Mythicism and Inerrancy

There is an interesting parallel between the situation of those arguing for the inerrancy of the Bible and that of “mythicists”, i.e. those who argue that Jesus was originally thought of as a heavenly figure, one who was later then turned into an allegedly historical figure.

The case for inerrancy has to be able to demonstrate that every single factual claim made in the Bible is without error. The case for errancy, by contrast, has only to demonstrate conclusively that there is a single error.

The situation for mythicists is similar. They must show that all the stories about, sayings attributed to and evidence about Jesus is best explained in terms of his never having existed as a historical figure. The historicist, on the other hand, only has to show decisively that one event in the life of Jesus makes best sense if Jesus was in fact a historical figure, and that makes the case for there having been such a figure more probable. The evidence amassed by mythicists may require us to conclude that some or even much of the stories about Jesus were concocted later, but it only takes one piece of evidence that makes the best sense if there was a historical Jesus, for us to conclude that they were concocting sayings of and stories about a historical figure. Richard Carrier’s example (used in the podcast below) of the guards at the tomb in Matthew is a case in point – that story is clearly a creation by Matthew, or someone between the time Mark wrote and the time in which Matthew was composed. It is patently unhistorical, but that doesn’t show it to be an unhistorical narrative about the burial of a mythical figure.

Carrier (a mythicist) has some wise advice for mythicists on how to make the case for mythicism. I don’t find his viewpoint persuasive, but it deserves to be heard and considered seriously in a way that some pseudo-historical claims, popular among so-called skeptics prone to engaging in parallelomania, do not (HT Tom Verenna).

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If nothing else, the podcast has one of the most striking puns I’ve heard in connection with this subject, when Carrier refers to the Romans trying to “nail down” what actually happened with respect to Jesus. I don’t know if that was intentional. But I find it problematic when Carrier claims that the Romans must have known that Jesus did not exist, since otherwise they would have rounded up the followers of Jesus. Paul himself claims that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh, and there is a reasonable likelihood that Paul may indeed have been executed by the Romans. Why do Roman sources (Tacitus or the letters of Pliny) not mention that this movement is seeking to historicize a mythical figure? How is it that, in all the history of Roman opposition to Christianity, the non-existence of Jesus never gets a mention?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    Why do you say that the historicist only has to show “that one event in the life of Jesus makes best sense if Jesus was in fact a historical figure”? Surely any scholar, no matter what conclusion they reach, must consider the entire body of evidence and not deal with isolated fragments. An historicist must demonstrate that the entire body of evidence is best explained by an historical Jesus, just as a mythicist cannot prove her case by pointing to a single sentence which demonstrates early Christians believe Jesus was a myth.Carrier’s example is fine in an interview but taking isolated snippets is how entertainers work, not historians.“Paul himself claims that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh”Which is a prominent part of the argument for a mythic Jesus as you must know. Presenting this quote in isolation without any discussion of alternate interpretations, history, or broader context is exactly why neither side, historicist or mythicist, can deal with “one event”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    My point is that, for it to be most likely that there is a historical figure behind legendary accretions, it only has to be demonstrated that positing a historical figure makes best sense of some evidence. That much or even most of the material available may be of little or no historical value just shows that things were invented about that figure, not that the figure himself or herself was invented. To demonstrate that, ahistoricity has to be the best explanation of all the available evidence.Feel free to explain how Paul’s reference to Jesus as “descended from David according to the flesh”, and to having met his brother when visiting Jerusalem, better serves the mythicist case. It may not be impossible for a mythicist to come up with an explanation for these features, but I’ve yet to hear a case that they are best explained in such terms.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘Born of the sperm of David according to the flesh’This is a very strange way of writing.Almost poetic.1 John 3 says the sperm of God is inside Christians.Is that literal?Hebrews 2:16 says Jesus ‘took on the sperm of AbrahamGalatians 3 says some people are now of the ‘sperm of Abraham’, although they are not descendants.This is all a very strange way of writing if it simply means that Jesus was a descendant of David.As for nobody mentioning the non-existence of Jesus, why should Tacitus and Pliny not accept what Christians of their day were saying?Eusebius recounts some people being hauled before Domitian.’ And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.. Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them, but, despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church.’Why should Domitian write anti-Christian polemics that this Jesus was a heavenly Jesus and not an earthly one, when he couldn’t care less about these people, as soon as he found out they were not talking about an earthly Jesus?’Incidentally, while Eusebius claims these people were relatives of Jude, and so relatives of Jesus, the author of Jude claimed to be the brother of James, and never claimed to be a brother of Jesus.Obviously being a brother of James was a real claim to fame, while you kept quiet about being the brother of Jesus.Or perhaps Jude just never realised that there was supposed to be a James who was the brother of Jesus. By the way, historicists fail miserably to find a historical Jesus.They have started to count their failures – the first quest, the second quest, the third quest.Constant failure is often a sign that you are doing something wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    James, in the absence of a positive mythicist case I would agree that we would just have to demonstrate that some aspects of Jesus are best explained by an historical Jesus. But when there is a strong or compelling argument that the earliest founders believed Jesus was a myth then the case changes. To rebut this, one needs to demonstrate that the evidence we do have is better explained by an historical Jesus. Not just isolated fragments but everything. Which position has the most explanatory power, the fewest ad hoc explanations, the best predictions and the greatest consistency? (Feel free to add more criteria.)It may not be impossible for a mythicist to come up with an explanation for these features, but I’ve yet to hear a case that they are best explained in such terms.I don’t want to spam you with links since I assume you’ve read them and I didn’t think we were debating the conclusions, just the methodology.Whether you’ve seen an explanation or not, the question you raised in the blog post is whether individual passages which some people believe imply historicity should refute the mythicist position when the mythicists argue that these passages aren’t merely consistent with but support a mythic Jesus.In the absence of a mythicist argument I would agree that this would be sufficient but with the mythicist argument I think much more is needed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Paul also claimed to have met the brother of the Lord.Luke/Acts has no indication that this James had ever met Jesus.And it goes withou saying that the letters of Jude and James have no hint of any family association between James and Jesus.In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about ‘the brothers of the Lord’.This seems to be a title.Hebrews 2:11 explains how you could become a brother of Jesus, without ever having shared a roof with himIn bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers….It goes without saying that this quote of Jesus is from the Old Testament.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10530680372103907969 Jon

