Category Archives: Doherty: Jesus Puzzle

Earl Doherty’s First Day with Biblical Scholars on Crosstalk Forum

I begin by repeating Earl Doherty’s maiden post to Crosstalk. I have colour coded different discussion threads. Links below are to the archive.org site where Earl’s Jesus Puzzle website is as it existed at the time of the Crosstalk exchange. For the current site see http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/jesuspuzzle/index.htm

I have decided to present this early conversation to allow readers to see the evidence and judge for themselves various claims that are made about the character of those early exchanges.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal . . . all delivered with an air of smug superiority 

5011    The Jesus Puzzle

Earl D

Feb 9, 1999

On the weekend, Bill told me that he had brought the Crosstalk list’s
attention to my web site (Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle) and asked for
opinions. He sent me a selection of postings he had gotten in response. On
Monday morning, I resubscribed myself after an absence of a few months, and
read several more responses to Bill’s queries about my views and those of
other “mythicists”.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal of any counter
argument, all delivered with an air of smug superiority that would do any
fundamentalist proud. Is this the discussion of reasonable and educated men
(I haven’t noticed any women yet), moving in the corridors of open-minded
investigation and an honest search for truth and understanding? Many of the
Crosstalkers identify themselves as members of university faculties, where
one assumes the standard is one of reasoned debate and basically courteous
discussion, even where contentious ideas are involved. Instead, the
reaction to Bill’s queries has been mostly that of snarling dogs incensed at
having their fireside chats disturbed by unorthodox inquiry. The ad hominem
attacks in several of those postings would be flattered by the word
“sophomoric”.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal of any counter
argument, all delivered with an air of smug superiority that would do any
fundamentalist proud. Is this the discussion of reasonable and educated men
(I haven’t noticed any women yet), moving in the corridors of open-minded
investigation and an honest search for truth and understanding? Many of the
Crosstalkers identify themselves as members of university faculties, where
one assumes the standard is one of reasoned debate and basically courteous
discussion, even where contentious ideas are involved. Instead, the
reaction to Bill’s queries has been mostly that of snarling dogs incensed at
having their fireside chats disturbed by unorthodox inquiry. The ad hominem
attacks in several of those postings would be flattered by the word
“sophomoric”.

The theory that no Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning of the
Christian movement has been around for two centuries, championed by many
researchers in many countries over the years, some of them respected
scholars, long before Wells or myself. Outright “loony” ideas don’t usually
have that kind of shelf life. The myth theory is there, and refuses to go
away, and the fact that it exists in a charged field like religion does not
justify it being denied the respect it might deserve. After all, we would
surely condemn any physicist, any anthropologist, any linguist, any
mathematician, any scholar of any sort who professes to work in a field that
makes even a partial bow to principles of logic and scientific research who
insisted on ignoring, vilifing, condemning without examination a legitimate,
persistent theory in his or her own discipline. There are tremendous
problems in New Testament scholarship, problems that have been grappled with
for generations and show no sign of getting any closer to solution.
Agreement is lacking on countless topics, and yesterday’s theories are being
continually overturned. Scholarly commentaries are shot through with words
like “riddle”, “puzzling”, “insoluble.” Some documents are said to “lead to
despair.”

Sorry, I don’t mean to turn this into a lecture, but if any of you would
take an honest and open-minded look at some of my site you might find
material that would at least give some food for thought. Two members of the
Jesus Seminar, Darrell Doughty and Robert Price, were impressed enough with
it that they invited me to write an original article for their Journal of
Higher Criticism (out of Drew University). Both of them have brought up my
name and observations at Jesus Seminar meetings on a couple of occasions.
That Journal article appeared in the Fall 1997 issue, and is now reprinted
on my site. It would be a good intro to the essentials of the Jesus-as-myth
theory, particularly my own arguments for it, which differ substantially
from those of Wells in important respects. I’ll quote the direct URL for it
at the end of this.

I’ll also quote a couple of other articles on the site which I regard as
especially cogent. While I hardly claim to be an expert in every aspect of
biblical research (is there anyone here who would be that presumptuous?), I
would be willing to let a few of the efforts now on my site (my analysis of
Hebrews, for example, or my consideration of contemporary Platonism and
hellenistic mythological thinking (in Article 8) as it may shed light on
what Paul actually believed) stand beside anything produced in these
areas–always allowing for the fact that I’ve aimed partly for the
understanding of the general, uninitiated reader. Those of you who take the
trouble to look at them are certainly free to challenge me, hopefully with a
modicum of professionalism and common human decency.

