2011-05-26

James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation

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by Neil Godfrey

Never throw out old books. I have caught up with my 1942 edition of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith. The book is an argument against mythicism as it was argued by a range of authors in its day: J. M. Robertson, Thomas Whittacker, L. Gordon Rylands, Arthur Drews, Bergh van Eysinga, L. Couchoud, Edouard Dujardin and W. B. Smith. It’s a refreshing book for its professional spirit and respectful tone, and for its acknowledgement of both weaknesses and strengths of the mythicist case.

Here are two excerpts from the discussion concerning the question of the Galatians 1:19 reference to James the brother of the Lord. Pages 76 and 77/8. Keep in mind that the author is arguing against mythicism and for the historicity of Jesus. He not only acknowledges the possibility of interpolation, but goes on to explain a possible motive for it. I have marked the argument for interpolation in bold type. Continue reading “James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation”


2011-05-25

James Brother of the Lord, Porky Pies and Problems for the Historical Jesus Hypothesis

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by Neil Godfrey

From http://www.malcolmsharp.com/

A good reason to accept the theory of evolution is that it predicts what we will find in the fossil record and its predictions have not yet failed. No one has found a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian rocks.

If James had been a sibling of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church (along with Peter and John), then we can expect to find certain indicators of this in certain kinds of evidence. If our reasonable expectations (predictions) fail, then we have an obligation to reconsider our earlier conclusions that led to our expectations.

Dr James McGrath demonstrates an unfortunate oversight of this fundamental principle (and also shows a taste for porky pies) when he writes:

It is entertaining to watch mythicists, who claim to be guided by the principle that the epistles are earlier and more reliable, while the later Gospels essentially turned a mythical Christ into a historical figure, jettison that supposed principle whenever it becomes inconvenient. When evidence of a historical Jesus is highlighted in the epistles, they will appeal to Acts, or epistles likely to be later forgeries, in an attempt to avoid the clear meaning of Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’ brother.

Mainstream historical scholarship can be discussed in terms of whether it’s conclusions are justified upon the basis of its methods. Or one can discuss whether the methods themselves are valid. In the case of mythicism, neither is possible, because it has no consistent methods and no conclusions, just foreordained outcomes and the use of any tools selectively that will allow one to reach them.

Or to put it simpler still, why do you trust Acts to indicate what Paul meant by “James” yet reject it when it comes to what Paul meant by “Jesus”?

Firstly, James McGrath knows very well that Earl Doherty at no point based his interpretation of Galatians 1:19 on the evidence of later epistles or Acts. Some readers might even be excused for suspecting McGrath is being a bald-faced friar, so he might like to write a clarification of this comment to dispel any suggestion that he is telling an outright porky about Doherty’s argument. Continue reading “James Brother of the Lord, Porky Pies and Problems for the Historical Jesus Hypothesis”


2010-05-02

Applying Sound Historical Methodology to “James the Brother of the Lord”

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by Neil Godfrey

It is easy for both historicists and mythicists to to descend to shallow proof-texting when arguing over the significance of Paul’s reference to James, the brother of the Lord, as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

I am not attempting here in this post to cover all the arguments. I only want to address the necessity for a broad approach to the question and to rescue it from the tendency to reduce it to a simplistic positive/negative point.

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Amen! The dangers of personal selection of evidence in historical Jesus research are spotlighted by each reconstructed “historical Jesus” being in some recognizable image of its author.

Jesus historicists are particularly guilty of falling into the trap of “beginners” that Elton warns against when responding to mythicist arguments. Of course they know better when engaging in professional work among their peers. They generally avoid taking mythicist arguments seriously, and this is why they respond like amateurs. Continue reading “Applying Sound Historical Methodology to “James the Brother of the Lord””


2010-03-11

The imaginary siblings of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Brothers of Jesus
Brothers of Jesus; Image by djking via Flickr

The Gospel narratives provide strong positive evidence for why their authors chose to write about Jesus’ siblings. They explicitly meet a clear and specific requirement for the portrayal of a man of God who is to both follow and emulate the prophets who came before him. They also serve to illustrate a moral instruction of Jesus in the Gospels. These are positive reasons for thinking the family of Jesus is most probably a creation of the narratives’ authors.

Cain killed righteous Abel; chosen Isaac was persecuted by Hagar and Ishmael; Esau threatened the life of Jacob who was forced to flee; Joseph was disbelieved, scorned and cast out by his brothers; Jephthah was rejected by his tribe; David was also mocked and dismissed by his brothers. The theme of rejection of the righteous and godly man by those close to him, including his own kin, is one of the most pervasive of themes in the Jewish scriptures, including the Psalms and the Prophets.

The dismissive family serves as a foil to enhance the image of the divine calling and godliness of the hero. It is a trope probably as old as folklore itself. There is nothing embarrassing at all about their inclusion in the narrative. The rejection of Jesus by his siblings serves to enhance the readers’ sympathies for Jesus and places him squarely in the literary tradition of the way and the fate of all the godly.

So the narrative itself contains the reasons for the inclusion of the siblings of Jesus. They are portrayed as disbelievers who isolate Jesus on account of his real (hidden) identity.

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

The Gospel authors also taught the need for a devotion to him that was so total that it excluded room for the affections of normal family relations (Mark 10:29-30). So they presented Jesus as the ideal type illustrative of such an attitude, and delivering teaching on the new affections that were to replace the old:

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

In all of this we can see how the authors find a narrative or theological reason for introducing the siblings of Jesus. We can say that the appearance of Jesus’ siblings is plot-driven.

