2019-09-22

Review part 1: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus / Lataster.

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

Brill, a publisher who value[s] academic freedom and rejects attempts to silence it. . . There are others of course but [Brill is among] these academic treasures that are on the side of truth and not beholden to ideologues of any stripe. — Jim West (ThD)

The publisher Brill has forwarded me access to Raphael Lataster’s book, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why A Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse, for review on this blog.

Disclaimer: Raphael Lataster makes a brief but favourable mention of me in the book. I can only plead my best efforts at honest neutrality by pointing to my critical responses to another scholar, Richard Carrier, who has also spoken positively about me.

The book’s dedication honours the late Emeritus Professor Philip R. Davies, no doubt because of his courageous 2012 article in The Bible and Interpretation, Did Jesus Exist?, in which he wrote

Philip Davies

I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability. (Bolding is all quotations is mine.)

A lengthy Foreword is written by Professor James Crossley who was a student of an anti-mythicist, Maurice Casey, but also a colleague of Philip Davies. Crossley acknowledges the contributions of outsiders from the field of biblical studies such as Raphael Lataster whose doctoral dissertation was in the Analytic Philosophy of Religion in the Religious Studies department of one of the world’s top fifty universities, the University of Sydney. Crossley notes that biblical studies departments have traditionally assumed the historicity of Jesus and that challenges to this assumption have come “from outside in recent years”, and notes specifically of Lataster’s contribution:

Thinking about the challenge provided by Lataster, my take is that more scepticism is indeed needed. (p. xii)

I’m so proud of this kid.
Jim West on James Crossley

Interestingly Crossley refers to his own particular contributions to the study of Christian origins and acknowledges that we cannot be certain that the themes he raised (the Gospel of Mark’s treatment of the sabbath, purity laws and eschatology) started with a historical Jesus:

Did these issues emerge with the historical figure of Jesus? It is possible, certainly. But they could have developed in (say) the 30s or 40s CE. Moreover, people can create stories in days, never mind a decade or decades. Stories can also retain historical information. But how do we actually prove this either way once we’ve established an early tradition or theme? (pp. xii f)

Note that. Lataster, likewise, argues the agnostic position.

Instead of relentlessly focusing on reconstructing an individual, and precise claims that cannot be proven, we might instead turn our focus to a history of ideas in Christian origins and provide a more solid grounding for scholarly claims.
James Crossley

Crossley is not denying the historicity of Jesus:

As is hopefully clear, this is not a mythicist position in the sense that it does not disprove Jesus’ existence (nor does it attempt to do so) but it is a position which acknowledges that we are severely restricted in what we can say about reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus. (p. xiii)

And then makes a point I find most reassuring myself, having attempted to promote it often enough on this blog:

But this does not have to be a bad thing. Instead of relentlessly focusing on reconstructing an individual, and precise claims that cannot be proven, we might instead turn our focus to a history of ideas in Christian origins and provide a more solid grounding for scholarly claims.

This brings us to Raphael Lataster’s own Introduction. I am dwelling on both the Foreword and Introduction in this first post on Lataster’s book because the question is certainly controversial enough and misconceptions abound and need to be confronted and cleared away in order for a serious reading to happen.

Raphael Lataster

Introduction

Lataster is clear that he is a “historical Jesus agnostic”. He is not “a biblical scholar” but defends his academic credibility in addressing the question of Jesus’ existence:

Those advocating for ahistoricity are also often charged with not being real scholars, or at least as being scholars from irrelevant fields. These are also technically irrelevant as it should be the arguments that are scrutinised, not academic credentials. And, at least in my case, this is untrue. I have a PhD in Religious Studies and teach on the history, sociology, and philosophy, of various religions – with a major focus on Christianity – at major universities. Unlike some other Jesus sceptics, I am certainly no ‘outsider’ to the Academy. Religious Studies is a broad field that often incorporates Christian History or New Testament Studies. Crucially, it may also incorporate, as it does especially in my case, Analytic Philosophy of Religion.8 It is worth noting that specialised Historical Jesus researchers are typically experts on lower level questions such as whether a particular saying of Jesus is likely to have been spoken by the real Jesus, or whether it was a later fabrication.