One of the things that has struck me in reading responses to Bill is the
general lack of understanding even of the basic principles of the
non-existence of Jesus theory. This, of course, is due to the disdainful
and knee-jerk dismissal of the very idea which is commonly accorded it. It
seems to me that if you seriously want to cope with this stubborn theory
which refuses to go away and which is gaining wider currency even in the
general population (if you hadn’t noticed), you owe it to yourselves and
your discipline (I won’t say your confessional beliefs) to investigate the
matter a little more thorougly, so as to offer a more reasoned and effective
response to it.

What also surprised me was the rejection, or ignoring, by many of
well-established views within standard liberal scholarship, such as the
widespread rejection, or at least questioning, of the authenticity of 1
Thessalonians 2:15-16. Labelling this an interpolation is not exactly some
arbitrary crackpot idea of my own. Pearson is ably seconded by such as
Mack, Koester, Meeks and Brandon. One cannot simply ignore a body of voices
like that when seeking to heap scorn on myself. Another case is failing
even to acknowledge the view held by many (such as Norman Perrin, whom I
highly respect and regret the early death of) that Paul’s so-called “words
of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians are not a drawing on any body of Jesus’
earthly teaching in circulation, but are personal communications he believes
he has received from Christ in heaven, something postulated as a common
feature of the early prophetic movement. The same goes for the common
interpretation of 1 Cor. 2:8’s “rulers of this age” as referring to the
demon spirits (which is one of the cornerstones of my argument). Not even
to take such trends within one’s own discipline into account in one’s
arguments (even if you don’t agree with them) is hardly the mark of honest
and up-to-date investigation and debate.

Some of what was written by a couple of people against Bill was
unconscionable in a milieu that professes to be dedicated to reasoned and
scientific discussion of historical questions, and I am reminded of a
comparison I made to the fundamentalist J P Holding who attacked my views.
I called his attention to a short piece of music by the American composer
Charles Ives, called “The Unanswered Question.” Against a quiet orchestral
backdrop, a serene trumpet asks a musical question which a chorus of flutes
at first calmly and confidently answers, but when the questioner continues
to restate his query several times (evidently because the answer is
inadequate) the flute contingent gradually degenerates into nattering,
scoffing, sneering hyenas choking on their own scorn. (I recommend the
Leonard Bernstein performance.) I guess Ives’ flutes can be found just
about anywhere, and their snarling has often managed to drawn out many a
questioning voice.

Before they drown me out, on this listserver anyway, I’ll make a posting
or two in the next couple of days (nothing too long) to respond to a few
points raised by several of you. Jeff Peterson made the sole considered,
reasonable response, I think, and I’ll address him first, then add a few
things raised by others. I’m not overly determined to get into an extended
debate (especially on a daily basis), but if one develops I won’t engage in
anything which isn’t at least moderately polite. That doesn’t mean one
can’t be provocative and challenging, but some base level of decency and
respect can surely be expected and maintained.

And I hope Bill will continue to make his voice heard and give me some
support. It is sometimes an advantage to be outside a discipline and heavy
study in it, and evaluate something simply on the basis of one’s own
reasoning capacity and innate primal instinct.

Earl Doherty

The Jesus Puzzle: <http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus.html>
Article for the Journal of Higher Criticism: …/jesus/jhcjp.htm>
Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? …/jesus/supp03.htm>
Article No. 6: The Source of Paul’s Gospel: …/jesus/supp06.htm>
Article No. 8: Christ as “Man”: Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person? …jesus/supp08.htm>

The solution is not necessarily peeling away the onion layers

5012    Re: The Jesus Puzzle

Jack Kilmon

Feb 9, 1999

Earl D wrote:

> The theory that no Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning of the
> Christian movement has been around for two centuries, championed by many
> researchers in many countries over the years, some of them respected
> scholars, long before Wells or myself.

Having been pretty busy lately, I have missed this thread and others’responses.
Since I am one of those to whom you refer with:

> It is sometimes an advantage to be outside a discipline and heavy
> study in it, and evaluate something simply on the basis of one’s own
> reasoning capacity and innate primal instinct.
>

Having reviewed the articles on your site, on the surface, there arethings with
which I disagree but will take the time to study the articles
(which I have printed) and respond on each of the 12 “pieces of the puzzle.”

At the very least, I agree..like most, that the historical Jesus is so
profoundly
overlain with mythological strata the germinal layer will never be fully
exposed. The solution to this, however, is not necessarily peeling away
all the layers of the onion, leaving nothing.

Jack

It is utterly UN-reasonable to suggest that Jesus did not exist.
5013    please….

Jim West

Feb 9, 1999

It is utterly UN-reasonable to suggest that Jesus did not exist. Such
silliness has no place on an academic list. Perhaps discussions of the
non-existence of Jesus belong on the same lists as discussions of UFO
abductions, alien autopsies, and the like. Indeed, a new list should be
started by those interested in such things and it can be called
“sci.fic.christianity.alt”

The net is filled with crackpots, loons, and various shades of insane folk
who spout their views and expect people to take them seriously. And when
they dont get taken seriously they get mad.

