2018-11-26

A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

Dr Sarah of FreethoughtBlogs.com Geeky Humanist has posted two interesting posts in favour of the historicity of Jesus. It makes a wonderful change to read arguments on this topic that are expressed in a civil and calmly reasoned tone. Her first post is Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter; her more recent one, Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price. This post gives my take on her earlier essay. (All formatting and bolding in Dr Sarah’s comments is my own.)

If Jesus did exist, we have to explain how, within a relatively short time of his death, he was being spoken of as some kind of mythical semi-deity in the writings of some of his followers.

If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as an actual person who walked the face of the earth and did normal (as well as miraculous) things.

Dr Sarah finds the first option the more simple one.

My first thought is that the two options are embedded in faulty, or at least questionable, assumptions. If the gospel figure of Jesus did indeed reflect the life of an ordinary person then the two horns of the dilemma are both a quandary. If, on the other hand, we pause to reflect that the earliest gospel that we believe to have been written was the Gospel of Mark, then we have quite different options. That’s because in the Gospel of Mark the Jesus figure is most unlike any ordinary human figure in ancient (or modern) literature. He is a human, of course, with brothers and sisters and a mother, and he eats and drinks. But he is unlike any other figure in works that we know to be ancient biographies or histories. He is presented to us “cold”, that is, without us having any knowledge of who the biographer is or why he is even writing about him. Without any explanation of how the author came to know anything about his life, he is depicted as engaging in conversations and activities with spirit beings both in heaven and on earth. He calls and mere mortals drop all their livelihoods in a moment and obey. He reads peoples minds and hearts. He exercises God’s prerogative to forgive sins and rules the physical elements. He talks in mysteries so none can understand, and though he explains all his mysterious messages to his disciples, even they don’t truly believe. Even his disciples are far from genuine human beings: they walk as if mesmerized into obedience to follow him at his call; they are unrealistically stupid in not recognizing his power despite seeing it demonstrated time and again; they, along with the crowds in the narrative, come and go as the author needs them, not as per any realistic plot device. In other words, Jesus is depicted in the earliest gospel as a figure of a human but certainly something trans-human. The story-line is absurd — quite against the grain of the way real people really are and how real people really respond — if read “realistically”. But if read a ciphers, or symbols, or personifications, or mouthpieces for some particular set of beliefs and doctrines, if read as a parable or symbolically, the story makes perfect sense.

We have evidence to encourage us in our view that this earliest gospel’s Jesus and disciples (and even his enemies and other persons that appear in the narrative) are far from realistic or natural. That evidence lies in the way that the subsequent evangelists (“Matthew” and “Luke” — even “John”, some would argue) changed Mark’s Jesus and disciples into somewhat more realistic figures. (“John”, on the other hand, went in the other direction and made him even less human.) “Luke” even reduces Jesus to a martyr in the tradition of the Maccabees.

With that background, the two horns of the dilemma are modified somewhat:

  • If Jesus did exist, we have to explain how, within a relatively short time of his death, he was being spoken of as some kind of mythical semi-deity in the writings of some of his followers.
  • If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as a parabolic or allegorical type of person who walked the face of the earth conversing with humans and spirits and did many inexplicable things and spoke in ways that his hearers did not understand.

Or maybe I should make the dilemma a triceratops with a third horn:

  • If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how two of the three canonical evangelists who followed their earliest predecessor “corrected” his account and made him and his followers a little more realistically human.

Okay, you might think I’m playing with that second option a bit too loosely. But how else might it be worded given what we know about the Gospel of Mark’s Jesus and characters generally?

Dr Sarah proceeds to set out her reasons for embracing the historicity of Jesus in five dot points. I address each one.

  • We have four official accounts portraying Jesus as a real person, which have been established as having been written within a century (the earliest probably within a few decades) of the events alleged in them.

Again, we see traditional historicist assumptions doing their work in the way the point is presented. We do have four canonical accounts but a number of scholars would not want to limit their sources to those four. Recall the Jesus Seminar with its inclusion of the Gospel of Thomas as an arguably early document. The narrative behind the Gospel of Peter has also been argued as a very early source, again in existence before our canonical works were recognized as such (i.e. as “canon”). And many critical scholars further are of the conviction that our canonical forms of the four gospels are far from how they appeared when first composed.

Secondly, not all critical scholars are convinced that all the canonical gospels were written within a century of the alleged life of Jesus. On this blog we have considered several strong arguments for our canonical form of Luke not coming together until the mid or even later second century as a response to the Marcionite heresy.

Finally, the view that the canonical gospels were all completed within a century of the supposed life of Jesus does not cohere with the norms of scholarly dating of documents in other fields of study. I have shared the explanation of how “scientific dating” works in other posts, in particular in the first that appears on this page.

Finally finally, if we want to work within the methods of mainstream historians, including classicists or ancient historians, then we will not accept as reliable any source that is beyond the time any eyewitnesses could be claimed as appropriate sources. No, I am not saying that all works written beyond the lifespan of any witnesses are unreliable. No. I am saying that the normal method of the best historians in history departments is to look for sources that can claim some reasonable connection with eyewitness or contemporary accounts. A late source that informs historians of the sources it uses, and gives some information about the author so that readers can have some idea of how reliable he or she potentially is, is useful as a historical source. But an anonymous source that cannot be dated with any reasonable certainty and that does not inform readers of its agenda or sources drawn upon for its narrative, and even appears to be a re-write of other stories known to be “fiction”, — then, well, I think you can get the point.

  • These accounts include quite a few things which were clearly quite awkward for their authors.
    • Jesus was supposed to have been the Messiah – despite this being a Jewish title that referred to someone who would rule over the country in an era of peace and prosperity, which Jesus clearly hadn’t done.
    • He apparently came from Nazareth – even though this was another big problem for his followers’ claims that he was the Messiah, requiring two of the gospel authors to make up complicated and contradictory accounts about how, despite having grown up in Nazareth, he had actually been born in Bethlehem.
    • He was executed by the Romans for sedition – which would have made the cult widely unpopular and could have got them into real trouble (if you read the gospel accounts, you can see the writers coming out with some wildly implausible stuff intended to paint a picture of Pilate as really innocent in the matter and the Jews really being the ones to blame for the whole thing).
    • And apparently, despite the gospels painting a very anti-Pharisaic picture, his teachings as portrayed were in fact rather typically Pharisaian (Maccoby, Revolution in Judea and The Mythmaker).
  • So… these things all got included, and we need to ask why.

Again, we see historicist assumptions at work. No, there is no prima facie reason to think that any author will write something that is seriously personally embarrassing. We know that Matthew, Luke (and John) did not like some things they read in Mark — we might say they felt embarrassed by his accounts — so they simply ignored or changed those details. There is no reason to assume that the earliest evangelist could not have done the same.

The view that any of those points listed by Dr Sarah were “embarrassing” depends entirely upon the assumption that the earliest gospel authors shared the same theological presuppositions as the scholars of today who say they would have been embarrassing. I will keep this post at manageable length and not cover at this point all the critical scholarship that is at hand, but simply link to some related posts that does address some of the NT scholarship:

  • On Jesus being a “failed messiah”, see Novenson: Christ among Messiahs
  • On Jesus being from Nazareth and that being an embarrassment, see Questioning the apologetic argument for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem
  • I don’t understand at the moment how the next two points somehow favour the “historicist” argument. But the gospels clearly blame the Jews for pressuring Pilate to act against his better judgment and they all make clear that the followers of Jesus were not part of the condemnation. There is nothing in that scenario that would risk making Christians unpopular. (Pilate was already unpopular for his “mis-directions” and complaints about him were being sent to Rome anyway.)
  • And as for the Pharisaic teaching, one slight difficulty with the Maccoby view is that Maccoby relies upon later records for the essence of Pharisaic teaching. But many scholars have on the other hand noted the same teachings of Jesus were very much in accord with widespread Stoic and Cynic philosophies of the day. (Pharisaic teaching often coincided with these.)

