Washington and Jefferson: Jesus Mythicists?

Believe it or not, I’d never heard of DM Murdock until a few days ago. The name seemed vaguely familiar, but it could have been the name of an actor or musician for all I knew. Then I saw a message she sent Aron Ra on Facebook and followed the link she provided. She wrote to him:

Hi there, Aron Ra!

I think you would really like my attached article about Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, including the “hidden” FF Thomas Paine. It contains absolutely fascinating and important information, well cited as usual. Did you know that Jefferson translated a famous French mythicist work that also influenced Napoleon? The author, Napoleon’s tutor and senator Count Volney, was friends with George Washington also and was chased out of the U.S. for being an “infidel,” i.e., atheist. At some point, Jefferson too was deemed “infidel” and “atheist.” One would think this information would be of great interest to historians of atheism as well.

Moreover, as you know too well, Christians are always attempting to make Christians of the Founding Fathers, so they can claim the U.S. is a “Christian country.” Hence, it would be highly germane to factor in this knowledge about Jefferson’s relationship to a very famous Jesus mythicist.

As someone with an enormous interest in the religious views of the founders, especially Jefferson, I followed the link to an article she wrote on the subject in which she argues, or at least strongly implies, that George Washington, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were Jesus mythicists — that is, that they believed that Jesus was a completely fictional character who never existed in the real world at all (as opposed to what I think is the consensus among historians, which is that he was a real person whose story was heavily mythologized, particularly by borrowing earlier myths from the Ancient Near East). I think the case she makes is pretty weak, to say the least. She begins with a quote from Paine:

“The fable of Christ and his twelve apostles…is a parody of the sun and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, copied from the ancient religions of the Eastern world…. Every thing told of Christ has reference to the sun. His reported resurrection is at sunrise, and that on the first day of the week; that is, on the day anciently dedicated to the sun, and from thence called Sunday…”

It’s an accurate quote, from a letter he wrote in the early 1800s, but it does not support the notion that Paine was a mythicist. This is a quote that is consistent with both mythicism and what I’ll call the Standard Position (or SP, from now on). An advocate of both the SP and mythicism could have made this statement. Was Paine arguing that Jesus never existed at all or was he arguing that that those who created the religion of Christianity in the early days borrowed from sun god myths to flesh out the story and turn the man into a divine figure? Let’s ask Paine himself, who wrote this in the very first chapter of Age of Reason:

NOTHING that is here said can apply, even with the most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality had been preached by Confucius, and by some of the Greek philosophers, many years before, by the Quakers since, and by many good men in all ages, it has not been exceeded by any.

Jesus Christ wrote no account of himself, of his birth, parentage, or anything else. Not a line of what is called the New Testament is of his writing. The history of him is altogether the work of other people; and as to the account given of his resurrection and ascension, it was the necessary counterpart to the story of his birth. His historians, having brought him into the world in a supernatural manner, were obliged to take him out again in the same manner, or the first part of the story must have fallen to the ground…

That such a person as Jesus Christ existed, and that he was crucified, which was the mode of execution at that day, are historical relations strictly within the limits of probability. He preached most excellent morality, and the equality of man; but he preached also against the corruptions and avarice of the Jewish priests, and this brought upon him the hatred and vengeance of the whole order of priest-hood. The accusation which those priests brought against him was that of sedition and conspiracy against the Roman government, to which the Jews were then subject and tributary; and it is not improbable that the Roman government might have some secret apprehension of the effects of his doctrine as well as the Jewish priests; neither is it improbable that Jesus Christ had in contemplation the delivery of the Jewish nation from the bondage of the Romans. Between the two, however, this virtuous reformer and revolutionist lost his life.

This leaves very little doubt that Paine believed in a real, human Jesus who lived in first century Palestine, who built a following and was put to death, but who also rejected all of the religious mythology that had been built upon those slim facts and turned into a religion. This is identical to the SP on the matter among non-Christian historians today. It certainly is not Jesus mythicism.

The second quote at the beginning of the article is from Jefferson:

“…the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

Again, the quote is authentic. It comes from one of the remarkable series of letters written between Jefferson and John Adams in the 13 years before they died (on the same day, July 4, 1826). But it does not indicate mythicism at all, especially in light of the many other statements Jefferson made on the subject in his private letters. Jefferson was a unitarian, as was Adams. They both believed the trinity to be utter nonsense that no intelligent man could believe. That does not mean that they did not think an actual Jesus existed. Thus Jefferson’s famous letter to Benjamin Rush, which was combined with a document he had put together that he titled “Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus.” It later became known as the Jefferson Bible. To Rush, he said:

To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.

