Response #4: Non Sequitur’s Tim O’Neill presentation, …. Your turn

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Response #1: Motives
Response #2: No fame outside Galilee
Response #3: Ascension of Isaiah

At around 28 mins Tim says those opposed to the consensus are mythicists most of whom are not scholars and least qualified to assess this stuff.

Point 1: Tim is not a scholar either so he presumably includes himself among those who are ‘least qualified to assess this stuff’. Yet he seems to argue against mythicists from the “stuff” with a confidence that suggests he does have a superior quality to “assess this stuff”. He does not make clear why his own competence is more than enough to match those of his non-scholarly peers.

Point 2: Unfortunately I don’t know of many scholars who have actually explicitly addressed the question of the historicity of Jesus. Recall Ehrman’s claim to be the very first to do so in any comprehensive fashion. The mythicists’ complaint is that on the whole the “scholars” do not argue for the historicity of Jesus but work on other questions on the assumption that he existed. When asked to justify that assumption the responses are, too often unfortunately, logically invalid, question begging, divorced from normative scholarly approaches to sources, misrepresenting the questions posed, and…. condescending, abusive. On the principle that all authorities ought to be held to account, such responses deserve to be set aside and the question should be pursued.

About 30 mins Tim says that all of the earliest sources speak of a historical figure of Jesus and none say otherwise, so it’s reasonable to think that they say this because that’s how it started. To say otherwise is to give oneself an uphill battle. All speak of a Jesus ‘on earth’. Ebionites and Docetics.

Point 1: (I’m a bit tired this evening. I can think of three or four quite different fallacies or misconceptions with this argument that I may fill in another day. Meanwhile…. do feel free to comment with your own. Thanks.)

Point 2:

Point 3:

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

14 thoughts on “Response #4: Non Sequitur’s Tim O’Neill presentation, …. Your turn”

  1. Tim O’Neill, despite being an arrogant, became a mythicist himself because he believed in something that has such fragile foundations and holds on to it so strongly that it resembles an uncritical religious faith. Perhaps he knows only biblical scholars from English-speaking circles and he thinks that they all share faith in historical Jesus. It convinces the interlocutors like a mantra.

    I will omit the important question like this: What does it mean to historical Jesus? How much would it have to be similar to the form described in the gospels, so that you can assign him the role of someone who evolved from the evangelists? Where to get any source evidence for this? How do you explain the fact that any Christian artifacts from Palestine come from the period of the late Empire, in principle from the time of Constantine? Is this not a reason to consider whether Christianity, at least in the Catholic formula, was not imported there from Rome or Greece? I’m sorry, for my crippled English.

    1. A man who met the following conditions would, in my judgment, be the historical Jesus if he were proven to have existed:

      1. He was an itinerant first-century Galilean preacher with a group of disciples;
      2. He was executed on orders of a Roman official; and
      3. After his execution, some of his disciples founded a religious cult that evolved into historically orthodox Christianity.

    2. Biblical scholars like McGrath and Hurtado heap praise on Tim O’Neill. One might conclude he has therefore every reason to believe they are entirely without theological or apologetic interest in any of their work.

    1. Tim concedes exceptions to his generalizations (such as Bob Price) but he continues to push the generalization as if it is without exception, and then if pushed denigrates the exception invalid because it is an exception, and therefore there are no exceptions. It’s kind of similar to Sam Harris logic.

  2. Tim says that all of the earliest sources speak of a historical figure of Jesus and none say otherwise, so it’s reasonable to think that they say this because that’s how it started. To say otherwise is to give oneself an uphill battle. All speak of a Jesus ‘on earth’. Ebionites and Docetics.

    Tim O’Neill ap.Jesus, What A Question!“. YouTube. The NonSequitur Show. 19 October 2018.

    [30:40] We don’t have a source from any Christian sect that says Jesus only existed in Heaven, never came to earth and didn’t have a historical existence, we don’t have that.

    […] [31:13] We don’t have anyone, any source that talks about say a sub sect of Christians or a variant form of Christianity that believed in a purely; non-historical, non-earthly, celestial, allegorical, mythic Jesus. We don’t have anyone talking about that at all,
    • we don’t have that in any of the pagan sources that we have talking about Christianity,
    • we don’t have that in any of the Christian material that is arguing against variant forms of Christianity that existed in the 2nd and 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and that’s a telling point because we have a lot of that material.

    Early Christianity was this wild and wooly thing, there was all these various forms of it. And what we have today is descended from the one bit that managed to sort of win the battle for supremacy and that’s what we would call—sort of—post Nicaea Christianity.

    […] [32:19] There are all these variant forms of early Christianity and they were therefore there were lots of books being written both by them and also by the people who were arguing against them. We’ve mainly got the books written by other people who arguing against them because they won the argument so they got to decide whose books got copied.