They are generally not suitably equipped to investigate or argue for the higher level issue of Jesus’ very existence. The existence of the Historical Jesus is taken for granted by most New Testament experts being just about paradigmatic to the field (likewise the general veracity of the Gospels), and is generally not argued for.9 And indeed, being effectively paradigmatic to the field, it would appear counter-intuitive for such scholars to seriously ask the question, since a negative result would invalidate and nullify much of their life’s work, and their future career prospects. Paradoxically, it may be ideal that those investigating the question are not New Testament specialists, but are historians, classicists, analytical philosophers, and religious studies scholars of other specialisations. Analytical philosophers are especially noteworthy here for their ability to identify faulty reasoning, clearly something of great benefit when examining the methods of mainstream Historical Jesus researchers.10 . . . (pp. 3 f)

Posts addressing the contrast between the methods of historians in departments other than biblical studies and those of biblical scholars:

An Ancient Historian on Historical Jesus Studies, — and on Ancient Sources Generally

Ouch! A “professional historian” has something to say about the methods of “biblical scholars”

Indeed. Having engaged with several biblical scholars online about historical methods I have found the same limitation: too often New Testament scholars demonstrate a lack of awareness of how historians in ancient history and classics departments go about establishing “what happened” in the past. James Crossley notes the “crucial insights” interdisciplinary studies can bring to the question and Lataster cites other New Testament scholars (Pieter Craffert, John Gager) making the same point.

Lataster describes the way his own work has been received by both non-biblical and biblical historians:

A paper critiquing NT scholars’ appeals to hypothetical sources:

  • rejected by a society of Biblical literature
  • accepted for presentation at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association, July 2015.

My presentation of the paper was very successful, with almost everybody (a room full of proper historians) agreeing with me that this method used by Biblical ‘historians’ is absurd and not typical of historians proper. (p. 9)

A paper touching on Jesus’ possible ahistoricity:

  • presented at the University of Oxford

. . . . receiving support from even the Christians in the audience, who felt that Christianity needn’t necessarily rely on evidence.

New Testament scholar, Hector Avalos:

Although I am not a Jesus mythicist, I do think that Lataster makes a good case that one cannot simply dismiss all versions or all aspects of Jesus mythicism”; and that Lataster “may be among the first to have a thesis sympathetic to Jesus Mythicism approved by a world-class university”.

Other positive reviews of Lataster’s earlier published arguments from Christopher Hartney and Professor Carole Cusack of the University of Sydney: review by Hartney; review by Cusack.

In sum,

My successful postgraduate thesis on the topic means that it received the backing of at least one supervisor, the head of the Religious Studies department at the highly regarded University of Sydney, and several examiners, from other (local and international) universities. The suite of articles I have published means that several referees, editors, and academic publishers deemed it worthy. (p. 10)

This is no longer just a fringe theory

Many ahistoricists have suitable qualifications for this endeavour and their work on the Historical Jesus (and scepticism regarding Christianity) has been received by millions, and has even attracted positive attention from other scholars.29 For my part, I have published on this topic with Cambridge, presented on it at Oxford, and thanks to mainstream media outlets such as the BBC, the History Channel, and the Washington Post, I have managed to reach numerous laypersons. Carrier has even defended his views in front of the famed Society of Biblical Literature. Collectively, he and I have published numerous relevant peer-reviewed journal articles and books, with more to come, and have won the support of other academics, including bona fide New Testament scholars. This is no longer ‘just a fringe theory’. (p. 10)

At the AHA conference Lataster remarks that historians there advised him that he would be wasting his time attempting to publish his criticisms in journals belonging to the field of biblical studies.

Clearly outsiders perceive these self-styled experts very differently from how the alleged experts perceive themselves; truly a salient point. (p. 9)

Unfortunately Lataster fails to mention the one person I believe to be primarily responsible for the current interest in the mythicist argument, Earl Doherty. It was Doherty, from around the turn of the century, who was behind Richard Carrier’s initial interest in the question and in much of the scholarly outrage against “mythicism”. I find it difficult to imagine the current controversy if Doherty had not appeared on the scene with his website, The Jesus Puzzle, and subsequent publications.

A Debate among Atheists

Christian believers should generally not become involved in this debate, nor should non-believers thrust it upon them.

Unfortunately too many critics of the mythicist position assume that the motivating driver behind the arguments is a hostility towards religion and Christianity in particular. That makes no sense to me (the worst way for anyone to attempt to undermine a person’s faith is to deny the very existence of the figure at the centre of their faith) and it makes no sense to Raphael Lataster either, so much so that he writes:

But I also assert that Christian believers should generally not become involved in this debate, nor should non-believers thrust it upon them. . . .

