Current Debate Jesus Agnosticism/Mythicism – Raphael Lataster and James McGrath

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by Neil Godfrey

The Bible and Interpretation website has published an article by Raphael Lataster discussing his book (published by Brill) Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse.

Some excerpts:

Now, within five years of each other, there are two comprehensive academic monographs arguing the other way. Those wanting to know why we ought to accept the Historical Jesus’ historicity generally have to make do, if they do not directly engage with the sources themselves, with the specialist scholars merely asserting their opinions, and some popular books, like those recent ones from Ehrman and Casey.

On Bart Ehrman’s attempt to address the Christ Myth hypothesis:

Apart from his use of hypothetical sources, Ehrman highlights two key points that apparently make Jesus’ existence a sure bet. The first is Paul’s relationships with Peter and James, who surely knew a historical Jesus. The big problem is that we know of this from later documents. Ehrman and other scholars read the later documents into the earlier Epistles. Reading the Epistles without Gospel-tainted glasses will lead to some intriguing possibilities, as we shall soon see. There are other problems, too, such as the general unreliability of the Epistles (just as with the Gospels), and the fact that such passages were tampered with (as Ehrman himself published on; see his The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 238-239).

The second is that Jews would apparently never invent a suffering Messiah. This is utter nonsense. Ehrman is wrong in principle and in fact.

On Maurice Casey’s follow up diatribe:

Casey outright admits, like so many theologians and cryptotheologians, that “the criteria reasonably used by historians writing about important political figures such as Julius Caesar need modification in dealing with the historicity of Jesus” (p. 66). No Casey, you do not get to alter the rules of what is historically probable because you know that your evidence simply isn’t good enough. The other great innovation that Casey brought to the debate is the radically early dating of the Gospels, almost laughably unjustified, as well as the identification of the earliest Gospel writer.

Raphael Lataster follows with a summary of his case for “agnosticism and an alternative hypothesis”:

Thinking of early Christianity in this way address a lot of the problems with the state of the evidence. . . . [T]he Gospels are simply allegorisations of the earlier teachings, something that scholars are increasingly accepting. Did earlier Jews believe in such Celestial Messiahs? Yes! One need only turn to the fairly recently discovered intertestamental texts, to see that there were Jews who expected a Celestial Messiah who would bring abut somewhat of a spiritual victory . . . .

Interestingly, these ideas are gaining ground. Scholars in fields related to New Testament are increasingly adopting agnostic views about Jesus. Even within the field, there are scholars willing to be agnostic or sympathetic to agnosticism. I fully expect that a torrent of abuse will come my way. Though I expect that, like the Old Testament minimalists, I, and the few like me, will eventually be vindicated, fairly quickly. Even in the early years of my career, the likes of Brill, Springer, Cambridge, and Oxford are seeing the value in my research. And I see many younger New Testament scholars asking more questions about the reliability of the extant sources and oral transmission and memory. The time is ripe for change.

Very quickly a reply from James McGrath followed: Exorcising Mythicism’s Sky-Demons: A Response to Raphael Lataster’s “Questioning Jesus’ Historicity.”

You will have to read McGrath’s article for yourself lest you think any criticism I make will be an expression of personal bias. As for substantial argument McGrath falls back on Paul’s letters as the primary evidence for the historicity of Jesus without realizing that in doing so he is simply repeating the very methodological problem Lataster pointed out with this approach: it relies on interpreting Paul through much later sources like the gospels. McGrath fails to comment on the fact that the scholars he is defending against Lataster’s criticism – Ehrman and Casey – reject McGrath’s own reliance upon the epistles as the bedrock evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

The general point of McGrath’s response can best be summed up by the following . . .

Indeed, Lataster’s article consists of rhetorical ploys, insults, and insinuations far more than substantive argument, and it is thus not only appropriate but necessary to look closely at what is being said and how it is being conveyed.

Lataster resembles other prominent mythicists in his use of insult and denigration in place of argument.

. . . he is not taking the discussion at all seriously or approaching it in an appropriate academic manner.

Lataster simply does not grasp what scholarship entails at its most fundamental level, or is simply happy to engage in misrepresentation and flights of fancy if doing so seems to support his preferred ideology.

But you be the judge.

B&I posted a response by Lataster to McGrath’s article, When Critics Miss the Point About Questioning Jesus’ Historicity

Given the amount of errors McGrath makes in his response, I decided to respond, and the The Bible and Interpretation team have kindly allowed this.

Firstly, I wish to leave the rhetoric to one side. It is often unfair, and leads to unending accusations about the ‘other side’ being more polemical and many misinterpretations . . . .

and concludes with

Carrier published his academic book in 2014 and I have published mine in 2019. We are still waiting for a proper refutation of my case for agnosticism and his more ambitious case for outright mythicism. I suspect that this will never occur, because ‘at least agnosticism’ is very sensible. The sources are terrible, with the best ones being anonymous, and portraying a character reminiscent of earlier non-existent figures. The Celestial Jesus theory also seems increasingly plausible, given all we are now learning about early Christian diversity and pre-Christian Judaisms, with all their varied views about celestial beings and the Messiah. Hopefully, like Davies, Avalos, and Crossley, more scholars of the New Testament will eventually come to admit that nothing like a case for certainty about Jesus’ historical existence can be offered, and that questioning Jesus’ historicity is very reasonable indeed.

We shall see.


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40 thoughts on “Current Debate Jesus Agnosticism/Mythicism – Raphael Lataster and James McGrath”

  1. “You will have to read McGrath’s article for yourself lest you think any criticism I make will be an expression of personal bias.”

    I’ve interacted with McGrath enough on this subject already, I’d really rather not, frankly.

  2. I’m not sure if this will get posted:

    “Identifying a scholar as “Christian” is relevant, because it is unavoidable that all Christian scholars are biased. Yes, much of Western university tradition descends from Christians institutions, that’s true. The fact that the university system has descended from Christian institutions is really about the only way that specifically Christian fields have been able to endure in the system and to be treated as legitimate.