It could hardly be more clear that Jefferson believed in a real Jesus, a human being rather than the son of God. And he believed that Jesus was a great ethical philosopher. He further wrote:

In this state of things among the Jews, Jesus appeared. His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent. He was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, and of the sublimest eloquence…

They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian Sophist (Plato), frittering them into subtilties and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

At this point, it would be folly to assert that Jefferson did not believe in a real, human Jesus who was the basis for Christianity. And the case Murdock makes is astonishingly weak. The argument boils down to this: Jefferson and Washington knew a man, Count Volney, who was a mythicist. Seriously, that’s about all she has.

Verifying the first contention in the “Virginia” article–and that he is the author of same–in Barons of the Potomack and the Rappahannock (182), Conway writes about Volney:

In the last century a wayfarer appeared in some of the Virginia villages and was hospitably received, on the strength of a note he bore in the following words:

“The historian and philosopher Volney needs no recommendation from–G. Washington.”

The implication here is that the mysterious and controversial Count had been introduced to American society by none other than George Washington himself…

In 1795, Count Volney traveled to the United States with the intention of settling in America, and was welcomed by President George Washington personally. At his meeting with Washington, Volney recounted to the amazement of the Americans the exact moves of Napoleon’s military campaigns as they were happening, proving that he knew the French leader well. (Wilson, 306)

The famed globetrotter Volney’s travel guides to the East could be found in Washington’s private library. (Longmore, 221) Also listed in the catalogue of the Washington Collection at the Boston Athenaeum is Volney’s letter to the hostile American theologian Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), regarding a derisive pamphlet the minister had written against Volney’s work. (Griffin, 217)

The Athenaeum collection, which comprises part of Washington’s library from his home at Mount Vernon, also contains Priestley’s various letters to Volney in rebuttal. (Griffin, 170) The presence of these letters in his library demonstrates that Washington was aware of this controversy, which significantly swirled around Volney’s mythicism, as concerned his “conflating the God of Moses with pagan gods.” (Scholfield, 377) Moreover, in the history section of the Athenaeum collection we discover that Washington also possessed a copy of Volney’s The Ruins of Empires, in which the controversial thesis of Jesus mythicism is laid plain. (Griffin, 515)

In consideration of these facts, it is probable that Washington was cognizant of Volney’s arguments in favor of mythicism, even if he did not embrace them fully or publicly.

Okay, so Washington knew him. And of Franklin and Jefferson:

Unsurprisingly considering the exalted company he kept, but highly interesting nonetheless, Volney was also friends with American Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), a known irreverent rabblerouser whom the Count encountered in France:

At Madame Helvétius’s home at Auteuil, he met Benjamin Franklin, then ambassador of the new United States to France, who decisively influenced his views on morality and introduced him to the next ambassador, Thomas Jefferson. (Leopold, 9)

Here we learn that the young Volney had made the acquaintance of not only Franklin, sometime between 1776 and 1780, but also Thomas Jefferson, before the Count traveled to America. In Volney’s subsequent correspondence with Franklin (Wilson, 306), the two evidently discussed philosophy, but Volney’s book on mythicism was not published until one year after Franklin’s death…

Having met in France, between 1790 and 1806 Jefferson and Volney corresponded at least 30 times, which is prolific in consideration of the awkwardness and inconvenience of the medium of the day. During his sojourn in America between 1795 and 1798, Volney visited Jefferson at Monticello. (Leopold, 4) In this regard, in his letter of June 12, 1796 to then-Colonel James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth President of the United States and author of the Monroe Doctrine, Jefferson casually remarks, “Volney is with me at present. He is on his way to the Illinois.” (Jefferson 1829, 335) Volney needs no introduction to Monroe, and it is obvious that he is well known among the American elite of the time.

