Biblical Scholars Reacting . . . Part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Continues from part 1 . . . .

Philip Jenkins in his reaction, The Myth of the Mythical Jesus, has an even more blunt response to anyone who ventures into the “far swamps of extreme crankery” by pursuing questions that have no place among biblical scholars:

Scholarship is what scholars do, and if they don’t do it, it’s not scholarship. That is by far the most important point against the mythicists, and really, nothing more needs to be said.

Jenkins remains silent about Carrier’s book, the book that largely prompted Brian Bethune to ask serious questions about the evidence for the existence of Jesus. One can only conclude Jenkins has not read it and that his confidence that he knows all he needs to know about mythicist arguments is perversely misplaced. After all, it’s not a view “done” by scholars so it would be a waste of time bothering with it. One cannot imagine a more classic illustration of contempt for (ideologically incorrect) public interests.

Such ignorance gives him the confidence that merely repeating a few mantras to a few informal mythicist bylines he may have heard second hand or from some “over zealous riff-raff on the web” is all that he needs to do to persuade right-thinking people to stay clear of the danger zones around those far swamps.

The affirmative evidence for that existence is easily offered, consisting as it does of a sizable body of writings dating from within a half century of the events described.

Those documents are, without question, the most closely debated and analyzed in human history. A vast body of scholars works on those texts and their implications, and they come from a wide body of religious backgrounds – Christians of every possible shade, Jews, skeptics and atheists, and people of various other faiths. Within that scholarly universe, the number of qualified scholars who today deny the historical existence of Jesus is infinitesimal. The consensus on that matter is near-total. (My bolding and formatting in all quotations)

“A paper I had written on a disturbing, ridiculous, and idiosyncratic method used by historicists was rejected by a prominent society of Biblical literature, but was later accepted by a general historical research organisation – forgive me if I feel a smug sense of vindication.[32] This paper dealt with what I call Ehrman’s law, which shall be explained later and discussed throughout this book. My presentation of the paper was very successful, with almost everybody (a room full of proper historians) agreeing with me that this method used by Biblical ‘historians’ is ridiculous and not typical of historians proper.

“[32] Raphael Lataster, “The Gospel According to Bart: The Folly of Ehrman’s Hypothetical Sources” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association, Sydney, 7th July 2015).”

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 400-405).  . Kindle Edition.

Mainstream biblical scholars often point to atheists among their ranks as evidence that they are not swayed by Christian bias. Craig Evans in the debate mentioned in my previous post did this when he spoke of the atheist James Crossley arguing that the Gospels were written considerably earlier than even many Christian scholars concede. What Evans was doing in reality was demonstrating that atheist scholars can only survive in the Christian dominated field of biblical studies as long as they conform to the minimal ideological foundations of Christianity. Arguing a Marxist model of Christian origins naturally conforms admirably with the values of many liberal Christians.

In fact neither Bethune nor anyone denies the “near total consensus” in the public face of the biblical studies guild. When prominent authors like Philip Jenkins not only demonstrate their ignorance of the arguments of those “infinitesimally” few scholars but even despite their ignorance insult them as belonging to the “far swamps of crankery”, one has to wonder if Raphael Lataster is quite correct when he writes that the historicity of Jesus is a debate that cannot be conducted among biblical scholars but can only move forward in other history and religion departments.

Hence reaction, neither engagement nor education, is the response.

Jenkins sees no need to bother with anything Carrier might have written nor even with the actual problems raised by Bethune. Leave all that to the “swamps of extreme crankery” — a nice intimidating phrase attached to the pointy headed doubters among those leprous masses.

And so Jenkins proceeds to address what he blindly presumes anonymous ignoramuses argue. The challenging questions of Bethune and Carrier are lost in the far swamps of Jenkins’s awareness and are replaced by some vague general points from the minds of an undefined “they”.

