Atheist Hostility to Jesus Mythicism … making sense of it

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve been thinking through how best to complete the second part of my post, Atheists Do Not Understand Religion, trying to figure out the clearest way to present the results of the anthropological research which means trying to get them ever more clear in my own mind first. At the same time I have found myself attempting to apply these particular ways humans work to understanding the answer to the question of why some atheists are so hostile towards Jesus mythicism.

I was working towards an understanding back in March this year but what I have read again in Boyer’s book I think has helped crystallize my understanding with a theoretical or research backing.

We “essentialize” things. Or the words used by Boyer are “essentialist” thinking and “essences”. So in many cultures there is something about, say, blacksmiths that makes them essentially different from “respectable society”. There is some indefinable internal quality about blacksmiths that make them different from everyone else, that makes it unthinkable that your daughter would ever marry one (unless you yourself are a blacksmith). Boyer speaks of an “essentialist inference system” that applies to the way we recognized different classes of objects and even groups of people.

One of the “essences” that many atheists see characterizes their “group identity” as atheists is a sense that they are smarter, more intelligent, more reasonable, than other groups of people who believe in angels and miracles. One essential difference perceived between the two is that the atheist sees himself accepting of the world’s scientific heritage while others either reject much of it outright (young earth creationists) or at least accept it only with qualifications (evolution but with God’s guiding finger).

Other groups that contain the same essential quality of rejecting established scientific and scholarly wisdom are holocaust deniers, flat-earthers, moon-landing deniers, anti-vaccers.

What they all have in common, or the “essential” difference between them all and the atheist, is that they all reject some plank of the scholarly wisdom as established in the trusted centers of learning, public universities and research centres.

One constant that has come through loud and clear from atheists who scoff at the very idea that anyone would claim Jesus did not exist is their pointing to “what the scholars say”. They appeal, always, to the mainstream intellectual academy, and its “consensus”. That appeal, I think, is a constant. We even see some biblical scholar comparing the rejection of the beliefs marking their field of study with the rejection of evolution among biologists or paleontologists.

I think what is happening when certain atheists ridicule or deplore Jesus mythicists is they are intuitively “essentializing” them with the same classes of people who reject the mainstream scholarly institutions in favour of their own idiosyncratic views about the shape of the earth or how old it is and how life got here.

We know they do equate mythicists with such people because they say so openly. But I think many others of us have never understood quite why they do and we have tended to think that if only they heard the arguments they would see things our way. But it doesn’t work like that, does it.

We know they will sometimes listen to the arguments but then reject them outright, often misrepresenting some of them in return. What is going on here?

Boyer also speaks of “coalitional” intuitions. We seek out coalitions that bring likely reward and reduce likely costs in our lives. And sometimes this means that we have to rationalize away certain assumptions about our “essentialist” thinking with other groups:

Now Fang lineages span territories so huge that everybody has lineage “cousins” they seldom interact with. In these rare cases, essentialist understandings of lineage would suggest that you can trust them anyway (these people are the same substance as you are, you know their personality type and therefore their reactions) whereas coalitional intuitions would recommend caution (since this is a first-time interaction and will probably remain a one-time event, why should they do you any favors?). People in such cases generally follow their coalitional intuitions but then reconcile this with their essentialist concepts by saying that they are not in fact certain that these people really belong to their lineage.

(Boyer, Religion Explained, p. 289)

We find ad hoc reasons to reject evidence that contradicts our interests. Atheists who see themselves as “bright” or at least intelligent enough to know God is not real and that genuine knowledge is found in the halls of academic and research institutions will as a rule side with those institutions to maintain their self-image or identity. Evidence that would otherwise lead them to challenge such a position is rationalized away.

Yet there are indeed a good many academics themselves who do indeed question the historical existence of Jesus, or are at least open to the possibility that there was no such figure. We have seen most recently PZ Myers “come out” here; others we know of are Jerry Coyne, Hector Avalos, Philip R. Davies, Paul Hopper, Burton Mack, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Greta Christina, Michel Onfrey, Thomas Brodie, Kurt Knoll, Arthur Droge…. and others. I believe what is happening here is that a good number of people long embedded within the institutions of academe know full well just how flakey some scholarship can be and they do not hold the same unqualified reverence for all its branches and persons as many outsiders do.


