Addressing S. Gathercole’s Case for Jesus’ “Humanity” continued: Misrepresentations (#4)

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by Neil Godfrey

Image from Valley News – Shawn Braley

A frequent line of argument by scholars and others attempting to “prove” the historicity of a Jesus behind the gospel narratives is to focus on biblical passages pointing to the “humanity” of Jesus, and sometimes his geographical and temporal location. It often appears that such people assume that a figure who is human and said to appear in Palestine in the early first century is clearly historical. Of course only a moment’s thought should dispel a necessary connection between “human” and “genuinely historical.” Would it even be possible for anyone to finish counting the number of fictional “human” characters in stories, ancient and modern, in the world? If we confine ourselves to biblical and ancient Jewish stories that look like history, I suspect the number of fictional “humans” would still outnumber those who we can be sure were historical.

But all of that is just an aside. Let’s continue with Earl Doherty’s discussion of the “born of a woman” expression in Galatians 4:4. So far we have the following:

And we have linked to Earl Doherty’s old website in which he sets out an earlier version of the chapter we are addressing: Supplementary Article No. 15 – “Born of a Woman”? Reexamining Galatians 4:4.

Recall that the reason we are delving into Doherty’s discussion of the Galatians passage in such detail is to demonstrate the extent of the failure of scholars, in this case Simon Gathercole, to even characterize a mythicist argument correctly, let alone engage with it, and to show just how wrong it is to assume that a mythicist argument must rely on some cheap interpolation card to deny the “natural meaning” of a text. One does have to wonder how many critics (Bart Ehrman included) have actually taken the trouble to read Doherty’s work in full. We will see in the following post how Gathercole has likewise demonstrated his failure to read anything but a few excerpts of the hypothesis he is opposing. Until scholars do really read a book before opposing it I suggest that they will only ever be addressing their own closed circle and supporters while complaining about the unwashed general public being so benighted as to too often sympathize with “mythicism”.

So let’s continue:

As noted by Edward D. Burton in the International Critical Commentary series (1924), the two qualifying phrases, “born of woman, born under the Law” (genomenon ek gunaikos, genomenon hupo nomon) are descriptive of the Son, but not specifically tied to the ‘sending.’ Burton says [Galatians, p.218-19]:

The employment of the aorist [a past tense participle] presents the birth and the subjection to law as in each case a simple fact, and leaves the temporal relation to exapesteilen [“sent”] to be inferred solely from the nature of the facts referred to….But the phrases are best accounted for as intended not so much to express the accompaniments of the sending as directly to characterize the Son, describing the relation to humanity and the law in which he performed his mission.

For those phrases, Burton is not ruling out an understanding of an intended temporal relationship to the verb, but he is saying that it is not grammatically present (such a thing would normally be done by using the present participle). Yet if “born of woman, born under the Law” can be seen as not necessarily qualifying the sending itself, this further frees that ‘sent’ thought in verse 4 from having to be a reference to the arrival in the world of the incarnated Christ in a human body.

At the same time, we might suggest that this absence of a linkage between verb and participles would more likely be the product of an interpolator than Paul himself who, if he intended the phrases to qualify the “sent” idea, would normally have put the participles in the present tense rather than the aorist. An interpolator, on the other hand, would have been focused on the “fact” of these ‘born’ phrases to serve his own purposes, as we shall see. (Doherty, 204)

The lay public interested in these questions are on the whole educated enough to take an interest in such grammatical arguments. They would love nothing more than to see mainstream scholars engage with them for their benefit. When the question of interpolation is raised it is done so with sound contextual and grammatical justification.

Another look at that word translated “born”

Following Burton Doherty points out that the word for “born” in Galatians 4:4 “is not the plainest word to describe birth”. The word used is genomenon (γενόμενον), a form of the verb ginomai (γίνομαι) (the link is to Strong’s and other references). It’s meaning is determined by its context. According to Burton the word used in the phrase “born of woman” cannot automatically be translated the same way when applied to “law”, although many translations do have “born under the law”. A reasonable translation could be that Jesus was “come from a woman, come under the law”.

Recall, further, that these phrases do not have any necessary temporal connection with the verb “sent”.

[T]his means that one could understand that Christ came in “subjection to Law” at some later point than birth. Burton does not offer any suggestion as to when or how this could have taken place, but it might be suggested that Paul, if he in fact included these phrases, may have envisioned Christ as taking on such features when he entered “the realm of flesh.” (Doherty, 205)

And the woman? Where did she come from?

Possibly from Isaiah 7:14,

A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son….

Doherty’s argument has been that Paul regularly appeals to revelation through the Scriptures and he could well have introduced a woman from such a passage just as he claimed the messiah was from David’s seed on the basis of Scripture.

