2017-12-10

Why I don’t see myself as a Christ Mythicist

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by Neil Godfrey

Sometimes someone seems to expect me to argue a mythicist case, or accuses me of somehow hypocritically hiding my mythicist views. So let me make my view on the historicity of Jesus question clear.

If we approach the question of Christian origins the same way a historian would be expected to approach any other question, I believe we will begin with no a priori reason for working with the idea of the Jesus figure as historical.

After all, a number of biblical scholars see everything in the gospels as “mythical” and even the crucifixion as a heavily theological narrative that can have no historical reliability. They are not called “mythicists”.

Critical scholars who do not believe Moses existed are not called Moses Mythicists.

How many William Tell Mythicists have you heard of?

The gospels are of unknown provenance, authorship and date. Moreover, their narratives have no independent support for historicity. They are accordingly worthless as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

They might be based ultimately on a historical person but if so we cannot know anything about that so we simply cannot use them as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Without the gospels the contents of Paul’s letters are equally or even more problematic as sources for the historicity of Jesus.

The “secondary” (late) evidence is also seriously problematic for various reasons.

There is simply nothing to reliably point to a historical Jesus.

Contrast Julius Caesar or Socrates or any other person of some significance in ancient history. The evidence for such people is independently corroborated at some significant level, generally of known provenance, etc.

There is indeed much in ancient history that we cannot know for sure, that is not independently corroborated and that only comes to us through late sources, and I am on the side of ancient historians like M.I. Finley who do state that we simply cannot know about those times, persons, events as historians. Some historians ignore Finley’s advice but what they produce is a rewriting of ancient myths, one might say. It is not serious history.

A historian needs to start with sources that can be independently corroborated, tested and evaluated for their provenance, date, authorship. To the extent that is not possible with some questions the entire enterprise is compromised to a lesser or greater degree.

In other words, I see no reason a priori to think of the figure of Jesus as having a historical existence because all our earliest sources about him talk about a theological figure and are unable to be corroborated independently for historicity.

There might have been some David or Moses figure in the past but if so quite unlike the one we read about in the Bible. Scholars who do not accept the historicity of these figures are not called David or Moses mythicists and I see no reason to treat Jesus any differently.

We work with what we have, a theological and literary figure.

It’s not about negotiating a mass of detailed arguments over a handful of (problematic) passages in Romans or Galatians or Josephus, etc…. The question simply never gets off the starting block.

After writing the above on another forum I added the following.

The Mother of All Assumptions

The Mother of All Assumptions is that the gospels contain some historical nuggets or are gateways to discovering historical nuggets. That is nothing but an assumption without any sound methodological thinking or analysis to support it.

From that assumption we generate theories of oral traditions as sources; we generate all sorts of scenarios about what the historical Jesus thought or did or said; we rely fundamentally upon the myth of the gospel-Acts narrative of Christian origins. Most of what we do is tweak and have fun with variants of that myth.

Sound historical method opens up entirely different questions and pathways to explore.

Someone replied that surely the letters of Paul, Acts and Josephus are evidence, and another asked if I considered the gospels as evidence for Jesus being non-historical or mythical. I responded as follows.

Evidence of what?

Evidence of what? How can anything “serve as evidence” if it lacks independent corroboration and if we cannot know its original form?

Josephus is only evidence for what a text dated over a generation after the supposed event says. By normative standards of historical research that is not evidence for anything that happened 60 years earlier.

Are the gospels evidence that Jesus was mythical?

The question does not arise. There may have been a historical figure of Jesus behind the gospels but that’s beside the point because we can know nothing about him.

I think many scholars (certainly the more critical ones) see the gospel Jesus as “mythical” or certainly theological. He is obviously literary — that’s a tautology! That’s the only Jesus we have in the gospels. We have no other. Work with what we have. This has nothing to do with whether Jesus was historical or mythical. In the gospels he is evidently a literary character and we can do no better than work with that Jesus and attempt to understand the gospel origins and character — and the origins and character of that literary Jesus.

Anything else is simply chasing questions that are not historical in nature. The Pentateuch is not evidence of a mythical Moses or Balaam’s ass. Nor is 1 Kings evidence of a mythical Solomon or Elijah. The question simply does not arise in critical scholarship.

 

 

41 Comments

  • The Bomb
    2017-12-10 10:38:20 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

    I think we can be pretty sure Jesus is not an historical person. Paul knows everything about Jesus through scripture. And he tells the message about Jesus has been a mystery for ages which now has been revealed by God through scripture. Paul’s letters are the oldest Christian writings we know of.

    It is as if people a thousand years from now believe Harry Potter actually lived. If people of that time have books written by J.K. Rowling, they have enough information to determine Harry Potter is a fictional character created by J.K. Rowling.

    Paul is the J.K. Rowling of the gospel of Jesus. I mean, we have the source material.

    • Bob Jase
      2017-12-10 14:42:24 UTC - 14:42 | Permalink

      Notice that the twelve never won a quidditch game?

      • The Bomb
        2017-12-10 15:32:26 UTC - 15:32 | Permalink

        Yeah, but they did perform miracles and suddenly spoke in foreign languages.

        Neil Godfrey is way too shy when he calls himself agnostic regarding the question if Jesus ever lived.

        Now, there are people who say that behind some Jesus sayings there is an historical Jesus. But this is very unlikely. Sure you can find some real persons behind some Harry Potter quotes, not including J.K. Rowling herself. But these people are not Harry Potter.

        Regarding source material, for Christianity the situation is much better than for Islam. The Quran is the earliest Islamic document and contains no historical information, not enough to determine if Muhammad wrote it or if he even lived. All other Islamic writings don’t show up until after a century Muhammad supposedly lived. In such a case you can call yourself agnostic about his existence. There is some Christian near-contemporary data about Muhammad, but it contains very little. Muhammad might have been a spirit.

    • db
      2017-12-10 17:54:35 UTC - 17:54 | Permalink

      Per application of the traditional critical methodologies on Rowling’s Harry Potter, it is possible to strip away all the layers of Myth and Fabulation until you are left with a real—but insignificant—boy living in a closet.

