Tag Archives: Christ Myth Hypothesis

Gathercole Dabbles with Counterfactual History

Let me state at the outset here that I fully understand the actual merits of Simon Gathercole’s recent article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus do not matter. Its mere existence suffices for the task at hand. In other words, it is not necessary for mainstream scholarship to demonstrate that Paul’s writings prove the existence of the historical Jesus; it is only necessary to assert it.

We saw the same sort of effect back in 2017 after Gullotta’s swing-and-a-miss treatment of Carrier’s magnum opus. For example, Gathercole writes, with no hint of irony:

One of the best recent critiques is that of Daniel Gullotta, who notes some crucial weaknesses in Richard Carrier’s volume. (Gathercole 2018, p. 185)

Do you believe?!

Tinkerbell tries to open a cabinet.

Despite the laughably bad anti-mythicist works offered by Casey and Ehrman, both scholars got a pass from their friends, colleagues, and sycophants. More than a pass, really, since both enjoyed backslaps and cheers for participating. They showed up and wrote down some words, by golly. It’s the Tinkerbell Effect in full bloom. Biblical scholars can claim they have refuted mythicism in all its forms as long as enough of them clap their hands and shout, “I believe! Oh, I do believe in the historical Jesus!

So what I have to say here will make no difference in the big picture, but I suppose somebody, somewhere, should say something, before Gathercole’s article inevitably takes its rightful place among “solid refutations” future scholars will point to.

If we had only Paul’s letters and nothing else, how much would we think we knew about the historical Jesus?

At the start of the new year, I started reading a book by Judea Pearl called The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. In it, he devotes an entire chapter to counterfactuals (see Chapter 8 — Counterfactuals: Mining Worlds That Could Have Been). I had already read Gathercole’s article before that, and it rang a bell. Hadn’t he said something about counterfactuals? Yes, he did.

This article aims to adopt a kind of counterfactual approach to history, in which all of early Christian literature is set aside except the undisputed letters of Paul, in order to try to glean what can be learned from them alone. . . . The only exception is that the New Testament is occasionally used as evidence for Greek idiom. Otherwise, the letters of Paul are not interpreted in the light of, or even in tandem with, the Gospels, but are taken as far as is possible only against the backdrop of non-Christian sources. (Gathercole 2018, p. 187, bold emphasis mine throughout)

I confess I’d forgotten this tidbit, possibly because in the paragraphs that followed he appeared to be taking up arms against docetism rather than mythicism. Or perhaps Gathercole’s supposed commitment to the counterfactual approach had slipped my mind, just as it had clearly slipped his.

I have from time to time tried to imagine what our conception of early Christianity would look like if we had, say, only the Gospel of Mark or only the Gospel of John. Gathercole’s basic idea makes sense — if we had only Paul’s letters and nothing else, how much would we think we knew about the historical Jesus? What are some things we wouldn’t know for certain or, perhaps, at all? Let’s take a look. read more »

Type 2 mythicism: one more example

For the meaning of “type 2” mythicism see two types; for the previous post addressing Caesar’s Messiah see Why and Fishing.

I will post just once more on the mythicist argument in Caesar’s Messiah: the Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. My previous criticism examined the notion that Josephus, when describing one detail of a battle in Galilee, was subtly referring to Jesus call to his disciples to become “fishers of men”. The strongest rebuttal to my argument seemed to be that readers would associate the killing of drowning soldiers with “fishers of men” in the gospels. Atwill responded to explain that it was the parallel sequence of events that was most telling, but my own view is that if the supposed parallel between any event is not valid then it follows that there can be no sequence of events.

So I will follow up with just one more post for the benefit of anyone who might be wondering about the strength of Joseph Atwill’s overall thesis.