Interpolation likely but not necessary

Why he would choose to introduce this mythical element here, especially without explanation, can only be a matter of speculation. In the context of Galatians 4, as noted above, there seems to be no practical necessity for either phrase, which becomes one of the arguments for interpolation. (Doherty, 205)

An unambiguous alternative

We noted above that the meaning of the Greek word translated “born” in Galatians 4:4 must be decided by its context. It does not necessarily mean “born”. It can mean “become”, “arise”, “occur”, “come into existence”, “be created”. Burton agrees that the word Paul used is best translated “born” in the first phrase, hence “born of a woman”, but he does not think it should be translated “born” with reference to being “under the law”.

Doherty quotes Burton’s discussion of an unambiguous alternative Paul could have used if he meant “born”:

Had the apostle desired to express the idea of ‘born’ in both phrases, he could have done so unambiguously by the use of gennethenta [i.e., a participle of the verb gennaó]. (Burton, in Doherty 205. See  γεννάω)

Why would Paul have used the less clear word in Galatians 4:4? Doherty raises the question: If Paul had a spiritual or mythical Christ in mind, then did he find the less specific word from ginomai the most appropriate choice?

Was he again putting forward an idea regardless of whether or not it could be rationally understood, simply putting his trust in scripture? Considering what he was able to do with terms like “flesh” and “body” in purely mystical and metaphysical settings, placing a ‘birth’ by a ‘woman’ in such a setting would not likely be beyond him. And remember that in Revelation 12, the Messiah could be born to a woman in the heavens. (Doherty, 206)

Some statistics:

ginomai by Paul ginomai used in other contexts in the epistles, by Paul and others gennao by Paul to refer to birth ginomai is not used for born in … gennao (verb);
gennetos (adj);
Rom 1:3

Gal 4:4

Phil 2:7

1 Cor 15:45 (Adam became living soul)

1 Cor 1:30 (Jesus made for us wisdom)

Heb 1:4 (becoming better than angels)

Eph 3:7 (became a minister)

Rom 9:11 (children not yet born)

Gal 4:23 (son was born — allegorical)

Gal 4:29 (he was born — allegorical)


Heb 11:23

1 John 2:29

1 John 3:9

1 John 4:7

1 John 5:1

1 John :18

Matthew 4 times refers to birth of Jesus, using  gennaó

Luke 2 times refers to birth of Jesus, using  gennaó or tikto


Paul chooses to use ginomai only in these three cases relating to Christ So what do we make of the fact that in relation to Christ Paul uses ginomai? If Paul meant the same type of birth for Christ in 4:4 why did he change verbs here?

(Note: this change of verb does argue against Carrier’s interpretation that Galatians 4:4 is an extension of the allegory spelled out here.)

In none of the other epistles is ginomai used for born. In all cases (about two dozen) where gospels express the idea of being born they use either gennao,
gennetos or tikto

On the basis of the statistics Doherty asks several questions, a technique I generally deplore in argument but I do find myself making some exceptions from time to time:

  • If the two verbs can be equally understood as “born” in this type of context, and if the implication is that a writer could have used one or the other since he would have been sensible of no distinction, why does the law of averages not apply in the New Testament?
  • Why is there in the epistles a universal use of gennaó to apply to all births other than that of Jesus, as well as to Jesus’ birth in the Gospels?
  • Why does a distinction only exist between the Gospels’ consistent use of gennaó to refer to Jesus’ birth, and Paul’s consistent use of ginomai to refer to Jesus’ (alleged) birth? Was it not the same sort of birth?
  • The strong implication is that, if the key phrases in Paul are his own voice and not an interpolation, Paul must have had in mind something different in regard to Christ than simply being “born” in the normal sense.

Simon Gathercole’s Parallels in Job and Sirach

Recall that in our second post we noted Simon Gathercole opening his case by appealing to parallel expressions in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). To Gathercole, the meaning was very clear:

In Galatians 4, Paul says that God sent his son, ‘born from a woman’ (γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, 4.4). It is hard to imagine a clearer statement of Jesus’ humanity. This phrase, and others very like it, are commonly used as synonyms for ‘human being’. (Gathercole, 186)

To drive the point home he cites “poetic parallels” in the Book of Job and Sirach.

‘But man (ἄνθρωπος) vainly buoys himself up with words; a mortal born of woman (γεννητὸς γυναικός) like an ass in the desert.’ (Job 11.12)

‘Mortal man, born of woman (βροτὸς γὰρ γεννητὸς γυναικός), is of few days and full of trouble.’ (Job 14.1)

‘What is mortal man (βροτός), that he could be pure, or one born of woman (γεννητὸς γυναικός), that he could be righteous?’ (Job 15.14)

‘How then can a mortal (βροτός) be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman (γεννητὸς γυναικός) be pure?’ (Job 25.4)

‘Pride was not created for human beings (ἀνθρώποις), or violent anger for those born of women (γεννήμασιν γυναικῶν).’ (Sir. 10.18)

I have highlighted the instances of “born” and the Greek original in each case for reasons that will become clear.

