As I read each chapter or section of Raphael Lataster’s book, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus, I wrote about it here, but now that I have read the concluding pages I discover that Lataster anticipated some of the points I made along the way. Especially this one, the final footnote on the final page:
The poor criticisms offered indicate people that have already decided that mythicism must be wrong, simply because they find the conclusion distasteful, without knowing what the best arguments are, let alone how to argue against them.
(Lataster, p. 452)
There have been several responses to the work of Carrier and myself which cannot be dealt with in detail here; I shall point out their failings elsewhere. This includes the articles and blog posts by Christina Petterson, Daniel Gullotta, John Dickson, Michael Bird, James McGrath, Brenda Watson, and Simon Gathercole (and Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos A. Colombetti, who responded to Stephen Law’s agnosticism). None of them add anything substantial to the debate, mischaracterising our work and typically focussing on attacking the person instead of the argument. Additionally, every single one of them completely ignored our most salient points.
(Lataster, p. 463)
Responses by Daniel Gullotta and Simon Gathercole have been addressed in-depth on this blog. Lataster’s criticisms are entirely on target. A decade ago a colleague of Philip R. Davies (to whom Lataster’s book is dedicated) spelled out in detail the unscholarly tactics of “conservative scholarship” in addressing the so-called “minimalists” who dared question the historicity of the Davidic kingdom of Israel. Niels Peter Lemche’s description of those tactics applies just as much to the critics of those who question the historicity of Jesus:
Critical scholars should be critical enough to realize the tactics of the conservative scholars: never engage in a serious discussion with the minimalists [substitute mythicists]. Don’t read Davies, Thompson, and Lemche [substitute Doherty, Brodie, Carrier, Lataster]; read books [or articles] about them!
For a more detailed account of Lemche’s criticisms see The Tactics of Conservative Scholarship (according to J. Barr & N-P. Lemche).
As we have seen, Lataster mentioned in the opening of his book names of mainstream scholars who accept the legitimacy of doubting the historical existence of Jesus. More names are added in his final chapter.
Lataster’s concluding call for agnosticism concerning the historicity of Jesus contains all the punch of the preceding 440 pages. His argument has been three-fold:
- the case for historicity (part 1, chapters 1 to 3) demonstrated the frequently unscholarly and generally fallacious efforts of recent attempts by mainstream scholars to present an argument for the historical existence of Jesus, and how such efforts effectively (unintentionally) support the case for agnosticism;
- the case for agnosticism (part 2, chapters 4 to 6) demonstrated the hollowness of the foundations (both source foundations and the methods by which certain inferences are drawn from these sources) for any assertion that Jesus did exist
- the case for mythicism (part 3, chapters 7 to 9) demonstrated that one does not need a historical Jesus to explain the evidence we have for Christian origins and that Christianity began with a belief in a heavenly (not historical) Jesus is indeed plausible.
Lataster has made it abundantly clear where the sound scholarly approach lies:
But look at what Casey did. Look at what Ehrman and the others do. These prominent historicists strangely and illogically appeal to the majority, appeal to authority, appeal to possibility, and, worst of all, appeal to innumerable sources that don’t even exist, in order to prove something that is supposed to be very obvious, something that is allegedly borderline insane to deny. This must stop. Scholars cannot be allowed to continue building on previous scholarship in the field, when the foundations – such as the appeals to hypothetical sources – are highly conjectural to begin with. If we ahistoricists argued like they do, we would be overlooked (well, more than we already are), and rightly so. These historicists did not argue in a transparent probabilistic fashion; they merely declared that their hypothesis is true or almost certainly true, and that anybody who’s anybody agrees with them. Contrast that with the approaches of Carrier and myself. Who are the ones trying to posit a wealth of non-existing foundational sources, whilst disregarding the impact of numerous actually existing sources? And who are the ones simply applying and asking others to apply transparent probabilistic reasoning to the sources that we do actually have access to?
This all should make it easy to figure out which scholars have an agenda, and which scholars merely go where the evidence leads. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you prefer the arguments of the people that used evidence, and logic, and had no real desire to deny the existence of a Historical Jesus, or if you prefer the wild and unsubstantiated claims about near-infinite non-existing sources, and just so happen to arrive at conclusions that placate their ultimately Christian benefactors. I strongly encourage philosophers and historians, and even other scholars, from outside the field to continue to scrutinise the methods and conclusions of these Biblical specialists. Several educated outsiders – and even some insiders – so far have done so and discovered that the emperor has no clothes.
(Lataster, p. 450)
Exactly. As for mythicists being driven by some need to debunk the existence of Jesus, such an accusation is entirely without evidential support and actually flies in the face of the evidence.
But I have jumped ahead. Before driving home the above conclusions Lataster drew together the Carrier-based arguments of the previous chapters and set out first, Carrier’s probabilistic summaries of them all, and secondly, his (Lataster’s) alternative calculations. Fortunately for some, no doubt, Lataster greatly simplifies Carrier’s Bayesian conclusions and makes it clear that even if one does not accept every evaluation one can scarcely deny that there must be some room for doubt about Jesus’s existence. Lataster further quotes at length Carrier’s lengthy proposal for how Christianity could plausibly have arisen from belief in an entirely celestial Jesus. The minimal facts that can be established by sound appeals to historical reasoning about the sources are also listed and they, too, leave room for Christianity having arisen without a historical Jesus. The common objections — that the Jews would never have invented a dying messiah, certainly not a crucified one — are contradicted by the clear evidence.
One would love to find a serious critique of Carrier’s overall case for mythicism:
Unfortunately, apart from myself, nobody has provided a proper critique of Carrier’s defence of mythicism in the academic literature.25 Indeed, Bart Ehrman has explicitly rejected the challenge. On his blog, Ehrman declared that he is “pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates”, even though he effectively fanned the flames by publishing his now infamous Did Jesus Exist?26 A fan of his, who thanked Ehrman for changing his life, left the following comment:
I have read Did Jesus Exist, and many other of your books, I’m a big fan… but not a scholar. The fact is that we just don’t have enough evidence to make a final judgment whether Jesus existed. Both sides of the argument are fascinating, and I don’t think there is a greater question to be answered… I am hanging on every published word from you titans of scholarship… I do really think that Dr. Carrier has made a very serious case against Jesus’s existence, and I would love to read your next book that attempts to refute his arguments in much the same way that Lataster trashed your book. I have the highest respect for you Dr. Ehrman, but there has been a gauntlet thrown down…please pick it up!
And this, ladies and honoured transgenders and gentlemen, is the historicist champion’s emphatic response:
Frankly, I’d rather spend my time doing other things!!
We can thus add another element to Ehrman’s Law. If a critic notes deep flaws in your method, just ignore them, and continue to pretend that your case has been well made.
(Lataster, p. 436)
As Lemche said (quoted above), that kind of response is a tactic. It is meant to shut down the debate by declaring it is not worth a professor’s time. We have one more instance here of a public intellectual short-changing his responsibility for advancing public knowledge.
Lataster follows his discussion of Carrier’s probabilistic assessment of the evidence with his own. Lataster proposes even more generously than Carrier odds in favour of historicity. Let’s grant the canonical gospels to be equally valid evidence for both hypotheses, historicity and mythicism. The same for the epistles. Even then we are obviously left with ample justification for agnosticism.
Finally, Lataster discusses ways one might challenge and overturn Carrier’s overall case for having reasons to doubt the historical existence of Jesus. In short, the way to do that is to demonstrate that Carrier’s probabilistic analyses of the various strands of evidence are seriously flawed. Some critics have strongly objected to Carrier’s point that the Jesus of the canonical gospels scores relatively high on the Rank-Raglan hero scale claiming that Carrier has thereby unfairly prejudiced the argument in favour of Jesus being a mythical character. But to overthrow Carrier’s point the critics need to face the fact that Carrier acknowledges that genuinely historical persons do also score relatively highly on that same scale and to demonstrate that Carrier’s point has in fact unfairly skewed the final result. The point of the Bayesian approach is to make the most reasonable assessment of all the data, returning and revising previous estimates in the light of new information, and so on. It matters not so much where one begins, Lataster points out, if along the way all of the relevant data is factored in; that being the case the end result should work out the same.
“Glory of agnosticism”
The final pages embrace a discussion of the reasonableness of being agnostic about the existence of Jesus. Agnosticism speaks of humility and intellectual honesty at the best of times but especially so given the very patchy state of the evidence we have to work with. Further, with a major portion of that evidence being the Pauline writings, agnosticism is doubly obligatory given the extent of our uncertainty about the original state of those letters, which ones (and how much of each one) are truly genuine, along with the many ambiguities and questions that arise from them.
Lataster reminds readers of another point he (with Carrier) claims is very significant, and that is the appearance of Christianity “just at the same time” as would have been indicated by a reading of Daniel by messianic Jews. I am not so sure that the evidence does support that notion (the belief that Daniel prophesied the appearance of a messianic figure around the time Jesus supposedly appeared), but I certainly do see ample justification for linking gospel narratives to the historical destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (or even, just possibly and allowing for radical re-interpretations of sources, 135 CE).
We have already spoken of Philip Davies and his declaration that biblical scholarship must allow for agnosticism on the Jesus figure in order to reach “academic respectability”. Here at the conclusion Lataster informs us that a few months before his death Davies informed him that he is himself agnostic concerning the existence of Jesus.
Lataster commends another scholar who was a colleague of Davies, and that is James Crossley. (We spoke earlier of Crossley, too, as the author of the Introduction to Questioning the Historicity of Jesus.) I find Lataster’s discussion of Crossley’s position encouraging: it places Crossley in a somewhat courageous light, I think. Not that Crossley is a mythicist, but he is clearly sympathetic to allowing full freedom for the discussion to take place. Crossley is a colleague of Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne running The Jesus Blog, and Keith has made his “forthright” views of mythicism (and me) “painfully” clear in the past. Crossley is also on the editorial board of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Another member of that same board is Michael Bird who has stated that the journal will never publish anything sympathetic to an argument questioning the historical existence of Jesus. Crossley was also the student of the same Maurice Casey who wrote Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? And Crossley is highly esteemed by Jim West (who also highly esteems Brill who has published Lataster’s book) who is not known for having kind words for anyone “tainted” with suspicion of “being a mythicist”. The pressure is collegial, personal, institutional, not intellectual. Indeed, Lataster has well established his case:
All of Carrier’s claims about mythicism proper, and my own, could all be mistaken, and yet Historical Jesus agnosticism is still assured, since the hypothesised failure of the case for mythicism doesn’t address the problem that the case for historicity is nowhere near a standard that objective philosophers should accept.
(Lataster, p. 458, my bolding)
After all, as Lataster explains, we only need to focus on two points to justify this position: the unreliability of the gospels and Paul’s focus on a heavenly Jesus.
And that’s the benefit of agnosticism. It is far more defensible than outright mythicism, as Lataster makes clear (p. 459, my formatting):
- If the aim is to argue against the truth of Christianity in general, ‘mere’ uncertainty over Jesus’ historical existence still carries with it tremendous polemical power. . . .
