Once again: Was there a historical Jesus?

October 3, 2014 • 5:47 am

This question is of perennial interest, and of course won’t be settled, at least by those theists who proclaim, wrongly, that “you can’t prove a negative.” (Really? You can’t prove that I don’t have two hearts, or a brother?) Even if, after decades, we fail to come up with good evidence for a historical Jesus, Christians will still maintain, based on Scripture, that he existed.

Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

Because of the paucity of evidence, we can expect this question to keep coming up. And so it’s surfaced once again, in a PuffHo piece by Nigel Barber.

Barber, who has a Ph.D. in biopsychology and a website at Psychology Today (“The Human Beast”), has also written six books.  And in the Sept. 25 edition (is that the right word?) of PuffHo, he takes up the question of the historicity of Jesus. His piece, “If Jesus never existed, religion may be fiction,” briefly lays out the mythicist case. Of course religion itself is not a fiction, but what Barber means is that Christianity’s empirical support, like that of Scientology or Mormonism, may well rest on a person or events that simply didn’t exist.

Here’s the crux of Barber’s argument. (I have not yet seen the piece in Free Inquiry to which he refers, as it’s behind a paywall, but if a reader wants to send it to me, I’d be much obliged.). I’ve put the critical part in bold:

In History, Jesus Was a No Show
Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.”

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

Barber goes on to talk about how the origin of Mormonism was a sham promulgated by a con man (an interpretation I accept). Yet even in that case there’s better evidence than we have for Jesus, for the Book of Mormon opens with two statements from eleven witnesses—people who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith—who swore that they saw the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. Those people are historical figures who can be tracked down, and so the evidence for the existence of the plates is stronger than for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Barber finishes by describing how credulous people have started sects based on phony gurus and leaders, and, indeed, how an Indian film director decided to create his own religion by pretending he was a guru.  And of course we all know how L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology based on a bunch of science-fiction writings and a phony theology involving Xenu, volcanoes, and thetans. How people can buy that stuff—and there’s a lot of them—is beyond me. But of course you don’t get to learn the theology of Scientology until you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and so are inclined to accept it (bogus as it is) because of the “sunk-costs fallacy.”

At any rate, if there is no contemporaneous record of Jesus, there should have been, how seriously should we take his historical existence? I am not inclined to accept the Bible as convincing evidence for a historical Jesus

Is there anyone in history with so littlec ontemporaneous attestation who is nevertheless seen by millions as having really existed? There is of course Socrates, but of course we have a historical figure, Plato, who attests to his existence. Yet even that is overlain with a patina of mythicism, and I don’t think most scholars would say that Socrates existed with the certainty that Christians (or even atheists like Bart Erhman) would say that Jesus existed. And there’s no religion based on the historical existence of Socrates. As for Shakespeare, well, we have his signature and a fair amount of contemporaneous evidence that he really did exist; we just don’t know for sure that he wrote those plays (absence of evidence).

p.s. If you want to comment saying, “I am not concerned with this tedious question,” please don’t bother. If that’s your attitude, there’s no need to inform us all about your lack of interest.

 

 

591 thoughts on “Once again: Was there a historical Jesus?

    1. I always look forward to purchasing the hard copy of “Free Inquiry” at my local independent book store.

      (Though I suppose I could go to the local Barnes & Noble and scarf it up along with several other mags and books and leaf through them in the café, and then leave them there for book store employees to have to reshelf, as I’ve observed certain entitled customers do.)

  1. Ben G.’s excellent post a while back pushed me closer to the myth camp as well, but I still wonder about this:

    “Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporary records.”

    Given how much material degraded or was intentionally destroyed in the Dark Ages, is this really a reasonable expectation? Especially given that Christian monks and priests were often the ones who decided what materials survived — what would be the chance for survival if the evidence portrayed him as a wacky and very mortal preacher?

    1. There is plenty of evidence of other events and people from the period. Those documents, etc. we’re not destroyed over time.

    2. This is a good point, and it is a really, really frustrating thing to deal with on the subject. Medieval Christians were in charge of preserving basically all records, and thus the evidence has gone through a very non-neutral filter, on top of the vicissitudes of history leading to the destruction of documents by accident.

      Richard Carrier makes the Socrates analogy: we have a much better record of Socrates’ historicity than we do for Jesus. They were similar figures in history: both were great sages of lasting influence, neither wrote anything himself, both had humble backgrounds, both attacked the religious and political elite, both taught with questions and parables, both were executed by the state, ostensibly for blasphemy, but actually because they spoke against the sin and greed of the authorities, etc.

      But for Socrates, we know the names of over a dozen eyewitnesses who wrote books about him, and we know some of the titles of those books, and we even HAVE those books in two cases (Plato and Xenophon). And we have an eyewitness account from an unfriendly source, Aristophanes’ The Clouds. We have none of this for Jesus.

      The survival of texts from Athens is a product of medieval selection, as well; they preserved these texts because they wanted to. Yet if Socrates had immediately become worshiped as the Son of God, and founded a great church that survived for centuries and went on to be the only institution with the means and interest in preserving ancient materials, we’d expect EVEN MORE about Socrates than we have. We would expect to have nearly everything ever written about him by his contemporaries and associates, which would be hundreds of volumes.

      So a historicist theory for Jesus has to look more like Apollonius of Tyana, a famous person who nevertheless largely escaped the historical record. Except we can’t posit disinterest, because of the whole huge church thing. There are three options:

      1) Jesus wasn’t famous. He was so insignificant that no literate person at the time noticed him or became one of his followers. Paul was the first, and he didn’t know Jesus, and was uninterested in his ministry.

      2) The majority of documents about Jesus were deliberately destroyed or left to rot away unread by the very church that venerated Jesus.

      3) The same disruption in church leadership that wiped out all church history, and all or almost all of the original leadership, between 64 and 95 CE, also led to the loss of all applicable documents.

      All of these options are uncomfortable for the historicist. If you go for the first, then the majority of the NT, presenting Jesus as influential from the start, is lies. If the second, then the church engaged in a massive cover-up of the truth about Jesus’ life, for some reason. If the third, you have to believe, without any evidence, in an enormous destruction of any and all records about Christianity across three continents, which also entails that the majority of the NT is lies (or at least baseless myth-making).

      Or, alternately, there weren’t any such documents in the first place, because nobody knew Jesus in life, because he didn’t exist.

      1. If he existed at all, then I would suspect some combination of 1 and 2 above. I don’t think we’d need to evoke some great conspiracy for 2. If there were a small number of documents, all portraying him as a wild-eyed crank who was married to a prostitute and consorted with thieves, I doubt there’d be much motivation to preserve them.

        1. Quite true. But, by the same token, if there were a small number of documents detailing Jesus as a pre-existent celestial being who was crucified by demons in the celestial sphere between the Earth and the Moon, the church that believed in a Jesus living on Earth wouldn’t have much motivation to preserve those, either.

          1. Ask and ye shall receive. There actually was exactly such a pre-existing celestial being, named, “Jesus,” mentioned in Zechariah 9, and further commented upon by Philo. (To be fair, the Jesus in Zechariah wasn’t crucified, but is otherwise perfectly recognizable as serving all the theological roles of the Christian Jesus.)

            See the previous discussion here:

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

            and search the text for the word, “Rising.”

            Cheers,

            b&

            1. Can you say more about this? What word are you translating as Jesus in Zechariah 9, and why do you think this passage is about a pre-existent celestial being?

    3. In History, more than anywhere, the saying “you can’t prove a negative” is closest to being true. I can’t provide documentation that someone didn’t exist. Before the 20th century records were minimal, and the ravages of time often wipe out what there was. We do have to ask, though, whether we have any good reason for believing that someone did exist. When we make extravagant claims about an historical figure’s importance, the burden of evidence is stronger, and we have to ask what the absence of evidence means. It would be wrong to place too much importance on a figure who is only described after the fact by interested parties.

      1. Re can’t prove someone did not exist.

        the case where an author from say 40 ad (Josephus) has a collection of manuscripts which includes references (2) to Jesus. These Jesus references are quickly refuted (2nd-3rd century) by others and called out as forgeries and insertions by historical revisionists (monks?). Further disputed because the author was born after the supposed crucifiction.

        If someone wrote that he witnessed jesus, then the claim is disputed by another – if the reason for the dispute is personal knowledge that the claimed meeting / event never happened, combined with knowledge that the original reference to Jesus came from known (fictitious) literature – that is as close as we can expect to come to proving the Jesus tale is fictional. It’s here in the referenced source:

        This is Google’s cache of http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/1stC_Hist.htm. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Sep 30, 2014 20:17:23 GMT.

    4. Yes, I can see your point. It is possible that the Jesus evidence is simply lost to time. However, Mediaeval monks & other church folk, as you point out, selected what they would preserve and most likely tossed many a good thing in the process. If Jesus evidence from witnesses to the miracles or his life events were there, you can be certain they would have preserved it.

      It is more likely, if Jesus did exist, that information about him was lost because it wasn’t worth recording by the literate state officials (Romans), couldn’t be recorded (witnesses were illiterate everyday people) or was passed down more or less in an oral tradition and not recorded (perhaps like other mystery cults).

      1. “If Jesus evidence from witnesses to the miracles or his life events were there, you can be certain they would have preserved it.”

        Yes indeed. On the other hand, if that evidence directly contradicted the Gospels, and/or portrayed Jesus as nothing more than a raving lunatic with a handful of gullible followers, we might not be surprised if they destroyed it.

        1. If Jesus was a raving lunatic with a handful of gullible followers, then he isn’t the Jesus of the bible. Might as well be some guy named Bob (no offence to Bobs.
          Was a religion started around 2000 years ago, yes.
          Was there a guy named Jesus 2000 years ago, probably more than one.
          Was there a Jesus as described in the bible, no.
          If you’re going to claim a historical Jesus, you have to show that he’s the one and only Jesus described in the bible because that’s the one everyone is talking about.

          1. To reiterate, I’m not making any such claims. I’m largely persuaded by the arguments that he was entirely mythical. I simply don’t accept as slam-dunk obvious that any documentation of such a person — documentation that almost certainly would have contradicted the Gospel accounts — would have survived 1000+ years in the hands of people motivated to expunge any “heresy” from the “historical” record.

            1. I agree that if a jesus figure existed and he did not carry out at least some of the things attributed to him then his existance does not matter as he is not the jesus in the new testement. If a jesus existed and he did carryout some of the things in the bible then there should have been some contemporary writing about him. Who could preach and draw the thousands that jesus supposedly drew everywhere he went, who could carry out the miracles that jesus supposedly did and not draw comment from the whole of the population and therefore have someone write about him unless he is a complete fabrication?
              Even taking into account the modern ways of communicating I have not met one indian who did not recognise the name of sai baba.

        2. Honestly, we can already be confident that the New Testament is a collection of lunatic ravings written by and for gullible followers. That alone should be enough to discredit Christianity. The only two remaining questions are:

          Did it start with a real Jesus who was subsequently turned into a franchise, or did it start with at least one inventive mind who coined the earliest Jesus story from scratch?

          Was it entirely delusional, or was there also a spark of cynical exploitation in there too?

        3. we might not be surprised if they destroyed it.

          They didn’t need to actively destroy it – simply not going to the considerable effort of copying it would be sufficient to ensure the fairly rapid loss of records.

    5. Documents were not lost at random.Documents that were lost during the Dark Ages were lost because the Christian brothers whose job it was to preserve them chose not to, deeming them not sufficiently valuable to re-copy. The things they wanted to keep were kept, others were allowed to rot away, or were even scraped clean to make way for more valued works.* This is unlikely to have been the case with contemporaneous mentions of Jesus’ activities in Palestine.

      On the contrary they were so embarrassed by the shortage of such documents that several were forged to fill in the obvious gap. If such documents had ever existed they would have been copied and recopied until every Bishop in the world had one.

      *http://www.medievalists.net/2013/11/12/scientists-reveal-ancient-texts-in-medieval-manuscripts/

      1. or were even scraped clean to make way for more valued works.*

        The magic word is “

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palimpsest

        “. I use it occasionally when talking about the textures of rocks and particularly the overprinting of high strain rate cataclastic metamorphic events onto pre-existing sedimentary textures (which may have their own history of diagenetic events).

          1. That’s the Sean Connery one, isn’t it? [Checks] Seems so. I’d probably been regularly using the word before the book came out, let alone the film. Like I said, it’s a regular part of geology, particularly metamorphic petrology, but it’s also an important concept in diagenesis of sediments and the taphonomy of turning dead organisms into fossils. It’s as much a part of my bread-and-butter work of sample examination and description as … [searches for an example] … there’s a car fixing programme rattling on in the background, whose mechanic uses spanners in the same way that I work with concepts of palimpsests of characteristics and events.

            1. Interesting. I hadn’t realised before that it had a geological meaning.

              Most of people I know who who ut know it from the film — “a palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel”.

              /@

              1. Well, we use the word, but in it’s standard meaning. Literally, one set of events happen to the rock, then another, and each leaves it’s marks, one on top of another. Exactly the same as the papyrus-reuse sense.

  2. “If you want to comment saying, “I am not concerned with this tedious question,” please don’t bother. If that’s your attitude, there’s no need to inform us all about your lack of interest”
    If you do though, you’ll conveniently confirm that you can prove a negative… 🙂

    1. 🙂

      This whole “Can’t prove a negative” is pure nosense from a logical point of view anyway. Any time you prove P you also have proved not (not P). And this is not pure formalism, sometimes (not P) is equivalent to a “positive” sentence.

      1. For example, “There is no largest prime number” is equivalent to “There are an infinity of prime numbers” and has been proved.

          1. That’s only a theorem.

            With a decent fist full of proofs.
            While the Argument From Authority is always to be treated with a bit of suspicion, if you’re in the field of mathematics and Euclid, Euler and Erdős agree with each other in saying “that’s true”, then I’m not inclined to argue with them.

              1. OK.
                I was almost looking forward to someone trying to pick a mathematical argument with the “Three Degr-EEs”
                Hmm, works better as a spoken pun.

              2. I guess pure mathematics is largely too obscure to the layman to be a target of any form of denialism that parallels the denial of evolution, climate change, etc. The closest thing that I can think of is widespread unwillingness to accept that 0.999…. = 1 . This, apparently, lacks truthiness to such a degree that there are discussions hundreds of pages long on messageboards insisting that it’s “just a little bit different”.

              3. It’s more visual if you multiply 0.99999… with 10 and then substract 0.99999…

                Joking aside, one of the reason this 0.99999… business is confusing for the layman may be because it’s not a periodic decimal that could ever come up as the result of the algorithm of “long division”. So to really give meaning to it one has to develope the theory of convergent series and so on.

  3. Tom Holland make a similar case for Muhammad in his book “In the Shadow of the Sword”.

    Given that the Koran was written a hundred years after fact from an oral tradition by authors with a theological ax to grind, it is very difficult to ferret out a historical Muhammad.

    We are talking at least 4 generation here, it would be like trying to piece together the life of ones great-great grandparents from conversations with relatives.

    1. I believe you’re referring to the hadith and the first extant biography of Muhammad, both of which were compiled/written centuries after his death.

      The Koran itself appears to date reliably from his time.

      Tom Holland’s excellent book was an eye-opener for me. I highly recommend it.

      1. As I understand it, the Koran existed only in an oral form until after the death of Muhammad.

        Various written forms then emerged and these were finally standardized into one final text by Uthman about 20 years after the death of Muhammad.

        Given that Uthman also destroyed all the older versions that could be located it is not possible to say how these older versions disagreed with each other and what actually made it in to the Koran.

        What we can say is that these older versions must have disagreed with each other in significant ways otherwise why all the effort to bring them into agreement and then destroy the evidence.

        What we can also be sure of is that this process was thoroughly human and highly political and the chances of Muhammads original words passing though this process unchanged are close to zero.

        1. According to Holland, the various parts of the Koran, as they were “revealed” over the years, were dictated by Muhammad to his scribes. But the full text was not compiled till after his death.

          You’re correct that what Uthman did effectively wiped out any evidence there might have been of different versions of the Koran.

          It was a very human and political process, that’s true.

  4. “Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporary record of a Jesus-person’s existence…”

    Given the context of the sentence, it seems you meant contemporaneous? (Maybe a spell-checker mangled it?)

      1. In Jerry’s defence, “contemporary” can be used as a synonym for “contemporaneous”, albeit an ambiguous one. (In fact, that’s the first meaning NOAD gives; the second is “present day”.)

        /@

          1. “Someone’s contemporaries” is using contemporary as a noun – that’s always correct. Contemporaneous is a (liberal elite) synonym only for one adjectival sense of contemporary, i.e. “at the same time in the past”.

  5. last April, I saw Dr. Carrier debate Zeba Crook, a professor of religious studies at Carleton University. I went in a mythicist and left completely agnostic. For one thing, to characterize the exchange as a debate would be to stretch the definition of “debate” since they agreed on everything they discussed except an interpretive approach to certain passages that I can only assume has currency among specialists in Biblical exegesis. To evaluate the debate fairly would require far more expertise than i can bring to bear, but Dr. Carrier seemed impressed with, and respectful of Dr. Crook’s expertise. I don’t think we’ll ever solve the question of a historical jesus. Also, how similar does a historical figure have to be to the Bible-guy to qualify? Does he have to be named Yeshua? If he was executed, does it have to be by crucifixion? What if he was born in Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem? Well, you get the idea…

    1. “yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.”

      “What if he was born in Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem?”

      What if a mythological character was raised in a mythological place? Would that be reason enough to doubt the existence of Jesus as a real person? Rene Salm writes that there was no Nazareth at the advent of the common era.
      He goes through the evidence quite thoroughly and has convinced me. He points out that most archaeology is done by the religious and tend to bend the evidence to fit their pre assumptions, then quote one another without examination as if it is incontrovertible.

      No contemporary record of Jesus, no evidence of his hometown. Take that, agnosticism.

            1. Thanks. Well that’s confusing! I know there’s a view that Bethlehem didn’t exist until the Empress Helena arrived with gold whereupon the locals ‘discovered’ it for her – along with pieces of the true cross™. But now I’m confused about Nazareth as well. Maybe it was Jesus’ Metropolis and Bethlehem was his Smallville?

  6. How does the 126 sources examined compare to the total number of historical documents from the relevant time period. Is that most or all written sources from that era? I agree with the conclusion, I’m simply wondering what the sample size is in comparison to the whole. I think it is almost certainly a high quality sampling, but I have no idea how many such sources exist.

  7. Whoah, just one moment – 126 historians, and contempory ones on top of that? The overwhelming majority of those has to have come down to us only in fragments – a snippet here, a quotation there. So while it’s still telling if Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in those, the case is unlikely as compelling as “consulted no fewer than 126 historians” implies.

    1. But it isn’t 126 random sources. The early christians were desperate to prove that jesus existed. They cherished every scrap that could provide proof, and conveniently lost uncomfortable evidence. For 2 millennia, christians through councils, monasteries, etc controlled the records. Look at what they kept. In the second century, Lucien mocked christians as gullible fools waiting to get fleeced by the next conman, and 2000 years later this quote from Lucien is still one of only a dozen texts presented as proof that jesus existed. Wow.

      So, in an environment where people motivated to keep everything kept everything they could, we still have nothing – except, of course, blatant forgeries and 1900 year old accusations that christians will believe anything.

    2. To the extent that they were preserved only as fragments, one would expect that the parts about Jesus would have been been among the most important parts to writers in late antiquity and the middle ages.

    1. There is a grain of truth behind the “can’t prove a negative” fallacy. In fact, what people are stumbling towards when they make that statement is this:

      It is much easier to disprove highly generalized or universal statements (by noting a single exception) than to prove them (by demonstrating that no exceptions exist anywhere). And some types of negative statement are often highly generalized, in particular that “X doesn’t exist”.

      However, there’s another common fallacy: the idea that because we cannot have perfect knowledge, we cannot have ANY knowledge. It’s timely that Jerry just posted an article on Bayesian statistics!

      “There are no unicorns in my living room.”
      – easily proved in a few seconds
      “There are no unicorns in Africa”
      – practically impossible to prove absolutely, especially since the properties of unicorns are poorly defined, but easy to show that the probability is vanishingly small, provided that we are talking about something the size of a horse.

          1. Science tells us that She is invisible, for She cannot be seen.

            Faith informs us that She is Pink, for thus it has been revealed to us.

            And that She is real? Well, even atheists believe in Her, so what more proof could you possibly want?

            b&

              1. Actually, She’s standing behind your shoulder, laughing at you. She does that a lot.

                No, don’t bother looking for Her…She’s invisible, remember?

                b&

          2. We of the Uniting Unicornists believe that the Invisible Unicorn is all colours at once. Just so long as we all agree that She poops rainbows, we can be as one.

          3. I remember a game of Go (think – it looks rather like checkers or draughts) which was aborted due to the inability of both players and two onlookers to agree whether a particular piece was white, black, or flashing purple.

            1. Go, the oriental board game. One of the popular Go proverbs is “minutes to learn ; a lifetime to master”.

    2. But how might one prove it beyond any doubt? (Especially if one includes half-brothers sharing a father.)

      Rather than ask for proof or removing any doubt, we should recognize that science doesn’t deal in absolutes. The question should really be how confident are we that someone doesn’t have a brother. Infidelity and secrets do happen but the baseline levels in society are low and if an investigation into his past doesn’t turn up any red flags we can reduce the odds even further. That should be enough to remove *most* doubt.

      If a spouse comes home bruised & bloody and says they were mugged & beaten, there’s a chance that they are lying or even that they faked the injuries. Can you prove that they weren’t? Maybe not, but unless they have a track record of doing this, it’s safe to trust their account and say the alternatives are very, very unlikely.

      1. I agree with you. While you can often not “prove” a negative, simply because it is impossible to examine every possibility, it is often quite irrelevant.

        1. I guess I was just trying to say that the “two hearts” example is stronger than the “no brothers” one.

  8. I’ve found it less effective to say “Everything written about him was decades after his death” than to substitute “at least two generations after his death.” Believers are quicker to grasp the yawning gulf of missing evidence.

    I’m not educated in these matters sufficiently to make the case, but it seems to me the traumatic destruction of the Temple in 70 was a spur to create a myth about a figure that’s conveniently too far back for fact-checking. I ask more knowledgable readers to disabuse me of this notion.

    1. You’re spot on about the 70 CE bit. The earliest Gospel, Matthew, describes the destruction of the Temple, but puts it at the time of the Crucifixion, thereby establishing not only that it was written after 70 CE, but that it had to be sufficiently distanced in both time and space for people to not wonder about the anachronism of Pilate being in charge at the time. Put it sometime in the second century in Greece — it is, after all, written in Greek by a Greek-educated native speaker of Greek and a non-stop magical mystery tour of favorite Greek bedtime stories — and you’re about on the money.

      Cheers,

      b&

  9. Once you learn how the sausage is made, you have to believe that there is almost* certainly no real life character.

    Once again: Was there a historical John Frum?

    1. “Ned Ludd or Ned Lud, possibly born Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam, is the person from whom the Luddites took their name.”

      And yet there are no records of his existence. Myths are all too easy to create.

      1. If there are no records of his existence, how do you know that he actually existed?

        My recollection is that Ned Ludd is a perfectly good example of a mythical character made historical.

  10. The argument that if Jesus did the miraculous things that are attributed to him there should be more mentions from contemporary sources is valid when debating with Christians, but here that has little weight. All sides in the present debate (here at least) can accept the miracles are made up. So, under the premise Jesus was one of many apocalyptic Jews of the time wouldn’t set off too many radars, especially since he wound up crucified (therefore limiting his impact).

    With the level of scrutiny used by mythicists, it seems it would be nearly impossible to convince them that any non-ruler existed that didn’t himself produce a written record. Did Peter exist? Any of the other apostles? Mary? All were made up? Did Paul exist? When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist? To me it seems everyone at the time understood the person existed, so it was never in doubt to question or argue about. When you argue Jesus didn’t exist you have also then argue that many other people didn’t exist, or explain away why they thought that he did.

    It seems to me occam’s razor applies. To suggest Jesus didn’t exist falls a little too far into conspiracy theory territory for my liking.

    1. Would “There’s is no good evidence for the existence of a real person behind the Jesus character mentioned in the Bible” be more comfortable?

      That is the situation.

      1. My position is that under your revised statement, the mythicist’s standards for what constitutes reasonable evidence is too high. So no, there is no irrefutable evidence evidence for a real person, but using the same level of scrutiny, you could refute pretty much anyone’s existence at that time in history. However, circumstantially, it is simpler to accept a real Jesus existed than to conjure up conspiracy theories to say he didn’t.

    2. “Did Paul exist?”

      Probably. We have his letters, which is more than for Jesus.

      “Did Peter exist? Any of the other apostles?”

      Probably Peter existed, as did James and John. Paul mentions them in Galatians 2.9. But we don’t know any of the other names of “the twelve”, which is weird. Apparently, by the end of the first century, Christians had forgotten the names of the founding members of their church.

      “Mary?”

      Probably not. She appears only in the Gospels, which are clearly legendary, and the first chapter of Acts. She then disappears from history entirely, as do all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, as does Joseph of Arimathea. Pilate receives no more mention in Christian documents. Simon of Cyrene and his sons, Martha, her brother Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Mary Magdalene likewise disappear. Joseph is gone even before Acts 1.14, with no explanation. So either the author of Acts had some reason to erase EVERYONE DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO JESUS from history, or they weren’t in history to begin with.

      “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed?”