What would Earl Doherty say in response to those “very obvious and clear” parallels? What does he say? Because Doherty did raise them in his own discussion and made the following comment:

Every one of these phrases uses gennaó (or the Latin equivalent). The only exceptions are those which quote Paul’s use of ginomai. It is often claimed that Paul used the phrase because it was so common. If it was so common, why did he not use it in the common form? The very fact that something is common should lead one to use it if one means the common thing. If it was found in scripture and Paul was taking his cue from there, why did he change the verb that was used in scripture? The fact that Paul changed the key element of the phrase should lead us to conclude that he was avoiding using it in its normal form because he meant something different from the normal understanding.

Or else, he didn’t write it at all. (Doherty, 207)

Simon Gathercole’s erroneous assertions about Doherty’s argument

Even though Simon Gathercole has set out to address mythicist arguments, and even though he has included Earl Doherty as one of the names he proposes to answer,

Consider, for example, these claims about Paul by Robert Price (2009), Earl Doherty (2009), Thomas Verenna (2013) and Richard Carrier (2014) . . .  (Gathercole, 184)

Gathercole unfortunately indicates he has only skimmed a few passages in Doherty’s book and accordingly can only present a series of false claims about his argument. (We saw the same type of failure in Daniel Gullotta’s attempt to address Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Both misrepresentations were published by the same journal.)

For example, Gathercole claims that since Doherty argued that faith came during the time of Paul’s own preaching, then all Gathercole has to do to ridicule Doherty is point to passages in Paul’s letters that speak of apostles before Paul.

There were apostles before Paul himself was one: they included those in Jerusalem ‘who were apostles before me’ (Gal. 1.17), and Andronicus and Junia, also Christians before Paul, may have been among those who knew Jesus (Rom. 16.7).50

50 This makes impossible the arrival of faith during the time of Paul’s own preaching ministry, cf. Doherty, Jesus – Neither God nor Man, pp. 780–781 (epub edition). (Gathercole, 197)

Gathercole clearly read right over Doherty’s actual claims, missing the following:

All this was not to change until the time when faith was brought to the new believer, through the preaching of Paul and other apostles of the Christ.76 (Doherty, 199)

In an earlier post I copied and pasted the entire 300 word discussion Doherty introduced at endnote 76 in which he discussed Paul’s references to and relations with those apostles before him.

Gathercole appears to have been expecting and looking for and “finding” that Doherty is “very trigger-happy in excising supposed interpolations” (p. 211)

The only real solution for the mythicist is to regard ‘born from a woman’ as an interpolation.19

19  Thus, Doherty, Jesus – Neither God nor Man, pp. 795–798 (epub edition). (Gathercole, 188)

Yet Doherty’s opening paragraph in the chapter discussing the “born of woman” phrase contained these words:

There are two ways to approach this passage: one, assuming the double phrase as authentic to Paul; the other, questioning its authenticity and judging the likelihood of interpolation. (Doherty, 197)

Later he wrote:

The observations thus far are valid quite apart from the absence or presence of “born of woman, born under the Law.” But they do have a bearing on the question of whether those phrases should be in the text, or whether they are interpolations. (Doherty, 203)

Then again, pointing out that phrase does not affect the mythicist interpretation of Paul’s discussion:

In the context of Galatians 4, as noted above, there seems to be no practical necessity for either phrase, which becomes one of the arguments for interpolation. (Doherty, 205)

Doherty later pointed out that his argument had primarily been based on the assumption that Paul did write that phrase:

While noting factors which might suggest interpolation, we have so far been analyzing this passage while adopting the assumption that “born of woman, born under the Law” could have been written by Paul. (Doherty, 207)

And then his concluding paragraph:

In sum, the question of interpolation of these phrases cannot be settled with absolute certainty. But there are enough compelling indicators that Paul either could not or would not have included them in the Galatians 4:4 passage to remove them from contention as good evidence that Paul viewed his Christ as a recent human man. Taken together with the alternative possibility that these phrases, if by Paul, reflect a metaphysical view of Jesus determined by scripture (although I now lean more toward the interpolation option), I regard this as an effective neutering of perhaps the most significant argument on the historicist side that the epistles stand in the tradition of an historical Jesus. (Doherty, 212)

To make such an accusation Gathercole appears to have skipped over the bulk of Doherty’s argument in chapter 15 (certainly he has missed the passages I quoted above) for the significance of Galatians 4:4 to his hypothesis of mythicism and failed to notice that Doherty makes it very clear that the passage translated “born of a woman” may well be original to Paul and not effect his argument. Yes, Doherty also concludes on the basis of his wider and deeper analysis of the passage that there are plausible grounds for thinking the passage is an interpolation and he personally does favour those. But as we have seen through these past four posts Doherty has demonstrated that even if the passage is authentic to Paul then his mythicist hypothesis remains unaffected. In fact, with or without the phrase “born of a woman” Doherty demonstrates that Galatians 3 and 4 are entirely consistent with and supportive of his hypothesis.

