The Myth of the Mythical Jesus

In debates about Christian origins, one tiresome canard is going to come up sporadically, and usually, it’s not worth wasting time on. As I have seen it surface a few times of late, let’s deal with the point here.

Briefly, if you are discussing Jesus of Nazareth, you can make any argument you choose to offer. If you wish, you can deny or challenge pretty much any aspect of the story told in the gospels, and present Jesus or his contemporaries in the most sinister or demeaning light possible. We can then argue about the evidence offered for any particular point. What you can’t do, though, without venturing into the far swamps of extreme crankery, is to argue that Jesus never existed. The “Christ-Myth Hypothesis” is not scholarship, and is not taken seriously in respectable academic debate. The grounds advanced for the “hypothesis” are worthless. The authors proposing such opinions might be competent, decent, honest individuals, but the views they present are demonstrably wrong.

In no particular order:

Philosophically, say the mythicists, you can’t prove a negative, and it’s up to believers to present an affirmative case for anything, including the historical existence of Jesus. Fair enough.

The affirmative evidence for that existence is easily offered, consisting as it does of a sizable body of writings dating from within a half century of the events described. Those documents are, without question, the most closely debated and analyzed in human history. A vast body of scholars works on those texts and their implications, and they come from a wide body of religious backgrounds – Christians of every possible shade, Jews, skeptics and atheists, and people of various other faiths. Within that scholarly universe, the number of qualified scholars who today deny the historical existence of Jesus is infinitesimal. The consensus on that matter is near-total.

A similar comment applies to historians, literary scholars and philosophers who study the ancient world without necessarily focusing on religious matters, but who touch on Jesus and his times. If they find a book that argues against Jesus’s existence, they cough politely and move on.

Before anyone complains about using scholarly consensus as an argument, and vaunting instead the virtues of heroic dissidents and heretics, please read some of the quite numerous pieces I have written about those issues. So no, those mainstream scholars are not terrified to venture into nonconformity, they are not hidebound bigots, they just see no reason to argue about such a blatantly obvious point.

As I have stated repeatedly, “Scholarship is what scholars do, and if they don’t do it, it’s not scholarship.” That is by far the most important point against the mythicists, and really, nothing more needs to be said.

To take some specific objections that they make, though:

*Contemporary writers do not refer to Jesus

That depends what we mean by “contemporary.” In his lifetime and very brief period of celebrity, there are no such references. Very shortly afterwards, there are lots.

The writings of Paul can reliably be dated to the year between, say, 48 and 64 AD. If we take the letters most credibly attributed to Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians) they include around 130 uses of the term “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”  If we take other letters like Colossians and Ephesians, the number rises sizably. As that usage makes it obvious that the term “Christ” refers to the same person, then we should add the many examples of that word used without the “Jesus.”  We can argue about Paul’s understanding of the importance of the human Jesus, as opposed to the resurrected Christ, but he clearly believed in the physical existence of that Jesus. That does not take us to Jesus’s lifetime, but to very shortly afterwards.

But you can take Paul entirely out of the story, and still have all the evidence you need. The gospels were not of course written during Jesus’s lifetime, but they use traditions that clearly do provide a direct linkage to a historical individual. The quality of historical sources depends on how directly they can be connected to events, and how plausible the chain of connection. All the canonical sources depict a very plausible Jesus in a very identifiable early first century historical setting. More significant, there are clear and well understood chains of evidence and tradition from Jesus’s time to the writing of those gospels.

The overwhelming weight of what we know about the emergence of the Jesus Movement between 30 and the 80s, say, shows a potent continuity of historical memory.  Bart Ehrman’s latest book Jesus Before the Gospels raises questions about how far that memory can be reliably used for specific details, for any particular act or saying of Jesus. Fair enough, and let’s debate those points: to say the least, Ehrman is a competent and credible scholar, although I think he goes too far here. But Jesus’s existence as some kind of myth or false memory? No way. (Obviously, that is not what Ehrman is arguing!)

Accounts of Jesus as a mythical otherworldly being without worldly roots belong to much later sources, in alternative gospels of the second or third centuries, or later. Citing alternative works from that era – or much later Jewish texts – as if they have some kind of superior hotline to the historical reality of the 20s AD is just not permissible, and is actually scandalous.

Let me put this as simply as I can: Jesus is better documented and recorded than pretty much any non-elite figure of antiquity.

*Jesus features in no contemporary secular or non-Christian literary sources.

Jesus’s  activities were at the time strictly limited in their perceived importance, and it would be astounding – dare I say, miraculous – if any contemporary did make such a comment. The range of strictly contemporary sources commenting on the region in that era, roughly the 20s-30s AD, is tiny. I dearly wish we had the police blotter of the Jerusalem Post-Intelligencer for those years, but we don’t.

Just why would anyone refer to Jesus in writing at this time?

Just to illustrate how fatuous that objection is, Philo of Alexandria does not refer to Jesus, although he was working at the time. But why on earth would he have heard of such an affair in a neighboring land at the time, or thought it of the slightest significance, any more than a dozen other messianic claimants? And that would be even assuming the story had any relevance to anything he happened to be working on. Jesus did not matter to any elite writer at the time. As his followers grew in number, they did come to matter, and it is only at that point that non-Christian writers begin to pay any attention.

The volume and chronology of the literature we have about Jesus in the first few decades following his death is thus pretty much exactly what we would expect.

*Jesus does not feature in early non-Christian literary sources who might have been expected to mention him.

As we have his writing today, the historian Josephus has a description of Jesus which, beyond doubt, is a bogus interpolation by a  clumsy Christian editor. Josephus assuredly wrote no such thing as the Testimonium Flavianum. It is however all but certain that Josephus originally had a reference to Jesus at that point, although it was probably demeaning or hostile, and that is why it was changed. Some scholars think that what he actually wrote can be reconstructed plausibly, others think it has been lost beyond hope. I have an open mind on that.

To get the tone of what he might have said there, though, then go to Book 20 of his Jewish Antiquities, where we read of an incident in the 60s AD:

As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

That is a reference to Jesus, who was called Christ, or better, the so-called Messiah (ho legomenos christos), and it is clearly original. Would any later Christian have included such a skeptical phrase? It is amazing that legomenos survives in the manuscripts, but it does. Josephus, then, knows of and mentions Jesus, and he was as well acquainted with the records of first century Palestine as anyone. We don’t have his lengthier and more hostile account, but we can be sure it was there.

Josephus, in short, wrote about Jesus as a real, known, individual, who served as a useful point of reference (“You know who that James was? Why, he was the brother of Jesus”). And if his brother perished in the 60s, that provides serious limits to Jesus’s actual date. Maybe the actual dating of the death around 30 AD might be off by a couple of years either way, but not by (say) several decades.

That is also decisive in another way. Some mythicists argue that Paul’s Jesus was a fictional or mythical concoction, yet here he is, cited as a real historical character by a very well informed historian who knew Galilee well. There is no reason to think that Josephus regarded Jesus any differently from any other of the sackful of messiahs that appeared during that century.

*There are no contemporary references to Jesus in non-literary sources, bureaucratic or otherwise

Look at the non-elite individuals recorded in contemporary legal texts, such as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. How many individuals are recorded there, and what proportion of the population of the Near East at the time do they represent? In other words, what were the odds that any individual from this time would be recorded in documents that survive, whether we are looking at wills, contracts, court proceedings, or anything else? Or indeed, any writings about those people? I’m still trying to come up with a better word than “infinitesimal” or “microscopic.” Nanoscale?

A similar comment applies to material remains such as monuments and grave markings. Only a microscopic proportion of the number of non-elite people appear in items of that sort that happen to survive and have been recorded. I don’t believe in the so-called James Ossuary, although it continues to attract believers.

You’ll note that I use the word “non-elite” frequently, and that is vital. Don’t ever try to compare what we know about Jesus with our evidence for (say) the Emperor Tiberius. Elite people often (by no means always) left some mark in the historical record, non-elite people generally did not.

Let me draw a critical distinction here. Those various strictly contemporary sources give us a wonderful idea of the society at the time, in Palestine, Egypt or wherever, and they confirm what we read in the literary evidence, often to an uncanny degree. But as to producing records of a specific individual that we are seeking information on? No.

*Jesus left no writings.

No, really, I have seen that objection made with a straight face.

Please give me a list of early first century non-elite individuals who have left actual writings of their own that survive. You should include all messianic candidates and charismatic prophets. How long is your list?

Even if we look at truly elite people, it’s depressing to read of the substantial works they wrote that once existed, but no longer do. Just to take one example, in Rome at just this time, the pivotal imperial woman Agrippina the Younger wrote a family history that we would dearly like to read, but it has been lost irretrievably for many centuries. You could actually produce a lengthy catalogue of similar works that we know once existed, but which don’t any more – in fact, they would fill many imaginary libraries. And we wonder that we have nothing from a rabbi from Nazareth?

*”Jesus” was actually a disguised or confused memory of another historical character, such as [insert ludicrous candidate here, from Teacher of Righteousness onward].

These theories are fun, and much like London buses, don’t worry if you miss one, there’ll be another one along in a few minutes. For the arguments against these various candidates, check out “scholarly consensus” above.

At some point in this process too, Ockham’s Razor comes into play, namely “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”  So what’s wrong with accepting the simple, straightforward explanation, namely that the really well-documented historical Jesus we know is the one the ancient books are talking about?

*”Jesus” was a mythical figure like those of the ancient mystery religions, with many analogies to figures in other world religions, such as Krishna or even Buddha.

Ah, the golden oldies.

Look for dates with publication dates before 1920 or so, and those theories run riot. Usually, they arose from superficial knowledge of those other faiths, commonly by people with a Christian background who projected those understandings into other religions, where they did not belong. We now know vastly more about the cults of figures like Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, and the rest than we did a century ago, and the more we know, the less they fit the “dying and rising god” propounded by great writers of historical fiction like Sir James Frazer, of Golden Bough fame.

As to the degree of resemblance to Christian stories, I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s complaint about people who “are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism.”

So count the credentialed scholars today who give such “Christ was a version of other myth figures” theories a moment’s credence. Do you get to double figures?

 

Some issues are worth arguing about, others aren’t. Jesus of Nazareth existed. As to what he said and did, we can discuss that at leisure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Chris Allen

    Jenkins writes above, “*Jesus features in no contemporary secular or non-Christian literary sources.
    Jesus’s activities were at the time strictly limited in their perceived importance, and it would be astounding – dare I say, miraculous – if any contemporary did make such a comment.”
    Matthew 27’s account of the death of Jesus:
    45: “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. ”
    50: “But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.
    51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split,
    52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
    53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. ”
    Yeah, why would any literary sources notice something like that?

  • philipjenkins

    And how does Mark’s gospel describe the incident, exactly?

  • ktwoo2u

    Which literary sources did you have in mind?

  • Chris Allen

    There were some 42 known historical writers at that time in Jerusalem. None of them wrote of any such events there.

  • mai1dude39

    Wow, glad you pointed that out.
    I’m becoming an atheist right now. You sure are a smooth talker.

  • Erp

    I don’t think there are any historical writers known to have been in Jerusalem at that time, would you care to give a list? Josephus wasn’t born until a few years late. There were probably more than 42 people in Jerusalem who wrote (e.g., people like the high priest, Pilate, etc.) but none of their writings have survived so we don’t know whether they wrote about it or not. It is possible (though we have no evidence) that Philo may have been in Jerusalem for a festival, but, he normally lived in Alexandria.