In chapter 3, “The Son of Mary Who Was a Passover Sacrifice”, Atwill writes:

While readers can judge this claim for themselves, it should be noted that Josephus wrote during an age in which allegory was regarded as a science. Educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within religious and historical literature. The Apostle Paul, for example, stated that passages from the Hebrew Scriptures were allegories that looked forward to Christ’s birth. I believe that in the following passage Josephus is using allegory to reveal something else about Jesus. (p. 45, my bolding)

I don’t know of any historical literature in the ancient world that was meant to be read as an allegory. Atwill does not cite any source to verify his assertion that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within . . . historical literature”. He does refer to the following passage by Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (Young’s Literal Translation), however:

And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,and all to Moses were baptized in the cloud, and in the sea;and all the same spiritual food did eat, and all the same spiritual drink did drink, for they were drinking of a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was the Christ; but in the most of them God was not well pleased, for they were strewn in the wilderness, and those things became types of us, for our not passionately desiring evil things, as also these did desire.

The Douay-Rheims Bible translates “τύποι” (types) as “figure”:

Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things as they also coveted.

The Gospel of Mark is sometimes interpreted as an allegorical gospel but those who do interpret its characters and stories as allegories do so on the strength of the following passage, Mark 4:34, in the text itself:

And without parable he did not speak unto them; but apart, he explained all things to his disciples.

This saying has been interpreted as a hint that the entire gospel itself is a parable. Indeed, many of the episodes in Mark’s gospel simply make no sense if read as realistic events. It is impossible for any persons to be as dim-witted as the disciples are depicted in that gospel, for example.

Back to Paul. Paul uses “types” or allegories or figures of speech to explain the covenants. But notably he explains to the readers of his letter that he is speaking in allegories; Galatians 4:24:

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

What we can conclude, then, is that if an author was writing an allegorical scene we can expect him to make it clear to his readers that he is indeed writing allegorically and he explicitly states as much, and warns the reader not to read his account literally.

Conclusion: there are no grounds for thinking that any historian in ancient times, Josephus included, ever wrote allegorically — unless they gave their readers a clear indication that they were doing so. And I don’t know of any historian who ever wrote his account allegorically, period.

It is not the case that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within … historical literature.”

Let’s look at the second episode Atwill claims is an allegory of the story of Jesus’ last supper. read more »

There are two types of Jesus mythicism. Here’s how to tell them apart.

.

Type 1: Scholarly
The authors engage with not only the source documents of early Christianity but they also address the scholarship that has been written about those documents. The arguments are structured around engagement with the scholarship of biblical studies, ancient history (including judaica), the classics and other related fields such as archaeology, religion, anthropology, historiography, mythology. They apply the norms of the scientific method (e.g. evidence-based, falsifiability). e.g. Thomas Brodie, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, Robert Price.

Type 2: Pseudo-Scholarly
The authors engage with the source documents but disregard the bulk of related scholarly discussion and focus primarily on interpreting them tendentiously through a conspiracy theory or other unfalsifiable pseudo-historical theory. That is, their arguments are based on an assumption (that is, there is no unambiguous evidence in support) that there are behind-the-scenes powerful and complex forces and actors manipulating or producing the evidence. The emphasis is on arguing for the “missing link” in explaining Christianity and little to no attention is given to addressing alternative explanations in the scholarship for the evidence used. e.g. Christianity as an invention by Roman imperial powers; a strain of astrotheological beliefs dominated secret mystery religions and morphed into Christianity; Christian teachings began and were preserved in some form though centuries, even millennia, before being re-written in the gospels.

What do you think? Do those two “definitions” cover it? I’m sure the wording can be tidied.

.

Updated: Who’s Who among Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics

I have updated the Who’s Who among Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics page.

The original intent of the page was to test the claims by a number of New Testament scholars that the questioning the historical existence of Jesus was motivated by anti-Christian bias and generally a reaction against prior negative experiences with extreme fundamentalist cults. Hence I have divided the page into different religious backgrounds and given prominence where I can to the background of each name and their current attitude towards Christianity, if known.

The names listed in the table are a mix of scholars of various backgrounds and lay people. I have included both names associated with academically rigorous arguments alongside others that are less so. Hopefully my colour coding, bolding and hyperlinks will enable interested readers to quickly identify which is which.

I am sure there must be names I have overlooked. I encourage anyone who sees omissions to bring me up to date.

 

 

 

 

Three Mythicist Novels

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 »

Does “Brother of the Lord” settle the Jesus myth question?

