2019-04-30

Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics

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by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman has a new critic. I have just been notified (thanks, emailers!) of a new paper uploaded to academia.edu by a philosophy lecturer at the University of Oslo,

Why Jesus Most Likely Never Existed: Ehrman’s Double Standards

by Narve Strand (link is to CV).

I especially liked his conclusion since it expresses my own stance perfectly:

We don’t even have to hold this as a positive thesis, only to point out that Paul believed in this figure and that nothing follows from this about his existence. A consistent ahistorical stance here is like atheism: The only thing we really need to show is that the historicist doesn’t have real evidence that would make his purely human Jesus existing more probable than not.

Narve’s engagement with Ehrman’s arguments are spot on. Here is the beginning of his response to Ehrman’s appeal to criteria of authenticity:

Ehrman of course would say he doesn’t take the New Testament as good, reliable evidence. Not straightforwardly, anyway. His take is more sophisticated: The trick is to get behind the author and his agenda, digging out the real nuggets of historical information by a special set of authenticity-criteria. But: If the text itself breaks the basic rules of evidence (cf. E1-4), how can introducing more rules help? You can’t milk good, reliable information from bad, unreliable evidence (NE1-3) like that. To think that you can, like Ehrman clearly does (e.g. ch. 8), is sheer alchemy.

And again,

Bad evidence plus bad evidence equals bad evidence. Multiple attestation of hearsay is still hearsay. Here the rule is totally useless.

Ehrman lets his lay readers down badly, a point I am glad Narve brings to wider notice:

The insufficiency and unreliability of authenticity-criteria is well-known in biblical studies (see e.g. Allison 1998; 2008; 2009; Avalos 2007; Bird 2006; Le Donne 2002; Porter 2000; 2006; 2009). By not reporting this simple fact to his lay audience, Ehrman creates a false or misleading impression of the state of research in his own field.

On Ehrman’s two “knock-down” arguments,

Ehrman believes there are two knock-down, drag-out arguments against those who doubt Jesus was a purely human being who died around 30 CE:

(1) The fact that all the earliest sources speak of him as being crucified, and

(2) Paul’s mention of James as the “brother of the Lord” (ch. 5).

This would indeed be good, reliable evidence if two or more of the sources did speak of Jesus as “a purely human being.” Except, they don’t. None of the earliest sources speak of him as having a purely human birth or career, so how could he then have been a purely human prophet-teacher with biological brothers? It simply doesn’t make sense.

Not long ago we posted about Ehrman’s claim to have multiple sources for Jesus — albeit hypothetical ones. Narve elaborates on the problem:

In no way should we now be using purely hypothetical sources (like “Q”) to outweigh actual sources (Paul) or use later ones (the Gospels) to substantiate earlier ones (Paul again). Especially if there’s genuine scholarly doubt if the hypothetical source in question is a source (see e.g. Goodacre 2002 on “Q”) and the later sources can’t be treated as independent, reliable in any meaningful way. Ehrman doesn’t seem to care about any of this. And no, he doesn’t present the case against the use of purely hypothetical or later unreliable sources either. Fact is, Paul nowhere speaks of Jesus as a “prophet” or “teacher” who had “disciples,” was dragged to court by the “Sanhedrin,” tried before “Pilate” and then crucified by “the Romans.” In fact, he doesn’t clearly refer to anything that would lead us to believe Jesus was “a purely human being” who existed and died around 30 CE. None of the very earliest, pre-gospel sources do! (see e.g. Martin 1991 (ch.2). This consistent negative trend in the earliest sources should have given Ehrman pause at least. You’ve guessed it: He doesn’t even mention it. Instead, he uses the Gospels to “fill in the blanks” in Paul, making him say things he never did. Is Ehrman’s hypothesis really so weak he has to fudge the evidence like that?

And when we turn to the earliest known source about Jesus. . . .

Against (2): So what do we find when we go to the earliest known source (Paul) and take him at face value (e.g. Phil. 2:6-11)? That Jesus

• Was a divine-like being (en morphê theou)(2:6)
• Who “emptied” (ekenôsen) himself (2:7), was
• “Made” (genomenos) in the “likeness” of a human (homoiômati anthrôpon)(2:7)
• And in that appearance died on the cross (2:8) and
• Became Lord of all things (2:9-11) and
• God’s adopted Son (Rom 1:16) because of this

That doesn’t sound like a purely human being who had a natural birth and human career at all. In fact, Paul goes out of his way to say Jesus wasn’t really a human being. Now suddenly Ehrman is very eager to invoke scholarly disagreement again: The disagreement is so totally huge, in fact, that he can’t even tell us what it consists in! (p. 174) Biblical studies isn’t rocket science. Any reasonable person can see for himself the only thing Paul clearly isn’t talking about here is “a purely human being.” He even uses a special word “made” (genomenos) instead of the usual “born” (gennaô)(see also Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3) to mark off Jesus’ coming into the world. The word suggests direct manufacture (by God) as opposed to natural birth . . . .