- If the aim is to expose bad scholarship and make the Academy more transparent and accountable, agnosticism does that fine, without the burden of having to simultaneously argue for notions too ahead of their time.
- If the goal is to advance mythicism, an important step towards that goal is assured, akin to how many theists moving towards deism go on to become de facto naturalists. . . .
Lataster places his hopes in “future generations” of scholars, especially as more retiring scholars speak openly as they open the doors to that new generation.
After all, as Lataster points out,
every crucial aspect of the best cases against historicity, and for agnosticism and mythicism, is already accepted in mainstream scholarship. That is not to say that all – or even a majority – of scholars accept all of them, but that each of these components is held to by a significant number of mainstream scholars, and even Christians. In other words, these sceptical theories may not be so ‘fringe’ or ‘unthinkable’ after all.
– Pre-Christian Judaisms were very diverse, and much is still unknown about them.
– Pre-Christian Jews believed in multiple realms, and heavenly counterparts.
– Pre-Christian Jews searched and reinterpreted the old scriptures for contemporary guidance and prophecy.
– Pre-Christian Jews believed in a divine and celestial Messiah/Christ.*
– Pre-Christian Jews believed in a suffering, dying, and rising messiah.
– Pre-Christian Jews required and developed spiritual solutions to the physical problems caused by the inaccessibility/destruction of the Temple.
– Early Christians reinterpreted the old scriptures and perceived Jesus as a divine, suffering, problem-solving Messiah.
– The Epistles – especially Paul’s – say little to nothing about a Historical/Earthly Jesus, and show little to no awareness of the Gospels.
– The Epistles – especially Paul’s – describe a Celestial Jesus communicating from Heaven.*
– Paul depicts Jesus as being killed by celestial demons.
– Paul’s writings are influenced by Pagan ideas, and by Philo (or sources Paul and Philo share in common).
– Paul’s stated sources for Jesus are the old scriptures and revelations.
– Paul is himself an unreliable source.
– Paul’s writings were cherished by ‘heretics’ and later edited by the ‘orthodox’ to make the existence of the Gospel Jesus more obvious.
– There are no authentic pre-Gospel references to Jesus having any biological siblings.
– Early Christianity has much in common with the secretive mystery religions.
– The case for Jesus’ historicity effectively rests upon the canonical Gospels.
– The Gospels post-date the Epistles, especially Paul’s.
– The Gospels and later documents tend to ‘flesh out’ the story.
– The Gospels’ Jesus has much in common with purely mythical figures.
– The Gospels are unreliable, filled with supernatural and mundane fictions.
– Current use of the Criteria of Authenticity is very flawed.
– The later Gospels build on Mark, the first Christian document to unambiguously situate Jesus on Earth, in recent history.
– Mark allegorises Paul’s writings.*
– Mark allegorises – directly and indirectly – the Old Testament.
– Mark is significantly based on other Jewish writings.
– Mark is significantly based on Pagan writings.
– Mark and the other Gospel writers fabricated much of their Gospels.
– Positing hypothetical sources underlying the Gospels is illogical, unnecessary, and diverts attention from extant sources.
– The Christian extrabiblical sources are of little use.
– The non-Christian extrabiblical sources are of little use.
– The best evidences for Jesus’ historicity are inauthentic.
– In light of the state of the sources, it is possible that Jesus did not exist.
The three asterisked points “demonstrate that the Celestial Jesus theory is reasonable, and alludes to an organic development from already-existing Jewish beliefs” (Lataster, pp. 460 f)
One final quote
Interestingly, while progress is slow in academia, laypeople seem ready to accept that Jesus’ existence is far from certain. A recent “Church of England survey found that four in 10 people did not believe Jesus was a real person”. Astonishingly, only around 2 in 10 people surveyed were identified as atheists or agnostics; Christians made up the biggest group. See BBC. “Jesus ‘not a real person’ many believe,” accessed 04/11/2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34686993.
I have to thank Brill for giving me access to a copy of Raphael Lataster’s book in order to share my thoughts on it here. And, of course, I have to thank Raphael Lataster for undertaking the research to complete such a thorough assessment of the case for holding some reservations about the historical existence of Jesus and offering a simplified overview of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus.
Lataster, Raphael. 2019. Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Leiden: Brill. https://brill.com/abstract/title/54738.
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112 thoughts on “Review part 10: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus / Lataster (Conclusion)”
Lastater: “But look at what Casey did. Look at what Ehrman and the others do. These prominent historicists strangely and illogically appeal to the majority, appeal to authority, appeal to possibility, and, worst of all, appeal to innumerable sources that don’t even exist, in order to prove something that is supposed to be very obvious, something that is allegedly borderline insane to deny. This must stop.”
Granted; and herein lies part of my problem with Carrier’s effort: if appeal to authority is among the illegitimate tactics historicists use, why is Carrier so desperate to position himself as an indisputably established ‘authority’? And if among the not exactly intellectually honest modi vivendi among historicists Lastater lists “appeal to possibility,” isn’t the whole questionable nature of the Bayesian gambit made just so much worse by rather lamely raising the whole question of likelihood by means of a stilted misuse of statistical logic; an unnecessary distraction from thoughtful perusal of the evidentiary matters at hand?
I still feel Carrier’s sort of mock courtroom dramatic pretensions and unjustified grandiosity do little more than mimic the sort of oblique appeal to ‘common sense’ so misplaced by biblebangers in these discussions.
In spite of his reliance on Carrier’s formidable weaknesses, Lastater’s work is in the true, nonbadtardized line of descent from the great Doherty!
if appeal to authority is among the illegitimate tactics historicists use, why is Carrier so desperate to position himself as an indisputably established ‘authority’?
This commendable “tactic” ensures that his argument can not be ignored/misrepresented by those publishing on historicity in academic publications—at least in theory, if not actuality, cf. “Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus”. Vridar.
It is one thing to assert one’s credentials as a scholar in order to claim an automatic status of bona fides among other scholars. It is quite another to assert that one’s position must be accepted solely on the basis of one’s credentials, without respect to further argument. Carrier’s claim of authority is in the first category; Ehrman’s claims are in the second.
Ya know if there was solid evidence for a historical Jesus none of this debate would be happening. Like contemporary accounts of the miracles, earthquakes, etc but instead nothing. No one alive during Jesus’ supposed lifetime noticed him despite all the risen dead and perambulating stars.
Demonstrating historicity should not be hard. They can either show that the verses in Paul that suggest historicity are so overwhelmingly unlikely with a mythic isn’t position that they settle the case (rather than “well, that would be a bit odd with a mythical Jesus, he must be real” as happens now) or they can come up with a way of reliably identifying parts of the gospels that are extremely unlikely to have been simply created (instead of “well, his followers would have told stories about him, some of these must come from them” as we have seen)
There is no way I could justify the purchase of this book so I deeply thank you for these reviews. (I also dropped something in your PayPal Tip Jar.)
While I haven’t read anywhere near as much as scholars have, I have read a great many books and articles and fallen into a great many incorrect conclusions (I get my exercise by jumping to conclusions). I am currently reading Earl Doherty’s book and I find myself fairly solid in the mythicist column. My reasoning is simple. If one wants to claim that a god walked the earth, then that is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence, which should be available, no? (Why is no copy of Q available, or any early ms. of the gospels, or …) In the absence of such evidence I don’t find much solace in the claims of historical inertia because of all of the nonsensical things that have been believed for millennia. Especially, as Doherty and others have pointed out, that actual NT scriptures contradict their standard narratives.
I will continue to read and ponder these things, but sitting agnostically, as Lasater claims, makes no sense to me, urgings toward intellectual humility notwithstanding. An historical Jesus being an “ordinary” charismatic preacher does not provide underpinings for Christianity. Only the existence of a supernatural god-man suffice. And, as yet, the evidence for anything happening supernaturally is missing.
And, if one steps back and asks a few questions, one sees the roots of other beliefs folded into the mix. For example:
• What need does an all-powerful god have of “helpers/messengers?” The effort to explain the message to the messenger can’t be any less than explaining it direct to whoever the message is for. The angles/messengers were folded in from prior beliefs.
• Why would an all-knowing, all-powerful entity brook any opposition to his plans. A Mafia don would have had Satan whacked a long time ago for making too much noise in the newspapers.
• Why would an aseitic god create a race of sentient animals to worship him? This shows less than aseity, no?
• An all-out battle on the plains of Armageddon is promised, with Jesus riding in on a horse? How about an F-16? Actually how could any army oppose and all-knowing, all-powerful entity who knows their plans before they do and can thwart them with mere thoughts?
• Why is there so much blood magic in the Bible? Clearly this is nonsense.
I’m sorry, I could go on for days asking these questions, questions that do not accept that standard narratives as a starting point. But they show how seriously tainted any evidence centered on the Bible is.
I am currently reading Earl Doherty’s book
• Which revision?
Doherty renamed the 2009 second edition of The Jesus Puzzle.
• Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Ottawa: Age of Reason Publications. 2009. ISBN 978-0-9689259-2-8. “New edition, Revised and Expanded, Originally published under the title: The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? – Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus”
Friedrich Nietzsche, called Paul “the first Christian” and “the Jewish dysangelist” (i.e., a bearer of bad rather than good news). So if you want to take up the cross and spread the news…
• Rutherford, Jonathan (2015). “The Gospel of Mark as Theological Allegory”. Rational Realm. “An eighteen page essay – Online PDF”
• Carrier (25 October 2019). “Mark’s Use of Paul’s Epistles”. Richard Carrier Blogs.
• Quotable gems:
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.”
• The cornucopia of awesomeness that is the Vridar blog, Neil Godfrey writes:
<blockquote>Following Thomas L. Thompson’ overview of the way the Jewish Scriptures were written I tend to see the Gospel of Mark as yet one more story in the same tradition as other (OT) biblical narratives.
The same story of being lost, then called, then obeying, then falling away, then punishment, then restoration is told over and over. Each story warns the “new Israel” not to fall into the errors of the “old Israel”.
The Gospel of Mark (and its [embellished] variants, Matthew, John, Luke) continue that same tradition of literature and theology. . . . The same story of the displacement of the natural order or privileged generation in favour of the younger and chosen is repeated in the Exodus (the old generation must die and the new enter the land of promise), in the stories of the prophets and their promises for a new generation, in the selection of the younger/initially disposessed over the older, right through to the New Testament.
The motifs for new beginnings are also repeated — the splitting of the waters at the initial creation is repeated again with the renewal after the Flood, and then again in the Exodus and Red Sea crossing, and then the crossing of Jordan as those waters also divided, then with Elijah and Elisha at the Jordan, then again at the baptism of Jesus.
The stories are retold, recycled, in their different mutations, and they are re-written for new generations who may have come through some crisis or are desirous of a new start as a “new” people of God who are now learning the lessons of the old generation, both in their real experience and in the stories themselves.
