2020-12-06

“Another Mythicist Discussion” Revisited

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by Neil Godfrey

Responses to some points made in a larger argument for the historicity of Jesus, Another Jesus Mythicism Discussion (I posted then soon deleted much of what follows about three weeks ago. My initial post was couched in a misunderstanding about the background to the original post.) I did return to the original site to continue discussion there but when I saw that commenters there are entitled to use insults on the apparent condition that they somehow “justify” them, I decided to have nothing to do with any discussion there.

Josephus and Tacitus say

So here we go. I link to posts where I have set out more detailed arguments for those interested in following up a particular thread:

Josephus tells us that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ who had a brother called James who was executed, . . .

Tacitus tells us that Christianity was founded by someone called Christus who started a movement in Judea and was executed by Pilate.

In a very loose way of speaking these statements are true. We do read those statements in our widely published texts of Josephus and Tacitus. However, each one is justified in the scholarly literature of which I am aware only by special pleading. Even though everything we know about ancient copying of texts and manuscript transmission warns us against being too ready to accept their contents at face value, scholars with a particular interest in arguing for the historicity of Jesus sometimes dismiss the serious arguments against the authenticity of key contents relating to Christianity. Often we read among works arguing for the historicity of Jesus that the reason Josephus did not mention “messiahs” of his day was that he did not want to upset his Roman audience who supposedly had sore memories of fighting a war supposedly inspired by Jewish messianism. Yet when it comes to finding the word for “messiah” (“Christ”) in Josephus relating to Jesus, suddenly there is no problem with Josephus breaking his supposed rule about not mentioning the word. That one place the word Christ appears is universally agreed to have been a Christian interpolation, and the second place it is clearly seen to be part of very awkward syntax, does not deter the “believers”. Contrary to what we would expect to find in the record if Josephus had said there was a Jesus known as the Christ “historicists” insist that Josephus must have said something like that anyway. That the second occurrence of the word — that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ who had a brother called James who was executed — conforms to everything the manuals of textual criticism tell us about scribal glosses makes no difference. Suddenly the instructions in such standard texts are forgotten.

As for the Tacitus reference, see The Myth of Nero’s Persecution of Christians

Contortions to Hide a Birth in Nazareth?

Here is another point commonly used to argue for some historicity behind the gospels:

Every so often, there’s something in the gospels that they seemto be trying hard to gloss over, or that contradicts what they’re trying to tell us.

Example: It was clearly important to both Matthew and Luke to convince us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as both of them go to the trouble of making up complicated and clearly fictitious story explaining why, even though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem. So… why do they put Nazareth in the story at all?

The first sentence is actually a conclusion that arises from circular reasoning. An interpretation is imposed on selected passages in the gospels and those sections that doe not fit are interpreted as a problem for the evangelist, not for the modern interpreter. How does the scholar know “what the evangelist is trying to tell us”? By setting aside a passage that they believe does not fit their theory. That is, by selecting only those details in the gospel that support the scholar’s theory and declaring the left-over bits as problems — not for the scholar — but for the evangelist.

But we know from countless instances in the ancient records, including the gospels, that if an author found something “embarrassing” or that did not fit a theological agenda, then the solution was simple: leave it out — no matter how well known it was. A classic instance of that is in the Gospel of John. That fourth gospel does not admit or hint that John baptized Jesus. Yet two other gospels clearly said he did; and a third hinted at it, omitting only that it was John himself who did the baptizing of Jesus.

The argument is sometimes called an appeal to the “criterion of embarrassment”. Yet the argument here assumes the historicity of Jesus as its premise. Why is a detail in the gospels a supposed embarrassment to the evangelist? Because we assume the evangelist is writing about not only a historical Jesus but about a Jesus who was also born at Nazareth, and that everyone knew this (even though Nazareth was supposedly so insignificant it would not be widely known at all), and so forth.

But if we make no assumptions at all about the gospel’s narrative having derived ultimately from historical events, then we have a perfectly seamless story with the Bethlehem-Nazareth scenarios posing no difficulties — for either the evangelist or modern reader — at all. It is well known that the title given Jesus of “Nazarene” or “Nazorean” does not derive from the place name of Nazareth (that would mean Jesus was known as “Jesus the Nazarethite”) but was related to an early name for a Christian sect. It is also evident that in the Gospel of Matthew we read a very tortured justification for linking this title to the town of Nazareth. The simplest explanation for the first Bethlehem-Nazareth story is that an evangelist was re-writing the history of the name of the sect.

There are other reasons for questioning whether a historical person of any status would ever have been known as “So-and-so of Nazareth”. There would be no point of saying someone was from a place so insignificant few would ever have heard of. Besides, does anyone know of any other case where a religious leader is known by some nondescript suburb or rural town? No, they are known by some label that identifies their teaching or sect. Furthermore, those who have taken the trouble to read either of Rene Salm’s book on the scholarly literature about the archaeology of Nazareth knows that there are good grounds for thinking that Nazareth was not repopulated in Roman times until the latter half of the first century. (Tim O’Neill’s objections are careless misrepresentations).

Even IF Jesus had been known by a reference to a place that most people had never heard of it makes absolutely no sense that his followers would be called by the same epithet. Yet we know that in some quarters early Christians were called “Nazarenes” or “Nazirs”. (I understand the Muslim culture still calls them by such a term.)

Why would anyone….!

Here is a clutch of the more common claims made for the historicity of Jesus — expressed as rhetorical questions:

Why would anyone invent a leader who was a crucified criminal and by all appearances a dismal failure at his mission, when that was so obviously going to be the exact opposite of a selling point? Why, given that the writers clearly wanted to put as much blame as possible on the Jews for Jesus’s death and to gloss over the Romans’ role in it as much as possible, did they not just write the story to portray Jesus as executed by the Jews rather than the Romans? Why, when the writers were painting Jesus as the enemy of the Pharisees, did they cite him as using teachings (such as his teachings on Sabbath healings) that we now know were in fact Pharisee teachings  as since recorded in the Talmud? Why did they include thee mbarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?

Some regular Vridar readers will be familiar with the following warning:

I advise my philosophy students to develop hypersensitivity for rhetorical questions in philosophy. They paper over whatever cracks there are in the arguments. (Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea p. 178)

Rhetorical questions are too often substitutes for reasoned conclusions. They can convey the message, “My conclusion is surely so obvious that it needs no further justification.”

If one is not familiar with the breadth of scholarly literature on the questions raised then one might well feel that “the conclusions are obvious”. No contrary argument would be reasonable, it would seem.

Not the Christian message

I’ll take each one in turn:

Why would anyone invent a leader who was a crucified criminal and by all appearances a dismal failure at his mission, when that was so obviously going to be the exact opposite of a selling point?

Scholars who argue like this come across to me as playing mind-games with audiences and trying to make them doubt their own senses.

That — a crucified criminal who failed — was not the Christian message. The Christian message was about an innocent man (not a criminal, falsely associated with criminality) only “appearing” to fail (but in fact succeeding to “the wise” who understand) and by his overcoming death, he overcomes all evil powers and is destined to crush all earthly enemies, too. That was the Christian message and its appeal is surely obvious. The message was that the cross was a victory, not a defeat. The message inevitably has an appeal to those who feel down-and-out, persecuted, mistreated. It’s a message that gives those people hope and liberation within their new society.

Why involve the Romans at all?

Why, given that the writers clearly wanted to put as much blame as possible on the Jews for Jesus’s death and to gloss over the Romans’ role in it as much as possible, did they not just write the story to portray Jesus as executed by the Jews rather than the Romans?

Again, we return to the mind-reading argument that basis its conclusion on only those details that support the conclusion. The Gospel of Mark evidently portrayed Jesus as the messenger to Jews and gentiles alike so it stands to reason that both Jews and Romans were to be made responsible for his death.

How do we know that the evangelists wanted to “put as much blame on the Jews as possible and to gloss over the Romans’ role”? Again, though circular reasoning and discarding or re-interpreting evidence that does not support our conclusion.

For or against the Pharisees?

Why, when the writers were painting Jesus as the enemy of the Pharisees, did they cite him as using teachings (such as his teachings on Sabbath healings) that we now know were in fact Pharisee teachings as since recorded in the Talmud?

The answer is spelled out in the first gospel:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. — Matthew 23:1-3

Again, why assume such a mind-reading conclusion about the evangelists? There is no reason to conclude that any of the evangelists sought to portray Jesus as an enemy of any political or religious group per se. We are reading dramatic and theological narratives. Read them for what they are, not what we imagine to have been going on that is nowhere to be found in our sources. As I have posted recently, it is necessary for a historian to first analyse our sources for what they are, the sort of literature they are, and not to bypass such a process as so much unnecessary fluff and dig in “beneath and behind” the sources to an entirely imagined scenario.

(From another conversation with the author — Dr Sarah — I seem to recall she has been influenced by Hyam Maccoby. Maccoby’s views are, shall we say, somewhat controversial. That’s fine, but it is not useful to bandy them about as facts.)

Some days the force was not with him?

Why did they include the embarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?

The narrative itself explains why. The gospels are creating a character from the details in the Jewish Scriptures that instruct the faithful in how prophets are always treated. When we see a character that is like other characters in the same literary tradition performing miracles when the plot makes them necessary and failing to do so when the message of the narrative calls for it then we can fairly suspect we are reading another character created from that same literary tradition.