    Note that there is no scholarly consensus about any of the miracles or natural disasters that supposedly occurred at the time (e.g., darkness, earthquakes, resurrection). The consensus is on existence and execution of Jesus of Nazareth and that he had followers who then went on to start what became Christianity.

  • John Brooke

    Where do people get numbers like 42 historical writers at that time in Jerusalem – where are they mentioned, what were their books ?

  • Erp

    42 is probably from Douglas Adams.

    I’ve usually seen the list as a group of people (usually much greater than 42) who should have written about Jesus but didn’t. Most analyses of the list find that the list includes writers who died before Jesus (or lived long after) or didn’t write anything that survived that was at all likely to have mentioned Jesus (e.g., lyric poetry). This is assuming, as scholarly historians do, that the various natural signs/miracles reported are later accretions. Note the gospels don’t even agree on what happened as far as the major signs. All three synoptics have darkness from noon until 3 (but it is generally agreed that Luke and Matthew are using Mark as a source); John makes no mention of this. Matthew also has two earthquakes (one at death, one at rolling away the stone) but none of the others do.

  • RoyMix

    I think it comes from a book written in the 1909 by John Remsberg titled “The Christ”

    http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/rmsbrg02.htm

    It has 42 names, though none were in Jerusalem and some, Aulus Gellius who is very entertaining, wrote at least 150 years later. Also I wonder what exactly Columella or Ptolemy would have possibly written, by its apparent criteria it leaves a lot of potential names off as well, I could probably triple that list with some thought.

  • philipjenkins

    Well, well…. Mr. Allen wrote this: “There were some 42 known historical writers at that time in Jerusalem. None of them wrote of any such events there.”

    The site you give offers the following: “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”. There are indeed 42, very few of whom ever set foot in Jerusalem, and most not historical writers.

    If that is indeed his source, I am sure Mr Allen would like to explain that slight contradiction?

    Also, I return to the point in my original blog: note how the mythicists are recycling nonsense from the start of the last century. It’s rerun season again!

  • William J E Dempsey

    Not a fair criticism, considering that Jews and Christians have been recycling the same holy books, for 3,000 to 1,900 years…

  • gw

    Thanks for the citation.
    Rather feeble reasoning and retreads of old atheists tracts.

  • philipjenkins

    I am going to guess – and it might not be worth doing so – that this includes all known rabbinic writers who happened to be alive at that time, which Mr Allen confuses with “historical writers.”

  • John Brooke

    Perhaps, I am not trying to be close minded here, I would just like to know who these historical writers were.

  • John Brooke

    In Providence 2.64, Philo mentions going up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.

  • Erp

    So Philo did visit Jerusalem at least once which is not surprising though all he is writing about are pigeons in Ascalon. I note it doesn’t say what year or that he was there for Passover so the chances of him being there when Jesus was killed (or could have been killed which is usually assumed to be in the early 30sCE) are low but not impossible. Philo’s lack of writing about Jesus when he doesn’t even write about his trip to Jerusalem [beyond the pigeons on the way] is not surprising (assuming as almost all historians do that the major public miracles that supposedly took place are later accretions).

  • John Brooke

    It is odd that certain commentators think that Philo must have spent most of his life in Jerusalem and thus, because he did not write about Jesus,
    Jesus did not exist.

    Their lack of Historical training and understanding does not stop them from
    making comments that have very little support or original understanding.

  • philipjenkins

    Boy, that’s quite a claim. Assume for the sake of argument that there were indeed 42 such writers. You are making a negative statement, namely that none wrote about topic X. To do that, you would need to have read all their writings, including the ones that no longer survive, and all those that have been lost since the first century. You then surveyed them, in detail, and found no mention of Jesus. Was that your methodology? Can you see any flaws in it?

    On a related point: you have read the works of these 42 writers, yes? How many of them mention Pontius Pilate, who was incontestably a historical character? Which ones mention him, and which ones fail to do so? Please be as specific as you can.

    Actually, here is another very specific question. I have no idea who these writers are meant to be. Can you give me a list of, say, five of the best known?

  • RoyMix

    You have a very bad impression of the quality of ancient sources from the Roman Empire.

    At some time between 146 and 148 AD an earthquake that geologists have estimated to have been Magnitude 6.6-6.7 occurred at Sulmona, Italy, the birthplace of the poet Ovid and less than 100 miles from Rome. We know of this because of a single epigraph, an inscription, that survived describing the reconstruction of a weigh house at Pagus Interpromium. (Ceccaroni 2009)

    In 148 AD a tsunami struck Rhodes, a major city and trading center of the Empire, we have no idea when in the year, though it destroyed the chief city of the island which had to be rebuilt at the expense of the emperor, this event is known from two sources. The first being Pausanias who wrote a travel guide of Greece for wealthy Roman tourists on the grand tour, he mentions this event in passing. The other of which is a book of orations by a single famous Greek orator Aelius Aristides, where he mentions this event in two seperate speeches in which he notes it was smaller than several other earthquakes that he fails to date and thus we know nothing about. Aristides work was preserved not for historical value but because he was considered an impeccable stylist and useful for teaching Greek rhetoric. There is also archaeological and geologic evidence of this event.

    In non natural events entire long lived Roman provinces are known of from only epigraphic evidence. The province of Noricum, modern Austria which was much discussed in the Republican period sources and where multiple battles occurred ceases to appear in in literary sources after the time of Julius Caesar other than being the place where the best quality swords and surgical instruments come from. At its last literary mention it is an allied Celtic kingdom. The only evidence is from inscriptions and archaeology. These tell us what legions were stationed there and that by 15 BC it was a Roman Province, inscriptions also tell us that it was split by Diocletian into two. But after that because inscriptions basically stop in most provinces around 300 AD we know nothing until a hagiography of St. Severinus (410-482 AD) written in the early 6th century which describes his feats after arriving in the province in 453 AD and the later collapse of the province to the barbarians. And the only reason this survives is that the refugees from the province carried his body to safety in Naples.

    Many major settlements with vast public works and considerable wealth are only attested by inscriptions and coins.

    You have no idea how little text has survived from the Roman world.

  • John Brooke

    Thank You.

    Until the invention of paper and family Bibles, all we had for most people in the West was memories and if you fell out of the family narrative…

    I would say it would be a fair statement to say that were we to find
    a copy of each Gospel and the trial records of the High Priests and
    of Pilate’s court which no archeologist doubted came from 70 AD –
    say found buried beneath rubble from the 3rd Temple – that described the Trial of Jesus along the lines of the Gospels – you would still have those denying Christ ever lived.

    It makes you wonder why they fear in accepting that Jesus lived.

  • Rudy R

    By the same token, it makes you wonder why Christians are so fearful that they have to cling to the scant evidence of a historical Jesus.

  • John Brooke

    The evidence for Jesus is not that scant.
    You may not accept the Gospels as evidence or the Letters in the New Testament but they are evidence.

  • John Brooke

    I would say the written evidence for Jesus exceeds that of any Ancient person.

  • Rudy R

    You can say it, but you would be wrong. We have primary sources for Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, but no primary sources for Jesus, only secondary sources. No first-hand accounts whatsoever. All we have are secondhand accounts of supposed events of Jesus’ life from religious texts. We have Paul’s epistles, with the earliest written 20 years after Jesus’ death. And there is a strong argument that Paul never met Jesus. We have the Gospels, but they were written by unknown authors no earlier than 30 years after Jesus’ death and there are only copies of copies, with the earliest manuscript dated around 200 years after Jesus’ death. More damning, is that no contemporary author outside the Bible wrote one iota about Jesus’ life or his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Absolutely bupkis.

  • John Brooke

    We do not have Primary Sources for Caesar or Alexander the Great. We have what is claimed to be Caesars memoirs of the Gallic War and Civil War but we have no way to prove they were written just after the battles etc.
    As for Alexander the Great we have Arrian – 2nd Century AD,
    Plutarch late 1st Century AD, Diodorus 100 BC, Curtius 1 Century AD and Justin 2nd Century AD.

  • Rudy R

    Primary sources include artifacts such as coins, portraits, and busts, which we do have during the time of Caesar. If Caesar was made up, who is the image on all those artifacts?

    We know archaeologically that the Gallic Wars took place. If the the Gallic Wars wasn’t written by Caesar, who wrote it? So if Caesar didn’t exist, who then led the legions into battle and why was the real leader’s name replaced by Caesar’s? Why would the second Caesar, Augustus, continue the ruse after assuming emperorship from the first emperor of Rome?

    I’m not arguing Caesar or Alexander the Great ever existed. Your comment is just an old, worn-out theist red herring.

  • John Brooke

    You asked about Primary Sources.

    We have none for Caesar or Alexander.

    We do have what are claimed to be Caesar writings of the
    Gallic and Civil Wars. I see no reason to doubt their authenticity, but no one wrote of the battles as they happened – like a Newspaper account.

    We have written accounts of others who lived at or soon after the time of Caesar and there is no reason to distrust them.

    As for Alexander, plenty of archeological evidence he swept through Asia but the written accounts that we have are far after he lived.

    As for busts and coins – the busts cannot be dated to the
    time Caesar was alive, but are attributed as likenesses of him. As for coins, again they cannot be absolutely dated to the time the ruler was alive, though it makes sense that they are from his reign.

    So why do you doubt, if you do, that Jesus lived.
    The written accounts are far closer to when he lived than
    Alexander and similar to the historical writings on Caesar.

    Did you expect Jesus to mint coins, build castles, burn
    cities…?

  • Rudy R

    I expect primary and secondary sources as evidence to support the claim that Jesus was a historical person. The evidence for a historical Ceasar or Alexander is irrelevant.

  • John Brooke

    The Gospels of Mark/Matthew certainly count as primary sources for the life of Jesus. I would count the Gospel of
    John as primary – that is by an eyewitness, but others claim to be secondary, Luke is secondary. The Letters of the New Testament are secondary. We have Roman historians who mention Christians/Christ as secondary sources. Josephus seems to mention Christians/Christ though more may have been added by Christians.
    We have Jewish curses against Christians from the 1st century.

    What more do you want ?

  • Rudy R

    The Gospels are not considered primary sources by historians. They are written by unknown authors that were not witnesses to the events. And there is no original texts. Just copies of copies. Josephus is not a witness and just parrots what he heard, even if they weren’t interpolations.

  • John Brooke

    Yes, the Gospels are certainly Primary Sources.
    There is no reason to doubt that Mathew and John were not written by eyewitnesses and Mark, by the tradition, wrote down what Peter told him. Luke states that he read all he could about Jesus then wrote his Gospel. What more do you want from those who knew Jesus and knew those who knew Jesus.

    There are no original copies of any history of an Ancient person, so by your standard most of them cannot be said to have existed.

  • Rudy R

    “Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.” — Library of Congress

    Matthew and John were written by unknown authors. They are only attributed to Matthew and John. Mathew was written about 80-90 CE and John is dated 90-110 CE and would not have been eye witnesses to the events. Those Gospels are at best, secondary sources. Absent of primary sources, you should suspend belief.

    You have a right to your own opinion, but not your own facts. There is good reason to doubt the Gospels, because we don’t know who wrote those books and don’t know their motivations.

