus descends from the story called the Gospel of Mark. Every single one.

    The writer of Mark clearly based his character on PAUL, and every other writer about Jesus clearly based their stories on “Mark”.

    The case that all descriptions of Jesus, including “his” crucifixion, follow a line of literary dependency starting with Paul (who’s only knowledge of him came from “revelation”), given flesh by “Mark” and then expounded upon by other writers is undeniable. And this case alone, single-handedly destroys all possibility that a real human Jesus ever existed.

    All that is needed to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jesus of the Christianity is a fictional character are the Gospels themselves. It’s irrefutable.

    What my Gospel analysis shows is that it is impossible that any of the Gospel writers had any knowledge of a real Jesus person, and most importantly, none of them even had any knowledge (even second hand knowledge) of the crucifixion.

    And on top of that, the very idea that the crucifixion would have taken place during the Passover festival is completely absurd, beyond all realm of realistic possibility. The fact that this hasn’t been more widely questioned and itself undermined the whole story is beyond me. The Jews didn’t execute people during Passover, period. That never ever would have happened, and the fact that all of the Gospel writers just copy that narrative down from “Mark” (who was clearly placing the crucifixion on Passover for symbolic and ironic impact) shows that the other Gospel writers had no clue at all of what they were even talking about. They had absolutely no knowledge at all of any real life or death of this supposed person.

    Their only source of information about “Jesus” was clearly the Gospel of Mark and whatever other urban legends that the Gospel of Mark itself had spawned. And the Gospel of Mark was a fictional story.

    1. Hey R.G, love your work and thanks for the comment – hope you get that book published. Your analysis of the gospels is great and I totally agree with it (and I reccomend it to others here, if they have not read it). But I think you might go a bit far in suggesting that demonstrating they are fictional is sufficient to refute the existence of Jesus. As Carrier argues, they could be fictional, but Jesus could still have been some minor figure who the early christians reacted to. I think the debate of the epistles is thus very important and very relevant. I know from your work you accept the basic doherty/carrier reading of Paul – as I do – but my point is that this is important pillar of the “fictional” Jesus case.

      1. Hi Jonathan,

        Thanks for the feedback. Like I say in my article, the problem with Carrier’s line about “maybe there was still some minor Jesus”, is that at that point it becomes totally irrelevant. If every single thing said about Jesus in the Gospels is totally made up then the Jesus of Christianity never existed, period, because the Jesus of Christianity is the character in the Gospels.

        That’s point number 1. It’s like if I said, James Price is a guy that was born from a wolf pack, and he fought against giants and killed them all, and he started a country in Africa called Mibutu and he lived to be 300 years old. Okay, well there probably was some guy named James Price that lived at some point in time, but if he didn’t do any of those things I said then its not really relevant is it?

        But #2, my bigger point that I try to make is that the fact that it can be proven that the Gospel of Mark is fiction, and EVERY SINGLE narrative about Jesus can be proven to descend from it, this is very strong evidence that Jesus never existed at all.

        Indeed my point is that the very existence of the Gospels as we have them is the strongest evidence against the existence of any Jesus whatsoever. Because what the Gospels prove is that in the 1st century when there was an interest in writing about Jesus, what the Gospels prove is that there was NO information about Jesus whatsoever to go on. The Gospels prove that because they are all just copied from a single story.

        If Jesus’ real crucifixion was such a powerful event that it inspired the rise of this religion, then how can it possibly be that EVERY SINGLE account of it it based on a single fictional story? Given that paul was already talking about the crucifixion, clearly it was, from the beginning, a critical element of the religion. If this critical element developed based on real world events, then surely SOMEONE would have been able to record at least one single real detail from it. Yet, clearly we have nothing at all. Clearly what we have is a single account that is based on a literary allusion set in a time that is symbolic but could never have actually happened (Passover), and EVERYONE repeats that fictional account. If it were so important as to inspire the rise of the religion, then how come not a single account of the real event was ever recorded?

        It is clear that nothing was written about Jesus the person until after the Gospel of Mark and that all interest in Jesus the person stems from Mark. Mark is clearly the wellspring from which Jesus the person flows, and a fictional story would only be the sole source of information about a person if that person never really existed to begin with.

        The problem that “real Jesus” people face in regard to my argument is that they have to argue simultaneously that a “real Jesus” both inspired the religion AND that the real Jesus was so insignificant that not a single teaching of his was passed down and no details of his life or death at all were ever known. This is just a clear incoherent contradiction.

        Clearly Paul does not present his teachings as “Jesus’s teachings”. Clearly the author Mark is presenting Paul’s teachings as Jesus’ teachings. Paul is the Jesus of the Gospels, essentially.

        Likewise, my comments on the apocalyptic origins of Christology also address this issue theologically. Clearly Christianity has always contained within it a contradiction between the idea that Jesus was real person (which stems from the Gospels) , and the idea that the material world, and the flesh, are hopelessly corrupt and must be destroyed.

        It is obvious to me that what made early “Jesus” theology special and powerful was the idea that the Jewish “Kingdom of God”, unlike what other Jews claimed, could not be created by the Messiah on earth, but rather it had to be created in heaven. This is the key concept in the origin of this theology, the idea that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and had to be destroyed and that the Messiah would make a new immaterial Kingdom of God in heaven. This is the origin of the religion. This is the starting point.

        With this idea as the starting point, OF COURSE the Messiah that these people would be worshiping would not be an earthly Messiah who had been made flesh, it HAD to have been a heavenly Messiah who was uncorrupted by the material world. This is why this all makes sense and actually makes Christian theology “coherent”.

        Christian theology as we have it today is in total contradiction because it contains within it still this original concept of the corruption of the material world mashed together with the later idea that Jesus was a real person which all came about because of a fictional story. So now we have this incoherent Christian theology that has totally illogical concepts like the trinity and contradictory 4th-6th century manufactured arguments that try to reconcile both the idea that the Messiah was made flesh and the idea that the material world and the flesh are hopelessly corrupt and must be destroyed.

        No, it all began with a single coherent idea, which was that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and had to be destroyed and that this would be brought about by a heavenly Messiah who was uncorrupted by the material world because he had never become flesh.

        And this is why, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as the idea that Jesus had “become flesh” began taking hold, there was so much controversy over the idea and there were people who were clearly against it. It doesn’t make sense for the idea that Jesus had never been flesh to arise AFTER it was obvious that he was a real person. That concept existed first, and then came into conflict with the idea that Jesus was flesh that originated from the belief that the Gospels were “real history”, describing the life of a real person.

        I mean, this is the only thing that makes any real sense.

        1. I am not sure that it is “clearly proven” that Mark alone is the source of other writings about the sayings and activities of Jesus as a supposedly real person on earth, or that presumably later dependent material such as Matthew rules out a messianic kingdom in this world in the future. Who would have an interest in developing a detailed Jewish context in the second century and fabricating passages like Mt 24.34? Maybe you have covered this already somewhere and I am asking without hostility to your general thesis, which is interesting, important, original and in the main plausible.

          On ruling out any possibility of execution on the eve of Passover, what did happen could have happened, and stoning and hanging for blasphemy of an annoying rebel could have been rewritten as a crucifixion by pagan Romans at the instigation of some Jewish leaders.

          1. The author of Mark’s “detailed Jewish context” is very poor. Anachronisms from the second century, or certainly from post 70 CE, abound. e.g. Pharisees and synagogues in Galilee, crucifixion narrative details,

            1. The Jewish detail in my moderated comment referred to the presumed later development of Mark in Matthew, the question being why this additional matter (e.g. Mt 10.23b & 24.34) would be of great relevance to Gentiles in the second century.

              Also, I am not as certain as others about one single line of literary dependence, such as
              Paul ~ Mk ~ Mt ~ Lk ~ Jn
              Mk + Q = Mt ~ Lk
              Mt ~ Mk ~ Lk

              I think it perfectly possible that packets of the “synoptic” matter existed before their utilization by the authors of the texts we have now.

        2. Very eloquently put, as usual. As you point out, Christ mythicism makes for a logically consistent, internally coherent, and historically grounded religion. The historical Christ story turns the entire exercise into a confused whirlpool of internal contradictions. Adding the history element later introduced problems that had to be resolved, yet never have satisfactorily been addressed even to this day. It’s similar to the introduction of neoPlatonist philosophy into the Christian canon – trying to make Plato’s universe cohere with the Jewish cosmology led to contradictions that were simply too dramatic to ever be satisfactorily resolved.

