Guest post: On the historicity of Jesus

September 5, 2014 • 7:33 am

Ben Goren, a regular here who frequently argues with other readers about the historicity of Jesus (he denies it), has written a post for general consumption. He’s leveling a challenge at believers equivalent to John Loftus’s “Outsider test for faith.” Ben calls it, well, it’s the title. . .

The Jesus Challenge

by Ben Goren

Many æons ago, in the heyday of USENET, I was first exposed to the idea that maybe there simply wasn’t any “there” there at the heart of Jesus’s story. It was, of course, at first a bizarre notion…but one that eventually become overwhelmingly compelling to me — and especially, ironically enough, after I took the time to look up the original sources Christian apologists offered as evidence for Jesus’s existence.

Somewhere along the line, I started challenging apologists to offer a coherent apologia, a theory of Jesus that was both self-consistent and supported by evidence. In all the years since then, I cannot recall even one single person, Christian, atheist, or other, who argues for an historical Jesus who has ever taken me up on this challenge, despite repeatedly offering it and even begging people to take a whack at it. And, so, I’d like to thank Jerry for letting me use his own soapbox to present this challenge to what’s, I’m sure, the largest audience it’s yet received.

It’s quite simple.

  1. Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?
  2. Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.
  3. Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?
  4. There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.
  5. Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.
  6. Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

And, for everybody’s sake, please be brief. You shouldn’t need more than about five hundred words to outline your thesis. By way of example and for the sake of fairness, here are my own answers making the case for Jesus’s mythical nature:

  1. Jesus is a syncretic Pagan death / rebirth / salvation demigod in the mold of Osiris, Dionysus, and Mithras grafted onto Judaism.
  2. Justin Martyr, the very first of the Christian apologists writing in the early second century, devotes much of his First Apology to exactly this thesis. Indeed, once you eliminate all the prior parallels that he unambiguously identifies from Jesus’s biography, nothing else remains. Further, Lucian of Samosata describes “Peregrinus” as having been a con artist who interpolated Pagan religion wholesale into the nascent Christianity — and Paul’s introduction of the Mithraic (as identified by Justin Martyr) Eucharist into Christianity in 1 Corinthians 11 is a perfect example of this in practice, especially in the full context of the chapter.
  3. Justin Martyr’s explanation for the extensive imitation (his word) is that evil daemons with the power of foresight knew Jesus was coming and so planted false stories of Pagan demigods centuries in advance in order to lead honest men astray. His identification of the Pagan elements of Jesus’s story stand on their own; I do not think it much of a stretch to discount his supernatural explanation for the cross-contamination.
  4. At least superficially, the Gospels purport to be honest reporting of Jesus and his ministry as the God’s honest Capital-T Truth. However, again as described by Justin Martyr, they are nothing more than fantastic faery tales imitating well-known Pagan myths. The Gospel according to Matthew, for example, doesn’t merely report that Jesus died on the cross; in the same passage, he claims that the Sun was blotted out, the Earth shook, and all the graves opened and an horde of zombies descended upon Jerusalem. As such, even if the author sincerely believed he was honestly reporting factual history, the death reported clearly is not that of a mere mortal nor an historical figure. Such is the case for all other Gospel stories; the mundane events are an afterthought that only serve as insignificant vessels for the spectacular pyrotechnics. Concluding historicity from them is like concluding that Luke Skywalker was an historical figure because he grew up as an orphan on a farm.
  5. Jesus wasn’t noticed by his contemporaries because he hadn’t yet been invented — or, at least, he was just starting to be invented. The Pauline Epistles represent an early stage in that process when Jesus was more divine spirit than human interloper; the Gospels represent the point at which the Church later decided development was complete. (And the Angel Moroni represents Smith’s continued development.)
  6. What I propose of Jesus is no different from what virtually everybody would agree is true of all the Pagan demigods Justin Martyr identifies with Jesus — Bacchus, Perseus, Bellerophon on Pegasus, Mercury, Mithras, and all the rest. Examples of entirely mythical gods are legion in antiquity. We see the same pattern continue into modernity; Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard were historical figures, but the angel Moroni and Xenu are purest fiction. Similarly, the various authors of the New Testament texts were real humans, but the “stone soup” Jesus they collectively created over the course of a few generations is not.

For those who’re counting, that was just about five hundred words. Any case for an historical Jesus should be possible to make similarly succinctly…

…but I’ll predict right up front that the streak will remain unbroken, and not a single soul will attempt to meet this challenge. Oh, sure; there’ll be plenty of replies to this post, esepcially many arguing with my own mythicist argument. But of actual point-by-point responses to the challenge there will be none.

668 thoughts on “Guest post: On the historicity of Jesus

          1. Many thanks for that video. I had not heard that since I was a kid over 40 years ago. Back then, I still remember Julie London playing as the old school Nurse “Dix” on Emergency! Her version of Cry Me a River is just as fine as Diana Krall’s version.

            1. I thought if appropriate because of the “denial/de nile” references as well as the fact, just like Christians, everywhere he looked he saw something that wasn’t there.

  1. I’d love to see Richard Carrier’s methodology put to use in this challenge, because a lot of what you’re asking for can be put into Bayesian terms. Overall, good challenge. The first point is probably the hardest, because if the state of current biblical scholarship is any indication, nobody can agree on it.

      1. I’m skeptical that Bayes’s theorem can be used in the humanities. Once you guess any of the probabilities involved the errors compound so much that your answer is probably meaningless. Here is a good write up of the issue.

          1. Carrier does a pretty good job of showing how to use it even for “more likely”, “less likely”, “much more likely”, “much less likely” – given many humanities people are not great with numbers even given great intelligence and ability in their field. I was impressed. Basically he constructs a rigorous subset of common sense intuitions in a manner that would enable joined-up thinking on such matters.

            1. My main objection is that Bayes’s is just used as a veneer of authenticity. I would be less suspicious if they just stated their arguments based on likelihood.

              1. Yes. It is a way to calculate unknown likelihoods based on known likelihoods. But the known likelihoods can’t be guesses. They have to be known.

              2. Bayesian inference, which uses Bayes theorem but which is much more than that, is based on the idea that all uncertainty should be quantified using probability.

                Hence the likely errors in your guesses of the probabilities are also quantified probabilistically, by using a probability distribution to describe your uncertainty.

                E.g. if you think that the chance of Jesus existing could be anything, your prior distribution is Unif(0,1).

                I’ve not read the details of Carrier’s work, so don’t know what he does exactly.

              3. Bayes used generally is a model of learning, akin to evolution. That is, your “fit” hypotheses survive, whether they are positively or negatively reinforced.

                And of course such a process can be used to learn likelihoods and so uncertainties. That is what Hidden Markov Models rely on, or bayesian testing et cetera.

                The trick is to take it from qualitative opinion (“guesses”, “subjective inference”) to quantitative likelihood. Opinion is not informative (at least without learning), likelihoods are. Most of the time the method is used as a way to reformulate opinion. (In my bayesian opinion.)

        1. The core points of “Proving History” are 1) it’s not at all problematic to do, and 2) we know that because all correct historical reasoning already IS Bayesian. And he’s not the first to say so: Aviezer Tucker published “Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography” in 2009. It’s a book about the philosophy of history and the general practice of the discipline, and it comes to the same conclusion, that historians are already using Bayesian reasoning.

        2. If one is a so-called “subjective bayesian” the procesure is fine. I am not, so I find that part of Carrier’s work to be dismaying. But the qualitative analysis is correct (or at least agreeable). There are folks who think that subjective bayesianism is acceptable, including some relatively prominent statisticians, so the matter is complicated.

        3. I once had a boss who would add up all the work proposals he’d put out, make an “educated guess” at he probability of winning each job, multiply the value of each job by its assigned probability, and then add up all the extended values to arrive at his “pipeline” of work. Thus, four proposals of $100,000 each with a 25% chance of winning would come to $100,000 of future work even though no project he put at <50% ever ever materialized.

          I am pretty sure that's not how it works.

          My point is figures don't lie but liars (or in my boss's case, crazy people) figure – so I share your skepticism that statistics can be meaningfully applied to propositions in the humanities, all due respect to the tl;dr research mentioned above. The compounded "errors" include "wild guesses" however sincere, which if they are correctly weighted – as zero – zero-out the whole chain of logic both following AND preceding the unsupported proposition.

          That is not an argument against speculation in the humanities, it's an argument against trying to dress-up speculation as something that it is not.

          1. The Irreducible Complexity post is not tl after all – and his conclusion:

            Bayes’s Theorem is used in these kind of historical debates to feed in random guesses and pretend the output is meaningful. I hope if you’ve been patient enough to follow along, you’ll see that Bayes’s Theorem has a very specific meaning, and that when seen in the cold light of day for what it is actually doing, the idea that it can be numerically applied to general questions in history is obviously ludicrous.

        4. Somite:

          I share your skepticism.
          Application of the Bayes’s probability formula will not change the basic facts of skeptical biblical criticism accumulated over the last 200 years from Dupuis and Robert Taylor until today.

          For an easy review of the scholarship on the existence of Jesus, I would recommend, for instance,
          a wonderful little unpretentious book explaining the main issues:
          – Herbert Cutner: Jesus — God, Man, or Myth? An Examination of the Evidence (Truth Seeker, NY,1950).

          If you have access to a good library, enough interest and time, you would understand the issues much more clearly by going back to the original scholarship, for instance reading:
          – Albert Schweitzer’s indispensable “Quest of the Historical Jesus” (1906/1913) (and his great Ch. VIII on David Strauss, and Ch. XI on Bruno Bauer).

          And then get an idea of the major arguments of the great classics of the great British rationalist, John M. Robertson, and the school of rationalists that he spawned: Arthur Drews, William B. Smith, Paul-Louis Couchoud, and, still alive and kicking, G.A. Wells — most of it available online.

          A good summary of John M. Robertson’s immense output and erudtion is:
          – “J. M. Robertson (1856-1933): Liberal, Rationalist and Scholar”, (Pemberton, 1987), edited by George A. Wells.
          Robertson’s key books are still worth perusing:
          – “Christianity and Mythology” (1910),
          – “The Pagan Christs” (1903/1911),
          – and “The Jesus Problem” (1917).

          For Arthur Drews, this would be:
          – The most famous book of all, the epoch-making “Christ Myth” (1909), which launched the whole debate between “historicity” and “denial of historicity” of Jesus into world consciousness.
          – “The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus” (1912), presenting in well organized fashion all the major issues debated by everybody ever since.
          – “The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in the past and Present” (1926), which is a historical reviews of some 35 famous advocates of Jesus denial.

          The historical reconstruction of the formation of the figure of Jesus Christ by the French follower of John M. Robertson and Arthur Drews:
          -P.L. Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ” (1939), which establishes a reconstruction over 300 years of the gradual development of the figure of the “Son of Man” in the visionary “Apocalypses” of Daniel and Enoch into a Christ as a “Son of God”. A very rare book to find, and which American Atheists is thinking of republishing.

          If you want a more modern, and scholarly thorough examination of all the points and the related sources, you can try the highly scholarly books by George Albert Wells, a British expert on German historical criticism, a super-diligent scholar, who is keenly aware of all the German, English, and French texts which have launched and promoted the idea of the non-existence of Jesus. He cites all the primary sources used in the debate about Jesus’s existence:
          Essentially, his four ground-breaking books, which, after WWII, revived in 1971 the old debate about the non-historicity of Jesus, and dissect all the arguments which are now the foundation of all contemporary writings on the subject:
          – “The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins” (1971), a book out of print and very difficult to find; which reopened the scholarly debate;
          – “Did Jesus Exist?” (1975, re-edited in 1986/7), which is a systematic reorganization of the key arguments presented in the previous book. This is the book that Bart Ehrman intended to criticize by borrowing its title for his own version (2012). Some (like me) doubt that Ehrman lent serious attention to Wells’s book beyond glancing at the Table of Contents and sampling some pages;
          – “The Historical Evidence for Jesus” (1982, re-ed. 1988);
          – And “Who Was Jesus?” (1989).

          Of interest also are Wells’s two books of the late 1990s,
          – “The Jesus Legend” (1996);
          – and “The Jesus Myth” (1999);
          where Wells explicitly accepts the hypothesis of a roving Galilean cynic-like preacher as a possible source of the sayings attributed to Q in Matthew and Luke.
          For Wells, the Jesus figure in the Gospels thus becomes a composite, fusing two entirely distinct sources: the mystical ideal Jesus of Paul as Christ in heaven, and a hypothetical roving Galilean preacher, also labeled “Jesus”.

          The very curious can try:
          – “Religious Postures: Essays on Modern Christian Apologists and Religious Problems” (1988);
          -and “Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony” (2004).

          Most contemporary writers on the problem of Jesus’s existence practically use (even plunder) most of Wells’s 60-year long examination of all primary sources and issues, usually without giving credit to any of the pioneers, John M. Robertson, Drews, Couchoud, or their modern interpret G.A. Wells for the sources of their arguments.

    1. I was fortunate enough to watch Richard Carrier debate a Christian apologist at the last Atheist Alliance of America convention in Seattle. The topic was “the historicity of Jesus.”

      I was more impressed than I thought I’d be. Carrier’s argument was very tight indeed, focusing mainly on Paul and the popular view of the time and place that there were 3 levels of reality: the material world, the spiritual world (which resembled the first one with streets and houses) and then a more vague and murky Highest Realm. Paul could and probably was talking about a life and resurrection in that second realm.

      The claim that startled me the most was that there is apparently historical evidence of a “Jesus” who rose from the dead after 3 days and saved mankind … from a hundred years before the presumed birth of Jesus. THIS “Jesus” story was explicitly told as a myth about a spiritual being who acted in the spiritual world. And then, a century later — what? It happened in reality?

      If Carrier is correct on this previous tale about resurrected Jesus then I think we’ve got a huge smoking gun here. I’d never heard about that before. Knowing Richard Carrier, though, he’s probably thoroughly researched and documented the hell out of it.

      I did ask a question in the Q&A: I asked the Christian whether a “spiritual” Jesus couldn’t just be incorporated into his own version of Christianity. After all, in those circumstances Paul took it seriously. He said “No.” Not for him. If there was no historic Jesus then that would be a deal breaker.

      Yes. I wanted him to draw that line. Limit faith. Sincere faith wouldn’t just keep insisting Jesus was a real person — a very sincere faith would begin to insist that Jesus as a purely spiritual being made Christianity EVEN BETTER!!11!1

      1. The claim that startled me the most was that there is apparently historical evidence of a “Jesus” who rose from the dead after 3 days and saved mankind … from a hundred years before the presumed birth of Jesus.

        Oooh — that’s news to me! Any chance you can scare up enough to pin that down?

        b&

        1. I asked Richard afterwards and he told me it was in his new book. There are 712 pages and yup I’ll bet it’s pinned down in there somewhere. (This argument was one of many which was “dropped” by the opponent, who seemed taken aback by Richard’s focus and apparently expected to argue Tacitus.)

          Or you could ask him directly. Since this is an area you’re keen on, I’d consider both routes.

            1. I think the reference is to something said by Philo of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of Jesus, and the matter is depicted extremely misleadingly by Carrier. Philo offers allegorical interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures, and that includes ones that mention other people named Joshua/Jesus. That Philo finds “truths” about the divine Logos in texts which mention Jesus becomes, in Carrier’s writings, the claim that Philo said that “Jesus” was one of the names of the Logos.

              1. I’ve only skimmed and not properly studied his essay linked to above, but that’s not what I got as his point. Rather, that there was a figure extant in Judaism that Philo regarded as a precedent for Philo’s own Logos, and that said figure was a good match for the spiritual aspect of Jesus. That similar phraseology — the Branch / Jesse — links the two is suggestive but not necessarily critical to what I took away as Richard’s thesis.

                Still, this is very new to me and my initial reaction was one of very guarded skepticism. I think he may well be on to something, but he could also be barking up a branch-less tree, so to speak.

                b&

              2. James McGrath is a (liberal) Christian apologist who frequently misrepresents my work and gets facts wrong about the ancient world and sources (examples: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749).

                To be fair, he is here responding to someone else (Sastra) who innocently got what I said a bit garbled (although notably McGrath just revealed he knows so little of my argument that he didn’t even know to correct the person he is responding to).

                Sastra was referring to two separate things:

                (1) The evidence in the Talmud and Epiphanius that there was a sect of Christians who taught their Jesus lived and died c. 70 B.C. before Roman rule (in fact, this is the only form of Christianity known to the Jewish writers of the Talmud, compiled east of the Roman Empire).

                (2) The fact that the earliest reconstructable (undoctored) redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah, written between 80 and 130 AD (same time as most of the canonical Gospels), explicitly has Jesus being crucified in the lower heavens by Satan and his demons, and not on earth by Romans (in which no date is given for when this supposedly occurred).

                McGrath fails to identify either of those and completely confused those facts with a third, yet again separate, fact…and gets the facts wrong about even that:

                (3) Philo wrote c. 20-40 AD that the Jesus figure described in Zechariah 6 was not the earthly priest it ostensibly referred to (and was probably originally written to mean), but in fact to a celestial being (an archangel) known as the firstborn son of god, as well as several other peculiar things, all of which things fundamentally said of Jesus in the earliest Christian documents (e.g. Paul says his Jesus was a pre-existent being whom God used as his agent of creation; Philo says his Jesus was a pre-existent being whom God used as his agent of creation).

                There is no respect in which I depict any of these facts “extremely misleadingly” or even misleadingly. You know who has done that? McGrath.

                Philo did not find “‘truths’about the divine Logos in texts which mention Jesus” which then “become” in my “writings, the claim that Philo said that ‘Jesus’ was one of the names of the Logos.” Philo explicitly says the person in Zechariah 6 is that Logos. And that person in Zechariah 6 is named Jesus, in the very passage Philo quotes a portion of. He explicitly says that personage is the archangelic Logos (and all the other attributes matching Jesus). This is not an inference I am making. It’s what Philo is explicitly saying. To suggest Philo, the most revered Jewish scholar of his age known to us, somehow didn’t know that the man he is referring to was named Jesus in the very same passage he references is to suggest the profoundly absurd.

                But Christian apologists always insist on the profoundly absurd when the plainly obvious is too discomfiting to admit.

              3. //@Richard Carrier

                (2) The fact that the earliest reconstructable (undoctored) redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah, written between 80 and 130 AD (same time as most of the canonical Gospels), explicitly has Jesus being crucified in the lower heavens by Satan and his demons, and not on earth by Romans (in which no date is given for when this supposedly occurred).//

                This is kind of an odd statement. The second part of Ascension of Isaiah, the part in which Jesus is mentioned, is typically dated as late as the 3rd Century.

                Regardless, the writer didn’t have the crucification take place in the lower heavens, but rather that it was in seventh heaven that Isaiah was given a vision of what was to come, of Jesus being crucified, here’s the relevant passage:

                ” For Beliar was in great wrath against Isaiah by reason of the vision, and because of the exposure wherewith he had exposed Sammael, and because through him the going forth of the Beloved from the seventh heaven had been made known, and His transformation and His descent and the likeness into which He should be transformed (that is) the likeness of man, and the persecution wherewith he should be persecuted, and the torturers wherewith the children of Israel should torture Him, and the coming of His twelve disciples, and the teaching, and that He should before the sabbath be crucified upon the tree, and should be crucified together with wicked men, and that He should be buried in the sepulchre,”

                Notice the passage is not about what took place, but what is going to take place.

                And the writers says a great deal emphasizing a human Jesus: “. Nevertheless they see and know whose will be thrones, and whose the crowns when He has descended and been made in your form, and they will think that He is flesh and is a man.”

                In fact he even mentions Mary, and the virgin birth:

                “And I indeed saw a woman of the family of David the prophet, named Mary, and Virgin, and she was espoused to a man named Joseph, a carpenter, and he also was of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem Judah.

                3. And he came into his lot. And when she was espoused, she was found with child, and Joseph the carpenter was desirous to put her away.

                4. But the angel of the Spirit appeared in this world, and after that Joseph did not put her away, but kept Mary and did not reveal this matter to any one.

                5. And he did not approach May, but kept her as a holy virgin, though with child.

                6. And he did not live with her for two months.

                7. And after two months of days while Joseph was in his house, and Mary his wife, but both alone.

                8. It came to pass that when they were alone that Mary straight-way looked with her eyes and saw a small babe, and she was astonished.”

                http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html

                Your use of the Ascension of Isaiah as a defense for Mythicism, seems just a bit off in this light. Perhaps you’d like to explain a bit further?

        2. I suspect that this is a reference to writings we have from Philo of Alexandria. From his recent article (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml):

          “This “Jesus” would most likely have been the same archangel identified by Philo of Alexandria as already extant in Jewish theology. Philo knew this figure by all of the attributes Paul already knew Jesus by: the firstborn son of God (Rom. 8:29), the celestial “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and God’s agent of creation (1 Cor. 8:6). He was also God’s celestial high priest (Heb. 2:17, 4:14, etc.) and God’s “Logos.” And Philo says this being was identified as the figure named “Jesus” in Zechariah 6. So it would appear that already before Christianity there were Jews aware of a celestial being named Jesus who had all of the attributes the earliest Christians were associating with their celestial being named Jesus. They therefore had no need of a historical man named Jesus. All they needed was to imagine this celestial Jesus undergoing a heavenly incarnation and atoning death, in order to accomplish soteriologically what they needed, in order to no longer rely upon the Jewish temple authorities for their salvation.”

        3. It’s on OHJ, I can check the reference when I get home. I remember it’s about the “Panarion” by Epiphanius, he say’s that some jewish Christians believed that Jesus lived under a certain king, not Pilate. And that king reigned about 100BC.

              1. The reference in the “Panarion” is Epiphanius, Panarion 29.3 There it’s described how the “Nazorians” a sect of Torah observing Christians believed that Jesus had lived and died in the time of Alexancer Jannaeus. Carrier also mentions that the Babylonian Talmud also talks about Jesus been active at that time. This is at the beginning of Chapter 8, p. 281-285 of OHJ.

                The stuff about Philo is mostly contained in Element 40, of background knowledge starting in page 200. Turns out that Philo in “On the Confusion of Tongues”, 62-63 interprets Zechaariah 6, the same way that early Christians did. Zechariah 6 that Carrier translates:

                You shall make crowns, and set them upon the head of Jesus the son of Jehovah the Righteous, the high priest, and say to him: ‘Thus says the almighty Lord, “Behold, the man whose namne is Rising” and he shall rise up from his place bellow and shall build the house of the Lord, and receive power, and sit upon his throne.

                And here is how Philo refers to it:

                “Behold, a man whose name is the Rising!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in none other than the divine image, you will then agree that the name of “Rising” has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father.

                The word that Carrier translates “Rising” is “ἀνατολή” and is usually translated “East” but the more literal translation of Carrier fits better with Zech. 6. Note that the word translated as “rise up” is “ἀνατήλει”.

                Anyway, Philo doesn’t directly use the name “Joshua” but refer’s to a passage that does.

                Hope this was helpful.

              2. Thank you!

                I do believe Richard may well be on to something. The KJV translation of that passage uses “The Branch,” in language that could just as well have been used for Jesse, King David’s father. Keep in mind the extensive Christian symbolism still popular today of describing Jesus as Jesse, the branch, the root, and the like.

                I needs must study this further….

                b&

              3. Okay, I’ve had a chance to look into this a bit further, and I think Carrier’s point is compelling.

                Whenever possible, I like to use the KJV for these sorts of inquiries. Yes, it’s not exactly a scholarly translation, to put it mildly. However, if the point still stands in the KJV, and it’s not because of errors of translation in the KJV, then not only is the point definitely valid, but it’s something that can be used as demonstration even to the most fundamentalist of fundamentalists.

                So, first, the Bible Babble (with added emphasis, of course):

                Zechariah 6:9 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

                10 Take of them of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah;

                11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest;

                12 And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord:

                13 Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

                14 And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of the Lord.

                15 And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that theLord of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.

                Also very, very relevant is this very famous prophecy which later includes the bit about the lion laying down with the lamb:

                Isaiah1:11 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

                2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

                3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

                4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

                In both passages, we see Jewish scripture that Christians would generally agree as being prophecies of Jesus’s coming in passages that clearly describe the character of Jesus — and, and this, I believe, is Richard’s point — associating them with the same name and epithets as Jesus himself. This is not particularly shocking nor controversial; the faithful attribute it to the power of prophecy, and the less gullible to the efforts of the Gospel authors to “retcon” their work, if I’ve got the modern slang right.

                New Testament confirmation of the association between Jesus and the Branch comes trivially in the Gospels:

                John 15:1 I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

                2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

                3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

                4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

                5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

                6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

                But what of Paul? Was he also comfortable with this language? Clearly so:

                Romans 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

                14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

                15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

                16 For if the firstfruit [Jesus] be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

                17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

                18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

                19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

                20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

                21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

                Now, we come to the question of Philo. Does he really provide the glue to tie this together, to identify this Joshua / Branch / Rising / East of Zachariah et al. with his own formulation of the Logos and a clearly-identifiable preexisting Jewish Jesus? I think, credibly, so:

                Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues XIV. (60) But those who conspired to commit injustice, he says, “having come from the east, found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt There;” speaking most strictly in accordance with nature. For there is a twofold kind of dawning in the soul, the one of a better sort, the other of a worse. That is the better sort, when the light of the virtues shines forth like the beams of the sun; and that is the worse kind, when they are overshadowed, and the vices show forth. (61) Now, the following is an example of the former kind: “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East,” not of terrestrial but of celestial plants, which the planter caused to spring up from the incorporeal light which exists around him, in such a way as to be for ever inextinguishable. (62) I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

                I think we can consider that a smoking gun. The Joshua of Zechariah 6 shares the same divergently-translated appellation as Jesus, is clearly the same figure Philo is referring to, and Philo’s description is of the incorporeal divine spiritual eldest firstborn son of God the Father.

                Philo, right there, is clearly describing Paul’s Jesus.

                Thanks again for this, Nikos. It’s going to take a lot to refine this into soundbites…but I find it most compelling, indeed.