The first vague point unrelated to any of the questions troubling Bethune and that is posed as a substitute for Bethune’s questions:

  • *Contemporary writers do not refer to Jesus

Jenkins’s ignorance of serious mythicist arguments is palpable. Sweeping aside the issues of concern to Brian Bethune and many readers of the Macleans article, Jenkins embarrasses any slightly knowledgeable reader with this “explanation”:

All the canonical sources depict a very plausible Jesus in a very identifiable early first century historical setting. More significant, there are clear and well understood chains of evidence and tradition from Jesus’s time to the writing of those gospels.

Plausibility is a condition of historicity but that is a long step from being an argument for any particular scenario. Historical fiction works because it is equally plausible, set as it is in real times and places. That this point is ever raised as a serious argument for the historicity of Jesus is truly an embarrassment to our intellectual elites. Craig Evans made much of it in his debate with Richard Carrier. Why? It’s so obviously a red-herring, a non sequitur, an offence to anyone who has read any historical fiction, including ancient historical fictional writings.

As for the second point that there are “clear and well understood chains of evidence and tradition from Jesus’s time to the writing of the gospels”? Well, yes, there certainly are “clear and well understood” imaginative constructs of what scholars who presume a core historicity behind the gospel narratives believe must have existed. Of course there is no evidence for those oral traditions. Indeed, works that have seriously challenged the prevailing presumption that “there must have been oral traditions” passed on from eyewitnesses to eventually reach the authors of the gospels have been largely ignored. (See discussions of some of these in the oral tradition archive, as well as other posts on scholarship presenting evidence for literary mimesis.) Yet Jenkins presents the presumed model of oral tradition as part of a “clear and well understood chain of evidence“!

Clearly unaware of his ignorance that the mythicist case for Jesus as an “otherworldly being” is grounded in the writings of

  • the New Testament epistles
  • and Revelation,
  • other Second Temple Jewish literature,
  • and documents such as the original form of the Ascension of Isaiah dated by mainstream scholars to the end of the first or very early second century,

Jenkins surely mystifies readers of Macleans and Carrier’s book when he writes:

Accounts of Jesus as a mythical otherworldly being without worldly roots belong to much later sources, in alternative gospels of the second or third centuries, or later. Citing alternative works from that eraor much later Jewish texts – as if they have some kind of superior hotline to the historical reality of the 20s AD is just not permissible, and is actually scandalous.

Such a statement further demonstrates Jenkins’s own inability to read the early evidence through anything other than the eyes of the status quo.

Jenkins then dogmatically delivers another utterly fallacious line that he expects ignorant readers to swallow:

Let me put this as simply as I can: Jesus is better documented and recorded than pretty much any non-elite figure of antiquity.

The comparison is sometimes made with Socrates but the evidence even for this other counter-establishment teacher who left no writings of his own is far superior to anything we have for Jesus. See Comparing the Evidence for Jesus with Other Ancient Persons for details. (One can even show that the evidence for Cicero’s slave and to Seneca’s stammering rival philosopher are of superior quality with respect to establishing historicity than the evidence we have for Jesus.) But mainstream scholars appear to be uninterested in engaging with such challenges to their traditional assumptions.

  • *Jesus features in no contemporary secular or non-Christian literary sources.

Jenkins does not deny this but sets out a list of ad hoc rationalizations for why there should be none. And when he does concede that we do know of at least a “tiny” number of historians reporting on the area of Galilee at the time of Jesus without mentioning him, he glosses over the fact by implying a few historians is as good as no historians. The standard apologetic explanation is given to explain the absence of evidence: the man who changed the course of history was a nobody. One might wonder if a nobody changing the course of history is as great a miracle as anything we read about in the Bible.

  • *Jesus does not feature in early non-Christian literary sources who might have been expected to mention him.

In blissful ignorance of the illogicality of the standard apologetic arguments for Josephus having written about Jesus and then later referencing him as “the Christ”, Jenkins declares:

Josephus, in short, wrote about Jesus as a real, known, individual, who served as a useful point of reference (“You know who that James was? Why, he was the brother of Jesus”). . . . .

