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The Hidden Messiah

by Neil Godfrey

Just another mild-mannered reporter

Tim recently cited a few of my old posts in which I draw attention to evidence that Jewish ideas about the Messiah were far more varied in the Second Temple era than commonly supposed. Another variant I have not covered in any of those posts was “the hidden messiah”, the view that the messiah was thought to have been born and waiting somewhere in the wings, unrecognized, until the critical moment when God would bring him to the fore to answer a climactic hour of need.

In other posts I have addressed Jewish writings of the seventh century (CE, late antiquity) positing a messiah who was born a while back but was being kept hidden by God for “the right time”. But what I am interested in here is the Jewish idea that the messiah was born incognito and living somewhere on earth unrecognized. Not even he himself knew he was to become the messiah.

I refer to William Wrede’s discussion of “the hidden Messiah in Judaism” in The Messianic Secret. Wrede is addressing the possibility that the author of the Gospel of Mark knew of an existing idea that the messiah would live for a time on earth without anyone being aware of his true identity.

The first witness Wrede calls upon is Justin and his “Dialogue with Trypho” (written early to mid second century).

The idea is clearly expressed in Justin. Trypho the Jew says in the Dialogue, ch. 8:

But even if the Christ has already been born and lives somewhere (kai esti pou) he is unknown, and does not even know himself. Nor does he have any sort of power until Elias has come, and anointed him and revealed him to everybody.

Similarly in ch. 110 Justin cites as a Jewish idea the notion that even if the messiah had come nobody would know who he is but that they would rather learn this only when he is made manifest and appears in glory, hotan emphanes kai endoxos genetai.

(Wrede, p. 213)

That is, Superman has not yet appeared but a few people in Smallville, Kansas, know a Clark Kent who is an entirely ordinary nobody.

Wrede points out a similar idea in the Gospel of John:

A related idea is presupposed by the Gospel of John when in 7.27 the Jews say “When the Christ appears no-one will know where he comes from.” The hiddenness of his origin appears as a characteristic of the messiah. 

(Wrede, p. 214)

So we can conclude that the idea was known as early as the time the Gospel of John was being put together.

How much earlier? Wrede warns that Jewish ideas and speculations would have been influenced by Christian beliefs, but one must ask how likely it is that the Jews would have moved their ideas in the direction of accommodating Christian ones.

It appears, then, that at the time the gospels were being composed some Jews did hold a notion that the messiah was possibly alive somewhere, hidden, not recognized (yet) as the messiah.

(Does Mark’s claim that there would be false claims that the Messiah was to be found “there” or “over here” tie in with such an idea? Mark 13:21 — “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it…”)

Wrede, William. 1971. The Messianic Secret: Das Messiasgeheimnis in Den Evangelien. Translated by J. C. G. Greig. First Edition edition. Cambridge: James Clarke.

Three Mythicist Novels

by Neil Godfrey

We have novels about Jesus or about people in his generation and now we also have novels that embrace mythicist arguments.

So if you would like to learn key mythicist arguments without a poring through academic style articles and books or even if you are just interested in seeing what others make of the possibilities that mythicist arguments generate then check out The Christos Mosaic by Vincent Czyz and Mythos Christos by Edwin Herbert.

“Vincent Czyz received an MA in comparative literature from Columbia University, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University. He is the author of the collection Adrift in a Vanishing City, and is the recipient of the 1994 Faulkner-Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction and two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts. The 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers University, his short stories and essays have appeared in Shenandoah, AGNI, TheMassachusetts Review, Tampa Review, Quiddity, Louisiana Literature, Logos Journal, New England Review, Boston Review, Sports Illustrated, Poets & Writers, and many other . . . .”

The first of these novels, The Christos Mosaic by Vincent Czyz, is woven principally around the arguments of Earl Doherty Vincent adds at the end of his novel a biographical essay discussing mythicism more generally and specifically what led him to “the mythicist camp”. (He gives special credit to Earl Doherty and Robert Price; though also discusses other authors — along with Bart Ehrman’s attempt to refute the idea and the serious shortcomings of that attempt. Other names who find a place in Vincent’s thinking are Robert Eisenman, Frank Zindler, and non-mythicists like Helmut Koester and Walter Burkett.

You can read more details about the book and its author at the Christos Mosaic website.