Again, the question begs the question — assumes a historical Jesus as its premise. The question was raised and fairly comprehensively addressed in William Wrede’s Messianic Secret. (Even some scholars appear not to have read Wrede’s work carefully and sometimes show they have failed to grasp his argument when they protest “there was no messianic secret because look at verse xxx”.)

No way they would have done what they did

And thirdly, above all; there is absolutely no way anyone of that time would have thought that inventing a character who was supposed to be the Messiah but had been executed by the Romans would have worked well to sell their religion.

We have covered part of this argument above. “Absolutely no way,” tells us that no doubts can be legitimately held. Yet scholars surely know that in their field there are other scholars who seriously have written much about how Jews came to imagine such a messianic figure. Clearly, Jews did imagine a messiah who was executed by the Romans. I am not aware that there is evidence for unusually rapid growth of the religion, but we can read many scholarly works that do explain why Christianity did have appeal to many.

If we begin with the assumption of a historical Jesus, then we have to grant that they did do just that.

But there are numerous scholarly works discussing the origins of the Christian message that make it very clear that there was indeed an evolving belief in a suffering and eventually slain messiah whose death atoned for the sins of all Jews, and later gentiles, too. See, for example, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son and Suffering and Dying Messiahs: Typically Jewish Beliefs (among numerous posts on these topics).

Jesus was more often depicted as a good shepherd than a tormented figure on a cross.

Examples: the earliest surviving Christian art places great emphasis on a blessed life after death; there is little to no interest in the crucifixion for some reason. Christianity appealed to the highest Roman values, too. Other scholars have demonstrated the evolution of messianic ideas through Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, Isaac’s binding, Daniel’s Son of Man who represents the martyred and victorious Maccabees, and so forth. We have posted many times about these studies here. Studies of religious movements demonstrate over and over that those doctrines that invert the experiences of failure or suffering into success and power are not uncommon and certainly not without appeal; one might even say they are a necessity for a successful religious movement. Jesus has been portrayed with different types of emphasis throughout the ages according to the needs of the time.

Messiahs everywhere except where they are mentioned

Another instance of interpretation of the sources presented as source-facts:

. . . . this page is about military expectations of the Messiah around Jesus’s time, this is an extremely famous rabbi’s list of Messianic expectations, still considered the main go-to list to this day, which clearly includes the expectation that the Messiah will be a militaryleader, and this page is about one failed Messiah who had a substantial following amongst Jews who were quite happy with his military approach. (https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messiah-2-military-leader/) (https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/maimonides-laws-pertaining-messiah/) (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-bar-kochba-revolt/)

If a scholar is presenting a majority interpretation then the best way to present it to lay audiences is to make clear that it is an interpretation. Some scholars have published doubts that such figures really were considered messianic hopefuls. The messianic connotations are read into them by modern scholars; they are not there in the sources. Again, we are confronted with the indoctrination of a majority opinion and not the factual information itself. It is not difficult for a scholar to say that “even though the sources do not themselves speak of messianic pretenders, most of us believe they were seen as messiahs even though a few of us disagree”.

For some detail on the way texts that don’t mention “messiah” tend to be privileged for interpretations about a “messiah” over those that do use the term: Myth of popular messianic expectations at the time of Jesus

They all called him Messiah?

Jesus had crowds of Jews calling him Messiah, which meant they thought of him as the king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler. 

Here we read another interpretation of the gospels as if the opinion of a scholar is a fact. The Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, in fact explicitly denies that “crowds of Jews were calling him Messiah”. More to the point, the gospels are clearly theological narratives and their details are presenting theological messages, not historical facts — unless we bypass the basics of historical method and begin without question with the assumption that they are historical records.

The gospels go to lengths to point out that “crowds” did not call Jesus “Messiah”. Some thought he was one of the old prophets, and so forth. The Gospel of John at one point says the crowds wanted to make Jesus king but it pretty quickly drops that detail and has them rejecting him. The details change as the theological message weaves its course.

Confusion about historical methods and use of sources

Biblical scholars very often are known to go beyond their areas of expertise and say things that demonstrate this all too clearly. Example:

(For comparison, here’s (https://historyforatheists.com/2018/05/jesus-mythicism-3-no-contemporary-references-to-jesus/) one historian blogger pointing out that the only existing reference to Hannibal that dates back to his own time is one passing mention in an inscription. Not because people didn’t write about Hannibal at the time – they did – but because the writings just didn’t survive. If that was the case for a highly famous and influential general, . . . 

It is misleading to call Tim O’Neill a “historian” because as far as I am aware he never studied history as such (though he did work on medieval literature) beyond high school and has no “training in history” (at least he has not clarified exactly what his “training” involved). His posts have regularly demonstrated a lack of understanding of basic historical methods and even the nature of historical inquiry itself. This particular note is a good example. A large quantity of sources whose provenance and sources cannot be established is not as decisive as a single source that does meet those criteria. We in fact do have ancient historical accounts of Hannibal that are from known persons (one of these was a contemporary of Hannibal) who used known sources that do go back to Hannibal’s time. A historian ought to understand that that is the sort of evidence that allows us to assess the historicity of Hannibal and that that is the sort of evidence we do not have but would expect, for Jesus.

Then again,

Theudas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theudas). First-century Jewish rebel, executed for his attempts. Total surviving contemporary mentions (i.e., dating from the time he lived): zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one short paragraph in Josephus.

Not actually zero. Josephus was a boy at the time of Theudas. But yes, one does not expect much to be written about a person who had little historical impact. As for someone who was reputed to have drawn crowds travelling from areas almost the size of Italy just to hear him and whose followers started a movement that did take root and grow, then we would certainly expect more in the records that do exist.

Athronges (https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messianic-claimant-3-athronges/). Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, led a rebellion that took theRomans two years to defeat. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: several paragraphsfrom Josephus.

Unnamed Samaritan (https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messianic-claimant-7-the-samaritan-prophet/). Rebel from the first century, led a mob thatrequired armed Roman warriors to defeat them. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time:one paragraph in Josephus.

Simon of Peraea (https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messianic-claimant-2-simon-of-perea/). Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, burned down the king’s palace and many of his other houses, had a mob of followers who had to be defeated by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero.Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: two paragraphs in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Unnamed Egyptian (https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messianic-claimant-10-the-egyptian-prophet/). Rebel from the first century, had a group offollowers who were defeated rather rapidly by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from closeto that time: two different paragraphs in Josephus.

Josephus was a young man, a contemporary, of this Egyptian. So no, not “zero” contemporary mentions.

Jesus of Nazareth. Rebel from the first century, had a group of followers, kicked up some sort of fuss in the Temple, arrested and executed by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one passing mention of his brother’s execution by Josephus, possibly (https://historyforatheists.com/2020/10/josephus-jesus-and-the-testimonium-flavianum/) one other short paragraph in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Interesting confusion of detail here. Josephus knew nothing of Jesus “kicking up some sort of fuss in the Temple”. O’Neill has to mention that to make it sound as if this Jesus is comparable to troublemakers listed above. But it is irrelevant if it did not get a mention by Josephus.

O’Neill’s memory has let him down somewhat, though, because he has overlooked — in this particular discussion — other comparable figures that did get a mention by Josephus: James and the insane Jesus ben Ananias. The latter has been noted in the scholarly world as having some remarkable overlaps with the gospel Jesus.

Yet none of the above figures presents historians with anything like the difficulties that confront them with the two passages mentioning the Jesus of Christianity fame. That is surely a significant detail that should be made clear in any serious presentation of an argument. Otherwise, we are being subjected to misinformation, lack of awareness of what the sources actually say and their status among historians, and opinion posing as fact, and to appeals to authority.


The above argument was copied from Dr Sarah. 2020. “Another Jesus Mythicism Discussion.” Geeky Humanist (blog). November 7, 2020. https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2020/11/07/another-jesus-mythicism-discussion/.


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33 thoughts on ““Another Mythicist Discussion” Revisited”

  1. Never mentioned (to my knowledge), probably because he is not a qualified “historian”, I have found the arguments and conclusions of Daniel Unterbrink (“Judas the Galilean: The Flesh and Blood Jesus” and
    “Judas of Nazareth: How the Greatest Teacher of First-Century Israel Was Replaced by a Literary Creation”) very convincing. He insists that “Jesus” was just an honorific for the real Messianic leader, Judas of Galilee.
    Before reading Unterbrink, I was [puzzled by the passages in the LUKE Gospel, e.g.
    Luke 20:22-25 “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”…“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I.e., “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give only to God what is God’s.” Their money had Caesar’s image on it, so it belonged to Caesar. That was the message of Judas of Galilee.

    ALSO, Luke 23:2 “And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”
    ALSO, Luke 23:14 “and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion”
    I think Saul/Paul of Tarsus never persecuted or killed any Christians, who were actually the Gentiles following his cult of the shapeshifted deity Christos he invented, based on Greek mythology. There was never any “conversion”. The Jews were following a rebel leader called Judas the Galilean whom they hoped to be the liberator messiah, not some divine savior for the Gentile world, invented by Saul/Paul.