  • Bob Jase
    2017-12-10 14:41:37 UTC - 14:41 | Permalink

    That’s reasonable but I get less reasonable daily.

  • Paxton Marshall
    2017-12-10 14:43:31 UTC - 14:43 | Permalink

    Imho, religionists should concentrate on the social and moral value of their traditions, rather than trying to defend problematic truth claims. In the west, the Judeo-Christian teachings of social justice, from Amos to the gospels has been a positive force for our moral development, in spite of the many appalling deviations of religious followers from those principles. The Bible remains far more relevant to human society than the Iliad, not because it’s more true, but because it presents a more useful social and moral framework. Yes, I know the Bible is full of horrible things, but without the truth claims, these can be written off as outmoded principles from an earlier period of our history.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-11 10:49:23 UTC - 10:49 | Permalink

      In the west, the Judeo-Christian teachings of social justice, from Amos to the gospels has been a positive force for our moral development. . . .

      So say the biblical religionists. I am sceptical.

  • Roger Lambert
    2017-12-10 15:57:07 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

    “The question simply does not arise in critical scholarship.”

    Lucky for those with a religion gig, because there are more than 2 billion Christians who cough up dues primarily because they believe their immortality rides on a thoroughly historical savior.

    Real historians should, imho, address the question with critical scholarship, and speak on the topic. We certainly can not depend on the theological “scholars” or the clerical community to do either.

  • db
    2017-12-10 17:35:12 UTC - 17:35 | Permalink

    Neil Godfrey:

    There might have been some David or Moses figure in the past but if so quite unlike the one we read about in the Bible. Scholars who do not accept the historicity of these figures are not called David or Moses mythicists and I see no reason to treat Jesus any differently.

    Did Neil just K.O. (knockout “sight unseen”) Gullotta’s forthcoming argument(s)?

    Per Daniel Gullotta’s “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts: A Response to Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt.” ‘Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus’ 15.2 [forthcoming].

  • 2017-12-10 19:09:11 UTC - 19:09 | Permalink

    The mother of all historicist assumptions is that there is a kernel of historical truth behind the story in the gospels, but the mother of all mythicist assumptions is that if Christianity was based on a dying-and-rising god mystery religion, then it would be too much of a coincidence if there was also a historical founder who was also executed. Although I do not subscribe to the overrationalistic view of that every set of beliefs had one remembered founder, I do not think it is much of a coincidence for there to have been an executed founder of a religion about an executed angel/god.

    The general epistemological problem is that you can prove that any number of small details about the gospel Jesus are mythical but that does not prove that the fictional character is not based on a real historical person. We can point to Carabbas or Jesus ben Ananus and say, look, those characters have aspects that were rewritten into the gospel narrative, but it would hardly be a coincidence if both Jesus ben Ananus and the gospel Jesus lived and one narrative was used for another. So the best litmus test we can offer is to try and find elements of Jesus that are too arbitrary to be symbolic fiction and which embody his historical core to the extent that if they go, he goes.

    Luke Timothy Johnson tries to boil it down to a few nuggests: He is the student of John the Baptist, except that the whole teacher from the desert was a popular literary trope, or he has named brothers in his hometown, except that those names match popular Galilean messianic figures from the time period and so would make sense symbolically. In my mind, however, the absolute core of the historical Jesus tradition is his death in Jerusalem. So the strongest evidence against the gospel Jesus being historical would be an almost identical narrative that came before the gospel about a Jewish savior figure who was executed as a scapegoat in Jerusalem on Passover. It would be too much of a coincedence for there to be two of those. Amazingly enough, there is such a narrative in both Josephus and the Talmud named Onias or Honi the Circle Drawer, and not only that, but his death is used to foreshadow Jerusalem being conquered by the Romans in the first century BCE in the exact same way the gospels use Jesus to foreshadow Jerusalem being conquered by the Romans in the first century CE.

    We all know that the Testimonium Flavian has a lot of problems, but having been written 60 years later would not have been one of them for me as long as he seemed to be to be drawing from a historical narrative instead of the gospel narrative he appears be you using. But what if it didn’t? What if Josephus had mentioned Jesus’ name in a more historical context? What if the narrative was what we would expect from the author? What if it was not wedged in a problematic spot? What if there was no evidence of Christian interpolation? I think we would have something a lot like the reference made by Mara Bar Serapion, who also talks about a “wise king” who was executed by Jews (not Romans) in the first century BCE immediately before the “their kingdom” fell, their “kingdom” being the Hasmonian kingdom, which exactly fits the Josephus narrative about Onias. This narrative, that Jesus was executed by Jews and not Romans are usually considered to be “late” interpolations motivated by anti-Semitism, yet that is the same narrative used the Talmud, the Toledot, and Epiphanius’ description of the “Nazoraean” heretics (the most embarrassingly suspicious name for a “heresy” of all time!). By an amazing coincidence, each of those sources also dates Jesus to the first century BCE and the Talmud and Toledot both agree his death was on the Passover. Both the Gospels of Luke and Peter show evidence of a prior source (John Dominic Crossan’s “Cross Gospel” and Delbert Burkett’s “Sanhedrin Trial Source”) that has Jesus killed by the Jewish people and not Roman soldiers. The head of the Sanhedrin, Simon ben Shetah, is named as the primary nemesis of both Yeshu in the Toledot and of Honi the Circle Drawer in the Talmud.

    The Honi or Onias Dynasty were the original Zadokite priesthood that was meant to control the Jerusalem Temple before they were ousted out by the Seleucid Empire, which fits into the narrative of the Parable of the Wicked Tenant (Mark 11:27-12:12) in which Jesus implies he has a secret authority over the Temple then tells the story in which a vineyard symbolizing the Temple is owned by the God and that its tenants killed his son. Mark 8:19-21 has a numerological code in which five loaves of bread turn into twelve baskets and seven loaves turn into seven baskets, which can be solved by plugging in the numbers of followers according to their historical appearance: five disciples of Yeshu, twelve apostles of Jesus, and seven table-waiting “deacons” of Acts 6:5. Likewise, the Gospel of Thomas talks about “24 prophets” of Jesus, but rather than that being a codenumber for the number of books in the Hebrew Bible, it makes more sense that they were counting two sets of twelve apostles, one being the twelve apostles that appeared in the first century BCE mentioned in the Toledot and the other set of twelve apostles from the first or second century CE. A cup engraved to “Chrst the Magician” from Alexandria has been dated somewhere between the the late second century BCE to the first century CE and is identical to other exorcist bowls that have Yeshu’s uncle, Yehoshua ben Perachiah, inscribed on them.