      A good point, but not the way you think. Why doesn’t that come up in trials? Every time someone defends themself before a court, they only mention revelations of Jesus. No trial ever brings up anything about Jesus’ life; no defense of Christian beliefs in a trial ever cites his miracles, or his recent execution, or his empty tomb. Nobody denies that Jesus existed, true, but NOBODY CLAIMS IT EITHER.

      “Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

      We do. See Ignatius of Antioch. He was not just convinced of Jesus’ historicity, he was very concerned with insisting on it, opposing “false doctrines” saying otherwise.

      As for why we don’t see any earlier than Ignatius, that’s not surprising on mythicism. After all, the earliest Christians wouldn’t refute mythicist doctrine if, as is the case on this hypothesis, that’s what they believed anyway, and historicity was a later development. It would only be surprising on historicity, since if Jesus had existed, we would indeed expect defenses of his historicity against mythicist claims. Yet, as you point out, we don’t have those. So the lack of early arguments refuting mythicism argues AGAINST historicity.

      “When you argue Jesus didn’t exist you have also then argue that many other people didn’t exist, or explain away why they thought that he did.”

      Yes, you do. So?

      1. “The author of acts had some reason to erase everyone directly connected to Jesus, or they weren’t in history to begin with.”

        Or, they simply were no longer important to the narrative being told and were of no further consequence.

        “Nobody denies that Jesus existed, true, but NOBODY CLAIMS IT EITHER.”

        The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.

        “Yes, you do. So?”

        At some point the number of hoops you have to jump through to get to the logical result you want is too many, and it is simpler and more probably correct to assume the hypothesis with less obstacles.

        1. The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.

          Eh…no. Not even close.

          The most straightforward reading is that the authors wished to convince their audiences in the reality of Jesus, but there is overwhelming evidence that they themselves believed either that said reality was otherworldly or were simply using it as a confidence scam.

          Whether the “real” Peregrinus or not, the Paul of the considered-authentic gospels is a dead ringer for him, right down to his introduction of the Mithraic Eucharist of his hometown of Tarsus as the Christian Last Supper. And we know for a fact that Matthew invented the Virgin Birth and plenty more — and this is after Matthew copied Mark who assuredly similarly invented at least some of Jesus’s biography.

          Now, it might be fair to suggest that Matthew really did sincerely believe that Jesus really was really born of a virgin. He could have had some sort of inspiration that he treated as divine revelation and really truly believed it was really real. Unlikely, but possible…but, even if true, such a fact does far more damage to the historicist position than the mythicist one, for it makes one of the most important sources of information about Jesus to be a shameless (in either positive or negative senses) fabricator of fiction, and utterly destroys his credibility on the matter. Quite literally, everything in the Gospel of Matthew is perfectly useless for establishing even the most trivial of facts about Jesus…and, once you perform similar analyses of the other sources, you discover that there actually isn’t anything you can reliably know about any “real” Jesus, save for the theological beliefs about him being espoused by the various authors.

          And that itself — a simple objective high-level analysis of the sources we do have for Jesus — is, again, independent of all other methods, more than ample to establish the mythical nature of the character. After all, if everything we “know” of Jesus is unabashed myth, of what sense does it make to claim that those plain-as-day myths are actually factual?

          b&

          1. “Not even close”

            And yet, here we are with the firm majority on the side of a historical Jesus and a few (growing?) number of outliers claiming otherwise.

            To me, Matthew, Luke, and John bring very littl to the discussion. If I consider the gospels, I usually go to Mark. Whatever you say about Matthew I tend to agree with.

            1. Then consider that Mark wrote of the destruction of the Temple that happened with the Roman conquest in 70 CE, but that he put it at the time of Pilate. Such can’t even plausibly happen in fiction unless there’s a great remove in both time and space from the events in question.

              So with Mark established as being unreliable, late, distant, and thoroughly enamored of supernatural bullshit…why, again, do you give any weight to anything he wrote as supporting actual historical facts as opposed to religious propaganda…?

              b&

              1. Because all ancient texts are unreliable and if we wish to glean any information at all, we must do our best to separate, parse, examine, and put together the most likely to be true, and most likely not.

                I am placing my bets on the side of Jesus existing (for now) based on a slightly more probable case.

              2. But they are reliable to different extents. Julius Caesar’s autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul has proven to be superbly reliable, as multiple archaeological digs have confirmed. The Gospels, on the other hand, were even admitted by the earliest Christian apologists to be nothing more than warmed-over rehashings of universally-known Pagan myths.

                Placing your bets with a faery tale that opens with Perseus’s virgin birth scene, features multiple zombies including a full-scale invasion and extended personal appearance by the main zombie character, and ends with a rehash of Bellerophon’s flight on Pegasus…well, I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that’s not exactly a very wise way to bet.

                Of course, if you do want to roll the dice that way, I’d be more than happy to offer all sorts of other gambling opportunities for you. Perhaps you’d like to guess which cup the pea is hiding under?

                b&

              3. My bets are not on the fairy tale as a whole, but the case I’ve already stated. That there are historical facts mixed in with exaggerated claims, and some completely fabricated events. That there is no way to know with a 100% certainty how to differentiate between them, but we can give some pretty educated guesses. That the circumstances and evidence to me suggests a real person, with later legends attached to him.

              4. Then walk us through it.

                Pick one single fact you can express with great confidence about an historical Jesus, and back it up with affirmative evidence — that is, evidence which comes right out and clearly states this fact you’re claiming.

                But beware! If your evidence comes from an highly suspect source, especially one which is besotted with zombies, you’ll have to independently establish the trustworthiness of the claim. And you’re also likely going to have to deal with contradictory claims of equal merit, as well as contradictory circumstances that can be established from others.

                “Good luck with that,” as they say. But, if there’s to be a first to overlap the non-overlapping Venn diagrams, perhaps you’ll be it….

                Cheers,

                b&

            2. You have already dismissed or gave alternate explanations for any argument I could make. I’m not claiming to bring anything new to the table, I just don’t agree with your conclusions.

              Again, I think the standards of evidence you are asking for are too high for the claim being asserted. I don’t have irrefutable proof from an unsullied source, attested to from multiple independent sources. Does that mean you could be right? Certainly. Do I think you are? No.

              1. Mark was unfamiliar with the geography he wrote about in his accounts. He obviously was writing from afar in both time (as was pointed out by Ben) and place (since he has no idea what he’s talking about).
                For example, There’s the Sea of Galilee, which isn’t a sea at all. No wind blown waves would ever get large enough in that small body of water to make anyone fear being capsized. He has Jesus taking the long way to get to someplace (because he doesn’t know the area at all).
                I can’t remember if Mark wrote of the instance when Jesus was in danger of being thrown off a cliff in Nazareth for healing on the Sabbath, but it reinforces my point. Salm writes that there is no cliff in Nazareth, no Synagogue dating from the time of Jesus.
                My point is that these stories, though they sound as if they have realistic historical facts in them, really don’t if you look at them without your Christian scholar glasses on.
                Really, no sceptic should ever take the consensus of a bunch of religious scholars.
                They are presuppositionists and tend to see confirmation of their beliefs everywhere.
                To say that most believe in a real Jesus, so we should take them at their word is silly.
                Of course they believe that. They wouldn’t be Christians if they didn’t.
                Sceptics should be more sceptical, as a general rule. It could be axiomatic.

        2. “Or, they simply were no longer important to the narrative being told and were of no further consequence.”

          Which is possible, but unlikely. After all, they were right there at the beginning of the church. They were central figures; Luke has them present for the 40-day closed-door meeting with the resurrected Jesus. We don’t even hear what happened to them, WHY they were no longer important. It is at least plausible that they don’t appear in the church’s official history because they weren’t real people.

          “The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.”

          I disagree. Any time it looks anything like Luke is referring to an official transcript, they say no such thing. The most straightforward interpretation is that they didn’t reference Jesus’ ministry because he had none, they didn’t reference the empty tomb because there was none, and they referenced a heavenly Jesus known through revelation because that’s the only Jesus they knew.

          “At some point the number of hoops you have to jump through to get to the logical result you want is too many”

          I’m not jumping through hoops, I’m suggesting we DO HISTORY. Explaining why people thought there was a historical Jesus is the point of all this. Yes, “because there was one” is one hypothesis, but hardly the only one, and hardly the simplest one, given all the evidence we have that looks very odd on that hypothesis.

          “it is simpler and more probably correct to assume the hypothesis with less obstacles.”

          Agreed. I think that hypothesis is mythicism. Because all the evidence we have is expected on mythicism, but not all of it is expected on historicism.

      2. why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed?””

        Jesus Christ is not a man’s name. He should be known as Joshua Ben _____. Jesus Christ means “anointed savior”. This is the name of a character in a play (perhaps even a farce) or a character who represents a theological argument.

        And there is at least one reference by a fairly contemporaneous source that Jesus Christ IS a character, not a real man.

        1. And what’s more in Mark, the first gospel, he refers to Jesus with the definite article, “The Anointed Saviour” making it clearly a title and not a name.

    3. Interestingly enough, the Islamic position on Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth is that such an individual did exist. However, their position is that the man who was executed on Calvary was not Yeshua but Judas Iscariot and that Yeshua was ordered by Pontius Pilate to get out of Dodge and not to come back.

      1. Interestingly enough, the Islamic position on Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth is that such an individual did exist…

        Not especially enlightening, since Islam was fabricated over half a millenia later.

    4. “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

      Paul appears to not have been interested in an historical Jesus.

      Gal 1:11-13
      For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;…

      1. Those verses were to show that was not corrupting or misunderstanding teachings from others, such as Peter. Instead his teachings are based on direct revelations from Jesus himself. There were disagreements about whether or not Christians needed to still follow the Jewish law and Paul was saying that he was right because he was given the direct revelation from the resurrected Jesus. He was not saying that an actual Jesus didn’t exist or that he didn’t care, his message of salvation was dependent on the actual life, crucifixion, and resurrection on the living Jesus.

        1. Your claims are interpretively based in an acceptance of the gospels stories and does not take into account the near total or total lack of concern from Paul about the life of Jesus. He was primarily concerned with the crucifixion and resurrection. Your statement that he was interested in the life of Jesus or “the living Jesus” needs to be established. That’s where the Pauline material is in dispute.

          If you haven’t done so already, read the “genuine” epistles of Paul and Hebrews without a gospel filter. This is important to do since the gospels were written after the epistles. And when you do this pay special attention to the context of comments about crucifixion/resurrection. Also of interest are places where Paul could have used teachings or actions of the gospel figure of Jesus to buttress contentions but did not do so. Finally, pay attention to where the teachings of Paul are in disagreement with the teachings of the gospel(s) figure of Jesus. As context for all of this you might want to study the theology of Philo of Alexandria, the 2nd Book of Enoch and The Ascension of Isaiah. It’s difficult to reject the proposition that Paul and Hebrews were not influenced by some sort of “celestial” theology concerning Jesus. As an introduction, consider what Paul believed when he said that he “knew a man” who ascended to the third level of heaven.

          1. My claims are completely independent of the gospels. I agree that Paul did not mention much of what Jesus did or said in his life, I agree that Paul was either unaware or just not concerned with those details. However, the part that was a concern was that he was alive at some point, suffered real pain, and was crucified and then physically resurrected. The rest was not germane to the salvation message.

            1. “…then physically resurrected…”

              That right there takes this story out of the historical and into myth and fiction.

              1. Obviously. But the point is that the author Paul believed that Jesus really lived and really died. The fact that he wasn’t actually resurrected is not the point. The argument was that Paul did not think Jesus was a real life person.

              2. Sorry, but I fail to see how those verses indicate that Paul did not believe Jesus was a real life person. They basically say that believers resurrection would be like Jesus’s, a dead physical body would be planted as a seed, and on resurrection, would be transformed from the perishable, to the imperishable (but still physical) body. This was to refute the argument that some were making that they were already resurrected “in the spirit” without having physically died yet.

              3. If you’re replying to me, Paul directly contrasts Adam as the primordial genesis of corporeal bodies with Jesus as the primordial genesis of spiritual bodies, with the latter being an entirely spiritual and explicitly non-corporeal phenomenon. Read it again, especially the parts I highlighted.

                b&

              4. I have read it before, and then again after you pointed it out, and then several times since. You highlighted verses 13 and 14 as if those were proof of your argument, however those statement are false, he counters those with verses 20 and 21: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man”

                As for the other parts, the theme is that there is a transformation of the earthly body into a heavenly body. Whether you interpret that as a purely non-corporeal entity or not is really immaterial to the argument. I can concede the transformation is explicitly non-corporeal, but the important point was that the before was a physical earthly being, and there was a resurrection/or transformation of that physical earthly body into something else. The argument is about the before, not the after.

        2. “[Paul’s] message of salvation was dependent on the actual life, crucifixion, and resurrection on the living Jesus.”

          No, I believe you have missed the boat on this entirely. “Revelations” are not from people. They are hallucinations in the head of the person who claims to have had a revelation.

          There is, therefore, no need whatsoever for Paul’s Christ to have been from an actual man who lived and died on Earth.

          There is no need at all for revelations to come only from an earthly-living Jesus, and more interestingly, there is no need for a heavenly Jesus to have lived, been crucified, or have been resurrected on Earth, either.

          1. My assertion is not that Paul’s revelation was from from Jesus in person, rather, it was the “vision” of the resurrected Jesus that revealed the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

            Paul’s message is that to receive salvation, we must suffer in our earthly forms until we die and are resurrected, just like the savior suffered and died. I think it would be difficult to push this idea if it was a mystical being. The idea is that he became one of us to show us the way to salvation.

            1. You’re reading a modern theology back into Paul. The idea was that Jesus could provide salvation because he was NOT merely human, but a heavenly being granted the power to save by his proximity to God.

              1. I’m tracing the genesis of the atonement back to Paul. Jesus was human, the power was that he was a “perfect” sacrifice sent by god so that all people, Jews and gentiles could have salvation. Sacrificing a perfect lamb was no longer required for forgiveness of sins.

              2. Jesus was human, the power was that he was a “perfect” sacrifice sent by god so that all people, Jews and gentiles could have salvation.

                And in what context, pray tell, is a perfect human sacrifice of ultimate atonement even remotely hypothetically mistraken for some random schmuck who muttered into his beard on street corners?

                b&

              3. In the context that Paul developed that narrative decades after Jesus’s crucifixion. The people of the time certainly didn’t think that or remember it that way.

                Also, I said he was a charismatic Jewish preacher that gathered a following. He wasn’t an invalid drooling on the corner. There is a difference between making such an impact during his time to be recorded by sources all over the world, and being a complete nobody. He could have gathered a following, and had a local enthusiastic following and still not made an impact outside of the localized area.

              4. In the ancient world, saying that that man over there talking to the handful of people was the eternal archetype of the transcendent soul of all mankind would have scanned as well as calling him a square circle.

                The same holds true today, of course, except in the case of apologetic last-ditch defenses of Christianity.

                b&

              5. Again, no one at the time was saying the “man over there…was the eternal archetype.” That was attributed to him later. At the time he was a Jewish preacher with a following.

                Are you suggesting that I am attempting to defend Christianity? If so, I’m am most certainly not. I understand that a historical Jesus would give ammunition to Christians still clinging to the hope of its message, and that proving he didn’t exist would be the nail in the coffin. But we are not going to be able prove definitely either way. My position is that he may have existed, but that does not make Christianity true, and I certainly don’t believe any other Christian “truths.”

              6. Again, no one at the time was saying the “man over there…was the eternal archetype.” That was attributed to him later. At the time he was a Jewish preacher with a following.

                But that’s just it. You have no evidence to support such a claim. All we have is the eternal archetype, and that eternal archetype comes from the only alleged contemporary source.

                What you’re claiming, in essence, is that Paul hobnobbed with Jesus’s inner circle who knew him personally as a flesh-and-blood Jewish preacher, but Paul managed to argue to that same audience that he was their equal because his visions of the risen Christ, his only personal experience of Jesus, were equally valid to their only personal experiences of Jesus, which were equally visionary.

                Re-read those introductory lines in 1 Corinthians 15 again. Christ died and was resurrected according to scriptures (note: not according to the witnesses), and then he appeared to the witnesses, lastly including Paul. And Paul is their equal: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”

                Absolutely nowhere in Paul’s writing will you find any mention of any mortal interacting with the pre-Risen Christ. And that little tidbit right there is enough in and of itself to cast serious doubts on any claim of historicity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              7. I’m not claiming Paul necessarily hobnobbed with them, but as the closest contemporary writer, did he understand Jesus to have actually lived in a earthly body?

                Nowhere in that chapter does he say he is equal, he actually says he is the least of the apostles and doesn’t even deserve that. However, he makes up for it with his tireless effort through the power that Jesus gave him. Nowhere is there any indication that they all had similar visionary experiences.

                The scriptures referenced are the Hebrew bible, not any new testament books/gospels. The “according to scriptures” is “in accordance with prophecies in the Hebrew bible” not “my source of information about the actual events of the crucifixion was the gospels.”

                This whole chapter in dealing with the resurrection was to dispel the notion that Christians could be resurrected in spirit without dying. Paul is arguing that if that was so, then Jesus didn’t have to die either. And if Jesus didn’t have to die, there was no point in him doing so, and as such, he was a failure and not the messiah. But not so, says Paul, for indeed Jesus did die a physical death so that it was all part of God’s plan and therefore believers could not have a “spiritual” only resurrection, but had to in fact die a physical death first.

              8. Nowhere is there any indication that they all had similar visionary experiences.

                First, note the sequence of events: Christ died, was buried, rose according to the Hebrew prophecy, and then he appeared to Peter, and then the Twelve, and so on until he finally appeared to Paul. Unless you’re going to claim Jesus really was a zombie, and Paul saw the same zombie as the others, I think we can safely say Paul’s visionary post-resurrection experience of the Risen Christ was the same as the rest.

                And even that’s all ignoring the ultimate statement in the preamble:

                1 Corinthians 11:11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

                They’re all preaching the same thing with the same authority from the same source. Do you need it spelled out in skywriting, or…?

                The scriptures referenced are the Hebrew bible, not any new testament books/gospels. The “according to scriptures” is “in accordance with prophecies in the Hebrew bible” not “my source of information about the actual events of the crucifixion was the gospels.”

                Yes, exactly. Paul knew of Jesus’s resurrection not because your incorrectly-alleged eyewitnesses told him about it, but because he read of it in the Hebrew Scriptures — of which there are lots of references to exactly the sort of figure as was the Christian Jesus, many of them even associated with the same name (“Joshua”). All Paul is saying is that he read his Old Testament (of course not canonized for centuries and certainly not known by that name), found the stories of the death of Joshua bringing salvation to the people, and heard the voice of this selfsame angel on the road to Damascus or wherever.

                Why is it so hard to take him at his plain and emphatic word that he knew of Joshua only from the Bible and experienced him personally through hallucinations?

                b&

              9. I, for one, never alleged eyewitnesses told Paul about the resurrection. It was Paul’s vision of the resurrected Jesus that convinced him of the resurrection. That doesn’t mean he didn’t know of Jesus before that vision. In fact, he was prosecuting Christians. We don’t know exactly why he was prosecuting Chrisians, but it doesn’t appear that one of the reasons was that Jesus was not real. It was more like he was arguing that Jesus could not be the messiah because the messiah wouldn’t have been crucified. The vision he had changed his mind and his thoughts on what the messiah would be. You cannot say that just because his understanding of the Hebrew prophecies -in retrospect after his conversion formed his beliefs of the resurection- means that his only knowledge previously of Jesus was also from scripture. His persecution of the Christians was in regards to a real life Jesus who he didn’t believe was the messiah.

                I also don’t know why it is safe to say Paul’s vision experience was the same as the rest. All we know from these verses is that they were all preaching the same gospel, that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the thrid day. Just because they were preaching the same message of salvation, doesn’t mean Jesus’s appearances were all the same. Jesus didn’t appear to Paul until years after the were already preaching of the resurrection. Regardless, what is the point? They all were preaching the same resurrection message, so what? I guess I need the skywriting because I don’t understand why you keep emphasing that same “ultimate statement” that I don’t think I am even making arguments against. What difference does that make? And why does it follow that because they are preaching the same message of resurrection, that they also have the same authority, or the same source? And even if they have the same authority and same source, what does that prove?

              10. We don’t know exactly why he was prosecuting Chrisians, but it doesn’t appear that one of the reasons was that Jesus was not real. It was more like he was arguing that Jesus could not be the messiah because the messiah wouldn’t have been crucified.

                Worng on both counts.

                “Real” in the cosmology of the day included the (typically seven) layers of the heavens, starting with the firmament (the air above the clouds to the Moon) and ending in the ultimate celestial realm where the Most High God reigned. It was no more unusual for the people of that time to consider the denizens of those heavens to have been real figures than it is today for us to consider asteroids and comets and planetessimals real. Just because Jesus was the mediator between those realms doesn’t mean that he wasn’t really real to Paul. And just because the only evidence to support these theories was scripture and hallucinatory visions doesn’t mean it was less real; quite the contrary, those where the means by which, in that day, absolute certainty was warranted.

                And crucified messiahs were the norm then, not just in Paganism but Judaism as well. Attempts to claim otherwise get overly-specific, insisting that one can only be crucified if done on a cross of certain exact dimensions with nails of such-and-such a gauge placed at these exact points on the body…the fact is, then and today, crucifixion was any form of hanging up a body, living or dead, by means other than a rope about the neck, often (but not necessarily) accompanied by some form of piercing and frequently (but not always; see the Christian Jesus) on a tree.

                Claiming that the messiah couldn’t have been crucified is as bizarre a non-sequitur as claiming that angels couldn’t fly.

                Cheers,

                b&

              11. Even if we accept your argument for the cosmology of the day, I see no indication of that being the case in Paul’s words in regards to the Jesus who lived and died.

                I am talking about the earlier Christian’s view of Jesus being the Hebrew messiah, prophesied in the scriptures, that was to bring about God’s kingdom here on Earth. As an apocalyptic Jews of that time, Paul would have believed the Hebrew messiah to be a warrior-king type that was going to take over the world, usher in a time of peace, and claim victory over the enemies of the Jews. Jesus simply didn’t fit that bill, and so he was persecuting Christians for believing such a person that was not extraordinary and not divine, just a preacher that was crucified as a common criminal could be the powerful messiah they were waiting for. It wasn’t until Paul’s vision that he changed his ideals on what the messiah would be. Instead of the powerful warrior-king, an innocent lamb of the ultimate sacrifice.

              12. I am talking about the earlier Christian’s view of Jesus being the Hebrew messiah, prophesied in the scriptures, that was to bring about God’s kingdom here on Earth. As an apocalyptic Jews of that time, Paul would have believed the Hebrew messiah to be a warrior-king type that was going to take over the world, usher in a time of peace, and claim victory over the enemies of the Jews.

                You do know that there were lots of different prophecies, don’t you? And not all expected the Messiah to be Rambo, no?

                I would ask if you’re aware of the prophecy in Zechariah 6 of a Jesus whom YHWH personally orders be anointed with many crowns and be Risen, for he is to build YHWH’s church by the Power of the Holy Spirit, share YHWH’s throne, and be the agent of peace…but it’s clear that you’re cherry-picking the theologically orthodox prophecies that the Church approves of. As such, it’s equally useless to ask if you’re aware that Philo commented on that same prophecy and observed that Zechariah’s Risen Jesus Christ is a perfect fit for his own Logos, a theological construct perfectly identical with Paul’s Jesus and whom John explicitly named in the first sentence of his own Gospel.

                For half a millennium or more, Jews already knew the Risen Jesus Christ in the exact theological role Paul described him in…and yet you think Paul had rely on some dumb schmuck to actually live out this celestial drama here on Earth in order to think of it? Or that some dumb schmuck could be mistraken for an archangel?

                Really?

                b&

    5. But this is not the complete mythicist argument. To repeat in summary of a few points that the historicist has to answer:

      (1) There is also *evidence that there was no such* person. For example, to pick one pretty clear case: Hebrews *says* so (on pain of logical contradiction otherwise, anyway) – chapter 8.
      (2) Paul repeatedly says that what Jesus did was in the space of “myth” – he doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it happened in “another realm” – the modern reader has trouble even seeing what he’s claiming. (I cetainly did at first.)
      (3) Paul also repeatedly says he learned the gospel by reading scripture (i.e., what Christians now call the Old Testament) and by being inspired by God, with *no* indication that his letters’ audience is in any different situation.

      There are more, but the mythicist case is *not* an argument from silence alone.

      1. 1) Hebrews is probably a forgery, but I’m not due I understand the problem in the chapter. Could you spell it out?

        2) Saying things occurred in another realm doesn’t mean the life and death occurred there as well. After resurrection, all believers supposedly go to this other realm. Did that mean all believers did not live a real life but always existed in a mythical realm?

        3) Paul didn’t learn the “gospel” he learned the Jewish law and tradition, as well as used some of the prophecies to make a case of Jesus as the messiah. He also wasn’t inspired, he had a direct revelation from the resurrected Jesus.

        1. “Could you spell it out?” You really, really need to read Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus before you continue to opine. You are simply unfamiliar with the depth and detail of the mythicist arguments. Your objections have been answered, just not in a blog comments thread.

          1. Sorry I asked someone to explain the Hebrews argument, I didn’t realize it would take a book to explain how it easily refutes a historical Jesus, and how that explanation is the simplest and most logical.

              1. Thanks! I don’t think the tense you are using is correct. It is “if he were on earth” as in, “if he was STILL on earth,” not “if he had ever been on earth.” After his resurrection he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. That doesn’t imply he was never on earth.