You can download the 14 page paper here.

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42 Comments

  • balivi
    2019-04-30 10:08:57 GMT+0000 - 10:08 | Permalink

    Slightly off topic, but important.

    “Who “emptied” (ekenôsen) himself (2:7),”

    The “heauton ekenósen”, in normal translation: “emptied himself”. It must be determined, that the “kenun” (pour out) verb, no example in greece, to connect with retroactive pronoun. But while there is no similar word in Greek literature, there is an equivalent expression in Isaiah 53,12: “hecerah lammaveth nafsó”; “he poured out his life unto death”. So the “heauton ecenosen” is a correct translation of “hecerah lammaveth nafsó”. Fil 2.7 should be translated as follows:
    “Passed himself to death” (“gave himself to death”), or “made it possible, has allowed, to die”.

    And yes, it is a complete transformation, “metamorphosis”. From one shape to another. A human being cannot do this.

    • balivi
      2019-04-30 10:59:12 GMT+0000 - 10:59 | Permalink

      Source: Joachim Jeremias: ABBA, Studien zur neutestamentlichen Theologie und Zeitgeschichte, Göttingen 1966, 309-310

  • Arkenaten
    2019-04-30 12:31:31 GMT+0000 - 12:31 | Permalink

    And the dominos begin to fall ….

    As Aerosmith once sang: ”Chip away the stone…”
    Great post!

  • Giuseppe
    2019-04-30 12:45:01 GMT+0000 - 12:45 | Permalink

    Thanks Neil for the info.
    I can equally refer you to a recent (500 pages about) book by a French scholar, Nanine Charbonnel, titled “Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier”, prefaced very positively by a biblical OT scholar, Thomas Römer (known surely by you).

    • Giuseppe
      2019-04-30 12:53:56 GMT+0000 - 12:53 | Permalink

      Having read the book, I realize that the part about midrashical references to a Crucificion simbology in the OT scriptures is interesting. She is more weak about the her short allusion to Paul. Interesting also the reference to a French mythicist, Bernard Dubourg, who was the first to argue the “coincidence” about PiLaTe and the Hebrew root PLT for “to set one free” (remember of who Pilate is a “releaser” par excellence). See:
      https://archive.org/stream/LinventionDeJsusTomeI/DubourgInventiondeJsus1_djvu.txt

      I wonder also about another midrashical irony on Pilate.

      • balivi
        2019-04-30 15:21:53 GMT+0000 - 15:21 | Permalink

        In Mark, Pilate freely released Barrabas (Bar Abba), the father’s son, in other words Son of God, and crucified Jesus (the son of man). Why?

        “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1Cor2:7-8)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-30 21:17:40 GMT+0000 - 21:17 | Permalink

      Thank you, Giuseppe. More reading for the wicked!

  • 2019-04-30 15:16:08 GMT+0000 - 15:16 | Permalink

    Yep, this is a good one. As I said, it feels like this position is gaining ground. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I don’t see how Ehrman can hold out. He is certainly a central pillar of the “historical Jesus” temple, and he’s facing a lot of increased and very legitimate, criticism from increasingly reputable people.

    • Leigh Sutherland
      2019-04-30 15:44:55 GMT+0000 - 15:44 | Permalink

      Don’t bank on it turning any corner, just wait for the barrage of “he’s not qualified” or the run of the mill “he’s out of his area of expertise”

      • 2019-04-30 16:43:11 GMT+0000 - 16:43 | Permalink

        I’m sure it will, but eventually when so many people are saying the emperor has no clothes it becomes an issue.

        It seems as if increasing numbers of people aren’t simply saying, “Maybe Jesus never existed”, they are saying, “These bible scholars don’t know what their doing.” Eventually, this will have to be addressed.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-30 21:28:55 GMT+0000 - 21:28 | Permalink

      As others have also commented, I think the turning point won’t come until one person within the field speaks out to make the idea at least discussable. So far the closest we have had is a few scholars from Old Testament studies and other historical disciplines saying something, but no current academic in New Testament studies itself. We have seen Brodie wait until retirement before “coming out”, and then we saw how his name and work were trashed.

      Look back through to the early twentieth century, even earlier, and it seems to be we have interest and scholarly (though not NT scholars) writings on the Jesus myth coming in waves, retreating, then expanding again before withdrawing for another period of comparative obscurity.

      In recent times Doherty and Salm seemed to be leading a new wave of interest but I recall some hopeful words from them at one time, but it appears that the vicious hostility of the backlash eventually took its toll on them and they retreated for a more sane and healthy existence, at least for a while.

