Review, conclusion #2: Myth and History in the Gospels (How the Gospels Became History / Litwa)

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by Neil Godfrey

If the gospels are mythical stories that have been presented as history then what value can they have for anyone today and how can we treat the gospels as a source for studying the historical Jesus? Those are the questions M. David Litwa addresses in the last pages of How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths.

In answer to the first question Litwa writes:

Both the scholar and the believer can recognize that gospel stories are transformative, if for different reasons. For the believer, the power often derives from divine inspiration and the salvific function of the myths. For the scholar, the power of gospel myths frequently lies in their versatility and world-making potential. The scholar and the believer can also, of course, be the same person.

(Litwa, p. 212)

I think of Thomas Brodie who does not find any historical core behind the gospel myths, not even a historical Jesus, who nonetheless finds meaning in the myths and has remained a Christian. But Litwa does believe a historical core does lie behind the myths. On what basis does he believe that?

“So let’s assume there actually was a corpse. What happened to it? There are only two possibilities. Either it was revivified, the way the Gospels tell it, or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, it stayed on earth. There isn’t any third possibility. What happened to the body? Did it come alive or didn’t it?” [from The Flight of Peter Fromm]

The horns of this dilemma have gored the faith of some people. The meaning of Jesus’s resurrection—and of Christianity itself—is widely assumed to hang on its historicity. The value of any sort of “spiritual meaning” is discounted if there is no historical and physical basis for it. . . .

. . . [Peter Fromm] identifies the real with the historical (in the sense of “what happened”). Yet in the game of historical writing we never actually know exactly what happened. Historicity is not a cross from which the truth hangs in all its glory. It is at best a social agreement that someehing happened in the past. This assertion is not merely an outgrowth of postmodern philosophy; the ancients suggested something similar. The sophist Nicolaus (late fifth century CE) wrote that historical narratives are about past events acknowledged by consensus (homologoumenos’) to have happened. I emphasize “by consensus.” Historians do not have direct access to a past occurrence, though they might agree that it happened.

(Litwa, p. 213)

Litwa would say I am being too specific and should say that it is the consense of “historians” more generally. My response to the idea that most people take for granted the historicity of Jesus is found in an earlier post: Is it a “fact of history” that Jesus existed? Or is it only “public knowledge”? I prefer to narrow the point to “biblical scholars” because they are the ones who have set about to study Jesus.

Compare Johnston’s point: [A hero’s multiple versions/’plurimdiality’], and the intimate connection to [the hero] that this fostered in individuals, helped to create and sustain for some (perhaps all) the very assumption that he existed, which, in turn, sustained the practice of his cults.

It follows that Litwa knows that Jesus was crucified because that is the consensus of biblical scholars —

The current consensus regarding the “historical Jesus” is that he lived in Palestine, that he was a Jew crucified around 30 CE by Roman authorities.

(Litwa, p. 213)

and a few pages on  —

I do not deny the historical basis for some gospel stories (notably the crucifixion)32

32. Here one might talk of “aspects of historicity,” as in Paul N. Anderson, Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher, eds., John, Jesus, and History, vol. 2, Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: SBL, 2009).

(Litwa, pp. 218, 266)

The irony! The attempts to make a case for “aspects of historicity” in the Gospel of John in the cited volume are often the same tropes that in the earlier discussion were said to make myths believable! All page references in the following section are to the Anderson, Just and Thatcher volume Litwa cited above. (The following section is my response to Litwa’s insistence that there is a historical basis to some of the gospel stories.)

— role of eyewitness testimony

e.g. Culpepper engages the recent work of two scholars (Howard M. Jackson and Richard Bauckham) who argue that John 21:24 is an autobiographical note indicating that the author of the Gospel is the Beloved Disciple. In this view, the Gospel of John is based on the eyewitness testimony of a follower of Jesus and makes that claim explicitly in the narrative. (p. 372)

— context of mundane history and life

e.g. [W]hile the Johannine Prologue opens the Fourth Gospel as a confessional piece used in worship, it also bears witness to first-hand encounter with the object of its confession: the fleshly Jesus grounded in mundane history. (p. 380)

e.g. Miller and others, however, find it historically plausible that Jesus himself had an encounter with a Samaritan woman. Evidence for this includes . . . the Gospel’s familiarity with Samaritan beliefs about the location of worship and the coming of an eschatological prophet, and the fact that some Galileans did travel through Samaria on their way to and from Jerusalem. (p. 100)

e.g. There are several factors of historical realism in this narrative. . . . [T]he narrator’s featuring factors of personal hygiene and comfort contribute to the mundane realism of the presentation. … In conclusion, given the cultural context, it is highly plausible that a Jewish person in first-century Galilee would perform a footwashing. Therefore, it is plausible that Jesus performed a footwashmg as he gathered for a final meal with his disciples in Jerusalem. On the bases of Jewish and Hellenistic literature, religious and societal customs, other presentations of fopMashing in the New Testament literature, and various aspects of historical realism, this scenario in John demands renewed consideration as a historical event . . . (pp. 259, 260)

