Review of The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Jesus at the Vanishing Point by Robert M. Price

The first chapter of The Historical Jesus: Five Views is authored by Robert M. Price, and makes the case that there was in fact no historical figure behind the beliefs and writings of the early Christians about Jesus of Nazareth. He was, in Price’s estimation, not a historical figure around whom much myth and legend developed, but one that was invented in the imagination of the ancient minds that gave birth to Christianity.

Price’s chapter starts by eloquently and accurately describing what it means to engage in historical research. First, he articulates the principle of analogy, emphasizing in the process the probabilistic character of conclusions in this discipline. “Historians do not have access to H. G. Wells’s time machine. We cannot know what occurred in the past and thus do not dogmatize about  it. We deal only in probabilities” (p.56). In evaluating ancient sources, we have no choice but to assume that things we do not see happening today did not happen in the past either. Otherwise, we end up like so-called “scientific creationists.” It of course is possible that the laws of physics were different in the past – but we have no good reason to think that they were, and unless we assume that there is a continuity in natural and historical processes, then anything is possible and no conclusions scientific, historical or otherwise can be drawn. As he cites F. C. Baur as having said, anything is possible and thus the aim of the historian is to determine what is probable (p.60).

The disappointing thing about this chapter is that, having articulated these well-establish principles of historical study succinctly and yet with great clarity and eloquence, Price seems to totally ignore them in the remainder of his chapter.

Before getting to that, however, let me address one more point of methodology, at which his approach is open to serious objection. First, Price brings in the criterion of dissimilarity. This is a criterion that has been much discussed, and problems with its use have long been highlighted, and as a result its misuse has been rejected by most historians. I thought that all historians would agree that it is implausible to imagine a historical figure who has no continuity with what went before him and his broader cultural and historical context, and that it is likewise implausible to imagine a group looks back to an individual as its founder and yet preserved absolutely nothing whatsoever of his teachings or emphases. And so the criterion of dissimilarity is useful inasmuch as it provides a small number of sayings which, since they were unlikely to have been invented by his followers or adopted from elsewhere, most likely come from Jesus himself (cf. p.95). It is not plausible to automatically exclude as probably inauthentic anything that shows signs of continuity, and indeed it is nonsensical to uniformly apply such a misguided principle to any historical figure. What is appropriate is to acknowledge that our historical confidence is significantly reduced when the material we are dealing with could have been created by the early Church or adopted from its context. To be appropriately suspicious that material may have been created, when we have clear instances in which material was created, is simply historical caution. But to conclude that Jesus could not have said anything that his followers also said after him is not caution but the misapplication of a useful methodological tool, taking it to an absurd extreme.

Price next proceeds to argue that the form critical insight, that the Jesus tradition reflects a variety of uses for stories and sayings in early Christianity, combines with the criterion of dissimilarity to annihilate any possibility that historical material has been preserved. Since everything that was preserved was in some way useful to early Christians, none of it can then be discontinuous with Christianity, and thus nothing is authentic.

If we combined these two principles and applied them to all historical figures, we might expect there to be nothing left of our historical knowledge of anyone, other than in sources in which authors give us their own views in their own words. But of course, what would happen in practice is that we would find at least some instances in which such a source gave us an individual’s view, and yet find a disciple who might be suspected of creating material for his or her own ends also attributing the same viewpoint to their master in their own writings. This would and should lead us to suspect that the “all devouring” character of this approach is a sign that it is problematic, and questioning it represents an appropriate response to historical evidence rather than a failure of nerve. I wouldn’t be surprised if every single instance of a movement in which the founder’s own words and followers’ accounts of the founder are both preserved, provided evidence that it is historically nonsensical to posit that the two will normally, as a rule, reflect a relationship of radical or utter discontinuity.

