Shooting Blanks at Mythicism – & Why That’s the Necessary Point

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by Neil Godfrey

Jonathan Bernier noted in a recent post “the special pleading involved in rejecting a consensus position adopted by virtually every New Testament scholar (that Jesus existed) while accepting without reflection a consensus position [on the dates of the gospels] adopted by most but hardly all such scholars. If we are all mistaken on something so fundamental to the discipline, then how can it be assumed without investigation that the majority of us are correct on anything else?”  — James McGrath, The Myth of Mythicism and Undebunkable Skepticism (Sept 30 2016) — James McGrath’s title for his post seems to indicate that he thinks all the fuss about the arguments for the Christ Myth theory today are a hoax and there is no such phenomenon on the web or anywhere, but I don’t think that’s what he meant to convey.

My head is spinning. Didn’t Maurice Casey in his polemic accuse mythicists of rejecting the consensus position of scholars on the dates of the gospels?

ludicrously late dates for the Gospels are central to the assumptions of mythicists . . . (p. 45)

mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible, one of the reasons they use is the date of surviving manuscripts. (p. 49)

mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible, and one of the reasons they use is the date of surviving manuscripts. (p. 66)

I have already pointed out that the dates proposed for the Gospels by mythicists are seriously awry. (p. 80)

the hopelessly late dates proposed by mythicists. (p. 81)

Apart from the extraordinarily late dates proposed by mythicists . . . (p. 93)

The very late dates for the canonical Gospels proposed by mythicists should be uniformly rejected. (p. 107)

Two major mistakes underlie all the mythicists’ arguments. One is the date of the synoptic Gospels, which they all date much too late, as we saw . . . (p. 133)

Building on their ludicrously late date of the synoptic Gospels . . . (p. 134)

So how can Jonathan Bernier accuse them of mindlessly accepting the consensus position on gospel dates?

There is a very deliberate reason that Bernier does not familiarize himself with the arguments and why McGrath likewise side-steps them. It is not a simple misunderstanding. Nor is it a question of partial information that can be rectified. But first let’s be clear about the gulf between Bernier’s cum McGrath’s attacks on mythicism and reality.

Earl Doherty may be considered responsible for the revival of public interest in the Christ Myth theory. In his major work, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, he argues the pros and cons of the various dates proposed by scholars for the dating of the Gospel of Mark. He addresses the pros and cons of those who date the gospel much earlier than 70 CE as well as those few who date it considerably later than 70 CE. The total length of his discussion and engagement with the evidence advanced by scholars for their mainstream consensus date as well as the extremes is about 3,640 words, including end notes (about 2570 words without the end notes). Word count alone of course is not a measure of quality of argument but I use it here in conjunction with the main point that Doherty has addressed the range of scholarly arguments in some depth.

My own experiences in engaging with mythicists on discussion forums is that they are very well aware of the rationales behind the various dates assigned to the gospels, and many are also aware of the reasons some date the Gospel of Mark prior to or around the same time as Paul’s mission and why fewer have even dated the gospels to the second century.

Neither Jonathan Bernier nor James McGrath indicate the identities of the mythicists they have in mind when they say they “accept without reflection” the consensus for the dates of the gospels.

He also writes, “There are matters upon which informed persons can disagree. Then there are matters upon which disagreement indicates that at least one interlocutor is not qualified to be part of the discussion.” — James McGrath, The Myth of Mythicism and Undebunkable Skepticism (Sept 30 2016)

Bernier writes:

These days there is a peculiar myth circulating the internet, namely that Jesus never existed. It is peculiar, because it is evidently false to anyone actually competent to speak to the matter, and thus it is really quite baffling that anyone would actually hold it to be true. It is a myth because it stands as a fantastic and incredible (literally, in-credible) tale that is propagated in order to give warrant to a certain ideology, namely a remarkably unsophisticated new atheism (I mean, really, one hardly needs to demonstrate that Jesus did not exist in order to reject belief in God, nor would Jesus’ non-existence demonstrate that God never existed). (Why Chronology Matters, 10 Sept 2016)

Bernier indicates that he has no knowledge of the published books (hard copies) that have been published (off-line) by Christ Myth exponents and that various people discuss on the internet. Earl Doherty’s first book and the one that might be said to have started the whole kerfuffle, The Jesus Puzzle, is only available in hard copy. (There is a bogus copy of the book with a misleading cover that can be found for free on the internet but that file is actually a novel with a similar title and not Doherty’s formal argument.)