                Later in chapter 10 the author says, “…when Christ came into the world, he said…”

    6. The problem is twofold: either Jesus was a random schmuck, in which case he’s not even tangentially related to the Jesus of Christianity; or he bears at least passing semblance to the Jesus of Christianity, in which case he couldn’t possibly have been missed.

      Even if you want to propose that he wasn’t a real magician but did sleight-of-hand tricks to con the masses, he would have been noticed — by Pliny the Elder if nobody else.

      Even if you want to strip out all of the supernatural stuff entirely, we’re still left with the rest of his biography, which is full of delicious scandals involving the biggest power brokers of the era and especially would have been noticed — certainly by Josephus, and also by the various Roman Satirists.

      And even if you want to strip out all but the theological bits in the Pauline Epistles…well, even then, Philo, an exact contemporary who was on the scene, couldn’t have failed to have noticed him, especially since he invented those very theological bits and associated them with an Old Testament figure named, “Jesus.”

      And, again, if you strip out all of that…what you’re left with is literally nothing at all of the Christian Jesus, at which point you and I have exactly as much claim to the title.

      Cheers,

      b&

      1. I propose that he was an apocalyptic Jew that gathered some followers, annoyed others, and made just enough noise to be put to death. I don’t believe he was unique in this respect, there were others that suffered the same fate but we’re not later resurrected (in the figurative sense). Later, his followers and then Paul, turned what would have been a fairly inauspicious life into something much more. So I don’t think there was much to write home about, except to his followers who didn’t want to believe it was over.

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In this case my claim is mundane, and does not require extraordinary evidence. There were others that existed, gathered followers and enemies, and were put to death. It is not a stretch to believe Jesus just happened to be one of them.

        That may leave little of the Christian Jesus, but again, I’m not asking for much. Simply an apocalyptic Jew who lived and died.

        1. Simply an apocalyptic Jew who lived and died.

          Yet such a person is not recognizable in the earliest references we have: Paul. Paul established his credentials with the other Christians on the basis of his equal knowledge and personal experience with Jesus as theirs, all the while making plain that his experience was not of a corporeal “apocalyptic Jew.” That, and Paul is perfectly ignorant of both Jesus’s biography and every word he ever spoke…save for the Last Supper, which Paul unabashedly fabricated from the central religious rite of the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus.

          Sorry, but your theory of Jesus is radically contradicted by what little we do know of him. It’d be like claiming that, say, the “real” Luke Skywalker was a wealthy trial attorney who practiced in Boston in the late ’70s before retiring to the Bahamas.

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. I think you are overstating your case. You may not be convinced, but it is not only my theory, it is also the theory of scholars who spend their lives studying the topic. I think “radically contradicted” is a bit of hyperbole.

            1. Your “scholars” are, with rare exception, theologians employed by religious institutions who would fire them the instant they significantly rocked the boat.

              And those exceptions — especially Bart Ehrman — have demonstrated the most pathetic examples of “scholarship” with regards to the subject that I can think of. No joke; Ehrman’s entire case for historicity rests upon a couple toss-off two- or three-word phrases in the Greek Gospels apparently awkwardly translated from Aramaic, from which he divines the entire Gospel narrative as related by reliable eyewitnesses.

              b&

              1. And those on the mythcist side have no agenda, reasons, or motive? Didn’t carrier receive a grant for the specific purpose of disproving the historicity of Jesus?

              2. I never said or implied he is getting rich or famous, or that he is even being dishonest. However, if you go into research with an idea of the result ahead of time, you are going to find evidence to support it, and tend to ignore or explain away the things that don’t. This happens both ways obviously, I’m just saying I don’t think the mythicist side is immune from a little bias, even if it is unconscious.

              3. And those on the mythcist side have no agenda, reasons, or motive? Didn’t carrier receive a grant for the specific purpose of disproving the historicity of Jesus?

                That’s inaccurate. The “grant” was to investigate whether mythicism or historicism makes more sense.

                As he tells the story, and it can actually be verified from the archives of his blog, he didn’t start out as a mythicist. Despite being reluctant to check “yet another fringe theory” because it kept coming up he decided to review Earl Doherty’s book (The Jesus puzzle) expecting to find the usual conspiracy theory drivel. Instead he found a well argued and documented thesis, with some flaws but overall competent scholarship.

                Some years later when he was in a financial bid, he asked for donations to support his work and he proposed several topics that he would be interested on working on. One of the topics he proposed was the investigation of the historicity of Jesus, and the majority of his donors wanted that. Again they wanted him to investigate the historicity of Jesus, not to prove the mythicist position. My impression is that he may have been slightly disappointed about the choice, and he’d rather work on science of the Imperial Era, his thesis topic.

                So he started working on the topic and realized that the whole field of “NT studies” was a methodological mess and he basically would have to first create a valid methodology able to attack the question. So he thought of Bayes’ theorem and the rest, as they say, is history.

    7. “Did Paul exist?”

      This is an open question. Even conservative Christian scholars agree that all of the epistles were not written by the same author. Some scholars, e.g. Robert Price, make a good case that they are all pseudepigrapha, some of which were likely written by Marcion.

      1. A book very much worth reading is ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery’, by Thomas L. Brodie.

        //Like Hebrew narrative, the epistles are
        reticent. And composite. And repetitive. And, standing out from the list: like
        Hebrew narrative, the epistles are historicized fiction.

        Historicized fiction.

        A mass of data had suddenly fallen into place.
        What hit me was that the entire narrative regarding Paul, everything the
        thirteen epistles say about him or imply-about his life, his work and travels,
        his character, his sending and receiving of letters, his readers and his
        relationship to them-all of that was historicized fiction. It was fiction,
        meaning that the figure of Paul was a work of imagination, but this figure had
        been historicized-presented in a way that made it look like history, history like,
        ‘fiction made to resemble the uncertainties of life in history’ (Alter
        \98 \ : 27)………So-and this reality took time to sink in – the figure of Paul joined the
        ranks of so many other figures from the older part of the Bible, figures who,
        despite the historical details surrounding them, were literary, figures of the
        imagination.//

        Yep, for breaking with the consensus, Brodie, a respected Catholic NT scholar, paid a high price for his Memoir…..

        //On 20 February 2014, the committee had a two-hour meeting in Fribourg with Tom Brodie to discuss their reports and his response. Following this meeting the committee formally advised the Master that the publication was ‘imprudent and dangerous’, the standard set out in the legislation of the Order, and recommended that the sanctions imposed on Thomas Brodie by the Province of Ireland were appropriate. In a letter dated 3 March 2014, Fr Bruno Cadoré concurred with the judgement of the committee and instructed that the sanctions already in place be maintained. Despite the restrictions placed on him, Tom Brodie remains a brother of the Irish Province, and the Province continues to care for him and provide for him. From the point of view of the Order, the matter is closed.//

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_L._Brodie

      2. Again, if you are applying the same level of scrutiny you can construe any ancient person as myth.

        Is it really easier to believe 35 other scenarios, people, and stories were fabricated, or that the one person preached, gained some followers, and then was put to death?

        1. Can you show how by applying the same “level of scrutiny” we can construe that, say, Julius Ceasar, as a myth? Or that Archimedes was. Or even Eratosthenes.

          But even if your wildely exagerated claim was true, then the honest position would be to just say that we have no idea what the hell happened back then, not to insist that we have certainty about the existence of all these people.

          1. Julius Caesar undoubtedly had more of an impact on his world and the world at large to be expected to have more sources and more evidence. I have stated prior that you would either have to be a ruler, or have written something influential in your own name to have evidence to the levels being requested for Jesus. However, I don’t doubt the conspiratorial minds at work could come up with enough scenarios to cause doubts about even them. Consider the theories devised to counter the mainstream acceptance about JFK, aliens visiting Earth, 9/11, climate change, evolution.

            I don’t insist we have certainty. I have said that based on what we know currently, it is just a little more probable (to me) that Jesus existed rather than not. And for the purposes at hand, I don’t think that is too much of a stretch.

            If there is any certainty, it is Ben who is giving the impression that he is certain that Jesus did not exist.

            1. You seem to be comparing Jesus mythicists to conspiracy theory nuts. That may be fair for some of them, but for most, and especially those discussed and participating here it’s not.

              You also mentioned evolution. Comparing the evidence we have for evolution to the evidence we have for Jesus is so absurd, it borders on logical fallacy. To spell it out, we can be almost certain that evolution happened, so when you comparing “Historical Jesus deniers” to “evolution deniers”, say, by logical implication, you’re hinting that we are almost certain that Jesus existed. No?

              1. I’m not comparing the evidence, and although I’m somewhat comparing historical Jesus deniers to evolution deniers, it is not on the same scale. I’m am trying to demonstrate the lengths and the mental gymnastics people are capable of to meet a desired results. So for example. even though evolution is undeniable and we have ample evidence, people STILL find bits and pieces of it to try sow doubt. For instance they will ask for fossils of transitional species, but after providing example, they will trot out Piltdown Man to show that since that was faked, how can we be so sure everything else wasn’t? So, in the case of Jesus, where we have scant little solid evidence, it is even easier to try to attack the bits and pieces to arrive at the conclusion we want (that Jesus didn’t exist).

                If people are willing and able to do so on the overwhelming supported issues, how much more so for issues with so little certainty.

              2. Wait — evidence for Evolution is overwhelming and evolution for Jesus is “scant little solid,” and yet those who dismiss the latter are cranks on the same sale as those who dismiss the former?

                You’re not even making sense of your own claims.

                b&

              3. Cranks would probably be apt for most of the anti-evolution crowd. I don’t think mythicists are cranks at all. In fact, I was hoping the evidence was stronger. I would love to be able to believe and defend the mythicist’s argument to my family, and I may be convinced yet. I’m open to it.

                My comparison is in both in the ability to see what they want to see, and the strategy to over-analyze each minute detail to the point where the overall cohesive picture is lost.

                In the case of Evolution, some of that is ignorance or total lack of intellectual honesty. I don’t think that is the case for Mythcisits, who do have reasoned arguments and intellectual honesty.

              4. It’s not minute details.

                It’s the fact that the very first Christian Apologist, writing about the same time as the Gospel authors, dedicated his First Apology to the proposition that Pagans had no right ridiculing Christians because Christianity was indistinguishably similar to Paganism…and this fact was because evil daemons with the power of foresight planted false stories of imitations of Christ in the generations before Jesus in order to lead honest men astray. And, again, that’s not some minor little off-hand remark; it’s the central thesis of the very first ever defense of the faith, argued for passionately and with copious well-referenced examples that stand on their own.

                All you need to do to demonstrate the Mythicist case is take everything Justin wrote, but instead attribute the copying to Christians imitating Pagans after the fact, rather than daemons imitating Christians before the fact.

                Cheers,

                b&

              5. @ dewovasid

                No offense but the one I see here involved in mental gymnastics is you. You mention evolution, you allude to climate deniers, and so on, and when somebody brings that up you take it back, but not quite. And then you go on inputing motives on people, implying that the only reason mythicists reach their their conclusions is that they want to. If I challenge you on that I’m sure you’ll take it back, but not quite. In a previous comment you stated that Carrier received a grant “to prove the mythicist position”, don’t you think that after I corrected you with the facts you should retract that?

                The think is that in order to explain the facts with a historicist position one has also to jump through a lot of mental hoops. How come a crucified dude came to be worshiped as the preexisting son of god within years of his supposed crucifixion? How come that all of the early Christian documents show very little awareness of the ministry of Jesus? In all the Pauline corpus, and all the early epistles, there are a handful of phrases that could be interpreted to refer to a recently lived Earthly Jesus. There are no clear cut cases, it doesn’t say “brother of Jesus” it says “brother of the Lord”, it doesn’t say “born of a woman” it says “made of a woman” etc. All in all five or so phrases. How come no contemporary sources mention Jesus? How come early Christianity looks so much like a Hellenistic mystery cult? How come all of the content of the gospels can be reconstructed from it’s literary sources and can be shown to be literary creation?

                I could go on, but I hope I made my point.

        2. > Is it really easier to believe 35 other scenarios, people, and stories were fabricated, or that the one person preached, gained some followers, and then was put to death?

          Superman comic books have been written since 1938. One series got up to issue #714. All of these stories have been written by a small set of authors, while almost every bible book and epistle had a different author – and very different details and stories about the characters, often contradictory.

          Can you show me how this proves that Superman is real and these books are accurate descriptions of his life?

    8. > So, under the premise Jesus was one of many apocalyptic Jews of the time wouldn’t set off too many radars, especially since he wound up crucified (therefore limiting his impact).

      That’s what I call the “Magic Jesus” argument: He was exactly insignificant enough that no one bothered to record as little as the years of his birth and death and yet he was so significant that he became the basis for the majority religion on the planet.

      Something doesn’t add up.

      1. He became the basis for the majority religion on the planet centuries after his death.
        This does not require him to be significant in his life time.

        We have a modern example of a Jewish religious figure who is believed by his followers to have made miracles. Many of them believe that he is the messiah:
        http://www.chabadworld.net/page.asp?pageID=FABD6C0E-964E-464E-9DEF-1C2B6F468AA3&moshHdr=1

        For more examples google “Lubavitcher”.
        Now, Chabad was a big movement during his life, and was very active and vocal, so I cannot say that he or his movement it was insignificant, and no serious account of Jews in the second half of the 20th century is complete without mentioning him, but the idea that he made miracles or that he is the messiah is of course rejected by a huge majority of the Jew, even if you count only the religious ones. This, 20 years after he was buried, does not stop his followers from saying things like that he isn’t really dead or that he will return.
        For us, it’s obvious that all that is nonsense, but they seem to genuinely believe this (I talked to some of them).

        I can imagine how a tiny marginal group of Jews in the 1st century B.C. believed similar things about Jesus. They were too small to be cared about at that time, but later succeeded to convince many others, grow and become a significant political power. Then Constantine wanted to use that power, and they could take over the empire.

  11. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Flavian Hypothesis (or theory? It has been present for peer review). I’m certainly no scholar of early Roman literature, but I do find the thesis compelling. I may be exhibiting a bias for deliberate fraud. 😉

    1. Since Richard Carrier got a mention in Jerry’s post, you might be interested in his negative assessment of the Flavian hypothesis.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4664

      A couple of things about Carrier you might want to know.

      First, he is not one for false collegiality, if he doesn’t respect someone, he will make his contempt clear.

      Second, he’s a strong advocate of a Bayesian approach to history, and he will use Bayesian lingo like “priors” in his blog entries without much explanation. But usually not to a degree that makes his writing inaccessible, and certainly not in this case.

      1. Carrier seems really pissed at Atwill because people keep lumping them together. He is also misrepresenting Atwill’s position (I won’t say he’s guilty of the Straw Man Fallacy) and makes no mention of the latter’s qualifications, or the data on which he bases his theory. He dismisses Atwill’s profession offhandedly. He is not a peer, in the scientific sense. I find Carrier’s refutation unconvincing.

    2. Just from cursory browsing it sounds like a conspiracy theory. “In 2003 Joseph Atwill discovered that the Roman emperor Titus Flavius, working with Flavius Josephus and other authors in his patrimony wrote the New Testament. Atwill deduced this by comparing The ‘Judean War’ to the New Testament. The ‘Judean War’, written by Flavius Josephus, was originally part of the Christian Bible, and was removed around 1100 CE. ‘The Roman Origin of Christianity’, released as ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ by Joseph Atwill documents the creation of the New Testament as a Roman satire devised to win over Judean dissidents by deceiving them into believing that the emperor Titus Flavius Vespasiani was Jesus!” [ http://www.fargonasphere.com/piso/ ]

      Evolution of religion predicts myth figures like “Jesus”, “Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus” [to take from Barber’s text] and many other religious founder figures that aren’t “sons” like “Buddha”, “Confucius” et cetera – variants on a theme. Sure there are stranger cons as modern history shows (Smith, Steiner et cetera), but we need stronger evidence to make stronger (less likely) claims.

      In any case, we don’t need to know the specific con in religious myths to know they are non-historical myths, anymore than we need to know the specific pathway taken in evolution to know evolution happens.

    3. It’s a conspiracy theory.

      But deliberate fraud was unquestionably part of the genesis of Christianity, and the explicit statements of such are in well-known literature.

      For background, start with Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the primary thesis of which is that Pagans have no business mocking Christians because the two religions are superficially indistinguishable…and that that’s because evil daemons with the power of foresight knew that Jesus was coming and so planted false stories of the Pagan gods in order to lead honest men astray when Jesus came on the scene. And he includes dozens of very explicit and uncontroversial examples: Perseus born of a virgin, Aesculapius raising the dead and healing the sick, Bacchus turning water into wine, Bellerophon Ascending on Pegasus, Mercury as the Logos of John 1:1 (and Philo), and so on. Add up all the examples he gives, and there isn’t a single bit of Jesus that the Pagans didn’t do first.

      In particular, pay attention to what he writes of the Eucharist.

      Next, read Lucian of Samosata’s delightful satire about the Passing of Peregrinus. Peregrinus was a lovable cad who especially preyed upon the naïveté of the Christians and “revealed” many Pagan mysteries as being “actually” Christian.

      Last, see evidence of this in action in two of countless examples. First, note that the earliest Gospel, Mark, has no clue that Jesus was born of a virgin; but in the next two Gospels written, Matthew and Luke, we get lots of (contradicting) detail about Jesus’s virgin birth. Matthew and Luke were both playing Peregrinus’s game. But, second, and even more significant, read the very first mention of the Eucharist, in 1 Corinthians 11 — which is also the most explicit Paul ever gets about Jesus’s terrestrial biography. He’s clearly revealing the Eucharist to the Corinthians to whom the idea is novel. But it’s also the central religious ceremony of the religion of his own home town, the Mithraism of Tarsus.

      So, “conspiracy” is likely too strong a word; rather, this form of syncretism is how all religions get going: take a bit of this and a bit of that, mix it all together with your own spin, and laugh with your prophets all the way to the bank. Paul certainly was playing the role of Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard, but so, too, were all the other authors in the New Testament…as were all the other heretical authors, such as Marcion.

      …that should keep you busy for a while….

      b&

  12. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporary records.

    I disagree. If I couldn’t talk to him, I would be hard pressed to find background information on a living street preacher, and this is an age where everything is recorded, where you can snap a picture or record audio with a cell phone and have your phone search the internet for matches to it.

    I would probably also be hard pressed to find records on every apocalyptic cult or apocalyptic preacher in a given city from the 1900s. Or 1800s. Or 1700s. Probably 99% of them went unrecorded. So I see absolutely no reason to think that the actions of an analogous person from 20AD Jerusalem would necessarily have been recorded either. Absence of evidence is going to be the norm for most people throughout history. Absence of evidence in this case most likely means that if there was a figure on which Jesus was based, he was not remarkable in his time. He didn’t start a cult that made the news, either because he didn’t actually start a cult, or because the authorities saw nothing to distinguish it from the many other small cults of the times.

    I agree there’s no credible contemporay evidence for such a figure. But I think in this case it’s the mythicists who have the burden of proof, because at least IMO the hypothesis that the Christian religion was started *without* a real person as its focus is more extroadinary to me than the hypothesis that it was started *with* a real person as its focus. There are just so many cults started around charismatic prophets (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, heck even Jim Jones and Charles Manson count), that absent any proof one way or the other, that still seems like the most reasonable ‘origin mechanism’ to me.

    1. …and now I see Sid’s correction of Jerry also applies to me. Substitute contemporaneous for contemporary in my post, as appropriate.

    2. The “no contemporary mentions” are fine for what it is, but I agree they don’t clinch the case for mythicism. If the opposite were true and we had one undisputed contemporary mention by a disinterested person, that – as a contrast – would basically clinch historicity. But we don’t have what we don’t have. Shrug.

      That’s why guys like Carrier don’t use the lack of contemporary mentions as some kind of smoking gun. He’s more interested at looking at the Pauline Epistles and other pre-Gospel Christian writings and constructing a mythicist case based on them.

      1. “they don’t clinch the case for mythicism”.
        Right, but then what evidence would clinch the case? I suspect just about the only “proof” would be an exchange of letters plotting a fabrication. The issue really has to be what does the balancing of evidence available show, and what probability should we give to each side.

        1. But wait *there’s no accusation of a fabrication*. We don’t know why Mark wrote the gospel he did, setting things into “secular history”. Contemporary mythicists (like Doherty and Carrier, and their “pupils” like me) do not say that Paul “made it up” in that sense. We say rather that Paul and the early Christians do not have a Jesus (or rather a Christ Jesus, an interesting point in itself) *in history*. Rather, it is *something else*, a sacred event that took place within “sacred time”, etc.

        2. Early records of strong disagreements between authors as to what to attribute to Jesus is evidence of fabrication. So the the inconsistency of the Gospels is (IMO) pretty clear evidence that some fabrication took place. The question is how much. Does disagreement over the timing of the resurrection mean one of the authors “honestly” believed some event sequence different from the other authors, or does it mean there were different people fabricating slightly different resurrection stories around the same time?

          1. Indeed – one of the pieces of the puzzle for me was reading the non-canonical gospels. They are *different* in ways that is hard to understand if there was a historical backing …

    3. “Absence of evidence in this case most likely means that if there was a figure on which Jesus was based, he was not remarkable in his time.”

      Very possible. But if true, then we have to discard the Gospels and Acts as supporting evidence for historicity, because they are lying about Jesus’ life and the history of the early church to invent a history that never actually happened, which is exactly the same thing that we would expect on a mythicist hypothesis.

      “There are just so many cults started around charismatic prophets (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, heck even Jim Jones and Charles Manson count), that absent any proof one way or the other, that still seems like the most reasonable ‘origin mechanism’ to me.”

      Except there are also many cults started around mythical figures who were then placed in history. Moses, Abraham, Romulus, Osiris, John Frum, Tom Navy. Yes, there are many instances of historical people mythologized. But there are also many instances of mythical people historicized.

    4. These are fair points, but when was the last time a street preacher was put to death by the State, and then the followers claimed he came back from the dead? That’s a little more newsworthy than just a random nut.

      And there are also examples of people being invented out of whole cloth, for example, the latest scholarship makes a strong case that no one named Ned Ludd ever existed.

    5. But when you suggest that Christianity might have started with an unremarkable street preacher — a certain individual — you are buying into the story. There would have been crazy street preachers in every town, and when the Gospel stories were first read out loud, people would have thought, oh yeah, I remember Grandad talking about that guy. There’s no reason to think there was a single person at the root of Christianity.

      I think the Gospel retold stories from the Old Testament and local mystery cults by setting them in the past, and hiding the esoteric teachings under a thin layer of of dialog and plot.

      Jesus is the fruit, not the root of Christianity, as they say.

      1. >I think the Gospel retold stories from the Old Testament and local mystery cults by setting them in the past, and hiding the esoteric teachings under a thin layer of of dialog and plot.

        This to me is the most plausible explanation. Even current “mystery cults” have exoteric teachings given to the masses and esoteric of the more advanced initiates. The “truth” is revealed in layers.

        To me, if you read Mark with that perspective and knowing the basic gnostic mystery themes, it is really obvious. Then the other gospels make more sense as theological first, but also esoteric arguments with the previous versions “my mystery is truer than yours”.

    6. > IMO the hypothesis that the Christian religion was started *without* a real person as its focus is more extroadinary to me than the hypothesis that it was started *with* a real person as its focus.

      Here’s one origin I prefer because IMO it ‘fits’ better: Paul made up his religion from whole cloth but based on current Greek notions of ‘goddiness’. For his central character he chose a fictional magic man and picked Judaism as the mysterious/magic part since his Greek audience knew something of them.

      In the early part of the last century he might have chosen a Tibetan mystic. A century earlier he might have used an Egyptian priest. Joseph Smith used (American) Indians as his models. And BTW, you can compare with J. Z. Knight and others of her ilk and their “spirit guides”.

      This seems to be a common theme – not so strange that the audience knows nothing but not so well known and understood that they have no potential for magic.

      But that’s my two bits.

  13. Well studying”Socrates/Plato” at university certainly shaped my life and thoughts a lot more than reading the Bible ever did.

  14. As with Yaweh himself, there’s no historical or other evidence that miracle worker Yeshua bar Yussef existed. As a practical matter I’d assume neither did and concern myself with more important issues. Since Yeshua would simply have been one of hundreds of contemporaries claiming to be messiahs (many of them also named Yeshua) his existence or lack of is unimportant. The effort to prove his nonexistence is simply a tactic by some atheists to drive a final nail into Christianity’s coffin.

      1. It was grossly unfair to people who don’t bother to read to the end of the post before commenting to put that warning about commenting at the end of the post.

  15. This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus. And I strongly suspect is dishonest and probably motivated by some desire for being published and known as an iconoclastic thinker. But it just won’t do.

    I glanced at the list of the 126 authors yesterday and thought that we’re back to John Remsburg‘s similar list from 100 years ago. And the writer is obviously relying on the reader’s never having read them (has anyone on the planet read all of them?) and assuming that all the manuscripts are complete.

    Why would we ‘expect’ these authors to describe Jesus? If you allege that, is there an author-by-author analysis of their interests and subjects? That’s the minimum, a historian that one would require. The list looks initially impressive but it’s just plain dishonest.

    Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people? Is there ever any sly insertion into the narrative that Jesus was contemporaneously Empire-wide famous? And there always is in this iconoclastic end of Jesus the Myth.

    Do we have an analysis and presentation of the likelihood of survival, multiplicity and types of ancient sources? Do we get comparisons with the evidence for other alleged 1st century Jewish preachers? And, by way of putting the sources question into perspective, a sober presentation of the amount and provenance of sources for them?