Moreover, Price’s statement that all information preserved by early Christians about Jesus must have had a Sitz im Leben in the life of the community deserves to be challenged in at least one important respect:: if there was in fact a historical Jesus, and he said things that were embarrassing to the later church, we might expect that opponents of the Christian movement might have preserved the memory of such things, bringing them up in debates and requiring Christian authors to mention them in spite of their embarrassing character. The prediction by Jesus that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days provides a good example of a saying that seems to fit within this category.

Price rightly points out that “consensus is no criterion” (p.61). Yet his application of this principle is problematic, as again and again he cites the views of other scholars as though their conclusions settle a matter, even though the conclusions in question have not been found persuasive by many others. That the majority may be wrong does not mean that one should assume that they are, nor that it is justified to assume that minority viewpoints and fringe perspectives are correct without making a convincing case for them. Questioning consensus is how scholarship works, as Price rightly points out. But to merely cite someone else’s questioning of consensus, or to patch together an array of fringe viewpoints into a larger tapestry that is no more convincing than any of its component parts, is not a challenge to the consensus. In a best case scenario, a consensus forms where the evidence points to one conclusion more than others. To challenge the consensus, one needs to show that the evidence points more clearly or more logically to another conclusion.

And this is where we can return to Price’s ignoring of his own stated principles. He states that everything is possible in theory, and so asks what is probable. And yet he never shows that the scenario he envisages for the emergence of Christianity and its narrative texts is anything other than possible, at best, and that provided one is willing to assume a number of controversial points which likewise remain unjustified.

For instance, is it possible that early Christians went through the Jewish Scriptures, choosing a story here, a turn of phrase there, and weaved them together to create a fictional Messiah? Certainly – as are all other scenarios. What is never explained is why someone would have done this, much less done it to produce a crucified Messiah rejected by his contemporaries. If nothing else, Price’s mention of Occam’s Razor at this juncture seems so ironic as to be comical (p.74). How is an unparalleled process of fabricating a fictional Messiah from texts that would have had to have been painstakingly combined a simpler explanation than that there was a historical figure of Jesus, about whom stories were sometimes created to fill in gaps in his followers’ knowledge or to cause him to address issues that he had not?  That something could have been derived from another source is not proof that it was, and where the alleged source of inspiration bears only a minimal resemblance to the story that was allegedly fabricated from it, it seems appropriate to remind Price of a corollary of the principle of analogy: similar things happen in history. People rise to leadership from obscure roots, they marry, they reign, they die, and their memory becomes legend. That there are slight similarities with other figures and stories is what one would have to expect if the principle of analogy were to have any validity: history unfolds in largely predictable ways, with surprises certainly, but with many recurring patterns. And so to propose the principle of analogy and then claim that anything with an analogue is derived from other texts is, as Darrell Bock puts it in his response, a “heads I win, tails you lose” type of game. And not surprisingly, this is not a game that most historians are interested in playing.

And so when Price says “We must imagine that previous to Mark someone had midrashically rewritten the Exodus 18 story” (p.69) historians will rightly respond by asking “Why must we imagine this?” This is only a ‘must’ if one is determined to avoid concluding that Jesus was a historical figure. And when he further claims (twice!) that in that hypothetical source “we would have read” various things, we are right to throw up our hands in frustration and to ask how Price’s scenario, which claims knowledge of sources no one has ever seen, and a process of composition and of religion-creation that no one has witnessed, could be judged by anyone to be more probably an accurate depiction of the historical emergence of Christianity than that of mainstream scholarship. The latter also allows for the creation of fictional material about Jesus, and the presence of details drawn from ideal types, and yet does justice to evidence that Price skips, ignores, or deals with by saying “maybe” or “we must imagine.’ As Price himself acknowledges, historical figures have a tendency to be conformed to ideal types in literature, and legendary material accretes itself to such figures. And so the only way to conclude that the mythicist scenario is most likely is to cast aside the principle of analogy and regard the process of the creation of Jesus as involving processes for which there is no parallel. Because, in contrast to the way “midrash” is used in mythicist circles, it is not the case that Jewish authors regularly took Scriptural texts and wove phrases and details and stories from them into new narratives about non-existant figures.