She goes on to note that Jefferson owned several books written by Volney and at one point even translated one of them from French to English. In light of Jefferson’s own clear statements of his belief in a real, human Jesus, it’s kind of baffling to me that anyone could consider this evidence that Jefferson was a mythicist. I own a lot of books and know many people I do not agree with. Nearly everyone does. This is evidence of absolutely nothing. The case made here is extremely weak and the only way someone could believe that this “evidence” indicates that these men were mythicists is by ignoring their own words and writings on the subject.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • llewelly

    Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that serious Jesus Mythicists like Richard Carrier and Robert Price have frequently argued that DM Murdock is a crank. They’ve pointed out tons of flaws in Murdock’s ideas.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Believe it or not, I’d never heard of DM Murdock until a few days ago. The name seemed vaguely familiar, but it could have been the name of an actor or musician for all I knew.

    She’s H.M. Murdock’s sister.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … what I think is the consensus among historians, which is that he was a real person whose story was heavily mythologized…

    If by “consensus” our esteemed host means “unanimity of opinion”, he should consider reading some recent books by one Richard Carrier – I hear he has a blog somewhere, too!

  • thompjs

    The really serious historical and textual criticism of the Bible didn’t occur until late 1800’s.

    I wonder if they knew that we have none of the original manuscripts, and in the New Testament there are forgeries and how far after Christ’s death these writings appear.

  • U Frood

    Though once you start assuming that the supernatural parts of the Gospel were made up to sell the religion, you also have no way of knowing how much of the morality and teachings attributed to this Jesus fellow were things he actually said and how much was added by the same people who invented the resurrection story (and how much of historical Jesus’s teachings and words were dropped because they didn’t fit the message the early Christians wanted)

  • zippythepinhead

    Wow, this is a really fascinating topic. Thank you Ed for bringing it up and clarifying the facts.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Believe it or not, I’d never heard of DM Murdock until a few days ago.

    It is a real shame. She is awesome. Just last week we had a run where Jefferson and Paine ran into a beholder! Then we fought some kobolds and as we ran away from the displacer beast. We all ended up falling into a well and drowning. But it was the most fun, and she was the best DM we ever had!!

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    theschwa “It is a real shame. She is awesome.”

    Hardly. She killed my character with an NPC cleric who wielded an edged weapon. Come on!

  • gshelley

    Richard Carrier certainly doesn’t think much of her – they have something of a “feud” and she previously implied she would refuse to say anything positive about his recent book because of the way he has been very dismissive of her

    I’m not sure Price is so negative, I have seen several positive quotes by him

    There are good arguments to be made for a mythical Jesus (and possibly good ones for a historical Jesus, but I haven’t seen them), but even though she doesn’t seem as bad as Carrier argues, I don’t think she makes many of them

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Modus (8): “Hardly. She killed my character with an NPC cleric who wielded an edged weapon. Come on!”

    She IS good. She has used a similar character in our adventures. That NPC was actually a clerical fighter. He wielded the Burning Nuanced 2-Handed Broadsword of Accounts Receivable. Quite formidable.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    First-Century House Found in Nazareth: Did Jesus Live There?

    Reading in the United Kingdom, dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus’ time, believed Jesus was brought up.

    People centuries later believed that Jesus lived there? That sounds pretty conclusive to me.

    One odd thing: it’s a stone and mortar house. Wouldn’t a carpenter be more likely to live in a wooden house?

  • raven

    She’s H.M. Murdock’s sister.

    And related to Rupert Morlock, the owner of Fox NoNews and the WSJ. (They changed their last name slightly for plausible deniability.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches Ed Brayton

    Pierce Butler wrote:

    If by “consensus” our esteemed host means “unanimity of opinion”, he should consider reading some recent books by one Richard Carrier – I hear he has a blog somewhere, too!

    No, I don’t mean unanimity. I mean that this is the standard position, while mythicism is the upstart position seeking to overturn it. Of course I know that Richard is a mythicist (and I believe Aron Ra is too).

  • moarscienceplz

    If by “consensus” our esteemed host means “unanimity of opinion”, he should consider reading some recent books by one Richard Carrier – I hear he has a blog somewhere, too!

    Carrier freely admits that mythicism is very much a minority view even among those historians he himself considers to be serious scholars.

    Of course, the question is just how much fiction you can add to a historical figure’s story before it deserves to be considered a fictional account. We know Santa Claus was based partly on Nikolaos of Myra, a real person, but all the aspects of Santa Claus that a child would consider important – that he has a workshop full of toymaking elves, that he flies all over the world delivering toys, that he is still alive and active today, are definitely not true of Nikolaos, so it’s pretty silly to claim that learning about Santa Claus would tell you anything significant about the real Bishop of Myra.