        3. Thanks R.G – fascinating. I think I agree with you. But I will point out that your argument about the importance of the fictional gospels (particularly Mark) is based on the premise that Paul, in fact, knows nothing about an historical Jesus. That, of course, is highly contested among scholars, even if I/we think it is a sound premise. Point is, the interpretation of Paul has to be argued, and is an important peg in the overall “non-existence of Jesus” case. That said, I will grant, that if people accepted (as I think they should) your analysis of Mark/Gospels, then the debate about Paul would probably shift quickly. It would become clear that, all this time, scholars have been reading the gospels into Paul. But once it is accepted the gospels are later fictionalized accounts, this is not warranted and people will see that Paul does not give us any useful historical information and his Jesus could, just as easily (in fact more easily!), be interpreted as the celestial figure posited by Doherty/Carrier et al

          1. Yes, exactly. I think what I, and now several other people, point out about the relationship between Paul and Mark shows is that the seeming corroboration between Paul and Mark exists not because Paul independently recorded similar ideas to what was recorded about jesus in the Gospels, but rather than the similarity of the ideas is a product of the fact that the Gospels were actually based on the letters of Paul. It’s an unbroken chain of literary borrowing.

            In addition, if we accept the “Fictional Jesus” premise, or basically the analysis that i laid out of the Gospel of Mark, then as you say, Paul alone can in no way save Jesus. Once we accept that the Gospels are what I’m claiming they are, then they are actually evidence AGAINSt a real Jesus and in order to save Jesus you have to rely SOLELY on Paul!

            I think anyone who would claim that the real life Jesus can be supported solely by the letters of Paul alone, AGAINST the evidence that clearly by the mid to late 1st century no single detail about his life was known, even by the Gospel writers, and against the evidence that the writers of the later epistles were clearly also basing their ideas off of the Gospels, then no, this whole thing falls apart.

            And this is where my argument goes back o the core thesis of the first apologists to begin with and addresses it directly.

            The core thesis of the first apologists rests on a set of assumption that are now totally disproved. Their assumptions were that #1 ) The Gospels contain within them evidence of real prophecy fulfillment and #2) this evidence is substantiated by the fact that we have 4 separate independent accounts that corroborate each other.

            What I show is that #1 what they thought were prophecies were actually just literary allusions, and #2 the Gospels aren’t independent, they are totally depended on one another.

            What we see is that these two core assumptions, upon which they based the ENTIRE case for Christianity and their concept of Jesus the person, are utterly false. We see that EVERY SINGLE argument made in the 2nd-4th centuries about as to why Jesus “was real and made flesh” all rested on the Gospels as the SOLE source of evidence for this “fact”.

            This again goes directly at the evidence. The claims made by 2nd-4th century apologists, against the existing counter claims that Jesus had never been made flesh, ALL rested on the Gospels as the evidence to refute the widespread existing belief that Jesus had not been made flesh.

            I think if you go back and look at the history, clearly the understanding of the Gospels that I’m putting forward would have completely demolished the arguments of the early apologists and the religion never would have even come into existence. The entire religion came into existence based on a core set of faulty assumptions about what the Gospels were and how the Gospels were written.

            Then you add on top stuff like the evidence that “Peter” as described by church history never existed either, i.e. never founded the church in Rome, and no one outside of Paul gives any real account of him, etc., i.e. none of the people who supposedly knew Jesus either actually existed at all or did any of the things that would have corroborated Jesus’ existence as traditions claim, etc. I mean really, the case is overwhelming IMO.

            In my mind, the case against the existence of Jesus is perhaps the strongest case you could ever make against the existence of a historical person from that long ago. All of the writings about Jesus and his associate actually do more to undermine the idea that he ever existed than if nothing had been written about him at all.

            I think that if all we had about Jesus were just the letter of Paul and nothing else, then the case that some real “minor Jesus” may have actually existed would be stronger. But all of the proven fabrication and copying and misunderstanding actually makes the case that belief in a human Jesus arose out of misunderstanding stronger.

            Clearly, IMO, belief in a human Jesus arose from the Gospels themselves. That’s why, when you look at the early apologists, their entire argument for why Jesus was flesh is all based on the Gospels and nothing more. That’s the one and only place that provided any “evidence” for their claim.

            1. Out of curiosity, where online can I read a summary (or more) of the arguments concerning a close relationship between Mark and Paul? I know of the book that came out recently, and it’s on my list, but I am not sure when I’ll be able to buy it much less read it.

              1. Well, you can read the link I posted above in my original post for one. I know there have also since been some other books published on the topic as well, but I cover a lot of it in my articles.

              2. Kris,

                R.G work looking at the relationship between Paul and Mark is indeed great, because he highlights the relevant texts in a simple/clear way. But you should also check out the work of Tom Dykstra “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” which is a fabulous books. He shows that the relationship goes beyond just direct literary allusions, and includes the whole symbolic/allegorical construction of Mark’s gospel, which is designed to communicate key Pauline themes. Indeed, Dykstra following his teacher (forgot the name) suggests an even more dramatic possibility (that RG mentiones above too): that the Jesus character is heavily modelled on the life of Paul and his ministry. I am not sure, yet, about that last part. But I am very sure that Mark’s gospel is deeply Pauline.

                Oh, and if you want to go into even more detail there was a recent book by Tom Nelligan which takes an in depth look at relationship between Mark and selected passages in 1 Corinthians. It is based on his PHD thesis. Very convincing, but also very in-depth.

  2. Now Carrier is plagiarizing me – lmao. In his most recent debate about the historicity of the resurrection, at 48:00 – 49:49 of the video, he starts speculating about the possibility that the apostles were lying about the risen Jesus to create a better world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P_dsO2dOv4 . I have made this speculation to him many times, including in comments 2 and 3 in Carrier’s blog post from a few weeks ago about why he thought Jesus was invented: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/9929

    1. That didn’t work at all so I’ll try posting again. lol

      Now Carrier is plagiarizing me – lmao. In his most recent debate about the historicity of the resurrection, at 48:00 – 49:49 of the video, he starts speculating about the possibility that the apostles were lying about the risen Jesus to create a better world:


      I have made this speculation to him many times, including in comments 2 and 3 in Carrier’s blog post from a few weeks ago about why he thought Jesus was invented: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/9929

      Hopefully that will post this time!

        1. The link I provided to Carrier’s video above works now. Hooray! At 48:00 – 49:49 of the video, he starts speculating about the possibility that the apostles were lying about the risen Jesus to create a better world. My comments about “The Pious Fraud of Christ” can be found in the comment section of Carrier’s blog linked above. Sorry about the multiple posts.

      1. I would be interested in hearing Tim and Neil’s thoughts on Carrier’s suggestion about the conspiracy theory of Christian origins at 48:00 – 49:49 and 57:37 – 1:00:35 of the video. Any thoughts guys?

        1. I am currently in a hotel room with itinerary time constraint pressures and am not really in a position to look at Carrier’s video till some other time. But in general I am more interested in exploring the question that interests me than in defending or investigating in depth other views of Carrier. Carrier makes important contributions but he’s hardly my “authority” — we can independently pursue the question and learn from one another as we go without looking to any one person as “the authority”. I have my own disagreements with most scholars I have learned much from, Carrier, Doherty, Price, Lataster…. On the other hand I learn much from those I disagree with profoundly on other points: McGrath, Ehrman, Hurtado…..

          1. Clarke Owens has made one of the most pertinent contributions to the discussion with his literary analysis. His points cohere with a raft of other scholarship pointing to the midrashic character of Mark — that the gospel narrative and theological creation of Jesus was a response to the fall of Jerusalem.

            1. I’ll have to look at his work and see if his work borrows from mine or if it has independent points. I published my work The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory in 2007 and I know it’s actually been pretty widely read by those in the field. I’m not sure if he’s one of them or not.