There is more that could be said. Price repeats the tired dying and rising god hypothesis, and seems to think that the fact that Judaean religion was not yet monotheistic in Ezekiel’s time means that an affirmed monotheist like Paul would have happily borrowed from myths about Tammuz. Even if one could posit such a borrowing, a dying Messiah is not the same thing as a dying god. Many of the respondents to Price’s chapter mention these problems and others as well. Crossan rightly highlights that Price’s statement that he will simply skip the matter of the Testimonium Flavianum is “not an acceptable scholarly argument as far as I am concerned” (p.86). Johnson points out that the phenomenon of earliest Christianity includes historical data and characteristics that resist the mythicist attempts to wish them away (p.91). But the most priceless (if you can forgive the pun) comments are from Jimmy Dunn, who says of Price’s willingness to be content with “a more or less vague savior myth” as the origins of Christianity: “Sad, really” (p.95).

Price has shown that it is indeed possible to imagine a scenario in which Jesus was invented – that was never in dispute. But his chapter has also demonstrated, I believe, that historians are right to favor the conclusion that Jesus existed, however obscured by legend he may be from our view. Because if we consider the weak and tendentious case Price made for his conclusions, having emphasized that it is not possibility but probability that he needs to demonstrate, then I can only conclude that it is the best case that can be made for mythicism, since there is no one that I know of who is trying to make a case for mythicism that has better and more relevant qualifications than Price does.

And so let me quote James Dunn’s response once again in concluding my review of Price’s chapter. “To…be content with much less plausible possibilities in the face of such probabilities is a tactic of the Christ-Myth proponents, but not one that does them much credit or gives their thesis much credibility” (p.98, emphasis added).

The sad thing is that it is unlikely that Price’s unimpressive case, or the responses to it from the other contributors to the volume, or this review, will lead mythicism to become less popular in those circles on the internet where it currently flourishes. It will continue to be claimed that it is mainstream scholarship’s unwillingness to consider new paradigms, or inherent Christian bias, or something else that prevents us from appreciating mythicism for the insightful work of genius that it allegedly is. But I encourage anyone seriously interested in the topic to read Price’s chapter. I cannot honestly believe that anyone who accepts Price’s description of what is involved in historical study will conclude that he has in fact met the standards which he himself set.

  • http://www.converstaiontheology.blogspot.com tyler m taber

    Great review.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    I have an urge to play devil's advocate on historicity, just to see if I could do any better than the current crop of mythicists. I think I would want to build a theory around the destruction of the temple as an impetus… I think this would be a good position to support with evidence, as it seems to have actually had a big impact on re-shaping the Christian narrative in any case. Maybe somebody with more brains and time will make a case like this sometime.I'm looking forward to seeing the other chapters reviewed.

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

    Your points regarding there being analogues of historical figures later becoming mythicized . . . and regarding Okcham' razor . . . are well taken. I'd like to read Price's response to this.I think that pointing out the parallels with other mysteries is a dead end. Parallels are parallels. Myth is symbolic and symbols are everywhere, as Jung and Campbell pointed out. But to caricature Price as envisaging Paul as intentionally and consciously teaching Tammuz to his audience was unfair. Confusing.Do you think that Price sees Paul as the inventor of the myth? The continuity of the Jesus myth with the Septuagint . . . . that's by design. Explicit.The allusions are legion. A great many of them are direct textual citations.Where does Price say that Jesus "couldn't have said" those things?Pointing to the quote-mining tendencies of the NT authors is a far cry from precluding Jesus from saying things. Price has a decidedly cavalier style that might offend those with churchly sensitivities. But you probably shouldn't paint him saying things that he's not.smijer: makes sense to me.DM: Dude! o_Ó