— detailed knowledge of topography

e.g. There does not seem to be any apparent theological motivation for linking these disciples to Bethsaida, which enhances it the likelihood that reflects early tradition that might be historically accurate. (p. 96)

e.g. Miller and others, however, find it historically plausible that Jesus himself had an encounter with a Samaritan woman. Evidence for this includes the remarkable accuracy of the geographical references to Jacob’s well . . . . (p. 100)

e.g. Whereas modern interpreters have characteristically doubted the historicity of the narrative because of the narrator’s explicit comment on the meaning of the name Siloam, “sent .. (9:7), von Wahjde’s essay obliterates the basis for such moves. The name of the pool is indeed theological, but there also was a real pool by that name. Its newly discovered features call for a radical reevaluation of the originative historical backdrop of John 9. (p. 231)

— alternative reports (including Johnston’s observation that the narrative variations and episodic character of Greek myths engaged imaginations in a way that “made them more real” to believers)

e.g. [James McGrath] notes that in John’s account of the temple cleansing there are unique details that do not seem to be derived from the Synoptics and yet do not appear to have been introduced for theological reasons. Such details include the whip of cords, the oxen, and the sheep. John may have derived these from an independent tradition. (p. 97)

e.g. Since the tradition concerning these parallel ministries created problems that needed to be addressed, it might well have been historical. (p. 99)

e.g. On the one hand, van Os affirms the historical reliability of the Gospel of John: in addition to cohering with the outline of events at the Last Supper known from the Synoptic traditions, the composer of the Fourth Gospel appears to have regarded many of the traditions that he received (possibly from the Beloved Disciple) as authoritative, so he used them much more cautiously than later Christians would. Jesus traditions found in John can be trusted. (p. 371)

e.g. Labahn suggests that renarration may be the main way that historically reliable and enduring memories of Jesus and his ministry can be discovered. . . . it is the diversity of the memories, not the underlying principles, that gives the portrait of the historical Jesus its vitality. (p. 375)

e.g. Johannine-Synoptic similarities and differences inform Johannine historicity in a variety of ways. On the one hand, parallels with Synoptic renderings suggest a Johannine alternative presentation of an event similar to other ones:

    • the woman at the well is similar to the Syrophoenician woman in Mark and elsewhere (Miller); 
    • the healing of the royal official’s son from afar is similar to the healing Q of the centurion’s servant in (Judge);
    • the feeding of the five thousand is parallel to all five Synoptic feeding narratives (Evans, Anderson);
    • the healing of the blind man is similar to Synoptic healing narratives and concerns for ritual purity (von Wahjde, Klink);
    • Jesus’ being anointed (his head or his feet?) by a woman and some association with and Martha in Luke (Bauckham, Witherington, Tovey) is interesting;
    • the trials of Jesus are fraught with historical realism filling out Synoptic presentations (Bond);
    • and the love commandments of Jesus in John reflect a community-appropriation of his teachings in ways that complement the Synoptic injunctions to love one’s neighbors and enemies (Burridge).

. . . . In the light of these analyses, Johannine-Synoptic similarities and differences function to confirm John’s historicity in some analyses and disconfirm it in others.

(pp. 383-84, my formatting)

The tropes that have been identified as making myths credible as history are used to assess “the historical basis of some gospel stories”.

Litwa wishes New Testament scholars were more knowledgeable of “classical and comparative mythology”:

Compare the post on Ronald Hock’s chapter “Why New Testament Scholars Should Read Ancient Novels”.

New Testament scholars are often trained as historians and literary scholars but are rarely given proper instruction in classical and comparative mythology. Perhaps it is time to redirect some of the energy that goes into examining the “historical Jesus” into studying Jesus as one of Western culture’s historicized myths. . . . 

What, then, is the end of our story? The four gospels are a profoundly significant corpus of history-like myth — and not just for religious readers. For all who treat mythology in literature courses, classes in mythology, or in Western civilization, the stories of Jesus should be studied and treasured. These stories, moreover, should be compared with other stories of collective importance throughout the globe and across the centuries. They should appear in our handbooks and journals of comparative mythology and find a place in conferences and other venues that go far beyond the of confines of biblical studies. The study the gospels has a sure place in the humanistic university if, that is, its stories are reclassified as myths — myths that in manifold ways can still become our own.
(pp. 221 f)

The question we must ask, then, is this: On what basis does the “consensus” agree that there is any historical basis to the gospel narratives at all?

Litwa’s answer that the New Testament scholar attempts to discern what is plausible and that, since there are degrees of plausibility, what is the most plausible:

The “historical” is a human construction, and what defines it, as Jens Schröter observes, are the current conditions of plausibility. The “reality” of the historical Jesus is determined by what is “plausible in light of current presuppositions of understanding.”26 By admitting this, one also admits that there is no stable reality of Jesus and that our shifting sense of what is reality in part determines the Jesus who is considered to be plausible today.27

(p. 216)

Litwa adds in the endnotes:

26. . . . the final sentence of Schröter’s long essay: “The result [of Jesus research] is a historical construction that makes the claim to be plausible under current conditions of knowledge” . . .