    I think most mythicists with the exception of Robert M. Price (and non-mythicist Stephsn Huller) make the exact same assumption about Paul that most Biblical scholars make about Jesus, which is: the earliest scripture on Jesus/Paul must reflect the historical Jesus/Paul because, without it, how would he have become popular in the first place? Earl Doherty relegated the epistles to the first century and the gospels to the second century. This fits a nice neat package where first century Christians believe in Jesus the angel/god and second century Christians are historical person. The problem is that we do not really need this dichotomy to see fix the contradictions between the Jesus of the epistles and the gospel Jesus if the first gospels were meant to be read as fiction and the first epistles were to be read as non-fiction.

    The Gospel of Mark has a saying in which Jesus says the world will end within a generation of the setting of the story. If we assume this saying was originally written in a proto-gospel with the same 30s CE setting, then a 40-year generation would bring the end of the world to the 70s, with the first Jewish-Roman war and the fall of the Temple, which is where all the symbolism is pointing, so the earliest Greek gospel is from the late first century. The earliest Christian documents are from Eusebus, who references the Gospel of Mark and a sayings gospel attributed to Matthew, but no epistles, supposedly from Papias in the 140s.

    Also, the first mention of either Paul or any of the Biblical epistles is from Irenaeus in the late second century. Irenaeus claims that the epistles are also in a Marcionite canon first written by Marcion in the 140s, but Ireaneus is also a giant liar and may have just assumed that a church’s canon was first created when the church was founded. Very suspiciously, Justin mentions a Marcion, but not a Paul, and his Marcion seems to be the leader of the “Marcians”, not the “Marcionites”. Irenaeus’ Marcion also sounds a lot like the heretical Mark from Alexandria who seems to also be associated with the Gospel of Mark, not to mention that Hypolytus himself implies the Marcionites believed that Marcion and Mark were the same person despite the fact that Irenaeus’ Marcion wrote/edited Luke, not Mark. Both Paul and the second-century Cynic Christian Peregrinus had a lot in common as well: they both got in trouble with Jewish Christians over kosher rules, both were visited by a female disciple (Thecla) who bribed her way into their jail cell, both were involved in a riot, both were compared to Socrates, and both helped the Romans persecute Jewish Christians. Acts 16:7 suspiciously has the risen Jesus ban Paul from going to Peregrinus’ hometown of Mysia for no explained reason and if an alternate reading of 1 Corinthians is to be believed, both were fated to burn to death (13:3 ESV). All of this is strong evidence that the epistles were originally written as fictional letters from Peregrinus in the late second century and were then re-purposed into a fictional Stoic founder of Marcionite “Chrestianity”, probably with Simon Magus in mind.

    My apologies for such a long comment!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-10 19:55:21 UTC - 19:55 | Permalink

      but the mother of all mythicist assumptions is that if Christianity was based on a dying-and-rising god mystery religion, then it would be too much of a coincidence if there was also a historical founder who was also executed.

      I don’t necessarily go along with the “dying and rising god mystery religion” explanation for the gospels but if we can identify a simple relationship or direct influence from the available evidence then there is simply no need to add another hypothesis, without evidence, that there was “also a historical founder . . .” It’s Occam’s Razor.

      • 2017-12-10 21:29:18 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

        Dennis MacDonald makes a pretty convincing case in his books “Luke and Vergil (2015)” and “The Dionysian Gospel (2017)” that Luke/Acts and The Gospel of John show significant literary dependence on Dionysus from Euripides’ “Bacchae.”

    • Tige Gibson
      2017-12-11 04:46:34 UTC - 04:46 | Permalink

      There’s no point looking for the lost password to open a vault which has already been robbed. If there happen to be secret codes in the Bible, the only people who would care that you were cunning enough to have found out are long dead and unable to initiate you into their secret court.

  • Timothy Graham
    2017-12-10 20:47:06 UTC - 20:47 | Permalink

    I’m interested in the scholarship of this blog generally – because I agree with your interpretative framework, given expression in this post in particular, that there is (possibly) no non-theological & merely historical material on Jesus in the gospels or Paul or anywhere else to allow us to get behind the theological & “mythical” presentation that we have in the gospels. This works both ways of course. Either Jesus is an all-too convenient invention of the milieu of the place and period; or else the full gamut of the Christian theological claims (God Incarnate, fulfilment of the prophets of Israel and the desire of the nations i.e. answer to all the Gentile myths of a dying god) is true. In either case the impression given by the story would be the same… a fantastically concentrated convergence of history and myth and meaning on one person. If there is an absence of outside evidence – for or against – there is strictly speaking no logical reason for one choice or the other, there is simply the coherence of the story as we have it and our decisive judgment as to whether or not this gospel story utters the truth of who I am, and what the cosmos is. I’m not trying to be provocative, I’m simply stating why people like me can often nod in agreement on reading what you write here about the sources, and go on their merry Christian way.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-11 10:19:15 UTC - 10:19 | Permalink

      There are other blogs more full-frontally undermining Christianity. I have nothing to add to them. I suppose I tend to think that if I had a better knowledge of what biblical scholars have really learned about the Bible I myself would not have fallen victim to the cult that kept me in thrall for so many years. I have had the good fortune of having had a reasonable education and also the opportunities to read a fair swathe of biblical scholarship so I decided that I might best put some small portion of my life to use by doing what I’m doing now.

      Yes, we each have our own journey. I cannot change anyone’s mind. I can only hope to offer some pointers to resources that might help some others at critical moments in their lives.

      • Tige Gibson
        2017-12-12 01:49:12 UTC - 01:49 | Permalink

        I don’t think that any amount of technical knowledge about the Bible would prevent anyone from becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a process of psychological breakdown. Facts are expendable for someone desperate for salvation.