The other novel, Mythos Christos by Edwin Herbert, is made up of what some might consider a more colorful (if less plausible) series of adventures than Vincent’s novel, but it does draw the reader into the life of Alexandria of late antiquity. I found those historical scenes recreating the conflicts between traditionalists and the newly emerging Christian forces some of the most memorable.

“Edwin Herbert is a freethought activist and avid writer on secular and non-theist topics, head of a group of writers with a regular newspaper column concerning related subjects which promote science and skepticism. He is also a healthcare provider in southern Wisconsin. Mythos Christos is his debut novel.”

Edwin takes a few liberties with his historical reconstructions but happily for the benefit of the unwary he confesses to these with explanations at the end.

Again, more details about both book and author are posted on the Christos Mythos website.

Some readers will be aware of a Greek mythicist site, ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΜΥ0ΙΚΙΣΤΕΣ / GREEK MYTHICISTS. See Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction by Minas Papageorgiou for an earlier post related to this site and a publication they produced that includes a section on yours truly and this blog. That same site is now proudly announcing the first Greek mythicist novel that translates into Paul’s Conspiracy. It is by Alexander Pistofides and is scheduled to be available this month. Hopefully an English version will appear soon.

The following description of the novel is from Minas Papageorgiou: read more »


Putting 4 sticking points on the historical/mythical Jesus argument into perspective

by Neil Godfrey

On the AFA forum someone suggested I address the following 5 points often used to argue for Christianity originating with a historical Jesus.

how about addressing the main points of the evidence offered up by the historicists?

1. The Brother of The Lord
2. Born of a woman
3. Born in the line of David
4. Born of the flesh
5. Born as a Jew in Judea

In my previous post I copied my  response to point #1.

That leaves four to go, #2-#5. But they bore me.

The reason debates about them bore me is that they do nothing either for or against the question of whether Jesus was a historical person. Look at them. No-one goes around saying, “Hey, I think you should hear what I’ve got to say about this incredible guy I’ve heard about. He was actually born of a woman, and reckons he can trace his family tree all the way back to Adam. How cool is that! And he was born flesh and blood even. And just to stick it to all you folks who worship Heracles and Asclepius he was a Jew in Palestine. But here’s the thing: he now lives in me and I die daily in him and he’s gonna come and take us all up to the sky very soon now.

Sorry, but that’s not how one normally talks about people — even omitting that last bit about “here’s the thing”.

Those claims, being born of a woman and in the flesh etc, are theological claims. They are made to stress certain theological doctrines. Presumably some rival theologians were saying he was not born flesh and blood. And it was a Jewish theology, so it was important to identify the guy with David and Israel.

Even the crucifixion is only ever mentioned as a theological datum. The crucifixion is only ever introduced to talk about salvation and freedom from the Jewish law. It is always and only ever raised as a theological fact and never addressed as a “historical event” with dates, who, how, why, witnesses, etc. (The only “why” is again theological, not historical: it is to show how much the Jews are all wrong about their religion.)

None of that “proves” the guy was a historical figure. All it proves is that someone had a bunch of theological ideas about a certain figure he only heard about from others and who he claimed “revealed himself” mystically “inside” him.

So that’s why I tend to tune out whenever discussions start up about whether or not any of those four points above (nos. 2 to 5) are “proofs” for the historical Jesus.

Not one of them is a piece of historical evidence a historian can latch on to in order to get some sort of grip on what happened in Palestine around 30 CE.

Paul’s letters are all very fine for gleaning something of the beliefs of some of the early Christians but they are not much use for researching events he never claims to have witnessed and that he never reports on. He even says he has no interest in the “Jesus of the flesh” but is only interested in his “spiritual Jesus”. The only eyewitness reports he passes on are of the resurrection. So that’s not a promising start for the historian. He does say something about a tradition or words he heard but never gives us a clue as to what his sources are — unless it is his own imagination from reading Scripture or hearing/seeing some vision.

How historians (not theologians) work

So how does one go about doing historical research on the life of Jesus?

Why not use the very same methods of research, of analysing sources, as other historians follow? It is a pity that the question of Christian origins has been confined to an academic guild that has only clung on into the modern age by sheer force of tradition. Theology may have been the mainstay of universities in medieval days but we have lost out by leaving the whole business of Christian origins to theologians. We would have been smarter to have removed theological studies exclusively to seminaries and left historical questions to historians.