  • CJO, egregious by any standard

    the consensus among historians, which is that he was a real person whose story was heavily mythologized

    Few whose primary scholarly pursuit is history have taken a close look at the issue. The consensus is as you say, but it holds among the field of experts who routinely write books and articles on the subject of the historical Jesus: biblical scholars. It should be noted that many academics who hold positions in the discipline work at secular institutions and some few, like Bart Ehrman, are not even Christians. But, in my opinion, part of the weight the consensus carries is a product of the biases of the field, which outside of Europe (that is, in Anglo-American scholarship) has remained beholden to the traditions of the discipline when it was exclusively pursued by theologians and other academics with seminary training.

    Historians per se who venture to uphold the consensus do so usually in passing and often defer to their colleagues in biblical and religious studies. And it’s not a topic most academic historians are going to do a whole lot of work on: there is no primary evidence and the secondary sources have been the province of biblical-critical scholars for so long and so productive of conflicting reconstructions that it’s a low potential payoff for a historian. You’re going to piss off an entrenched interest group no matter what you say, and the first criticism is that you’re going to get is you lack expertise in the texts that constitute the only evidence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thecoloursociety Drewzilla

    I find it odd that Paine would have gone to pains (sorry) to point out:

    Jesus Christ wrote no account of himself, of his birth, parentage, or anything else. Not a line of what is called the New Testament is of his writing. The history of him is altogether the work of other people;

    If his philosophy were indeed so outrageously genius, then surely it is a selfish thing to have not personally written his own philosophy down. Leaving it up to random hangers on to divine his very thoughts sounds like a terrible idea, especially if his ideas were so above that of other men. Imagine if Paine himself had not written down his thoughts and instead relied on those around him to write down what they thought of him…

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    If by “consensus” our esteemed host means “unanimity of opinion”, he should consider reading some recent books by one Richard Carrier – I hear he has a blog somewhere, too!

    That’s not what consensus usually means. It just means widespread agreement, not unanimity.

    My understanding is that Carrier’s view is heterodox. Most historians think that Jesus was a real person, although I don’t see how it makes much difference. And what Jefferson or other Founders thought about the issue is interesting, but to my mind it has no serious implications for the relationship between church and state (government enforced religion would be just as wrong had Jefferson been a bible-thumping firebrand).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    Carrier’s case, in the version I’ve read, starts with a number of (presumably inductively derived) premises, which he then uses to constructive his elaborate deductive structure.

    Most of these premises are connected with Paul’s adoptionism–his belief that baptized Christians are adopted sons of God.

    Without prior argument, Carrier repeatedly declares that premises are virtually certain. That procedure should always make someone suspicious, in my view.

    Among these propositions are 2 and 3: “The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God” and “The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.” An implied premise here is that Paul’s hearers and readers were uniformly in agreement with him when he expressed adoptionist views (and Carrier insisted on the truth of this unstated premise in the discussion I had with him).

    The problem should be pretty clear: we have no evidence that Paul’s adoptionism was shared by all of (let alone most of) Paul’s Christian contemporaries–despite Carrier’s insistence to the contrary.

    Therefore, we have no evidence that Christians in Paul’s day must have understood “brother of the Lord” to mean “adoptive brother of the Lord”, i.e. a theological concept rather than a statement of blood relation.

    I further pointed out in my discussion with Carrier that the word kyrios is not simply fungible with “Jesus,” as it’s also used as a title for God the Father. This non-fungibility may be the reason that we don’t find the phrase “brother of the Lord” in Paul’s unambiguous expressions of adoptionism; nor do we find it in that probably post-Pauline adoptionist document, the Letter to the Hebrews. Paul instead speaks of Chistians as “co-heirs of Jesus.” In the context of adoptionism, I’m tempted to say it’s virtually certain that Christians would have found “brother of the Lord” confusingly ambiguous, or even blasphemous

    Throw in Carrier’s implausible “reading in” of meaning in a crucial text of First Cornthians, and I find Carrier’s position to be utterly unconvincing.

    Throw in his truly wondrous level of self-assurance, and I ask myself: Is he serious?

    At any event, I’m not prepared to put Carrier much higher than D.M. Murdock.

  • samgardner

    relations strictly within the limits of probability

    I think I read this a little differently from you — while it doesn’t seem that Paine was willing to determine that Jesus didn’t exist, I’m not so sure he was convinced he did. Lots of things that never happened ate “within the limits of probability”.