Just to say nice to see you are reading my essay on Mark :). Of course I can’t claim anything much original – just summarizing the work of people like RG price, Dykstra, Mary Tolbert and others. If you ya e not read Tolbert – sowing the gospel, I highly recommend; brilliant literary analysis of Mark. My views have probably changed a bit since writing that piece, though stand by the thrust. One day I’d like to write a commentary on Mark showing what an amazing yet misunderstood little work it is…
I highly recommend; brilliant literary analysis of Mark [by Tolbert]
• Tolbert, Mary Ann (1996). Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective. Fortress Press. p. 195, n. 31. ISBN 978-1-4514-1440-0.
R. M. Price opines that the author’s treatment of the disciples in the Markan text as “buffoons and dullards” is consistent with Marcion’s viewpoint, thus the Markan text may be related to Marcion’s work in some way, such as both authors being from the same “haireseis” school/faction, etc.. This possibility is given greater weight in light of Marcion being the initial collector and redactor of the Pauline material.
I can’t claim anything much original – just summarizing the work of people
Perhaps not a “strong lever-bar”, but…
• “Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world.” —Archimedes
Thus as a cogent “fulcrum”, I have also cited your work on “Jesus myth theory“. RationalWiki.
Thanks so much for this review! These chapter-by-chapter (or section by section) discussions of academic books are my favourite Vridar blog content.
Good review. Nice summary by Lataster. I must say I’ve never been fond of Carrier’s doctrinal Bayesianism. Too often the numbers he throws out seem contrived and like a crutch. I’ve just never viewed it as necessary, nor have I read any other historical works that rely on the method the way he does. IMO just making the case and leaving out the Bayesian business makes for better reading and comprehension. If anything, relegate the Bayesian analysis to an appendix or something.
I am not a mythicist and tend towards minimal historicity, but the responses of most mainstream scholars, even critical scholars like Ehrman, has ranged from underwhelming to appalling.
The best way to debunk Mythicism would be to prove historicity, yet that seems to be the response that the anti-mythers are least interested in. I wanted to see Ehrman really make a case for historicity that left it no doubt. I wanted to know what we really know. While Ehrman did make some interesting and compelling points for at least a minimal historicity (and none of the actually compelling points were the usual Josephus/Tacitus/Paul said “brother” canards that are usually trotted out, but the evidence for a rising Christology), but too much of what he did was just launch ad hominem broadsides against mythers in general and harpooning easy targets like Freke and Gandy and Acharya, etc. The “Zeitgeist” stuff that gets packaged as “mythicism” in toto. I don’t think he actually read Carrier. I don’t believe many of the sneering reviewers of that book have actually read it because I frequently see them raise objections or make arguments that are fully responded to in the book, yet they will claim Carrier has no response them.
What I don’t see is comprehensive, persuasive arguments for anything we can know with any confidence about this figure who so obviously existed that it’s stupid to doubt. Providing solid evidence for historicity would shut every myther up, but instead of trying to do that (hey scholars, I really want to see somebody nut up and make an honest methodological case. How can it be that no one has done that yet?), they respond to honest questions by honest scholars with reflexive derision, dismissal and hostility that is not shown to scholars with far more eccentric, radical and absurd views (i.e. NT Wright). Even simply silly stuff like ancient aliens or Holy Blood/Holy Grail is met with polite dismissal, but not with the strange anger that mythers seem to arouse. That’s because they actually know they can prove those things are crap. Even as a cautious historicist, I can sense a bit of the Emperor having no clothes with this one. It’s not that the case for historicity isn’t there, it’s just that it’s a very marginal, probabilistic and minimalistic case. What they call “Jesus” is arguably question-begging, since the Jesus they all agree existed is still not the character in Gospels even if he existed.
Ehrman did make some interesting and compelling points for at least a minimal historicity
Please enumerate those “compelling points” on why historicity is likely greater than 33% in the context of the following:
Richard Carrier (OHJ p. 34.):
The thing that is compelling to me is the low to high Christological development from Paul through the Gospels. The earliest Christology is only an exaltation after death. I would need to know why an originally preexistent angelic Christology (as per the Doherty/Carrier model of origins) would move all the way back to an posthumous Christology by the time of Paul’s letters. I don’t say this proves historicity but it has to be explained under the celestial model.
The earliest Christology is only an exaltation after death
Per Bart Ehrman,
What is Ehrman’s evidence? Hypothetical written sources which cannot now be scrutinised for authorship, age, genre, intent, and so forth. These hypothetical written sources are themselves based on oral traditions, that also cannot be scrutinised.
A critical reading of Mark does not suggest a normal human. Neil has previously noted that Jesus is written about as an allegorical type of person on earth conversing with humans and spirits. Jesus also does many inexplicable things and speaks in ways that his hearers do not understand.
• Godfrey, Neil (26 November 2018). “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”. Vridar.
• Godfrey, Neil (8 July 2019). “The Mystery of the “Amazing” Jesus in the Gospel of Mark”. Vridar.
• Godfrey, Neil (4 May 2019). “Once More We Rub Our Eyes: The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus is No Human Character?”. Vridar.
Cf. Did “Mark” think Jesus was a celestial being?… @ https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15934#comment-29013
The evidence for a low to high Christology is traceable simpy from the Letters of Paul through the Gospels. In Roman 1, Paul say Jesus was made the son of God by the resurrection. Luke and Matthew have natal Christologies (Ehrman say Luke makes Jesus the son God at conception, but I think Ehrman is mistaken on that and that Luke does not describe Jesus’ conception at all), then John has a preexistent Christology. Speeches given to Peter and Paul and Acts revert to an exaltation Christology (which Ehrman argues meets the criterion of dissimilarity for Luke because Luke has a natal Christology), so Luke must have thought that Peter and Paul actually preached an exaltation/assumption Christology (something with ample precedence in Jewish mythology ala Moses, Enoch, Elijah etc). There is no need to suppose any other sources. Ehrman does not think Peter and Paul actually gave those speeches. I do not think Acts is the least bit historical (or the Gospels either, for that matter), but the earliest claim about Jesus was that he was a dead guy who started on Earth went to Heaven. The claims that he started in Heaven and came down to Earth all come later (I do not credit the Philippians hymn as authentic, and I am persuaded by Geza Vermes that it is an interpolation). Under the Celestial model, I would expect the “Heaven to Earth” motif to be first. The Celestial model is not the only conceivable model for an ahistorical Jesus, though.
Roman 1, Paul say Jesus was made the son of God by the resurrection
• Per Matthew W. Bates contra e.g., Rudolf Bultmann, Robert Jewett, James Dunn, A.Y. Collins, and Bart Ehrman
Bird, Michael (23 February 2015). “Rom 1:3-4 as a Non-Adoptionist Text with Christology of Incarnation and Enthronement”. Euangelion.
Our second-god was brought from celestial existence into human existence. Second-god was then installed into a new office—Holy Potentate—by means of his resurrection from among the human dead ones. This Holy Potentate is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Doherty, Earl (4 June 2012). “17. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.17”. Vridar.
• Carrier, Richard (2009). Not the Impossible Faith. Lulu. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-557-04464-1. “Romans 1:4 says Jesus was appointed into Power at his resurrection…”
• Bird, Michael F. (2017). Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 9780802875068. [NOW BOLDED]:
• Emerson, Steve (1 May 2018). “Bird’s ” Jesus the eternal son: Answering Adoptionist Christology” (book review)”. The Christian Librarian.
• Carrier (23 September 2017). “Kristi Winters on the Historical Jesus: Part 1”. Richard Carrier Blogs.
The earliest Christology is only an exaltation after death
• Assuming arguendo Rom 1:3-4 is an Adoptionist pre-Pauline text.
• And Paul’s ‘Philippians poem’ is a Incarnational pre-Pauline text.
QUESTION: Which is earlier, Rom 1:3-4 or ‘Philippians poem’?
Ehrman presents hypothetical sources that prove Rom 1:3-4 is earlier.
Lataster, Raphael (2016a). “Review Essay: Bart Ehrman and the Elusive Historical Jesus“. Literature & Aesthetics 26 (1): 181–192. ISSN 2200-0437.
Geza Vermes insists the Philippians hymn is surely an interpolation, therefore Rom 1:3-4 is earlier.
Comment by Richard Carrier—21 December 2012— per “The Goodacre Debate”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 20 December 2012.
Vermes provided quite a bit of evidence for that in “Christian Beginnings “
@Diogenes the Cynic
Is it as simple as this? Jesus of the Gospels did not exist. Santa Claus does/did not exist. Saint Nicholas of Myra and may well be (one of) the minimal historical root(s) of the Santa Claus Myth. Some unnamed, unplaced in specific time or place person may have existed that is the minimal historical root of the Jesus myth. Maybe.
Knowing whether or not there was a historical person that emerged into the Jesus myth has an outsized place in developing an understanding Christian origins and tracking the development of Christianity from about AD 60 to AD 200. It is not necessary to resolve it.
(my elevator speech)
Colignatus, Thomas (2014). Review by an outsider of ancient history and new testament studies of “Maurice Casey (2014): Jesus. Evidence and Argument or MythicistMyths” [PDF]. thomascool.eu.
The “minimal Jesus” is a very odd thing that, for some reason, many people are drawn to, but in fact it makes no sense and isn’t really supported by any data. It’s more like just a sort of personal bargaining chip that people throw out so that they can both agree that the Gospels are exaggerations that don’t tell us anything meaningful and also that mythicism is bunk.
But the issue is that there is no real data driven case for this “obscure lost Jesus” idea.
Clearly the letters of Paul aren’t talking about some obscure person. The Pauline letters don’t attribute teachings to Jesus. Jesus is a Lord who has risen from the dead. There was no real person who rose from the dead. Nothing in Paul’s letters resembles any connection to some long lost half forgotten about person. Paul says over and that his knowledge of Jesus comes from revelation and scriptures. Knowledge of real people doesn’t come from those sources.
And when we get to the Gospels, everything is explained as having come from either the letters of Paul, the scriptures, or other literary inspirations.
This half forgotten long lost person has no role to play. It’s one of those things that sounds maybe reasonable but actually makes no sense at all.
The things that make sense are either A) you agree with the analysis that the Gospel of Mark is a “fictional” story derived from the letters of Paul and the scriptures and everything else copies from Mark, or B) you reject that and make a case that the Gospels are based on lost sources (oral and/or written) that go back to the life of a real person who was killed during the reign of Pilate.
Those are really the only things that make sense.
And as for Saint Nicholas, as we know there was someone named Saint Nicholas, but nothing is known about him and the legends are all 100% just as fictional as Star Wars. To claim that Santa Clause is based on a real person if a fallacy. It’s like if I were to write a story about a man named George Washington that is set in modern day China, where George Washington is a bounty hunter who assassinates people with lasers. To say, Ahh, this George Washington guy “was real” because he has a name shared with another real person is of course nonsense.
It’s equally nonsense to claim that the stories of Enoch are “based on a real person” even if one were to assume that the Enoch of Genesis were a real person. If that that Enoch were real, the 2nd century BCE – 2nd century BCE writings about Enoch are 100% imaginary and not based on any kind of actual knowledge about a real Enoch.