            2. The thesis of my book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark, is that Mark wrote his Gospel in response to the Fall of Jerusalem to encourage his readers to keep the faith — the Jewish faith — that Israel would rise again, which is the meaning of the resurrection. God had always saved his people Israel and would do so again. Jesus is a symbol of salvation and the story of Jesus recapitulates the history of salvation. Christianity is based on a misunderstanding of Mark’s Gospel. The story of Jesus is read as the life of a specific person who lived at the time and place of the setting of the Gospel. This was merged with Paul’s fantasy of Jesus as an earthly avatar of a cosmic Christ.

  3. I trust there will be (1) a more detailed explanation of the purpose and content of the primary writings attributed to Paul and (2) more explanation of the date assigned to Mark.

    1. On Paul’s writings — see my archives on Roger Parvus’s posts, on Tyson’s works, on O’Neill’s discussions of Galatians and Romans, for starters. On the date of Mark — internal evidence points to 70 as the a quo and external attestation to the second century as the ad quem.

  4. Carrier has “borrowed” a lot from my wok as well. Back min 2007 I shared a lot of my research with him in trying to get him to help me with a book. But the “apostles” never did any lying about Jesus, because neither Jesus nor the “apostles” ever existed. The whole thing is a made up story.

        1. We had a weird bug in wordpress that removed all instances of lower-case ‘i’ in comments a couple of weeks ago. Now we seem to have one that replaces numbers with video links!

          If anyone with admin privileges is reading, maybe they could try unwinding recent upgrades one by one until they find the culprit? (I did a quick search but it doesn’t look as though anyone has reported it yet).

  5. In all of my internet years of debating apologists who proof-text bible verses, I came to realize that the reason they did this was because it’s such an easy way of sneaking your assumptions into evidence (to mangle a legal term) without having to defend them.

    If apologists couldn’t sneak their assumptions in, the entire edifice of their livelihood falls.

    What makes using Bayes important is that it forces you, and anyone arguing against you, to lay your assumptions bare for all to see. This is why apologists refuse to accept it; the entire jig is up if one can see all of the apologist’s tricks and attempts at hiding their necessary assumptions.

    This doesn’t just apply to Christian apologists either; it’s very effective against apologists of all creeds, weird beliefs, and political agendas as I’ve had the — joy? — to discover somewhat recently. And every time, the apologist agrees that this style of thinking can apply to things they’re not passionate about defending. But apply it to their hobby horse, and all of the sudden it’s NIMBY on steroids.

    1. Exactly. (I know it’s not normally good form to simply drop a one-word comment in like “I agree” etc…. but, yes, Touche, I agree, Spot on.)

  6. You make an important point about genre. I argue that the Gospel of Mark, the earliest account of the story of Jesus, is an allegory of the history of Israel and that Jesus is the personification of Divine Salvation and stands for whomever or whatever Mark sees as the instrument or embodiment of salvation at any given point in time. The Gospel is history, but figurative not literal history. There is not one historical Jesus. There are many historical Jesuses. I discuss this in my book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark.

  7. So, If we accept that Jesus was make believe what is stopping us taking the next step and state that ”Paul” is also a narrative construct?
    Because of a few letters that have the name Paul attached/included?

    Surely someone would not have had the temerity to actually write a few silly epistles and state he was ”Paul”, a converted Jew once known as Saul?
    Look at all the secular evidence, for goodness’ sake!
    Oh,er … wait a moment.


    Once upon a time …

    1. Well, I’ve heard arguments that the letters of Paul were also “fabricated” or that Paul never existed, etc., but I don’t find those convincing, and indeed my argument rests on the case that Paul did exist and is in-fact the real inspiration of the Gospels.

      #1) Yes, many of the “letters of Paul” are now widely accepted not to be authentic and were written later by different authors, but there is a still a core of about 6-8 letters that are understood to be authentic letters of Paul.

      #2) Someone had to write the letters. In the end it doesn’t really matter if his name was Paul or not, but the fact is that the letters were written by someone and clearly appear to have existed by the mid 1st century, so whoever wrote them doesn’t really matter. There is no real good reason to think it was someone other than “Paul”/”Saul”. Changing the name really wouldn’t’ change anything.

      #3) What my analysis (and also that of several others) shows is that whoever were the Gospel called Mark had read the letters of Paul and based many aspects of their Jesus character on those letters, so in fact these letters are a key piece of evidence against the existence of a real Jesus. They are actually part of the case against a historical Jesus.

      Having said that, yes many of the so-called epistles of Paul are now widely accepted to be later “fabrications”, and even within the core set of “authentic” letters of Paul I, and many others, think that there are multiple redactions and alterations that came about in the later part of the 1st century and into the 2nd century. So, there are key pieces of text for which there is good reason to believe weren’t originally written by Paul within the “original letters”.

      But really, trying to make a case against the existence of Paul does nothing to enhance the case against the existence of Jesus and in fact undermines my case (but I think the evidence that “Paul” existed is quite strong so it’s fine). Now Paul may well have been a liar, but someone wrote those letters and they did clearly exist by the mid 1st century.

      1. I base my belief of a fictional Paul in very much the same vein as you do a fictional Jesus ( which I agree with entirely) in that there is not a shred of secular evidence for this character, and you would think there would be at least one mention in Jewish records of this super Christian Persecutor who went to the Dark Side.

        And what Neil writes about what people like Brodie believed I concur.

        Few people would grant any veracity to such supposed historical characters were it not that these ”people” are tied to religion.

        To paraphrase Life of Brian:

        I think they are making it up as they go along!

    2. Thomas Brodie today does argue that the letters attributed to Paul were written by “a school”. Some radical critics in the past also argued they were not by “Paul”.

      It is possible they were fabrications of the second century but it’s a matter of probabilities and it would seem that second century polemics did arise over how inherited letters from an earlier time were to be interpreted. Further, it appears easier to explain the Gospel of Mark as deriving from Paul’s letters than the other way around.

  8. Can anyone tell me why Christians care whether or not there was an historical Jesus? More importantly, can anyone explain why many Christians who accept that Biblical Jesus is fictional insist that there must have been an historical Jesus? After all, it is Biblical Jesus that Christians worship, and the presence or absence of an historical Jesus should not matter at all to somebody who continues to be a Christian while acknowledging that Biblical Jesus was make believe.

    1. I have asked the same question — and some few Christians don’t need a historical Jesus. The reason I suspect most do is because the appeal of Jesus is that having been really human he understands and empathises with them and their weaknesses and sufferings. He is a comforter and friend as a consequence of his “really having been human”.

      1. Many “liberal” Christians see Jesus as a great teacher, even if not divine. Take that away from them, and the whole shell collapses. It must be very disconcerting to think about.

      2. Is there any popular form of Christianity that doesn’t have Jesus as their magical friend, fully familiar with every aspect of their life, reachable through prayer and capable of wish fulfillment?

    2. Is it possible to be a mythic Christian? Can a person concede that there never was an historical Jesus but still believe in the Jesus Christ of the Gospel? For the common Christian, this question would not make sense. The Gospel describes events in historical time and space. As the creed says, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The ancients may have had a concept of mythic time and mythic space, but the modern mind thinks more historically. Something had to happen in First Century Jewish Palestine which changed the world for a Christian to be a Christian. Although the educated Christian may acknowledge that much of the Biblical account is fictitious, there must still be a Jesus of Nazareth to follow or there is no reason to be a Christian and not a secular humanist. To say that Christians need an historical Jesus, however, is a bit misleading. They need a Jesus of history. The term “historical Jesus,” however, has come to mean the historian’s Jesus, i.e., what secular or interfaith scholars could agree on. This is an artificial construct which even progressive Christians may reject. What is probably true is that for nearly all Christians, their faith must be grounded in history and focused on a person named Jesus who actually existed. So, no, it probably is not possible to be a mythic Christian, at least not consciously.

  9. The answer most Christians would give is that the Jesus they worship was an incarnation in this world of God, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, and if not risen from the dead after being crucified under Pontius Pilate their faith is pointless. Most of the material to hand in the NT appears to refer to a real person, even if some of it was theologically embellished, as suggested by e.g. Professor Dennis MacDonald. What would be the point of consciously worshiping or praying to an entity you consider totally make-believe? Of course, you could just forget “Jesus” in any shape or form and worship “God” or not worship Anyone (as in my case).