        • Marty Lewadny
          2017-12-14 03:01:19 UTC - 03:01 | Permalink

          Like your comments there Tige — facts are irrelevant to those wanting salvation so much. I see the history of salvation on the part of christians as a very narcisistic enterprise ==== its all about me,, about me…how I can get saved, etc. nothing much concerned with the whole of humanity….. btw you may find some thoughtful things about this in a book I read 30 years ago or so by Krister Stendahl dealing with so-called personal salvation. i think it was Paul among the Gentiles and Jews or something like that, especially the idea of having one’s personal saviour which makes me want to vomit every time it comes up.
          cheers

          Marty Lewadny

          • Tige Gibson
            2017-12-14 04:23:57 UTC - 04:23 | Permalink

            I’m going to be very reluctant to accept at face value what any Christian says about how to interpret Scripture. There’s a huge blind spot in terms of motivations Christians cannot allow themselves to consider. NT is saturated with contempt for humanity complemented by equal flattery of a God who could have any consideration for us. Just reading the description of that book on Amazon I could tell the author has that wrong and it surely goes down hill from there.

            Presuming that Paul intended to create the Christian religion is like presuming that Trump intended to create whatever it is that is following him now. Desperation is a condition which opens all minds to whatever shit you want to shove into it.

            • Marty Lewadny
              2017-12-15 07:22:41 UTC - 07:22 | Permalink

              Hi Tige

              It must be made clear. whether christian or non-christian we have to use the same texts that are present to us and either position can be wrong or right if scripture is the playing field so to speak. both can even be wrong and quite often!! the history of hermeneutics proves this.

              Krister Stendahl was known as a great NT scholar and he simply tried to get other scholars and students to go beyond some sort of “personalistic” type views of theology, etc. rather than simply thinking about what Jesus did for me and is doing and will do …yada yada ya! You know how common that is.

              even when I was a christian I started to avoid such language. My own views wanted to stretch beyond such narcissism. (stendahl uses Martin Luther who set the trend for a lot of this jesus saved me narcissism…. mystery religons share this very personal salvation emphasis…not so much Judaism). But even if you can prove the universal nature of the texts and inclusive natures of the text (eg. Romans 9-11– sorry to be using texts. I am a trained exegete of these texts and find them interesting, but not convincing or compelling as to what is real,,,, these texts use words not to be nailed down as to any one meaning all the time,,(example Paul completely redefines who Israel is!!! —but words have to do with usage for the most part, depending on lots of factors. I am working on a present book on the satan and I hope to show how true this is in reference to the so-called satan.

              btw Tige I find it very interesting how Paul in contrast to the rest of the apostles has such an “intimate” or personal revelation of Jesus as recorded. I cor. 15 mentions all these appearances or received perceived revelations of the christic or ruling presence of Jesus.
              the statements there are all hearsay or second and third hand, except for Pauls. Not one testimony exists among the canonical texts as far as I know (there could be one I overlooked) that describe an individual experience of Jesus to them…btw the gnostic gospels and writings do….! So the best proof for gnosticism in the so-=called 1st century if so… would be Paul,,, btw the other apostles were pneumatic and gnostic as well!! (2 Peter is cool in this respect plus the gnostic writings of peter, phillip, etc etc show this ) I must admit that if Paul should be dated in the 2nd century. along with the book of Mark …obviously challengeable but that will only show how much theology is a language game and much more. I say that as someone who holds a 4 yr. degree in theology among other so-called credentials. I would say my former students are my credentials.

              look what these ancient texts have done to us!!! we love them …we hate them….we study them….we argue about them. If there is some sort of god it has something to do with language… sorry for the Derridian twist)..just playing….Derrida once said..In the beginning was hermeneutics…!! sounds like John 1:1 eh?

              take care Tige

              thanks for putting up with my twinkle twinkle little star reasonings of very complicated texts and theologies, etc. … smiles

              cheers

              Marty

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-12-15 16:42:18 UTC - 16:42 | Permalink

                I was actually working on a book several years ago, but the person who inspired me to write it demonstrated to me that he was not a Christian for any reason other than psychological problems and all the facts and technical details he obsessed over and expressed to me for many years before then were dispensable for the sake of maintaining his faith. So while I consider all these details interesting either way, anything you can prove will be completely irrelevant to any and every “devout” Christian.

                What you’re saying about Paul has to be taken in the context that Paul is a narcissist himself and that by asserting personal revelation he is trying to overcome the fact that he was not an apostle. Paul is basically saying, in Trumpish fashion, “I have the best experiences of Jesus!” He does this to such a degree that he doesn’t even mention anyone else’s experiences of Jesus, leaving us to wonder if Jesus even existed. It begs the question what soft of experience of Jesus the apostles actually had, since the apostles were the people Paul was trying to worm his way past. If all of them were necessarily gnostics, what more could Paul have done to emphasize his experience over theirs? Motivation, psychology, is what needs to be applied.

                If Christianity changed from gnosticism to a belief in historicity at a certain point, Paul’s revelatory experience would take a big hit compared to the apostles now “first hand” account of Jesus. I think the validity of Paul in the beginning was based on the fact that his experience wasn’t any less than the apostles until his works were pervasive, then when “historicity” became dominant the significance of Paul was reduced and replaced with the Gospels, now becoming the dominant “historical” account. The fact that the apostles didn’t offer any (contradictory) account that survived only lets us assume that historicity could not have developed until after they were all dead, including Paul, because even Paul would recognize that his own account would be reduced in that view, which no narcissist would allow. We would have seen him work against such historicity.

                The essence of what I’m saying is that Paul and the other authors aren’t just communicating theology, they are communicating their own mental state and we can therefore judge the order of events by the reactionary behavior of these minds and perhaps more importantly we can judge what could not have happened without eliciting specific responses from them.

  • Noah
    2017-12-10 20:57:16 UTC - 20:57 | Permalink

    From my research, it seems to me that most modern scholars and historians accept the existence of a man called Jesus who was baptized and crucified by the Romans. In fact, most history textbooks contain at least a chapter about Jesus and the social/revolutionary change he brought to modern day Palestine. The writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the elder, non Christian historians, all document the existence of some existing personage named Jesus. While the historicity of some writings disputed by few, the general consensus is that at least two basic elements of Jesus’ life are documented outside of the gospel.