I have no desire to uposet Christians. (pp. 14, 15)

As for a supposedly hostile attitude against Christianity,

I think it obvious that the assumption of Jesus’ mundane historicity – a privilege not granted to many mythological characters of other religious traditions – simply reflects the privilege of Christianity and a (not necessarily unearned) respect for its influence on Western culture and academia. (p. 23)

Christian believers, of course, widely believe in the “Christ of faith”, the one main character in the gospels who worked miracles and so forth. That is not the Jesus being discussed by Lataster. Most believers, Lataster notes, have no interest in a “historical person” of scholarly pursuit. Even Bart Ehrman is quoted as making a supporting point: that the “Jesus of history is not the Jesus of modern Christianity.”

If one wants to tackle the beliefs of Christians then it is more sensible to address the Jesus they believe in, Lataster rightly observes.

On the matter of bias, Lataster wryly notes the acknowledgement among even Christian apologists like William Lane Craig that atheists can be more critical and objective than believers when they resort to rhetoric like, “Even atheist scholars accept . . . ”

As for believing scholars,

It is possible, but it would surely be very difficult to seriously and objectively question Jesus’ historical existence in one’s scholarly work, when personally believing in Jesus as not only real but as the centre of one’s universe. For Christians, there is clearly far more at stake – namely, Jesus Christ. Christians may not want to hear it, but it would be unreasonable to expect that they can be completely disinterested and objective over what ultimately concerns, well, their ‘ultimate concern’. (p. 19)

As for an atheist,

As a member of several oppressed groups, I do not wish to unnecessarily offend others, so I am content to remain open to the work of Christian scholars who argue, via methodological atheism, for the existence of the Historical Jesus.

And an interesting turning of the tables with the followup comment . . . .

Strangely enough, I am yet to encounter a scholarly believer in the divine Christ of Faith who argues in the proper academic channels that only a human Jesus existed. (p. 21)

Some ahistoricist scholars have found ways to reconcile their “mythicist” view of Jesus with their Christian faith and Lataster does not ignore these (e.g. Thomas Brodie) and attempts to reassure Christian believers more generally that the debate need not damage their faith. After all, the “worldly wise” and “methodological naturalists” rarely have the power to overturn faith anyway.

Lataster does refer to atheists themselves have come from religious backgrounds and still have “religious baggage” clinging to them. Perhaps so. But my own thoughts have led me to consider that those with such “visceral” hostility against the questioning of Jesus’ historicity for whatever reason have a reluctance to question “the intellectual authorities” in the field of biblical studies. One can still maintain respect and even deference to those who are clearly more learned than oneself in a particular area while honestly and competently holding those academics to account to answer clearly and validly questions about their methods and conclusions.

The Problem

Lataster points out that the idea of the “historical Jesus” (as opposed to the Christ of faith) is a direct outcome of the traditional faith.

[I]t appears that Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment scholars realised that miraculous claims are untenable, so simply and rather uncritically assumed that the real Jesus could be found by separating him from the more implausible claims found in the Biblical texts. (p. 23)

Meanwhile, the very existence of Jesus was an idea that remained assumed.

The belief in the Historical Jesus is thus a direct consequence of the prevailing belief in the Christ of Faith or Biblical/Gospel Jesus. The relevant questions have always been “What did he do?”, and “What did he say?”, but never “Did he exist?” (p. 23)

Bart Ehrman’s and Maurice Casey’s publications attempting to argue for the historical existence of Jesus are discussed, along with Richard Carrier’s responses and how Raphael Lataster himself entered the discussion.

Lataster concludes his Introduction with what he believes an analytical philosophical approach can bring to the question. I am reminded of my own immersion in analytical philosophy when studying a postgraduate course in the philosophy of education with a particular focus on the differences between education and propaganda. The primary purpose of the ensuing chapters will be, it is explained, a careful analysis of the arguments on all sides of the question. The search will be to attempt to establish historical arguments that are “probably true” as distinct from the generally impossible “certainly true” and the rather pointless “possibly true”.

With the above discussion of caveats and controversies accomplished we come to chapter one. . . . .


Lataster, Raphael. 2019. Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Leiden: Brill. https://brill.com/abstract/title/54738.


The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)



If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


32 thoughts on “Review part 1: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus / Lataster.”