    I read somewhere that “seed of David” sounds like it is part of a later creed inserted into the early salutation in Romans, which makes this salutation unusually long and verbose. And of course creedal formula represent later stages for any religion. Not saying that it is proved, but it’s a possibility.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Does Paul’s reference to Jesus’ brothers, distinguished from “Cephas” and from “the other apostles”, not seem like a reference to actual brothers of Jesus, as opposed to a way of referring to Christians in general?The various quests you mention were not looking for proof that Jesus existed and coming up with nothing. They were attempts to reach concensus about what Jesus was like, what he said and did. Their failure certainly indicates both that there is a plurality in early depictions of Jesus, as well as a layer of legendary accretion, beyond which we may not be able to penetrate with any degree of certainty; the quests also show that our own standpoint continues to influence our conclusions. But these points are the points historians make with some regularity. Mythicists are claiming something else, namely that there is no figure behind the legends, and to make that case, you have to show more than that it was possible to use “seed” and “sons” in a more general sense. You have to show why (we keep coming back to this) the earliest Christians would have invented a Messiah and claimed he had been crucified. It is the classic question from crime dramas and mysteries. What’s the motive?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    James, again we come back to methodology:You have to show why (we keep coming back to this) the earliest Christians would have invented a Messiah and claimed he had been crucified. It is the classic question from crime dramas and mysteries. What’s the motive? It’s enough to demonstrate that the earliest Christians did invent a messiah. There are millions of possible reasons and motives which we see with the countless new religions and sects which spring up all the time. We know from our lives today that these sects do arise and I agree that it would be interesting to learn about motives but that’s secondary.Again to methodology, you aren’t requiring that historicists must provide answers to all of the secondary questions which inevitably arise so why do you insist that these questions must be borne by the mythicists? Why must historicists come up with only a single statement that appears historical while mythicists must answer this barrage of questions?If you applied a consistent standard, I think you would say that either camp must provide an explanation which is consistent with all evidence and to succeed, it must be the “best” explanation (I listed some criteria earlier). Why are you resisting this? What have I missed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘Does Paul’s reference to Jesus’ brothers….’Paul refers to brothers of the Lord, not brothers of Jesus.It appears to be a title. Certainly no other bit of the NT has a James as the leader of the church who was a brother of Jesus.’You have to show why (we keep coming back to this) the earliest Christians would have invented a Messiah and claimed he had been crucified.’For Paul, it was *essential* to have a crucified Messiah.Why did people have an Osiris who was torn to pieces?I am not a psychologist. I don’t know why people invent these things.Jews knew that the Messiah would be killed. Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9:26 said so.So they invented a Messiah who was killed.JAMESThey were attempts to reach concensus about what Jesus was like, what he said and did. Their failure certainly indicates both that there is a plurality in early depictions of Jesus…CARRIf historicists can produce a ‘plurality’ of historical Jesus’s, Jesus the Cynic, Jesus the apocalyptic prophet etc, how can you claim to have an historical Jesus at all?In 2,000 years, if people fail to reach a consensus on the historical Maitreya, would that indicate that Benjamin Creme just invented him?Is the quest for the historical Jesus as doomed to failure as the quest for the historical Judas, for pretty much the same reasons?

  • T

    James,Thank you for posting this. I believe you are taking Richard’s comments our of context. Did you listen to the whole interview? Richard does, in fact, discuss alternative, more probable solutions for the reference of 1 Cor 15 (and making quite the case for it in a snippet of time) as well as the James passage in Galatians. Additionally, Carrier also discusses the very question you ask concerning Romans and their knowledge about Jesus. It would be interesting to note that Pliny never suggests in his letters that Jesus was a man (just that he was worshiped as God by the Christians). Tacitus also is known for caring little about his information when writing about sects he deems superstitious in nature. A clear cut example would be how Tacitus handled a discussion concerning the Jews and their exodus in his Histories. He recites rumor (a very common rumor from Greeks and Romans during that period) and does not, in fact, go to any particularly useful source (like the texts of the Hebrews, for example). Tacitus’ whole perspective on the Jewish exodus is flawed, as we know today that there likely was never a Jewish exodus from Egypt (Lester Grabbe’s fun mind-game). But to Tacitus, I don’t think it would have mattered much. I also believe the same can be said for his knowledge of the Christians. He was writing this (not in 64 CE) in the beginning of the second century, where Christianity was starting to originate and form. You’re talking something like 75 years between the events of the Gospels supposedly take place and the time when Tacitus actually started writing his Annals. That’s quite some time. I will write up a more detailed reply to this sometime later tonight.Warm regards,Tom

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Out of interest why does 2 Peter protest that he is not following cleverly designed myths, and talks about seeing Jesus?Surely nobody had ever mentioned the idea of a myth. Everybody agreed that Jesus had been seen.Hadn’t they?So why does 2 Peter protest so strongly that it was not a myth – that people had seen Jesus and heard a voice talking to Jesus?

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Whoops…hit the enter button too soon. That last post was mine.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Also, James, I covered the “descended from David according to the flesh” here: Intertextuality between Paul and the Hebrew BibleHere is a snippet:This is also made explicit in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes that God sent Jesus to fulfill the prophecies “concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Immediately following this verse, Paul states that we can also be called “to belong to Jesus Christ.” It’s more allegory. I’d like to call attention to the formalistic style in which Paul is using. Paul does not say, “from the womb of Mary” or “from the seed of Joseph”. Paul does not once mention the names of Jesus’ parents. Instead, he utilizes this allegorical language. David was not the father of Jesus. But, that is a testament to the parable of Paul’s savior. David is representative of Israel. Once more, Jesus is not the subject of the chapter, but salvation for the Israelites is. Paul is in Rome,[15] he writes why; “So, as much as is in me, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16) For Paul, his goal is the salvation of everyone, but specifically his intent is to show the promise of God fulfilled. Paul, shortly after making his intentions clear, goes on about this very issue for the rest of the chapter, talking about the wickedness of Israel in the past, and how God gave the wicked up to their “dishonorable passions” (pathê atimias). The works of man are irrelevant to the Grace of God. He cements this into his discussion of circumcision, which again is allegory. Circumcision is representative of the law, and those who follow the law, where as those who are uncircumcised—the Greek who does not follow the law—but still have faith are no different. The tie in with the seed of David is that Jesus, to Paul, reveals himself to all men, just as David counts men righteous who do not follow the law.“Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, Whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.’ Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” – Paul, Romans 4:9To Paul, the seed of David is likened to the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel, who are deemed righteous by their faith, not through works of the laws. “For the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he should be heir of the world wasn’t through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13) Paul explains further the salvation of Israel, while making it clear that there is a “partial hardening” (pôrôsis apo merous) upon the sons of Israel, “And in this way all Israel will be saved”. According to Paul, this salvation will occur when there is a specific amount of Greeks who are also saved. (Rom. 11:25-26) Paul speaks this mystery (mustêrion)[16] to his brethren because he seeks to “somehow…make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them”.[17] (ibid.) He again relates this back to the patriarchs and the prophets. God is attempting to save a remnant of Israelites, those who have faith and are deemed worthy through grace. He brings up the passage in which Isaiah begs God to destroy Israel for their wickedness. God, recognizing the wickedness of the Jews well in advance, allows for seven thousand Israelites who did not “knee to Baal.” (Rom. 11:6) Paul sums up this allegory, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect (eklogê) obtained it, but the rest were hardened”. (Rom. 11:7) Bringing this allegorical interpretation of scripture back around, to “belong to Christ” you must become a seed of David, by specifically identifying your faith in God through Christ. This is accomplished through understanding the mysteries Paul teaches, and by becoming one of the mature (teleiois).[See article for citations 15-17]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    James;The Romans made no appeal to the ahistoricity of Jesus . . . probably because they had no idea or even cared who this Jesus might have been. All they knew is that the Christians worshiped a character by this name and that they refused to honor the Roman custom of paying tribute to the emperor. The intent of the Romans was not to disprove the religion, but to induce it to pledge allegiance to Rome.Contrast that with what some apologists claim, namely that the Romans must have had actual records of Pilate’s report to the emperor. There are many reasons for doubting this. Here are just two . . . briely:Would such a report have mentioned him by the name of “Christus” (which is what Tacitus calls him).I vote “no” on that.Does anyone really believe that the apocryphal Acts of Pilate (where the earliest mention of such a thing is found) is either early enough . . . or credible as a source of unbiased information regarding Jesus?I agree with Carrier that a lot of mythicists, intent on defending their ideas, sometimes get carried (no pun intented) away . . . to the point where it seems like they never met a Pagan parallel that they didn’t like. This “How NOT to Argue the Mythicist Position” interview is good advice for anyone exploring these possibilities.Thank you for this post. As you know, I have been lamenting the fact that these ideas are not being taken seriously enough in the field. I consider the mythicist theory to be at least as defensible as any of the current ones involving the historical Jesus. I don’t really consider myself a full-on mythicist, but it annoys me to bits when I see people dismissing it out of hand as a fringe absurdity.peaceÓ