      1. To clarify IF necessary, by “you” I meant “one”, i.e. any given worshiper, not you, i.e. Pofarmer.
        Christians and Muslims I know REALLY believe that (a) God is listening & even responding to them; I do not.

    1. Evidence that “does not fit well” within the thesis can be explained away. Evidence that “contradicts” the thesis “invalidates” the thesis. If you believe Paul was saying he met Jesus’ brother James (and this passage was not an interpolation), then this contradicts and invalidates the mythicist thesis.

      1. “Evidence that “contradicts” the thesis “invalidates” the thesis.”

        The problem with this statement is that all historical knowledge is probabilistic knowledge. There are times and places in history where the historical probability is well over 99% such as the thesis that JFK was assassinated in Texas in 1963. If “you believe Paul was saying he met Jesus’ brother James” then “you” need to be able to approximate how likely the thesis is. Is it estimated at 99%, 51%, 75%, etc? And why is it estimated approximately as such? Immediately in parenthesis you qualify the probable and without explanation of why there is an extremely high unlikelihood of interpolation, lower to some (unstated) extent the probable. Forcing oneself to think in Bayesian terms even if we don’t directly write out the math helps to get us to more closely clarify historical ‘belief’. Historical knowledge always lies along a probabilistic spectrum.

          1. This is how people like McGrath simplistically argue. There are several things wrong with this viewpoint and method of argument. “Evidence” is only evidence by virtue of data being interpreted. Interpretation is key. In fact I once discussed this at length with McGrath, point by point, and he was agreeing every step of the way until he saw that his standard assumptions were being questioned and then he spat the dummy.

            “Dragon bones” are not found in nature with a sign on them saying “Dragon bones”. Rather, what we find are substances resembling bones and then the investigator has to interpret that data to conclude they are “dragon bones” and then one has to draw conclusions with how this data fits with one’s thesis.

            There is no question, no research, that is not based at some level upon interpretation. And it is interpretations that require justification.

            Example: Paul said he met the brother of Jesus. At a lay level that’s a black and white statement of fact. But at a researcher level that’s statement loaded with interpretation. Who or what is represented by the term Paul? Why/how do we interpret Lord as Jesus? What is the provenance (at two levels — as per the post) of the letter? And on what basis do we conclude that P “said he met” someone? That’s where provenance of the phrase itself enters, and the issues that arise in relation to all the other evidence we have if it is to be interpreted as a first century apostle named Paul literally claiming that he really met a leader of the Jerusalem church who was a sibling of Jesus. What does such a datum imply for everything else that person that wrote and that would have expected implications for knowing such a church leader? What does it all mean for the remainder of the evidence where such a figure is nowhere identified as such? etc etc.

            No question is asked without values and interpretation at its base, and no answer is supplied without values and interpretations, either.

            Again, biblical scholars, at least some of them, fail to appreciate such fundamental facts of reasoning and research that are well understood at postgraduate levels in other fields of the humanities and sciences.

              1. Everyone uses Bayes whether they realize it or not — if their reasoning is valid. You don’t need to use the numbers. But the numbers help one identify the degree of subjectivity in your arguments.

                If you say Jesus probably existed you probably mean there is an 80 or 90% chance he existed. (Perhaps McG would say 100% probability and so there is no argument.) Numbers are implicit in all our reasoning even when we don’t explicitly use them. Have you read Carrier’s discussion of Bayes?

                What Ehrman says about interpolation depends on when and for whom he is writing. But the argument is not just a subjective “probability” thing — there are many good reasons for strongly suspecting interpolation — as I have alluded to in other posts .

              2. Ironically it is McGrath who pays mere lip service to subjectivity and probability when it comes to the historicity of Jesus.

                To test hypotheses we make predictions. We have certain expectations given certain scenarios. If the leader of the Jerusalem church was a sibling of Jesus then we would expect certain indications of this situation in certain types of evidence. If we find those expectations fail to materialize then we have a probability (not certainty) that the thesis is not valid. That’s how all sciences work — except when it comes to some fundamental Christian doctrines among theologians.

                Have a look at Bayes — not just Carrier’s arguments — and you will see that by assigning numbers to our strong and weak hunches, etc, we are actually helping ourselves identify the extent of our subjectivity. More importantly, as we are consistent in our investigations we will find that even our initially wildly improbable numbers will balance out. So if we begin with a 95% probability that God created the world in 6 days, then as we go through each step of the evidence we will still arrive at a very small probability that he did so, say 1% or less.

                The claim that Bayes is subjective and therefore problematic is based on a failure to understand how Bayes works and also how all historical reasoning works.

              3. @Neil: Neil said “there are many good reasons for strongly suspecting interpolation.” No credible New Testament scholar on the planet would agree with that statement.

              4. What sort of an argument is that? You avoid the reasons, the evidence, and appeal to a non-argument. I’m interested in the evidence and historical enquiry — whose normative methods are alien to the many theologians.

                You dismiss Bayes without understanding it and how it is simply a way of refining your thesis as each piece of evidence is encountered.

                You appeal to the consensus of a heavily faith biased field and appear not to seriously investigate alternatives any more than the guild does.

                I can see why you like McGrath. You asked how to improve your thinking. Simple. Investigate the alternatives even if it means stepping outside the box/consensus.

              5. Evidence for interpolation has been presented in this thread and linked here. I have posted a list of scholars who even consider the entire epistle of Galatians a forgery. McGrath is irrelevant to such questions because like many peers he simply won’t consider the arguments. He does not know the basics of critical studies in his own field because they seem so fringe to him. He does not even know the mythicist arguments, nor does he understand Bayes or how historical inquiry is done in other fields — and simply scoffs or closes his mind to the strong indicators of interpolation. I don’t understand why you are impressed by him or why you do the same with respect to investigating seriously the evidence for alternative viewpoints.

          2. “If your historical thesis is that Dragons never existed, if you find dragon bones, your thesis has been contradicted.”

            I agree with Daniel’s responses downthread in this discussion but I want to specifically reply to this claim about finding dragon bones.

            ‘finding bones’ – How many bones are needed (evidence) and how much scholarly work (interpretation) on this specific question is needed before one is to make a 99% or near 99% qualification?

            What other types of evidence are needed to make a 99% declaration, if any?

            distinguishing from other flying reptiles – If bones are found of a large reptile that have a definitive set of usable wing bones how do we know that this is from a dragon? How do we know that this animal when alive could breathe fire for instance? How do we know it isn’t rather one of various pterosaurs?

            That which looks declaratively simple usually isn’t. This is especially true in historical questions when there is a small or narrow data base.

            1. Well, since this comment has been placed at the bottom of the thread, change “Daniel’s responses downthread” to “Daniel’s responses upthread”.

              1. Yes, the discussion threads are not always predictable, sorry.

                Your point goes to the heart of the matter: Anti-mythicists (a more apt term than “historicist scholars”) seem to be so used to working with unexamined dogmatic assumptions about the meanings of the texts they are using that a good number of them even accuse normal critical analysis of being “hyper skepticism” and based on an unchristian “hermeneutic of suspicion”. Again, Lataster — on the whole the field of biblical scholarship is not really the place to go to find competent methods of investigation into Christian origins.

    2. I’m not totally sure I agree with that. The reason being is the degree of certainty that we can have that any given passage in in fact “original” and “authentic”. That’s the problem. In theory what you say is correct, but the reality is that its a known fact that the texts as we have them today have been altered over time. Most of these texts only come down to us from 4th century+ copies, so it’s very difficult to place absolute power on any given single passage.

      I think that if 100 pieces of evidence point in one direction, then a single passage by itself can’t just contradict all of that without any explanation for how to fit the other 100 points of evidence into the given framework.

      1. And yet that is what the “James, the Brother of the Lord” passage in Paul does. If you accept it, it contradicts and invalidates the mythicist thesis.

        1. Only if you think there is zero probability of interpolation or non-biological interpretation of ” brother.” Otherwise it weighs against mythicism without invalidating it.

          1. That’s why Bayes is so important. It obliges the historian to weigh each datum in the light of all the rest. We cannot overlook the simple fact that most biblical scholars are Christians who believe Jesus is alive today and that they will themselves one day see him — and that a fundamental creed of theirs is that God visited humanity in history through Jesus.