Again Bernier does not name the mythicists he has in mind when he says that their agenda is to advance a New Atheist “ideology” or which mythicist publications contain accompanying calls to atheism. Thomas Brodie and Tom Harpur, both prominent writers questioning the existence of Jesus, are certainly not atheists: they are very religious and have presented arguments that enable them to reconcile their Christian faith with a figurative (parabolic) Jesus. In their publications they directly appeal to believer readers to do the same. Thomas Brodie begins the third last chapter of Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus with this:

Is it possible for a believing Christian to accept that Jesus Christ never existed as a specified historical individual? At first sight it may seem not . . . .

But perhaps the Christianity to which we are accustomed is not the last word. . . . (p .197)

His conclusion that same chapter begins:

No question, then — our understanding of Christ can indeed change. The only issue is how far? Far enough to see Christ not as an individual human, but as a symbol of God among us, God within us? It is a challenging change. . . .

It is time that Jesus Christ emerged from our tiny boxes. (p. 201)

Brodie follows with two more chapters discussing the implication for believing Christians.

Tom Harpur writes in The Pagan Christ of

an exhilarating new approach to faith and to a sorely needed, truly spiritual Christianity . . . . My goal throughout is not to summarily dismiss the deep beliefs held by many millions . . . But I do what these people to think deeply about their faith anew. . . . The Jesus story will come alive and strike your heart and intellect as never before. Traditional rituals such as Holy Communion, baptism, and the Church’s key festivals of Christmas and Easter will have new power once we understand their true meaning in the light of ancient wisdom. . . Belief in the Christ within will be established as a key to personal and communal transformation. (p. 13)

That sounds very similar to what I recall reading in Freke and Gandy’s mythicist publications.

I am not denying that Doherty and Carrier are atheists. Rene Salm, if I recall, is a Buddhist. Robert M. Price has also expressed a love of Christianity and church involvement, if I have understood reports correctly. I have discussed a number of prominent mythicists of a previous generation who similarly expressed strong respect and even in one case (Couchoud) admiration for Christianity. And probably internet’s most vocal, published and best known nemesis of Christianity, John Loftus of Debunking Christianity, has made it very clear that probably the worst (least effective!) way to turn people against Christianity and convert them into atheists is to hit them with the Christ Myth hypothesis.

Since Bernier does not tell readers which mythicists he has in mind one is left with the impression that he knows very little about this “peculiar myth circulating the internet” and is reacting emotionally to vague hearsay rather than speaking with any informed awareness.

And if he is relying on hearsay and has no first hand knowledge of any of the arguments from any of the likes of Doherty or Price or Carrier or Wells or Brodie then one can only conclude his bafflement over how anyone, certainly no informed person, could possibly entertain the view arises because he simply cannot imagine what their arguments could possibly be. That he believes mythicists accept conventional dates for the gospels “without reflection” further supports this conclusion.

On the contrary there are indeed biblical scholars who have openly said that the mythicist arguments are not at all without merit and are worth serious consideration: Hector Avalos, Thomas L. Thompson, Arthur Droge, Kurt Knoll, Philip R. Davies, Burton Mack, Gerd Lüdemann to name the more well known ones. Other intellectuals one is not likely to associate with “the fantastic” or “the incredible” who have spoken positively of the Christ Myth arguments include Michel Onfray, Paul Hopper, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Michael Martin . . . (See Who’s Who for details and others)

Bernier’s unfamiliarity with the arguments is underscored with his final barb:

One aspect of the standard mythicist myth is that since one can read Paul such that he is not referring to Jesus as an actual flesh-and-blood person, it must follow that originally Jesus began as a purely cosmic and mythological figure who was historicized in the gospels. Let us leave aside the fact that is predicated upon a purely tendentious and demonstrably false reading of Paul. (Honestly, if one cannot see that this is purely tendentious and demonstrably false then one merely reveals that one is lacking in competence to speak to the matter. There are matters upon which informed persons can disagree. Then there are matters upon which disagreement indicates that at least one interlocutor is not qualified to be part of the discussion).