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Quixie,If I may answer out of turn, I like what you have to say. As a mythicist, I openly acknowledge the very real possibility that sometime in the near future, evidence or data may be uncovered completely invalidating my position. That is why a healthy dose of agnosticism is always important when dealing with such a sketchy figure (hstorical, fictional, or otherwise) such as Jesus. So not being a “full-on mythicist” is quite good indeed.I, too, would like this position to be more accepted among scholars. I think at some point (I *predict* around the end of 2009, into early 2010) historicists are going to have to stop ignoring this position. (I again *predict* that it will be because of a few studies forthcoming that challenge the conclusions of historicity) One of the reasons I consider James a friend is that he is able, if not willing, to be quite open-minded on this subject and, at least where actual, credible arguments are made, acknowledges their usefulness. That is a sign of a real, critical scholar. It is good to see that my optimism (perhaps in some cases naivety) is rewarded on blogs like this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    In fact ,according to Acts, those dumb Jews never thought of stirring up trouble for Paul by telling the Romans that Paul was a follower of a rebel , condemned to death for claiming to be the King of the Jews.I wonder how the American government would react if a follower of Osama bin Laden proclaimed that bin Laden was actually a great man, and he was proud to be his follower.The Romans would have reacted the same way, especially if Christians claimed their rebel leader had cheated death in some mysterious way and was still alive , leading their movement.The Romans would hardly have taken seriously claims that Jesus had been really crucified and risen from the dead.Surely they would have regarded that as transparent lies to cover up that Pilate must have screwed up the crucifixion, and this rebel had not been killed. After all, if he was still alive, he couldn’t have been killed.Instead, Acts protrays the Romans as totally baffled as to what Paul was supposed to have done that was wrong and the dispute seemed to be about matters of Jewish law.Paul could not have been the follower of a criminal sentenced to death , who it was claimed was still alive, and somebody write the letter we find in Acts 23.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Steven,I think what is again missed are the vital questions about the composition and readership. Who was Paul writing to and for what purpose? As Kurt Noll points out (in an upcoming SBL article) the Epistles do not contain much that Paul seems to have wanted to be read aloud in a congregation at a synagogue. (This idea, by the way, is a modern interpretation assumed historical by our understandings from modern Liturgies) There are also instances where Paul is confused as Christ by Corinthians. Additionally, Paul refuses to acknowledge the Jerusalem pillars (those disciples at Jerusalem whom Paul stayed with) and preaches, in fact, that they are hypocrites…clearly Paul did not feel they had much authority (even being that they are supposedly the ones who were taught by Jesus…Paul does not seem to recognize this as being factual).There are many instances where, when considered seriously, the historical Jesus does not answer enough questions, and where the mythicist position remains the stronger probable answer.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    James, my response to the above article is here:Inerrancy and Mythicism: My Turn

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thank you for all these comments! I cannot possibly do justice to them all in a comment, but will try to address some of the issues, piece by piece, in future blog entries. Let me try to address one or two points that I think can be tackled briefly. First, the comparison to Osiris. I don’t think this is relevant, not because some Christians may not indeed have found the similarities significant, but because, for the earliest Christians, Jesus was a crucified Messiah, which was in the thinking of most Jews a failed Messiah. A dying Messiah calls out for explanation in a way that a dying and rising deity that symbolizes the cycle of the seasons does not. And even if one were to suggest that the idea came from Christians with a background in some fertility cult or other, this doesn’t explain what would motivate someone to adopt a concept that makes sense in its original context, and turn it into one that makes far less sense in a Jewish Messianic context.Second, I think it is perhaps best to concede that mythicists can indeed offer explanations of various details that at first glance seem to relate to a historical figure of Jesus. But do they make better sense of such details, and do they explain them in a more straightforward manner than positing a historical Jesus behind the stories and sayings, myths and legends? If not, then is it still not best for a historian to conclude that there was probably a historical figure there at the core? Historical study, after all, deals in probabilities, and if I must choose between pages of explanation of why someone might have written “descended from David according to the flesh” when talking about a purely heavenly figure, and an explanation that suggests he means what it sounds like he meant, is there any reason other than a prior committment to mythicism that would lead a historian to accept the former as more probable than the latter?The improbable often happens, of course. Even if the weight of probability seems to favor one option or the other, it is inherent in a historical approach that both sides may be wrong, and this may be demonstrated by new evidence that comes to light. This is one reason that I think Tom and I manage to have ongoing conversations about a subject that sometimes generates a lot of heated rhetoric. We both know that it would only take more evidence of one sort or another coming to light to make it seem far more likely that he or I is wrong. But I still feel that the balance of probability at present still tips in favor of a historical Jesus. Whether anything more than a few basic facts can be recovered with any degree of certainty, although an important question, is a different one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    What a great set of comments! I’ve been going through the links and then the links in these links and really enjoying myself. Good discussions. I’m currently trying to work through this interesting discussion: http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/intertextuality-between-paul-and-the-hebrew-bible/But do they make better sense of such details, and do they explain them in a more straightforward manner than positing a historical Jesus behind the stories and sayings, myths and legends? If not, then is it still not best for a historian to conclude that there was probably a historical figure there at the core?I think I’m with you on this, absolutely. If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit :)I think that the mythicists require you to put yourself in a mindset which is strange or foreign to us but which may approximate those of the early Christians. If you can do this, then the NT becomes much simpler than with an historical Jesus but I can understand why people say this mindset is stranger than the things it sets out to explain. (I disagree, but I can understand it.)