Historians aren’t perfect and there’s a lot of bad history out there, but at least the bad rubs shoulders with the good and we can compare and learn by comparing the two.

But one essential point historians are taught is to test the authenticity and reliability of their sources. (Pick up manuals for budding historians about to start their doctoral programs to see what I mean.) That means a source — both its origins and what it says — must be corroborated independently in some way.

Really that’s only common sense applied to scholarship. Depending on the degree of importance of knowing the truth of something we make sure we are being told the truth by checking such things as:

  • who is telling us this?
  • how do I know if I can trust them?
  • can their claims be confirmed somehow?
  • how do I know if this document is genuine?
  • etc.

Just to be really sure when people’s lives are at stake we have court systems set up to test claims and evidence, to cross examine them, to try to falsify them, etc.

A famous theologian who rejected the Christ Myth claims of his own day (Albert Schweitzer) nonetheless confessed that proving the historicity of Jesus cannot pass the above “common sense” tests:

read more »


Sex and Death

by Neil Godfrey

Well I just had to laugh (I even saw the photographs) . . .

I first heard of the custom when living in Singapore. Strippers hired to perform before an image of the deceased as part of the ceremonies pending the actual cremation. I thought the idea was to give the deceased one last good time. Maybe it’s hard to grasp if we’re not familiar with the Chinese custom in crowded Singapore of setting up a marquee or special area for the coffin of the deceased on the property of the apartments where he or she lived, or nearby, with friends and relatives coming to visit over the days prior to the cremation ceremony. Candles, decorations of models of the things the deceased loved in life (paper cars, boats, money…), other religious paraphernalia all around, and lots of chairs and water bottles for the visitors. There would always be someone there to maintain the vigil, even through the night.

And some (by no means all — unless I was protected by the locals from ever finding out) of these spaces, I learned, even arranged for a private striptease dancer to perform before the picture of a male deceased.

And all of that was before the last day when crowds would assemble, with musicians and dancers, to drive the coffin off in a specially decorated truck leading a street procession to the place of cremation. What a send off.

Well, today I was reminded of all of the above with the following news:

China cracks down on funeral strippers hired to entertain mourners, attract larger crowds

Hired to attract crowds! Now that was different from the Singapore custom, that’s for certain. If I can ever remember where I filed it I will dig out the Singapore newspaper photo of the Chinese dancer there definitely facing and performing for the deceased. But in China the image is definitely indicative of a more general entertainment:

Now that’s definitely not what Singapore Chinese modesty was all about. Unless, as I said, I was protected because I was considered to be just another foreigner who would not understand.

What piqued my more serious interest in the story this time, however, was the suggestion that the ceremony might be traced back to “fertility worship”. One last ditch effort to ensure the deceased would still be able to, well… I’m not quite sure what. Anthropologists would be able to explain it, no doubt.

And given the eclectic interests of Vridar, I am further reminded of the Gospel of John. See Novelistic plot and motifs in the Gospel of John where I look at an article by Jo-Ann Brant discussing the way that gospel plays with the idea of a marriage anticipated by Jesus really being his death.

It all seems rather appropriate, I supposed, given that what made death possible (as opposed to evolving like ever dividing cells that go on forever and never die) was sex. Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve and their Fall is all about the way cell death evolved to remove and discard the less good bits from the mix.




The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End….

by Neil Godfrey

Kyle Harper

I’ve finally caught up with a radio/online interview with the author of The Fate of Rome: climate, disease and the end of an empire, Kyle Harper, on Late Night Live.

Advances in studies of genetics and climate history have opened new vistas of understanding what was happening in our past.

Some horrific data emerges: life expectancy at birth was somewhere in the 20s. One third of newborns died in their first year. Upper classes were not much better off overall though they had more pleasant surroundings while surviving.

Nutrition was not the problem so much as disease. There was no concept of germs, of course.

Public toilets did little for public health. They were not covered and acted more like storm culverts than healthy waste disposal systems. Without toilet paper a sponge on a stick was the common tool of all members of a household. And then there was all the animal waste.

I learned in high school that the average Roman was quite short compared with us. That in some ways sounded almost cute back then. Kyle Harper tells us that people in the Roman empire were shorter than both their pre-empire ancestors and post-empire descendants. Roads and cities were disease bearers.