    Still, it would be wrong to say from this cautionary statement that Paine was a “mythicist”.

  • Pseudonym

    @aaronbaker

    Without prior argument, Carrier repeatedly declares that premises are virtually certain.

    Carrier has engaged in some bizarre and dubious claims in his time, and not just Bayes’ Theorem crankery. Having said that, he has produced the first ever academic argument for mythicism which passed peer review last year. Clearing the first hurdle is itself an achievement (i.e. producing something interesting enough that the reviewers thought it was worth putting out there), and much kudos is due to Carrier for this.

    Of course, as the title of the book says, it’s “why we might have reason to doubt”. That’s a far more conservative claim than “all previous historians just took it for granted and they’ll be Expelled if they rock the orthodoxy” (which is just as ridiculous and counter-factual as when Ben Stein said it).

    Throw in Carrier’s implausible “reading in” of meaning in a crucial text of First Cornthians, and I find Carrier’s position to be utterly unconvincing.

    It’s a little early to tell, but the rumblings from mainstream academic historians seems to be that Carrier might have spotted a couple of holes in the current family of theories. Nonetheless, there’s really nothing in here which will change the minds of all those who have seriously and impartially studied all the evidence that we have.

    So it wouldn’t surprise me if Carrier’s book ends up slightly modifying some details around the current academic consensus, but I do agree that his main thesis is unconvincing. At the moment, the claim that Jesus didn’t exist isn’t unthinkable, but it’s not even slightly likely.

  • Erp

    The consensus as others have pointed out is that Jesus existed and that includes Christian, Jewish, and atheist scholars in the field (Murdock btw is not a scholar in the field, she is viewed by historians much like a young earth creationist is viewed by biologists). It is not as though these scholars are just accepting the New Testament. The consensus also is that the birth narratives are fictions and that a physical resurrection is a matter of faith (for those who believe in it) not history (though that the early Christians did believe he was resurrected is a matter of history).

  • Alex

    Of course, the question is just how much fiction you can add to a historical figure’s story before it deserves to be considered a fictional account.

    ^ Very much this. It is absolutely meaningless to claim a historical Jesus existed if you don’t exactly provide the information where you draw the line in your definition. Anyone who simply makes a broad yes/no statement about it is talking rubbish.

    Is it enough that some bloke called Jesus lived somewhere in the region? Obviously not, because that’s trivially true, so where do you go from there?

  • anubisprime

    Whether or not the founders were certified jeebus fans is neither here nor there in the scheme of things..what does matter is how the right wing jeebus droolers twist and distort anything they are quoted as saying, and what has not actually been said by various founders they tend to make up.

    That is the issue, even if the founding members were devout in their delusional penchants they seem not to have introduced that into the early debates surrounding the founding structure they authored….which is not the tall tales that the religiotards of today like to boast.

    At least Murdock tried to string her narrative together using bonafide documentation and historical evidence, whether her conclusion is justified or not, it was not exactly made up out of thin air, say what you will and accept or not but the fact is she is no Barton.

    I would say it is at least an interesting take, maybe no more then that, but it is a relevant question considering the social environment we all inhabit today.

    Anything that challenges the hyperbola and downright fatuous claims of the devout and ambitious is important if not exactly a knockout blow, it introduces an avenue, and that can only be welcomed and at least the opposition to reality do not have center stage in the debate unopposed.

  • anubisprime

    As for the historical Jesus…well I have read and heard or indeed seen nothing to nail the bastard down to that time period, the truth is usually a lot stranger then the fiction.

    I would contend that the character of Jesus is actually a compendium of various thinkers and activists at the time of the Roman occupation. all rolled together into one superhero by Paul among others.

    The lack of supporting documentation from the roman archives of the time seem to make no mention of one super-dooper pain in the ass that needed nailing to a tree. and certainly very little about a zombie stumbling around three days after execution…such momentous news would have raised more then a few eyebrows back then don’t ya think?

  • dingojack

    anubisprime — “As for the historical Jesus…well I have read and heard or indeed seen nothing to nail the bastard down to that time period…”

    Well except that whole cross-thingy.

    😉 Dingo

  • dingojack

    Ed — “Believe it or not, I’d never heard of DM Murdock until a few days ago. ”

    So – not the bass player in the Gorillaz, then?