  2. Hi, Neil. I have now written replies to your comments on my blog (starting at https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2020/11/07/another-jesus-mythicism-discussion/#comment-4477). Apologies for the delay.

    I’ll try to reply to this a bit at a time. Part 1 of reply:

    [on the topic of the ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ line in Josephus and the mention of ‘Christus’ in Tacitus]

    However, each one is justified in the scholarly literature of which I am aware only by special pleading. […] scholars with a particular interest in arguing for the historicity of Jesus sometimes dismiss the serious arguments against the authenticity of key contents relating to Christianity […] Suddenly the instructions in such standard texts are forgotten.

    Neil, I’m trying to be sure I’m correctly understanding what seems to be a rather astonishing claim on your part. Are you seriously trying to argue that the reason why the two lines to which I referred are almost unanimously considered authentic is because of pro-Christian bias on the part of scholars of ancient history? I mean… maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but that’s how it’s coming across.

    Often we read among works arguing for the historicity of Jesus that the reason Josephus did not mention “messiahs” of his day was that he did not want to upset his Roman audience who supposedly had sore memories of fighting a war supposedly inspired by Jewish messianism. Yet when it comes to finding the word for “messiah” (“Christ”) in Josephus relating to Jesus, suddenly there is no problem with Josephus breaking his supposed rule about not mentioning the word.

    From what I understand, that theory is that Josephus was supposedly trying to avoid the concept of messianism, rather than the word. In other words, the problem wasn’t with referring to someone as ‘Anointed’, but with explaining that Jews used the term to mean a victorious king who’d rule over a liberated Israel, or similar ideas that could have been seen as seditious. This might or might not be the case, but, either way, this doesn’t seem to me like a good reason for rejecting the idea that Josephus could possibly have used the term ‘called Christ’.

    Contrary to what we would expect to find in the record if Josephus had said there was a Jesus known as the Christ “historicists” insist that Josephus must have said something like that anyway.

    Was that the link you meant to put in? It seems to be to a list of posts about the Testimonium Flavium, which isn’t either of the quotes I mentioned above.

    That the second occurrence of the word — that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ who had a brother called James who was executed — conforms to everything the manuals of textual criticism tell us about scribal glosses makes no difference.

    I’d like to clarify what you’re trying to say here. What have you found in manuals of textual criticism about scribal glosses that you feel would apply here? Given that the context of my comments was a reply to someone wishing to dismiss Jesus as an entirely mythical character, could you clarify in particular whether you are aware of any explanations for a scribal gloss here that would also fit with a mythical Jesus?

    As for the Tacitus reference, see The Myth of Nero’s Persecution of Christians

    As far as I can see, this article seems to be about whether Tacitus was correct in saying that Nero blamed the fire on Christians. I can’t see anything in it relating to whether Tacitus was correct in his belief that the founder of the Christian movement was known as ‘Christus’ and executed by Pilate. Did I miss something in the post?

    1. Neil, I’m trying to be sure I’m correctly understanding what seems to be a rather astonishing claim on your part. Are you seriously trying to argue that the reason why the two lines to which I referred are almost unanimously considered authentic is because of pro-Christian bias on the part of scholars of ancient history? I mean… maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but that’s how it’s coming across.

      I never suggested anything about a “pro-Christian bias on the part of scholars of ancient history” and never would suggest “scholars of ancient history” are generally biased in that way. 

      As for the statement in Josephus, the only scholars of whom I am aware who have taken a special interest in the question of the authenticity of the passage are biblical scholars, not scholars in the field of “ancient history”. Classicists and ancient historians generally shy away from the topics of focus among biblical scholars and the respective fields’  methods of historical inquiry are very different. And among those scholars with a specialist interest in the authenticity of the Josephan references to Jesus Christ, yes, there is a clear bias to salvage the only piece of extra-biblical first-century source that witnesses to the historicity of Jesus. It has not always been that way among biblical scholars but has taken a shift in that direction since, I understand, the middle of the twentieth century.

      You write: “almost unanimously considered authentic”. When one of the exceptions to the authenticity school happens to be one of the, of not the, leading scholar on Josephus in modern times, then yes, I think even an argument from authority in this case deserves some serious consideration. (Tim O’Neill’s attempts to dismiss his view as the ramblings of a feeble-minded octogenarian overlook the record that he first pointed towards the same argument almost forty years ago. The same ad hominem further suggests to me that the critic has no confidence in any argument alone to serve as an effective rebuttal.) The arguments for a residual authenticity of the passage are indeed special pleading: they are entirely speculative and ad hoc justifications and generally without any reference to the reasons advanced for considering the passages to be entirely interpolation and subsequent gloss. 

      As for the Tacitus passage about Nero’s persecution of the Christians, as far as I am aware the passage is widely assumed to be genuine and no arguments that address contrary viewpoints have been addressed to justify that assumption. I have little problem with that assumption as it is addressed in the literature among classicists. On the face of it, it is a perfectly reasonable position to take. The only scholarly question about the authenticity of the passage has come from those who raise doubts, as far as I am aware. I have not seen scholarly discussions in the literature taking up these challenges and attempting to refute them. From my perspective — and of course I am open to being better informed given that I am an outsider and layman — it appears that the doubts are raised and are left to stand as an interesting contribution. (I am reminded of my undergraduate days when, in our studies of Plato, it was mentioned in passing that there is question in some quarters whether Socrates even existed — but the issue was then left there as an interesting thought but one that was incapable of refutation and ultimately irrelevant.)

      My point here is that with respect to the Tacitean passage, the only place of which I am aware where one finds any debate, to and fro, over the question of authenticity is among biblical scholars. The scholars whom one is more likely to find who are aware that there is some question of authenticity are those in biblical studies. From the classicists whom I know and have known personally, I imagine I would far more likely to have a genial and stimulating discussion of the authenticity of the passage by referencing articles that have been published questioning it, than I could with many biblical scholars.

      As for “pro-Christian bias”, there is no doubt that there is an all-pervasive pro-Christian bias among biblical scholars as has been documented and published by members of that guild themselves (e.g. Avalos, Crossley). It does not follow that that bias necessarily undermines the value of their work, nor that all scholars are infected with that bias. Yet it is also clear that even non-Christian scholars in the field are impacted by the general bias built into the relevant academic institutions and publishing wings. For example, the editor of the leading journal of the study of the historical Jesus has declared outright that no article that presents any argument for the non-historicity of Jesus will be published that journal. That statement is telling anyone who wants their work published in a leading journal has to toe the ideological line, no matter if they are Christian or atheist. There are many instances in biblical studies where scholars have been penalized for publishing hypotheses that are deemed to defy the fundamentals of the “conventional wisdom”. 

      But most bias is unconscious. It comes from unquestioned assumptions. This is one of the reasons for the heated “debate” between mythicists and historicists. Hence Bart Ehrman was able to say, after decades as a biblical scholar, that only in recent years has he ever thoroughly or systematically sought to “prove” whether Jesus existed or not. He even declared that as far as he knew he was the first scholar to have undertaken such an investigation. The historicity of Jesus is generally assumed with only half-registered awareness of the reasons for that assumption. Scholars have often attacked mythicist arguments but as far as I am aware they have nearly all done so by in reality attacking straw men, what they think or want or misinterpret the mythicists to say. Even Albert Schweitzer admitted that historical inquiry simply cannot prove the existence of Jesus — and, as we know, Schweitzer believed in the historicity of Jesus. Biblical scholars would do well to admit the limitations of the historical method (I mean the historical method as applied in historical studies more generally, not that applied by biblical scholars to the “historical Jesus”) and acknowledge how much they rely upon assumptions and traditions in their field. 

    2. In the following exchange I fear we are risking a drift away from the central argument over historicity. I called attention to the uncertain foundation of the claims about Josephus and Tacitus with respect to Jesus because they are frequently put forth as “facts” that somehow “prove” or certainly “buttress” arguments for the historicity of Jesus. They don’t. So the following exchange is at two levels:

      1. the questionable status of the Josephus and Tacitus passages;
      2. whether the passages, even if authentic, do anything to advance the argument for the historicity of Jesus. If we are to be consistent in the way historians treat their ancient sources then we have to conclude that they do not offer support for the historicity of Jesus.

      From what I understand, that theory is that Josephus was supposedly trying to avoid the concept of messianism, rather than the word. In other words, the problem wasn’t with referring to someone as ‘Anointed’, but with explaining that Jews used the term to mean a victorious king who’d rule over a liberated Israel, or similar ideas that could have been seen as seditious. This might or might not be the case, but, either way, this doesn’t seem to me like a good reason for rejecting the idea that Josephus could possibly have used the term ‘called Christ’.

      The argument is specific to the word itself because the word carried the connotation of rebellion. Example,

      As a Jew, Josephus might well have acknowledged someone to be the Messiah without necessarily being excluded from the Jewish fold, but since the concept of the Messiah at this time had definite political overtones of revolution and independence, Josephus, as a lackey of the Roman royal house, could hardly have recognized Jesus as such; and indeed Josephus avoids the use of the term Messiah except here and in Antiquities 20.200 in connection with Jesus.

      (Feldman, “The Testimonium Flavianum: The State of the Question” in Christological Perspectives, 199)

      . . . Josephus studiously avoids terms such as “branch” or “son of David” and “messiah” . . .