For this whole “long lost Jesus” idea people need to specify exactly in which way they are proposing that information about this person, of any kind, even his name, influenced the development of the Jesus cult and the foundational documents of Christianity.
I think most people drawn to this “minim Jesus” claim haven’t actually evaluated the mythicist case. I think most imagine mythicism as being simply a denial based on lack of evidence for the human Jesus, when in fact it is much more about the positive evidence for the origins of Jesus worship having started with the worship of a heavenly deity. They seem to fail to understand that its not simply about lack of evidence for a person, its about the affirming evidence for the development of a theology based on the prophetic interpretation of scriptures.
I have a different view of what could constitute a “minimal Jesus” in that I think it could be more analogous to Robin Hood than St. Nicholas, not a single individual but an idealized type of “Messianic” outlaw resisters. Mark’s Gospel does at least draw on one real historical figure in the Jesus of Ananais story and I think he drew on other figures pulled from Josephus as well. I am talking specifically about Mark’s Euhemerization of Jesus, not necessarily the inception of the Christ figure. I see the origin of Paul’s “Christ Jesus” and the sources for the literary character in Mark as being different questions. Even if there was a real Jesus at some point, Mark knew nothing about him and Mark’s portrait is still completely fictive reconstruction based on OT sources and Josephus. I think Mark might have Euhemerized a real person. That’s what mean about Robin Hood. Even if there was some historical character who inspired the legend, the Errol Flynn character is still fiction.
I have a different view of what could constitute a “minimal Jesus” in that I think it could be more analogous to Robin Hood
Raphael Lataster identifies three positions held by scholars, being: historicity; agnosticism; and mythicism.
Do you take issue with agnosticism? The flaws in the work of Casey and Ehrman justify a de-facto position of agnosticism.
Agnosticism would be a fair characterization of my own position. When I say “I am not a mythicist.” I mean that I am not persuaded that no historical personage is possible and am especially not that the particular Doherty/Carrier celestial Jesus model MUST be true. A lot of things carrier says I think are true – that the Gospels re not history, that Christianity has mystery-cult trappings, that Chritoans were influenced by the Enochic literature, etc., but I also think all that invention and development is also consistent with attempts to mythologize a historical personage for whom no new Testament author (not even Paul) had any actual biographical knowledge about.
• Dr Sarah has some questions about Lataster’s claims.
Comment by Dr Sarah—25 January 2020—per “Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed review: Intro/Chapter One”. Freethought Blogs. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019.
Pre-Christian Jews believed in a divine and celestial Messiah/Christ.
Pre-Christian Jews believed in a suffering, dying, and rising messiah: Most of the posts listed here contain citations to current or not too distant scholarship.
Some other sources addressing the pre-Christian celestial concept of Messiah:
Thanks, Neil and db, but what I was wondering was whether Lataster gave references for these claims of his in his writing (I should have been more specific). Anyway, I’ll check some of these out when I get the chance.
I reviewed Lataster’s book @ https://vridar.org/tag/lataster-questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus/
In his in depth discussions on specific topics he regularly provides full citations for his claims. (I can even say that he acknowledges me in his book for raising public awareness of many relevant sources in the literature.)
Thanks. What are his citations for the points I queried?
In the introductory list he gives from which you quote he does not give citations for each point. But you will find many of the citations I have used in the posts above also used by Lataster in his ensuing detailed discussion. He does occasionally add additional ones I was unaware of. I would need to go through the book again to single out where he discusses specific points to give details and that really is more time-consuming than I can afford at the moment. (His book lacks an index of bible passages — something I now see is a drawback — but his argument is primarily aimed at the scholarship and its methods.) The book is available no doubt through interlibrary loan if you can’t wait for me to make the time to give more detail from his book. (I do recall being struck at how often citations I have posted here were also used by Lataster.)
BTW, I was able to get a free copy of his book from the publisher when I requested it for review, though I haven’t gotten around the writing the review yet. So, you may want to take that option as well.
‘Thanks, Neil and db, but what I was wondering was whether Lataster gave references for these claims of his in his writing’
And, as you have quite correctly called me out below and pointed out that if this was all I was querying then I could have just e-mailed Lataster… Since db was the one quoting the claim, I also wanted to know whether db could back it up by finding the bits of Lataster’s work in which he references these claims. db has been copy-pasting a heck of a lot of stuff into comments, and it would be good to see if s/he can actually argue some of this stuff her/himself without reference to authority.
(And on a final note this morning; thinking about the comments I’ve been writing, I do feel this is probably getting a bit too heated, so I’m going to take an ‘aaaaand… breathe’ moment, go off to work, and I look forward to picking up a civil discussion of the points whenever suits both of us. Stay well.)
I have pointed out to db before that I really appreciate citations that are directly relevant and are known to be directly relevant to posts based on his/her reading of the originals being cited, not making assumptions based on titles or abstracts alone. Nor am I interested in holding anyone to account for what they say when my real interest is in learning about the topic in question. If someone says something I disagree with I might ask them if they can support it and if I’m not satisfied I move on. I have no interest in “targeting” anyone to make them admit defeat if they cannot win.
There are faults in Lataster’s book, it is not perfect, and there are faults in Carrier’s book some of which I have addressed here in depth. I think we can find faults in most books of some kind, but what is important is to understand the fundamental argument being made and whether it holds up. Lataster certainly does a decent job of demonstrating that biblical scholarship in relation to historical Jesus studies is in a very large measure a nonsense pursuit whose methods would be laughed out of an undergraduate’s course in a genuine historical discipline. Compare what serious historians have had to say about biblical studies about Jesus and they say the same. Even professors and other academics of some reputation in other fields can look and engage at enough of a level to know how fallacious their methods are.
I do not mean that they are fools. But with respect to those who do publish about the historical Jesus they are very largely blind to their groundless assumptions and have a very poor or even no understanding of the most fundamental basics about how historians actually approach data and sources and determine “historical facts”. They live in a bubble with their own rules that are circular — and some of them have the honesty and insight to acknowledge their methods are circular — but they admit they don’t know what else to do!
(I know, some will say they do not live in a bubble because they have conferences with other historians sometimes. But try to dig a little deeper into such claims and one sees they really are in a bubble when it comes to the fundamentals.)
db has been copy-pasting a heck of a lot of stuff into comments
• Neil can certainly empathize with with that 🙂
I have to say I have not been entirely comfortable with your pasting of snippets from conversations in another blog here. I am only getting a part of the picture and certainly not the full context that allows for my own independent assessment of where each person quoted is coming from. I have felt there was a danger of being drawn into a conversation with the risk of me having the wrong end of the stick. I have tended to avoid such snippets in the past, leaving them there for anyone interested to follow up at the original site if they wish. I had decided way back not to get involved on Dr Sarah’s discussion at her blog for several reasons and regret having taken the bait this time. If Dr Sarah is going to write a review of Lataster’s arguments (was there some mention of that?) then I’d rather wait for that to come out and then decide if I wish to respond to that — but not to be part of a tangled discussion to which I have not been involved from the start, the context of which escapes me.
I am only getting a part of the picture and certainly not the full context . . . of a tangled discussion to which I have not been involved from the start, the context of which escapes me.
• Yes, it is problematic.
However it would be much less problematic if you and Tim O’Neill had a series of debates on the “Question of the Historicity of Jesus”: non-Christian sources; Paul; gMark; Canon and hypothetical sources; Criteria, methodology and faith; Jewish Counterculture & Second Temple Judaism(s); etc..
Then all my future conversations would likely be in the context of such a debate. It would be a great resource.
Perhaps the only way to make it happen is to shame Tim O’Neill for not even considering a debate. #timdebateneil
db: ‘However it would be much less problematic if you and Tim O’Neill had a series of debates on the “Question of the Historicity of Jesus”… Perhaps the only way to make it happen is to shame Tim O’Neill for not even considering a debate.’
OK, enough. Firstly, I don’t know whether you meant that last comment as some sort of joke and it fell flat, but the idea of shaming someone for choosing not to enter into (highly time-consuming and probably futile) debates smacks so much of Creationism tactics that I think that, if you meant that as a joke, it was a poor-taste one.
Secondly, I agree with Neil on this point. Regardless of who debates whom or who you want to see debate whom, your level of copying comments (sometimes bowdlerised) from one blog to another is really a bit much. I’m fine with you asking other people what they think of such-and-such a point I’ve made, or doing the same with me regarding other people’s comments, but the extent to which you take it feels as though you’re just trying to stir stuff. Whether or not that actually is your intent I don’t know, but it’s having that effect, as the comment thread further down bears witness. Cut it out. If you really want to know what one of us thinks of a particular point, have the grace to keep it focused and in context, and stop with the bombardment. And, heck, try asking your own questions more of the time, if that’s what you want!
if you meant that as a joke, it was a poor-taste one.
Yes it is a joke (per Cersei Lannister of GoT). Those familiar with O’Neill’s commentary about debating on this topic, know that O’Neill is without shame, e.g. in hurling insults, and making scurrilous remarks towards a potential debate opponent (especially so in regards to Neil), whenever the issue of a possible debate is raised.
choosing not to enter into (highly time-consuming and probably futile) debates
Sure, those are valid reasons for declining a debate after due consideration, but is no excuse for not even considering the possibility of debate and for debasing proposed debate opponents, e.g. Neil, YouTuber “Godless Engineer”.
I have to add to my last comment the point that the field of history and classics is not pristine pure either. But at least certain methodical difficulties are more often acknowledged and debated when they arise and are not flatly denied or ignored as they too often are in studies of the historical Jesus.
the field of history and classics is not pristine pure either
But they do not suffer:
• that some scholars within the guild may be contractually obliged to publicly reject certain theories.
• a guild whose consensus derives only from a shared object of study and competence in a few requisite languages.
• from a journal article about Apollonius of Tyana, that begins by arguing for the historicity of supernatural events before defending the veracity of the miracles ascribed to him.
Anti-mythicist R. Joseph Hoffmann disputed that James was the biological brother of Jesus: Hoffmann: James was NOT the biological brother of Jesus
All scholars who have questioned the authenticity of Galatians — generally those who see our canonical form of the letter as a response to Marcionism. The evidence in support of the James the brother of the Lord passage being an interpolation is set out by anti-mythicist Howell Smith: https://vridar.org/2011/05/26/james-brother-of-the-lord-another-case-for-interpolation/
There has been little genuine historical analysis of the Galatians 1:19 passage. Naive readings have trumped a moment’s reflection: Thinking through the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19
Who are the ‘significant number of mainstream scholars’ who believe that the Jamesian passage [of Josephus] is inauthentic?
See also the following scholars and those who they cite:
• “Talk:Josephus”. RationalWiki.