  1. What history? The only two historical writings about the 1st Century Judea which the Church preserved were Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. We only have “fragments” of the several other histories written about this time. Apparently, Justus Tiberius history survived until the 8th Century but was trashed when someone noticed Justus never mentioned Jesus of Nazareth (neither did Josephus or Philo, but so what).

  2. OP: “Analytical philosophers are especially noteworthy here for their ability to identify faulty reasoning…”

    With the caveat, “All too often I see philosophers comment on biblical claims with an inadequate knowledge of the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and religion in general. (pp. 83–84.)” [Lataster, Raphael (2019a). “Defending Jesus Agnosticism”. Think 18 (51): 77–91. doi:10.1017/S1477175618000362.]

  3. It is the New Testament that argues most strongly against the existence of a real “Jesus”, by presenting him
    (1) as an incarnate deity (Gospel of John, Phil. 2:6-7),
    (20 as a son of the wife of Joseph impregnated by “God” while still a virgin, in two mutually contradictory accounts in Matthew and Luke, and
    (3) just a man adopted by “God” at his baptism (Gospel of Mark).

    I tis impossible to tell how it started, but he most likely original character is the last of these, and in my humble opinion the best conclusion is that all of these “Jesuses” are a fictional characters.

  4. Yes, some good comments there. As I’m working on my new book I’ve found it fascinating just how big the separation is between Christian and non-Christian classical studies. I’ve done a lot of research recently into things like, prophecy, fraud, and how texts were produced in the Roman empire, and it’s striking just how little, if any, connections are made to Christian contexts.

    In other words, what you find in classical studies is the study of Christian material and the study non-Christian material, and very little overlap that relates one to the other. For example, I’m currently reading Collectors, Scholars, and Forgers in the Ancient World, a 2016 publication, which covers primarily the late Roman empire, dealing largely with the period from about the 2nd century BCE through the 4th century CE, which appears to have been a time of increased forgery, and not a single mention is made of anything or any work related to Christianity. Rather astounding when you think about it. And this isn’t the only case. Much of what I’ve been researching covers this period, regarding the state religion of Rome, temple practices, the use of prophecy, etc., and Christianity is barely mentioned in any of these works – if so only tangentially.

    It’s almost as if some sort of “truce” has been called, whereby classical scholars have basically agreed to leave all things related to Christianity solely to theologians. And so much of this material has extreme relevance to understanding Christian origins, yet none of it gets applied. It’s as if the classicists and classical historians just completely ignore Christianity and the same goes the other way – the Christian scholars ignore the classical historians.

    But anyway, that’s what I’ll be addressing in my book. I’ll be bringing a lot of this classical scholarship to bear on the issue of Christians origins. But I’ve certainly been astounded at the degree to which classical and Christian scholarship are like two ships passing in the night.

      1. What you put is fine, although maybe in the context of that section this would be appropriate:

        “In his work, Dykstra proposes that, “Mark’s primary purpose
        was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle
        against his ‘Judaizing’ opponents.” 17 I agree with that assessment, but
        would extend it by saying, “Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision
        of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his ‘Judaizing’
        opponents, [in light of the outcome of the First Jewish-Roman War].”” – page 61

  5. “Those advocating for ahistoricity are also often charged with not being real scholars, or at least as being scholars from irrelevant fields. These are also technically irrelevant as it should be the arguments that are scrutinised, not academic credentials.”
    —Lataster.

    “One can still maintain respect and even deference to those who are clearly more learned than oneself in a particular area while honestly and competently holding those academics to account to answer clearly and validly questions about their methods and conclusions.”
    —-Neil Godfrey

    Is authentic intellectual integrity even possible without adherence to the attitudinal dispositions reflected in these two remarks?

    1. I would go further to say that most so-called biblical scholars are not actually qualified to address the issue of Jesus historicity. A degree in theology or divinity is not a qualification for historical analysis. Thus, in my view, Bart Ehrman, J. P. Meier, the vast majority of people who have been involved in the Jesus Seminar, etc., etc., are all actually unqualified to address this topic.

      In my view the people most qualified to address this subject are classical historians, classicists, specialists in ancient non-Abrahamic religions, specialists in ancient Judaism, and data scientists.

      Theologians, in fact, are explicitly taught illogical modes of thinking and are steeped in propaganda. Theology really has nothing to do with understanding history, indeed quite the opposite. Theologians are explicitly taught to rationalize impossible things.