    And you attribute tradition for Mark’s accuracy? Tradition is not necessarily equated to something that is factual. It’s just a transmission of customs or beliefs.

    Since we don’t know who wrote Luke, what corroborating evidence do you have that would prove that he read all he could about Jesus.

    There are no original copies of any history of an Ancient person, so by your standard most of them cannot be said to have existed.

    Again, this is a red herring. The veracity of historical evidence of other ancient people has no bearing on our discussion of Jesus.

  • John Brooke

    In that case almost all History before 1800 relies upon secondary sources as we have very few original documents/concurrent histories written the day the even took place. Goodbye any history on Caesar/Augustus/Alexander…

    As I said there is no reason to doubt that Mathew and John were eyewitnesses and Mark listened to Peter and Luke knew Mary the mother of Jesus.

    So we have Primary and Secondary sources.

    What more do you need ?

  • Rudy R

    What specific evidence do you have that the authors of Matthew and John were eyewitnesses? That the author of Mark listened to Peter? That the author of Luke knew Mary?

  • John Brooke

    When you read John in the Greek or pay close attention to whatever translation you are using, you will see that the writer is an eyewitness. Matthew has an understanding of Judaism that was lost after the destruction of the Temple.
    Luke has information involving Jesus/Joseph/Mary that the other Gospels do not include.

  • Rudy R

    What evidence in John proves the author was an eyewitness? How does Matthew’s understanding of the destruction of the Temple have anything to do with being an eyewitness to Jesus? What evidence in Luke proves Jesus/Joseph/Mary were historical figures?

  • John Brooke

    Read the passages in John where/when Jesus disputes with the Jews as to whether He is the Son of God, knew Abraham and whether they are Sons of
    Abraham or is their true father Satan…

    Now go listen to Orthodox Jews and Jews for Jesus debate and you will see it that John was an eyewitness.

    Other support is that John knows things about the workings of the High Priest and Jerusalem that only an eyewitness would know.

    Luke reports aspects of Mary’s life that the other Gospels do not and his
    knowledge of 1st century Palestine is highly accurate.

    Whether you wish to believe that Jesus lived or not is your own choice.

    However, you will have to explain how Christianity arose if there was no
    Jesus.

  • Rudy R

    Read the passages in John where/when Jesus disputes with the Jews as to whether He is the Son of God

    So, with a straight face, your evidence for Jesus is a verse in the Gospel of John, which is a copy of a copy written by an unknown author, that Jesus disputes with the Jews that he’s the Son of God? Isn’t that the definition of an unfounded and biased claim? How would you distinguish that unproven claim from all the other unproven claims from other religions?

    Now go listen to Orthodox Jews and Jews for Jesus debate and you will see it that John was an eyewitness.

    Where do I listen to Jews speak? Are these the same ones, past or present, who don’t believe Jesus was Messiah? Why do they have special knowledge? Where is the evidence?

    Other support is that John knows things about the workings of the High Priest and Jerusalem that only an eyewitness would know.

    And what exactly did John know?

    Luke reports aspects of Mary’s life that the other Gospels do not and his knowledge of 1st century Palestine is highly accurate.

    Since the Gospel of Luke is written by an unknown author and we only have copy of copies, how do you know the difference between fact and fiction? What is your corroborating evidence? And why wouldn’t the author have knowledge of that time period?

    Whether you wish to believe that Jesus lived or not is your own choice.

    The lack of evidence is the basis of my “choice”; not any wish. I don’t choose to believe in anything. I believe based on evidence. I don’t take the position that Jesus did not exist. I’m agnostic on the matter. Is it possible he existed? Yes. Is it probable. No. The evidence, or lack thereof, would support a fictional character better than a real person, by at least 51%. So I suspend belief until better evidence surfaces.

    However, you will have to explain how Christianity arose if there was no Jesus.

    This is an entirely different question and one that is irrelevant to the veracity of an historical Jesus. But I’ll humor you.

    There have been hundreds, if not thousands of books written, explaining the rise of Christianity, reasons that have no relation to whether Jesus existed or not. Shall I recommend one? How many current Christians have studied the evidence of a historical Jesus? How many Christians today take the a priory position that Jesus existed? For what reason? Because of the historical evidence? Because they were born into the religion? And was this the same reason for Christians born within 100, 200, 300 years after the supposed death of Jesus? How did it grow so fast? Because of the Roman Empire? Because Christianity was more appealing, more assuring, happier, and perhaps resulted in a longer life than all the other prior pagan religions before it?

    It’s a logical fallacy to draw the conclusion that Jesus was an historical figure based on the popularity of the religion.

    You have not quoted one verse of scripture to back up your claims, after I repeatedly asked for evidence. Why is that?

  • John Brooke

    And how do you know when the Gospel of Matthew or John
    was written when they were. Are you an expert in Koine Greek, Aramaic, New Testament History/Theology or do you just quote what you read.

    Clearly you have no actual understanding of dating the Gospels, let alone who wrote them.

  • Rudy R

    Clearly you have no actual understanding of dating the Gospels, let alone who wrote them.

    I understand the NT scholar’s and ancient historian’s scholarship and the consensus on the dates and authorship. Since you hold the contrarian view, what is your source(s) for the Gospel dates and authorship?

  • John Brooke

    Have you done original research or do you just rely upon what the mainstream scholars have written, which sadly only means they have followed what they
    were taught.

    There was a “push” to date the Gospels as far back from the life of Jesus
    in the 19th Century, slowly scholars moved their writing closer to the time of
    Jesus.

    You have probably read that Mark is 60 AD, Mathew 70 AD, Luke 80 AD
    and John 90 AD.

    Now go do you homework and read up as to why those dates are assigned
    and realise how arbitrary they still are.

    Nothing stops Mark from being written by 45 AD, Matthew by 55 AD,
    Luke by 65 AD and John by 70 AD.

  • William J E Dempsey

    But lots of huge monuments. Moreover, their surviving texts seem more rational and reliable than most others. It was a great civilization.

  • Max

    The religion-bashers are just juvenile attention-seekers. Better to ignore them than engage with them.

  • Jeremiah J. Preisser

    As an atheist, it’s become tiresome to watch many of my ilk beat this dead horse with arguments from the fringe (some as bad as Atwill and Fitzgerald) to reinforce their biases. It’s essentially a zombie issue for scholars. Someone presents a case for Jesus mythicism, it gets laid to rest, only to be revived and laid to rest again.

  • cken

    There are similar themes that run through all religions. Most notably is a way of achieving a better afterlife. It seems more prudent to acknowledge and accept what religions have been teaching for over 7000 years than to throw it all away because of this new kid called science which has very few answers about anything important. How ironic when scientists don’t have answers they just make stuff up and then they criticize religion for doing the same thing.

  • Chris Allen

    Here’s how I conceive of religion.
    When I was growing up, I thought there must some truth, some reality to religion since so many billions accept it and practice it. However there were thousands of different conflicting religions around the world and back through history. They couldn’t all be right. At least some of them must be garbage.
    Then I realized that many beliefs are accepted not because they reflect a true model of reality, but because they are USEFUL, either to the believers or to clever con artists who can exploit them.
    I also realized that common religious beliefs are CONDITIONED into minds by behavioral conditioning (look up Behavioral Psychology and Social Psychology), rather than by straightforward logical persuasion. Church “worship” is really all about psychological conditioning of minds, using the psychological techniques of repetition, conformity, hypnosis, and cognitive dissonance (also used in commercial advertising). Churches are mind training machines, using repetitive recitation of doctrine in prayer readings and hymns in standard liturgy.
    The religious beliefs you come to accept are not ideas you were persuaded to believe by logic, but were simply trained into your mind by brute exercise. “Worship” is really a trick, to fool you into subjecting yourself to psychological conditioning. Do you really believe a “Supreme Being” would need to be constantly flattered so he won’t snuff you out?
    Then I recognized that religions are powerful and valuable TOOLS for controlling people and taking advantage of them. These powerful and useful institutions simply evolved as psychological MEMES (Google it. See Richard Dawkins). Religion persists in the 21st century, not because it has value as truth, but because it is a useful meme for authoritarian control.
    In order to control people, it is necessary to persuade them to surrender their willingness and ability to think for themselves, and replace that with reliance on faith. To do this, religious doctrine preaches against logic and reason and for the “virtue” of faith. It also gives you training exercises that require you to accept all sorts of nonsense (miracles, the trinity, original sin, Noah’s Arc, a God that must sacrifice Himself, to Himself, in order to save you from His own wrath). Religion is explicitly anti-reason and anti-science, because it’s real goal is enforcing the virtue of obedience to authority so religious and secular leaders can dominate your life.
    There you have it. Here is a logical explanation of the phenomenon of religion based on reason and independent of any supernatural constructs. No mysteries, no miracles, no faith required. It just makes sense. It’s a scientific, testable theory; not a faith.
    Try these ideas on for size. I like them, because they free my mind and open it up to new possibilities. If you consider yourself a good thinker, try turning your own thinking powers to considering them. You might be pleased with the results.

  • philipjenkins

    Any or all these arguments may or may not be correct. They can be argued at length, and have been fought over for centuries, so all are absolutely proper bases for debate and controversy.

    My purpose here is to show that one specific issue, namely the historical existence of Jesus, can be tested by proper, critical methodologies, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. You have, so to speak, thrown out the Christ child with the holy bathwater.

  • Chris Allen

    Yes, I have. Just as my theory of religion described above accounts for the phenomenon without requiring any supernatural constructs, mysteries, or miracles, it is easier to accept the Jesus story as a repackaging of older similar savior myths than to accept the reality of a water-walking, raising the dead, water-to-wine transforming, fish and loaf multiplying, miracle performing Jesus. I guess I’m just one of those unreasonable doubters.

  • John Brooke

    Chris,

    I am a retired scientist.
    I have seen experiments that seem to confirm theories and
    experiments that seem to disconfirm theories.

    When I was younger I was led to believe that Science just
    followed where the logic took you. That great scientists
    just went from one deep insight to another and set up
    perfect experiments to confirm their theories.

    Once I worked with scientists I found that they had all sorts of theories – some as far fetched as you could get and had enormous faith in their theories. The data from the experiments was rarely decisive but had to be analysed over and over again using statistical methods that were chosen more for subjective desires then out of cool – cool reason.

    If you consider the first person who claimed to have discovered Gravity Waves: Joseph Weber – he produced data and gave his justification and made the news, but it
    seems not to all have been a mistake. So you say: Fine,
    further examination showed that he was mistaken, but
    do we know for sure that he was mistaken or that his data
    was misunderstood ? You can make your judgement but it
    will be one based on faith because you cannot go back and
    exactly reproduce his experiment.

    Consider Dan Shechtman who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 for “Quasicrystals”was exiled to the “Chemistry Wilderness” because in 1982 he held that “Icosahedral Phase” could lead to Quasi-crystals.
    However, Linus Pauling led the counter attack saying there
    are: “No Quasi-crystals only Quasi – Scientists of whom
    Dan Schectman is their prophet. Fortunately Mathematicians had a theory of non-periodic tilings – and one of them spoke,
    by accident, to Professor Schectman and he persevered even though so many said he was wrong. To some degree Professor Schectman carried on in faith that he was right.

    Thus science is not based on pure logic, nor verified absolutely by statistics, but largely hit and miss.
    Why is that ?