    But let’s face facts, “theology” is not a legitimate field of study on par with other secular fields of study like biology or physics or anthology, etc. Theology is inherently biased, with a predisposed foregone conclusion at its core.

    Unlike real sciences and fields of academic study that start with open ended questions seeking unknown answers, theology starts with an assumed answer and then works to fit evidence to the assumption. This is a central fact that has to be acknowledged because when you look at the field of biblical studies, which is dominated by Christian theologians, you can see the impact of this approach quite clearly.

    Time and again, over and over and over and over and over (I could keep going), Christian theologians discard or even fail to consider solutions to problems that result in answers that don’t support their starting assumption.

    In the field of Christian theology every answer has to ultimately be compatible with the conclusion that Jesus is the real, one and only, son of God. If you ever come to an answer that contradicts that ultimate conclusion then it must be rejected. And as such, Christian scholars have done an excellent job of training themselves to avoid all paths that lead toward answers that put the legitimacy of Christianity in question.

    Christian theologians don’t put forward scholarship that seriously undermines the legitimacy of Christianity, period. As such, Christian scholars are incapable of ever engaging in honest research or analysis, point blank. That is simply the truth of the matter.

    And look at the history. “Christian scholars” have basically been wrong about every single thing. Biology was the last major field to remain under the domain of Christian scholarship until Darwin came along took that away.

    The existence of atoms? Christians said impossible, they were wrong.
    Biological evolution? Christians said impossible, they were wrong.
    The age of the earth? Christians said it was not older than human existence, they were wrong.
    The nature of disease? Christians said it based on spirits, they were wrong.
    The history of civilization? Christians relied on the Old Testament as real history, they were wrong.
    The existence of the Patriarchs? Christians said they were real, they were wrong.

    Indeed you can’t really come up with any subject Christians have ever been right about.

    Now it turns out that Christians have entirely misunderstood the very writings that they based their whole religion on. The reality is that Christians fundamentally misunderstood the writings of the Bible and have been confused about them from the very beginning. The origins of Christianity are based on Roman misunderstanding of Jewish stories.

    Christians have completely and fundamentally misunderstood the writings of the Bible so thoroughly that Christian scholars to this day can’t find their way out of the hall of mirrors they’ve built for themselves. “

    1. Identifying a scholar as “Christian” is relevant, because it is unavoidable that all Christian scholars are biased.

      • More Questions for Jesus Historicists

      Per David Fitzgerald, it is possible that a scholar may be contractually obliged to publicly reject Jesus ahistoricity theory.

      Question: If this is true, for a scholar you cite, what is your position on the public condemnation of said scholar, would you denounce the scholar, the institution, and the enablers that are party to such a censorship of free thought?

      Question: Do the scholars you cite also hold the same position as you on this topic?

      Question: Do the scholars you cite have an on the record position, in clear and unambiguous language, without equivocation for the:
      ◦ Historicity of the Mosaic authorship of the Torah?
      ◦ Historicity of the resurrection of Jesus?

  3. Given that the issue is not whether mythicism is true or false, it’s about whether being agnostic on the issue due to the weak evidence, is a reasonable stance.

    Tim O’Neill comments: “contrarians . . . claim this “agnostic” position while simply using the same arguments as Mythicists. […] Here is my article on this so-called “agnosticism”, including my critique of Lataster’s attempted use of it as a rhetorical tactic…” [“Response to Raphael Lataster”. The Blog of James F. McGrath.]

    NB: In the top-hat of McGrath’s response piece is a link to: “Mythicism and the Mainstream”. The Bible and Interpretation.

      1. LOL, I learned an annotation pro-tip from Tim Widowfield on quoting Gary Rendsburg —for future use when quoting of O’Neill, as “agnosticism” gains traction: (emphasis mine, hysteria his). 🙂

    1. Hello DB, that was my post on James McGraths blog, I was having a pretty good discussion with Dr McGrath and a couple of others until a certain individual turned up, I was going to reply, In my job over the last 40 years I have met quite a few rude and obnoxious people and they all follow the same trait, they believe they are a lot more intelligent than they actually are………but alas why bother, I can deal with a fool but can’t deal with somebody who doen’t know it.

  4. I’m posting the below just to see what ya’ll think. If I’m just outright wrong somewhere please let me know. I’m just bringing together what I’ve lately read from Carrier and others along with a general knowledge of history. thanks

    Here is an attempted comprehensive overview of how the invented Jesus MIGHT have come about. One has to understand that even though Israel might have been united against Rome, there was also a deep schism remaining between the north and south, especially over religion (and enforced circumcision, so eventually railed against by “Paul”)

    It would be best to approach the below based on Jesus never having existed. Wipe your mind clean. It will be a lot easier to understand without 2000 years of preconceptions loaded on top of it. You can always go back to your preconceptions.

    Judea conquers the north. In 104 BC Aristobolus declares himself king and finally conquers Galilee.
    The conquered inhabitants are forced to accept the Jewish faith, primarily circumcision was forcibly performed as the main step to conversion.

    Mattias was a first-century (born in 6 died in 70) Jewish priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. Mattias would have had direct experience of everything involving the Jesus events and presumably would have passed this information on to his son Josephus, who later wrote extensively about the messianic era. Josephus was born in 37 AD. If Christianity had spread like wildfire in the decades directly after the death of Jesus or after the publication of Mark’s gospel, both Josephus and his father would have directly witnessed this rise.

    The Levitical priestly line tosses out the far older priestly line of Melchizedek, which predated the change to monotheism. The region once had a pantheon of pagan gods of which Yahweh was just one (mountain/thunder god). The priestly line of Melchizedek also oversaw the previous centuries of human sacrifice. Psalms 110:4 of the Old Testament contains a prophecy that the Messiah will be a Priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Levitical line was established after the invention of Abraham and Moses and singled out Yahweh from the pantheon for monotheistic worship. After the elevation of Yahweh, Judea imposed his worship on their neighbors via systematic military invasion, toppling the previous pantheon of gods. In northern Israel the affected peoples were the Israelites, Zadokites, Samarians/Samaritans, others.