And then the climate changed seriously. Volcanic eruptions were so frequent that the planet cooled significantly but then reduced solar output compounded the cooling. Diseases like Ebola were carried in from the Tibetan region.

I’m reminded of another work I read a few years ago, Justinian’s Flea, by William Rosen. That flea carries a large measure of responsibility for the collapse of the Byzantine empire before the onslaught of Persian and Arab “conquests”. I use inverted commas because there is very little to “conquer” when a population is so drastically reduced in so short a time.

I have now begun reading Kyle Harper’s book since listening to the author’s discussion on Late Night Live with Philip Adams. So far it is presenting an even more horrific picture of “life” in Roman times. Sobering.




Why is the Bible So Badly Written?

by Neil Godfrey

An enjoyable, lighthearted article by Valarie Tarico — Why is the Bible So Badly Written?

Excerpt ….

A well-written book should be clear and concise, with all factual statements accurate and characters neither two-dimensional nor plagued with multiple personality disorder—unless they actually are. A book written by a god should be some of the best writing ever produced. It should beat Shakespeare on enduring relevance, Stephen Hawking on scientific accuracy, Pablo Neruda on poetry, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on ethical coherence, and Maya Angelou on sheer lucid beauty—just to name a few.

Then this ….

But why is the Bible so badly written? Falling short of perfection is one thing, but the Bible has been the subject of literally thousands of follow-on books by people who were genuinely trying to figure out what it means. Despite best efforts, their conclusions don’t converge, which is one reason Christianity has fragmented into over 40,000 denominations and non-denominations.

And then this ….

Long lists of begats in the Gospels; greetings to this person and that in the Pauline epistles; instructions on how to sacrifice a dove in Leviticus or purify a virgin war captive in Numbers; ‘chosen people’ genealogies; prohibitions against eating creatures that don’t exist; pages of threats against enemies of Israel; coded rants against the Roman Empire. . .

As a modern person reading the Bible, one can’t help but think about how the pages might have been better filled. Could none of this have been pared away? Couldn’t the writers have made room instead for a few short sentences that might have changed history Wash your hands after you poop.Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to.Witchcraft isn’t real. Slavery is forbidden. We are all God’s chosen people.

Have a read if you are in a mood for a lighthearted musing (with an underlying serious intent): Why is the Bible So Badly Written?


Witch Hunts, an Economic Explanation

by Neil Godfrey

I just read an interesting article, How Medieval Churches Used Witch Hunts to Gain More Followers, by Becky Little discussing another article by two economists arguing that “the Catholic and Protestant churches promoted themselves by persecuting witches.”

The original article, Witch Trials, is by Peter Leeson and Jacob Russ and is available as a pdf download. Their abstract:

We argue that the great age of European witch trials reflected non-price competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches for religious market share in confessionally contested parts of Christendom. Analyses of new data covering more than 43,000 people tried for witchcraft across 21 European countries over a period of five-and-a-half centuries, and more than 400 early modern European Catholic-Protestant conflicts, support our theory. More intense religious-market contestation led to more intense witch-trial activity. And, compared to religious-market contestation, the factors that existing hypotheses claim were important for witch-trial activity — weather, income, and state capacity — were not.<

No doubt historians will debate the economic interpretation, but it looks like one more perspective to consider. I have not yet read the original article since I will need to set aside some decent time for it given the detailed datasets attached to it that would need to be analysed.

One interesting point at a glance is that the Catholic nations appear to be significantly “less guilty” than the Protestant ones.


Four Atheist Responses to a Theist’s “Three Easy Questions”

by Neil Godfrey

Since we’ve entered James Bishop’s territory with So far, but no farther… or maybe the journey has just begun let’s respond to one more of his blog posts before moving on. This time James relays a post that originally appeared on Shadow to Light: How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions. (James points out that he does not agree with all of the views expressed so I will focus entirely on the core argument itself and ignore the character slurs.)

No doubt some readers are more practised at this sort of discussion and can provide better responses than mine.

Question 1: What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?” If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power. And that leads to the second question.

Response 1: First define what you mean by “God”. Without a clear definition we can hardly proceed with a meaningful investigation.

Response 2: What I would count as evidence for X (whether a particular God or law or event or person or anything) is the setting up of tests or predictions of what we would expect to find in the evidence given that X is true. That is, I would accept any evidence that was derived from the scientific method.