      (Horsley Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs, 114)

      Was that the link you meant to put in? It seems to be to a list of posts about the Testimonium Flavium, which isn’t either of the quotes I mentioned above.

      Without going into details here, Josephus deplored and excoriated all prophets who stood against the status quo. If Jesus had been crucified because he created “some disturbance in the temple” as many historicists claim then it is inconceivable that he would have had any kind word at all about Jesus. 

      But having said that, I should add that I only made the initial point I did about Josephus because it is one of many “facts” advanced by many biblical scholars that is an interpretation of the nature of the source material and not a fact in any normal sense of that word. It is a disputed claim, one that has emerged in a certain historical context in the scholarly field (one in which biblical studies has come to be dominated by generally conservative American scholarship), and it is not being honest to speak as though it is an indisputable fact. 

      That was my point in objecting to the initial claim about the witness of Josephus. 

      But to turn to my point about question of the historicity of Jesus, I don’t believe the witness of Josephus makes any difference there. It cannot by the standards ancient historians like Moses I. Finley (one who made explicit his thoughts on historical method in relation to ancient sources) be accepted as decisive. If the Testimonium Flavianum was even partly original to Josephus, we still have no reason other than to assume that he got the information from hearsay in while Rome. There are several indications that the passage incorporates Christological formulae, presumably passed on by associates who had spoken to Christians. Josephus gives readers no indication that the statement is derived from eye-witness or any other independent source. 

      Was that the link you meant to put in? It seems to be to a list of posts about the Testimonium Flavium, which isn’t either of the quotes I mentioned above.

      You are correct. The James passage in Book 20 is not addressed directly in the posts linked on that page.

      The link was to posts that address in detail the claims of biblical scholars who argue that Josephus did speak about “Jesus Christ” — including the reasons the so-called minimal or watered-down version of a Josephan statement are not viable. 

      — And the argument for the James passage does depend upon Josephus having referred to Jesus as Christ earlier in his work. The posts there show that Josephus mentioning Jesus as Christ in any form would be an anomaly and contrary to what we know of Josephus’s attitudes towards anti-establishment prophets.

      That the second occurrence of the word — that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ who had a brother called James who was executed — conforms to everything the manuals of textual criticism tell us about scribal glosses makes no difference.

      I’d like to clarify what you’re trying to say here. What have you found in manuals of textual criticism about scribal glosses that you feel would apply here? Given that the context of my comments was a reply to someone wishing to dismiss Jesus as an entirely mythical character, could you clarify in particular whether you are aware of any explanations for a scribal gloss here that would also fit with a mythical Jesus?

      The reference is to a James who is suggestive of the James according to extra-biblical Christian tradition and the words that identify this James as the brother of Jesus appear to be inserted in a way that creates a syntactical awkward expression. So we have here a passage that invites an explanation and therefore is a tempting target for a scribe to add a marginal note linking him to Jesus [explanation 1]; we have an awkward expression that encourages us to think such a marginal note was copied into the main text without altering the main text in other ways to accommodate it [explanation 2]; we also have the reference of “christ” which assumes that Josephus earlier called Jesus the Christ — a passage that is universally agreed to have been a Christian interpolation. There is no evidence for a minimal reference to Jesus in Book 18, and considerable evidence against that likelihood.

      As for the Tacitus reference, see The Myth of Nero’s Persecution of Christians

      As far as I can see, this article seems to be about whether Tacitus was correct in saying that Nero blamed the fire on Christians. I can’t see anything in it relating to whether Tacitus was correct in his belief that the founder of the Christian movement was known as ‘Christus’ and executed by Pilate. Did I miss something in the post?

      I’ll let you have that one, if you like. But if Nero did not blame the Christians then Tacitus had no call to talk about Christ — the whole passage about Christians falls. I don’t know how you can salvage the Christ-Pilate passage once we remove Nero’s treatment of Christians. 

      But as for the Josephan passage, my point was to call out a debatable position as a fact. It is not a “fact”. 

      But if I were to discuss the question of the historicity of Jesus directly, I would not bother with the Tacitus passage any more than I would with the Josephan one. Tacitus is not likely to have gone poring through imperial archives to learn details about who this “Christ” fellow was and what happened to him. Again, we have to assume that Tacitus was relying on hearsay about Christian origins. What he says was presumably a standard account in the early second century. 

      Such an approach is not “hyper-scepticism” as some claim. It is merely being consistent with how classicists at their best work with their sources, including Tacitus and Josephus. (Yes, there are a few exceptions like Michael Grant. Grant, interestingly, relies entirely upon the work of theologians and other biblical scholars for his study of Jesus and jettisons all that leading historians have called for with respect to ancient sources.)

  3. Part 2 of reply:

    [me] Every so often, there’s something in the gospels that they seem to be trying hard to gloss over, or that contradicts what they’re trying to tell us. […]
    [Neil Godfrey] The first sentence is actually a conclusion that arises from circular reasoning.

    I’m not sure what led you to that assumption about how I reached my conclusion, but I’m finding it somewhat ironic that you’re making such an assumption in the midst of a post complaining about ‘mind-reading’ on my part.

    How does the scholar know “what the evangelist is trying to tell us”?

    Did you mean to post this in response to the section you did (i.e. in response to the example of the Bethlehem birth stories)? I mean, the reason I know that Matthew was trying to tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because Chapter 2 starts ‘Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea’. The reason I know that Luke was trying to tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because in Chapter 2 he states that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem and that she gave birth while there. That’s about as clear as they could have made it. I can see debating about why Luke and Matthew wanted to claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I can’t really see how there’s any debate over the fact that they did claim he was born in Bethlehem.

    It is well known that the title given Jesus of “Nazarene” or “Nazorean” does not derive from the place name of Nazareth (that would mean Jesus was known as “Jesus the Nazarethite”) but was related to an early name for a Christian sect.

    Hang on; isn’t that the same kind of claim that has you calling me out for making assumptions/putting forth opinions as facts? As I understand it, there are some scholars who believe that the names didn’t derive from ‘Nazareth’, but it’s certainly not an unanimous opinion; see for example https://www.jstor.org/stable/3262160?seq=1 and the reply https://www.jstor.org/stable/3262342?origin=crossref&seq=1. (I don’t even think it’s a majority opinion, from what I’ve seen, although on that point I could be wrong.)

    The simplest explanation for the first Bethlehem-Nazareth story is that an evangelist was re-writing the history of the name of the sect.

    Why would someone want to rewrite the history of the name of the sect, and why would all four gospels then give us the same false claim?

    1. [me] Every so often, there’s something in the gospels that they seem to be trying hard to gloss over, or that contradicts what they’re trying to tell us. […]
      [Neil Godfrey] The first sentence is actually a conclusion that arises from circular reasoning.

      I’m not sure what led you to that assumption about how I reached my conclusion, but I’m finding it somewhat ironic that you’re making such an assumption in the midst of a post complaining about ‘mind-reading’ on my part.

      The reason I made that assumption was that many biblical scholars have presented their reasons for believing it and I assumed you were taking your cue from what they have said. If you have other reasons that are independent of what has been published in the field then I would be interested to hear them.

      How does the scholar know “what the evangelist is trying to tell us”?

      Did you mean to post this in response to the section you did (i.e. in response to the example of the Bethlehem birth stories)? I mean, the reason I know that Matthew was trying to tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because Chapter 2 starts ‘Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea’. The reason I know that Luke was trying to tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because in Chapter 2 he states that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem and that she gave birth while there. That’s about as clear as they could have made it. I can see debating about why Luke and Matthew wanted to claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I can’t really see how there’s any debate over the fact that they did claim he was born in Bethlehem.

      I would have thought given the context of the many works published on this very point, and the point so often made by those arguing for the historicity of Jesus, that the point about what the evangelist is trying to tell us is that he is creating an “awkward narrative” because he is forced by embarrassment to hide the “truth” of Jesus’ birthplace.

      Of course the gospels “tell us” Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They are hardly “trying to” do so — they DO do so. They are “trying to hide the fact that he was born in Nazareth when he was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem if he was the messiah” — that’s the argument I was addressing.

      It is well known that the title given Jesus of “Nazarene” or “Nazorean” does not derive from the place name of Nazareth (that would mean Jesus was known as “Jesus the Nazarethite”) but was related to an early name for a Christian sect.

      Hang on; isn’t that the same kind of claim that has you calling me out for making assumptions/putting forth opinions as facts? As I understand it, there are some scholars who believe that the names didn’t derive from ‘Nazareth’, but it’s certainly not an unanimous opinion; see for example https://www.jstor.org/stable/3262160?seq=1 and the reply https://www.jstor.org/stable/3262342?origin=crossref&seq=1. (I don’t even think it’s a majority opinion, from what I’ve seen, although on that point I could be wrong.)

      Do any scholars but those from fundamentalist and apologist seminaries take any notice of Albright today?

      The simplest explanation for the first Bethlehem-Nazareth story is that an evangelist was re-writing the history of the name of the sect.

      Why would someone want to rewrite the history of the name of the sect, and why would all four gospels then give us the same false claim?