    In the end I could not care less whether Jesus existed. But this list is just a pathetic reiteration of a 100 year –old (probably dishonest) gambit.

    x

    1. “Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people?”

      Hang on, we’re talking about a guy here who consistently performed incredible miracles. A guy who managed to feed 5000 people, who had gathered to hear him preach. Such was his fame. Not only that, but he fed them all with just 5 loaves and two fishes. A guy who was allegedly seen as such a threat to the Romans in Palestine that they were determined to have him killed by the Jews.
      Such a guy, if he existed would obviously have been known by more than a few people. You may not care if he existed, but millions of people seem to care an awful lot whether he existed, and many of them would want to force their beliefs on others through the education systems of the world.
      If he didn’t exist millions have been living for 2000 years basing their lives on a lie. That’s enough to make me care whether he existed or not.

      1. Hold on; this looks like bait-and-switch. Are we talking about the miraculous Jesus or a normal preacher that could have inspired mythologizing fanatics? I think Dermot C was talking the latter, not the former.

        I think we can all agree that miraculous Jesus has no chance of actually having existed, which already puts a huge number of Christians in a very uncomfortable position. What that leaves is basically a plausible mortal man, either deranged or cynical, who preached that the end of the world was coming to fulfil scriptural prophecy and that you had to follow certain moral principles to avoid damnation. The question then becomes: given that this is the closest we can get to an actual historical Jesus existing, what sort of evidence would we expect to find, and what sort of evidence would we expect not to find?

        What we find is that, with the possible exception of a brief mention of the origin of Christian “superstition” from Tacitus and unhelpful tampered evidence from Josephus, there’s no way to distinguish between a 100% bogus account in the New Testament and apocrypha, and a 90% bogus account in the same. Unless Jesus or his real-world counterpart was supposed to be disruptive enough to earn a mention in an extant text, it’s an inconclusive mystery how the stories originated exactly.

    2. “This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus.”

      It’s not conclusive on its own, but it’s still important. An argument from silence can be poorly done; if, for example, we say “If Jesus didn’t exist, some critic would have said something”, that’s a bad argument from silence. You can’t argue from what unidentified people or unknown documents would have said. But if you would expect the evidence to be there in documents you have or have references to, from authors you can identify, and it isn’t there, then that’s at least more likely to be the case if there was nothing for them to report.

      “If you allege that, is there an author-by-author analysis of their interests and subjects?”

      Yes. See Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 293-305. There were many authors writing specifically on Judean affairs, some of whom were in Jerusalem at the time. Others write about Nero’s reign, or the Jewish Wars, or Jewish theology and the sects arising at the time, or satirize religious beliefs.

      But let’s grant that any given author would be unlikely to write about Jesus. Say there was only a 1 in 20 chance that any given author on that list would find a reason to write something relevant. What are the odds that NONE of them would say anything? Well, the probability for any one being silent is 0.95, quite high. We just have to raise that to the power of the number of iterations to get the probability of all being silent. So, what’s 0.95^126? 0.00156. A 0.156% chance.

      “Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people?”

      If that’s true, then the Gospels and Acts must be discarded as evidence of historicity. Because they’re lying, inventing a history that never happened. Which is precisely what mythicism says, too.

      “Do we have an analysis and presentation of the likelihood of survival, multiplicity and types of ancient sources?”

      Yes. A Bayesian one, in fact. Again, see Carrier, OHJ.

      1. @ Matthew Prorok 4.40 p.m.

        Re: argument from silence, Matthew. You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus. That is a life’s work. Take for example, Pliny the Elder. He outlines just 3 pieces of information about the Jews. Then you have to judge whether those individual pieces of information are likely to be right. In one case, certainly not: he gets the Jewish diet plain wrong.

        Re: ‘many authors writing specifically on Judean affairs’. This is not the case. In the 4 centuries until Constantine’s time, there are 40 Roman references to the Jews. And during that time the Romans fought 3 wars against the Jews, renamed the country and capital city, taxed them for their worship and reinforced the diaspora.
        On probability and the use of the 126 number in the sums. That number begs the question: it assumes Jesus’ overweening contemporary importance and visibility. It assumes, again, an Empire-wide figure of fame.

        Re: discarding the Gospels (and we should add very early non-canonical sources) and Acts as evidence of historicity, we have to take each individual historical allegation on its merits and come to a judgement on the possibility or probability of its having happened. Take Tacitus (whose Annals: 15 reference to Christ survived to the Middle Ages in just one document, by the way) who wrote the hagiography of Agricola, his father-in-law. Did, say, the Battle of Mons Graupius really happen? Did Calcagus really make that speech? Or words to that effect? Did Agricola make his pre-battle speech? Or words to that effect? Did Jesus say, for example, the Sermon on the Mount or Plain? Or words to that effect? That’s the difficulty.

        Re: Acts, what do we make of the fact that only there is Paul described as being from Tarsus? Paul never says that in the documents copied down to us. So what does that say about the connection between the Mithraist meal (in which only men could participate and is one example of myriad among early Middle Eastern religions) and Paul’s Eucharist? How do we judge Paul’s origins?

        Every historian takes a whole text and sceptically judges the individual claims on their likelihood. Just like we do with Sallust, Tacitus, Herodotus, Thucydides et al.

        On survival of sources, there are many possible problems. Papyrus lasts for 60-80 years: parchment is highly reactive to atmospheric conditions. Copies needed to be made: hence the disappearance of many documents. Of course, there are miles more early copies of the Christian documents, kick-started by Charlemagne’s 8th century patronage of the professionalization of monkish scrivenors. There’s also, and much more likely, complete cock-up, as well as conspiracy. Why, for instance, did Tacitus’ reference to Christ (something you would think that a Christian would consider a pillar of Jesus’ historicity) only survive in one copy until the invention of the printing press? Sure enough, possibly because it was not an issue in ruling Christendom.

        Carrier has some good arguments, but I don’t buy either Bayesian analysis as he applies it to history nor his interpretation of Jesus as originally being presented as a celestial being in Paul(which he seems to have developed following Doherty’s line). And I would never consider calling my readership, ‘fans’.

        x

        1. “You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus.”

          If you’re saying that such a task isn’t feasible, then you’re saying that we don’t know either way. Because, unless you have examined every individual author to come to that opinion, you don’t know that you WOULDN’T expect them to mention Jesus. Which means it’s a wash, and equally likely (so far as you know) on either hypothesis.

          Of course, your claim here isn’t true. We can make judgements based on general trends, we can make use of existing scholarship so that we don’t have to do all the examining ourselves, and we can note the sheer volume of authors at the time; we have only a tiny fraction of what was written.

          “In the 4 centuries until Constantine’s time, there are 40 Roman references to the Jews.”

          I think that’s an undercount, and I’d like to see your citation. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t many people reporting on Judean affairs. It merely means, if true, that not many of them survive. We can’t forget the massive church which ended up being in charge of the preservation of all records, which would have had plenty of motive to preserve references to Jesus.

          “it assumes Jesus’ overweening contemporary importance and visibility.”

          A one in 20 chance of being mentioned assumes Jesus was of overweening importance? I fail to see how that’s at all the case. Plenty of people who were not important at all get mentioned by historians. And again, if Jesus was a nobody who went entirely unnoticed, then we need to explain where the stories about an enormously famous Jesus came from. And, after that, we need to explain why those stories could form about an unimportant man, but not about a mythical man.

          “we have to take each individual historical allegation on its merits and come to a judgement on the possibility or probability of its having happened.”

          Agreed, but we can’t be inconsistent. If we’re going to claim Jesus was an uninteresting, unimportant nobody, then we can’t forget that we claimed that when evaluating claims in which Jesus is famous throughout all of Syria. If we claim that Acts doesn’t mention anything about Jesus’ brothers after chapter 1 because Jesus didn’t actually have brothers, and they were only there in chapter 1 because they were invented for the Gospels, then we can’t forget that we claimed that when analyzing Paul’s statement about “James the brother of the Lord.”

          “Take Tacitus (whose Annals: 15 reference to Christ survived to the Middle Ages in just one document, by the way)”

          Arguable, as it turns out. He was likely referring to Chrestians, Jewish followers of the rebel Chrestus, first suppressed under Claudius. The line about Christ being crucified by Pilate was probably added in the 4th century.

          “Did Calcagus really make that speech? Or words to that effect?”

          I see the point you’re making here. But reliability matters. There are historians who we know were in fact quite good at the job, and recorded things accurately and critically, and cited their sources well, and so on. And there are historians who we know were terrible gossip mongers, and we don’t trust them nearly as much. So if we find that, over and over, Acts is inconsistent with things we think to be accurate about history, we must approach all of its claims from a position of doubt. For that matter, if we find that most religious literature in general is fabricated (and we do), then we must approach all religious literature from a position of doubt, and only trust anything it says if we can otherwise corroborate it.

          “On survival of sources, there are many possible problems.”

          Quite true. It’s important, though, to remember that even if we have good reasons to expect that we wouldn’t have a particular piece of evidence, that doesn’t let us ignore the fact that we don’t have it. This would all be much easier if we had more information. But we don’t. And thus our knowledge is uncertain, far more so than we’d like. And where uncertainty exists, alternatives multiply, and we have to compare competing hypotheses.

          1. @Matthew Prorok 11.30 p.m. 3-10-14

            Yeah, it’s difficult to keep proper, considered point-by-point responses below 500 words, Matthew, so I sympathize. But, yes Jerry, I’ll try to keep within the limits.

            Re: claims of each individual author, I did do the research on the original John Remsburg list, of which this 126 author list is the descendant. And I found that one of the authors only wrote a history of Rome up to 25 BCE, one was Nero’s fashion advisor, many wrote on rhetoric, and a lot, it being the 1st century CE, were Spaniards attracted to the metropolitanism of Rome commenting on Roman cultural gossip. The one thing that you could say in favour of Remsburg’s list, as opposed to this new list of 126 non-Christian authors is that it was shorter.

            Nevertheless, Remsburg was being plain dishonest in saying that one would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus: even in his own time, as all the German scholars, George Eliot their translator among them, knew, he was answering the wrong question. There is only one cast-iron source that I can think of who you would ‘expect’ to mention Jesus and I can virtually guarantee that nobody has mentioned him in this thread: and the main reason for that is because a huge amount of people have not actually read the documents.

            All serious historians of the Jesus figure knew that he was barely known. And this list of 126, in which one has to set the context of my comments, is 100 years behind a man who was dishonestly posing a rhetorical question to something that no serious Biblical historian had actually believed for 65 years. That’s demagoguery and a deliberate lie. And, to be frank, I resent having had my time wasted finding out whether these initially convincing allegations are true. One can feel only contempt for articulate people who use the language of academic discourse to make what they know is a dishonest thesis. And how much time they waste of other persons’ research. That’s a disgrace. I think of Velikovsky.

            On the ‘volume of authors’, I simply do not believe that there are 126 Roman authors, within 2 or 3 generations of 30 CE (which is what we use to talk about credibleish references to Jesus) that might be ‘expected’ to mention Jesus. Two problems: do we have that many full manuscripts (not fragments or references from near contemporaries) extant? Would they reasonably be expected to refer to a Jesus? I really do think, given that the bloke can construct a sentence and present the semblance of an argument, that the subject of Jerry’s post is lying: and that he knows that he is lying.

            I have not responded to all your substantive points and I’ll try later – bedtime, now. You, Matthew, and I both could write several extended essays on 1 sentence of each other’s posts. It’s unfortunately the case that a website – rather like a debate – is not the forum to settle the matter.

            Finally, in particular, re: number of Roman references to Jews and my figure of 40, it’s something I know, but cannot for the life of me remember the reference for: I’ll search it out and get back to you.

            x

            1. @ Matthew Prorok
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

              I wrote, “You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus.”

              You responded that we should make judgements based on general trends, use existing scholarship, and note the sheer volume of existing authors, and their disappearance from the historical record.

              True: the one does not exclude the other.

              Goodman in ‘Rome and Jerusalem’, Kindle, 2006, notes that surviving Roman references to the Jews before 66CE amount to fragments from 30 or so authors. And that they mention the Jews only in passing. Never mind the width, feel the quality. A lot could not have mentioned a Jesus who died in 30 CE.

              Who were they?

              Poets: Virgil etc (interestingly, Lucretius the atheist miraculously survived to us in one copy).

              Historians: Livy, Curtius Rufus… Anyone who knows anything about Roman historiography knows what they were interested in: ’an author of Roman things’, ‘vast wars, the sack of cities, the defeat and capture of kings, or in domestic history conflicts between consuls and tribunes, legislation about land and grain-distribution, the struggles of the aristocracy and plebs’ – Tacitus. And you could say the same about most of the other Roman historians: in that case a 1 in 20 chance of them mentioning Jesus is generous.

              Polymaths: Pliny the Elder, Varro (whose words only survive as quoted in a theologically approving way by by St. Augustine).

              Literary Dandy: Petronius

              Medical encyclopaedist: Erotianus

              Agricultural writer: Columella

              The most commonly attested Roman attitude towards the Jews is amusement at dietary rules, circumcision and the Sabbath (in which case history was written by the vanquished for the innovation of a Roman weekly day of rest preceded Constantine’s coup d’état).

              Josephus appears to be the first person to consider a Hellenistic(ish) history of the Jews: hence the reason why histories of them rely so much on him as a resource.

              After 135 CE when the Romans renamed the land Syria-Palaestina and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina (thereby wiping out the Jewish name and substituting their Jupiter Capitoline god for the long-destroyed Holy of Holies), written Roman references to the Jews virtually dry up. We have to look elsewhere, to the evidence of archaeology, epigraphy and coins to piece together anything resembling a 2nd and 3rd century history of the Jews.

              And in all this we should remember that Jesus did not even live under Roman jurisdiction: Galilee administered itself.

              As for my figure of 40 written references between 1CE and 325CE ish, I still can’t recall the reference: nevertheless the sources are by no means extensive or of the quality we would like.

              x

              1. A lot could not have mentioned a Jesus who died in 30 CE.

                Once again, of course, it comes back to the question of who Jesus was supposed to be.

                If Jesus and the Gospels were even the crudest or most minimal reflection of each other, most if not all those ancient sources couldn’t possibly have missed him, depending on how accurate the reflection.

                If Jesus was an Haile Selassi figure with an entirely fabricated alter-ego that bore not even the faintest semblance to the Jesus of Scripture…well, okay, such a figure could have escaped all kinds of notice, but that figure is no more Jesus than Clark Kent is Superman or Peter Parker Spiderman. The alter ego is pure fiction and entirely independent of the human to which it’s been conveniently affixed — and, once again, all inhabitants of ancient Judea rightfully bear equal claim to the title.

                But, even so, we can be overwhelmingly confident that Jesus didn’t even start with a Selassi figure, for we actually have record of the Risen Jesus Christ, architect and high priest of YHWH’s temple and the Prince of Peace…half a millennium before Paul, in Zechariah 6. There’s your Jesus of History: the Jewish archangel known to prophets and theologians for centuries before Paul ever came on the scene.

                Cheers,

                b&

    3. “This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus.”

      It is both necessary and sufficient to make the case, so why would it be the worst argument? The absence of historical evidence makes the figure a non-historical person simply because we need evidence to make them. E.g. JC (Julius Caesar) is a historical person, “JC” is not.

    4. First, the lack of contemporary evidence puts hard bounds on the nature of the “Jesus” in question. Specifically, he cannot possibly be a larger-than-life figure…and everything about the Christian Jesus is larger than life. As such, the Christian Jesus is emphatically demonstrated nonexistent.

      Next, one can consider whether or not some random schmuck can reasonably lay claim to being the “real” Jesus. Lack of evidence for such a figure in the non-Christian sources cannot be used either way in analyzing that claim…but the lack of evidence in Christian sources does constitute evidence that no such figure existed. From the get-go, Christians understood Jesus as a larger-than-life divine otherworldly spiritual entity. Even if an human being had such a Jesus as an alter (altar?) ego, and that’s the original origins, we’re still talking about a pure fabrication of a fictional character — plus, there’s not only no mention in early Christian sources of the human half of this split personality, such a dual persona would have been blasphemy.

      So, yeah. Lack of evidence is only the beginning, but it’s also the end if we’re discussing the Christian Jesus…and a lack of evidence in a different set of sources also seals the deal for the purely-fictional historicist Jesus as well.

      b&

    5. Here is the Remsburg summary:

      The following is a list of writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time, that Christ is said to have lived and performed his wonderful works:

      Josephus, Philo-Judaeus, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Quintilian, Lucanus, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Statius, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Theon of Smyrna, Phlegon, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Lucian, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Favorinus, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias, Appion of Alexandria.

      Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.

      Philo of Alexandria was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ’s miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

      He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place — when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.

      From “The Christ” — John E. Remsburg

      (Still sums it up remarkably well IMO).

      1. Jim,

        Remsburg cannot possibly say that Philo was present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Philo says that he went to Jerusalem once in his lifetime. We do not know when. Philo never lived in Jerusalem. He lived in Alexandria, Egypt, 300 miles away. He did not write an account of the Jews, he mentions the historical Jews in passing; he was an allegorical theologian of the Pentateuch. None of the work of Justus of Tiberias (sic), whom Remsburg cites as not mentioning Jesus, is extant. Remsburg was a liar and a disgrace.

        x

  16. I know this is a side issue, but I just want to say that there is a lot of evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays we attribute to him, not just that he existed. A number of contemporary works written or published during Shakespeare’s lifetime discuss Shakespeare by name as an author. The most famous is probably “Palladis Tamia” by Francis Meres, who not only names Shakespeare as England’s “most excellent” playwright but also lists a number of his famous plays. It’s exactly the kind of evidence we don’t have for Jesus.

  17. i don’t Jeery is being fair stating *all* of the extra-biblical references have been proven to be forgeries. Tacitus (a pagan) in Annals explicitly mentions christ by name and his relationship to Pilate. Tacitus is otherwise trustworthy as a source of Roman history and does not have a penchant for embellishment like other Roman historians pretty obviously did.

    Granted, it’s only in a digression on how chistianity arose is Rome and it’s only a single reference but it is real evidence mentioned by a real historian.

    1. Tacitus would just be repeating what Christians themselves would have been preaching at that time, and that’s after the Gospels were written. Mythicists like Carrier and Robert Price aren’t disputing that, because by that time, Christians had hitched their wagon to an earthly, historical Jesus. The mythicist case is talking about developments earlier than that.

      1. i don’t think that quite correct. it’s true tacitus *could* have been parroting what the nascent christians were saying, but given a close inspection of the passage in question, and a broader reading of tacitus’ work, he seems to have held these fanatics and their account of their religion in very low regard. it’s too bad he didn’t provide a source for his reference to christ (and as you claim, his source could have been christian preaching itself). personally, i’m not sure, but it’s simply untrue for our host to call this reference a forgery or to say all such references are forgeries.

        1. I don’t think Tacitus would have had “low regard” for the idea that this religion’s founder was a holy man who got himself executed on the 30’s.

          As far as Tacitus would be concerned, that would be a completely straightforward observation about something not very extraordinary. The Romans executed rabble-rousers every day.

          My point was there’s no reason to particularly assume Tacitus had concrete knowledge that this particular person would have been executed by Pilate eighty years before, other than the fact that Christians were saying so.

          Tacitus is just writing too late for what he’s saying to be much use in the debate. I totally agree that we shouldn’t assume everything is forged. There’s no reason to think so. Tacitus doesn’t need to be a forgery for us to dismiss its relevancy here. Like I said, he’s just writing too late.

        2. “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”

          1. The term he uses is actually Chrestians, i.e. followers of Chrestus. The line about being executed by Pilate was likely added in the fourth century.

            1. No, that’s Suetonius who refers to “Chrestus,” a Roman slave name meaning, “useful.” Tacitus uses the same name as the Christians themselves did. I keep wanting to mix the two of them up, myself….

              b&

        3. In addition to what others have said, you’ve also misread our host. Unless I read it incorrectly, he said there were no contemporary accounts of Jesus that weren’t forgeries. Tacitus wasn’t contemporary with Jesus. (Contemporaneous is too much of a mouth full when contemporary already means the same thing.)

          1. fair enough. i thought jerry was referring to obvious forgeries like in josephus which were added in later by christian editors. the tacitus reference was not the work of a christian editor.

            point is, tacitus represents a scrupulous historian recording the existence of a real christ figure not a ridiculously long time after the fact. also, even though he seems to have despised the christian religion, he does not take the occasion to state this figure is fictitious and a superstitious confection.

            1. Here’s the relevant passage, from Annals 15:44:

              Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.

              First, it’s well worth noting that we have overwhelming reason to believe that Nero did no such thing. As such, this entire passage is suspect, either as a later Christian propagandistic interpolation or even, if we’re to be charitable, as bad reporting on the part of Tacitus.

              Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

              You’ll knote that all he does there is repeat Christian claims. It’s even consistent with those words to read it as him not believing it as really happening but merely reporting on the weather. “Superman, who could fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, had an alter ego who worked as a newspaper reporter in the city of Metropolis.” Any one of us could easily write such a thing with neither intent to deceive nor endorsement of it as being really real.

              …combine that with the fact that Tacitus wasn’t even born until 56 CE, an entire generation after the end of Pilate’s reign, and I wouldn’t at all be eager to even pretend to cite him as evidence of Jesus’s historicity. Would you trust a similar offhand comment from a GenXer as a reliable primary source on the historicity of John Frum?

              Cheers,

              b&

              1. i’d like to think through your comment and consult the original latin. i’ll write back in a little while. advocating for the devil is fun.

              2. OK. having reviewed it, i think i find your reading of this passage to be rather unpersuasive.

                1. you suggest this passage might be the product of an “interpolation” of a christian scribe. there’s no serious scholar of tacitus i can find who thinks this reference has been very much corrupted over 2 millennia. we can split some hairs, but i think the evidence (the unflattering portrait of christianity contained therein) and the academic consensus conclude that a pagan senator, nobleman, and historian named tacitus really did write these words.

                2. you recommend a reading where tacitus recounts christian reports about the origin of their religion, but does not subscribe to the historical truth or falsity of these reports (read, your superman comment). on this point, i’ll only say it’s curious that *before* elaborating on christian superstitious depravity, he cites christ’s supposed death separately (“adfectus erat” is pluperfect and stands apart from the perfect and imperfect tenses of the rest of the passage). to wit, i would alter your superman analogy to “clark kent had been a newspaper reporter in metropolis, but a bunch of deluded nutcases thought he could fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. idiots.” i’m in the process of consulting someone who knows latin a bit better than i do to pass a final verdict, but i’m pretty sure we end up differing on the reading the passage on this point.

                3. you and others point to the fact that tacitus lived and wrote too late to reliably report on this subject. i can’t really disagree that it is a bit late, but tacitus was an aristocrat who probably had access to sources now lost to us and unavailable to other historians at the time. maybe he can’t serve as a primary source as you would prefer, but we tend not to judge modern historians on how distant in time they are from their subjects but how diligently and consistently they consolidate data. is it unreasonable to extend tacitus the same courtesy?

    2. Tacitus’s Annals were written in 116, so relatively late. He was good friends with Pliny the Younger, and got information from him for his histories while they were governing adjacent provinces. Pliny also has a reference to Christian beliefs, which he says he knew nothing about until he interrogated some Christiants. (Which, by the way, means his adopted father, Pliny the Elder, didn’t mention Christians in his account of Nero’s fire, else the younger Pliny couldn’t have known nothing about them.)

      Tacitus doesn’t tell us his sources here, as he is otherwise typically careful to do. The most likely chain of information is that Tacitus learned it from Pliny, who learned it from Christians, who learned it from the Gospels. So while it may not be a forged account, it’s also not independent.

      1. Also, isn’t Tacitus’ account of Nero’s persecution of Christians in conflict with other writings of that time in history, e.g. Suetonius’ account? Suetonius never mentions Nero blaming the Christians for the event, and I don’t think any other historian does, either.

        1. Yes, Tacitus is the first to make this connection. Seutonius doesn’t make it; he refers to Jewish rioters under Claudius who are followers of Chrestus, and then to punishments inflicted on Christians under Nero. The second is without any detail; it may even be an accidental interpolation of a marginal note summarizing Tacitus, though there’s not a great argument for that.

          And you’re correct that no earlier historians make the connection. Indeed, no Christians mention it until much later, and you’d think they’d know about it. Even the Tacitus passage may be irrelevant, as there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s not authentic. Tacitus was probably not referring to Christians, but Chrestians, Jews acting at the instigation of Chrestus (who was first suppressed under Claudius, as I mentioned that Seutonius reported).

      2. > The most likely chain of information is that Tacitus learned it from Pliny, who learned it from Christians, who learned it from the Gospels.

        Or, there were stories about Jesus going around, embellished from the speeches of Paul, and these were sources for Tacitus. Later, Greeks wrote these stories down with further embellishment and they became the gospels.

  18. Although I, too, am agnostic on this issue, you need to recognize that when you claim that there should have been some reference to Jesus in some of these 126 historians because of his spectacular miracles, you’ve gone beyond the mere issue of historicity and you’re fudging the analysis. If Jesus were simply an ordinary human being, such that none of his supposed miracles actually occurred and they were created by the imagination of subsequent scribes, then there would have been nothing remarkable about him that would likely have attracted the attention of these 126 historians. Note that Paul, the earliest author in the New Testament, does not reference any miracles other than the mere unadorned fact of the resurrection (such that, perhaps, that was the first miracle to be concocted).