Sorry to sound a little irritated- but Bill and his “voice behind the
curtain” have simply repeated old junk which has been dealt with in the
history of scholarship already. Why must we reinvent the wheel every time
someone comes up with “a new idea or a new spin on an old idea”.

(oh yes, I have visited the web page advertised— very pretty- yet filled
with nonsensical non sequiters). Life is too short to rehash garbage.

Best,

Jim

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology

Hmmm…. Now this is bizarre reasoning

read more »

The Day Earl Doherty (author of ‘The Jesus Puzzle’) Personally Entered the Global Forum

Earl Doherty, author the The Jesus Puzzle website, The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus Neither God Nor Man and other books, and contributor to The Journal of Higher Criticism, made his “public appearance” on a biblical scholars forum on Tuesday, the 9th of February, 1999: Crosstalk. In the light of some unfortunate mischaracterizations of the tone of Earl’s engagement with scholars and the wider public I have decided to post the lead up to Earl’s entrance into that web forum and the initial responses of scholars to his presence. This post only looks at the first half of that intention and concludes with the entrance of Earl to Crosstalk. The next post in this series will set out the posts demonstrating the way the different parties responded to his arrival.

Bill2200 started it.

It was a Thursday, 4th February 1999 when he did it. He posted the 4891st post to the Crosstalk forum, a forum for scholarly discussion among biblical scholars. He chose as the title of his post,

A man or a myth?

and this is what he wrote:

Hello. I’m new to Crosstalk and may not stick around long, but am hoping
someone can help me out here. I’m interested in the historical Jesus. Did such
a person actually exist? I’ll refer you to Earl Doherty’s work at:The basic argument, for those unfamiliar with it, is this: The NT epistles,
all the other 1st century non-canonical Christian writings and most of the
writings well into the 2nd century say nothing of an earthly Jesus: no
ministry, miracles, holy places, Mary & Joseph, the trial, the passion, etc.
The most plausible explanation for this is that Jesus started out as an
entirely divine entity, just like all the other gods in all the other
religions of the day. The idea of a historical human founder was a later
development in Christian mythology.So . . . is Doherty onto something here? I’ve read the lengthy rebuttal given
by Christian apologist J. P. Holding (Doherty provides a link), and it’s
rather feeble. I’ve read articles on Josephus and Doherty’s rebuttal. It’s
fairly obvious that the Testimonium Flavianum is a bad joke which offers not
one iota of support for a historical Jesus. The smaller Josephus reference is
better, but a far cry from compelling evidence.Most people posting messages here would seem to agree that the gospels are
loaded with fiction. To argue a mythical Jesus requires assuming the gospels
are ALL fiction—in other words, just like every other story of every
other god in every other religion in all of history. Is there anything
implausible about this?So help me out here! I like Doherty’s arguments, but am not a scholar and
can’t say whether his premises are true or whether he has been misleading or
has omitted significant information. Thanks in advance for any insightful
replies!Bill

And that’s who started it. We learn later that his surname is Paulson.

The first response was from Jim West (who still seems to have some difficulty making an informed response)

Jim West

At 10:33 AM 2/4/99 -0500, you wrote:

>Hello. I’m new to Crosstalk and may not stick around long, but am hoping
>someone can help me out here. I’m interested in the historical Jesus. Did such
>a person actually exist?

 

Yes, Jesus relly existed. Arguments (really pseudo arguments) to the
contrary notwithstanding.

Best,

Jim

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology

Next came Antonio:

Antonio Jerez
Feb 4, 1999

No, Doherty is definitely not into something here. And I’m definitely no
Christian apologist, since I’m no Christian – but I still believe that the
mass of data show that a galilean prophet by the name of Jesus was
crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of a roman governor around 30 A.D.
And let’s leave Josephus out of this for a moment. You don’t really need
the Testimonium Flavianum or the notice about James execution to
be practically certain that Jesus really existed and died the way the NT
claims. You just need a little common sense and some knowledge about
the Messianic ideas that were in vogue in Palestine around year 0. There
simply wasn’t any expectations about the coming of a SUFFERING and
CRUCIFIED Messiah. The last thing a jew would have invented if he wanted
to missionize in Palestine around that time was a dead Messiah, specially
one crucified by Israels enemies. The simple fact is that the Jesus movement
one day found itself with a very dead leader. This terrible fact they had to
explain to both themselves and to other Jews. So next they started searching
the Scriptures for clues and “found” them in places like the Servant songs
of Isaiah, Psalm 22 and the Wisdom of Solomon. Also remember that the
ancient Jews read the OT much like many moderns read the prophecies
of Nostradamus – EVERYTHING about the fate of the world, from beginning
to end, can be found there if God opens your eyes to the mysteries.