      So to me, the big problem with Jesus historicity is that it’s been dominated by completely unqualified people from the beginning who have worked to try and monopolize the topic by claiming “special knowledge”, that they in fact don’t have.

  6. On this quote: “Strangely enough, I am yet to encounter a scholarly believer in the divine Christ of Faith who argues in the proper academic channels that only a human Jesus existed. (p. 21)”

    Paul Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture, 2017, an Orthodox Bible scholar, explicitly teaches that all of the stories of Jesus and the Gospels were created by Paulinists for pedagogical purposes. Without any invocation of necessity of, or indication of belief that there was, an historical Jesus, Tarazi is extremely passionate and religious, a “sola scripture” Paulinist (as he exegetes Paul, whom he argues, somewhat idiosyncratically in my opinion but it is his argument, that Paul was anti-Roman empire). It is the only example of which I am aware of religious practice or commitment being based explicitly on the content or meaning or message of the stories of scripture, without any interest in or assumption that Jesus was historical. I know Father Paul Tarazi, have talked with him by Skype, and I gave a paper at an OCABS (Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies) symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota this past March. Tarazi is the teacher of Tom Dykstra, Nicolae Roddy, and others who have developed this school of scholarship. Would Tarazi be a counterexample to the quotation, since he continues lifelong active Syrian Orthodox and is an established scholar? Yet Tarazi has told me he regards notions of God, as well as assumptions concerning historical Jesuses or other biblical figures, as themselves idolatrous in terms of the true scriptural study and practice to which he is devoted. Tarazi has a vision of scripture as stories consciously written anciently to debunk empires and regnant philosophies, and he sees that as their power, still applicable today.

    The late Hugh Joseph Schonfield, author of popular-scholarly books on New Testament topics, argued for an only-human Jesus but regarded Jesus as the Jewish messiah and means for world salvation in an earthly sense. Schonfield founded an organization called the Commonwealth of World Citizens, later termed the Mondcivitan Republic, out of his ideas of Jesus’s messianism, envisioned to be a landless nationality ultimately attaining United Nations Recognition, issuance of passports, and performing a peacemaking role among the earth’s other nations. I visited Schonfield in his apartment in London in 1985 when he was in his 80s shortly before he died. Schonfield published his scholarship to the public rather than in New Testament guild venues, and Schonfield explicitly denied Christian divine Son of God conceptions of Jesus, so does not seem to qualify as a counterexample to the quotation strictly construed.

  7. “I also extend gratitude to ahistoricists Acharya S, who inadvertently prompted my interest in this topic”

    Raphael Lataster, Acknowledgements

    Nice of Raphael to thank Acharya S/Murdock. He cites her several times throughout the book – what does he say?

  8. In addition to the sentence you quote Lataster’s other references to Acharya S . . .

    While many will enjoy having a laugh at the expense of an Atwill or Acharya S, these amateur mythicists somehow never need to appeal to the supernatural for an explanation. — #51

    Forget the more aggressive overtures of outright mythicists such as Richard Carrier, Robert Μ. Price, David Fitzgerald, and Acharya S. Simply peruse the sources for yourself. Do that, and also hear from the historicists how they ‘prove’ Jesus’ existence. — #59

    Discussing a claim about late dates for the Gospels made by Acharya S, Casey avers that “mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible”.14 This, too, is nothing more than a lie,15 as the examples of Carrier and I attest (we accept the mainstream dating of the Epistles and the Gospels), and it is actually Casey who is at odds with the consensus view by opting for radically early dates, as we shall see.16 So not only is Casey, once again, mischaracterising mythicists, he is overlooking the fact that he is the pot calling the kettle black. In a section on dating the synoptic Gospels, Casey continues to rail against the likes of amateurs like ‘Blogger Godfrey’ and Acharya S,17 and notes his own reliance on a ‘special’ type of source.18

    #15 = A dangerous term to use in the Academy. I cannot see it as anything but, however. Acharya S, who has also since passed on, certainly is not representative of all Jesus sceptics.

    Casey again draws attention to Acharya S’ supposedly late dating of the gospels, as if she spoke for all mythicists, and as if all Jesus sceptics required such late dates.26 This may be to soften the impact of his own radical, extreme early dating, compared to the traditional dates accepted by most scholars.27

    Throughout the latter chapters of his book, confident with his unconvincing ‘case’ for Jesus’ historical existence, Maurice Casey addressed some mythicist claims, characteristically focussing on the likes of Acharya S and ‘Blogger Godfrey’, with hardly a mention of Robert Price or Richard Carrier, who seemed to be the best-credentialled mythicists according to Casey’s own introductory list.