Is this some quest for an argument from authority by head-count? If one looks at the history of scholarship relating to Josephus over the past few generations one sees shifts coinciding with major social developments re attitudes towards Jews and challenges to European led critical scholarship from the conservative dominated United States. How many scholars even can claim to have an independently researched opinion on the point in question anyway. It’s like most historians saying, Yes, Jesus existed, just the way most medical doctors or most teachers would say the same thing: it’s “common knowledge”, “public knowledge” — not some personally researched viewpoint into the arguments for and against. And of course there is pressure from the field of biblical studies to maintain the conventional wisdom, and certain non-scholar outsiders seem to think one is unjustifiably arrogant to question such a conventional wisdom and think for oneself and ask questions and not be satisfied with answers tinged with ad hominem and defensiveness and a good measure of fallacy to boot.
I’m not interested in what “most mythicists” argue, either, by the way. This smacks of a good dose of James McGrath and Tim O’Neill, I think — both of whom attempt to cover the flaws in their arguments with overpowering misrepresentation and personal attack.
Is this some quest for an argument from authority by head-count?
Yes, It appears so. Dr Sarah raised the questions—now copied here—after I presented Lataster’s claims in response to the following comment by Dr Sarah:
• Comment by Dr Sarah—17 January 2020—per “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One”. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019. [NOW WITH MY ANNOTATIONS]
NB: Dr Sarah also holds a particular viewpoint on Paul’s “membership” with the original Christian sect.
Dr Sarah’s argument from that snippet looks to me to be nothing but appeals to [Tim O’Neill’s?] ignorance via rhetorical question. You are fueling a fallacious approach to the question by responding to it as you do.
‘Dr Sarah’s argument from that snippet looks to me to be nothing but appeals to [Tim O’Neill’s?] ignorance via rhetorical question.’
Don’t suppose you could clarify what the heck this means here?
It means you have presented a false dilemma, each option of which makes assumption about Paul, second temple Judaism, and what we know of early Christianity that are not borne out by the actual data. What was so radically different about earliest Christianity? Earliest Christianity was long considered a Jewish sect. The dilemma presented appears to be derived from a common misconception about the nature of Second Temple Judaism and the varieties of ideas it contained about the messiah and “son of God”.
In what ways were Paul’s ideas so “very new and different”? Have you read Novenson’s Christ Among the Messiahs or other works that study Paul in the context of second temple Judaism? There are several studies identifying how well Paul’s ideas fit in with both Jewish and Grec-Roman philosophical thought of the day. You are presenting a dilemma that arises from common misconceptions about Second Temple Judaism and by retrojecting later Christian literature back into an earlier period.
‘It means you have presented a false dilemma’
If it’s any help, I do recognise that those weren’t the only two options. I was replying to a comment from R.G. Price in which he theorised that the new beliefs of Christianity arose within a ‘highly Jewish’ sect, so that was the theory I contrasted with the theory that they arose with Paul. They could of course also have plausibly arisen within any group of Hellenised Jews prior to Paul, although I think it’s more likely that they arose with Paul.
‘What was so radically different about earliest Christianity?’
Depends what belief about earliest Christianity is being discussed. The belief I was responding to in that comment was R.G.’s claim that Christianity started with a group who reached the conclusion that a) the world was hopelessly corrupt and the Messiah could only be a heavenly being who would bring about a heavenly Messianic age, b) the Messiah was a sin sacrifice, and c) this sin sacrifice took place not via usual methods of blood-letting but via crucifixion. (At least, I hope that’s a correct summary of R. G.’s beliefs about earliest Christianity. The first one certainly is – I’m taking it from the introduction of his book – and the second and third I’m trying to deduce by what he’s said so far in a debate in comments that we’re currently part way through. This seemed at this point to be his belief and that’s what I was responding to, but it’s possible he might clarify his claims in a way that makes that inaccurate.)
Anyway, I would describe all three of these beliefs as radically different from Jewish beliefs. For that reason, I don’t believe they were present in earliest Christianity, because it makes more sense to theorise that they developed along the way; hence I questioned R.G.’s theory as to how Christianity arose, as it does seem to require that those beliefs were present from the start. I expect to hear back from him fairly shortly on that point, but we’re still mid-discussion, so I can’t clarify his beliefs further right now.
‘In what ways were Paul’s ideas so “very new and different”?’
Paul believed a) that the Messiah was a necessary sacrifice for the erasure of all sins, b) that this uber-sacrifice took place through crucifixion rather than through standard methods of sacrifice, and c) that the Jewish law enslaved us, that trying to find salvation through keeping to it was a hopeless endeavour, and that it should be thrown over. Those beliefs (whether Paul or previous church members were the originator) differ radically from anything that I know of in traditional Judaism.
‘Have you read Novenson’s Christ Among the Messiahs or other works that study Paul in the context of second temple Judaism?’
I’ve only read Hyam Maccoby’s works on the subject, and it’s from there that I get a lot of my information. I did skim through your review of Novenson’s book, and found nothing in there to indicate that the beliefs of Paul that I’ve listed above were normal or acceptable beliefs within Judaism at that point, but obviously you might know of parts that didn’t make it into your review that would address this.
‘There are several studies identifying how well Paul’s ideas fit in with both Jewish and Grec-Roman philosophical thought of the day.’
With that, I agree. Paul’s ideas (and, by extension, the beliefs of Christianity) make perfect sense if you consider them as a fusion of Jewish thought with Greek philosophy and tradition, taking some elements from each. They don’t make sense if you try considering them as something that an exclusively Jewish society would come up with; they’re radical changes that almost certainly were the product of significant Hellenistic as well as Jewish influence. So it doesn’t make sense to consider these beliefs as products of a very Jewish society, which was the claim Price made to which I was responding; they make a lot more sense as products of more Hellenised Judaism.
I’ve replied to this comment below
As I said on your blog, there was far less difference between what was “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” than I think you imagine.
Why do I think that Jesus worship was “very Jewish” in origin?
Firstly, because of the role of the Jewish scriptures in all of Christian literature.
Secondly because of the fairly well defined conflict between Paul and the other apostles, e.g. James, John and Peter.
Thirdly the role of the coming end of the world and final judgement in Jewish thought prior to Paul.
This split was very much described along Jewish/Gentile lines, with Paul saying that those prior apostles took a more Jewish view of Jesus while he took a broader view. James and the others wanted Jesus worshipers to obey Jewish law. Paul did not view that as necessary. Paul describes himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, implying that the other prior apostles were ministering to Jews.
I think this all started off with an apocalyptic cult that worshiped a heavenly Joshua, in very much the same vein as we see the worship of Enoch and Melchizedek in Qumranic literature and literature from the Nag Hammadi library. We also know that there were in fact first century cults that believed that Joshua was a messiah who was going to return at the “End of the Age” to bring about the new millennium.
So I think this is the origin of the Jesus/Joshua cult. These types of Jewish worship developed out of mystic readings of the Jewish scriptures. We know that the book of Isiah and the Psalms were particularly important texts that were interpreted mystically, as containing divine hidden prophecies in them, by several Jewish groups. We know that these texts are also central to the conception of Jesus.
So we start with this heavenly Joshua messiah, a messiah for Jews per James, John and Peter, and then Paul comes along and expands this concept and develops his theology about how this is a messiah for all people. He’s not going to bring about a new Golden Age for Jews, he’s going to bring about a new Golden Age for all people. That’s Paul’s contribution.
These things that you’re saying “don’t sound Jewish” to you, however, certainly are not concepts that were foreign to Jews at this time. Indeed what we see when we actually look at Judaism from the 3rd century BCE through to the first century CE is that it was very diverse. There was a wide spectrum of Jewish thought. Jews had begun incorporating Greek concepts in the 3rd century BCE. Many Jewish/Greek crossover works had been produced by the time the Jesus cult came on the scene. Jews had produced pseudo-Orphic works and Jewish versions of the Sibylline Oracles. Dozens of works are preserved that blend Jewish and Greek mythology and philosophy from the decades leading up to Christianity.
The distinction between “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” thought was far more blurred that many today imagine. And there was no single monolithic Jewish culture. The Jews at Qumran were railing against other Jews that they were in total ideological conflict with. The Jewish scripture are full of ideological conflict between groups of Jews that held diametrically opposed beliefs. So the idea that there was one mode of Jewish through it just not the case. Jews worshiped one God, Yahweh and held the scriptures sacred, but had all kinds of other variations on top of this, just as Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. do today.
Just as today you can find all kinds of different splinter groups of Christians and Christian derivatives, the same was true of Jews in the first century.
But again, my book doesn’t really deal with this issue. My book is about analyzing the Gospels and using that analysis to determine how the Gospels were written and whether or not they are based on the life of a real person. That’s really all the book is about. Are the Gospels based on the life of a real person or not, and if not, then why and how were they written.
The book doesn’t get into how the Jesus cult ultimately originated. I’m addressing that in my next book. The conclusion of the book is that the Gospels are not based on the life of a real person in any way shape or form. Christianity is based on the worship of a person described in the Gospels. That person never existed.
‘Is this some quest for an argument from authority by head-count?’
No, it’s a response to arguments that db was directly quoting on my blog. db quoted a claim from Lataster that a list of beliefs he gave were each supported by ‘a significant number of mainstream scholars’, and this list included the claim that all references to Jesus’s historicity were inauthentic. I was dubious about that claim, so I asked db for references.
I agree that there are potential valid reasons why a lack of scholars disagreeing with the consensus doesn’t necessarily mean the consensus is wrong, but… db quoted the claim, so I wanted to see whether db could back it up. If it turns out the answer is ‘No, actually it turns out that this is incorrect and we do not have a significant number of mainstream scholars disagreeing with the consensus on the James passage’ then that doesn’t mean that we should disregard any good arguments against the James passage that someone comes up with, but it does mean that Lataster shouldn’t be making that claim and that db shouldn’t be quoting it.
Woah here. Have you checked with Lataster himself? A significant number of mainstream scholars in OT studies challenging the mainstream was four: Thompson, Lemche, Davies, Whitelam. They have come under the same sorts of attacks as mythicists in NT studies yet have gradually acquired many more aligning themselves to varying degrees with them. (Easier to let go of Abraham, Moses and even the biblical David than it is of Jesus.) If you don’t think four is a significant number then say so.
But if you are talking about the James passage in Josephus then we have MacDonald and Hoffmann on top of the ones db listed, and we also have Bilde and Hadas-Lebel and Meier and Huntsman and going back to Eisler and Zeitlin — all who acknowledge the plausibility of something tainted about the James passage in their respective arguments. Some are arguing at great length for genuineness but they acknowledge in their articles that others of their peers may not agree with them. That indicates that among the biblical scholars there is a doubt to at least a significant extent. And I have not even gone back to check the online scholarly forums over the past ten or so years to see what debates and discussions were arising there about the passage.
Reading the literature that addresses Josephus’s James passage in depth one soon enough begins to realize that one would not be out of place in a conference or scholarly online forum suggesting that there are serious problems with it as a reference to a supposedly previously mentioned “Christ”.
#1) Part of the problem in this field, i.e. “NT studies” (Note that Josephus isn’t a part of the Bible) is that there is no real field of “NT studies”. What we have are the fields of theology and divinity. Who are “NT scholars”? Generally, people with degrees in theology or divinity who have spent a lot of time studying and publishing papers on the New Testament. Who are these people. 95% of these people (yes I just pull that stat from the air, but I’ll wager its quite close) are believing Christians.