On another forum I recently posted a discussion of the passage in Galatians where Paul says he met James, “the brother of the Lord”, setting out why I believe the passage is not necessarily the “slam dunk” that many say it is to prove Jesus was a historical figure. I have other posts on other topics I want to do for Vridar but till I can sort those out I will double up and copy here what I posted on AFA.

Part 1

A passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often touted as irrefutable proof that Jesus was a historical figure:

1:18 Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days; 19 But I saw no other of the Apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 And the things I write to you— see!— before God, I am not lying.
(Hart’s translation)

All manuscripts of Galatians agree that James is said to be “the Lord’s brother”. No exceptions.

If Paul met James who was recognized as the Lord’s brother then obviously the Lord’s brother was a real person. And for good reason “the Lord” is generally assumed to refer to Jesus.

It is obvious, then, that Jesus existed.

Some have tried to object on the following grounds:

1. Paul often speaks of all Christians as “brothers” and “sisters” so in Galatians 1:19 he is simply singling out James as a Christian for some reason.

Or,

2. The Lord more commonly refers to God. Therefore “the brother of the Lord” is really some sort of spiritual title. Even if “Lord” did refer to Jesus the phrase was still a spiritual title that described an inner group of leaders or elites in the assembly.

Therefore, it is argued, Galatians 1:19 does not prove the historicity of Jesus.

Those objections are objected to, however:

1. It makes no sense to call James “the brother of the Lord” if that simply meant to point out he was a Christian like all other “brothers and sisters”. The context alone tells us James was a Christian. But so was Cephas (= Peter) whom Paul also met.

2. There is no evidence that an inner group known as “the brothers of the Lord” existed in the early church or that “brother of the Lord” was used as a title for anyone.

I think those objections are sound. (They are possible, but I think more evidence is needed to establish either one as a completely satisfactory alternative to the mainstream view that the passage is telling us that James was the biological brother of Jesus.)

So, then, we are left with a letter by Paul indicating that one of the three great leaders (Paul says they were reputed to be “pillars”) of the Jerusalem church was named James who was the sibling of Jesus.

But that’s where our problems start. read more »

“Why Did The Washington Post Tweet A Debunked Hit Piece On Jesus?”

Scandalous. And it’s probably all Donald Trump’s fault! (Seriously…. that’s what the article does suggest)

http://thefederalist.com/2018/01/03/washington-post-tweet-debunked-hit-piece-jesus/

“Given that the article has been widely debunked, what would lead the Washington Post to tweet it out, essentially rerunning it? . . . .

As with so much news coverage these days, the answer to why this essay ran may well boil down to two words: Donald Trump. . . .

It is perfectly acceptable to explore the historic nature of Jesus. It happens in colleges across the world every day. But it should be done in a way that is respectful and balanced. The Washington Post article is neither. . . . .

The protection of minority religious views that media has extended to Islam and Judaism must now be offered to Christianity, as well. Attacks on Christian belief are no longer a redress of historical inequality, they are now simply bigoted. And they need to stop.”

The cause of the alarm at such dire threats to the foundations of our society . . . .
read more »

The Hurtado-Carrier debate has become unpleasant

There is no justification for public intellectuals, for trained leaders in public opinion and attitudes, for any kind of professional, to publish the following:

Earlier posts in this series: Reply to Larry Hurtado; On Larry Hurtado’s response; Focus – but not blinkered, and others addressing Jesus mythicism and historical methods more generally.

Gee, Dr. Carrier, You’re Really Upset!

Carrier and the mythicists are unhinged nutbags and Maurice Casey proved it years ago in his last book.

Larry Hurtado vs. the Jesus Mythicists

All power to Larry Hurtado, he kicked the beehive of crazy, amateur, angry conspiracy theorists who deny that the historical Jesus existed. Read his blog posts here and here, and the comments show just how inane, vapid, and vacuous Jesus mythicism is.

Gee, Dr. Carrier, You’re Really Upset!

If you want to read a blogger going ape-shit, troll through Richard Carrier’s recent belligerent, intemperate response (here) to my posting in which I showed that his three claims that supposedly corroborate his “mythical Jesus” view are all incorrect.  It’s really quite amusing, or maybe sad. . . .

