Just what do you mean… HISTORICAL JESUS?

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by Neil Godfrey

Fellow-former members of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God will recognize that cult’s influence in the title. (It is tongue-in-cheek, an in-house joke.) It came to me after reading the following by PZMyers:

Now I have to recalibrate. What does “Jesus mythicist” mean? Apparently, rejecting the idea of the Son of God wandering about Galilee, and thinking that many of the tales that sprang up around him were confabulations, does not make one a Jesus mythicist. I also don’t know what the “historical Jesus” means. If I die, and a hundred years later the actual events of my life are forgotten and all that survives are legends of my astonishing sexual prowess and my ability to breathe underwater, what does the “historical PZ” refer to? Does it matter if my birth certificate is unearthed (and framed and mounted in a shrine, of course)? Would people point to it and gasp that it proves the stories were all true <swoon>?

Exactly. What do we mean by “historical Jesus” in any discussion about him, most especially the very existence of such a figure. (PZ begins by asking what Jesus mythicist means and that’s a good question, too. Most critical scholars, at least among the critical ones I have read, would say that the gospels do present a mythical Jesus, a Jesus of myth. The quest, they would say, is to find the “historical Jesus” behind the “mythical Jesus” of the gospels.

So we return to my previous post and I have thoughts of revising the conclusion of it to discuss the idea of definition more explicitly. Others may disagree but I think we can replace the concept of “reference class” with “definition”.

Outside the more fundamentalist-leaning believers few people would believe the historical Jesus is the Jesus of the canonical gospels: a miracle working, water-walking, temple-cleansing power who instilled such fear and jealousy among the leaders that they had him crucified, etc.

Many say something quite the opposite, that he was someone who was essentially a nobody that no-one was particularly interested in apart from a few village followers — hence we have no record of him until the movement his followers started somehow remarkably reached a critical mass that included gospel-writing literates who recorded how this nobody was remembered as the turning point in human history.

In general we have those two theories of historicity, the reductive theory (Jesus was an ordinary but obscure guy who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him) and the triumphalist theory (the Gospels are totally or almost totally true).

Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 30

The “reductive theory” confuses me sometimes, though. Some of those who say he was a “local nobody” also say that he was a political rebel not very unlike other political rebels (or maybe a prophet of “the great tribulation” before “the wonderful world tomorrow”) we read about in the Jewish historian Josephus, and who therefore was not so obscure at all. For some reason Josephus did not speak of this Jesus in the same way he spoke of other political rebels or apocalyptic prophets who met their demise at the hands of Roman power, but spoke of him as a good man without any hint of him having political ambitions or rebellious modus operandi — even though Josephus is typically hostile to all other political and religious outsiders. Nonetheless, that is the “definition” of historical Jesus that some critical scholars embrace. (For those not familiar with the arguments, they believe this to be what Jesus “must have been” because that’s the only way they can understand how he came to be crucified as a supposed claimant to be king of the Jews. Of course that leads to another question that they then must grapple with: why did the Romans in this one case execute the leader and ignore his followers?)

Notwithstanding the logical problems that surface with either definition — that he was a nobody who made no ripple in the history of his own day; that he was a political rebel who supposedly made a notice in Josephus unlike his portrayals of any other political rebel — these are the commonly advanced depictions of what is meant by the “historical Jesus”.

But scratch the surface of historical Jesus studies and we find that there are many more views on what this historical Jesus was.

So the quest at the turn of the millennium is characterised by the production of different ‘types’ of figure which more or less plausibly capture the Jesus of history:

the Jewish ‘holy man’,70

the rabbi,71

the Pharisee,72

the Galilean peasant,73

the Cynic philosopher,74

the social revolutionary,75

the sage, the seer,76

the prophet of the end-time,77

the true Messiah.78

70  Vermes, Jesus the Jew and The religion of Jesus the Jew.

71  Chilton, Rabbi Jesus.

72  Maccoby, Jesus the Pharisee.

73  The Jesus Seminar and Crossan, The historical Jesus.

74  Crossan; and Downing, Christ and the Cynics.

75  Horsley, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs and Jesus and the spiral of violence.

76  Witherington, Jesus the sage and Jesus the seer.

77  Sanders, Jesus and Judaism and The historical figure; Allison, Jesus of Nazareth; Ehrman, Jesus.

78  Wright, Jesus and the victory of God.

Mitchell, Margaret M., and Frances M. Young, eds. 2006. The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 23 (my formatting)