The difficulty Gathercole appears to have faced is that he has focused entirely on the meaning of “born of a woman” and failed to take note of the other passages of Paul, passages we have been covering over four posts so far. That is, he has fallen into the trap that Mark Goodacre warned against in another debate:

To state the argument against one hypothesis using the presuppositions and terminology of the competing hypothesis involves a circularity that undermines any hope for a fair assessment of the evidence. — Mark Goodacre, 2002 (82)


Gathercole, Simon. 2018. “The Historical and Human Existence of Jesus in Paul’s Letters.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 16: 183–212.

Goodacre, Mark. 2002. The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem. Harrisburg, Pa: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.

Doherty, Earl. 2009. Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Ottawa: Age of Reason.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • Kapyong
    2018-12-28 15:47:04 UTC - 15:47 | Permalink

    I suspect that critical readers faced with a book they believe fails sanity-checks tend to skim read for the first obvious point to attack.

    Here it seems the word ‘interpolation’ stood out to Gathercole and so he read no more but swung straight into a favourite charge :

    “typical ! mythicists just declare any historical passage as interpolation”

    Still a wagon-circle-jerk.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-31 09:22:35 UTC - 09:22 | Permalink

      I think you are right, sadly.

  • Charles
    2018-12-28 18:22:39 UTC - 18:22 | Permalink

    Concerning “Born from a Woman.”

    As Bill Clinton once said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

  • Pingback: Addressing S. Gathercole’s for Jesus’ “Humanity” continued: Misrepresentations (#4) — Vridar | James' Ramblings

  • MrHorse
    2018-12-29 02:58:09 UTC - 02:58 | Permalink

    Interestingly, –

    The halakhic definition, by which a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother, seems to have crystallized at the end of the Second Temple period, when its final formula was set by the sages. https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-defining-who-is-a-jew-1.5330118

    Depending on emphasis, parts of Galatians 4:4-7 seem propositional from such a halakhic point of view –

    Galatians 4:

    4 Then in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of woman, born under the Law,

    5 in order that he might purchase freedom for the subjects of the Law, so that we might attain the status of sons.

    6 And because you are sons, God (has) sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying ‘Father!‘

    7 You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also by God’s act an heir.

    Could Galatians 4:4 reflect such a then new law?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-31 09:26:41 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

      The problem that comes to my mind with such a proposition is that the Galatians passage would seem to be suggesting that the saviour “born of a woman” frees Jews from the way of life that defines them as Jewish.

      Would we not expect some such hint of a move to counting one’s family line through a woman stress the fact that he was born to a Jewish woman, or a woman the descended from David (as some later texts claimed of Mary)?

  • 2018-12-29 10:17:06 UTC - 10:17 | Permalink

    Yeah, I’m really not a fan of this interpolation claim. Firstly it’s not provable and will never be accepted even if it were true. Secondly it’s not necessary and, IMO, any time we claim “interpolation” it makes it appear like the passage can’t be dealt with in any other way and if it’s not an interpolation then historicity is true.

    I can’t stress enough, there is NOTHING in Paul’s letters that can “prove” Jesus was a real person. The only phrase that even comes close to this is “brother of the Lord”. Other than that one, easily dealt with, phrase, nothing else Paul says can prove anything, because we know Paul had no direct knowledge of Jesus.

    Even if Paul did think Jesus was a real person, born of a woman, it proves nothing, especially since we know Paul is a delusional fool who also thought that angels were literally real and Satan, and that he had floated up to heaven, and that Jesus had been revealed to him in visions, etc. The guy is clearly not a reliable witness.

    How many people have mistakenly believed that someone or something was real that actually wasn’t? Billions! How many people claim they have spotted a post-death Elvis? Jim Morrison? Bigfoot?

    I think that Doherty is generally right. I don’t think that Paul thought Jesus was a person who recently lived on earth. But I also don’t think this is an interpolation. It’s just allegory talk, or at best talk along the lines of what we see in the letter to the Hebrews, of “revealed knowledge”.

    First we should just step back a bit and think about how entirely odd this passage is as a way to describe a real person.

    If I’m describing president John F. Kennedy to someone I don’t say, “JFK was born of a woman.” The whole entire phrase is clearly theological. This is a theologically driven statement, not Paul telling someone that Jesus was a regular guy. And second of all, if Jesus were a real person then why would this statement even need to be made?

    This gets back to Doherty’s overall point that the letters of Paul so ignore Jesus the person, which really would have been impossible if Jesus were anything like the person described in the Gospels.