. . . . here he is, cited as a real historical character by a very well informed historian who knew Galilee well.

The most common argument about that first Jesus passage in Josephus (the “Testimonium Flavianum”) is that the reference to “Christ” is an interpolation (Josephus would never have called Jesus “the Christ”, one reason being that he was desperate to hide from his Roman audience any and all reminders of “Jewish messianism”), yet so often we read that the second reference to “Jesus called Christ” is a genuine Josephan reference. Jenkins repeats the usual apologetic once again failing to notice the contradiction it entails: if Josephus did not mention Christ in the first passage then the second passage cannot have been a pointer to it. Moreover, Jenkins appears to be unaware of the many scholarly arguments relating to the anomalous context of the first reference to Jesus, the passage’s connections to biblical and Eusebian passages, its place in the record of the Church Fathers, and ignorance of the scholarly arguments relating to the Josephus’s second reference. I suppose if you are sure you are right you have no need to alert yourself to any contrary viewpoints.

  • *There are no contemporary references to Jesus in non-literary sources, bureaucratic or otherwise

Er, yes. Correct. I have no idea whose arguments Jenkins is thinking of here.

  • *Jesus left no writings.

No, really, I have seen that objection made with a straight face.

Okay, that’s nice for a chuckle. But where are the questions raised by Bethune? Does Jenkins even know about Carrier? Jenkins is bringing up straw-man nonsense arguments to ridicule “mythicists”. He demonstrates not the slightest interest in engaging with anything raised by Bethune. The game seems to be: ignore, or rather, mock the public who read Ehrman and Carrier. Ignore questions posed by the “tiny few” scholars and many unwashed outsiders. Chuckle along within the ivory tower confines of the intellectual elites.

  • *”Jesus” was actually a disguised or confused memory of another historical character, such as [insert ludicrous candidate here, from Teacher of Righteousness onward].

These theories are fun, and much like London buses, don’t worry if you miss one, there’ll be another one along in a few minutes. For the arguments against these various candidates, check out “scholarly consensus” above.

I must give Jenkins the benefit of the doubt and assume he has only heard of Robert M. Price’s speculations second or third hand. But no matter either way: if only a handful of scholars merely propose an idea drawing upon scholarly models they must belong to the crankery swamp.

  • *”Jesus” was a mythical figure like those of the ancient mystery religions, with many analogies to figures in other world religions, such as Krishna or even Buddha.

Ah, the golden oldies. . . .

So count the credentialed scholars today who give such “Christ was a version of other myth figures” theories a moment’s credence. Do you get to double figures?

Such is the depth of these highly respected scholars’ answers to Bethune’s questions arising from his reading of Carrier and Ehrman. “We scholars disagree. So that’s the end of the matter — unless you are from the mordant ooze and swamps of extreme crankery.” That’s not likely to persuade Bethune but it may intimidate some otherwise innocent bystanders. Presumably that is the intention of the rhetoric.

Mythicism challenges the ideological foundations of traditional New Testament studies (not to mention historical cultural traditions) and can only elicit visceral reaction, not intellectual engagement. Academics like Porter and Jenkins do not appear to be even bothered to make any effort to seriously address the questions raised by people like Bethune in the Macleans article. Leave the dead to bury their dead. Better to focus on putting the fear of ridicule into the hearts of the bystanders.


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39 thoughts on “Biblical Scholars Reacting . . . Part 2”

  1. I have not done a thorough study of the following issue on the “very plausible Jesus,” but have noticed, as an anecdotal matter, that there are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the canonical Gospels. On the other hand, Plutarch gives some (not a lot of) physical description of, e.g., Alexander and Caesar. The only thing in the gospels is a reference to J’s wearing a cloak. There are references to staff and purse, and at one point to sandals; elsewhere to shaking dust off one’s feet, implying bare feet. The image(s) of J that we have in the mass culture come from (1) European paintings; and (2) 20th Century advertising.