My what foolish silly nincompoops are such incompetent and utterly unqualified persons like Avalos, Thompson, Droge, Knoll, Davies, Onfray . . . .

I said none of this is accidental. There is a rhyme and reason for these tactics.

Name-calling and image-management

Neils Peter Lemche has explained the very same tactics as they have been used in another context, the questioning of the historicity at first of the patriarchs and more recently of David and the united biblical kingdom of Solomon.

Conservative scholarship is on the move, often disguising itself as mainstream scholarship. Part of being mainstream has to do with being reconciliatory – maybe with a touch of condescendence – asking people in the frontline to behave, abstain from labelling and name-calling. Professor Provan’s contribution to this discussion is a perfect example of this new attitude, claiming the highest level of scholarship even though other interests may be at hand at the same side. . . .

. . . .  in creating an image of a scholar who does not know his stuff. It can be done in a gentle way . . . . or it can be rude as found in several publications by W.G. Dever and other scholars on the same line like G. Rendsburg. The meaning is the same: do not discuss the points made by these people; just say that they are incompetent.

There are several kinds of name-calling, but in the end, they all tend to impress a readership in such a way that it will simply abstain from reading material written by members of the group characterized by the name-calling. . . .

What is the aim of this labeling? Here it is interesting to compare with the characterization of conservative scholarship in James Barr‘s book on fundamentalism . . . . The advice to the novice in biblical studies is never engage in any serious way in a discussion with non-conservative scholars. You should just denounce them as incompetent and not worth reading and continue this tactic until people believe you. Barr, himself born into an evangelical environment, has no doubts about the background and motivation of the conservative standpoint. . . . . there is no need to quote dogma, no need to indulge in heated religious controversy. One simply and calmly states the evidence from outside the Bible that shows how unnecessary and how completely wrong the entire series of critical questionings has been. … Indeed, it is a necessity of the conservative argument . . .  that it makes at least a pretence of impartiality. . . .

It is a war cry, intending at burying his hated opponents . . . . He is aiming at destroying the minimalists without ever engaging in a serious debate with them.

That’s exactly what McGrath, Bernier and their companions are doing in relation to mythicism. The name-calling, the mud-stirring analogies, the disinformation . . .  it is all aimed at destroying mythicists without ever engaging in serious debate with them. Confirmation of this appears to come with Bart Ehrman’s approach to his coming debate with Robert M. Price.

And more

James McGrath takes the opportunity to point to other recent take-downs of mythicism but (presumably accidentally) begins by linking to a site in which the author eventually reveals he has been persuaded by Doherty and Price and others. This is not the first time that McGrath links to sites in support of his point of view even though it appears on inspection that he has not actually read them with much care. Nor is it the first time he has turned to Tim O’Neill to join his cheer squad. Tim has declined at every opportunity I have presented to him (at any venue, forum, blog) to seriously engage in a defence of his arguments in open discussion. His response each time has been to insult, bully and walk away. McGrath’s next piece of weaponry is a page by Randal Rauser, and a glance at the imputation of motives and muddying the waters by means of specious analogies and complete absence of engagement with specific arguments in Randal’s article alerts us to why it should be held so dear by the Religion Prof. Another page by Randal Rauser commended by McGrath virtually defends such extreme apologist arguments that the gospels were sourced from eyewitnesses and Paul “demonstrates a wide knowledge of Jesus and his teachings”.

With a twist of irony McGrath adds points to a post by Hemant Mehta. The post reads:

Don’t Let Your Skepticism Get Carried Away

Captain Disillusion, the most talented skeptic you’ll find on YouTube, reminds us of the importance of being willing to change your mind when confronted with new facts.