So if our God is one who is defined as the source of all ethical or moral awareness or consciences, then what would we expect to find in the universe that is evidence of this particular type of God?

We would then look for those sorts of things we expect to find if God was the creator of the universe. The scientific method also requires us to test our findings against alternative explanations so we would need to see in each case if there are simpler explanations for the sorts of evidence we find. The same method requires us to look for evidence that contradicts our thesis, too.

Whatever passes these tests would be evidence that God as a source of morality exists.

Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.

Response 3: A hypothesis becomes acceptable when it accounts for the observed data more simply or more comprehensively than any other hypothesis. If our hypothesis of a particular defined God explains data that no other hypothesis can explain, then yes, that God hypothesis is a great advance in our knowledge. But if other hypotheses can explain the data, and a greater range of the data, than the God hypothesis, then other hypotheses “fill the gaps”.

Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only “evidence” the atheist “Judge/Jury” will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of “heads I win, tails you lose.

Response 4: All scientific is provisional and subject to revision in the light of new findings. That’s the nature of human knowledge. Evolution and gravity are laws that are arrived at by “gaps logic” insofar as they derive from the hypotheses that best explain the evidence to date. In other words, those hypotheses can be said to have filled the “gap” left by the failure of other hypotheses to explain the observed data.

I am reminded of Arthur Koestler’s biography of Johannes Kepler’s search to explain the orbits of the planets. Kepler was bugged by some minute discrepancy in the observations and struggled for a very long time trying to make all sorts of geometric shapes explain the movement of the planets in a way that removed this discrepancy. He worked with orbs, circles, cubes, — all kinds of mixings and matchings of “perfect shapes” that surely had to define the heavenly spheres. Eventually, exhaustingly eventually, he conceded that no “perfect” shape or movement would work. The gap could only be explained by positing an elliptical orbit! And it worked. The gap was filled by the hypothesis of elliptical orbits of the planets and by no other hypothesis.

Now if that elliptical orbit can best be explained by angels who like to move the planets in less than a perfectly circular motion…..



A Scholar’s Gift of Discernment Between Truth and Fiction

by Neil Godfrey

When he was twelve years old . . . . they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:42, 46f)

How might a historian determine if there was any historicity to Luke’s story of Jesus at twelve years old sitting in the temple impressing the teachers with his understanding?

Moses I. Finley, a historian of ancient times, confessed to not knowing of any way a historian today could establish the happenings we read about in the works of ancient historians unless we have some independent corroborating evidence from the time contemporaneous to the event. Ancient historians, he said, were faced with huge gaps in their knowledge of the past and very often they simply could not resist the urge to fabricate stories to fill in those gaps. Consequently,

For the great bulk of the narrative we are faced with the ‘kernel of truth’ possibility, and I am unaware of any stigmata that automatically distinguish fiction from fact. . . . .

However, there are biblical scholars who do have the gift of discernment that Finley lacked and who are able to apply it ably to the gospels:

If I may quote my former article (see note 3), I still hold the view there expressed (p. 362) : Jesus shows, in the story in Lk. 2, 42-50, ‘just such self-reliance and intelligent interest in the religion of his country as might be expected in a boy of genius and deep natural feeling. . . . The hero of a folktale would have found his way by some mysterious guidance to the Temple. … A wonder-child in a popular story would have confuted the doctors of the Law, or at least made it clear that he knew all they did and more. … To my mind, the tale cries aloud that it is a perfectly authentic happening.

(Page 131 of Rose, H. J. (1938). Herakles and the Gospels. The Harvard Theological Review, 31(2), 113–142. Retrieved from

That was in 1938, I admit. Surely scholarship has advanced since then and we would not expect to find such naivety tolerated today, would we?


So far, but no farther… or maybe the journey has just begun

by Neil Godfrey

I recently read something I liked on a blog run by someone (James Bishop) I would think of as a fundamentalist or certainly very conservative Christian. The article is Why I No Longer Hold to Inerrancy & The Need For A New Model of Inspiration. I was reminded so vividly of my own days of doubt and struggles with faith and attempting to be as honest as I believed I could be with myself.