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

    smijer, by all means try to make the best case possible for mythicism. It is an appropriate way to explore it and assess it. Just because no one has yet made a persuasive case for it doesn't mean it cannot be done. But it does explain why most historians don't adopt it.Quixie, I don't think I've at all misrepresented Price, but if I have, I'll gladly retract, clarify or qualify what I've written. Paul is our earliest Christian source, and even if Price is suggesting that others adopted a non-Jewish myth and turned it into a Messiah, how did they then convert Paul, a skeptic and a monotheist, to this belief system, without him realizing that it had such roots? What Price presents is less plausible than most of the mainstream historical reconstructions I've encountered, and attempts at filling in the gaps in the story he hints at involves further stretches of the imagination.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    All the evidence points to Jesus having originally been merely as a savior who came to destroy the Torah not as a “Messiah” of Judaism (he was even seen as a rival god come to defeat Yahweh). That was enough for the original religion which was focused on converting Jews and Gentile Jewish proselytes (what better way to convert them than by getting rid of the bondage or the Torah?) but when it began to try to convert Pagan Gentiles it ran into the problem of “your god is bran new, our gods are old, therefore your god sucks and ours are better” argument. To solve this argument, abra-cadabra, Jesus became the Jewish Messiah so that they could then claim their god was the same god as the OT god and thus their religion had been around since Moses who (of course, per Justin Martyr) is more ancient than the Greek poets who wrote of your gods.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    "how did they then convert Paul, a skeptic and a monotheist, to this belief system, without him realizing that it had such roots?"The man Paul was long dead by the time that Justin Martyr and friends came up with the Messiah concept. To convert Paul merely required interpolating his epistles, taking the original form of the epistles (the Marcionite form) and adding a bunch of OT allusions and claims to them. That's how they "converted" Paul.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    And then the book of Acts was written to sure-up their "conversion" of Paul, a conversion that is purely literary. I'd suggest reading this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    The very idea that Paul was original a Jewish persecutor of Christianity is an unfounded claim of Acts, as is the assumption of a staunch monotheism in Paul. He mentions two gods in 2nd Cor 3-4, "the god of this world" and "the god who said 'let light shine out of darkness'" — interpreting "the god of this world" as a mere fallen angel rather than as Yahweh of the Old Testament is absurd, logically and contextually everything points to it meaning Yahweh. The god who said "let light shine out of darkness" clearly has reference to something more akin to the opening of John "that was the true light and the light shone in darkness and darkness apprehended it not" than Genesis "let there be light." Paul presents a dualistic contrast between Yahweh of the OT who put a veil on Moses face in deceit ("we use not deceit as Moses…" he says) and who is seeking to veil the gospel ("if our gospel is being veiled….it is the god of this world….that same veil…the Old Testament") for in the reading of the Old Testament is where the veil is found, the very veil the "god of this world" is using to veil the gospel!!!!!!!!!! Paul clearly taught what we call "Marcionism" and was only "converted" to 'orthodoxy' around 150 by Justin Martyr and friends long after his death.

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

    I get it! Just redate the sources, assume that they originally said something other than they do in our earliest manuscripts, and then describe this view in multiple comments so that it seems more weighty! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Going to ignore those fish in that barrel and point out that the hypothesis in the linked book about Luke/Acts having been revised as a reaction to Marcionite Christianity – looks interesting. Anybody have any thoughts on that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    Since the change being referred to took place mid second century, and the earliest manuscripts are from the third century, your sarcastic argument is a red herring.