    Dingo

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    dingo

    Though that was more nailed up than down…

  • Alex

    Let’s not get hung up on technicalities here 😛

  • gshelley

    The difficulty with assessing Carrier’s claims about what Paul meant is that without a good understanding of the cultural context, and knowledge of ancient Greek, this is virtually impossibly, so it comes down to trusting the experts.

    Outside of this, the claims about the evidence for the historical Jesus are easier to assess – Most secular people should be able to agree there is nothing useful outside the bible, and that the Gospels are largely based on re-telling Old Testament stories, leaving them useless as historical evidence until someone comes up with a better way of “the historical elements than “well, that bit doesn’t seem to be based on anything I can see”. This really leaves Acts, the epistles and the development of Christianity as the evidence. Acts seemed to me to be one of the weaker sections in Carrier’s book. Clearly a lot of it is fiction, but I don’t know we can be as confident as with the Gospels, the Epistles is beyond my ability to judge, though most of the refutations of Carrier have been on the level of “nuh uh” or even “well, I think the traditional understanding is more likely” (with some just outright claiming his Greek is wrong), which really just leaves the idea that the first Gospel Mark showed Jesus as a man transformed into the son of God and this developed over time into a barely human Jesus in John, which is apparently contrary to what we would expect

  • anubisprime

    dingojack@ 25

    Well except that whole cross-thingy

    Even that is open to debate …was it a + of xtian mythology or was it an X that apparently was the Roman way… no one seems sure except the early xtians whom decided to have their hero be nailed to a + for some reason…maybe made the bodily genuflecting easier I ‘m not sure?

    I am not contending that no one met a gruesome end suffocating on such a device, but rather doubt it was just the one character as depicted by writers recalling events fifty to a few hundred yrs down the road.

    As has happened with the likes of Robin Hood and tales of Arthur it seems more probable that several contemporary figures from way back in days of yore had some residual repute which lingered in the populations psyche which ended when they had bits of their reality grafted on to one whole fantasy…jus’sayin!

  • dingojack

    The earliest known image of a crucifixion (dating from the Emperorship of either Trajan or Hadrian) shows the victim, a women identified as Alkimila, on a tau-shaped cross (crux commissa). [see Cook, John Granger (2012). “Crucifixion as Spectacle in Roman Campania”. Novum Testamentum 54 (1): 60–100, esp. 92–98.]

    The Epistle of Barnabas suggests a tau-shaped cross too (possibly written about 35 – 100 years after Jesus’ crucifixion).

    Dingo

  • Nick Gotts

    You’re going to piss off an entrenched interest group no matter what you say -CJO@15

    Hmm, I’d have thought that would be a feature rather than a bug for a lot of ambitious scholars!

  • Nick Gotts

    I am not contending that no one met a gruesome end suffocating on such a device, but rather doubt it was just the one character as depicted by writers recalling events fifty to a few hundred yrs down the road. – anubisprime@31

    Er, what??? Who has ever suggested that? AFAIK, it’s historical consensus that crucxifixion was the standard Roman punishment for sedition. Six thousand were reportedly crucified after Spartacus’s rebellion was suppressed in 71 BCE.

  • CJO, egregious by any standard

    I’d have thought that would be a feature rather than a bug for a lot of ambitious scholars!

    Sure, within the guild of biblical scholars, they all seem to have a gentleman’s agreement where they write blurbs for the back of each other’s books “A startling new investigation of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth!” And then turn around and write their own in direct contradiction of whatever it was. They’re collectively spinning their wheels intellectually while selling books that say roughly the same thing, year after year.

    I’m saying, if an academic historian were to intrude on this happy little arrangement he or she would have to come to equivocal conclusions as there’s not enough of the kind of evidence that such investigation needs to be more conclusive, and whatever tentative answers they did propose would inevitably be anathema to one or another camp. So they’d be in the position of not really even being able to claim any sort of breakthrough –presumably the goal that would make controversy your “feature”– while taking a lot of flak for lack of expertise with the texts and for generally trespassing on the biblical studies guild’s turf. The kind of payoff an “ambitious scholar” is looking for is just not there for the taking, in the absence of new texts or some unforeseen archaeological discovery.