            Their methods of historical inquiry are simply NOT those of mainstream historians in other areas. Fundamental assumptions about historicity are not questioned; they are bedrock.

            1. At the same time, it is not difficult to understand why critics of mythicism focus on motives of the mythicists: they are atheists out to destroy Christianity. Of course they must overlook Couchoud and Brodie and Harpur and others, and also that atheists are very comfortable with a historical Jesus — and the fact that probably the worst tactic to undermine Christianity would be to argue Jesus did not exist. Such a point is only guaranteed to alienate Christian audiences, not persuade them. Lataster is right: the debate really is not one for Christians.

        2. Have you read the post and the earlier one it points to? What is said to be “evidence” needs to be tested — that’s the most fundamental practice of historians. It is only biblical scholars who begin with rock-solid assumptions about their raw materials and proceed to proof-text based upon those assumptions.

      2. I agree. My comment was intended to be facetious. I think that most “nobody would have invented it” arguments just illustrate the shortcomings of NT studies es.

  10. Although Schweitzer settled all this decades ago…

    The “only” connection we have between some dude wandering around in BCE-CE (attribution: give me a break… Josephus?) and the eclectic theology (attribution: cut me more slack) attributed to whomever… is the “name” or “word” Jesus.

    So I decided to see how many times “Paul” (1st or 2nd C. take your pick) used the word/name .

    I found a page where you have to click on the colored quote to see if the word “Jesus” is “actually” (in this translation) used:

    Here, some background of the name:

    Clementine and Polycarp…

    So, we have this word/name Jesus/jesus.

  11. Even if there’s an argument to be made as to why Philo of Alexandria wrote nothing about Jesus or his followers (and neither did any other contemporary) why didn’t Paul go see him speak?

    Even if the dubious claim that Paul was a hired hunter of those followers has some sort of truth to it, why wouldn’t he go see for himself what was going on?

    And if he ignored Jesus during the latter’s time on earth, where is even one mention of this? Considering how much Paul puffs himself up, you’d expect some sort of reference to the way they were contemporaries.

    1. What age would Paul have been at the time an alleged historical Jesus was preaching?

      Where was Paul living at the time?

      Why would you think Paul had heard about a preaching nobody Jesus during said Jesus’ alleged time of ministry?

      I can imagine that Paul was quite young and living in Tarsus and would have no reason to travel what would have effectively been a trip of enormous proportions, to hear a geezer that no one else had heard about, bar a few, allegedly.

      Paul persecuted the followers of the newbie Jewish cult of Christianity, or so he says, post crucifixion…I don’t think he claimed anywhere that he did all this undocumented persecution contemporary with a living Jesus figure. If that was the case, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion now would we?

  12. Interesting article. With respect to the Christ Myth Theory, I understand that one of the big sticking points for historicists is the Gal. 1 reference to “James, brother of the Lord.” I lean heavily toward CMT. But I, too, find some the mythicist explanations for the “brother of the Lord” reference to be insufficiently persuasive – including Dr. Richard Carrier’s fictive kinship angle.

    However, I think there are two compelling reasons to suspect that the reference to “James, brother of the Lord” is an INTERPOLATION.

    For starters, the phrase is absent from the earliest attestations to the passage when quoted by Tertullian and also Epiphanius. Indeed, the reference to the phrase “brother of the Lord” is not included in the Apostolikon reconstruction of Galatians by New Testament scholars Hermann Detering and Jason BeDuhn (neither of whom are Jesus mythicists).

    But here is what stands out to me the most… Elsewhere in the NT when Peter, James, and John are mentioned as a distinct trio, James is clearly *not* a brother of Jesus. Rather, he is the brother of John (cf. Matt. 17:1; Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33; Mark 5:37; Luke 5:1-11; Luke 8:51).

    Isn’t it interesting that in Galatians (which was initially introduced by the heretic Marcion) we see that when the trio of Peter, John, and James are mentioned as a collective, James is now all of a sudden the “brother of the Lord”? What the heck happened to John’s brother James? Up until this verse, whenever Peter, James, and John were mentioned together as a distinct group, James was *always* the brother of John. He suddenly vanishes in Gal. 1. Hmmm… me thinks this reeks of post-Marcion tinkering with the Paulines.

    The New Testament tells us that the only person to be replaced was Judas Iscariot (by Matthias). But somehow James, the brother of John and the best friend of Peter, the guy who was privileged to witness the Transfiguration… this guy has been inexplicably extricated from the Apostolic narrative and suddenly replaced by Peter, John, and “James, the Lord’s brother.”

    This begs the question of “why”? Why the narrative sleight of hand here?

    I totally understand that many object to the notion of an ahistorical Jesus. But please don’t cite Galatians 1:19 as your reason.

    1. Yes indeed. The case for interpolation is in fact strong. See also my earlier post: http://vridar.org/2011/05/26/james-brother-of-the-lord-another-case-for-interpolation/ — and notice that it is an author arguing against mythicism in his own day who is making the point for interpolation.

      Today’s black and white apologist theologians who think they understand the first principles of historical research would do well to take note — but of course they won’t.

      1. See my arguments here in regard to James: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/jesus_myth_followup.htm

        You’ll have to search for “brother of the Lord”.

        But basically, I also argue that clearly whoever wrote Luke and Acts of the Apostles did not think that the James mentioned by Paul was a literal brother of the Lord. Indeed this actually adds to the case for interpolation.

        If you want to skip right to it search for : “the author of the Gospel of Luke never names any siblings of Jesus”.

    2. “the phrase is absent from the earliest attestations to the passage when quoted by Tertullian and also Epiphanius”. This might give the impression that the phrase ‘brother of the Lord’ is absent in Tertullian et al. But in fact, Tertullian and Epiphanuis do not mention the whole passage Gal 1:18-24!
      This doesn’t mean that we can be sure that Gal 1:18-24 was absent in their copy of Gal, it just means they didn’t comment on it.

      I’m not an expert on T and E, (or anything else…), but I wouldn’t see the need for them to comment on Gal 1:18-24 if it were present in their copy; so T & E don’t seem to give us much guidance on the ‘brother of the Lord’ issue.

      1. Marcionism. The passage would have been a coup de grace, a perfect knock-out blow by Tertullian against the Marcionites. That he did not mention it is as bizarre as Paul not appealing to any inherited teaching or example of Jesus to support his own solutions to Church disputes.

          1. No, I can’t “confirm” your thesis as a fact. The limit of my recollection is that Marcion claimed that Paul’s letters had been interpolated by others. That would suggest, I think, that Marcion claimed to have inherited the letters from Christians who were opposed to the original teachings of Paul.

            But that above information comes from the proto-orthodox. It remains an open question, I think, whether in fact it was those “proto-orthodox” who “corrupted” Paul’s letters that they in fact inherited from Marcion. Did Marcion have the originals and did the proto-orthodox accuse Marcion of excising the passages they in fact had added?

            We have no way of knowing for sure, as far as I understand and am aware of the evidence. We only have one side of the story.

            I think the question can only be “decided” by the strength of the arguments for and against certain interpolations in Paul’s letters.

            (If you learn elsewhere that my comment above is wrong then do let me know. Thanks.)

        1. I’m not sure that all this is as clear cut as you suggest.
          Epiphanius hardly mentions Galatians at all, so he doesn’t contribute to the argument either way.
          Tertullian’s issue in discussing Galatians is the relationship between Paul and Judaism. Tertullian explains how Paul’s teachings follow from (or out of) Judaism, which demonstrates that Marcion’s concept of a separate Jewish God and Christian God is invalid.
          Therefore, Tertullian cites passages from Galatians where Paul interacts with Peter, and how Paul deals with circumcision, the Law etc.

          In that context, I don’t see a clear reason why Tertullian is expected to comment on Gal 1:18-24 since it doesn’t deal with those issues.

          1. We can both agree that there is very little that is “clear cut” in this study. But my own recollection of Marcion’s Jesus was that he was straight from heaven in the appearance of a man, whereas an earthly Israelite/Jewish Jesus would have hit Marcion’s teaching in the jugular.

    3. Fictive kinship angle insufficiently persuasive?
      1 cor 9:5 alone convinces me that the author of gal 1:19 most likely didn’t mean biological kinship, regardless if either passage is an interpolation.

