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.
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60 thoughts on “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”
“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”?]
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
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) …
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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
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
Vermeiren’s book and site –
A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity, 2015/ 2017
Thanks for the corrections, and apologies for my carelessness — and lateness in catching up with comments!
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.
Yes, I should have made it clear that your argument “from scratch” is different from mine.
“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.
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.
• 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.
Per Dr Sarah (25 November 2018). “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.
• 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.
• 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.
rationalrevolution [R. G. Price]—November 25, 2018—says:
Dr Sarah asks:
• 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.
“The School of Alexandria – Part 1/Ch 3 – Allegorical Interpretation of theScripture“. copticchurch.net.
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.
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:
Per comment by James Barlow—15 January 2019:
• Gospel According to Mark was written as a cult “Handbook” and should not be compared to other works written for popular distribution.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.
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.
• Dr Sarah′s review of R. G. Price′s work
“Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed review: Preface and Introduction”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist. 17 February 2019.
• 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)
Comment by Dr Sarah (December 3, 2018)
Dr Sarah (28 October 2018) [now bolded]. “Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter”. Freethought Blogs (FtB). Geeky Humanist.
Comment by Dr Sarah (1 November 2018) [now bolded].
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.
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.
As quoted above, Dr Sarah commented—1 November 2018:
Carrier responds to a different individual on this topic.
• Comment by Richard Carrier—5 August 2020— per “Open Thread On the Historicity of Jesus”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 29 June 2020.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
Eddie and Sarah uses the term “fantastic” in different senses.
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.”
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.
Ask Dr Sarah for specifics and refer back to my comment of moments ago.
• 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.
Comment by Dr Sarah—December 21, 2018—per O’Neill (20 December 2018). “Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet”. History for Atheists.
Dr. Sarah wrote
That’s circular. It begs the question.
Also, O’Neill’s answer is not clear,
What would be ‘his first manifestation in any form on earth’?? Jesus appearing in the Last Days? Paul and gMatt saying he would?
• Dr Sarah responds to rationalrevolution (R.G. Price) after reading his book.
Comment by Dr Sarah—19 April 2019—per “‘Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Preface and Introduction”. FreeThoughtBlogs. Geeky Humanist. 17 February 2019.
Yeah, I haven’t gotten around to answering her yet. But clearly she has misunderstood core elements of the thesis.
OP: “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.”
Neil please consider editing this for readability. IMO it does not parse clearly as a quote copied to “Jesus myth theory § Questions for all”. Rationalwiki.
For this horn, i.e.”third horn” see R. G. Price and also the following reviews:
• “Is a Real Jesus Hiding Anywhere in the New Testament?” By David Madison at 8/02/2019, ”Debunking Christianity”.
• “A Simple Misunderstanding that Changed the Course of History” By David Madison at 8/09/2019, ”Debunking Christianity”.
For second horn, see Carrier:
• Carrier (9 November 2017). “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?”. Richard Carrier Blogs.
• Later comment by Richard Carrier—14 November 2017
NB: A fact = being an established fact; or the evidence is consistent with it being the case such that it is “not refutable”—thus respectably possible/probable.
For first horn, see Ehrman:
• Ehrman (2014) ap. Reasonable Doubts Podcast @time 00:15:25. “How Jesus Became God”. YouTube. Bart D. Ehrman. 29 September 2017.
• Ehrman (2 March 2018). “Early Christology: How I Changed My Mind“. The Bart Ehrman Blog
NB: Required reading for parsing Ehrman’s argument:
• Lataster, Raphael (2016a). “Review Essay: Bart Ehrman and the Elusive Historical Jesus”. Literature & Aesthetics 26 (1): 181–192.
• Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi.
Oh db, you’ve been doing well. Don’t start backsliding now. 🙁
I’m not sure I understand what the problem is. If someone cited the words on Rationalwiki as if they were mine and not Sarah’s then the problem needs to fixed at that end.
I created a new section, “Questions for all”, in the RationalWiki::Jesus_myth_theory article.
I copied the 3 “horn questions” as a blockquote with citation and link to this Vridar post.
Perhaps overthinking the matter, I was concerned that the average rationalwiki reader might not properly understand:
• “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.”
so I annotated it as:
• “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 [Matthew and Luke following after Mark] . . . “corrected” his account [as given by Mark] and made him and his followers a little more realistically human.”
Is “annotated” the correct term for this?
There is nothing wrong with the original quote, whereas I may run afoul of turning the original quote into pablum by excessive annotation.
• “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One”. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019.
Dr Sarah has a question that is not answered by R.G. Price’s book.
Per Dr Sarah (4 January 2020). “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, part 2”. Geeky Humanist.
The Markan text is a fictional allegorical polemic against a specific sect of Jewish converts to Christianity.