    People seem to want to believe in an afterlife that will be much better than this one. So they look to religion or futuristic science about “mind-transplants” and they always will Mr. Allen no matter what science claims to teach.

    I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
    I have read every solid critique against Christianity and
    against the “Historical Jesus” that comes my way.

    None of them convinces me, they do make me ponder
    but I do not presume to tell God how to save the world.

    If you wish to criticise me, criticise my moral failures that
    arise from my sinfulness in not trusting Jesus wholly.

  • philipjenkins

    But I am saying nothing about any miracles or supernatural claims. I am discussing the existence of a historical individual called Jesus of Nazareth who was known (accurately or not) as a charismatic wonder-worker and healer and who led a religious movement in Judaism around 30 AD. Where in all that do we find “supernatural constructs, mysteries, or miracles”? If you have worthwhile historical evidence or arguments to advance, please do so.

  • William J E Dempsey

    To take miracles out of the picture, considerably biases the results. Knowing that a given figure is said to be constantly working miracles, is one major indication he is not real in any way.

  • Erp

    Not necessarily given the time and place. Francis of Assisi supposedly did many miracles while he lived but exists. The same is true for many other Catholic saints that we know exist (there are others who are much more doubtful as ever existing).

  • William J E Dempsey

    It’s a matter of proportion; solid evidence of reality vs. assertions of supernatural, impossible elements. Francis, coming much later, has much more historical data, to outweigh mythic supernaturalisms that historians should weigh against his historically.

    Zeus on the other hand….

  • philipjenkins

    So you are not bothered by the fact that the historical existence of Jesus is a near total academic consensus, among Christian, Jewish and secular scholars alike? In other words, for virtually everybody with the required historical, social scientific and linguistic skills. Your intuition just trumps that? What an impressive manifestation of a scientific-critical world-view!

  • ktwoo2u

    “Religion is explicitly anti-reason and anti-science, because it’s real
    goal is enforcing the virtue of obedience to authority so religious and
    secular leaders can dominate your life.”

    Somebody has been reading Nietzsche. Do try to stay on point here, as Jenkins requests below.

  • Name

    Very few ideas about anything important?

    Sure, if you don’t consider sanitation, medical breakthroughs, increased crop yields and faster transport important. If you don’t consider what the Earth is made of, how the stars form or how the human body works to be important. If you don’t think the truth about where humans came from and how they evolved is important.

    Instead of reading entrails we can now predict the weather because of science.
    Instead of praying for pain to end we can now buy cheap, over-the-counter pain relief because of science.
    Instead of exorcising people we can diagnose mental illnesses and treat them because of science.
    Instead of blaming God’s wrath for Earthquakes after they happen we can predict them before they happen and hopefully evacuate people. And people trained in first aid with modern medical equipment flying in in helicopters can help survivors more than any priest could. Plus science can help design building that are earthquake-proof.
    Pregnancy is safer because of science.
    The machine you wrote your message on exists because of science.

    For a better afterlife, you could try religion. For a better life now, you need science.

  • Erp

    We actually haven’t got to the point of predicting earthquakes so that we can evacuate people (unless you suggest moving the cities of San Francisco and Seattle among others permanently elsewhere because we know that someday big earthquakes will hit them). Hurricanes and volcanoes we are better at predicting on a reasonable, for evacuation, timescale.

    We also need improved systems of ethics for which religion can be a vehicle for discussing and promulgating (though a hefty dose of philosophy doesn’t hurt, perhaps a better word is life stance). Religion can also be a vehicle for some pretty nasty actions (e.g., crusades).

  • cken

    Yes science is a good thing despite the many things it doesn’t know, like what caused our universe to come into existence, and how did life begin on this planet. Your last statement is absolutely correct you need both religion and science because life doesn’t end after death.
    As Einstein once said given science without religion or religion without science both would perish. I think he meant each motivates the other to advance. Things like genetics, astronomy (cosmology), and physics were all started by very religious people. Even Darwin who was a very religious person said if we didn’t find the missing link his whole theory would fall apart. To date we haven’t found the missing link.

  • Chris Allen
  • mai1dude39

    Atheist links on a Christian blog. Makes as much sense as posting links to Mein Kampf on a Jewish blog.

  • roberto quintas

    or links from Christians, the Church or the Holy Office in “other religions”, heretics, pagan, witches and atheist pages… ooops, that’s already happens… a lot! therefore, Christians doesn’t have merit or reason to argue?

  • Chris Allen

    Good point. I confess I didn’t notice this was a Christian blog. I received the article as a link and didn’t look that carefully at the header. Mr. Jenkins presents his article as if he is arguing entirely from the perspective of logic, reason, and academic rigor, so I took that at face value. My mistake. If my comments offended anyone, I’m sorry.
    I’m not in the habit of intruding into churches uninvited and arguing doctrine. Apparently Mr. Jenkins is a Christian writing for an audience of other Christians, and I’m sure they find his article reassuring. I suspect I am wasting my time trying to argue in a forum where faith is presumed to trump reason.
    In religion, faith is a virtue, but in science it is a vice. The whole purpose of a scientific experiment, with its controlled variables and double-blind tests, is to exclude the influence of faith in the outcome of the experiment. Also real science is generally restricted to the natural world, and scientists are not allowed to include the supernatural, magic, and miracles in explaining phenomena.
    I write from a secular perspective, and it is an open question as to whether it is appropriate for me to comment here.

  • Grant Mohler

    Okay Chris are you done masturbating to yourself?

  • philipjenkins

    The secular approach is no issue whatever. However, you wrote that “There were some 42 known historical writers at that time in Jerusalem. None of them wrote of any such events there.” As I describe below, this is so wildly inaccurate as to subvert any claims you may make about approaching the matter from any kind of serious perspective – academic, scientific, historical, or scholarly. Your perspective is the antithesis of science.

  • Jim Little

    “anti-thesis of science”? does science have anything to do with this aspect of history (outside the application of science to archaeology)?

  • Powerglide

    And they are all nonsense.

  • philipjenkins

    I have zero problem with posting links from atheist sites. At no point, though, do you point out specific arguments from any of these books and show how they contradict the points I make in my blog.

    The one point you do make – Matthew’s passage about the alleged mass resurrection of the righteous dead – is not relevant because we can show that it was not described by any contemporary *Christian* sources, never mind secular or Jewish writers. It is not mentioned by any other New Testament author.

  • Chris Allen

    Is it fair to state then, that you reject Matthew 27 verses 45 and 50-53 as unhistorical? There was no mass resurrection, darkness over the whole land, earth quake, split rocks, and tearing of the veil of the sanctuary.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Whether or not that passage is historical really says nothing as to whether there was a historical Jesus.

  • William J E Dempsey

    It suggests a higher likelihood that other Jesus material was false.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    You are right on the point of the Matt. 27 passage not being relevant to the existence of Jesus. However, it IS one of the clearer examples of how Gospel writers, from the earliest canonical ones as even more so the later ones, added imaginary (hopefully persuasive or impressive) “facts” to actual events. Even the canonical Gospels seem to have little concern with questionable details that modern people often think would not have been invented because they could have been checked. Actually, checking much would have been very hard after the devastating 4-year Roman war culminating in the loss of apparently hundreds of thousands of lives (Josephus claims over 1 million, probably a bit high) and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

    My hunch, related to the C.S. Lewis discussion above, is that both authors and hearers (not “readers”… there were not copies to read individually, to speak of) were not expecting accuracy of historical facts at all… they were after other effects and had never been exposed to written “history” or anything very close, including in their Hebrew Scriptures, which are somewhat historical but not “history writing” in our sense.

  • roberto quintas

    it’s a mythical thinking to say that the mythical Jesus is a myth. };)

  • philipjenkins

    Right, it’s a myth-guided comment!

  • Powerglide

    As an atheist, I find mythicism deeply embarrassing. It’s exactly the kind of motivated reasoning we criticize Christians for. It’s trutherism for atheists.

  • Jim Little

    “motivated reasoning” – as in elucidating the [real] truth?

  • ken

    Good quote from historian Will Durant’s book Caesar and Christ:

    “In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies—e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates—would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed—the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Nazareth, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confession of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them.” p. 557

  • William J E Dempsey

    Hercules looks about equally realistic in much earlier Greek myths.

  • John Brooke

    No, William,
    you could not be more mistaken.
    Do you have any sense of what makes great literature ?

  • John Brooke

    Thanks

  • France93

    I’m quite interested in sources that refute the “golden oldies” and works by people like Frazer, John Jackson, Jersey graves, etc. What works would you recommend?

  • France93

    One source might be “The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?” I welcome your other suggestions.

  • William J E Dempsey

    Keep in mind they are authored by defensive Christians most of the time.

  • philipjenkins

    I look long and hard to find Christians as defensive as secularist enthusiasts trying to defend nineteenth century platitudes in a world that has long passed them by.

  • John Brooke

    Thank you.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    The non-existence of Jesus… making him only a myth… is taking an important set of observations way too far. What IS valid that gets confused by both non-scholars and some scholars is that the “historical” accounts of the Gospels CONTAIN a lot of what is often called “myth”. Not meaning untruth… rather truths couched in various story and rhetorical forms. Sometimes directly related to actual events, often not. And it is truly impossible to come to strong consensus (probably ever) on all but the largest events (such as Jesus’ existence, general work and crucifixion)…. So open questions as to the historicity of most specifics, or what Jesus actually said.

    You spend a bit of time (well stated, btw.) on Josephus. This stood out to me “There is no reason to think that Josephus regarded Jesus any differently from any other of the sackful of messiahs that appeared during that century.” I agree. And if correct, it is significant.

    Particularly of note on Josephus and NT accounts, and not known by most Christians or others is this: Josephus has much more to say about John the Baptist than Jesus (even compared to the spurious later interpolation on Jesus). And it does not harmonize well with the main role assigned John in the Gospels (especially at length in G. of John)… a “way preparer” for Jesus, strongly endorsing his ministry and purposely stepping back for him, etc. This is the kind of thing (the John-Jesus relationship in the Gospels) that smacks highly of myth-making and/or apologetic agenda. Of course there is a whole lot more!

  • philipjenkins

    Your comments on John the Baptist are well taken.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Spot on. The Gospel narratives are full of myth-making, but they are crouched in a real historical time-frame about a real historical person.

  • soter phile

    You might want to read CS Lewis’ “Fern Seeds & Elephants”. As a life-long myth scholar, he points out why – even if ONLY from a mere literary study of genre – that argument cannot be made.

    “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach.”

  • Andrew Dowling

    And Lewis is wrong. There weren’t similar novelistic narratives before the Gospels? He must have not read as much as he thought he had . . .there were also other biographies that contained clear myth (see the Alexandrian literature) although the Gospels are unique biographies in that they are also formulated for religious reflection and devotion for their respective communities.

    I mean, one can see the extension of myth itself from the add-ones Matthew and Luke give to Mark. The extension of mythical motifs and symbolism literally stares you right in the face.

    A problem is that people equate “myth” to “fairytale” or conjure it as a negative falsehood. It’s not; mythmaking has been one of the key vehicles by which humans express themselves and what powerfully impacts their lives.

  • soter phile

    Here’s a link to a free, online version of his essay. You clearly are not responding to the arguments he made, so I’d encourage you to read it.
    http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html

  • John Brooke

    What Egyptian or other Near Eastern Stories are you thinking of ?