    1. Yes, interest in physical appearances of interesting people is as natural to us as breathing. We find it expressed in ancient biographies — another indicator that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus.

      Interesting that we have physical descriptions of John the Baptist more than we do of Jesus. In each case the physical description can be shown to serve a (symbolic) theological function and not a biographical interest. I think the earliest descriptions of Paul were comparable to the popular images of Socrates and Aesop — the absence of Olympian handsomeness served as a foil for their superior intellectual presence.

  2. What makes this such a shame is that I thought Jenkins was actually one of the better writers and thinkers within the Jesus Academy. His books “The Secret History of Christianity,” about the spread of the religion in the Syriac language through central Asia, and “The Jesus Wars,” about the struggle to establish an “orthodoxy” in the fifth century, are both excellent and informative. But the core assumptions of even intelligent and curious members of the Academy obviously cannot be challenged, and note how easily apologetics can substitute for scholarship when they are pressed ever-so-slightly. It simply isn’t a serious or objective field, as the silence of actual history majors makes abundantly clear.

  3. Often even professors are religious, and have a religious bias. Jenkins is an older, emeritus professor, who writes for conservative journals like First Things.
    He currently works at Baylor ; the arch-conservative Baptist university in Republican Texas. Trained in the history of the law, he was first employed working and teaching in criminology.

    His career arc therefore seems to center around the theme of say, defending traditional religious rules, laws. Or you might say, social conventions. He is Episcopalian. And here he, like McGrath, centers around “consensus” in religious scholars.

    Churchgoers naturally end up stressing social creedal agreement. Or consensus. This he claims is “science”. However, science is less about conventional laws and social consensus than some might think, after all.

    If consensus was that important to science, then after all, Albert Einstein would have been executed as a heretic.

    1. Baylor University employs only committed practicing Christians, even in fields such as science and engineering. I thought such discrimination would be illegal or at least disqualify the university from government funding. Apparently not. And their equal opportunity/non discrimination statement threatens legal action against anyone who disputes their eligibility.

      1. I’m related to the Baylors, who founded the university. But today I’m ashamed of the place. Ten or fifteen years ago their Biology department lost one major accreditation as I recall. I wonder if it opposed evolufion?

        I’ve heard one religious bias after another coming from its faculty. Does it have a religious loyalty oath as condition of employment?

        It’s located in Waco Texas by the way. The home of the infamous Branch Davidian, Koresh cult.

    2. It’s a pity. I really quite enjoyed his history of Eastern/Syrian Christianity. The history of Christian origins is poison even for otherwise good historians, it seems. —

      I’m catching up with comments and see Blood made much the same comment.

  4. It seems to me that a big part of the problem –which I think you also allude to– is that for instance proponents of historicity refer to the same “blocks” of evidence. for instance: “All the canonical sources depict a very plausible Jesus in a very identifiable early first century historical setting.”. This makes it very difficult to get anywhere because it’s often the same things that kept being repeated. A bit like the debate setting on whether God exists where you hear the same stock arguments again and again.

    What is the way forward? What constitute a valid argument for or against either of the three major positions on this issue? (historicity, mythicism, agnosticism).

    1. Yes, using the same blocks of evidence over and over again, debates and arguments ad nauseam, results in a continuing cycle on a stationary exercise bike 😉 Resulting in both the historicists and the Carrier mythicists unable to move the debate forward. Deadlock.

      A way forward? The door-step preacher approach needs to be ditched. Anyone and everyone can offer interpretations of the NT material. Heresy, as the saying goes, is the mother of Christianity. Bible punching does not work on the street-corner and it does not work in the historicist vs ahistoricist debate.