      All four gospels were three gospels all dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. They certainly all belong to the stream of Christianity that ended up as the “orthodox” ocean. They all present certain disciples as pillars or as those who became pillars of the church while other Christian sects rejected some or all of those apostles. So our gospels all belonged to a certain common train of thought that stood in opposition to some others.

      I don’t know the specific reason for wanting to remove the sect name from Jesus because we don’t know enough (or anything much at all) about the sect as it was in the first century or early second century. But the notion that a founder of a religion would be named after an insignificant village that presumably few would even have heard of, and that this disciples would also be associated with a religion that went by the name taken from that village — all of that is far more problematic than the evidence that the word derives from a sect name that had something to do with “rigorous observance”.

  4. Part 3 of reply:

    Rhetorical questions are too often substitutes for reasoned conclusions. They can convey the message, “My conclusion is surely so obvious that it needs no further justification.”[…] No contrary argument would be reasonable, it would seem.

    Literally my next sentence after the part you quoted was ‘Sure, you can think of explanations for those, or speculate that maybe there’s some reason we just don’t know.’ I thought that made it obvious that none of my questions was meant to be beyond counter-argument; I’m not sure how I could have made that any clearer, though I’m open to suggestions.

    Scholars who argue like this come across to me as playing mind-games with audiences and trying to make them doubt their own senses.

    How so?

    That — a crucified criminal who failed — was not the Christian message.

    Well, for goodness’ sake, I do realise that’s not the Christian message in terms of being what Christianity focuses on or what it now teaches. But it’s still an undeniable fact that Christianity has taught from the very early stages that their founder was crucified. Even though this is, as you point out, not at all the focus of the message. Even though there’s nothing about it that was inherently necessary for the storyline; there are plenty of possible narratives of suffering, and even of death, that don’t involve crucifixion. Even though Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 1:23 plus what we know of Roman and Jewish culture of the time suggests that the crucifixion story was off-putting to a lot of potential converts. Even though, even among the scriptures that were sometimes interpreted as pointing to Messianic suffering and/or that spoke of violent death, there were absolutely none pointing towards crucifixion as a mode of death. And, given that sort of context, a belief in a Messiah who was crucified is a very odd thing to come up with out of the blue.

    Yes, of course, that doesn’t make it impossible; people sometimes do come up with very odd things out of the blue. It’s just an extremely unlikely thing to come up with. And the problem is that it’s one of several points that require similarly unlikely explanations if we go with a mythicist theory. It’s not that any single point on its own makes mythicism impossible. It’s that we have a whole lot of stuff that is much more straightforward to explain on a historicist theory than on a mythicist theory, which does seem to bring Occam’s Razor into play.

    On top of all that, there’s the question of why this is being presented in the gospels as though the first part of the story has already happened. Sure, people made all sorts of detailed predictions about what the Messiah might do or might be like, and some of those included suffering, and very occasionally even death and resurrection (though I don’t know of any that involved conviction as a criminal and execution). But the only cases I know of in which a group of people started preaching that the Messiah had been on earth although the redemption-of-Israel happy ending was still to happen are the cases of Sabbatai Zvi and Schneerson, which both involved real people who were thought by others to be the Messiah. I find it incredibly difficult to imagine a sequence of events that would lead to people telling stories of a Messiah who had recently lived on earth that doesn’t involve an actual person being thought to be that Messiah.

    1. Dr Sarah, how of grace can you say that the crucifixion is not implied as the ideal form of death for the Suffering SERVant of Isaiah, even more so when the crucifixion was known to be called the SERVILE supplicium par excellence ?

      1. If you read what the passage actually says, it describes the servant being ‘wounded’, ‘bruised’, and ‘brought as a lamb to the slaughter’. We’re very used to associating this passage with the crucifixion story, so that’s what automatically springs to mind; but imagine reading this with no prior knowledge of Christianity whatsoever. The obvious form of death you’d think of would be throat-cutting, given the ‘lamb to the slaughter’ reference. Of course, that might be meant metaphorically, so you might picture all sorts of other forms of injury or death. But there’s nothing that would bring crucifixion in particular to mind.

        I’ve never heard of crucifixion being called the ‘servile supplicium par excellence’. Can you give me a reference, and, more importantly, do you know of any references to this term that predate Christianity?

        1. Dr. Sarah, ignore for a moment the servant being ‘wounded’, ‘bruised’, and ‘brought as a lamb to the slaughter’, and focus only on the word ‘SERVANT’. It cannot be a coincidence that the same Greek word: παῖς, can mean both ‘slave and ‘son’: that word inspired the idea that the Son/Servant of God had to die as a slave, and the crucifixion, the most shameful death of the era, was the apt slaves‘ punishment.

          Cicero called the crucifixion servitutis extremum summumque supplicium (‘the most terrible torture inflicted on slaves‘, In Verrem 2,5,66, 169) and crudelissimum taeterrimymque supplicium (‘the most cruel and horrible torture’). Tacitus called it ‘servile supplicium’ (Historiae 4, 11, 3), supplicium in servilem modum (Historiae 2,72, 2), serviles cruciatus (slaves’s tortures) (Annales 3, 50, 1).

          1. OK. What?

            I just looked up παῖς on Google Translate, which says it actually means ‘parent’. I’ve also looked up the Koine Greek terms for ‘son’ and ‘slave’, and, while I won’t try spelling them here, they were definitely different from each other.
            Even if the internet is wrong about that and there actually is a Koine Greek term meaning both ‘son’ and ‘slave’, why would that mean that someone would invent a complicated theology around it? People can usually handle the concept of homonyms.
            In the highly unlikely event that such a term exists, anyone who formed a theology based on reading it would of necessity have to be literate and fairly fluent in Koine Greek. Have you any explanation as to why no such figure appears as a key figure in any of our accounts of Christianity’s origins, but, rather, the early church leaders are all presented as Jewish peasants?

    2. “I find it incredibly difficult to imagine a sequence of events that would lead to people telling stories of a Messiah who had recently lived on earth that doesn’t involve an actual person being thought to be that Messiah.”

      There would have been a point when the stories being told were when He hadn’t recently lived. Then one would think there would have been more stories from and about prominent and key early followers, and about their groups and communities. We kind of get a sense of that with the letters of Paul. Yet they are general letters to various communities well away from Judea & Israel: letters to communities in Asia Minor or over the Aegean Sea and beyond, eg. to ‘the Romans’. But we don’t hear any more about those communities. Ever, afaik. And they’re largely exhortations.

      Moreover, we don’t hear much about the key disciples -James, Peter or John- Paul’s letters. We just get abstract commentary that they sort of ratified what Paul wanted to do, was doing, or wanted to do. We certainly don’t get accounts from Paul of Peter’s, James’ and John’s about their experiences with Jesus and what they said he said or did as one would expect. We also get Paul scolding Peter (& James), which is pretty weird considering it’s supposed to have been a movement based on accounts of Jesus’ teachings and action, and that antagonism against or among the disciples is something that gets repeated in Mark or Acts (or both).

      You said, “it’s still an undeniable fact that Christianity has taught from the very early stages that their founder was crucified.” I would argue the stories we have and the history of those stories don’t portray Jesus as the founder of Christianity: the stories portray him as a sage or the like, with capacities for magical healing (with spittle as others such as Vespasian were said to have had), and with a streak of table-upturning.

      Further to my previous point about accounts about the lack of early accounts about Christian communities, there is also an ongoing discrepancy between the gospel stories about Jesus and when the movement is first manifest in large scale: the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Origen and their contemporaries are not writings about Christian communities: they’re writing about other writings or, particularly in Irenaeus’s case, writing about and against nonChristians. AFAIK, the earliest account about a congregation is a 4th century priest complaining about his congregants turning to acknowledge the sun before they enter church, a legacy from the Sol Invictus religion that dominated the Roman Empire in the late 3rd century (but about which we hardly ever hear).

      1. “I find it incredibly difficult to imagine a sequence of events that would lead to people telling stories of a Messiah who had recently lived on earth that doesn’t involve an actual person being thought to be that Messiah.”

        Dr Sarah how many generations does “recently” imply? Why do you discount Pliny’s account of the Christian Cult in decline? Which implies an easy switch from a Celestial Jesus to an Earthly Jesus.

        Cf. Carrier, Richard (2020). “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?” Jesus from Outer Space. ISBN 978-1-63431-208-0. pp. 152ff.

    3. Even though Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 1:23 plus what we know of Roman and Jewish culture of the time suggests that the crucifixion story was off-putting to a lot of potential converts.

      Indeed. And Christianity was not universally popular until Constantine made it so “by law”. But the idea of a just man unjustly condemned is a very common — and to people at certain times and situations — popular, appealing motif in literature, in national myths, in religions. That the one who is reduced to the lowest emerges as the highest to vindicate himself and condemn his enemies does have an undeniable appeal.

      Even though, even among the scriptures that were sometimes interpreted as pointing to Messianic suffering and/or that spoke of violent death, there were absolutely none pointing towards crucifixion as a mode of death. And, given that sort of context, a belief in a Messiah who was crucified is a very odd thing to come up with out of the blue.

      There is no suggestion that the idea “came out of the blue”. It came out of Second Temple era Jewish culture. Considerable scholarship has worked on this question and traced its origin back to the events of the Maccabees and narratives of Isaac, the Suffering Servant and Daniel’s Son of Man. It is a very Jewish idea (Also Levenson). 