    With this being said, I wonder why it is still valid to claim that Jesus did not exist or that he was a myth. It seems that denying Jesus’ existence is highly inconsistent with the conclusions of modern theologians, Biblical scholars, and historians. It could be equated with denying the existence of Socrates or Plato. I have yet to encounter any compelling evidence or lack of evidence for the non-existence of Jesus—much less a comprehensible argument.

    Earlier in the post above, Mr. Neil Godfrey, who I assume to be the author, poses in a somewhat incredulous question “How many William-Tell mythicists have you heard of?” as if it ought to display the irrationality of doubting the existence of such a historical figure. But I wonder if he has considered that doubting the existence of Jesus as a similarly well-supported and widely accepted historical figure has made him that which he has valiantly tried to distinguish himself from—a mythicist.

    • MrHorse
      2017-12-10 21:21:09 UTC - 21:21 | Permalink

      It is doubtful that many let alone most modern historians have investigated the existence or ‘historicity’ of the NT Jesus.

      The so-called references to Christ or Jesus in the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger are all problematic, as recently scholarly articles show.

      • Noah
        2017-12-10 21:40:39 UTC - 21:40 | Permalink

        How doubtful is it really? Would it be irrational to assume that if the accounts of Jesus as a historical figure appear in most high school and college textbooks, that the authors of such texts with doctorates in their field researched the historicity of Jesus or at least represented the opinions of most historians in the field?

        Two of the most mainstream historians today Maurice Casey (formerly Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina) offer stinging criticisms of the Jesus-myth theory. I could provide you with so many more examples of historians who have investigated the historicity of Jesus and denied the myth-based theory.

        But I am highly interested in these “recently scholarly articles.” I would be grateful if you could send me the links to these posts. I haven’t come across anything of the sort yet.

        Thanks for the response!

        • MrHorse
          2017-12-11 10:53:48 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

          Tacitus Annals was hardly referred to, if at all, for centuries. Single manuscripts turned up separately in 2-3 locations in the 12th-14th centuries, I think (in scriptoria in monasteries). The book that likely referred to most of the time of Jesus’ ministry – book V – is missing. Annals book 15 was part of one manuscript; the text suggested it was written in the 8th C. There have been propositions and arguments that all of Annals is a late forgery. It passed through the hands of a papal scriptor, Poggio Bracciolini.

          The specific text in question – 15.44 – is similar to a passage in the late 4th/early 5th C. ‘Chronicle’ of Sulpicius Severus. Arthur Drews (in The_Witnesses_to_the_Historicity_of_Jesus, 1912) thought that, rather than Sulpicius Severus’s ‘Chronicle’ being based on Annals 15.44, the reverse happened ie. Annals 15.44 was doctored to align with Sulpicius Severus’s ‘Chronicle’.

          Annals 15.44, as we know it today, is first about Nero, then about Tiberius and Pilate, then about Nero again. Jay Raskins has an interesting proposition that Tiberius and Pilate replace Nero and his underling Porcius Festus, and aligns that argument with things Josephus said in Antiquities 20:8.10 – https://jayraskin.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/294/

          ————-

          Regarding Letters X.96-97, about disturbances by Christians in Bithynia et Pontus, attributed to Pliny the Younger when he was the imperial governor, a recent study “suggests instead the presence of large amounts of interpolation inside the text of the letter, since its stylistic behaviour appears highly different from that of the rest of Book X” [quote from the abstract] –

          Tuccinardi, E (2017) ‘An application of a profile-based method for authorship verification: Investigating the authenticity of Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan concerning the Christians’ Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, (Vol 32, Issue 2, June 2017), pp. 435–447.

          —————

          Regarding Antiquities 18.3.3, aka the TF, –

          Ken Olsen’s 2013 chapter-article arguing that Eusebius ‘influenced’ the TF – ‘A Eusebian Reading of the ‘Testimonium Flavianum’ ‘ – https://www.academia.edu/4062154/Olson_A_Eusebian_Reading_of_the_Testimonium_Flavianum_2013

          Paul Hopper (2014) “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63,” in Monika Fludernik and Daniel Jacob, eds., Linguistics and Literary Studies: Interfaces, Encounters, Transfers, (2014: de Gruyter), pp. 147-169.

          Hopper thinks it is of a style a couple of centuries after Josephus.

      • Noah
        2017-12-10 21:43:48 UTC - 21:43 | Permalink

        And you are very right… It is Pliny the Younger. My apologies.

    • Noah
      2017-12-10 21:28:48 UTC - 21:28 | Permalink

      I’d like to briefly add on to my original comment having re-read the post above. Mr. Godfrey makes the claim that the writings of Josephus and the gospels lack “independent corroboration” or the ability to stand-alone as conclusive evidence (at least in legal terms). The issue with this claim is that the evidence for Christ’s existence should be considered less direct and more circumstantial. One must consider the multiple accounts for or against Christ’s existence as evidence that he could have existed given the circumstances of the accounts but not as direct forensic evidence. It is important to note that both kinds of evidence are regarded the same and received in a court of law.

      I’d like to conclude with the argument that the historical authenticity of Jesus is not dependent and should not be dependent on the chronology of the writings after his death. Just because an account is written a couple decades after a historical figure does not mean that the figure does not exist. Furthermore, Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Elder would have lacked any motivation to collaborate with the gospel writers. These historians support the historical existence of Jesus but they do not subscribe or replicate the faith-based claims made by the Bible.

      *Please excuse the typing errors in my post above. I would like to make the correction that Jesus was crucified but not baptized by the Romans and that there is more than one gospel account.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-11 10:45:06 UTC - 10:45 | Permalink

      From my research, it seems to me that most modern scholars and historians accept the existence of a man called Jesus who was baptized and crucified by the Romans. In fact, most history textbooks contain at least a chapter about Jesus and the social/revolutionary change he brought to modern day Palestine. The writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the elder, non Christian historians, all document the existence of some existing personage named Jesus. While the historicity of some writings disputed by few, the general consensus is that at least two basic elements of Jesus’ life are documented outside of the gospel.