Richard Carrier as False Prophet

Calling Carrier a False Prophet is Too Complimentary. The Truth is, He’s an Absurdity

All the above are the “Christian” scholars who claim the moral high ground over Richard Carrier’s known penchant for calling certain others “liars” and “lazy” and “bizarre”. You will say I am biased, but I honestly could not see most of what I read of Carrier’s posts as “intemperate”, “ape-shit” “rants”. I was reminded how easy it is to approach the work of a person we don’t like and imaginatively read into it a hostile tone that a more neutral person would simply fail to see. If you think I am bound to defend Carrier, then understand (1) that Carrier and I disagree on a number of points of argument, and (2) that I do feel uncomfortable with Carrier’s accusations of lying and other “language” against some of his critics.

I wish he would write the same way he talks in live debates in front of audiences.

In the past I know I have come to the brink of the same kind of accusation (of lying and blatant dishonesty) against one or two others. I wish I had the grace and skill of a Michael Goulder who could use humour to undercut the unprofessional responses of some of his critics, or of an Earl Doherty who could respond with a light-hearted fun-yet-serious article against bitter sarcasm that had been aimed at him.

The unfortunate reality is that once a person who is not in a position of power accuses another of lying then they put themselves on the defensive, no matter how powerful they momentarily feel for making the accusation. They become all-too-easy targets of those in power who feel no need to defend themselves.

Besides, even the worst of us rarely believe they are lying; or if deep-down they do, then they believe it is justifiable for the greater good.

I have come to think that it is better to do all one can in order to stick to a calm, reasoned, analytical response and let the readers draw their own conclusions, if necessary, about professional dishonesty. Let the facts speak for themselves, in other words.

I’d love Carrier and his supporters to take a step back and focus on regaining the moral high ground, the genuinely scholarly tone, even under the extreme provocations of unprofessional, childish, bitter, fearful and outrageously false attacks.

The scholars we recall with most admiration, often enough, are those who do manage to maintain their cool and respond professionally, even with humour, under extreme provocation.

I have no hope for the likes of the scholars I cited at the opening of this post. They evidently have most to lose and are reacting like fearful children. The onus is on the outsider to expose their unprofessionalism by example and humility.

 

 

Why I don’t see myself as a Christ Mythicist

Sometimes someone seems to expect me to argue a mythicist case, or accuses me of somehow hypocritically hiding my mythicist views. So let me make my view on the historicity of Jesus question clear.

If we approach the question of Christian origins the same way a historian would be expected to approach any other question, I believe we will begin with no a priori reason for working with the idea of the Jesus figure as historical.

After all, a number of biblical scholars see everything in the gospels as “mythical” and even the crucifixion as a heavily theological narrative that can have no historical reliability. They are not called “mythicists”.

Critical scholars who do not believe Moses existed are not called Moses Mythicists.

How many William Tell Mythicists have you heard of?

The gospels are of unknown provenance, authorship and date. Moreover, their narratives have no independent support for historicity. They are accordingly worthless as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

They might be based ultimately on a historical person but if so we cannot know anything about that so we simply cannot use them as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Without the gospels the contents of Paul’s letters are equally or even more problematic as sources for the historicity of Jesus.

The “secondary” (late) evidence is also seriously problematic for various reasons.

There is simply nothing to reliably point to a historical Jesus.

Contrast Julius Caesar or Socrates or any other person of some significance in ancient history. The evidence for such people is independently corroborated at some significant level, generally of known provenance, etc.

There is indeed much in ancient history that we cannot know for sure, that is not independently corroborated and that only comes to us through late sources, and I am on the side of ancient historians like M.I. Finley who do state that we simply cannot know about those times, persons, events as historians. Some historians ignore Finley’s advice but what they produce is a rewriting of ancient myths, one might say. It is not serious history.

A historian needs to start with sources that can be independently corroborated, tested and evaluated for their provenance, date, authorship. To the extent that is not possible with some questions the entire enterprise is compromised to a lesser or greater degree.

In other words, I see no reason a priori to think of the figure of Jesus as having a historical existence because all our earliest sources about him talk about a theological figure and are unable to be corroborated independently for historicity.

There might have been some David or Moses figure in the past but if so quite unlike the one we read about in the Bible. Scholars who do not accept the historicity of these figures are not called David or Moses mythicists and I see no reason to treat Jesus any differently.