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Andrew (below) is saying something important. He’s right that Lewis at times spoke outside his expertise, brilliant as he was. He knew literature but doesn’t appear to have been up on the intertestamental period or things like Jewish Apocalyptic literature. Study of the latter wasn’t greatly pursued until his later years or after his death. (And the Dead Sea Scrolls had not fully been translated and published.) One example: he’d not had the chance to read Schweitzer’s last (and great, tho largely overlooked) book, “The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity”, written 1951 but published posthumously in 1967.

    Also, there was a LOT of novelty and invention around the time of Jesus and just following, including in literary forms. It in no way validates the Gospels as reliable history to claim they had no clear antecedents, even if this WERE true. As Andrew points out, their operating on a different level than our concept of history or even biography is clear right within the Gospel texts, if one is reading closely and comparatively. It’s also clear that each author had somewhat different, if overlapping, theological agendas. The Gospels are more theology, persuasion and social support than they are reporting of what had happened 40+ years earlier. And Lewis, as far as I know, didn’t particularly pursue biblical scholarship in depth. Or if he did, his belief system apparently blinded his vision.

  • soter phile

    1) Lewis is not speaking outside his expertise when he’s talking about myth. And bringing that to bear on the question of genre is entirely appropriate.

    2) If you read his essay, he drills down on the issue of genre. For example, superfluous detail (that is a hallmark of modern realistic fiction) was NOT present in such other writings. Fiction? yes. Additional, generic fictional ideas to an historical account? yes. Tiny details added to give a ring of truth to fiction (rowing 3.5 miles, around 3pm, 153 fish, etc.)? no. It’s the hallmark of eyewitness accounts, but not found in myths. You don’t hear Homer writing that Odysseus rowed 3 or 3.5 miles from the cave around 3:30pm. That wouldn’t come about until the 1700s in fictional writings.

    3) The theological agenda of the author may beg the primary question (did this actually happen?), but the uniqueness of the genre does not allow it to be categorized as myth. that was Lewis’ point – repeatedly – in “Fern Seeds”. It is anachronistic from mere literary categories to claim such. It shows a lack of literary awareness among higher-critical scholars. And the genre of myth WAS his expertise.

    Your comment (“The Gospels are more theology, persuasion and social support than they are reporting of what had happened 40+ years earlier.”) demonstrates a lack of awareness of his literary point. Either this is reportage (maybe biased/otherwise) or this is like finding a machine gun in the ancient world. You may *want* to dismiss the reportage by classifying it as another genre, but the genre itself dictates otherwise.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Is that essay on the Internet somewhere? I don’t mind reading something relatively short by him on it. I read several of his books (very approvingly) many years ago, but nothing much recently.

    So maybe we’re getting tripped up over term def. (“myth”). No time to go into it now, but I’ll grant it may not be the clearest/best term. You’ve not addressed (that I noticed) my main point: Internal comparison and analysis of the Gospels (and them vis-a-vis Paul’s letters) makes it quite clear that, whatever the genre type (new and unique or not), they are often at odds with each other. And not in just “perspective” or unimportant detail. I doubt I have to cite examples if you’re much of a student in depth. These irreconcilable differences show one or another (or all) of them are not reporting reliable history on many points, though perhaps on Jesus general timeline, content and style of teaching and such.

    And that’s all aside from the issue of theological interpretation of who Jesus was and what he’d accomplished, which certainly was NOT agreed upon in the early decades of the development of Christian faith… by the direct disciples or the 2nd, 3rd generation, and not much so on issues now “central” for Christians, for some time after that. (I realize this goes against the “received” view of Christian origins begun by the slanted apologetic work (again only partly historical) by Luke in Acts. I say all this while affirming that Jesus and his early followers DID introduce some great advances and life affirming, socially beneficial principles and practices… or I’d not still be a Christian (from childhood, 60 years ago) despite all the misuse and misunderstanding of the Bible. (And it’s not just “social gospel” for me… I remain a sort of “universal charismatic”.)

  • soter phile

    i put the link to the essay in my response to Andrew below.

    if we’re equivocating on “myth”, I’d lean on the expert’s definition.

    for all the attempts to pit Paul against Jesus, all the major doctrines to which people usually object in the Pauline corpus can also be found on Jesus’ lips. or do you mean something other than theology?

    it’s very difficult to assert the primary theological tenets were *not* agreed upon when they are interwoven into all the earliest texts. and to attempt to unpack an earlier version (after three rounds of the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus”) has proven rather impossible. the only historical Jesus we know is the one found in the earliest and most well-attested accounts.

    i’m curious what for you is the essence of Christianity in light of your self-description (“universal charismatic”). if i might venture a direct question: resurrection – yes or no? did it happen? follow up: if so, in light of your above criticism, what account do you find trustworthy? if not, in light of your “not just social gospel”, what makes Christianity transformative or distinctive?

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    soter phile, those are fair and important q’s. To answer in sufficient depth would take more than a comment-length reply (some of my many blog posts contain some aspects, though I don’t there tend to summarize my views or experiences). But briefly:
    1. Resurrection: No, not as in “bodily” or physical resuscitation. (Gospel accounts very confused, at best, I’d say contradictory… also unfitting, unconvincing as historical accounts.) But yes in terms of “appearances” of Jesus to Paul, and per his testimony, probably to a good number of disciples and “The Apostles”. So I’m “between” the literalist and the symbolic camps – supported by many related accounts through history and current times of similar phenomena. Still, these MAY be in a unique “category of one” without implying a bodily resurrection. Even the Shroud, if genuine, doesn’t equate to bodily resur. One of best sources re. resur. in general in that time/place and on John/Thomas in particular is “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory J. Riley.

    2. Paul’s accounts are most trustworthy (and earliest, importantly), though he has a propensity to exaggerate, etc. We ALL (regardless of theological persuasion) have to deal with a puzzling kind and content of lit in the Gospels… And with the varying pictures of Jesus that can be legitimately derived from them… they operate a lot like a Rorschach test onto which we project assumptions, biases, needs, etc. The core of social memory reflecting an actual Jesus, having given actual teachings and probably at least some of the cited miracles (healings, minimally) is there, tho we will never be able (or need) to agree on just what that is. As super brief: ethical teachings and a spirituality around a reachable and fully gracious (forgiving, nonviolent) God are a good part of “the essence” you ask about. Notably, in my view, it does not include Jesus believing he would die as a vicarious sacrifice for individuals’ atonement, nor that he was God. (Nor did his earliest direct followers likely believe these “core” elements – excluding Paul, who didn’t experience Jesus’ teaching directly and took little from those who did…. However, it’s hard to know just what they DID believe, for me, not believing they left any writings and probably dictated nothing surviving. To the extent the book of James reflects James’/Jerusalem leaders’ views, which I think it probably does [though likely post-70 AD/Jerusalem-as-center] Jesus does not seem to have significantly changed their Jewish theology, and certainly not to a “faith alone” concept of salvation.)

    3. I believe Christianity is unique but not “uniquely unique”. Not real sure about strongest distinctive but key that it expanded “grace” and direct intimacy with God and universalized a mainly-Jewish vision of God (mainly per Paul and his disciples, so Jesus AND Paul is more apropos than Jesus vs. Paul). The emphasis on love and compassion is transformative, and to a lesser degree, that on love of ENEMIES and peacemaking. (Hopefully the latter is increasingly to come, as an emphasis on it seems to mostly go back just about 500 years to the “radical reformation” and Menno Simons particularly).

    I say “universal charismatic” as I’m generally a universalist (re. human destiny) but also a believer in both “gifts” and developed skills of accessing what I’d call not the trinitarian Holy Spirit, but something equivalent as “Spirit”. That is, spiritual gifts and spiritual states, both individualist and corporate (community induced/experienced), are valid and important, though capable of abuse. And one or one’s group need not be “Christian” to experience them… thus “universal”. (I well realize Luke, in Acts, makes a different case… I differ with his theology and tend to not trust the specifics of his story, while what he provides is still invaluable.)

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Soter phile, I’m not sure if this will appear above or below my lengthy 3-point response to your few questions, posted 4-23. It’s now early 4-24 my time zone.

    I read carefully that Lewis article… Good stuff, as far as it goes (what it doesn’t cover is critical). A whole lot more there than I will have time/reasonable space to address, but a few things:

    First, I agree in large part! I also have much of the same objection about Bultmann’s work, and those similar to him. (BTW, Barth, classified in the same “neo-orthodox” category generally, took strong issue with Bultmann’s approach as well.) I don’t tend to read that kind of theology/higher criticism… the Tubingen school, e.g., also not much from the “Jesus Seminar”, which is often similarly subject to Lewis’ criticism, tho it took place later. But I do read other “higher critics” (higher in contrast to “lower” or text transmission, text variants, etc.). I also tend to most appreciate those focusing more on historical issues than theoretical reconstructions or too-fine parsing of what Jesus actually said or did. And interdisciplinary people, or those with at least awareness of and interaction with other related disciplines tend to offer important and helpful things (my own education is interdisciplinary and I read fairly broadly).

    To “peg” my framework and approach most specifically, I suppose I’d say “Process Theology”, as connected with Process philosophy (tho I’m lightly read in the former and even less so in the latter). But mentioning it relates to the Lewis article in a couple ways. Now, Cobb and Griffin are the main top Process people I’ve read or heard speak, with some Oord, Epperly, Williams, M.E. Moore [on Religious Ed.] and a few others… I did 48 units PhD work at Claremont, tho only part of it involved Process specifically… but the flavor and influence was certainly there… and I picked Process up only gradually and mostly AFTER leaving). So, relationship to Lewis’ article:

    First, that the Process approach was not much developed by the 1959 date of Lewis’ comments. Yes, Whitehead had written his seminal works (not widely read outside philosophical circles, not “literary” at all) and the largely unrelated Catholic “Process” scientist/theologian, Chardin had recently written his more influential work. I don’t know if Lewis had much considered either of them or Hartshorne (mainly a philosopher). But most of the development of Process theology BY theologians (Williams, Cobb, Griffin, etc.) had not taken place. Now these were brilliant men (and later, women) who were quite up on both orthodoxy (conservatism), neo-orthodoxy (Bultmann, etc.) and liberal theology, finding none satisfactory. They were/are also well educated though not specialists on “biblical scholarship” (vs. “theology”, as somewhat separate disciplines). And they tended to be interdisciplinary, as was I… part of the reason I chose to attend Claremont.

    My point in relation to Lewis’ comments is both the timing and that there have been many, mostly more recent biblical scholars and theologians who do not share Lewis’ orthodox beliefs, but also do not share the approach or presuppositions of Bultmann or Loisy, et al, or “old line Liberals”… Tho I don’t much follow it, included might be those calling themselves “post-liberal” such as perhaps the popular Frederick Buechner or some of the “Emerging” folks (McLaren, Rob Bell). And scholars like L. Michael White, Richard Horsley, Bruce Chilton, and many others are not so vulnerable to Lewis’ criticisms. They do not “deconstruct” and over-analyze the texts in the same way. (If one would call Bultmann late Modern/early Postmodern, then we are at least a full “stage” beyond, as many of us observing the pertinent disciplines would say that we are now well past Postmodern, tho it still… as is typical… has heavy sway in general culture and among some, especially older scholars.)