      I find it incredibly difficult to imagine a sequence of events that would lead to people telling stories of a Messiah who had recently lived on earth that doesn’t involve an actual person being thought to be that Messiah.

      I agree. And that’s what happened. People thought Jesus was the Messiah and that he had lived on earth. The gospels told them so. Even before the gospels they believed that Jesus had descended to earth to be crucificied in humiliation in order to be exalted and banish death.

      Ditto with the Greeks. They believed Heracles lived on earth. Where else would the stories come from? People told accounts of how they had even seen him in their own time. He and others were even said to have been seen at recent battles.

      If your difficulty is with understanding how and why things happened then that is a different question from deciding what the sources point us towards.

      The gospel narratives about Jesus are not attested independently in the sources until the middle of the second century. (Normal dating of events in historical investigations relies upon independent verification.) To verify the “truth” of the stories Justin did not appeal to oral traditions but to scriptures as the proof that they had happened.

      The first gospel was clearly not written as a “historical biography” but as another Jewish story that wove together motifs and allusions from Scriptures to create a new theological narrative. As historical biography the narrative is full of contradictions and nonsense. As a theological rewriting of Scriptural motifs and characters for a new context post the destruction of the Temple and the crucifixions of Jews it makes a lot of sense. It is a tale of a “new Israel” emerging — as prophesied — spiritually cleansed and spiritually victorious. Jesus was a personification of Israel, an extension of the image of Israel in Isaiah as the Suffering Servant, and Daniel’s Son of Man who represented the martyred yet ultimately victorious Maccabees.

      Other writers copied its methods and created their own gospels, some of them (like the Gospel of Peter) never making it into our canon. But they clearly recognized the technique of crafting different narratives out of the Psalms and Prophets.

      While these stories remained within the circles of Jewish exegetes familiar with this type of storytelling the various narrative contradictions and implausible details did not bother them and they treated them as theological narratives. But one can understand how outsiders, gentiles let’s say, could interpret them quite differently, even literally.

  5. Sorry, could you clarify? Can you think of any plausible way in which multiple people from that culture could come to believe that a Messiah had recently existed on earth without this being linked to a historical person?

    I’m afraid I can’t read that paper without paying for it, and I’m not interested enough to pay $19 for one paper, but, from what I can see, it seems to be about a prophecy rather than about a belief in a figure that’s recently been on earth. I can just about see someone believing that the Messiah would be, say, an angel, though it’s a bit of a stretch. I can’t see multiple people then coming up with stories about how this mythical being had recently been living a human life on earth.

    1. It is sufficient, for mythicism, that an a-historical entity, such Melkizedek, was adored as celestial Messiah by marginal Jews, to confute your point that any entity adored as Messiah has to be historical.

      But you are correct in a particular sense: when it became more and more urgent that the concept of Messiah implied a belief in a figure who’s recently been on earth – i.e. when Josephus refers about the “ambiguous” oracle in Bellum 6.312–13, by then, and only by then, i.e. after the 70 CE, they invented the Gospel Jesus. What was perceived as missing, it was invented.

      1. From that very fragmentary translation, I can’t see any evidence either that Melchizedek was thought to be the Messiah, or that anyone was trying to write detailed stories claiming he’d lived on earth.

        Why do you feel a need for a Messiah would have taken the form of claiming one had recently lived when that wasn’t the case? I can see such a need expressing itself in ever-more-imaginative claims about what the Messiah was going to be like, or in fixing on an existing person and believing that person to be the Messiah, or possibly even in a general belief that the Messiah had come and gone and everyone had missed him. But coming up with a detailed fantasy about a Messiah who was said to have recently done all sorts of things during an earthly existence, all made up out of whole cloth? That, I can’t see.

        1. At contrary, it is the best mythicist paradigm that supposes two steps: before, a cult of a vague Messiah called Joshua (the Pauline epistles); after, an entire ‘life’ on earth for such Messiah (the Earliest Written Gospel).

          The desire of an earthly life was a post-70 need. Josephus was the first who introduced in the Roman world the meme (true or false it doesn’t matter) that the Jews expected ONLY a Messiah lived in the RECENT past. So, if “Mark” (author) had to convert Roman proselites in Rome, then he had to satisfy the meme diffused in Rome by Josephus (and Suetonius and Tacitus): that the Jewish Messiah had to be lived on earth “in the last times”. The earthly Gospel Jesus was invented to romanize the original Celestial Jewish Jedus Christ.

          1. “Josephus was the first who introduced in the Roman world the meme…that the Jews expected a Messiah [who had] lived in the Recent past.”

            Is that a general perception you have from reading Josephus’ texts or does it come from specific passages? If specific passages, can you give which ones?

            Another thing that would be good to clarify is, if Josephus was conveying a real perception, which Jews might have expected a messiah and when was this expectation? Before, during, or after the 66_73 war?

  6. Part 4 of reply:

    The Gospel of Mark evidently portrayed Jesus as the messenger to Jews and gentiles alike so it stands to reason that both Jews and Romans were to be made responsible for his death.

    How do you feel that gMark portrays Jesus as ‘the messenger to Jews and gentiles alike’ , and how do you feel it logically follows from this that both were to be made responsible for his death?

    How do we know that the evangelists wanted to “put as much blame on the Jews as possible and to gloss over the Romans’ role”?

    All four of the gospels present a group of Jews as plotting to have Jesus killed (in the synoptics this is described as the scribes and Pharisees’; in gJohn simply as ‘the Jews). This is the sort of thing that, in practice, the gospel writers would have been unlikely to have had inner knowledge about, and thus is more likely to be a detail added for dramatic effect.

    All four tell the story of Pilate giving a crowd of Jews the opportunity to have Jesus released and thus save him, only to have the Jews refuse this and insist on having a different prisoner released instead, thus removing the last chance of saving Jesus and demonstrating their preference for a criminal (in three of the gospels, a murderer and insurrectionist). Given the improbability of this story (which involves a supposed custom of the Roman officials releasing one prisoner at the Jews’ request) it’s also generally considered to be fictional.

    All four describe Pilate as making efforts to persuade the crowd of Jews that Jesus has done nothing wrong and should be freed, only for the Jews to keep shouting for his death until Pilate is worn down and reluctantly accedes. This is… possible, but is not thought to fit very well with Josephus’s description of Pilate or with Jesus’s supposed previous popularity, so there’s a fair chance this part is also fictional. In Matthew, this part of the story is embroidered with the detail of Pilate symbolically washing his hands to absolve himself of blame (unlikely) and the crowd shouting back ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ (no, let’s face it, a crowd did not shout that).

    The three synoptics also include a story about the full Sanhedrin trying and condemning Jesus in a poorly-run trial aimed at unfairly seeking his execution. For various reasons to do with what we know about Jewish law, this story is also generally thought to be fictional, or at least grossly exaggerated (it’s possible that the Johannine version, in which Jesus faces an unofficial hearing before first the former and then the current High Priest, is accurate and that the synoptics embroidered this story into a full Sanhedrin trial).

    Now, that’s quite a few features of the story that are likely to have been invented by the evangelists (or, to be fair, their predecessors in an oral chain), and all of them share the theme of Jewish culpability in Jesus’s death. The ones that mention Pilate share the theme of him trying hard to save Jesus before reluctantly acceding to Jewish pressure. I don’t see why it’s ‘circular reasoning’ to conclude from all this that the evangelists were trying to deflect blame from the Romans to the Jews. (This is especially the case when you consider that that’s exactly what, in practice, happened; on the basis of the gospel stories, the Jews were vilified as Christ-killers for centuries, while a couple of the early churches actually canonised Pilate.)

    1. The Gospel of Mark evidently portrayed Jesus as the messenger to Jews and gentiles alike so it stands to reason that both Jews and Romans were to be made responsible for his death.

      How do you feel that gMark portrays Jesus as ‘the messenger to Jews and gentiles alike’ , and how do you feel it logically follows from this that both were to be made responsible for his death?

      I’m not sure I understand your question. The commentaries and other works analysing the Gospel of Mark widely agree on Mark’s Jesus preaching to Jews (on “this side” of the “sea” of Galilee) and gentiles (on “that side”). The narrative takes Jesus into different geographical areas. The basic Christian message was that Jesus was the saviour of Jews and gentiles; all were sinners and Jesus died for them all.

      On the point about comparative responsibility for Jews and Romans being responsible for his death, yes, certainly the gospels tell us that the Son of God “came to his own” and his own rejected him; that is all according to the prophetic message in Paul and Acts — to the Jews first, then because of their rejection, to the gentiles. The first to confess Jesus was the son of God after his crucifixion was a Roman at the cross.

      A gospel that wanted to exonerate the Romans entirely would leave the Romans out of the crucifixion entirely and have the Jewish king Herod with his Jewish guard entirely responsible for the crucifixion — as we read in the Gospel of Peter.

      That Pilate washed his hands (hypocritically) and yielded to the Jewish demands hardly paints him in just or righteous light. The evangelists are not honouring Rome in depicting their governor that way. Pilate is the equivalent of the party at a Nuremberg trial pleading “I was only following orders” — except that he is the commander following the orders of his subordinates.