This brings us to the question why so many scholars using the same methods on the same materials have ended with such wildly divergent portraits of Jesus. To list only a few that have emerged:

Jesus as romantic visionary (Renan),

as eschatological prophet (Schweitzer, Wright),

as wicked priest from Qumran (Thiering),

as husband of Mary Magdalen (Spong),

as revolutionary zealot (S.F.G. Brandon),

as agrarian reformer (Yoder),

as revitalization movement founder and charismatic (Borg),

as gay magician (Smith),

as cynic sage (Downing),

as peasant thaumaturge (Crossan),

as peasant poet (Bailey),

and as guru of oceanic bliss (Mitchell).21

21 S.G.F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots (New York: Scribner’s, 1967); J.H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1973); G.F. Downing, Christ and the Cynics: Jesus and Other Radical Preachers in First-Century Tradition (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988); Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Life, where the thaumaturgic element is stressed much more; K.E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983).

The common element seems still to be the ideal self-image of the researcher. It is this tendency that led T.W. Manson to note sardonically, “By their lives of Jesus ye shall know them.”

Johnson, Luke T. 2013. Contested Issues in Christian Origins and the New Testament: Collected Essays. Leiden ; Boston: Brill. p. 8 (my formatting)

Now back to the question of whether or not Jesus was historical. From the above we see that we will need to select one from many definitions of “historical Jesus” before we can pursue that question.

Perhaps the only way is to take each one in turn and ask then explore the question once more for each type of historical Jesus.

Yet it is evident that the scholars themselves cannot agree with any one definition or we would not have such an array of definitions on the bookshelves. To show that the evidence poses more problems for any one of those Jesuses won’t be enough to argue that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist.

For this reason Richard Carrier reduces the concept of “historical Jesus” down to a “minimal Jesus” that will hopefully cover all of the above views of Jesus.

1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.

2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.

3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).

(Carrier, OHJ, p. 34)

I like #1 since it allows for the “historical Jesus” only being named “Jesus” “at some point” and not necessarily being known as Jesus in his own life-time. (Charles Guignebert raised questions about the likelihood that “Jesus” would really have been named “Jesus”. More recently the classicists John Moles addressed the symbolism in the name at the time thus at least provoking once more the reasonableness of asking the question.)

To return to the point of my previous post, I think it is quite possible and justified to replace the Rank-Raglan reference type with the minimal historical Jesus defined in three points above. What that would mean in the ensuing course of the investigation is pitting that minimal Jesus as “the best explanation” of certain evidence against an alternative possibility, that a Rank-Raglan mythical archetype is “the best explanation” for that evidence.

What I think the RR reference class does is avoid beginning with either a minimal historical Jesus or a minimal mythical Jesus and instead begins with the Jesus we can all agree we see today: a Jesus who has come to look very much like a mythical archetype. Even most critical scholars in historical Jesus research, I believe, agree that the Jesus we are faced with in the gospels and church tradition is a mythical construct. That is not in question except among fundamentalist or apologist believers.

When anti-mythicists complain that a mythicist is unfairly pointing to the mythical Jesus of the gospels as not being historical they are in fact saying the obvious that even historicist scholars all acknowledge.

The point is to find the best explanation for that mythical Jesus in our evidence. Is it best explained by Chinese whispers steadily augmenting the feats of a very ordinary man?

I suspect Richard Carrier would not mind disagreements over his use of the RR classification if the alternative approach to the investigation of the best explanation of the evidence at the end of the day balanced all the options against all of the evidence and background knowledge.

Such are my thoughts at the moment, still fluid, not yet frozen.



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29 thoughts on “Just what do you mean… HISTORICAL JESUS?”

  1. Based on the total lack of evidence I’d say the ‘historical’ Jesus is more mythical than the mythical Jesus who at least has stories written about him.