27. Plausibility has become a major criterion for historicity. . . .

(pp. 265 f)

The word plausible is used 70 times and plausibility 67 times in the Anderson, Just and Thatcher volume on “aspects of historicity” quoted above. Judgements of historicity are made according to what is the most plausible. Of course, that does not mean certainty but if a consensus develops around a few data points that are deemed to be highly plausible then that is what is taken to be bedrock historical fact.

You would be correct to be thinking that one cannot logically leap from plausibility to concrete fact but Litwa explains why in his view we can go no farther than plausibility:

Both the modern and postmodern historian represent what is taken to be “real,” but they understand reality in different ways. The modern historian typically assumes that the object of his or her discourse is real because it corresponds to an event in the past. (Since the past is gone, however, no historian’s account can actually be verified.) The postmodern historian can also claim that his or her material corresponds to something. What it corresponds to is not some event in the past but a reality in the human imagination that has been informed by the traces of the past (both material and textual). . . . 

An event becomes an event by passing through the laboratory of the human imagination. What humans remember as an event is something that has been crafted and cooked in the human mind. Hayden White remarked almost forty years ago, “How else can any ‘past’ which is by definition comprised of events, [and] processes … that are considered to be no longer perceivable, be represented in either consciousness or discourse except in an ‘imaginary’ way? Is it not possible that the question of narrative in any discussion of historical theory is always finally about the function of imagination in the production of a specifcally human truth?”29

. . . 

As works of the imagination, historiography and mythography are never completely opposed.

(Litwa, pp. 216-17)

Hayden White

The essay by postmodernist historian Hayden White that Litwa cites (note 29) is “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory”. White is not talking about knowing and verifying the reality of past facts (e.g. the existence of the ancient Roman emperors, the Jewish War of 70 CE, etc.) but rather he is talking about the narratives created by historians from these verifiable facts. (White even refers to historians who do not create narratives but focus on analytical discussions of the facts verified by physical and literary evidence.) Facts alone are not “history”. Facts alone are often meaningless. We need to interpret them and weave them into stories to write “history”.

However, I believe Litwa, like a good number of other New Testament scholars who have addressed the question of historical knowledge, has misapplied the postmodernist’s discussion. When White speaks of history as an imaginative narrative and that says that a historian can only reconstruct past events in his or her imagination, he is not referring the supposed impossibility of verifying the “fact” of a past event or person. The mere “fact” of a past event or person is not of itself history.

Litwa is correct when he says

“What happened” is, all too often, chaotic, meaningless, and even absurd. On a Friday afternoon outside Jerusalem in 29 CE, it seems, a man was nailed naked to a cross and left there to asphyxiate. Let us affirm that he was innocent. This state of affairs only makes his death more absurd. The brute (and brutalizing) “fact” of this violent death actually means nothing in itself. Only when the event is understood according to mythic patterns — a primordial sacrifice, a martyr’s death, a victory over daimons, and so on — does it begin to mean something and become collectively important. Only when it is seen as a product of the imagination is the story itself redeemed.

(Litwa, pp. 217 f)

Yes, we must represent past events in our imaginations. But it is misleading to say that “since the past is gone . . . no historian’s account can actually be verified.” The facts of what happened are not usually to be identified with a historian’s narrative of those events. An account or narrative or story of events is distinct from the raw bare facts themselves. Facts that happened in the past can be verified. That’s because they left things, including manuscripts, that verify for us that Augustus Caesar, for example, ruled the Roman empire, that George Washington was the first president of the United States, that Socrates was known to have stimulated Athenians to question issues in their lives. We have masses of documents and physical remains that verify the events of the Second World War for us.

Moses I. Finley

Yes, the bare fact of Jesus’ death is meaningless. Interpreting that event through mythic tropes does give it meaning. But the problem facing New Testament scholars is that the sorts of evidence we have that enable us to verify the “facts” of other ancient figures and events are lacking for Jesus. See, for example, discussions of what we can and can’t know about ancient history from our written sources by the ancient historian Moses I. Finley. I will quote just one extract here:

One simple example will suffice. When asked by the Pharisees for ‘a sign from Heaven’, Jesus replied, ‘There shall be no sign given unto this generation’ (Mark viii, 11-12). Goguel comments:

This saying is certainly authentic, for it could not have been created by primitive Christianity which attached a great importance to the miracles of Jesus … This leads us to think that Jesus did not want to work marvels, that is to say, acts of pure display.

It follows that stories like those of Jesus walking on water are ‘extremely doubtful’. His healing, on the other hand, may be accepted, and, in conformity with the beliefs prevailing at the time, ‘it is true that these healings were regarded as miracles both by Jesus himself and by those who were the recipients of his bounty.’