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Let me try to address one or two points that I think can be tackled briefly. First, the comparison to Osiris. I don’t think this is relevant, not because some Christians may not indeed have found the similarities significant, but because, for the earliest Christians, Jesus was a crucified Messiah, which was in the thinking of most Jews a failed Messiah. A dying Messiah calls out for explanation in a way that a dying and rising deity that symbolizes the cycle of the seasons does not. And even if one were to suggest that the idea came from Christians with a background in some fertility cult or other, this doesn’t explain what would motivate someone to adopt a concept that makes sense in its original context, and turn it into one that makes far less sense in a Jewish Messianic context.I agree with much of this. Raising and dying parallelism is a huge problem. In fact Richard Carrier and I have gone through a lot of lengths to dissuade some mythicists from jumping on this oft-too-used bandwagon.It is much easier to show that the Gospel authors are drawing from Old Testament tropes, archetypes and literary tools to formulate plot. I make this case on my blog and also in some upcoming blog posts (and in the future, very detailed, well-cited, book projects).Although, James, don’t forget about Psalm 22… “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”Crucifixion not a Jewish expectation? I think you may need to revise that line of thought. Not all Jews thought alike; varying Jewish sects had varying interpretations of what “Messiah” meant.Second, I think it is perhaps best to concede that mythicists can indeed offer explanations of various details that at first glance seem to relate to a historical figure of Jesus. But do they make better sense of such details, and do they explain them in a more straightforward manner than positing a historical Jesus behind the stories and sayings, myths and legends? If not, then is it still not best for a historian to conclude that there was probably a historical figure there at the core? Historical study, after all, deals in probabilities, and if I must choose between pages of explanation of why someone might have written “descended from David according to the flesh” when talking about a purely heavenly figure, and an explanation that suggests he means what it sounds like he meant, is there any reason other than a prior committment to mythicism that would lead a historian to accept the former as more probable than the latter?To answer the latter question; you should wade through pages and pages precisely because that is what must be done in order to challenge a consensus. If the consensus, as you rightly would agree, is that Paul wrote that with a historical Jesus in mind, in order to refute this commonly held position, a very well thought-out paper must be submitted arguing persuasively against it. Otherwise, there would be no change in consensus.And after all, if you do not read the pages and pages of information, how would you ever make an informed decision on the matter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Obviously no one who is as unnecessarily verbose as I am prone to be can be opposed on principle to reading extended arguments! :)My point was only that there is a “plain sense” to some of these passages, whereas the mythicist position often has to engage in an extended explanation of why the apparent meaning is not the best interpretation.Of course, what seems like a plain reading to modern readers, even historians, sometimes would not have been at all plain to ancient readers. And offering alternative explanations of this sort is precisely what drives scholarship. So once again, I’m not opposed to a lengthy case for why what we assume to be the case is mistaken.I make just that sort of argument against the flow in John’s Apologetic Christology, as well as in The Only True God, when I try to persuade readers that, contrary to what most of us tend to assume, the earliest Christians (including those behind the Gospel of John) did not depart from Jewish monotheism in the development of their Christology.All that to say that I’m not opposed to lengthy arguments in principle – if either of us were, presumably this conversation would have petered out long ago! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    McG said:Second, I think it is perhaps best to concede that mythicists can indeed offer explanations of various details that at first glance seem to relate to a historical figure of Jesus. But do they make better sense of such details, and do they explain them in a more straightforward manner than positing a historical Jesus behind the stories and sayings, myths and legends? If not, then is it still not best for a historian to conclude that there was probably a historical figure there at the core?Absolutely!However, the key phrase here is “if not” which is the very thing to be determined, not just accepted as a default. Moreover, I don’t consider it a consensus when everyone “agrees” on an idea which is really an unexplored assumption. It only becomes a consensus when it has been thoroughly debated out in the open (without the resident prejudice or mockery that seems to be the norm right now). As far as I know, the first methodical treatise on this topic was written by Edwin Johnson in his 1887 work “Antiqua Mater.”Largely forgotten or ignored, this work is actually very good. I’ve heard some scholar say that it “has been thoroughly discredited” but when I pressed him to tell me where and by whom, he said something like, “oh, I can’t think of it off the top of my head, but I just know it has!”I’m still waiting for someone to point me to its refutation. Just because it has been ignored by scholarship in a field that has been (until rather recently) decidedly conservative doesn’t mean it has been “refuted” or “discredited.”Anyway . . .I rather like this quote from Antiqua Mater’s introduction:“[...]in the absence of further historical evidence, we must already come to the probable conclusion that the belief of the Christians in the middle of the second century rested upon a foundation purely Ideal. This is no hasty and rash conclusion; though it is one which constrains every thoughtful mind to a long pause of silence and of reflection. There is no need for us to tread over again ground so thickly marked and perhaps obscured by the footprints of modern scholars. There is good reason why we should abstain from overloading our pages with references to their writings, and so lend any further countenance to the notion that no man is competent to form a judgment on these questions until he shall have perused a whole library of learned letters. The data are few; the scope of the investigation is within the range of every clear-thinking person.”(p.34)Like Tom Verenna, I expect a shift in the way mythicism is perceived in mainstream scholarship to happen fairly soon—not necessarily earth-shattering . . . more like . . . perhaps the way no one laughs any more when someone claims that perhaps there might not be a Q document after all. I’m eagerly waiting for Mr Carrier to finish his book on the subject. I suspect that his will be the most thorough yet.peaceÓ

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESA dying Messiah calls out for explanation in a way that a dying and rising deity that symbolizes the cycle of the seasons does not.CARROnce again,James ignores the fact that Daniel 9:26 predicts a dying Messiah.The pattern of debate between a mythicist (M) and a Historicist (H) seems to run like this.Historicist – Mythicists cannot explain X.Mythicist – This explains X.H – X has to be explained.M – Here is an explanation for XH – How do mythicists explain X?M – The Bible ‘prophesied’ X. at least in certain minds.H – Mythicists cannot explain XM – How do historicists explain where Paul says people had not heard of Jesus, and that Jesus had been revealed through the scriptures?H – We have to look at all the data.M – But what is the explanation of the fact that the Romans did not go for followers of a crucified rebel, and seemed to be unaware that these people followed a crucified rebel?H – But is the mythicist position a better explanation than the historicist position?—————————–As you can see it is a very one-sided debate at present.Historicists have not yet started to debate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESMy point was only that there is a “plain sense” to some of these passages, whereas the mythicist position often has to engage in an extended explanation of why the apparent meaning is not the best interpretation.CARR’descended from the sperm of David according to the flesh’ is not really a ‘plain sense’ passage.Has any other descendant A of B ever been described as descended according to the flesh?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESI make just that sort of argument against the flow in John’s Apologetic Christology, as well as in The Only True God, when I try to persuade readers that, contrary to what most of us tend to assume, the earliest Christians (including those behind the Gospel of John) did not depart from Jewish monotheism in the development of their Christology.CARRWhy did Paul call Jesus the ‘image’ of God rather than say directly that he was God?