  2. Comment by Richard Carrier (July 10, 2018) per Carrier (28 June 2018). “Then He Appeared to Over Five Hundred Brethren at Once!”. Richard Carrier Blogs:

    [Per Paul writing in the 50s BC, not AD] if we didn’t have the Gospels and Acts imagining a 30s AD date for the religion’s origin, or if we decided to reject that as fiction —[then] Paul’s letters are more or at least as congruous with the Hasmonean date for the origins of Christianity
    There is nothing in Paul that argues against that; we only oppose it on the grounds that the Gospels and Acts don’t seem to know this (or are lying about it); although that’s in effect what the Talmud entails, since it places the death of Jesus precisely in the Hasmonean period (in the 70s BC, twenty years after which is the 50s BC), as did, it seems, the Nazorian sect (if that’s how we should read Epiphanius; at any rate, Epiphanius describes an argument for dating Jesus to the 70s BC, wherever that came from or whatever reason he inserts it into his account of the Nazorians). See, again, Ch. 8.1 of On the Historicity of Jesus.

  3. I think that the historical Jesus is so strictly connected with Pilate that the more simple definition of “historical Jesus” is: a Jew crucified by Pilate and meant by Paul behind his hero.

  4. I really appreciate the work and thought that has gone into this question. The dimension to it which I believe is not being given the necessary attention is the fraud aspect. Why was the NT written ? As with all mass media coverage and propaganda issues, vital clues appear when we “follow the money”. Winners write history. The Roman empire and Roman Catholic “church” come up as those in control and who stood and stand to gain the most by maintaining the myth. Widely attributed to Pope Leo X “All ages can testifie enough how profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie.”

    1. We meed to keep in mind that the gospels, most notably the first one, Mark, were written long before the emergence of what looks like our orthodox Roman church. It is often pointed out that the “proto-orthodox” collected diverse gospels from different factions in order to attempt some form of unity/catholicism. (Or perhaps our canonical version of Luke was written as an attempt to unite different traditions.) The letters of Paul were supplemented with “deutero-Paulines” that supported more proto-orthodox ideas that were alien to anything Paul advanced.

  5. I am missing the typology given by Celsus about the figure of Jesus.
    He contended that Jesus was a sorcerer who played illusionist tricks on the credulous folk of Galilee:

    ‘the works of sorcerers who profess to do wonderful miracles, and the accomplishments of those who are taught by the Egyptians, who for a few obols make known their sacred lore in the middle of the market-place and drive daemons out of men and blow away diseases and invoke the souls of heroes, displaying expensive banquets and dining tables and cakes and dishes which are non-existent, and who make things move as though they were alive although they are not really so, but only appear as such in the imagination.’

    Morton Smith took that testimony serious in his “Jesus the Magician”.

    In my opinion it is the best plausible description that jumps out of the text of gMark, but the satirical nature of that gospel makes me doubt it’s a description of a historical figure, a character of fiction fits the bill better.

      1. Did Morton Smith really say he was gay? I don’t remember reading that in his book, but I have an old edition. Can you direct me where to find that statement?

        1. No, but plenty of other critics of Morton Smith accused him of suggesting that Jesus was gay, mainly as a result of his discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark and its suggestive depiction of Jesus’ meeting with a young man at night. Critics were quick to argue Smith forged the document and, because he never married, accused him of homosexuality, too. I suspect Luke Timothy Johnson, who might justly be categorized as an apologist, has taken unfair liberties with some of his summaries, not the least Smith’s.

          1. • Smith, Morton (1978). Jesus the Magician. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-067412-0.

            • Johnson, Luke Timothy (1999). “The Humanity of Jesus: What’s At Stake in the Quest for the Historical Jesus”. In Crossan; Johnson; Kelber. The Jesus Controversy: Perspectives in Conflict. A&C Black. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-1-56338-289-5.

            Kermode, Frank (26 October 1978). “The Quest for the Magical Jesus“. The New York Review of Books.

            [Per the] Carpocratian claim that the text [in Mark] contains the words gumnos gumnou, which would suggest that both parties were naked. Smith argued that we are here getting a glimpse of some practice censored in the Gospel as we have it, and considers the possibility that it was libertine and homosexual…

          2. The end of ch.12 of Smith’s ‘Secret Gospel’ : “Freedom from the law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This certainly occurred in many forms of gnostic Christianity; how early it began there is no telling.”

            This was Smith merely being playfully provocative, deliberately baiting the tenured apologists – masquerading – as – scholars who he depised.

            His ‘Magician’ (which does not depend on the ‘Secret Mark’ text.) remains a wonderfully elegant hypothesis. In demonstrating a social type who could make divine claims, it dissolves the historical Jesus / Christ of faith antithesis, in a way that has enraged NT apologists both liberal and conservative. Thus has developed a whole cottage industry devoted to trashing his reputation and misrepresenting his ideas; academic behaviour not unknown to you, Neil !

            1. Yeah, it was a good hypothesis, but he missed the satire so he solved only half. Mark portrayed Jesus as a confidence trickster. His miraculous feats are painted as either downright fraud or accidental misunderstandings that enhanced his reputation unintentionally(even more ironic). Even his supposed death on the cross was turned into a hilarious but not exactly miraculous escape in the nick of time. Mark is a satirist, and a damn good one with almost cinematic jaw dropping qualities. Some of his pericopes are pure slapstick(the lame dude coming through the roof my favourite), others are particularly clever(Jesus failure at his home town is so brilliantly placed). The passion is just a feast of hilarious jokes and there is a happy end because the scoundrel escapes death in the end.

  6. Dr. Robert M. Price writes:

    It is not as if I believe there is no strong argument for an historical Jesus. There is one: one can very plausibly read certain texts in Acts, Mark, and Galatians as fossils preserving the memory of a succession struggle following the death of Jesus, who, therefore, must have existed. Who should follow Jesus as his vicar on earth? His disciples (analogous to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who provided the first three caliphs)? Or should it be the Pillars, his own relatives (the Shi’ite Muslims called Muhammad’s kinsmen the Pillars, too, and supported their dynastic claims). One can trace the same struggles in the Baha’i Faith after the death of the Bab (Mirza Ali Muhammad): who should rule, his brother Subh-i-Azal, or his disciple Hussein Ali, Baha’Ullah? Who should follow the Prophet Joseph Smith? His disciples, or his son, Joseph, Jr.? When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died, Black Muslims split and followed either his son and heir Wareeth Deen Muhammad or his former lieutenant Louis Farrakhan. In the New Testament, as Harnack and Stauffer argued, we seem to see the remains of a Caliphate of James. And that implies (though it does not prove) an historical Jesus.

    And it implies an historical Jesus of a particular type. It implies a Jesus who was a latter-day Judah Maccabee, with a group of brothers who could take up the banner when their eldest brother, killed in battle, perforce let it fall. S.G.F. Brandon made a very compelling case for the original revolutionary character of Jesus, subsequently sanitized and made politically harmless by Mark the evangelist. Judging by the skirt-clutching outrage of subsequent scholars, Mark’s apologetical efforts to depoliticize the Jesus story have their own successors. Brandon’s work is a genuine piece of the classic Higher Criticism of the gospels, with the same depth of reason and argumentation. If there was an historical Jesus, my vote is for Brandon’s version. (Robert M Price, The Quest Of The Mythical Jesus)

  7. I probably didn’t give this discussion enough coverage in my new book to be honest. I should have gone into this more.

    What my work shows is that the Gospels are not in any way at all based on the life of a real person, other than being based loosely on the life of Paul. So what my work shows is that the Gospels themselves are actually evidence AGAINST the existence of a historical Jesus when properly understood (deciphered).

    When one talks about the prospect that Jesus was some little known rebel, etc. this makes no sense at all.

    When we read the letters of Paul, and even the Epistle of James, there is no explanation for how someone who had no teachings and did nothing would be worshiped and talked about the way that Paul and James talk about him.

    What my work shows is that we do not have ONE single description of ANYTHING about Jesus. NO teachings of his and deeds of his. I show the sources of all this material and show what it comes from existing literature that is known to be of other origins.

    The Epistle of James spends 2 pages talking about the importance of works and gives only examples of figures from the Jewish scriptures. This shows that James didn’t attribute ANY works to Jesus! James describes no teachings of Jesus. Paul describes no teachings of Jesus. Paul describes no actions of Jesus.

    Why would Jesus have been worshiped? Keep in mind that this wasn’t mere reverence, we are talking about the belief that this was the one true savior of the entire world, who had conquered death, who had the power to completely overthrow the heavenly rulers of the material world and who could destroy the entire world and create a new perfect immaterial world in heaven.

    How can some local nobody be viewed as such a being?

    No one can point to any actions or teachings that would lead people to worship a human Jesus and if they try to, I’ll show them the evidence that proves Jesus never did or said what they are claiming.

  8. Hi R.G Price. I like your question–“Why would Jesus have been worshiped? ”
    Larry Hurtado’s work has tried to answer that question and even though history shows the early Christ followers worshipping him, it is still an interesting question given that Paul, our earliest interpreter of “the Jesus stuff” shows little or no knowledge of such “earthly” reasons for such worship.

    It comes down to Paul and others thinking and experiencing that He did something “miraculous” for them “in the human context”. ie “saved” them from sin and shame….big things in Paul’s theology.Jesus’ the spirit or his “spirit” was powerfully experienced in various ways. The alleged Pauline Hymns highlight the worship element and are packed full of theology, not history.

    Moreover, the worship of Jesus seems to be contaminated by serious “doubts” in Matthew’s version . Matthew 27 as I recall. There is a clause there that should not be translated…”and some doubted”… but “and they doubted”. There was a mixture of belief and unbelief…a double-mindedness to what they were experiencing in front of them. The apostles are of two minds so to speak,torn in their encounter regarding their perceptions of Jesus.

    As you point out too, it is quite striking that even James, the alleged brother of Jesus says nothing of his brother’s earthly life in his epistle. It is more a Jewish document than “Christian” document.

    Such silence in both Paul and James and elsewhere among the epistles is quite a problem and cannot be simply answered with the common apologetic… Yes, they all knew Jesus did this and that and this and that, but they didn’t need to tell anyone about this or that because it was already common knowledge and they were more interested in unpacking the theological and ethical implications of his life and ministry. But the sheer amount of silence in all the letters is too much for me to hide behind such and evasion.

    I would like to hear better explanations for such extensive silence from the apologists. It is just too pervasive in most of our documents. And I do not want to get into the silly debate about absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

    Let’s just say for a moment that 2 Cor. 5:16 did suggest that Paul could have believed there was a flesh being named Jesus. He does not give it the time of the day and thinks it should be transcended…ie. not important anymore….!! So then why all the bitching today about Jesus really existing on the part of the apologists. Paul thought that one should move beyond that point. Are the apologists willing to do that.

    Moreover, I would like to ask anyone here, believer or non-believer in Jesus historical existence, how Bart Ehrman can believe that Jesus was both historical and an “angel” at the same time in his reasoning. You must read his book How Jesus Became God..In that book he comes out in defense of Jesus being an angel!! running around in the 1st century. And Hurtado doesn’t believe in angels or gods!!! Contra to Hurtado and a whole lot of other scholars!

    Thoughts anyone?

  9. And furthermore, all the earliest talk about why Jesus is special is *because* he had “conquered death” via resurrection after his crucifixion. Like that’s “the reason” that he is worshiped.

    If we assume that any real Jesus didn’t actually “conquer death”, then how does any of this make sense?

    And why would Paul think that Jesus was in heaven?

    If Jesus was a real person then at best he would have been someone who was executed by either the Jews or Romans and his body buried or thrown into a mass grave and that would have been the end of him.

    There would have been no resurrection and certainly no bodily ascension to heaven.

    Why would Paul think that Jesus was in heaven in such a case? He would have been rotting in the ground for all to know.

    And according to Paul’s worldview, when people died they “slept in the earth”, they didn’t “go to heaven” after death.

    For Jesus to have gotten to heaven would have required something more than mere death unless of course he was a heavenly being to begin with.

    There is just nothing to explain how a mere executed rabble-rouser become worshiped in the manner that all of the earliest sources show Jesus was worshiped.

    1. A mere rabble rouser? Wouldn’t that term be more applicable to Jesus Barrabas? You know, the Jesus that Christians like to pretend wasn’t one & the same as theirs?

      I’d love to see what documents the early church destroyed could have shown us.

  10. Sorry folks,I have to make an apology for noting the wrong name in one of my paragraphs from my last submission..here..

    “Moreover, I would like to ask anyone here, believer or non-believer in Jesus historical existence, how Bart Ehrman can believe that Jesus was both historical and an “angel” at the same time in his reasoning. You must read his book How Jesus Became God..In that book he comes out in defense of Jesus being an angel!! running around in the 1st century. And Hurtado doesn’t believe in angels or gods!!! Contra to Hurtado and a whole lot of other scholars!”

    I meant to say Ehrman doesn’t believe in angels or gods! Most likely Hurtado is a believer in some sort of god, Jesus, angels, etc.

    But I would like to know if anyone has approached Ehrman on this issue.

    Thoughts anyone?