Next, Dr Sarah falls in line with another common assertion that is in fact open to question:

  • These accounts also show signs of getting increasingly fantastical over time, suggesting the stories are getting embroidered as they go along.

Except that the Gospel of Luke presents a much more human Jesus, a martyr in the tradition of the Maccabees. The christology of the Gospel of Mark (the earliest gospel) is hotly debated among NT scholars, some asserting that it in fact portrays a very high christology. The stilling the storm episode, for instance, is taken directly from the Psalms that have speaking the very words of God himself.

  • In the early years of the Church, the person who seems to have been doing more than anyone else to spread this new belief to Gentiles in far-flung places was someone who joined only after Jesus’s death, showed astonishingly little interest in finding out about the doctrines of this new group, thought it quite OK to spread teachings that he believed to have come to him through personal revelation rather than from others in the group, and clashed with the existing group over the things he was teaching, of which they didn’t approve at all. Which gives us a rather bizarre situation where this man has gone off at a complete tangent and is energetically spreading his version of this new belief, which ends up being extremely influential despite being quite different from what the original group believed.

According to that person’s letter to the Galatians his gospel was completely in harmony with that of the “three pillars” in Jerusalem. The differences that surfaced later was about the significance of that gospel message for the observation of the Jewish cultic law.

In that person’s letters to the Corinthians he does speak of rival apostles who preached a different gospel but he does not give us any reason to think that those rivals preceded him or had any knowledge of a “historical Jesus”.

  • All this was happening within a society where the majority of the population came from cultures other than the minority culture from which Jesus supposedly came, whose beliefs, and hence their interpretation of stories and events, might be very different from that of the culture in which the beliefs originated. On top of that, it was a society with widespread beliefs in amazing happenings, including the possibility of gods visiting the earth in human form.

That is true to some extent. At the same time, however, we ought not to overlook the extent to which Hellenization influenced Jewish intellectuals (e.g. Philo).

With that background, Dr Sarah proceeds to ask

Against this background information, how does the above question look?

Firstly, let’s look at the hypothesis that Jesus was actually a historical person. How does the above evidence fit with this? . . . .

By the time people get as far as writing the stories down, a few decades later, the stories they have to work with are a mishmash of things that actually happened, embroidered versions of things that actually happened, stories that people have made up out of whole cloth because they sound good, and some rather strange mythology around the whole thing. So that’s what gets written down. Some of the stuff is pretty awkward for them, but, because it goes back to things that did actually happen, it’s firmly embedded in the traditions and can’t just be erased or ignored, so the gospel authors include those bits but do what they can to sugar-coat them or explain them away. We end up with an odd mix of stories, many of which are clearly embroidered or mythicised but many others of which seem to be describing a historical Jesus. Which, as you have probably spotted, pretty much describes the NT.

Yes, that scenario does sound plausible on the face of it. But when we look at the canonical gospels we run into problems. By Dr Sarah’s scenario we ought to be able to find some clues that help us identify stories that are traced to oral tradition that ultimately relies upon an eyewitness; and other stories that are later mythical add-ons. If indeed the gospels do consist of such a mix, then it follows that we can recognize such a mix, and therefore it follows that we should be able at least in theory to sort out what’s what.

If we can’t recognize that the gospels are indeed such a mix as Dr Sarah posits, then the entire hypothetical scenario falls to pieces.

And we really can identify sources for the gospel narratives and they are all found within the works of other literature widely known to literate Jews of the day. (That’s not just my opinion by the way, but is verifiable in many works of mainstream scholarship.)

Besides, look at how many steps there are in Dr Sarah’s scenario and note that each one depends upon a narrative claim in our sources. It is somewhat circular reasoning to use the narrative details to prove the narrative details. But this is a question we have discussed at length often before.

Dr Sarah then looks at the mythicist view in the light of the above background:

Well, the epistles seem to fit reasonably well, purely as far as theology goes; the theological descriptions of the Lord in the epistles could plausibly fit with a group who believe in a spiritual leader somewhere up in the heavens. (Even then, there are a lot of lines that wouldn’t plausibly fit with this; the epistles do contain several lines about Jesus having existed

  • according to the flesh,
  • or being born of a woman,
  • or being of the seed of David,
  • or having brothers, one of whom Paul mentions meeting, all of which is rather difficult to reconcile with mythicism and requires some highly strained logic on the part of mythicists.

But if we ignore all that – which mythicists do, on the whole, tend to prefer to do – and focus just on the theology, then that seems at first glance to fit.)

I am curious to know which mythicist arguments Dr Sarah has in mind when she characterizes their arguments as “highly strained logic”. Who are those mythicists? What are their “highly strained” arguments?

I know of nothing “strained” about the problematic nature of the “being born of a woman” passage in Galatians 4:4. (Oh, I do remember now. Yes, I do think Dr Carrier’s argument on this passage does leave us with some problems.) A pretty comprehensive list of various posts on what look to me like very simple and straightforward arguments can be found in this blog’s Galatians 4:4 archive. Ditto for the “seed of David” passage in Romans. And of course that old canard, “the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians. If any of the explanations on those pages appears convoluted or “strained” then I’d appreciate being informed of the specifics. And before anyone tries to dismiss outright any arguments for interpolation as deus ex machinas then I plead that they examine the prevalence of interpolations and textual corruptions and forgeries in the ancient world as set out by both classicists and reputable biblical scholars themselves.

Dr Sarah raises a good question after the above problems are set aside:

However, once we get to the gospels, things get a lot more difficult to explain. If the group at this stage believed that the person they held so dear was in fact a celestial being who had never visited this world as a human, how did we end up with multiple books telling detailed stories about his time living in this world as a human?

. . . . .

But what do we actually have? Multiple different books describing a historical Jesus. (While the gospels are not independent in terms of what information they give us, each one does nevertheless represent a different person sitting down and putting a lot of effort into writing a detailed and lengthy story.)

Again, I think most critical NT scholars would not accept that any of our canonical gospels describe a historical Jesus. I have never heard any scholar accept that claim except apologists. The gospels are uniformly said by critical NT scholars to be “mythical” or “christological” narratives that overlay a historical person, and that it is only be peeling back and applying various criteria or other methods that we can somehow find a historical figure.

My response to that claim has always been that those methods used by historical Jesus scholars are unique to biblical studies in the way they are used, and that no historian outside the field of biblical studies uses those methods to try to establish some “historical” event or person.

I think the methods of those NT scholars to find a historical figure beneath or behind the text are fallacious (and many scholars think so, too), and that if we applied the methods used by ancient historians and classicists we would be left with nothing but the christological or mythical figure in the gospels.

Highly awkward claims – that the authors seem to be desperately trying to soft-pedal, but nonetheless include – that a specific and powerful public figure was responsible for the death of this founder.

Further highly awkward claims that the revered founder was making claims that got him (rightly, under the prevailing Roman law) executed for sedition.

Again, the view that the gospel’s claims are “awkward” depends entirely upon the assumption that the authors of the gospels shared the theological and world-view perspectives of people today. We have posted often enough scholarly explanations for why the baptism of Jesus, his crucifixion, etc. were not, or would not have been embarrassing to those who magnified those events in their narratives. Paul even said he boasted in the cross of Christ. We need to take a step back and try to imagine the perspective of authors. We need to be aware of the trap of circular reasoning and claiming historicity best explains the gospel narratives and that the gospel narratives make the hypothesis most likely historical.

This is where I miss the great scholar Philip R. Davies. I wish he had lived long enough to have followed through his desire to apply the sound historical methods applied to the OT and the historicity of the Davidic kingdom being applied to the NT and the question of the historicity of Jesus.