The memorable scene of Jesus’ rejection in the earliest Gospel echoes several other rejection narratives in the “Old Testament”.

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)

Again the author has explicitly stated that the reason for introducing this narrative detail about the family of Jesus is to illustrate a prophecy, or at least to place Jesus firmly within the prophetic tradition.

We cannot appeal to later traditions about the siblings of Jesus as evidence for their historicity since these most likely were born out of the Gospel narratives. (And the Josephus reference is worthless as evidence, for reasons summarized here.)

What, no James?

I think that the quick assumption that Galatians 1:19 is “proof” that Jesus had a physical brother is linked to some extent with our familiarity with the memorable (negative) role of Jesus’ brothers in the later Gospel narratives.

If the passage in Galatians referring to James “the brother of the Lord” was really written prior to the Gospels, and if this indeed spoke of a physical blood relationship, and if this same James became the head of the Church itself in Jerusalem, the Gospel authors have chosen to suppress any interest in this James or his destined conversion and future lead role.

I am tempted here to drop in the obvious argument from incredulity, “Why would they not contain a hint of any of this?”,  but I won’t say it (again). It is hardly necessary. We have no evidence at all to justify thinking there was a historical basis to the siblings of Jesus. But we do have strong narrative reasons for assuming they are literary creations.

But given the fact that the presumably later Gospel authors do not demonstrate any knowledge of a brother of Jesus destined to become the leader (or one of three leaders beside Peter and John) of the Church after the death of Jesus, and given the fact that there is no external witness to Galatians 1:19 till the time of Origen (3rd century) despite its apparent potential usefulness in arguments against Marcionites by “orthodox” representatives such as Tertullian (second century), and given the fact that Paul used ‘brothers’ most commonly metaphorically, and given the fact of demonstrated layers and intentional and accidental editings in both biblical and nonbiblical writings of the time, to insist, in the face of these facts that Galatians 1:19 alone is “proof” of the historicity of Jesus, shows more courage than discretion.

(There are other speculations about possible motives for giving Jesus siblings, and these relate to doctrinal disputes over the physical or immaterial nature of Jesus at the time the Gospels were being composed. But I have opted not to discuss these since they also stray from the evidence at hand. It is worth noting, however, that at least such conjectures are based on known evidence. The assumption of the historicity of the siblings is based on no evidence at all. It is entirely a piece of unsupported but highly charged cultural heritage.)

James & Jesus
The historical James & Jesus; Image by trixie via Flickr

2010-03-04

When did James the brother of the lord become James the brother of Jesus?

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by Neil Godfrey

Some interesting thoughts on this question have been raised on a recent FRDB discussion.


2008-04-10

Some reasons to question the authorship of Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

Herman Detering in The Falsified Paul [link downloads a 2 MB PDF file] lists a series of brief points to alert readers to “some questions and problems which could give a moment’s pause even for those who until now have never doubted the authenticity of all the Pauline writings.” (p.54) I have singled out those that apply (though not exclusively) to the letter to Galatians, generally taken as indisputably by Paul.

Reason 1: The introductory description of the author Continue reading “Some reasons to question the authorship of Galatians”


2007-10-21

The anti-marcionite, catholicizing Peter-Paul equivalence in Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

The passage in Galatians (2:7-8) that civilly explains how Paul and Peter were each separate but equal apostles, the former preaching the gospel to the gentiles and the latter to the Jews, is evidently a second century catholicizing attempt to re-write history and bring the two apostles into the same “orthodox” fold. The idea of separate apostleships and gospels for the Jewish and Gentile worlds was unknown till the second century. It is certainly foreign to the thought of Paul found in the rest of his correspondence. Continue reading “The anti-marcionite, catholicizing Peter-Paul equivalence in Galatians”


2007-07-30

From Cephas to Peter?

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by Neil Godfrey

Thanks to Josh asking if I thought Cephas and Peter were not the same, this is a fanciful think-aloud session, tossing Paul’s references and the Gospel of Mark around, to speculate how and why Cephas (Aramaic) may have been changed to Peter (Greek) . . . . Continue reading “From Cephas to Peter?”


2007-07-29

How Acts subverts Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

There are two different stories, their differences well known, of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s conversion and the later Jerusalem Conference in the New Testament.

The Two Conversions

In the Book of Acts (9:1-30) we read that

  1. Paul was persecuting the church until —
  2. Paul was struck down by a divine call on his way to Damascus,
  3. that he was baptized in Damascus by a lowly disciple (Ananias),
  4. and after some time (“many days”) he fled to Jerusalem because of Jewish persecution,
  5. His contacts in Jerusalem were limited but only on first arriving
  6. until Barnabas acted as his Janus-like gateway by taking him to the apostles
  7. who, we learn elsewhere in Acts, were led by Peter and James
  8. Brethren took him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists

In the Epistle to the Galatians (1:13-24) we read a different story.

  1. Paul used to persecute the church until —
  2. Paul says Christ revealed himself by revelation “in him”,
  3. that he then went to Arabia.
  4. Only after he had been in Arabia did he return to Damascus.
  5. After three years in Damascus he went to Jerusalem because he wanted to see Peter
  6. His contacts in Jerusalem remained limited — the Judean churches did not see Paul
  7. He met Peter (staying with him 15 days) and James only.
  8. Paul then returned to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

One can conclude that the author of Acts did not know of the Galatians letter. But I think it more likely that the author of Acts composed a narrative polemic against the letter. Each of the differences can be accounted for as a polemical response to some point in the Galatians account. . . . Continue reading “How Acts subverts Galatians”

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