    1. The first Christians were reporting visions of the risen Jesus (as encapsulated in the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed) that they interpreted as Jesus being the “first fruits” of the general resurrection harvest of souls at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:23 ). They were basically saying (if you believe them) something about the “risen Jesus encounters” prompted them to believe the eschaton was at hand, and this was the message they were going around selling trying to win converts.

    2. Bouma, Jeremy (27 March 2014). “The Early High Christology Club and Bart Ehrman — An Excerpt from “How God Became Jesus”“. Zondervan Academic Blog:

      In contrast to the thesis of Ehrman and others that a “high Christology,” which identified Jesus as a fully divine figure, was an evolutionary development
      . . .
      [Martin Hengel, Larry Hurtado, and Richard Bauckham] argued for something more akin to a “big bang” approach to the origins of a fully divine Christology. Several scholars have asserted that the first few decades of the church saw the rise of a form of devotion and types of christological confession that clearly placed Jesus within the orbit of the divine identity.

      Ehrman, Bart D. (2002). “Lecture 19: The Rise of Early Christian Orthodoxy”. The Great Courses: Lost Christianities Guidebook:

      Early Christianity appears now to be widely diverse, not basically monolithic, as Eusebius would have had us believe. This can be seen in our very earliest sources.

      Carrier (22 March 2015). “Bart Ehrman on How Jesus Became God”. Richard Carrier Blogs:

      [Ehrman] admitting the first Christians regarded Jesus to be a preexistent divine archangel lends unexpected support to mythicism. As many mythicists have been arguing this very point for decades now. And Ehrman can’t have that. So he wants to have it both ways, and throughout the book he tries to argue both that high Christology started right out of the gate, and also that it developed over time. . . . that Christianity “must” have started with a low exaltation Christology (because historicity is in serious trouble if it didn’t)…

  11. Yeah, the whole “high Christology” / “low Christology” thing makes no sense and as Carrier points out, leads to problems as soon as its even acknowledged anyway. Because the problem is that as soon as you acknowledge the early existence of “high Christology” the early Jesus becomes irrelevant.

    And as I say in my book, I think the core theology of “Christianity” from the beginning was the idea that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and had to be destroyed so that a new immaterial world could be created in heaven.

    To me, this was the distinguishing feature of the earliest Jesus cult, that there was need for a new heavenly immaterial world and the role of Jesus was to create this new immaterial world. So, from the beginning, the role of Jesus was the one who would overthrow the demons of the lower heavens who controlled the material world, destroy the material world, and create a new immaterial heavenly kingdom for the righteous.

    A human being has no role in this. This is a cosmic drama. Now, why was Jesus not Enoch? Because really this is basically Enoch’s role. Well, because Enoch was not the messiah.

    Jesus, IMO, is a Recasting of Enoch in a messiah role, and also, of course, Jesus was said to have existed eternally, which Enoch did not. Why was his name Jesus? I don’t know. Why was his name anything. No matter what his name was this question would remain.

    I think Jesus was used because it was supposed to be a common name. Jesus was supposed to be like an every-man messiah. But Jesus definitely wasn’t an “angel” per se, he was an “immaterial man”. Jesus, as Paul says, was the immaterial Adam. He was the archetype of man for the new immaterial world.

    He wasn’t an angel, he was the perfect, flawless man, uncorrupted by ever having become material. That’s the irony, is that you can clearly see in early Christian, and even late Christian, theology, the need for Jesus to be immaterial and uncorrupted. And its amusing the mental gymnastics that Christian apologists have undertaken to explain a Jesus who was both human and divine.

    All of this mental gymnastics of nonsense like the trinity and Jesus’s suffering and perfection and of Mary’s immaculate conception so that Jesus would be without sin, etc. all clearly derives from the efforts to fit the square peg of the Gospels into the round hole of original Christian theology.

    The human Gospel Jesus clearly doesn’t even fit into the theology. That’s why they had to invent logical impossibilities to explain the theology. Real “Christian” theology makes sense internally and has a coherent form and ideology. “Catholic” style theology is totally irrational nonsense full of contradictions.

    Any Christianity with a human Jesus in it must accommodate vast and complex theological gymnastics. A Christian theology based purely on a an immaterial heavenly messiah is coherent (if still nonsense) and consistent.