    Price, one of the few (perhaps the only) bona fide New Testament scholars that adopts a mythicist view is never again mentioned in the book with any substance, while amateurs such as Acharya S and ‘Blogger Godfrey’ are constantly referred to.

    The vituperative Casey also horrifyingly finds time to highlight one critic’s being “a gay anti-Christian socialist”, as if sexual orientation or political ideology has any relevance to trustworthiness or the soundness of an argument.104

    #104 = Casey was referring to the influential English philosopher Edward Carpenter, also claiming that he had “no relevant qualifications”. Incidentally, Carpenter was referenced as simply noting that there physically wasn’t enough time for all the pre-crucifixion events described in the Gospels to have happened. No special qualifications are needed to make that observation, which seems correct, and is widely accepted. Even Casey agrees while somehow disagreeing, saying that “like much of the proceedings before Pilate, it is historically not altogether plausible.” That was the point. It’s not historically plausible. So Casey irrelevantly and cruelly pilloried an important lgbt activist, who also played some role in forming the UK’s Labour party, when he technically agreed with him. What was he thinking? I suspect that the late Carpenter’s only ‘crime’, apart from being a homosexual and a socialist (?! ), was ‘daring’ to be referenced – decades after his death – by the loathed Acharya S, ensuring that he would be posthumously caught in the crossfire.

    Again, Carrier tries to avoid going down this path. Interestingly, Carrier adapted Doherty’s form of the old Celestial Jesus thesis, and Doherty does see it as very plausible that the Celestial Jesus myth has its origins in astro-theology, and speaks positively of fellow mythicist Acharya S, who delighted in continually stressing Christianity’s apparent astro-theological origins. See Doherty (jngnm ), p. 153.

    Among the mythicists, Acharya S and her followers lack direct evidence of the Christian authors being astrologers, Atwill lacks direct evidence of his grand conspiracy theories, and the more reasonable Doherty and those he influenced lack (well, a lot of) direct evidence of the earliest Christians believing in a purely Celestial Jesus.

    It is for this reason that Carrier is held up as my exemplar for a case that is positively for Jesus’ non-existence as a historical figure. It is for this reason that, while methodological disagreements would automatically prevent me from associating with many other mythicists, Carrier’s work takes centre stage here, rather than the work of people like Earl Doherty, David Fitzgerald, Robert Price, and Acharya S. It is Earl Doherty’s theory – itself based on the work of others who similarly posited a heavenlyjesus, like philosopher Paul-Louis Couchoud – that Carrier actually argues for, and Robert Price has served the ‘field’ well by providing it with rare scholarly support. The likes of David Fitzgerald and Acharya S have also done much to popularise this stream of thought, so no offence is intended to these, and others who shall generally go unmentioned.2 Carrier’s work here simply far surpasses anything before it – high (and counterintuitive) praise from someone who also publishes on the topic.

    While Carrier was influenced by Doherty, my own interest in this area was piqued by the oft-vilifled – and not always without good reason – Acharya S. Sometimes amateurs come up with good ideas, while qualified scholars are more than capable of making very poor arguments, as we have seen with Ehrman and Casey.

    Is this the sort of thing you expected from him?

    1. Discussing a claim about late dates for the Gospels made by Acharya S, Casey avers that “mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible”. This, too, is nothing more than a lie, as the examples of Carrier and I attest (we accept the mainstream dating of the Epistles and the Gospels), and it is actually Casey who is at odds with the consensus view by opting for radically early dates, as we shall see. So not only is Casey, once again, mis-characterising mythicists, he is overlooking the fact that he is the pot calling the kettle black. In a section on dating the synoptic Gospels, Casey continues to rail against the likes of ‘amateurs’ like ‘Blogger Godfrey’ and Acharya S, and notes his own reliance on a ‘special’ type of source.

      There’re a number of things to unpack and address here. Briefly:

      Not all late datings of the Gospels are mythicism related. Several scholars have argued one or more of the Gospels date after Marcion: Joseph B, Tyson (before him: John Knox and, before Knox, Charles B. Waite and others), Jason Beduhn, Markus Vinzent, and Matthisa Klinghardt.