    Also related to dates, as I mentioned earlier, much has been developed on historical basis, and even new data since 1959 (or Lewis’ earlier work): Translation/publication of much of the vital Dead Sea Scrolls; analysis of Gnosticism partly via docs of the 1945/6 find of Nag Hammadi (only partially published by 1959); the further development (though begun earlier) of concepts of a “sayings gospel”, as “Q” appears to have been, prior to the canonical gospels. In broad stroke, it sure seems to me (having attended Bible college and a conservative seminary- Talbot- in the late 60s to mid 70s, as well as having read re. the recent past) that more recent developments have made it much harder to defend orthodox positions on certain things. Certainly, it’s harder to defend the “received view” of Christian origins in the way Lewis did… And I’d add that if he were alive today, he’d probably be taking much more nuanced positions himself, and might even be a Process guy :)

  • John Brooke

    I don’t think Lewis would be a Process Theologian though he might well be open to our growing in understanding of God as we, ourselves, grow older.

  • William J E Dempsey

    Lewis is outside his field when he goes beyond medieval literature. Especially he doesn’t do well with comparative religion. Which contains thousands of tales like the gospels, of various sages.

  • John Brooke

    No William,
    I have read as widely as anyone in Comparative Religion and there is nothing like the Gospels in any other religious writings.

  • Jim Jones

    > If you read his essay, he drills down on the issue of genre. For example, superfluous detail (that is a hallmark of modern realistic fiction) was NOT present in such other writings. Fiction? yes.

    When I read the gospels they come across as Superman comic books without pictures. I’ve yet to see any contradictory evidence.

  • John Brooke

    Jim Jones,
    Perhaps you have ideological blinkers on.
    And if your think the Gospels are just like Superman without
    pictures – I really, really feel sorry for you – what exactly is your educational background ?

  • Jim Jones

    > modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.

    You won’t find any of that in the gospels.

  • John Brooke

    Yes, you will.

  • William J E Dempsey

    But historical novels often put fictional characters in real settings.

    In the comics, Superman sometimes visits NYC, or a real earth. Does that prove that superman is real?

  • Jim Jones

    > “There is no reason to think that Josephus regarded Jesus any
    differently from any other of the sackful of messiahs that appeared
    during that century.”

    And yet the comments by Josephus are so wrong they are obvious, crude forgeries.

  • 3vil5triker .

    What about the claim that “Nazareth” is a fabricated location? I saw article on that subject over at the Patheos Atheist Channel a while back. I can look it up and give you a link if you want.

  • philipjenkins

    Thanks, but the idea is so specious it’s honestly not worth wasting time on.

  • 3vil5triker .

    But isn’t the whole point of your article to address ideas that are usually not worth wasting time on? The article I read talked about people getting caught red-handed fabricating evidence for a place that didn’t exist. I think that merits at least a minute or two.

  • Erp

    Perhaps what is needed is a talk.origins website equivalent; a central clearing house for claims and evidence and explanation. Admittedly it is unclear to me why all of Allen’s posts vanished. Did he delete them or a moderator?

    For Nazareth there have been some claims that have been unsubstantiated (e.g., this was where the annunciation took place). For the truly gullible Mary’s whole house was miraculously moved to Loretto, Italy. Ehrman lays out some of the claim/evidence for Nazareth at http://ehrmanblog.org/did-nazareth-exist/

  • 3vil5triker .

    Yeah, maybe someone should build that site. Or at least as a sub-section of a larger one dealing with biblical archaeology and history in general.

    About the claim itself, I really have no vested interest in it beyond mild curiosity. Certainly not enough to buy books and trace the entire back and forth between the camps all over the internet.

    I’m satisfied with Ehrman’s response, at least in the sense that the claim has been acknowledged and responded to, which was kind of the point of the original blog post.

    I’ll just step back and let the professionals do their job.

  • Ed Buckner

    If I know Allen–and I do!–it wasn’t he who deleted his posts. And i also know him well enough to know he wouldn’t engage in personal insults, foul language, or the other sorts of behavior that should get a poster deleted. So maybe a moderator can explain? As Erp said, “Admittedly it is unclear to me why all of Allen’s posts vanished. Did he delete them or a moderator?”

  • gw

    Unless someone is being vulgar/rude,
    deleting their comments should be very rare.

  • Jim Jones

    Much of the ‘evidence’ for Jesus comes from the Empress Helena who was able to find and buy ‘the’ original cross, the crosses of the two thieves, find the town of Nazareth (which didn’t appear before her trip), find the grave of Jesus and even buy the titulus cruces! Amazing, and I’m sure nothing to do with the gold she was offering for anything related to Jesus (yes, I know I’m cynical).

  • William J E Dempsey

    Philip? Your career seems to emphasize conservatively laying down the traditional law, in religious matters

  • Neal Cary

    Lack of reliable evidence for the existence of Jesus, who is claimed to have accomplished miracles, and who had such influence that led to the establishment of one of the worlds major religions, is one of the arguments for his non-existence. Either 1) he didn’t exist at all, or 2) he was a nobody and a fraud who was used by others who came after him to invent the Christian religion — whose tales of miracles were made up or appropriated from other messiah figures, or 3) he actually existed as claimed by Christians and was somehow ignored by over 40 contemporary writers. Given the history of the development of the early church, examining other evidence that brings into question his existence, the lack of secular evidence, and given the proven track record of the church to lie and present fraudulent evidence for his existence, it seems more likely that Jesus never existed as a real person. At best, it seems the author can only argue for 2) above, so as a non-elite, his Jesus is nothing like the figure as claimed by his followers. The existence or non-existence of such a person then becomes as irrelevant as any other non-elite.

  • Ed Buckner

    For much, much more on this, from scholar/expert on the subject Frank Zindler, read any of his several books on the subject–or just come to nogodblog and read some of Frank’s posts there–e.g., http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nogodblog/2016/03/paradigm-shift-there-is-no-jesus-and-there-never-was/

  • gw

    If you wish to claim that Jesus never existed, then why didn’t the early Church make a much tidier job about how they presented Him ?
    Why not one Gospel, take out all the embarrassing parts about the Apostles,
    make the prophecies about Jerusalem being destroyed far more specific,
    not make living as a follower of Christ so difficult, be much more clear about what
    happens in the afterlife. [ Answers of such nature are provided via the non-canonical
    gospels. ]

    You cite the 40 writers, but how many were alive at the time of Christ and lived
    in Palestine and took the early Christians that seriously ?

  • Neal Cary

    There were numerous religious sects and mythologies which embraced many of the beliefs of Christianity before this alleged Jesus lived, and there were many Christian sects after this alleged Jesus lived — all with major differences between them. It wasn’t until the Council of Nicea, where one of the religious leaders was kicked to death, that the Pauline version won out. Even then, there still remains widely different views about this Jesus figure in the bible. This pattern points to a religion assembled out of competing beliefs, with a founder who was invented. An examination of other religions that were founded by an actual person do not follow this pattern.
    Is the argument that some Joe Blow down the street in Palestine was the inspiration for Christianity, even though his miracles didn’t even rate notice by writers contemporary to him? I doubt that an actual person of this type could have been the motivation for Christianity, and it is simply more believable that this figure sprang from myths and beliefs that pre-dated the birth of Christian sects.
    As for the 40+ historians that should have at least mentioned the man Jesus, following is a list of 126 by Micheal Paulkovich.

  • Neal Cary
  • Jim Jones

    What is this about?

  • whg

    Ancient Writers that some sceptics claim should have mentioned Jesus.

  • Jim Jones

    The Fable of the Christ

    — 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not

  • John Brooke

    No.
    Did not write about Jesus that we know of.

  • gw

    Neal,
    What do you actually know, what original texts have you actually read vs you just cite them ?

    I see the same citations repeated by Atheists in almost the same order and it just makes me wonder what these people have actually read.

    Buddhism has far less historical evidence than Christianity and has many early variants – should we conclude that
    Buddha did not live ?
    Islam has its varieties and who was actually chosen by
    Mohammed to lead the faith after he died.
    Mormonism as many different versions and yet all
    agree that Joseph Smith was the founder.
    So we will wholly discount your view that Jesus did not
    exist because there were so many different views of how
    following Him

    As for differences among Christians, you are mistaken in your interpretation of Paul’s importance and Pauline
    Christianity winning out only at Nicaea.

    Miracles are either believed or not, had you been alive then, I doubt you would have believed them and thus reported them.

    Your list presupposes what you need to show that they did not write about Jesus because they had heard about Jesus and thought nothing of him. A sophistic trick, but a trick nonetheless and exposed as what it is.

  • Neal Cary

    GW,

    I have read some translations of some of the texts, but not being a linguist like Frank Zindler, sadly, I cannot read the original texts. I have read translations of texts offered by Christians in support of a historical Jesus, but these are obvious interpolations into original texts. Examples include the second evidence from Josephus (“Jesus the so-called Christ”) offered by the author of the article in question. Many authorities argue that this quote was likely written into the margins of the text by an early Christian, which was then interpolated by later scribes.

    As far as the existence of the founders of the other faiths you mention, I don’t have enough information to comment about their historicity. However, this is slightly off topic, and there is a major difference. Many of the early Christian sects viewed Jesus not as a man, but as only existing in a spiritual sense. It was Paul who believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus that required him to be a historical figure, and Christians have been inventing evidence ever since.

    I’ll give you the last word here, since I don’t have the time to continue. Thanks for your conversation!

  • gw

    Neal,

    I don’t expect you or anyone to be an expert in
    Western/Eastern Syriac, Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic,
    Latin/Greek etc.

    I do wonder when people fire off paragraphs as if they
    were experts and you find they are just quoting some
    Wiki site or some tract.

    Those of us who are Historians, especially in Ancient
    History and know how texts are lost/corrupted/reconstructed, who have studied the
    History of Israel/Early Christianity are surprised by the
    ease that people who are not even remotely experts on the
    time of Jesus just toss out names/figures/dates as if
    that proves anything.

    The notion that Paul invented the resurrected Christ is
    laughable because Paul was not there when Jesus died
    and was buried so what details could he have added to
    the Resurrection story ? If they were making it up after
    Paul told them to – why would they not make it exactly
    alike – here we have four Gospels we need to add that
    Christ rose on that Sunday, make something up and add
    it to the Gospels.

    No, early Christian sects did not see Jesus only as spiritual sense, they saw Him as fully human, if anything it is
    Paul and John who have to emphasise that Jesus is the actual Son of God bringing out what Mark/Mathew
    state, but make it more explicit and work out the implications.

    You can believe in God or not, you can believe that Jesus
    is the Christ or not, but you have to know you history and have a sense of how easily manuscripts were lost, misused, and a sense of how the Early Church developed
    before tossing out claims that are not original with you and are not of your own original research.

  • Jim Jones

    > The notion that Paul invented the resurrected Christ is
    laughable because Paul was not there when Jesus died
    and was buried

    Why didn’t Paul go to see Jesus at any time?

    > so what details could he have added to the Resurrection story?

    He managed well enough considering he didn’t have a seer stone or a hat to view it in.

    And I guess L Ron Hubbard made up none of the details about Xenu either.

  • whg

    You can say what you wish about Mormonism or Scientology
    but you seem to be avoiding the points raised.

  • Jim Jones

    Not at all – quite the reverse.

  • whg

    What points did you explicitly address ?