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48 thoughts on “Atheist Hostility to Jesus Mythicism … making sense of it”

  1. Can you name some of the atheists who reject Jesus Mythicism? This is an interesting hypothesis, but I suspect that most atheists do not accord academic theologians the same credibility as they grant academic scientists.

    1. The atheist community as a whole at the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) gave me the cold shoulder when I was introduced as one who could argue the case against the historicity of Jesus. They listened quietly, little response, until someone appeared who repeated the mainstream view of biblical scholars. Suddenly people broke their silence and said how much sense those arguments made and before long I was being accused and attacked for all sorts of things, extending even to my character and attitudes towards gays, somehow! The dividing line was clear: you are for the academic field or against it.

      Tim O’Neill has some presence on the web and among such atheists. We saw recently Eddie Marcus make the same sorts of accusations. In both their cases the bottom line is always: “no other biblical scholar or historian agrees with you”.

      Some biblical scholars of course love it when atheists come in and back them up; always good to have a nonbeliever add credibility to the believing scholars.

      1. Your reception at AFA strikes me as a repeat of a famous scene in a synagogue:

        Mark 1:22 says:

        The people were shocked over His teaching, because He taught like one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 🙂

        In another parallel we find a slightly different tack but might apply to your plight in the AFA synagogue as well, you being just a carpenter and not qualified to be taken serious:

        Mark 6:2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were shocked. “Where did this man get these ideas? they asked. “- What is this wisdom He has been given? And how can He perform such miracles? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us as well?” And they took offense at Him.… 🙂

    2. Elganned, I’ve met thousands of avowed atheists, since they completely predominate in my (academic) profession. But in real life I have never met a mythicist. I might have thought they existed only on the internet, but Carrier and Godfrey seem to be real.

  2. I find it extremely interesting and extremely puzzling that atheists would have such a knee-jerk, visceral reaction to the notion that Jesus may not be historical. Once you have discarded the notion of godhood, then Jesus becomes just another historical (or not) figure subject to conjecture and research; where that study may lead should not be controversial. Curious, indeed.

    1. But not so curious when one suggests that what is more important is being seen (or the need not to be seen) with anyone who looks like a kook, i.e. anyone who disputes an entire academic guild. That’s how they see it. The scorn that comes from them is most emphatically, “you are an idiot or kook for rejecting mainstream scholarship” — just like creationists and holocaust deniers. And they make those very same comparisons.

      Of course some mythicists are kooks because their methods are as arcane or fallacious as those of creationists. But the serious ones are all about engaging with (not just cherrypicking) the mainstream scholarship itself. That’s the difference.

      1. “Every great scientific truth goes through three states: First, people say it conflicts with the Bible; next, they say it has been discovered before; lastly, they say they always believed it.”

        (Jean) LOUIS (Rodolphe) AGASSIZ (1807–1873) Swiss-born, American naturalist

    1. Hopefully one day he can read Boyer and related anthropological literature and come to understand both atheist hostility towards mythicism and understand religion itself per se a whole lot more deeply than his recent posts have demonstrated.

      1. As to understanding, it was Boyer who invented this dichotomy, explaining versus understanding, which are supposed to be mutually exclusive for some reason. He argues against understanding. I’m oversimplyfying, but this example illustrates well the level at which the debate is going on.

        For now, anthropologists hardly agree with each other about religion, as well when it comes to fundamental assumptions and methodologies. Boyer’s field, cognitive study of religion is a new kid on the block, CSR’s criticize traditional approach and cognitive approach is in turn being criticized by others as irrelevant for explaining religion, not to say cognition isn’t that well understood yet, so CSR research is often based on debatable hypotheses.

        In the current state of the debate, one can pick and choose from the research literature whatever is to their liking,
        until this changes and anthropologists come to some agreement about the basics, Boyer’s books represent Boyer’s opinions, and Boyer’s opinions are as good as Carrier’s or anyone else’s.