    Paul wouldn’t need to be telling people that Jesus was “born of a woman” if he were real. He wouldn’t need to convince people that Jesus was a person, he would need to convince people that this person was a god. He would had to have been constantly explaining to people why this person was divine. Instead what we see here is the opposite, a case of trying to explain to people how this divine being can meet their needs and perform the task that these people want him to perform. So Paul comes up with this theological rationalization and a convoluted allegory about two imaginary women, one of which is the woman that Jesus was “born of”.

    • James Barlow
      2019-01-02 17:44:03 UTC - 17:44 | Permalink

      “First we should just step back a bit and think about how entirely odd this passage is as a way to describe a real person.” True, and in imagining a context where it is not as strange as it sounds we have to imagine its use meant as a counter to docetism and the like, which increases the likelihood of the interpolation having taken place around the time of the writing of the Ignatian epistles, or after the popularity of Mark’a gospel began.
      But before the notion of a ‘sinless Christ’ as perfect sacrifice took full hold. For a man born “under the law” couldn’t fill the bill.

  • 2018-12-29 11:01:51 UTC - 11:01 | Permalink

    To add, I think Doherty should have just stuck with the argument about unique usage of the form of the verb implying a different meaning or special meaning and just never used the claim of interpolation at all. And I know my approach this this may be somewhat different, and perhaps not seen as scholarly, but I really think that this topic requires “defensive writing”. Sad as that is. And what that means is not making statements that can easily be mischaracterized or cherry-picked-on. Any time you claim interpolation you open up this very problem, in fact I’m going to make some revisions to some of my stuff and remove further claims of interpolation.

    Sadly, in order to get this topic properly dealt with, you have to strip down the subject to its most essential parts and only put forward the strongest arguments and not even discuss stuff that can be dismissed or easily mischaracterized.

    So yeah, I think that if he had put forward this analysis without the option of “either it was an interpolation OR” he would have been better off, even if he thought interpolation was a possibility. At the very least he should have focused on the “other use” argument and only mentioned interpolation in passing at the very end.

    • db
      2018-12-29 16:48:32 UTC - 16:48 | Permalink

      • r.g.price, are you recommending any online translation websites, e.g.

      “Kata Biblon – Contents – Greek Septuagint Interlinear”. en.katabiblon.com.

      The Kata Biblon Wiki English Translation (WET) and Wiki Latin Translation are publicly editable translations of of the Greek New Testament, Greek Septuagint, and Hebrew Bible

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-31 09:30:16 UTC - 09:30 | Permalink

      I take a different position, as you probably know. I don’t think enough serious attention is given to the prevalence of interpolations and other textual corruptions. We know classical literature was plagued with those problems and from that we can surely expect Christian texts to have been even more subject to such games during the time of theological warfare from the second century on.

      I would suggest that what needs confronting is the naive view of biblical scholars who want to declare an exceptional status for texts as being supposedly 90% pure.

  • Klaus Schilling
    2018-12-29 15:48:53 UTC - 15:48 | Permalink

    The falsely so-called Pauline epistles are mid to late second scentury dogmatic fiction, massively glossed and interplolated in several latyers; therefore, any usage for first-century historical statements is vaingloirious and foolish.

    • db
      2018-12-29 16:10:44 UTC - 16:10 | Permalink

      Scholars asserting that no reliable evidence of authorship is available per the Pauline epistles:
      • Hermann Detering (2003) [German 1995]. The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight. Translated by Darrell Doughty. Independently Published. ISBN 978-1-981040-81-0.
      • Robert M. Price (2012). The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul. Signature Books. ISBN 978-1-56085-216-2.

      • Klaus Schilling
        2018-12-29 17:08:15 UTC - 17:08 | Permalink

        Long before H.Detering, W.C. van Manen (around 1890) had already done a great job for Romans and Galatians. All relevant bibliographical details are found on radikalkritik.de .

        • Steve Watson
          2019-01-08 02:51:12 UTC - 02:51 | Permalink

          So basically there is bugger all reliable to Xtianity at all and it is all an invention from whole cloth? Xtianity may be cracked and away with the fairies but that idea is even more stupid and delusional. Sorry.

  • 2018-12-29 16:09:45 UTC - 16:09 | Permalink

    I think Carrier’s recourse to the cosmic sperm bank to account for “made of the seed of David” is unsupported. The idea of God forming/making the fetus in the womb is common in Jewish literature, e.g., Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:5, and is how Paul somewhat characterizes his own conception, Galatians 1:15. lol

    • James Barlow
      2019-01-02 17:55:39 UTC - 17:55 | Permalink

      It’s just a reflection of the gentleman’a erstwhile penchant for obtrusive, anachronistic scientism/Rationalism. At one point he actually says that Christianity emerged triumphant from competition with other sects and cults owing to the Darwinian principle of natural selection lol!

  • mark s
    2018-12-30 02:20:58 UTC - 02:20 | Permalink

    Does anyone have a way of getting the Gathercole article? All my usual expedients, including by my university, have left me helpless.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-31 09:31:27 UTC - 09:31 | Permalink

      Perhaps an email request to Simon Gathercole himself?