    1. Paul not only doesn’t mention any miracles, he also doesn’t mention any biography of Jesus and never quotes anything Jesus ever said…with a single exception, when Paul interpolated the Eucharist of the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus into Christianity and made it into both the Christian Eucharist and the Last Supper.

      That bit right there is enough to disprove any notion of Paul’s Jesus being a real historical figure.

      b&

  19. I would call myself a Bryanist.

    Charismatic preachers exist in all eras. The moral teachings of Jesus were fairly widespread at the time, as were crucifixions.

    As were myths and religions involving death and rebirth.

    Mormonism and Scientology are indeed prototypes for how religions start and how a bit of flim-flam can become dogma. We can see the process. Anyone who does not accept both as inspired truth is a doubter and an atheist.

  20. I tend to fall on the mythicist side of things, but I think it’s also important to be clear of what the arguments are. When Barber says:

    Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention.

    he’s using a different criterion that Jerry states in the opening of this post, namely

    the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted

    We wouldn’t expect a mundane preacher necessarily to garner the same kind of attention that Paulkovich presumes a supernatural entity would.

    A better standard is whether there are other popular preachers/cult leaders in this community for which we have some sort of record. In other words, do we have other preachers besides Jesus showing up in the historical record? If so, that’s better evidence that Jesus should be there as well. But it is unfair to those who argue for the historical Jesus to say that he should have been famous for his miracles, since not all historicists argue for a divine Jesus that does magic tricks.

    (Of course, this then takes us to the point that Ben often makes: If you find a historical figured named “Jesus” that didn’t do any of the things reported in the Bible, how is that meaningfully the same person?)

    1. Quite. The issue is whether apocalyptic preaching was common at the time. If yes, it might be quite possible that some apocalyptic preacher was called Yeshua, what seems to have been a common name.

    2. > (Of course, this then takes us to the point that Ben often makes: If you find a historical figured named “Jesus” that didn’t do any of the things reported in the Bible, how is that meaningfully the same person?)

      One correction: Don’t assume this potential person would have been named Jesus. It’s quite possible he would have had a different name if he existed. This seems to be common during mythologizing – renaming the character. And we’re told that Jesus (or Yeshua) was a very common name, somewhat like John Smith (or John Doe).

      So we can be sure that someone might have existed, although we don’t know his name, his parents’ names, his dates or places of birth or death, anything of his life or his thoughts or any words he ever said.

      That was all invented later.

      But we should all “follow him”, just in case!

  21. I was surprised last year to read that people are now arguing that Mohammad may not have been a real person. I had thought, based on old reading, that he was a pretty firm historical figure. It would be one more instance of a fabulous origin for religion. (The piece I read was in the September 2013 edition of the New English Review online here.)

    Also, Xenophon knew Socrates and wrote of him.

    1. Mohammad is based on late biographies only. The name ‘Mohammad’ seemingly did not exist at the time, and might be a title ‘the praiseworthy’.

      1. It’s also worth noting that his official biography is devoted to his role as the Divine Messenger, the same role played by both Mercury and Jesus, and that it ends with him Ascending to the Heavens on the back of a flying horse — an event that Justin Martyr had already equated with both Jesus’s own Ascension as well as Bellerophon’s similar feat on the back of Pegasus.

        I haven’t looked into the historicity of Muhammad in anywhere near the detail as I have of Jesus, but I’ll be damned if I don’t get the exact same stench coming off the both of them.

        b&

      2. There’s also no archaeological or documentary proof of the existence of Mecca at the time Muhammed was supposed to be alive. My knowledge about this is also very recent. I assume it’s because Islam has done a pretty good job of stopping people questioning their religion, and we in the West are simply more culturally aware of Christianity.

        On Jesus, my opinion is that there was probably an eschatological preacher called Jesus. He obviously didn’t perform any miracles and was just one of many. When Paul witnessed the stoning of Jesus’ brother and didn’t intervene, the combination of guilt and dehydration caused him to have a vision on the road to Damascus. From there he attributed all sorts of things to Jesus from a variety of sources, including his own imagination, other myths etc. Basically he attributed the sort of things to him that he thought were correct in much the same way as people join a religion that supports their own opinions and think God sees things the same way they do themselves. If the Church has information on the original Jesus, and it could in the Vatican archives, it likely bears little or no resemblance to the Jesus in the Bible, is not flattering, and would be suppressed.

  22. Richard Carrier’s careful scholarship is usually convincing (his criticisms of Ehrman’s book on the historical Jesus seem to have rattled Ehrman’s cage), and I am looking forward to reading his latest book. In the meantime, for something rather more polemical, but pretty entertaining and mostly well-written, I recommend this site: http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/

  23. Barber offers nothing new in his article – everyone has known since forever that there’s no contemporaneous mention of Jesus, and seems to be taking the point that if he really was doing all these miracles it would have been noticed. I agree with that, but it doesn’t address the mythicist question. If Jesus was simply a failed apocalyptic prophet, you wouldn’t expect to find anything about him in records from the time.

    I agree with Carrier that there is very little to convince anyone that there really was a Jesus that all this is based on. However, Paul, within 10 or 20 years, says that he met the original followers, and Jesus’s brother. 10 or 20 years seems like a short time if there wasn’t really a person that these stories got attached to.

    1. The idea would be that the “original followers” (Peter, etc.) were just like Paul in that they only knew Jesus as a heavenly being who communicated through visions and hallucinations.

      “Brother of the Lord” doesn’t necessarily mean what historicists think it means. Catholics have an axe to grind in this area, but even they also think this “James” person wasn’t the biological brother of “the Lord.”

      “Brother of the Lord” would have meant just “baptized Christian” to distinguish any such people from “Apostles” (like Paul or Peter)who claimed to have had direct revelations from the heavenly Jesus.

      Interesting, but who knows.

      1. The notion that James was the biological brother of Jesus was prominent for 300 years among the now-vanished Ebionite sect, so regardless of what Paul meant, this was a going interpretation amongst many in some circles of early Christianity.

        1. The Catholic Church, especially once they began to promote the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages, couldn’t have Mary giving birth to other children, so other explanations were invented for Jesus’ siblings.

        2. There’s also the claim that Jude (or Judas) called Thomas or Didymus was Jesus’ twin brother.

          Screws up the nativity, no?

    2. “However, Paul, within 10 or 20 years, says that he met the original followers, and Jesus’s brother.”

      Paul certainly says he met with some of the original apostles, but he doesn’t say they were disciples of Jesus in life. He instead implies that they were apostles the same way he was, having received revelations of Jesus. They just got those revelations before he did.

      The “James, brother of the Lord” passage is very debatable. Setting aside what it meant to be a “brother of the Lord”, and the possibility that this is a later harmonizing interpolation or marginal gloss, it simply doesn’t jive with the history of the church. The James who was a pillar of the church wasn’t the brother of Jesus, he was the brother of JOHN. If you think Acts is accurate, then Jesus’ brothers were not at all active in the church, since they aren’t mentioned at all after Acts 1; the James in Acts leading the Jerusalem church is John’s brother. So you end up in a double bind; either the James mentioned by Paul isn’t Jesus’ biological brother, or he is and you have to admit Acts is inaccurate.

      “10 or 20 years seems like a short time if there wasn’t really a person that these stories got attached to.”

      It’s also a really short time if he DID exist, because the legends are truly outrageous. So either rapid legendary development is possible, and thus it’s possible on mythicism as well, or it isn’t possible, and the documents with all the legends are much later than we think they are, and thus even less reliable.

      1. “It’s also a really short time if he DID exist, because the legends are truly outrageous.”

        But they weren’t very outrageous within 10 or 20 years – Paul never mentioned any miracles other than the resurrection. 40 years later we have the Gospel of Mark, which is still pretty light on the legends. It was even after that that most of the legends were added.

        1. Yeah, and who ever would think that coming back from being dead would be thought an outrageous miracle? Heck, just about everybody does that!

        2. It’s true that Paul doesn’t mention anything other than the resurrection. But, again, that counts against historicity, because Paul doesn’t mention ANYTHING about Jesus’ ministry. His sources of information, as he adamantly insists to the Galatians, are revelation and scripture. Every appearance of Jesus that Paul knows about was post-resurrection, everything he said was either revealed through visions or discovered in existing Jewish scripture.

          I agree with you that most of the miracle stories were added much later. But Acts doesn’t. Acts tells us that Christians were preaching these things from day one. So if we are going to hold that most legends about Jesus (save him being crucified by the “rulers of this age”, resurrected, and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of God) developed at least a generation or two after the origin of the religion, we must conclude that Acts is complete fiction, and thus cannot serve as evidence of historicity.

          This is usually the way it goes. Trying to explain how some evidence might still be consistent with historicity entails discarding other evidence. While on mythicism, all the evidence is fairly well expected.

      2. Acts identifies James as the brother of John. Paul’s letters seem to identify James as the brother of Jesus.

        1. Not the brother of Jesus, but the brother of the Kyrios — the same Greek word used for both “LORD” and “YHWH.” If Paul wanted to write that he was the brother of Jesus, he would have written, “Ioseus.” If Paul wanted to write that he was the brother of the Christ, he would have written, “Krystos.” But he wrote, “Kyrios,” in a formula that survives to this day to refer to today’s Christian Brothers, also known as monks.

          Also, in the same passage that Origen wrote that dispels any notion that Josephus wrote of Jesus, Origen makes equally plain that this was the meaning of that relationship.

          b&

        2. Yes, today they do. Which, if that’s authentic (which is debatable), means either Acts is wrong, or Paul is wrong. Or Paul means something other than what he at first seems to mean.

          Did you know that, in Hellenistic religion, it was common to form dinner clubs in which the members venerated a personal savior deity, shared a sacred meal, and called each other brethren? Because that happened a lot. We even have the rules of some of these clubs, carved into the walls of their meeting halls.

  24. I’m inclined to believe that there was a charismatic rabbi named Joshua (or Jesus) preaching during the time in question. The basis of this is that the Gospel writers used so many mental contortions to make this person’s birth fit with the prophecies from earlier books. That this rabbi was the Son of God, or performed miracles, or even said the things that the Gospel writers say he said is a far different question.

    1. Your argument applies equally well, if not even stronger, to the mythicist one. If Jesus was to have fulfilled prophecy, there would have had to have been lots of “retconning” to make whatever was known about him fit the prophecies. This would have had to have been done in equal measures for either an historical figure or a purely fictional invention…but it’s much more plausible that people would have been comfortable doing so with reckless abandon for a fictional figure than an historical figure subject to independent verification.

      Not that we don’t have examples of historical people having similar additions to their biographies, but for Jesus that’s all we have, and the historical examples have relatively few such supplements, especially in relation to the mundane things we know.

      b&

  25. I’m sorry, Jerry, but by taking Michael Paulkovich seriously you are showing your confirmation biases. Talk about absence of evidence being absence of evidence! Take a number of writers, assume that, if X existed, these writers would have known about him, note that they show no such knowledge, and then conclude that X did not exist because these writers show no evidence of knowing him. Now, I haven’t read Paulkovich’s stuff, but that’s a pretty thin reed to hang on to, as Dermot C points out.

    First of all, there is no evidence in the sources that Jesus was a world-historical figure at the time, so it is hard to know who should have known about him, and, if they did, whether they should have mentioned him in their writings. Josephus, we’re told, did not write about him, and everything about Jesus in Josephus is interpolated. Some of it certainly is, but the interpolated bits certainly suggest that Josephus did, in fact, mention Jesus, but not with the kind of adulation his Christian editors thought he should have. The very fact that the adulatory bits are added to a mundane report suggests that the mundane report was there to start with, not that the whole thing was interpolated.

    But, regarding other sources. The Qumram cult left some manuscripts in clay jars which were found by chance. Their silence about Jesus seems unexceptionable, since most of them are copies of Jewish scriptures, and we do not know (though some have speculated) that Jesus had any association whatever with Qumram.

    But even if Josephus had not mentioned Jesus, would not mean that he did not know of him. I know lots of people who, if I were to write a history of my own times, I would not mention. The same goes for any number of authors. The fact that they show no knowledge of Jesus tells us little. Either they knew Jesus or knew about him, but did not think him important, or they did not know him at all. Either way, it tells us nothing about the historical existence of Jesus. And, remember, communications were not that good in those days, so who “should have known what” is a very thin thread upon which to hang the kinds of claims that Paulkovich wishes to suspend from it.

    And who is Paulkovich? CBS calls him an “author and historical researcher,” which is an curious turn of phrase. If they knew who he was they would have given us some ideaq of his qualifications, and we know, from those like Reza Aslan, that even NYT bestseller authors’ credentials are often not what they seem (or at claimed to be). Yes, he’s written a book, of which his Free Inquiry article is clearly a condensed version. But the book is published by Spillix, LLC (of Maryland), and Paulkovich’s book seems to be its sole publishing venture. Paulkovich himself is listed as a “Systems Engineer at General Dynamics, Baltimore Maryland Area | Writing and Editing,” as well as a “Writer/Editor at Spillix,” which raises even more questions. Not that amateurs necessarily have nothing to say, but Paulkovich’s presuppositions make his own efforts in the area of historical Jesus studies (based on Paul’s hyperbolic claim that the gospel has been made known to the ends of the earth) of no value at all. Basically, the guy’s a crank, and does not deserve the space you’ve given to him.

    1. Sorry, Eric,but neither of us has read Paulkovich. You, however, seem to be pulling the Credential Canard, dismissing the guy in advance as having nothing of value at all. Besides, it wasn’t I who took him seriously but Barber, and I just put the article out there.

      I still rest my case that I haven’t seen anything convincing about a historical Jesus, with our without Paulkovic. You seem, without any evidence, to have a curious attachment to the historicity of Jesus. But I’ll let others squabble with you over that.

      In the meantime, would you please lay off stuff like saying I have a “confirmation bias.” If there were new evidence supporting a historical Jesus, I would put that up, too.

      1. No, Jerry, that’s not the order of things. I first suggest that trolling the literature in search of references to Jesus by those “who should have known about him, and if he was as important as Christians claimed, would have known about him” is simply methodologically unsound. There is no reason to suppose that anyone of any historical significance should have known about a relatively minor prophetic figure (notwithstanding Christian claims about him) in first century Palestine. Pilate was no doubt more important than Jesus, and should have been more widely known, but there are very few references to him in the contemporary historical record, and most of them are made in conjunction with references to Jesus. Paulkovich’s methodology has nothing to recommend it. In relation to that the credentials canard, as you put it, is relevant. From all appearances Paulkovich’s book is self-published, which suggests that he couldn’t find a reputable publisher. He has no other historical work to his credit, and that Free Inquiry should have published what is palpable nonsense (based simply on his reported methodology) says more perhaps than it should about FI than it does about Paulkovich, who by any measure is a crank.

        As for confirmation bias, Jerry, I’m sorry if you found that insulting. No offence was intended; but it was meant to place your link to this story. For, to be frank, this piece is (on methodological grounds alone) so obviously off the wall that its inclusion here is hard to justify on any basis than that it supports the mythicist view. As to my attachment to the historical Jesus, that seems to be the scholarly consensus, and just as you rightly expect the layperson to accept the scientific consensus, so the layperson should accept the consensus of historians, unless there are strong reasons not to. When you criticise Hoffmann’s defence of the historical Jesus you suggest that he doesn’t tell us anything new. Well, perhaps not, but he is telling us what historians use to support their consensus, and Hoffmann has no more dogmatic reason than I do to support the historical consensus. That is just the rational thing to do. Those who disagree do so against the background of a very detailed study of the sources and a consensus established by that study, and many of those who undertake the study (perhaps the majority) do not do so from any commitment to Christian orthodoxy. However, almost all those who support the mythicist view do so for ideological reasons, which are, to that extent, suspect.

        1. Eric, I haven’t read Hoffmann, so I would like to ask a few serious questions. Does Hoffmann, or do you for that matter, defend the miracle performing, resurrected Jesus as described in the bible? If so, wouldn’t you expect evidence other than hearsay decades later? If you’re not defending the Jesus described in the bible, then how do you differentiate him from any other wandering preacher and how do you decide how much is true?

          1. No, Paul S, not necessarily. Pilate was, by any measure, more important than Jesus, but he is scarcely mentioned in the historical record. Besides, religion and miracle went hand in hand in the first century, so the idea of someone performing miracles would not have been all that noteworthy. But neither Hoffmann nor I defend the miracle-working, resurrected saviour. Indeed, it is clear from the gospels that the birth narratives and the resurrection narratives are somewhat later additions to the story. And doing miracles is simply something one would expect of a holy man. There are miracles in the Jewish scriptures, so Jesus must have been capable of them too. And, remember, in a day when medicine was not even in its infancy, miracles were almost all that those suffering from myriad diseases had to hope for. If you count the number of corbels on English churches depicting people with toothaches, you will have some idea of how troubling sickness and pain was to people who had no remedy except prayer, and possibly some holy person, icon, or artefact. Many of Jesus’ miracles are clearly modelled on Old Testament (to use that biased term) miracles. And Roman and Greek temples were often resorted to by those desperate for a cure of their diseases, and no doubt told stories of answered prayers, just as people do today.

            Of course, in answer to your last question, perhaps, contrary to what I said to Ben, Jesus was distinctive as a wandering rabbi, and did tell memorable stories, and do apparent wonders. It’s wonderful what placebos can do, so why not belief in a wonder worker? It must have worked sometimes. At least those who followed him thought there was something remarkable about him, for they seem to have remembered and retold some of his stories. No doubt there were others like him, and only the memory of this man survived. What we know about ancient history often depends on flukes like that.

    2. //Basically, the guy’s a crank, and does not deserve the space you’ve given to him.//

      Calling the writer of the referenced article a ‘crank’ betrays irritation that this issue is constantly being brought up. Eric, the question of the historicity of the gospel Jesus is not going away. Interest in the subject is just too great. I’ve never heard of the writer of the article but the subject matter and the issues surrounding it are important.

      A quick internet search will show that this article has been reported all over the media. I followed a link from the Bible and Interpretation website – hardly a haven of Jesus mythicism. The link was to the UK Daily Mail – with comments now almost at 3,000.

      Three cheers for the internet 😉

      1. “with comments now almost at 3,000.
        Three cheers for the internet”

        Heavens! I’ll need another carton of cigs and a fifth for tonight, and probably a quart of oil de minuit.

    3. Some of it certainly is, but the interpolated bits certainly suggest that Josephus did, in fact, mention Jesus, but not with the kind of adulation his Christian editors thought he should have.

      No, we have explicit confirmation from Origen, writing before Eusebius, the first to mention the Testamonium, that Josephus wrote not a word of Jesus because he instead wrote of James the Just. And, just to rub salt in the wound, there’s excellent reason to think that Origen himself was confused and attributed to Josephus what some other author had written. Eusebius clearly read Origen’s complaint and fabricated into existence what Origen so dearly wished to find but did not.

      I know lots of people who, if I were to write a history of my own times, I would not mention.

      But did those people perform spectacular public miracles, even by way of sleight of hand? Did they have crowds of thousands publicly assembling to hear their words and cheer their entrance to the city? Were they at the center of the most outrageous scandals of their day? Were they identified with the theological invention of the most prolific religious philosopher of the day?

      And if you wish to deny that Jesus was any of those things…of what sense is this fiction of yours in any way recognizable as Jesus?

      b&

      1. “there’s excellent reason to think that Origen himself was confused and attributed to Josephus what some other author had written.”

        That author, by the way, is probably Hegesippus. Origen is known for these errors of memory, attributing to one author things he’s paraphrasing from another. And he’s not the only one who confused Josephus and Hegesippus, so it was apparently an easy mistake to make.

      2. I think we can all agree there were no miracles, and feeding the 5000 was either an exaggeration or an invention.

        Imo it’s obvious that there was no real person who matches the description of the Jesus in the Bible. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t based on someone, and such arguments are valid and shouldn’t, imo, be dismissed out of hand.

        I know mythicists find the agnostic position on Jesus a bit wishy-washy, and the mythicist position has very strong arguments, but I’m not yet convinced of it. As I’ve mentioned above, my own position is a melding of the two arguments. Mythicists probably find this effectively mythicism in all but name, but it’s not really any different to the myths that Mormons believe about the real person Joseph Smith. It’s just a helluva lot harder to prove whether or not Jesus actually existed.

        1. The analogy isn’t with whether or not there was an historical Joe Smith; the analogy is with whether or not there was an historical Moroni.

          We’ve got lots of evidence that real people wrote about Jesus, just as we’ve got evidence that at least one real person wrote about Moroni. What we don’t have is evidence that the Jesus they wrote about was an historical figure — and that’s especially damning considering that each and every single thing written about Jesus is about a larger-than-life fantastic superhero, just like Moroni.

          It’s an especially striking analogy. We have Smith’s own words describing Moroni, but nothing from Moroni himself. We have Paul’s own words describing Jesus, but nothing from Jesus himself. And, in the case of Paul, we don’t even have any indication that Paul was aware of a single word Jesus ever uttered or anything more substantial about his biography other than that he was crucified — and, even then, not by Pilate but by the princes of an unspecified age!

          Agnosticism would be a reasonable position were there simply a lack of evidence, but we’ve got mounds and mounds and mounds of evidence that Jesus was, always and right from the get-go, a larger-than-life superhero of the type that can’t even theoretically exist.

          b&

          1. There are myths surrounding Smith though, such as the golden plates that obviously never existed. Not only did Smith insist they existed, he convinced others they had seen them too. And people continue to this day to believe his translations of hieroglyphs even though we have proof of what those hieroglyphs actually say and that Smith made up his translation.

            Moroni, imo, isn’t equivalent to Jesus because of his origins and Smith (and 3 others) only ever claimed to see him as a supernatural being. Moroni is more like Gabriel in islam – clearly, to the rational mind, either an hallucination or a lie.

            1. Moroni, imo, isn’t equivalent to Jesus because of his origins and Smith (and 3 others) only ever claimed to see him as a supernatural being.

              But that’s exactly the point! The only claim we have of anybody ever meeting or otherwise observing Jesus is Paul’s — in which Jesus is explicitly a supernatural being! And not just Paul’s own personal revelation on the road to Damascus, but his account of how everybody else knew Jesus as well. Paul explicitly equates his own vision to that of everybody else’s in order to establish his credentials as a real and trustworthy Christian.

              1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

              4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

              5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

              6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

              7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

              8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

              9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

              10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

              That’s an exact parallel to the one you cite for how you’re certain that Moroni was “either an hallucination or a lie,” and yet you seem quite willing to entertain the notion that Jesus was neither.

              Cheers,

              b&

              1. Except the disciples didn’t claim the first time they saw him was after his resurrection. They’d been roaming the countryside with him for up to three years before that. I obviously don’t believe he was resurrected – that’s obviously an hallucination, made up, or he wasn’t actually dead in the first place – he was cut down and stuck in the cave pretty quickly after all.

              2. Except the disciples didn’t claim the first time they saw him was after his resurrection.

                But they don’t! The disciples didn’t claim anything at all. We have not a single word from them. The closest we have is Paul’s hearsay accounts of them…and, as I keep repeating but you keep ignoring, Paul makes explicit that the only way the disciples ever saw Jesus was post-resurrection, just like him.

                What you’re referring to are the Gospels, which were written a century or so after their claims of when the events happen — claims, it must be noted, that are not substantiated by Paul, who not only never wrote of when Jesus was crucified, but attributes it to some vague principality of another age.

                If you had the actual accounts of the disciples, I could see your point…but we don’t, and what we do have, again, explicitly contradicts your claim.

                b&

              3. But then how did Paul expect his followers to believe that Jesus Christ ever started the eucharist ritual? At some point, that would require that they believed he was having that dinner with someone and talking to them. Not to mention that Peter, when described as having his vision, is described parenthetically as being “then of the twelve”, which suggests the twelve apostles already existed before the vision began, implying that they had met someone.

                Lastly, while Paul does stress Jesus’ spirituality in 1 Corinthians, he also describes Jesus appearing in human form in Philippians 2. Galatians 4 also describes him as being born from a woman, having been sent by God.

                Unless Paul’s sources are explicitly his “divine” visions, i.e. he made it up, then doesn’t that at least admit the possibility that Jesus was intended to be incarnate at some point?

                I doubt that makes the story somehow more plausible (rather, just less silly), but I don’t think I agree with your claim here. It seems to be making too strong a case.

              4. But then how did Paul expect his followers to believe that Jesus Christ ever started the eucharist ritual?

                Eh, that’s not what’s going on. You’re presupposing an human Jesus Christ whom Paul is crediting with acting out that scene, which isn’t at all what the text says; rather, it’s you yourself assuming that there was a mortal Jesus and that’s the only possible way this could have played out.

                Re-read the entire chapter. Paul most emphatically isn’t sitting by the fireside telling the story of Jesus’s last dinner with his friends before he was executed. Rather, he’s instructing the Christians in Corinth how to perform this religious ceremony that’s obviously foreign to them, and the ceremony is in the form of a ritualistic meal.

                A bit of context also helps. Very similar ritualistic meals were commonplace as religious ceremonies in the very popular mystery cults of the day. Paul instructing the Corinthians in how to perform this ritual is little different from a modern pastor teaching others his preferred baptism technique — full immersion, or sprinkling? In the church sanctuary or the nearest river?

                So, contrary to the historicist narrative, this isn’t Paul repeating to the Corinthians what he had heard from the members of the Jerusalem Church about recent historical events. Rather, it’s an upper-level seer of a mystery cult instructing the initiates / novices / babes on the proper means to perform one of the middle-level rituals. Think of a Mason correcting another on the proper way to perform the secret handshake, or somebody in a fraternity revealing the secret meaning of the Greek letters.