      There is a difference between accepting a “historical figure” as a cultural inheritance and seriously seeking to determine the facts of history as a scholar. It is quite common and “to be expected” that authors will make reference to a figure of cultural inheritance as a time-marker, etc.

      No non-Christian historian, not even Tacitus or Josephus, “document” the existence of Jesus.

      Let’s step back a moment and look at the evidence. We have manuscripts that we believe can be traced back to X/Jesus. We have numerous reasons for raising questions of interpolation. But let’s pretend that all of these criticisms come to naught and that what we read in Tacitus and Josephus was original. I can only point to a more recent post of mine: The evidence of ancient historians

      You write, quite correctly,

      It seems that denying Jesus’ existence is highly inconsistent with the conclusions of modern theologians, Biblical scholars,____.

      Yes, indeed, my statement is “highly inconsistent with the conclusions of modern theologians, Biblical scholars”…. but I don’t know if we should add “historians” to that sentence. Please read my recent posts: The evidence of ancient historians and How “Biblical History” is Fundamentally Different From Other Historical Research.

      Earlier in the post above, Mr. Neil Godfrey, who I assume to be the author, poses in a somewhat incredulous question “How many William-Tell mythicists have you heard of?” as if it ought to display the irrationality of doubting the existence of such a historical figure. But I wonder if he has considered that doubting the existence of Jesus as a similarly well-supported and widely accepted historical figure has made him that which he has valiantly tried to distinguish himself from—a mythicist.

      I am confused, sorry. William Tell is not a historical figure. I assume readers know this.

  • Pingback: Vridar » Follow up questions to my post on not seeing myself as a “Jesus mythicist”

  • Marty Lewadny
    2017-12-11 05:48:23 UTC - 05:48 | Permalink

    Hi Neil

    As an independent biblical scholar (and someone who studied under some of the most brilliant scholars in the past),and one, who after a long and incredible career in this field is also now a non- Christian (and I still have a love-hate relationship to the Bible and Christianity –whatever such might mean) I am somewhat surprised that you would say that the NT documents are “worthless as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.” Are you saying that there is nothing of historical value there regarding all of its references to Jesus? Have you gone that far?

    My hunch is that it is somewhat of an overstatement. I have learned much from you and this incredible service you have provided to the world. I don’t want you to fall under the tyrade of terrible and nasty things said by Larry Hurtado( I know Larry when he lived here in Winnipeg, Manitoba). He is supposed to be a Pentecostal == what a joke !. I got fired from my teaching post in a college and seminary before doing my doctoral work at Marquette Univ. and was a Research and Teaching Fellow there under the support of Dr. Thomas L. Thompson and Dr. Joseph Lienhart in early christian origins and patristics. I had a dream to return to the school and become one of the first evangelical scholars in patristics. I received scholarships based on my work there. I ended up researching and teaching under the capable leadership of Dr. Sharon Pace Jeansonne in Hebrew scriptures. I hold degrees in theology, biblical studies and languages (Hebrew Aramaic, Greek (Koine, LXX, Classical, etc. , and early christian history. My advisor was Dr. Julian Hills from Harvard. For my research I started to begin begun working on the question of how the early Jewish christians ,etc. engaged in serious decisions of a religious and political nature without a Christian Bible ! or any substantial scriptures for that matter. I did not complete my diss. and still hoping too in a different school now. I had no more money and had to go back to work in jobs that eventually destroyed my physical body. Once I made it known I was no longer a believer, it got even worse. To tell you the truth I live in poverty today, and I am still hoping to make my research known to others. If it wasn’t for my loving family I would be worse off, yet they still struggle with the issue that I am now an apostate.

    With respect to Hurtado. I was fired from the school where I was teaching. I have never fully recovered from that and what that did to me and my family. I got fired for espousing what he said in an article a number of years ago and trying to implement this so-called truth among the people I led and taught as a professor and pastor. He said that the foundation of christianity was built on charismatic interpretation of scriptures and the experience of the spirit. I think this is true.

    I am so sad he has said the things he has said against real scholars. I am not surprised as well. He too is a slippery fish of a scholar and when you talk to him he hides behind status and concensus, etc. And he is in cahoots with Michael Bird too on such things. Btw if you watch the debate between Michael Bird and Bart Ehrman…Mr. Bird-Man as I call him weaseled in nasty comments about Jesus mythicism which had nothing to do with the debate itself. I have lost much respect for these men because they are very blind to the creepy influences of their religious and “safe” leanings into the scholarly debate.

    I myself, am hoping to get back into the public forum soon. Right now I am almost finished producing a brand new translation of the NT and a book on The Satan We Do Not Know. My NT translation is called Scribe and the Satan book is called The Deep Things of Satan: Deconstructing the Devil in the Christian Bible.

    Shortly after I was fired from my teaching post and in my view it was a very evil, yet an understandable event in some respects where I was teaching. Sometime I will share more.

    I have been very sick for the last couple of years but hope to make a comeback. If I can pull it off I will start an internet site soon entitled…. A.S.I.S =Ancient Scriptures Investigation Services. (sorry for the advertisement)

    Again, Neil and Tim as well. Thank you both for your work. I am very much for what you are doing here.

    I have spread the word about your site. I have shared these things to help others who read your blogs and research to let them know that there is a lot more out there for them to learn about the games biblical scholars and theologians play. Your work is a breath of fresh-air in a dusty, dingy and stinky place called Christian Theology.

    Sincerely

    Martin Lewadny
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    Canada

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-11 10:05:54 UTC - 10:05 | Permalink

      Hi Martin,

      Thank you for your open and frank comment introducing yourself. You’ve had an “interesting” time and I can relate to some of your experiences. I look forward to hearing more from you and your perspective, especially with your specialist knowledge.

      As for your question,

      Are you saying that there is nothing of historical value there regarding all of its references to Jesus? Have you gone that far?

      The short answer is “Yes” and the reason comes down to what I see as the stark divide between what passes for valid historical method among New Testament scholars on the one hand and the valid methods of historians in other fields. The gospels give us a narrative about Jesus but we have no independent controls by which we can establish the historicity of any of that narrative and its characters. A narrative cannot function as its own authenticating authority. We have no knowledge (only speculations) of the provenance of the gospels. If we set aside circular assumptions that lead to dating the gospels close to the year 70 CE we have no way of knowing at what points between 70 and 140 (or even later) the gospels were composed. (By “circular assumptions” I mean the assumption that the gospel narratives are based upon historical events and persons. How do we know the narrative was based on historical events? The authors would have been sincere, etc…. How do we know…. ? and so forth.)