    The Jewish-Roman wars had a dramatic impact on the Jewish people, turning them from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a scattered and persecuted minority. Sometime within the period 66-136 AD the Dead Sea Scrolls are buried at Qumran to preserve Jewish antiquities. One of them is a scroll called The Last (or Final) Jubilee. This scroll has been attributed to the Zadokite sect that was thrown out of the Temple. It repeats the Psalms 110:4 prediction (“the messiah will come from the priestly line of Melchizedek”) and then threatens to turn this messiah-to-come loose on the Judeans! . . . . “the Messiah to come will conquer both the Romans AND THE JUDEANS.” Note the burial dates and the “to come.” The Dead Sea Scrolls were buried well after the time period proposed for Jesus. None of them mention Jesus. There is only this “blueprint for a Messiah” called The Last Jubilee. As the Messiah had not come at the end of a Great Age as predicted, did some of the cast-out Jewish sects decide to invent one . . . and blame the Judeans for his murder?

    Bart Ehrmann asks the question why invent a Jesus who doesn’t fulfill any of the end actions of the prophecies and is instead crucified? The answer should be obvious and the Judeans and their descendants have been damned for it ever since. As invented by anti-Judeans, Jesus would be the true Messiah who was murdered by the Judeans before he could fulfill prophecy, because he threatened their power and status. The sects thrown out of the temple used the Roman wars, the Diaspora and the resulting loss of records to create a new religion while they were divorcing themselves from Judaism. The Israelites etc invented a new religion eventually called Christianity while casting off the previous religion that had been forced on them during the previous centuries.

    We don’t know who Paul was. There is plenty of evidence the biography of “Paul of Tarsus” is forged later when the historical church wrestles the Pauline epistles away from Marcion of Pontus/Sinope and the “gnostics.” The historicizers need Paul (with much forgery and alteration added) to bridge the historical gap between the supposed crucifixion and the Gospel of Mark. The bio of Paul of Tarsus is possibly based on the adventures of Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius is the Greek name for Paul, and while some accuse Apollonius of being Paul, there are things in his biography that don’t exactly fit. Most biblical scholars on both sides of the Jesus invention question agree that an original Pauline author did exist and wrote at least seven of the notorious 12 epistles between 50 and 60 AD. Now here we get to the problem that during this time period various peoples believed and/or claimed fantastical things. A deep reading of these seven epistles proves Paul is one of them. Paul after all CLAIMED he was converted by a vision/visitation of Jesus. Now we have to ask: if there was no actual trial, crucifixion etc by 50 AD, who or what IS Jesus to Paul? JESUS WAS INITIALLY REGARDED BY CULT MEMBERS AS A CELESTIAL FIGURE. Note from author: the word “Gnostics” is really an outdated term and now that Paul has had his vision I will begin replacing “Gnostics” with the term “revelatory or revelatory religion(s).”

    In his writings, Paul states that he joined a Christian cult that was based on VISIONS OF JESUS. The Pauline epistles reveal a man named Cephas (translates to Peter or“stone”) originally claiming a vision/visitation from the celestial Jesus. Cephas gathered around him a group of others (including a James) who confirmed his celestial Jesus visions with their own.“The founder was Cephas,”Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 and Gal. 1:17-18. Paul claims his own vision/visitation by the celestial Jesus and later joins this group. Based on the writings of Paul and whether by accident or design, Cephas has visions of Jesus and becomes the “inventor” of Jesus as the figurehead of the future religion we call Christianity. So in the end what are we saying here? Paul existed. Some “apostles” as described by Paul existed. However, their Jesus came to them in visions starting sometime in the early-to-mid first century. Their Jesus did not physically walk the earth and THEY NEVER CLAIMED THEIR JESUS WALKED THE EARTH. According to himself, Paul gradually takes over this group who initially call themselves“brothers”(how James is “a brother” to Jesus) and then go on to declare themselves “apostles of Jesus.”At the Jesus School in Antioch, Cephas and Paul and James argue over whether it is necessary to convert gentiles to Judaism before acceptance to the group, and also over forced circumcision (Paul famously choosing to eat with the uncircumcised). By the way, the historical church later chooses to bury Paul’s Cephas/Peter (the INVENTOR of Jesus) inside a story in which Jesus changes the name of one of the 12 apostles: “Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:42).

    Here it needs to be noted that the Pauline epistles later suffered massive changes and added forgeries as they were gradually taken over by the “Catholic” church, both to obscure what Paul was really saying and to add historicizing elements. Modern theologians and scholars consider seven letters genuine, two letters no consensus, and five written by other person(s). Even the seven considered genuine have been meddled with, but by comparisons to older versions they are able to determine what was changed/forged, obscured or taken out. As Paul goes on to describe what happens with Jesus his language gets very curious.“Jesus came to be (genomenos) from the sperm of David”(God manufactured Jesus directly from the sperm of David). When Paul says Jesus “came to be” (genomenos) “from a woman” does he mean literally, or allegorically (as in Gal. 4:24).”Where is all this fantastical Fronkensteen stuff happening? Why does Paul never mention Mary or Joseph? Since all these events are being communicated by VISIONS not HISTORY, we are forced to conclude that the creation of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus are happening in heaven not on earth. . . and that this is what the earliest Christians believed. BY THE WAY, Paul in Epistle to Hebrews twice ascribes Jesus to the priestly line of Melchizedek in order to fulfill prophecy. By doing so he also “fulfills” the “The Last Jubilee” Dead Sea Scroll blueprint for “a Messiah to Come.”As noted previously, this blueprint does not pertain to an historical Jesus because Jesus if he existed as portrayed was murdered before the scroll was buried. If the blueprint applied to the already dead Jesus, there would be no reason to bury it. The Dead Sea Scrolls would instead be full of direct mention of Jesus/Christians, given they were a Jewish offshoot. Paul elsewhere even mentions that the earliest Christians were still debating about what customs to retain from Judaism, including circumcision. However, Epistle to Hebrews is one of the epistles that theologians and scholars say Paul himself did not write. In the end the celestial cult/Jesus schools are among the cults suppressed by the overarching Judean religion. Paul and his epistles are “forgotten” for nearly 100 years until they are re-discovered at Antioch by Marcion of Pontus/Sinope.