Best wishes

Antonio Jerez

Next, Stevan Davies

Stevan Davies
Feb 4, 1999

Absolutely. You have Paul testimony from 50 AD that he knows of

Jesus AND, against wierd theories that Paul made him up, Paul’s
testimony about his relationships to James Peter John whom other
sources indicate knew Jesus personally. Not to mention lots of other
Paul references to people who were adherents of Jesus and who were
so prior to meeting Paul. So if Jesus were invented
it wasn’t Paul who invented him but X the unknown who did so
a considerable period before. It’s just silliness.Steve

Tom Simms
Feb 4, 1999

Then Tom Simms

On Thu, 4 Feb 1999 16:45:11 -0400, miser17@… writes:
Right on, Steve,
.. but don’t say God raised him from the dead and turned him into
some kind of a spirit and all that hocus pocus stuff. The
personal appearances recorded were not imagination. You know
how Meso-America works! The appearances’ effect turned a mob
running away afraid of their shadows into a group who knew
something they’d not known before. They didn’t get the
facts straight but they got a great message – and they really
ran with it!

Tom Simms

Followed by Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson
Feb 4, 1999

At 10:33 AM 2/4/99 EST, Bill2200@… wrote:

>The basic argument, for those unfamiliar with it, is this: The NT epistles,
>all the other 1st century non-canonical Christian writings and most of the
>writings well into the 2nd century say nothing of an earthly Jesus: no
>ministry, miracles, holy places, Mary & Joseph, the trial, the passion, etc.

Why are the gospels excluded from this august list of documents? The basic
argument is circular: there is no earthly Jesus because all of a select
list writings say nothing of an earthly Jesus. What was Doherty’s selection
criterion? Apparently, those documents that do not saying anything about
the earthly Jesus. But then there’s a pesky NT epistle, 1 Thess. 2:14-15,
which states that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus, an earthly event.
Predictably, Doherty dismisses this passage as an “obvious interpolation.”
Doherty can only make his argument from silence work by systematically
ignoring the contrary evidence.

Stephen Carlson


Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@…
Synoptic Problem Home Page http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/synopt/
“Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words.” Shujing 2.35

To all of whom Bill replied as follows:

#4901

Re: A man or a myth?

Bill2200@aol.com
Feb 4, 1999

Thanks to everyone who has offered input so far. The responses have been
polite, if unconvincing.First, I apologize if I’m posting messages in an odd or inconvenient manner.
I’ve tried repeatedly for two weeks to post from the web site (click “Post”,
type message, click “Send”). It fails every time. I’ve sent pleas of help to
the egroups folks, who say they’re working on the problem. Meanwhile, I’ve
resorted to “posting” by sending e-mail. (Is this common? Do many others post
this way?)

From Antonio: read more »

Did Bart Ehrman Not Even Read the Cover of Earl Doherty’s Book?

In my previous posts on Bart Ehrman’s assertions about the argument of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, I think I have uncovered enough evidence to demonstrate that Ehrman at best only very patchily skimmed a few pages of the book. Was he perhaps merely attempting to grasp directions from some of Doherty’s critics rather than reading the book for himself? He has made a complete fool of himself, or worse, by building a recurring criticism upon a blatant misquotation from the book and accusing Doherty of arguing the very opposite of what he in fact writes.

I return here to Ehrman’s opening words about Doherty’s book. It looks like Ehrman never even bothered to read its cover!

He writes:

[Doherty’s] now-classic statement is The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? This has recently been expanded in a second edition, published not as a revision (which it is) but rather as its own book, Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Christ.

This is only a tiny thing, but it is a curiosity.

The cover of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man twice says it IS indeed published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle.

The front cover says:

NEW – REVISED – EXPANDED

and on the same cover beneath those words we read:

First Published As THE JESUS PUZZLE

Turn now to the verso of the title page where one normally reads the publication data:

A revised and expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle

The cataloguing in publication information says the book is published as a

New edition, Revised and Expanded, of The Jesus Puzzle.

It tells us a third time:

Originally publ. under the title: The Jesus puzzle.

So why does our good doctor and reviewer say of the book that it was not published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle even though the cover and title page verso inform us five times that it is such a revision?

Why did he even think to make such a point that is clearly wrong? read more »

Does the Ascension of Isaiah have any potential relevance for the study of origins of the Christ myth?

They say there is none so deaf as he who will not hear, and when it comes to Christ myth arguments there are biblical scholars who, despite their public protestations otherwise, regularly demonstrate an apparent inability  to engage seriously with mythicist arguments.