                Cheers,

                b&

        1. While Philo’s concept of the Logos is undoubtedly of the utmost importance in understanding how early Christians came to believe what they did about Jesus (Christ), I take serious issue with Carrier’s assertions regarding On the Confusion of Tongues XIV. In short, scholars have long posited that Zerubbabel originally appeared in this passage alongside the High Priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, and it is he, a descendent of David, The Branch of Jesse, whom Joshua is told to behold. Upon Zerubbabel’s deletion from this passage (possibly to prevent provoking the Persians with allusions to a Kingship), readers likely found the text a bit confusing. Was this Joshua told to behold himself? Philo, in my interpretation, is saying “no.” There was another figure in that passage, invisible to the reader, whom Jesus is told to behold: The Logos. Joshua, son of Jehozadak, was indisputably a flesh and blood historical figure who played a key role in getting the Temple rebuilt. What Philo wants us to believe, however, is that the Logos was also present and at work at this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

          1. You many well be right, but Papias may have thought the passage referred to Jesus. His contemporaries did not think very highly of his intelligence.

          2. What Philo wants us to believe, however, is that the Logos was also present and at work at this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

            I believe that at least part of Richard’s point is that Philo’s voice was an influential one that was heard long before “Paul.” Even if the connection was Philo’s own invention, the fact that Philo had already made it is enough to establish that…well…the connection had already been made. The idea was “out there.”

            So, either a real man named, “Jesus,” “just happened” to take the same name and attributes Philo had already credited with the Logos, or the Christian Jesus was an imitation of either Philo or, if Philo wasn’t the source, whatever Philo’s source was.

            And, again: for a street preacher to take the actual name of Philo’s Logos and preach himself as its incarnation and for Philo to somehow have remained completely ignorant of the situation utterly beggars belief. For Philo’s Logos-Jesus to appeal to extant cults already steeped in this religion, culture, and philosophy.

            Though he almost certainly was ignorant of Christianity and unquestionably had no active role in the Church, it seems only reasonable to credit Philo as the true founder of the religion. You want your historical Jesus, it’s Philo — though, to be sure, he’d be horrified at being so labeled.

            Cheers,

            b&

            1. Hi Ben,

              With all respect to Dr. Carrier, the point that I am contesting is that Philo explicitly names the Logos “Jesus.” In my reading of the text, it is not clear. I think the more natural interpretation of the text is that Jesus/Joshua, son of Jehozadak, is being told to “Behold” a separate figure (The Logos). It really doesn’t make sense the other way, as the Joshua in question was very much an earthly figure, with a priestly lineage, and not of the lineage of David either (which rules him out from being the Branch/East). As I previously stated, Zerubbabel’s disappearance from the text caused a bit of confusion as to why there were multiple crowns referenced (this differs from translation to translation), the “priest by his throne/on his throne” and so on. Philo attempts to solve this problem by adding another figure into Zerubbabel’s empty space. At least that’s how I take it…

              1. Again, the question isn’t so much as to how valid Philo’s analysis was. The fact that he made such an analysis and put it out there is enough to establish that, before the Christian Jesus, there was general knowledge of a divine being of the same basic properties and the same name.

                Either the Christian Jesus was a most remarkable coincidence, or else the Christians just adopted Philo’s Jesus as their own (perhaps indirectly).

                Considering we know for certain that they adopted everything else about their Jesus from the surrounding religious zeitgeist, that latter option becomes the overwhelming favorite.

                b&

              2. Ben,

                Not sure why I can’t reply to your posts directly. Anyway, might I politely suggest that you’re still missing my point. Yes, Philo discusses the Logos in the context of a passage concerning the High Priest Joshua, but in my interpretation, Philo does not identify the two as one and the same. Logos does not equal Joshua to Philo. Rather, the Logos, perhaps in the form of an angel, was present in the scene alongside Joshua. I can see how Carrier comes to his conclusion, but this is not how I would imagine Philo or any other first century Jew would read the text.

                Regards,

                Matt

              3. The passage from Philo, again, is:

                (62) I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity.

                The passage in the KJV which Philo is quoting is:

                Zechariah 6:11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest;

                12 And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch [“The East” in Philo’s translation]; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord:

                13 Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

                So, a gold and silver crown is being placed upon the head of Joshua (“Jesus”) and YHWH is declaring his name (that Philo equates with the Logos) and prophesying that he shall build YHWH’s true temple (church) and shall rule upon the throne and be a prince of peace.

                Even without Philo, we’ve got Joshua being a great fit for the Christian Jesus. Add Philo’s Logos on top of it all and Bob’s yer uncle.

                b&

              4. Matt Morales: Rather, the Logos, perhaps in the form of an angel, was present in the scene alongside Joshua. I can see how Carrier comes to his conclusion, but this is not how I would imagine Philo or any other first century Jew would read the text.

                There is no basis for that in either Philo or the Septuagint text he is quoting.

                The text says:

                “…take of them silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Jesus the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and speak unto him, saying, ‘Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, ‘Behold, the man whose name is Rising, and he shall grow up out of his place and build the temple of Jehovah, and he shall receive power, and shall sit and rule upon his throne, and there shall be a priest at his right hand his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them.”

                There is no “angel sitting alongside” Jesus here. Jesus is the one being crowned and spoken of and named by God.

                He is also identified here as the high priest, exactly as Philo identifies the Logos, and as the one receiving god’s power and rule, exactly as Philo says of the Logos, and he is here said to be the son of the Righteous God (Jehozadak = Johovah the Righteous or Jehovah Justified etc.), exactly as Philo identifies the Logos.

                And so on.

                There simply is no basis for reading it otherwise, or to ever imagine Philo reading it otherwise.

              5. Dr. Carrier,

                As a counter to your assertion that nobody would have read the text otherwise, might I point to its usage by Christians as a prophecy for the coming of Jesus (Christ). What you translate as “Rising,” I have also seen translated as “Branch” and “Shoot” in the Zechariah passage and as “East” in Philo. As I have no training in Greek, I would be interested in hearing the reasoning for the translation you use, especially as “Branch/Shoot” is widely held as reference to David or a Davidic heir. I would imagine many first century Jews would read Zechariah and understand it as a messianic prophecy for this reason alone.

                Concerning the term’s usage in Philo, however, perhaps I was hasty in speculating that the Logos may have been envisioned as an angel. In the preceding passages from “On the Confusion of Tongues,” Philo seemingly (again, I’m reading the English) uses the same term to refer to Eden being in the “East.” In other passages, Philo also compares the Logos to a place – for instance, when he speaks of the relationship of the soul to the body being analogous to the relationship between the Logos and the world. Wouldn’t a person named “East” be more befuddling than a person named “Rising” (humans rise every day in one way or another) and fit the context of the passage better? How would one reconcile this concept of “Logos as place” with a heavenly being known as “Jesus?”

                Finally, while you point out correctly that Philo writes of the high priest as an allegory for the Logos, it seems he suggests this of the office itself, and thus every high priest going back to the time of Moses. In “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo writes “For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the word of God…” when referring to regulations put forth in Numbers 35:25. If we are to take this literally, then we might say that the Logos is not only named “Jesus,” but also “Aaron,” “Eleazar,” “Zadok,” “Onias,” and so on.

                You must forgive me then, Dr. Carrier, for requiring more in order to be convinced that “Jesus” was known as a celestial being in the pre-Christian period. I do place some merit in mythicisim so far as it encourages a higher critical approach in the analysis of early Christianity, yet I do see a historical first century figure as the most plausible root based on the current evidence.

                Regards,

                Matt Morales

              6. I certainly grant the relevance of this passage to Christian concepts of Jesus, but I have reservations that Zechariah alone is enough to account for the first century worship of a Jesus as the second power in heaven. I think most important to this topic is the realization that the many references to the Branch/East in the Hebrew Bible are universally understood to signify David or a Davidic heir. Added support for the differentiation between the Branch and Joshua is found in Zechariah 3:8. Then, in Zech 4:9, it is Zerubbabel who is to rebuild the temple. Once we get to Chapter 6:12-13, for whatever reason, Zerubbabel is not named. Scholars debate the reasoning of this, but perhaps it might be because the kingship was never re-established during this time period and Zechariah is written in retrospect several generations later. It’s also of note that in Zechariah 4:11-14, we can observe the appearance of the the dual messiah concept, which the Qumran sect later subscribes to. Going back to Chapter 6:13, some translations render the latter part of the passage, “and there shall be a priest on his throne” or even “and there shall be a priest by his throne” which point to more than one figure being spoken of in the text. This is followed up with the line as you quoted, “and the council of peace shall be between them both” which only makes sense when speaking of two persons, even if some scholars try to (unconvincingly) make the case that the author is suggesting that both offices will be filled by one person.

                While this passage probably referred to Zerubbabel as the Branch (at least tentatively), what we do know is that it came to function as a prophecy of the coming messiah. This is how first century Jews would have read the text and even today, a quick Google search turns up Christian groups who see the Branch as a reference to Jesus Christ–and they definitely don’t take him to be the same person as Joshua ben Jehozadak. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is most directly applicable to this discussion, the author goes to great lengths to show how Jesus Christ can be the Heavenly High Priest even though he is supposedly a descendent of David and not Aaron.

                If anything, we can credit Philo for the suggestion that the messiah prophesied in Zechariah would not (merely) be the son of David but the son of Yahweh. This belief is reflected in Mark 12:35-37. All this taken into account, while Philo is vague enough that Dr. Carrier’s analysis may be correct, given the context, it does not appear to be the case. Thus, there is no direct evidence for a pre-Christian power in heaven named Jesus and no rule which stated the messiah had to be named as such.

                Sorry if this veered into essay territory…

              7. “What you translate as “Rising,” I have also seen translated as “Branch” and “Shoot” in the Zechariah passage and as “East” in Philo.”

                The Hebrew says shoot (which also grows). The Greek says rising (anatolê), which being also a reference to where the sun rises, was used in antiquity for what we mean by east. Philo is quoting and taking the Greek meaning.

                “I would imagine many first century Jews would read Zechariah and understand it as a messianic prophecy for this reason alone.”

                Certainly. Combine that with the theology Philo is reporting and you get: the Davidic messiah will be this archangel. On the metaphysics of that, see my discussion of “women and sperm” in On the Historicity if Jesus, ch. 11.

                “Concerning the term’s usage in Philo, however, perhaps I was hasty in speculating that the Logos may have been envisioned as an angel.”

                Not at all. Philo certainly regards it as an archangel. The problem was the insinuation that Philo is referring to some extra additional person (standing next to Jesus?) in Zechariah and therefore a different person in the passage than that Jesus. There is no such additional extra person. Philo is saying the Jesus of Zech. 6 is that archangel the Logos. Not someone else.

                “Philo seemingly (again, I’m reading the English) uses the same term to refer to Eden being in the “East.””

                Philo does not believe there was ever any such actual place, he explains elsewhere that Eden is an allegory. So this is moot.

                “In other passages, Philo also compares the Logos to a place – for instance, when he speaks of the relationship of the soul to the body being analogous to the relationship between the Logos and the world.”

                Logos means “reason”. The soul is the reasoning part of us, and thus participates in the entity called Reason. Thus we are touching God, a reflection of him, “made in his image,” because the archangel called Reason is God’s supreme Image, and we are copies in turn of that emanation. This archangel, Reason, is akin to the soul of the world, because it controls everything (by enacting God’s will). All of this is explained by Philo in several places. References are in On the Historicity of Jesus.

                “Wouldn’t a person named “East” be more befuddling than a person named “Rising” (humans rise every day in one way or another) and fit the context of the passage better?”

                Since Philo goes on to make a pun about rising, it’s obvious he is fascinated by that aspect of the term. It has a parallel in the Hebrew, since a shoot can also spring up, and thus “rises.” Philo does not seem at all aware of a messianic interpretation as descendant of David. Other Jews surely may have seen it so, though. And, when you combine the two, you get the early Christian doctrine.

                “Finally, while you point out correctly that Philo writes of the high priest as an allegory for the Logos, it seems he suggests this of the office itself, and thus every high priest going back to the time of Moses.”

                No, he explicitly says he is speaking of the celestial high priest ministering in the celestial temple of God, of which the earthly temple is a copy, just as earthly priests are copies of this celestial priest.

                “In “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo writes “For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the word of God…” when referring to regulations put forth in Numbers 35:25. If we are to take this literally, then we might say that the Logos is not only named “Jesus,” but also “Aaron,” “Eleazar,” “Zadok,” “Onias,” and so on.”

                No, Philo is here referring to the archangel, the celestial high priest, who originates everything, and which the earthly priests merely enact and embody. “Word” of God is again Logos (the same word). That is God’s agent of creation and through whom he communicates with people on earth.

                All of this is clear when you read all the passages Philo wrote about this archangel. Which passages I collect in OHJ.

              8. Dr. Carrier,

                I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions regarding the translation of “East/Rising.” Indeed, the terms were intrinsically linked for the ancients and with good reason. I do, however, still have my doubts concerning Philo’s identification of the Logos with Joshua/Jesus. Naturally, obtaining OHJ will perhaps clarify certain issues, but I must wonder a few things going in: How can we say that the Logos (which has many names) is called Jesus based on the passage in “On the Confusion of Tongues,” whereas in the previously cited passage in “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo refers to “high priest” as basically a code word for the Logos. The death of the high priest is interpreted not as the death of any OT priest, but the departure of the Logos. Can we not apply this same logic to “Tongues” and say that Philo is dubbing the Logos “Rising” in place of the high priest Jesus? Put simply, in “Fugitives,” Philo is saying, “The OT text is not actually referring to the high priest. It’s referring to the Logos.” Why not the same with, “Behold, a man whose name is Rising?”

                Also, if Jesus were a name of the Logos, why doesn’t Philo make it more explicit, as he does many other aspects/functions of this archangel? And why do we observe an absence of this Christological title from all early literature prior to the John traditions?

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              9. I might be able to address that. I’m a bit over halfway through the book — one I can already heartily recommend — and past the presentation of the background materials and primary evidence and into the analysis of probability.

                You seem to be suggesting that Richard is claiming something, if I might be permitted a bit of hyperbole, akin to a dramatic reveal by Philo in which he says, “Ta-da! This Logos I’ve been describing all along is embodied in the Rising Jesus Christ of Zechariah, and that’s whom we should all bow down to!”

                That’s not the case at all. Rather, Philo has his own independent development of these same very common ideas floating around in not just Jewish but Pagan theology and culture. And, at one point, in something of a sidebar, Philo stops to observe that there’s this character in Zechariah 6 that “just happens” to be yet another instance of this prevalent theme popping up, and Philo observes how curious it should be that the character’s very name is so apt a fit for the theological purpose he serves.

                That character, of course, is the Risen Jesus Christ.

                We also see Paul’s Risen Jesus Christ shares all the other theological functions as Philo’s Logos, ones that Philo doesn’t (of course!) identify with the Risen Jesus Christ of Zechariah 6.

                So, what’s clear is that Philo saw this minor mention of an extant archangel whom he recognized as being the same as his own Logos, and that Paul sorta-inverted that and continued the identification and associated everything else about Philo’s Logos with his own Risen Jesus Christ.

                When it comes right down to it, it’s no different from the equation of Zeus and Jupiter — or, more topically, Osiris and Dionysus and Bacchus. Sure, they had different names and superficially different (but strikingly similar) biographies, but all were the outer mysteries used as cover for the same unified theological / cosmological principles.

                We even see this in twentieth-century Christian children’s literature, where C.S. Lewis’s Aslan (the Christ figure) explicitly states that it matters not what form nor name people know and love him by, but by the true nature of what they perceive and worship. Thus, the Calorman (Muslim analog) prince who worshipped Tash (Satan), but not the horrific monster Tash but rather an honorable Tash of love and beauty…he was welcomed by Aslan as one of his own, whilst the idolatrous monkeys who made an horrific caricature of an evil lion whom they called, “Aslan” (and, later, “Tashlan”) were consigned to the monster Tash, despite professing in words their love for Aslan. What mattered were the eternal underlying idealized forms, not the inconsequential superficialities of name and body and time and place.

                Richard’s point is that, for Philo, this Platonic ideal (but still really real) of a certain divine being was known to him as the Logos but that Philo recognized the exact same archangel at the heart of Zachariah’s Risen Jesus Christ. Paul knew Zachariah’s Risen Jesus Christ and recognized not only Philo’s Logos as being the same figure, but adopted wholesale the more fleshed-out and sophisticated aspects of the Logos as, of logical necessity even, equal properties of the Risen Jesus Christ.

                Richard, of course, feel free to jump in here and correct me; this is my own interpretation of what I’ve read so far of OHJ.

                Cheers,

                b&

              10. Ben,

                I, for one, would enjoy greatly if you would write a brief history of the Christian religion including much of what you have included here. For me, it wouldn’t’ need to be something that refutes historicists arguments, just based on the evidence you find the most compelling, how things unfolded, who was who, who wrote what when, etc.

                Have you read regarding a Simonian origin for Paul’s letters? What do you think of that.

              11. Honestly?

                The farther I get in Richard’s book, the more I realize that he’s already written the book I would fantasize myself writing on the subject. He’s covered everything I might have, and expanded upon it with plenty I was unaware of.

                For example, where I’m fond of citing Justin Martyr for a precis of the mythicist position, Richard instead goes to extended examples from Plutarch and other actual primary sources. (I’ll still use Justin Martyr as it’s short, easily accessible, and has the rhetorical power of a Christian inadvertently making the mythicist case, but Richard’s approach is far more rigorous.)

                To top it off, he’s setting it all in a framework for objectively and empirically comparing all the bits to assemble them into a coherent whole. I don’t think I could improve on the way he’s doing it; I’d be much more tempted to do it informally and thus either get excessively bogged down in detail or gloss over too much.

                Have you read regarding a Simonian origin for Paul’s letters? What do you think of that.

                I must admit, that’s not ringing any bells.

                b&

              12. I have just started the book, so will keep going. What I doubting is whether he covers what he thinked happened, speculating on the origins in a way that you have in a couple short comments. Price did that to some degree. I haven’t seen where Doherty addresses it but haven’t read all 800 pages yet.

                I reserve the right to come back to you and ask 🙂

              13. I don’t know yet if he’s going to come right out and state his best guess for the origins, but it’s already not at all difficult to read between the lines. As I’m so fond of observing, Christianity really is a bog-standard syncretic Pagan death / resurrection / salvation mystery cult grafted onto the Jewish pantheon — save, as I was unaware until it was brought to my attention by Richard, not only were there even more similarities and intermixing between the Jewish and Pagan theologies than I thought, this particular demigod, name and celestial role and divine characteristics and everything, was already right there in toto from both ancient Hebrew scriptures and Philo.

                As such, it’s not so much that Christianity originated in the 30s or so with the Jerusalem Church and Paul. Rather, that’s about the time that one particular sect of Judaism started, like the First Reformed Baptist Church of the Living Jesus’s Bible of the Greater Outer Hoople Area, and it just so happens that modern Christianity traces its roots to that particular schism as opposed to the First Reformed Baptist Ministry of the Living Jesus’s Bible of the Greater Hoople Area.

                Aside, perhaps, from Paul’s “revelation” that Jesus’s sacrifice absolved all of the traditional Jewish sacrifices, including circumcision and not just the animals at the Temple, there really doesn’t seem to be anything distinguishing Paul’s church from those that were already common in the surrounding area, including the Risen Jesus Christ as the divine Word and the Son of the Most High God and High Priest of the Celestial Temple.

                Once Paul made that minor tweak, he opened the floodgates for Pagans to become Christians, thereby swelling the ranks of this particular denomination…and, unsurprisingly, they also brought all their Pagan analogies with them and thus had it “revealed” unto them that, surprise surprise, the archangel the Risen Jesus Christ was also born of a Virgin, turned water into wine, and all the rest.

                Much of it was really inevitable, hinging on only a few minor and completely unremarkable variations; the only truly notable variable is that, centuries later, Christianity had grown to the point that it inherited the remains of the Roman Empire. Were it not for that fact, Christianity would be in no way remarkable and instead viewed as just another minor variation on the same themes universal in that region. We wouldn’t merely identify Osiris as the Egyptian analogue of Dionysus and Bacchus as the Roman analogue and Orpheus as the Thracian analogue and Mithras as the Persian analogue, but Jesus as the Jewish analogue, and that would be the end of the discussion. It’d be mentioned right alongside Jupiter and Zeus being the same, Hera and Juno, Hermes and Mercury, Hephaestus and Vulcan, and so on.

                Do we agonize over the precise origins of those other gods? No, not unless you’re a scholar of ancient religion. Jesus is a double-edged sword in that respect…on the one hand, he has the potential to provide a superlative case study of the origins of gods, and one that you might expect would have popular appeal and thus help get the public excited about the subject. On the other hand…said public is devoutly committed to Jesus being not only divine but uniquely special and an astonishing de novo invention. But once you’ve been disabused of that misconception, though, the rest is really rather obvious.

                Cheers,

                b&

              14. Thanks Ben – this was informative and useful.

                I suppose the details don’t matter – except, as you said, for the significance placed on the idea of Jesus by a large portion of the world’s population.

                YHWH/Jesus is kinda the last god standing for the western world and much of the rest of it too.

              15. Last god standing…sorta. There’re always newcomers to challenge the throne, and Muhammad is making a go of it from the outside and Moroni from the inside…of course, both are set in the same comic book superhero universe with Jesus still getting honorable mention…but look at where Moses, Jesus’s predecessor, is these days….

                b&

              16. Philo explicitly says the Logos is the archangel who is the high priest of God’s temple in heaven. So I don’t understand your confusion. You don’t seem to be reading Philo or my analysis of these passages. These aren’t separate things. In his scheme, even earthly priests are just copies of the real priest, who is this archangel in heaven.

                As to why Paul never had occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus and thus that he is God’s Word (Logos), that’s because in none of the letters of Paul that survive does Paul have occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus.

                As to why Philo is not more explicit, Philo did not write a dedicated treatise about this being (or if he did, it was not preserved). Nor is he writing to convince an unbelieving doubter on the internet thousands of years later. He does not discuss all the attributes of this being in any passage. He just discusses those attributes that are relevant each time he discusses that being. We can thus add up all its attributes by adding up all the things Philo says about it in different places. One of those things is that this being is the Jesus in Zechariah 6.

                Statistically, it is extraordinarily unlikely that it is a coincidence that the exact same being with all the exact same unusual celestial attributes in Philo is named Jesus and the exact same one is named Jesus in Paul. And we should not prefer hypotheses that are extraordinarily unlikely. A vastly more likely hypothesis is that Paul and Philo are talking about the same theological entity. And since neither knows the other’s work, this entails they are both drawing on a Jewish theology that predates them. There are many other respects in which they do this, showing that Philo and Paul had similar theological works behind them, and I cite in OHJ the scholarship on that fact.

              17. Dr. Carrier,

                Thanks once again for your response. Please allow me to reply:

                “Philo explicitly says the Logos is the archangel who is the high priest of God’s temple in heaven. So I don’t understand your confusion. You don’t seem to be reading Philo or my analysis of these passages. These aren’t separate things. In his scheme, even earthly priests are just copies of the real priest, who is this archangel in heaven.”

                I don’t think I’m as much confused as I am unconvinced, and I assure you that I have read the relevent passages in Philo and fair ammount of your anlaysis–including some passages from OHJ. I’m not disputing the role of the Logos as heavenly high priest. I’m disputing that this Logos is identified as Joshua ben Jehozadak (and that he was known as a celestial entity in the first century), for reasons previously stated. I understand how you arrive at your conclusion, but this does not seem to be the way Philo treats other OT passages, such as the one discussed in “Fugitives.”

                “As to why Paul never had occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus and thus that he is God’s Word (Logos), that’s because in none of the letters of Paul that survive does Paul have occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus.”

                The epistles are certainly written for specific occassion, but have scholars not used this same argument in trying to explain why Paul is silent on details surrounding the life of the HJ/his teachings/etc.? Also, the identification is summed up quite succinctly in the introduction to John’s gospel. I find it odd that Paul would find room to mention the common functions of Jesus and the Logos, but fail to use the word itself, if this was a previously developed theology. Then again, you are saying Paul does not know Philo, so I suppose this is moot.

                “As to why Philo is not more explicit, Philo did not write a dedicated treatise about this being (or if he did, it was not preserved). Nor is he writing to convince an unbelieving doubter on the internet thousands of years later. He does not discuss all the attributes of this being in any passage. He just discusses those attributes that are relevant each time he discusses that being. We can thus add up all its attributes by adding up all the things Philo says about it in different places. One of those things is that this being is the Jesus in Zechariah 6.”

                Fair enough, but again, Philo’s point seems to be that the Logos is named Rising–not that the Logos is to be identified with Joshua ben Jehozadak. Philo discusses the signifigance of “Rising” but does not even quote the name “Jesus,” which we might expect him to find equal signifigance in. We cannot assume something which we do not have, even if it is for a simple lack of preservation.

                Oh, and just to be clear, I also do my doubting “irl”, and would welcome an in-person conversation if the opportunity ever arrises. Perhaps my doubt stems in part from this being the first time in thousands of years that (to my knowledge) it has been argued that Philo names his Logos “Jesus.” Zechariah’s Jesus, by all other accounts, was “merely” a historical high priest–albeit an important one no doubt. The vision of his changing garments is believed to symbolize a restoration of dignity to his family after it fell into shame a few generations after his death.

                “Statistically, it is extraordinarily unlikely that it is a coincidence that the exact same being with all the exact same unusual celestial attributes in Philo is named Jesus and the exact same one is named Jesus in Paul. And we should not prefer hypotheses that are extraordinarily unlikely. A vastly more likely hypothesis is that Paul and Philo are talking about the same theological entity. And since neither knows the other’s work, this entails they are both drawing on a Jewish theology that predates them. There are many other respects in which they do this, showing that Philo and Paul had similar theological works behind them, and I cite in OHJ the scholarship on that fact.”

                Of course a coincidence would be quite unlikely if we could prove, or even show it likely, that Philo really meant that the Logos was known as Jesus, son of Yahweh the Righteous. As it stands, it’s a novel and intriguing hypothesis, but it simply is not the slam dunk we need to make a surefire identification. There are other, and imo more consistent, ways to treat the passage…that is unless we can find further evidence to support your assertion.

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              18. You seem to be assuming that Philo didn’t know that the figure called Rising was named Jesus in the very same verse he quotes.

                You therefore have very odd views of ancient Jewish scholars.

                You also can’t avoid the coincidence even by adopting the absurdly improbable hypothesis that Philo did not know this.

                The rest of your arguments are simple non sequiturs.

                So I cannot conclude you are committed to being reasonable about this.

              19. Dr. Carrier,

                No, I do acknowledge that Philo was probably familiar with the passage from Zechariah and Joshua. I’m simply stating that he appears to reject the identification, just as he rejects that the laws discussed in “Fugitives” refer to any human high priest. I believe I made that clear, so I ask that you kindly do not create straw men. I am not invalidating your analysis by disagreeing with it.