We work with what we have, a theological and literary figure.

It’s not about negotiating a mass of detailed arguments over a handful of (problematic) passages in Romans or Galatians or Josephus, etc…. The question simply never gets off the starting block.

After writing the above on another forum I added the following.

The Mother of All Assumptions

The Mother of All Assumptions is that the gospels contain some historical nuggets or are gateways to discovering historical nuggets. That is nothing but an assumption without any sound methodological thinking or analysis to support it.

From that assumption we generate theories of oral traditions as sources; we generate all sorts of scenarios about what the historical Jesus thought or did or said; we rely fundamentally upon the myth of the gospel-Acts narrative of Christian origins. Most of what we do is tweak and have fun with variants of that myth.

Sound historical method opens up entirely different questions and pathways to explore.

Someone replied that surely the letters of Paul, Acts and Josephus are evidence, and another asked if I considered the gospels as evidence for Jesus being non-historical or mythical. I responded as follows.

Evidence of what?

Evidence of what? How can anything “serve as evidence” if it lacks independent corroboration and if we cannot know its original form?

Josephus is only evidence for what a text dated over a generation after the supposed event says. By normative standards of historical research that is not evidence for anything that happened 60 years earlier.

Are the gospels evidence that Jesus was mythical?

The question does not arise. There may have been a historical figure of Jesus behind the gospels but that’s beside the point because we can know nothing about him.

I think many scholars (certainly the more critical ones) see the gospel Jesus as “mythical” or certainly theological. He is obviously literary — that’s a tautology! That’s the only Jesus we have in the gospels. We have no other. Work with what we have. This has nothing to do with whether Jesus was historical or mythical. In the gospels he is evidently a literary character and we can do no better than work with that Jesus and attempt to understand the gospel origins and character — and the origins and character of that literary Jesus.

Anything else is simply chasing questions that are not historical in nature. The Pentateuch is not evidence of a mythical Moses or Balaam’s ass. Nor is 1 Kings evidence of a mythical Solomon or Elijah. The question simply does not arise in critical scholarship.

 

 

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 »

Saul’s Folly: The King Can’t Be a Jack of All Trades

King Saul
Brooding King Saul, detail from Ernst Josephson’s “David och Saul”

While thumbing through Cristiano Grottanelli’s Kings and Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, and Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative, I remember now why I snatched it up a couple of years ago. For some time now, I’ve been working on a simple thesis that would explain the silence regarding Jesus’ actual teaching in the epistles (of Paul, pseudo-Paul, and others).

The Threefold Office

Simply put, I suggest that the root of the issue arises from the earliest Christians’ conception of the messiah and to which office or offices he belonged. We see for example, in Paul’s discussion of the lineage of David, the concept of a kingly messiah. On the other hand, we see in the book of Hebrews a detailed conception of the messiah as priest.

However, in the earliest texts we see practically no hint of Jesus as prophet. Not until the gospels, written decades later, do we find concrete evidence — the strongest, of course, coming from Jesus himself. First in Mark:

But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (6:4, KJV)

Copied in Matthew:

And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. (13:57, KJV)

Edited in Luke:

And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. (4:24, KJV)

And referred to in John:

For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. (4:44, KJV)

These statements are obviously late and apologetic in character. They seek to explain why Jesus’ own family, village and nation rejected him. But they also point to a seismic shift in the conception of Jesus and which category (or categories) he belongs to. The identity of Jesus is bound up in Christians’ conception of him as king, priest, and (lastly) prophet.

These categories, by the way, would be further crystalized by later church writers such as Eusebius (Church History, Book I, 3:8) —  read more »

The Gnostic Interpretation of the Exodus and the Beginnings of the Joshua/Jesus Cult — Hermann Detering

Hermann Detering has a new essay (70 pages in PDF format) that will be of interest to many Vridar readers — at least for those of you who can read German. In English the title is The Gnostic Interpretation of the Exodus and the Beginnings of the Joshua/Jesus Cult. 

See his RadikalKritik blog:

 

The work begins with reference to Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the Exodus and concludes with references to Buddhism. . . .