      We have learned that many Christians and a good number of atheists are simply not very nice people when they are faced with this question.

  • 2019-04-30 18:03:58 GMT+0000 - 18:03 | Permalink

    Basically biblical studies is the last in a long line of failures of Christian scholarship. Christian scholars have been wrong about everything, and this is the ultimate failure. They don’t even understand the nature of their own holy book. They were wrong about the workings of the universe, wrong about the age of the earth, wrong about the development of life, wrong about the nature of disease, wrong about the existence of atoms, and now ultimately they are even wrong about where their holy book came from and how it was written.

    • Booker
      2019-04-30 19:40:42 GMT+0000 - 19:40 | Permalink

      So true. They want view the world through the lens of the Bible instead of viewing the Bible through the lens of the world.

  • Peter Grullemans
    2019-05-01 01:32:41 GMT+0000 - 01:32 | Permalink

    Mr RG Price and Booker both put that very well, as does does Narve Strand with his raw logic approach and argument. Let’s face it, people born of virgins don’t exist, nor do the characters in dreams and visions. It will be so interesting if Bart Ehrman eventually does change his views but I suspect that his problem is with his interpretation of the Roman and Jewish historical record. Why can’t he allow for the vested interests of the Romans in inventing a Jesus along mythical lines that would diffuse and destabilise the Jewish Messianic movement and later unite the Roman empire ? I’ll have to listen to his debate against RM Price again and Richard Carrier’s mock debate against Ehrman.

  • Pofarmer
    2019-05-01 02:28:48 GMT+0000 - 02:28 | Permalink

    I like this Narve Fellow.

  • Booker
    2019-05-01 04:36:38 GMT+0000 - 04:36 | Permalink

    The comments on the vagueness of the crucifixion details harken to something Neil has also mentioned from time to time, that the time and place that it occurred may have initially been unspecific. Additional details could have been developed later over time with some placing it the lower heavens and others on Earth, but for Paul’s purposes, simply that it had occurred may have been the only thing that mattered.

    • JBeers
      2019-05-01 09:01:40 GMT+0000 - 09:01 | Permalink

      To be fair, I would like to present an alternative opinion. I am personally not inclined to this opinion, but I believe it to be somewhat rational.
      At least one can anticipate arguments like it.

      After the crucifixion the followers might have been expected to have been rather stressed out–PTSD and that sort of thing. They might have tended to be isolated, lying low to avoid persecution. In other words, they might have gone a tiny bit crazy, and then, with age, demented. The stories might have gotten vaguer and vaguer. Details from different versions from different hyperreligious dements might have been increasingly hard to reconcile as memories faded and neurologically or psychiatrically processes provoked fanciful elaborations or other changes of memory in those who were inclined to talk and evangelize. Or even w/o the dementia argument, the experience might have been too painful for witnesses to recite the details.

      Thus memory of the details might have died with the witnesses, or possibly even before as the witnesses, PTSD’d out with grief and horror (and possibly delight, hypothetically, if they witnessed a real resurrection), repressed the details from their own memories.

      • Pofarmer
        2019-05-01 13:11:45 GMT+0000 - 13:11 | Permalink

        I think you’re trying to imprint modern sensibilities onto Ancient people here. I don’t think they looked and life and death like we do. Executions were common place. Children and adults routinely died of what we would call minor diseases or injuries today. I’m not sure the PTSD thing would even remotely apply.

        • JBeers
          2019-05-02 09:09:05 GMT+0000 - 09:09 | Permalink

          I suppose that I was not clear enough at the beginning that I was attempting to be Devil’s Advocate and that at the end I indicated that I was trying to anticipate what would be a counter-argument. It is good to try to see things from different perspectives and anticipate counter-arguments.

          I will continue as Devil’s Advocate. I remember an exchange from an introductory anthropology course. When some aspect of contemporary human misery was being described in a different society a student commented that it was perhaps easier for the people there to take because they were used to it. The professor had a response that was an elegant version of “Easy for you to say.” It was something in the order of noting that a perception of the student’s comment might be different if the situation were switched around 180 degrees.

          • JBeers
            2019-05-07 19:06:06 GMT+0000 - 19:06 | Permalink

            On the question of the role of PTSD in visions of Jesus and whether PTSD could have existed back then: in doing archaeological email work I just unearthed an ancient vridar message on evidence of PTSD in ancient times. The message in my 2015 email referred to the following:

            https://vridar.org/2015/01/27/battle-trauma-afflicted-ancient-assyrians

            This topic and this exchange is now rather ancient itself so no one may be paying attention. For what it’s worth, however, if one were to want to go with the idea of the NT as being histories in which people had visions of Jesus, the most plausible way to go in explaining the visions might be not with some personality disorders as causes of visions. PTSD might be better. Some experiences associated w/ narcolepsy might work for visions esp for experiences with Satan. The best however would be temporal lobe seizures and microseizures and mild temporal lobe pathology in general (religiosity, fascination with destiny and fate and meaning in coincidences, superstitiousness, tendency to sense alien or godlike or demonic beings, paranormal experiences, and so forth). I’ll stop before I go into a dissertation I’m not qualified to give, though I am far from ignorant about the topic.