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              20. Matt,

                I’m not seeing how you’re getting from point A to B.

                Even if Dr. Carrier or I were to grant you your assertion, that Philo considered but rejected the equation of Zechariah’s Jesus with the Logos, Dr. Carrier’s point still stands: there was at least enough similarity and / or continuity between the two for the comparison to be made in the first place — again, even if, as you assert, that comparison was ultimately rejected.

                The most succinct way to describe Paul’s Jesus would be as the amalgamation of Zechariah’s Jesus with Philo’s Logos. Every single characteristic of Zechariah’s Jesus is present in Paul’s, and if there’s a significant element of Philo’s Logos lacking in Paul’s Jesus I’m unaware of it. Even details like the two Adams, the one for the flesh and the other (Jesus / Logos) for the spirit…it’s all there. So, the absolute most you could claim with your thesis is that Paul accepted the comparison that Philo rejected…which doesn’t at all change the equation for consideration of historicity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              21. There is also simply no evidence that Philo “rejected” the equation of the Rising with the Jesus who is explicitly being called that in Zechariah. That “rejection” is just something being made up here. For no discernible reason.

              22. Dr. Carrier,

                Rejecting is exactly what Philo does when he says:

                “A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image…”

                Philo is saying that “Rising” shouldn’t be applied to a man, which every Jew knew Joshua ben Jehozadak to be–a flesh and blood human being. Our differences appear when you say, “Aha, that means Philo thinks Joshua was no man at all, but an archangel.” Whereas I am saying, “Philo thinks Rising is referring to something entirely different.” I then provided an example in “On Flight and Finding/A Treatise on Fugitives” where the word “high priest” is interpreted to mean the Logos dwelling inside the soul of all men, in effect demonstrating how Philo freely reapplies scriptural references to a human being to something allegorical and entirely different.

                This is not something I am making up, but how scholars have treated Philo for as long as his works have been studied. For your claim to gain acceptance, you must provide ample reasoning for why your interpretation is correct over theirs. Continuing to dismiss the notion, as if “Jesus in Philo” is just accepted fact, is not objective scholarship and a disservice to your own intellect.

                Best,

                Matt

              23. “[This is] how scholars have treated Philo for as long as his works have been studied” — citation please.

              24. Philo is saying that “Rising” shouldn’t be applied to a man, which every Jew knew Joshua ben Jehozadak to be–a flesh and blood human being.

                Again — and I’m with Richard on this — even if I were to grant you what I see as a tortured interpretation, by your own interpretation Philo is concerned that somebody might incorrectly make the equation and is correcting the anticipated error. That right there would be evidence that others had or were expected to make the equation, even if incorrectly.

                Indeed, even if we grant you your interpretation, the most obvious reason Philo would have written such a passage would have been because he had heard of others making such an equation, possibly even through the grapevine that some mystery cult, even early Christians, had done so.

                Again, granting you your own argument, one I just don’t buy, for the sake of discussion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              25. Just because perhaps I worded myself poorly in the post regarding “A Treatise on Fugitives,” I’ll try to clarify a bit further. Where Philo talks about the law regarding the return of fugitives upon the death of the high priest, he says it does not seem fair if it refers to the death of the human high priest. Similarly, we might say that in “On the Confusion of Tongues,” Philo declares that “Rising” should not be applied to the human high priest, Jesus ben Jehozadak. Indeed, as I outlined earlier, there are reasons why first century Jews may have already questioned the identification of Jesus as “Rising,” such as the Davidic association and prior passages which have Zerubbabel building the temple. By the first century, the verses in Zechariah would be seen as talking of a future messiah, with Joshua and Zerubbabel being only symbols of what was to come. This future messiah is what we can identify as the Logos according to Philo.

  2. Christianity is a mystery cult like Mithras and Isis. It closely resembles the compassion expressed in the Isis cult in particular. Ergo, the characters that feature in Christianity are most likely as real as the characters that feature in other contemporaneous mystery cults. QED.

    1. Good point.

      Apparently there is a lot of denial of the obvious fact that Christianity originated as a mystery cult. After reading, “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Carrier, Elements 11-14, I can’t see how one could make a strong argument against that assertion. As Carrier puts it (page 96):

      The earliest definitely known form of Christianity was a Judeo-Hellenistic mystery religion. This is also beyond any reasonable doubt, yet frequently denied in the field of Jesus research, often with a suspiciously intense passion. So I shall here survey a case for it.

      The usual (and only?) argument for denying it, is that Christianity was not “exactly” like any other mystery cult. But as Carrier points out no mystery cult was exactly any other mystery cult. So by that argument there were no mystery cults at all!

      1. But as Carrier points out no mystery cult was exactly any other mystery cult. So by that argument there were no mystery cults at all!

        In which case, all mystery cults are completely alike.
        A = B and A=/=B , simultaneously.
        After passing you that wafer thin mint, I shall do my John Cleese impersonation into this plant pot.

          1. My internal “AutoCorrect-I-Know-What-You-Meant-Not-What-You-Rote” function (it’s not just a spilling chocker!) had re-inserted the elided ‘like.’

      2. Indeed, my I once bought, as a treat to myself after 1st year exams (because I’m a geek), The Oxford Classical Dictionary. I like it because it sources its material.

        Here is what my Oxford Classical Dictionary says about the Mysteries:

        The highest promise of the mysteries was a happy after-life. The rise of dualism which considered the corporeal world as evil stressed the need of salvation which was conferred by the participation in the mysteries: they promised even the deification of man. The myth was a symbolic expression of the doctrine and the god was the prototype of man, suffering, dying, and rising to a new life.

  3. Hopefully you won’t deny that you’re an excellent writer and crystal-clear thinker, though! Congrats on a fine guest post, to take its place alongside your hundreds of great comments on this site.

    On the Jesus issue, for what it’s worth, I tend to agree. No challenge here.

  4. This is excellent. I had the following exchange with Reza Aslan over the twitters.

    https://storify.com/toxicpath/conversation-with-toxicpath-and-rezaaslan

    I appreciate Reza was kind enough to answer even though I misspelled “Jesus” in the first tweet!

    It is obvious to me that a hearsay account almost a century after the fact should not be considered evidence. However, do you know of more concrete reasons why Josephus’ account could be false? Any new developments on the possibility that Josephus mention of Jesus was forged?

    Thanks!

    1. The passage about Jesus is often cited, but what I find most enlightening (and certainly damning as far as its authenticity goes) is what’s written just before and just after.

      Josephus’s account goes a little like this, if I paraphrase Jewish Antiquities, Book XVIII, ch. 3, par. 2-4:

      “Pilates did some plumbing work in Jerusalem and the local populace got irritated with his designs. This led to rioting and police brutality.

      At about the same time, a preacher named Jesus showed up and he was clearly the messiah and the son of God.

      Meanwhile, back to the important stuff. There was a scandal in Rome involving the nobility; a man from the equestrian order wanted very much to have sex with a married woman and relied on many convoluted plans to get what he wanted. This apparently deserves a lot of explanation and six times more space than what we mentioned just above”.

      As they say in school, one of these things do not go with the others. Josephus is relating a succession of mundane events: unrest over city planning, sexual scandals among the rich and powerful, and somewhere in the middle he almost absent-mindedly slips something that is arguably the single most important event* in the history of the world. It makes no sense at all.

      What does make sense is if a Christian copyist added messiah-related material at the appropriate spot. If you just remove a few words from the paragraph, the passage fits with the rest again: in between the waterworks-related riots and the Roman sexual scandal, we’re told that there was a preacher who was executed in Jerusalem. Since Josephus does not make a big deal of it, it was just worth mentioning but was not, at the time, as important as the kinky stuff happening in certain Roman boudoirs.

      *As far as Christians are concerned, and since Jesus is referred to as “the Christ” in the controversial lines, it really sounds as if the writer was a Christian himself, even though it’s clear that Josephus was Jewish.

      1. Even the scholar quoted in Lee Strobel’s book (The Case for Christ) admits that the supernatural claims about Jesus in Josephus were later forgeries. Adn that’s from an advocate for a “Historical Jesus”.

        [Strobel’s Expert] Edwin Yamauchi admits: “early Christian copyists inserted some phrases that a Jewish writer like Josephus would not have written.” (p. 79) Insertions such as: “If one ought to call him a man,” “He was the Christ,” and “on the third day he he appeared to them restored to life.” (all noted by the expert, Yamauchi, pp. 79-80) “The passage in Josephus probably was originally written about Jesus, although without those three points I mentioned.” (Yamauchi, p. 80)

    2. Origen, Contra Celsus, 1:47:

      I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of time after John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless — being, although against his will, not far from the truth — that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ), — the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all theiractions to His good pleasure.

      Can we please stop pretending that Josephus mentioned the Christian Jesus? Even in that parenthetical bit that’s clearly about Jesus bar Damneus?

      b&

      1. Citing works from the 3rd century are we? Way to not play by your own rules. Since Origen cites Paul as the source of the claim that Jesus and James were not related by blood, why not cite the relevant passage of Paul’s letters that says the same thing? Oh, right, because there is no such passage.

        BTW, Origen is late enough that his claims could represent motivated reasoning in an effort to support the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (said doctrine is first attested in the mid 2nd century Protoevangelium of James.)

        As for the “Jesus bar Damneus” claim, if Josephus had meant to refer to James the brother of Jesus bar Damneus, he would have simply referred to him as “James bar Damneus.” I am aware that Carrier has attempted to get around this, but his theory requires multiple independent interpolations to the same passage, none of which are supported by any evidence aside from his desire to make the “James the brother of Jesus” passage disappear. As such, it is a gross offense against parsimony.

        1. Seriously?

          The first mention of the Testamonium, which you’re trying to use as evidence, occurs in Eusebius. Origen, writing well before Eusebius, makes painfully clear that not only did the Testamonium not exist, but that all the other Josephean references and hints are bullshit, too. Therefore, any claims that invoke Josephus are similar bullshit.

          (Indeed, once we realize that Josephus failed to mention Jesus, his silence is every bit as damnable as those of the contemporaries. Jesus as a street preacher would have been gossip too delightful for him to have overlooked.)

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. It’s not much use arguing with you if you can’t tell the difference between the “Testimonium Flavianum” and the “James the brother of Jesus” passage from Josephus, but I guess I’ll give it one more go.

            The Testimonium is in book 18 of Jewish Antiquities. I regard it as mostly or entirely the result of Christian interpolation, and I do not regard it as evidence of much of anything, nor could my previous comment have been construed as referring to it.

            The James, brother of Jesus passage is in book 20. It is cited by Origen, twice (included in the work you cited.) So at the very worst, we’re citing works from the same century. But, dating the Josephus quote to the 3rd century when Origen referred to it, rather than to the 1st century, when it was actually written, is ridiculous.

            BTW, the fact that the Testimonium isn’t quoted until the 4th century isn’t very strong evidence against its authenticity. Much stronger is the fact that the Testimonium says of Jesus “he was the Christ” while Origen, in the same passages where he talks about Josephus on James, says that Josephus “did not accept Jesus as Christ.”

            1. I’m sorry, but I’ve posted the full quote from Origen repeatedly, including in this thread, and repeatedly referred to it. He comes right out and says that in Antiquities 18 Josephus attributes the fall of Jerusalem to the death of James the Just and harshly criticizes Josephus for failing to mention Jesus in this context.

              When you stop getting your history from Christian apologists and start reading the actual original sources, there might be a point in continuing….

              b&

              1. Um. Read it again. Origen says that John the Baptist is mentioned in book 18, as indeed he is. He doesn’t say where Josephus mentions James the brother of Jesus, but the wording is very similar to that in book 20, repeating verbatim the phrase “the brother of Jesus (called Christ).”

                The issue here is basic reading comprehension, not getting one’s information from “Christian apologists”

          2. By what motivation would Christians have to enter neutral information about Jesus into the writings of Josephus, such as the references to James as his brother.

            Do you believe they did so, to trick people into believing that Jesus was an actual historical person?

            I’ve always wondering about how this supposed mythicist Jesus of a platoic-other realm, developed into a belief in a historical person. How early did this development take place? Was there a concentrated effort by the early christians to consciously do this, and this served as the motivations as to why they would have altered Josephus to include mentions of Jesus in his works?

            Or was this development unintentional, that no such early effort to create a historical Jesus from mythical one took place, but rather that we all have just been reading the gospels, and Paul’s writing wrong?

            1. Do you believe they did so, to trick people into believing that Jesus was an actual historical person?

              Absolutely. It is the kind of thing done all the time today. In the past, making things up instead of telling the truth was just fine. It still is in Muslim countries.

              1. @newengland bob: “Absolutely. It is the kind of thing done all the time today. In the past, making things up instead of telling the truth was just fine. It still is in Muslim countries.”

                People make up stories all the time, such as the three little pigs, or George Washington and the Cherry Tree, but the question i was asking was one about motivation.

                When my teacher told us the three little pig story, the purpose wasn’t to trick us into believing they really existed, but to convey some sort of moral.

                So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up? Were they actively trying to trick people into believing Jesus existed as a historical person. If so, why do you think they would do that? It’s unlikely that those who were consciously making this up, would have believed Jesus was the messiah, because they would in fact have known it was a con.

                There seems to be some underly conspiracy here, an interesting one in fact, that’s rarely ever given any real articulation by it’s tactile supporters. And I would like to see it more fully fleshed out here, in a rare space in which actual supporters of mythicist position are here to do so.

              2. “So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up? Were they actively trying to trick people into believing Jesus existed as a historical person. If so, why do you think they would do that?”

                To put it in a practical perspective, imagine you’re a snake oil peddler, er, itinerant preacher, and your pocket money depends on finding a lucrative market open to your sales pitch.

                Now place yourself in Jerusalem in 70c.e. The Romans have just destroyed the Temple, and decimated the Jewish population, scattering them to the four winds. Hmmm. What if you could modify your story enough to make your “product” palatable to Romans, i.e., where the money is.

                Your business acumen would prompt you to the most obvious re-branding to please this new market, such as making Pilate innocent and the Jews guilty, and waiving that pesky circumcision rule. Each successive gospel makes your (New! Improved!) messiah Product less a troublemaker provoking the Empire, and more an ethereal divinity. Cha-ching!

              3. So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up?

                Here’s one reason:

                It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

                b&

            2. Could you elaborate on this?

              By what motivation would Christians have to enter neutral information about Jesus into the writings of Josephus, such as the references to James as his brother.

              I’m not aware of any neutral information about Jesus in the extant works of Josephus. Are you refering to TF? that’s hardly neutral. Or are you refering to the hypothetical reconstruction of the “original” content that some scholars propose by taking out the obvious things that Josephus could not have said unless he was a Christian?

              Perhaps you should read pages 332-342 of “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Carrier. He explains why there is no reason to believe that Josephus wrote anything about Jesus where the TF stands in the extant manuscripts.

              Or are you refering to the “who is called Christ” phrase? A Christian scribe could easily have penned that as a marginal comment. Carrier actually makes a case for that, as well why that scribe was confused and Jesus could not possibly refer to our guy. See the page references above.

              I’ve always wondering about how this supposed mythicist Jesus of a platoic-other realm, developed into a belief in a historical person. How early did this development take place? Was there a concentrated effort by the early christians to consciously do this, and this served as the motivations as to why they would have altered Josephus to include mentions of Jesus in his works?

              Or was this development unintentional, that no such early effort to create a historical Jesus from mythical one took place, but rather that we all have just been reading the gospels, and Paul’s writing wrong?

              If you are really interested for the answers (I don’t mean to question your sincirety, it’s just hard to detect tone in online conversations) I would suggest you actually read the works of those that suggest this idea, for example Doherty and Carrier.

              1. Nikos:

                Self-published autodidact Doherty, that no decent publishing firm would ever touch, is not a valid reference that any scholar would ever dream of using. (See the Wikipedia article and the TALK discussion.)

                Send Tomas instead to the books by George A. Wells, where all modern arguments and precise citations are lifted from (erudite, but reliably honest), or the cute and elegant summary of the issues in Herbert Cutner’s book, or further back to the fundamental books of John M. Robertson (heavy reading, but excellent to maintain any aging brain’s mental acuity) and Arthur Drews (best introduction, bar none), who launched the theory of the Christ Myth into international consciousness.

              2. @Roo

                As far as I understand it, Wells’ theory was never that Jesus originated as a celestial being in some kind of “platonic-other” realm, but rather a myth based on a possibly historical person that lived in the distant past. So I don’t see how reference to his works would help Tomas answer his questions.

                Regarding Doherty, I find his books well researched and argued. He doesn’t have any relevant advanced degrees, but that by itself does not disqualify his arguments.

              3. @Niko

                //If you are really interested for the answers (I don’t mean to question your sincirety, it’s just hard to detect tone in online conversations) I would suggest you actually read the works of those that suggest this idea, for example Doherty and Carrier.//

                I’ve read and listened to a bit of both Doherty and Carrier, and I don’t recall them ever answering this particular question. I do have an interest in the historicity of Jesus, but when it comes to devoting my time to fringe views, I have little interest in devoting myself to actually buying their books, anymore so than you would for creationism, or 9/11 truthers beliefs, but I’m open to reading what’s freely available, and accessible, and this much i have done already in regards to many mythicist views.

                But I am curious as to why rather than attempting to answer this question yourself, you directed me to them? It was fairly direct question? Is the absence of an actual reply here an indication that you do not have an answer for it?

                If those in support of historicity are required to actually argue their case here, why should those in support of the mythicist position not do the same?

                I am interested in the question, and I’m not trying to waste anyones time, but I am hoping that some supporter of mythicism can provide an actual answer to this question here, rather than send me on some wild goose chase by deflecting to some other persons works.

              4. @Tomas

                Carrier’s book is big, although I would say accessible to non experts with a willingness to put the necessary effort, so it’s hard to summarize. He compares what he calls “minimal historicism” versus “minimal mythicism”, which are theories stripped down to their essentials and defined precisely enough so that he is able assign probabilities to them. His aim is not to defend mythicism but rather to see which of the two theories better fits all the evidence. So the bulk of the book consists of detailed examination of the evidence and comparing the two “minimal” theories against it. Both “theories” are not fully developed explaining all the details, but are put forward as a series of propositions that have to be true in order for the corresponding position (historicism or mythicism) to be true.

                The “minimal mythicism” contain as a proposition an outline of an answer to your question. Roughly, the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers. This is the usual thing that all mystery cults did. Down the line, these allegorical stories came to be believed as true stories that really happened, and only secondarily, or not at all, allegorical especially by low level initiates. Again this is the usual thing that happened with all the allegories of all other mystery cults.

                Note, and this is a point that Carrier makes, that the question of how exactly that happened is independent of whether mythicism or historicism is true. This question poses itself even if we assume historicism, since these obviously allegorical stories at some point came to be believed as true by Christians. It’s possible, I would think even probable, that once a coherent and precise answer is proposed based on either hypothesis it wouldn’t be that hard to modify it to be based on the opposite hypothesis. In other words the answer to the question of historicity is probably largely irrelevant for the answer to your question.

                Ehrman has a new book out where he attempts to answer the question from the historicist perspective. It’s on my “To Read” list, and I’m pretty sure that his answer, if sound would be easily adaptable to a mythicist perspective.

                Doherty’s books are written to defend his theory of Christian origins so they’re the most likely place to find an answer to your question from the perspective of a particular full blown mythicist theory. It’s being a while since I read them, and I don’t have them near me at the moment, and I don’t recall into how much detail detail he goes about your specific question. So I suggested to read them yourself.

              5. “…the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers. This is the usual thing that all mystery cults did. Down the line, these allegorical stories came to be believed as true stories that really happened, and only secondarily, or not at all, allegorical especially by low level initiates. ”

                Now I may have to read the book. I have suspected for many years that Mark was written as a grimoire mean to be interpreted literally by low level initiates to guide their ethical behavior and advanced initiates learned that it was allegory to explain the mysteries including the greatest mystery “the Kingdom of Heaven is within”.

              6. Now I may have to read the book. I have suspected for many years that Mark was written as a grimoire mean to be interpreted literally by low level initiates to guide their ethical behavior and advanced initiates learned that it was allegory to explain the mysteries including the greatest mystery “the Kingdom of Heaven is within”.

                There’s very clearly that sort of thing going on. How much was added when is an open question.

                b&

              7. This concept is shared by those I know that have been through Thelemic initiation processes. I suspect that those that have survived those, or Masonic or even Morman initiations may see the similarities quite quickly.

              8. @ Nikos: “I’m not aware of any neutral information about Jesus in the extant works of Josephus. Are you refering to TF? that’s hardly neutral. Or are you refering to the hypothetical reconstruction of the “original” content that some scholars propose by taking out the obvious things that Josephus could not have said unless he was a Christian?”

                That, and also the reference to James as Jesus brother.

                The other reference to Jesus, is typically argued as altered to bolster the image of Jesus, that’s generally the motivation attributed to why it was altered in such way.

                But I’m curious to know if the mention of Jesus, including the hypothetical one, were fabricated by early christians and the motivation was to place Jesus in history as an actual person. That they were worried that people would think or believe he never existed, so they altered passages into Josephus to make it appear that he was an actual historical person. Is this the view here?

              9. That they were worried that people would think or believe he never existed, so they altered passages into Josephus to make it appear that he was an actual historical person. Is this the view here?

                The Testamonium is first mentioned by Eusebius as a novel discovery. Origen, writing before Eusebius was born, berated Josephus for blaming the death of James the Just for the fall of Jerusalem when he ought to have blamed the death of Jesus. Eusebius was a proponent of Platonic deception to further bigger and more important “truths.”

                You connect the dots.

                b&

            3. Nikos and Roo have already given you great modern explanations, but you don’t need them to answer the question for yourself.

              The earliest mention of Jesus in Joseph comes to us from Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, who was born c. 260 CE. Origen of Alexandria wrote a rebuttal to Celsus in 248 CE that contains this passage:

              I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of timeafter John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing inJesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since theyput to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless— being, although against his will, not far from the truth— that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother ofJesus (called Christ),— the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.

              If you can read that and still think that Josephus wrote anything at all about Jesus…I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.

              b&

              1. @ben //”If you can read that and still think that Josephus wrote anything at all about Jesus…I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.”//

                I don’t see what exactly you believe bearing this Celsus passage has on Josephus?

                Are you trying to argue that Celsus is stating Paul’s reference to James as a brother of Jesus, is implying they were not blood brothers, and this means that Josephus references to James as the brother of Jesus, was not a blood relative reference?

                I hope not, because Celsus is not stating that they weren’t blood brothers, or that they weren’t brought up together, but rather that their relationship as brothers extends beyond that, that they were united in virtue and doctrine. I.E, “I love my sister, not so much on account of our relationship by blood, or us being brought up together, but rather because we been through so much together, and have a real and sincere relationship. ”

                If anything the passage like the one I wrote about my sister borrowing the same language, is an indication that they were in fact blood brothers, or at least believed to be blood brothers.

              2. Origen was blisteringly clear: Josephus should have written about Jesus, but wrote about James the Just instead. Of course, we don’t know what Josephus actually wrote; indeed, he might not have written about James, either. But he certainly didn’t write about Jesus.

                b&

        2. //”As for the “Jesus bar Damneus” claim, if Josephus had meant to refer to James the brother of Jesus bar Damneus, he would have simply referred to him as “James bar Damneus.”//

          That’s what I propose he may have done. Replacing one word or phrase with another believing the one to be a dittograph is well established as a common error in scribal practice.

          //I am aware that Carrier has attempted to get around this, but his theory requires multiple independent interpolations to the same passage, none of which are supported by any evidence//

          First, it requires only one interpolation. Not several (the mere one-off insertion or substitution of two words). Second, I found quite a lot of evidence supporting this conclusion. Indeed, enough to be conclusive to anyone not dogmatically set against it.

          People can see for themselves in Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012): 489-514. Or my repro of that article in my book (available at Amazon), Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

    3. Richard Carrier published an article on Josephus two years ago.

      I see it as a total nonstarter. Josephus was born in 37 AD, so could not have possibly met a historical Jesus H. Christ. The passages in question were written > 90 AD. At best, it could be evidence for the existence of an early Christian church – which is not in question.

      Jesus was a common name at the time, at least 20 different Jesi are mentioned in Josephus’ writings (source: Wikipedia).

            1. Proper nouns don’t have plural, but if they had Jssoi should be correct. It’s masculine ending in -οῦς, so it’s probably in the second declination.

              1. Score! I think Ant was probably riffing on the snootiness of writing octopodes when pluralizing “octopus” when “octopuses” will do in English. 🙂

      1. 20 different Jesus in Josephus.
        I have read this statement so many times that it seems to be accepted as incontrovertible by all scholars.

        Who was it who did the first count? And establish the number 20? It could be higher. Iesous seems to have been as common than as John or Peter are now for us (and were already then).
        In Spanish and Latin communities the first name of Jesus is still widely used.

        Nikos has to come in and endorse or correct all this.

        1. Thank you for your confidence but I’m hardly an expert in any of these. My expertise in ancient Greek comes from high school classes that all kids had to take in Greece in my time. I hated it back then, all these words that I sort of knew what they meant, but with all these weird endings and in totally the wrong order!

          It had it’s good moments too though. I remember reading in class Euripedes’ Orestes, that starts by declaring that Pelops is marrying the daugther of Oinomaus, and the verb that meant “marry” in ancient greek means “fuck” in modern. The same linguisting confusion made tolerable the increadible boring masses that I was subjected to as a kid. There is a passage in Mark (?) that states that in heavens nobody marries or gets married.

          Ah! Good times.

  5. Something tells me you won’t get an answer. For 1800 years christians have been waving a list of “contemporary proofs” for the existence of a historical Jesus. One of them is Lucien, who says essentially, “Christians are gullible fools who believe anything and are robbed by every fraud who comes among them.”

    Today’s christians, like those before, don’t seem to see the irony of using that quote as proof of a historical Jesus.

    1. And Lucian wasn’t even contemporary. He was born 125 AD. At best, that is evidence of an early Christian church – which is not in question, and is not evidence for a historical Jesus.

    2. One of them is Lucien, who says essentially, “Christians are gullible fools who believe anything and are robbed by every fraud who comes among them.”

      So unlike today.