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Neil Godfrey

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  • Tim Bos
    2016-10-01 14:23:25 GMT+0000 - 14:23 | Permalink

    “The name-calling, the mud-stirring analogies, the disinformation . . . it is all aimed at destroying mythicists without ever engaging in serious debate with them. Confirmation of this appears to come with Bart Ehrman’s approach to his coming debate with Robert M. Price.”

    Who knows how Ehrman will behave in the debate, but here’s what he actually says about how he is preparing:

    “I will, though, of course prepare for the debate. How will I do so? I will reread Bob Price’s two books and the other Mythicist books that have come out since I did my book on whether Jesus really existed and figure out how to respond to their specific arguments. And I’ll plot out my opening statement about why I think there really can be no doubt that whatever else you say about Jesus, he certainly existed. And I”ll try to figure out how Bob will ask me questions that I may have trouble answering!”

    That doesn’t sound that bad, does it?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-10-01 18:52:15 GMT+0000 - 18:52 | Permalink

      You might be right and it might prove to be a welcome demonstration that I was wrong.

      On the other hand, as per R. Pence below, it is an odd statement — “I will re-read” two books and a whole lot of others in the week or two prior to the debate — given that his book gave numerous indications that he never seriously read the books he was rebutting. It does sound as if he is still smarting over the criticisms leveled at him over that failure and that he intends to do little of substance to make up for it. But we shall see. McGrath interpreted Ehrman’s comments in a manner that sounds to me to be more consistent with the Ehrman that has come through in any of his publications or posts about mythicism:

      Bart Ehrman has heard enough mythicist claims – and spent enough time researching the historical figure of Jesus – that he doesn’t need to do a lot of preparation for his debate with Robert Price. I’ll be interested to watch video of that event, but it scarcely seems worth driving to, since it is essentially an event for entertainment. Academic questions aren’t settled by these kinds of debates, but through painstaking careful study of the evidence and the achievement of consensus on that basis.

      He is being paid a lot of money to do the debate. I personally suspect the money and effort has been/will be a waste. I might be wrong. I have no expectations, though, and am not looking forward to the debate. If I hear afterwards how refreshingly surprising it all was then no doubt I will rush to see what I missed.

      • Tige Gibson
        2016-10-02 02:39:47 GMT+0000 - 02:39 | Permalink

        He’s being paid for his consent to be roasted since he has some experience of that already and he cares more about the money and knows he will retain faithful supporters in spite of the outcome. It’s almost a no-lose scenario.

    • MrHorse
      2016-10-01 23:15:39 GMT+0000 - 23:15 | Permalink

      Ehrman – “I think there really can be no doubt that, whatever else you say about Jesus, he certainly existed

      That’s pretty closed-minded considering he’s stating that before he’s read other points of view.

  • 2016-10-01 14:38:24 GMT+0000 - 14:38 | Permalink

    Neil, have I got this right? McGrath/Bernier says that mythicists accept a relatively weak consensus for later dates of gospel composition, but reject a strong consensus for the existence of Jesus; and the matter upon which disagreement represents a disqualification to argue is the existence of Jesus? If this is right, wouldn’t the disqualification make unnecessary the argument about inconsistency in accepting a consensus position? Is this two ad hominem attacks, or are they closely related in some way I have missed?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-10-01 19:31:44 GMT+0000 - 19:31 | Permalink

      There are so many ironies, non sequiturs, inconsistencies, in their attacks, as you know. I could have written a small book simply by dwelling on each one in both posts. So many contradictions etc arise — once I start to write about one I see several more but simply cannot stop to address each one if I want to get away and do other things that are more important in life. They are not even trying to be logically consistent, valid or factually informed. They simply don’t care. And it doesn’t matter — those they are writing for don’t care either. Reminds me a bit of Trump, yes — he can lie and cheat be bad and his supporters simply don’t care; so long as he is attacking “the enemy” that’s all that matters and all they want. (The difference with Trump I suppose is that their narcissism is a corporate or professional group identity equivalent.)

      It is also interesting to see how Bernier, like the late Casey, use mythicists as a foil to assist in presenting their own highly unorthodox views on the dates of the gospels (i.e. they are pre Paul), views that surely made them outliers in the academy. Mythicists become a useful target for such scholars.