    The actual author of the Gospel of Mark is unknown and writes originally in Greek to reach the widest regional audience. Mark (who obviously must have some knowledge of Paul’s work) begins the historicizer kidnapping of the Jesus figure invented by Cephas and adapting the basic elements contained in Paul. In one scene Mark directly links Jesus with the Old Testament characters Elijah and Moses. The historical (assuming he really existed) Elijah argued in favor of the Hebrew god Yahweh against the old pantheon god Baal. Baal was worshiped by — you guessed it — the priestly line of Melchizedek. However for “modern times” Mark turns this story on its head. Mark uses Jesus to argue AGAINST the Judean law, which means Jesus is in fact arguing in favor of the northern factions — and the priestly line of Melchizedek. The end punishment for this is, of course, crucifixion at the hands of the Judean priesthood before Jesus can become the full Messiah and fulfill prophecy. At Mark IV the author alludes that his story is an ALLEGORY with a secret meaning (political?). Mark also uses his gospel to “explain” why the Roman War didn’t bring about the end of the world, namely because the true Messiah was murdered before he could fulfill prophecy. VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER: MARK’S GOSPEL RECORDS NOTHING OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS.

    As we have shown, worship of the revelatory/celestial Jesus who “communicated by visions” was first among the nascent Christians who did not give Jesus a historical birth or childhood. The Cephas/Paul story is taken over by the historicizer sects who begin deliberately and falsely churning out stories saying all this happened in Israel and in recent history. Their POLITICAL goal is to say that the Judeans murdered the true Messiah before he could fulfill prophecy, thus divorcing themselves from the old/previous religion. Once Mark lets loose his Jesus figure on the northern region many suddenly lay claim to him, including those who want to turn him from a Hebrew prophet into a savior god. This eventually leads to a “man born of woman” Jesus fronted by Justin Martyr versus a “non-human Jesus comes down fully-formed at Capernaum” fronted by Marcion of Pontus/Sinope (aka Marcionism). The latter of course is the Jesus invented by Cephas, carried forward by Paul, and soon to be carried even further forward by Marcion. The historicizers clearly want to blame the Judeans for the murder of Jesus; Marcion calls this “dangerous” (and look at what has happened to the descendants of the Judeans in the centuries since). Mark takes advantage of the war, the diaspora, the destruction of records and the disruption of history. The historicizers are seizing the moment to create a new religion that automatically cleanly divorces them from the old Judean religion. The Jesus creation of the historicizers will eventually fulfill the prophecy contained in the Dead Sea scroll Last Jubilee: the “blueprint” for a Messiah to come which resulted in an INVENTED Jesus whether by accident or design. The invented Jesus WILL eventually conquer the Romans when the Emperor Constantine makes Christianity the state religion in the fourth century AD. The new religion WILL also conquer the hated “Jews (Judeans)” at least for many long centuries (a battle that continues into modern times, albeit with a current truce as Christians and Jews take a time out to slaughter Ay-rabs). The unleashed Jesus figure eventually leads to literally dozens of Christian variant sects, with wildly varying beliefs and written gospels, but all marked by a fascination with the end of the world. Christians as a whole believed Jesus would return in their lifetimes and the world would end. The important point now is that Mark has left open the pre-history of Jesus for anyone and everyone to throw in their two cents on Jesus’s birth . . . or lack of one . . .

    HISTORICIZERS MUST CREATE A HISTORY — MATTHEW (earliest proposed date of circulation: 80 AD; latest proposed date of circulation: 110 AD)
    Luke and Matthew were unknown authors writing for different audiences but their main purpose is to add a history to Mark. Matthew was supposedly next after Mark. Matthew’s gospel was aimed at converting Jews. Matthew invents Herod’s slaughter of the innocents which was killing all the newborn babies in a region to prevent the birth of the Messiah. Since Matthew’s targets were jews, he probably stole this motif from the story of Moses, not so subtly linking Moses and Jesus in the minds of his readers. There is no independent evidence of such a slaughter ever happening. If it had happened it would likely have resulted in a popular revolt against the King. The only place in the entire history of the world that it is reported is in Matthew (not Luke, not John, obviously not Mark, not Josephus, no other history of the world). The Jesus family flees to Egypt and doesn’t return until after Herod’s death three years later.

    HISTORICIZERS MUST CREATE A HISTORY — LUKE (earliest proposed date of circulation: 90 AD; latest proposed date of circulation: 120 AD)
    Luke has Jesus born and then immediately taken to the Temple to be declared the Messiah. Remember Matthew had Jesus born three years BEFORE Herod died? The Jesus Seminar (active from the 1980s into the early 21st century) couldn’t unscramble why Luke has Jesus instead born during a named census that historically occurred AFTER Herod died. Luke has no slaughter of the innocents, no flight to Egypt. The family stays put in the same area the entire time. It’s often claimed that Luke was written to “correct” Matthew. If so was Luke calling Matthew a liar, a fabricator, or just plain mistaken?