      Besides, “I saw none of the other apostles, only some ordinary dude, who happened to be a biological brother of God, no big deal.” That doesn’t work well.

      This entry shows that outside the HJ controversy, it’s clear even for the believers that “brother of the Lord” doesn’t necessarily mean biological relationship.

      1. Notice how in 1 Cor he holds Cephas apart, just as he does in Gal. To me, this indicates that Cephas was probably the “head priest” of the sect, and that James was one of the “brothers.” At least this is consistent.

        1. Could be,
          but in Gal there’s a good reason to hold him apart, he says he crashed at Cephas’ for two weeks and hardly saw anyone else during that time.
          He could hold him apart in Cor just because he knew him best.

          There’s no way to know for sure.

            1. Unless you mean Cephas, then he seems to consider him an apostle,
              but really he could have been both. Apostles and high priests would still be brothers.

  13. What strikes me as somewhat bizarre is the way biblical scholars seem to have so many lay readers in thrall to the necessity for esoteric and complex skills and knowledge to make very fundamental assessments about historical arguments. One does not find this esotericism in other historical fields. Other historians are often very good at making their arguments — with the presentation of their supporting evidence — very readable and comprehensible to the public.

    But for some reason I don’t think I quite fully grasp many lay readers with an interest in Christian origins seem to think it is important to bow to “the consensus” — even though they surely know the consensus is (according to many in the guild itself) dominated by Christian ideological interests.

    Example, recently John MacDonald said something to the effect that not a credible scholar on the planet would agree that Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation. How he knows that is a mystery. Has he checked with ever credible scholar on this planet? Or has he consulted the views of a handful of scholars who viscerally loathe mythicism, do not know the arguments (even though they claim to have read some of the books — but their reviews show they have not read them at all except for maybe a few isolated pages)? I actually suspect that some critical scholars would indeed think it a likely interpolation (for reasons I mention below).

    It seems some lay people fear to think for themselves, not trusting their own intelligience in the face of the arguments and evidence and relying by default on “consensus” of “the experts”.

    But in reality there is no argument relating to Christian origins that is not easily intelligible to lay persons. It was in fact an anti-mythicist pro-historicist amateur scholar who first introduced me to the evidence for Galatians 1:19 being an interpolation. I have not seen any scholarly refutation of the argument. Just look at the evidence — and ask yourself if it is a dead certainty that the verse was original or is there some likelihood otherwise? Then look at the remainder of the implications if it is not original and if it is…. That’s not hard to do.

    But if one wants to guarantee friendships and a high regard from certain academics in a particular field then it does take some courage to think it through for oneself.

    This is not just a mythicist phenomenon, either. I notice that John Collins (an Australian scholar) has published in a peer-reviewed journal a solid argument for a new interpretation of Luke’s prologue (arguing it did not refer to eyewitnesses in our sense of the word) — yet it seems to me that scholars find this article at such odds with their presumptions that they merely ignore it, don’t refute it, and carry on as if it never existed.

    That’s pretty much how the mythicist discussion goes, too. Except that McGrath dishes out insults and tactics and accuses mythicists of doing the very thing he himself is doing every few weeks.

    Fact: McGrath has never once to my knowledge engaged with a mythicist argument. He has always, to my knowledge, avoided them and replaced them with straw men or red herrings and irrelevant digressions and insults. If anyone can show me that I am wrong then please do so.

    Yet people defer to McG as some sort of authority on mythicism! He even gets to present papers on it at biblical scholarly conferences.

    It’s a joke. There is no engagement. Lataster is quite right. The discussion has no room for theologians or biblical scholars. They are the least qualified, it would seem, to really do the nuts and bolts of history according to normative historical methods that real historians can even make intelligible to lay people — with no need to leave the lay readers thinking: “Gee, this is so complex; I am so out of my depth; I better not bother with looking at the evidence and using my own intelligence — I better just shut my eyes to all of that and follow the consensus dominated by the Christain faithful.”

    This blog is testimony to the above. People who comment here are either for or against mythicism — with those who initially claim to be open minded soon showing their sympathies to be otherwise.

    It truly is remarkable the way biblical scholars — unlike other historians — have been able to somehow persuade lay readers who disagree with them that they had best just close their minds and follow the consensus.

    The evidence is not at all difficult to grasp. But it does require a little bit of effort to actually read and think about. In this post I have not repeated it but merely linked to it. I have doubts that very many have taken the trouble to follow those links and read the other posts — but of course probably more readers of Vridar already know of the arguments in them.

    1. //Just look at the evidence — and ask yourself if it is a dead certainty that the verse was original or is there some likelihood otherwise? Then look at the remainder of the implications if it is not original and if it is…. That’s not hard to do.//

      Exactly so. This is an important logical point in this dispute, but it’s really common for people either not to grasp it, or not follow it through to its implications.

      Here’s how I hope to put it next time I get involved in a discussion about the verse:

      “How surprised would you be if it turned out the phrase “brother of the Lord” is an interpolation?”

      The response I expect is somewhere between “Not really surprised” and “Maybe mildly surprised.” Someone who would truly probably be genuinely surprised by this… well, I don’t know what to say in that case!

      But given “not really” to “maybe mildly,” the next thing to realize, logically speaking is, “If I wouldn’t be too surprised this text was not in the original, then it thereby loses a proportionate amount of weight as evidence that Jesus had a brother named James!”

      And if the verse is _the biggie_ for you, the one thing you just can’t get past as proof Jesus really existed, then this lack of certainty about its being an interpoloation _should_ make you realize you are by no means certain Jesus existed after all! And that’s okay!

      1. Put another way:

        Suppose X, if true, provides evidence that Y is true as well.

        If you wouldn’t be surprised that X is false, then you don’t consider X strongly established.

        But if you don’t consider X strongly established, then you shouldn’t consider X to be strong evidence for Y.

        X is “Paul wrote ‘James brother of the Lord,” and Y is “Jesus existed historically,” of course.

  14. There are so many things about NT “Scholarship” that just read odd to me. I once asked McGrath what tools were used to eliminate the possibility of the Gospels being complete fiction. His response was “Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse.” That is when I pretty much lost all interest in his blog. If you aren’t interested in determining what Genre the text you are analyzing belongs too, it seems to me that you have pretty much no hope of really understanding what is going on there. I mean, you could mine plenty of historical stuff from “Gone with the Wind” but if you don’t know it’s fiction, you would come to very wrong conclusions regarding it’s characters. The other thing that has started to ring odd, and it’s rather alluded to in this post, is that we aren’t dealing with pristine texts. We are dealing with texts that we KNOW were altered. We are dealing with texts that we KNOW were mashed together from separate works. We are dealing with texts that we KNOW were edited with theological ends in mind. And, without having the very first text, and indeed, even knowing who wrote the damned things, we can’t tell one from the other what was original and what was added with any certainty, and we don’t even KNOW if the central characters EXISTED. All we can do is try to tease it out of a text that we KNOW has been altered. It’s pretty much madness, wrapped up in Academic credentials, seems to me. And anybody who thinks that it isn’t relevant that the vast majority of the field is made up of practicing Christians is fooling themselves.

    1. There are I suppose a number of “religious” cults that have solely from completely fictional narratives. For example, the Aetherius Society started originally (though not evident today) on the basis of George Adamski’s faked flying saucer story. The Book of Mormon, L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi and “Jediism” could be counted as partial examples. Even the Qur’an can be so regarded (e.g. Robert Spencer, “Did Muhammad Exist?” [2012]).

      However, I would still argue that members of an already existing religious community produced the gospel narratives with a probable background in a missionary organization of some kind to which some NT documents allude, however shaped and developed by symbiosis with written and oral narratives, themselves edited in turn.

      1. Go back to antiquity and look at all of the Gods And Goddesses that were clearly completely fictional. Hell, the foundational charachters of Judaism, Moses and Abraham are myth. Why WOULDN’T a figure like Jesus be.

        1. I do not know whether Moses was entirely mythical, but he wasn’t a god. Were Buddha, Zoroaster or the Bab mythical? Sometimes real persons in history become objects of legend, veneration, or deification. Why COULDN’T a figure like Jesus be?