            However I will again make clear that I (an amateur who does not read Greek) do not believe that Mark and John were written as histories. Maybe their authors didn’t mind if naive audiences took them that way but the works seem to be written as if in something like code to Those In The Know or something to that effect.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2019-05-02 00:03:58 GMT+0000 - 00:03 | Permalink

        If the disciples were in fear for their own safety it is unlikely they would have returned to have witnessed any of the crucifixion itself. Their last memory would have been Jesus being arrested and feeling relief that they themselves were able to escape so easily (except for one fellow who needed a new garment).

      • nightshadetwine
        2019-05-03 19:33:04 GMT+0000 - 19:33 | Permalink

        I doubt there even were any kind of “grief hallucinations” or anything like that. The early Christians just came up with a “story” which to them was “true”. It didn’t have to have literally happened for it to be “true” and meaningful to these people. These people weren’t modern day “rational skeptics”, something could be meaningful and “true” even if it didn’t actually happen. Sons of gods and heroes were said to have been born to a mortal woman and existed on Earth even though they most likely didn’t. So if there wasn’t a historical Jesus, early Christians could still say that there was without that being a problem, all that mattered was the concepts and meaning behind the story. And if there was a historical Jesus, just because early Christians said he rose from the dead doesn’t mean that literally happened. To them he rose from the dead, this was a way of deifying someone. So it was “true enough” to them.

        The most important thing to people back then was the story or myth itself, not necessarily what actually happened. Modern day scholars don’t seem to understand what an allegory or metaphor is.

        • shnarkle Von Barkle
          2019-05-03 23:22:22 GMT+0000 - 23:22 | Permalink

          Today it is the concepts and meaning behind the story, but for those who developed these stories, it was just the opposite. For them, the story is a metaphor of reality. It is an illustration of the truth. Figures of speech are used to emphasize literal reality. When the women approach the tomb, they meet a gardener in one account, a messenger in another, and Jesus in still a third. In Mark’s account they peer into an empty tomb. These are all pointing to the same reality which is that you are not your body. The teaching is illustrated in the story itself. Christ taught that he was in everyone down to the least, and so they begin to see Christ in messengers, gardners, and strangers they sit down to eat with on their way to Emauss. They begin to love others the way they were loved by Christ because they see Christ in everyone they meet. Even though they have abandoned their separate identities, they are not hallucinating or undergoing some dissociative disorder.

          Modern day scholars do lack some familiarity with figurative speech, but the real problem is that too many people don’t even realize what the social sciences figured out long ago, i.e. we all develop separate identities while we are still infants. These identities are nothing but abstract constructions of the mind. They aren’t real. It is a persistent delusion that we are our identities.

          The author of Mark’s gospel is asking us to peer behind the persona of Christ. What do we see? Nothing. It’s empty, and this emptiness is a recurring theme in the bible. Christ is said to have emptied himself of his divinity, then his humanity to become a sin offering. He is only doing what he sees the father doing which should be the first clue to an atheist that these authors actually do know what they’re talking about. They are pointing out that there is no referent for “God” other than the word.

          • JBeers
            2019-05-04 08:16:04 GMT+0000 - 08:16 | Permalink

            Though ignorant of the ways of the ancient world, and willing to entertain multiple hypotheses including ones involving a literal Jesus much as described in canonized gospels, I suspect that the shnarkle Von Barkle approach is the correct one. This approach fits awfully well. As I wrote here recently, I recently re-read Mark and John for the 1st time in decades and thought they both read like pure Gnosticism. I wondered whether the contradictions and absurdities, including the disparities in location between John and Mark, might have, among other things, been deliberate chidings to readers from those In The Know that they don’t have to take the elements of the story too literally.

            Again, however, I write from a position of ignorance. Also, to make an embarrassing confession here, I write as a believer–an abstract but actually fairly religious neo-gnosticism of sorts is part of my life. Thus I may be prejudiced in my perspective by a faith of sorts as well as by my amateurish ignorance.

          • nightshadetwine
            2019-05-04 18:08:05 GMT+0000 - 18:08 | Permalink

            You might be misunderstanding what I wrote. Or I’m misunderstanding what you wrote. I’m not saying they didn’t have spiritual or theological beliefs, they definitely believed in god and other “spirit” beings. I’m saying the stories they wrote were allegories for their spiritual/theological beliefs. I’m not saying they were actually atheists and their stories/myths had some secular meaning. They literally believed in the “Christ” or Jesus. So just because they didn’t actually literally see Jesus rise from the dead, they still believed he did because that “story” has theological/spiritual meaning to it.