The reality is that when you look at the history of Christian scholarship from day one, starting in the 2nd century on down to today its a laughable comedy of errors. But if we want to talk about “consensus” in the field of NT studies, then we are talking about a field in which basically we have several thousand faith driven believing Christian scholars, along with a handful of objective scholars.
This is a big part of the problem. “Consensus” in this field is essentially worthless to begin with.
Yes, you can have 4 out of 1,000 “NT scholars” and still consider those 4 views meaningful if those 4 are evaluated as objective as opposed to faith driven.
#2 ) I don’t really want to get into this here, but it goes to how you’re handling the whole review of DtG. This issue about the James passage in Josephus is dealt with in the book in chapter 10, and its not relevant to chapter 1, etc. I intentionally tried to break the case out bit by bit and tackle it in a systematic way specifically to avoid this type of issue. Evaluate the material in context.
What you keep doing is stuff like saying, (example, not real quote from Dr Sarah) “Well, you claim that there are no witnesses to Crucifixion scene because the scene is constructed from literary references, but this can’t be true because Josephus wrote that Jesus was crucified and rose from the grave.”
That’s a whole separate issue that doesn’t pertain to the evidence at hand. Instead of addressing the evidence at hand, regarding the literary development of crucifixion scene, you jump away from that and start trying to pull in other arguments. (Again, this is an example)
I think there are definitely plenty of legitimate criticisms of Deciphering the Gospels, so there’s plenty of valid material to address.
‘I intentionally tried to break the case out bit by bit and tackle it in a systematic way specifically to avoid this type of issue… you jump away from that and start trying to pull in other arguments.’
Excuse me, but I would like to point out here that going through your book systematically and bit-by-bit is precisely what I’ve been doing in my posts. The problem is that other people – very largely db – have been going off on peripheral tangents in the comment section, and thus we end up having All The Jesus Mythicist Arguments Ever in one lump. (To be fair, I probably should be a lot better at avoiding getting drawn in, but the alternative is to see people posting highly fallacious or poorly-argued stuff and not arguing it, which is frustrating.)
Anyway, I think I have now finally caught up on the various debates that were going on in the comment section, and I will try and keep further comment threads more to the point, although whether I’ll succeed is of course another matter.
If this is about something in Lataster’s book then why not ask Lataster himself to justify his claim and see what he has to say? He’s not hiding in a secret cave somewhere. (I once was informed that Maurice Casey was preparing to write stuff about me and I kept waiting for him to contact me to check details and he knew exactly where to find me, but no, he didn’t. I took that as somewhat less than professional.)
‘If this is about something in Lataster’s book then why not ask Lataster himself to justify his claim and see what he has to say?’
Perfectly good point, but the thing is, Lataster wasn’t the one posting that claim on my blog; db was. I wanted to see whether db can justify the claims s/he (sorry, I don’t know db’s preferred pronouns) was quoting. It’s likely that Lataster’s answer is in the book, which I don’t have but which, from the quote, I was assuming db did, so db was the obvious one to ask at that point.
db may have got the quote from my post at https://vridar.org/2019/10/27/review-part-10-questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus-lataster-conclusion/
It’s a ridiculously expensive book meant for academic libraries and not the general public.
I suspect that Lataster is wanting it that way.He is addressing scholars with this publication.
I have edited my previous comment to strike out a sentence. I did not want to mean that Lataster wanted the book to be “ridiculously expensive” but that he wanted to focus on addressing a scholarly audience and Brill publishing, with its high standing in the academic field, has served his purpose. Lataster has written in other media and quite different types of works for more general audiences.
Raphael Lataster does not gain the profits from the high price of the book.
I don’t know db’s preferred pronouns
Such lists will never satisfy the hungry lions. Lataster adds R. J. Hoffmann and Dennis MacDonald to the list (the former disputing the authenticity of the passage and the latter acknowledging the plausibility it is interpolated.)
But anyone seriously interested in the question itself only needs do a keyword search on Jstor to find that the scholarly field has always had those questioning the Josephan authorship of that passage. Those who argue for it do so in ways that clearly acknowledge that they have their work cut out for them to convince their more sceptical colleagues. The doubts have always been there — going back to Eisler and Zeitlin and Kampeier (also Bilde and Hadas-Lebel), through to Meier and Huntsman who either question the passage or evidently acknowledge that there is no unanimity among scholars on the point.
How we must long for the day when American conservative religious influence will no longer hold such a heavy dominance in the field.
Such lists will never satisfy the hungry lions.
• Yes, this does appear to be the case, given Dr Sarah’s reliance on Tim O’Neill.
Comment by Dr Sarah—16 January 2020—per “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, part 2”. Geeky Humanist. 4 January 2020.
Tim O’Neill has backed out of engaging with me in any serious debate now. His excuse is that I am too picky and not worth his time. But he will take time to launch a few insults when he can. Meanwhile, he happily ignores the fundamental flaws in his arguments, — ignoring them and lobbing the occasional insult at the one who has exposed them is his best tactic for maintaining his integrity, it seems. If Dr Sarah is relying on Tim O’Neill and can’t see through his fallacies and blinkered and ad hominem approach then you are wasting your time bothering with her. The Tim O’Neill connection explains the quest to find out “how many and who” among the biblical guild are cited. That’s a gotcha game and doing something other than grappling seriously with the core arguments. I get the impression Dr Sarah knew little about the topic and has followed Tim O’Neill’s lead to bring her up to speed. That’s lazy and hardly a serious effort at independent engagement with the question.
Comment by neilgodfrey—5 September 2018—per Myers, PZ (5 September 2018). “The ontology of historical figures”. Pharyngula.
• PZ and Dr Sarah would be excellent choices for mediators of such a debate.
‘I get the impression Dr Sarah knew little about the topic and has followed Tim O’Neill’s lead to bring her up to speed. That’s lazy and hardly a serious effort at independent engagement with the question.’
(arches eyebrow) Well, Neil, making insulting assumptions about someone just because you saw her cite two links isn’t really the epitome of mental energy expended. Would you have thought it better if I’d continued to go solely on what Carrier wrote on the issue, without reading any counter-arguments?
As for the posts by O’Neill that I linked to, I did so because I found those posts did a very good and detailed (if rather scathing) job of going through Carrier’s arguments on those subjects and pointing out flaws in them, including making me aware of useful information that I’m just not widely read enough in historical works to know. (For example, the point that – in contradiction to Carrier’s claim that Josephus would never have written ‘called Christ’ without explaining what this meant – there are indeed places in Josephus’s work where he uses the term ‘called ___’ without explaining the backstory, for which O’Neill offered examples; thus, the argument that Josephus would never do such a thing does not seem to hold up.) If you know of specific arguments against O’Neill’s arguments in those posts, by all means let me know; I’m always interested to read the various points and counterpoints in these discussions.
My response to this comment is below.
For example, the point that – in contradiction to Carrier’s claim that Josephus would never have written ‘called Christ’ without explaining what this meant – there are indeed places in Josephus’s work where he uses the term ‘called ___’ without explaining the backstory
So to be clear:
• Carrier claims that Josephus would never (as opposed to “not typically”) have written ‘called Christ’ without explaining what this meant.
• Carrier asserts that Josephus would always (as opposed to “typically”) have written an explanation of the backstory.
Per Carrier (11 April 2016). “On the Gullibility of Bart Ehrman & the Asscrankery of Tim O’Neill”. Richard Carrier Blogs. [NOW BOLDED]
‘So to be clear:
• Carrier claims that Josephus would never (as opposed to “not typically”) have written ‘called Christ’ without explaining what this meant.’
Yup. See https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15203: ‘Josephus never elsewhere does this. Nor would he. It’s inexplicable. This is not answered by saying “Josephus just needed to distinguish the two Jesuses.” The problem is that this isn’t how Josephus would do that—because it’s unprecedented in Josephus (at least to do it in this particular way) and makes the text even more inexplicable and confusing.’
‘• Carrier asserts that Josephus would always (as opposed to “typically”) have written an explanation of the backstory.’
To be precise, the word he uses was ‘certainly’, not ‘always’. From his original article ‘Origen, Eusebius and the Accidental Interpolation’ (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 2012; 20.4: 489 – 514), as reproduced in HHBC:
‘Even if there was no TF, we would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ,” what that word meant (at the very least explaining its connection to “Christians” and James’s being one, if that is even what is meant—since James is not said to be a Christian here, or in the TF, the text requires an assumption that only a Christian would make, further suggesting that this is not from Josephus’s hand), and why Josephus thought it important to mention either, since the passage as written leaves no stated reason why either Jesus or his moniker Christ is mentioned at all.’
Carrier, Richard. Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013 (p. 346). Philosophy Press. Kindle Edition.
• O’Neill, Tim (6 July 2016). “Richard Carrier is Displeased”. History for Atheists.
• Carrier (11 July 2018). “More Asscrankery from Tim O’Neill”. Richard Carrier Blogs. [NOW BOLDED and FORMATTED]
• Carrier (29 March 2019). “Sports Writer Writes Weird Word-Wall about Peer Reviewed Journal Article He Doesn’t Like”. Richard Carrier Blogs. [NOW BOLDED and FORMATTED]
So to be clear:
• Carrier claims that the Josephus passage in question (“so-called Christ”) is a later accidental interpolation. Because in part, Josephus never elsewhere gives a “weird ambiguous designator, a word that isn’t even being explained, nor why it matters.”
• O’Neill presents the following passages as a refutation of Carrier’s claim:
‣ “a place called ‘Union’…” (Life 54)
‣ “a place called ‘the Eminence’…” (Antiquities IX.11)
‣ “men, who were called ‘the Freemen’…” (Antiquities XIV.342)
‣ “he gave the high priesthood to Joseph, who was called Cabi, son of Simon, formerly high priest.” (Antiquities , XX.196)
(db) ‘…given Dr Sarah’s reliance on Tim O’Neill.’
Er… irony much? Out of curiosity, I’ve just been back through your comments on my blog to do a rough totting-up of how often you reference/link to/quote different people; at an approximate estimate, you’ve so far referenced Neil Godfrey 17 times, Lataster 11, and Carrier 22. What, exactly, is it about the provision of two links to the same person’s writing that you see as a ‘reliance’?
I unabashedly do rely on Godfrey, Lataster, and Carrier in support of my arguments and I do often present their viewpoints and opinions when they are germane and relevant to the topic at hand. I also make presentations of these scholar’s writings that provide information that I deem to be important to the overall discussion of the “Historicity of Jesus” but perhaps not necessarily directly on the topic at hand. Godfrey, Lataster, and Carrier may have varying credentials, but they are all committed to valid historical methodology.
I have also presented (elsewhere) Tim O’Neill’s viewpoint:
However IMO, Tim O’Neill is not committed to valid historical methodology, and I do not rely on him.
Dr Sarah, you do not cite Tim O’Neill’s work or present his viewpoint on Tacitus and Josephus providing attestation for the historicity of Jesus, as part of the arguments made in your blog articles. I retract my use of the term “reliance” in connection to Tim O’Neill and your articles, and apologize for this mischaracterization.