                It wouldn’t even have occurred to the Corinthians that Jesus actually sat down to dinner with people on Earth. They would have realized that it was all symbolism, with particular meanings for the bread and the wine, and either they already knew the meanings or anticipated their later revelation.

                Cheers,

                b&

              5. This seems rather speculative. It’s not that the chapter isn’t talking about the proper way to take the ritualistic meal, but it seems a bit of a stretch to take the bit about Jesus holding out the cup and the bread and explaining how the divine cannibalism worked, and then assume this was intended as a metaphorical story. The believers were firmly convinced Jesus was a real person, and the passage seems to indicate that the meal is significant precisely because of its “history” involving Jesus “the night he was betrayed”.

                However, upon rereading the chapter, I am thinking Paul made it up. He claims that he “received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you”, which almost certainly means either a hallucination or a barefaced lie.

                I do think Paul (or at least his followers) believed Jesus took on human form and interacted (however briefly) with earthly representatives. This doesn’t mean they were witnesses to a real counterpart, of course. If their only contact was divine revelation and word-of-mouth, I think we can safely call that historicity dubious, still.

                It’s like saying Santa Claus was a real person, just that he lives somewhere in the Arctic all the way over there, and we’ve only ever heard his voice in our heads. In this case, Jesus the Son of God incarnate was probably believed to be a walker among men, just that it happened long ago, he’s back in Heaven now, and we talk to him via “revelation”. This is why I think you oversell the “spiritual Jesus” angle, especially given the other stuff Paul wrote which I mentioned.

              6. However, upon rereading the chapter, I am thinking Paul made it up.

                Actually…he most emphatically didn’t.

                For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteriesof Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certainincantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

                Mithraism was the religion of Cilicia, roughly contiguous with modern Turkey, and Tarsus, as in, “Paul, of,” was the capital city.

                I do think Paul (or at least his followers) believed Jesus took on human form and interacted (however briefly) with earthly representatives.

                Not only are the only times Paul ever interacted with Jesus explicitly visionary, he’s most emphatic in equating his visions with the interactions of others who knew Jesus. Whether Jesus took human form within those visions is irrelevant; the only experience anybody ever had of Jesus was visionary. See again the preamble to 1 Corinthians 15.

                b&

              7. Actually…he most emphatically didn’t.

                I meant that it can’t be cited as evidence of a real Jesus. In that sense, the “biographical” detail of the “Last Supper” was made up, whether Paul invented it from scratch or stole it from a pre-existing religion.

                Not only are the only times Paul ever interacted with Jesus explicitly visionary,

                Agreed.

                he’s most emphatic in equating his visions with the interactions of others who knew Jesus.

                I agree that he equated his vision of the resurrection with the visions of Cephas, “then of the twelve”, about 500 people, James, and the other apostles, but he also singles himself out “as of one born out of due time”. That seems to imply to me that Paul was unusual in receiving the vision and nothing else, further implying that the other apostles actually were in due time and so met Jesus.

                It’s true that, apart from the ambiguous “the Lord’s brother” bit, none of the other apostles are mentioned except in relation to what Paul’s proselytising right now (e.g. his history with them in Galatians after the vision, especially the dispute over Gentiles/Jews). But then how do you explain the suggested existence of apostles before they had the resurrection visions? I don’t think Origen left a helpful explanatory note ruing the fact that the visions, not any encounters, started it all off.

              8. but he also singles himself out “as of one born out of due time”. That seems to imply to me that Paul was unusual in receiving the vision and nothing else, further implying that the other apostles actually were in due time and so met Jesus.

                It’s consistent with such a reading, but it’s also just as consistent with a simpler reading of, “they’ve been at this longer.”

                But then how do you explain the suggested existence of apostles before they had the resurrection visions?

                The visions of the Risen Christ are visions of a very common Jewish and Pagan theological figure. See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind — and Philo for how the Risen Jesus Christ of Zechariah is the same archangel as his own Logos…and elsewhere in Philo for why this Logos is the firstfruits, the original Adam of the spirit contrasted with the second Adam of Eden and the Flesh, how he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so on.

                In that way, the visions the pre-Paul Apostles had were exactly the same as those who today have visions of, say, Gabriel, and know it’s him because he’s playing a trumpet. They weren’t having visions of shocking new information; they were having visions of stuff that everybody already knew. The new stuff was quite minor, and even trivial; Jesus had just recently done his salvific sacrifice here and now in the early first century, as opposed to in the not-too-distant future when people were writing of him a century or two earlier. Or, for Paul’s main innovation, Jesus’s sacrifice meant that all the old sacrificial covenants, especially circumcision, were now paid in full, as opposed to merely the priestly animal sacrifices at the Temple.

                You know how Christians even today make such an immense deal about the Reformation and how Protestantism is so radically different from Catholicism? Well, to an outsider, it’s damned near impossible to tell the difference between Lutheran services with Holy Communion and a Catholic Mass with the Eucharist. The Reformation obviously matters to them, but it’d require some pretty sophisticated anthropology to figure out what the big deal was.

                It was the same thing going on between Paul and the others, and similarly between the others and the various other (already quite diverse) Jewish sects and syncretisms of the period.

                b&

              9. It’s consistent with such a reading, but it’s also just as consistent with a simpler reading of, “they’ve been at this longer.”

                Fair enough. I don’t have an answer to that, so I shall concede it.

                See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind…

                This seems a bit of a stretch. Zechariah 6:11 talks about “Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest”. I don’t see what you’re seeing here. Where in all this do we have a Jesus precursor?

              10. See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind…

                This seems a bit of a stretch. Zechariah 6:11 talks about “Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest”. I don’t see what you’re seeing here. Where in all this do we have a Jesus precursor?

                For the full scholarly exposition of this, see Richard Carrier, On the History of Jesus, page 200 / element 40.

                For starters, “Joshua” and “Jesus” are the exact same name, just having come to English by way of different intermediate languages. So either the passage is about an individual named, “Jesus,” or the central figure of Christianity is named, “Joshua” — take your pick; both are valid translations.

                The next verse is a prophesy addressed to this Jesus, with YHWH directly addressing him through the mouth of the prophet (Zechariah). And there YHWH says that Jesus’s name is, in the KJV, “The Branch.” The same word is elsewhere translated, including by Philo, as both “The East” and “The Rising.” All three are extremely common epithets applied to the Christian Jesus — the latter, especially, in the form of the Risen Jesus Christ.

                YWHW continues (still, of course, in the mouth of Zechariah) in that verse to proclaim that Jesus shall build YHWH’s temple, which would be understood to be the celestial temple of the heavens as mirrored here on Earth by the body of the laity — exactly the same as the Christian Jesus.

                The next verse says that Jesus shall “bear the glory” — the Holy Spirit — and sit and rule upon YHWH’s throne, again, both exactly like the Christian Jesus. And Jesus — both versions, again — shall be the the counsel / vessel / prince of peace.

                Philo makes the explicit comparison between Zachariah’s Jesus and Philo’s own Logos in On the Confusion of Tongues, 63 and expounds a bit further upon the theology. Philo’s Logos, of course, is recognized even by modern Christians as superbly congruent with Jesus, and that congruence is made explicit in the opening verse of the Gospel According to John as well as by innumerable other Christian theologians (such as my personal favorite, Justin Martyr, who compared the Logos with Mercury in his First Apology).

                Oh — and that verse 11? Setting gold and silver crowns upon the head of the Risen Jesus? That’s Jesus being anointed, in this case with gold and silver rather than olive oil. (“Crown him with many crowns” — and sorry for the cringe-worthy performance!) Thus, Zachariah’s Joshua ben Josedech really is the Risen Jesus Christ, same name / titles / epithets, and with all the major theological properties of the Christian version…

                …all there about half a millennium before Philo and Paul.

                Cheers,

                b&

              11. I checked out the passage, as well as Zechariah 3 and Haggai. If I understand you correctly, then what you’re saying is that Jesus is basically Joshua the High Priest, son of Josedech, spiritually resurrected and seen in a vision by the apostles.

                I still think this account has a few snags. A few people can be anointed prophets tasked with building a temple, but isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Son of God who was betrayed by Jews, and then crucified and buried for three days to pay off Original Sin? There’s no mention of Joshua the High Priest ending that way, and being “son of Josedech”, it seems to me simpler to say he was another prophet alongside Zerubbabel rather than a Son of God. Also, how does Zerubbabel figure into this? Did Paul and the others just ignore him?

                I’m not saying your claim so far is totally baseless, but it seems to me you’re trying to connect dots that don’t connect very strongly.

              12. Zechariah’s prophecy can be dated to around 520 BCE. The prophecy regarding the rebuilding of the Temple therefore refers to its reconstruction and completion in the 510s, permitted, according the OT, by the then dead Messiah-figure Cyrus the Great and his successor Darius kept to his predecessor’s word.

                The passages are referred to in the NT in Matthew 16:18, Hebrews 3:3 and Ephesians 2:20-22, regarding the building of the House of the Lord. This should not be surprising as what characterizes early Christian story-building is the amount of times that they refer back to ancient prophecy (and often wrongly – Matthew confuses Jeremiah with Zechariah at one point). The only thing vaguely unusual in this is that Philo, the exegete and allegorist of the Pentateuch, mentions this Prophetic, non-Torah text as well.

                Christianity may have inherited this habit of seeing the fulfilment of ancient prophecy from late middle Judaism (genuine prophecy usually foresaw events inherent in the social milieu, it was short-term.) However the fact that there are 2 Isaiahs and 2 Zechariahs (the Z of chapter 9 onwards is a later Z) demonstrates that prophecies were inserted later, using the ancient name for authority.

                Your points, reasonshark, re: how Zerubbabel, the governor of the Persian province of Judah, and the later Christian theology fit into this illustrate the limitations of ‘defectus litterae’, the allegorical school which Paul, the Gospels and Philo share. I could easily allegorize Zerubbabel and Zechariah as the Essenes’ King and Teacher of Righteousness. But in the details, of course, it will break down. You can only take an allegory so far, but that does not stop me from doing it.

                x

              13. The only thing vaguely unusual in this is that Philo, the exegete and allegorist of the Pentateuch, mentions this Prophetic, non-Torah text as well.

                That’s excessively understating Philo’s reaction to this passage. Indeed, Philo explicitly equated Zechariah’s Jesus with Philo’s own Logos as being the same entity. Zechariah’s Jesus is the essence of the Christian Jesus’s theological job description, and Philo’s Logos is an exact match for Jesus’s theological characteristics and properties. Zechariah’s Jesus is even identified as Rising, which is what drew him to Philo’s attention in the first place. Literally all that’s missing between the two of them is the reason for the need to Rise and the time it took to Rise.

                However the fact that there are 2 Isaiahs and 2 Zechariahs (the Z of chapter 9 onwards is a later Z) demonstrates that prophecies were inserted later, using the ancient name for authority.

                It’s also the way that all ancient scripture was invented — and this is the entire discussion. You are claiming that Christian scripture was an exception, that it was at least in part a report of actual history. All the mythicists are claiming is that that would be unimaginably uncharacteristic, and that the pivot point between Christianity and Judaism developed in the exact same way that you right here just identified Judaism as developing before and that few would contest that Christianity developed after.

                But in the details, of course, it will break down. You can only take an allegory so far, but that does not stop me from doing it.

                But of course the stories change with each fresh telling. Otherwise, they’d just be scribal copies. How bizarre, really, is it to take Philo’s re-working of Zechariah’s Jesus, and to have a prophetic hallucination that explained why Jesus was commanded to Rise? Would it not be incredibly unbelievable to instead claim that this random schmuck who actually did die and return from the grave was the half-a-millennium-old archangel Risen Jesus Christ?

                b&

      3. Yes, if the purported historical Jesus doesn’t resemble the one of the Bible, then you have nothing except a nondescript person. And then, who cares?

        1. And, even beyond that…how would you go about picking the “real” Jesus out of a crowd? If, for example, the “real” Jesus didn’t even have to be named, “Jesus”…did he even have to be male? Jewish? In the Levant? In the first century?

          If you could pick literally anybody who lived in the regions bordering the Mediterranean in a centuries-long period of time and argue equally valid for identifying that person as the “real” Jesus, then Jesus quite literally did not exist.

          b&

          1. Ben, I think we would have been able to pick out someone like Jesus, although there may have been more than one, just as there are many wandering Sadhus in India. He was a wandering rabbi, I suspect, really, and taught people about God and his ways, and he was probably believed to perform miracles, as some contemporaneous rabbis were reputed to have done. He would likely have been born in Galilee, so he would have had a strange accent to someone from Judaea. He would probably have drawn to him a number of followers, and would have taught them things which can be learned from the Jewish scriptures, only, like the Pharisees, he would likely have been a bit of a radical when it came to Torah interpretation. And, yes, he would almost certainly have been a man, since he could scarcely have been recognisable as a rabbi unless he had been. Indeed, I suspect the Geza Vemes was right, and that Jesus was a country rabbi, given to wandering the countryside, teaching as he went. His parables, as they are told in the gospels, have a kind of country fireside wisdom that can be attractive even today, and there is no reason to suppose that he did not teach by means of telling stories. I think he would have been quite distinctive, but perhaps not the only distinctive country rabbi of a similar sort.

            1. But the Jesus you describe is utterly alien to Paul — no miracles, no sermons, none of those heartwarming parables. And especially at times when he draws tortured analogies with Hebrew scriptures when Jesus himself offered the perfect example! How can we reasonably describe as the “real” Jesus a figure whom Paul himself wouldn’t recognize?

              That problem lies at the heart of all realist explanations of Jesus. We have multiple Jesuses, all of whom are incompatible with each other, save for the name and perhaps a few theological properties. Paul’s Jesus clearly wasn’t the same Pagan demigod of the Gospels; the Jesus of the orthodox Gospels clearly wasn’t the same Jesus as the various heresies; and none of those Jesuses are the same as the Jesus you’re proposing here. After all, the Gospel Jesuses were born of a virgin and spent some time as a zombie before flying up back home to live with YHWH, a stark contrast with your proposed Jesus.

              The only way to reconcile this surfeit of Jesuses is to recognize that they’re just like Paul Bunyan — a figure who goes from tall enough to use mature pine trees as toothpicks in one story to so big that he created the Grand Canyon by carelessly dragging his axe behind him in the next. Such inconsistencies aren’t merely not problematical for mythical heroes; they’re to be expected. But when the earliest record of somebody is by somebody who described him as a supernatural being and who didn’t know a thing about what he said or did on Earth, and only generations later has a fully-developed biography….

              b&

              1. I keep pressing “Post Comment” even though I already have an unposted comment written. The following therefore got out of place, and belongs here:

                Well, we don’t know this, do we? We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings. It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters. However his letters were occasional letters to congregations he had founded, and were chiefly concerned with problems that existed in those communities, which Paul sets about trying to resolve. He did not write a life of Jesus, but he followed him as the risen saviour. That Paul’s work is chiefly theological, insofar as it concerns the significance of Jesus, crucified and risen, is because that was most important to him, and it was also what was most relevant to his Gentile mission. But there is no question of his having accepted Jesus as an earthly figure, though in Paul we see Christianity transitioning from a Jewish phenomenon to one that made no distinction between Gentile and Jew. We are even told how offended Paul was at Antioch that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles the moment people sent by James came onto the scene. (Gal 2.11-12)

                I fail to see the importance that you think you detect in the difference between the gospels and in the works of Paul. Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God. So, for Paul, and for everyone else, for that matter, after the crucifixion-resurrection (whatever resurrection was thought to mean), the risen Jesus was the important figure. In him people saw salvation. But it was important that his teachings be written down by someone who, presumably, knew, or remembered something about Jesus before his crucifixion, and so they wrote down what we now know as gospels. Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He knew him as a risen saviour, and so his theology concentrates on that. Why should this seem so surprising or even in conflict with the gospel traditions? You seem to be making mountains out of molehills.

              2. We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings.

                To suggest that Paul wrote of Jesus in documents that did not survive is absurd. It can only have happened through chance or conspiracy. Conspiracy would require Christians to have intentionally shot themselves in the foot, and even they weren’t quite that stupid. But the odds that, in all of the writings we do have of Paul, we just happened to have gotten the ones where he never mentioned Jesus…well, you can roll the dice like that if you want, but you’d be wise to never do so with money on the line.

                It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters.

                It’s equally clear that Paul knew of those teachings through personal revelation — hallucinations, of the same variety by which Joe Smith knew of Moroni.

                Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God.

                Exactly. And, in any Pagan context, that would instantly be recognized as a non-corporeal demigod. And, too, for that matter, in the Jewish context of the time, that’s exactly how such an entity would have been understood.

                Textbook example, really. Just look to all those prophecies, for example in Isaiah, which are so often cited that state as much that Jesus is said to have fulfilled. Isaiah foretold it, and what’re the chances that it actually came to pass as opposed to it theologically having come to pass?

                b&

              3. And it has to be added that Paul shows some knowledge of the human Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law, born in David’s line, crucified, died and buried. He knew that Jesus had forbidden divorce, and spoke of this as a word from the Lord. He also knew traditions of the Last Supper, and repeats them. So, it is not as though Paul did not know of Jesus. He may not have known his parables, but in any case they may not have served the points he was trying to make in his letters to his churches.

              4. Those are all prophecies straight out of Hebrew scriptures, except for the Last Supper, which we know for a fact was lifted wholesale from the Mithraism of Paul’s home town of Tarsus. Might as well claim that Arthur was a real person because we know that he drew Excalibur from the Stone.

                b&

              5. Ben, how on earth can you say that the Last Supper was lifted wholesale from Mithraism? All we have to go on with Mithra are monumental structures, the slaying of a bull, the banqueting on the bull’s hide, etc. No clear reference to anything that is relevant to the Last Supper which was, by any standards, a Jewish Passover meal, reinterpreted to fit the approaching death of Jesus. Where is the “lifted wholesale from the Mithraism of Paul’s Tarsus”?

                As for Paul’s letters, we know that he does occasionally mention things as coming from the Lord, about divorce, for example, where he closely follows the gospel account, or the Last Supper, which shows no similarity at all to the feasts of Mithra (of which we have no written account, I believe), but do fit in well with the Passover meal reported in the gospels, where wine and unraised bread were to be expected, so it is not quite clear that Paul knew nothing of Jesus. Of course, this meal is not present in John’s gospel (we have the foot washing instead), because in that Gospel Jesus is executed at the same time as the Passover lambs would have been killed (in keeping with John’s theme of Jesus as the lamb of God). Of course, if Thomas Brodie is right, then both Jesus and Paul are creations of a school of writers, and then we have to ask why Paul does not say more about Jesus. A school of writers, one would have thought, that created both Jesus and Paul, would have made sure to have Paul refer to Jesus’ teachings more than twice.

                As for Ant’s remark (I think it’s in this thread) of Ehrman not being an historian, all I can say is that New Testament scholars must be historians, or else they could not do their work, which involves an incredible amount of historical knowledge and interpretation. So, yes, Ehrman, as a biblical scholar, is an historian.

              6. Ben, how on earth can you say that the Last Supper was lifted wholesale from Mithraism?

                ‘Taint me; ’tis Saint Justin Martyr hisself. First Apology, chapter 66 ends thus:

                For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

                (Note: Justin’s central thesis, oft repeated and greatly elaborated upon elsewhere in the Apology, is that the devils, with their power of foresight, created their imitations generations if not centuries in advance of Jesus’s nativity.)

                It’s also worth noting that ritualistic meals in which the central god was the main course was a very common motif in the mystery cults of the time; it wouldn’t have been only Mithraism with such a Eucharistic meal.

                As for Paul’s letters, we know that he does occasionally mention things as coming from the Lord, about divorce, for example, where he closely follows the gospel account

                The Gospels were written long after and with certain knowledge of the Epistles, and Paul makes clear that he gets such “teachings” directly from the Risen Christ, and not by way of hearsay from others in the church. That is, those “teachings” originated in Paul’s brain, whether sincerely as hallucinations or cynically as reported personal “revelations” to appropriate for himself the authority of Christ, in a tradition that Popes themselves continue to this day.

                That is, Paul’s report of Christ’s position on divorce comes from the exact same source as each and every single preacher since then’s position on divorce or anything else: the posterior fundament.

                Cheers,

                b&

      4. Ben, let’s get a few things clear. Whether or not the Testimonium Flavianum, in a form without the obvious Christian additions, was written by Josephus Flavius, is hard to say, but the historical consensus does not seem to rule it out. Obviously, he did not write that he was the messiah. But if a Christian had written the whole thing, it would have been a bit more spiced up than it is. As it stands, it doesn’t offer much for an apologist, which is why it was not mentioned by the early Fathers, especially if the Christian additions did not appear until much later. Celsus and Josephus did not, and, in fact, no early writer questioned Jesus’ historical existence.

        Secondly, the gospels are clearly given to hyperbole, and cannot be taken as evidence that Jesus must have been known far and wide. Can it be the case that Jesus entered the packed city of Jerusalem preparing for high holy day, and that people greeted him with shouts of Hosanna strewing his way with clothing and palm branches! No, it’s not. So the idea that Jesus performed miracles witnessed by thousands is surely doubtful; but, consider this: there have been for some decades in America a number of so called miracle healers who performed before audiences of thousands, but I can’t remember the name of a single one. It was likely the same in Jesus’ day, only now, if I wanted to, I could no doubt google a number of names on the spot. Since google didn’t exist when Paulkovich’s writers were writing, it is doubtful if Jesus would have been even as widely known as American miracle workers (which is to say, not very widely in the scholarly public).

        Third, I am not affirming any particular thing about Jesus, except that he most likely existed, and was the leader of a small group of Jews who came to have a highly religious view of him which, in time, and through many changes, became the many Christianities that have existed since his time. The only reason for calling him Jesus is that that is what he is called in the literature; and that, however much truth can be discerned in the gospels, it was that man who became the historical core of what became a religion in which he is believed to have played a central, and even (perhaps) a supernatural role.

        But these are very complex areas of historical interpretation, and are not easily settled. And since the historical consensus is that someone like Jesus was at the centre of a religious movement formed in his name that seems the most rational belief to hold.

        1. You’d think Jesus would have been on Facebook and Twitter, what with him being able to perform miracles and all.
          Then again miracles are no big deal these days, here in South Africa on a Sunday you can tune in to religious TV programmes and see black preachers performing miracles left, right and centre.
          Back in Jesus’ day they weren’t so common, so no doubt word would have travelled fast that this guy could raise people from the dead.

          1. I don’t think so. Religion and healing belonged together in those days. People went to temples to ask for favours. They no doubt wore amulets around their necks, and touched sacred items hoping to be cured. There wasn’t much else they could do. Medicine was pretty iffy at best, and many people suffered for years from pains and troubles that we think of as petty nuisances. In that respect I don’t think Jesus was likely particularly unique.

        2. As it stands, it doesn’t offer much for an apologist, which is why it was not mentioned by the early Fathers, especially if the Christian additions did not appear until much later.

          Eric, you keep repeating this, and it’s simply not true.

          Origen explicitly mentioned the Testamonium, with to-the-chapter bibliographical reference and describing it in detail — and for the express purpose of castigating Josephus for writing of James when he ought to have written of Jesus.

          You really owe it to yourself to stop beating such a broken drum!

          b&

          1. Well, yes he did, he explicitly mentioned the contents (or at least parts it) of the so-called Testimonium, but it was not a Testimonium at the time, because no one questioned the historicity of Jesus at the time, and quite clearly the Christian additions had not been made at the time (viz, that Jesus was the Messiah, or that he could hardly be called a man). These clearly arose after Origen’s time. so it is not a Testimonium in the sense that it later became, as a testimony to the messianic significance of Jesus. The historical question was immaterial, since no one at that time questioned Jesus’ historicity.

            But the whole point of Origen’s argument is that the catastrophe that fell on Jerusalem was due to the crucifixion of Jesus (a mistaken Christian belief)… It had to be, because Jesus’ death was the significant one, and the one that, in Origen’s mind, justified the destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, this would have offered the apologetic that he needed, and Josephus did not provide it, claiming that the catastrophe fell because Ananus unlawfully killed James, Jesus’ brother (Contra Celsum, Bk I, ch. 47). In other words, Origen adverts to it, simply to say that Josephus got it all wrong. And this in itself is significant, because it shows that the Testimonium (not known as that, of course, at that time, because it didn’t have the Christian interpolations) was early, and that an early Father, adverting to it, claimed that Josephus had it wrong, and it didn’t, as I say, provide any apologetic material. From the historical point of view, of course, it suggests that parts of the Testimonium were likely original with Josephus, because Origen also says that Josephus did not think that Jesus was the Christ (which, if he had had the Testimonium as we have it, he would not have been able to say without questioning its provenance).

            Indeed, the points you make show that Josephus knew of James and his brother Jesus, and this supports the historicity of Jesus.

            1. In other words, Origen adverts to it, simply to say that Josephus got it all wrong.

              Eric, if Origen says that the right answer was Jesus and Josephus answered worng, then Josephus didn’t answer, “Jesus.” Insisting that he answered Jesus, which was the right answer, but that Origen said it was the worng answer, is perverse in the extreme.

              And, once again, Origen himself explicitly explains that James wasn’t Jesus’s brother, but rather the brother of the LORD / Kyrios / YWHW, which is the exact same language Paul always uses. You can’t claim that somebody who was a monk was the blood brother of the person whom he was explicitly not related to by blood.

              b&

              1. I apologise for any confusion. What I have been discussing is what Origen says about what Josephus says about James and Jesus and the destruction of the temple, not the Testimonium. What Origen says is this:

                Now this writer [Josephus, in the Antiquities], 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, nor far from the truth — that these things 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.