      Bernier is also as dogmatic as Casey ever was. Notice in his post that he does not speak of hypothesizing radically different dates for the gospels, but of “discovering” them. One argues and debates and tests hypotheses, but there can be no genuinely informed or valid come-back to deny a real “discovery”.

      • Greg
        2016-10-02 10:30:13 GMT+0000 - 10:30 | Permalink

        Bernier’s perspective is very telling as to the state of the academy. His absolute certitude in the conclusions without any serious acknowledgment of any opposing argument lends to the illusion of invulnerability; so excessively optimistic is he that he’ll declare the game won and stake his reputation as a scholar on it before he’s even seen what he’s up against. No doubt his stereotyping of the out-group diminishes any worry and removes any sense of needing to respond substantively. Further, his all-or-nothing approach to the scholarship lends to a perception of collective infallibility.

        Other clues are difficult to ignore. Ehrman has already made clear his application as a self-appointed mindguard with the enthusiastic endorsement of McGrath. Such scholars in high places waving their sticks offers a strong incentive for self-censorship. The scholarly reactions to dissenting views from within such as Joel Watts flipping from complimenting Brodie’s methodology (“a masterpiece”) to frantically distancing himself and condemning his conclusions (“conspiracy theory”) are highly indicative of certain pressures.

        In a groupthink environment there is a great cause to doubt the veracity of group conclusions where the demand for harmony and unanimity are highest, and it’s not because scholars are dummies. That Bernier and his colleagues see the existence of Jesus as so uniquely fundamental to the field is precisely why it warrants greater skepticism, examination, and critique than anything else they’ve produced. They already make clear why it’s silly to interpret their other conclusions in light of this one: they’ve launched this one into the stratosphere.

        • R Pence
          2016-10-02 13:57:00 GMT+0000 - 13:57 | Permalink

          The thing with Ehrman – with his collarless shirts and black jackets – is the thing with so many other American academics when they get a taste of media attention. They become the Representative of the tradition for what they perceive is a whole great Outside, and so somehow simultaneously try to embody a certain edginess (witness Ehrman’s clothing, his occasional recourse to profanity) and, belying a beautiful cognitive dissonance, a maximally conservative tradition inasmuch as they are trying to embody Reasonableness and Consensus. So it’s all pretty disingenuous. Ehrman strategically adopts what is basically the Schweitzer hypothesis because it’s the highest point on the Bell Curve. And because he’s sure he’s important as Exemplar of the tradition, he makes his blog/site available only to paying members, toys with adopting ideas that to thinking people are by now non-controversial (as if we’re all waiting with bated breath for Bart Ehrman to jump on board), and generally affirms or denies any point only according to centrist criteria.

          As a pure outsider to all this, I see Ehrman as someone who has written some good books, but not as an intellectual in any significant sense. You can’t constantly appeal to authority and start off arguments with ‘None of my friends believe…’ and be taken seriously in this day and age. The same goes for when on The Huffington Post he posts an article saying, ‘Well, we have Q…’, when perhaps Q is the least ‘had’ document in the history of scholarship. What you have is somebody who has done good work in a field, but is not a great thinker and is not distinguished by his intellectual integrity given that in any public forum, it seems, he’s willing to shade the facts at the earliest opportunity.

          I feel bad for Biblical research, New Testament studies, and so on. It looks to me like what a lot of these academics are doing is secular apologetics, if such a phrase exists. In a way, it’s a field with so low stakes that anything goes, and so, a lot of not very courageous people collect around each other for maximum safety. Indeed, if you listen to Price’s ‘Bible Geek’ show and hear about the so-called Dutch Radicals and others, it seems like late 20th-century/early 21st-century academic conservatism is not a given at all, and may even be an exception rather than a rule. O tempora, O mores!