  • Nathan
    2018-12-30 04:40:06 UTC - 04:40 | Permalink

    Doherty wrote:

    “It is often claimed that Paul used the phrase [γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός] because it was so common. If it was so common, why did he not use it in the common form? The very fact that something is common should lead one to use it if one means the common thing. If it was found in scripture and Paul was taking his cue from there, why did he change the verb that was used in scripture? The fact that Paul changed the key element of the phrase should lead us to conclude that he was avoiding using it in its normal form because he meant something different from the normal understanding.”

    Doherty was confused, unfortunately.

    The phrase he alluded to is not common in Greek but rather in Hebrew—a crucial point he seemingly was unaware of. The phrase is ילוד אישה, meaning (of course) “born of a woman.” It appears across centuries of Hebrew literature, beginning, apparently, with the biblical book of Job; and it always signifies the same thing: the person so designated is a (lowly) human being.

    The fact that Greek authors used different Greek formulations to signify “born of a woman” has no real significance, then, since each of those formulations ultimately corresponds to ילוד אישה. In other words, Paul’s use of a different Greek verb is entirely inconsequential from an interpretive point of view, as there is no reason to doubt that the phrase he had in mind was the common one known from Hebrew. (In fact, in the same epistle, he uses another locution for a human being, namely σαρκι και αιματι, “flesh and blood,” which is even more common in Hebrew than “born of a woman” [Gal. 1:16: σαρκι και αιματι=בשר ודם, “flesh and blood”].)

    In any case, I’ll end this with a few words from a Jewish author, writing in Hebrew in the thirteenth century CE, tersely declaring this about Jesus: “He is no god but only flesh and blood born of a woman [ילוד אשה בשר ודם]” (Nizzahon Vetus 54.12).

    • A Buddhist
      2018-12-30 17:16:37 UTC - 17:16 | Permalink

      I was under the impression, though, that Paul knew no Hebrew. Certainly, he only quotes from the Greek Bible.

      • db
        2018-12-30 17:47:11 UTC - 17:47 | Permalink

        • Carrier holds that the authentic letters claiming to have been written by Paul are the only reliable evidence about Paul.

        Cf. “The Historicity of Paul the Apostle“. Richard Carrier Blogs. 6 June 2015.

        [T]he book of Acts is near useless fiction (On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 9). And all extra-biblical evidence for Paul, which is not based on the letters attributed to him, derives from Acts and no other source (either by using Acts as a source, or embellishing it’s tales with more mythology about Paul). So on those counts, Jesus and Paul are in the same evidential boat: there is nothing attesting them that counts as independent of Acts, and Acts is wholly unreliable as a source of historical facts in this matter.

        Except in Paul’s case. Because we actually do have letters claiming to have been written by Paul. We do not have this for Jesus . . . So the historicity of Jesus and Paul are actually not in the same evidential state.

        Per latter comment by Carrier—9 June 2015:

        As for Paul being famous, I don’t see any evidence of that. He was just one of a dozen apostles, all doing the same things he was, yet all of whom were so obscure we know next to nothing about any of them. Someone just liked bits of his letters more than the others a lifetime later and preserved them (probably Marcion). Had that not happened, we would probably not even know the man’s name.

        • Steve Watson
          2019-01-08 03:05:53 UTC - 03:05 | Permalink

          The letters of Paul were already available before Marcion. See for instance https://www.westarinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/BeDuhn-The-New-Marcion.pdf, already referenced in a comment to an earlier recent post on this blog.

          “This priority of Galatians, however, now has been shown to
          have occurred also in the ten-letter Pauline collection circulating among non-
          Marcionite Christians in Syria, undercutting the assumption that Marcion was
          responsible for it.” p.166

      • mark s
        2018-12-31 08:46:53 UTC - 08:46 | Permalink

        Paul doesn’t use any fixed translation of the Hebrew – or if he does, it is unknown.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-31 09:33:13 UTC - 09:33 | Permalink

      Gathercole just quoted the passages where it appears in Greek, several on Job, one in Sirach, and another…. that was the “common expression” in Greek, the one cited to us. Why did Paul not use it?

      • Nathan
        2018-12-31 21:08:47 UTC - 21:08 | Permalink

        If Gathercole thinks the phrase was common to Greek, than he’s succumbed to the same error as Doherty.

        Again, it’s the Hebrew phrase that was common, relatively speaking, and it appeared in Greek (and other languages, such as Coptic) only because of Hebraic influences. Every instance Gathercole cites from Job and Sirach is a translation from Hebrew.