      Yet we have clear evidence that informs us that the narrative was a series of adaptations of stories from the OT.

      Historians of ancient times do not read their literary sources in the same way as NT scholars read the gospels for historical information. In fact, renowned ancient historians like Moses I. Finley have sharply criticized their peers who naively assume that we can assume historical reality lies behind their narratives.

      I suspect your comment has been made close to when I was posting on this very question and I refer you to my recent posts, including How “Biblical History” is Fundamentally Different From Other Historical Research.

      I am sure such a post (and other recent ones on historical method) will prompt a range of questions in your mind. I do hope you challenge me with those questions.

      • Marty Lewadny
        2017-12-12 23:12:26 UTC - 23:12 | Permalink

        Hi Neil

        Thank you for your kind and clear response . I have learned so much from the work accomplished at Vridar. I fully understand your reasoned response. I think the necessity of external controls is important. Are these external controls necessary for every so-called piece of historical work == ancient or modern?

        I will read that blog of yours and get back to you with further questions.

        thanks for your encouragements as well.

        Marty

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-12-13 00:04:22 UTC - 00:04 | Permalink

          Are these external controls necessary for every so-called piece of historical work == ancient or modern?

          I think so. Take, for example, a birth certificate. That is a single document but it has authority because it contains data whose provenance we can trace and that stands as a contemporary control or witness to its authenticity. We can see the stamps, the signatures, the identifying designs, etc. that link it to a government or official body of the day that was trusted with maintaining such records. (Of course, it might be a forgery, too. If so, then we will need to ply various questions and tests to it to see if it really is Obama’s genuine birth certificate. But there are no guarantees in life against fraud and deception. That’s life.)

          Further, if a single source from ancient times can be judged as reasonably reliable in certain types of information on the basis of what we know about its provenance, author, and other independent controls that support a good number of its statements, then when we come across some information in that source that we cannot test, we may make a judgment that there is a high probability that it is true.

          But if the same document is found to contain a real mix of independently confirmed facts and wild fiction then we may be less confident in that probability.

          And so on and so forth.

    • Bob Moore
      2017-12-12 03:51:05 UTC - 03:51 | Permalink

      Marty, you said, “He [Hurtado] is supposed to be a Pentecostal==what a joke!” I take it you mean some kind of back-woods, tongues-speaking caricature of a Pentecostal. I know that he did four years at Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God, Pentecostal denomination school, graduating in 1965. I started there in ’65 and in ’67 and ’68 I enrolled in his classes. He had just returned to CBC from getting an MA at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

      I was impressed by his scholarship and his heart-felt display of affection—even in the classroom—for Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He pastored a church in Chicago for awhile and then got on teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada (’75-’78). He must have taken some of his Pentecostal interest with him to Regent. One of its founders, James Houston, emphasizes a “Spiritual” theology which sounds to me like a theology not far removed from Pentecostalism.

      I discovered that Larry went to Regent when I happened to be reading Clark Pinnock who was also teaching there (’74-’77). Pinnock’s interests—in addition to expositing a limit to God’s knowledge—included an attraction to Pentecostal thought. In a school as small a Regent, Pinnock and Hurtado must have had some mutual influences.

      I don’t know how much Pentecostal theology Larry took with him to Winnipeg, but if it’s as you say, “[that Larry says] the foundation of Christianity was built on Charismatic interpretation of scriptures and the experience of the Spirit”, then Larry is but a hair’s breadth away from espousing the understanding that Christianity owes its existence to revelations allegedly made to the apostles. What’s going on?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-12-12 05:26:35 UTC - 05:26 | Permalink

        My unfortunate personal experiences with pentecostals has led me to mentally associate them with arrogant, dogmatic, and rude types. (sorry)

      • Tige Gibson
        2017-12-12 16:18:07 UTC - 16:18 | Permalink

        “We’re not crazy because we don’t speak in tongues, play with snakes, or think the earth is flat.” It’s such a uniquely Christian rationalization for insanity.

      • Marty Lewadny
        2017-12-12 22:59:22 UTC - 22:59 | Permalink

        Hi Bob

        Nice to meet you and thank you for your comments. I used to enjoy listening to Larry Hurtado’s teaching and enjoyed much of it. Yes, I was being pejorative re: Hurtado because when I used to talk to him he seemed so disinterested in making any Pentecostal theology helpful to others.

        It was all about talking to scholars, not the church. I also had contact with Pinnock years ago as well. I got in trouble with my old dean and president for using his book The Scripture Principle . I like what he says in it — that christians don’t really like the bible they have so they try to change it.

        Hurtado’s books are interesting too and helpful. It is his increasing polemical and hurtful words on many issues and against many other scholars that really concerns me. I believe Neil has responded to many things he has said and I think he has hit the nail on the head regarding points of criticism.

        I am very sad and upset that both Hurtado and Bird and many others are poisoning the wells so much,without conscience or carefulness. I do not think that these men are aware of the degree to which their smug and safe scholarly stances have poisoned their own lives and scholarship. They won’t give up the gods made in their own images. I recall Meister Eckart once saying somewhere:

        “In order to find god you have to give up god”

        As a great mystic he has something there. I personally do not think anyone knows god or Jesus. I would take a stand like that based on the Gospel of John. (cf. Matt. 11 as well). If we cant’ recover who Jesus is or was or wasn’t then we can’t figure out his god either. Jesus clearly says in numerous ways that no one knows god except him and no one knows Jesus except the father. Pretty absolute in my view. Christians like to pick and choose what they want out of that gospel and use it absolutely on others, but leave out the stuff that applies to them. Btw check out the works of Joseph Turmel on this issue– a former rogue scholar in the Catholic Church who got found out and then was excommunicated == a brilliant man .. also going by the name Delafosie.