                I take it that the words in italics comprise the quote from Josephus(though it may include the final words as well), to which Origen takes exception, because, in Origen’s mind, it should have been obvious to Josephus that it was because they killed Jesus (called Christ) that the Jews were punished. The point is that Josephus identified James by pointing out that he was the brother of Jesus, and Origen took exception to Josephus’ account, because it offered nothing in the way of apologetics, when, according to Origen, Josephus should have known, having mentioned Jesus, that the bigger crime was the execution of Jesus, not the killing of James. There is nothing perverse in saying this. Since I haven’t got the Greek here, I don’t know whether ‘kyrios’ or ‘Isous’ is used here, but Ehrman says clearly that in this reference “Jesus is actually called by name.”

                The Testimonium from Josephus Flavius does in fact have the name Jesus, and has nothing to say about James the Just, the beginning of which reads:

                “Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τός χρόνον, Ίησοῦσ σόφοσ ἀνήρ …” [not sure why the sigma on ‘sophos’ (and ‘Iesous’ too) changes in WordPress to a medial sigma instead of a final one]

                “Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man ….”

                So we both seem to have been speaking about the wrong bit of ancient history. So, Josephus mentions Jesus by name twice in the Antiquities — in the quote above and in the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (because it was the testimony of Josephus Flavius). Though clearly remarks about him being more than a man, and the messiah, are interpolations, for we know, from Origen (above) that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the messiah; but there is no reason not to take the bland statement, about Jesus as a wise man, having been accused by those of high standing, and being crucified by Pilate, as being original. There is no apologetic mileage in anything that Origen quotes from Josephus, though he uses one, just the same, to say how wrong he was, which achieves the same end in slightly sophistical ways. But that is because it allows itself to be used that way. The earlier mention of Jesus, in connexion with his crucifixion (if you remove the likely Christian interpolations), offers no such apologetic advantage.

                However, Ben, I can’t make sense of what you say about Origen’s accusation of Josephus being wrong. I think that is adequately dealt with above. And where does Origen explicitly state that James was the brother of the Lord (and not of Jesus)?

              2. Eric, I don’t think Origen could be more clear. He writes that Josephus should have blamed the calamity on the death of Christ the prophet; rather, Josephus blamed the calamity on the unjust execution of James the Just. Nowhere does Origen indicate that Josephus wrote about Jesus; he only indicates that he should have written about Jesus but didn’t.

                As to where Origen disclaims James’s blood kinship with Jesus, it’s in the very next freakin’ sentence after the bit you quoted:

                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.

                I can only guess that you’re grabbing your quotes from an apologetic source and not from complete texts. Might I suggest? The complete texts of basically all ancient sources are available online. Next time, after looking up passages in your familiar sources and before quoting them…take a moment to look up the original in its full context? It would save us so much agony, and you so much embarrassment….

                b&

              3. Come on Ben, the quote from Josephus is there. It mentions Jesus, James’ brother. If he knew Jesus, says Origen, he should have known that it was because of Jesus execution that the Jews were punished, because Jesus (known as the Christ) was obviously more important than James.

                And in answer to your insinuation, no, I’ve got the complete text, and see the next sentence. But it is not clear what it means. What is meant by “Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus”? Since Origen knew the letters of Paul, and doubted that Hebrews had been written by Paul, it seems an odd way to speak of Paul, the author of the letters. And certainly Paul does not say this about James in any of his known letters. In Galatians he says that he went to Jerusalem and that he met there with James the Lord’s brother (with whom he had some continuing difficulties), but there is nothing about James not being a relationship by blood. Certainly, it emphasises the reason Origen berated Josephus for considering this man’s death as more important than that of Jesus, but this was already adequately pointed out where James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned. It scarcely needed the emphasis of speaking about Paul’s reference to James not being a real brother of Jesus, since James is already known as the Lord’s brother in Galatians, and in Mark (chapter 6). James was also known as a pillar of the church in Jerusalem, and it seems that it was the same James, the Lord’s brother.

                Possibly the reason for the addition was the growing doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, though that is only a guess. But there is no historical reason for supposing that James was not Jesus’ brother, as he is named that way at least a couple of times in the NT, and once by Paul himself (without Origen’s qualification).

              4. If he knew Jesus, says Origen, he should have known that it was because of Jesus execution that the Jews were punished, because Jesus (known as the Christ) was obviously more important than James.

                Exactly! And yet, Josephus didn’t know better, and therefore didn’t know Jesus. Really, how hard can this be? Josephus wrote B, not A, when he should have written A, not B. This is syllogism 101!

                But it is not clear what it means.

                Then, for whatever reason, you are struggling mightily with plain language. For whatever reason, Origen was compelled to identify that, contrary to your own stubborn assertion, James wasn’t Jesus’s biological brother but was rather the spiritual brother of YHWH.

                We can speculate until the cows come home on why Origen thought it necessary to make that clarification, but there’s no getting past the fact that that’s exactly the clarification that he did, in fact, make.

                James was also known as a pillar of the church in Jerusalem, and it seems that it was the same James, the Lord’s brother.

                Yes. The LORD‘s brother. Κύριος. יהוה. YHWH. Jehovah.

                Not Ἰησοῦς. Not even Χριστός.

                Κύριος

                How much plainer can it be?

                b&

          2. Well, we don’t know this, do we? We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings. It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters. However his letters were occasional letters to congregations he had founded, and were chiefly concerned with problems that existed in those communities, which Paul sets about trying to resolve. He did not write a life of Jesus, but he followed him as the risen saviour. That Paul’s work is chiefly theological, insofar as it concerns the significance of Jesus, crucified and risen, is because that was most important to him, and it was also what was most relevant to his Gentile mission. But there is no question of his having accepted Jesus as an earthly figure, though in Paul we see Christianity transitioning from a Jewish phenomenon to one that made no distinction between Gentile and Jew. We are even told how offended Paul was at Antioch that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles the moment people sent by James came onto the scene. (Gal 2.11-12)

            I fail to see the importance that you think you detect in the difference between the gospels and in the works of Paul. Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God. So, for Paul, and for everyone else, for that matter, after the crucifixion-resurrection (whatever resurrection was thought to mean), the risen Jesus was the important figure. In him people saw salvation. But it was important that his teachings be written down by someone who, presumably, knew, or remembered something about Jesus before his crucifixion, and so they wrote down what we now know as gospels. Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He knew him as a risen saviour, and so his theology concentrates on that. Why should this seem so surprising or even in conflict with the gospel traditions? You seem to be making mountains out of molehills.

  26. I tend towards the mythesist camp, but haven’t read extensively. Ironically, the one book that tipped the scales for me only covers the Old Testament. The Bible Unearthed discusses archeological evidence from those time frames and how that evidence contradicts the significant details in the Bible.

    TBE establishes a clear pattern of people mixing religious, political and tribal purposes with a poorly-transmitted oral history to establish their cultural identity and authority. When I read the New Testament, I see no indication that pattern had changed.

    1. But even TBE states that the last third of the Old Testament timeline (up to 4BCE) is largely correct. It’s the stuff before the 8th to 9th century BCE that is suspect, much written centuries after the events they purport to describe. Th Babylonian Exile did happen- the Exodus from Egypt did not.

  27. RE: “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

    I’ve never read any of Carrier’s books, but I have read a number of his blog posts, and he does present a reasonable, if not absolutely convincing case that Paul’s writings are of a purely heavenly, non-material Jesus.

    If I’m not mistaken, Carrier (or perhaps I’m confusing him with another mythicist) argues that the gospels themselves (composed well after the works of Paul) ARE arguments refuting claims that Jesus was a purely mythical figure.

    1. Minor tweak: “[…]the gospels themselves (composed well after the works of Paul) ARE arguments refuting claims that Jesus was a purely mythical or purely heavenly, non-material figure.

    2. I have not had a chance to read Carrier’s books, but I have read some of his posts and seen some videos of his lectures. I don’t find his arguments all that convincing and it seems like he had to try too hard to make his assertions fit. My reading of Paul is that he definitely believed in a flesh and blood Jesus that was crucified, and that for believers, there would be a flesh and blood resurrection when Jesus returned.

      I would say the gospels try to add additional historical “facts” to the stories any Jesus in order to fit one narrative or another, but I don’t think they are strictly an attempt to refute a mythological interpretation that was present at that point in history.

    3. I’ve never read any of Carrier’s books, but I have read a number of his blog posts, and he does present a reasonable, if not absolutely convincing case that Paul’s writings are of a purely heavenly, non-material Jesus.

      I can’t say I find it totally convincing. Paul did mention once or twice that Jesus had been born from a mortal woman, took on human form, and was killed by Jews. He also suggests Jesus had a last supper, which even if it was an interpolation adapted from Mithraism, suggests he still expected his followers to believe in a real Jesus who was the Son of God incarnate.

      I think more damning are two facts. The first is that Paul says virtually nothing about Jesus’ biography, giving the impression that Jesus was born nowhere in particular and then died with nothing interesting happening in-between. This gives the impression that Paul knew virtually nothing about any real-life counterpart to the myth, beyond the myth itself, in spite of his referring to his own biographical details once or twice.

      The second is that Paul himself is a self-confessed second-hand source whose most credible sources are: the pre-existing Christians he had allegedly been persecuting prior to conversion; a hallucination which he mistook for divine revelation; and claiming to know at least two apostles, who presumably are eye-witnesses but whose explicitly mentioned credentials involve hallucinating the resurrection too (and possibly having the aforementioned dinner).

      And this is just considering the texts that, according to scholars themselves, were the earliest written. Whoever wrote the gospels and acts would have been something like third-hand sources at best, nowhere near the alleged events to be considered reliable sources even if they weren’t either outrageously liberal with the stories passed on or plagiarists of each other (such as the Synoptic Gospel writers). This is before you consider that the provenance of the extant New Testament papyri could still date it somewhere in the late 1st and early to mid 2nd century.

      If these people were gullible enough to swallow such a mythologized story so readily, and apparently in droves, just by word of mouth, then it seems to me that having a real-life nutjob to base it on would merely be a bonus.

      1. One possible hypothesis explaining the silence of Paul is that the rift between Pauline Christians and the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem (probably led by James rather than Peter) lasted far far longer than is let on by the Acts of the Apostles (the latter written to bolster Paul’s reputation). Paul then would simply not have that much access about the traditions of Jesus’ life.

        The Gospel of Matthew is clearly written by a NON-Pauline Christian who simply views Jesus as a Jewish Messiah who came to reform and promulgate a new version of the Torah/Law. This is one of several indicators of a non-Pauline Christianity persisting long after the Book of Acts claims it ever did.

    4. This is odd, because, for Paul, a real, human Jesus was an essential to salvation, for if Christ was not crucified, then our hope is in vain, remember? Indeed, Paul says that Jesus was made son of God by means of his resurrection from the dead, a view not shared by John, or Mark, for example. John’s view was that Jesus was son of God from before time, and Mark thought that he was recognised as the son when he was baptised by John. Matthew thought Jesus became son of God by means of a miraculous birth, a view to some extent shared by Luke. But for Paul, Jesus had to be a real human being, for, without that, he could not have been son of God and could not have played any role in delivering us from our sins. For the gospel of John, Jesus is almost a mythical figure. Paul, however, knew that, since he was crucified, died and was buried, yet rose again, Jesus was (and must have been) human. It’s the gospels that add the divine to the human while Jesus was still alive.

      1. This is odd, because, for Paul, a real, human Jesus was an essential to salvation, for if Christ was not crucified, then our hope is in vain, remember?

        But why on Earth should such a crucifixion have to have been on Earth?

        If Satan was not cast out of Heaven, there would have been no need for hope of salvation in the first place, would there be? So why should the antidote to the great celestial rebellion take place on Earth?

        b&

        1. Ben, you really don’t understand, do you?

          The point is the only slogan that what was not assumed is not sanctified (or saved). In this case it was humanity. If Jesus were not completely human, then he could not be the saviour of mankind. This is deeply rooted in Paul’s theology.

          It is a human drama, not a heavenly one. The victory must be human, or it is not a victory. And Paul makes this very clear. It had to be a real crucifixion (crucifixions don’t happen in the heavenly realm; it was principally a Roman form of punishment), and Jesus really had to suffer and die. The idea that Paul is speaking about heavenly goings on is a complete misunderstanding of Paul, except insofar as, for Paul, the resurrection, as the confirmation of the heavenly work that the earthly Jesus could do, raises Jesus to the level of Son of God. Read some Christian theology, commentators on Paul, and it will become as clear as you like, but if you insist on turning Paul’s Christ into a cosmic figure from the start, then you’ve missed the point. The insistence is ideological, not based on Paul.

          1. @Eric

            //If Jesus were not completely human, then he could not be the saviour of mankind. This is deeply rooted in Paul’s theology.

            It is a human drama, not a heavenly one. The victory must be human, or it is not a victory. And Paul makes this very clear. It had to be a real crucifixion..//

            ————–

            Hold your horses, Eric. This type of reasoning is way beyond the bounds of any humanitarian view of human life. And to ascribe such thinking to the writers of the NT betrays insensitivity in the extreme.

            Some years ago, Richard Dawkins made a comment that identifies the consensus interpretation of the NT story for what it is.

            // Among all the ideas ever to occur to a nasty human mind (Paul’s of course), the Christian “atonement” would win a prize for pointless futility as well as moral depravity.//

            Unfortunately, I can’t give a link as The Times is now behind a pay wall.

            Reasoning, such as you give above, demonstrates the very worst level to which an interpretation of the NT story can sink.

            1. So what Helena? This is the way Paul’s theology works, so why should this reasoning be thought to be somehow transgressive? I too have read Dawkins’ statement, and I tend to believe that there is some justification for supposing that there is something inhuman in the suggestion, but that doesn’t mean that the suggestion wasn’t made. And, remember, so far as we know, Jesus went willingly to his death, and apparently thought that good would come of it, if any of the stories of what happened leading up to the crucifixion have any truth at all, but even if they don’t, the Jesus depicted is, we might say, willingly making a sacrifice of himself, so who is Paul to refuse it? And, remember, please, that others have made the sacrifice of their lives for others. It is hard to see any moral depravity in that, and as for futility, that is, of course, the $64000 theological question. I really don’t think that Dawkins’ statement was particularly well thought through. But from the Christian point of view (and with Paul you have to see it from that point of view), Jesus sacrifice was not futile, because it issued in the resurrection. All things have to be held together if you’re going to make sense of Paul’s theology.

              1. @Eric

                All I can say is check your premises, Eric. If the conclusion is anti-humanitarian, the premise is wrong. i.e. the interpretation of the NT story is wrong.

                In fact this is one very important consequence of the ahistorical Jesus position – it does not need to subscribe to such a horrendous scenario nor have to engage in a misguided attempt to justify this contemptible NT interpretation.

              2. It is you and Dawkins, Helena, who interpret the premise as anti-humanitarian. Early Christians — and certainly Paul — did not so interpret it. So the premise is not wrong, just because it has what is for you something anti-humanitarian. Though perhaps that is why, in Paradise Lost, Milton makes the crucifixion ultimately to be of

                ….thy Enemies,
                The Law that is against thee, and the sins
                Of all mankind, with him there crucifi’d,
                Never to hurt them more who rightly trust
                In this his satisfaction; so he dies,
                But soon revives, Death over him no power
                Shall long usurp …

                But this was humanitarian, just as the death of soldiers fighting for freedom, sorrowful as their deaths may be, are yet given so that others might live. Dawkins thinks the atonement is so inhuman. Does that make Joe’s death on Juno, or Sword, or Gold or Omaha or Utah beaches unworthy or futile, since he died that others might live and be free. That is the context in which the atonement must be seen.

              3. @Eric

                //It is you and Dawkins, Helena, who interpret the premise as anti-humanitarian. Early Christians — and certainly Paul — did not so interpret it. So the premise is not wrong, just because it has what is for you something anti-humanitarian. //

                That, Eric, is your, and the consensus, interpretation of the Pauline writing. It is an *interpretation*. As such, it is open to being wrong on that basis alone. It is wrong on a humanitarian level. It is wrong on a logical level.

                Come now Eric, soldiers dying on the battlefield is a sad fact of life – a fact made all the more sad that their deaths are often futile as far as achieving ‘salvation’ for others. The history of war gives victory to one side not because of how many men died but because of who has the bigger guns….There is no morality in war. War is an amoral situation where necessity demands action not moral principles. (however defined)

              4. I do think, Eric, that Joe’s death on Omaha Beach is a bit different. It was a real action in the real world against a real enemy with real inhumane totalitarian policies that resulted in his undesired death. Joe was not sacrificed. He died in battle.

                All this sacrifice/atonement nonsense is of a completely different nature. It is an imaginary solution performed to appease an imagined asshole deity. Comparing Joe’s death and the Jesus fiction this way doesn’t wash.

              5. GBJ, I think your way of expressing this is unthinkingly crude:

                All this sacrifice/atonement nonsense is of a completely different nature. It is an imaginary solution performed to appease an imagined asshole deity. Comparing Joe’s death and the Jesus fiction this way doesn’t wash.

                However, we know, reasonably enough, that there are always further and further depths to human evil. That’s why the idea of Original Sin makes sense. It’s something we’re born with, part of the human condition. Some religions try to deal with the knowledge of this fact. Atonement theories are one way of doing this. In Christianity, we’re told, God, knowing our tendency towards evil, makes a gracious approach to us, and invites us to live a sacrificial life. As René Girard says, the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ life is supposed to be the solution to human violence, by inviting us to share in Jesus’ sacrifice, and so obviating the need for further violence.

                Atonement in Christianity isn’t simply the account of a sacrificial act, as though that, in itself, is sufficient. That’s why that sacrificial act is repeated (in some cases daily) over and over in the Eucharist, so that we can identify, and make ourselves one with, the sacrifice that Jesus made. It has in fact led to sacrificial lives. Francis, for example, to name one amongst many, gave up his wealth and position to become a mendicant, dependent on others for his next meal, following Jesus injunction to take nothing for the journey. And others have been very like Francis, believing that, just as Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable, so theirs would be acceptable in communion with his. I’ve been tempted (and have given way to the temptation) to interpret atonement theories in simplistic ways, but they are anything but simplistic, read in the full context. The legal fiction theory of Anselm is clearly unsatisfactory, and so is every other theory of the atonement in Christianity, since the atonement has never been dogmatically defined. There is no one theory that has ever been accepted as required to be believed. None of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church have ever made such a definition, so any one account will never sum up what is meant by the Christian idea of atonement, although in the end they all have the simple at-one-ment of ourselves with God in mind, our reconciliation with God, despite the evil that clings to us so tenaciously.

                In this respect, comparing Jesus’ sacrifice and Joe’s doesn’t wash, because Jesus’ sacrifice has fairly global implications, as usually expressed, and Joe’s sacrifice is much more mundane, and is but one sacrifice amongst many who died (to continue your supposition) that day on Omaha beach. It is estimated that one German machine gunner on that day killed upwards of 3000 men trapped on Omaha, so clearly Joe’s sacrifice may be thought to be diminished by the extent of the slaughter that day. But Joe did in fact die as one man (there must have been any number of Joes on Omaha that day), and he probably died because he answered the call, because his country had been attacked, and was in danger. And while he didn’t want to die, he nevertheless offered himself as one who might die, willingly, in defence of what he believed in. So, in this respect the comparison holds up.

                On the other hand, if you’re just arguing that there never was a Jesus who died, that’s just one position to take, and not one favoured by the historical consensus on the evidence, and to that extent, you’re just one more mythicist, without the credentials, who opposes the consensus, which, on rational grounds alone, is suspect. But there’s absolutely no reason to think that some person, like Jesus, in a religiously elevated state, could not possibly have thought of his death as a solution to a religious problem, or that others might have taken it to be that solution. Indeed, the more crudely dismissive atheists become of religious ideas, the more reasonable those ideas seem to me, because the crudity expresses a state of mind that is in need of some kind of consolation.

              6. If “crude” is the alternative to sophisticated theological interpretation, I’ll go with that any day. All the centuries of theological blathering about the wonders of Jezuz-on-a-cross tell us nothing if not that sacrifice (in the religious sense of the word) produces no discernible benefit. It certainly hasn’t been “the solution to human violence”.

            2. Well, what am I to say? Of course, it’s an interpretation. Good heavens, what else is a particular reading of a text? Whether you think it anti-humanitarian or not is neither here nor there. I may indeed be. But it would be wrong to say that there is no morality in war. Certainly, a lot of morality goes out the window during a war, and the battle of Normandy was especially vicious on both sides. But that doesn’t mean that moral categories do not apply to war. That’s what the Geneva Convention is all about, and, in many ways, at least in the war in Europe, the Geneva Convention was often adhered to. That doesn’t make war much less cruel, but it does have an effect in eliminating some of the worst cruelties. The fact that no medal was ever struck for Bomber Command, shows how Bomber Harris’s bombing campaign came to be regarded. But this is not about the humanity of war or of crucifixion. It is simply about the theology surrounding the crucifixion-resurrection story. Call it inhuman if you like. It doesn’t change a thing about how it was understood, and, broadly speaking, Christians came to accept Paul’s understanding of it (though that understanding is also foreshadowed in the gospels). Calling it inhuman doesn’t make it false as an account of Paul’s (or, for that matter, Christian) belief.

              As for Joe’s death not being a sacrifice, GBJ, that is how death in battle is usually interpreted. Those who died sacrificed themselves for us. You may have heard the song “Requiem for a Soldier,” (sung very beautifully by the Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, which ends on this note:

              You never lived to see
              What you gave to me
              One shining dream of hope and love
              life and liberty.

              Of course, every soldier in battle does not consciously give his life for others (most of them hope to get out alive, I suppose, but they know going in that some of them will die), but some do quite consciously perform acts which they know will lead to their deaths, though the ones for whom the sacrifice is immediately made are their buddies, their brothers in arms. But to suppose that Jesus was not fighting in the real world against a real enemy is already to have decided the historical question. There is no doubt as to the depth of the human capacity for evil. There seems to be little doubt that Jesus may in fact have interpreted his life and death as a way of dealing with the sources of that evil. Whether he was successful or not is another question. It seems not. But that does not make his attempt pointless, although you may want to say that it makes it a case of mistaken heroics. I think there is an analogy between Joe’s and Jesus’ deaths, though it is clearly not exact, by any means.

              1. @Eric

                //Well, what am I to say? Of course, it’s an interpretation. Good heavens, what else is a particular reading of a text? Whether you think it anti-humanitarian or not is neither here nor there.//

                You missed the point Eric. Which was:

                It is an *interpretation*. As such, it is open to being wrong on that basis alone.

                Really? What I think is neither here nor there??

                I must sit back and have faith in the consensus? Nonsense.

              2. Well, Eric, if you can only suppose that most soldiers hope together out alive, what can I say?

                It is a romantic fiction to talk about dead soldiers as sacrifices. Nice poetry, especially for survivors seeking solice. But dumb, dumb, dumb. Were the dead Germans sacrifices, too? Is there any real comparison between real-world countries that send their kids to war and a make-believe invisible lunatic friend being offered a sacrifice burnt goat or sunnagod? It is silly talk.

              3. So, the consensus of expert historians is of no rational significance? Well, that doesn’t say much for your ability to reason. As for interpretation, I’m familiar with the postmodern stance, but, you know, some interpretations are more reasonable than others. Hermeneutics is, of course, a problem, because of the familiar hemeneutical circle, but this does not disqualify all interpretations. If it does, it would be impossible to communicate, for everything that we say or write, as Derrida showed, is infinitely interpretable. If that is your point, make it by all means, but don’t simply use it as a way of hiding from the reasonable consensus of historians. If that is what you are saying, then there is no answer to the question whether or not Jesus existed, or any other supposedly historical person for whom no hands on proof is available.

                And what would that proof look like? For example, we know about Celsus only because his arguments are opposed by early Christian writers. None of his works have survived. Was Celsus just an imaginary opponent of Christianity, or a real one? We know of Celsus’ anti-Christian book, The True Word (Logos Alethes) only from Origen’s Contra Celsum, but, by the manner of mythicist reasoning, the whole thing could have been a fabrication by Origen, dreamed up for the sake of emphasising Christian beliefs, and answers to possible objections.

              4. @Eric

                //So, the consensus of expert historians is of no rational significance? Well, that doesn’t say much for your ability to reason. //

                The consensus of ‘expert’ NT historians is wrong on the issue of the historicity of the gospel Jesus figure.

                You can, if you wish, question my ability to reach such a conclusion – that only makes me reluctant to continue this discussion.

                Thomas Brodie, a respected and published NT scholar, questions the consensus position on the gospel Jesus figure – and the Paul of the epistles. Are you really prepared to question his ability to do so?

              5. Well, GBJ, there you and I disagree. I do not think it is silly talk, especially if you are fighting on the right side in a just war. That may be hard to determine, but I do not think it can be questioned that opposition to Nazi Germany was morally justified. Not all that was done in the course of that war was justified. Indeed, the carpet bombing of German cities was not. Nor can the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki be justified. The power of an atomic explosion could have been demonstrated without dropping it on cities. Dropping one on concentrations of Japanese naval forces would have been as effective. But those who died in the war against the united power of Germany, Italy and Japan did give their lives for freedom and civilisation. That cannot so easily be said for the Russian soldiers who died, but they did at least sacrifice their lives for the protection of their country. German soldiers were at first welcomed as liberators, and soon showed that they were not, committing acts of ruthless and unnecessary slaughter, which was soon answered with steely determination.