5 Zusammenfassung

Ausgehend von der gnostischen Interpretation des Exodus-Motivs und der Frage ihrer religionsgeschichtlichen Herkunft stießen wir auf die zentrale Bedeutung des als Transzendenzmetapher gebrauchten Bildes vom „anderen Ufer“, das in der indischen/buddhistischen Spiritualität eine erhebliche Rolle spielt. Die Frage, wo die beiden Linien, jüdische Tradition und hebräische Bibel einerseits, buddhistische bzw. indische Spiritualität andererseits, konvergieren, führte uns zu den Therapeuten, über die Philo von Alexandrien in seiner Schrift De Vita Contemplativa berichtet.

Nachdem die buddhistische Herkunft der Therapeuten plausibel gemacht wurde, konnte gezeigt werden, dass ihrem zentralen Mysterium eine auf buddhistische Quellen zurückgehende Deutung des Exodusmotivs zugrundeliegt. Diese Deutung enthält zugleich den Keim für das christliche Taufsakrament. Frühe christliche Gnostiker wie Peraten und Naassener übertrugen auf den Nachfolger des Mose, Josua, was bei den stärker in der jüdischen Tradition verwurzelten Therapeuten Mose vorbehalten blieb. Der alte Mosaismus sollte durch den neuen, gnostisch-christlichen Josuanismus überboten werden. Jesus/Josua wurde zum Gegenbild des Mose.

Der christliche Erlöser Josua/Jesus ist so gesehen nichts anderes als – ein Ergebnis der jüdisch-buddhistischen Exegese des Alten Testaments! Der „geschichtliche“ Jesus, d.h. Jesus von Nazaret, wurde im Laufe des 2. Jahrhunderts aus dem Bild des alttestamentlichen Josua heraushypostasiert. 

Translators . . . . Where are you? We need you now!

 

 

Why do professional scholars blog this sort of vacuous nonsense?

A number of biblical scholars appear to be afflicted with something akin to the Red Scare or the Yellow Menace of the old Cold War days. They don’t need to know much about communism to know that it’s bad and evil and a threat to everything decent and that it appeals mostly to benighted minds in undeveloped nations. Similarly with rumours they hear about those who suggest there are valid reasons to question the historicity of Jesus: they don’t need to know much about it, only that it is a threat that supposedly only appeals to godless amateurs.

Now Jonathan Bernier is a very intelligent man but he sometimes writes about things of which he is evidently poorly informed. Indeed, he offers no evidence of having ever read any work of Price or Doherty or Brodie or Carrier or Wells yet claims to offer insights into mythicist motivations and reasoning that he suggests they themselves may not have considered.

I am referring to a blog post he published on 22nd April (Eastern Standard Time, Australia) titled Mythicism as Christian Mythology. (His blog is Critical Realism and the New Testament. I have had this post in draft for some time but see that now I am about to post about his article JB has removed it. C’est la vie.)

Without offering any citation of, or reference to, any mythicist author Bernier begins his criticism thus:

the standard mythicist appeal to comparative mythology. . . .

The mythicist argument is that the accounts about Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods or heroes in the ancient world. . . .

The mythicist argument that the accounts about Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods or heroes posits a process that we don’t tend to find elsewhere.

“Accounts of Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods?” Where did he get this idea from? Scoffing gossip and rumours repeated in staff wine and cheese parties?

Several of the works I have read by Christ Myth authors inform me that they draw upon mainstream critical biblical scholarship to explain the origins of many of the gospel narratives. Well recognized common literary practices (mimesis, intertextuality) among Greek, Roman and Jewish authors of the day are the primary explanations for the accounts of Jesus among authors like Price, Doherty, Carrier, Wells, Fitzgerald and others.

Next comes the sinister atheism association. Mythicists are equated with atheists, and of course we know by contrast that most good biblical scholars are in their own way exploring and defending their godly faith, don’t we. (Tongue in cheek.)

I think it well and good to describe it [mythicism] as a peculiar form of atheist Christology. . . . . 

if they indeed do not think that God exists in the first place. . . .

If that is the case, given that their attested interests in this matter tend to relate to their atheism. . . .

Something fundamental about their apprehension of the world and themselves is at stake. . . . 