James was faced with conflicts and at some point had the honesty to acknowledge that they were real:

As a Christian student in New & Old Testament Studies approaching the end of his time at university, I have discovered a number conflicts between conservative, fundamentalist Christian views of biblical inspiration (of which we will refer to as “classical inerrancy” or “inerrancy”) and what I have come to deem, more often than not, sound biblical scholarship.

He acknowledged that

these arguments require serious consideration especially if one wishes to take the Bible seriously and authoritatively.

Honesty. But the commitment remains. Faith is strong.

But here’s the part I particularly liked — with my emphasis:

Prior, however, I used to hold to inerrancy. I also once believed that every single challenge to the Bible was easily answered and refuted, and, for a time, thought that conflicts an inerrant view had with scholarship was a result of some anti-Christian “agenda” or “hate” towards Christianity. That was until I actually examined the alleged errors themselves, and soon realized that the answers provided on conservative apologetic websites were often grounded on little more than revisionist historical theories, fringe scholarly interpretations, fringe science, and contrived explanations attempting to explain away biblical inconsistencies.

What a welcome acknowledgement! The implication is that James Bishop no longer presumes that every challenge to the Bible is motivated by hate or an attempt to destroy Christianity.

It is a welcome acknowledgement because too frequently I read scholars and others accusing those who question the very foundations of the history of Christian origins of surely being driven, as “atheists”, by a hatred for Christianity and with a dedication to attempt to undermine all that is good about it. I refer in particular to those who entertain the possibility that Jesus was not a historical figure, of course.

Later in the post James explains why he parts ways with Bart Ehrman:

Long story short, as result of his discoveries that were in conflict with a conservative, inerrant view of biblical scripture, he [Bart Ehrman] is now one of Christianity’s biggest critics. He has sowed doubt in the lives of many Christians who have too come to realize the falsity of inerrancy. Inerrancy is spiritually dangerous in this way (see my argument in point 4e in this article). I have witnessed instances of Christians falling away from faith as a result of buying into the false dichotomy that one either embraces full blown inerrancy or rejects the Bible (a strawman caricature often embraced by both critics of the Bible/Christianity and inerrantists). Christian scholar Michael Bird captures this well explaining that this “means that if some young Christian comes across a passage of Scripture that is historically or ethically challenging, then they are faced with the choice between belief and unbelief,” and there lies the problem.

The point I want to make is that unlike Ehrman I wish to build up fellow believers in the faith. Unlike Ehrman, I also haven’t thrown in the towel, so to speak. I haven’t rejected Christianity or the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

I was not aware that Ehrman is one of Christianity’s biggest critics. In his recent Christmas posts he came across as still in love with the “fullness of meaning” of the Christmas story as found in the Bible. See Finding “unbelievable fullness of meaning” in the Christmas stories?

The problem, in James Bishop’s view, is that Christians who begin to see flaws in the Bible might toss it out completely. A fair reading of Ehrman’s views shows that even an agnostic or atheist can still express appreciation for the “unbelievable fullness of meaning” found in the Bible. Same for various Christ Myth theorists who have also expressed strong admiration for Christianity (e.g. Couchoud) and who even remain Christians (e.g. Brodie).

Reading James Bishop’s post is a déjà vu experience for me. It stirs old memories of my own past conflicts and strivings for both honesty and faith.

Many people struggle with the same conflicts. I think some of us find a solution to one particular conflict and rest satisfied with their resolution of it. Thus finding a new definition or understanding of what divine inspiration means is one way to reconcile certain facts about the Bible with one’s faith.

Others of us continue to question and don’t just stop when one conflict is resolved. They do not deny other conflicts as they arise. They confront them, and perhaps find new ways of reconciling opposites. Hence a few Christ mythicists, for example, find a way to maintain their belief in God and remain deeply devoted to the Christian message.

Some even go so far as to question why they believe in God at all. Is it true that morality cannot be justified or explained without God?

Some question the Bible and stop there when they find an answer. Some go further and question their faith and some might find a new set of definitions they are comfortable with there, too. Others go further still.

But at no point do any of us need to presume that those who go further with their questioning are necessarily driven by “some anti-Christian “agenda” or “hate” towards Christianity.” Or does that charge arise as a defence among those who cannot, for whatever reason, take their questioning any further? I can imagine believers having a very real fear of atheism and of atheism being a logical consequence of ongoing questioning. All I can say to those believers is, There is no need to fear. I can understand why someone only takes their questioning so far and no farther. We each stop where we feel most comfortable and it’s not for me to tell others they are wrong in choosing to find some solace in a level of religious belief in the short time they are on this planet.