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    Quixie,The problem with books dating to before 1950 are three fold, particularly in Biblical studies.1). Unprovenanced artifacts. These are artifacts bought or traded on the antiquities market that are not cataloged by archaeologists. In the 17th-even the early-20th-century, most of the artifacts being passed around museums and personal collections were unprovenanced. This means that trained philologists had not studied these artifacts, leaving room for a lot of forgeries, personal interpretations, and lots of unknowns. 2.) No methodology. The field of history was not even a weak science in this period. Books from 17th-19th centuries in particular are full to the brim with opinions passed off as fact. Often, even in early 20th century material, scholars have been caught red-handed in trying to pass off opinions as fact. One need only look at Speiser’s early work on the Nuzi tablets to see how he was twisting the translation of the tablets to fit with his ideological perspectives in a very dishonest manner. Good scholarship had moved away from this sort of treatment (or at least, it is really, really trying to), leaving apologists to fill in the gap (apologists now use this tactic). 3.) Most important, in the 17th-19th centuries, scholars were sorely lacking in actual Christian and Jewish material outside of the Bible. The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran and locating the codices at Nag Hammadi really expanded our understanding of early Christendom and hellenistic Judaism. These findings invalidate a great deal of early 17th-early 20th century scholarly literature precisely because the learned positions of even the most meticulous scholars are useless without actual literary (i.e. primary textual) evidence to support their claims (prior to this, all that scholars had was what had been written in Heresiologists and Apologists in the first five centuries CE). Claims made about the dating, value, and beliefs of other Christian documents and sects had to be completely revised and Judaism in antiquity also deserved a brand new look. “Orthodoxy” (a word espoused as fact in early Christianity and Hellenistic Judaism) became a taboo word. What was discovered quickly as more of these manuscripts and fragments were translated is that “orthodoxy” was a concept of such irrelevancy in antiquity that the whole of Christian Origins had to be “taken back to the drawing boards.”These three reasons, primarily, are why books like Antiqua Mater are not to be trusted. What you need is a modern study, written within our contemporary age. Thankfully such projects are forthcoming on many fronts, and some studies already exist. The question is, can historicists put their money where their mouth is (so-to-speak) and take on the very necessary task of reviewing these studies with an open, clear, and critical mind? Only time will tell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven,Let me keep to individual points, as you have, for the sake of clarity and focus.Daniel doesn’t “predict” anything (at least not accurately). It refers to what had already happened to the high priest (one sort of “anointed one” in the Judaism of this period) Onias in having his status usurped and then being killed while in exile.The death of those viewed as “the Lord’s anointed” often cried out for explanation, but it seems to me that Daniel, writing after the fact just as the New Testament authors were, shows just what a historicist might expect: these authors try to cope with tragic events by claiming that they were part of a divine plan, foreseen in Scripture in advance. When necessary, they were willing to write “Scriptures” that predicted the event in order to accomplish this. And so I wasn’t ignoring anything. I was assuming an awareness of the background to and scholarly understanding of texts like Daniel 9.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESDaniel doesn’t “predict” anything (at least not accurately). CARRThat is the scholarly understanding.But it is not the understanding of all Christians, some of whom regard it as a prophecy that the Messiah would be killed.We know from the NT that Isaiah 53 was also taken as a prophecy about this Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    Please name the biblical characters throughout Jesus’s genealogical line who have been demonstrated to have actually existed.If those O.T. characters are mythical then how can the biblical character named Jesus have existed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Although Isaiah 53 is alluded to or quoted in the NT, it is rarely if ever in connection with the idea of a suffering Messiah, which led Morna Hooker to question the importance of the suffering servant as a paradigm for the developing Christian view of Jesus. I think Hooker overstates the case, but the fact that it is possible to make such an argument is worth noting. More importantly, unless one posits that Christians went to the Bible to try to make sense of what had happened to the historical figure of Jesus, it is hard to envisage how one could get from Isaiah 53 to a mythical, heavenly Christ. We’d have to imagine the origins of Christianity in a group of highly educated individuals studying Isaiah 53 in detail in written form, and yet would also have to posit that they were willing to ignore references to the individual having been in the land of the living, being buried, and having offspring. Of course, that last bit all but Dan Brown and a few others seem happy to not apply to Jesus. :)As for Daniel, it was understood to be referring to the events of the Maccabean revolt at least as early as the time in which 1 Maccabees 1:54 was written. That modern Christians who ignore the historical background understand Daniel in a certain way doesn’t seem to me to be a problem.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Anonymous,Paul believed that everyone was descended from Adam. Therefore, everyone must be mythical. QED. :)To take a more serious approach, there is archaeological/inscriptional evidence for the existence of Hezekiah, who is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. All it proves is that Hezekiah existed. The genealogy itself doesn’t disprove Hezekiah’s existence by connecting him with figures whose historicity is at best unproven. Nor does the historicity of Hezekiah provide evidence that Matthew’s genealogy is reliable.In short, your argument doesn’t work!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Tom V:I wasn’t suggesting that we rely on Antiqua Mater as the final say. I was merely pointing out that the mythicist idea is not new, not some reactionary post-modern phenomenon.Still, to respond to your reasons why such older works cannot be “trusted” . . .the fact is he doesn’t rely on them:1 – No “artifacts” are part of Johnson’s argument. 2 – While I agree that modern rigorous historiographical methodologies were not in place at the time, part of his whole argument is that: a)We don’t know when the gospels were written b) we don’t know when Paul’s letters were written—some may balk at this, but it’s a fact. c) We have a date in Justin of Neapolis, so we can proceed from that fact. I don’t know if you have read the book. If you do, you’ll find that his methodology is actually quite good for its time.3 – The finding at Qumram have very little if anything to do, IMO, with Christian origins, except inasmuch as they tell us about pre=millenium to post war Essene or “refugee”—for lack of a better term— Judaism. (sorry, Prof Eisenman :)That said, I have often wondered what effect the Nag Hammadi and Qumran discoveries might have had on Johnson’s —and Bauer’s and others’—work had they been around at the time.I have read Ellegard, Wells, Doherty, Price, and all of the more contemporary pertinent writers on this subject (good AND bad).Instead of seeing these older works as “worthless” for historical study, I suggest that they are instead of “limited” use. But still useful. But, like I said . . . that wasn’t my point if referring to Johnson’s book.My point was to point out how apologists often ignore crucial works, and then appeal to “consensus” later.peaceÓ