Complicated and contradictory stories attempting to explain how a man from Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem, when it would surely have been so much simpler to leave out the Nazareth claim and write Jesus as coming from Bethlehem in the first place.

I linked above to a critical scholarly argument demonstrating the problems with this question.

What would lead people to make all this stuff up – all of it – from scratch?

I don’t believe that it was “all made up from scratch”. The evidence indicates anything but. Earl Doherty addressed this question, to a significant extent drawing upon the NT scholar Burton Mack’s scholarship, to show how the story gathered detail slowly, and from OT scriptures primarily. There are other arguments relating to evidence that are much more extensive than even Doherty referenced.

On the other hand, where we find some narrative episodes consisting of well over one hundred allusions to OT scriptures (as do the final scenes in the Gospel of Mark) it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the author was playing with those scriptures in order to find details for his narrative.

But writer’s fatigue is setting in (notice my weariness showing as I fail to add more links to relevant essays) so I will finish this post at this point.

I do thank Dr Sarah for posting her arguments so clearly and courteously.

 

 

 

Related Posts on Vridar

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christi... The previous post concluded thus: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my revised hypothesis basically adds only two things to Loisy's scena...
Imagine No Interpolations What if the Testimonium Flavianum, the passage about Jesus and his followers, in Antiquities by Josephus was written in full (or maybe with the except...
Scholarship and “Mythicism”: When the ... I recently wrote in a blog post: Roger Pearse, for instance, goes even further and without any suggestion that he is aware of Doherty’s arguments say...
Simon Gathercole’s Failure to Address Mythic... The abstract to Simon Gathercole's article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus begins The present article seeks to show that the cas...
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)

41 Comments

  • proudfootz
    2018-11-26 12:01:27 GMT+0000 - 12:01 | Permalink

    “I don’t believe that it was “all made up from scratch”. The evidence indicates anything but. Earl Doherty addressed this question, to a significant extent drawing upon the NT scholar Burton Mack’s scholarship, to show how the story gathered detail slowly, and from OT scriptures primarily. There are other arguments relating to evidence that are much more extensive than even Doherty referenced.”

    One of the persistent tropes used by some who argue for the ‘historical Jesus’ hypothesis (or against the ‘mythical Jesus’ hypothesis) is that stories about a non-historical figure of Jesus must have been created all at once from whole cloth on a rainy afternoon. AFAICT no one has argued such a thing (except maybe the ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ advocates?). It is already widely accepted that the books comprising the Bible were written by many different people over a long period of time before they became canon. It is also widely accepted that many of the stories have been modified with deletions, additions, and manipulations. It is a testament to the disingenuity of ‘Jesus mythicism’ critics to radically misrepresent what is being argued for.

    #####

    Just a couple of proofing notes:

    You wrote: In that person’s letters to the Corinthians we does speak of rival apostles who preached a different gospel but he does not give us any reason to think that those rivals preceded him or had any knowledge of a “historical Jesus”.

    [After Corinthians do you mean to write ‘he’ instead of ‘we’?]

    You wrote: Ditto for the “see of David” passage in Romans.

    [Should read “seed of David”?]

    • MrHorse
      2018-11-26 21:17:57 GMT+0000 - 21:17 | Permalink

      One of the persistent tropes used by some who argue…against the ‘mythical Jesus’ hypothesis is that stories about a non-historical figure of Jesus must have been created all at once from whole cloth … It is already widely accepted that the books comprising the Bible were written by many different people over a long period of time before they became canon. It is also widely accepted that many of the stories have been modified with deletions, additions, and manipulations.

      Recent scholarship around Marcion and texts associated with him proposes some or all of the synoptic gospels were written in close proximity time-wise and spatially. One such scholar, Jason BeDuhn, calls the ‘gospel’ that Marcion acquired the ‘fourth synoptic’ (he seems to think Marcion’s theology was different to how it was represented by Tertullian, Epiphanius, etc. see BeDuhn, The New Marcion: Rethinking the “Arch Heretic” (a pdf)).

      Matthias Klinghardt thinks a pre-canonical Mark was based on the ‘gospel’ that Marcion had acquired (which he designates ‘Mcn’); that a pre-canonical g.Matthew was based on Mcn and pre-canonical Mark; likewise a pre-canonical g.John was based on the previous three; and, a pre-canonical Luke was based on those four. He proposes a single redactor used those four pre-canonical texts to produce the canonical gospels.

      Markus Vinzent thinks a draft of the gospel Marcion that had [and had written?] prompted others to write the canonical gospels, and Marcion then wrote a second edition of his Gospel in response.

      Thomas L Brodie thinks a Proto-Luke was first developed, largely based on the Elijah-Elisha narrative from the book of Kings (aka a Genesis-Kings ‘Primary History’ Genesis is heavily indebted to the Major Prophets) and 1 Corinthians. Brodie proposes g.Mark was then developed from that and 1 Peter; then g.Matthew was developed (i) from that g.Mark, (ii) from Logia from the book of Deuteronomy (Devarium, Logi) and (iii) from the Pauline Epistle to the Romans. Then the canonical Luke-Acts was developed.

      Shelly Matthews has proposed that there was what she calls a pre-Marcion ‘çore Luke’; that canonical Luke is a second century redaction of it characterised by additions primarily at the beginning and end of ‘core Luke’; and that Marcionite circles are likely to have used ‘core Luke’ and expanded it according to their teaching –

      Matthews S, ‘Does Dating Luke-Acts into the Second Century Affect the Q Hypothesis?’, chapter 13 in Gospel Interpretation and the Q-Hypothesis (Mogens Müller & Heike Omerzu eds. Bloomsbury Publishing, April 2018; pp. 245-65.

      R.G Price proposes G.Mark was written by a follower of Paul after the 1st Roman-Jewish War (so after Paul had died), using (i) the Pauline epistles, (ii) the O.T. — particularly the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings, the books of the Prophets, & Psalms from the Hebrew scriptures — and (iii) aspects of the War (whether directly or via others’ accounts I’m not sure).

      Further to all that, Jörg Rüpke, in Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, February 2018, asserts that

      Christianity [was] invented historiographically [in the 2nd century] by means of the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles complemented by collections of letters. There was as yet no actual community.

      • MrHorse
        2018-11-26 21:26:49 GMT+0000 - 21:26 | Permalink

        minor corrections –

        >> Markus Vinzent thinks a draft of the gospel that Marcion had [and that he had written?] prompted others to write [other gospels] …

        … (aka a Genesis-Kings ‘Primary History’; Genesis is heavily indebted to the Major Prophets) …

      • 2018-11-26 21:41:28 GMT+0000 - 21:41 | Permalink

        Nice summary of info. I tend to agree with the general statement: “Christianity [was] invented historiographically [in the 2nd century] by means of the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles complemented by collections of letters. There was as yet no actual community.”

        I very much think that the writings preceded the community. The writings are what generated the interest. I think there was some very tiny community that Paul and James were a part of, but that community was insignificant. This could well have been less than 100 people.

        I’d be shocked if more than 500 people had even heard of “Jesus Christ” prior to the writing of the first Gospel. I wouldn’t be surprised if less than 100 had.

        As I say in the book, I think what made the religion really take off and gain adoption was the perception that the events described in the Gospels were profound evidence of prophecy fulfillment. So I think prior to the Gospels this was really a nothing club of a handful of people. Then the Gospel stories emerged and it exploded.

        • MrHorse
          2018-11-26 22:48:38 GMT+0000 - 22:48 | Permalink

          Cheers. Rüpke’s comments about the start of Christianity in Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion are a bit piecemeal (ie. not all together), but he says the demand for new works of literature in the 2nd century, particularly biography and recent history, took off after the works of Josephus, Plutarch, and Suetonius had become availabl; and that works like the Shepherd of Hermas were very popular, as was Marcion’s collections. But it’s interesting an expert of Roman era religion and the development of religions, as Rüpke is, was so blunt (in that statement I quoted above).