        1. Opinions that draw upon serious research findings are more than “just opinions”. I am using Boyer as a gateway for some very general concepts that I think are fairly widely acknowledged in the literature. I’ve mentioned others but one other I’d like to address are the works of Whitehouse.

    2. The Christ Myth theory is a failed research program. It was maintained by hundreds of serious researchers in the Soviet Union and other communist countries for decades, but they all gave it up in stages after the war. The Dead Sea Scrolls in particular gave a certain reality to 2nd Temple fringe movements, and mythicism simply became untenable. The current mythicist canard that there is a shutdown on research on the topic is the opposite of the truth, there has been an immense academic outpouring on the topic and it all came to nothing, like the phlogiston theory.

      1. Your post is a gish gallop full of non-sequiturs and false equivalences and is illogical.

        Most if not all Christ Myth theories posit that a human Jesus was reified by Christians from circulating stories many generations after the time the character and events pertaining to him others was set in.

        1. Yes, this is pretty much the theory advanced by Drews. It was the starting point of a heavily funded Soviet research program that lasted for three decades – but was then quietly dropped in the early ’60s when the mental strain of holding became unbearable.

        2. Here’s recent studentish survey of the Soviet mythicist research program http://pstgu.ru/download/1430825026.5_andreev_73-88.pdf . Here’s a semi-intelligible machine translation http://sprunge.us/8vkIZa You can find the matter discussed here and there in English in old sovietological material.

          The program financed myriad genuine scholars from early 20’s on – Khazdan, for example, became a superstar Byzantinist in the West – but began to collapse by the late 50s (Khazdan says the DSS in particular reoriented his own understanding by exposing the complexity of 2nd T Judaism). But it only became publicly dead over a period of years starting with the 1956 controversy arising from the translation of the British left winger Archibald Robertson’s book. I’m sorry Kazhdan is dead, he would be able to write an extraordinary critique of neo-mythicism from personal memory of the mental stuggle necessary to hold it.

            1. Here’s a cleaner “English” version, the way I first used automatic translation was mysteriously doubling text http://sprunge.us/ZGj9hm . The really interesting topic is the people who change their minds from the mid fifties to sixties, I wish there was more information about it. Somewhere I read some brief remarks of Khazdan about his own case but can’t find it.

  3. The reason I like the idea is that it makes everyone normal and acting “naturally”. No unusual spanners in the works to make the situation odd. That so many of us have had a hard time understanding it isn’t because what is happening is ‘weird’ – it has only seemed weird because we have not had a clearer understanding of how humans universally work.

  4. There are many issues (including but not limited to) –

    * Jesus mythicism is a difficult concept given the long-standing universal assertions that Jesus was a 1st century preacher dude who was deified: traditionalists are hard-wired to believe that;

    * not many atheist traditionalists are aware of the many theological concepts, and their mostly Hebrew bible basis;

    * many are not aware of recent scholarly works that are providing new perceptions among those that discuss these things; &

    * even if they are aware of new perceptions, they fail to acknowledge or repeat them.

  5. I suspect that many people who join communities of atheists – whether in the world, or online – are in the early stages of shaking off a prior religiosity; it is natural that a defensive, groupthink perspective emerge in those circumstances: people denied the social inclusion offered by their previous faith will seek substitutes. And there can be a lot of anger and resentment in the deconverted.

    I keep reading that

    “The majority of biblical acholars agree that…”

    With regard to the Jesus historicity question, and I think, well, whatever: I’m not really interested in apologetics. What I *don’t* ever read is:

    “The majority of historians who specialize in the Middle East during the classical period agree that..” and I think that’s significant.

    As far as I know, Bart Ehrman is the only (academically-credentialed) professed atheist or agnostic who has defended a belief in the historical Jesus, or even expressed an opinion. And I – like many others – think that Bart has failed to engage seriously with any of the meaningful arguments.

    A study from 2015 found that 40% of people in the UK don’t believe that Jesus was a real person, and the number was growing.