    But the interesting thing is that what we don’t find in any of those arguments is any evidence at all of a variant form of Christianity that believed in a purely celestial, purely allegorical, purely mythic, non-historical, non earthly Jesus and that’s weird if that’s how Christianity arose.

    So it’s very strange that if that’s how Christianity arose, nowhere in this plethora of material do we have anyone even mentioning that. Particularly given that that early form of Christianity if it had existed would have had not just a good claim, but a legitimate claim to be the original form of Christianity. Yet no one bothered to counter it, no one bothered to write a response to it.

    We have responses to the tiniest little sects, arguing the most trivial variant of on the idea of Jesus proceeding from the Father as opposed to being one in being with the Father. Yet we don’t have anything at all about this original form of Christianity that supposedly gave rise to it all, that belief in a non-historical Jesus.

    All of the Jesuses, all of the forms of Jesus that we find in every piece of evidence that we have from the earlier this earliest period of Christianity. All believed in a Jesus who was on earth.

    Now that goes from one extreme to another, from one extreme we have the people like the Ebionites who believed that Jesus was completely human, didn’t seem to believe that he was God at all, seemed to believe that he was the Jewish Messiah definitely believed that but they believed in a purely human Jesus. Obviously purely human, historical, and on earth.

    At the other end of the of the extreme we have the Docetic forms of Gnosticism, who believed that Jesus wasn’t human at all,
    • he was purely spiritual,
    • he only appeared to be human.
    Docetism comes from a Greek word meaning to appear. He appeared to be human but he was actually a completely spiritual being who only had the illusion of suffering, of eating, of living like a human being but they still believed that this Docetic—this appearance of—Jesus, appeared in historical time on earth.

    So again whether you’re talking about one extreme or the other, they’re still talking about a historical Jesus on earth.

    […] [36:52] The point is nowhere do we have a text that says this is how it happened guys, it was in the heavens, he never came to earth. Or he was in the heavens, he got crucified in the heavens and he went back up to Yahweh, which is sort of the Carrier form of Christianity.

      1. • O’Neill notes that per variant forms of early Christianity: “We’ve mainly got the books written by other people who were arguing against them, because they won the argument, so they got to decide whose books got copied.”

        •Carrier also notes a thirty-year dark age in the history of the church.

        Per Carrier [now bolded], “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?“. Richard Carrier Blogs. 9 November 2017.

        The Jewish War of 66–70 destroyed the original church in Jerusalem, leaving us with no evidence that any of the original apostles lived beyond it. Before that, persecutions from Jewish authorities and famines throughout the empire . . . further exacerbated the effect, which was to leave a thirty-year dark age in the history of the church (from the 60s to the 90s), a whole generation in which we have no idea what happened or who was in charge (Element 22). In fact this ecclesial dark age probably spans fifty years (from the 60s to 110s), if 1 Clement was written in the 60s and not the 90s (see Chapter 8, §5), as then we have no record of anything going on until either Ignatius or Papias, both of whom could have written well later than the 110s (Chapter 8, §§6 and 7).
        almost all evidence of the original Christian sects and what they believed has been lost or doctored out of the record; even evidence of what happened during the latter half of the first century to transition from Paul’s Christianity to second-century ‘orthodoxy’ is completely lost and now almost wholly inaccessible to us (Elements 21-22 and 44).
        even if we granted historicity, then we do not know how some sects transitioned to a cosmically born Jesus in the Christianities Irenaeus attacks as heresies (Chapter 11, §9) or a cosmically killed Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah (Chapter 3, §1), or to a Jesus who lived and died a hundred years earlier (Chapter 8, §1). Thus, our ignorance in the matter of how the cult transitioned is not solved by positing historicity. Either way, we’re equally in the dark on how these changes happened.

    1. • Carrier asserts that Docetism as described by its opponents in the second century is not mythicism.

      Comment by Richard Carrier—31 December 2012—per “The Goodacre Debate”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 20 December 2012.

      Docetism is not mythicism; it’s historicity: a historical Jesus who is “interpreted” to have been an illusion of some form. (It’s possible the original Docetists were other-worlders and thus mythicists, since we only have writings of their later enemies, and not what the original Docetists actually wrote or claimed, but here I am referring to the Docetism described by its opponents in the second century.)

      1. • Some of the so-called “Docetism” refutations (of early date) from the “massive corpus of apologetic literature” noted by O’Neill are more likely to be refutations of “this original form—the belief in a non-historical Jesus”.

        Per Carrier, “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?“. Richard Carrier Blogs. 9 November 2017.

        Ignatius never mentions Docetists. And the only texts we have that show anything like Docetism date a century later, and they don’t say anything like what’s in Ignatius . . . So how do we know what those whom Ignatius is responding to were actually teaching? We don’t get to read anything they actually wrote, not even in quotation. Christian apologists were notorious liars and misrepresenters of their opponents, so we can’t trust them. And none of the later documents that survive that are called Docetic reference the doctrines Ignatius is concerned about. Were the folks Ignatius is writing against those later, unrelated Docetists we have some writings from and that later apologists opposed—or actually mythicists? We aren’t told; but it sounds a lot more like mythicists (OHJ, pp. 317-20), the same ones 2 Peter was forged to rebut (OHJ, p. 351). We can’t show otherwise.