  6. I get why you lay it down as a “challenge” but, despite what Eric MacDonald said in his reply to you earlier, it’s hard to see these as anything other than the minimal requirements for defining and defending a position: state what it is you’re arguing for, explain what supports this position, and account for (seemingly?) contradictory observations. There’s a lot more that I’d like to know, like what are the chances that your supporting evidence would be present even if you were wrong (ie: how did you rule out the null), what alternatives did you consider, and what consistent methodology did you use when reviewing the evidence to guide your process?

    I just started reading Carrier’s new book and curiously he starts it in much the same way that Ben does. By investigating a crazy fringe idea, finding it hard to shoot it down. I have read a couple pro-historicist arguments and I’ve been bothered by the way they attack strawmen rather than the actual arguments mythicists present. Where’s the attempt to look at the evidence supporting mythicism and addressing it head-on?

    1. Where’s the attempt to look at the evidence supporting mythicism and addressing it head-on?

      That would make for an excellent follow-up challenge: explain an historical Jesus in light of the texts I link to as well as, for example, Pliny the Younger’s correspondence with Trajan describing the Christians as a wacko crazy lunatic nutjob cult, and all the rest….

      b&

    2. @ Niko

      @Nikos

      //Roughly, the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers.//

      Here lies a problem, the mythicist positions is sort of all over the place, with multiple individuals proposing all sorts of hypothesis. Here you arguing that the original story of Jesus was an allegory, perhaps along the lines of The Bacchae. But what is the supposed meaning of this allegory? When it comes to the Bacchae it appears to be an allegory about primordial chaos and its reign on human life. I can’t think of a plausible purely allegorical interpretation of Jesus, along the lines of let’s say Adam and Eve, or allegorical stories.

      What sort of elements did this allegory contain? Was the allegorical Jesus also an allegorical jewish messiah? Or were the messianic beliefs added later? Was the allegorical jesus one who had a message, one of the kingdom of God, and conveyed this message in the style irony, reversal, and frustration of expectations, as found in the Jesus of the gospels?

      Is this original allegorical Jesus the one found in Paul? If not, Is Paul’s Jesus allegorical? Or was he someone that existed in some sort of platonic-other realm or some other sort of otherworldly realm?

      If you know the answers to these sorts of questions, you should be able to provide them, or at least summarize a concise response, rather that keep directing me to buy one of Carrier’s book as some sort of salesmen. If you want to sit there and support a minority view, to overtake the prevalent view among laymen and scholars alike, you have to do a better job than plug in Carrier’s book.

      //Note, and this is a point that Carrier makes, that the question of how exactly that happened is independent of whether mythicism or historicism is true.//

      Actually it’s not. The question is which view has the greater explanatory power, one in which Jesus had a historical existence, or one in which he didn’t. You can have differing views on how it happened within these views, such as the case with the historical jesus, but they have to be plausible ones. Lacking this, doesn’t bode well for you, and in fact only reveals how weak the case for non-existence is in comparison to existence.

      And I believe this is what you’re are hinting at, that you don’t have any real plausible answers to most of my questions I’ve asked at least in regards to how a non-existent Jesus would place in it? And your defense is that this doesn’t matter?

      1. Tomas:

        You sound so self-sure about all the abstractions you’re mentioning, that I lose sight of what they mean.
        Can you enlighten us and explain what you mean with:
        – “a non-existent Jesus” (as in “most of my questions I’ve asked at least in regards to how a non-existent Jesus would place in it?”)
        – “the historical jesus” (“such as the case with the historical jesus,”).

        There are at least 50, perhaps up to 100 basic documents (including all Christian Apocrypha, and other non-Christian, but related early documents) which are referred to when mentioning “Jesus” as a naked name. “Jesus” as such is an abstract word that corresponds to nothing in particular, or to no precise documents.

        To give a meaning to “Jesus”, you need at least to refer to some specific document where this name is mentioned, or even alluded to.
        In the case of “the historical Jesus”, could you be more precise, and indicate which document you are referring to in order to give substance to the abstract name of “Jesus”?

        For instance: One of Paul’s epistles; Shepherd of Hermas; Mark’s Gospel; Letter to the Hebrews; 2 Peter Epistle; 2 Clement epistle; Marcion’s Apostolikon; One of Ignatius epistles; Acts book, chapter No.; Q document; Eusebius’s Church History; One of Chrysostom’s Homilies; Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities 18; Polycarp epistle; 3 John epistle; Didache; 2 Thessalonians; 1 Peter epistle; Barnabas epistle; Marcion’s Evangelion; the Gospel of John; Tacitus Annals (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Suetonius (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Justus of Tiberius, or perhaps Photius (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Contra Celsum; Sepher Toldoth Yeshu; Babylonian Talmud; etc.

        Once you refer to an effective document, then we can understand which Jesus you have in mind, the one presented in that specific document.
        Otherwise your mentions of “Jesus” are, to be blunt, devoid of immediate meaning.

        And you cannot finesse this requirement by referring to the “Christian Jesus of all early Christian documents”, because there is no such unequivocal figure.
        Even the “Jesus of the four Gospels” is not a clear figure.

        There’s a need to be specific to give “Jesus” a real meaning.
        It is commonly repeated that there are at least 20 Jesuses in Josephus’s writings alone. So, we have to be cautious, and always refer to a specific document, or, if needed, a chapter in such a document, even the target paragraph, if ambiguity remains.

        1. @Roo

          //You sound so self-sure about all the abstractions you’re mentioning, that I lose sight of what they mean.//

          For brevity, a Jesus who had at least four greco-roman biographies, written about him, of what we traditionally refer to as the Gospels, who existed in the first century, as a jewish preacher, who may have believed he was the messiah, or at least someone who his followers believed was; who preached a message of the kingdom of God, and was later crucified by the Romans. Who preached with a style that incorproted irony, reversal, and frustration of expectations, and at the bare minimum the source of the sayings and teachings that are multiply attested, or at least the ones the Jesus seminar, marked with pink and red beans, indicating they the very likely, or probably were things he said. The Jesus who spoke of non-violent resistance in the Jewish context in the Sermon of the Mount, such as the going the extra mile and Roman Law of Angaria, and parables such as the Good Samaritan, Dishonest Steward, Mustard Seed etc.

          A Jesus who had possible delusions of grandeur. A Jesus who had at least 4 greco-roman biographies written of him, that incorporated both fact and fictions just like every other first century bio, to not only convey events in his life, but more importantly the meaning and purpose of it. Who had a mother that that was referred to as Mary, and a brother named James. A Jesus who his followers after his humiliating death, attempted to come to terms with it by reading the events of his life back into the jewish scriptures, trying to convey the unexpected death of their messiah as the God’s ultimate will and plan.

          //Even the “Jesus of the four Gospels” is not a clear figure.//

          No he’s a pretty clear figure, even in a heavily stylized gospel like John, it’s pretty obvious that all four of the gospels writers were inspired by the same person. In fact all portraits of him, even stripped of all supernatural and fantastical aspects, leave a person who was pretty charismatic and influential, enough so to create a new religion around him, and to have his followers believe he was God himself.

          //Can you enlighten us and explain what you mean with:
          – “a non-existent Jesus”//

          Non-existent here means, that Jesus like the one I’m painting here did not exist as a historical person whatsoever, and that Jesus was something along the line of an allegory, like the three little pigs, or entirely fabricated like spiderman, or believed to have existed in some sort of otherworldly place, who did not die at the hands of romans, nor had an actual ministry in 1st century Jerusalem. There can be variety of things that non-existent can be, depending on which mythicist one is speaking to. But the bottom line is, non-existent in any real historical sense. That there was no man, who inspired these fantastical narratives, that incorporated both actual elements of his life, and fictions.

      2. @ Tomas

        Sorry if my reply came across as a plug for Carrier’s book. It is the case that it’s the only book that specifically deals with the question of the historicity of Jesus, and where all the evidence and backround knoweledge is laid down explicitly together with the methodology used to address the question. To be precise, the methodology is laid out in his previous book: “Proving History”.

        I don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong. Same goes for the several mythicists. Given the pausity of evidence the more detailed your theory the more likely it is to be wrong, at least in some details.

        You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. You asked some questions and in good faith I directed you where I thought that you might find the answere.

        1. @Nikos
          //You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. //

          Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person. If you don’t have a theory, or view with greater explanatory capacity than this than it’s not surprising why hardly anyone is going to take the mythicist position very seriously. But if you’re sort of an agnostic on the topic, a resident fence sitter, who doesn’t wholeheartedly sway one way or the other, whose familiarity in the topic is too little to to articulate and coherently defend, then I have very interest in you.

          If you’re going to accuse those who have devoted their lives to studying the subject, the countless professors and scholars on these topics, secular and religious, of being too deluded by religious conditioning to honestly evaluate their respective fields, then you better put out, or be dismissed. If you’re going to be an advocate of some fringe view, then you better be a person versed well enough to defend it, or else you just fall into the same boat as creationist, and conspiracy theorist types.

          If this is not you, than I am looking to dialogue with those that are.

          //don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong.//

          I think what you are missing here is that there can be multiple views that can all be very likely, and there can be multiple views that can be very unlikely, to the point of being ridiculous. I lost my keys, I could have left them in my house, at my friends house that I visited today, they could have fell out my pocket at the grocery store, some of these situations may be more likely than the others, but all of them can be likely to a certain degree, but I surely didn’t leave them on Mars, which is a scenario so unlikely that the suggestion is ridiculous. And this is where the non-existent Jesus views fall, on the alters of the absurd.

          But in order to see how poorly this view holds up against historicity here, we need a staunch supporter, someone who feels as confidently versed in the subject as numerous folks here are in regards to historicity, this clearly by your own admission is not you.

          But if not you, than who?

          1. @Nikos
            //You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. //

            Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person. If you don’t have a theory, or view with greater explanatory capacity than this than it’s not surprising why hardly anyone is going to take the mythicist position very seriously. But if you’re sort of an agnostic on the topic, a resident fence sitter, who doesn’t wholeheartedly sway one way or the other, whose familiarity in the topic is too little to to articulate and coherently defend, then I have very interest in you.

            Assuming that there is a “little” missing from your last sentence, let me assure you that the lack of interest is mutual.

            If you’re going to accuse those who have devoted their lives to studying the subject, the countless professors and scholars on these topics, secular and religious, of being too deluded by religious conditioning to honestly evaluate their respective fields, then you better put out, or be dismissed. If you’re going to be an advocate of some fringe view, then you better be a person versed well enough to defend it, or else you just fall into the same boat as creationist, and conspiracy theorist types.

            All I’ve done is suggest that the field of biblical studies lacks a valid methodology. This is obvious to everyone who just looks at the several contradictory reconstructions of the supposed “historical Jesus”. It’s not my job to fix that. My own field has dealt with its methodological crises at the beginning of the last century and moved on.

            Now it’s definitely a historian’s job to examine the methodologies used in a field with historical aspirations. Carrier, and many others within the field itself, have done that and found the methods wanting. Not only that he proposed a valid (or at least not obviously invalid) methodology instead. And not only that but he used the methodology he proposed to answer the question to the degree that the evidence permits. He found that the probability that there existed a historical Jesus, is at most 33%. You refuse to read his work, and you want me to argue for it. This is hardly a reasonable attitude.

            Stating an obvious fact is not an acusation. How can I trust a methodology with the property that several practioners, starting from the same data use it and arrive at wildely different conclusion? Furthermore, as it is also obvious, that said methodology, such as it is, is not designed to deal with the question of the existence of Jesus per se. It rather assumes that a historical Jesus existed, and try to figure out whot that guy really was. IOW, not only is their car broken, they try to use it to cross a lake!

            If this is not you, than I am looking to dialogue with those that are.

            Have you tried Carrier? he has a blog in which he allows comments and questions. You should of course be familiar with his work if you want to be taken seriously.

            Doherty also has a website, you could get his contact information and shoot him an email. I’m sure he will be happy to answer any questions you have about his theory. He still might ask you to read his books, or at least the content of his website. I get the impression that you might consider such a request to demanding of your time. In that case I doubt that you’ll get very far.

            //don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong.//

            I think what you are missing here is that there can be multiple views that can all be very likely, and there can be multiple views that can be very unlikely, to the point of being ridiculous. I lost my keys, I could have left them in my house, at my friends house that I visited today, they could have fell out my pocket at the grocery store, some of these situations may be more likely than the others, but all of them can be likely to a certain degree, but I surely didn’t leave them on Mars, which is a scenario so unlikely that the suggestion is ridiculous. And this is where the non-existent Jesus views fall, on the alters of the absurd.

            And I think that what you’re missing is that there are methods for deciding which of several possible explanations is the most likely one given the evidence we have. It’s called Bayes’ theorem. It’s a rather easy theorem in probability theory and many people have developed methods based on it that deal exactly with this kind of uncertainty. Those methods have had remarkable success in several fields. Carrier is adapting these methods to answrer questions in history. And to anticipate further questions, no I’m not going to defend the Bayesian methodology here. I’ve given you enough information for you to do your own homework and learn something, if you’re really interested. I may be willing to discuss it further after you’ve done your homework.

            1. @Nikos

              //All I’ve done is suggest that the field of biblical studies lacks a valid methodology. This is obvious to everyone who just looks at the several contradictory reconstructions of the supposed “historical Jesus”. //

              There’s nothing wrong with the methodology. It’s given from what we have there’s room for multiple interpretations, such as in gradualism vs punctuated equilibrium in regards to evolution.

              I lost my keys may be a fact, but there’s room for more than one reasonable interpretation as to where I had lost them. I can use the same methodology to reach several reasonable conclusions as where I left my keys. The methodology may narrow down the possibilities, and exclude others, but at the same time not settle on just one. The same came be said of a crime scene, that there may in fact be more than one reasonable interpretation of what happened, based on the available facts. Though it may be a fact that a certain person was there at the time, and that this person ended up killing someone else, there may in still be several compelling explanations as to what exactly led to it, and motivations, etc… The evidence does show that Jesus was a historical person, that he was killed by the Romans. But there’s room for interpretation as to what elements of his person were faithful to how he actually was, and what where those that were a product of christian beliefs that sprung around him, i.e did he believe he was the messiah, or did his followers solely believe he was.

              //Stating an obvious fact is not an acusation.//

              You’re not stating an obvious fact, but an obvious misunderstanding of the process. We don’t have to settle on one sole reconstruction of the historical Jesus, that several of these competing reconstructions can be very likely. They also parallel each other in numerous ways as well. All these reconstructions reveal a historical person. And in fact even now, after several requests, and 100s of post here, not a single person has yet to provide a competent reconstruction of a non-historical view. At best we have folks suggesting we go out and buy Carrier’s book, or that they don’t have much faith in non-historical reconstructions either. I can’t even get an answer to if Paul viewed Jesus as an allegory, or as person living in some sort of supernatural otherworld? This just all goes to shows that the pockets of mythicists are fairy empty, and best pull out patches of lint.

              //Have you tried Carrier? he has a blog in which he allows comments and questions. You should of course be familiar with his work if you want to be taken seriously.//

              I’ve been having these discussion for almost a decade now, though I have not purchased any of Carrier’s works, I’ve read his numerous articles, watched a number of his debates, along with Earl Doherty, who I in fact watched debate online on an atheist forum regarding the topic. And have been following many others mythicists as well, from Price, Rook Hawkins, G.A Wells etcs, so I have been around the block regarding this.

              So i’m not completely ignorant of their views, in fact it’s based on following their works, that i accuse their arguments of incoherency. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a single person who can argue their case, as is evident here. To me, this suggests that their arguments actually are incoherent, when taken as a whole. What other possible reason is there for this?

              //I’ve given you enough information for you to do your own homework and learn something,//

              I have done my homework, in fact so have many others here, who have provided responses to the OP, scattered through out the comment section here, without having to deflect the questions by suggesting someone go purchase a book, like Ehrman’s or etc.. Those who are in support of historicity have been so far been the ones that have been forthcoming, and have been able to argue and defend the views themselves. So if those who are in support of mythicism did just this much, I would be fairly content, but so far their lack of commitment doesn’t bode well for future of it.

              1. Tomas, clearly we have different ideas about what “valid methodology” means. In any case if you believe that the deduction of existence of a historical Jesus is deduced based on a valid methodology please outline it.

                I have explained Carrier’s method and theory a few comments upthread. By its very nature it’s not easy to summarize: it consists of examining all the existent evidence and comparing which of the two theories fits it better, using Bayes’ theorem. It seems that you want him to be saying something else than what he’s saying, I can’t help you with that.

                You also seem to have hard time following what I’m saying or responding to it. I said that I had to saym, and this thread is already too long. I think it’s time to call it a day.

          2. Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person.

            We’re here, but the challenge is explicitly for the reverse: for historicists to present their own evidentially-backed coherent theories.

            I don’t see that challenge as having been met, providing very compelling empirical evidence that it cannot — which, in itself, is very compelling evidence of the ahistorical nature of Jesus.

            b&

            1. @Ben Goren

              //I don’t see that challenge as having been met, providing very compelling empirical evidence that it cannot //

              Several posters have already addressed this, like Andrew Henry’s lengthy post regarding this very question. In particular he understood the sort of “evidence” you had in mind, and indicated that we don’t have this, nor would we expect to have it.

              //which, in itself, is very compelling evidence of the ahistorical nature of Jesus.//

              No it’s not. It’s no more compelling than a lack of observation of a ape like creature transitioning into a human like creature, is evidence that the Theory of Evolution is not true. Or lack of video footage is compelling evidence that a man did not commit a crime, unless of course it is expected that we should have video footage.

              This is also something Andrew and others have addressed, that this argument of silence is far from persuasive, unless you didn’t know better.

              What we have, is exactly what we would expect to have if Jesus were in fact a historical person, in fact we have lot more than what we would expect.

              If you don’t think so, I would like to hear what would be different? What sort of things would we likely have today, that we currently do not?

              As as is the case with any other truth claim, scientific theory, etc…, if you cannot develop an alternative explanation with greater explanatory scope than the current ones, than they still stand. This is exactly why it’s required that you in fact answer the challenge yourself. Others have already answered yours. The answers may not have been ones that you found satisfactory, particularly when you are your own judge and jury here, but they were provided nonetheless.

              1. No it’s not. It’s no more compelling than a lack of observation of a ape like creature transitioning into a human like creature, is evidence that the Theory of Evolution is not true.

                <ahem />

                http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/fossils

                Got anything comparable for Jesus?

                No, of course not — else you would have already provided it. And, as such, whether or not any particular mythicist theory is demonstrated, all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.

                Cheers,

                b&

              2. @Ben Goren

                //all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.//

                lol, just because you keep asserting this doesn’t make it true, in fact it’s false. And it’s interesting that you avoided every other part of my post.

                //http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/fossils

                Got anything comparable for Jesus?

                No, of course not — else you would have already provided it. And, as such, whether or not any particular mythicist theory is demonstrated, all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.//

                Actually we do, if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person. You have little to no traces in support of spirit being Jesus, or even an allegorical one, as pointed out in your failed reading of 1 Corinthians 15.

                The Nicene creed indicates that Jesus was viewed as fully human by his followers. There were 2nd century claims, by critics of christianity such as Celsus, that Jesus was a product of rape, again asserting the view that he was a human being. The apologetic aspects of the Gospel of Mathew, addressing critics at the time who accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’s body, again a fossil pointing to a human Jesus, not a spirit one, or an allegorical one. Paul’s reference of meeting Jesus’s brother, his numerous verses indicating his death, and crucifixion, being born of a woman, that it was a human Jesus that died and ushered in the resurrection.

                Numerous aspects of the gospels attempting to shoehorn rather poorly Jesus into jewish messianic prophecies, which again is fossil evidence of his historical existence. All the evidence points to Jesus believed to have existed as a historical person, along the same time in which he was purported to have been existing,

                If a historical Jesus did exist we would see remnants of his skin, traces of his fossil all over the place, and this is exactly what we have. You can try and provide convoluted arguments to interpret all of this away, such as your horrendous reading of 1 Corinthian 15, but this only makes your case look even more poorly than it already is.

                Creationist use all sorts of specious reasoning to argue away the evidence for evolution. They might be too invested to see how their rational requires a long stretch of the imagination, and strains credulity. But those that capable of stepping outside this bubble, can see this all very well.

              3. Actually we do, if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person.

                Well, I’ll give you points for trying to make lemonade. Unfortunately, those’re dog turds you’re squeezing, not lemons.

                You have little to no traces in support of spirit being Jesus, or even an allegorical one, as pointed out in your failed reading of 1 Corinthians 15.

                Squeeze me? You mean that passage where Paul says that Adam was the first Man and Jesus the first Spirit? That we are born in the flesh in Adam and in death reborn in the spirit in Jesus? That 1 Corinthians 15?

                The Nicene creed indicates that Jesus was viewed as fully human by his followers.

                You left out the second half of that sentence — the one that reads, “who killed all the others who disagreed with them on this and other points.”

                Paul’s reference of meeting Jesus’s brother

                Please. Paul never uses “Χριστός” (Christ) or “Ιησούς” (Jesus) to identify who James’s brother was; instead, it’s always, “κύριος,” literally, “Master,” and the same word he always uses for YHWH — just as in the Septuagint itself. It wasn’t, “James, brother of Jesus”; rather, “Brother James.” We even get explicit confirmation of this from, for example, Origen in the passage I’m sure I’ve pasted into this thread multiple times.

                Numerous aspects of the gospels attempting to shoehorn rather poorly Jesus into jewish messianic prophecies, which again is fossil evidence of his historical existence.

                This is such a common trope of the apologists and such a weak one that I simply don’t understand why all y’all keep banging on this drum. If Jesus was a mythical figure, there’d be just as much retconning required to fit him into extant prophecy as there would be if he were historical. Just because you can explain a fact with your theory doesn’t mean you get to stop there; if you want to use it to bolster your position (rather than simply note that it’s not refuted) then you have to demonstrate that it works for your position and your position only. Is inventing two different genealogies for Jesus in independent attempts to trace his lineage from Joseph to David something consistent with an human who wasn’t of the Royal line? Yes. Is it an absolute requirement for a fictional Jesus? Yes.

                But…is Paul’s failure to quote Jesus even once consistent with historicity? Not really. Is Paul’s comfort with which he swaps Jesus in for Mithras in the central ceremony of his hometown religion consistent with historicity? Not bloody likely. Is Paul’s explicit statement that Jesus is the archetypal spirit of mankind explicitly contrasted with the corporeal archetype consistent with historicity? Fuck no!

                b&

              4. “… if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person.”

                And if we treat the way we view cats the way we do salmon, then we have evidence of a land-dwelling fish that provides dialogs to WEIT.

                I’ve got to go now. I just noticed some of Jesus’ skin laying on the floor. I need to go clean up the mess.

              5. @Ben Goren

                //ou mean that passage where Paul says that Adam was the first Man and Jesus the first Spirit? That we are born in the flesh in Adam and in death reborn in the spirit in Jesus? That 1 Corinthians 15?//

                The parts of 1 Corinthians 15, you seemingly ignore over and over again. Here I’ll highlight them again:

                In the Corinthians passage you referenced, Paul explicitly states Jesus was a human being: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
                For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.”

                Did you miss this part in your reading of the chapter? In fact even in the life-giving spirt passage you have in mind, Paul states: “But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual….Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one”

                Paul is speaking of how our natural bodies die, and resurrect as spiritual ones, that Jesus was a human being whose body died and whose spirit rose again. This is pretty evident in the context of the passage, and your reading of it is a pretty blaring distortion. (this was all taken from another post I addressed to you several days ago, which you ignored responding to)

                //You left out the second half of that sentence — the one that reads,//

                Again you seem to miss the point. My examples, was as to how early Jesus was viewed as historical person. Clearly by the council of Nicea they did, in fact in several of the other examples I provided, this seemed to have been the belief in the first century as well.

                So let’s clarify your views here a bit, when did Christians start believing Jesus was a historical person? When did they start believing he was crucified on the outskirts of Jerusalem? If early believers believed in a purely spirit Jesus, why would anyone feel the need to change the narrative to a historical one? Did the Gospel writers believe Jesus was a historical person?

                //We even get explicit confirmation of this from, for example, Origen in the passage I’m sure I’ve pasted into this thread multiple times.//

                And you seem to forgot that Origen mentions James as Jesus’s brothers all over the place, not just in the one place you quoted, which I already addressed previously, several days ago, which also went by ignored. Here are some of Origen’s other quotes regarding James:

                “said that these things came to pass against them in accordance with the ire of God on account of the things which were dared by them against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.”

                “ even says, being unwillingly not far from the truth, that these things befell the Jews as vengeance for James the just, who was a brother of Jesus who is called Christ”

                “For this [siege] began while Nero was still being king, and it lasted until the leadership of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, [C] as Josephus writes, [E2] on account of James the just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, [G] but, as the truth demonstrates, [actually] on account of Jesus the Christ of God.”

                Let’s also not forget that James relationship to Jesus as his brother, is mentioned in several different places, including Mathew, Mark, Jude, and Josephus. In fact he’s the only follower of Jesus given such a unique distinction in Paul. But you would like us to believe that this was a coincidence? That Paul’s reference to him, though uncanny as it is, was meant in some sort of symbolic general sense? Can you toss this idea in your head, without hearing how ridiculous it sounds?

                Do you not recognize how desperate much of the mythicist case is. Some mythicist argue that the James as Jesus’s brother portion of Josephus was a christian interpolation, yet we have Origen referencing this part as well. You can’t just keep peddling this inanity assuming that any rational person would actually buy it?

                The unwillingness to swallow the mythicist position has nothing to do with religious conditioning, not even Coyne is willing to attach himself to it, but rather because it stretches credulity, as is evident here.

                //. If Jesus was a mythical figure, there’d be just as much retconning required to fit him into extant prophecy as there would be if he were historical. //

                Let’s me mindful of our words, according to your view the original belief in Jesus was rather a spirit being, who dwelled in some platonic realm. If the inconsistencies that were retrofitted related to spects of this spirit being then you might have a point.

                The aspects we’re speaking of as being retrofitted, were aspects related to someone who had an earthly existence, for which certain inconstancies about that life, such as being from Nazareth, had to be retrofitted to support messianic prophecies.

                The only way this would work with your spirit Jesus, is if you were to claim that in this platonic realm of yours, there was a place called Nazareth as well, that people knew of at the time, and for which those peddling Jesus as the messiah had to create stories tying his birth to Bethelhem? Is this what you’re trying to have us believe?

                The writer of Matthew refutes accusation at the time that the disciples stole the body. Accusations of a stolen body don’t jive well with a spirit Jesus, unless of course this supposed theft would have taken place in the platonic realm as well?