    So according to the Catholic Church by 96 AD and over the preceding two decades Christianity has travelled across the known world like wildfire and is even a big deal in Rome. This wildfire advance should certainly be known to the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus because he would have been living through it. Remember Mattias the father of Josephus, the Jerusalem temple priest who actually lived throughout the time period proposed for the Jesus events? Mattias would have been a huge source of information about the biggest Messiah figure to emerge from that whole messianic mess. As in: “WOW DAD were you there when that Jesus guy trashed the Temple?” In 96 AD Josephus publishes Antiquities of the Jews. Instead of REAMS OF MATERIAL about Jesus during the Messianic Age, the giant tome contains only TWO MEASLY WIDELY SEPARATED PARAGRAPHS and both are condemned as inserted forgeries. Let’s deal with James the brother of Jesus first. Turns out he’s the brother of high priest Jesus Ben Damneus who is named in the original forge-free paragraph. Now for the famous Testimonium. Is it a complete forgery inserted by church historian Eusebius centuries later, or did Josephus actually write something about Christians that Eusebius later had to add some pesky false details in order to make things right (modern scholars still accuse Eusebius of at least this much). It’s not completely out of the question that as Josephus was finishing his tome, he heard something about these very earliest of very small sects forming and tossed them a note. If Josephus did write something it was about the revelatory celestial Jesus cults who were inventing Jesus from visions, not history. This can be the logical reason for Eusebius finding it necessary to insert historicizing forgeries into Josephus. Because, again, if there had been a historical Jesus who was crucified by the Judeans and Jerusalem heirarchy, Josephus would have been aware of him. Things we do know about Josephus: Josephus calls a Roman emperor the Messiah. Josephus endeavors to create an updated map of his homeland but Nazareth is not on it. Should be right next to Japha where Josephus stayed for a time. Nothing there. Nazareth was later built over Japha’s cemetary by Jesus priests and turned into a pilgrimage site, circa 100 AD.

    After the fall of Jerusalem the celestial/revelatory (non-human Jesus) sects begin resurrecting themselves, largely based on oral traditions from the vanished Paul. Many of them eventually find in Marcion of Pontus/Sinope a contextual leader. In the mid-second century AD Marcion claims to have re-discovered Paul’s epistles at Antioch. He writes a Gospel of the Lord and publishes the first New Testament canon consisting of the one gospel and ten of Paul’s epistles (the Apostolicon). According to later church father Tertullian arguing against the Marcionite religion, Marcion’s Jesus was “not a man, not born of woman, not even Jewish, but came down fully formed at Capernaum to argue against the Judean law.” Published in three languages, Marcion’s New Testament proves immensely popular. THERE IS NO WAY MARCIONISM COULD HAVE ACHIEVED SUCH INSTANT POPULARITY SO QUICKLY IF MARCION HAD MADE IT UP ON HIS OWN OR IF THERE WAS ALREADY A WELL-ESTABLISHED HISTORICAL VERSION OF JESUS BORN OF WOMAN. In fact, THERE HAD TO BE AN ALREADY WELL-ESTABLISHED FOUNDATION FOR A JESUS NOT BORN OF WOMAN. The celestial/revelatory sects, the INVENTORS of Jesus, had already long existed. They begin to populate the string of Marcionite churches which pop up throughout Asia Minor. Thus not only do we have evidence from Paul that the celestial non-human Jesus was worshiped first. Thanks to Marcion encapsulating Paul’s view we have evidence that it never went away. The original conception of a celestial Jesus was instead being challenged by a historicizing faction which was choosing to take the story literally for political opportunities. Justin Martyr becomes the champion of the Jesus born of woman faction. Justin Martyr and Marcion begin a rather polite debate, but the later fury of other historicizers aimed at Marcionism for blunting their progress is scathingly palpable. Justin Martyr never mentions Paul but had to be aware of Paul’s writings. For Justin Martyr to discard Paul out of hand is proof that Justin regarded Paul as being of the Marcionite (celestial “non-human” Jesus) school. Justin would have wanted to avoid talking about Paul if he knew or realized that Jesus was originally a visionary fiction created by Paul and Cephas. It’s only later that the historicizers realize they need to steal Paul away from Marcionism. They need to close the historical gap between the supposed crucifixion and the creation of the historicized version of the religion. Thus begins the forgery factory around Paul, both in re-writing the actual epistles of Paul and writing new epistles under his name. It’s also possible that a fictional biography was created for Paul, which is how we end up with the person called “Saul or Paul of Tarsus.”

    1. Mark (who obviously must have some knowledge of Paul’s work) begins the historicizer kidnapping of the Jesus figure invented by Cephas and adapting the basic elements contained in Paul.

      Question: Which is more likely: a) the historicization of Jesus was a conscious effort; or b) the historicization of Jesus was the result of a mistaken interpretation of a fictional story?

      Per R. G. Price, “Where I differ from Carrier is, he proposes that Jesus was consciously historicized in order to achieve some goal. I, on the other hand, propose that the Gospel of Mark was the origin of the idea that Jesus was a real person, but that the Gospel of Mark was written as an allegorical tale that was only misinterpreted as real history. This misinterpretation of the story of Mark is what led to the belief that Jesus was a real person. Thus, the historicization of Jesus wasn’t a conscious effort, it was the result of a mistaken interpretation of a fictional story.”

      1. I seem to remember reading somewhere that some argued for blaming the Romans and others argued for blaming the Jews (Judeans). If there was a conscious effort involved in that it seems like there could be a conscious effort elsewhere. I have been wrong about Justin Martyr before regarding the gospels so I don’t know for sure if I’m correct about Justin Martyr not mentioning Paul. If Justin is purposely disregarding Paul it would seem that Justin realizes “the truth” about Paul, since Justin would have been reading those epistles before they were altered or added to. Though some claim Marcion wrote some of them himself. Others even accuse Marcion of BEING PAUL but that doesn’t explain why people would be suddenly so ready for a purely celestial non-historical figure if there was already a traditional Jesus of history. It would seem Marcion could have been attempting to appeal to both audiences or at least attempting to bridge a gap. Jesus wasn’t born of woman, but he did all the rest after he came down fully formed (presumably still a celestial figure) at Capernaum. Unless Marcion is saying there is some kind of duplicate landscape in the heavens . . . I’m not sure if I”m getting that part.

      2. in looking at it again not sure if I can agree with Price. Mark plainly says he’s writing an allegory that word is plainly right there for the likes of Matthew and Luke to see and then completely ignore and then go ahead and provide (completely different!) origin stories for Jesus placing him on earth and in history.