      Just as the crucifixion of Jesus was based on a Roman triumph, making the crucifixion a mock triumph (but a real one for those “in the know), the depiction of the great Roman governor as a spineless weakling going against what he knows is right is a mockery of Roman power. The whole scene is a mockery. Jesus is a mock king with a mock crown. Pilate becomes a mockery of Roman imperial power.

  7. Part 5 of reply:

    [In response to my statement that Jesus is portrayed as an enemy of the Pharisees]

    Again, why assume such a mind-reading conclusion about the evangelists? There is no reason to conclude that any of the evangelists sought to portray Jesus as an enemy of any political or religious group per se.

    Thinking about it now, ‘enemy’ probably is a stronger term than I needed and ‘opponent’ would have been better. As to the reasons for concluding that any of the evangelists sought to portray Jesus and the Pharisees as opponents:

    In Mark it’s relatively mild, but we see the Pharisees object to Jesus’s Sabbath healing and are told that their immediate reaction was to discuss ‘how to destroy him’ (3:6) and later, an interaction where the Pharisees ask Jesus a question is described as them being sent ‘to trap him in his talk’ (12:13) and Jesus’s reaction is described as ‘knowing their hypocrisy’ (v15).

    Matthew dials this up to eleven. When he describes the above interaction, the phrase ‘trap him in his talk’ is replaced with a stronger ‘plotted how to entangle him in his words’ and Jesus’s response is described as ‘But Jesus, aware of their malice, said “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?[…]”’ (Mt 22:15 and 18). Elsewhere in the gospel, we see him address a group of Pharisees and Sadducees with “You brood of vipers!” (3:7), the Pharisees accuse him of getting his demon-controlling powers from ‘the prince of demons’ (9:34), and Jesus rant against the Pharisees at great length (the “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” speech in 23:1 – 36).

    Luke is notably less aggressive about this than Matthew, but we still get the “You brood of vipers!” line and the line ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy’. And, as with the other two Synoptics, we get the Pharisees disapproving of Jesus’s Sabbath healing, though Luke does at least tone down the reaction a bit; rather than the Pharisees plotting to ‘destroy’ Jesus, we get a vaguer ‘discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus’ (6:11). However, they are nevertheless described as ‘filled with fury’ in reaction to Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

    In John we hear a lot less about it. However, we do still get scenes in which Pharisees disagree with his action in healing someone on the Sabbath (although this is at least presented as a disagreement among the Pharisees with only some of them objecting), and in which they join forces with the High Priest to have him arrested.

    From another conversation with the author — Dr Sarah — I seem to recall she has been influenced by Hyam Maccoby. Maccoby’s views are, shall we say, somewhat controversial. That’s fine, but it is not useful to bandy them about as facts.

    Yes to all (yes, Maccoby has been a significant influence on my thinking; yes, his views are controversial; yes, he has an unfortunate tendency to blur the line between claims he can substantiate and claims that are just his opinion, which makes it important to be careful to look at what actually can and can’t be substantiated in his work).

    However, I’m not sure why you’re bringing this up in the context of querying my claim that the gospels portray Jesus as in opposition to the Pharisees, as I’d say that’s one of Maccoby’s statements that’s not controversial at all. (There’s certainly controversy about whether Jesus actually was in opposition to the Pharisees, but I can’t see any about whether he was portrayed that way.) If you meant my statement about Jesus’s views on Sabbath healing being in line with Pharisee teachings as later portrayed in the Talmud, then yes, I did get that from Maccoby (well spotted!). The reason I accept it as correct is partly because Jewish law was actually Maccoby’s field of expertise, partly because I’ve also read about Jewish law elsewhere and the information I got matches, and partly because I checked the references Maccoby cited regarding similar Talmudic teachings and they checked out.

    1. I do not dispute Jesus often opposed the Pharisees in the gospels but he was also a friend of some of them.

      My point was directed at the argument that we would not expect Jesus to be made to have any teachings in common with the Pharisees.

  8. Part 6 of reply (several short replies to different sections here, which I’ll combine in one comment):

    [me] Why did they include the embarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?
    [Neil] The gospels are creating a character from the details in the Jewish Scriptures that instruct the faithful in how prophets are always treated. When we see a character that is like other characters in the same literary tradition performing miracles when the plot makes them necessary and failing to do so when the message of the narrative calls for it then we can fairly suspect we are reading another character created from that same literary tradition.

    Curious as to what examples you were thinking of? I can’t remember anything that would fit, but it’s a long while since I read the OT and there were parts I never completed, so I could well be forgetting something.
    __

    <

    blockquote>[me] And thirdly, above all; there is absolutely no way anyone of that time would have thought that inventing a character who was supposed to be the Messiah but had been executed by the Romans would have worked well to sell their religion.
    [Neil] “Absolutely no way,” tells us that no doubts can be legitimately held. Yet scholars surely know that in their field there are other scholars who seriously have written much about how Jews came to imagine such a messianic figure. Clearly, Jews did imagine a messiah who was executed by the Romans.

    Neil, I think you might not quite have read what I was saying correctly. I wasn’t saying there was no way Jews could have imagined this; I was saying there was absolutely no way that it would have been considered a good selling point. (If you look back at the original post, you can see that this was in reply to a suggestion by the original poster that the crucifixion story might have been invented because the founders of the religion thought it would work well to persuade people; therefore, that was the specific point I was refuting.)
    __

    [In response to a paragraph I wrote about beliefs in a military Messiah, with links]

    Some scholars have published doubts that such figures really were considered messianic hopefuls.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘such figures’, plural; as far as I can see, bar Kochba is the only specific figure named in those links. I think you’re correct in saying that it was too much of an assumption to state that he was considered a possible Messiah when we don’t have specific evidence for that. As you know, after you pointed that out I edited the post to put in a footnote correcting my mistake there.

    Other than that, I think you misunderstood the point I was trying to make in this paragraph. I’ve clarified this at https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2020/11/07/another-jesus-mythicism-discussion/#comment-4484.
    __

    [me] Jesus had crowds of Jews calling him Messiah, which meant they thought of him as the king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler. 
    [Neil] Here we read another interpretation of the gospels as if the opinion of a scholar is a fact.

    Fair point. I think I could have better phrased this as something like ‘Even allowing for inevitable exaggeration by the gospel writers/their predecessors, it certainly seems that Jesus had quite a lot of followers and that many of them believed him to be the Messiah, which typically indicated a belief in a king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler.’ I think that does still provide a perfectly good answer to the point I was answering at the time, which was the question of why the Romans would have cared enough about Jesus to have him executed.

    1. [me] Why did they include the embarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?
      [Neil] The gospels are creating a character from the details in the Jewish Scriptures that instruct the faithful in how prophets are always treated. When we see a character that is like other characters in the same literary tradition performing miracles when the plot makes them necessary and failing to do so when the message of the narrative calls for it then we can fairly suspect we are reading another character created from that same literary tradition.

      Curious as to what examples you were thinking of? I can’t remember anything that would fit, but it’s a long while since I read the OT and there were parts I never completed, so I could well be forgetting something.

      Moses is a classic case. He performs miracles at will when the plot calls for them but when the plot calls for him to be in fear of his life from his own people then he is powerless and has to beg God for death as the only way out. Elijah. Elisha. Murderous miracles when it suits, but run like hell when that suits.

      [Neil] “Absolutely no way,” tells us that no doubts can be legitimately held. Yet scholars surely know that in their field there are other scholars who seriously have written much about how Jews came to imagine such a messianic figure. Clearly, Jews did imagine a messiah who was executed by the Romans.

      Neil, I think you might not quite have read what I was saying correctly. I wasn’t saying there was no way Jews could have imagined this; I was saying there was absolutely no way that it would have been considered a good selling point. (If you look back at the original post, you can see that this was in reply to a suggestion by the original poster that the crucifixion story might have been invented because the founders of the religion thought it would work well to persuade people; therefore, that was the specific point I was refuting.)

      I don’t understand why we appear to think of somehow inventing a religion that is going to market well. That’s not how serious religions emerge. People don’t sit down and call in PR experts to devise “good selling points” for a new religion they want to “sell”.

      But I take your point that I was reading your comment out of context.

      Some scholars have published doubts that such figures really were considered messianic hopefuls.

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘such figures’, plural; as far as I can see, bar Kochba is the only specific figure named in those links. I think you’re correct in saying that it was too much of an assumption to state that he was considered a possible Messiah when we don’t have specific evidence for that. As you know, after you pointed that out I edited the post to put in a footnote correcting my mistake there.

      I am sorry if I misread you or overlooked qualifiers you made.

      Bar Kochba may have been seen as a messianic hopeful but I understand that the evidence is not the most robust from what I know of it. The other figures I had in mind were those bandits and would-be kings mentioned by Josephus prior to the fall of Jerusalem. It seems to me that scholars who have focussed most on messianism in the Second Temple era and in the following decades are not being heard by other scholars who make comments about messianic movements and ideas from what they have long been taught in the past.