Once again a biblical scholar who has been informed on his blog why he is mistaken for assuming (he has apparently never read Doherty’s most comprehensive book) that Doherty is fallaciously taking a late second century text and using it as evidence for the matrix of emerging Christian thought in the first century. Despite being informed of his error, he continues to repeat his claim that the Ascension of Isaiah is a late document and therefore without the relevance that Earl Doherty ascribes to it.

I am a little surprised that even a doctor and professor should repeatedly publicly advertize his ignorance of the facts and the scholarship surrounding the Ascension of Isaiah.

I would like to recommend Doherty’s book as containing an excellent introduction to the Ascension of Isaiah in a 4000 plus word section from pages 119 to 126. Of course much of this is a detailed examination of the earliest layer of the text (first century), but there is also an examination of the history, origins and rescensions of the various manuscripts and layers of text within each.

This section will inform readers that the Ascension of Isaiah document we have today has come to us in three main manuscript lines, Latin, Ethiopic and Slavonic. Readers will learn something of the variations among these lines, the backgrounds to their various redactions etc.

They will also learn that the earliest document was probably a Jewish sectarian tract that was later the subject of redactions by later Christians.

They may further be interested to be informed of Michael Knibb’s case (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, v.2, p. 143-176) for the earlier Jewish work behind the Ascension being dated to the end of the first century — given the time needed for the Nero redivivus myth to gain traction. read more »

How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty

Dunce cap in the Victorian schoolroom at the M...
Image via Wikipedia

Anyone who is familiar with Earl Doherty’s site will probably find this post superfluous.

The mysterious origin of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views of Doherty

Dr Jeffrey Gibson is on record as saying he has no intention of reading any of Doherty’s books but that did not prevent him from pulling out a critical line from Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s preface to a publication reissuing Goguel’s rebuttal of mythicism, and placing it in a Wikipedia article.

A “disciple” of Wells, Earl Doherty has rehashed many of the former’s [Wells’] views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject. . .

To call Doherty a “disciple of Wells” who has “rehashed” many of Wells ideas actually indicates that Hoffmann has never really read Doherty’s books at all. Maybe Hoffmann was relying on something he read by Eddy and Boyd who in The Jesus Legend very often append Doherty’s name to that of Wells when discussing the argument that Jesus was fiction. But read what Wells says about Eddy and Boyd’s confusion:

Earl Doherty belongs unequivocally in category 1 of Eddy and Boyd’s 3 [categories — category 1 includes those who think Jesus perhaps entirely fiction], and they make it easier for themselves to suggest that my ideas seem at first sight strange by repeatedly grouping me with him, even though they are in fact aware that I differ from him significantly. Doherty argues that, for Paul, the earliest witness, Jesus did not come to Earth at all, that, under the influence of the Platonic view of the universe, salvic events such as his crucifixion were believed to have taken place in a mythical spirit-world setting. I have never espoused this view, not even in my pre-1996 Jesus books, where I did deny Jesus’ historicity. (p. 328 of Cutting Jesus Down to Size by G. A. Wells)

So if Wells finds little in common between his arguments and Doherty’s, what does he say about Doherty’s work?

“In spite of our differences, Mr. Doherty has appraised my work generously, and for my part I regard his book as an important contribution…” (From Wells’ summation of a couple of give-and-take articles appearing in the British magazine “New Humanist” 1999-2000)

And again in Can We Trust the New Testament? G. A. Wells writes of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle:

In this important book [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle], the whole of this chapter on these second-century apologists repays careful study. But I find his conclusion too radical . . . (p.202)

Anyone who has followed Wells’ books over the years may well come to the conclusion that it is Wells who has come to rely quite heavily on Doherty in some aspects of the mythicist case — particularly the second century apologists. As for the work being “academically inferior”, again one wonders if Hoffmann ever did read the same book that . . .

Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, Stevan Davies, read. Davies said of Doherty’s work:

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come across anywhere. . . .

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn more? (See Crosstalk #5438 for the full quote)

— Or that Professor of Biblical Criticism with the Council for Secular Humanism’s Center for Inquiry Institute, Robert M. Price, read. Price has the strongest praise for Doherty’s books, especially his recent one in the Youtube video linked at my earlier article on Robert Price’s view.

— Or that Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, read. Avalos writes:

Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. (See earlier post Legitimacy of questioning)

Reading Doherty and Wells: the essential difference read more »

Another Professor’s Response to Earl Doherty

Given the hostility some mainstream biblical scholars have demonstrated (recently, again) against Earl Doherty’s argument for a mythical Jesus, I am copying here the bulk of a comment by Stevan L. Davies, Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, that he made in response to the peremptory reactions of a number of his academic peers to Doherty in 1999.