    2. In his writings, Paul states that he joined a Christian cult that was based on VISIONS OF JESUS.

      • 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. Paul writes, “[We] speak a message of [the second-god] among the mature . . . we declare [the son of first-god], a mystery that has been hidden and that [first-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.” —(1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

      Their Jesus did not physically walk the earth and THEY NEVER CLAIMED THEIR JESUS WALKED THE EARTH.

      • That is correct, Paul says nothing about Jesus that unambiguously situates him on Earth in recent history.

      NB: You should also present the argument that Paul understood that Jesus was an archangel (second-god) prior to becoming incarnate in a human body and that a group of Jews prior to Paul, e.g. Philo, did also worship/revere a celestial second-god with similar attributes as those Paul attributed to his celestial Jesus.

      1. “In his writings, Paul states that he joined a Christian cult that was based on VISIONS OF JESUS.”

        db, can you explain that verse (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) to me as you see it? I see nothing about visions and it seems to say that Jesus, while in a body, was crucified here on earth by the current rulers. Of course, I may be assuming many things and putting them into the verse. Thanks.

        1. Many counter-cultural Jewish sects were seeking hidden messages in scripture.
          Cephas (Peter), a member or leader of one of those sects, had “visions” telling him one of those messages was now fulfilled.
          That fellow influenced or inspired others—like Paul—to have or claim supporting visions.

          Per Carrier, “Christianity began when Peter had a vision. Then his colleagues had visions confirming his. And this group declared themselves Apostles, “the sent-ones” or “messengers.” Pharisees tried suppressing this movement, then a few years later one of them (Paul) claimed to have also received one of these visions and thus also to have been elected an Apostle. Paul then changed the sect; and his sect is the only one that survived the next few hundred years. Thus, Peter, James, and so on are all real people, who really did (at least claim to) have visions of Jesus (1 Cor. 15) just like Paul (Gal. 1).”

          Eight Vridar posts: “Rulers of this Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8



          1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change (2018-06-14)

          2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8 (2018-06-18)

          3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (2018-06-20)

          4. Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities (2018-07-04)

          5. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory” (2018-07-09)

          6. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers (2018-07-12)

          7. Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama (2018-07-13)

          Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis (2018-07-10)

  5. so if Jesus never walked the earth is the apparent contradiction solved by placing it all in the heavens? God created Jesus in a human body somehow in the heavens and then crucified Jesus in the heavens? I think I read that in Carrier. But who is “they” at the end of the Corinthians quote? At least all that perfectly lines up with Marcion assuming Marcion places it all on earth

      1. haha I had a feeling it was going there. What ends up sounding like a 3-D Vulcan chess game. I think I can encompass all that (?) by merely pointing out that Marcion including the Pauline material in his Testament alone defies the historical account. If Marcion is relying on the authority of Paul to create Marcion’s non-human celestial Jesus, the two must be in tune on the subject.

    1. Mike asked “if Jesus never walked the earth is the apparent contradiction solved by placing it all in the heavens?”

      Not necessarily. It could have become a meme that he walked on the earth.

      Plato famously created an eikos mythos—a plausible myth that he intended, in some fashion, to portray an undercurrent of truth.

      There was various commentary of views of mythos, fiction, and history in the first century CE. Grammarian Asclepiades of Myrlea defined three kinds of stories: historia [history], plasma [fiction], and mythos.

      The orator Quintilian described things differently, “We accept three kinds of narrative: fable (fabula), found in tragedies and poems and remote not only from the truth but also from the appearance of truth; plasma -fiction- made up by comedians, but like the truth; and history, which contains expositions of events that happened.”

      While Cicero wrote, “history denotes events that have happened” (historia est gesta res), he also argued that an orator could on occasion falsify historia to speak more keenly or cleverly (argutius).

      Aelius Theon, an author of a manual on rhetorical exercises, wrote: “Mythos is a false story [logos] offering an image [eikonizōn] of truth.”

      Plutarch (46–120 CE) opined “Mythos means a false story [logos] resembling the truth [eoikōs alēthinōi]. He posited an ontological hierarchy based in part on Platonic philosophy. Historical narrative (logos) related actual events – erga – via second-order representation. Mythos was, in turn, a less real, third-order simulation of the second-order account (logos).

      And, conversely, Plutarch noted the mythical [to mythōdes] had to be purified “by making her submit to reason and take on the appearance of history [historias opsin].”

      Likewise, the gospel writers could have written their stories so that they took on the appearance of ‘historia’ — there was no absolute division between mythos and historia, and mythoi were widely viewed as entertaining in the ancient world. Lucian in the mid 2nd century CE lamented historians who skillfully blended mythoi into their work were often quite successful.

      Importantly, and significantly, biography was an important subgenre of historiography that focused on a single (often heroic) person from birth to death. If a narrative was to be believed, then, it was important that it conform to historiographical discourse, and the gospels look enough like historiography to be read as records of real, and thus true, events. Luke mentioning Quirinius, the governor of Syria, as a contemporary of Jesus (Luke 2:2; despite wrongly dating Quirinius’ rule by a decade) increased the realism of the associate gospel tales, as did placing Jesus in Galilee under the administration of a historical Jewish king (Herod Antipas).

      The gospels accounts of an awesome hero managed to stay within the flexible bounds of historiography.

      It’s also interesting that the notable term logos featured in the accounts above variably as ‘historical narrative’, a ‘second-order account’, and a ‘false story’.

      It may be significant that Celsus is said to have classified gospel stories as mythoi and specifically referred to “scriptural myths” (tōn graphōn mythōn).

  6. My view about why a celestial Jesus was euhemerized by “Mark”:

    After the 70 CE and even more so in the later years, a threat was more and more evident:

    1 John 2:22 :
    Who is a liar but he that DENIES that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son

    To identify Jesus with the Jewish Christ beyond any reasonable doubt, the life of Jesus had to be placed in the recent times, since the common belief was that only before the last times the Messiah will would be appeared. Hence the apocalypticism was not the reason to place Jesus in recent times. The need of pointing the Jewishness of the Jesus (against the his increasing deniers) was the cause that placed Jesus in the recent times, in conformity to the apocalypticism connected with the idea of the Jewish Christ.