This application of the ‘psychological method’ is neat, plausible, commonsensical. But is the answer right? Not only in this one example but in the thousands upon thousands of details in the story upon which Goguel or any other historian must make up his mind? I do not know what decisive tests of verifiability could possibly be applied. The myth-making process has a kind of logic of its own, but it is not the logic of Aristotle or of Bertrand Russell. Therefore it does not follow that it always avoids inconsistency: it is capable of retaining, and even inventing, sayings and events which, in what we call strict logic, undermine its most cherished beliefs. The difficulties are of course most acute at the beginning, with the life of Jesus. One influential modern school, which goes under the name of ‘form-criticism’, has even abandoned history at this stage completely. ‘In my opinion,’ wrote Rudolph Bultmann, ‘we can sum up what can be known of the life and personality of Jesus as simply nothing.’ 

(Finley, p. 178)

Finley was pointing out that there is relatively so very little in ancient history that can be verified and genuine historical work with verifiable events and situations covers a far more limited range than we often think, but the means of verification for anything about Jesus are non-existent.

The irony of Litwa’s position is highlighted when we learn that New Testament scholars are seeking to find historical plausibility and through consensus “history itself” by appealing to the factors that he has already explained made even ancient Greco-Roman myths seem real to ancient persons.

What White is saying is that we can only represent past events in our imaginations. That should be a truism.

How else can any “past,” which is by definition comprised of events, processes, structures, and so forth that are considered to be no longer perceivable, be represented in either consciousness or discourse except in an “imaginary” way?

(White, p. 33)

It does not follow that the events themselves cannot be verified as having happened. All news reporting is about past events that serious journalists work at verifying. Court cases are about past events that can only be imagined by those present in the courtroom but the whole rationale for the court process is to verify what happened.

Thus endeth my discussions of M. David Litwa’s How the Gospels Became History. I have found engagement with Litwa’s book informative and enlightening. And I think the publisher for sending me a review copy.

Anderson, Paul N., Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher. 2009. John, Jesus, and History. Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Finley, M. I. 1972. Aspects of Antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin.

Litwa, M. David. 2019. How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

White, Hayden. 1984. “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory.” History and Theory 23 (1): 1.

To order a copy of How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here or visit www.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB19 at the checkout to apply the discount.


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26 thoughts on “Review, conclusion #2: Myth and History in the Gospels (How the Gospels Became History / Litwa)”

  1. Was Jesus resurrected or not? Interesting question … but it is irrelevant. If he was not, then the human sacrifice staged to lift Yahweh’s curse of Adam and Eve is incomplete and Christianity is a sham. If Jesus was resurrected and Jesus is god (part of the triune god, whatever), it is also a sham because there was no real sacrifice. Jesus pretends to be dead for three days then pops up again (Ta da!) because the god of Chrisitianity cannot die, being eternal, don’t you know, … and Christianity is a sham.

    The claims for this narrative do not even come close to making any sense. If Jesus was this miracle worker, walking around providing evidence that he is indeed god, as the Gospel we call John insists, then accounts of his crucifixion and death are wildly exaggerated and really represent a Passion Play for the rubes in this con. (No humans were hurt in the making of this Passion Play, gods neither.)

    Scholarly discussions of how people can believe this shouldn’t be based upon literary analyses, but rather on abnormal psychology analyses.

  2. So it look to me like Litwa is another Bart Ehrman. Ehrman’s work shows signs of brilliance, and he often makes strikingly relevant points with excellent scholarship. Then, at the next turn he’ll show an extreme lack of awareness and overwhelming cognitive dissonance.

    Ehrman will often make a whole series of arguments that naturally lead to an obvious logical conclusion, then he’ll reject the logical conclusion. Litwa does the same here.

    It’s frustrating. But as you show here, there are nuggets of value to be obtained from these works.

    I’ve just finished a piece for an upcoming John Lotfus anthology on mythicism called “Pauline Origin of the Gospels in the Wake of the First Jewish-Roman War”. In that I lay out what I think is the fairly obvious explanation for the origin of Jesus worship and the development of the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark has to be understood within the context of the pseudo-Pauline forgeries.

    When we look at what was going on with all of the early Christian writings this becomes very clear. I think Ehrman’s book Forgery and Counterforgery significantly contributes to this understanding.

    We have Paul’s ministry and writings. Then let’s look at all of the other early epistles:

    Authentic Letters of Paul:
    1 Corinthians
    2 Corinthians
    1 Thessalonians

    Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:

    Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:
    2 Thessalonians

    Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:
    1 Timothy
    2 Timothy

    Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul’s letters as a template:

    Letters directed against Paul. Both show signs of references to Pauline and pseudo-Pauline letters. These are forgeries likely by the same writer using James as the authority:

    Letter that may have actually been attributed to Paul originally. Uses Pauline style and works from the letters of Paul:
    1 Peter

    Letter designed to reconcile Paul and Peter, concerned with the division between Pauline and Peterine sects:
    2 Peter

    No obvious Pauline connection:
    1 John
    2 John
    3 John

    So, when we look at the epistles what we find is that we actually have 7 different writers outside of Paul who are basing their writings on the works of Paul. Virtually all of these writings revolve around Paul. We also see that the point behind all of these letters (other than the Johns) is to make theological points and to promote various teachings. The purpose behind the forgeries is to lend authority to the teachings being promoted by the authors. The way that these writers lent authority to their teachings was to attribute their teachings either to Paul or to Paul’s opponents.