          The notion that Marcion acquired a gospel rather than having primarily written one is interesting, too. I think some of these scholars also think Mark existed before Marcion’s theological activity or arose out of his community.

          Markus Vinzent has noted (in Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels, 2014) that a W. Schmithals has previously noted the term apostle likely derives from the ship trade where it can mean ‘ship’, ‘expedition’, ‘passport’, and ‘deliver note’ (W. Schmithals, Apostelamt (1961), 85; likely Das Kirchliche Apostelamt; Eine Historische Untersuchung).

          And Jason BeDuhn has noted that, “before Christians adopted the codex instead of the scroll as the format for their books, its previous primary use was as a shipmaster’s almanac and businessman’s account ledger.” http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/01/bed388006.shtml

          BeDuhn has written some interesting comments about the start of Christianity that I think align with your – R.G. Price’s – timeline and views –

          The first Christians were Jews, and the first non-Jewish Christians almost certainly came from the so-called “God-fearers” — Gentiles who attended Jewish synagogues as a kind of affiliated community as “fans,” so to speak, of Jewish religious traditions — and the Christian movement crossed into Gentile awareness from its Jewish roots through this medium, as we can see in some of the letters of Paul and the Book of Acts. What then happened when, through a series of socio-political crises, the dependence of these Gentile Christian groups on a Jewish Christian core became untenable, and Gentile Christians either willingly or unwillingly went their own way? First the Jewish War of 66-70 CE, then the Jewish urban insurgencies and anti-Jewish riots of 116-117 CE, then the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132-134 CE, repeatedly made association with Jews very problematic. Each of these wars was followed by decades of anti-Jewish laws and social prejudice. Jewish religion itself went through traumatic adjustments that made it less tolerant of dissident groups like the Christians. As the Gentile Christian groups detached from the synagogue, they took different forms. Some lead toward Marcion, in which the Jewish background of Christian thought and practice was minimized. Others lead toward what Marcion found in place in Rome, in which Gentile Christians felt entitled to appropriate the Jewish tradition as a whole, and claim to be “Verus Israel,” the True Israel.

          Marcion and the Invention of the New Testament, January 2014.

          It’s interesting that Thomas Brodie’s emphasis on the Elijah-Elisha narrative (albeit for an initial ‘proto-Luke’) aligns with your arguments for it for the basis for G.Mark.

          • 2018-11-26 23:49:48 GMT+0000 - 23:49 | Permalink

            Yeah, I don’t know where Brodie get’s his proto-Luke perspective. I think the case for Mark being the first and source for Luke is pretty overwhelming.

            I’d be interested to hear more of what Rüpke has to say about Christianity. I’ll probably order his book today though as the whole subject is interesting, regardless of the elements on Christianity.

            I’d say that the passage from BeDuhn is compatible with my thesis, though it neither supports or detracts from it really.

            Thanks for bringing these up.

            • MrHorse
              2018-11-29 11:22:31 GMT+0000 - 11:22 | Permalink

              Brodie says in the preface of The crucial bridge: the Elijah-Elisha narrative as an interpretive synthesis of Genesis-Kings and a literary model for the Gospels that he worked regularly with the 1 Kgs 16:29–2 Kgs 13:25 prophetic narrative for twenty-five years, convinced it was important but not knowing why.

              “Though [he] used it as a basis for a dissertation (“Luke-Acts as a Rewriting of Elijah-Elisha,” 1981) and for several articles, its nature remained elusive. Yet its importance was clear.”

              He noted Elijah is echoed in Jesus: “Jesus was sometimes seen as Elijah, and in his inaugural speech at Nazareth he explicitly invoked the examples of both Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25-27)”, and that “Raymond E. Brown (“Jesus and Elisha,” 1971) has indicated that the primary literary precedents for the Gospels are the prophetic biographies, especially that of Elisha. And in [his] own work there was repeated detailed evidence that the writers of the Gospels, especially the author of Luke-Acts, made deliberate literary use of the Elijah-Elisha narrative.”

              He specifies 25 chapters in Luke-Acts in Chapter 10 (and beyond) of ‘The Birthing of the New Testament …’, available via google books – https://books.google.com.au/books?id=1rm2LDFQscUC&pg=PA2&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

        • MrHorse
          2018-11-26 23:18:05 GMT+0000 - 23:18 | Permalink

          Another interesting dimension with regard to your – R.G. Price’s – theory of the genesis of G.Mark are the seemingly similar propositions of Lena Einhorn and Frans Vermeiren that the NT Jesus is based on the peri-War persons ‘The Egyptian Prophet’ and Jesus, son of Saphat/ Sapphias, as recorded in the works of Josephus.

          Einhorn’s book and site –

          A Shift in Time: How Historical Documents Reveal the Surprising Truth about Jesus, 2016

          http://lenaeinhorn.se/english-2/research/

          Also http://lenaeinhorn.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Jesus-and-the-Egyptian-Prophet-12.11.25.pdf
          .

          Vermeiren’s book and site –

          A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity, 2015/ 2017

          http://www.waroriginsofchristianity.com/

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 13:24:32 GMT+0000 - 13:24 | Permalink

      Thanks for the corrections, and apologies for my carelessness — and lateness in catching up with comments!

  • 2018-11-26 17:43:35 GMT+0000 - 17:43 | Permalink

    So FYI, I gave a very small reply to that post and am planning to refrain from commenting on it further until after she has read my book.

    She has my book. She has said she will read it. I’ll let her read it and then see what she has to say as I believe that my book is the best rebuttal to her post.

    I will say one thing about your post here though:

    “I don’t believe that it was “all made up from scratch”. The evidence indicates anything but. Earl Doherty addressed this question, to a significant extent drawing upon the NT scholar Burton Mack’s scholarship, to show how the story gathered detail slowly, and from OT scriptures primarily. There are other arguments relating to evidence that are much more extensive than even Doherty referenced.”

    Just as a point of clarification, what I propose is that the “human Jesus” was essentially “all made up from scratch”.

    My position is essentially that the Gospel of Mark was the Big Bang that create the human Jesus out of whole cloth, who had never been conceived of before.

    I think that prior to GMark Jesus was thought to be an eternal heavenly being, who may or may not have been purely spiritual or may have become flesh in the heaven. Perhaps he made visits to earth, that is unclear, but even if so, there was no narrative associated with those visits, they were merely theological constructs.

    I see the timeline as moving pretty quickly. It seems that the cult of Jesus would likely have sprung up sometime around 40 CE. I see Paul as a major innovator, who himself single-highhandedly invented many aspects of Jesus lore.

    I don’t see the evolution of Jesus as some slow community driven process, I see it as the work of a few specific people.

    I think prior to GMark Jesus was just “the Lord Jesus Christ”, an eternal heavenly being (messiah, angel, deity, whatever). His role was the “good cop” to his father’s “bad cop”. God was the punisher, Jesus was the forgiver. Jesus was the heavenly Isaac to God’s heavenly the Abraham.

    There was no concept of Jesus as a person who resided on earth and had followers or gave speeches or healed the sick, etc. All of that was invented with the Gospel of Mark.

    There was no slow evolution. There was Jesus the heavenly savior and then a story came out that was believed as literally true that invented Jesus the person, and thus Jesus the man was born overnight.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 12:49:25 GMT+0000 - 12:49 | Permalink

      Yes, I should have made it clear that your argument “from scratch” is different from mine.

  • Der Gottesverachter
    2018-11-26 19:27:07 GMT+0000 - 19:27 | Permalink

    “problem of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as an actual person”

    The way I see it, the only thing that needs explaining is why some people think the figure of Jesus requires more explaining than any other of many characters from religious/supernatural literary fiction who left no trace in the historical record and came to be written about as a real person.