    Of course, the vast majority of these Jesus-deniers won’t be familiar with pertinent data which allows them to reach a reasoned conclusion, but I think there is a social momentum here that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  6. I suspect that the results of quizzing atheists on a simplified version of Carriers background elements would correspond to their ignorance of Jesus mythicism.

    • But the question is why do they become hostile in this case, whereas the do not become become hostile per their ignorance of ancient Canaanite religion?

    Obviously the disputed point can be looked up in a trusted source, for example: Van der Toorn notes that although Yahweh was worshipped among the Israelites before 1000 BCE, he did not become the national god until the beginning of the monarchic era, as evidenced in the profusion of theophoric personal names at that time. [Van der Toorn, Karel (1999). “Yahweh”. In Van der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; Van der Horst, Pieter Willem. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. p. 914. ISBN 978-0-8028-2491-2.]

  7. I think that the reason is both more sound and more simple: the majority of people love the historical Jesus. So, why not the atheists, also?

    The mythicists are considered irrational haters of the man Jesus, even if some of them like Christianity. I am sorry, but it is not the same thing: someone may like Christianity per se and still have hostility against the man Jesus.

    It is not a coincidence that in Extreme Asia (China, Japan, India etc) some Asian Writers translated Western mythicist works and were themselves ardent mythicists. They had a reason to hate also the man Jesus (not only the Christianity) as emblem of Western imperialism.


    There is even a Japanese mythicist relatively famous:


    1. Yes, perhaps some reject Mythicism because it was endorsed alongside Communism.

      In Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, the Soviet mythological school is ridiculed.

  8. I would like to know what the “historicists” (Ehrman, et al.) and many of you out there think about those who hold an “agnostic” stance about Jesus’ historical existence as I do and others I know( eg. Hector Avalos). Sometimes when I do street epistemology regarding the Bible and God and Jesus, etc. I have often used the word “If” with some non-Christians and Christians. Sometimes I get a reaction but no mean comebacks.

    There is a part of me that doesn’t care if he did or not exist since that same Jesus is dead and no one knows or has a relationship with that historical Jesus. He is dead. Even the so-called historical “satan” and satans are dead as well. The NT says in many places that “Jesus” destroyed satan so he is dead too! And I find it interesting that people believe more in satan than they do in god or Jesus. It is weird!

    I find that believing or not believing in a historical person who still exists or no longer “exists” in the present world quite strange. I think believers in the historical Jesus find it frightening to believe he didn’t exist because they all believe that it takes a real historical person and not some “idea” to start a religion like Christianity. They would feel they are nuts for believing in someone who didn’t exist as its alleged founder. (who in my view still seems to be Paul—but one time I asked the question and still do at times if Paul even existed. Would I be considered nuts if I didn’t believe there was a historical Paul. We only have proof of him in the NT. Would Christianity exist without a historical Paul? There is no extra-biblical evidence for Paul as far as I know. Peter and Luke thought he existed. Not enough for me. Moreover, the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty! Paul’s real name is “Saul” not Paul and sometimes I think about the enemy of the seed of David in the OT ==Saul ! when I think about Paul who claimed to be an enemy of the seed of David, but then said that all changed when he met Jesus!! Did he mean the historical Jesus? I think not! He met a spirit…called the “ruling” spirit or Christic spirit… Joshua/Jesus.

    Christians naively believe they are in an intimate relationship with the same historical Jesus , the one outside the NT and the One in the NT. As far as I can determine Ehrman does not believe the “historical” Jesus he is defending is the same Jesus in the NT. He picks and chooses his Jesus as well—again the Quest becomes relevant here. Which Jesus?

    It would be easy for me to claim I had an intimate breakfast meeting with Elvis last week! Would or could anyone really believe me? I just find the whole process of investigation quite ludicrous at times.

    I get more in trouble when I grant Jesus existed but he is surely not the same so-called “Jesus” that is found in the NT. I then suggest people read Schweitzer’s classic The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Not one of them takes me up on the challenge.