    None of these letters, with the exception of the late 2 Peter, make any appeal to Jesus as an authority. The authorities are Paul and James and to a lesser extent Peter. So what we having going on here is a situation where the struggle over the definition of legitimate theology is being waged on the basis of the perceived authority figures. Those authority figures are clearly Paul and James and to a lesser extent Peter. Jesus is never appealed to as an authority figure.

    This is where the Gospel of Mark comes in. In the context of this environment, where there is a struggle going on over the legitimacy of theology revolving around Paul’s teachings and Paul’s authority, an associate of Paul, who possesses Paul’s original letters, writes his story in which he lays out Paul’s “true teachings”, not by claiming to be Paul or some other authority figure, as everyone else was doing, but rather he puts Paul’s teachings directly into the mouth of Jesus himself.

    While everyone else is waging proxy wars with forgeries in the name of various church leaders, this guy skips all that and makes Jesus the source of authority. But we have to understand that this was done in the context of the disputes over what the legitimate teachings were. This was done in the context of all of these other forgeries. The person who wrote Mark knew Paul. The person who wrote Mark had read the forgeries in Paul’s name. The person who wrote Mark was keenly aware of what was going on.

    Mark is both a reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War AND a reaction to the FORGERIES circulating in Paul’s name. Mark is aware of the struggle to define the “true theology” of the movement. Mark’s story is a vicious polemic attack against Paul’s opponents. The relationship to the outcome of the war is a part of this polemic attack. Mark lays the blame for the outcome of the war at the feet of Paul’s opponents. This is why Mark is anonymous. Mark is a dangerous writing that is attacking major members of the movement.

    But furthermore, I think that Mark is an Orphic style allegorical theogony. The writer of Mark was likely one of Paul’s closest companions. He’s the person who has the collection of all Paul’s writings. He’s the one who is out to defend Paul against his attackers. The writer of Mark is an initiate in Paul’s mystery religion. The writer of Mark is deeply aware of PAUL’S allegorical teaching style. The writer understands PAUL’S allegories. The writer has been present during PAUL’S initiation ceremonies. The writer knows the MYSTERIES OF PAUL.

    The writer is creating a work of mystery religion. Paul had turned the worship of the Lord Christ Jesus into an Orphic style mystery religion and the writer of Mark is creating a theogony worthy of Paul’s cult. The story is filled with enigmas, riddles, hidden meaning, secret codes, and is entirely allegorical, meant to be understood on multiple levels, only meant to be fully understood by initiates. This is exactly how the thegonies of mystery religions were understood. The writer of Mark is producing the work of a mystery religion because Paul was ministering over a mystery religion.

    Whoever Matthew was, Matthew tried to basically decode Mark and demystify it. Matthew tried to convert Mark from the work of mystery religion into a traditional story. That’s why Matthew is constantly pointing out Mark’s references and saying, “this fulfilled prophecy” whereas Mark left his references hidden. This is why Matthew turns Jesus from a secretive teacher who couldn’t be understood my his followers or easily recognized into a clearer teacher. Matthew tries to explain Jesus’ teachings and have his followers be able to understand them instead of everything being an inscrutable enigma.

    And the rest goes on from there.

    But to get back to the issue of the resurrection. This is such an obvious point. It is clear that the resurrection is central to Paul’s worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s all about the resurrection for Paul. Jesus isn’t a teacher, he’s not a leader, he’s not a guy who stood up to authority, he’s not a future deliverer from Roman occupation. He’s a powerful deity who sacrificed himself to break the bonds of death. The reason to worship the Lord Jesus Christ is because he overcame death.

    Real people don’t overcome death. There was no real person who died and came back to life. How can a cult originate based on the worship of a figure who died and came back to life, if such a thing never happened? Clearly it can’t. The much more obvious explanation is that this whole dying and coming back to life business is all imagined, all something gleaned from the scriptures, all part of a mystery revelation. This isn’t a real thing that happened, its a revelation. This should be obvious. And once you recognize that the resurrection of Christ is a revelation that fact that Jesus never existed at all should be obvious.

    1. • Per Litwa, “Whether or not the evangelists did report actual events is a separate question and is not my concern.”

      • Per Neil,

      A Christ mythicist is one who believes the literal truth of the myth of Jesus Christ as set out in the epistles and gospels of the New Testament, or who believes that those myths, even if they have only limited or no historical foundation, nonetheless contain symbolic or spiritual value for those of the Christian faith.

      • Per Raphael Lataster, “This volume explains the inadequacy of the sources and methods used to establish Jesus’ historicity…” (Lataster 2019).