@db: Apology accepted.
However, in the interests of full disclosure I should point out that if your main issue is whether I’ve cited those links in a comment or a blog post then you might ultimately feel your apology to have been premature; I will eventually (at this rate, many years hence…) get to the point of addressing arguments about the Jamesian passage in a blog post, and at that point I will refer to O’Neill’s articles among others, as I found him to have made some invaluable points in that particular debate. So, if you disagree with his arguments, you are welcome to explain the reasons why at the time.
IMO, the term “Jamesian passage” by itself is not clear and requires a Pauline or Josephian identifier for clarity.
@Neil: Since this is swinging further from the original topic, just wanted to check with you; are you OK for db and myself to continue the discussion about Carrier on the James passage in Josephus on this subthread?
You can always jump ahead and review chapter 10 of my book if this is a topic you take particular interest in. I address Josephus extensively there.
In addition I think the following from Carrier’s blog address the subject pretty well: https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12071
Dr Sarah, skipping ahead and reviewing chapter 10 of DtG on your blog as r.g.price suggests would “kill two birds with one stone”.
Only now (Sunday, 9th Feb) am I catching up with comments. After I have completed my catch-up work (on all posts since 2nd Feb) I will respond.
Discuss away if you think it is relevant to anything significant.
For anyone who’s interested in this subthread, my reply is further down this page at https://vridar.org/2019/10/27/review-part-10-questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus-lataster-conclusion/#comment-99670.
Dr Sarah wrote:
I don’t recall the details of R.G. Price’s argument but was not Paul Jewish? Does anyone deny Christianity began as a Jewish sect? As for being “highly” Jewish, I am not sure that that is a valid depiction of any Jewish sect. This is especially so the more we are learning about the possible Hellenistic background to the Hebrew Bible.
What is non-Jewish about those beliefs? The idea of a corrupt world and a heavenly messiah is Second Temple Jewish enough; so is the idea of a dying and rising messiah, and Jewish scholars themselves have acknowledged that Second Temple Jews more than likely interpreted the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah messianically. (I am not saying they were mainstream Jewish beliefs but they were part of the broad constellation of the variety of Judaisms of the Second Temple era.) I’m not sure I fully agree that Paul’s view of the messiah as a sin sacrifice stood in opposition of any kind to “blood letting” because Paul refers frequently to the atoning power of the messiah’s blood. And atoning power of a matyr’s sacrifice was well established; we know that some Second Temple Jews believed even Isaac’s blood had been shed by Abraham and that his blood atoned for all the future sins of the Jewish people.
What most people think of as “traditional Judaism” is actually rabbinical Judaism that had its origins from principally from the third century and arguably in some ways as a reaction to Christianity. The Second Temple era appears to have been another scene in many respects.
I’d recommend reading more mainstream works and other scholarly works engaging with Maccoby to get some perspective on his arguments. Novenson’s core thesis (as represented in the title of his book and in the first two posts that I wrote) is that Paul’s notion of the messiah was part and parcel of Jewish thought about the messiah in the Second Temple era. Novenson is one scholar who attempts to disabuse readers of the mistaken notion that “traditional Judaism” that we know of today — with specific reference to “the messiah” — was the Judaism of that era. Suffering and dying messiahs were indeed “typically Jewish beliefs“. I’ve posted a list of other scholars who make the same sort of point: Modern Scholars on Pre-Christian Jewish Beliefs in Suffering Messiahs and Atoning Deaths. No doubt there are many because my list is only derived from my limited reading of a few books by scholars who specialize in that subject. (I am surprised that more New Testament scholars are not as familiar the work of their colleagues in this area. Even Novenson, as you have seen, has to try to educate his NT focused peers.)
The idea of a messiah is itself Jewish, not Hellenistic. I was thinking of the rationale of Paul’s idea of “Christ in you” and how that notion brings about a “new man” — an adaptation of Stoic philosophy, it appears. Certain Jewish ideas about the law appear to be influenced by Hellenistic philosophy, too — but that doesn’t make them any less “Jewish”. Think Philo, for example. The idea of the Suffering Servant and “dying messiahs” and “atoning blood” and a heavenly messiah — these are all derived directly from the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple reflections on those texts.
we know that some Second Temple Jews believed even Isaac’s blood had been shed by Abraham and that his blood atoned for all the future sins of the Jewish people.
@Dr Sarah, per “The Shed Blood of Isaac” see further: “The Offering of Isaac . . . . 4: death and resurrection” per the series “Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son (Levenson)”.
NB: “Tag Archives: Binding of Isaac”. Vridar.
I don’t consider adding these links to be helpful. If someone wants to know more about a point I raise then I would rather allow them the room to ask or follow up for themselves. I don’t like coming across as trying to push a certain view onto anyone.
Let me add that what disturbs me in some of these discussions is the apparent dogmatism expressed — unfortunately it too often is found on both sides. As Thompson says in the interview with him that I posted recently, mythicists are sometimes way too keen to conclude that their arguments “prove” there was “no Jesus”. Most of the major mythicist studies by serious scholars, whether amateur or professional, are expressed with some humility. Of course we know too well that certain opponents are quick to react with insults and dogmatic dismissals and silly comparisons with “creationists” etc, but that only makes it more necessary that anyone arguing the mythicist case be extra careful to avoid dogmatism.
I think some of the dogmatism from the mythicist side derives from excitement in the idea, while dogmatism from the opponents of mythicism comes from either religious belief (or professional status after committing to a lifetime of study of the HJ) or a wish to cut down anyone who appears to be getting above themselves by questioning the establishment status quo.
If you read Carrier’s argument on the “called Christ” business in HHBC — and read it in full, including his footnotes etc — you will find more caution, qualification and humility in the manner of presentation than I have seen an any of the online so-called rebuttals. Of course Carrier does not help if he responds with an equally “scathing” manner.
I was responding to nothing more than the words as presented to me and made it clear it was my impression on that basis. I was not engaging you personally.
I am surprised that anyone would make a public commitment to a point of view or one set of arguments “because they are very good and detailed . . . and making one aware of useful information that one is not widely read enough in historical works to know.” I often see arguments that look very sound, good, detailed, logical, fact-based, well-researched, but if I am “not widely read enough in the field to otherwise know” I would be naive to publicly advance those arguments. One always needs to read widely, views pro and con, to be able to evaluate any argument, no matter how secure it looks on its own.
I am also a bit surprised that you would see no warning bells with what you acknowledge to be “scathing” words. (It seems you are quick to call people here “insulting” but refer to Tim as “scathing”.) We have all made mistakes and gaffes and spoken inappropriately at times, but when someone regularly, as a modus operandi, uses “scathing” words to belittle persons behind arguments he disagrees with then I do begin to wonder why. It is surely a sign that one has more than an intellectual investment in the debate. There is something distinctly unpleasantly personal about it.
We have seen the same among biblical scholars (and sometimes other scholarly fields, too, at different times) in responses to the “minimalist” debates. It’s a sign that there is something deeper than intellectual curiosity at stake.
It works in reverse, too, of course. When I see a scholar regularly referring to the “piety” or “good Christian character” of an author one finds expressing favourable views, I am just as wary for the same reasons.
If you are meaning to imply that I am a Carrier follower or fan of some sort you are quite mistaken. You will find on this blog many posts critical of Carrier and his arguments as well as his tone at times.
You raise as an example a dispute between Carrier and O’Neill over the term translated “called Christ”. I have no interest in that question. I don’t see its relevance to any particular question in which I am interested. I would have to go back and read Carrier’s work/s in some detail and then Tim’s posts and — sorry, I have more (for me) interesting things to do. If it’s supposed to be of relevance to the question of the historicity of Jesus (a question that I find of very little personal interest) then I fail to see how it can make any difference. If it’s about nitpicking on a side point I am even less interested.
Sometimes it can be interesting to read points and counterpoints in a discussion but one usually learns more about the personal tones of the participants. To learn about a question itself and where it fits in the grand scheme of things and for some idea how to assess the different points/counterpoints one usually needs to bring a lot more knowledge to bear than is found in the immediate exchange.
Dr Sarah wrote:
I missed this little detail earlier. Do you think you might have lost sight of Carrier’s original argument here? I say this because Tim O’Neill’s “scathing” rhetoric does indeed lose sight of the original argument. Carrier does not say that Josephus always gives the backstory — on the contrary. Read the original argument that O’Neill was supposedly addressing again.
What Carrier argues is that it is the term “Christ” that clearly calls for a necessary explanation. This point is lost by O’Neill’s references to irrelevant citations about Josephus’s use of “called” per se. Of course some backstory for a term that meant nothing otherwise to Roman readers — especially since most scholars are certain that Josephus was going all out to avoid any mention of messianism.
Follow the citations through and you will find other names who have expressed doubts about the authenticity of the James brother of Jesus called Christ passage in addition to those already listed above in this thread:
Tim O’Neill’s “scathing” rhetoric does indeed lose sight of the original argument.
If Tim O’Neill should ever actually make a case against Carrier’s original argument, he might find (or not) support in the following:
Bromiley, Geoffrey William (1974) . Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol 9. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-2322-9.”The term χριστός is rare and never related to persons outside the LXX, the NT, and dependent writings.” −(p. 9:495 [9:493])
Of the two for Josephus via https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/wordfreq?lang=greek&lookup=xristo%2Fs,
one is book 8, section 137: τὸ δὲ ἄλλο μέχρι τῆς στέγης χριστὸν ἦν καὶ καταπεποικιλμένον χρώμασι καὶ βαφαῖς. προσκατεσκεύασε δὲ τούτοις,
and the other is book 18, section 63: … πολλοὺς μὲν Ἰουδαίους, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο: ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν.
Book 18, section 200 doesn’t come up. Though it does have Χριστοῦ – see https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0145%3Abook%3D20%3Asection%3D200
• book 8, section 137:
“Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII”. penelope.uchicago.edu.
I hope I am wrong but it does look as though Sara Parks has come under the influence of James McGrath who we know has not been entirely honest with what he claims to be mythicist arguments. McGrath has also praised Tim O’Neill’s diatribes, equally misleading — and riddled with insults — as they are.
‘What Carrier argues is that it is the term “Christ” that clearly calls for a necessary explanation.’
Ah, this was the point that db raised above; I did see you’d posted back with permission to continue that discussion here (thanks) but by then I’d e-mailed him anyway. Here’s what I wrote:
I spent a bit of time racking my brains to figure out why on earth Carrier thought that other examples of how Josephus uses the verb ‘called’ in this sort of context were ‘completely irrelevant’ to what he would have done with the ‘called Christ’ phrase, and the conclusion I eventually reached is that Carrier means that Josephus’s readers would have found the word ‘Christou’ such a strange word that Josephus would have had to treat it as needing an explanation. (And if that isn’t what Carrier’s trying to say, then I got nothin’; if I’m wrong on this one, he’s going to have to stop and explain better.)