    I don’t know, maybe its a personal thing and I’ve fabricated too much of my own reality around this, but from my perspective, that Jesus never existed is blatantly obvious and so clear that I can’t even figure out how anyone could argue otherwise. The origin and development of the religion from a cult worshiping an immaterial heavenly messiah in the pattern of the Son of Man from Enoch seems abundantly clear, cohesive, and makes absolute sense.

    I mean “second” coming? Come on? The whole idea of a “second coming” is obviously so stupid. That concept doesn’t even make any sense. Obviously Paul was talking the FIRST coming of Jesus. Why would Jesus come to earth and then come again? That makes no sense. It’s obviously a justification trying to shoe horn early Christian theology into the Gospel narrative. But the idea of having a savior that would come, not do his mission and then need to return again is just stupid. Paul never talked a return of Jesus, because Paul was expecting him to come for the first time, as any sensible theology would.

    1. r.g.price: “the core theology of “Christianity” from the beginning was the idea that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and had to be destroyed so that a new immaterial world could be created in heaven”

      Ehrman makes hay from his hypothetical sources. IMO the original gospel (not-extant, thus a “hypothetical” source) was composed at a time when between 10–30 different Jewish sects existed (thus a very fragmented Jewish culture), and some were breaking away from the mainstream—denigrating the mainstream temple cult as being corrupt, i.e. they were counter-cultural proto-Christians.

      The gospel of these proto-Christians proclaimed that by mystical vision, Jesus (the first born angel) had revealed that he had tricked Satan by becoming incarnate and then had subsequently been crucified by Satan thereby atoning for all of their sins. Thus the temple cult was no longer relevant and there was no need to pay taxes or participate in the secular world, etc. since a river of fire was on its way to burn up all the damned sinners (and all the proto-Christians coincidently). But the proto-Christians (those previously dead-and-buried & those newly burnt up) would be given new bodies and a new world, to go forth and gambol like new calves turned out from the stall.

    2. R. G. Price says: I mean “second” coming? Come on? The whole idea of a “second coming” is obviously so stupid. That concept doesn’t even make any sense. Obviously Paul was talking the FIRST coming of Jesus. Why would Jesus come to earth and then come again? That makes no sense. It’s obviously a justification trying to shoe horn early Christian theology into the Gospel narrative. But the idea of having a savior that would come, not do his mission and then need to return again is just stupid. Paul never talked a return of Jesus, because Paul was expecting him to come for the first time, as any sensible theology would.

      – The returning Christ would overwhelm the demons whose power he had broken through his death (On the returning Christ, see Phil 2:10; 1 Cor 15:24-27)

      1. Comment by Neil Godfrey 2018-07-28 per “The First Gospel: History or Apocalyptic Drama?”. Vridar. (27 July 2018):

        [Per Paula Fredriksen’s interpretation of a passage in Philippians 2] Paula is reading into the passage orthodox Christian doctrine. . . . Even in that last part of the passage all we see and have reason to imagine is that with Christ now in heaven there will come a time when everyone will bow to him. Not the slightest suggestion in that particular passage of a need for him to descend to earth for that.

    3. r.g. price: So the demons thought they were crucifying a material Jesus but they actually crucified an immaterial being (according to some early theology)?

  12. My favourite analogy is Count Dracula.
    At one point everyone believed this character was based on Vlad Tepes, a historical figure. Since then some convincing arguments have been made that Stoker didn’t know about Tepes, but let’s assume Count Dracula was indeed based on Tepes.
    The point is, Dracula the vampire is still a fictitious character, based on a historical figure or not.

    Transposing this analogy to historical Jesus studies, theologians have only writings about Dracula the vampire, no direct evidence about Tepes and no idea who he might have been,
    yet they still insist Count Dracula was a historical figure.

  13. “replace the Rank-Raglan reference type with the minimal historical Jesus defined in three points above”

    My understanding of prior probability is it’s the belief you form after being exposed to first contact information, and the most common info is obviously extraordinary and supernatural. It’s quite impossible to hear about the minimal Jesus bloke prior to hearing about all the marvelous and him being a god, in fact, in history nothing’s been written about a minimal Jesus – it’s a niche, modern construct imagined (“reconstructed”) from the myths.

    That’s why I think RR makes a better ref type, yet technically one could start with an uninformed prior. If I recall correctly Carrier explained that then you need to count RR information as evidence and you should arrive at roughly the same result.

    “[Josephus] spoke of him as a good man without any hint of him having political ambitions or rebellious modus operandi”

    But did he?

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