      • Richard Carrier opines that Bart Ehrman is trying to build history from a self created myth about evidence and that Ehrman fully believes in this evidence.

      Anyone else?

      1. Another:

        • Per Thomas L. Thompson, “[I]f the gospels were judged to be unhistorical and unable to support historicity one has problems. Who is this Jesus (Joshua/ the savior) if not the Jesus of the gospels and if Jesus in not historical, where would we go for evidence.”

        • Per Emanuel Pfoh, “The main reason for holding to the historicity of the [gospel] figure of Jesus . . . resides not primarily in historical evidence but derives instead from a modern theological necessity.”

        1. Oh db, please. Stop it. These sorts of comments are becoming troll-ish. They add nothing to the argument of the post. Readers can make up their own minds and follow up any questions they might have in their own way.

    2. It has also been suggested that Paul got his ideas from the book of Revelation, it being a forecasting of a coming messiah devined from the stars. That is, taking the entire story of Jesus to have been devined from astrological signs, and the book of Revelation to be that divination and the inspiration for the cult and Paul. Whether or not this is the case, I don’t know but it seems plausible.

    3. We have Paul’s ministry and writings …

      Authentic Letters of Paul:
      • Romans
      • 1 Corinthians
      • 2 Corinthians
      • Galatians
      • Philippians
      • Philemon
      • 1 Thessalonians

      Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:
      • Colossians
      • Ephesians

      • Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:
      • 2 Thessalonians

      Written by a forger in Paul’s name. Tries to emulate Paul and uses Paul as the authority behind his teachings:
      • 1 Timothy
      • 2 Timothy
      • Titus

      when you say “Written by a forger in Paul’s name”, in each case I presume you mean one of three separate forgers(?)

  3. “This saying is certainly authentic, for it could not have been created by primitive Christianity which attached a great importance to the miracles of Jesus … This leads us to think that Jesus did not want to work marvels, that is to say, acts of pure display.”

    The problem with this kind of logic is that it fails to recognize that the Gospel writers were writing allegory. Not only does Jesus speak in parables, but the entire Gospel(s) is/are parables. They are not writing history they are making theological arguments, nothing more, Richard Carrier does a great job of making this clear. For example, did the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s garments, no, this is a reworking of Psalm 22, like the entire scene at the cross, which makes a theological statement. Could there have been a historical character whose fanaticism got him crucified, who made some statements that some people remembered? Maybe, maybe there could have been scores of them, but one thing is for sure, the specific holy rabbi named Jesus we get in the Gospels never did exist.

    1. This comment by Goguel shows just how off base these so-called scholars are.

      “There shall be no sign given unto this generation”

      1 Cor 1: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified”

      “This saying is certainly authentic”

      No, its not. Its a the use of a Pauline teaching. The whole story is built around Paul’s letters. That these so-called scholars don’t see this is mind blowing.

      1. I’d rather avoid terms like “so-called scholars”. They have presuppositions that others don’t accept and they are, even by the standards of others scholars in their guild, doing theology rather than genuine history. But I don’t think one is likely to win too many “innocent bystanders” by dishing out the demeaning comments. Scholars themselves do enough of that sort of thing. No point lowering ourselves to the worst of them.

        1. Is someone with a PhD in Flateartherism a “scholar”?

          Biblical “scholarship” is so far off the mark I really don’t know how else to describe them.

          People who say things like, that it would be impossible for the author of Luke to have made use of Pauline letters, or that the Gospel of John is definitely independent of the other Gospels, or that Peter wouldn’t have been able to write because he was a fisherman, or that various sayings must have come from Jesus because Paul also “knew” them, or that no one would invent a figure like Jesus because it would be too embarrassing.

          These types of claims, which are all over “biblical scholarship,” show a truly egregious lack of comprehension of the material. This is stuff that honesty an elementary school child who spends a week studying this material should be able to better comprehend.

          I find this whole subject exasperating because of the unending tsunami of blatant falsehoods and childish logical errors. This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t hard. I don’t know what to say about people who supposedly spend their whole lives studying something and then utterly fail to even gain the most basic understanding of it.

          If someone tells me that they are a geologist with a degree from a university, and then they start claiming that the earth is flat and only 6,000 years old, and that fossils were created during a global flood 5,000 years ago, I’m going to say that they are are so-called scientist, not a real scientist.

          1. Don’t you think you might be looking at just one part of a larger system, like the blind man describing the elephant as a snake from the part he touched?

            Yes, of course there are many valid criticisms made against whole chunks of biblical studies as have been cited here. At the same time, however, there is much I have learned from other research questions investigated within that same guild.

            If all biblical scholars were creationist fundamentalists you would have a point, but they aren’t all in that bracket. Many don’t even touch the questions that interest you.

            Take Bart Ehrman. I am “troubled” by many of his assumptions in his work on the apocalyptic Jesus, but I can find very little to fault with his Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Can we say the latter book is the work of a “so-called scholar”?