  • Erp

    Ah the Paulkovich list which I believe includes writers for whom we have no writings so rather hard to judge whether they mentioned Jesus or not. Writers who did mention Jesus (3 and possibly 4). Writers who died before Jesus likely started teaching (I don’t believe in precognition). Writers whose only surviving works have nothing to do with history/current political events (e.g., what survives are erotic poetry or texts on medicine or grammar). I note also that many on the list were writing as late as a couple of hundred years after Jesus so hardly contemporary. BTW much of this info is from http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.ca/2014/09/126-writers-who-according-to-michael.html the author is an atheist and inclined to mythicism but even he thinks the Paulkovich list is absurd. Why don’t you pick a couple from the list and explain why they should have mentioned Jesus in their extant works.

    Consider how many still extant contemporary or near contemporary writers mention Pontius Pilate, a much more important figure in the same area and time, and not Jesus. I think you will find one writer, Philo, and Philo had good reason not to mention someone executed for rebellion when trying to portray Jews as loyal subjects who should not have their temple desecrated in a letter to the emperor.

  • gw

    Thanks

  • Neal Cary

    Yes, many of the writers listed by Paulkovich lived after the alleged existence of Jesus, and some have little to no surviving works. However, if they had written about a historical Jesus, Christians would have made damn sure that these writings would have been preserved, since they were busy fabricating evidence for a historical Jesus wherever possible. It is striking that there is no mention from the early Christians of quotes from these writers, and this is just part of the evidence that Jesus was not a historical figure.

    It seems that many who are arguing for a historical Jesus regard him as just another of the many fake messiah figures at the time, whose miracles and stories were exaggerated to create the Christian religion. The problem comes when all of the stories and miracles associated with this “historical” figure are so exaggerated as to be ridiculous, when the evidence apart from Christian sources pushing historicity is obviously created out of nothing, and when the evidence offered by Christian sources is contradictory at best and fraudulent at worst. It means that a historical Jesus could be equally attributed to any Tom, Dick, or Harry at the time (or should I say Adlai, Faddey, or Hozai at the time?), or to all of them.

  • Erp

    There isn’t one shred of evidence that anyone in the Roman Empire who knew about Christians expressed doubts that Jesus had existed and been executed. The doubts were on other points (e.g., was he the messiah, did he perform miracles or, if he did, was it by god or by demons, was he resurrected). Celsus, who is on the list as not mentioning Jesus, does mention Jesus (at least according to his Christian opponent who quote him since we don’t have his original works) but said that according to some Jesus was a bastard, the son of a Roman soldier who had an adulterous affair (or raped) Jesus’s mother. Celsus also said Jesus used sorcery. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus.html

  • gw

    Erp,

    As far as I know, and I am open to correction, not one
    Jewish sources from Ancient times ever claims that Jesus
    did not exist and was not crucified under Pilate.

    If you listen to what the Jews say in Acts when confronted by Stephen/Peter/Paul they never deny that Jesus lived
    only was He God’s Son – the Messiah. Now if you want to say that Acts is all fiction, then the writer is a genius and if a genius then why doesn’t Acts flow better/answer all our questions…

    History is like that, there are gaps where we would like to
    know more or wish our “hero” said or did this instead of
    what was recorded…for God’s sake Secret Service put some
    men up in the Texas School Book Depository…don’t let
    Ruby kill Oswald in the Dallas City police station, why did
    the guard for Lincoln go down and have drinks when he
    should have been there to stop Booth ?

  • Jim Jones

    So Cassie Bernall was a real saint who spoke up for her faith?

  • John Brooke

    And you point is ?

  • Jim Jones

    Philo of Alexandria was born in 25 BCE in Alexandria, Egypt. He died about 47-50 CE. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Jesus is said to have existed on earth. Philo spent time in Jerusalem where he had intimate connections with the royal house of Judaea. One of Alexander’s sons (and Philo’s nephews), Marcus, was married to Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, 39-40. After the exile of Herod Antipas – villain of the Jesus saga – Marcus ruled as King of the Jews, 41-44 AD. But nothing from Philo on Jesus, the other ‘King of the Jews’.

    Philo was living in or near Jerusalem when Jesus’ miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was there when the crucifixion with an earthquake, daytime darkness, and resurrection of the dead ‘saints’ took place and when Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days. He was there when Jesus ascended into heaven. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words by Philo are extant. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although Jesus, this Word incarnate, was walking around giving speeches and performing miracles, Philo wrote not one word about him or about any of this.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    From years of extensive study, Neal, I’d suggest you’re not far from valid insight. But, first I’ll suggest that none of your 3 options are very viable. All I’ll say right now is a couple things: First, it’s not any stretch to believe that, assuming Jesus did exist, he was a dynamic healer and perhaps exorcist, as such people are not that rare now and apparently were not then either (per many records, not all religious, both Jewish/Christian and non-Christian… Josephus for one, who was Jewish and clearly not Jewish-Christian though writing his later work around 90-95 CE).

    If one is a strict naturalist, no non-natural healings can or do happen…. This is unwarranted presupposing and does not stand up to massive evidence to the contrary, tho no one can fully explain the mechanisms of any of “faith healing”, “kundalini awakening” OR medically recognized “spontaneous remission” (this last coming from a naturalist Western physicians’ standpoint).

    Second, it IS evident that Jesus’ life and accomplishments, etc. were embellished and written to be fulfillment of prophesy (of Heb. Scripture) in the NT, as even repeatedly “confessed to” in Matthew. However, that does not necessarily imply that he did not exist or even was a true “nobody” in his lifetime. I do think the Gospels intentionally exaggerate the size and influence of his following, and certainly exaggerate if not fully invent the astounding “signs” around his death and claimed bodily resurrection… darkness; massive rock-splitting, grave-opening earthquake; heavy Temple veil torn in two top to bottom (obvious symbolism), etc. But countervailing evidence exists, even if it is primarily in the Bible… the best and earliest in the writings of Paul… that he DID have a following in his lifetime and DID see unusually fast, though probably not supernatural-style growth in the “Jesus movement” quickly following his death.

  • Jim Jones

    > or 3) he actually existed as claimed by Christians and was somehow ignored by over 40 contemporary writers.

    More than that.

    The Fable of the Christ

    — 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not

  • John Brooke

    Jim Jones,

    Just because a book or text does not mention someone proves nothing.

    25,000 books came out the year after JFK was killed, 97 % of them made no mention of JFK.

    Why do you make such specious arguments, surely you can do better ?

  • Jim Jones

    Philo of Alexandria was born in 25 BCE in Alexandria, Egypt. He died about 47-50 CE. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Jesus is said to have existed on earth. Philo spent time in Jerusalem where he had intimate connections with the royal house of Judaea. One of Alexander’s sons (and Philo’s nephews), Marcus, was married to Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, 39-40. After the exile of Herod Antipas – villain of the Jesus saga – Marcus ruled as King of the Jews, 41-44 AD. But nothing from Philo on Jesus, the other ‘King of the Jews’.

    Philo was living in or near Jerusalem when Jesus’ miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was there when the crucifixion with an earthquake, daytime darkness, and resurrection of the dead ‘saints’ took place and when Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days. He was there when Jesus ascended into heaven. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words by Philo are extant. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although Jesus, this Word incarnate, was walking around giving speeches and performing miracles, Philo wrote not one word about him or about any of this.

  • John Brooke

    Herod Antipas is held to have been removed by Caligula in 39 AD and sent to Gaul.

    Herod Agrippa then rose to power via his friendship with
    Caligula and Claudius until he dies in 44 AD.

    Now you seem to have either made a mistake or what you wrote is confusing upon first reading.
    King Agrippa’s full name is Marcus Julius Agrippa and his
    parents were Aristobulus IV and Berenice and was the grandson of Herod the Great.

    So when you refer to Marcus are you referring to Marcus Julius Agrippa or a Marcus who was a nephew of Philo,
    or are you claiming that Marcus Julius Agrippa was a nephew of Philo ?

    There is a Marcus Julius Alexander whose father, Alexander Alabarch was a wealthy man in Alexandria and had Philo as a brother and was a friend of Herod Agrippa I.
    This Marcus lived from 16 to 44 AD. He was married to
    Berenice the daughter of Herod Agrippa I

    So I am going to assume that you meant to say Agrippa
    or the Marcus you say ruled as King of the Jews is Marcus
    Agrippa.

    As for Philo, he lived in Alexandria, accounts say he visited
    Jerusalem at least once. If you have sources that say that
    Philo was living in Jerusalem when Christ was born and the Massacre of the Innocents took place, please provide them.
    If you have sources that said Philo was living in Jerusalem when Christ made his entry and was later crucified, please provide them.

    It is up to Philo what he wrote and we have lost many of his writings.

  • Robert Conner

    The Roman philosopher Celsus (as quoted by Origen), noted that Jesus belonged to a well known type, a category the Roman authorities were abundantly familiar with after the Bar Kochba war: the regional apocalyptic nationalist prophet who established his bona fides by wonder working. Josephus, Acts, and Contra Celsum mention several, Theudas and “the Egyptian” among others.

    The evidence of the gospels indicates pretty clearly that by the end of the 1st century most Christians were gentiles and their understanding of Jesus had changed; the exorcisms of Mark, for example, lose their more lurid details in Matthew and disappear entirely from John. Paul, it appears, never saw Jesus, knew little of his biography, never mentions his birth, childhood, or his miracles, and only rarely and obliquely references his teaching.

    One need hardly accept the ‘strong’ mythicist position that regards Jesus as a complete fiction to accept the basic premise: the Jesus of the gospels is quasi-historical at best and the Jesus of Ignatius (for example) is a delusion. More here:

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/302045278/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus

  • William J E Dempsey

    Seems like our Greco Roman scholars here should note the rejected but considerable influence of say Dionysus in 2 Mac. 5, ff..

  • John Brooke

    Explain your statement in further detail please.

  • gw

    The long essay, says nothing new and never doubts what the ancient critics say nor scrutinises what modern critics say.

    In terms of Christ – when Jesus is raised from the Dead the “New Age” has begun.
    The Gates of Heaven are opened and no one must remain in the realm of the dead
    waiting for the Messiah.

    All the other sects mentioned in the essay have long faded away – why is that ?

  • Robert Conner

    And new sects have arisen to take their place. Why is that? Are the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses any less weird than the gnostics?

    As for ancient and modern critics, scrutinize away, gw.

  • gw

    There are always new sects and always will be.
    People have free will.

    As for Modern Critics, do you know of any who really have
    anything new to say ? If you do, please let me know.

  • Robert Conner

    I’ll happily leave you to your New Age and Gates of Heaven on which you are clearly the Modern Expert here.

  • gw

    So I guess you are saying the Modern Critics have nothing new to say.

  • Robert Conner

    No, the Modern Critics have nothing much new to say. And neither do the Modern Apologists. Have a nice day.

  • gw

    Well Modern Apologists do have the finding of the
    corner stone with Pilate’s name on it and manuscript
    evidence of Gospel fragments from 125 AD.

  • Robert Conner

    No one, to the best of my knowledge, ever questioned the historicity of Pontius Pilate. So your point, whatever it may be, escapes me.

    Assuming you were to find the originals of all four canonical gospels, it would do absolutely nothing to establish the truth claims of Christianity. You’re near to embarrassing yourself.