      But if I have misread anything then I’m willing to backtrack. The discussion is long enough without going down wrong pathways! 😉

      Even allowing for inevitable exaggeration by the gospel writers/their predecessors, it certainly seems that Jesus had quite a lot of followers and that many of them believed him to be the Messiah, which typically indicated a belief in a king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler.’ I think that does still provide a perfectly good answer to the point I was answering at the time, which was the question of why the Romans would have cared enough about Jesus to have him executed.

      So says the gospel narrative when that was necessary for the plot. During Jesus’ ministry we read that the crowds had no idea who he was: was he a prophet? someone resurrected from the dead? Elijah? etc But the plot calls for them not to know he is the messiah. Then at Jerusalem he is at one time hailed as the messiah — without any explanation for their change of mind — while at another time he is wanted for execution. This sort of thing is typical of novelistic plots in Greco-Roman literature. Crowds are depicted as mindless, fickle — without any sense of historical realism.

      A problem serious for some scholars is trying to explain why Jesus would have been executed as a messianic pretender while his followers were allowed to go free. That was not the Roman way. Explanations in the literature usually come down to rationalizing the gospel narrative of an innocent Pilate who knew Jesus was not dangerous but had him killed anyway. This explanation is getting well away from Occam’s razor and leaving the sources and evidence far behind. Imagining alternative scenarios to what we read in the sources is one way to create an alternative history. But it does not do justice to the sources we have.

  9. Part 7 of reply (nearly finished, in case you were wondering; just one more to go after this and it should be done):

    It is misleading to call Tim O’Neill a “historian”

    It’s also misleading to leave out the fact that, after you originally pointed this out, I edited my post to put in a footnote clarifying that I was wrong about this and that, according to his ‘About’ page, he is not a historian.

    By the way, he’s also not a Biblical scholar, so I’m not sure why you’re using this as an example to illustrate the tendency of Biblical scholars to go beyond their expertise (unless that bit was accidentally left over from the Sara Parks misunderstanding and was meant to refer to me, but of course in that case it’s still inaccurate).

    because as far as I am aware he never studied history as such (though he did work on medieval literature) beyond high school

    His ‘About’ page states that he studied English and History at university. This fact has since been pointed out to you in a comment on my page to which you have responded, so I know that you have definitely seen it. May I trust that it is a mere oversight that you have not edited your error here and that you will do so forthwith?

    This particular note is a good example.[…] We in fact do have ancient historical accounts of Hannibal that are from known persons (one of these was a contemporary of Hannibal) who used known sources that do go back to Hannibal’s time.

    Since O’Neill makes this exact point in the post to which I linked in the portion you quoted, I’m a little puzzled as to why you seem to be giving this as an example of his ‘lack of understanding of basic historical methods’. Maybe you didn’t mean that as the example, but it does come across as sounding that way.

    A historian ought to understand that that is the sort of evidence that allows us to assess the historicity of Hannibal and that that is the sort of evidence we do not have but would expect, for Jesus.

    Wow. Neil, I find it quite… let us go with ‘astonishing’… that you, as a non-historian, are making this sort of blanket statement about how historians ‘ought’ to hold a particular viewpoint regarding what evidence we would expect for Jesus. Nearly all historians are not Jesus mythicists, so, even allowing for what is probably a large number who don’t have an opinion on the subject either way, that still seems to leave a lot of historians out there who don’t agree with your claim about what we would expect by way of historical reports on Jesus. By all means disagree with them, but this idea that you think historians in general ought to think the same way about it is… you know, I don’t know how I can even finish that without potentially being interpreted as rude. Wow.

    1. A historian ought to understand that that is the sort of evidence that allows us to assess the historicity of Hannibal and that that is the sort of evidence we do not have but would expect, for Jesus.

      Wow. Neil, I find it quite… let us go with ‘astonishing’… that you, as a non-historian, are making this sort of blanket statement about how historians ‘ought’ to hold a particular viewpoint regarding what evidence we would expect for Jesus. Nearly all historians are not Jesus mythicists, so, even allowing for what is probably a large number who don’t have an opinion on the subject either way, that still seems to leave a lot of historians out there who don’t agree with your claim about what we would expect by way of historical reports on Jesus. By all means disagree with them, but this idea that you think historians in general ought to think the same way about it is… you know, I don’t know how I can even finish that without potentially being interpreted as rude. Wow.

      “Nearly all historians” have not studied the question of Jesus or his historicity. They speak of him as having existed as part of our cultural knowledge – as I also do.

      Not even biblical scholars have “studied” the question of the historicity of Jesus from what I have seen in their publications, and from what even Bart Ehrman himself says. Jesus’ historical existence is assumed. The gospels are assumed to be sourced from oral traditions and based on historical events. It is all assumption. Question that assumption and many biblical scholars retort by proof-texting from sources (ignoring the contexts of their sources) and making blatantly false claims about having to reject many other historical persons if we reject Jesus.

      I have read what historians say about evidence and interpretations of sources, in particular ancient sources, and make my comment on the basis of what they have written and published.

      Biblical scholars of the historical Jesus do not do history, do not work with sources, the way other historians work with their sources. The difference is as stark as day from night.

      I do not argue that Jesus did not exist. I try to approach the sources the way historians generally approach sources and seek the most economical explanation for what produced them. I believe they can best be explained without reference to a certain historicity behind the gospel narrative.

      My “ought” is not rude. It follows from the basic principles of historical inquiry into sources. Certain methods are clear and justified that historians “ought” to follow.

  10. Part 8 of reply (final part):

    [on the lack of contemporary mentions of Theudas]

    Not actually zero. Josephus was a boy at the time of Theudas.

    Ah, sorry, that was unintentionally ambiguous; by ‘contemporary’, I meant ‘written during the person’s lifetime’, as this is a criterion that often gets brought up by people disparaging the existing non-biblical writings about Jesus.

    As for someone who was reputed to have drawn crowds travelling from areas almost the size of Italy just to hear him

    Hey, hang on. Weren’t you just telling me earlier in this same post that we shouldn’t take the story of the crowds at face value as the authors were aiming for a theological message rather than historical accuracy? I agree with that; while Jesus clearly made some kind of a stir, we can’t make assumptions that details like this weren’t exaggerated.

    and whose followers started a movement that did take root and grow, then we would certainly expect more in the records that do exist.

    Why should we assume that ‘started a small offshoot religious movement’ would be something that historians of the time would necessarily take enough note of to write about?

    Interesting confusion of detail here. Josephus knew nothing of Jesus “kicking up some sort of fuss in the Temple”.

    You lost me. Why do you think this is a confusion or that it matters to the point I was making?

    O’Neill has to mention that to make it sound as if this Jesus is comparable to troublemakers listed above.

    I have absolutely no idea why you think this section came from O’Neill. (Oh, wait; just remembered I did link to a post from him as I’d mentioned the TF and wanted a link to a post about the uncertainties over it, so… did you see the link and think that whole paragraph came from him, or something?)

    O’Neill’s memory has let him down somewhat, though, because he has overlooked — in this particular discussion — other comparable figures that did get a mention by Josephus: James and the insane Jesus ben Ananias.

    Apart from the whole ‘nothing to do with O’Neill’ thing, I also have no idea why you think I should have included those two figures. I mean, I wasn’t trying for a comprehensive list of comparable figures in Jesus; I was trying to illustrate the point that there was nothing unusual about someone of that time being arrested and executed by the Romans yet having very few surviving documents about them.

    Yet none of the above figures presents historians with anything like the difficulties that confront them with the two passages mentioning the Jesus of Christianity fame. That is surely a significant detail that should be made clear in any serious presentation of an argument.

    Again, I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say. Which particular two passages? Did you mean the two in Josephus? The TF certainly has significant difficulties associated with it, which was why I used the word ‘possibly’ about it and put in that link to the post going into more detail about the problems. The ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ is accepted as genuine by very nearly all historians. Did you mean a different two passages?

    Otherwise, we are being subjected to misinformation, lack of awareness of what the sources actually say and their status among historians, and opinion posing as fact, and to appeals to authority.

    Do you feel I have put forward misinformation about those passages in this post? If so, what?

    1. As for someone who was reputed to have drawn crowds travelling from areas almost the size of Italy just to hear him

      Hey, hang on. Weren’t you just telling me earlier in this same post that we shouldn’t take the story of the crowds at face value as the authors were aiming for a theological message rather than historical accuracy? I agree with that; while Jesus clearly made some kind of a stir, we can’t make assumptions that details like this weren’t exaggerated.

      I am responding to the argument that asserts that from the gospels themselves Jesus was not famous and therefore we should not expect him to be found in the historical record outside the gospels. My point is that from the gospels themselves this claim about limited fame is not true.

      and whose followers started a movement that did take root and grow, then we would certainly expect more in the records that do exist.

      Why should we assume that ‘started a small offshoot religious movement’ would be something that historians of the time would necessarily take enough note of to write about?

      Because we find that social movements making a ripple in the landscape were noted in our sources.

      The ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ is accepted as genuine by very nearly all historians

      Historians or biblical scholars? I think of historians as those who belong to history and classics faculties. Most biblical scholars who work on the historical Jesus do not follow the methods used by those historians. They have created their own unique set of rules and processes, often misquoting and misinterpreting the disciplines they claim to be working from. One biblical scholar even claimed that biblical scholars are possible “leaders” in the field of historical research with their innovative methods.

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