      Consequently, to move forward requires a very different approach to the NT. An approach that places primary value upon history; Hasmonean/Jewish history. The historical context from which the gospel story arose – Roman occupation of Judea – needs to be acknowledged as relevant to that gospel story. History not simply from the time of Pilate but history stretched to a far wider canvas:

      Josephus: War ch.5: ‘Whence did our servitude commence? was it not derived from the seditions that were among our forefathers? when the madness of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, and our mutual quarrels, brought Pompey upon this city: and when God reduced those under subjection to the Romans,’

      Thus, re Josephus, the relevant Jewish history is from Pompey in 63 b.c.e. to the fall of the temple in 70 c.e. What was it within that history that motivated the writing of the gospel story? That’s the question that needs to be asked – and it is the answer to that question that will open up a way forward in the historicist vs ahistoricist debate.

    2. There is no debate that is in deadlock. There is a denunciation of one side by the other, and a flat refusal to engage with the debate being proposed by the outsiders. It is the way of other ideologically infused areas of study, too — it is not unique. People don’t enter and progress in the guild unless they learn to embrace the range of perspectives that define “right thinking”. The most fundamental doctrine of Christianity is non-negotiable. Like any ideologically disallowed perspective mythicism is despised as loony and/or sinister nonsense. The way forward is for the debate to continue to gain traction in constituencies other than traditional New Testament studies.

        1. Yes indeed. Have plans to post something on this when the way clears. I’m not suggesting Shakespeare did not write the plays but at the same time the question is not so foolish as some would think. I recall McGrath, for example, appearing to learn only recently that there was such a debate and without any attempt to understand its origins or nature repeatedly held it up as a foil to mythicists, once again only demonstrating his own pitiful ignorance.

    3. 1. One of the ways forward is Ralph Lataster’s –

      “A paper I had written on a disturbing, ridiculous, and idiosyncratic method used by historicists was rejected by a prominent society of Biblical literature, but was later accepted by a general historical research organisation..[32]. This paper dealt with what I call Ehrman’s law, which shall be explained later and discussed throughout this book. My presentation of the paper was very successful, with almost everybody (a room full of proper historians) agreeing with me that this method used by Biblical ‘historians’ is ridiculous and not typical of historians proper.

      “[32] Raphael Lataster, “The Gospel According to Bart: The Folly of Ehrman’s Hypothetical Sources” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association, Sydney, 7th July 2015).”

      ie. publish as much as possible in peer-reviewed historical organisation journals to engage non-biblical scholars.

      2. Another is to use tools and terminology to determine probability of various aspects of historical claims and, as you have been doing, encourage discussion of such methodology to ensure it is being used as well as possible.

  5. Nothing is going to change until the central assumption of the Jesus Guild — that the gospel writers were “historians” writing actual history — is opened up to examination and challenge. Indeed, I’ve noticed an incredible dearth of writing within the Jesus Guild about the motivations, ideas, education, and socio-political backgrounds of the gospel writers. You would think entire books would be devoted to the subject, but I suspect such examinations are taboo, even among supposedly secular Bible scholars, since it could suggest that the gospel writers were creative artists, not historians. And that suggestion cannot be allowed.

  6. Am I wrong in recognizing the gospels as graphic novels (“comic books”) without pictures? One striking feature is the use of persons without names, merely occupations or other identities (a Canaanite woman etc.) There’s no effort to weave the characters into a narrative where they reappear to interact once more with the principals – they exist to make a point and then they are gone. Even whole crowds pop into existence for some purpose or another with no suggestion of why they gathered.

    1. Actually Jim, I think the very disconnectedness you speak of, suggests they are not woven by a single weaver. To me, the Synoptics sound more like people sitting around sharing memories, or tales that had been told to them by their elders. Or maybe by proseletizers like Paul. What we do know is that the synoptic gospels present a radical moral system, demanding equal justice and mercy for everyone, more advanced than any the world had yet seen. Whoever wrote those gospels wrote out a moral agenda for the ages.

      1. Was the moral system of Christianity perfect? I worry about believer’s ” hate” for the “world” and our own families. And their attacks on reason, in favor of faith. Their over-reliance on dogma. Their belief in false miracles. Their censorship and murder of dissidents….