      Other scholars, such as Thomas L Brodie have argued for a proto-Luke, and Shelly Matthews proposes a more fluid-Luke-Acts with an early core.

      Hermann Detering has proposed the Olivet discourse/ “Synoptic Apocalypse” might reflect the Bar Kokhba revolt of the early 130s AD. http://radikalkritik.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Mk13-JHC-1.pdf

      Basil Lourié has proposed

      “the similarities between the gospels and other early Christian works are not necessarily to be explained through the dependency of the latter from the former.” https://brill.com/view/journals/scri/11/1/article-p87_11.xml

      Lourié proposed the so-called “Synoptic Apocalypse” is a reworking of a Second Temple period Jewish apocalypse (best preserved in Matthew).

      Most if not all arguments for early dating of the Gospels are spurious, such as Casey’s. None are definitive.

      Many rely on the proposition that Jesus prophesied the fall of the Temple and, b/c it was prophesy, it had to have been written down before the Temple fell (or word to that effect).

      The Gospels have poor provenence.
      Early so-called church or patristic fathers, such as Justin Martyr, hardly show any evidence of knowing the Gospels.

      1. Another question is the synoptic problem itself. I wonder how some of the hypotheses are/would be affected by other models such as Tyson’s (whom you mention) of an ur-Luke and a redactor to create our canonical Luke-Acts.

      2. Yes, there’s the synoptic problem, and I notice a recent (& maybe ongoing) discussion about that on Twitter with Mark Goodacre averring “Luke knows Josephus, I think, and that pushes his gospel into the late first, early second century.” https://twitter.com/goodacre/status/1227404378048430080?s=20

        Jason Staples says in a series of tweets, “4) I think Acts is probably written in the time between Josephus’ War (which I think he has) and Antiquities (which I don’t think he has). So that puts it pretty late but not into 2C.”

        Goodacre responded “I’ve tried to make Luke’s knowledge of War alone work (& it really helps with the Quirinius problem), but he has to have Antiquities for the Theudas-Judas issue.”

        and “Mason’s point, though, is that Luke seems to know the literary presentation of Theudas-then-Judas sequence from Antiquities. Luke’s use of “the Egyptian” also striking — makes contextual sense in Antiquities, but less so in Acts.”

      3. Also note that I’m pretty adamant about relatively early dating of at least Mark, if not also Matthew.

        By relatively early I mean between 70 CE and 90 CE. I certainly do not subscribe to the idea that the first Gospels wasn’t written until the 2nd century.

        This is important to the thesis I put forward that there was no concept of a human Jesus until the writing of the Gospel of Mark. My view is that the idea that Jesus was a real person never existed until Mark wrote his allegory and people starting taking it literally.

        According to many other mythicist the Gospel writers, including Mark, were recording stories that they had heard from a community of people who already believed in a human Jesus. That’s not at all what I think happened. In my view the Gospel writers are the inventors of the narratives, not recorders of existing legends. In my view, “oral tradition” plays virtually zero role in the development of the Gospels. The idea of a human Jesus is a literary development that gets taken literally by readers of the Gospels, and that’s where the worship of a human Jesus comes from.

        In order for all of that to happen, a least one Gospel need to have been produced by around 85 CE, because it seems that by very early 2nd century the idea that Jesus was a real person seems to be in evidence.

        1. I agree that the Gospel of Mark is the first tangible evidence for a supposedly human Jesus (most of the passages in Paul that are used to argue Paul was aware of a human Jesus are likely later interpolations). I agree a human Jesus is a literary development and that “oral tradition” plays virtually zero role in the development of the Gospels.

          But I wonder if the Pauline epistles arose out of a Gnostic movement with Philonic influences. And if those documents addressing communities around the Agean Sea reflect Jewish diaspora growing in those communities after the First Roman Jewish War and possibly even after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (sure, Paul was said to be try to convert Gentiles, but I think the letters reflect a desire to address Gentiles associated with Jewish communities).

          I think Revelation is also likely to be a Gnostic related text.

          I think a proto-John likely arose out of a Gnostic or Philo-following community.

          On what basis do you say “it seems that by very early 2nd century the idea that Jesus was a real person seems to be in evidence”?

          1. The sect that Paul originally joined is generally held to be the first “Christians”.

            But if by “Christian” one means that Christians held that Jesus died and rose. R. G. Price has opined that there is available material that supports the viewpoint that some “Christians” held that Jesus did not die and was not a blood sacrifice. Which is attested in their practice of the Eucharist. If I understand R. G. correctly?