    If I were to take the words of Jesus seriously that are present in the NT they would come from the Gospel of John–the most radical Gospel or book in the NT in my view. Jesus says: No one knows God, only the Son does. And no one knows Jesus except the father.” It is convenient for Christians to claim to believe other parts of John and shove them in our faces (eg. John 14:6 etc.)but they think these verses apply to others and not to themselves!

    Nowadays I simply tell people who I get into such discussions with about biblical matters that no one knows God and no one knows Jesus.! They do not like how radical I state it, but I tell them that is what Jesus allegedly said when he was here!

    I don’t think anyone is really having a relationship with God or Jesus, historical or not. It is all images, ideas, and ideals in the mirrors of our life. Such images,ideas, and ideals can have great power but how “real” are such?

    Anyway, these are my thoughts on such difficult things.

    I have a funny feeling that all this stuff may go underground for a while until something shows up in the future that may well break the strangle-hold of the historical Jesus stuff. We need a new artifact or something to show up. We are stuck for the time being. Moreover , if there is a god and Jesus, etc. I believe they are quite different than we have ever thought. I like I Cor. 2:9 in this respect…..”There are things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, prepared for by God for those who love him…”

    BTW these are not Paul’s words per se but he is quoting scripture… Ascen of Isaiah.most likely.??

    If Jesus were to really show up in the future….the historical Jesus, that is– we are all going to be shocked most likely.

    Anyway, these are my thoughts on such difficult things.

    In any case, my friends. Take care out there in your quest for or against the historical Jesus.

    1. “but one time I asked the question and still do at times if Paul even existed.”

      Someone wrote the epistles that are attributed to Paul. That is Paul. If his real name was Marcion, doesn’t matter, he existed because we have the letters from that person.

      1. Some of the letters are considered to be inauthentic.
        When someone says they doubt if Paul existed, they don’t mean they doubt if the letters were written by a human being, they mean the “authentic” letters may have been made up by someone who did not write in his own name, just like the rest of them.

        1. “Some of the letters are considered to be inauthentic.”

          I realize that. But the person that wrote the authentic letters is a person. That person that wrote those letters is known as Paul. Or whatever name you want to call him. We know don’t who wrote the gospels but we give a name to the person(s) that did.

      2. Even the authentic Pauline epistles may not have been written by one person according to Robert M Price.

        “Following Hermann Detering, I identify Paul as having some connection to the historical figure of Simon Magus. F. C. Baur saw the tie between the two, but he took the Simon character to be a polemical evil twin or “monstrous double” of Paul. Detering saw that Paul was a mystification of the historical Simon Magus, that Marcion was not merely the collector of the Pauline letter corpus but even the writer of some of those epistles …

        “… Marcion cannot have written all the letters ascribed to Paul, since some are Gnostic, not Marcionite, and others like Galatians 1-2 supplement his own and threaten to obscure the originals. As the old heresiologists averred, I think Marcion may have been Simon’s disciple, at least a Simonian if Marcion was not himself a companion of the Magus.

        “The Pauline epistles began, most of them, as fragments by Simon (part of Romans), Marcion (the third through sixth chapters of Galatians and the basic draft of Ephesians), and Valentinian Gnostics (Colossians, parts of 1 Corinthians, at least). Some few began as Catholic documents, while nearly all were interpolated by Polycarp, the ecclesiastical redactor who domesticated John (as Bultmann saw it), Luke (as per John Knox), and 1 Peter, then composed Titus and 2 Timothy. The result is that in the end we stand, almost uncomprehendingly, before a pile of literary scraps …

        ” … No author, no authority, only texts—and finally not even texts but fragments.”

        Price, Robert M. The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (Kindle Locations 11688-11722). Signature Books, December 2012.

        Dr Price thinks Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is “pure fiction based on 2 Maccabees and Euripides Bacchae.”

        1. Yes, I agree that there are likely multiple “writers” and redactor(s )(one main one perhaps- Polycarp? ). Why do you think the name of Saul was changed to Paul? Anyone willing to guess? or Knows!!!??

          1. Price associates Saul & Paul with Simon Magus, and the name change in Acts 13:9 from Saul to Paul is associated with Paul confronting Bar-Jesus/Elymas in front of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus*.