          1. What would a figure like Jesus be? Do we have any other examples if deified individuals from the time and place? I mean, sure, Alexander the Great and the Egyptian Pharoahs were given Godlike qualities. The Ancient Romans said prayers to the Emperor, etc. But there was also knowledge of their worldly accomplishments. With Jesus we start out with a figure that is immediately worshipped, who apparently started no philosophical school, left no other indication than that he was the Son of God in hagiographical literature. The point is to figure out what is likely to have happened, and weed out the possibilities. That’s where the bayesian reasoning comes in. It’s also where it’s handy to have read books like “not the impossible faith” which somewhat go into ancient religious beliefs and practices.

            1. Do we actually “START out with a figure that is IMMEDIATELY worshipped”? Several alternative historicist hypotheses also take into account “ancient religious beliefs”, but to some extent we would be going over old ground to recapitulate them here. My main difficulty with an all-out mythicist hypothesis is the collection of parables and witty sayings attributed to Jesus.

              1. Buddha and Zoroaster were quite likely both mythical eponyms, too. I can’t see the relevance of any gospel narrative details because these are all derived from very late in the day and are at first evidently parabolic. Mark’s Jesus is a very late development completely unknown to Paul and even unknown more widely until we enter the mid second century.

              2. I can only defer to specialists (whether religious or not) familiar with Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, with regard to Galilean & Judean events between 10 BCE & 100 CE, contemporary wisdom literature, and apocalyptic material.

                I am afraid I remain sceptical about other sceptics who regard that period and region as a sort of misty hole, in which anything that might give credence to a “movement” based on a real Jesus – perhaps like Alfred Loisy’s itinerant preacher convinced of his own prophetic role at the imminent end of an age – must be discarded entirely as fabrication.

                Was Apollonius of Tyana also completely imaginary?

                Must we regard (say) Kenneth MacDonald as another clever apologist for maintaining that, because Mark and Luke used Greek myth to fictionalize their hero as “more compassionate, stronger than wiser” than rival superheroes, Jesus himself should not be dismissed as mythical?

                The problem about the invention of numerous parables and ethical discourse is their origin and purpose. If Mark is “late in the day”, and Matthew even later, why such features, decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and the emergence of a post-Pauline largely Gentile “church”, as (1) Matthew 10.23, (2) a parable about swallowing a camel that in Aramaic has sounds like sucking and gobbling, or (3) a peroration about whitened tombs in which the images not only show a clear sequence but belong to an abandoned (now “foreign”) community?

                Burton Mack is another writer who rejects the historicity of the Markan narrative, yet holds that the ethical utterances attributed to Jesus, as a wandering teacher, make him a creative and important thinker of Greco-Roman times.

              3. As I said recently in response to John MacDonald, I cannot understand this deference. History is not rocket science. We don’t need to know Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew to know the evidence upon which claims are made and historical narratives are reconstructed.

                Deference to authorities over and above using our own intelligence indicates an unhealthy lack of confidence.

                The reason some people appreciate my posts is because I have engaged with the scholarship, including the scholars, and learned heaps as a result. And as I have learned more I have been able to see when some scholars are merely coasting on assumptions and whatever their peers say without due regard for the actual evidence. When I question them about this I learn: some of them concede the fragility of their views and possibility of alternatives; others react with insult and even more fallacious argument. Deference to scholars usually means just coasting along in ignorance or fear of being rebuked by the intellectual bullies.

                There is no special training required to recognize a logical fallacy or unsupported claim. It is foolish to defer to scholars when we can see them guilty of these faults. And it really is in a Christian dominated field that we tend to see these faults an awful lot more than we do elsewhere.

              4. Burton Mack is another writer who rejects the historicity of the Markan narrative, yet holds that the ethical utterances attributed to Jesus, as a wandering teacher, make him a creative and important thinker of Greco-Roman times.

                Yes, he does. But does that mean we are “smart” to follow him as if that particular claim is absolutely true?

                Read what Doherty also says about the same evidence. Which one offers the more supporting evidence for their conclusion? If the amateur offers evidence and the scholar fails to do so, which one has the stronger argument?

                Just because a scholar (or anyone) makes a claim does not mean we should swallow it. Obviously(??) we should ask them for the basis of their claim. What is their evidence for their claim? If we have questions about their logic we need to clarify those, too.

                Sometimes we learn that scholar say or believe things because they think that’s the most likely explanation — without offering any evidence. In other words, they are being entirely subjective. No-one has to accept opinion that is unsubstantiated. That’s not being a good student, for a start. That’s being a sponge who doesn’t learn how to think for oneself.

                It does not mean we become idiots, either. Some people really do go off in defiance of evidence and rules of logic and refuse to learn from “the authorities”. I’m talking about a healthy approach to engaging with the scholarly literature or any “authority”.

                Always look for the evidence or reasons for their viewpoint; always look for logical validity.

                Authorities always need to be held to account. McGrath flunks the accountability test by his refusal to answer questions directly, provide supporting evidence, then misrepresenting and lying about alternative viewpoints, and engaging in bullying and insult. Yet people still look to him as an authority. I don’t get it.

                When I read any book, including Mack, I go mad if I don’t have a pencil or highlighter with me to make notes, and follow up their footnotes, and check their claims. Reading a book is a learning experience in which I engage with the author AND the evidence. I don’t just soak up the words as “The Authority”. If I did I’d have nothing to write about here.

              5. Just one more slant on this point: In my recent posts about Professor McLaren’s arguments, do note that I included detail about the basis for his opinions and gave enough information for readers to see how much was based on solid evidence, how much was debatable interpretation and how much was speculation. There is enough there to engage with his argument and compare it with other viewpoints. Notice I did not come down and say McLaren is an authority and this is what I have decided to believe. I think he has given a good argument for his case, but it is not watertight. I am open to alternative viewpoints. But I understand why he has come to his conclusions and when I do read alternatives I will be looking to see why they, too, come to alternative views. I will then compare their methods, their assumptions, the supporting data, etc.

                I won’t be saying “So and So is an Authority so I think I should defer to His/Her Opinion” — even if it is repeated over and over by many others. I want to know the grounds for opinions, even of (or ESPECIALLY of) consensus opinions!! They are the most critical ones of all.

              6. Actually I agree, Neil, with almost everything you commendably say here. My own position, in these areas and others, has been in later adult life to read widely, double-check, and continually self-correct. I am indebted to Vridar for drawing attention to the strengths of new “mythicist” positions; pearls of great Price.

                What still puzzles me, however, are the reasons for the construction of so “Jewish” a basis for much sparkling oral material, often with an Aramaic underlay, for Jesus, decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and the emergence of Christianity as a predominantly non-Jewish phenomenon.

                I mentioned MacDonald, Mack and others simply to show that these issues are not open-and-shut; it is not absolutely necessary to throw out the baby Jesus with the legendary bath-water (which crude image reminds me to ask if John the Baptist was another entirely fictional person). It still seems marginally more plausible to turn a charismatic man into a god than to turn a god into a voluble itinerant; and the onus of proof rests with those who adopt the latter approach. I think the book of Daniel played a most important part in the origins of this religion.

                My “deference” relates primarily to experts in ancient languages which (apart from some Latin) are closed to me, but important in teasing out meanings, weighing metaphors and comparing contexts in NT literature.

                But we ALL live & learn – or should.

              7. Yeah, we do. Also, see my statements here on the origins of Christian theology: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/fictional_jesus.htm#Origins_of_Christian_Theology

                What’s clear is that among the very first aspects of Jesus that is described is the fact that he is going to destroy the material world to make way for a new immaterial world, because the material world is hopelessly corrupt and cannot be saved. This is in Paul, and this is in Revelation (which I argue my actually be pre-Gospel and regardless I think reflects early pre-Gospel ideas about Jesus, even if it was written after the Gospels), and we have it in Mark.

                So as I argue, given that the original role of Jesus was to destroy the corrupt immaterial world and make a new uncorrupted immaterial world, this clearly is a role for a heavenly messiah, not a human itinerant preacher.

                Recognize that Paul is the first writer that tells us anything about Jesus. Paul does not describe any teachings of Jesus or tell us anything about Jesus the person. Paul tells us his own teachings and philosophy, and tells us that Jesus is coming to destroy the corrupt material world.