            Richard Carrier defines “Christian” as specifically the sect holding that Jesus died and rose as a blood sacrifice. And that this “blood sacrifice” is a novel innovation by the original Christian sect.

            Carrier also holds that it is possible that Philo and Paul both derived their common views on second-god from the same non-extant source.

            1. re, “The sect that Paul originally joined is generally held to be the first “Christians”,”

              • that may not be true. I would argue it’s unlikely to be: it’s just a reification of the Pauline letters as being factual. They may be fiction.

              re, “Carrier also holds that it is possible that Philo and Paul both derived their common views on second-god from the same non-extant source”,

              = what Carrier frequently refers to, a possibiliter fallacy. I certainly think people read and built on Philo’s exegesis, as recorded in Philo’s extant works. And I think we see some of that in Christian works, including Paul, John of course with John 1:1, and Hebrews.

              1. I am in agreement with Carrier that the origin-point of the term “Christian” is only applicable to the sect that originated the novel “blood sacrifice” of the second-god via death and resurrection.

                I contend that said Christians derived/split from a sect I term “Perfectionists”. Who in turn derived from yet another sect of the Jewish second temple period and the general “Gestalt Psychology” of Second-God and the religious syncretism of Second-God (cf. Philo’s Logos). Which historically has been called Gnosticistm (a term now deprecated by a growing group of scholars).

                • Howes, Llewellyn (14 January 2014). “Judging the twelve tribes of Israel: Q 22:28, 30 in light of the Psalms of Solomon and the Community Rule”. Verbum et Ecclesia. 35 (1). doi:10.4102/ve.v35i1.1320. [PDF available online]

                “Before the arrival of the ‘end of days’, the Dead Sea sects already saw themselves as a replacement of the temple in Jerusalem (see Kapfer 2007:164–165, 169–172). If the ‘end of days’ temple was also the sect itself, instead of an actual building, the difference between the two temples might very well have entailed nothing more than an upgrade in the degree of its holiness and perfection. —(p. 7, n. 56)

        2. But Paul says Jesus was born of a woman in Galatians 4:4 and that naturally infers he was flesh. I think you side with Carrier and take this as an allegorical claim but even if it is allegorical it does invalidate your claim that “there was no concept of a human Jesus until the writing of the Gospel of Mark”. Even if allegorical in original intent (I don’t think so but for sake of argument will accept this point for now) it is clear evidence that there certainly was “a concept of a human Jesus” before the gospel of Mark.

        1. No problem Neil. I figured that’d happened. (I had numbers some paragraphs with ‘1.’, ‘2.’, etc, but no problem the numbers didn’t come out. The numbering may be a reason it went to spam??).

          1. I really don’t know what the reason was. (It was diverted to Trash, not even to Spam). Wish I did. I am trying to check what’s getting filtered two or three times a day.

    2. Disappointing. So in Raphael’s $200 Brill published book … from those quotes looks like Raphael, like Richard Carrier, has never read a single book by Acharya/Murdock as it appears Raphael just regurgitates the trash about Acharya from Maurice Casey’s book that’s not even worth mentioning. I was hoping for some intellectual honesty from Raphael to at least actually study the relevant parts from Acharya’s work. Why did Raphael even mention Acharya at all -unless it was just to ‘poison the well’ to make Carrier happy.

      I guess we should never expect an intellectually honest review of Acharya’s work by Carrier, Lataster etc as their blatant biases against it without really knowing anything about it is a red flag. It’s embarrassing for the entire mythicist community.

      Oh, it’s dishonest of Godfrey to edit to remove my mention of Acharya 2020 Revision to Christ Conspiracy too but, that’s pretty much what we can expect here:

      The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold – Revised Edition – edited by Dr. Robert Price (read the Editorial Preface by Dr. Robert Price).

      Here’s what Raphael used to say until Carrier got ahold of him. Now, he just trashes Acharya like Carrier without ever reading any of her books – extremely intellectually dishonest and unbecoming of those who claim to call themselves scholars.

      “I have a lot of time for Acharya S. It’s annoying how she is treated by other scholars.”
      – Raphael Lataster

      1. it appears Raphael just regurgitates the trash about Acharya from Maurice Casey’s book that’s not even worth mentioning.

        Raphael is very critical of Casey’s treatment; he is clearly not citing him with approval.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.