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    James,You write:It refers to what had already happened to the high priest (one sort of “anointed one” in the Judaism of this period) Onias in having his status usurped and then being killed while in exile.The death of those viewed as “the Lord’s anointed” often cried out for explanation, but it seems to me that Daniel, writing after the fact just as the New Testament authors were, shows just what a historicist might expect: these authors try to cope with tragic events by claiming that they were part of a divine plan, foreseen in Scripture in advance.Why must you always come back to tragedy? I will ignore, for the moment, your dependence (obsession? *grin*) on the idea that Jesus’ death was viewed as a tragedy (clearly no Christian author agrees with you, not even Paul nor the Gospel authors so you’re whole point here is a strawman), but I must ask; is the only reason a Jew would write in antiquity due entirely because they felt victimized, horrified, to glorify or to cope? You would have to demonstrate that in order to rule out the possibility that Jewish authors might have other motivations, might have felt differently, or might have just felt like being creative. Additionally, just because Daniel most probably would have been referring to Onias’ death does not in any way suggest that later Jewish authors could not have used the archetype or manner of Onias’ death as a means to model a narrative off of. Clearly the Jewish authors of both the Hellenistic and Roman periods were quite adept at taking stories, tropes, archetypes and traditions and reinventing them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Well, Paul says that the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to others. Christians had found a way to see it as salvific. All I’m suggesting is that they made a virtue out of a necessity. Obviously the period in which that would have happened is earlier than the writings of Paul – and so here the playing field is somewhat more level, since whether we’re dealing with the turning of a traumatic event into a salvific one, or the creation of a story out of whole cloth, it happens in the period before our earliest extant writings from Christian sources.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    James,How is it obvious? I fail to see how your point rests in certainty. I think you are overstating your position here. Do you have any evidence, textual or otherwise, that validates your conclusion that is it “obvious” that this metaphorical “clean up” happened prior to Paul?I think you are really grasping at straws here with this crucifixion = embarrassment idea. I really mean that I feel the burden of proof has shifted. Can you produce any evidence that the crucifixion was an embarrassment to Christians?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    What I said is “obvious” is that, if Christians worked through their thinking about the crucifixion and turned it from a problem to a solution, then this happened before Paul wrote. I didn’t mean to say that it is obvious that this rather than something else happened during the period in question. Sorry if the wording was ambiguous.I suppose what I find persuasive about this scenario is that (1) it takes seriously the evidence for the expectation that an anointed descendant of David would be a victorious figure; (2) it takes seriously the few references Paul makes to the cross being foolishness or a stumbling block; (3) it takes seriously the depiction of Peter objecting to the idea that Jesus would meet with suffering and rejection (and getting called Satan as a result) in Mark’s Gospel; and (4) it takes seriously the depiction of Jesus praying that he could avoid “drinking the cup”, a story unlikely to have been invented if, from the outset, the Christians had been persuaded that the cross was a necessary, salvific event. All of this seems compatible with (although admittedly it doesn’t lead inevitably to) the conclusion that Christianity arose when individuals who followed someone they hoped might be the Messiah experienced cognitive dissonance when he was apprehended and crucified by the Romans, and instead of scattering as was par for the course in such cases, they found a way of hanging on to their belief that Jesus was the Messiah by interpreting the crucifixion as salvific, as God’s plan.I might add that, given the centrality of the crucifixion in Paul’s thinking, it is worth noting just how few references Mark includes (or writes into) his story of Jesus prior to the passion narrative. There is the well-known threefold prediction that “the Son of Man must suffer” (which presumably could themselves originally go back to a statement about the inevitability of human suffering, if one were to judge them authentic). But on the whole, the impression the Gospels give is that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be crucified, that it caught them off guard and disappointed their hopes (e.g. in the highly symbolic story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, which may nevertheless plausibly indicate that it was after the crucifixion that followers of Jesus looked to the Jewish Scriptures and then (and only then) found in them things that would allow them to continue to view Jesus in Messianic terms beyond the crucifixion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESBut on the whole, the impression the Gospels give is that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be crucified….CARRWell, Judas expected Jesus to be crucified.The other disciples are total idiots despite being given the secret of the kingdom of God.They just are not real people.In Mark 8:31, the person they follow says ‘He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.’This seems pretty clear to a real person, especially if you have been given the secret of the Kingdom of God and spend 3 years with such a teacher, and have the chance to ask him what he meant.But the disciples are obviously ciphers in Mark’s story, to show that only supernatural powers recognised at once that Jesus was the Son of God. His immediate followers did not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMEStakes seriously the depiction of Jesus praying that he could avoid “drinking the cup”, a story unlikely to have been invented if, from the outset, the Christians had been persuaded that the cross was a necessary, salvific event. CARRReally? The story clearly demonstrates that the cross was God’s will.If it was necessary for God to have someone crucified to remove a curse, is it an embarrassment for that person to realise that it was God’s will for it to happen and that he had to go along with God’s will?BTW, why does Paul say in Romans 16 that Jesus was a mystery that had been revealed from the scriptures?And in Romans 10, why does Paul never mention any rejection by the Jews of Jesus, or his miracles or his resurrection? They had not even heard of him until Christians started preaching about him.Historicists have not yet addressed such questions.Which is why James has ignored them.Fair enough. I don’t see why he should do all the work that historicists have failed to do. That is quite a burden for him to bear.But at least he could acknowledge that such questions have been asked and historicists have been reduced to silence.JAMESAlthough Isaiah 53 is alluded to or quoted in the NT, it is rarely if ever in connection with the idea of a suffering Messiah….How about this?1 Peter ‘To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22″He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”Quite an explicit connection….James says ‘rarely or ever’.If we see a smoking gun, is it plausible to point out that there is only one smoking gun, not a platoon of gunmen?James says ‘The historicist, on the other hand, only has to show decisively that one event in the life of Jesus makes best sense if Jesus was in fact a historical figure….’Apparently historicists can work with just ONE datum, while James can point out that obvious mythical elements are ‘rarely if ever’ mentioned.Acts 8 produces a story of people converting to tales of suffering Messiahs simply by having Isaiah 53 explained to them.’Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus’Christians were convinced that if you read Isaiah 53 , you would believe it was about a suffering Messiah like Jesus, and convert *on the spot* to a belief in a suffering Messiah.You just had to *begin with that very passage of Scripture*.And still James just plain denies that anybody could ‘begin with that very passage of scripture’ and wonder if it was about a suffering Messiah like Jesus.This is why there is no debate.Historicists just don’t want to start the debate. They don’t want to look at the data.James just goes with the consensus.Fair enough. That is usually the best thing to do.But we should start with the sources, rather than start with the obvious fallacy ‘The vast majority of Jews would never have believed X, therefore no Jews ever believed X’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, I’m not ignoring anything. I am presupposing a general knowledge of scholarly discussions of this subject. If that is not something I can presuppose in my discussions with you, please do let me know, although I will point out that this is a blog and not a place for me to waste vast amounts of time typing in information to save blog readers the hastle of informing themselves about subjects that interest them. A blog is not a substitute for books and articles, but in an ideal case it can complement them and point to useful ones. History provides countless examples of two situations: (1) cases in which a historical individual had legendary and mythical stories grow up around him or her, and (2) etymological tales (such as those about Romulus and Remus or Adam) who were later taken to be historical figures. I know of no other example of a mythical figure being created and being confused for a historical one within such a short period of time. You seem to think that simply by showing that the mythicist case is not impossible, you have actually proven something. Historians aim to sift through the many explanations that are possible and find one that seems most probable. Yet instead of working within this most basic framework of historical investigation, or offering a better methodology, you berate me for treating the most probable scenario as most probable.I’m not suggesting the mythicist scenario is impossible. I’m asking what makes it more plausible than the historicist one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESIf that is not something I can presuppose in my discussions with you, please do let me know…CARRI am not familiar with historicist explanations of the points I raise in Romans 10, Romans 16, and how Acts explains that if you start with Isaiah 53, you can be converted on the spot to believing in a crucified Messiah.Please feel free to tell me them.I have been begging historicists for months to tell me these things, but apparently they have taken a vow of silence , never to reveal their scholarship.JAMESI know of no other example of a mythical figure being created and being confused for a historical one within such a short period of time.CARR2 Corinthians 11For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. How do you know the Jesus of the Gospels was the same Jesus of Paul, when Paul complains that a different Jesus was being accepted to the Jesus that he knew?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, there is no vow of silence. There are countless books and articles, readily available through public libraries so one doesn’t even need to buy them.Perhaps the problem is that not everyone interprets someone leaving insulting comments on their blog as an invitation to summarize the best scholarship in their field…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    James just point blank refuses to answer mythicist questions.No wonder the historicist/mythicist debate has not yet begun.Once historicists start to do some work on the subject, then it can begin.All I can say for now is that Richard Carrier’s new book promises at this stage to be a shining example of how such debates should be carried out and how the mythicist case is by no means air-tight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hmm, an interesting “reply” to my last comment, with a poignant admission at the end…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    What ‘admission’ would that be?The chance of a mythical Jesus could be about 80% That is by no means water-tight, but still quite a good probability.As can be seen from James reluctance even to address mythicist questions, the historicist case is not yet at the starting line.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, you seem to still be having trouble coming to grips with basic historical methodology. You have presented a number of times that it is not impossible that someone could have started with the Jewish Scriptures and created a crucified Messiah. You have yet to present a case for why someone would have done what you envisage.You may find it astonishing that historians and other scholars do not feel compelled to provide comprehensive replies to mere unelaborated suggestions left as comments on their blogs. If you present a detailed, plausible argument for why a group of Scripture readers creating a mythical figure out of whole cloth, who then gets mistaken for a historical figure, all within a relatively short period, is better than taking the texts as evidence of historical events that were subsequently interpreted, linked with Scripture, and so on, I will certainly respond in detail. But I don’t see why I should be criticized for not offering a detailed “rebuttal” when you’ve said nothing worth rebutting. No one denies that your scenario, mine, and those of countless others are theoretically possible. The question is which makes the best sense of the evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    And you have not presented a case for why somebody would take a crucified person and proclaim him the Messiah, especially as you claim that a crucified person simply cannot be the Messiah.As for why, you do not need a why to know that something is a myth.Why did people create an Aesop?Why did people create a Romulus?Why were people creating different Jesus’s, as Paul complains in 2 Corinthians 11?After Paul wrote that, there is a big gap in our knowledge of the early church, until about 95 AD at the earliest when we get 1 Clement which tells us something else.So about 60 AD Paul complains that different Jesus’s are being accepted.There is then a war in Jerusalem and persecution in Rome, meaning 2 big controlling churches hit hard times.We then know nothing about the church until 1 Clement in 95 AD.Even he hardly has an historical Jesus.And then we learn that Christians are preaching a Jesus who looks very different to Paul’s Jesus.It looks just like one of these different Jesus’s has taken over from Paul’s Jesus, just as Paul feared it might.The fact that we do not know anything about early churches from about 65 to 95 AD is hardly an argument for historicity.All we can say is that 2 Peter protests to other Christians that his historical Jesus is not a cleverly devised myth, no matter what other Christians might be accusing him of.If all historicists can do is demand an explanation of why one sect of a cult won out over another sect, while point blank refusing to explain the texts themselve…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESSteven, you seem to still be having trouble coming to grips with basic historical methodology. You have presented a number of times that it is not impossible that someone could have started with the Jewish Scriptures and created a crucified Messiah. You have yet to present a case for why someone would have done what you envisage.CARRI really see no reason why I should be disbarred from calling something a duck, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, simply because I am unable to say how the duck got to be in that place at that time.JAMESYou may find it astonishing that historians and other scholars do not feel compelled to provide comprehensive replies to mere unelaborated suggestions left as comments on their blogs.CARRIn other words, there are no answers to the Romans 10, Romans 16 etc points.James really does not know where to start looking for such answers, because historicists have not addressed these points.Hence your patronising tone of condescension.That doesn’t bother me. I know it is to hide something, or else you would have taken great pleasure in rubbing my nose in historicist answers to these points.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    No, I’m asking you to provide missing links in your argument. What do you think Paul meant be “different Jesuses”? Given the difference in the time frames in the development of the traditions focused on or claiming to derive from them, what makes you think that Jesus is comparable to Romulus or Aesop?As for the problem of a crucified Messiah, it is not that hard to envisage a group that was persuaded that a man named Jesus was the Messiah dealing with the cognitive dissonance created by his crucifixion by searching the Scriptures and coming up with something new. It certainly seems more plausible than imagining someone creating something so problematic from scratch, as it were.I keep asking for your arguments, and you keep responding with complaints. You keep saying that historicists refuse to explain the texts, while historicism is the dominant viewpoint among historians and Biblical scholars interested in the figure of Jesus. So if you think there are no arguments, I can only conclude that you are ignoring just about everything produced by mainstream scholarship on this subject. And yet you seem surprised that the conversation isn’t getting very far…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’m sorry, Steven, but you ask questions like “why does Paul say in Romans 16 that Jesus was a mystery that had been revealed from the scriptures?” It is scarcely self-evident that the Greek means what you suggest. Most understand it to mean what a more straightforward reading of the text has led most interpreters and translators to understand, namely that the rather unexpected form the Messiah took, not to mention the inclusion of Gentiles, were things that had not been obvious to most readers of Scripture, but Christians looking to make sense of their experiences “found what they were looking for” in them.You can keep this up for as long as you want, but unless you present an actual argument for why your rather far-fetched interpretations of passages is preferable, when the more obvious meaning of which is something else, then all you do in berating others for not spelling out the obvious to you is to make your case seem all the weaker. Why not instead do what a scholar addressing this subject would do, namely begin by showing how the dominant understanding fails to make sense of the available evidence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    By different Jesus’s , Paul meant different Jesus’s.Romans 16Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him….There is just zero space in here for Jesus to have done any revealing of any mystery.Jesus did not reveal anything. The scriptures did.As you can see, the ‘dominant understanding fails to make sense of the available evidence’ here.As it also does in Romans 10.As it does by the fact that nobody ever seemed to ask Paul to elaborate on any parable, or on any any alleged miracle.As it does by the fact that the first mention of a historical Jesus is in a work that contains obvious mythical elements and shows none of the markers ancient writers used to indicate that they were writing history.As it does by the fact that as late as 2 Peter, the author was having to protest that his historical Jesus was not a cleverly devised myth, which was clearly a charge that was being put forward by other Christians.As for the claim that there is too short a time gap for a mythical figure to be historicised, what studies have been done to establish the minimum time gap?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Gentlemen:I think a series of blog ripostes is probably not the best medium for this (though a start is a start . . . I’m grateful the conversation is at least happening). Steven: What James seems to require is a model of some sort. I think you are on to something here and should probably take the time to organize your thoughts into a cohesive model. Make it long-form. Speak the truth and write it down, brother. :) James:I think you nail the head of the problem, only sideways. The problem —and like you, I think it’s a deep problem that requires sober thought—is that no model has been posited to replace the existing one. But I think it’s perhaps unwise (premature) to appeal to a consensus of scholarship on this. In this case, the “consensus” is really just a common unexplored assumption, in a matrix predisposed to “believe” things to begin with. You’re right, though. We need a working model(s). There’s no getting around that. We’re spinning our wheels until those start coming.From what I can see, people are kinda waiting on Carrier’s book. I have a feeling there’ll be more books coming after that from others.Personally, i think that even if there was a historical person whose name was coopted by a religion later (plausible enough), we can know absolutely nothing about his actual existence anyway, so irreparably thick is the patina on the glass (darkly)that we look through to examine him with, so I have no trouble seeing mostly mythology at the story’s roots. I think that a case which takes into account Christianity’s historical circumstances and peculiarities of “belief” can be made for ahistoricity, though. Steven: There’s a lot of work to be done. And it’s all uphill. Get to it. :) Ó