            A person back then could read the Hebrew scriptures, come across a verse that revealed some idea to them, and think the “idea” was revealed to them by god. They didn’t necessarily have a literal vision of a god coming to them and speaking to them and explaining the true meaning of the verse. If they wrote a story or myth about this experience though, instead of just saying they were reading scripture and came up with a great idea, they would write something like they had a vision and god came to them and told them some great truth.

            • shnarkle Von Barkle
              2019-05-04 20:27:26 GMT+0000 - 20:27 | Permalink

              “I’m saying the stories they wrote were allegories for their spiritual/theological beliefs.”

              This may be the case, but I’m more inclined to see it more as their writings are allegories of reality. They are presenting theophanies rather than theologies.

              “They literally believed in the “Christ” or Jesus. So just because they didn’t actually literally see Jesus rise from the dead, they still believed he did because that “story” has theological/spiritual meaning to it.”

              Again, I see it differently for those who were actually writing the original narratives. They are seeing risen Christ in each other. They are in locked rooms, when they have this realization. They are walking with a stranger (aka “the least of his brethren”) when Christ’s teachings begin to not just take hold of their understanding, but completely bypass their understanding and manifest in their lives.

              “the “idea” was revealed to them by god.” The biblical texts are written by people who aren’t what most scholars would characterize as intellectuals. Their lives were not dominated by ideas, but herding sheep, planting crops, vineyards, hewing wood, etc. Therefore they encounter God in the world around them. This is what Paul actually suggests when he points out that the body is the temple of the spirit, or John says, “the word was made flesh”. When someone helps their neighbor free their ox from a ditch, they are manifesting God’s will in their actions. They don’t see this as an idea, but as God entering into the world.

              • nightshadetwine
                2019-05-04 21:15:17 GMT+0000 - 21:15 | Permalink

                “This may be the case, but I’m more inclined to see it more as their writings are allegories of reality.”

                Well, this sounds like it’s getting into our personal beliefs. What we believe isn’t really what I’m talking about. So I would say that their writings were allegories for their reality or what they perceived to be reality. So these stories represented their personal beliefs.

                “Again, I see it differently for those who were actually writing the original narratives. They are seeing risen Christ in each other. They are in locked rooms, when they have this realization. They are walking with a stranger (aka “the least of his brethren”) when Christ’s teachings begin to not just take hold of their understanding, but completely bypass their understanding and manifest in their lives.”

                This isn’t really any different than what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that they didn’t literally see one guy named Jesus rise from his grave. This “rising/resurrection of Jesus” has a more esoteric meaning for them. Like what you’re saying, Christ rising within each individual. I’m very familiar with esoteric interpretations of religious stories/myths so I know what you’re talking about and I do think the more esoteric interpretation of these stories is actually the original or “correct” meaning behind them. I suspect that the character of Jesus in these stories actually just represents the “higher” or “divine” aspect in every human being or the divine manifested(logos) in the physical/material world rather than an individual who lived historically. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a historical Jesus, there may have been, but if there was, he’s being used in these allegorical stories to convey spiritual/theological concepts.

                “The biblical texts are written by people who aren’t what most scholars would characterize as intellectuals. Their lives were not dominated by ideas, but herding sheep, planting crops, vineyards, hewing wood, etc. Therefore they encounter God in the world around them. This is what Paul actually suggests when he points out that the body is the temple of the spirit, or John says, “the word was made flesh”. When someone helps their neighbor free their ox from a ditch, they are manifesting God’s will in their actions. They don’t see this as an idea, but as God entering into the world.”

                Right, again, this doesn’t really contradict what I said. Whether you want to use the word “idea” or “concept” or “belief” or whatever you want to call it isn’t important. They can see god or “Christ” in pretty much anything. These “ideas” or “beliefs” actually have a long pre-Christian history and I don’t think a person can fully understand the Bible without knowing where these concepts come from. Or it at least helps make sense out of the bible knowing the history of these concepts.

              • shnarkle Von Barkle
                2019-05-04 22:37:07 GMT+0000 - 22:37 | Permalink

                “What we believe isn’t really what I’m talking about.”

                I agree.

                ” So I would say that their writings were allegories for their reality or what they perceived to be reality.”

                I’d stick with the former articulation rather than the latter because perceptions of reality are not reality. I wouldn’t say that it was their reality because what happens when one comes into contact with reality is to realize that nothing is yours. This is why the disciples give all their possessions away. They can see that it isn’t theirs to begin with. They can also see that to hold onto it is to hold onto garbage.

                ” So these stories represented their personal beliefs.”