      2. per Comment by Richard Carrier

        “Docetism is not mythicism; it’s historicity: a historical Jesus who is “interpreted” to have been an illusion of some form.”

        That lacks nuance. Saying a ‘Jesus who [was] ‘interpreted’ to have been an illusion of some form’ was ‘historical’ is specious (regardless of whether or not it’s based on writing of opponents of Docetism and Docetists).

        Docetism is the view that Jesus was a divine being who only seemed or appeared to be human: dokein (Greek) = to seem.

        It is mythicist, so it’d be more than ‘possible’ that “the original Docetists were other-worlders and thus mythicists”.

        The first use of dokein in a christological controversy may be Ignatius’s letters to the Trallians and Smyrnans (said to be c. 110-115 CE, but some suspect these are later). Ignatius mocks those who claim that Christ only seemed to suffer (to dokein auton peponthenai; Tral. 10:1; Smy 2; cf.4:2).

        Basilides evidently taught that ”the Nous” took human form as Jesus in order to make the unborn, nameless Father known.

        The word Δοκηταί (Dokētaí; “Illusionists”) is said to have been first used by Bishop Serapion of Antioch (197–203)in a letter* referring to early groups who denied Jesus’s humanity (after he discovered the doctrine in the Gospel of Peter).

        In Clement of Alexandria’s time (early 3rd century) there were disputes over whether Christ assumed the “psychic” flesh of mankind as heirs to Adam, or the “spiritual” flesh of the resurrection. Clement referred to a group whose name derives from their doctrine (Stromateis VII.xvii). Clement also opined that the founder of docetism was Julius Cassian, but this assessment may have been grounded in Cassian’s belief that birth was an evil (Strom. III.xvii).

        Photius felt the need to comment on Clement’s views in his Myriobiblon, writing that Clement’s views reflected a ‘quasi-docetic’ view of the nature of Christ, and that Clement “hallucinated that the Word was not incarnate but only seems to be” (ὀνειροπολεῖ καὶ μὴ σαρκωθῆναι τὸν λόγον ἀλλὰ δόξαι).

        Recent perceptions about these terms have been fraught. Ernst Käsemann had, in a 1968 book, created controversy when he described the Christology of St John’s Gospel as “naïve docetism” (The Testament of Jesus, trans. Gerhard Krodel, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968).

        Norbert Brox said in 1984 that “Docetism lies at hand where a christology claims: Jesus was different from what he seemed to be” (Brox, Norbert. “‘Doketismus’–eine Problemanzeige,” Zeitschrift fuer Kirchengeschichte 95 (1984):301-314, at p. 309).

        Brox –concerned to differentiate ancient docetism from modern christological problems– has suggested that the term “docetism” be reserved for cases where a doctrine deliberately distinguishes Jesus’manifestation from ‘his essence’, but that still seems too vague.

        Now it seems concepts about and of mythicism might be caught up in confusion about concepts about and of docetism.

        * ‘Concerning the So-Called Gospel of St Peter’, alluded to in Eusebius’s Church History VI 12.3–6.

      3. As per Mrhorse, I cannot agree with Carrier’s statement that “docetism is not mythicism”. Nor can I accept Carrier’s definition of minimal mythicism requiring a death in a supernatural realm. To me, a mythical Jesus is simply one who did not exist in history but only in story or dogma.

        I think it was a mistake for Carrier to integrate mythicism with one particular hypothesis. Perhaps the mistake is comparable to tying a historical Jesus to just one particular view of the historical Jesus, say the Cynic philosopher model.

        Tim has perpetuated the mistake by claiming that any reference to a Jesus in human form is evidence for a historical Jesus. That’s nonsense, of course. Literature and religions are riddled with mythical figures in human form and dwelling on earth. (But in one respect Carrier’s definition of minimal mythicism has opened the door for O’Neill’s nonsense.)

  3. Regarding the historicity of Jesus, I have always been struck by its possible similarities with the story of Selassie vs Rastafari, and the imagined story of Brian as presented by Monty Python. As David Fitzgerald so rationally presents it in his second book on this, “Mything in Action”, what makes a historical Yeshua being considered “the historical Jesus”, while his real life would be so much disconnected by the gospels, and never mentioned by the historians of the day?

  4. • New Freethought Blogs discussion.

    Dr Sarah (25 November 2018). “[https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2018/11/25/jesus-mythicism-vs-jesus-historicity-a-reply-to-r-g-price/ Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price]”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

    [M]ythicist R.G. Price (who, confusingly, is a different mythicist from Robert Price). R.G. had a long comment with a lot of questions, so I decided that, rather than trying to reply in comments, it would be better to write a new post.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading