Tag Archives: Born of a Woman

Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus”: that “born of a woman” passage (again)

Just in case anyone missed it. . . .  Tim Widowfield of Vridar posted a rather insightful and well-researched article addressing a slight weakness in Daniel Gullotta’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus.

The Function of the Term: “Born of a Woman”


The TW post incidentally addresses a very common deficiency in biblical scholarship that has long been noticed by a few lay readers but that has yet to be addressed by the mainstream scholarly elites who have a vested interest in correcting “misperceptions” about their arguments as they appear on the world wide web.

I will be adding this post in due course to our archive on related articles @ The “Born of a Woman” / Galatians 4:4 INDEX


The Function of the Term: “Born of a Woman”

Job: “Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil.”

Have we, after all, been making too much of Galatians 4:4? That’s the question I keep asking myself. After much reflection, I believe yes, we have, but perhaps not for the reason you would expect.

In Daniel Gullotta’s “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts,” he writes:

Furthermore, while Paul does use the word γενόμενον [genómenon] (to be made/to become)  [see: γίνομαι (ginomai)] instead of the typical γεννάω [gennáō] (to be born), γενόμενον does appear in relation to human births in other pieces of ancient literature, such as Plato’s Republic and Josephus’ Antiquities [of the Jews].61 It is also noteworthy that the similarly worded phrase ‘born of a woman’ is also found within the Book of Job, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as in other early Christian texts, each time indicating a human birth.62 With this convention in mind then, Paul’s expression, ‘born of a woman’, is fitting and certainly not exceptional. Thus, when Paul writes of Jesus’ coming into the world (Gal 4.4-6; cf. Phil 2.5-8; 2 Cor 8.9; Rom 8.3-4), it is apparent that it should be taken at face value to indicate Jesus being born like any other ordinary Jewish human being, that is, ‘born of a woman, born under the law.’ (Gullotta 2016, p. 329)

61 Josephus Ant., 1.303; 7.154; Plato, Rep., 8.553.

62 Cf. Job 14.1; 15.14; 25.4; 1 qs 11.20-21; 1 qh 13.14; 18.12-13; Matt 11.11; GThom 15; Origen, Against Celsus 1.70; Ps.-Clem., Homily 3.52.

I have preserved Gullotta’s footnotes above, because we’re going to take a look at all of his references to see if his assertions hold up. We’ll see whether the phrase “born of a woman” is (1) fitting and (2) certainly not exceptional. Ultimately, we’ll try to determine the function of the phrase in its context in Galatians.

Citations in Ancient Greek Literature

Before we examine the citations in ancient literature, I must praise Gullotta for scouring the thousands of occurrences of genómenon to find three instances in which the word appears (he claims) “in relation to human births.” Let’s begin.  read more »

Focus, Focus, Focus — but Not Blinkered

Larry Hurtado’s ongoing attempts to defend the reasons biblical scholars opt to ignore the arguments of the Christ Myth theory reinforce fundamental points in my original post, Reply to Larry Hurtado: “Why the “Mythical Jesus” Claim Has No Traction with Scholars”. Hurtado’s latest response is Focus, Focus, Focus. Some excerpts and my comments:

The question is whether the Gospels are best accounted for as literary productions that incorporate a body of prior traditions about Jesus of Nazareth, and on that question scholars over 250 years have broadly agreed that they do.  The earmarks of the traditions are there all over their texts.  The Gospel writers weren’t inventing a human figure, but composing biographical narratives of a figure who had been central from the beginning of the Jesus-movement.  The Gospels mark a development in the literary history of the first-century Jesus movement, appropriating the emergent biographical genre.  But they were essentially placing Jesus-tradition in this literary form.

That the gospels are “biographies” is not a fact but an interpretation, based most often on Richard Burridge’s What Are the Gospels? A number of scholars have found reasons to be critical of Burridge’s arguments, however, as have I. Both Tim and I have discussed Burridge’s book and some of the scholarly criticisms several times now as well as having written more studies on gospel genre generally, introducing a range of scholarly inputs on that question. But let’s stay focused. A “biographical” genre by itself does not mean that the person written about was historical. The ancient times saw a number of “biographies” written about persons we know to have been fictitious, even though the tone and style indicate to a less informed reader that they are about a “true” person. I have discussed several of these in the links above.

Scholars who pay attention to literary studies of the ancient world also know that ancient writers were trained to create details of verisimilitude to make their compositions (letters, novellas, speeches, poems) sound authentic or plausible.

Further, the claim that the gospels “incorporate a body of prior traditions about Jesus of Nazareth” is, in fact, an assumption that is generally “supported” by appeals to details in the text of the gospels that too often are in fact circular. The process is very often an exercise in the fallacy of confirmation bias. The assumption that oral tradition is behind the gospel narratives is the eyepiece through which the gospels are read, and lo and behold, the evidence expected is indeed found to be there. The method has too rarely been checked by controls. A few scholars have applied controls to these arguments, however, and have found that in several cases the evidence that was claimed to be support for oral tradition is, in fact, more directly found to be a sign of literary borrowing. Take, for example, the “rule of three”. Words, motifs, incidents in folktales are often repeated three times and this is said to be an aid to memory. Fine. But what is overlooked is that we find the “rule of three” also liberally populating very literary works with other literary influences.

Yes, I am very aware of studies on oral traditions in the Balkans and Africa and have addressed several of these in posts on this blog. Unfortunately, I have also found that in too many cases a scholar has quote-mined such a study and misapplied its statements to support an otherwise gratuitous claim about gospel origins.

The applicability of those oral tradition studies have been found by a number of scholars not to be applicable to the data we find in our canonical gospels. Again, see some of the posts on Vridar for references to some of the scholarly works addressing this question. I will be posting more in future.

Hurtado continues:

Another reader seems greatly exercised over how much of the Jesus-tradition Paul recounts in his letters, and how much Paul may have known.  Scholars have probed these questions, too, for a loooong time.  E.g., David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).  But, in any case, this isn’t the issue of my posting, or even essential to the “mythical Jesus” question.

Yes, and indeed it is “many scholars” who also write in their publications of Paul’s virtually complete lack of interest or even knowledge of the human Jesus. Unfortunately, Hurtado appears to have chosen not to even consider or read any of the criticisms of those arguments that bypass certain critical problems with those common assumptions about Paul’s supposed references to the “historical Jesus”. Again, the works available, by both mainstream scholars and Christ Myth theorists, are abundant and discussed in past posts.

The Pauline question is whether his letters treat Jesus as a real historical figure, indeed a near contemporary, and the answer is actually rather clear, as indicated in my posting.  Paul ascribes to Jesus a human birth, a ministry among fellow Jews, an execution specifically by Roman crucifixion, named/known siblings, and other named individuals who were Jesus’ original companions (e.g., Kephas/Peter, John Zebedee).  Indeed, in Paul’s view, it was essential that Jesus is a real human, for the resurrected Jesus is Paul’s model and proto-type of the final redemption that Paul believes God will bestow on all who align themselves with Jesus.  In Paul’s view, what God did to/for Jesus is what God will do for Paul and others who respond to the gospel.

Here Hurtado is glossing over a number of peer-reviewed scholarly studies that contradict some of his points. That conservative scholars choose to ignore these studies does not change the fact that they exist and stand as challenges to the claims by Hurtado here. See, for example, posts discussing the scholarly debate over a passage in 1 Thessalonians that speaks of Jews in Judea being responsible for Jesus’ death, discussions on the passage in Galatians that speaks of Jesus being “born of a woman”, and even my most recent summary of some (only some) of the points relating to the question of James being a “brother of the Lord”.

Hurtado’s assertions are not facts; they are interpretations that are indeed debated in the scholarly literature. Yes, conservative scholarship might dominate the guild today, and minority views might be ignored. But they do exist and ought to be considered fairly.

Of course, with the Jesus movement of his time more widely, Paul also ascribed to Jesus a post-resurrection heavenly status and regal role as God’s plenipotentiary, and likewise (and on the basis of Jesus’ heavenly exaltation) a “pre-existence”.  But for Paul and earliest believers it wasn’t a “zero-sum game,” in which Jesus could only be either a human/historical figure or a heavenly king.  For them, the one didn’t cancel out the other.

Hurtado here conflates “human” with “historical”. I suggest the equation is not necessarily valid given that the world has seen perhaps as many fictitious humans in its cultural history as non-human ones. Some Christ Myth theorists propose that Jesus was always entirely non-human. My own interests are in a different area, but as far as I understand, it makes no difference to the historicity question if Jesus was thought to appear as a human for a few hours, days, or even years, or even having “slipped through” the womb of Mary in order to be “human”. Let’s stay focused.

The earliest circles of the Jesus movement ransacked their scriptures to try to understand the events of Jesus, especially his execution and (in their conviction) his resurrection.  But it was these historical events that drove the process.

Again, this is mere assertion, an assumption, for which there is no independent evidence. The justifications for the claim derive from circular reasoning, I suggest. Or at least they are simply begging the question of the existence of Jesus. The evidence that is before us allows for quite another interpretation: that the early Christians derived their knowledge of Jesus from revelation, including the revelation of scriptures. Again, such viewpoints have been discussed at length many times on this blog.

Finally, this discussion is about history, not theology or faith.  What you make of early Christian claims about Jesus’ significance, how you view traditional Christian faith, etc., are all quite separate matters from the historical judgement that Jesus of Nazareth was a real early first-century Jew from Galilee.

Oh that that were true! The Christian faith, it must be kept in mind, is faith that a certain event in the past was more than just theological; it was historical. Faith in the historicity of the event is what Christianity is all about for most conservative Christians.

A handful of Christians I know of have found a way to move beyond such an earthly bound faith (as Schweitzer himself believers them to do) and have found a way to remain Christian even without belief in a historical Jesus. (Not that Schweitzer did not believe in a historical Jesus; he did. But that was not his spiritual message. See Schweitzer in context)

So, let’s stay focused, folks.

Indeed. Focused, but not blinkered.


Reply to Larry Hurtado: “Why the “Mythical Jesus” Claim Has No Traction with Scholars”

One of the purposes of Vridar is to share what its authors have found of interest in biblical scholarship that unfortunately tends not to be easily accessible to the wider lay public. (Of course, our interests extend into political, science and other topics, too. For further background see the authors’ profiles and the explanations linked at the what is vridar page.)

Some people describe Vridar as “a mythicist blog” despite the fact that one of its authors, Tim, is an agnostic on the question and yours truly regularly points out that the evidence available to historians combined with valid historical methodology (as practised in history departments that have nothing to do with biblical studies) may not even allow us to address the question. The best the historian can do is seek to account for the evidence we do have for earliest Christianity.

There are some exceptional works, however, that do follow sound methods and draw upon an in-depth knowledge of the sources and the wider scholarship to argue strong cases that Christian origins are best explained with a Jesus figure who had little grounding in history, and this blog has been a vehicle to share some of those arguments, usually by means of guest-posts. If a hypothesized historical Jesus turns out to be the most economical explanation for that evidence, then that’s fine. We are atheists but neither of us has any hostility to religion per se (we respect the beliefs and journeys of others) and I don’t see what difference it makes to any atheist whether Jesus existed or not.

Unfortunately, in some of our discussions of biblical scholarship both Tim and I have found what we believe are serious flaws in logic of argument and even a misuse or misleading “quote-mining” of sources. In response, a number of biblical scholars have expressed a less than professional response towards this blog’s authors and what they wrote. Some years back, in heated discussions, I myself occasionally responded in kind but I apologized and those days are now all long-gone history. Fortunately, a number of respected scholars have contacted us to express appreciation for what we are trying to do here at Vridar and that has been very encouraging.

(For what it’s worth, this blog has also often been the target of very hostile attacks from some of the supporters of less-than-scholarly arguments for a “mythical Jesus”.)

So with that little bit of background behind us, I now have the opportunity to address Larry Hurtado’s blog post, Why the “Mythical Jesus” Claim Has No Traction with Scholars.

Fallacy of the prevalent proof

A fact which every historian knows is not inherently more accurate than a fact which every schoolboy knows. Nevertheless, the fallacy of the prevalent proof commonly takes this form — deference to the historiographical majority. It rarely appears in the form of an explicit deference to popular opinion. But implicitly, popular opinion exerts its power too. A book much bigger than this one could be crowded with examples.  — David Hacket Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies. See earlier post for details.

Hurtado begins:

The overwhelming body of scholars, in New Testament, Christian Origins, Ancient History, Ancient Judaism, Roman-era Religion, Archaeology/History of Roman Judea, and a good many related fields as well, hold that there was a first-century Jewish man known as Jesus of Nazareth, that he engaged in an itinerant preaching/prophetic activity in Galilee, that he drew to himself a band of close followers, and that he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.

That is a sweeping statement and I believe it to be misleading for the following reasons.

I doubt that the “overwhelming body of scholars” in any of the fields listed, apart from New Testament and Christian Origins, has ever addressed the question of the historicity of Jesus. Certainly, I can accept that probably most people in the West, not only scholars, who have discussed ancient times have at some time heard or made mention of Jesus as a “historical marker”. The life of Jesus is public knowledge, after all. And public knowledge is culturally (not “academically”) transmitted. I suspect that “the overwhelming body of scholars” in all fields who have ever mentioned Jesus in some context have never investigated the academic or scholarly arguments for his existence. That doesn’t make them unscholarly. It simply puts them within their cultural context. I also suspect that for “the overwhelming” majority of those scholars, the question of the historicity of Jesus made no meaningful difference to the point they were expressing.

Hurtado in his opening statement is appealing to what historian David Hackett Fisher labelled the fallacy of the prevalent proof.

These same scholars typically recognize also that very quickly after Jesus’ execution there arose among Jesus’ followers the strong conviction that God (the Jewish deity) had raised Jesus from death (based on claims that some of them had seen the risen Jesus). These followers also claimed that God had exalted Jesus to heavenly glory as the validated Messiah, the unique “Son of God,” and “Lord” to whom all creation was now to give obeisance.[i] Whatever they make of these claims, scholars tend to grant that they were made, and were the basis for pretty much all else that followed in the origins of what became Christianity.

Here we have a continuation of the above fallacy. Yes, what Hurtado describes is what most people (not only scholars) in the Christian West have probably heard at some time and taken for granted as the “Christian story”. Again, what Hurtado is referring to here is a process of cultural transmission. Very few of “these same scholars” have ever studied the question of historicity. We all repeat cultural “memes” the same way we quote lines of Shakespeare.

After 250 years of critical investigation

The “mythical Jesus” view doesn’t have any traction among the overwhelming number of scholars working in these fields, whether they be declared Christians, Jewish, atheists, or undeclared as to their personal stance. Advocates of the “mythical Jesus” may dismiss this statement, but it ought to count for something if, after some 250 years of critical investigation of the historical figure of Jesus and of Christian Origins, and the due consideration of “mythical Jesus” claims over the last century or more, this spectrum of scholars have judged them unpersuasive (to put it mildly).

This statement is a common but misleading characterization of the history of the debate. I think it is fair to say that in fact scholars have not at all spent the past 250 years investigating the question of the historical existence of Jesus. Their studies have, on the contrary, assumed the existence of Jesus and sought to resolve questions about that historical figure’s nature, career, teachings, thoughts, impact, etc. Forty years ago the academic Dennis Nineham even described the importance of the historical foundations of the story of Jesus to meet the needs of theological and biblical scholars. (See earlier posts on his book, The Use and Abuse of History.)

The number of biblical scholars who have published works dedicated to a refutation of the “Christ Myth” theory are very few and, though often cited, appear to have been little read. According to Larry Hurtado’s own discussions, it appears that he has only read one such work, one dated 1938, that I think few others have ever heard of. See “It is absurd to suggest . . . . “: Professor Hurtado’s stock anti-mythicist. (He may have read other such criticisms, and more recent and thorough ones, of which I am unaware.)

The fact is that the few scholars who have historically “come out” to argue that Jesus did not have a historical existence, beginning with Bruno Bauer, have been ostracized and soon ignored by the fields of theology and biblical studies.

In normal academic debate an author is given a right to a reply to criticisms of his work. I have yet to see a mainstream biblical scholar actually address (as distinct from ridicule or insult) any of the responses of Christ myth supporters to those works that are supposed to have debunked mythicism, such as those of Shirley Jackson Case, Maurice Goguel and now Bart Ehrman. One gets the impression that many scholars are content to accept that scholars like Ehrman have “taken care” of the arguments and the matter can be safely left at that. In fact, most replies to the works of Case, Ehrman and others are demonstrations that they have failed to address the core arguments despite their claims to the contrary.

Sometimes an offensive manner is used as an excuse to avoid engaging in serious debate or responses to criticisms, which is a shame because I have seen rudeness and other lapses in professionalism on both sides. Mainstream scholars would, I think, be more persuasive among their target audience if they took the initiative in seizing the high ground of a civil tone and academic rigour in all related discussions. Unfortunately, several academics are even on record as saying that they fear to show normal standards of respect and courtesy with mythicist arguments for fear that they would be interpreted as giving the view a “respectability it does not deserve.” That sounds to me like a reliance upon attempted persuasion by means of condescension, abuse and bullying.

The reasons are . . . 

read more »

Albert Schweitzer on the Christ Myth Debate

Without citing any instances to support his claim, Bart Ehrman charged “mythicists” as sometimes guilty of dishonestly quote-mining Albert Schweitzer to make it sound as if Schweitzer supported the view that Jesus was not a historical person. Ehrman’s unsubstantiated allegation has been repeated by Cornelis Hoogerwerf on his blog (without any acknowledgement to Ehrman); Jona Lendering of Livius.org has reportedly alerted Jim West of Cornelis’s “observation” and Jim has in turn informed his readership of Cornelis’s “excellent post”.

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century. (Albert Schweiter, p.394, the 2001 Fortress edition of Quest) — and ditto for the 21st century!

Here’s an excellent post . . . on the way the Jesus mythicists misrepresent Schweitzer to further their unhinged, maniacal, idiotic goals. (From The Crazy ‘Jesus Mythicists’ Lie About Schweitzer the Way Trump Lies About Everything)

If anyone knows who has quoted Schweitzer to support a claim that Jesus did not exist please do inform me either by email or in a comment below. I am not suggesting that no-one has mischievously or ignorantly misquoted Schweitzer to suggest he had doubts about the historicity of Jesus but I have yet to see who these mythicists are of whom Ehrman, Hoogerwerf and West speak. I do know that my own blog post quotations of Schweitzer have been picked up by others and recycled but I was always careful to point out that Schweitzer was no mythicist, and indeed that was a key reason I presented the quotations: the strength of their contribution to my own point was that they derived from someone who argued at length against the Christ Myth theory.

So I would like to know the identities of the “quack historians” of whom Cornelis Hoogerwerf writes:

To no surprise for those who are a little bit familiar with the contrivances of quack historians, Albert Schweitzer is getting quote mined to bolster the claims of the defenders of an “undurchführbare Hypothese” (infeasable hypothesis), as Schweitzer himself called  the hypothesis of the non-existence of Jesus (p. 564). Part of it is due to the English translation, but another part is certainly due to the fact that quotations of his work circulate without context, and moreover due to the lack of understanding of Schweitzer’s time and his place in the history of scholarship. Perhaps some light from the Netherlands, in between the German and the Anglo-Saxon world, could help to clarify the matter.

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus.

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence.

. . . .

Now, without context, it seems that Albert Schweitzer rejects the whole project of historical Jesus research. But nothing is further from the truth, for Schweitzer criticises the liberal scholarship that was current in the nineteenth century, which, according to Schweitzer, tried to make the historical Jesus a stooge for their modern religious predilections. That Jesus had never any existence. Schweitzer’s own historical Jesus was the eschatological Jesus, who remained strange, even offensive, to our time.

(Misquoting Albert Schweitzer, my bolding in all quotations)

What is the source of this claim? Has Cornelis Hoogerwerf really read any post, article or book in which Schweitzer has been so quoted for such a dishonest purpose? He cites none. But his wording does have remarkable similarities to the text of Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? when he made the same charge — also without citation of supporting sources.

To lend some scholarly cachet to their view, mythicists sometimes quote a passage from one of the greatest works devoted to the study of the historical Jesus in modern times, the justly famous Quest of the Historical Jesus, written by New Testament scholar, theologian, philosopher, concert organist, physician, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Albert Schweitzer:

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus.

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.

. . . .

Taken out of context, these words may seem to indicate that the great Schweitzer himself did not subscribe to the existence of the historical Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. The myth for Schweitzer was the liberal view of Jesus so prominent in his own day, as represented in the sundry books that he incisively summarized and wittily discredited in The Quest. Schweitzer himself knew full well that Jesus actually existed; in his second edition he wrote a devastating critique of the mythicists of his own time, and toward the end of his book he showed who Jesus really was, in his own considered judgment. For Schweitzer, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the imminent end of history as we know it. (Did Jesus Exist? p. f)

I hesitate to suggest that Ehrman’s accusations were made without substance but I have yet to find any “mythicists” quoting the above passage by Schweitzer for the intent that Ehrman and Hoogerwerf claim. Is this an entirely manufactured accusation? Is West alerting readers to Hoogerwerf’s “excellent” relaying of a baseless rumour?


Cornelis Hoogerwerf adds a second part to his post: read more »

That Second Question Frank Zindler Wanted to Ask Bart Ehrman

zindlerWhen the Ehrman/Price Debate sponsored by Milwaukee Mythicists was opened up to questions from the audience Frank Zindler was the first to speak. He had two questions but the rules allowed him time to only ask one. Much of the audience, so I have heard and as seemed quite apparent to me from the video, was quite taken aback by Bart Ehrman’s hostile dismissal of his first question. Frank asked Bart if he had read the book published in critical response to his Did Jesus Exist? since he had given no indication in the debate that he was aware of its criticisms of the arguments he had just repeated. Ehrman brusquely replied that he had read it, “twice”, but that he disagreed with everything it said and he would not respond.

So much for Frank’s first question. Here from Frank Zindler is that second question that he had hoped to ask Bart Ehrman:

Bart, many of us have used your research to support many of our own arguments. For example, in Orthodox Corruption of Scripture you show many examples of anti-Docetic passages in the NT, from the “born-of-woman” Gal 4:4 to the antichrist verses of 1-2 John. Galatians is usually dated to ~54 CE, and if Jesus ever existed, he died in 30 or 33 CE (although Irenaeus claimed he lived into the reign of Claudius, that ended in 54 CE—the very year in which Galatians was written!)

As you know, there are no manuscript variants lacking the born-of-woman gynaikos of Gal 4:4. You have criticized me for claiming interpolation in cases where manuscript evidence is lacking. So……….

According to you own method, the anti-Docetic Gal 4:4 is not an interpolation; it dates to 54 CE if the traditional dating be correct.


If Jesus died in 33 CE, how is it possible that just 21 years later—or even in the very year Galatians was written—there could be widespread forms of Christianity that denied that Jesus had had a body? Was not some form of Docetism therefore the earliest form of Christianity?


Other posts discussing Galatians 4:4 — including from a range of scholarly perspectives — are archived at:

The “Born of a Woman” / Galatians 4:4 INDEX

Another review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

onhistoricityIt’s more of a few notes or a “book write up” than a review per se. PhD candidate and Bible scholar James Pate has posted Book Write-Up: On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier on his blog James’ Ramblings. He explains the purpose of his brief notes:

I would like to wrestle with some of Carrier’s arguments.  This post will not be comprehensive, but it will wrestle with key points that Carrier makes in his book.

Unfortunately what I missed from the “key points” that follow was an acknowledgement of the central methodology and case made by Richard Carrier. What troubles James Pate more appear to be some of the old chestnuts that I thought Carrier had addressed, but evidently not to the satisfaction of James. But credit where credit is due: James Pate does not engage in subtle or overt innuendo, put-down, and cavalier dismissal of Carrier as some other reviewers have done. Nor does he engage in outright distortion of the arguments. [There is one point made by James Pate that is incorrect, however, and I addressed this in a comment below.]

I suspect the limitations of Pate’s post are really the outcome of simply wanting to jot down notes of some key questions that a reading of Carrier’s book failed to dispel rather than write a formal review. We ought not be faulted for not doing what we did not set out to do. So I would like to think that Pate’s points should provide a good spring-board for further discussion and an opening into the wider arguments presented by Carrier.

Pate’s first point:

A.  Carrier does ask good questions. . . . 

Pate lists several of them. Of course Carrier does more than simply ask such questions: he raises such questions in the context of probabilities against the relevant background knowledge of Christianity and its wider cultural matrix. Potentially fruitful discussion topics here.

B.  On why first century extra-biblical sources fail to mention Jesus, many would respond that they would not mention a backwater Galilean peasant. . . . 

C.  . . . . Carrier notes that so many extrabiblical sources fail to mention Christianity. . . .  Why did so many first century sources fail to mention Christianity?  Was it because Christianity was obscure, or not well-established yet, or kept to itself?

read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 14: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 13: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses


Heikki Räisänen, in the preface to the 2nd edition of his Paul and the Law, writes:

There is at least a general agreement that Paul’s view of the law is a very complex and intricate matter which confronts the interpreter with a great many puzzles… [A] vast host of interpreters has felt, and feels, that there are problems—logical and other—in Paul’s theology of the law. (p. xii)

And, continues Räisänen:

Differences come to light when one tries to synthesize the individual observations, which also entails deciding whether various tensions are apparent or real. On this level, very diverse syntheses stand in opposition to each other. Scholars quite often suggest that all previous syntheses are unconvincing—and then bravely offer a brand new one. (p. xii)

quote_begin If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator quote_end

But perhaps it is not the complexity of Paul’s view of the Law that has made a convincing synthesis so elusive. Marcion, the earliest known interpreter of the Pauline letters, contended that the text in circulation in his day had been interpolated earlier by someone whose rejection of Judaism was less radical than that of the original author. That means the alleged tampering would have occurred anywhere from 75 to 125 years before the time our earliest extant manuscripts of the letters are dated.

If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator who “corrected” them. And if so, a coherent synthesis will forever be impossible. Disentanglement will be needed, not synthesis.

I have been freely playing the interpolation card in this series, trying to see if Marcion’s claim can provide solutions to the puzzles in the Pauline letters. Specifically, I am trying to see if the letters make better sense when viewed as writings of Simon of Samaria that were later interpolated by a proto-orthodox Christian.

In my last post I started looking into the law-related inconsistencies in Galatians and Romans. I suggested that the apparent denial of the divine origin of the Mosaic Law in Galatians 3:19 may be Simon’s work, and the clear exoneration of said Law in Romans 7 the work of an interpolator.

Let’s now go back and take a look at the literary context of the denial. Let’s see if the context can be plausibly untangled into two different positions regarding the Law.

Faith and Works

In Galatians 3 the Apostle begins by reminding his readers that they received the Spirit by faith, not by works of the Law. Their reception of the Spirit and their experience of “mighty deeds” (Gal. 3:5) had been triggered by their faith in the message preached by the Apostle, a message he apparently confirmed by putting before their eyes the writing(s)—the Vision of Isaiah?—in which Jesus Christ was “forewritten as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). Moreover, continues the letter, it is not Abraham’s Law-observant descendants who have been blessed along with him, but rather anyone who has Christian faith. “So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham… those who are men of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:7 and 9).

For all who are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law, for “He who through faith is justified shall live.” But the law does not rest on faith, for “The man who does them shall live in them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree”—that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Brothers, in terms of merely human relations no one annuls even a man’s covenant, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” referring to many; but, referring to one, “And to your seed,” which is Christ. What I am saying is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Gal. 3:10-18)

So far there is nothing here that could not have been written by Simon of Samaria.

It is the next section that brings in ideas that are hard to harmonize with each other and with the passages above. The attempts to do so, according to J.B. Lightfoot, already numbered in the hundreds when he wrote his 1865 commentary on Galatians (Galatians p. 146).

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What Did Paul Know About Jesus?

Gregory Jenks

Gregory Jenks

Gregory Jenks has posted a new article on academia.edu, What did Paul know about Jesus? Jenks is a senior lecturer of theology at Charles Sturt University. Among other things he is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and has a blog with the byline revisioning faith . . . shaping holy lives. I met Gregory Jenks in Toowoomba some years ago now when John Shelby Spong dropped in for a visit at his Anglican parish. He’s a nice bloke so I hope I don’t do any injustice to his article.

So first up let me give you the message Jenks wants to leave with sympathetic readers. He begins with this question for believers:

Does the historical Paul provide any help for contemporary people wondering to what extent information about the pre-Easter Jesus is relevant to the project of discipleship and faith?

After showing how little Paul addressed “Jesus traditions” he closes with the following answer that amplifies the message of his blog’s byline:

Paul appears to have exercised considerable flexibility and creative license in using whatever Jesus traditions may have been known to him and his readers. Christians today can claim that same freedom with respect to the Jesus tradition and the Pauline legacy.

Paul demonstrated that the priority always lies with direct life experience—interpreted within the context of one’s faith community and in the light of its tradition. Those who wish to honor the sage of Galilee might do it best by moving beyond veneration to the more challenging project of embracing life with openness and trust here and now.

I think I’ve been fair in presenting what Jenks sees as the importance of his article. I’ve no problem with his question or answer and respect his efforts in working towards a more tolerant and understanding society with that kind of message.

But what about the question of historicity and origins?

I was fearing that Jenks’ article would be yet one more “reading Paul through the Gospels” exercise but there was no need. Jenks is smarter than that. read more »

Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ?

Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, Saint Paul Stoned in the City of Lystra

Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, Saint Paul Stoned in the City of Lystra

Was Paul persecuted for preaching a crucified messiah?

In 1 Corinthians 1:23 we read that the message of “Christ crucified” was a “stumblingblock” or “offence” to the Jews. There is no explanation to inform us exactly why Jews were so offended by Paul preaching that a messiah had been crucified but that hasn’t prevented many readers from knowing the reason without any shadow of doubt.

The assumption has generally been that the Jewish idea of a messiah was a superhero who would conquer the evil powers of the world and set up the Jewish people as the ruling kingdom over everyone else. There is a further understanding that the Jews hated Paul enough to persecute him because his teaching about the messiah was so outrageous and offensive.

Let’s try the prediction test on the latter of these hypotheses.

If Paul’s crucified messiah really was a scandalous polar opposite (so opposite as to be virtually inconceivable or blasphemous to many Jews) to a standard messianic idea with which Jews as a whole identified, then we would expect to find Paul addressing that contrary messianic figure somewhere and making it clear why it was deficient and why his crucified messiah was indeed superior.

Unfortunately we find no evidence of any such polemic. Paul’s writings nowhere hint of that sort of clash of views.

And this is not surprising when we attempt to find out what the “Jewish” idea of a messiah actually was in the time of Paul. There was none. Or more correctly, there were several ideas alongside an apparent lack of interest in the idea altogether.

This post is not a synthesis of wide readings on scholarship of the nature and place of messianic concepts in Second Temple Judaisms; it is restricted for most part to two quite old publications by Morton Smith:

  • “What is Implied by the Variety of Messianic Figures?” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 78, No. 1 (Mar., 1959), pp. 66-72
  • “The Reason for the Persecution of Paul and the Obscurity of Acts” (1967) in Ubach, E.E., Werblowsky, R.J. Zwi, Wirszubski, C. (eds.), Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on his Seventieth Birthday, pp. 261-268

After addressing instances where scholars have read documents as if they were inkblots in a Rorschach test to find references to a messiah, Morton Smith in the 1959 article wrote: read more »

Astrotheology, A Religious Belief System (as per D.M. Murdock/Acharya S)

TabulaThe more I have read of the works of Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) and the more engagement I have had with those who fervently advocate her views the more I have suspected that some form of cult-like belief system lies beneath their surface appearances. Part of the reason for my suspicions has been the vitriolic reactions on their part against any attempt to honestly critique their views and engage them in argument that consistently follows the norms of scholarly or “scientific” reasoning. I have been portrayed in some very colorful terms by both Acharya and those I believe it is fair to say are her followers. In effect I have been lumped together with others as deliberately closed-minded, bigoted and out to lyingly slander them. My record of defending Acharya against some of the worst insults I have read on the web counts for nothing.

Finally one of Acharya’s fairly prominent online supporters, Robert Tulip, has “come out” and made it very clear that my suspicions were right all along. Astrotheology — the view they propagate — is a form of religious belief. They believe as strongly as any fundamentalist that they are right and anyone who does not agree with them after they explain it all is perverse or willfully blind. Expressions of disagreement are interpreted as expressions of hostility or even persecution.

And like religious cults, they curry good relations with prominent or respectable names that they believe will give their cause a benign public face. Anyone with public standing among those they seek to influence and who has had a positive word to say about Acharya’s books is promoted as a witness that they really are a genuinely scholarly (even scientific) group of truth-seekers. I have finally come to believe they are as scientific as Scientology; their efforts to claim to follow the scientific method are a falsehood. I doubt that people like Earl Doherty really do understand exactly what it is their names are being used to support when they insist that such people have made supportive comments about their publications.

My full awareness of all of this did not come quickly. I have hoped my suspicions were not true often enough. If I can be shown to be mistaken I would greatly welcome it and apologize for this post and withdraw it.