            I was reminded recently of how back in school we used to look at maps of the world and “see clearly” that the continents were all like parts of a jig-saw puzzle that had been pulled apart, yet we were also told that that was just coincidence and that geologists assured us there was no such thing as “continental drift”. Were those geologists “so-called scholars” then?

            1. Plate tectonics has been settled science for 52 years and a reasonable scientific argument for at least a decade previous. While you can put the jigsaw back together looking at a globe, to turn that into a hypothesis you need a plausible causal agent, then you have something to test to prove or disprove your hypothesis and turn it into a theory or dismiss it. The technology to do that only became available to geologists after WWII.

              To falsify Jesus you need only crack open the first four letters of Paul and read them for themselves. I can’t speak for R.G., but this is what both you and I did. One of your standard criticisms is that those lambasting the Carriers, Dohertys, Latisters and Prices is that they don’t seem to have read the works of those they are bad-mouthing. I’d go further: they don’t seem to have read the New Testament either; or if they have it is with no more comprehension than the Candace’s eunuch. You can give folk the benefit only so long and this had gotten old long before Doherty’s expanded edition. So-called “scholars” is letting them off lightly; and they won’t be any less likely to tip horse apples over you for defending them.

        2. To further add. “Jesus historicism” truly is the same as every single other field of Christian studies. It’s all the same. Christian astronomy, Christian biology, Christian psychology, Christian history. All of it, essentially every single thing Christian scholars have ever pontificated on, they’ve gotten every bit of all of it wrong.

          Now yes people will be quick to point out various scholars and scientists who are Christians, but that is very different from fields that are driven by Christian theology. And lets face it, “Jesus historicism” is driven by Christian theology. Christianity is a completely failed incoherent worldview. Anyone who endeavors to make sense of the world through Christian lenses will fail at anything they try to comprehend.

          Since the 2nd century, Christians have been engaged in pseudo-scholarship. They’ve exhibited the same behavior for centuries – the same intellectual insecurity. Go back any number of years, to any point in time, and what you find among Christian “scholars” is the exact same behavior that was exhibited toward Earl Doherty when he first published his works. The same infantile responses, the same fragile egos, the same insecurity that leads so-called scholars to lash out and attack those that question their claims. And why did we get things like Inquisitions and such? Because when push comes to shove, Christian worldviews and claims are indefensible. So what to do they do when they can’t actually win arguments on the merits? They resort to violence, destroying people’s careers, imprisoning people, personal attacks, public pressure campaigns, sabotage, etc., etc.

          They’ve been doing this for 2,000 years. Enough is enough.

          1. • Is it dogmatic to insist that prima facie Gospel According to Mark is fictional?

            Well yes, if also insisting that prima facie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fictional—also implies that one is being dogmatic!

            Other than your “Jaw hitting the floor”, how should one respond to the the claim, “Prima facie Gospel According to Mark is not fictional… it is fictionalised.”

            So sure, Abraham Lincoln is a fictionalized character, but in what world does that mean that the book is “fictionalised” ?

          2. This is another question that you are addressing, and you are oversimplifying a complex religion. There is surely no one “Christian world view”. It is a mistake to reduce all biblical studies scholars to witch-burning fundamentalists.

            As for the guild’s defensive hostility towards mythicists, we know that some of the loudest abusers of mythicists are not Christians themselves. Yes, there is surely religious bias, but there is more than that.

            I have no time for Christianity personally. I deplore the harm “it” has done to so many — but I also have to acknowledge that other people have different experiences. Not that I am defending Christianity at any level — I also reject Tom Holland’s defence of Christianity.

            But we are talking about how we characterize scholars in biblical studies. We risk being dismissed by large parts of our desired audiences as if we are on a hostile anti-Christian agenda if we insult our opponents, however just our insults might seem to us.

            Doherty and Carrier have actually set good examples of how to criticize the arguments of biblical scholars in a professional way in their publications. (I’m not talking about certain blog diatribes.) So have Wells, Price, Brodie, as well as mythicists in the past. One reason I started to lean towards Doherty’s views was because I could see his professionalism in his approach and how it was being met by insults from the other side. We lose an important advantage if we also engage in insulting retorts. Just demonstrate the logical flaws of the arguments without the put-downs.

            And don’t expect to change the minds of opponents. It is the “innocent bystanders” who are the ones we are primarily addressing and they are looking at both parties and deciding.

  4. There is a third way to understand the Gospels beyond the myth/history argument that scholars seem to avoid and that is that the Gospels were written as political propaganda. One definition of propaganda might be the fictional embellishment of real, historical people, places, and social movements.

    As propaganda, they would have been written during the lifetime of Jesus and his earliest movement since that is when propaganda is most effective. Since they were written during Roman occupation, they were written in allegorical terms familiar to some Jews of the time but not to the Romans. So they would have been written before Paul’s work, not after. Paul’s works were not interested in biographical details of Jesus’ life because they were intended to subvert Jesus’ message as a way of defusing Jesus’ rebellion against the Romans. Paul was a Roman agent; first he persecuted Jesus’ followers and then he joined them preaching a different, peaceful message at odds with what Jesus was teaching.