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-10-02 18:56:52 GMT+0000 - 18:56 | Permalink

          Some scholars are a joy to talk with and learn from. They obviously understand the tentative nature of all knowledge and humbly present their own hypotheses as but one of several out there. Others are pompous arrogant pricks, snobs, with a dogmatism befitting a fundamentalist. It is remarkable how often one of these types seems to dominate among biblical scholars in the “blogosphere”.

          Bernier’s discussion of historical approaches is — to those who know even just a little of the philosophy of history — juvenile. It is reminiscent of what I learned in senior high school, as if nothing has emerged in the world of historians since then. His grasp of the Great Man Theory of history is flawed since the example he gives misses the point badly; and his alternative is presented as if it is the only alternative, and it is a view about how history works that few historians today would actually accept. It did cross my mind to (politely) try to point out his error and limited purview but then I recalled an earlier time I tried to engage him in critical discussion and my comment merely vanished somewhere into cyberspace or a dark bin somewhere.

    • Greg
      2016-10-01 21:33:29 GMT+0000 - 21:33 | Permalink

      It can’t even be considered ad hominem since it isn’t directed at any particular person, just a nebulous, monolithic “mythicists”.

      Consensus has no bearing on the arguments as evidenced by the fact that Bernier can safely bloviate without anywhere indicating he has ever read a mythicist argument. Bernier is simply justifying screening all criticism and remaining willfully ignorant of opposing arguments. His reasoning is complete nonsense: there is no “disqualification” in logical argument for dissenting elsewhere, there is no obligation to reject all popular conclusions in a particular field if we mount a logical argument against one, there is nothing so fundamental in any academic environment that it must be accepted unquestioningly.

      This dichotomous thinking and appeal to consensus as a barrier to shelter the field from dissent would be no less concerning if consensus favored mythicism.

      • 2016-10-04 18:15:58 GMT+0000 - 18:15 | Permalink

        The last two lines of Greg’s middle paragraph here are so well said that one would like to frame them. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant said that we should expect and welcome criticism and try to learn from it, that that should be part of our method, or words to that effect. We might ask, “Since when is it a tradition of an academic discipline to reject outright certain positions as heresy, assuming they are reasoned views?” When Ehrman, et al, lock arms and declare “heresy!” they resemble the medieval Church more than an academic discipline. One would think the example of Galileo, et al, would carry some weight. What is so striking about those who take this hieratical position toward dissent is that their position is so weak, so unexamined. There is really very little historical evidence for the existence of Jesus (whoever he might have been), and nowhere in the apologetics do you see an examination of all the evidence of fabrication. Such evidence is inherent in a story that is composed of miracle after miracle. It is in the content of the life of Jesus, as we have it in the gospels and the apocryphal works. These scholars want to cut all that away, and then go to work on the tiny little crumbs that are left, without considering what it means to describe a life that is largely composed of miracle-working. Yes, we have the Beatitudes, we have parables, but we also have authors who are willing to tell us that the miracles happened, and they are the life work of a certain person. And what does that tell us about the intent and purpose of the authors of these tales?

  • Blood
    2016-10-01 17:25:23 GMT+0000 - 17:25 | Permalink

    Bernier: “These days there is a peculiar myth circulating the internet, namely that Jesus never existed. It is peculiar, because it is evidently false to anyone actually competent to speak to the matter …”

    The irony here (which of course is completely missed by the author) is that 95% or more New Testament scholars do not have Ph.D’s in Ancient History, and therefore, by the academic standards he advocates, are *not* competent to speak on the “historical” Jesus (or anyone else from the ancient world). Theologians study theology, not history.

  • R Pence
    2016-10-01 17:36:40 GMT+0000 - 17:36 | Permalink

    I don’t expect anything of the Ehrman-Price debate. Price has already indicated that he sees it more as a conversation and won’t take an adversarial role. For Ehrman’s part, one need only look to his book on ‘mythicism’ (I’m still waiting for a better name; Price has floated ‘New Testament minimalism’) for his basic position. He won’t move far from the confused, incomplete book because that would mean disowning the book. I also rather think in his statement quoted in an earlier comment he’s being a little disingenuous: saying he’ll ‘re-read’ Price’s book(s) suggests he read them in the first place, which isn’t at all clear.