Davies is not a mythicist. (Well, I am assuming he is not. I don’t really “know”. He wrote Jesus the Healer, summarized here.) His following statement is copied (with permission) from the 1999 Crosstalk discussion forum where a number of scholars and others discussed the historical Jesus and Christian origins. In the course of these discussions, the topic of Earl Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle was introduced, Earl himself joined the discussion on February 10 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/5011) and a very lively series of exchanges followed. After one of the contributors complained that he wanted to hear no more about a new  paradigm regarding the historical Jesus, Professor Davies wrote:

read more »

The Jesus reference in Josephus: its ad hoc doctoring and various manuscript lines

The following time line of the evidence for Josephus’s mention of Jesus (The Testimonium Flavianum) was prompted as part of my preparation to address the discussion by Eddy and Boyd in The Jesus Legend. I will save my comments on how this timeline reflects on their evaluation of the evidence of Josephus till I next address their work.

Meanwhile, the following chronological overview of the extant references, variations and omissions may tell their own story for those interested in exploring this topic.

I have taken portions of the dateline from The Flavius Josephus Home Page. But since that only referred to a few of the relevant citations, most of the remainder is from my distillation of Earl Doherty’s comprehensive 2008 discussion of the manuscript and textual evidence, Josephus On the Rocks. (But since my revision on 7th March I have added quite a few more notes to highlight knowledge of Josephus among Church Fathers prior to Eusebius, but without any apparent knowledge of the Testimonium.)

For those new to this topic, the Testimonium Flavianum is the scholarly name given to the passage about Jesus in the writings of the first century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was a famous for his recording of the history of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the events leading to that event, as well as for writing a comprehensive history of the Jewish people with which to impress his Roman patron and audience.

Prior to the latter half of the twentieth century it was widely held by scholars (e.g. Charles Guignebert, Maurice Goguel) that this passage was a complete forgery (but see comment below by Ken Olson here), and that Josephus made no reference to Jesus in any of his works. Since then, there has been a near universal tendency to suggest that at least part of the current passage about Jesus was original to Josephus, and that it had been tampered with by later scribes. I am not convinced that these more recent arguments have overturned the substance of the earlier arguments, but details of the arguments will come in future posts. Those posts will refer back to the timeline below.

93 CE
Josephus
: The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus is published in Rome. . . Manuscripts surviving today also contain a description of Jesus. But was this description present in the year 93? Josephus, in deference to the sensibilities of his Roman protectors, is at pains to avoid any mention of Jewish Messianic hopes. The only reference to a Messiah is in the description of Jesus and Christians which first appear with Eusebius.

ca.140’s CE
Justin Martyr
writes lengthy polemics against the unbelief of Jews and pagans and arguments for Christianity. No reference to Josephus. Had Josephus written about Jesus, positive or negative, could such works have remained unknown to Justin?

ca.170’s CE
Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch
writes lengthy polemics against pagan refusal to believe in Christianity. No reference to Jesus in Josephus, although he cites Josephus in his Apology to Autolycus, Bk 3, ch. 23.

ca.180’s CE
Irenaeus
writes at length against unbelief without any reference to a work by Josephus. “[I]t is clear that Irenaeus was unfamiliar with Book 18 of ‘Antiquities’ since he wrongly claims that Jesus was executed by Pilate in the reign of Claudius (Dem. ev. ap. 74), while Antiquities 18.89 indicates that Pilate was deposed during the reign of Tiberius, before Claudius” (Wikipedia’s citation of Whealey’s ‘Josephus on Jesus’). Had Josephus discussed Jesus how could Irenaeus have been ignorant of the fact? Surely some knowledge of such a passage in the famous Jewish historian would have reached Irenaeus and others.

Fragment XXXII from the lost writings of Irenaeus, however, does know Josephus — see 32:53.

ca.190’s CE
Clement of Alexandria
wrote extensively in defence of Christianity against pagan hostility. He knew Josephus’ works — see Stromata Book 1 Chater 21. No reference to any mention of Jesus by Josephus.

ca.200’s CE
Tertullian
wrote lengthy apolegetics against unbelief and in justification of Christianity. No reference to a passage about Jesus by Josephus. But he elsewhere knows Josephus’ works — see Apologeticum ch.19.

ca.200’s CE
Minucius Felix
, another apologist, no references to Jesus from Josephus, although he knows and cites Josephus — see chapter 33.

ca.210’s CE
Hippolytus
wrote volumes of apologetics but appears to know nothing of a reference to Jesus by Josephus. Fragments of his works — see On Jeremiah and Ezekiel.145 — show he knows Josephus.

ca.220’s CE
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian historian who is not known to cite Josephus’s passage on Jesus although he did know of Josephus‘s works — see Chatper 17.38 of his Chronography.

ca.230’s CE
Origen knows Josephus
: four citations of Josephus are found here, but none reference a Jesus passage in Josephus.