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    QWhat James seems to require is a model of some sort.CARRYes he does. And that is reasonable.To take an example, Wegener proposed continetal drift, and produced a lot of evidence for it.But no model.So it was opposed, although the opposers could not gainsay the evidence for continental drift.But they could not fit it into their model of how the earth worked, so rejected continental drift.Ditto Newton and gravity.He had no model of how the force worked at a distance, so it was opposed, although the maths and evidence was impressive.So history shows that people need a model to accept evidence.But models are not always forthcoming until after the evidence is taken seriously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for your input, Quixie! I hate when I don’t hit the nail straight.On the one hand, there is a reason why many historians write books rather than articles on the historical Jesus. It is hard to work on an individual piece in isolation from a theory about the body of material as a whole.But that’s not what I’m looking for here – just a simple explanation of (1) why someone would invent a figure like Jesus purely from Scriptural antecedents, and (2) how in the time frame in question this figure would come to be misconstrued as a historical individual. I don’t think I’m being too stringent in my demand for evidence and arguments when I say that merely pointing out that this is “possible” is not enough.Steven, I wonder whether you’ve even considered the possibility that the reference in Romans 16 to “mystery” might mean something similar to what it means in Romans 11? The usage in Ephesians and Colossians is perhaps also not irrelevant, even if it represents a very early post-Pauline interpretation of Paul’s usage.Finally, I think it is noteworthy Steven that you place your viewpoint alongside great scientific revolutions. It reminds me of the proponents of intelligent design, who have no theory and little evidence and yet claim that the reason their viewpoint is not being accepted is a conspiracy and/or an unwillingness to accept new ideas, rather than the simpler explanation that they have failed to make a compelling case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Mystery?Yes, a mystery was a secret revealed by a god – hence the mystery revelations.Paul in Romans 16 was saying that the gospel about Jesus was a secret that had been revealed through the scriptures. Jesus had not revealed this secret.Little evidence?Look at the speeches and trials in Acts where the author has to conceded that absolutely nobody on either side knew that a historical Jesus existed, and that these Christians should have been labelled as followers of a crucified rebel.Take Paul’s speech in Acts 26He says absolutely nothing about an historical Jesus, says he had a vision from heaven, and points out to the court that ‘I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.’If Paul had been the follower of a crucified rebel, he would have immediately been shouted down by the Jews, who would denounce his lies, and point out that he was saying much, much more than that he was getting everything from scripture.They would have pointed out to the court that Paul was preaching a historical Jesus, not just a Jesus who had been revealed by scripture.Paul then goes on to say that if you believed the *prophets* you would believe in Jesus.’King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’Not a single idea of believing in Jesus because of anything an historical Jesus did. The prophets are what persuaded Christians that Jesus existed.The author of Acts then makes Agrippa think that it was possible to convert to the reality of the existence of Jesus Christ by appealing to a belief in the prophets.’Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’Why would anybody even dream that appealing to the prophets was an attempt to persuade somebody to believe in an historical Jesus?But it certainly could be seen as an attempt to persuade somebody to believe in a Jesus that had been revealed by reading the prophets.None of this makes any sense at all on a historicist basis.As soon as there is a contact with anything official in Acts, an historical Jesus disappears.And, of course, almost every single person associated with this ‘historical’ Jesus disappears from Acts as soon as there is a public history of the church.Joseph of Arimathea, the BVM, Jesus brothers, Salome, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene, any of his sons,about 50% of the disciples.All vanish as though they had never existed, as soon as Pentecost happens and the church has a public history.None of this makes any sense on an historicist basis.It seems the author of Acts was constrained by history and could not have his historical Jesus meet possible public knowledge of what the church had been like.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I have two problems with what you wrote. The first is that you give so much importance to Luke-Acts, which may well be one of the latest works in the New Testament. The second is that you seem to ignore other possible explanations of the evidence. Why is Simon of Cyrene never mentioned again? Because he was of no importance in the later story. Why is he mentioned then in the first place? Presumably because he or his sons were known to at least some potential readers of the work.Joseph of Arimathea is not turned into a disciple, the way he is (unhistorically) in Matthew and John. So why would he get any further mention?It seems to me that you haven’t done the basic groundwork of distinguishing early and late sources and material, which has to be done before one can attempt to make plausible historical sense of the earliest and potentially most reliable material.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    McG said:Why is Simon of Cyrene never mentioned again? Because he was of no importance in the later story. Why is he mentioned then in the first place? Presumably because he or his sons were known to at least some potential readers of the work.I’m sorry, but this is an awful lot to presume. I’ll accept it as a possibility, but I think it is more a wishful conjecture (common assertion though it is since Bauckham) than anything else.Ó