  • 2016-10-02 02:04:21 GMT+0000 - 02:04 | Permalink

    Gday all 🙂

    Why this emphasis on late dating of the Gospels as a core claim to the MJ theory ?

    Doherty accepts standard dates, Dr Carrier does too. I’m a JMer and I accept standard dates. This seems to be another example where the critics don’t really know the theory they are attacking (like the repeated falsehood that it’s based on a ‘lie’.)


    • MrHorse
      2016-10-05 01:17:30 GMT+0000 - 01:17 | Permalink

      I’m not sure that ‘ late dating of the Gospels’ is ‘a core claim to the MJ theory’.

      To some it’s a separate issues; to some it’s not.

  • Booker
    2016-10-04 17:11:39 GMT+0000 - 17:11 | Permalink

    It’s interesting that when you read the comments from McGraths blog they’re basically dominated by he and Tim O’Neill arguing down anyone who would suggest that their certainty of a historical Jesus is questionable, though their viewpoints are diametrically opposed (McGrath believing that the Gospels are true, while O’Neill argues that Jesus was a nobody and that the Gospel stories simply inflated his biography over time with perceived miracles). Regarding O’Neill arguments, he basically states that Jesus was just another nobody so we shouldn’t expect to have anything beyond minimal evidence of his existence, and that the Josephus passages and Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’ brother qualify, end of story, and anyone who dares think otherwise is a nincompoop. I have some problems with this.

    The TF is recognized as a forgery, and while it’s theorized that there was something else underneath that was later amended or supplemented, I don’t see why it’s not at least as likely that the whole thing was a later addition. Regarding the second reference in Josephus to “James, brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” O’Neill would argue that, along with the reference from Paul, that this wraps it up: if Jesus had a biological brother then he certainly existed. But James is not referred to by Paul as the brother of Jesus but as the “brother of the Lord,” and as Paul also mentions that other baptized Christians were considered “brothers and sisters of the Lord” this creates the possibility that “brother of the Lord” was a title, and that the idea that James was his biological brother could have been a later invention. So what about the second Josephus passage? If it were authentic it seems like it should line up somewhere with Christian lore, but it doesn’t. There is evidence that the author of Luke-Acts used Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, most evidently by the fact that he presents Judas the Galilean, Theudus, and the Eqyptian in mistaken non-chronological order, which just happens to mirror how they are provided by Josephus. So if Luke was using Josephus, and Josephus detailed the death of “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” then why is there nothing in Luke-Acts that mirrors the fate of the James that Josephus speaks of? It seems kind of odd that the non-Christian Josephus would know more about members of the “holy family” than would the early Christian writers. Unless he didn’t, and the passage was a later interpolation. Not to mention that the epistles, including the epistle of James, fail to identify James as the brother of Jesus, again suggesting that this was a later invention.

    So then we’re left with the Gospels, which are arguably fantastical literary inventions informed not by actual events but by scriptural and other literary sources. I fail to see the slam dunk for historicity.

    • VinnyJH
      2016-10-04 22:02:12 GMT+0000 - 22:02 | Permalink

      I fully agree that we cannot expect to have anything more than minimal evidence for Jesus’ existence, but I think it logically follows that we cannot have anything more than provisional certainty about the matter. Moreover, I can assure both James and Jonathan that my confidence in the dating consensus is greatly undermined by NT scholars’ ridiculous level of certainty on the historicity question.

    • MrHorse
      2016-10-05 01:14:34 GMT+0000 - 01:14 | Permalink

      [the author[s] of Luke-Acts presents] Judas the Galilean, Theudus, and the Eqyptian in mistaken non-chronological order, which just happens to mirror how they are provided by Josephus. So if Luke was using Josephus, and Josephus detailed the death of “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” then why is there nothing in Luke-Acts that mirrors the fate of the James that Josephus speaks of? It seems kind of odd that the non-Christian Josephus would know more about members of the “holy family” than would the early Christian writers.