  1. cites a passage in Josephus on the death of James “the brother of Jesus” (Book 20 of the Antiquities);
  2. states Josephus did not believe in Jesus (Origen in fact notes that Josephus proclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian as the long awaited world ruler of biblical prophecy).
  3. summarized what Josephus said about John the Baptist in Book 18.
  4. said Josephus attributed destruction of Jerusalem to murder of James the Just (something not found in our copies of the works of Josephus) — (Josephus actually implies the destruction of Jerusalem was punishment for the murder of Ananias).
  5. does not cite any reference to Jesus from Josephus.

ca.240’s CE
Cyprian
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.270’s CE
Anatolius, demonstrates his knowledge of Josephus in his Paschal Canon, chapter 3. No reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.290’s CE
Arnobius (North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
Methodius, a Church Father who opposed Origen, and cites Josephus (see On the Resurrection — the citation is misplaced at the bottom of the page) but makes no reference to a Jesus passage in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
Lactantius
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Some expressions in the above are Josephan, but used in a way contrary to how Josephus uses them elsewhere. Some expressions are characteristic of those found in other writings of Eusebius. More on this in a future post.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  1. Demonstratio Evangelica
  2. History of the Church
  3. Theophany

ca.370’s CE
Jerome
cites Josephus 90 times but cites the Testimonium (the Josephan passage about Jesus) only the once, and that in his Illustrious Men, 13. “It is likely that Jerome knew of the Testimonium from the copy of Eusebius available to him.” (Eddy and Boyd). The silence on the Testimonium outside De Viris Illustribus 13 may well relate to the period prior to his attaining access to the Eusebian text of Josephus.

The one reference of Jerome’s is nearly identical to that of Eusebius except that where Eusebius had “He was the Christ”, Jerome cited Josephus as saying, “He was believed to be the Christ.” From CCEL:

In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day.

Jerome, like Origen earlier, also wrote that Josephus interpreted the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the stoning of James the Just, an interpretation not found in our copies of Josephus.

ca.380’s CE
St John Chrysostom

  1. In his Homily 76 he writes that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. He discusses Josephus, but makes no reference to any passage about Jesus in Josephus.
  3. In his Homily 13 he writes that Josephus attributed the destruction of Jerusalem to death of John the Baptist.

ca.370’s CE
Latin Pseudo-Hegesippus and the Hebrew Josippon dependent on Ps-Hegesippus, cite free paraphrases of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. From Stephen Carlson’s Hypotyposeis:

About which the Jews themselves bear witness, Josephus a writer of histories saying, that there was in that time a wise man, if it is proper however, he said, to call a man the creator of marvelous works, who appeared living to his disciples after three days of his death in accordance with the writings of the prophets, who prophesied both this and innumerable other things full of miracles about him. from which began the community of Christians and penetrated into every tribe of men nor has any nation of the Roman world remained, which was left without worship of him. If the Jews don’t believe us, they should believe their own people. Josephus said this, whom they themselves think very great, but it is so that he was in his own self who spoke the truth otherwise in mind, so that he did not believe his own words. But he spoke because of loyalty to history, because he thought it a sin to deceive, he did not believe because of stubbornness of heart and the intention of treachery. He does not however prejudge the truth because he did not believe but he added more to his testimony, because although disbelieving and unwilling he did not refuse.

ca.400’s CE
Augustine
(North Africa), another prolific apologist, apparently knew nothing of any reference to Jesus by Josephus.

fifth century CE
Tables of Contents of the works of Josephus were attached to Greek manuscripts, “and there is evidence that such tables were already attached to Latin manuscripts of the work as early as the 5th century.” H. Thackeray as cited, in part, by Doherty:

. . . the chapter headings “are ostensibly written by a Jew,” and “though it is improbable that these more elaborate chapter headings are the production of his [Josephus’] pen, they may well be not far removed from him in date.” The Table of Contents for Book 18 lists 20 topics dealt with in the book, but there is no mention of the Testimonium among them. . . .

ca.870’s CE
Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, citing Earl Doherty’s Josephus On the Rocks:

[Photius] in compiling his Library (a review of several hundred ancient books, including treatises on the works of Josephus) apparently possessed a copy of Josephus which contained no Testimonium, nor even those interpolations we conclude were introduced to make Josephus say that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James the Just, or of John the Baptist. As Zindler says,

“Since Photius was highly motivated to report ancient attestations to the beginnings of Christianity, his silence here argues strongly that neither the Testimonium nor any variant thereof was present in the manuscript he read. This also argues against the notion that the Testimonium was created to supplant an originally hostile comment in the authentic text of Josephus. Had a negative notice of a false messiah been present in the text read by Photius, it is inconceivable he could have restrained himself from comment thereon.”