                Spirit Jesus’s don’t really need retrofitting, because there’s no such thing as spirits, so whatever we have to say about them would have been made up whole cloth already. Why create a spirit being from Nazareth, when I could have just made him from Bethlehem? If you could manufacture a messiah solely from your imagination, I’m sure even you could create one that was a better fit than Jesus?

                //independent attempts to trace his lineage from Joseph to David something consistent with an human who wasn’t of the Royal line? Yes. Is it an absolute requirement for a fictional Jesus? Yes.//

                So, with this sentence you seem to imply that an absolute requirement for the Messiah would be lineage that’s traceable to David, but wouldn’t you have to be human to a have lineage like this? Therefore wouldn’t an absolute requirement for the messiah be that he is an actual human being?

                //But…is Paul’s failure to quote Jesus even once consistent with historicity?//

                Paul mentions several of Jesus’s teaching throughout his writing, and mythicist conveniently explain these things away as stating they came from somewhere else, like mithra or spiderman or some shit. Yet, what seems to be missing from the equation, is that Paul is writing letters to various Christian churches of the time, and his primary concerns was with church disputes, and in developing a Christology. His work is more akin to something along the line of Bonhoeffer’s “Christ and the Center”, than the concerns of the Gospel writers. Or in other words he was concerned with coming to terms of the meaning of Christ and the crucifixion, something which the Gospels writers left at the door for others to figure out. It’s why even today christians turn to Paul more so than others in developing such things as atonement theology.

                Paul’s letter were not written to cater to non-believers, but the concerns of believers, and particularly concerns of believers in the beginning stage of developing their theological beliefs.

                100s of thousands of writings by Christian preachers and theologians addressed to believers, resemble much of Paul’s writing. They all lack direct quotes from the Gospels, and rarely mention much about Jesus’s life, but rather devote themselves to addressing the idea of his death and resurrection, the relationship between Christ, God, and us, atonement etc…. Important issues for christians, in which the narratives of Jesus do not address, such as why did Jesus have to die?

                For those familiar with Christian theology, there’s nothing odd about Paul, because Paul is addressing an audience that already shared a variety of beliefs with him, already familiar with various aspects of the Jesus story, but was addressing concerns beyond that.

              6. Thomas. Sincere question:

                What aspects of Jesus’s life as reported to us in the gospels do you believe to be true with a 90% confidence level?

                What aspects of Jesus’s life that are not reported in the gospels do you feel you can say happened with a 90% confidence level?

                Why?

              7. //Well, I’ll give you points for trying to make lemonade. Unfortunately, those’re dog turds you’re squeezing, not lemons.//

                I confess, my fossil evidence analogy was a bit loose, but let me explain it in away to clear up any confusion as to what I was getting at.

                Mythicist primarily resort of using other peoples views at the time, as evidence of their position, such as Paul’s views on Jesus, or the writer of Ascension of Isaiah views on Jesus.

                If someone like Celsus accused Christians of making the story of Jesus up whole cloth, mythicist would run to it as their Holy Grail, proclaiming they have solid evidence that Jesus did not exist, that he was fabricated by the early Christians.

                If views of Jesus as mythical, as non-existent in the early writings are evidence that Jesus did not exist, than the opposite is true as well. Views of Jesus, from proponents and opponents, that express historicity, is evidence of Jesus’s existence. In fact, pretty much every reference to Jesus, even the ones often used by mythicist all support historicity in this way.

            2. //@Lowen Gartner

              What aspects of Jesus’s life as reported to us in the gospels do you believe to be true with a 90% confidence level?//

              To borrow partly from the Jesus Seminar:

              “An itinerant Hellenistic Jewish sage and faith healer who preached a gospel of liberation from injustice in startling parables and aphorisms. An iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions both in his teachings and behaviors, often by turning common-sense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience: He preached of “Heaven’s imperial rule” (traditionally translated as “Kingdom of God”) as being already present but unseen; he depicts God as a loving father; he fraternizes with outsiders and criticizes insiders.

              A Jesus who had at least four greco-roman biographies, written about him, of what we traditionally refer to as the Gospels, that incorporated both fact and fictions just like every other first century bio, to not only convey events in his life, but more importantly the meaning and purpose of it. A Jesus who lived and died in the first century, as a jewish preacher, who may have believed he was the messiah, or at least someone who his followers believed was. And at the bare minimum the source of the sayings and teachings that are multiply attested, or at least the ones the Jesus seminar, marked with pink and red beans, indicating they the very likely, or probably were things he said. The Jesus who spoke of non-violent resistance in the Jewish context in the Sermon of the Mount, such as the going the extra mile and Roman Law of Angaria, and parables such as the Good Samaritan, Dishonest Steward, Mustard Seed etc.

              A Jesus who had a mother that that was tradionally referred to as Mary, and a brother named James. A Jesus who his followers after his humiliating death on the cross, attempted to come to terms with it by reading the events of his life back into the jewish scriptures, and tried to convey the unexpected death of their messiah as the God’s ultimate will and plan.

              //Why?//

              If i were to die, and if there were multiple accounts of this in circulation, and if all of them stated I died in a car crash, and none stated I died any other way, than you can confidently say that I very likely did die in a car crash.

              There is some degree of consistency in the portraits of Jesus. We have entire bodies of sayings and teachings, that all contain the same unique style, concepts, and ideas, attributed to no one other than a person named Jesus.

              We might have multiple historical reconstructions of Jesus, but at the very least, nearly all those reconstructions would agree with this minimum portrait that I painted.

              And the fact there’s no other compelling alternative explanation, as desperately as mythicist attempt to do so, allows us to hold with a good deal of certainty, that at least this much is accurate.

              1. Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified. Just because faults can be found in the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory does not give the Jesus historicists victory by default. Likewise, because the Carrier-Doherty mythicists can find fault with the Jesus historicists, does not give their own theory victory by default.

              2. @ maryhelena

                //Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified.//

                Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                //Just because faults can be found in the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory does not give the Jesus historicists victory by default.//

                It’s not just finding faults in a theory. You can find faults with any theory, even the ToE if you liked. The Mythicist theories in comparison to historicity is absurd, or to put in nicely, far less likely than competing theories of historicity, and this is why it’s rejected.

                I think the problem with most mythicist, and historicity deniers, or even the agnostic types, is that they have a very myopic sense of scope, that they lack a comprehensive understanding of the picture.

                Any theory, or explanation of evidence is deemed as likely to be true precisely because all other competing theories lack equivalent explanatory power. Historicity remains true precisely, because there’s no other compelling explanation of the data that we have available that’s on par, that offers a better explanation.

                This is not just true for the historicity of Jesus but for any theory or explanation of evidence. The one we hold as true, is true precisely because it rises above any alternative explanation that’s been offered. If ToE were to be proven false, it would be exactly because a competing theory came along that better explains all the evidence we do have that the previously held one.

                In essence no one is arguing merely the faults of the mythicist position, but rather showing how unlikely it is to be true, in comparison to historicity. So unless someone can offer a competing theory to historicity that has a great explanatory capacity, historicity will continue to be held as true for the foreseeable future.

                Mythicist may attempt to offer such a competing theory, but the ones more familiar with it, understand that they don’t have much. In reality even what they do have is usually the result of mental gymnastics, and quite visible distortions, as has been argued here ad infinitum.

              3. @ tomas

                //Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified.//

                Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                ————–

                What I know or don’t know is not the issue here. The issue is a claim by the Jesus historicists that the gospel figure of Jesus was a historical figure. Obviously, or else there would be no debate, the Jesus historicists cannot historically validate their claim.

                Regardless of how many, or how unacceptable, some mythicist theories may be, the Jesus historicists need to take on board the unsubstantiated basis of their own theory. The lack of a historical basis for their claim aside, the simple story they want to tell is, of course, a much easier ‘sell’ than the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory. But simplicity is not an indication of probability.

                The probability that the gospel Jesus was a historical figure is low (re Carrier). Thus, the probability that the gospel Jesus story relates to something other than historicity for that figure is high.

                Whether that high probability relates to the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory or to some other ahistoricist theory, is where the debate needs to go.

                Holding out for an historical Jesus because one does not like any of the ahistoricist/mythicist alternatives, is to put too much weight on the low probability of that assumption.

                If it’s the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory that you don’t care for – then, why not attempt to develop your own ahistoricist theory? Or is it the idea, that the gospel figure of Jesus was not historical, that is just so absurd it’s not worth contemplating?

              4. Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                Yes, I think we’ve well established that Biblical “historians” are an especially gullible lot whose standards of evidence draw at best puzzled incomprehension and more often derisive howls of laughter from actual academics.

                That is, after all, the whole point. As the great man said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Just because you want to pretend that you know something about ancient history doesn’t mean that you can (reasonably) fool yourself into thinking you do based on inadequate evidence.

                Fortunately, though, there are historians who actually do do serious work, generally in conjunction with archaeologists and papyrologists and similar level-headed folk.

                b&

              5. @ maryhelena

                //Jesus historicists cannot historically validate their claim.//

                The claim has been validated. It’s been shown to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.

                But you keep repeating this. Please define what you mean by “historically validated”? Because clearly you have some sort of undefined criteria here? What is required to historically validate the existence of a particular person in the first century? If we have all the evidence, and even more so than what we would expect, than it has been historically validated.

                But of course , we might have competing meanings of the term here. So i ask that you define what you mean.

                //But simplicity is not an indication of probability.//

                It’s not simplicity, but explanatory power. Which theory better explains the available evidence, not in ways that are simple, but in ways that are the most likely, and consistent with the context.

                //The probability that the gospel Jesus was a historical figure is low (re Carrier).//

                No it isn’t. The probability of Jesus existing as a historical person, particularly one absent of the miraculous attributes associated with him, is extremely high, to the point of certainty. That’s why you’ll find hardly any expert, professor, scholar in the field christian or otherwise denying this, and not because of “religious conditioning. We can put Carrier’s attempt to play with numbers using Bayesian probability aside. If you don’t know, WLC used Bayesian probability to much of the same effect to support the resurrection, and others have used it to show that God exists. The same problems that arose with their use arise with Carrier’s use as well, in that the numbers used to create a baseline here are ones we create ourselves.

                When I first started exploring the question I was leaning towards mythicism myself, but this was around the time there were all these savior comparisons being propagated on the internet. It took me a minute before I looked into the matter myself, and realized that these comparisons were for the most part bogus. Then I kept exploring the issue until I am where I am today, understanding why the historicity position is so confidently held.

                //Holding out for an historical Jesus because one does not like any of the ahistoricist/mythicist alternatives, is to put too much weight on the low probability of that assumption.//

                I don’t dislike the mythicist alternatives. So it’s not a matter of preference for one explanation over the other. But my view is purely based on the one best supported by the evidence. When Paul speaks of James as Jesus brother, does the evidence best support the view that he meant this figuratively, or literally? There’s a variety of sources confirming that James was a the literal brother of Jesus, from Josephus, to Jude, to Origin, to Mark to Mathew. All the evidence points to the fact that he meant it literally, and that it wasn’t just a mere and uncanny coincidence that the only one Paul uniquely refereed to as his brother, was also the one cited to be so by a variety of different sources.

                No one needs to be agnostic on the question of Jesus’s historicity. There’s a great deal of data to contend with. And the only folks who seems to promote agnosticism are those who admit to knowing too little on the subject. For me, I spent several years exploring the question myself, coming to places like this to argue and listen to opposing views, even took a few courses just for leisure. I enjoy the topic, i feel comfortable with the subject matter, and I’m familiar with much of the material regarding it. So I confidently sit on the side of historicity, not just because it’s the consensus position, but rather the most compelling one. I can say with great deal of confidence that Jesus did exist, though many of the aspects of what he did and who he was are open for some range of interpretation.

                //If it’s the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory that you don’t care for – then, why not attempt to develop your own ahistoricist theory? //

                That’s sort of like asking me that since I don’t accept the 9/11 truther theory of events, I should develop an alternative non-official account theory of events.

                I can contemplate the idea, like try and throw it around in my head as to what it would look like if Jesus did not exist, and there’s a variety of things that would have came along with that expectation. The narrative about him probably wouldn’t look nothing like the one’s we have today. He likely wouldn’t have been treated as the messiah, because there’s very little room in the Jewish tradition for a fictional character to fill that role. We likely wouldn’t have accounts of people meeting his disciples, or his brother. There would probably be far fewer parables and stories, and the narrative would primarily consists of things he did rather than what he said, etc…etc…

                ….

                Mythicist overtime have made more polished versions of their views. Carrier’s view are far superior to Archaya S, because at least Carrier attempts to provide citations. Creationist over time have also made more polished versions of theirs, such as Old Earth Theory, accommodating small scale evolution, to the most refined such as Michael Behe’s ID views. But even these polished versions are not much more plausible than the turds, and often reek of the same dissonance.

                But for the time being define, what do you mean by “historically validated”, also I’d like to hear where you personally stand on the issue? I’m assuming you’re more or less on the fence, and that you can’t see yourself at this point endorsing one side over the other?

              6. @tomas

                #I’d like to hear where you personally stand on the issue? I’m assuming you’re more or less on the fence, and that you can’t see yourself at this point endorsing one side over the other?#

                Where do I stand – on my own two feet…..;-)
                I’m an ahistoricist/mythicist who does not accept the Carrier-Doherty theory about a historicized Pauline celestial crucified christ figure.

                No fence sitting regarding the historicists historical gospel Jesus. The gospel figure of Jesus is not a historical figure.

                Neither of the above two positions can be historically verified. They are both interpretations of the NT.

                —————–

                Earlier reply ended up as post 62. I hope this post follows on to the earlier postings.

              7. To borrow partly from the Jesus Seminar:

                Okay, that’s the first step.

                Got any affirmative evidence to back up those claims? Is that evidence actually credible, or is it just a bullshit faery tale superhero fantasy?

                Got any way to reconcile those claims with the starkly contrasted picture of Jesus painted by Paul? I mean, you do know, do you not, that each and every single one of those “startling parables and aphorisms” went completely unnoticed by Paul, do you not?

                Make it past those two hurdles and it might be worth continuing.

                b&

              8. @Ben Garson

                Got any affirmative evidence to back up those claims? Is that evidence actually credible, or is it just a bullshit faery tale superhero fantasy?

                Sure, but please define for me the difference between just plain old evidence and “affirmative evidence”. All bodies of sayings have sources, and the name attributed to that source is Jesus.

                In your post you stated Jesus’s parables went completely unnoticed by Paul, solely on the basis that he didn’t make any references to them in his letters to the various churches. Is this lack of references “affirmative evidence” that Paul didn’t know of any of these saying and teachings?

                You reasoning here indicates that you used a certain type of absence as evidence for the truth of a particular claim of yours. But what type of evidence does this fall under? Is it, as you requested, “affirmative evidence”.

                I noticed that mythicist typically demand certain things from historicist, but yet have a different set of criteria and demands, needed to affirm their positions.

                I also noticed, as has become a frequent thing of yours, you tend to be selective in your responses. After writing an exhaustive post on your horrendous reading of Origen you went silent. Should I take this to mean that you understood that your reading of Origen, that he believed Josephus never mentioned Jesus, was wrong?

      3. Is this original allegorical Jesus the one found in Paul?

        1 Corinthians 15. Read the whole chapter. The TL/DR is Adam = flesh, Jesus = spirit, in Jesus is eternal life after death. Compare especially with the passages referred to elsewhere in this thread from Philo and Zechariah.

        b&

        1. @Ben Goren

          // The TL/DR is Adam = flesh, Jesus = spirit//

          So Paul’s Jesus is not allegorical, but an actual spirit being, who existed in some sort of otherworldly realm, in which he was crucified, buried, and rose again?

          In the Corinthians passage you referenced, Paul explicitly states Jesus was a human being: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits* of those who have fallen asleep.

          For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.”

          In fact even in the life-giving spirt passage you have in mind, Paul states: “But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual….Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image* of the heavenly one”

          Or to summarize, Paul is speaking of how our natural bodies die, and resurrect as spiritual ones, that Jesus was a human being whose body died and whose spirit rose again. This is pretty evident in the context of the passage, and your reading of it is a pretty blaring distortion.

    1. You only used 10.of your 500 words. This leaves room for you to repeat the following 98 times. “Now send me your money.”

  7. Thanks for this; an excellent challenge!

    I simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to question Jesus’ historicity in the face of the experts, but while I find mythicism *plausible* I’ve always leaned to the historic side. For me, this is an inference to the best explanation of the events in those early years, and does not rely on, for example, establishing a ‘clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was’, any more than I need such an account of any other historical figure to allow that they existed.

    R. Joseph Hoffman, a pompous windbag in many respects, is nevertheless an expert on the subject and here quoted Morton Smith on the problem with mythicism:

    The myth theory, he wrote, is almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul. “In order to explain just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed, the mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth . . . about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified… [presenting us with] a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/the-jesus-process-a-consultation-on-the-historical-jesus/

    That is the bar to clear for mythicists when trying to convince the experts, I think. They have done some good work toward that goal and what Ben writes here is a contribution to that. But many, many book length treatments of these issues have been made, and still the consensus of the experts go with historicism, according to Carrier – http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4733.

    Good luck, though, and I’ll be interested to read the discussion!

    1. Hoffman is wrong, unfortunately. There is positive evidence in the epistles, too. The author of Hebrews, for example *says that Jesus was not on earth*. (Read ch. 8 in a translation that preserves the subjunctive.)

      1. Doherty translates it that way but I’m not sure that’s the most straightforward translation. The passage is Hebrews 8.4. and the greek reads (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+8&version=SBLGNT)

        εἰ μὲν οὖν ἦν ἐπὶ γῆς, οὐδ’ ἂν ἦν ἱερεύς, ὄντων τῶν προσφερόντων κατὰ νόμον τὰ δῶρα

        and the KJ version seems accrurate to me:

        if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law

        The passage could be translated as Doherty translates it, but it’s not the usual way to tranlate “εἰ μὲν οὖν”. There are more straightforward ways to say in “if he had been” in koine greek.

        Even translating it as a simple counterfactual though, it’s still a strange thing to say about a guy that actually was an Earth, say 20 to 30 years ago. If the author was aware that the dude he’s talking about was on Earth in the recent past, one would expect something like “if he stil was on Earth”, or to at least make a comment that in fact when Jesus was on Earth he wasn’t a High Priest.

    2. “and still the consensus of the experts go with historicism”.

      A consensus not of historians, but “biblical historians”. But those are not the ones that anyone would, or could, want to sway, the area is apologetics.

      More interesting is what historians would say.

      It is interesting to see how historicity of religious mythical figures are treated in society. In Wikipedia that issue was, last I looked, buried not two but _three_ levels down. E.g. religious people need the myth posted as if it were true, then the need an intermediate “biblical history” layer that hides history and historicity issues beneath.

      In that article there used to be a description how _one_ [1!] historian was trying to gather funds and a cross-section of people from all areas to look at the historicity of the sectarian myth person. And how he was defeated by pressure groups that won’t have anything of it. Silly me, I didn’t save the reference because now it is gone and the article sanitized to be exclusively about biblical historians…

      As a skeptic I still lack evidence that historians have ever looked at this.

      “For me, this is an inference to the best explanation of the events in those early years, and does not rely on, for example, establishing a ‘clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was’, any more than I need such an account of any other historical figure to allow that they existed.”

      Not to move goalposts here, but my own model of these myths is different than Ben’s, and it seems suited to answer your inference issue:

      I look for similar myths and what we can say about their historicity as a set. Similar to other myths then, the myth persona has no supporting evidence. E.g. we know of a historical J.C. (Julius Caesar), but the myth “J.C.” has nothing similar despite that they were from the same period.

      This state of affairs continue until we get the book press, thereafter the religious founders appears as real persons and, surprise, surprise, scam artists. E.g. Smith, Blavatsky, Steiner, Moon (a businessman previously involved in scams), Hubbard, …

      So inference to the best explanation tells me the myths were myths and the later founders real scam artists.

      I am not sure how my example of Julius Caesar is not a “clear, concise, unambiguous definition” of a _historical_ person, i.e. someone who one can find contemporary evidence of – descriptions, documents, buildings, statues, tombs. The myth persona on the other hand, lacking such evidence, is not well constrained.

      1. That’s why one of my steps towards mythicism was to crack out a very elementary textbook, and see if it was documented in any way at all. It wasn’t. (_Western Civilization: A brief history_ by Perry)

    3. To even use the phrase “incredible beyond anything in the Gospels” implies a highly idiosyncratic sense of incredulity.

  8. I’m sympathetic with mythecism, but I don’t like this “challenge.” My general objection is that there’s no argument given that meeting your challenge is necessary for establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Jesus.

    Here’s what I mean: suppose I issued the following challenge: establish a reasonable case that Barack Obama is real. To do so you must a. show me that fundamental physics appeals to Barack Obama and b. show me at least 12 instances where Barack Obama appears in 18th Century English novels. That’s a ridiculous challenge, because there’s no good reason to think that establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Obama requires either of those things.

    So, again, while being sympathetic to the thesis of B&, I think the issues are more complicated. I believe Euthyphro was a historical individual, although he appears highly fictionalized in one instance in Plato and then has a minor mention in Cratylus. I’m not saying that case is comparable, but I’m pointing out that I don’t meet anything comparable to B&’s standard with respect to Euthyphro, and yet I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe in his historicity.

    1. Sorry, I don’t think I was very clear so I’m replying to myself.

      Here’s what I was trying to argue: in judging cases for historicity there are more and less lax standards. I presented an absurdly high and arbitrary standard as an example (Obama). I also presented a relatively low standard (Euthyphro).

      I emphatically don’t want to hang anything on either case or standard. The first one was obviously ridiculous, the second one was off the cuff.

      My point, which I don’t think I articulated well, was that the standard for establishing historicity itself needs a justification. B& doesn’t give one, so the fact that people can’t meet his standard is not, without some further evidence, reason to think historicity can’t be defended.

      Sorry I’m such a terrible point-maker.

      1. The challenge can be simplified.
        1. Define who you think Jesus was
        2. Find one piece of extra-biblical evidence to support it.

        Even the gospels don’t describe the same person. In Mark, Jesus was terrified before his arrest, in John, he was confident and defiant.

        1. Honestly? I’d even be happy with somebody who just did the first one. It’s the one thing that historicists dare not do: let themselves get pinned down on who and / or what Jesus actually was. The rest of the points mostly just go to illustrate why that’s the case.

          And if nobody is even willing to define Jesus, how on Earth does anybody expect us to even have an intelligible conversation on whether or not he might have existed?

          b&

          1. I’ll admit to being (boo! hss!) a philosopher by training. And employment. And probably everything else too. So fair warning.

            PLUG: Philosophers (contemporary analytic ones at least) are big on Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. Kripke is an orthodox Jew, and quite rightly regarded as one of the few (two?) philosophical geniuses since the beginning of the 20th Century.

            Without giving Kripke’s arguments here (you should really read N&N, it’s highly accessible), Kripke argues (among other things) that names don’t have definitions, and that ‘Moses’ and ‘Jonah’ might well refer to real historical individuals, even if everything we believe of them is false.

            So the idea that ‘Jesus’ needs to be defined, or that the definition needs to be satisfied or shown to be satisfied to provide evidence for Jesus’ historicity is one that I at least find to be highly contentious.

            1. Without giving Kripke’s arguments here (you should really read N&N, it’s highly accessible), Kripke argues (among other things) that names don’t have definitions, and that ‘Moses’ and ‘Jonah’ might well refer to real historical individuals, even if everything we believe of them is false.

              Sorry, but this is exactly why philosophy is such a dirty word ’round these here parts.

              Santa is real! His name is Harold, he’s a skinny, bald Jewish retiree who lives year-round in Florida, hates kids, is allergic to reindeer, has never been north of New England, and never gave anybody a Christmas present in this life…

              …but he’s the real Santa!

              That sort of thing might be impressive to philosophers, but he spell breaks pretty quickly for those not in that particular cult.

              b&

              1. Wait… philosophy is a dirty word because someone recommends a work that is widely regarded and instead of reading it you post some absurd straw man argument in response? That doesn’t strike me as remotely appropriate.

                Kripke gave the Locke lectures in the 70s on fictional terms and they’ve now been published in his collected volumes. You could, y’know, read that… but I guess calling an entire academic discipline a ‘cult’ is easier, so go ahead.

                Also, the dig is ridiculous. The historicists DON’T say Jesus is divine. Sure they don’t think he’s just some random retiree, but why does that mean to believe in his historicity that you have to know specific facts about his actions and doctrines, when those things are quite naturally obscured by history? That’s precisely what Kripke’s on about: that we can talk about people and genuinely be uncertain about them. The alternative is that we can’t even talk about that which we don’t already know what it is. (And to bring it back to Plato, that’s the paradox of inquiry.)

                What’s with the naive, unreflective, uninquistive positivism? When someone calls “Darwinism” a “cult” we tell them to go read a damn book… I suggested a consensus-classic by a consensus-genius, and you call me a cult member? That doesn’t help your case.

              2. Wait… philosophy is a dirty word because someone recommends a work that is widely regarded and instead of reading it you post some absurd straw man argument in response?

                No, philosophy is a dirty word because we have hard empirical evidence that consistency with objective observation is irrelevant to philosophy. And your previous post is a perfect example of such.

                The historicists DON’T say Jesus is divine.

                That’s nice…save for one niggling little problem: all the evidence says he was. And the historicists have nothing aside from incredulity that people could have believe in a made-up deity to explain away that inconvenient fact.

                That’s precisely what Kripke’s on about: that we can talk about people and genuinely be uncertain about them.

                I’m perfectly happy with ambiguity. You don’t have to tell me what he had for breakfast on his tenth birthday.

                But you do have to give enough specificity for me to be able to tell him apart from all the other people who lived in the world at the time. And is that really so much to ask for?

                If your proposed historical Jesus didn’t have to bear any semblance to the Jesus of the Bible, if he didn’t even have to have that name, then everybody alive at the time — man, woman, child — hell, even the livestock! — has a valid claim to being Jesus. And, in that case, I think most rational non-philosophers would recognize such a situation as being the textbook definition of a mythical person.

                Cheers,

                b&

              3. Ha. Poke a philosopher, and philosophism follows:

                “Positivism” is a philosophical insult. It has nothing to do with empiricism, and how science learns. (It has more to do with bayesianism, but the pivotal thing is testing.)

                I really don’t like how philosophy misrepresents science, and tries to insert itself into the process.

              4. Science is philosophy. Science and mathematics are the most ridiculously successful branches of philosophy, so successful they got their own name.