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

    And since you don't have earlier ones, your claims are pure speculation. As I said of mythicist claims, pretty much everything is possible. If you'd care to make a case that your view is probable I have no objection, but please don't spread it across multiple comments unnecessarily. If your ideas are of any value, formatting them as spam can only harm a reader's impression of them, and if they aren't, formatting them as spam won't help them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    I'm not actually even arguing the mythicist position, just that the 'orthodox' view of Jesus is a myth created in a later time. I believe there was a historical Jesus, but that Jesus overturned an eye for an eye without adding "think not I have come to destroy the Torah." If he said that, after all, he was a liar not to mention an idiot prone to contradicting himself since he also said "the Torah was until John."You are kind of a liberal theologian and from what I gather don't believe in the perfect historicity of the canonical gospel accounts. Yet somehow you believe firmly that the text in the early second century read exactly as that of the third century?Why a liberal theologian would throw out the possibility that the texts were changed in the middle of the second century I cannot fathom. Anyway, you can say all you want that it is just speculation, but that's absurd. We know that Justin Martyr used a non-canonical gospel not our canonics, for example. How can any of us be so stupid, therefore, as to think that the gospels in use in 150 were the canonical forms of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Justin's gospel not only bore a different name but had different contents, including the fire in the Jordan at Jesus baptism. Where'd that reading go??? Does your Bible say anything about a fire in the Jordan? It must since you say nobody changed the text. So, the only speculation to be offered is to speculate on why a liberal theologian pretends to be 'orthodox' and is so froward to the ancient 'heretics' considering he belongs among them more than among the 'orthodox' to begin with. Yet I will not speculate on that. Let the facts be enough.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I hope you will take the opportunity to once and for all stop equating the idea that Jesus Christ was not a historical figure with creationism.For I can hardly imagine the following sentence coming from you:"For instance, is it possible that the earth is only 6200 years old, the entire population of all animal species got aboard a boat and survived a forty day global storm and all living beings are their descendants? Certainly – as are all other scenarios."Or try this one on for size:"Ham has shown that it is indeed possible to imagine a scenario in which the earth was created ex nihilo as it is now by God 6200 years ago – that was never in dispute."So please … stop with the creationist parallels. Your own concessions here render them absurd on their face.

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

    Evan, of course those statements are possible. One just has to be willing to posit that God performed miracles to make it look like the Earth is much older than it is, and independently created organisms to appear as though they are related, and so on.Anything is possible. But those of us who are constrained by evidence reject some options and prefer others that do better justice to the evidence.And so I'm unwilling to accept Ken Ham's claims about what God "must have done" and Robert Price's claims about what a pre-Markan author "must have done". I prefer to accept theories that do better justice to the evidence with less special pleading.And so my only regret is that you still can't see the similarity.

  • http://westernthm.wordpress.com marc cortez

    Does Price use any of his later responses in the book to deal with any of these concerns? The methodological criticisms alone seem pretty damning for his project and I can't imagine that he's unaware of them.