Photius does discuss the Antiquities 18 passage on John the Baptist. To think that he would do so yet pass up one about Christ himself—no matter what its nature—is, as Zindler says, quite inconceivable. Photius at a number of points also seems to quote marginal notes from his copy of Josephus, giving evidence of the ease with which such things could have found their way into the original text and given rise to debates about what was authentic to Josephus’ own writings.

10th Century
The Arab Christian historian Agapius quotes a version of the Testimonium that differs from that of Eusebius.

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and his learning outstanding. And many people from among  the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (translation of Shlomo Pines)

11th-12th centuries
Slavonic Josephus
cites another free paraphrase of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. This contains the same variant (He was believed to be the Christ) found in Jerome. The passage below is from Solomon Zeitlin:

At that time also a man came forward—if even it is fitting to call him man (simply).  His nature as well as his form were a man’s; but his showing forth was more than (that) of a man.  His works, that is to say, were godly and he wrought wonder deeds amazing and full of power.  Therefore it is not possible for me to call him a man (simply).  But again looking at the existence he shared with all, I would also not call him an angel.  And all that he wrought through some kind of invisible power, he wrought by word and command.  Some said of him that ‘our first Law-giver has risen from the dead and shows forth many cures and arts’.  But others supposed (less definitely) that he is sent by God.  Now he opposed himself in much to the Law, and did not observe the Sabbath according to ancestral custom.  Yet, on the other hand, he did nothing reprehensible nor any crime, but by word solely he effected everything.  And many from the folk followed him and received his teachings.  And many souls became wavering, supposing that thereby the Jewish tribes would free themselves from the Romans’ hands.  Now it was his custom often to stop on the Mount of Olives, facing the city.  And there also be avouched his curse to the people.

And he gathered themselves to him of servants a hundred and fifty, but of the folk a multitude.  But when they saw his power, that he accomplished everything that he would by word, they urged him that he should enter the city and cut down the Roman soldiers and Pilate, and rule over us.  But that one scorned it.  And thereafter when knowledge of it came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the high priest and spoke: ‘We are powerless and weak to withstand the Romans.  But as withal the bow is bent, we will go and tell Pilate what we have heard, and we will be without distress, lest if he hear it from others, we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and our children ruined.’  And they went and told it to Pilate.

And he sent and had many of the people cut down.  And he had that wonder-doer brought up.  And when he had instituted a trial concerning him he perceived that he is a doer of good, but not an evil-doer, nor a revolutionary, nor one who aimed at power, and let him free.  He had, you should know, healed his dying wife.  And he went to his accustomed place and wrought his accustomed works.  And as again more folk gathered themselves together round him, then did he win glory through his works more than all.

The teachers of the law were (therefore) envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death.  And he, after he had taken the money, gave consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose, and they took and crucified him according to the ancestral law.

For more extracts from the Slavonic Josephus see Mead’s citations on the Sacred Texts website.

Doherty discusses the Tacitus’ Annals Renaissance forgery question

Found at ..... www.jasa.net.au/images/scribe.gif
Found at ….. www.jasa.net.au/images/scribe.gif

This can be found on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board here [Link no longer active, 19th August 2015, — Neil. See below for the pdf version of this discussion.]

His argument is that the notion that the whole of Annals was a Renaissance forgery should be put to rest.

I’m pleased. I really do squirm at the thought that there was once a medieval monk who had an obsession for writing hundreds of pages of fictitious turgid Tacitean prose.

See the attached discussion, Is the Forgery of Tacitus’ Annals in the Renaissance an Untenable Position? led by Early Doherty . . .  read more »

The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? / Early Doherty. (Canadian Humanists, 1999). Review

I originally posted this elsewhere in 2000:

A New paradigm:

On page 125 of his book Doherty writes: “When any set of assumptions is firmly in place, the evidence is usually interpreted in accord with those assumptions. Yet it is clear that the New Testament epistles present the Christian reader and scholar with difficulties and anomalies at every turn. These have traditionally been ignored, glossed over, or subjected to unnatural interpretations and questionable reasoning in order to force them into the mold determined by the Gospels.

“What is needed is a new paradigm, a new set of assumptions by which to judge the epistles (as well as the other non-canonical documents…), one capable of resolving all those contradictions and uncertainties. That paradigm should be determined by what we can see in the epistles themselves and how we can relate their content to what we know of the spirit and conditions of the time.” This is how Doherty approaches not only the epistles but the gospels and noncanonical writings as well. read more »