Per Dykstra, Tom (2012). Mark Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS Press. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.
Another purpose of the Markan author is to show why Lord God allowed the destruction of the temple, thus:
• the destruction of the temple, is by Roman hand.
• the destruction of Jesus, is by Roman hand.
Given that lots of mythical heroes were “killed” by named persons, in this case Mark’s selection of Pontius Pilate is an outcome of the story timeline.
It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Jewish War—”Jesus son of Ananias”. Also it is likely that Mark’s “John the Baptist” figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.
So if the Markan author understood that Jesus son of Ananias was born 1 CE (or whatever and simply backdated) and died 70 CE during the “Siege of Jerusalem”. And he also understood that John the Baptist was executed by Herod Antipas c. 30 CE.
Then the Markan author created a work of fiction by “retrojecting” the time and method of Jesus’ death to match Old Testament prophecy that foretold the temple’s destruction some X years after the shameful death of the “suffering servant” sent by Lord God.
The timeline of this story just happens to fall on the 10 year administration of Pontius Pilate (26 to 36 CE).
NB: Irony of ironies, even though the Markan author would of regarded Josephus’ Jesus son of Ananias and John the Baptist as historical people—they likely were not.
• Miller, Merrill P. (2017). “The Social Logic of the Gospel of Mark: Cultural Persistence and Social Escape in a Postwar Time”. In Crawford, Barry S.; Miller, Merrill P. Redescribing the Gospel of Mark. SBL Press. pp. 207–400. ISBN 978-0-88414-203-4.
• Doudna, Gregory L. (2019). “Is Josephus’s John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?”. In Pfoh, Emanuel; Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz (ed.). Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Bloomsbury–T&T Clark. pp. 119–137. ISBN 978-0-567-68657-2.
Dr Sarah has some questions in response to Richard Carrier:
• Carrier (16 December 2017). “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review”. Richard Carrier Blogs.
• Comment by Dr Sarah—26 January 2020—per “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One”. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019. [NOW BOLDED, FORMATTED and with EMPAHSIS]:
This is backwards. Why would Carrier, who was a “Jesus historicist” for most of his atheist life, suddenly decide to look for evidence to the contrary? Recall that it was only after he was asked to do research on Earl Doherty’s book that he entered the field at all and even then with considerable caution. I hate Carrier’s use of “weird” (he has explained his use of such language and I understand why but I still hate it) but what is weird in the particular passage I think he has in mind is that it is a very “weird”, unnatural, odd, strange way of speaking of Jesus’ “parentage” according to anyone who takes for granted the orthodox story that Jesus’ parents were Joseph and Mary. It is such “weird” language in a range of contexts that is what opened up the question of mythicism in the first place. It is not “weird” in hindsight in the eyes of a mythicist. It is weird to anyone who holds the orthodox assumptions and stops to think about what he or she is reading.
Paul — even by ancient standards — used the unusual expression to describe how Jesus came into the world as flesh. He says, in effect, that Jesus was “made” in the sense of “built” from a woman, not “born” from a woman. See https://vridar.org/2012/07/07/hoffmanns-mamzer-jesus-solution-to-pauls-born-of-a-woman/#EhrmanGal4 for the questions this little datum raises per Bart Ehrman.
I am not so sure of Carrier’s (and Doherty’s) thesis that Jesus was thought by Paul to have been entirely in the celestial realm. I tend to lean more to Roger Parvus’s view that the evidence is more simply interpreted as suggesting that the earliest view was that the heavenly figure of the Beloved/Christ did for a moment descend to earth in the appearance of flesh in order to be crucified and buried in the “city inhabited by demons” (Jerusalem) — and was subsequently named that name above all names, Jesus.
Paul was making a point about the flesh-spirit divide and the role Christ played here. If Paul said that Jesus was “made of a woman” and if he was simply trying to remind Galatians that he was flesh, then that is a very “weird” way of expressing it. Much simpler and more natural and less confusing to say he was born of Mary, a descendant of David (early Christian literature did say it was Mary, not Joseph, who was descended from David). (See https://vridar.org/series-index/the-born-of-a-woman-galatians-44-index/ and Tim’s post, The Function of the Term: “Born of a Woman”, for further discussion.)
It is all through the intertestamental literature and pseudepigrapha and in the Greco-Roman literature, philosophical, poetic, epic. The Old Testament itself describes God as being in the image of a man and his Ancient of Days, though initially a metaphor in Daniel, was human in appearance — that was the point, after all. Later literature developed this Ancient of Days into a literal human figure in heaven. There is the primeval Adam in heaven, the patriarchs, too, were “human form” in heaven. They did not “wear” human bodies in heaven but appeared in the shape of human bodies. The heavens were, after all, an idealized mirror of things on earth, and the lower heavens (below the moon where change and corruptibility were found) were a less idealized ‘mirror’.