              6. Thomas Brodie may question the consensus, but he questioned it before he had the tools to do so, and then simply used those tools as a way of providing confirmation of his bias. So, he is not a good example of someone who questions the historical consensus. That’s a bit like some of the creationists who learn biology and chemistry specifically in order to show that evolution is wrong, the conclusion with which they began their studies. The same seems to be the case with Brodie.

              7. @Eric

                I am totally shocked at your views on Thomas Brodie.

                Eric, there is no more to say.

              8. Mary Helena, why do you say with such confidence that “The consensus of ‘expert’ NT historians is wrong on the issue of the historicity of the gospel Jesus figure”? It’s not only NT historians. You have to include classical historians as well. Robin Lane Fox also considers the evidence for the existence of Jesus unexceptionable. It is also interesting that no early writer suggested that Jesus did not exist, which, had it been known to be true, would have been a decisive argument against Christian claims, and so-called “pagans” (which really means country yokels) were eager to find arguments against Christianity. Even the emperor Julian (so-called “the Apostate”) never made such a suggestion.

              9. Mary Helena, to flesh out my concerns a bit, based on Wikipedia, and some details of the Dominican investigation into Father Brodie’s book.

                According to Wikipedia, Tom Brodie, a priest in the Irish Dominican Province, began his professional studies quite late in life, and received his STD (Doctor of Sacred Theology)from the Pontifical University in Rome at 48 in 1988. He taught Hebrew and NT studies in several institutions in the US and South Africa, and wrote a book on St John’s gospel (published by Oxford), as well as books on Genesis and the Elijah and Elisha cycle of stories. When he published his book Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus in 2012, he expressed surprise that people had not noticed that this was his view in his earlier work, and claimed that he had held these views since the 1970s, that is, long before he studied at the Pontifical University in Rome. He subsequently used his scholarly skills to flesh out his belief that Jesus was not an historical person.

                What substance there is in his work, I do not know, but it seems clear that much of it is comprised of confirmation bias, since he set out to show what he had believed since the 1970s, when he tried to publish a document questioning Jesus historicity. How else could you understand this order of things? He assumes that Christianity was created by a school of writers, who also dreamed up the figure of Paul, and presumably Peter, John, and other authors of the NT. In other words, not only Jesus, but Paul never really existed either, and that the whole thing is based on a kind of midrash on several Old Testament texts. There is, of course, no question of relationships between the Old Testament and the Christian writings. The Passion narrative seems to be an extended reflexion of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, but it does not follow that the crucifixion did not occur, but simply that this was the only way those who reflected on its significance could understand it. It is just too much to suppose that the manuscript which he tried to publish in 1975 is anything like the result that he produced in 2012, after he had had time to reflect at length on the parallels and echoes that he detected between the gospels, Paul and the Old Testament writings. I don’t say he is wrong, but to challenge the consensus with anything like the degree of detail that he allegedly provides demonstrating that the Christian writing as simply an extended midrash on Old Testament texts, and that neither Paul nor Jesus, nor, it follows, Peter, James, John, Matthew, etc. ever existed except in the school of writers who created the myth out of whole cloth, is really asking a lot. Even the typical mythicists will have to go back to the drawing board, for they assume that Paul is the central figure, and did what Brodie claims was done by a school of writers.

                It all seems terrifically interesting, but, until some work is done on Brodie’s work, it will be hard to know what to do with it. It certainly cannot be taken, at this stage, as upsetting the scholarly consensus. If Brodie’s work is worthwhile, presumably scholars will work through it and tell us someday. This is not something that can simply be accepted as is, and the suspicion of confirmation bias is still there. Like John Allegro, who wrote The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross it is possible to make up plausible or semi-plausible accounts that seem to do justice to the evidence, even though they are really out to see. So far as Brodie goes, it must be a matter of wait and see.

              10. Eric,

                I’d like to assume you aren’t intentionally straw-manning here. I made no case that fighting against Nazi Germany wasn’t morally legitimate.

                What is silly talk is to equate real-world struggles against tyranny to the ritual sacrifice of religion. Actual loss of life in battle is quite different than attempts to appease deities, whether they occur in temples or in books of sacred fiction.

                Please don’t attribute arguments to me that haven’t been made.

              11. GBJ: “Please don’t attribute arguments to me that haven’t been made.”

                Never meant to. Nor did I intend to make a straight parallel between the sacrifices made by soldiers and religious sacrifice. The point is that some people take any thought of sacrifice as an offence. Dawkins does, and I think I have taken offence too. But why? Sacrifice has always been central to religion. “The sacrifices of a broken and a contrite heart, O Lord, you would not refuse,” or something to that effect. The point is that the interpretation of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice is a very religious thing to do, and it is not so distant from our other uses of the word ‘sacrifice’, and so should cause us no offence. Others can die for us, why not Jesus?

                If God is, as he is pictured in Exodus, as an unapproachable, sacred being, then we must come with offerings. That’s the idea behind sacrifice. We bring sacred offerings that we hope will be acceptable to this figure of unapproachable sanctity. This, as Rudolf Otto pointed out, is what the experience of holiness is like. And it is, and it can be experienced by those who have no fixed belief in a god, who find themselves in a situation where they are overcome by a sense of awe and unworthiness. It’s a fairly universal feeling.

                So, Jesus, having offered himself, and then being, somehow, experienced as having died and then been raised from the dead, is a figure of awe, through which people have had (there is historical testimony enough of the experience at least) the experience of being somehow in communion with what they call God, who, approached through Jesus (understood as sacrifice), is met as eerily distant and yet as close. This is what is known in Christianity as the atonement, and, as I said earlier, this has never been defined as a creedal belief. It is, you might say, simply the primitive sense of union (or something like union) with God, with that sacred other whose presence may be sensed in places or in rituals that people have experienced as holy.

                Then, of course, Christians tack on a whole lot of other beliefs about God coming from what they believe about Jesus, but the Godhead itself is thought of as unapproachable majesty and mystery — which is why proofs of God’s being never really take you to something describable. The only approach to God that is possible is through human creations, and, perhaps, in the end, that is all that they are. Certainly some theologians, like Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering, Richard Holloway and others, believe that that is all that we have. Religion is as central to human culture and as human as morality, art, music, and all the rest, and its experiences are human (menschlich, alzu menschlich), but valuable nonetheless. Indeed, those who submit to an inhuman god, end up doing inhuman things. We remember that we and all our creations are of dust. And that is how we must approach God, as creatures to a Creator, as those who experience ultimate or absolute dependence (as Schleiermacher put it), which means, in religious language, with or as sacrifices. But these are not the inhuman monstrosities of the Aztec sacrifices, or the children offered to Moloch — though these are attempts to deal with the experience of distant unapproachable holiness. What does the Lord require of you, asks Micah, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is what the sacrifice of Jesus means to the Christian, really, the compulsion to love God, and because of this, to love others as ourselves, to offer ourselves, as the Eucharistic Prayer sometimes says, as living sacrifices, worthy to walk with God. Obviously, many religious people are distant from their ideals, but the ideals are those informed by the ideal of sacrifice, which is what this has been about, starting with Dawkins rather plodding notion of the atonement.

              12. Eric, I don’t think RD was referring to soldiers in war. Do you really? Come on.

                He’s referring to religious sacrifice ritual. And if we’re going to go on about the meaning of it, can we maybe take a broader view and stop focusing on the familiar territory of your years of faith-leadership? Let’s talk about religious sacrifice in the broader sense. How about we consider the thousands upon thousands of victims of Aztec (and other Mesoamerican states) sacrifice that ensured that the sun would rise the next morning. Let’s consider the sacrifice of children to the gods atop Andean mountains. Let’s talk about sacrifice of animals in rituals of faith in Haiti and across wide swaths of South America. This is the sort of sacrifice that Dawkins finds offensive. This is the kind of sacrifice that the Xtian tradition recalls. It is the killing of people (and other animals) on behalf of invisible spirits and fictional deities.

                Stop pretending this is a noble human activity analogous to a solder being killed in battle (not that the latter is particularly noble, either).

              13. No, I don’t think so either, and never made the suggestion. I used it as a comparison or analogy to what RD took such exception to, the idea of a sacrifice of one person for others. That is what he objected to, and found so offensive. But it’s done all the time, although not in a religious context any more.

                In the case of Christianity it was Jesus’ willing offering of himself. It is sometimes put in terms that God was willing to offer his own son, but it is not clear that Jesus was thought of as God’s son before his death and resurrection, so it was his offering of himself. So it’s very different than killing a chicken on an altar, or slaughtering a bull as an expiation for one’s sins. The function of sacrifice is, I think, changed in this case, and is being likened to the latter because that is what we take to be religious sacrifice. According to Hebrews, for example, Jesus’s sacrifice is the one perfect sacrifice, in which he entered, with his own blood, into the holy place. That might seem very primitive, seen in that light, but Hebrews is a rather exceptional book in the NT, and in many ways is more Greek than Hebrew in its understanding of what Jesus did. That’s why I used the analogy of the soldier, because I think that’s closer to the spirit of Jesus’ offering of himself. He even prays, we are told, Let this cup pass from me, as a soldier might before a battle.

          2. The victory must be human, or it is not a victory.

            Wha…?

            How on Earth can a mere mortal on Earth bootstrap Earthlings into Heaven?

            And Paul makes this very clear.

            Again, the exact opposite: as Adam was the firstfruit of the flesh, so Christ was the firstfruit of the Spirit. Through Adam the flesh dies; through Christ the Spirit lives.

            It had to be a real crucifixion (crucifixions don’t happen in the heavenly realm; it was principally a Roman form of punishment)

            Nailing / hanging salvific demigods was de rigeur not just amongst Pagans but all Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religions, and the same punishment was used by the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures.

            Read some Christian theology

            Ah, I see. Well, that’s your problem right there: you’re using modern Christian apologetics to inform your understanding of ancient theology.

            Might I suggest?

            You’d absolutely love Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, and I mean that in all sincerity and with no sarcasm. I started yesterday afternoon and I’m already about a quarter of the way through the lengthy tome; he does a superlative job of densely packing a lot of material into an engaging narrative. He initially set out expecting to debunk mythicism but came down on the other side of the fence, but at all steps is as brutal as possible to both sides. He provides extensive examples from ancient Hebrew, Christian, and Pagan scriptures, including roughly equal amounts (by my guess so far) of those that both did and didn’t make it into the orthodox canon, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get new exposure to things you’ve never encountered before as well as a new perspective on the familiar.

            Just one high-level example. You must be, I’m sure, well familiar with the prophecies in Isaiah that are so often cited as Jesus having fulfilled. Richard examines many of them and compares them with other similar stories from both within ancient Judaism (including texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and ancient Paganism (such as Ishtar), and makes it quite clear that the redemptive dying messianic figure portrayed in Isaiah is no one-off, but rather a very common and pervasive theme. In that context, does it make more sense that a real flesh-and-blood human would live a life that just happened to be a perfect fit for the prophecy, or that the figure in the prophecy would be said to have had new adventures in the spirit world?

            The citations and footnotes are exhaustive — overwhelming, even. Just spot-checking them would be a monumental task, one that I’ve not yet undertaken. But he’s made references to a number of ancient works I happen to be familiar with, and I didn’t have to look those ones up to know that he’s representing them accurately.

            In short, it’s a level of scholarship that at least matches, if not surpasses, that which you’re familiar with from orthodox theology, but it expands its analysis beyond merely the canonical texts and sainted Fathers to incorporate the “other side” as well. If you enjoy Christian theology — as you’ve made plain you do — and you’re not committed to theological orthodoxy on religious grounds — as I hope you don’t — then this is a must-read book for you.

            Cheers,

            b&

            1. Ben. Will give it a try, though I have not found other work by Carrier particularly convincing. (Quite frankly, associating Ishtar with Jesus is really pushing credulity.) Certainly am not opposed to seeing Jesus as in some way a religious Leitmotif. But I am not opposed either to seeing a living human being having been interpreted in these terms. Of course, I am aware of the great extent to which the Psalms, Isaiah, and other narratives, like those of Elijah and Elisha give form to the gospel story. This is unsurprising. We tend to see things in familiar patterns, which is at least partly the reason for confirmation bias, but is also an aspect of our creative artistic sense as well. So none of these things comes as a surprise to me.

              But neither do they make these things non-historical either. Herodotus wrote about things that certainly never happened amongst things that did, and Thucydides composed speeches for his characters that they never spoke in history. So, yes, indeed, myth and history converge, especially in religion, which is precisely the place that myth finds its home. I’m not questioning any of this. What I am questioning is whether mythicizing (or its opposite, die Entmythologisierung)necessarily means dehistoricising as well. I’m not at all convinced that it does. If I see a pattern developing in a relationship with a man of remarkable holiness, then it is natural to associate him with the nearest mythology, but it doesn’t mean that he simply thereby ceases to be human. I suspect that Zoroaster was a real man, just as Jains believe that Mahavira was a man, and I have no quarrel with those traditions.

              I really do think that there are reasons for believing that Jesus was an historical figure, and that his placement within the prophetic tradition of Judaism is often strained, though there are parallels that can be drawn. The strain comes from the supersessionism of early Christianity, which has already done enough harm. I do not find the parallels with dying and rising gods as convincing as you seem to, because it seems clear that the man Jesus was never thought of as a god, though that pattern may lie behind the crucifixion, death, burial and apparent resurrection of Jesus. The provenance of the resurrection narratives are too questionable to give them a solid foundation, just as the birth narratives are. The figure that rises is too ephemeral. He is a visionary figure. But the Jesus of the gospels, and that Paul requires for his salvation history, is too human for that. He may fit a mythical pattern, but, for historical reasons, there seems to be enough basis to suppose that the mythical Jesus is rooted in a real man, and it is that real man that gives him the religious power that has accompanied teaching about him throughout history.

              As for the “dying” messianic figure of Isaiah, this is obviously a synecdoche for Israel itself, and has little relation to the dying and rising gods of the surrounding peoples, though it may (for all I know) be tinged with this myth. For the messianic figure of Isaiah 53 does not die.

              When you make his life and offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper…etc.

              It is only a small part of the chapter that can be applied to Jesus, mainly about his being treated contemptuously, and suffering pain. The rest is just window dressing, so far as the Passion is concerned. Israel will not die, that is the message. It can still hope. It may have been struck down, but it will rise up.

              What I find so troubling about this discussion is that it is possible to make these stories mean anything at all. We can even turn Jesus and his disciples into a sacred mushroom cult (thus far the 60s drug culture). So all the comparisons and theories of reflections, echoes, and other terms for parallels can really be applied to almost anything. If Ishtar and Jesus can be brought together, the goddess of war and sex (and other things), then anything can be brought together, simply anything. And it’s all guesswork and suppositions about plausibility, much of which, in a generation, will undergo a seachange. The most reasonable supposition, on the evidence, is that Jesus was a real man, and lived in first century Galilee. All the rest is just weaving with smoke, so far as I can tell.

              1. (Quite frankly, associating Ishtar with Jesus is really pushing credulity.)

                It’s not just Ishtar but the entire genre. Just as West Side Story has the same plot as Romeo and Juliette but are clearly different stories, so, too, does Jesus’s life have the same plot as all the other death / resurrection / salvation demigods but his own story.

                The plot is ancient and familiar, even if diverse in its telling. A divine entity descends from the highest heavens to either the lowest heavens or Earth itself. Some sort of humbling event accompanies this, either explicitly in the case of Ishtar or Jesus’s birth as an helpless infant. The figure performs miracles to establish divinity, such as Bacchus and Jesus both turning water into wine. The figure Speaks Truth to Power at great personal cost, resulting in a trial that’s a perversion of justice. The figure is executed by the Powers that Be, but triumphantly conquers death and subsequently appears to the devoted moral followers, revealing how they might join with the beloved in the heavenly afterlife.

                Either this exact same plot, or minor variations thereon, or substantial portions thereof, can be seen not only in Jesus, but in Ishtar and Osiris and Dionysus and Bacchus and Mithras, hell, even and especially Orpheus.

                Certainly am not opposed to seeing Jesus as in some way a religious Leitmotif. But I am not opposed either to seeing a living human being having been interpreted in these terms.

                The question, then, is which is more probable: that Jesus’s biography just happened to be a perfect match for the classical divine archetype, or if the archetype came first and Jesus was fabricated to match the archetype?

                You could perhaps argue that Jesus was a figure akin to Halie Selassie, and all the divine stuff was piled upon an entirely mortal entity. But, even then, you’ve first got to admit that all we know of in the case of Jesus is the divine archetype, and secondly that this divine archetype (which is all we know of) is entirely fictional. Strip the archetype, and you not only have nothing of reality left, you have nothing of Jesus left.

                I think most would agree that, at the least, the death, resurrection, and salvific offerings of Jesus are the essential minimal properties of any entity who can rightly claim the title of, “Jesus.” Paul’s writings are non-stop expositions on all three elements. You could maybe have a Jesus who was known by some other name, but not if he wasn’t resurrected so all might live. But if that’s the essential core of Jesus, why does one need the inconvenience of some human to serve as stand-in, especially when the exact same figure is without stand-in in all the other settings in which he appears?

                It’s like Romeo and Juliette but without the couple dying in each others’s arms. Just doesn’t make any sense any more.

                b&

              2. I have just searched the local library consortium which includes most university libraries in Nova Scotia, and there is no such result. The only book by Carrier that is available locally is Sense and Goodness without God, which I consider a dud and unreadable.

              3. But I’m not sure that Jesus was type cast for the divine archetype, since Jesus was an ordinary man (despite the prophetically historicising birth stories), and was recognised as being such. An early creed, which Paul hands on in Romans 1 speaks of Jesus thus:

                … the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

                In this sense, Jesus died a man, and was declared to be son of god (which itself is problematic) by the resurrection from the dead. So, not a descent from highest heaven, but an ascent from earth to the divine realm. Jesus is always a human figure in his life on earth, never a divine stand-in. John speaks of him, uncharacteristically, as the Logos who was with God at the beginning, but that is uncharacteristic, and more like Gnosticism than Christianity. Have never been able to stomach John’s gospel. Paul preached Jesus crucified, a man who hung on a cross and died like any man. And if you get rid of that man, then you get rid of Christianity altogether. The later docetic doctrines made that clear. Jesus was true man, even though, confusingly, the church wanted him to be true God at one and the same time. So Jesus was just a figure of flesh slumming on earth for a little while. That wouldn’t work, according to classical Christian theology, and Paul is a representative of that theology. Incarnational theology is virtually impossible to express without expunging the human Jesus. I understand that. And so Christian theology is a muddle. But at the same time, the humanity is what is central, and Docetism and Gnosticism were firmly rejected as inconsistent with Jesus’ humanity. The reason that the church could not accept Marcion’s rubbishing of the Old Testament is that the OT is what provides the human (the cultural, biological) continuity that is necessary for Jesus’ humanity. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t convert that human Jesus into a divine figure. Not even Paul could do that, because he needed Jesus to be fully human in order to do his saving work. And what is Jesus raised from the dead? Son of God? Well, and what is that? Are we not children of God, and so are we not all sons and daughters of God? So the relationship is still there. Jesus is related to us by his humanity. The story doesn’t ever quite fit the archetype.

                Of course, the ancient Christian creed with which Paul starts Romans is actually more of less Arian, and it seems to me that Arianism was, in fact, much truer to the documents that we have than the later incarnational theology of Athanasius. There is no “homoousian with the Father” anywhere in Christian canonical texts, no coming down from heaven and being made man either. The so-called virgin birth couldn’t have achieved that, even based on a sematic error. It is really a story of a man being raised, or raising himself, to the presence of God, and so marking a path for others to follow. The recognition of Jesus as son of God keeps getting pushed back further and further. In Mark it’s at the baptism, in Matthew and Luke at the birth, in John at the beginning of time. But even so, except in John, of course, the humanity of Jesus is not erased. The synoptic gospels and Paul’s letters are clear evidence of that. Maurice Wiles called Arianism the Archetypal Heresy, because it is so true to the Christian scriptures, which incarnationalism is not. Well, he doesn’t quite say this, but he comes awfully close. And I have always been far more Arian in my theology than I have been orthodox. It’s truer to the Anglican experience, I would say, besides more faithful to the canonical texts, although for some reason unknown to me, John’s gospel is often taken to be the Anglican gospel par excellence. Which is probably why I am where I am (outside the church) rather than in.

              4. Eric, I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.

                Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord

                There’s that YHWH again — Kyrios. YHWH’s son sounds much more divine and heavenly to me than any mere mortal could possibly hope to attain.

                which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh

                Erm…you do know that, by this time, David himself had long since died and was now in some upper level of the heavens, don’t you? Besides, we’ve already established Jesus as YHWH’s Son, so, unless you want to claim that Jesus had two daddies, we can rule this out as being anything other than the painfully-obvious reference to Hebrew prophecy it so clearly is.

                And declared to be the Son of God with power

                See? Son of YHWH again — and with power, no less. Not some wimpy mortal, but the holy Son of YHWH with at least some of Daddy’s tricks up his sleeve.

                according to the spirit of holiness

                “Spirit of holiness” is an attribute of angels, not men.

                by the resurrection from the dead:

                Mortals don’t have the power to raise the dead. If we did, why would we need the gods? We would be as gods — and remember how badly that turned out way back in Genesis?

                By whom we have received grace and apostleship

                How can you receive divine grace and a command to servitude of the divine save from the divine? You really expect a mortal to claim to be able to grant grace, save by the proxy power of the divine? And who is at the other end of that proxy that Paul is invoking if not Jesus?

                for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

                Yup. Divine grace on behalf of both Father and Son equally. Note again: it’s not Paul who’s granting them his own divine grace, but Paul assuring them that the divine Jesus is granting them Jesus’s (and YHWH’s) divine grace.

                I literally don’t get a single word out of that of mortality, and yet here you are citing it as somebody who’s always human and never divine.

                I mean, really? Here Jesus is portrayed as standing on the same stage as his dad, YHWH. Shirley, you can’t be about to suggest that YHWH, too, was an historical figure…?

                b&

            2. Oh, one other thing… I haven’t to my knowledge read Christian apologetics for years. Indeed, it’s scarcely taught any more. One reads theology, that’s all, by Tillich, Kung, Cupitt, Wiles, Kaufman, Ogden, and so on.

              1. Frankly, from where I’m sitting, the difference between theology and apologetics is that the theologians are more formal and obscurantist in their prose and more rigorous in their footnotes. But maybe that’s just me….

                b&

              2. No, theology is the application of knowledge and reason to the religious beliefs of the religious. Some of it ends up being hackneyed apologetics, but the best of it becomes rigorous philosophical systems of great insight and power, and very often probing at the creedal limits of religious thought, and usually overflowing the banks in various ways. Has to be, if it is to keep up with changing culture, new knowledge, new methods of knowing. The biggest problem now, of course, is whether there is any way religious believing can be made consistent with science as a way of knowing, or whether there are other ways of preserving what is valuable in religion without supernatural forms of believing. The jury is still out on the answer to that question, and some theologians, unfortunately, are not even asking it.

              1. I obviously don’t know what kind of a budget you’re on, but $30 is probably less than most teenage couples will spend on a cheap dinner and movie date these days. I daresay you’ll get much more entertainment out of Richard’s book than you will at the local movie theater, if at worst from screaming at him at how horrible he is to have the temerity to compare Ishtar to Ioseus.

                b&

              2. Incidentally, the local university library here has his previous book but not this latest. Knowing them, they’d be happy to order it; perhaps your own local library would be similarly helpful…?

                b&

              3. Closer on $40 here in Canada, and I’ve been rather overdoing it on books lately, so that’s over the limit right now for a paperback. Indeed, I have one by Philip Pitcher, Life after Faith to read, one by Peter Watson, The Age of Atheists and one by Kenan Malik, The Quest for a Moral Compass, among others, just waiting to be cracked open — all of the hardbacks, and none of them costing more than $30!

  28. I am on the fence about the subject, but could it be possible that the documents that were written about Jesus, perished in the fires at the Library of Alexandria? I find it suspicious that a Pope was responsible for one of the fires. Open to your thoughts.

  29. //Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.//

    The gospel Jesus story is about a Jewish man executed by Rome. That is the historical claim of the Jesus historicists. Christianity has a historical core, it’s not all pie in the sky. Unfortunately, the Carrier-Doherty mythicists, in offering a historicized Pauline celestial christ figure, are not able to counter the Jesus historicists. Pauline theology/philosophy has no weight against a historical claim. A historical claim needs to be countered with historical reality.

    Yes, of course, there is no historical evidence for the gospel figure of Jesus, of whatever variant its supports dream up. Searching 100 plus ancient writings for a figure that can be deemed to be ahistorical, from a literary approach to the gospel story, can only garner media headlines – it can’t counter the historicists claims for Jesus. Only actual history has that potential.

    One approach to the gospel story is to look for historical reflections within that story – sort of like a political allegory. For instance: the basic historicists claim is the execution, by Rome, of a Jewish man. OK – no historical Jesus. However, if one views the gospel execution story, the Jesus Passion story, as a reflection of an actual historical event, the gospel’s historical core can be identified. And that historical core is the Roman execution of the last King and High Priest of the Jews: Antigonus II Mattathias, executed in 37 b.c.e. (around 70 years prior to the various crucifixion dates one can interpret from the gospels).

    Rather than this post running on, I’ll give a link in which details re the above position are set out in a chart.

    http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=15048#p15048