Price calls himself a Christian atheist . . . . And the more I think about it, the more that I wonder if that term should not be applied to all mythicists. 

Thomas Brodie, Tom Harpur, you are both hereby excluded from those who argue for a Christ Myth foundation for Christianity. Your problem is that you are not atheists like Robert Price and you remain stubbornly Christian, so your Christ Myth arguments do not count.

Moreover, prominent mythicist authors who have expressed the highest respect and even admiration for Christianity, even though some of them no longer call themselves Christian, have no place in Jonathan Bernier’s very narrow, most ill-informed, state of the literature. I’m thinking of names not only like Price, Brodie and Harpur above, but also Couchoud, Brandes, Rylands, Detering, Carotta, Freke and Gandy, van der Kaaij among others. To assume that mythicism can only be spawned by god-hating atheists who seek to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth only points to an ivory tower removal from all awareness of the real world.

Then there is the motivation. Mind-reading once again leads the way.

read more »

A Case for the “Easter” Appearances of Jesus BEFORE the Crucifixion

There is an inconsistency in a fundamental argument, or assumption, rather, among critical scholars of Christian origins that has long been bugging me.

The principle was set down by David Friedrich Strauss in the nineteenth century,

when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. (Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, p. 89)

Now that maxim is frequently and sensibly deployed by critical scholars. It is the reason that Burton Mack  (no doubt there are others, too) denies the historicity of Jesus charging into the Temple and expelling the “traders” there.

It is a fictional theme derived from the scriptural citations. (Mack, Myth of Innocence, p. 292)

Many scholars, however, need the “Temple disturbance” to be historical in order to explain why Jesus was eventually arrested so many jettison the principle to make the narrative work as history. (Paula Fredriksen points out the flaw in their argument.)

David Chumney (whose book, Jesus Eclipsed, I have just completed, and which has many excellent points along with a few unfortunate flaws) makes the point loud and clear:

  • Matthew 8:16-17 (& 11:4-5) tell us that Jesus healed sicknesses in fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 (Unfortunately once again the Strauss’s criterion is put aside by most scholars who require Jesus to have been a healer in order to explain his “historical following”.)
  • The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is acknowledged by more scholars (e.g. E.P. Sanders, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, David Catchpole) to be a fiction created out of scriptures such as Psalm 118:25-26 and Zechariah 9:9.
  • The magi following the star (Matthew 2:1-12) is based on Numbers 24:17 and Isaiah 60:3, 5-6.
  • Herod’s massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:16-18) is crafted from Exodus 1:15-22 and Jeremiah 31:15.
  • The angel’s announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (to be) (Luke 1:8-20) is woven from Genesis 18:9-15.
  • Mary’s prayer, the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) comes from 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

Robert Price draws attention to many more: the infant Jesus’ escape into Egypt; Jesus baptism; the 40 days in the wilderness and testing by Satan; the call of the disciples; the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and her response; Jesus healing of the paralytic; healing the withered hand; the appointing of the twelve disciples; the instructions given to them on how to go out and preach; Jesus calming the storm; the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac; the raising of Jairus’s daughter; Jesus’ family rejecting him; the execution of John the Baptist; the miraculous feedings of thousands; the walking on the sea; Jesus calling the people to listen to him; Jesus healing the daughter of the woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon; the transfiguration; the rivalry among the disciples for the most prestigious position; the story of the exorcist who did not follow Jesus; . . . . .

And the list could probably be just as long if we itemized each of the “prophesied” details in the Passion narrative. (See Price, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in The Historical Jesus: Five Views.)

John Shelby Spong concedes that pretty much everything in the gospels is fiction based a creative reworking of Jewish Scriptures. All except for virtually only one detail: the execution, the martyrdom, of Jesus.

That Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” as the Creed affirms, is historically the most stable datum we have concerning Jesus . . . (Joel B. Green, “The Death of Jesus” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, p. 2383)

. . . not that there is the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate . . . (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 375)

There is no doubt both that he was crucified and that after his death he was believed to have been restored to life. (John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. p. 236)

Yet it is the crucifixion of Jesus that is the MOST chock-full of Old Testament Scriptural allusions and citations.  read more »