What finally led me to give up any remaining doubts I had about their religious or cult status was a series of posts on the EarlyWritings Forum. The most recent of these posts, under the title Loaves and Fishes, were prompted by pressure from a few of us for Robert to demonstrate the scientific or scholarly basis for his rejection of normal (“midrashic”/literary-critical) explanations for the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Gospels and his belief that this narrative was written as a code of some sort for “astrotheology” beliefs. The result is the epitome of parallelomania (as I have explained this through Sandmel’s definitions a couple of times recently); but the worst part comes at the end when it is made very clear that Robert himself takes his interpretation as a personal belief system along with the fundamentalist-like view that anyone who fails to share his enlightenment is willfully perverse.

Here is Robert Tulip’s explication of the Gospels’ Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. After reading this I finally realized I have been wasting my time taking many of his remarks testifying to an interest in the hypothetico-deductive method at face value. He — and I can only presume the same applies to Acharya S herself — are evidently not interested in scholarly approaches to Christian origins and really are about peddling a quasi-religious type of belief-system.

I have bolded the text that I consider to be the evidence that “astrotheology” as advocated here is indeed a genuine personal belief-system that shuts down any possibility of genuinely scholarly engagement and criticism.

At the end of the post I add a couple of scholarly reviews of David Ulansey’s argument that it was the ancient discovery of the precession of the equinoxes that prompted the rise of Mithraism and possibly even Christianity.

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The “Born of a Woman” / Galatians 4:4 INDEX

Proper indexing of my posts has fallen behind. One small step towards correcting this has been to collate all Vridar posts that have dealt with Galatians 4:4 and the famous “born of a woman” phrase.

First I list persons whose various views have been presented here. Then . . .  well, you can see how the list is structured.

If you want to know what my own view on the passage is then I can only say I am not dogmatic on any position. Even the absence of the text from Tertullian’s rebuttal of Marcion’s copy of Galatians is not necessarily decisive given that the word translated “born” could even more validly be rendered “made”. That is, Tertullian may have ignored the passage because it potentially favoured a docetic interpretation. See the Ehrman entry below for details.

Nonetheless, I do strongly favour the view that the expression is, as Hoffmann himself once wrote, “the language of myth”. No-one but a poet or a theologian explains that so-and-so “was born of a woman”! If anything in this context it is a credal statement. And if it’s a credal statement then it is not the quotidian data New Testament scholars like McGrath and Hurtado (and now Hoffmann) insist is evidence for a fact of history.


Paul-Louis Couchoud


Epistle to the Galatians — Couchoud’s view  

This post makes special reference to Couchoud’s article (in which he says that Gal 4:4 is an echo from the Gospel of Luke’s first chapters to counter Marcion’s view of Christ) posted in full on Herman Detering’s site:

“And again in a passage about the descent of Christ he includes a profession of faith in the birth of Christ in the flesh as a Jew among Jews. Gal. 4 : 4:

“God sent his Son,
to redeem those under law.”

Between those two lines he interpolates: “born of a woman, born under the law,”, a line which comes from the same current as the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

Christ’s birth in the flesh stands in contradiction to the passages that proclaim his celestial, not terrestrial birth, e.g. to 1 Cor. 15 : 45; 47 . . . .”

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“Born of a Woman” — Sober Scholarship Questioning the Authenticity of Galatians 4:4

J. C. O’Neill (1930-2004) was a well respected critical scholar with some controversial views and always offering stimulating argument. Possibly the most controversial was his Who Did Jesus Think He Was? in which he argued that Jesus did believe he was the Messiah and that even the doctrine of the Trinity could be detected in the Gospels. He also wrote The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1972). In that work he found himself forced to conclude that the passage declaring Jesus was “born of a woman” was not original to Paul. This should be quite a surprise to anyone who has encountered scholars scoffing at any doubts about the historical existence of Jesus because the passage in Galatians averring that Jesus was “born of a woman” is invariably declared to be iron-clad evidence that Paul had good reason to know that Jesus was, well, born of a woman. Presumably these scholars are convinced that no-one would ever suggest a fictive person would have come into the world by means of a birth or that the gender through whom he was born would be female.

Authority of the epistle remains

But don’t let me misrepresent J.C. O’Neill. Though O’Neill believed Galatians was riddled with “interpolations” he nonetheless hoped that his analysis would

clear the way for a fresh conviction that Paul was in fact an apostle of the Son of God. (p. 13 — my bolding and formatting in all quotations)

If our final text of Galatians was not entirely Paul’s original writing then the authority of the whole letter was only minimally affected as far as the Church is concerned:

This book (“The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians”) should make it easier to accord to Paul the authority due to him, and also make it easier to accord to the later theologians (i.e. those responsible for the interpolations and glosses in Galatians) the lesser authority due to them for their insights into the doctrinal consequences of the apostle’s teaching. (p. 13)

Cannot return to the older approach

English: Baruch de Spinoza (1632 -1677)

Baruch de Spinoza

O’Neill may have been true to what we might see as a conservative faith, but was also true to critical principles in the study of the Scriptures.

We cannot simply return to the older approach; we are bound to accept Spinoza and Locke for, whether we like it or not, we are heirs of the whole modern awareness of history. We must, at all costs, discover what Paul himself wrote, and we must discover, as precisely as we can, the history of the text of his epistles, from the time they were received by those he first addressed until the time when they were gathered together, in a more or less fixed form, into the Christian canon. (p. 12)

Spinoza? Locke?

“The universal rule . . . in interpreting Scripture is to accept nothing as an authoritative Scriptural statement which we do not perceive very clearly when we examine it in the light of its history.” Paul must have been “a coherent, argumentative, pertinent Writer; and Care, I think, should be taken, in expounding of him, to show that he is so.”
The “history” of a scriptural statement comprises:

— nature of its original language
— analysis of a book and its arrangement
— background of the book: author, occasion, reception.

The starting point for studying Paul is therefore to read the epistles through from beginning to end many times to see the coherence of the argument.
Portrait of John Locke.

John Locke.