        1. Damon, no the moral system of the gospels is not perfect, and I acknowledge your concerns. My own feeling is that the miracles, virgin birth, resurrection, and salvation material were later ideas woven into actual memories of a social/moral movement, whether or not it was led by an actual person called Jesus. Thomas Jefferson had the right idea. Strip out the religious stuff and save the nuggets of moral wisdom contained in the gospels

          1. Is anything added in the gospels to the standard morality of the people of the time the Chinese, Indians, the Pagans all knew stealing, lying, cheating were bad taking care of the poor, respecting elders was good?

            1. Some similarity to Buddhist self-abnegation and legend, and to the stoicism of some Cynics.

              But also different: an absolutism, inner spirituality rather than social conformity, total allegiance to the teacher and his heavenly Father, rejection of family ties, a coming Reign of the Heavens, pacifism, love for enemies, messianic banquet v punishment for the unrepentant, the risen and ransom Son of Man, &c.

              But how far should we take NT “morality” as “moral” after its critical examination by e.g. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Max Stirner, Pierre Krebs, various Social Darwinists, &c?

            2. I’m not an expert, but it is my sense that no one before had promoted the radical notion of the equality of all people as Jesus did. He attacked the oppression of the people by the rich and powerful, and advocated the redistribution of wealth. He raised moral behavior from an individual obligation to a call for a just society.

              I’d appreciate references to unbiased sources that evaluate the originality of Jesus’ moral teachings.

              1. Assuming Jesus existed and his moral teachings are in the canonical gospels, it seems fair to say that totally “unbiased” evaluations of their content or “originality” in the ancient world are rare.

                These teachings are not entirely consistent, nor always clear. Jesus sought out some outcasts, and showed compassion on some occasions, though not others. Whether he actually “advocated the redistribution of wealth” is a very moot point, though he is invoked for celebrity status by ignorant dreamers of a global egalitarian socialist welfare state on earth.

                Matthew 25.31-46 is often thereby misunderstood.

                Starting from your own presumable sympathy for “equality of all people” and a “just society”, if these are concepts are practicable or indeed coherent, you might like to start with (1) Karl Kautsky, “Foundations of Christianity” (1908/2007) and (2) Raymond Belliotti, “Jesus or Nietzsche” (2013).

                For two quite different angles, see e.g. “Rand Excerpt: On Christianity” at
                and John V. Day (ed), “The Lost Philosopher: The Best of Anthony M. Ludovici” (2003).

              2. Paxton: The Jesus that most preachers describe in church is a very expurgated and cleaned-up version of the Bible overall. In many ways the preacher’s humble and loving Jesus is an attractive model. But again, their picture of God and Jesus is a cleaned up version. One that leaves out the genocides, and the hate, for example.

    2. Even when a character is named, the name reflects the role the character plays. Bartimaeus teaches that “bar” means “son of” and the opening of the Gethsemane prayer shows that “Abba” = “father”, so the reader can recognize that Barabbas is another “son of the Father”, which sets up the scapegoat scenario of Leviticus 16:5-22. (However, that is a Day of Atonement ritual, not a Passover rite. John puts Jesus’ death on the day of preparation for the Passover but that is not a sin offering.)

  7. It seems reasonable to suppose that crowds appear (fact or fiction) to listen to Jesus. There is no need to spell this out on every occasion, fact or fiction, or even to mention every name (if recalled). Of course, some named characters (e.g. Mary Magdalene or Thomas) in the Fourth Gospel represent “types” in a theological drama.

  8. >Josephus, in short, wrote about Jesus as a real, known, individual…

    Sometime i wonder if the figure of JC was belong to some other religion say Islam then i am sure some Western universities would have started spacial courses for attacking his existence but here even the most spurious of texts like TF are getting defended like hell and scholarly ink is being wasted i mean its a clear interpolation, its extremely short length, Dense Christian character, Narrative similarity with a passage of Luke, Overall flimsy language and nobody before Eusebius quoted it and most importantly there is strong indication that some copies of Antiquities without TF and James passage survived well over 9th Century as Photius didn’t mention them in his lengthy review found in Bibliotheca.