        I love the bible and also hate it in some ways given how it has impacted many (eg. gospel of John in particular). But every book in it was never addressed historically or personally to me so I have been able to relax much more than I used to with respect to that fact.

        As a former Charismatic and member of the Society of Pentecostal Studies I used to get quite upset at scholars who rarely wanted to bring their scholarship into the churches and preferred talking only to themselves. I got fired for trying to marry charismatic-pneumatic theology and practice with responsible scholarship when I was a professor and pastor. It turned into a mess at every level.

        I would obviously not see a need to do that now anymore. As a former pastor of charismatic congregations I am still appalled at the level of ignorance re: Christian history, theology, etc. that still exists in many churches. I am surprised as well that many fundamentalist and evangelical scholars have not seen the importance of what Hurtado and many other have said about the foundations of christianity, and fail to work out the implications of these things — either away from christianity into agnosticism and atheism or to take those foundations and ask more carefully about the implications of such things for personal living and church life.

        Bob, I think you might find an article by Hurtado in which he states his case, but only in a brief way. It may be in Neil’s site archives. Btw I think it dovetails with Carrier’s conclusions as well,yet both of these men are seriously at odds with each other and with many things re: christianity.

        There is still so much more for me to sort out given my de-conversion process.

        take care and nice hearing from you.

        Marty

        • Bob Moore
          2017-12-14 02:22:55 UTC - 02:22 | Permalink

          Neil, no need to be sorry about your sketch of Pentecostals. I know how practical it can be to generalize from our own experiences with people. It’s funny, though, how the proto-Pentecostal, Paul (who said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues”—1 Cor 14.5), like Hurtado, was one to fulminate against those who threatened the benefits contingent on keeping the faith. You’ll remember, for example, against those who threatened the freedom from circumcision requirements, he rather rudely thundered against such agitators that they should go the whole way and castrate themselves. In my opinion Hurtado sees himself as defending the faith against such agitators.

          But, “no joke”, Marty. From your quotes of Hurtado, it looks to me like in Winnipeg he was living up to the Pentecostal label. Maybe he has since backed off from Pentecostal theology. That might partly explain why he is now so opposed to the idea that early Christianity took root through revelation rather than through an earth-dwelling Jesus.

    • MrHorse
      2017-12-12 23:34:22 UTC - 23:34 | Permalink

      Hi Marty,

      The question of “how the early Jewish Christians ,etc. engaged in serious decisions of a religious and political nature without a Christian Bible, or any substantial scriptures for that matter”, is an interesting one.

      I’m interested in Hurtado having thought that “the foundation of Christianity was built on charismatic interpretation of scriptures and the experience of the spirit.”

      Was that what you were also espousing, at the time, when you got fired?

      Regards.

      • Marty Lewadny
        2017-12-14 01:32:56 UTC - 01:32 | Permalink

        Hi Mr. Horse

        I had thought I posted a lengthy response to your enquiry. I realize now it got erased somehow due to my not knowing a lot of blogging know-how. I will respond a bit more later. I think Hurtado is unaware that Carrier builds his own case on this foundation.

        scriptures
        spirit revelations

        eg. Most christians believe that christianity requires a physical resurrection to be “true” . Yet many of them personally believe they don’t need any proof except what the scriptures say and how they interpret them plus the revelational presence of the Christ spirit apparently working in their present life. They are being told by their pastors and church leaders/scholars that you are not a christian if you deny Jesus physical revelations of himself even though there is no ample proof.

        I came to Hurtado’s conclusion long before he did!! and I acted on it pastorally and ministerially.
        I never made a Pentecostal ass of myself in those settings and had some really weird experiences of a nature I am still trying to understand. I wanted to help both charismatics and anti-charismatics understand the texts but in many ways but neither wanted to learn what the texts were saying.

        I am also presently examining Paul’s writings to show that not only did he believe or say Christ is an angel, but he himself states he is angel. fascinating don’t you think. btw Paul believes he was turning into the christ angel!!! He is a very trance-state oriented man. see Gal. 2:20 and experiences states of disassociation! I am not living anymore but it is the christ spirit.

        Paul knows a lot about angels. why? He had some sort of consciousness that he was a pneumatic-man like Jesus. cf. galatians and his corinthian texts. that text in Galatians says that his children received him as an angel of God, even as Christ himself who seems to also be and act like angels do in the bible.

        btw i think is a serious exclusion that most nt scholars cannot see that every major event and
        christian dogma in the Nt angels are present. birth, resurrection, ascension, etc. etc of Jesus==even the giving of the torah. see Galatians. It is interesting to note as well that when paul says in galatians that if any other angel proclaims anything to you then that angel is to be judged and cursed (paul as an angel believes he himself and others will judge angels.

        So if angels can take on temporary flesh (so many Ot and Nt texts show this). btw even paul’s arguments in galatians say abraham’s faith is connected to angels as well, even though the texts talk about them as “men” as well. see Gen. 18 .

        I am also working on a book on the satan. I think the close correlations between Jesus and the satan in the Nt….coincide with zech. 3:1ff. Jesus or Joshua faces the satan and this is clear to in the Nt. Christ or Joshua as angel-spirit vs. the satan as angel or spirit.

        there is so much more to say but got to go. One point is clear to me. the nt and paul himself doesnt care too much about any flesh-based Jesus or christ. cf. 2 cor. 5:16 and christianity flourished without a historical Jesus. Hurtado and his ilk just can’t see this. christianity if a spirit-based religion, not a historical one.

        talk to you again Mr. Horse. if you want to email me try thricehermes@gmail.com

        cheers

        Marty Lewadny

        1

  • Marty Lewadny
    2017-12-14 03:05:59 UTC - 03:05 | Permalink

    Like your comments there Tige — facts are irrelevant to those wanting salvation so much. I see the history of salvation on the part of christians as a very narcisistic enterprise ==== its all about me,, about me…how I can get saved, etc. nothing much concerned with the whole of humanity….. btw you may find some thoughtful things about this in a book I read 30 years ago or so by Krister Stendahl dealing with so-called personal salvation. i think it was Paul among the Gentiles and Jews or something like that, especially the idea of having one’s personal saviour which makes me want to vomit every time it comes up.
    cheers

    Marty Lewadny

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