                The role of Jesus from the very beginning, the original concept of “who Jesus was”, was that Jesus was an immaterial HEAVENLY Messiah, who was uncorrupted by the material world, and who would create the “Kingdom of God”, not on earth as traditional Jews believed, but rather he would create the “Kingdom of God” in heaven!

                That’s it. That’s the whole key concept that made the Jesus cult what it was. That was the stand out selling point that made it different from all other typical Jewish messianic thought systems. And that’s also why PAUL (thought not the original members of the cult) was able to say that the new “Kingdom of God” would be for “everyone”, both Jews and Gentiles.

                Paul’s thought was, well, if the “Kingdom of God” is not going to be just a “revitalized” Jewish state, and instead the “Kingdom of God” is going to exist in heaven, then the “Kingdom of God” can be open to everyone.

                Of course a mere Jewish state cannot be open to everyone. So if the Messiah were merely a human descendant of David who were to lead to Jews to create the Kingdom of God on earth, by reforming the Jewish state and bringing about Jewish independence, well, clearly that’s not a universal message. That’s clearly nationalistic Jewish thought.

                But once the role of the Messiah is to destroy the corrupt material world and create a new perfect world in heaven, well that obviously is open to universal appropriation. If the Messiah is going to destroy the whole world, then it doesn’t make sense that he would just obliterate all non-Jews, so Paul then makes the leap that if the role of Jesus is to totally destroy the world, then he MUST BE a universal messiah.

                But of course, a messiah whose role it is to destroy the material world because it is hopelessly corrupt cannot ever himself have been corrupted by becoming flesh. Such a messiah much remain pure by having never become flesh to begin with.

                In addition, the idea that some itinerant preacher could possibly have been able to convince anyone that he was a powerful messiah who would , after he died, be able to destroy the world and create a new perfect world in heaven is absurd! Totally absurd. How in the world would such a claim possibly be given any credence.

                But make no mistake, the real first and primarily role of Jesus was that of the destroyer of the corrupt material world.

                All of the “teaching” crap is just later invention that came about via the Gospel called Mark. Paul never described Jesus as a teacher. Paul described Jesus as the destroyer of the world. It was only in the fictional Gospel of Mark that Mark created the Jesus character, BASED ON PAUL, which he portrayed as a teacher. But that’s pure fiction.

                The Jesus character in “Mark’s” story is based on Paul, period.

    2. Yes, and one should keep pushing any professor to make them justify their assertions — even though the professor responds with a ban and a retort that such “tactics” are “despicable behavior”.

        1. The more he can ban the more “evidence” he can pile up to demonstrate just how despicable are the trolls who question his assumptions, methods, fallacies and misrepresentations. He seems to be getting more touchy than ever lately.

  15. Since I don’t have a reply button to David Ashton.

    ” It still seems marginally more plausible to turn a charismatic man into a god than to turn a god into a voluble itinerant; ”

    It shows you’ve read a lot of apologetically styled works. Where is the Jesus of the Gospels a voluble itinerant?

    He’s a wonder worker. A great teacher. Someone who brought great crowds to hear him speak. Someone who had throngs of people hailing him coming into Jerusalem as a king. People who immediately turned on him and crucified him, btw. This is no simple itinerant. The itinerant is constructed to explain why no evidence for the Jesus of the Gospels exist.

    “What still puzzles me, however, are the reasons for the construction of so “Jewish” a basis for much sparkling oral material, often with an Aramaic underlay, for Jesus, decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and the emergence of Christianity as a predominantly non-Jewish phenomenon. ”

    Because someone named Paul spread a religion predominantly outside of Jerusalem and Palestine that was unique. It was unique in that it promised it’s followers a glorious and perfect afterlife, in a world where that wasn’t a common claim, religious or otherwise. God’s were mainly seen to affect things in this life. Death was final. But here’s a novelty, a new religion that promises that this is not the case, oh, and in this Heaven the first will be last and the poor will be rich and etc, etc. It’s a wet dream for the downtrodden, of which there would have been many, and who made up many of the first converts. For Pete’s sake. Read “Not the impossible faith” to get a clue or 6.

    1. You can reply directly to David by scrolling up to the last noted “reply” button even though it’s several comments above. But while you’re down here I’ll respond to David’s latest here, too.

      First point, I don’t see any issue with Jewish/Aramaic/Hebrew influences in the formation of Christianity decades and more after the turn of the century. At least one Jewish scholar (Boyarin) argues that there was no real final rift from Judaism until the fourth century. It was always a Jewish sect right up till that time. Don’t let all the “true Jews” and “cast out of synagogues” rhetoric lead you to think otherwise — that sort of talk was the modus operandi in all intra-Jewish disputes.

      I see nothing implausible about a god becoming a man in Jewish thought — there was long a very blurry line between the two. The earthly Jacob, for example, had his divine counterpart in heaven. The Platonic/Hellenistic influence on religion contributed to the notion of God producing emanations of himself to interact with humans. His Logos became a Son of Man in myth as early as the book of Daniel and book of Enoch. The Philippian Hymn tells the story long before the gospels. Mark didn’t turn Jesus into a human. He created a human figure to represent Jesus (a literary figure).

      The idea seems to have caught on after that about some sects interpreting the myth literally.

      That’s a very common process in history.

  16. “I see nothing implausible about a god becoming a man in Jewish thought — there was long a very blurry line between the two. The earthly Jacob, for example, had his divine counterpart in heaven. The Platonic/Hellenistic influence on religion contributed to the notion of God producing emanations of himself to interact with humans. His Logos became a Son of Man in myth as early as the book of Daniel and book of Enoch. The Philippian Hymn tells the story long before the gospels. Mark didn’t turn Jesus into a human. He created a human figure to represent Jesus (a literary figure).

    The idea seems to have caught on after that about some sects interpreting the myth literally.

    That’s a very common process in history.”

    And it’s incredibly common given(at least I think) that the Gospels are Greek literature. Despite few arguments otherwise, they have Greek form, they were written in Greek, they borrow Greek themes. It was very common for Greek authors to write stories putting their gods in contemporary or near contemporary situations. Sure, it’s a synthesis, and maybe not “Purely Jewish” but that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

  17. Daniel (especially the “Son of Man” and Seventy Sevens) is indeed important to Christian origins.

    Not sure whether Pofarmer says the Gospels do not show Jesus as an itinerant teacher or whether they falsely so construct him. Anyhow it is pointless to list all the passages presenting him as a traveling preacher and “magician”.

    I am familiar with several Jewish writers – including Edersheim, Klausner, Schonfield, Maccoby, Eisenman, Golb, Vermes and contributors to the “Jewish Annotated New Testament” – plus Christian liberals rushing to agree that the NT caused “The Holocaust”.

    I am buying one of Boyarin’s interesting books and will look through others.

  18. “Not sure whether Pofarmer says the Gospels do not show Jesus as an itinerant teacher or whether they falsely so construct him. Anyhow it is pointless to list all the passages presenting him as a traveling preacher and “magician”.”

    Sure, the Gospels paint him as a traveling preacher, wonderworker. Gatherer of large crowds, feeder of multitudes, etc, etc. if history shows us that the last ones aren’t the case, why assume the first one is? None of it has any historical support. Ya know what does though? People adapting and making up stories.

  19. Still not clear about the usually alleged “contradiction” between the ideological “crap” of Paul and the supposedly different detailed “crap” put into the mouth of Jesus at a LATER date by “biographers”, including by then anachronistic and ethnocentric Matthean “crap” about a coming Heavenly Kingdom.

    There is nothing impossible about a deluded messianic claimant seeing himself as divine instrument, and eventually getting into trouble with the established authorities for his “crap”.

    1. “There is nothing impossible about a deluded messianic claimant seeing himself as divine instrument, and eventually getting into trouble with the established authorities for his “crap”.”

      And? Lot’s of things aren’t impossible.

    2. We have on record what Romans and Jewish authorities did to deluded messianic pretenders. They dismissed them as lunatics.

      Nothing is impossible, and everything can be believed if one wants to believe.

      You are free not to agree. No one can persuade you to think differently. You are welcome to read and just quietly disagree.

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