    BTW Created a poll regarding authenticity of TF sometime back please vote if you like.


    1. I see that the results of the poll after one month are 24 votes for a complete interpolation and one vote for a partial interpolation. It would be interesting to create several polls presenting the question with the same wording with different links posted to different blogs to compare the opinions of the followers of each blog.

      1. I am no scholar but I did see the page of the JF with the reference to Christians. Its so clearly inserted it interrupts the narrative before and after it but the most amazing part is saying that a history of the Jews which includes a bit about what Christians believed is in anyway a proof that what Christians believed is true is like reading you know a believer in Scientology and a Mormon that that is proof that both we are descended from Aliens whose spirits survived volcanos and that when you die you will meet your ancestors on planet Kolob.

  9. It so happens the figure of JC does belong to Islam. In Quran he appears as one of the prophets.
    I wonder why christian theologians ignore such a rich and detailed historical source 😉

    1. Zbykow, fundamentalist Christians apply to relatively late material in the Quran a devastating critique they would not apply to their NT. For a contrary approach, see e.g. Louay Fatoohi, “The Mystery of the Historical Jesus” (2007).

      Assuming with Muslims that “JC” was an historical figure of some kind, instead of a complete myth, can anything conceivably reliable be dredged from their store? Certainly not particularly bizarre miracle tales – possibly a few sayings without assurance of authenticity; cf. Joachim Jeremias, “Unknown Sayings of Jesus” (1957) pp.7,99. Robert E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament” (2000) ignores Islamic material altogether.

      Tarif Khalidi, “The Muslim Jesus” (2003) is accessibly erudite; Seyyed Hussein Nasr (ed), “The Study Quran” (2015) contains extensive annotation of interest to Christians on over 2000 fragile pages; Wikipedia, “Jesus in Islam” is also useful.

      To most informed Muslims, Isa [=?Jesus/Esau] ibn Maryam is the penultimate prophet, often titled Al-Masih, widely expected to return to defeat Al-Dajjal (the Anti-Christ) and consummate Islamic world triumph; Ahmadis have another angle.

      Outside the Quran itself, substantial traditions reflect, rather than independently corroborate, the portrait of a poor, prayer, compassionate ascetic, wandering often barefoot in a simple wool garment. One story gives his reply after leaving a brothel that the doctor visits only the sick (cf. Luke 5.31-32, 7.37-39; Mark 7.24). His description as a “white man” with short curly hair apparently comes from one of the visions of the final Prophet Muhammad.

      Muslims contend that Jews corrupted the original Torah revelation and Christians altered the Gospel/Injil. The abhorrent (shirk) theological and devotional development of Jesus as a Deity, Son of God, a “partner” equal to Allah, is given the by no means unfamiliar explanation of pagan innovation; see e.g. Muhammad ‘Ata Ur-Rahim & Ahmad Thomson, “Jesus: Prophet of Islam” (2003). [The latter author is an adherent of a bimetallist and anti-Judeo/Masonic sect, some of whose white converts I have met.] Not every early scholar, it seems, thought the Church deliberately destroyed the original material; see e.g. Hans Wijngaards, “Can We Trust the Gospels?” (1985).

      Quranic and other references to Jesus, if not constructed de novo, were themselves part of a progressive
      assemblage already derived from various “Christian” and other sources (not the angel Gabriel telling Muhammad). See e.g. Ibn Warraq (ed), “Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumranian, & pre-Islamic Background to the Koran” (2013); John Gilchrist, “The Quran: The Scripture of Islam” (1995) ch.4 [also on-line]; Masud Masihiyyen, “Muhammad & the Apocryphal Gospels” (on-line). Muslim “rebuttals” include “The Orientalists. The Bible & the Qur’an” & Louay Fatoohi, on-line.