Anyway… if this is what he’s trying to say, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Firstly, ‘Christou’ here is a Greek word in a Greek manuscript; it just means ‘anointed’. Why would Josephus’s readers regard ‘anointed’ as a weird strange word that they needed to have explained to them? Secondly, less than two pages after making this argument Carrier’s arguing that Josephus’s readers would have been utterly bemused by the idea that having a Christian executed would have been a legal problem for Ananus, so… if Carrier believes that Josephus’s readers would understand that ‘Jesus called Christ’ implied a reference to one particular sect, what does he think they’d find so mystifying about the term ‘Christ’? I still don’t see how his argument holds up here.
[end quote from my e-mail]
‘I say this because Tim O’Neill’s “scathing” rhetoric does indeed lose sight of the original argument.’
I don’t think it’s terribly accurate to say that this wasn’t the ‘original argument’. In the original article, Carrier states that ‘we would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ,”’ (Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013), so it doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to me to address the point that Josephus does not, in fact, invariably give explanations of why people are ‘called’ something, or to fail to deduce that Carrier’s actual issue here was (if I’ve now figured it out correctly) that he thought that Josephus wouldn’t expect his audience to understand the word ‘anointed’ in the language in which he was writing everything else.
“Why would Josephus’s readers regard ‘anointed’ as a weird strange word that they needed to have explained to them?”
Well, because the following three issues arise for a neutral but uninformed reader learning about, say, Jesus the Anointed.
Whom was Jesus anointed by?
What were the circumstances of Jesus’s anointment?
What significance did Jesus and his society place upon his being anointed by the anointer in the circumstances where he was anointed?
The issue is not the unusualness of the word, as I see it, but the significance of the word in the context where Josephus allegedly used it.
If Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews wrote the following:
• book 8, section 137: χριστὸν (Christón) —plastered, such as, walls are often plastered with a mixture of sand, water, and hydrated-lime.
• book 20, section 200: Χριστοῦ (Christoú) —Messiah, a traditional title for a Jewish king and/or high-priest.
I am assuming that Josephus’ usage of χριστὸν (Christón), would be understandable to his average reader as relating to plaster and/or whitewash —which is exactly what Josephus intended his readers to understand in the context of AJ book 8, section 137.
• Arguendo, Josephus later uses Χριστοῦ (Christoú) in a totally different context!
I am not skilled in Greek, but if seems unlikely that Josephus would expect his average 93 CE non-Jewish reader to differentiate the correct meaning of Χριστοῦ (Christoú) as not relating to plaster and/or whitewash.
So, what I am asking is… What percentage of non-Jewish readers would correctly understand Χριστοῦ (Christoú) as Josephus (Arguendo) intended it to be understood? Given that Josephus did not write a gloss or give a back reference for the AJ book 20, section 200 reference to “Christ”.
Assuming that a very low rate is the correct answer to this question. Then it is inconceivable that Josephus wrote Χριστοῦ (Christoú).
NB: This is not the same argument that Carrier makes. See: his summary per Chapter 8 of On the Historicity of Jesus. And an update per “Josephus on Jesus? Why You Can’t Cite Opinions Before 2014”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 16 February 2017.
Dr Sarah wrote, “it doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to me to address the point that Josephus does not, in fact, invariably give explanations of why people are ‘called’ something”.
That’s beside the point. The point is why Josephus would give a Jew the cognomen, Χριστοῦ / ‘Christ’.
Dr Sarah asks, “Why would Josephus’s readers regard ‘anointed’ [Χριστοῦ] as a weird strange word that they needed to have explained to them?”
That question would not just apply to readers of Josephus’s ‘Antiquities’ after it was published (sometime after 85 CE, I believe): it would also apply to Jews when the term Χριστοῦ is thought to have been applied in the Second Temple period, namely, (i) in the time Ant. 20.200 is set (~early 60s CE); and (ii) in and shortly after the period the narratives about Jesus of Nazareth are set, say, ~25-40 CE.
The primary issue is still, why would Josephus apply the term Χριστοῦ to any Jew?
…why would Josephus apply the term Χριστοῦ to any Jew?
Possibly because Josephus relied on Christian informants.
• Comment by Richard Carrier—5 January 2020—per “Jesus in Josephus”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 21 December 2012.
“Possibly because Josephus relied on Christian informants”, – yeah, Nah: highly unlikely.
“it [c]ould derive from the Christian “brothers of Jesus” legends derived from the Gospels”, – yeah, Nah: highly unlikely.
“It’s also possible Josephus confused “Brother of the Lord,” the cultic status all baptized Christians claimed, as “Brother of Jesus Christ” and so wrote it”, – also Highly Unlikely.
I don’t believe Christianity or its legends or tropes would have been that well advanced or known
to the likes of Josephus when he was writing (in Rome, I think).
db, Your comments would be more easily read and responded to, I think, if you make points in your own words. I for one tend to skim quickly quotations of others unless they are directly illustrative of another’s point. Quotations standing alone do not fit in with the flow of the discussion and require some mental adjustment on the part of the reader to relate them to the immediate discussion. You may feel that the quotations are direct answers to someone else’s thoughts but what works more effectively is your own comment. You can express another’s thoughts in your own words and in that way frame them as a direct response to the conversation underway.
There was no need to add the Carrier quotation above because it simply repeats the response you gave. The quotation is distracting, in fact, and serves no constructive purpose that I can see.
Just quickly for now and I may come back to tie up any threads I leave hanging.
One the one hand: The “consensus” as I understand it on Josephus is that he supposedly bent over backwards to avoid any hint of a reminder of messianism among the Judeans. Romans were supposedly very touchy about what they are thought to have believed was the cause of the Jewish uprising. So to be consistent, on this view, Josephus would not have been likely to have introduced “Christ” here. He supposedly suppressed the word and its associations in all other “messianic movements” for fear of offending the masters who had rescued him and fought directly against those “messianists”.
On the other hand: Josephus is addressing a general (if upper class) Roman audience. He is in Rome and guest of the imperial family and the point of Antiquities is to present “Judeans”/Judea/”Judaism” in the most favourable light to his Roman audience. The word “Christ” would have meant nothing to his Roman audience without some sort of explanation. It had significance to certain Judeans, perhaps, but not to Romans. This is not just in Carrier but in the literature more generally, I thought. How could “Christ” mean anything to a general audience of Greeks and Romans? It was a uniquely Jewish cult term and used as a title or nickname it would have meant nothing to Romans.
The quotation of Carrier (I bold-highlight the section you quote) in full reads . . .
‘One always needs to read widely, views pro and con, to be able to evaluate any argument, no matter how secure it looks on its own.’
…making it somewhat ironic that the reason we’re discussing this at all is because, on seeing a commenter who appeared only to have read one person’s words on the subject, I offered him some counter-arguments from different posters rather than leave him aware of only one point of view.
Neil, is this really about the fact that I commented on the subject without having read multiple books on it first… or is it actually because the links I gave included posts by someone who’s been rude about you in the past? I doubt if you’re that ready to make negative assumptions about everyone who posts a few links giving arguments and counter-arguments on a particular point.
‘I am also a bit surprised that you would see no warning bells with what you acknowledge to be “scathing” words.’
Why? While I’ve certainly found that people who focus primarily on spitting venom or hostility at everyone who disagrees with them usually aren’t worth listening to, beyond that extreme I’ve not found there to be much of a correlation between politeness of tone and factual accuracy of arguments. If scathing words are a warning bell, then does that mean that we don’t have to inspect arguments too closely if they’re politely worded? I think it’s worth examining arguments carefully, and being open to counter-arguments, whatever the tone in which they’re presented.
‘It seems you are quick to call people here “insulting”’
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘people here’. As far as I can find or remember, the only time I’ve used the word was in my comment to you just above. If there are other times when I’ve used the word in circumstances when you think it was out of line for me to do so, I’d be happy to review those comments and to apologise if, on reflection, it seems warranted. If your issue is more specifically with the fact that I referred to your comment as insulting, then there’s not much I can do about that; I still feel that your comment was insulting, so that’s not a statement I’m going to take back.
Can we set aside the ad hominem mind-reading and motive-imputation and stick to arguments of substance, please? I responded with detailed justification of what I said. Comment on that content.
And that’s exactly what I have attempted to do whenever I have addressed Tim O’Neill’s and anyone else’s arguments. I have posted several rebuttals of Tim’s posts with your point very much in mind and I hope you will find no “scathing” or “insulting” tone in any of those rebuttals. I have at no point indicated that an argument cannot be factually based or worthy of serious engagement because of the tone in which it is presented so a point directed at that notion is a point misdirected.
This has been addressed above so I don’t know the point of bringing it up again. I was not addressing you personally, but only the words presented to me. I had no idea who you were behind the name “Dr Sarah” or the background to the words, but spoke only of my impression of the words before me, as I made clear. I have no intention of going back and pointing to other statements that were in a less than perfect tone even if the word “insult” was not used. (But I do remain confused by your reference to what you have seen here as “insulting” while what you read in Tim’s post — blatantly personal insults and humiliating mockery of others — is a somewhat less serious, even somewhat excusable(?), “scathing”.)
Sara, let me point out something. Years back James McGrath and I fell into some very tense exchanges and I did a couple of times ridicule him. I afterwards realized things had gotten out of hand and I made several attempts to apologize to him and try to clean the slate. Others were also involved and were keen to see us speak cordially again. Since that time, a long time ago now, I have always striven to be careful not to ridicule or insult anyone I am engaged with in any discussion or in response to their posts. (See, for example, Appeal to Vridar readers re Dr McGrath and Appeals to McGrath, Regrets and the Responsibility of Public Intellectuals.) Sometimes commenters have got a bit out of hand and I have sometimes removed comments that have been insulting towards or in some sense ridiculing others from here. I do not tolerate abuse or insults in any exchanges here.
I had hoped for some more positive exchange such as a discussion of the relevance of the James passage in Josephus.
There is no shame in not having read multiple books on a topic before raising comments, thoughts, questions, etc. But to lay down challenges and try to set a course of defensive or offensive argument before informing oneself more fully does not sit well with the intellectual humility that you and other scholars and laypersons elsewhere value.
I don’t have much time to reply, but I will say that on this one you lost me. Lay down challenges? This seems to imply that you think I’ve been laying down a challenge on the subject; what challenge? Where?
You came across as implying that O’Neill’s rebuttals of Carrier’s arguments were solid (“good and detailed”) and should be taken up by others as serious challenges to Carrier’s work. You do seem to be very confident in your assertions and they do come across as challenges, such as when you declared your “belief” that certain ideas not being “typically Jewish” would not have been found in the earliest church.
If you don’t mean to come across that way then I do apologize and will endeavour to make more effort to make allowances for your style.
Thing is, I am not particularly interested in debating anything relating to the historicity of Jesus. I find the whole question a non-starter. I am interested in learning, however, and in exploring more deeply various explanations for Christian origins. If explanations do not always require a historical Jesus, so be it. But that does not stop me from calling out what are clearly unprofessional (even anti-intellectual) approaches of others, both academic and laypersons, in relation to the question. (No, I am not referring to you.)