  • cjcolucci

    I’m not sure that professional historians could bring anything to the Jesus: Fact or Fiction? party that biblical scholars don’t. The sources of any value on whether Jesus existed can be read in a matter of days. The sources other than the Bible and other early Christian documents can be read in minutes. The trained historian would not expect to find contemporaneous bureaucratic records of the existence of anyone who was, in worldly terms, as obscure as Jesus, and, so far, nobody has found any. (Anti-Stratfordians often cite the paucity of documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s existence when what is really surprising that there is as much as there is for someone so unimportant. How much better attested is the existence of his competitor playwrights?) Maybe someday a scroll will turn up listing everyone who was executed in Jerusalem c. 30 BCE, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @aaronbaker says

    [Carrier claims:] The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God

    Lolwut? I admit that I’m only 2/3s of the way through the book, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you sure you’re talking about the Richard Carrier on FreeThoughtBlogs?

    Could you offer a specific citation please?

  • Hoosier X

    Misstating Carrier’s claims is very common with his critics.

    You’ll get used to it. There should be a drinking contest.

    “There’s another appeal to authority. Everybody take a drink.”

  • Pseudonym

    @anubisprime

    Anything that challenges the hyperbola and downright fatuous claims of the devout and ambitious is important if not exactly a knockout blow, it introduces an avenue, and that can only be welcomed and at least the opposition to reality do not have center stage in the debate unopposed.

    I can’t disagree more.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for challenging the claims of fundamentalists, but I am very much against fighting certain nonsense with likely nonsense. I would not use Lamarck to challenge creationists, even though Lamarck does challenge creationists.

  • taber

    C’mon Ed, for someone who supposedly has “an enormous interest in the religious views of the founders” your response really just comes off as a knee-jerk reaction. But why, because of the article or because of the author or because you believe in an historical Jesus?

    You act as if the author made outrageous claims but, she didn’t. In fact, the title of her article raises the question “Were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson Jesus Mythicists?” she even says, “… evidence that at least a couple of the American Founding Fathers appear to have entertained the ideas of Jesus mythicism”

    You admitted that the quotes were accurate but rather than show any interest at all you just did a hand waving dismissal of the whole thing. Why? The article was well written and the quotes were accurate and it contained information you won’t find anywhere else so, what gives?

    I guess these guys were right in their response, that you should probably stick with comedy.

    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=29557#p29557

  • taber

    llewelly “Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that serious Jesus Mythicists like Richard Carrier and Robert Price have frequently argued that DM Murdock is a crank. They’ve pointed out tons of flaws in Murdock’s ideas.”

    Scholars who’ve actually read her work are supportive of it:

    “…In recent months or over the last year or so I have interviewed Frank Zindler and Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald and Robert Price all on the issue of mythicism … when I spoke to these people I asked for their expertise collectively and what I got, especially from Fitzgerald and Robert Price, was that we should be speaking to tonights guest D.M. Murdock, author of ‘Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver’.”

    – Aron Ra

    “I find it undeniable that many of the epic heroes and ancient patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament were personified stars, planets, and constellations.” “I find myself in full agreement with Acharya S/D.M. Murdock”

    – Dr. Robert Price, Biblical Scholar with two Ph.D’s

    Earl Doherty defers to Acharya for the subject of astrotheology:

    “A heavenly location for the actions of the savior gods, including the death of Christ, would also have been influenced by most religions’ ultimate derivation from astrotheology, as in the worship of the sun and moon. For this dimension of more remote Christian roots, see the books of Acharya S”

    – Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, (2009) page 153

    “Your scholarship is relentless! …the research conducted by D.M. Murdock concerning the myth of Jesus Christ is certainly both valuable and worthy of consideration.”

    – Dr. Ken Feder, Professor of Archaeology

    As for Richard Carrier, his criticisms of her work have been demonstrated to be sloppy and egregious errors … probably due to the fact that he has never read a single book of hers:

    Stupid things Richard Carrier has said and done

    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=4771#p4771

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    #26 & 27:

    I’ve quoted these premises verbatim from Carrier in this thread: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749

    Read the thread, and then let me know whether you think I’ve misrepresented him.

    I have not read his book, as I’m not sure it would be worth the time, given how feeble the arguments on his website are. Nor am I a fan of his persistent tone of patronizing arrogance. If, however, the book’s approach is significantly different from that in the above thread, I might read it–just to see what else he’s come up with.

    There is a case to be made for mythicism, but not by people who think they can prove it deductively.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @aaronbaker

    Well, thanks. Looks like a pretty honest representation. Maybe it’s later in his book, or I forgot about reading it? I don’t know.

    I’m sadly not an expert, and what you say in 18 sounds plausible. I would need more time to examine the claims in detail.