                Here again, I would say it is more likely that these stories are a metaphor for reality. Whatever they believe, it isn’t personal at all. For them, there is only one person, Christ.

                “What I’m saying is that they didn’t literally see one guy named Jesus rise from his grave. This “rising/resurrection of Jesus” has a more esoteric meaning for them. Like what you’re saying, Christ rising within each individual.”

                I guess I just have baggage associated with terms like “esoteric”. We’re probably saying the same thing. What I see is Christ rising within each individual to the point where the individual/separate identity is obliterated altogether, and only Christ remains.

                “he’s being used in these allegorical stories to convey spiritual/theological concepts.”

                I would only say that it goes beyond just concepts. The allegories bypass the intellect altogether. They have to in order to convey reality. I suppose the intellect could be passively involved, but I don’t see it as the aim of the narratives. Jesus walks past someone and says, “Follow me”, and these instructions are not comprehended by the intellect at all. They simply rise and follow because they have come into direct contact with reality. They see in front of them life (itself).

                “Whether you want to use the word “idea” or “concept” or “belief” or whatever you want to call it isn’t important.”

                Well, it kind of is in a way. The reason is that the concept of God is not God. The concept of reality is not reality. The intellect is not the proper faculty to connect with reality. The intellect can only reflect reality, and it isn’t a good reflection to begin with. It muddles reality. It separates us from reality. It creates an added barrier to reality.

                “They can see god or “Christ” in pretty much anything. These “ideas” or “beliefs” actually have a long pre-Christian history and I don’t think a person can fully understand the Bible without knowing where these concepts come from.”

                Again, I agree with what you’re posting, but I don’t think we agree on the full ramifications of what is conveyed. For those who are simply understanding concepts, they have an understanding, but they will never “see the kingdom” because it cannot be understood. The kingdom doesn’t come via the intellect, and this is precisely the problem we encounter with doctrines of the church.

                Some church father encounters the risen Christ, and his confession or witness eventually becomes a dogmatic claim to the truth. The doctrines of the church accrete and solidify into dead doctrines while something a saint or founder does becomes a dead ritual. Years later, followers are reduced to chanting these doctrines/ideas as if the idea itself is the truth when it is nothing more than an idea or doctrine.

                “Or it at least helps make sense out of the bible knowing the history of these concepts.”

                Sure, but I think the point we may be ultimately heading towards isn’t an understanding, but an encounter with reality, or Christ. Paul puts it this way: “there is but one mediator between God and man:Christ”. Christ is the mediator; the medium, the metaphor, the Symbol, the copula,”the way”, etc. rather than the idea or concept about any of these things. While there is the concept of Christ, Christ is not a concept. This is why I firmly believe that most, if not all Christians are idolaters. They all believe in ideas or concepts about God, but none of these ideas have any relationship to God at all; especially the biblical God.

  • Pofarmer
    2019-05-01 13:15:00 GMT+0000 - 13:15 | Permalink

    I particularly like the next to last paragraph.

    So where does that leave us? Well, if we go to our earliest source (Paul) and take it at face value once again, we’ll see he does seem to believe Jesus had some kind of earthly existence. He says nothing that would lead us to believe otherwise (that he was killed off in outer space, say). But, as I said, he doesn’t seem to think he lived in the recent past either. How can that be? Paul was what we today would call a schizotypal personality: Jesus was first “revealed in him” (apokalypsai en emoi)(Gal 1:16), meaning he had hallucinations of seeing and having conversations with this spirit-Jesus before talking to others about him (Gal 1:17-9). Paul’s Jesus, it seems, only ever appeared to him and any other Christian—and yes, to James too!—in hallucinations (1 Cor 15:3-8). These hallucinations would set Paul and the others on a hunt to look for hidden clues about him in the Jewish Scriptures again (e.g. 1 Cor 2:7; 15:3-8; cf. Deut 21:22-3; Daniel; Psalms 22-4; Isaiah, etc.). Here they would have found vague, disconnected talk of a suffering servant who bore the sins of mankind, was maimed and then vindicated some time after that by God; and also of “hanging on a tree” as part of a method for executing criminals (see Gal. 3:13 where Paul refers explicitly to this idea complex and to Deut 21:22-3 as scriptural proof for his idea of crucifixion)(see also Martin 1991, ch.2). This also explains why Paul doesn’t ever get much more specific about Jesus’ earthly career than that. For him the only thing that mattered was that he was crucified anyway (1 Cor 2:2). Paul’s Jesus is arguably a composite: Part hallucinated, part rambling literary construct from the Jewish Scriptures. No purely human prophet-teacher or pagan dying-and-rising gods killed off by demons in outer space is needed here. Paul himself says vision and scriptures are the only sources for his Jesus (Rom 1:2; 1 Cor 15:3-9; Gal 1:15-9).

    I’m not sure that we can know exactly what Paul believed from the information that we had left to us. I’m not sure Paul knew exactly what Paul believed. That would kind of be a feature in Christianity, not a bug, as the vagueness kind of allowed the nascent religion to be what a follower wanted to make it, which is one of it’s strengths.

    • Peter Grullemans
      2019-05-01 13:27:04 GMT+0000 - 13:27 | Permalink

      Rather than Paul halucinating, that story itself may be a fraud, and perhaps Paul himself did not even exist. I’m serious.

      • Pofarmer
        2019-05-01 13:31:53 GMT+0000 - 13:31 | Permalink

        So is there a short version of the story that leads to that conclusion? I’m not disputing it, I’ve just never been really able to wrap my head around it. I know there’s a theory that Paul was an invention of Marcion, or something, I’ve never really tracked it down. Rene Salm was posting some stuff on it.

        • 2019-05-01 16:31:12 GMT+0000 - 16:31 | Permalink

          IMO, the most reasonable position on Paul right now is simply that it is unclear where Paul’s letters came from, who wrote them, how they were compiled, how they were edited,and what portions of them were written at what times.

          I think we can make some conclusions about the letters:

          1) The main portions of the so-called authentic letters were written prior to the First Jewish-Roman War.
          2) Various modifications to the letters were made after the First Jewish-Roman War, and after the “publication” of the Gospels.

          Other than that its really hard to say much.

          It does seem likely that many of the so-called “letters” are really compilations of assorted writings that were perhaps stitched together by one or more editors at a later time. The fact that so many people call Paul “schizophrenic” and self-contradictory may stem from the fact that “Paul’s letters” were really written by more than one person. Indeed, we know for sure that in total many letters were falsely attributed to Paul, and no one contests that letters like Timothy, etc. are inauthentic letters written in Paul’s name.

          What we could be dealing with, actually, is a continuum, whereby the various letters contain varying amounts of “authentic” material, ranging from a high portion to to none or almost none, with a range in between.

          From my view, the best we can do is look at the Gospel of Mark and the letter to the Hebrews, which both clearly copy from Paul’s letters. We can confirm that material that those authors copied existed at the time they were reading the letters. Anything not found in the works of those writers is a possibly later revision to the letters.

          It is unclear the extent to which the letters had been edited by the time they were used by the writer of Mark. Given that “Mark” makes use of 5 or 6 of the letters, it seems as though they had already been put into a collection by the time Mark was using them. Indeed, Mark actually becomes our first witness to the collected letters of Paul (not Marcion).

          The mere act of putting these writings into a collection was a very likely to include editing the letters. and from what I’ve seen from what was going on at Qumran, people at this time in these circles weren’t above altering and the works of others and assigning false names, etc. by any means.

      • db
        2019-05-01 14:18:50 GMT+0000 - 14:18 | Permalink

        • Paul is insubstantial either way.

        Comment by Carrier—9 June 2015—per “The Historicity of Paul the Apostle”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 6 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.

    • JBeers
      2019-05-02 09:34:41 GMT+0000 - 09:34 | Permalink

      The question has been raised, above, whether it is proper to apply the diagnosis of PTSD across time. I wonder whether it is proper to apply the diagnosis of “schizotypal personality” across time (or even contemporaneously, across cultures). In fact, is it correct to apply the word “hallucination” across time without boulders of salt? Did people of that time perhaps consider daydreams or real dreams to be so to speak genuine visions, and under what circumstances?

      Then there are temporal lobe seizures which may cause visions with a pronounced religious flavor and the hypnogogic hallucinations of narcoleptics. Would it even be proper to apply the diagnosis of “schizotypical personality” without considering these possibilities?

      (Assuming even that “Paul” was “Paul” and that “Paul” even existed.)

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-05-02 00:35:01 GMT+0000 - 00:35 | Permalink

    On the battle for the identity of the Paul figure, the letters we have in our NT are only one field of the contest. There was a conflict between Marcionites and “orthodoxy” for the “original text”; but there were other fields of battle for Paul’s identity and heritage, too. The Book of Acts is a reclaiming of Paul in opposition to what we read many places in the letters, then there are the pastorals that were added to give yet another very different Paul image, and then the Acts of Paul and Thecla — another Paul again. And Valentinians had a view of Paul quite different from all of those.

  • shnarkle Von Barkle
    2019-05-03 11:33:39 GMT+0000 - 11:33 | Permalink

    People are finally starting to wake up to the fact that these writings, narratives, etc. were never meant to be taken as historical narratives. The history of the development of the Hebrew scriptures alone should be enough to spotlight what’s going on. The gospel narratives are a carbon copy of them, and fit like a hand into a glove for the Jewish liturgical calendar.