    Because the Gospels were written as allegories, scholars have been misinterpreting their meaning for two thousand years. As allegories, they incorporate many cultural cues from Greek and other ancient writings and especially from the Old Testament and this has led some to make the assumption that they were mythic tales of an imaginary Jesus, but on closer examination, many of the allegorical parables align with historical events.

    For example, the parable of the Gadarene Demoniac. The primary focus of the parable is that a man, made crazy by a Legion of demons within him and by the fact that he is chained, forced, to live in a cemetery and remain perpetually ritually unclean until Jesus frees him of the demons. What historical event during Jesus’ lifetime could the parable be referring to? If Jesus was born in 6CE, as many scholar contend, and if he began his ministry as the Gospels say, when he was about thirty, then he began to preach in about 24CE. Historically, we know that the city of Tiberias was begun about 19/20CE and would have taken some years to complete. We also know that it was built upon an old cemetery and that Herod Antipas, due to the reluctance of Jews to live on the site of a cemetery, forced them to live in the city by having the Tenth Fretensis of the Roman Army enforce that condition. When Jesus casts out the demons from the man, they show themselves to be a herd of swine and run down to a cliff and throw themselves into the sea. Why swine? Because the symbol of the Tenth was a wild boar on its flags. Which sea? The Sea of Galilee, where a steep hill terminating in a cliff just to the north of Tiberias existed. The parable was saying that it understood the plight of the Jews living in Tiberias, and that when the time came, Jesus would rout the Tenth and throw them in the sea.

    There are other allegorical parables that have connections to historical events during Jesus’ ministry that indicate that he was an historical person, but scholars can’t see that because they can’t decipher the allegories.

    Who wrote the Gospels? Philo of Alexandria. In its article on Philo, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy remarks that there was a strange fact that his Greek treatises were often Jewish works with Latin titles. This is what we see in at least the first two synoptics; Jewish works, written in Greek, with Latin titles (Mark and Luke), a definite finger print, as it were, since no other ancient authors wrote that way. Thirty-nine (a majority) of Philo’s treatises were allegorical commentaries and one of the major paradoxes for his posterity (according to the Stanford article) was that his work was ignored by Jews of his time and saved by Christians, some of whom thought he was himself a Christian (or more precisely, an early follower of Jesus). Philo was a contemporary to Jesus and his father Joseph and made at least one journey to the Jerusalem Temple.

    So there are rational grounds for examining the idea that Jesus was an historical and very political person and that the Gospels reflect that fact through allegorical parables intended to foment rebellion not just against Rome, but also against some of the Jewish leaders. This isn’t myth making, this is political propaganda through allegory.

    1. In its article on Philo, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy remarks that there was a strange fact that his Greek treatises were often Jewish works with Latin titles. This is what we see in at least the first two synoptics; Jewish works, written in Greek, with Latin titles (Mark and Luke), a definite finger print, as it were, since no other ancient authors wrote that way.

      It’s likely Philo’s treatises had a significant influence on some if not most (or even all) the authors of the NT (and other, extra-NT) books. Which would account for why Christians would have preserved them.

      Philo’s treatises are unlikely to have found favour with post Second Temple Jews hunkered down writing the Mishnah and the Tosefta.

      1. We’re not talking about “significant influence”, we’re talking about mimicry.

        According to the SEP, Philo was the only ancient writer to write Jewish content, in Greek with Latin titles.

        So are you saying that the Gospel writers mimicked Philo to the point that they too wrote that way? Kind of like a bad Hemingway contest? That would presume that the Gospel writers understood that Mark and Luke were Latin titles, not just names, and there is no historical mention that that was how the early Christians saw those titles.

        Philo’s style was as individual as a fingerprint.

        Besides, there are other textual similarities between Philo and the Gospels that point to him as their author. Most scholars who study Philo and the Gospels look for philosophical similarities between the two and when they don’t find any, they tend to think that the two are by different authors. But it’s really a case of apples and oranges; Philo’s treatises are completely different from the political propaganda of the Gospels. It’s doubtful there would have been similarities in philosophies.

        1. If you can demonstrate that you understand the reasons others have said your reasoning is fallacious then I might consider replying the substance of your post.

        2. David M asked, “So are you saying that the Gospel writers mimicked Philo to the point that they too wrote that way?” Answer: No.

          David M then mentions a whole lot of things that are hard to relate to any distinct theme or logic.

  5. Please, Neil, enlighten me.

    Where is my reasoning fallacious? No sarcasm here, just a sincere desire for you or anyone else to specifically show my reasoning is fallacious. I’m very interested in the results.

    If I could demonstrate my understanding why the others have said my reasoning is fallacious, no doubt I wouldn’t write on this subject. So fill me in.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. I have already spent much time responding to your comments. I have nothing further to add to what has already been said by me and others about the fallacious nature of your arguments.

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