  • db
    2018-11-27 04:56:15 GMT+0000 - 04:56 | Permalink

    Peter Nothnagle comments and submits for review his essay: Nothnagle (2013) Jesus: Fact or Fiction? [redaction of August 23, 2018]

    Comment by Peter N (28 October 2018) per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist. 25 November 2018.

    The point you come back to repeatedly is that we have four gospels, each of which is sort of a biography of a living person, and that this amplifies the case for his historicity. But consider: On the one hand, we have only one gospel that means anything in this debate, the Gospel of Mark, because the rest are later redactions of Mark. Mark was obviously written first, all by itself, and as the decades rolled by the others were written to correct Mark’s mistakes and to reflect the evolving (and coalescing) theology of the first generations of Christians. But on the other hand, we have way more than four gospels — we have more like 40, most of which were suppressed as an “orthodox” or “catholic” (meaning, “universally accepted” — ha!) doctrine took hold. They all say all kinds of wildly different things about Jesus. Even among the four canonical gospels, Jesus is depicted as a regular guy who was somehow possessed by the spirit of God for a few months (Mark), the biological offspring of a god and a human female (Matthew and Luke), and a timeless supernatural being who was never born at all (John).

    The letters of Paul, as you say, seem to depict Jesus as some kind of angelic being whom no one ever saw in the flesh. The established congregations to which he was writing must have believed the same thing, otherwise he would have tried to change their minds. Paul adamantly maintained that everything he was saying about Jesus was revealed to him in visions and his own esoteric reading of Scripture, and not from any eyewitness or other source. And Paul’s letters preceded the first gospel by decades, which would make them that much closer to any actual historical events, and therefore less subject to changes in the retelling over time.

    It doesn’t help the historical-Jesus case that there isn’t the slightest bit of information about Jesus from any non-Christian source.

    So there is good reason to doubt there was an actual teacher at the root of Christianity, and no good reason to believe it.

    • db
      2018-11-27 06:13:30 GMT+0000 - 06:13 | Permalink

      • Dr Sarah replies to Peter Nothnagle (above).

      Comment by Dr Sarah (1 November 2018) per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

      [W]hile Paul’s theology certainly seems to focus on Jesus as some kind of angelic being, there are still a lot of references in his letters to things like Jesus being born of a woman, or according to the flesh… things that don’t make sense if Paul wasn’t at least picturing a human Jesus at the end of this.

      • db
        2018-11-28 14:59:57 GMT+0000 - 14:59 | Permalink

        Per Dr Sarah (25 November 2018). “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

        [There are] multiple passages in Paul that fit with historicity rather than mythicism; and ‘five or six’ is an underestimate there. I’ve been through the undisputed letters and count 11. (That isn’t counting the ‘killed by the Jews’ passage on 1 Thessalonians, which I left off the list as there are reasonable unrelated grounds for suspecting it to be an interpolation.)

        And, yes, it’s possible to look at any individual one of those examples in isolation and say, maybe this one was an interpolation or we’re interpreting it wrong or there’s some other explanation we’re not aware of. But the more such examples there are, the more difficult it is to explain all of them away.

  • db
    2018-11-27 05:55:19 GMT+0000 - 05:55 | Permalink

    • Dr Sarah gives an extensive reply comment.

    Comment by Dr Sarah (1 November 2018) per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

    “Just a few decades” is a huge amount of time when life expectancy was much shorter.

    It’s a huge amount of time in terms of being able to rely on the details of the gospel stories (and would be even if life expectancy was longer, for that matter, as it’s still a heck of a lot of time for stories to get embroidered when being passed on by word of mouth). However, it’s an unusually small amount of time when looking at the prospect of someone making up a historical biography for someone who’s thought to have existed only on a celestial plane as some sort of heavenly being.

    What I’m thinking of here specifically is Carrier’s explanation that the gospels are an example of euhemerism, a practice of the time in which historicised stories would be told about a deity or other being believed by society to exist in some kind of celestial plane. Interestingly, it doesn’t look as though this explanation works anyway, since it seems euhemerism was actually practiced by skeptics wanting to give rational explanations for the stories about the gods, which is hardly the case here. But also, Carrier himself says in his book that other known examples of euhemerism place the supposed historical figure hundreds of years earlier, not just a few decades. Carrier doesn’t consider this to be important, but it caught my attention; if that’s so, then surely the fact that we have a story of someone who supposedly did live just a few decades earlier points towards euhemerism being less likely?

    I agree that that’s certainly not conclusive by itself, and, if this was the only point we had in favour of a historical Jesus, then I’d agree that Jesus was unlikely to have been historical. However, it’s one of the (many) things that point towards a higher probability of historicity, so I included it with my other points.

    We also have accounts, written by actual named-eye witnesses, about the savior John Frum.

    Do we have entire biographies (well, hagiographies) for John Frum that give details of his life events and family? As I say, I can see how we could get a few stories about Jesus walking the earth/appearing to people even if he was believed to have existed on a celestial plane (in fact, the reason Christianity exists at all is because several people believed they’d seen him at a point where he definitely wouldn’t be expected to be walking the earth), but I can’t see how we could get multiple hagiographies with multiple life details, including some which are seriously awkward for the writers.

    It was a really long time, and not a really short time, and the writers were very probably not eye witnesses, and – at best – most of the eye witnesses would be dead by the time Mark was written, and all of the eye witnesses would be dead by the time that the other Gospels were written.

    And yet, even allowing for all of that… how would we get people completely inventing this sort of life story about someone who actually didn’t walk the earth? Embroidering or exaggerating existing stories, sure. Adding invented stories to the existing ones, sure. Starting from the point of view of ‘this is a celestial being’ and inventing a life story for him? That’s a different matter. No, it’s not impossible… but it’s a heck of a lot more improbable than someone writing a life story (however embellished) about someone who actually lived.

    being of the seed of David,

    How is this any better on historicity? Think about it. It’s not. People just assume that it’s a statement about the ancestry of Joseph, husband of Mary, but if you think about it, it makes no sense.

    Why not? The virgin birth story seems very likely to have been a later development, so it’s extremely plausible that it wasn’t even around at the time that Paul was writing that letter; far more plausible, anyway, than the idea that Paul had some kind of cosmic sperm bank in mind. (It’s also hardly impossible for Paul to have held genuinely contradictory beliefs on this point; look how many Christians manage precisely that today, despite having both the ‘seed of David’ line and the virgin birth stories.)

    In that passage, Paul is explaining that Jesus was born as a Jew and under the old covenant or something in order to show how Jesus could fulfill certain Old Testament prophesy.

    So, if Paul believed that Jesus had to be born as a Jew in order to fulfil prophesy… how was he managing to hold a belief that he had only existed on a celestial plane?

    Multiple different books describing a historical Jesus. (While the gospels are not independent in terms of what information they give us, each one does nevertheless represent a different person sitting down and putting a lot of effort into writing a detailed and lengthy story.)

    So what?

    So… what would motivate those authors to invent entire books’ worth of stories about someone who didn’t live on earth? The explanations we get from different mythicists (that I’ve mentioned above) are somewhat strained already, but they only get more so when they have to account for multiple different people writing biographies of someone who didn’t have a biography (not to mention the fact that some of the stories appear to trace back to earlier sources).

    This is one of the worst arguments that I’ve ever heard.

    Out of curiosity, is it better or worse than the argument about the cosmic sperm bank? 🙂

    What? The idea that there was a yearly custom where the Romans would release a death-penalty prisoner to appease the Jewish population is silly.

    Of course it is, and the idea that a crowd would spontaneously all choose to shout a line like “His blood be on us and on our children!” is even sillier, so I agree that we can safely say that the Barabbas story is invented. But that should raise the question; why was it invented?

    Within the story, that particular claim serves the function of absolving Pilate from blame for crucifying Jesus; look, says gMatthew, it wasn’t his fault really, it was those nasty Jews who made him do it, it’s all their fault. Which makes perfect sense from ‘Matthew’s’ POV; it’s completely natural that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his account pointing the finger at a powerful Roman.