      Good point^

    • Greg Gay
      2016-10-05 22:30:41 GMT+0000 - 22:30 | Permalink

      So if Luke was using Josephus, and Josephus detailed the death of “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” then why is there nothing in Luke-Acts that mirrors the fate of the James that Josephus speaks of? It seems kind of odd that the non-Christian Josephus would know more about members of the “holy family” than would the early Christian writers. Unless he didn’t, and the passage was a later interpolation. Not to mention that the epistles, including the epistle of James, fail to identify James as the brother of Jesus, again suggesting that this was a later invention.

      The Stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:43-8:2 sounds like an embellished version of the death of James from Antiquities 20.9.1, but the fact that it is not about James enforces your point, as Luke must have thought it was not the same James.

      My theory is that “the brother of the Lord” in Galatians is sarcasm related to a human who assumes the authority that should belong to the Lord in Paul’s mind. Galatians 5:12 is heavy sarcasm directed at the circumcision faction which had James sending people places in Galatians 2:11-12. In Galatians 1:1, Paul has an unusual bit about himself not being sent by human authorities but by Jesus and God. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says he didn’t get his knowledge from a human source but from Jesus, then specifies that he didn’t get anything from Cephas or James. He shows disdain for the “pillars” in Galatians 2:6 and identifies them three verses later as James, Cephas, and John.

      In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is defending the financial support he gets from the Corinthians, as if someone has suggested they not support him. He cites some scripture to defend his right to be paid for his work. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, he mentions “the Lord’s brothers” and three verses later, he brings up “human authority” in a rhetorical question that implies that he does not use it.

      • Steven C Watson
        2016-10-06 02:48:55 GMT+0000 - 02:48 | Permalink

        1 Corinthians 9 is the opposite of what you have:

        14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
        15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.

        Paul and his co-workers are supporting themselves. He’s a tent-maker by trade after all.

        19 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. – KJV

        He doesn’t want to be seen as a paid shill. Contrast Simon Magus in Acts.

  • Steve Ruis
    2019-08-25 15:08:28 GMT+0000 - 15:08 | Permalink

    So … Jewish scholars have arrived at a consensus that the Pentateuch is wisdom literature and not to be taken as historically accurate documents. This means the idea of Original Sin is just an idea and not an actual justification of the need for salvation. Since Original Sin is not “historical” what need do we have of a savior or even of being saved?

    But the accepters of an historical Jesus seems hell-bent (sorry for the pun) on preserving the teachings of said “savior.” But what are these teachings that are so precious? Absolutely nothing claimed to be a teaching of Jesus was not previously asserted by another (which is part of the evidence for the fictional nature of the character). In other words, Jesus had nothing new to say. Therefore “his” teachings are just repetitions of the teachings of others.

    So, why the fierce desire to hang onto an historical Jesus, especially when the claims for the existence of said “person” are so rife with error, e.g. the gospels must be believed because they independently support one another?

    I suspect that the uncertainty associated with the exposure of such a mistake of scriptural interpretation leads to a future that undermines their authority. Scholars hate being wrong.

  • Steve Ruis
    2019-08-25 15:16:21 GMT+0000 - 15:16 | Permalink

    Just another thought on these topics. If one argues for a later dates for the gospels and that argument is against the consensus opinion, then the consensus opinion is that they are earlier than claimed by the mythicists, no? If so, why do not the gospels claim better sources? If they were written early (the time of Paul?) would there not be people still alive who witnessed some of the events claimed? If I believed that god had actually walked the Earth, and had the means, I would have chased down any and all claimed associates and interviewed the heck out of them (they would all be at hand before the Roman War). Conversely, would not any of those close associates get a scribe to put their recollections on paper?

    How do early dates support the gospel narratives at all … unless they had better sources than if they were written later?

    • MrHorse
      2019-08-25 21:47:56 GMT+0000 - 21:47 | Permalink

      Regarding, “why do not the gospels claim better sources? If they were written early (the time of Paul?) would there not be people still alive who witnessed some of the events claimed? …would not any of those close associates get a scribe to put their recollections on paper?”, –

      Exactly. One would think there would be better accounts from the so-called Pillars; directly, via scribes, or even via Paul.

      But, nope, nothing, Nada.

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