  • gw

    The best of your knowledge is not sufficient.

    There were those who said every historical mention of
    Pilate by ancient historians was placed there by Christians.

    Since there are those who insist that the Gospels were not
    written until the 2nd Century, that would refute them.
    If it could be shown that the Gospels were all written before 70 AD, that would lead credence to their being written by those who knew Jesus or, in Luke’s case,
    of dependence upon those written accounts and eyewitnesses who were still alive.

  • Robert Conner

    I have a strong hunch that you’re deliberately missing the point: we can assume that every person named in the New Testament was a real, historical figure and that does nothing to advance the truth claims of Christianity. For example the historically verifiable existence of the Nazi elite has no bearing on the claims of National Socialism, etc, etc. The apologetic ploy of asserting the truth of the gospels because it can be proven that some or potentially all of the characters were real people is pathetic, indeed borderline stupid, and intellectually embarrassing. You’re in a hole. Stop digging.

  • gw

    There are several truth claims in Christianity:

    a) Jesus existed

    b) Jesus died for all of our sins

    c) Jesus rose from the dead

    d) Jesus is the Christ – the Saviour of the World.

    As a historian I see no reason to say that Jesus did not exist, once all the evidence has been examined.

    as for b, c, and d – those are matters of faith.

    If Jesus existed and if the early Church followed His teachings, that says something that cannot be denied.

    You may or may not accept the teachings of Jesus and you may or may not believe that He is the Son of

    the Living God, but you cannot deny that He changed history.

    What is true and what may not be true in the Gospels is not something you can prove or disprove.

    But you are not justified in just dismissing the claims they make out-of-hand, because you were not there.

    The existence of the Nazi’s says something about the economic/political/social situation of Germany

    in the late 1920’s/1930’s in Germany and it would be very odd if a Historian, because he did not care

    for what National Socialism said it stood for – ignored the individual and group histories of the Nazi Elite.

    You have dug your own hole, and yet you complain when I offer to dig down and help you out.

    Why ?

  • Robert Conner
  • John Brooke

    Well then don’t “Beg the Question”.

  • Jim Jones

    > As a historian I see no reason to say that Jesus did not exist,

    Can you see the slightest evidence to prove he did?

  • John Brooke

    Gospels
    Book of Acts
    Letters of New Testament
    Historicity of Gospels
    Faith of Christians
    Condemnations of Jesus by 1st Century Jews.
    Roman Historians on Christians/Jesus.

  • Jim Jones

    Where can I read these? How do they describe Jesus? How tall was he? Was he dark skinned? Other features?

  • John Brooke

    How tall was Julius Caesar, Alexander…

  • Jim Jones

    How many people worship those daily?

  • John Brooke

    I guess their message did not move too many people.

  • Jim Jones

    If I could show you who wrote all of the Harry Potter novels, might I expect flying schoolboys in Scotland?

  • John Brooke

    That is up to you to believe or not.

  • Jim Jones

    > People have free will.

    But not always free choice.

  • John Brooke

    They can choose, whether their choice can be carried out or not is another questions.

  • Jim Jones

    > All the other sects mentioned in the essay have long faded away – why is that?

    Because Christians have always been just as willing to murder all opposition as Muslims are today. It’s just that we won’t let them any more.

  • John Brooke

    You don’t know your history.

  • Jim Jones

    Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who
    wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible
    (or any other gospels).

    That’s all.

  • John Brooke

    Pontius Pilate
    John the Baptist
    Herod Antipas
    Annas the former High Priest
    Caiaphas the High Priest

  • Jim Jones

    Where can I read these? How do they describe Jesus? How tall was he? Was he dark skinned?

  • John Brooke

    Not what you asked.

  • Jim Jones

    Actually, exactly what I asked. What part of “who
    wrote about the event”
    did you fail to understand?

  • John Brooke

    Mark, Matthew, John, Peter, James.

  • Jim Jones

    Where is their existence documented outside of the bible or other gospels? What are their real names? And who wrote ‘their’ gospels?

  • John Brooke

    They wrote “their” gospels.
    Mentioned by early Christians.

  • Jim Jones

    Bwahaha!

    I assumed from your comments you had at least a passing knowledge of Christianity. Clearly you know nothing. Here’s some basic information so you don’t look so foolish in future.

    John of Patmos almost certainly wrote Revelation. Paul probably wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Philemon since they share an author. A couple more could be included since they may have been composed under Paul’s direction. However every other epistle has a different author – these are fakes.

    And all the other books have no known author or authors, except that Luke and Acts share an author – also unknown.

  • John Brooke

    Jim,

    I know nothing of Christianity is your claim.

    Let us look at the “exactitudes” you present:

    …Almost certainly wrote Revelation and what is your source for that and what is their evidence…were they
    there when Revelation was written ?

    Paul probably…

    …may have been composed…

    However, ever other epistle has a different author – these
    are fakes…

    and how does whomever wrote the passage you quote
    know these things – were they there when the Letters were
    written…

    Whom are you quoting ?

    The Gospels are attributed to Mark/Luke/Matthew and John by early Christians – you may doubt it, whomever you quoted may doubt it, but I will stand with the Early Christians.

    By the way how many Graduate Courses have you taken on the New Testament/Early Church/Old Testament/In Greek, Aramaic, Eastern Syriac, Western Syriac, Latin,
    Armenian…

  • Jim Jones

    Stop, dude. Everyone is laughing at you.

  • John Brooke

    If you can’t defend your views, your quotes and say where they come from, just admit
    you don’t really know what you are talking about.

  • Jim Jones

    Bloviating isn’t helping your case. Read a book like WHO WROTE THE BIBLE? by Richard Elliott Friedman so you don’t sound like a lunatic ranting at people who do know what they are talking about.

    Here are some reviews of his book:

    Friedman has gone much further than other scholars in analyzing the identity of the Biblical authors. Provocative. Promises to rekindle heated debate about the Good Book’s origins.
    U.S. News & World Report

    One of the most dramatic reappraisals of the Old Testament in recent times.
    The Independent, London

    There is no other book quite like this one. It may well be unique. …brilliantly presented…
    Los Angeles Times

    …intriguing… thought provoking… enjoyable… If you have ever thought biblical scholarship as dry as dust, then join detective Friedman as he tracks down his elusive authors. He has an eye for clues the average reader passes over unnoticed, and a lively style illumined by apt contemporary allusions.
    New York Times

    A fascinating and brilliant book, full of new insights and fresh discoveries. Reads like a detective story.
    Frank Moore Cross, Hancock Professor of Hebrew & Other Oriental Languages, Harvard University

    What is remarkable about this book is that Friedman manages to do a number of things simultaneously and well. It renders the Bible both more interesting and more helpful in dealing with the complex issues of our time.
    Toronto Globe and Mail

  • John Brooke

    So you admit you are just quoting.
    So you did no original research.
    So you really are not an authority.

    Friedman was not there when the Old Testament was written.
    Much of what he writes is a re-hash of older theories.
    Friedman was not there when the Gospels were written.

    I trust the traditions of the Early Church.

  • John Brooke

    It is Bible Crit Lite made for the general public and hardly stands up to scrutiny.

  • Jim Jones

    It’s vastly better informed than you. Your ignorance is awe inspiring. It’s almost as if you are playing the gullible idiot.

  • John Brooke

    No, Jim,
    No he is not.
    I know far more about the New Testament than Friedman.

  • John Brooke

    Why do they need existence documented outside the Bible ?
    Their testimony is sufficient.

  • Jim Jones

    The gospels and most of the epistles are works of fiction So is the entire OT. The fact that you have failed to find even one person who meets the requirements is more proof of this. In 2,000 years, no one ever has.

    The entire book is nonsense.

  • John Brooke

    Funny how nothing of major historical significance has been refuted concerning the accounts in the Gospels.
    Even Jewish sources, which are anti-Christian do not refute the Gospels.

    Why do you make such grand pronouncements given you know so little ?

    The entire Old Testament is not fiction.
    We know more about the History of Palestine from the
    Old Testament than any other archeological/ancient texts.

    Your whole argument is non-sensical.

    By the way, have you told me your educational background
    which makes you such an expert ?

  • Jim Jones

    When I read your twaddle, the theme from *The Twilight Zone* plays in my head.

  • John Brooke

    Good.
    You are making progress.
    By the way what is your background in the study of the Bible and the History of the land of Palestine…

  • John Brooke

    Which says much about you.

  • Jim Jones

    Yes. I know nonsense when I hear it and it’s all you post.

  • John Brooke

    Just because you cannot face what someone tells you
    why do you call it nonsense ?

  • Jim Jones

    I can face anything you have. But 8 words say it all: “There was no Jesus, there is no god”.

    That’s a universal truth.

  • John Brooke

    Jim,
    There was a Jesus, much more evidence for his existence than yours, and as for God, prove there is no God.

  • Jim Jones

    > prove there is no God.

    You claim there are some of these things – but you can’t even define what it is.

    I could claim there’s a Krewdlingstock – claims are easy, proof is hard.

  • John Brooke

    You made the claim, prove what you claim.

  • Jim Jones

    Prove there’s a god – or anything unreal.

  • John Brooke

    The world makes sense.
    Only a God could make such a world.

  • Jim Jones

    This planet is a microscopic nothing in the universe. Worlds like this are created and destroyed all the time. Your god is as narrow as your mind since he is nothing but a foolish creation of your mind.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/780f42e35cf4b56dba2b462a3ea202bef1db2f0c9ba3553c29b696f5aea9e55b.jpg

  • John Brooke

    How odd your responses are.

    I did not create the notion of the Creator nor did I create
    the notion of the God of Israel and that Jesus is the only
    Son of God.

    You assign your misconceptions without any real sense of
    understanding.

    All the more of a miracle that we exist in our “nearly microscopic nothing” in the Universe created by God.

  • Jim Jones

    > I did not create the notion of the Creator

    Of course not. That is childish nonsense invented millennia ago by ignorant peoples.

    > nor did I create the notion of the God of Israel

    Invented by the Egyptians.

    > and that Jesus is the only Son of God.

    Invented by Greeks.

    Go read the Harry Potter books. They’re vastly better written and far, far more moral.

  • John Brooke

    Jim,

    What makes you so wiser than those who came before us.
    Can you fully explain how this world to be ?

    Where is your evidence that YHWH was invented by the Egyptians ?

    And what Greeks were those ?

  • Jim Jones

    > What makes you so wiser than those who came before us.

    Just wiser than you and other gullible people. Skeptics have existed since men learned to lie.

    > Can you fully explain how this world to be ?

    See Wikipedia. BTW, why doesn’t the bible mention the Theia impact? Didn’t your ‘god’ know that happened?

    > Where is your evidence that YHWH was invented by the Egyptians ?

    Who came up with the monotheism which was copied by the Jews and led to their alterations to their gods pantheon?

    > And what Greeks were those?

    The ones who wrote the nonsensical gospels and before that came up with the urban myth of ‘Jesus’.

  • John Brooke

    Of which you have no proof.

  • John Brooke

    No, it is not nonsense.
    Billions of believers know better than you.
    Now what you write – is that mainly nonsense…

  • Jim Jones

    > Billions of believers know better than you.

    No, very few Christians know anything about their religion except for the fairy tales they heard as children.

  • John Brooke

    And yet those who knew Christ preached His message though persecuted and martyred and have handed down the faith.