    But all of that leaves us with a key question: why was Pilate included in the story at all? ‘Matthew’s’ trying to blame the Jews. If he’s writing the story from scratch (or, more accurately, if ‘Mark’ is), why not simply write it with the Jews executing Jesus? Why all this nonsense about how Pilate did it but really it was the fault of the Jews because of [ridiculously improbable story]? Why put Pilate in there at all… unless it was because it was already known that Jesus, a real-life Jesus, actually had been crucified by order of Pilate, and so that was the story the gospel writers were stuck with using?

    (they need Jesus to fulfill the functions of the Jewish Temple Cult, and blood magic is how you do it, and the son of god is the best blood magic sacrifice that you can do, which should last forever instead of just one year for the goat sacrifice, thus eliminating the need of the Jewish Temple Cult

    It’s possible, though unlikely, that someone in that day and age could have not only come up with such a belief but also linked it with a term (Messiah) that, for the Jews, had the utterly different meaning of a king ruling over a liberated Israel. The trouble is, that theory then raises the problems of having to explain all the bits of Acts that don’t fit with it. If the early Jerusalem church really did believe that Jesus’s death had eliminated temple sacrifice… why does Acts mention the disciples attending the temple daily (Acts 2:46 and 3:1) and the church elders expecting Paul to carry out a temple purification ritual to prove his good faith (Acts 21:18 – 26)? Why do their speeches make no mention of this new and radical belief, focusing instead on Jesus’s resurrection rather than on any supposed benefits from his sacrifice?

    Sure, the author of Acts made bits up when it suited him… but why make those particular bits up? If the theory you’ve just described really was the accepted belief of the early church, why would the author of Acts write an account that not only gave no sign of this, but flatly contradicted it in some places?

    (@comment 3)

    So, they’re definitely getting embellished over time, but the embellishment is a possible indication of a shift of belief in the Christian population away from god-man that lived only in the heavens to a god-man that lived and walked on Earth for many years.

    That gives us a theory that’s describing a journey from celestial godman to earthly godman via allegorical account of a human… which is somewhat convoluted and strange, and leaves us with some hard-to-explain questions. If the early church really believed Jesus was a celestial being who’d never walked the earth, why would anyone be making allegorical stories about him at all when they had so many OT characters to choose from? Why did his godman status apparently pass by the author of Acts, who quoted Peter as referring to him as ‘a man attested to you by God’ (Acts 2:22) rather than as God?

    It’s not that any one point here is impossible to think up some kind of explanation for. It’s that we end up with convoluted explanation piled on convoluted explanation, to the point where the hypothesis that Christianity started with an actual preacher is far more likely. Put it this way… given all the points that can be more simply explained by the previous existence of a historical Jesus, why should we believe in a mythical Jesus?

  • db
    2018-11-28 16:00:35 GMT+0000 - 16:00 | Permalink

    • Questions from Dr Sarah to R. G. Price.

    Dr Sarah (25 November 2018) [now bolded]. “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

    Why does Josephus, in a line universally accepted as genuine by Josephan scholars, describe one man as being ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ’?

    Why does Tacitus mention a Christus who founded a sect named after him and who was executed by Pontius Pilate, describing this sect in terms hostile enough that this is extremely unlikely to be information he got from Christians?

    What precedent is there for anyone writing allegorical stories about a heavenly figure that are so detailed they mention fictitious family members and a place where he allegedly grew up? How often, in that culture, is that known to have happened? Based on that answer, what are the estimated chances that multiple different people in a relatively small sect would choose to do this about the same figure?

    What is the explanation for the passages I quoted above from Hebrews indicating a belief in a human flesh-and-blood Jesus of physical descent?

    Why do two of the gospel writers describe Jesus as coming from Nazareth, even though this was clearly very awkward for them to the point where they had to make up detailed and implausible stories explaining how he had really come to be born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth?

    Why do the gospel writers all name a powerful Roman as being the person who ordered Jesus’s crucifixion, even though they clearly realised the risks of this and took great pains to gloss over and explain away this part of the story as much as possible?

    rationalrevolution [R. G. Price]—November 25, 2018—says:

    I don’t want to go into much detail on most of the points until you’ve had a chance to read the book, but I will touch on the comments about Hebrews because I don’t cover that topic well in the book.

    You offer several quotes from Hebrews, but leave out Hebrews 8-9. This is a major issue, because Hebrews 8-9 tell us directly that Jesus is a heavenly being.

    “Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one;” (Hebrews 8:4-5)

    Hebrews 8 and 9 explicitly state that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven. Both Carrier and Doherty provide extensive analysis of this. What Hebrews 8 and 9 basically say that everything that has been described about Jesus in the letter of the Hebrews is talking about a spiritual heavenly being, whose actions have all taken place in the heavens.

    • db
      2018-11-29 03:34:48 GMT+0000 - 03:34 | Permalink

      Dr Sarah asks:

      What precedent is there for anyone writing allegorical stories about a heavenly figure that are so detailed they mention fictitious family members and a place where he allegedly grew up?

      How often, in that culture, is that known to have happened?

      Based on that answer, what are the estimated chances that multiple different people in a relatively small sect would choose to do this about the same figure?

      • Any thoughts about the following in relation to answering Dr Sarah′s question(s)?

      Griffiths, J. Gwyn (December 1967). “Allegory in Greece and Egypt”. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 53: 79. doi:10.2307/3855578.

      It was the interpretation of Homer, ‘the Bible of the Greeks’, that gave rise to allegoristic, and the motive appears to have been a moral one. In the sixth century B.C. some of the philosophers, notably Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and Heracleitus, attacked the Homeric and Hesiodic conception of the gods. The rise of allegorical interpretation was an attempt to salvage these revered works by suggesting that the offending episodes really bore hidden meanings which were at once acceptable and elevating.

      The School of Alexandria – Part 1/Ch 3 – Allegorical Interpretation of theScripture“. copticchurch.net.

      Allegorism was well established in Alexandrian Judaism, especially by Philo, who made a systematic use of it to bridge the chasm between the Old Testament revelation and the Platonic philosophy. Philo compares the literal sense of Scripture to the shadow which the body casts, finding its authentic, profounder truth in the spiritual meaning which it symbolizes. He does not want to depreciate or abolish the literal or the historical meaning, but looks to it as man’s body which merits the fullest respect.

      The School of Alexandria adopted the allegorical interpretation of the Holy Scripture, believing that it hides the truth and at the same time reveals it.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2018-11-29 13:51:08 GMT+0000 - 13:51 | Permalink

        I have yet to catch up with Dr Sarah’s posts and comments but from what you have copied here it appears most of her arguments are built on incredulity — that old informal fallacy of incredulity.

      • db
        2018-11-30 01:04:46 GMT+0000 - 01:04 | Permalink

        Part of my answer to the above question is that writing a new scripture as an allegorical story (with Jesus as the new Moses) is the flip-side of allegorical interpretation of the old scriptures. And that allegorism was well established in Alexandrian Judaism, especially by Philo.

        • Dr Sarah responds to rationalrevolution [R. G. Price]—November 25, 2018 (above)

        Dr Sarah—November 29, 2018—says:

        ‘Hebrews 8 and 9 explicitly state that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven.’

        Actually, no. Those chapters describe Jesus as being in heaven at that point – which would be expected on either historicity or mythicism, since the author was writing after his death – but not only does the author not say where his sacrifice took place, they specifically compare it to the High Priest bringing sacricifial blood into the Holy of Holies. In other words, they’re comparing it to a sacrifice made elsewhere and brought to a place considered of ultimate holiness.

        It’s true that those chapters also don’t state that the sacrifice took place on earth, and if those chapters were the only information we had about Jesus then I’d agree that mythicism was a strong possibility, but they’re not the only information we have, and many points in our other information point clearly towards historicism.