    Note that in Paul there is not still evidence of an insistence and emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus. Even if for Paul Jesus WAS the Jewish Messiah.

    1. Yes, James McGrath certainly read Raphael Lataster’s article. But I think one needs to ask questions when someone consistently finds the exact same criticisms against every different author of a “mythicist” point of view: in every case each author turns out to have a malicious, dishonest motive that is discovered through McG’s interpretation of a word here or there that the casual reader may have not noticed was evidence of deceitful intentions and diabolical character in the heart of the author. I can’t help but crack a wry smile whenever McGrath concludes by saying that he would really love a mythicist to propose a plausible case — because that’s exactly what he accused me of doing some years back, of proposing a plausible case! His response? How absurd. It had to be utterly absurd and I had to be so slyly clever to actually make a case that sounded plausible!

      McGrath reads any mythicist viewpoint with hostility. The authors are invariably diabolical or idiotic or ignorant or worse.

      McGrath comes across as looking for words to twist in order to provide a launchpad from which he can argue a case for the dishonesty, the deceitfulness, etc, of the author.

      It is not irrelevant that McGrath regularly informs sympathetic reader of his salvation by Jesus and his love for the Jesus who teaches the same liberal Christianity as he has come to believe in.

  7. Well, I dropped this bomb on there, not sure if ti will get posted or not:

    There is a major issue here with Christianity, because Christianity is actually an extremely unusual religion. Christianity is a religion founded upon a specific reading of a bunch of documents of unknown provenance. That’s it. Christianity is not “founded by Jesus”, Christianity is founded by 2nd-3rd century Romans based on written stories about Jesus. And so when it comes to understanding what these documents are that the Romans founded their religion on, ultimately all Christian scholarship comes back to defending the conclusions of those 2nd-3rd century Christian scholars. Even when Christian scholarship disagrees with points of those scholars, Christian scholarship has to conclude that, in the end, those 2nd-3rd century Romans got it right. Because if those Romans didn’t get it right, then the whole institution is a fraud. So, of course, Christian scholars are boxed into a very hard spot.

    To get back to the issue of historical sources, I’ll quote from my book’s website: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/on_q.html

    “What we find in mainstream biblical scholarship is a major bias against the recognition of literary dependencies within the extant texts. So what we see in mainstream biblical scholarship is a major reliance on imagined “lost sources” to explain the similarities between texts. As we see here, biblical scholarship is full of imagined lost sources, both oral and written, used to explain the commonalities across the texts of the New Testament. Yet in reality, virtually all of these relations are far better explained as dependencies among the extant texts. The problem with recognizing dependencies among the extant texts, however, is that everyone recognizes that none of the extant material comes from direct witnesses to Jesus. It is recognized that none of the extant material represents primary sources, and thus imagined potential primary sources are the favored explanation for textual similarities. Thus, what we see in mainstream biblical scholarship is that not only do biblical scholars jump to the conclusion that textual similarities must be the product of the use of a common lost source, but also that the lost source itself is likely an “original” primary source. This is the rational behind Q, and the rational behind claims like those that we see Bauckham making here.”

    And as for the dependence on Paul, the irony of that is just how at odds such a position is in relation to biblical scholarship itself:

    “Accordingly, the gospels may be understood as corrections of this creedal imbalance, which was undoubtedly derived from the view espoused by the apostle Paul, who did not know the historical Jesus. For Paul, the Christ was to be understood as a dying/rising lord, symbolized in baptism (buried with him, raised with him), of the type he knew from the hellenistic mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.”
    – The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus really Say; Funk, Hoover, The Jesus Seminar (pp 7)

    As I said in my post that I accidentally cross-posted on the Questioning Jesus Historicity thread, 20th century mainstream biblical scholarship has been all about pushing Paul out of the way and claiming that the Gospels are ultimately based on pre-Pauline sources. The model of mainstream biblical scholarship has been to position the Gospels as records of pre-Pauline traditions.

    But of course that is nonsense, and as the work of Tom Dkystra, David Oliver Smith and myself shows, the Gospels are based directly on the Pauline letters. The Pauline letters and the Jewish scriptures are the sources used for the derivation of the Gospel narratives. And this is ultimately why claims about hypothetical lost documents are nonsense and disproven.

    We have proven that these hypothetical lost documents don’t exist because we have proven that other known sources better explain the content of the Gospels than the proposed hypothetical sources. What is so infuriating about mainstream scholarship, and scholars like McGrath and even Ehrman, is the refusal to engage in addressing these facts.

    It is infuriating that we still have major names in biblical scholarship talking about “oral traditions” and “Q” when in fact those sources have been completely and entirely disproved. Yet, the scholars talking about “oral traditions” and “Q” and other such lost hypothetical sources simply refuse to address or even acknowledge the work that clearly shows such sources weren’t used. That’s the real kicker. The evidence and facts are there and have been laid out plain as day, but Christian scholars refuse to look at it.

    We still have people like Bauckham talking about how it’s inconceivable that the writer of Luke would have used the letters of Paul, and thus similarities between Luke and Paul can “only” be explained as evidence of “lost original sources”. I mean seriously, Bauckham is a highly respected biblical scholar. How can this be. When your most respected scholars say obvious nonsense like this and they are treated as legitimate authorities what else can be said. The whole field is just nonsense.

    And don’t get be started on Ehrman. Let’s not forget that Ehrman’s entire post-secondary education comes from Christian seminary schools. Ehrman has zero formal training in anthropology, ancient history, historical methods, anything. His entire education is in theology, and you can see in his work that all of the tools he employs are those of conservative Christian theology. Ultimately Ehrman is defending his education. He’s always out defending the tools of mainstream biblical scholarship, but in fact the entire methodology of mainstream biblical scholarship is what’s wrong.