I’d just like to reassure believers that being an atheist, and even having strong views about Christianity itself, does not mean we atheists all condemn individual believers for their choices or that our beliefs are driven by a “some anti-Christian agenda”.



Theologians Myth-Busting the Jesus Story

by Neil Godfrey

A Jesuit priest has used the “infant Jesus went down to Egypt” myth to argue a moral criticism of a policy relating to immigrants or children of immigrants into the U.S.

Baby Jesus was a Dreamer in Egypt

I have no problem with that. That’s what myths are for and how they have always functioned in societies. In the late 60s when students were demonstrating over the Vietnam war a friend of mine was inspired by the myth of Jesus the pacifist and spoke proudly of his non-violent response to being roughly dragged off by police to a paddy wagon.

“Social memory” is the buzz word today and these examples are forms of our social or cultural “memories”. They are framed and deployed to meet current needs and values.

So yes, technically and academically Dr Jim West has the right to say that historically Jesus was never in Egypt. He’s applying sound historical (and myth-busting) method when he does so.

This Is Why Journalists Should Leave Biblical Interpretation Alone…

Yes, it is good sound method to first understand the nature of the source we are using. In this case, our theologian has understood that the story of Jesus being taken into Egypt was created to make use of a particular passage in Hosea. He does his position as a public intellectual no favours when he insults those he sees as less well informed outsiders. Nor does he impress with his own ability to do basic research when he faults the author of the article for writing as a “journalist” when in fact the author is a Jesuit priest with a Master of Divinity from a School of Theology. So one might expect that the author, Thomas Reese, is not so ignorant after all and knows exactly what he is doing in his use of the myth to make a political argument.

Or maybe he does believe Jesus was historically in Egypt. It really doesn’t matter. The question of historicity of events behind myths is quite irrelevant to the place and purpose of myths in society. Their “historicity” is only of interest to historians and anyone who is personally interested in historical research and myth-busting.

Or perhaps Dr West wants to undermine the myth because he disapproves of the moral argument it is being used to buttress.

So no doubt our academic critic will be consistent and cast all details in the epistles of Paul and the gospels that are constructed in order to make use of “Old Testament” passages and tropes to the outer darkness of ahistoricity, including ….. the John the Baptist Elijah / voice in the wilderness role, the baptism and wilderness experience of Jesus, the healings and other miracles of Jesus, the confrontations of Jesus with the authorities of his day, the Passion and resurrection of Jesus, early persecutions and the apostles going out from Judea to the world to preach …… 🙂



Fire, Fury, Fake News and Sound Historical Methods

by Neil Godfrey
. . . the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo! News, the New Yorker, and CNN. All declined to use this unverified information, with its unclear provenance. . .

I have posted several times now some good old basic common sense about how to do valid historical research — according to reputable historians themselves. My point has usually been to try to point out that what we too often read by biblical scholars addressing early Christianity — criteria of authenticity, “triangulation” of social memories, etc — would not be recognized as responsible or reliable methods of discovering what can be known about the past.

Here is the same point being made, not by historians, but by sensible journalists and news media editors. I have bolded and underlined the key section.

Fusion GPS, an opposition research company (founded by former journalists, it provided information to private clients), had been retained by Democratic Party interests. Fusion had hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, in June 2016, to help investigate Trump’s repeated brags about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the nature of Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin. With reports from Russian sources, many connected to Russian intelligence, Steele assembled a damaging report— now dubbed the “dossier”— suggesting that Donald Trump was being blackmailed by the Putin government. In September, Steele briefed reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo! News, the New Yorker, and CNN. All declined to use this unverified information, with its unclear provenance, especially given that it was about an unlikely election winner.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury (Kindle Locations 715-722). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Note. I am not interested in discussing Trump, nor any of the business about Russian connections with Trump or anyone associated with him. Nor even Wolff’s Fire and Fury or Wolff’s own reliability as a “historian”. The sole point of this post is to draw attention to what is evidently considered fundamental when authenticating any information.

If a claim cannot be verified, then we need to have very good reasons for treating it as a “fact”. To suggest no-one would make it up or the author was surely passing on what he knew with good reason to be true are not good enough reasons for using the data as a fact upon which to build a historical reconstruction.