      • db
        2019-01-15 16:57:49 GMT+0000 - 16:57 | Permalink

        Per comment by James Barlow—15 January 2019:

        Well said–a cult, not a book club. “They were probably not documents for public circulation but for teaching the cult’s probationers.”

        Gospel According to Mark was written as a cult “Handbook” and should not be compared to other works written for popular distribution.

  • db
    2018-11-30 23:40:45 GMT+0000 - 23:40 | Permalink

    Per comment by Dr Sarah—November 30, 2018—per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist. 25 November 2018.

    [db says:] “How many stories in the Gospels and Acts, do you find to be borrowed from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides? Or more simply, which ones are not?”

    I’m not familiar with those sources, so I’ll give you the points which I think are far more likely to be historical and explain why. If you think there’s an explanation from another source that holds up, I’m happy to listen to it.

    a) Jesus coming from Nazareth. Matthew and Luke both come up with complicated and clearly invented stories to explain how it happened that someone who grew up in Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem. It’s easy to see why they wanted the story to have Jesus born in Bethlehem (fulfillment of Messianic prophecy), but a lot harder to see why, in that case, they would put in the confusing detail about him growing up in Nazareth, which they then had to be at such pains to explain away.

    b) The discussions about Sabbath healing. Maccoby (Revolution in Judaea) points out the ways in which the arguments Jesus uses are in fact typically Pharisaic in nature (for example, the ‘If… then how much more…’ format was a very well-known format used by Pharisees of that time, and apparently the Talmud records almost precisely the circumcision vs. Sabbath healing comparison that Jesus made). It is of course possible that the gospel writers could have simply copied Pharisee arguments instead of OT sources or Greek mythology sources in that case, but then that leaves the question of why on earth they would want to put the arguments of Jesus’s supposed arch-enemies in his own mouth.

    c) The claim that Jesus was brought before the Romans (the powerful ruling group) for behaviour that in fact certainly would have been considered potentially seditious (claiming to be the Messiah and having a group of followers who believed this). While the gospel writers energetically tried to soft-pedal this as much as possible, and cast as much blame as they could on the Jews rather than the Romans, we do still, at the centre of all this, have a leader who apparently claims to be the Messiah, gets brought before the Romans, and gets executed. That’s a pretty awkward story to be inventing about the leader that you want people to believe in.

    d) Similarly, the fact that the gospel writers all name one specific person – Pilate – as having been the one who issued the death warrant. Once again, you have all of them desperately trying to soft-pedal this… but, at the end of the day, it’s still in there. They could have just referred to him by some vague term – the leader, the procurator. Instead, they’ve pointed the figure (in however downplayed a way) at a powerful Roman. Why would someone choose to risk inventing a story that did this and going public with it?

    Bear in mind that the problem with each of these is that the gospel writers had a strong motive not to include it (the first two contradicted other points they were trying to make, while the last two had the potential to cause real trouble for their fledgling movement). So the question with each point is not just ‘Is there somewhere the gospel writers could have copied this point from?’ but ‘What would motivate them to include something that’s so clearly counter to their aims?’

  • Steven C Watson
    2018-12-10 00:53:41 GMT+0000 - 00:53 | Permalink

    Neil flags Something Sensible, Polite, and Coherent on FtB. Wow! says I – Blue Moon, Stopped Clock, et al. Nope, you have to get down in the weeds for pages and pages; but this is just another credulous loon on FtB. There is extensive use of G.A. Wells by Db in refutation of this guff; I’ll repeat what I have said and written many times, Jesus went Pfft! for me on taking Well’s advice and reading Romans and Galatians keeping in mind the Gospels, canonical or otherwise, hadn’t been written yet so as not to drag in any presuppositions from them into my understanding of the text. Forty plus years of interest and reading have only solidified that conclusion. I don’t know why we waste our time engaging these people; they are immune to reason. It’s FtB and Tim O’Neil shows up; granted there is useful stuff I wasn’t aware of in the comments; but that is all that is needed to be known not to bother otherwise.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-11 04:12:34 GMT+0000 - 04:12 | Permalink

      I soon noticed that Dr Sarah was not engaging in discussion with the comments but rather positioning the comments as foils to be rebutted. So I have been following through other more interesting topics since then but must soon return and try to see how things have gone after all this time.

      • db
        2018-12-11 16:13:54 GMT+0000 - 16:13 | Permalink

        • Dr Sarah′s review of R. G. Price′s work is still pending.

        Dr Sarah (3 December 2018). “Upcoming projects”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

        For ‘Deciphering the Gospels’ . . . I want to give the arguments a fair assessment, so my plan (assuming R. G. Price is good with this) is to read the whole thing first before going back to the beginning to start the review, so that I don’t waste anyone’s time raising questions that turn out to be answered later on in the book

        Comment by Dr Sarah—5 December 2018—per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

        @rationalrevolution: Don’t know whether you saw my latest post, but my plan regarding your book is to read the whole thing before starting the review, rather than reviewing it as I go along. I’m fine with either approach, but assumed you’d prefer this one; otherwise I’m bound to be raising questions as I go along that are in fact answered later in the book. If you’d prefer me to review as I go along, just let me know.

        I’ve got another (and completely different) review project I want to work on (as well as finishing CCCFK), but I will keep on reading your book in the background, and start the review when I’ve done that, unless you want me to start it earlier.

  • db
    2018-12-16 15:41:35 GMT+0000 - 15:41 | Permalink

    • Dr Sarah contends that “in Roman/Greek times where people invented stories about the gods having been on earth”, theses stories “were typically set a lot further back in the past.” Therefore mythicism is less likely.

    Comment by Dr Sarah (November 30, 2018)

    The problem with the King Arthur analogy is that . . . the first reference to him dates his existence to what would have been a distant past even at that time. The same, so I gather from Carrier’s book, is true for examples in Roman/Greek times where people invented stories about the gods having been on earth. So, when we get a set of books that appear to have been written within the first century after this person supposedly existed – or, to put it the other way round, who are apparently dating the life of the person they’re describing not to some dim and distant past but to more recent times – then that in itself is a clue that this person is likely to have existed. It’s certainly not conclusive in itself, but it does make it more likely that the person they describe existed, and, as I’ve been arguing, it’s one of many factors pointing towards this person existing.

    Comment by Dr Sarah (December 3, 2018)

    [Per mainstream dating of the gospels] It’s not that I think that those dates would make them reliable with regard to the details of Jesus’s life; it’s that this sort of dating is not what we would typically be looking at if the gospels were mythical stories about someone who never existed. Mythical stories were typically set a lot further back in the past. (At least, that’s the information I got from reading Carrier’s ‘On The Historicity Of Jesus’, and since he’s a mythicist and this fact works completely against his argument I take it seriously.)

    • db
      2018-12-16 21:28:10 GMT+0000 - 21:28 | Permalink

      Dr Sarah (28 October 2018) [now bolded]. “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

      First, here are some key points to bear in mind:

      • We have four official accounts portraying Jesus as a real person, which have been established as having been written within a century (the earliest probably within a few decades) of the events alleged in them.

      […]

      If Jesus was a myth from the start . . . [we have the problem] of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as an actual person who walked the face of the earth and did normal (as well as miraculous) things.

      […] once we get to the gospels, things get a lot more difficult to explain. If the group at this stage believed that the person they held so dear was in fact a celestial being who had never visited this world as a human, how did we end up with multiple books telling detailed stories about his time living in this world as a human?

      […] What would lead people to make all this stuff up – all of it – from scratch? Not just embroidering or adding to existing stories about an existing person, but inventing all of the above, including the bits that clearly work against their purposes? So far, I have not heard an adequate explanation for this.

      Comment by Dr Sarah (1 November 2018) [now bolded].

      “Just a few decades” is a huge amount of time when life expectancy was much shorter.