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Quixie, you are quite right that what I’m offering is conjecture. In the absence of other evidence, how could a historian offer more than that? My point was simply to illustrate (using a suggestion that does not originate with Bauckham, I might add) that there are far more natural and straightforward conjectures and inferences one might draw than “Simon vanishes from the narrative therefore he never existed”. His existence is far from certain. There’s something of an even balance between the probability that Christians might tend to emphasize Jesus carrying his own cross, and the probability that they would insert an ideal disciple literally carrying the cross into the narrative. Neither interpretation of Simon’s place in the story demonstrates the ahistoricity of Jesus. All it shows is the reasons for uncertainty about the historicity of Simon. But some mythicists seem to think that uncertain historicity is proof of ahistoricity, which doesn’t follow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    James,But some mythicists seem to think that uncertain historicity is proof of ahistoricity, which doesn’t follow. I agree but I think these mythicists are confined to the intertoobs and don’t reflect the scholarly work on mythicism. The case built up by Doherty for instance is a positive one and not merely based on casting doubt on the evidence of historicity.BTW, not sure if you saw it but someone left this link in the tail end of a “Debunking Christianity” comment thread: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVfgVnmKVAgThey can’t convey the full depth but as you go through them I think you’ll get a good introduction. There are a lot of videos but I don’t think you have to watch them all if you’re just looking for a taste.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Tyro, I started watching the video and wasn’t impressed. The notion of a savior who descends through multiple heavens and tricks the powers into crucifying him is perhaps hinted at in the later parts of the New Testament, but is only seen fully worked out in post-NT works like the Ascension of Isaiah. Likewise, the person in the video’s assumption that one automatically assumed that a figure referred to as “son of God” would be found in heaven doesn’t fit the Jewish evidence. Does one of the videos focus on how and why, if that view of Jesus found in later literature was in fact the original form of belief, we then get Gospel portraits of Jesus that don’t view him as a heavenly figure?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    James,Of course the way to get a detailed answer to your questions and to examine all of the evidence would be to turn to a book and not some videos. I know you have the heart of a scholar and want to get into the details quickly and some popular videos won’t help. I suggested them only as an alternative and to help clear up the misconception that mythicism is based on negative evidence or criticizing historicism.To your specific questions, no the videos do not touch upon the gospels. They do briefly mention the Ascension of Isaiah though I think it only appears once in over 50 videos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08694840174170043470 Tyro

    Sorry, not 50 videos, mistype! More like 15-20 (6 “series”, each of 2-6 pieces).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Like James, I’m underwhelmed by those videos. They are too desultory, there’s no outline or focus to the discussion.I reposted instead a fairly in-depth audio discussion of the mythicist case in three sections, if anyone is truly interested in a more detailed and nuanced approach to the subject.Ó


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