            The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that Bar-Jesus bears a striking resemblance to Simon Magus, and it and Price, who also says ‘Elymas looks like a reworking of Simon Magus’, both cite Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 20.7.2, describing Simon as “a Jew, born in Cyprus,” who “pretended to be a magician,” one of the friends of Felix, the procurator of Judea” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2469-bar-jesus

            Price says when Acts 13:9-11 says “Saul who was ‘also’ called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun’,” that Paul is being cast as shedding any associations with Simon Magus.

            Price asks “when Justin Martyr and others make Simon Magus the father of Gnosticism, do we not see a reflection of the fact that Gnostics hailed Paul as the founder of their faith? Valentinus claimed he received his Gnostic teachings straight from Theodas, an original disciple of Paul.”

            Price says Acts 13 “is a Catholicizing attempt to exorcize all that was later perceived as unorthodox in Paul in order to sanitize him for popular consumption” ie. the gnostic Paul is being recast as Simon Magus.

            And it’s noteworthy the narrative includes it being done to impress a Roman proconsul, ‘an intelligent man’ … amazed at the teaching about the Lord’.

            The Jewish Encyclopedia also notes that “the same Simon Magus occurs in the story of Peter the Apostle (Acts viii. [18]-24), of which the Paul story obviously forms a counterpart.” There Simon is said to try to buy belief –

            18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

            Price notes this too, and says “it looks like an invidious version of Paul’s taking up a collection [‘to bring charitable aid to Jerusalem…mentioned throughout the Pauline epistles’] and may even be an episode from Marcion’s career, inserted retrospectively into the life of his master, Paul.”

            Price also notes confrontations between Simon Peter and his archrival Simon Magus featured in the Pseduo-Clementine narratives Recognitions and The Homilies, “probably borrowed from the earlier Kerygmata Petrou, or Preachings of Peter, an Ebionite document”

            * I wonder about the significance of name of the proconsul too.

            1. ie. the narrative of Saul & Paul confronting Bar-Jesus/Elymas (in front of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus) is a covert narrative about Paul shedding any attributes or association with Simon Magus (and likely doubles as Paul impressing senior Romans).

              1. Mr. Horse

                Your awareness of the lit is so encouraging and helpful even as a reminder of what Docteur Dr. Price has said. We were supposed to work together at one time at Johnnie Coleman Theo. Sem. Never worked out for lots of reasons. Dr. Price’s earliest books helped me out of the quagmire of evangelical hermeneutics and exegesis, and a whole lot more!

                Dr. Price has done great work and nice to know you are into it and hopefully the texts themselves.

                So, in that respect, I am well aware of the text in Acts and various interpretations of it throughout the history of interpretation and wrote in my earlier career a little monograph on the book of Acts (but then as an evangelical) and taught the book numerous times as a Pentecostal-Evangelical-Scholar!!! in College and Seminary. Sure sounds funny eh? (I’m a Canadian:} Like some funny oxymoron — Jumbo Shrimp! But there are many former and present Pentecostal scholars of great repute and many have advanced degrees and they are wonderful men and women!

                Anyway, Mr. Horse what do see in the narrative exegetically and hermeneutically, etc. to make the last comment you made? Exegetical, historical, or other evidence please. Thanks in advance.

                There is lot to play with in Acts. eg. I find the reference to Tertulus there in acts as a rhetor and lawyer type close to Tertullian but not yet committed to that conclusion. What do you have and share about your conclusion or someone else’s conclusion about this?

                I like speculations to a certain degree and this one of yours is shared by some ..but what do you have or others have on the nature of the name change itself, and how could you do that with Acts alone??. Saul to Paul!!?? How? Why? I never mentioned Simon Magus…you did… No problem . That theory is interesting and a serious contender, but I am asking different questions of you and the texts themselves rather than simply accepting willy-nilly a way to get rid of an actual historical Paul.