                So this is not “philosophy” versus “science”, but non-science philosophers versus the branch of philosophy called “science”.

              5. Science is philosophy.

                Only in the sense that astronomy is astrology and chemistry is alchemy. Or, for that matter, that philosophy is religion.

                b&

              6. “Science is philosophy.”

                As I said, out comes philosophism – the erroneous idea that everything is philosophy or even amenable to its study.

                A simple test is to look for what is unique for science, testing. Philosophy can’t be tested, hence philosophy can’t be mapped onto science.

                In fact, since for every philosophy an equally valid philosophy can be put, like 5 year old’s arguing: “-Is so!”, “-Is not!”, it is story telling.

              7. MJ: “why does that mean to believe in his historicity that you have to know specific facts about his actions and doctrines, when those things are quite naturally obscured by history?”
                If history doesn’t include specific facts, it isn’t history in my opinion. I’ll agree that the history of any thing (as we know it today) also includes random changes that obscure what otherwise would be specific facts, but if none of the original facts can be reliably inferred you have not history but myth.
                Signal, noise. Homology, homoplasy. Fossil, diagenesis. Capisce?

            2. If you want to play *that* game, remember what Daniel Dennett says in _Consciousness Explained_ about Santa Claus (my version):

              Someone says he’s real: his name is Frank Dudley, lives in Miami all year round, hates children, never buys gifts, and is allergic to reindeer.

              Is *that* Santa Claus?

              “Jesus” of course refers to real people, just not the figure of the gospels. There’s Jesus Alou, who played baseball for the Astros, for example.

              Further, if you’re going to adopt essentiality of origin a la Kripke, then the murkier still task of finding Jesus’ parents in the annals of history awaits you, it seems.

              1. No that’s not Santa. Do you legitimately think that everyone whose theory claims belief in Santa is not warranted on such grounds also has a theory on which belief in the historicity of Jesus is unwarranted? You think those cases are parallel in every reasonable, acknowledgable respect? Because if you do, you’re wrong; and if you don’t, I fail to see how what you’re saying respects the norms of reasoned discourse.

              2. Sorry, but I’m not sure I can reliably untangle the double negatives, so this might not be the answer you were looking for.

                But I consider historicist claims of Santa — including those tracing back to that bishop of Smyrna — to be every bit as absurd as historicist claims of Jesus.

                b&

          2. Indeed. Similarly, if you can’t even *define* free will or scientism, how can you possibly have a sensible conversation about them? Lucky no-one tries to do that, then.

          3. I think this is so simple – would citing only one extant source count as good scholarship? No. case closed.

            1. In terms of establishing historicity, it’s hard to imagine a single ancient source being sufficient for confidence.

              Of course, I’m also making a stronger case: not just that there’s no justification for historicity (the point of my challenge), but that mythical origins are convincingly positively supported by evidence.

              You know: it just occurred to me…none of the historicists in this thread have addressed Justin Martyr or Lucian of Samosata’s Peregrinus…I wonder why…?

              b&

        2. This is part of my worry, I think a lot of historicists are going to think that (2) is too stringent.

          Suppose Cratylus never mentions Euthyphro, or, being thousands of years old, Cratylus’ works are lost. Now all we have is a highly fictionalized account of Euthyphro in Plato. I couldn’t meet the challenge:

          1. Who’s Euthyphro? Uh… someone.
          2. Find one extra-Platonic source to support that definition. Uh… sorry.

          The general historicist line (and again, like I say, I’m sympathetic to mythecism, I just think it’s more complicated than what’s been presented here) is that we believe in the historicity of a vast number of ancient individuals on extremely scant grounds, down to a single mention in a single text. Why is Jesus any different?

          I DO think Jesus is different, but that’s why I’m uncomfortable with this “challenge.” There’s no evidence for the standards, and they seem to justify skepticism about other figures whose historicity, even if we doubt, is nevertheless rational to believe in. I think it needs to be spelled out why Jesus is a different case from other minor historical (?) figures and then argued on those grounds that a higher standard must be met.

          (Sorry, in the background is a philosophy paper I can’t recall the title or author of, who argues that since Jesus’ story has so much clear fictional absurdities, we need to doubt even its mundane claims, in a way we don’t for e.g. Euthyphro.)

          1. I just think it’s more complicated than what’s been presented here) is that we believe in the historicity of a vast number of ancient individuals on extremely scant grounds, down to a single mention in a single text.

            That’s a bug, not a feature. There are many historians who take the position you describe, and it’s indefensible. The complaint is that, if we hold history to the same standards as we hold other academic areas, we won’t know anything. This is both false and a fallacious appeal to consequences. False because there are many honest historians who work closely with archaeologists and papyrologists and many others to actually build reliable history; Julius Caesar is perhaps the poster child, with archeological digs confirming details of Caesar’s own autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul. But, yes, it’s also the case that we don’t know much about history — but pretending otherwise by fantasizing about favorite stories doesn’t do anything to change the state of that knowledge!

            b&

            1. That’s not how I’d put it.

              Everyone should be held to the same standard– in my opinion, the Bayesian one. Given your evidence, you can assert p to degree d, if the probability of p conditional on your evidence is d.

              What random lists of arbitrary standards of evidence do is ignore prior probabilities (roughly, ignoring the base rate, if one is a frequentist).

              What I was trying to suggest is that you can’t simply ignore the prior probabilities, and that the circumstances and claims about Jesus are f***ing relevant for determining his historicity. Some people (look at the commenters below) say otherwise, and claim that historians are in the wrong for deciding historicity cases on less evidence, while ignoring the prior probabilities.

              If you’re me, though, you think that scrutinizing the evidence is scrutinizing one variable in a two-variable game. IT MATTERS that Jesus and Euthyphro are substantively different in how they’re described and who describes them. Nothing in your list of demands, however, justifies or states why this is so. I’m sympathetic toward mythecism about Jesus, but I don’t want to be on the side of people (see below) who think that it’s “intellectually dishonest” to not be a mythecist about slews of historical (?) persons broadly recognized by historians. Evidential standards require priors, and those priors have to be justified. That’s what I can’t see here.

          2. We can say historical people existed who we only have the Bible as evidence for: the people who wrote it. It’s reasonable to say someone we can tag “Paul” existed, because one person wrote seven of the books of the New Testament and partially wrote others (and had a few made up and attributed to him). Our only evidence is a consistent writing style and that he called himself “Paul”, but someone wrote them. I mean, Paul could be a fictional character created by yet another person, but not many people take that idea seriously.

          3. I’m not sure about single references to many historic characters but I am sure that if there are single reference, the existence of that particular person would be questionable. It is intellectually dishonest to say that someone existed with little evidence. It is intellectually honest to call out the lack of evidence and admit that we are uncertain as to said individual’s existence.

            1. Someone came up with the ideas orecorded in the ancient books. Those people existed. What were their names? Who knows for sure. Did they use pen names?

              The key thing about the Jesus myth is that people build their lives around it. And kill for it.

              No one is building their life around the historicity of Achilles or Hector or Helen or Odysseus or Jason. Or killing over it (except conceivably in an obscure academic spat somewhere).

          4. “Sorry, in the background is a philosophy paper I can’t recall the title or author of, who argues that since Jesus’ story has so much clear fictional absurdities, we need to doubt even its mundane claims, in a way we don’t for e.g. Euthyphro.’

            Was it Stephen Law? I think I remember him arguing something like this in a post on his blog.

        3. I do find it interesting that the earliest Gospel, Mark, describes Jesus in the most human terms: questioning his own divinity, not always able to perform miracles, as Susan wrote above “terrified before his arrest.” And by the time John writes the last Gospel, Jesus is a superhero, confident of his divinity, performing miracles left and right and ready to save the world by his sacrifice.
          This change in personality fits with how myths become exaggerated and gain strength over time. John is of course Christian’s favorite Gospel…or at least the one they love to quote. Why wouldn’t it be? Here was Jesus the true saviour, not the brooding Jesus of Mark.

          I think Ben’s 5th point is the most compelling. Even the “most human” Jesus that Mark described would still have been a supernatural force and one surely to have been mentioned by contemporaries.

          1. It can also be indicative of why the bible is such a poor piece of evidence of anything, given that it was copied over and over and edited gratuitously between copies.

          2. This is tangential, but one way to read Mark, is as an extended parable. A story told to the outsiders alegorizing the “mysterious” truths known to the initiates of the Christian cult but hidden to outsiders. “Mark” himself has Jesus say (Mark 4.11-12):

            And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that

            ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
            And hearing they may hear and not understand;
            Lest they should turn,
            And their sins be forgiven them.’

            1. Many other such examples exist. I don’t have chapter and verse (or even book) off the top of my head, but you often find references to lines like, “…and then their minds were opened,” or, “…and then they saw and understood.” From a modern perspective, it reads like the proverbial lightbulb going off, but it’s equally valid to interpret it as being code for that being the point where an inner mystery was revealed to an initiate — with similar patterning in both practice and language still being common today in fraternal Greek and other secret societies.

              b&

      2. You argument is essentially: “Gee, we really don’t know if X existed but no one questions that so we should accept the historicity of Jesus without question too.”

        Instead of arguing for lax standards why not insist on better standards and apply them to Jesus and others alike?

    2. Here’s what I mean: suppose I issued the following challenge: establish a reasonable case that Barack Obama is real. To do so you must a. show me that fundamental physics appeals to Barack Obama and b. show me at least 12 instances where Barack Obama appears in 18th Century English novels. That’s a ridiculous challenge, because there’s no good reason to think that establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Obama requires either of those things.

      How do you think this is relevant to Ben’s challenge?

      His first step was to describe who you think Jesus is, so with your challenge the first step would be to describe how “Obama” was. If you say he’s an 18th Century physical phenomenon then yeah, you’ll have a difficult time. But so what? Are you saying that proving historicity is comparable to proving that Obama actually lived 300 years ago?

  9. Putting it in these terms more or less pulls the rug from under people who are adept at dissimulation and word games- a religious specialty.
    They’re masters at it. It’s quite obvious in the case of the anti-gay debate. Take when they use the term “unnatural” as a populist appeal to nature, but once one points out homosexuality exists in nature, they ad-hoc a convoluted reference to ‘natural’ law.
    If before people began speaking they were asked to narrowly define certain words, it would be the end of religious people debating.
    In that sense, a historical Jesus can’t be just some random apocalyptic preacher- many often resort to that explanation. It has to be a specific preacher born in a specific place, who would have had to be very good at magic tricks and conning people (perhaps a sufferer of mental illness?), and who was crucified etc. etc.

  10. “just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed”

    Paul may not have “believed” what’s attributed to him. If he really existed. It’s a parsimonious explanation to say he was a snake oil salesman who re-branded the religion of “Jesus” into a religion about Jesus, repackaging it to blame the Jews rather than the Romans for the crucifixion (as in the absurdly guilty Pilate) so he could peddle it to the Romans. Why? That’s where the money was.

      1. I’ve started wondering the.same thing. Is there enough evidence about Peregrinus to figure out if he could have been Paul?

        Christianity being started by a confirmed fraud has a certain poetic ring.

        1. I’d be surprised if we were to find a convincing smoking gun identifying the author of the Pauline epistles as the same person Lucian says immolated himself outside the Olympics.

          However, more then enough evidence exists to demonstrate that they were cut from the same cloth.

          Re-read Passing of Peregrinus (linked in the original post) and note both how Peregrinus is described as second only to Jesus and the author of many Christian texts and “mysteries” which were Pagan in origin.

          Now, scan Martyr’s First Apology for mentions of Mithras and note how he gives it as the origin of the Eucharist.

          Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with the earliest mentions of Mithraism — specifically, Plutarch, where he describes it as the religion of the Cilicean pirates. And ancient geography: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the capital of Cilicea.

          Finally, read 1 Corinthians 11 and ask yourself: is Paul relating the story of the Last Supper as he presumably would have learned of it from the Jerusalem Church, or is he teaching the Corinthian Church the Mithraic Eucharist as a novel ritual of Christian worship?

          b&

  11. Mainly, the debate stays in the realm of angels on the head of a pin; it has no relevance to the function of the myth. Indeed the historicity of Jesus is part of the myth. It makes no difference whether or not any part of the myth is founded on historical events. It’s a moot point. The functions of myths have nothing to do with their origins.

    1. That’s a good point, but also a moot point. The function of the myth is not what this post is about. This post is about whether Christianity originated, in some sense, from an individual named Jesus or it started by some dudes telling stories about a celestial being that were later taken as events about a historical person that had lived on Earth.

  12. Idle Generalization Speculation:
    Jesus supposedly lived and died sometime between 10 BCE and 35 CE, but there is good reason to believe that he is entirely or mostly mythical.

    Who can you think of that supposedly lived and died more recently and who is similarly mythical? I am sure there are a variety of examples, but none come to mind at this moment.

    (Paul Bunyon is generally seen as entirely mythical, Johnny Appleseed is widely acknowledged to be a mythologizing of a real person – therefore both would be outliers as examples.)

    1. Heck, if you take just the versions that exist in the minds of today’s Christian Right, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are almost entirely mythical.

      1. If we’re going to use the example of the Christian Right, one could argue Ronald Reagan became a mythical figure to that cohort even prior to his passing. The deified Reagan who stars in so many Republican stump speeches is a very different character than the occupant of the oval office from ’81-’89.

    2. Well, there’s pretty much every single comic book superhero, for starters — and Harry Potter and countless more where he came from.

      The Raelians were certain that there were aliens hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp who were coming to rescue them. The Raelians were certainly real, but the aliens in the spaceship?

      And Xenu…Moroni…Wotan…Quetzalcoatl….

      b&

            1. I think it’s because many of the followers of said religion have never actually read the old testament, or Revelations. I was already an atheist when I read revelations. It’s like somebody sent a teen-aged metalhead on tour with Slayer, pumped him full of meth and cheap beer, kept him awake for about 4 straight days and then asked him to write a book about the end of the world.

    3. Who can you think of that supposedly lived and died more recently and who is similarly mythical?

      There’s a guy named Ronald Reagan whose biography bears little resemblance to any person who ever lived.

    4. There are websites that deal in little known movie factoids.

      Such as the fact that a number of movie characters are based on or inspired by real people. Such as Popeye, Betty Boop, Jabba the Hut, The Great Lebowski. The two main male characters in Les Misérables are inspired by one actual person who played both roles in real life.

      My favorite rendition of the Jesus era is The Life of Brian, which portrays many street preachers, any of which could have inspired the myth. There being no Snopes.com to straighten things out.

  13. 1. Jesus was a Jewish preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem. I’m making no claims of divinity or miracles here. There’s nothing remarkable about a guy from the underclass who becomes a preacher and inspires a small group of followers. It happens all the time, even now.
    2. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the writings ascribed to Paul; the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. (I leave out the gospel of John because I think it misses the one-century mark.) The fact that the first four sources (and by this I mean whoever it was who actually wrote Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were adoring followers should not by itself disqualify them as sources. If we discounted all “admiring” historical sources we wouldn’t have many left.
    3. Some people seem to think that because these sources contradict each other in the details then that must mean they cannot be trusted to impart any historical information. But let me give you an example from research I conducted in writing a biography of a 12th-century samurai. Two sources give differing accounts of what he did when he entered Kyoto in the first month of 1184. What historians glean from that is that we can’t be sure what he did when he first entered Kyoto; but historians feel confident that he DID enter Kyoto, since both those sources agree where he was, if not exactly what he was doing. And before you protest that this person (Minamoto Yoshitsune) was not some sort of supernatural figure: there are also stories about him have supernatural powers, being trained by mountain spirits, and visiting the realms of the dead. No historian would claim that Yoshitsune did not exist simply because he acquired legendary status after his death, or because he was generally considered the hero of the works that describe him.
    4. Again, it’s the points of agreement in sources that are of interest here, not the contradictions. All of the sources mentioned in #2 (as well as later writings) agree on the basics about Jesus stated in #1. Yes, they all have many elaborations and differing interpretations of what it all meant–hardly surprising when considering such a highly charged subject. That does not nullify the points of agreement.
    5. “Take at least a moment to explain…” Honestly, this sounds like a creationist insisting that evolution must not have happened if you can’t show every single transitional form. Jesus was a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem who inspired a small group of followers. He wasn’t of interest to anybody else until much later. Why would anybody write about him? How much do we know about Pontius Pilate, who WAS an important figure during that time? Hardly anything. And you expect a nobody from Nazareth to have a significant historical record?
    6. OK, let’s take Minamoto Yoshitsune again. He’s the hero of the Tale of the Heike, which also includes an interlude about Tomoe Gozen, supposedly a female samurai. Tomoe Gozen is only mentioned in the Heike and not in any other sources. So despite the character’s appeal, historians have concluded that she didn’t exist and was added to the story as a fictional florish. But despite such occasional fictions, historians recognize the historical value of the Heike, including its description of Yoshitsune entering Kyoto in 1184. One just has to tread carefully. And by the way, the first versions of the Heike were written down about forty years after the events they portray, which is similar to the early gospels.

    1. First, thank you for taking up the challenge!

      That writ, I think you fall short on a number of key points.

      First, Josephus wrote nothing of Jesus. See this link in this thread for the notarized videotape proof:

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comment-1051718

      Next, the whole point of the Gospels you claim as evidence is to directly contradict your own claim of Jesus as not divine and not a miracle-worker. Is it your claim that Jesus gave the appearance of being a divine miracle-worker, but was just a charlatan?

      That’s crucial to clarify, for you describe him as having an adoring following, yet don’t think it remarkable that anybody noticed this guy doing impressive magic tricks with an adoring following — yet we have a number of examples of less-impressive street magicians with smaller followings who did get noticed.

      My third point wasn’t asking you to reconcile internal contradictions within your sources; rather, it was asking you to reconcile how your chosen sources contradict your own thesis. That’s what I’m getting at: you’re claiming Jesus was a random schmuck, yet I think you’d agree with me that the Gospel authors devoted their entire works to exactly the opposite proposition. How do you explain the fact that they could have been so convinced, so passionate about (to them) the fact that Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine force that Spoke existence into being, and that he really did do all those things that had been previously attributed to all those Pagan demigods…how do reconcile that belief and certainty with your own claim that he was instead the diametric opposite?

      Again, it’s the points of agreement in sources that are of interest here, not the contradictions.

      Sorry, but you can’t just handwave away conflicting evidence; you’ve got to reconcile the two. We’re essentially in “he said / she said” territory, and you’d have us ignore everything she said because what he said is all that matters.

      Jesus was a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem who inspired a small group of followers.

      But that’s just the point: to Paul, the earliest surviving representative of that small group, he wasn’t “a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem.” Somehow, you’ve got to explain how Jesus could have gone from random schmuck to Paul’s otherworldly savior of all mankind. Simply ignoring that inconvenient detail doesn’t cut the mustard!

      b&

      1. I think it’s really odd that mythicists like yourself, who I guess feel strongly about disproving the existence of Jesus, also try to insist that if Jesus DID exist, then those of us who accept his historical reality must also prove that he was a walk-on-water miracle worker. I think Jesus was a preacher who attracted a loyal following, and those followers tried to make sense of his death afterward in the only way they could, without abandoning their core beliefs: by convincing themselves and others that Jesus was really something much bigger than they thought, and his horrible death had a meaning after all. Thus the oral tales that spread after his death gradually increased his significance and his powers and became the gospels. And as to your notion that a preacher cannot attract a loyal following without working actual miracles: think of Jim Jones and Jonestown. He wasn’t working miracles and yet people died at his command. I’m not “handwaving” away conflicting evidence; you’re inventing it. It is not at all surprising that different small communities of early Xtians would tell different versions of events and those events would get written down differently in the various gospels, 40-50 years later. As to Josephus and how Jesus came to be considered a god, I think Bart Ehrman covers this very well in DID JESUS EXIST? and HOW JESUS BECAME GOD. He is far more of an expert than either of us, I suspect.

        1. I think it’s really odd that mythicists like yourself, who I guess feel strongly about disproving the existence of Jesus, also try to insist that if Jesus DID exist, then those of us who accept his historical reality must also prove that he was a walk-on-water miracle worker.

          It’s not me insisting that Jesus was a miracle worker and / or otherworldly divine savior of mankind. It’s the evidence you yourself is citing.

          And it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that Jesus appeared to be such but was merely a charlatan pulling a fast one on his marks — or, even, that everybody was sincere but misguided.

          What’s not reasonable is to suggest that Jesus didn’t even have the appearance of magic powers and / or divinity — or, conversely, to claim that he did have such an appearance but was still a random unremarkable schmuck whom one would expect to have escaped notice.

          b&

          1. I’m only suggesting that the most parsimonious explanation for the evidence we have is that Jesus was a real flesh and blood person who was the basis for a conglomeration of tales and legends told by followers who passed these tales through an oral tradition for decades before anything was written down. As time passed Jesus became less of a preacher of the end of times and more of a divinity–just compare the earliest gospel (Mark) to the latest gospel (John). And remember that even Mark was written decades after the events described, which gives plenty of time for the stories to be embellished and embroidered.

            1. By your own description, Jesus is 99 44/100% pure myth. Of what sense does it make, even with your own formulation, to claim that that remaining 0.56% that isn’t mythical but is based on one or more random nobody schmucks who could have been literally anybody somehow represents the “real” Jesus?

              Again, even by your own description, there’s more Perseus in Jesus than any human — and Perseus is but a minor spice in the stew. If you wouldn’t call Perseus the “real” Jesus, by what logic do you consider whoever it is you think you have in mind the “real” Jesus?

              Frankly, it all sounds like Homeopathic Jesus. Start with a real person, dilute by more people than have ever lived, discard all of them…but some how the essence of the original remains?

              And nobody’s claiming that each author independently conceived of Jesus. Of course there was an extant tradition of beliefs surrounding this particular demigod. How could it be otherwise?

              The only contention is this, frankly, bizarre notion that any of it was based in reality.

              What? Because Christians back then were honest and intelligent people who would never make something up and weren’t so gullible as to be fooled? Do you really need me to supply the copious amounts of evidence to the contrary? If so, just look for any of those all-too-common Christian apologetic lists of Pagan sources who mention Christ and read them for yourself. The picture they paint of Christians is not at all pretty….

              Cheers,

              b&

              1. Ben, the original challenge was the debate over the existence of a historical Jesus. That’s all. Either a real person inspired the stories about Jesus or not. I do think some essence remains, just as some essence of a real war remains in the Iliad. Even if the stories are 99% made up but were inspired by a real person, then there was a historical Jesus–no matter how little we know about him.

                We have sources reasonably close to the time of Jesus’s life that all assume he was a actual human being, whatever else is said about him. They also say he came from Nazareth, which was a podunk town, and there was no reason to add that in. He died badly, which they all also agree on. Your claims about dying and rising gods have all been handily refuted by Ehrman in his books, particularly DID JESUS EXIST? so I’m not going to belabor those here. Anyway, it’s been a fun discussion, and I have to stop commenting because I have paying writing to do. But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events? We know the gospels and Paul’s letters agree on certain points–Jesus was a preacher who was crucified–so where did the original story come from? Who wrote it and why?

              2. Even if the stories are 99% made up but were inspired by a real person, then there was a historical Jesus–no matter how little we know about him.

                Then, by your logic, Luke Skywalker is an historical figure. There are people named Luke, and I’m sure it wouldn’t at all be hard to find one who grew up as an orphan on an impoverished farm out in the middle of nowhere.

                We have sources reasonably close to the time of Jesus’s life that all assume he was a actual human being, whatever else is said about him.

                …except, of course, that we don’t. The earliest sources include 1 Corinthians 15, in which Jesus is clearly described as non-corporeal in direct contrast with the corporeal. Next up are the Gospels, in which Jesus is the very archetype of a Pagan demigod. Also notable are all the heresies, many of which have starkly different biographies for Jesus, many of which echo Paul’s non-corporeal Jesus but which put it front-and-center rather than something taken for granted.

                They also say he came from Nazareth, which was a podunk town, and there was no reason to add that in.

                Nazareth is pure fiction. It’s not mentioned once in the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Talmud. It’s not mentioned by Josephus, who lived an easy morning’s walk away. It’s not even mentioned on fourth century pilgrimage itineraries, and it’s missing from an encyclopedic map that traces its origins to the fourth century. The claimed location has first century archaeological remains of a graveyard, which never would have been inhabited by the living.

                As for the reason? There was a prophecy in some other earlier holy text about a Nazorean, which likely has more to do with a reference to a wisdom cult and almost certainly isn’t a geographical reference.

                Your claims about dying and rising gods have all been handily refuted by Ehrman in his books, particularly DID JESUS EXIST?

                That book is an embarrassment of bad scholarship, and Ehrman’s own “refutation” was summarily refuted two millennia ago by Justin Martyr — a refutation Ehrman is apparently perfectly ignorant of.

                But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events?

                First, “Paul” is himself a composite figure, and his official biography in Acts is undoubtedly fictional. As with so many fictions, Paul made up this and stole that. We know without doubt that he stole the Last Supper and the Eucharist from the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus, and that’s the single most specific and detailed biography of Jesus he offers.

                Ask yourself where Joe Smith got the Book of Moron from, or Hubbard Dianetics, and you’ve got your answer for the origins of Jesus.

                b&

              3. Pamela:

                “Either a real person inspired the stories about Jesus or not”
                Why not make it 50 or 100 people, or even more?

                “But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events?”

                Why not try the development of the concept of the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7, the Book of Enoch, and the various “apocalypses” published by Jewish writers over the decades when the theme was fashionable. And don’t forget Revelation.
                (Jesus as the lamb of God.)

                All this with a nice wrapping of Hellenistic influences as described by Ben and repudiated by Justin Martyr.

            2. I’m only suggesting that the most parsimonious explanation for the evidence we have is that Jesus was a real flesh and blood person who was the basis for a conglomeration of tales and legends told by followers who passed these tales through an oral tradition for decades before anything was written down.

              If you don’t mind, could you briefly describe what you consider “the evidence we have?” To judge which explanation is more parsimonious we really need to examine all the available evidence. Does your evidence include our background knoweledge about Jewish and Greco-Roman beliefs of the era? Non canonical texts? The knoweledge we have about mystery cults? These are genuine questions, not rhetorical. Richard Carrier does an extensive survey of all the evidence, in his recent book, and concludes that the probability that there was a historical Jesus is at most 33%.