      The remote possibility that biographical detail came from “Sabeans” (e.g. Quran 2.62) on the grounds that they were linked to communities hypothetically traceable as far back as the compilers of the Fourth Gospel and/or the Jordan baptizer himself (Jesus as rival or antagonist) is too tenuous to consider; cf. Walter Wink, “John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition” (2006 o/p) p.100f. However, I have not yet looked at Emran Iqbal El-Badawi, “The Qur’an & the Aramaic Gospel Traditions” (2013) or Karl-Heinz Ohlig (ed), “Early Islam” (2013).

      Whatever its chronological, geographical or ideological proximity to the Synoptics, the extant Gnostic matter is mostly a massive mystical haystack in which any needles of fact are ipso facto unrecognizable (cf. Elaine Pagels, “The Gnostic Gospels” [1989] p.146).

      As for the Dead Sea Scrolls, they contain similarities to NT ideas. Obviously the controversial “crucified messiah” (noted by Vridar, 2010/07/26) would not verify Islamic dogma about Christ evading execution and eventually returning to smash the “crosses” of the idolatrous churches. “Jesus of Nazareth” can be resurrected from these documents at all only by imaginative – and contradictory- “decipherment” by Robert Eisenman, “The New Testament Code” (2007), Barbara Thiering (2005,1997) &c.

      Ancient Jewish sources about the “mamzer magician” may throw better light than Islam on the Galilean healer-exorcist. The Quranic defense of the virginal conception was probably a response to Jewish attacks (John 8.41, Celsus, &c).

      See also: Dunkerley, R. “Beyond the Gospels” (1961); Ehrman, B.D,”Lost Scriptures” (2005); Eisler, R. “John the Baptist & the Messiah Jesus” (1931); Ersen, I. “Jesus Christ in the Traditions of Islam” on-line; Mead, G.R.S. “The Gnostic John the Baptizer” (1924/2016); Shaefer, P. “Jesus in the Talmud” (2009); Sox, D. “The Gospel of Barnabas” (1984); Warraq, I. [pseud] ed, “The Origins of the Koran” (1998); Yamauchi, E.M., “Gnostic Ethics & Mandean Origins” (2004); Zwemer, S.M., “The Moslem Christ” (1911/2016) also on-line; Zukeran, P. “Jesus in the Qur’an” [2008] on-line.

  10. The position that the gospels present a plausible Jesus can only be considered true if you ignore the gospels. Men don’t do the things the gospels depict. So historicists excise the implausible bits, leave the plausible ones and say, “Look, it’s entirely plausible.” This is not a sound method.

    1. The method is not so very different from the way some ancient biographers/historians rationalized mythical tales to re-write a more plausible and more historical-sounding story. Plutarch, for example, would investigate various explanations for some of the fanciful tales about the exploits of a “historical hero” and present what he believed was the most plausible solution.

      His final version was in fact a historicized version of the myth — not at all unlike the way some scholars suggest that Jesus was said to have walked on water but in reality was walking on a sandbank, or that his healings really had natural psychological explanations, etc.

      Just like scholars of the mythical tales of Christian origins today, ancients like Plutarch would begin with the assumption that the stories of, say, Theseus had to have some historical truth behind them and then seek to uncover it by peeling away the implausible details. (Hawes)

      Of course what these scholars seem not to recognize is that all they are doing is recycling a new version of the founding myth of their faith.

      1. One of my favorite examples is when Ehrman talks about synopses of the gospels that try to accommodate every story. He says if you create a gospel in which Jesus cleanses the temple at the beginning and then again at the end of his ministry, go ahead, but just understand that you’ve created your own gospel. And he laughs. Then, of course, he goes on to create his own gospel out of remnants that he salvages from his “sources.”

        There is no awareness of irony in the guild.

        1. Myths are modified in different ways as they pass through different cultures and times to meet the interests and needs of new audiences. Some of these new audiences, such as Plutarch, have interests in rationalization and plausibility so the myths are adapted in that direction. Plutarch and Christian origins scholars are in fact passing on yet their own variants of the same myth, variants that appeal to their respective audiences.

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