    Our author is missing something with this though:”So what do we find when we go to the earliest known source (Paul) and take him at face value (e.g. Phil. 2:6-11)? That Jesus
    • God’s adopted Son (Rom 1:16) because of this ” Romans 1:16 doesn’t have anything to do with God’s adopted Son.

    • Peter Grullemans
      2019-05-03 12:28:46 GMT+0000 - 12:28 | Permalink

      Rather than debate about the personalities and existence of Jesus, Paul and the rest of the characters, I’m more interested in discovering the motives for the writing and canonisation of New Testament. I might leave some of you behind so I apologise for that, but I’d really like to move on.
      .
      1. As Richard Carrier seems to me to suggest, with the temple destroyed in AD 70, the Jews invented Christianity as a replacement system for the temple’s animal sacrifices to deal with Israel’s sin and guilt.
      .
      2. As Joseph Atwill seems to me to suggest, the Roman aristocracy engineered Christianity as propaganda to diffuse the Jewish Messianic military uprising across the Roman world as well as blame the Jews in the eye of the Pagans, then a couple of Centuries later Rome consolidated Christianity for unification and further control.
      .
      3. As Robert M. Price seems to me to suggest, perhaps in harmony with Carrier’s view, the mythic superhero themes of dying and rising gods in the ancient world inevitably led to Judaism adapting and adopting its own superhero.
      .
      The above comments are of course grossly oversimplified. I enjoy and respect each of the three scholars. I look forward to the day when we can have more debates and presentations in Australia with and between these scholars.
      .
      I think the elephant in the room is not what’s written in the NT but what records have been destroyed and why. Who benefits ? There are a lot of superstitious people in our world engrossed in Christianity ( I was one of them) and a lot of professional clergymen and academics on the payroll ( I was nearly one of them, but, in fairness, I would not have done it for the money). Yet people are beautiful and I don’t want to be cynical or insensitive.

  • shnarkle Von Barkle
    2019-05-03 12:06:03 GMT+0000 - 12:06 | Permalink

    I hate to break this to you, but this author isn’t putting his best foot forward with this gem:

    “A reliable historian like Herodotus says:”

    Herodotus is not the go-to person for accurate historical accounts. The Hebrew scriptures give an account that claims the Holy Spirit went out and fought for Israel. This is why they won the battle. We can toss that version in the trash without a thought. Herodotus supplies us with his version of the exact same battle, and claims that the reason for their loss was due to rodents eating their quivers. Do rodents do such a thing? Not only do rodents not eat quivers, but no one in their right mind is going to look at someone who reports this as credible in the first place. Herododus is the father of “fake news”.

  • ? Not only do rodents not eat quivers,
    2019-05-03 12:36:56 GMT+0000 - 12:36 | Permalink

    ” Not only do rodents not eat quivers,”

    Why not? Quivers could be made of anything. They were often leather, but could be fabric with ends of leather or even woven straw. Could a bunch of Quivers stacked somewhere in a cave or building be attacked by rodents? I don’t honestly see why not. Not saying it’s likely, or not just an excuse, but I wouldn’t call it “impossible” either.

    • shnarkle Von Barkle
      2019-05-04 12:13:26 GMT+0000 - 12:13 | Permalink

      In Herodotus’ account,these field mice supposedly invaded the Assyrian camp and gnawed the quivers, bow strings, and leather shield handles, which completely disarmed them. (ii.141). Sure it’s possible, but if you’re going to go that route, then you’re going to have to grant the same possibilities to the biblical accounts.

      Given that there seems to be some who are willing to give Herodotus credibility here, it seems only fair to look at some of his other accounts which just so happen to verify biblical prophecy as well.

      There are several prophecies which indicate that God would overthrow the “golden city” by his “shepherd,” his “anointed one,” Cyrus, king of Persia (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1), who would “dry up” Babylon’s water (Isaiah 44:27; Jeremiah 50:38; 51:36).

      Herodotus claims that Cyrus diverted the river, but that the Babylonians could have defended the city, except for the fact that in their confidence they “were engaged in a festival”, and were taken by surprise (i.191).

      Jeremiah prophesied the city would be feasting and drunken (51:39, 57), and thus captured unaware (50:24). Jeremiah gave these prophecies about fifty-six years before the fall of Babylon (cf. 51:59), and about 150 years before Herodotus.

      Isaiah prophetically states: “Come now, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground” (47:1). Virgin is of course a reference to the fact that the mighty city had never been ravished before.

      Herodotus describes the assault of Cyrus as “the first taking of Babylon” (i.191).

  • Vinícius Cerva de Moraes
    2019-05-04 16:58:45 GMT+0000 - 16:58 | Permalink

    Yay, thanks! The latest “mythicist” text I’ve read was On the Historicity of Jesus, by Carrier. This will be a nice complement.

  • Pingback: Update to “Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics” |

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