              Even if we restrict attention to the biblical texts, I don’t think that “a flesh and blood Jesus” is the most parsimonious explanation. Frankly I find the mythisist explanation way less convoluted. However, I still hold an agnostic position about the question with strong leaning towards mythicism, because I don’t think that the most parsimonious explanation is necessarily true. Sometimes we have to admit that we don’t have enough information to draw conclusions with high certainty.

              If all we had were the gospels and the Acts, maybe the most parsimonious explanation would be a historical Jesus. I don’t think that’s true, but for the sake of the argument I grant you that. But the fact is that the earliest surviving texts we have, the one written closest to the origins of the cult, are not the gospels, but the epistles. And if one reads the epistles without imposing them interpretations derived from the gospels, there is very little about a historical Jesus there. And the little there is, is not that straightforward. As an experiment read Hebrews, and imagine that you haven’t heard any of the gospel stories. Are you sure that a historical person is the best explanation of all that stuff about the heavenly temple that has Jesus as its high priest, and whose imperfect copy is the ertly temple in Jerusalem? How probable is it that somebody writing 20 to 30 years after a guy had walked the earth would use the phrase “If he was on earth he would not be a priest”, without hinting that actually he was not a priest when he really was on Earth?

              The thing is that the christology of the early texts is higher than the christology of Mark, the first gospel. Is this really more parsimoniously explained by a historical Jesus? Isn’t it easier to assume that the writers of the epistles were talking about a heavenly being and that later authors, intentionally or by misunderstanding, put that being on Earth?

              The way the books of NT are ordered is deceptive, first come the gospels that set the historicist background and then the chronological earlier epistles. A casual reader, is then led to interpret the epistles in light of the stories in the gospels. This effect may well have been intented by the editors of NT. Inspired by a series of posts in Vridar I recently read The First Edition of The New Testament by David Trobish. He makes a good argument that the order of the books in NT was chosen with the intent to promote a specific theological agenda.

              1. As an experiment read Hebrews

                As a similar exercise, read 1 Corinthians 15. The author — whom all agree only ever met Jesus in a vision — establishes his bona fides by identifying his own experience as equal to every other experience of Jesus. How could that even hypothetically work unless those experiences were also visionary?

                Should there be any remaining doubt:

                1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [i.e., Jesus] was made a quickening spirit.

                The author’s Jesus can in no way be considered an human of flesh and blood; the entire point of that chapter is to convince the audience of the exact opposite.

                b&

    2. Some people seem to think that because these sources contradict each other in the details then that must mean they cannot be trusted to impart any historical information.

      Is there a point at which you say that the accounts should be assumed to be unreliable unless proven true?

      You’ve admitted that the writers are “admiring” (proselytizing, really), contradictory, with clearly faked portions so I’m curious why you seem to think that what’s left after removing the obvious falsehoods would be reliable.

      1. “Proven true”? It’s actually very hard to “prove” things that happened centuries ago because sources are almost always scant. The best a historian can do — and this is a historical question — is to glean what is possible from what is available. In this case we have multiple sources who claim different things about a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine who was crucified. Now all these different accounts must be based on SOMETHING, since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine. The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

        1. The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          Since there are no actual contempory accounts, the most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact fabricated after the first-century by someone and passed along as gospel 🙂

        2. “…since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.”

          The gaping hole in that argument is “independently.” The four gospel writers wrote them in sequence, borrowing and embellishing from the previous ones, advancing four different agendas, depicting four very different messiahs. The first one was written two generations after the events, and the others stretch out over time. With copying, editing, translations, forgeries and suppression of evidence, it took centuries to get the story straight. Sort of.

        3. Now all these different accounts must be based on SOMETHING, since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          Okay. But no one is saying that all the bible accounts sprung up from nothing.

          The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          That’s your argument, that the presence of a couple stories shows historicity? Bleh. Way to go, you’ve argued for the historicity of King Arthur and a global flood.

      1. A conspiracy theory is often, by design, untestable. (“The governments secret plans…”.)

        The challenge _is_ a test. Ironically it is devised to challenge conspiracy theories, that the conflicting or non-existing evidence points to a historical person, when no other historical person is so treated.

        Clearly for a skeptic, the embarrassment weighs on the other side. “Biblical historians”, indeed.

    3. I think I’ve got this; you simply ignore contradictions and use the gospels as evidence. By this reasoning we can safely assume that James Bond is/was a real person. His exploits are well documented by the following authors: Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis, John Pearson, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd. Most if not all of the geographical references are real places you can visit and many of people mentioned in the books are mentions in other contemporary writings. Why would all those authors write about the same person if he wasn’t real.

      1. A historian would consider why a source was writing as well as the intended audience. The early Christians wanted to tell the story of Jesus (or whatever stories about Jesus had come down to them)and no doubt believed the truthfulness of these stories. That was the way they converted others to Christianity–with was they believed were truth claims. And specialists in a particular time period are generally pretty good at recognizing genre. So a 20th-century historian of the future would probably have no more difficulty in recognizing James Bond as fictional than you or I would. It has to do with voice, point of view, and many other stylistic choices.

        Which is not to say that fiction isn’t of historical interest. The historian of the future might discard all notions of jumping out of helicopters as unrealistic, but might glean some interesting cultural and social insights out of “tuxedo” and “martini.”

        As you can see I’m trying to answer your question seriously without being snarky. Please try to do the same.

          1. A lot of people seem to misunderstand what the “argument from authority” is. Embracing the consensus of experts in a field not one’s own is what is recommended, and not a fallacious appeal to authority. The fallacious appeal to authority is when someone says that Michael Behe or Richard Carrier must be right because they have PhDs, even if they cannot persuade other experts with their arguments.

            1. But it must flow both ways.

              Challenge Jerry’s authority with, say, an assertion that there are no transitional fossils, and he’ll rattle off the whole sequence of whales right off the top of his head, and finish it with hominids and maybe horses just to show off. And, if necessary, he’ll point you right to the peer-reviewed publications describing the finds as well as the museums with collections of these fossils on public display.

              But I’ve repeatedly challenged you and many others that there’s no credible evidence of Jesus’s existence…and all y’all respond with nonsense such as you yourself have with respect to Nazareth.

              You’re an historian. If I claimed no credible evidence for Julius Caesar, how long could you keep rattling stuff off your head, from Commentarii de Bello Gallico to coins so common you can buy them for a month’s rent or so? I bet I could keep it up for at least five minutes, and I’m no professional historian.

              But for Jesus?

              Hell — you can’t even define him, let alone provide credible evidence!

              Can you not see the double standard you yourself are presenting? Can you not understand just how damaging and damning this is of the field?

              b&

              1. I apologize if you feel I should have copied and pasted more references and links. On an iPad I find that the screen often refreshes and the attempt to copy and paste more than one link is often thwarted. Of course, you seem not to have read even that one link, which makes me wonder why you need more. But here are some links about Nazareth, for the benefit of whoever may be genuinely interested, whether that is you or others, including the one I shared a link to.

                Ken Dark, “Early roman-period Nazareth and the sisters of Nazareth convent,” Antiquaries Journal 92 (September 2012) 37-64

                H. Eshel, “A Fragmentary Hebrew Inscription of the Priestly Courses from Nazareth?” Tarbiz 61 (1991) 159–161

                And of course, Bagatti’s 1969 volume Excavations in Nazareth is worth consulting as a survey of what was done earlier, however problematic some of his views may be.

                Outside of academic publications, there have been noticed about the discovery of a building from around the time of Jesus: http://www.archaeology.org.il/news65.html
                http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2009/dec/21/israel-archaeology

                And for those who may not want to read the entirety of the article by Dark that I mentioned or others by him, there is a blog post by Helen Bond of the University of Edinburgh summarizing lectures that he gave there: http://christianorigins.co.uk/2013/06/07/dr-ken-dark-on-galilean-archaeology/

                There is of course more, but this should be enough to start with. Getting a book from your local library about archaeology in this part of the world is the obvious next step.

              2. I find this on your website:

                Jerry Coyne has been very candid about the anti-religious motivation that leads him and other atheists to want Jesus not to have existed, to find it advantageous if Jesus did not exist. Of course, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the extent to which solid evidence that Jesus existed but was different from what Christians claim might be even more desirable from that perspective. But I appreciate the honesty, even if it has not yet been matched with a recognition that we need to be cautious about our desires distorting our perception.

                This is a complete distortion of what I have said. I never started out by wanting Jesus not to exist. I had no opinion on the matter, and it was only until the controversy became public that I got interested and saw the paucity of evidence for Jesus.

                You can distort my words on your own website, but you will not be posting here any more.

              3. Dr. McGrath, nobody is disputing the fact that graves were found in Nazareth. The question is over their significance.

                Unlike in modern times, when graveyards are to be found in the midst of inhabited areas, in ancient times such practice would be unimaginable.

                But never mind that…the graves you keep thumping on were situated at the claimed site of the Annunciation. If there is nastier blasphemy to be proposed, I cannot think of it. It means that it was not Gabriel telling Mary that she bore YHWH’s child, but a demon of Hell lying to her that she bore Satan’s child. Or, absolutely most charitably, it means that, shortly after the “fact,” the holy site was desecrated in the worst possible way, by turning it into a graveyard.

                Now, I happen to think that the Bible makes far more sense if it’s the story of humanity’s archenemy and his minions than of a tribe of heavenly love gods — but that does even more to demonstrate the fabulous nature of all of this.

                So, if you’re still going to insist on an historical Nazareth, you’re stuck at absolute best with it being located entirely elsewhere than currently proposed…in which case, you’re once again left with no evidence, for all said evidence is tied to the current location.

                In other words, you’re trying to square the circle. Yes, you can approximate the intended end result with modern computer graphics…but that’s not the point….

                Cheers,

                b&

              4. Please please please let the good doctor post more here. It is very instructive to see how poorly a member of the guild responds to such simple questioning.

        1. And specialists in a particular time period are generally pretty good at recognizing genre. So a 20th-century historian of the future would probably have no more difficulty in recognizing James Bond as fictional than you or I would. It has to do with voice, point of view, and many other stylistic choices.

          …must…bite…tongue….

          An historian specializing in Classical Judea would reasonably be familiar with Justin Martyr, no? Including this passage?

          And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars?

          Or, how about this one?

          And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior— or rather have already proved Him to be so— for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.

          Now, I challenge you: read those passages, and then claim with a straight face that Jesus is a better literary and stylistic fit for reality than the fiction of the period.

          b&

  14. WEIT readers,

    Here’s an excerpt from scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman giving a pretty good answer to Ben Goren’s challenge:

    “Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions). ”

    Dr. Ehrman’s entire essay is here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html

    1. “It is, in no small part, because these deniers of Jesus are at the same time denouncers of religion — a breed of human now very much in vogue.”

      This is typical atheist bashing in the press. The vaunted Dr. spends most of the first few paragraphs attacking the credibility of those who doubt the historicity of Jesus (and in a very cheap and backhanded way, that of atheists as well) before he even addresses the actual content of their argument. This is a common debating tactic when employed by those with a weak argument.
      He offers no clear definition of who Jesus was. He offers reasons not to deny the credibility of ancient sources that confirm Jesus’ existence, without addressing the contradictory elements of those same sources, which Ben specifically addressed in his original challenge. He does address Jesus not being mentioned by his contemporaries, but again offers no specific explanation as to why, only that the Romans omitted other important figures of the time.
      I’m sorry, but in no way does Dr. Ehrman’s essay met Ben Goren’s challenge. Not even close.

    2. Ehrman has been ripped apart by Carrier and others in a recent book. Everything Ehrman says on the historicity of Jesus falls apart on every ground.

  15. “He’s still a young man and there’s still a lot of baseball left in him. That said, the Mariners seem to be doing the right thing by removing him from that pressure cooker, allowing him to clear his head and to put his focus on the bigger picture in life.” — MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports regarding the “rebel commando” Jesus Montero.

  16. Great piece. Makes me think the Gospels are more akin to something written by bots. For popular, commercial, political, and sociological reasons, the Gospels have been spun to win the hearts and minds of people (at the time).

    The longevity of the story partly comes from people not recognizing that this type of capability existed millennia ago and that most, if not all, of the story of Jesus was already commonplace.

  17. Wait, so Paul met and argued with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. How do you meet the brother of someone who doesn’t exist?

    1. Romans 15: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

      Matt 28: “Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.””

      Are these all biological relations? Mary must have been extremely busy.

    2. Paul met with Cephas, the apostle, and James, the brother of the Lord. He does not say that they knew Jesus. The gospels say that Cephas/Peter knew Jesus, but Paul does not. You can’t read the gospels into Paul. Paul calls himself an apostle, and never met Jesus; when he talks about Jesus appearing to Cephas, he uses the same verb as the one he uses for his own vision of Jesus.

      As for James being the brother of the Lord, that’s a title that was given to all baptized Christians. All it implies is that the James he’s talking about is a Christian.

  18. My opinion of a plausible scenario:

    1. A bunch of wandering messiahs roamed around Palestine, attracting crowds and followers. Maybe one or more was named Jesus.

    2. Paul, desiring money, power and/or prestige, decided the co opt the wandering messiah meme and merge it with another popular fad of worshipping spiritual saviors. Paul may or may not have believed it.

    3. People started telling allegorical stories of the half mystical Jesus, pulling in stories of other wandering messiahs, elements of Jewish prophecy, and the expected elements of any self-respecting god-on-
    earth story (e.g, virgin birth). Some of the stories were written down. There were differing versions, but the main points were consistent in the same way everyone “knows” Robin Hood lived in Sherwood forest, not London.

    4. Somebody forgot to tell new converts that the allegories weren’t real. Later christians believed in one human Jesus. They then went looking for proof of the historical Jesus. Not finding it, they inserted bogus text into real documents and pretended statements calling christians gullible counts as proof of Jesus’s existence.

    1. Paul, desiring money, power and/or prestige, decided the co opt the wandering messiah meme

      I’m curious: what passage(s) in the Epistles do you have in mind where Jesus is portrayed as a wandering messiah?

      I ask because I am completely unaware of any, and I’m sure somebody would have called it to my attention ere now….

      b&

      1. I’ve read that there were a number of wandering messiahs in Palestine around that time. It is plausible that some had a following, and that the concept would make sense to the audience in the same way that a hippie might be “cast” in a tale set in California in the 1960s.

        I don’t know whether Paul believed Jesus was a real person or was entirely spiritual. Or maybe he changed the story to fit the audience.

        I don’t believe that there was one messiah named jesus in Palestine who rose from the dead any more than I believe there was one hippie in California named Mike who rose from the dead.

        Beyond that, my post is simply an uninformed opinion. No warranty expressed or implied.

        1. Beyond that, my post is simply an uninformed opinion. No warranty expressed or implied.

          If you’d like to become less informed, may I suggest?

          Start with the links I offered in the original post. Read them in their entirety. Then dig up any of the very common Christian apologetic lists of so-many sources that mentioned Jesus, and read them, too. When you get to Josephus, be sure to first read the passage from Origen I quoted elsewhere in this thread.

          I think you’ll come to realize that the notion that Jesus was real is unsustainable, and his mythical origins will become painfully obvious.

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. Thanks. I’m with you. I personally believe Jesus never existed. I simply don’t yet have the knowledge to defend that view, so it remains my opinion. The list of so called proofs waved around by christians is laughable. That alone proves to me they’ve got nothing.

            Most of what knowledge I do have comes from reading “Nailed” by David Fitzgerald. I enjoyed that book and found it convincing overall. However, if left me with a queasy feeling that the author glossed over some contradictory evidence here and there. Do you have any thoughts on that book. What other books do you recommend? Preferably something not too scholarly, because I will listening to the audiobook while watching munchkins play baseball or soccer (with enough attention on the game to cheer appropriately).

            1. Again…the best reading suggestions I can make are the original sources, all of which are readily available online in decent-enough English translations. Why trust somebody else to interpret the data for yourself when it’s so easy to verify independently?

              b&

              1. For the same reason I read WEIT instead of a few hundred scholarly journals. Experts can put facts in context and differentiate between substance and noise. Few have the knowledge or the bandwidth for original research on every interesting topic.

              2. And even reading the interpretations of them by a partisan (such as in Strobel’s book) makes one (with and open mind) realize that it’s all just bollocks.

                Or, more succinstly: What Ben said.

                🙂

              3. Tomorrow, as I listen to audio books and ferry munchkins between ball fields, I will devote succinct thoughts to your kindly book recommendations.

            2. Hi Susan:
              Thank you for the kind words. Right now I’m working on the follow-up book to Nailed (“Jesus: Mything in Action”)which will take on the arguments we hear from atheists who insist we have good reason to believe there was at least an ordinary guy named Jesus who began Xty.

              That said, if you were left with the feeling I glossed over anything, please do let me know – you are my target audience for the new book and I want to be sure I’m answering questions readers have. My e-mail is:

              everybodylovesdave (at)gmail (dot) com

              All the best,
              -Dave Fitzgerald,
              Author of NAILED and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion

              1. Thanks! I’ll reread it this weekend. It was just an impression that some areas were less supported, but it could also be that I read it too quickly (or the munchkins were calling).

                You definitely left me convinced. The quote by Lucien sticks in my memory. I also was impressed by the discussion of the works that could have / should have mentioned jesus but didn’t.

                The lack of any evidence is in itself telling, given the early church’s desperation to find and keep every shred of evidence. The fact that they could find nothing, and kept Lucien rather than burning it says a lot.

                I was also left curious about the real beginning of christianity. Was Paul a fraud who created the myth out of whole cloth, or a nutcase or a sincere believer in something? Did the earliest christians think jesus was purely spiritual? Wikipedia’s discussion of the life of Paul was disappointing – straight out of Acts with barely a mention that there is no other support. It would be hilarious if Paul and Peregrinus were the same person, but unlikely since they lived a century apart.

                Thanks again. I’m looking forward to the next book.

  19. I’m impressed with this challenge, so I posted it on another atheist forum, where a commenter has taken issue with the questions. He’s given me permission to post his comments here, as long as his name is kept out of it, he says.

    No doubt you’ve had your questions bad-mouthed before, Ben, but this response may interest you.

    >>> Here are my answers to his questions, which are very badly composed:

    1. He was a random street preacher of little significance at the time.
    2. This is a largely fake question. The Gospels, both canonical and extra-canonical, are within “a century or so”. Acts and Paul’s letters are also within that century – even within 20 years. But it’s a fake question because they support a larger-than-life version of Jesus, and that fact does not disprove the actual mortal person who was underlying them. As the questions are written it is impossible to show the existence of Jesus, because to do so requires accepting at least some of the magical stuff added on to the stories of his life.
    3. Simple reason – that thing atheists pride themselves on – suggests that all the magical stuff associated with Jesus was added in later to buttress the story Paul wanted to tell about him. So I “pick and choose” based on what is reasonably plausible in the real world. It is reasonably plausible that a random street preacher named Jesus existed, was crucified, and had a small Jewish cult based on him run by his family, as the Bible suggests.
    4. See above. The premise of this set of questions is that Jesus did not exist because there is no single, consistent record of him without all the magical stuff. That is a false premise. That magical stuff was later added does not show, does not even indicate, that there was not a real, non-magical man on which the movement was based.
    5. Simple. Jesus was not a “larger than life” figure. He was just a random street preacher of little significance at the time, with no reason to be noticed by those historians. He was not in the Dead Sea scrolls because those are Jewish documents, not Christian, and Jesus is not an important figure in Jewish history or religion. He was not “spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.” Again, the premise of the question is fake. It assumes the truth of someone with attributes he did not have, then shows that anyone with those attributes must have been recorded in secular or Jewish history. Since the assumption is false, the question is misleading.
    6. Again, a fake question. Since Jesus was not “a well-known figure” during his time, he had only a small, insignificant family-run cult that followed him after his death. Just a like all the others, there is no historical record of him outside of the religion itself. There was no reason for it. <<>> Let us assume, as I do, that there was in fact an insignificant street preacher named Jesus. He had a small following during his lifetime, was crucified just like tens of thousands of other insignificant Jews in those days, and a small cult continued after his death, run by his family. Later Paul made up a whole lot of religious significance to his life, and the Gospels retro-fitted it with lots of magical and mythological stories that were not true, but were told in service of Paul’s religion.

    On that basis, there is a record of his existence and of the family cult in the Bible. Those references began within 20 years of his death. Also, on that basis, there was not any reference to him outside of Christian sources, because there was no reason for it. He did not have a “spectacular public career”, he was not of any particular significance during his lifetime – just enough to get him killed by the Romans, like the tens or hundreds of thousands of otherwise unnamed, unrecorded Jews of the period. He was not an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure.

    The requirement, “Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it” is impossible to meet, and should be impossible to meet if my assumptions are true. That it is impossible, again, reflects the nature of the source documents, and does not in any way suggest that there was not a real person on which they mythological elements were later hung. <<<

    1. I don’t think a response is called for here, necessarily, since this commenter would rather confine his direct remarks to the other forum. But his seems as good a (provocative) take as any and worth thinking about, at least.

    2. 2. This is a largely fake question. The Gospels, both canonical and extra-canonical, are within “a century or so”. Acts and Paul’s letters are also within that century – even within 20 years. But it’s a fake question because they support a larger-than-life version of Jesus, and that fact does not disprove the actual mortal person who was underlying them. As the questions are written it is impossible to show the existence of Jesus, because to do so requires accepting at least some of the magical stuff added on to the stories of his life.

      This anonymous commentator’s entire thesis is, “I have no evidence supporting that Jesus was insignificant, only evidence that he was significant. But insignificant Jesus is consistent with the laws of physics and significant Jesus isn’t, so therefore all the evidence that he was significant is irrelevant. But I’m not going to discard that evidence; rather, merely rewrite it entirely so that Jesus is rendered insignificant.”

      Especially since he’s not interested in defending it personally, I see no reason why it deservers anything further than simply a dismissal as somebody who rejects the call for evidence or the need to defend it.

      b&

      1. This anonymous commentator’s entire thesis is, “I have no evidence supporting that Jesus was insignificant, only evidence that he was significant. But insignificant Jesus is consistent with the laws of physics and significant Jesus isn’t, so therefore all the evidence that he was significant is irrelevant. But I’m not going to discard that evidence; rather, merely rewrite it entirely so that Jesus is rendered insignificant.”

        That pretty much sums up nicely the evidence for Jesus presented by many historicists.

  20. As to whether the references to Jesus being the ben Damneus – why would Josephus refer to this Jesus by two different appellations in one passage – something he does nowhere else in his work. Also, why this “Jesus son of Damenus” would become great pals with the guy who killed his brother, which is what your interpretation requires of the text.

    1. The only mention of the Christian Jesus in that passage is as James’s biological brother. But we know explicitly from Origen (see full quote elsewhere in this thread) that James wasn’t Jesus’s biological brother but his brother-in-spirit — the same as a Christian monk today still is.

      Therefore, we know that the text is altered. In that light, two different Jesuses makes no sense, but a single Jesus with a Christian interpolation of “Christ” into the text makes perfect sense.

      b&

  21. WTF is this. “Let us assume, as I do, that there was in fact an insignificant street preacher named Jesus. He had a small following during his lifetime, was crucified just like tens of thousands of other insignificant Jews in those days, and a small cult continued after his death, run by his family.”
    So he’s saying there was a guy named Jesus who isn’t anything like the Jesus in the bible, but he was the Jesus in the bible?
    Seriously?

  22. Reblogged this on bbnewsblog and commented:
    Do you believe Jesus was/is divine? Then Ben Goren’s Jesus Challenge should be something for you to meet.

    It’s quite simple. Ben Goren lists sex problems to solve/explain. These are:

    1) Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?

    2) Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.

    3) Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?

    4) There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.

    5) Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.

    6) Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

    BTW: Don’t forget to read Ben Goren’s own answers to these six questions/problems. And don’t miss all the comments; some of them are really interesting.

    1. Sorry, but that typo gave me the lolz.

      “Ben Goren lists sex problems to solve/explain.”

      Hmmmm, what could those be? Well, the virgin birth for one.

  23. My essay is simple and in support of the proposition.

    There is absolutely no credible evidence beyond the insular citation of the bible that jesus Christ ever existed. Period. End of story.

    I have the bible, and Christian knowledge theologically to have this debate with anyone but I would not waste a second debating an insular proof that is so entirely flawed as to offer no proof whatsoever to the proposition in the first place. Thus, for me, any engagement in such is simply intellectually dishonest in the first place and Christian apologetics…which I am quite aware of and can answer any question on any scripture quite the way the Christian theologians, scholars and apologetics would…since I am familiar with all of their arguments and every one is lacking in logic and any type of substantiation even from their own text which they twist and turn to fit their prejudices. Even within Protestantism there are multiple interpretations and doctrines concerning major bible doctrines. I view all of these discussions as simply an exercise in mental self-stimulation for all participants and a nice ego stroke…puns very intended…I don’t know if I’m coming or going right now…no definitely coming…

  24. Ben,

    You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication. We are looking, instead, for explanation. The modern bibliography on Jesus’ existence is voluminous: it’s a question of reading it.

    1. Jesus was a preacher in Galilee in the early 1st century CE who probably died in Jerusalem.

    2. References: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Q, M, L, the author of the Gospel of Thomas, the writer of the Gospel of Peter, or of Papyrus Egerton 2, Papias, perhaps, maybe Ignatius, or the one behind 1 Clement, s/he who wrote Romans 1:3-4, the forger of 1 Timothy, the pseudepigraphist of 1 Peter, or of 2 Peter, the composer(s) of 1, 2 and 3, John, John the Revelator, the epistolator of Hebrews, the mind behind the Didache.

    3. The nub of the problem: the weighing of individual claims within the texts. This is not really about Jesus’ existence; it’s about the historical method.
    a) Discard miracles (Hume) but not the fact that contemporaries could really have believed them to have happened.
    b) Cultural coherence – what is contemporaneously credible (and believable to us) in the story? What does early Christian jargon mean?
    c) Literary influence – how similar are the NT and non-canonicals to contemporary genres?
    d) Theological development – what is the significance of the huge gap between interpretations of Jesus? From human to high, divine Christology.

    4. The question is not of contradiction, but of weighing of evidence. For example, that Jesus preached. Are preachers common in that era? Is there independent attestation of the fact or content of his preaching?

    5. The core of your cavalier attitude to the sources. You have repeated so many times the fact the Dead Sea Scrolls do not mention Jesus and I have responded so many times that they do not name any 1st century Palestinian. The secondary point is that your interpretation of Jesus’ fame is thoroughly imbued with modern lay-Christian imaginings and you set that up as a straw-man. There are 30 references in 4 centuries of Roman literature to Palestine from the 1st to the 4th century CE.