              2. Cheers Martin. Yes, you never mentioned Simon Magus, and I was going to simply quote what Price said in ‘The Amazing Colossal Apostle (mostly Chapter 7. ‘The Secrets of Simon Magus’) but it’s a very complicated commentary, so I decided to try to represent it from first principles. There’s so much more to Price’s comments. It seems clear there are so many quirks and potential twists in trying to get behind the books of the NT as we have them. I don’t yet have the skills to see more in the narrative exegetically and hermeneutically (particularly as fully unpacking what Price says in that chapter would take hours), but I am interested in how these texts relate to proto-Christian and Gnostic texts.

                “Simon appears on the scene as an already notorious figure in a number of second-century documents, including the Acts of the Apostles, the writings of Justin Martyr, and the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions. Later heresiologists make him the father of the so-called Gnostic heresy.

                … in a narrative game of musical chairs, Acts’s author drives a wedge between Paul, the ideal orthodox hero, and Simon Magus, the hero’s shadow and Saul’s historical prototype. The story drops an important hint by telling us that the name Paul was secondary. I think his name may have been Simon, and when the Paul persona was spun off into a separate character, the redactor preserved the original consonant. In musical chairs, the whistle blows and the players drop into place, Saul sitting in Sergius Paul’s chair and henceforth bearing his name, and Elymas, or Simon Magus, sitting in a chair he had been sharing with Saul. Sergius may be sitting in a chair that was originally engraved with the name of Felix. Or perhaps it would be better to say that Felix is sitting in Sergius’s chair to conceal the particulars of the story of Simon, Felix, and Drusilla. Josephus intimates that Simon was originally a mystagogical guru. The scene of Paul’s audience before Felix and Drusilla in Acts 24 is a doublet of his appearance before Herod Agrippa II (Marcus Julius Agrippa) and sister-wife Berenice in Acts 25-26. Drusilla was Berenice’s sister. Behold how the author of Acts has rewritten Josephus here to make Drusilla her literary double. When Simon advises Drusilla to leave the newly circumcised Azizus for the foreskin-sporting Felix, we catch a note of the familiar Pauline hostility (or at least indifference) toward circumcision. But as Detering says, the rest, as we now read it, is another Lukan attempt to disguise the apostle by making Felix hope for a bribe, rather than being a confidant like Elymas was with Sergius, and having Paul preach continence instead of advising adultery, as Simon did with Drusilla.”

                Price, Robert M.. The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (Kindle Locations 3743-3745; 4030-4042). Signature Books, 2012.

              3. Adolf Hilgenfeld confirmed what Ferdinand Christian Baur had already argued; namely, that the Simon of the Pseudo-Clementines is not the historical person known in the Acts, but an idealised personality:

                “[Der Simon der Klementinen ist]… nicht die historische Person, die wir aus der Apostelgeschichte… kennen, sondern eine idealisirte” (BAUR 1831: 126).

                In addition, HILGENEELD’S source-critical analysis of the Pseudo-Clementine Simon-story, which identified four strata, provided a new contribution to scholarly investigation in conjunction with his assessment that even the report of Justin Martyr clearly understands that no one other than the apostle Paul is meant by the portrayal of Simon Magus, since Justin never calls the apostle by his own name:

                Haar, Stephen (2012). Simon Magus: The First Gnostic? (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft). De Gruyter.

  9. I am still interested in Neil’s presentation and my question still stands. Does anyone know about agnostic stances to Jesus’ historical existence. Also why do those who believe in Jesus’ historical existence think that certain non-believers are “nutcases” . Carrier himself likes using the word nutcases and cranks for individuals who disagree with him about the issues regarding Jesus historicity or bad presentations of the non-historicity of Jesus.


    1. There are plenty of agnostics on the gospel figure of Jesus. Robert McNair Price and Raphael Lataster have published their views on agnosticism per “Jesus Historicity Theory”.

      There is not a clear definition of:
      • Jesus Historicity Theory
      • Jesus Ahistoricity Theory
      because there is no universal definition of a minimal historical Jesus.

      Therefore trying to map agnostic viewpoints in relation to others is problematic.