      It’s a huge amount of time in terms of being able to rely on the details of the gospel stories (and would be even if life expectancy was longer, for that matter, as it’s still a heck of a lot of time for stories to get embroidered when being passed on by word of mouth). However, it’s an unusually small amount of time when looking at the prospect of someone making up a historical biography for someone who’s thought to have existed only on a celestial plane as some sort of heavenly being.

      What I’m thinking of here specifically is Carrier’s explanation that the gospels are an example of euhemerism, a practice of the time in which historicised stories would be told about a deity or other being believed by society to exist in some kind of celestial plane. Interestingly, it doesn’t look as though this explanation works anyway, since it seems euhemerism was actually practiced by skeptics wanting to give rational explanations for the stories about the gods, which is hardly the case here. But also, Carrier himself says in his book that other known examples of euhemerism place the supposed historical figure hundreds of years earlier, not just a few decades. Carrier doesn’t consider this to be important, but it caught my attention; if that’s so, then surely the fact that we have a story of someone who supposedly did live just a few decades earlier points towards euhemerism being less likely?

      I agree that that’s certainly not conclusive by itself, and, if this was the only point we had in favour of a historical Jesus, then I’d agree that Jesus was unlikely to have been historical. However, it’s one of the (many) things that point towards a higher probability of historicity, so I included it with my other points.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2018-12-16 21:58:14 GMT+0000 - 21:58 | Permalink

        The Jesus story is not told as an other-worldly myth in a remote never-time, but as a historical narrative — just as are other Jewish historical narratives of the Patriarchs, Joseph, Moses, David. All of those tales are as mythical as any.

        The first gospel, that of Mark, is well aware of the “recency” of the so-called narrative as well as its newness to the audience, and that appears to be very much the point of the original ending: no-one had ever heard of it till “now” because the women didn’t tell anyone; and the disciples had no idea what was going on at the time. Such details in the narrative speak against its sources being orally reported tales going back to the actual events.

        Odd that such critics oppose the comparison of the gospel narrative with Greco-Roman myths, except when the comparison works in their favour.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-12-16 22:21:19 GMT+0000 - 22:21 | Permalink

          I should add that some scholars see a “minimalist” David behind the biblical stories; perhaps a local bandit chief who was built up into a ruler of a great kingdom. That is, the historical David behind the story had virtually nothing to do with the stories told about him. And that is a scenario that several mythicists have proposed about Jesus: that a historical figure who lived at some indeterminate time and about whom we can now know next to nothing at all was later used as a figure upon whom to pin the gospel narratives. Much damage has been done to the mythicist argument by those (on both sides) who identify mmythicism with the celestial crucifixion explanation.

    • MrHorse
      2018-12-16 23:00:26 GMT+0000 - 23:00 | Permalink

      The ‘fact’ that “Mythical stories were typically set a lot further back in the past” is moot, especially as the early if not immediate deification of Roman emperors was then a thing. Hadrian deified Antinous immediately, too.

      There was a mood for new stories …

      • db
        2018-12-17 00:00:49 GMT+0000 - 00:00 | Permalink

        If R. G. Price asserts that the author of “Gospel According to Matthew” is the first author to actively promote a historic Jesus and if Kurt Noll asserts that the gospels were a “Darwinian” strategy to win arguments. Then the two together should cogently rebut Dr Sarah′s criticism: “it’s an unusually small amount of time when looking at the prospect of someone making up a historical biography for someone who’s thought to have existed only on a celestial plane as some sort of heavenly being”.

        Per Carrier (11 July 2012). “Is This Not the Carpenter?”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

        I think [Kurt] Noll’s chapter is the most useful of all: he constructs his argument by proposing a very plausible model for how and why the Gospel Jesus came to be invented (in disregard for any historical truth about him, but nevertheless aiming to market what they said as historical truth) as a Darwinian strategy to win arguments (by inventing an authority figure to cite in defense of their claims), and then by showing how the Islamic development of the Hadith exemplifies exactly that model, providing a firm proof of concept. (Supplementing and supporting this part of his case is Robert Price’s development of the same analogy in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, pp. 109-17.) Anyone who has ever wondered, about the Jesus myth hypothesis’ proposed transformation from cosmic to earthly Jesus, “How could that have happened?” will want to read this chapter.

        Cf. Noll, Kurt (2012). “Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus”. In T. Thompson & T. Verenna (Eds.), Is This Not the Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. pp. 233-266.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-12-17 00:11:37 GMT+0000 - 00:11 | Permalink

          Ancient biographers were quite capable of writing fictional biographies of their supposed teachers: Did Demonax Exist? The Historicity Debate ‘Rages’

          What we hear from Dr Sarah, Tim O’Neill, and co is mere ad hoc rationalizations, not serious engagement with the evidence.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-16 23:14:06 GMT+0000 - 23:14 | Permalink

      Dr Sarah’s argument is fallacious. “More likely” does not logically follow from “recency of narrative setting”.

      That dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago is more likely than a story that Satan planted the fossils 6000 years ago to fool the faithless.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2018-12-16 23:24:42 GMT+0000 - 23:24 | Permalink

    The claim we sometimes hear among biblical scholars that “people could have checked” the truth of a story that had been set so recently is another error. My most recent posting about this common assertion is in the fine print footnote of the post at https://vridar.org/2018/11/30/now-we-know-how-ancient-historians-worked/

  • db
    2018-12-18 12:39:38 GMT+0000 - 12:39 | Permalink

    FYI Neil,

    Eddie and Sarah uses the term “fantastic” in different senses.

    fantastic:
    1. extraordinarily good or attractive.
    2. imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.

    Dr. Sarah: “These [gospel] accounts also show signs of getting increasingly fantastical over time, suggesting the stories are getting embroidered as they go along.”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-18 12:59:54 GMT+0000 - 12:59 | Permalink

      I used to buy in to that evolutionary progress particularly under the influence of Spong until I was alerted to the circularity of it all. There are other methods apart from modern theological progressions that can more validly be applied to gospel development.

      Ask Dr Sarah how she avoids the trap of circularity.

      There is much to commend the priority of Mark. But when it comes to Luke and John I am open to arguments both ways with respect to priority. Simplistic assertions on the basis of modern interpretations of the resurrection appearances, for example, simply don’t cut it.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-18 13:01:01 GMT+0000 - 13:01 | Permalink

      Ask Dr Sarah for specifics and refer back to my comment of moments ago.

      • db
        2018-12-18 13:27:10 GMT+0000 - 13:27 | Permalink

        • The point I am trying to make is that your terminology: “fantastic sources”, my be misunderstood by some readers, i.e. they may understand it as “imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.” When I assume you mean: “extraordinarily good.”

        Per comment by neilgodfrey—December 18, 2018—per “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.

        When biblical or other historians claim that the NT gospels are “fantastic sources” about Jesus…

  • db
    2018-12-22 20:55:37 GMT+0000 - 20:55 | Permalink
    • MrHorse
      2018-12-22 21:24:50 GMT+0000 - 21:24 | Permalink

      Dr. Sarah wrote

      the question of why Paul always talked about the ‘coming’ of Jesus rather than the ‘return’ of Jesus, and I didn’t have an answer (beyond ‘Hmmm, well, don’t think the answer can be “Because Jesus never existed” given the evidence that he did exist.’)

      That’s circular. It begs the question.

      Also, O’Neill’s answer is not clear,

      the technical sense of παρουσία as the formal arrival and receiving of a ruler explains why Paul and gMatt…use it to refer to Jesus’ full revelation of himself as God’s Messiah in the Last Days. This undercuts the Mythicist argument that they use the word “coming” because this would be his first manifestation in any form on earth.

      What would be ‘his first manifestation in any form on earth’?? Jesus appearing in the Last Days? Paul and gMatt saying he would?

  • Leave a Reply

    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.