Why think there are any interpolations at all?

Why can we not assume that the text we have was all Paul’s to begin with? J. C. O’Neill explains why: read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 4: Excursus on Marcion, Valentinians, and the Pauline Letters

I have devoted my two previous posts to the part of my hypothesis that concerns the Pauline letters:

  • The earliest parts of the original collection of Pauline letters were written between CE 50 and 130 by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander.
  • Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only.
  • But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

But at this point I expect that those who have read Robert M. Price’s book The Amazing Colossal Apostle are wondering: What about Marcion and gnostics like Valentinus? Didn’t they or their followers contribute something to the Paulines? Or, at least, weren’t they the targets of some of the proto-orthodox interpolations in the letters? Price would answer “yes” to these last two questions. His hypothesis is that:

The Pauline epistles began, most of them, as fragments by Simon (part of Romans), Marcion (the third through sixth chapter of Galatians and the basic draft of Ephesians), and Valentinian Gnostics (Colossians, parts of 1 Corinthians, at least). Some few began as Catholic documents, while nearly all were interpolated by Polycarp, the ecclesiastical redactor who domesticated John (as Bultmann saw it), Luke (as per John Knox), and 1 Peter, then composed Titus and 2 Timothy. (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 534)

One immediately noticeable difference between our hypotheses is that I hold, as argued in the previous post, that the original letters to the Ephesians and Colossians were written by the Simonian Menander, not Marcion or a Valentinian. To me, the passages that Price sees as Marcionite or Valentinian in these letters can just as plausibly be identified as Simonian. The theological development present in them is nothing that could not have already occurred within Simon’s communities in the generation after him, and thus before either Marcion or Valentinus are thought to have been active. Forty years—say, from CE 60 to 100—seems like plenty enough time for that development. And if so, the proto-orthodox interpolations could have been inserted with Simonians in view.

The proto-orthodox reworking of the letter collection could have been a fait accompli by the time Marcion and Valentinus went to Rome in the late 130s.

To illustrate my point, let’s consider some specific instances.


Price, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes:

The first anti-Marcionite interpolation we can detect is in verse 1:7a, “the one by whom we have received release through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses.” In Marcionite soteriology, the death of Jesus was a ransom, manumitting the enslaved creatures of the demiurge, not a sacrifice for sins. The same problem occurs in 2:5 where another insertion, “even with us dead in trespasses, vivified us along with Christ—and by his favor you have been saved,” attempts to correct Marcionite belief. Verse 2:1 likewise contains an anti-Marcionite interpolation, “then dead in your trespasses and sins.No one was in trouble with the Father for having transgressed the commandments of the demiurge. (pp. 444-445 — Bolding added)

In regard to verse 2:5: I have already explained in my previous post how I would account for the realized eschatology expressed by “vivified us along with Christ.” This is not a doctrine the proto-orthodox interpolator would have added. It is rather a teaching of Menander that the proto-orthodox redactor allowed to remain in the text because it was rendered harmless by other offsetting insertions. Nor do I see the words “and by his favor you have been saved” as an interpolation. As already noted in my first post, Irenaeus clearly says that salvation by grace was a teaching of Simon of Samaria.

I do agree with Price that some tampering has occurred in the three verses in question. Specifically, I agree that the references to forgiveness of sin and trespasses have been added. These belong to proto-orthodox soteriology which put forward the death of the Son as an expiatory sacrifice or atonement for sin. But I’m not convinced these insertions were made to combat Marcionite belief. They could just as plausibly have been added to correct Simonian error. For ransom soteriology was not created by Marcion. In the extant proto-orthodox heresiological writings, the earliest figure to have a ransom soteriology attributed to him is Simon of Samaria.

priceParvus1Simon taught that he was in some way inhabited by the Son who had previously appeared to suffer in Judaea. And as a new manifestation of that Son, he had come in search of his lost First Thought, Helen. He came in order to free her from the world-making angels who, by holding her captive, had prevented her from returning to her home above. The moment of her actual release from that captivity was apparently tied by Simon to his purchase of her from a brothel:

She [Helen] lived in a brothel in Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, where he [Simon] found her on his arrival… And after he had purchased her freedom, he took her about with him… For by purchasing the freedom of Helen, he thus offered salvation to men by knowledge peculiar to himself (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19).

Thus it appears that, because the salvation of Simon’s followers from this world and its makers was modeled on the salvation of Helen, theirs too was sometimes referred to as a purchase, ransom or redemption:

The dissolution of the world, they [Simonians] say, is for the ransoming of their own people (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19; my bolding)

Notice that the “ransoming” here is not a payment that will be made when the world is dissolved. It is not a payment made to anyone. It is simply release from this world. And from its makers, as comes through in the parallel passage of the Against Heresies:

Therefore he [Simon] announced that the world would be dissolved and that those who were his would be freed from the rule of those who made the world. (1, 23, 3)

The sense, then, of “ransom” appears to be release from those who keep one from returning home. That being the case, I would retain “the one by whom we have received release” in Eph. 1:7a as authentic, but reject the remaining words of the verse (“through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses”) as an interpolation. The purpose of the interpolation was to make to make the “release” look sacrificial and expiatory much along the lines of so many passages in the proto-orthodox Letter to the Hebrews.

The use of the word “blood” in the interpolation had an additional proto-orthodox benefit—an anti-docetic one. A real sacrifice requires real blood, not the mere appearance of it. So connecting the “release” with blood also counters Simon’s teaching that the Son of God, at his first entry into the world, had merely appeared to be a man and merely appeared to suffer. But note again how there is no need to see Marcion as the docetic opponent targeted by 1:7a. He was not the first Christian docetist. The proto-orthodox heresy-hunters give that distinction to Simon of Samaria. read more »