      1. • Historicity Agnostic: The historical evidence is too patchy, too minimal and too ideologically tainted to be able to reach any conclusions about the Jesus figure of the Gospels. Thus asserting anything further than his existence is going beyond what the evidence allows. The most we can say is — “we do not know”.

        • Agnostic: We should not assume things to exist unless we have sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion.

  10. Just a caveat here. I lost my professorship over teaching that Paul and the Book of Acts was written by charismatics or pneumatics (Paul and Luke, especially) and so confirmed in class that early Christianity was not based mainly upon a historical man, but a charismatic-pneumatic interpretation of scriptures and the experience of powerful pneumatic phenomena connected with the Jesus spirit, and I participated in all of those things myself for many years, trying to bring the Church around to that kind of Reformation and Revival! I was fired during my Ph.D sabbatical leave , never to return again to my teaching post. Licona got fired from some post due to saying Mt. 27 is not historical. Geisler, the fundamentalist Ratzinger in my view caused a lot of problems for him. I also recall an old collegue at the ETS. Robert Gundry received the same blow by being exorcised out of the ETS by Geisler and his demons or messengers. Sad , sad, the thumping of theology! It is one big mess of pottage in so many ways! And yet I am so interested in it and other related matters.!

    Richard Carrier and mythicist-hater Dr. Larry Hurtado (an old friend of mine) are only now saying that these two major things founded Christianity. Carrier is saying what Hurtado is saying, but Hurtado still believes in a historical charismatic Jesus. What difference it has made in his life is nil as far as personal testimony goes on his part. Hurtado is supposed to be a Pentecostal himself.

    1. Oh my, I forgot to tell you why Gundry got in trouble. It was over his Matthew commentary. A very insightful commentary! In that commentary he proved “midrashic” interpretation of the old testament on the part of Matthew. wow! Dr. Price has written a major essay on this and many others have followed suit. The problem? Gundry was dismissed as no longer believing in Biblical innerrancy and almost the entire guild of ETS scholars followed Geisler in the inquisition! I was there! I was sick to my stomach. I never renewed my membership in the EtS after that. In an earlier post I stated the real fear scholars will now have to face while getting through their studies. If they should even hint at not believing in Jesus historicity they will be held suspect and cranks, nutcases and all kinds of poisoning by both believing scholars and unbelieving scholars. What shame on Christianity and scholarship in general. Is it that important??? Was it important to Paul to Paul (2 Cor. 5:16!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I think not!!

  11. Hmm, on a first glance at the question posed here, I would think that esp. converted formerly Christian atheists have a problem with a mythological Jesus just because that concept threatens to reverse their “coming out” reasons. The realization that Jesus at best was just a mortal human(an assumption of historicity)is somehow a trauma best dealt with explaining him then as a flesh and blood philosopher or prophet. A mythological Jesus would make him divine again in the subconscious residue of their former belief.
    On another level it is more dignified for such an atheist to admit to have been fooled by a mistakenly deified purveyor of universal wisdom and morality laying foundations for modern culture, than by just a bunch of primitive fairytale notions from polytheistic cultures, where mythology in their minds belongs. Somehow they lost their religion, but they are still maintaining it was at least the best religion around.

    1. Perhaps. But don’t “they” make the same sorts of claims about “mythicists”? Mythicists are said to be reacting against their former beliefs, etc, too.

      Also, I am pretty sure that a good many of the atheists in the anti-mythicist camp have never had much a religious background at all.

      1. 1. Making the same sorts of claims is then no more than calling the kettle black, I told you I thought much of it seems to play at subconscious levels.

        2. The other level I mentioned has to do with perceived superiority of “modern” monotheistic faiths against “primitive” polytheism, even the atheists without a Christian background harbour a subconscious agreement with that notion but call it their culture.

  12. I’ve encountered some who seem to think that the ‘christian’ ethics that they do admire – things along the lines of Do Unto Others, All Equal God’s Children, Good Samaritan, etc – will suddenly become invalid if these were put forward by someone who was not named Jesus.

    In my view, it doesn’t matter who comes up with an idea: if it is good it is good, and if it is not a good idea it doesn’t matter if it was said by an admirable person once upon a time.

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