        The fact that Paul used a different Greek verb to render the phrase himself is immaterial. It’s all much ado about nothing, really, considering his rendition alters the Hebrew in no significant way. In fact, the relative unimportance of which particular Greek verb was used, is further evidenced by some later (i.e., post-Pauline) authors who dropped the verb altogether, preferring simply ἐκ γυναικός. In other words, to belabor the point, the phraseology of “born of a woman” was standardized in its native Hebrew setting, not by Greek (or other) renditions. Doherty’s fixation on the Greek phraseology is a misguided and misleading distraction; and Gathercole’s treatment of the subject apparently fails to correct that situation.

        • Steve Watson
          2019-01-08 03:24:59 UTC - 03:24 | Permalink

          This is very interesting (And I genuinely mean it is interesting, I am not using the phrase as a dismissive) but aren’t you apparently beside the point yourself in that Paul was arguing in Greek to people who only knew Greek, and if they knew scripture it would be a Greek scripture they knew? Traduttore, traditore as the saying goes.

          • Nathan
            2019-01-08 06:12:25 UTC - 06:12 | Permalink

            To be clear, the point I’m arguing against is this notion that “born of a woman” was a common phrase in Greek, with the implication that it had achieved a fixed and widely-known phraseology in the Greek-speaking world. A handful of Greek translations of a Hebrew phrase, such as one finds in LXX Job and Sirach, does not entail that that phrase was common in Greek. Does Doherty think copies of the LXX were flying off the shelves at local bookstores? That its language had permeated the Greek-speaking world, introducing new terms and phrases such as “born of a woman”? I doubt it. So, on what legitimate basis, then, does he think that Paul’s “γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός” represents an odd departure from a fixed standard? What standard? There was none—and that was my point; “born of a woman” was common in Hebrew, not Greek.

            In any case, I am not suggesting that γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός was so obscure as to require a Greek readership to consult the LXX or some other Greek source to understand Paul’s meaning. However unusual that phrase may have been in Greek, its constituent components certainly were not, and thus its meaning would’ve been perfectly intelligible to Greek readers (even if the the broader connotations of the original Hebrew phrase were lost on them: ילוד אישה tends to have derogatory implications).

  • RParvus
    2018-12-30 17:51:35 UTC - 17:51 | Permalink

    Paul regularly appeals to revelation through Scripture. And as Doherty notes: “The strong implication is that, if the key phrases in Paul are his own voice and not an interpolation, Paul must have had in mind something different in regard to Christ than simply being ‘born’ in the normal sense.” (“Jesus Neither God Nor Man”, p. 207). So I am still quite open to the possibility that the Scripture Paul had in view was the Vision of Isaiah’s pocket gospel. Its Jesus is not really born in the normal sense. As Enrico Norelli puts it:

    “If the story is read literally, it is not about a birth. It’s about two parallel processes: the womb of Mary, that had enlarged, instantly returned to its prior state, and at the same time a baby appears before her— but, as far as can be determined, without any cause and effect relationship between the two events.” (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, pp. 52-53, my translation)

    Thus the Jesus of the VoI came by way of a Jewish woman but was not really born of her.

    • db
      2018-12-30 18:20:41 UTC - 18:20 | Permalink

      Good point RParvus, the extent of Paul’s sources when he states “according to the scriptures” is indeterminate, nor is it definitively known how Paul may of been interpreting said sources.

      Possible sources:
      • Hasideans
      • Essenes
      • Philo’s exegesis of the Septuagint and syncretism of philosophical tenets of the Greco-Roman world.
      • Early Jewish mysticism.
      • etc.

      Cf. Schäfer, Peter (2011). The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14215-9.

      • Pofarmer
        2018-12-31 00:15:03 UTC - 00:15 | Permalink

        I think this is something that gets lost. Scholars and apologists alike tend to act like we know what “scriptures” Paul was using for his theology. This, however. Is almost certianly not the case. It’s hard to know exactly what he had in mind when you don’t know exactly what he was accessing.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-12-31 09:36:34 UTC - 09:36 | Permalink

          I think the main grounds for suspicion (not certainty) that Paul knew of AofI or a version of it is when he says “as it is written, neither eye hath seen nor ear heard….”. There is no such passage in our canonical texts but it does appear in AoI. Either AofI was following Paul or Paul AofI.

          • RParvus
            2019-01-03 08:14:04 UTC - 08:14 | Permalink

            Yes, there are grounds to suspect that Paul knew some version of the Vision of Isaiah. But my suspicions go further than that. I suspect Paul’s gospel was the Vision of Isaiah. His gospel was not just a message; it was a message based on a specific text: the Vision of Isaiah. And of course, if that was the case, it would seem to follow that he wrote the Vision, for he says in Galatians that he received his gospel by revelation and not from any man.