If we cannot verify the origin or source of the assertion we have every reason to hold the information at arms length until we can have some assurance about who it comes from, whether that person was in a position to know, the nature of the work they were producing, etc.

Yep, that means we cannot verify popular accounts of, say, very early Roman history.

Nope, that does not mean we cannot verify very rich accounts of Roman history and persons in the last centuries of the Republic and early Empire.

But I won’t repeat all of those caveats and consequences etc etc here again. Just drawing attention here to what most of us basically know anyway, even if we sometimes forget it when swept away by the speculative imaginations of some biblical scholars confusing themselves with “historians”.





Happy New Year, Dear Readers

by Neil Godfrey

By now 2018 has surely arrived for all of you. Thanks for your interest, both critical and positive. I’m looking forward to exploring new ideas and old ideas more deeply this coming year. No doubt Tim is, too.

Warning. I know many readers don’t like everything we write but I will but I do hope to be writing more posts again like the one I have begun recently on Olivier Roy’s Jihad and Death. Feel free to engage critically with the posts you don’t like. The name Vridar was taken from the main character in Vardis Fisher’s quasi-autobiographical novel, Orphans of Gethsemane. Vridar emerged out of a Mormon upbringing to find a new identity and exploratory understandings not only of religion but of humanity itself. At one point he opined

The human animal was a terrible thing, not only in its lack of capacity to change-itself, but in its contentedness with what it was.

The irony was that Vridar did demonstrate a capacity to change and to refuse to be contented with what he was, and that he made contact with many other Vridars along his journey. Here’s to whatever challenges and opportunities 2018 brings and hoping all goes well with you, too.


And for those of us on the wagon….




Could a common name like Jesus really be “a name above all names”?

by Neil Godfrey

Here is a modified form of an exploratory essay I posted at another forum. It was in response to the question raised by the “Philippian Hymn”: was the name of Jesus itself “the name above all names” that was bestowed on God’s Son after his exaltation after crucifixion?

6 [Christ Jesus], being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  (NIV)

That looks like Jesus is the name that is “above every name”. But that seems so strange. We know the gospels tell us that Jesus had the name from birth. Besides, the name was the sixth most common male name at the time according to Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names (part 1, Palestine, 330 BCE – 200 CE, p. 56)

1 Simon 257
2 Joseph 231
3 Judah 179
4 Eleazar 177
5 Yohanan 128
6 Joshua = Jesus
7 Hananiah 85
8 Johnathan 75
9 Mattathias 63
10 Menahem 46

According to Wikipedia’s lists of most common given names in the last 100 years in the UK, Australia and USA, the equivalent would be Harry, Thomas and Benjamin.

We certainly don’t expect a “name above all names” to be a very common personal name, but then we don’t expect a very common personal name — the name itself — to have magical power when associated with a particular deity, either. Yet we do find the name of Jesus itself being chanted as having a magical power. From The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation:

Place olive branches before him, I and stand behind him and say:

“Hail, God of Abraham; hail, God of Isaac; hail, God of Jacob; Jesus Chrestos,
the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father, who is above the Seven, / who is within
the Seven. Bring Iao Sabaoth; may your power issue forth from him, NN, until
you drive away this unclean daimon Satan, who is in him. I conjure you, daimon, —- p. 62

After placing [the patient] opposite [to you], conjure. This is the conjuration:

“I conjure you by the god of the Hebrews, / Jesus, IABA IAE ABRAOTHA ….. etc. p. 96

A phylactery for fever:

“SARICH “Of Jesus Christ, son of IAO (?),
AORKACH quickly, quickly,
/ ROUGACH heal!…”

……………. p. 323

Ditto in Acts 3:16 — healing was performed by or in the name of Jesus

It is his name—that is, by faith in his name—that has healed this man whom you see and know. (ISV)

But in Acts 19:13 some mere nobodies or charlatans tried to use the name of Jesus to perform a miracle but they were punished and made to look complete idiots. The magical power of the name only worked if deployed by people with the right credentials.

Then some Jews who went around trying to drive out demons attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus on those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by that Jesus whom Paul preaches!”  Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit told them, “Jesus I know, and I am getting acquainted with Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them, got the better of them, and so violently overpowered all of them that they fled out of the house naked and bruised.

Otherwise it was nothing more than a powerless common name. read more »