100% probable on both counts. (I’m speaking for myself, not Carrier.) But we have to understand the ancient concept of “human body” and step out of our modern understanding.
The gospels of Luke and John go to lengths to demonstrate that Jesus had a “human body” even though he is also spirit — he can walk through walls and ride a cloud to heaven, for example. See Riley’s discussion of the ancient conception of “bodies” with respect to earthly and heavenly existence:
Resurrection: bodily ambiguities (response to Wright 3)
Resurrection: response to Wright’s arguments, 5
Also, The mystical (not historical) “Christ in the flesh”
Richard Carrier responds to Dr Sarah:
• Comment by Richard Carrier—27 January 2020—per “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 16 December 2017.
I don’t understand the point behind the questions of Dr Sarah as they have been copied here. Is it the scholarly standard of Lataster’s and Carrier’s books or the evidence for certain key points that give rise to the mythicist case that is being questioned? Some of the questions appear to be based on fundamental misconceptions about the nature and logic of the arguments, both for and against mythicism. Is her understanding of the question derived from a third-hand source?
Dr Sarah has noted her familiarity with Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Per previous response comments:
[Dr Sarah says:] “Thanks. I’ve read it and have attended his online course on the subject.”
[Dr Sarah says:] “I do want to review Carrier’s book at some point, but I won’t get to it any time soon, especially not at the rate I write.”
I think here we can come back to McGrath’s complaint that there is “nothing authoritative” in mythicist writings — some people are looking to follow an author, it seems, and others are allowing authors to lead them on their own exploration and discoveries. By the same token, some are looking to attack authors and conclusions rather than undertake an intellectual exploration as honestly as possible, wherever that may lead. I don’t know Dr Sarah so may have been too quick in my suspicions — I have come across too many in the former category and perhaps have become somewhat jaded as a result. Some of the very best exponents of mythicism — I’m thinking of Earl Doherty — while with their own shortcomings in some aspects of their work are nonetheless top rate, yet have been beaten into withdrawal by the savage and gratuitous personal attacks that have been inflicted on them for their efforts.
the questions of Dr Sarah as they have been copied here
The questions derive from my following comment:
[db says:] “Paul upon joining the sect perhaps called the “Brothers of the Lord”—that we term “Christians”—held that his “Lord”, the second-god, had died while incarnate in a human body, thus bringing glory to humanity.”
Response Comment by Dr Sarah—January 25, 2020—per “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One”. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019.
• In response, I then quoted Carrier’s article “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review”.
Hansen makes hay from:
• Hansen, Christopher M. (Feb 7, 2021). “JESUS’ HISTORICITY AND SOURCES: The Misuse of Extrabiblical Sources for Jesus and a Suggestion” (PDF). American Journal of Biblical Theology. 22 (6): 1–21.
Hansen is confusing — in a similar way some mythicists likewise do — origins and development. Certain Christ Myth proponents (Couchoud, Doherty, Carrier) have proposed the celestial origin of the Christ (Jesus?) figure but that leaves unaddressed the question of growth of the new belief system. Can anyone imagine Christianity getting a hold without the gospel narratives or something akin to those narratives? The point of the celestial origin perspective, from what I recall, is that it adapted into a set of narratives (allegorical at first, perhaps, but not necessarily) that involved that celestial figure descending to earth, to his people, in some form of fleshly aspect.
It is from that time, and from that development, that we find our apparently eariest extra-biblical references to the new faith. As Doherty points out, that is a quite reasonable development. Doherty begins with a time of persecution as being largely responsible for this change — ordinary folks finding solace in faith in a “real god-man”, more than some philosophical celestial concept alone, in times of dire stress.
I have some doubts about Doherty’s scenario, but it is a plausible and validly arguable one.
The point is that by the time Christianity is making some noticeable gains in society it has most certainly moved on from any supposed celestial origin. It is from the time Jesus is believed to have been “a man” visiting his people etc that the faith takes off in a more popular way.
The question of celestial origins of the Christ belief is about getting to — well — “the origins”. But those arguments, at least the ones I am familiar with, also contain a part 2: that that celestial figure was “given flesh” by gospel-like narratives that present him as a human figure. I think the Gospel of Mark is an especially strong piece of evidence that those narratives originated as some sort of intertextual/midrashic type creativity.
Mythicists make a mistake if they merely argue for a celestial origin of Christ and leave it at that. Hansen seems to have directed his thoughts to that mistake. The assumption appears to be that if there is a reference to a human Jesus then it follows that this is a reference to a historical figure. I see no justification for that assumption.
For what its worth, my own position is that I have doubts about Christianity beginning with an exclusively heavenly figure.