            That possibility, i.e., Paul as original source of the VoI, opens up a different way of understanding II Cor 12: 1-10. The revelation that Paul touts in that passage would be the revelation of his VoI gospel. That would explain why for him it was a revelation of “words” (II Cor 12:4). He had said at the beginning of the passage that he was now turning his attention to “visions and revelations” (II Cor. 12:1), but he never get around to describing anything he saw. His focus is on revealed words. Specifically, “words that it is not lawful for a man to utter” (IICor 12:4). This is usually taken to mean that it was not lawful for Paul himself to utter the words, but that need not be the case. The sense could be that the unlawfulness had been in effect up until the time they were revealed to Paul. In other words, Paul was privileged one who had been chosen to reveal previously unlawful words. Which words? The ones in the Vision of Isaiah, for the utterance of those words had been unlawful for hundreds of years, ever since the time of Isaiah himself. At the end of the Vision Isaiah makes king Hezekiah “swear that he would not tell this to the people of Israel, and that he would not allow any man to copy these words” (AoI 11:39). So if gospel revealed to Paul was the Vision of Isaiah, his gospel related something that hitherto it had been unlawful for a man to utter.

            In further support of this possibility notice that Paul’s revelation, like Isaiah’s, entailed an ascent and that Paul, like Isaiah, numbers the heavens. In II Cor. 12:2 he his caught up to the third heaven, and in verse 4 it is to Paradise. Now it is often claimed that Paul was using parallelism here and that for him Paradise was located in the third heaven. If so, my proposal identifying Paul’s gospel with the VoI of course fails, for in the latter the highest heaven is the seventh one. Keep in mind, however, that many commentators do not accept the parallelism idea here. They think that if Paul used both third heaven and Paradise it is because he had some kind of sequence or progression in view. Paul does use the plural (“Lest the greatness of my revelations lead me to pride…”), so I think it remains a viable possibility that some of his revelations were received in the third heaven, and some in Paradise. For example, perhaps Paul claimed that Isaiah’s words were revealed to him in the third heaven whereas the words of God were revealed in Paradise. This would somewhat mirror what the VoI says about Isaiah’s ascent, namely, that some things were revealed to Isaiah in the lower heavens but the greatest revelations were received in the highest one.

            One caveat: Although I have been speaking of Paul as possible author of the Vision of Isaiah, I should qualify that. Given the very uneven nature of the Pauline letters, I think it is quite likely that many parts of them were written between 70 and 140 CE by early gnostic types. This has been argued, for example, by Alfred Loisy and, more recently, by Robert M. Price. So it may be that it was not Paul himself but quasi-gnostic successors who wrote the VoI and brought its ideas into the Paulines. I personally see Simonians as likely candidates. The main theme of the VoI is an ancient one, as Richard Carrier points out in his book “On the Historicity of Jesus” (pp. 45-47), but Simon Magus appears to have adopted and adapted it too. The VoI could be an adaptation of an earlier Simonian work. Simone Petrement suggests “it may have been written by a Simonian, around the time of Menander” (“A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism”, p. 326). Poor Paul. It is he who is usually accused of perverting original Christianity. The real culprits may turn out to be his earliest interpolators!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-01 03:06:05 UTC - 03:06 | Permalink

      Roger, if that “pocket gospel” in the AoI was known to Paul then does it not follow that we also have some grounds for not doubting the 1 Thess 2:14-16 passage, and also grounds for accepting as authentic Paul’s claim about a Davidic ancestry of Jesus, yes?

      • James Barlow
        2019-01-02 18:25:08 UTC - 18:25 | Permalink

        What a coincidence! I’ve been working assiduously and closely on the Ascension with a view to justifying a claim that Paul is indeed theologically dependent upon it. Neil and Roger are very, very close!

      • RParvus
        2019-01-08 04:06:47 UTC - 04:06 | Permalink


        I think there are enough other grounds to justify viewing the passages in question as interpolations. But even if that is the case, the interpolator may have obtained his information either directly or indirectly from the pocket gospel.

    • Steve Watson
      2019-01-08 03:34:12 UTC - 03:34 | Permalink

      That seems to be just substituting eisegesis from one lot of Late First Century/Early Second Century texts for another. 🙂 The “pocket gospel” is probably later still.

  • proudfootz
    2018-12-31 15:16:11 UTC - 15:16 | Permalink

    Regarding the interpolation issue, I’m under the impression there is some support among New Testament scholars that some of the ‘authentic’ letters are pastiches of Paul’s writings – that is, comprised of several essays or letters combined into one. If that is the case, it would muddy the waters further as far as trying to determine what was left in, what was left out, and what Paul’s original argument might have been before editing.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-03 07:16:17 UTC - 07:16 | Permalink

      We have a conundrum. Biblical studies has grown out of a religion believing in the divine inspiration of the “word of God”. Presumably that is why its scholarly members are so slow to treat their source documents with as much “disrespect” as classicists do theirs. Classicists are not the least afraid to point to evidence of changes over time. Yet even Ehrman will rest his case almost entirely on the authenticity of a single passage in Galatians, probably one of the most controversial of letters in its early history.

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