    6. Your criterion is not validation, it is . Can we assert Apollonius of Tyana’s existence on the basis of one extant source written 100 years after his death by Philostratus, based on the hypothetical Damis document and subsequently worshipped by the Roman royal family: and simultaneously deny the existence of a Jesus figure on the basis of several independent sources written 20-60 years after his death, based on several hypothetical documents and subsequently worshipped by the Roman royal family?

    On your Jesus’ mythical nature points:

    1. Crudely true, but how does the Jesus cult differ from Roman and Greek religion?

    2. Date for Justin is wrong. How do you know that Justin, Lucian were right about Jesus and everybody else wrong?

    3. True.

    4. How do you know how the Gospels were written?

    5. Wrong on Paul: he believed Jesus existed.

    6. All irrelevant if Jesus was a man.

    500.

    Slaínte.

    1. You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication.

      In this case, it is both a pun and the literal first definition from my dictionary: a formal written defense of one’s opinions or conduct.”

      Jesus was a preacher in Galilee in the early 1st century CE who probably died in Jerusalem.

      …and?

      Have you any clue just how many preachers there were in Galilee? And you do realize, do you not, that every one of them who spent the last part of his life in Jerusalem died there, right?

      I’m sorry, but I can’t take seriously anything so vague. How are we supposed to pick your Jesus out of the literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who perfectly fit your description?

      b&

      1. @Ben Goren,

        Me: You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication.

        Ben: In this case, it is both a pun and the literal first definition from my dictionary: a formal written defense of one’s opinions or conduct.”

        You wrote about apologia in the context of criticizing atheists who are historicists. It is not the first time you have done it and it is plain wrong. Just because I believe Stalin existed does not make me a Stalinist.

        Ben: Have you any clue just how many preachers there were in Galilee?

        No, not off the top of my head. But I do know many of the preachers who were in Palestine at the time: because I listed them for you.

        Ben: And you do realize, do you not, that every one of them who spent the last part of his life in Jerusalem died there, right?

        That’s a tautology. Of course they did.

        Ben: How are we supposed to pick your Jesus out of the literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who perfectly fit your description?

        The sub-clause is peculiar coming from you, Ben. You have previously described the sources for those preachers, miracle-workers, charismatic leaders as completely unreliable. Why are they now reliable? Or are you as usual flip-flopping on the sources in order to make a rhetorical point?

        My minimal definition of Jesus the man is entirely deliberate. I don’t think it is possible with absolute certainty that Jesus said or did this or that. For example, the Jesus Seminar could only attain 92% agreement that Jesus spoke about rendering unto Caesar. And that was the highest degree of their consensus. The question of what he actually said is bedevilled by the problem of circular reasoning: one’s interpretation of a real Jesus figure will colour one’s determination of what he said.

        There, I have answered all your substantive points.

        I count 14 of my substantive points that you failed to respond to. You may have done so elsewhere in the thread, to be generous, but you have form on this. Man is a pattern-seeking animal: I recall one interchange when you did not respond to 37 of my points. You do not answer points with which you disagree and you have done it again in the comments to your initial post.

        Your literary comparisons are severely atavistic. The last significant wave of Greek mythologizing (the NT was written in Koine Greek) occurred around 750-600 BCE. What was the significant literary form, 700 years later, in the 1st century philhellenic Roman empire? Historical writing. Fragments from 1,000 historians exist around the 2 or 3 centuries of Jesus’ time.

        Your historical method demonstrates spurious argument. Did Jesus exist? You say, ‘look at what Justin (ca.160 CE) and Origen (3rd century) say.’ Only if you propose that the Jesus story was made up just before Justin’s time would this have any weight on the man’s existence. And you have not produced a timeline.

        On the existence of a Jesus 100 years before our Jesus, I’ve read all of Philo and I don’t remember that at all. I could be wrong.

        More undue weight given to sources: Justin, Origen, Lucian. No explanation given of why they are to be privileged over others. Absolutely no indication of why Justin is more reliable than, say, Mark.

        A basic ignorance of Judaistic theological jargon. You show a modern understanding of the phrases ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of God’, even ‘Messiah’, ‘Anointed One’. Inability to distinguish between Philo’s ‘Logos’ (pre-existing, heavenly) and earlyish Christianity’s ‘Logos’ (animate, real).

        Constant appeals to analogy, often anachronistic, both to the past and the future. Ooh, look, isn’t this a bit like that? Therefore this did not happen. It does not cut it.

        A refusal to use best arguments for your case, possibly due to personal animosity towards me. For example, I’ve pointed out before that the most compelling argument against the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum is Photios’ failing to mention it. I don’t have space to detail the reasoning. But it goes once again to your capacity to weigh evidence and to produce arguments which go beyond satire into true historiography. Yet, then again, if the Testimonium Flavianum falls – and I think it should – so what?

        I accused you of arguing against a straw-man – the Empire-wide famous Jesus of Christianity. You do. All your arguments are based on this one allegation. You know, as well as I do, that this idea among serious Biblical scholars – and despite the uninformed and not serious comments of some in this thread, there is such a thing – is out of date by at least 180 years. It is ridiculously easy to argue against a world-renowned Jesus. Nobody in the field does it. Why do you? Apart from to get cheap laughs. Yes, I’ll get cheap laughs from Jesus: but in a satirical context. I won’t play fast and loose with the historical method. I suggest that you do the same.

        If you had submitted any of your posts to me as a 1st year Classical History under-graduate tutor, I’d ask you to re-write them, as you show minimal indications of having considered the weighing of evidence. And I would need a lot of convincing that your conclusions derived from the evidence: and not that your evidence derived from your conclusions. For nowhere do you consider all that we can know of the classical past: what possibly happened, what probably happened or what probably did not happen.

        Finally if you’re wondering why nobody has ever taken you up on your absurdly macho ‘challenge’ to argue for an historical Jesus, I can only think of Jane Austen’s Elinor in ‘Sense and Sensibility’, who ‘did not consider that he deserved the compliment of rational opposition’.

        Oh, that I had followed Ms. Austen’s advice.

        Slaínte.

        1. I too have noticed a trend that every answer, no matter how thoughtful, is eviscerated by Ben if doesn’t say what Ben wants to hear and use his words. I got rather tired of it half way though. There are some fascinating conversations to be had here if they weren’t being squelched.

          1. I suppose I’m not the only one to notice that rudeness by Ben is just fine on this website, while rudeness to Ben is against “Da Roolz”.

        2. Dermot, your post is already longer than what Professor Ceiling Cat tends to tolerate, and a point-by-point rebuttal on my part would both be longer and take me into the wee hours of tomorrow morning.

          So let me offer one single example that I think is a reasonable representative sample.

          Justin Martyr bitterly complained that evil daemons with the power of foresight planted imitations of Jesus amongst the Pagans generations, centuries in advance in order to lead honest men astray. One of the dozens of examples he cited was the Mithraic Eucharist as an imitation of the Christian Eucharist — and, therefore, inextricably, the Last Supper.

          Do you agree that the two ceremonies were, indeed, similar enough for such a charge to be leveled in the first place?

          If so, do you agree with his explanation for the direction in which the copying went? If you don’t agree, what is your own explanation?

          Let’s start with that.

          b&

          1. Sorry, Ben, as it says at the end of some film noir, ‘It’s too late’.

            Some mythicists are worth engaging with. Carrier is. You are not. (I do recall you mistaking a quotation from Carrier for apologetics because it contained a discussion on the meaning of Judaistic theological jargon and several technical terms written in the original Greek).

            If I want to discuss historical questions earnestly, I’ll continue on the Classical History Forum and take seriously the several thoughtful commenters who appear on this site. And long may they do so, as long as they are not exasperated by the intemperateness of one of your replies.

            Slaínte.

              1. And there precisely is your problem, Ben. ‘Defeat’? ‘Challenge’? This is not a battle or sport. It is not about apologia or vindications. It is about explanation, a collective seminar in the search for truth, or as near as we can get to it. Not about being the loudest writer on the planet.

                Let me come to an end in words of one beat.

                I will not trust you if you lie. You lie in your point about the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you know that you lie. And I know that, too. So, if I can’t trust you, I see no point in a back and forth with you.

                When I point out that you do not know the source of a quote, that you think he is a man of faith, that you do not know that he holds Christ to be a myth, I am shocked. Then I laugh. And had I thought what you did, I would feel shame. You seem not to.

                For 2 years I have seen you shout, slight and slur. I have more things to do with my time.

                Bye bye, Ben.

              2. You lie in your point about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

                I reject this accusation utterly. As I have repeatedly written, they are the actual pieces of parchment penned by actual Millennialist Jews living in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after all possible dates for Jesus’s ministry. They include the very prophecies Jesus was claimed to be fulfilling. They include diverse commentaries on the same subjects he preached about.

                What they don’t contain is Jesus.

                How many other individuals they do or don’t mention is irrelevant to all but apologists. If you’re writing a bunch of beatitudes, but not those beatitudes, and make no mention of Jesus Frickin’ Christ preaching his own Beatitudes to the masses who’ve just been fed by his table scraps…we know it’s because Jesus literally ain’t on your radar.

                b&

  25. Other commenters above have restated the case I made in previous threads on this subject, which have not been answered to my satisfaction, so I’ll try to be brief. We (those commenters and I) don’t know whether Christianity had a founder named named Jesus; we don’t believe in the Jesus myths (walking on water, resurrection, etc.); we know Christianity existed as of sometime after the range of dates that have been historically accepted for Jesus’s death and was not known to exist prior to that time; cults like Christianity tend to have founders (e.g., Joseph Smith, Rev. Moon, David Koresh, etc.) to whom fictitious legends are attached; we see no reason that a person named Jesus might not have founded a small, insignificant cult which, just as a tiny quantum event may trigger the inflation of a universe, snowballed into today’s Christianity. We see no reason to defend the historicity of the Jesus myths, but equally see no compelling reason to deny that some Jesus existed, and perhaps the one with the philosophy of “let him without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Pharasee and others, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Any so-called Bayesian estimate would have to factor in the consistency of that philosophy throughout many individual stories, its unusual nature for that time and place, the mention of Christianity by Josephus which (unlike the forged additions) is not disputed, and the afore-mentioned empirical tendency for cults who claim to follow the teachings of an historical individual to have actual founders whose name is what the cult members say it is.

    The mention by Sastra of a new piece of evidence from Carrier is potentially significant, but I would need much more information on it – you wouldn’t want me to take it on faith. Frankly, the obsessive insistence that the figure of Jesus must have been entirely fabricated approaches the status of a “true believer”, and we know that true believers are willing to make too much of evidence without considering alternative explanations for it, mis-interpret evidence, or even fabricate it to promote their worthy causes. Okay, that is too harsh, but remember what Feynman said about fooling yourself.

    To summarize, without knowing for sure one way or another, it seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity. Further evidence could change my opinion.

    1. To summarize, without knowing for sure one way or another, it seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity.

      Your position is not that of an historicist, but of an agnostic on the subject. That’s a kettle of fish of an entirely different color.

      b&

      1. That’s a kettle of fish of an entirely different color.

        Is it the kettle or the fish that are of an entirely different color?

      2. Can you expand on a bit on the distinction between the historicist and agnostic positions? I find JimV’s comment very persuasive. (At the same time, I’ve found your explanation of the anti-historicist position very clear and convincing.)

        1. An historicist is somebody who claims that Jesus was a real historical figure. An agnostic on the matter hasn’t come to a conclusion one way or another and simply says, “I don’t know.”

          Of course, we all have error bars, so drawing that line can get fuzzy. But, in practice, you generally only get people arguing for a position when they’re reasonably convinced of it….

          b&

          1. And, to your point Ben, when the error bars get so wide they encompass thousands of possible people, then … what’s the point? You really know nothing.

            I think all agree that there were people alive in Palestine at the date range in question who were named Jesus. So what? That fact carries now water.

    2. Agnosticism is okay, but as often I think we can do better.

      Two problematic points:

      cults like Christianity tend to have founders (e.g., Joseph Smith, Rev. Moon, David Koresh, etc.) to whom fictitious legends are attached;

      I’ve commented before and elsewhere here that there are two sets of religious “founder” personas:

      1) Historical persons, that happens to be scam artists and did their best to fictionalize legends about their own person. Those show up after the invention of the book press and a better coverage of documents

      2) Ahistorical personas, that do not meet the usual criteria for historicity. Most arise before writing permeates the area, they are century old oral legends written up. (E.g. Buddha, Mohammed, et cetera.) What are the chances that they were actual individuals as opposed to legends like trolls and fairies?

      The “Jesus” persona lives in a boundary where writing permeated the area just after the period, but is not exceptional seeing how many chinese sect founders with arguable (insufficient) historicity were placed in an environment with at least central documentation.

      Frankly, the obsessive insistence that the figure of Jesus must have been entirely fabricated approaches the status of a “true believer”,

      The insistence is on that we should have the same amount of evidence as when historical persons are accepted by historians. I would say that scientists, and so skeptics, are obsessed with evidence and insisting on it. There are reasons for that.

      This field is full of apologetics under the conflating name “biblical historians”, often placed at mixed religious and historical chairs. Consequently it is very hard for a layman to locate reliable historians, placed at historical sections of universities, that have published anything on the historicity of abrahamistic founder personas. If we listen to “biblical historians”, 99 % of the religious texts have a historical background. After some light reading on the archaeology of the area, I would say that 99 % of it is non-historical.*

      *It hits me that is another issue here. If 99 % is bull, why would the apriori likelihood on this specific point differ?

    3. I agree entirely. “It seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity.” That possibility does not require any extraordinary claims whatsoever. Could there have been such a historical Jesus? Sure! Do we *know that there was* such a historical Jesus? Nope. However, “We don’t know,” is a perfectly reasonable position *when we don’t know*.

      If you’re going to claim that there definitely was a historical Jesus, there is a burden of proof to meet–and Ben Goren’s challenge is a decent summary of that burden of proof. If you’re going to claim that there was not a historical Jesus, the burden of proof is equivalent–you need to demonstrate that *we know there was not such a person*. Until either burden of proof can be met, we are left with, “We don’t know.”

  26. Some of this may have been covered above, but herewith is my off-the-top-and-without-doing-any-research response to Ben’s noble challenge:

    1. Jesus was an wandering preacher, with a small but devoted following, who created a minor disturbance in the Temple and was executed as a criminal.

    2. If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars I have read to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark. There might be other stuff, too, but I’m no expert. If by “positive” you mean “absolutely certain,” I am not absolutely certain of anything and don’t aspire.

    3. I assume some stuff in Mark got stretched a tad. To try to tell the sheep from the goats, I use as a rough guide the standard criteria described by Ehrman, Meier, Sanders, et al., in their books. (I assume you don’t need the cites.) Of course, these textual criteria do not result in certainties but only relative probabilities, and they don’t establish much that is even relatively probable.

    4. Already answered. For the requested example, I don’t think the rising of the saints in Matthew 27:52 actually happened. The event is impossible, Mark doesn’t have it, and his supporters have every reason to make Jesus seem more important than he was.

    5. Jesus’ immediate following was small, and I’m guessing an execution of a minor criminal in a distant corner of the Roman Empire was not considered such a much at the time. The larger-than-life miracle stuff is some of what I assume got stretched or made up later.

    6. I think King Arthur was probably based, very loosely, on an actual military leader who resisted the Anglo-Saxon invasion. I imagine his legends got stretched in much the same way as those in Mark.

    Having now discharged my responsive obligation to the best of my meager ability, and seeing as how I still have 223 words left, here’s bakatcha, Ben, with what troubles me about your theory:

    1. Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet? That’s like writing a review of book one hasn’t read, and who does that? And why does Paul apparently know a few concrete details (e.g., Jesus was killed) but only a few? If the character is entirely fictional, Paul should be able to make up all kinds of things. He certainly had the imagination.

    2. Why does the risen Jesus do so little? That seems like a real failure of the mythic imagination. Indeed, why are all of Jesus’ miracles, even the resurrection, such small potatoes by biblical standards? Plenty of people in the Bible, such as Tabitha and Samuel, return from the dead. Cures? Child’s play. Elijah and Elisha could do that. Again, this seem like a real failure of mythic imagination, but it is perfectly consistent with the way legends about real people get stretched here and there to fit somebody’s later agenda. In my opinion, you have to get to Revelation before some really mythic events occur.

    3. Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths? Why does every gospel writer and his uncle use the same hero at about the same time? They couldn’t think up their own characters? I can see how individual tales might recycle the same character but entire life histories? Why is the author of Luke so hyper about “correcting” the record? It’s myth. Who cares?

    4. Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth? I can see why one would stick legendary events into a real-life story to liven up the dull years, like young George Washington throwing the silver dollar, but not the other way around.

    5. Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures. Had to be a real person somewhere in there. Real mythical heroes do mighty deeds, slaying the monsters without to defeat monsters within. They don’t just gasbag and wait around for something bad to happen to them. That’s what real people do.

    I humbly await my thrashing.

    1. If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars I have read to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark.

      Then we need consider no further. Origen debunked the Testamonium long before Eusebius forged it in Josephus’s name; see elsewhere in this thread for the passage. And Mark’s Jesus was no mere preacher who created a minor disturbance at the Temple; he was far, far, far more than that. Characterizing Mark’s Jesus as you did is like calling Luke Skywalker an orphan who grew up on an impoverished farm, as I indicated in the original post.

      Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet?

      Because he’s fabricating the fiction. Why did Joseph Smith comment on the significance of the angel Moroni?

      Why does the risen Jesus do so little?

      The same reason no other ascended Pagan demigod does: that’s the end of the story. Bellerophon rides Pegasus into the sunset (and Muhammad rides Buraq into the same sunset) just before the credits roll.

      Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths?

      It is. Paul doesn’t set the Crucifixion at the recent past; it’s the “archons of that age” or some other such turn of phrase. And the author of Mark is so far removed in time and space that he places events that happened in 70 CE when the Romans conquered Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion.

      Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth?

      Seriously? You must not have read any myths. It’s the oldest and most common technique in the book for adding verisimilitude.

      Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures.

      Again, seriously? Jesus’s sermons are only a small part of the Gospels. The rest of the time, he’s raising the dead, walking on water, battling the establishment, fighting the devil for the control of humanity. Have you even read the Bible?

      b&

      1. No, the last one was joking, and yes, some of it, a long time ago. But bottom line: “beloved actual person inspired followers to record some of his sayings and doings and then later add some fantastic (albeit rather ho-hum and imitative) legends to his life story” seems to me a lot more plausible than “mundane speeches and events added to fantastic legends of completely imaginary character invented by other people decades earlier so as to make the fantastic parts seem more believable.” Can you give any other examples of the latter literary phenomenon? I’m willing to be convinced.

          1. Touche. But I don’t think Hamlet was written so as to trick anyone into thinking the legendary character on which it was based really lived. For one thing, Shakespeare changed the name of the main character to make the play his own. I think the author had other aims than making the story seem more plausible. And the original character was not a mythical being with amazing superpowers who was brought down to size by the Bard. If anything, the opposite. Shakespeare threw in a ghost. And, finally, I don’t know for a fact that there wasn’t some factual basis for the original legend. We used to think the Trojan War never happened. Where there’s smoke there’s probably at least a little fire, that’s my working hypothesis.

            It was fun playing. Gotta run. The last word is yours.

            1. But I don’t think Hamlet was written so as to trick anyone into thinking the legendary character on which it was based really lived.

              Okay. What about YHWH and all his obnoxious Commanding in the Torah? Dude doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.

              Indeed, are you aware of an holy text that doesn’t include some form of sermonizing? Much of the Q’ran is Gabriel dictating to Muhammad. I seem to remember Homer having the Olympians lecture to the Greeks. I’d be astonished if Moroni doesn’t do the same.

              b&

  27. Herewith my off-the-top-and-without-doing-any-research response to Ben’s noble challenge:

    1. Jesus was an wandering preacher, with a small but devoted following, who created a minor disturbance in the Temple and was executed as a criminal.

    2. If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark. There might be other stuff, too, but I’m no expert. If by “positive” you mean “absolutely certain,” I am not absolutely certain of anything and don’t aspire.

    3. I assume some stuff in Mark got stretched a tad. To try to tell the sheep from the goats, I use as a rough guide the standard criteria described by Ehrman, Meier, Sanders, et al., in their books. (I assume you don’t need the cites.) Of course, these textual criteria do not result in certainties but only relative probabilities, and they don’t establish much that is even relatively probable.

    4. Already answered. For the requested example, I don’t think the rising of the saints in Matthew 27:52 actually happened. The event is impossible, Mark doesn’t have it, and his supporters have every reason to make Jesus seem more important than he was.

    5. Jesus’ immediate following was small, and I’m guessing an execution of a minor criminal in a distant corner of the Roman Empire was not considered such a much at the time. The larger-than-life miracle stuff is some of what I assume got stretched or made up later.

    6. I think King Arthur was probably based, very loosely, on an actual military leader who resisted the Anglo-Saxon invasion. I imagine his legends got stretched in much the same way as those in Mark.

    Having now discharged my responsive obligation to the best of my meager ability, and seeing as how I still have 223 words left, here’s bakatcha, Ben, with what troubles me about your theory:

    1. Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet? That’s like writing a review of book one hasn’t read, and who does that? And why does Paul apparently know a few concrete details (e.g., Jesus was killed) but only a few? If the character is entirely fictional, Paul should be able to make up all kinds of things. He certainly had the imagination.

    2. Why does the risen Jesus do so little? That seems like a real failure of the mythic imagination. Indeed, why are all of Jesus’ miracles, even the resurrection, such small potatoes by biblical standards? Plenty of people in the Bible, such as Tabitha and Samuel, return from the dead. Cures? Child’s play. Elijah and Elisha could do that. Again, this seem like a real failure of mythic imagination, but it is perfectly consistent with the way legends about real people get stretched here and there to fit somebody’s later agenda. In my opinion, you have to get to Revelation before some really mythic events occur.

    3. Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths? Why does every gospel writer and his uncle use the same hero at about the same time? They couldn’t think up their own characters? I can see how individual tales might recycle the same character but entire life histories? Why is the author of Luke so hyper about “correcting” the record? It’s myth. Who cares?

    4. Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth? I can see why one would stick legendary events into a real-life story to liven up the dull years, like young George Washington throwing the silver dollar, but not the other way around.

    5. Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures. Had to be a real person somewhere in there. Real mythical heroes do mighty deeds, slaying the monsters without to defeat monsters within. They don’t just gasbag and wait around for something bad to happen to them. That’s what real people do.

  28. I posted it to my Facebook page with nearly 15,000 fans. Let’s see if we can get you that answer.

    (BTW: Jesus was a myth. David Fitzgerald and Richard Carrier do an excellent job show how jesus never existed.)

  29. Unbelief in the miracles attributed to Jesus = unbelief in Jesus as depicted in the New Testament. The very many miracles allegedly performed by Jesus fundamentally define him as a person. Striping Jesus of his miracles makes him someone that cannot be conflated with Jesus. The search for the historical Jesus is a futile enterprise for anyone rejecting miracles. Such a researcher can at best find someone that has nothing to do with miracles. In other words nothing to do with Jesus.

    1. Such a researcher can at best find someone that has nothing to do with miracles. In other words nothing to do with Jesus.

      So the quest to try to identify the historical basis for the King Arthur legends is pointless because the “real King Arthur” didn’t have a Round Table, a wizardry-devised conception, a tame wizard (Merlin), a Grail to quest for . . .?

      Similar legends, after all, surround the historical figure of Charlemagne.

      1. How many coins did Arthur have minted?

        http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/g/gold_solidus_of_charlemagne.aspx

        The question isn’t whether myths accrued to historical figures. Vespasian cured blindness by spitting in people’s eyes, just like Jesus.

        The question is whether we have independent reason to think the person real — Charlemagne and his coins, for example — or if the person’s entire biography is fantastic (see Justin Martyr for details).

        b&

        1. The question is whether we have independent reason to think the person real

          Agreed, but that isn’t the point that the commenter was making. S/he said that we can discount there having been a historical figure because we can discount the miracles. As you’ve just observed yourself, that’s nonsensical reasoning because, despite the attributed miracles, we know that Charlemagne was a historical figure.

          1. The difference is, strip the miracles away from Charlemagne, and you still have the coins and all the rest of the archaeological evidence plus lots of solid documentary evidence.

            Strip the miracles away from Jesus, and you’ve got the most noticeable mere mortal of the era. Strip that away, too, and you’ve got nothing.

            b&

            1. Strip the miracles away from Jesus, and you’ve got the most noticeable mere mortal of the era. Strip that away, too, and you’ve got nothing.

              Unfortunately, this is not what the original commenter said. You might want to check back.

    2. The historicists — and you can see it in this thread — try to have their Kate and Edit, too: they claim that Jesus either was a magician who fooled his followers into thinking he was a miracle-worker, or that the miracles were absent from the get-go and added later to a Jesus who was exactly like the Jesus of the Gospels after you’ve stripped out everything supernatural.

      The problem with the first is that even a prestidigitator who could convincingly pull off the miracles of the Gospels still would have been the talk of the town…and the non-supernatural parts of Jesus’s story are every bit as spectacular (and often deliciously scandalous) as the supernatural parts.

      So, then, the historicists often take it a step further: Jesus not only didn’t even appear to do anything miraculous, but his actual biography didn’t even bear the slightest semblance to that in the Gospels…and, oh-by-the-way, his name might not have even been, “Jesus.”

      You know what the rest of the world calls that last scenario?

      “Mythmaking.”

      b&

    3. Nonsense, Nicolas. Anyone can accept that the people at the time believed that Jesus did marvelous works, but it does not follow that any Christian is bound to accept any more than that. People are believed to do miracles even now, but classical Christian theists believe in faith healing. Some of his miracles — such as his walking on water — is obviously symbolical, for the sea, in Jewish scripture, represents death and chaos (nothingness), and Jesus is shown, in this story, a sovereign over death and nothingness.

      1. Well, Eric, when did you become the expert on what parts of the Bible are metaphorical and which literal. What is it in scripture itself that makes you think that walking on the water wasn’t supposed to have happened, except for a rather unconvincing analogy to Jewish scripture. And tell me, is the Resurrection supposed to be real or symbolic, too? After all, pre-Jesus mythological figures were also resurrected. Maybe it’s just symbolic of a spiritual rebirth!

        Can you give us a list of which miracles are supposed to be real, and which metaphorical? I’d really like to see that!