    What’s wrong with mainstream biblical scholarship is the same thing that was wrong with Christian Naturalism (the field of Darwin’s study). Prior to Darwin there was no field of “biology” as we know it today, there was naturalism, which was the theological study of “God’s Creation”. The study of life on earth was under the purview of the church, which is why Darwin got his degree from a seminary school. But the difference between Darwin and Ehrman is that Darwin recognized the fundamental flaws in the methodologies he was taught, where as Ehrman does not. Ehrman considers his education valid. Ehrman is constantly employing “the criterion of embarrassment” or the “criterion of multiple sources” just as uncritically as Meier or Bauckham or anyone else.

    But those fundamental criterion are all entirely wrong. The whole approach of the five criterion is deeply flawed. That Ehrman can’t see that is at once shocking and a testament to the counter productive influence of theological instruction.

    And so when we talk about who is “qualified” to engage in biblical analysis, the reality is that a “theology” degree, or a degree in divinity, is not a real qualification for forensic biblical study. This is the core issue. We have a field called “biblical studies” that is dominated by Christian theologians, when in fact a theology degree is not a real qualification for the forensic study of ancient sources and history.

    What “biblical scholarship” means is not what “biblical scholars” are doing. “Biblical Scholarship” as per a degree in theology is really about the study of “Christian interpretation” of the texts of Bible. But what happened is that theologians have tried to position themselves as real historians and forensic scientists, when in fact that is never what they were, and never what theological studies was equipped to provide.

    The big farce here is the idea that theologians are qualified in any way to assess the sources and historical validity of the Bible. In realty theologians and people like Bart Ehrman are no more qualified to assess the historical validity of biblical stories or to understand the provenance of biblical sources than the average person off the street. In fact they may even be less qualified because they have been specifically instructed in biased methodologies that are designed to lead to invalid answers.

    The tools of theological biblical studies are fundamentally flawed and invalid, period.

    And I know that to be a fact because as a data analyst with experience in text mining and pattern recognition algorithms (actual qualifications for breaking down and understanding the relationships between documents) I can see the multitude of flaws in the approaches of mainstream biblical scholars. Biblical scholarship as it is taught as seminaries, and likely even universities that pattern their programs on seminaries, may as well just be teaching dowsing or phrenology. The whole field is just entirely and fundamental off course, because, of course, it is guided by Christian beliefs, not by facts.

    What we need in the field of “biblical studies” is a revolution in the fields of scholarship that are directed at the issue and a revolution is recognizing who is qualified to actually study biblical texts from a historical perspective, and this also requires recognition by non-theological scholars that theologians aren’t qualified and shouldn’t be treated as authorities on this subject.

    These issues can only be addressed by real scholars, not theologians. These are questions to be address by historians, anthropologists, and data analysts, not priests and pastors that are pretending to be academics.

    1. Thank you RG. This is a quite magnificent comment, and really sums up the issue with hypothetical sources. Their existence is inherently implausible and is clung to for the conclusions they can provide. Bart Erhman in particular takes the reliance on imaginary documents and ‘oral tradition’ to almost comic levels.

  8. At this point, the legitimacy of the field of biblical scholarship is on the line, and I think many theologians feel this and it just makes them even more hostile.

    From my perspective, when Doherty published his work the field showed is true colors. They had the opportunity to respond in a reasonable academic way, but as a field they responded in a completely unprofessional and hostile way. Doherty reached out, he offered the olive branch. All he got in return was slapped in the face.

    So I’m done with it. It’s clear that these people aren’t interested in honest academic discourse. At this point the credibility of the entire field just has to be called into question because they clearly aren’t interested in real academic engagement. So, the field will come to ruin is what’s going to happen. I really think that’s what’s going to happen. None of the leaders of the field are going to acknowledge the errors of their ways, they are just going to get overthrown instead.

    A new generation will come in and in 10-15 years the field of biblical studies will look nothing like it does today.

    1. iMHO the field is dominated by apologists acting as scholars. The curious thing is that there are Atheists like Tim Oneil that either will not or cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this and the repercussions of it. What’s also interesting is that folks like McGrath, who claim not to believe in the supernatural, are even MORE wedded to the historical Jesus dude. If he’s not real, then their whole belief system is a sham. For Christians like Tom Harpur and Fr. Brodie that part is a non issue.

  9. “iMHO the field is dominated by apologists acting as scholars.”

    Very good way to put it. But the fact is that this has been true since the 2nd century.

    Christianity is a pseudo-intellectual fraud. It’s always been wishful thinking masquerading as serious scholarship.

  10. Lataster’s work reminds me of the following movie dialogue from “2010: The Year We Make Contact”—with Lataster as Dave 🙂

    What is going to happen?

    Something wonderful.

    I’m afraid.

    Don’t be. We’ll be together.

    Where will we be?

    Where I am now.

      1. John MacDonald sarcastically comments: “If only historical Jesus scholars had Price’s analytic skills!”

        R. G. Price responds: “Do you doubt that text mining techniques that are used to find relationships between texts for personal identification or plagiarism can be used to identify relationships between texts of the Bible? If you doubt the value of such a background I’d like to hear your explanation for why I identified relationships in Mark that are previously un-published by other “biblical scholars”. The irony is people thinking that a degree in theology is more of a qualification for understanding relationships and patterns among biblical texts than a background in data science. Quite honestly a background in quantitative analysis, cryptography and other such fields is a much better qualification for biblical studies than divinity and theology.”

        1. I agree a lot with these sentiments by RG. ..though a background in theological methods and awareness of what has been done with these texts over the course of the history of interpretation can help us all immensely.

  11. Well I’m annoyed because my latest post in that thread responding to McGrath didn’t post. But my latest post (which I don’t have a copy of) was a response to his claims that mythicists don’t get specific. It’s odd that it didn’t post because it wasn’t a rant, it was just some specific example that directly addressed his comment. Oh well….

        1. Lataster continues, “You seem to find the Historical Jesus in Paul. But all the passages from Paul that are used to demonstrate historicity are ambiguous at best, easily applying on the Celestial Jesus theory.”

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