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

    beowulf, thank you for clarifying your position. It is (as with other things) possible that the Gospels were originally very different than the earliest form in which we know them. But as with all good conspiracy theories, the conspirators have obliterated all clear evidence. Justin's additional detail could well be an interpretation of the event in light of the reference to Jesus himself baptizing with "Holy Spirit and fire." But even if it were the case that this was once in one of the canonical Gospels or in some no-longer-extant early Gospel, it isn't clear that this would lead to your conclusion that Marcionism was the earliest form of Christianity.Marc, I'm blogging about the book as I read, and so I'll say more about Price's responses to the other chapters once I've read them!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    If Mythicism lies on one end of the continuum and Historicism at the other, where does all this Jesus-as-human-God-agent land on the scale? Are Trinitarians the consensus in this case or is your position a widely held one?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    Of course McGrath has to resort to fatuous comparisons with creationism — and place himself in opposition to statements that do acknowledge the strength of certain mythicist arguments from the likes of Hoffmann, Davies, Schweitzer. And he does this by his usual resort to conceptual confusion and logical fallacy. The argument "what is possible" is usually applied to oppose the miraculous. But James redefines "possible" to embrace the suspension or change of physical laws, thus stripping the word completely of all practical meaning and finding a unique way to turn logic into fantasy in support of his straw-man argument.What is also curious is his repeated tendency to associate my arguments with those of Price et al, when my critique is, on the contrary, towards the methodology of mainstream historical Jesus studies. All McGrath can do is repeat arguments from criteriology (See my post on historical methodology which includes a discussion of Scot McKnight's criticism of criteriology.)His main foundation for historicism appears to be his fallacious argument from incredulity — that no-one would make up a story about a crucified messiah. This is repeated like a mantra, and like a mantra it requires no argument to justify it. Just repeating it is apparently meant to settle the question. This, despite the known fact that some Second Temple Jews did indeed "invent" the story that the offering of Isaac was literally a human sacrifice and resurrection, the blood of which atoned for sins of the nation, and that the blood of Jewish martyrs themselves likewise had an atoning power. It is no giant leap from Isaac and Jewish martyrdom and their atoning power to a messiah also martyred with salvific effects. Unless, that is, one insists on relying on evidence only applicable to towards the second century (as both Talmon and Fitzmyer demonstrate) that Jews came to think of a messiah as an imminently anticipated kingly figure, and insist that this was "the belief" of all Jews in the first century. So the argument from incredulity is not unlike Tertullian's "I believe because it is impossible". The gospels portray most Jews not believing Jesus was the messiah before his death, but on the strength of Acts scholars insist that these same Jews by their thousands suddenly came to believe he was the messiah in the wake of his crucifixion. And mainstream scholarship appears to be too lazy (see quotes from Liverani and Clines at end of this post on scholarly laziness) to even contemplate the real evidence for a more rational model of origins, and continues to rely on manufacturing evidence from criteria to fit the Bible's implausible scenario.McGrath laments that the responses to Price will not diminish the interest in mythicism. Strange as it may seem to him, there are good reasons for this.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    Of course McGrath has to resort to fatuous comparisons with creationism — and place himself in opposition to statements that do acknowledge the strength of certain mythicist arguments from the likes of Hoffmann, Davies, Schweitzer. And he does this by his usual resort to conceptual confusion and logical fallacy. The argument "what is possible" is usually applied to oppose the miraculous. But James redefines "possible" to embrace the suspension or change of physical laws, thus stripping the word completely of all practical meaning and finding a unique way to turn logic into fantasy in support of his straw-man argument.What is also curious is his repeated tendency to associate my arguments with those of Price et al, when my critique is, on the contrary, towards the methodology of mainstream historical Jesus studies. All McGrath can do is repeat arguments from criteriology (See my post on historical methodology which includes a discussion of Scot McKnight's criticism of criteriology.)

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    (original post not able to be sent complete: here is the part it rejected at first try)His main foundation for historicism appears to be his fallacious argument from incredulity — that no-one would make up a story about a crucified messiah. This is repeated like a mantra, and like a mantra it requires no argument to justify it. Just repeating it is apparently meant to settle the question. This, despite the known fact that some Second Temple Jews did indeed "invent" the story that the offering of Isaac was literally a human sacrifice and resurrection, the blood of which atoned for sins of the nation, and that the blood of Jewish martyrs themselves likewise had an atoning power. It is no giant leap from Isaac and Jewish martyrdom and their atoning power to a messiah also martyred with salvific effects. Unless, that is, one insists on relying on evidence only applicable to towards the second century that Jews came to think of a messiah as an imminently anticipated kingly figure, as both Talmon and Fitzmyer demonstrate, and insist that this was "the belief" of all Jews in the first century. So the argument from incredulity is not unlike Tertullian's "I believe because it is impossible". The gospels portray most Jews not believing Jesus was the messiah before his death, but on the strength of Acts scholars insist that these same Jews by their thousands suddenly came to believe he was the messiah in the wake of his crucifixion. And mainstream scholarship appears to be too lazy (see quotes from Liverani and Clines at end of this post on scholarly laziness) to even contemplate the real evidence for a more rational model of origins, and continues to rely on manufacturing evidence from criteria to fit the Bible's implausible scenario.McGrath laments that the responses to Price will not diminish the interest in mythicism. Strange as it may seem to him, there are good reasons for this.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    (original post not able to be sent complete — had to be broken in parts . . . )His main foundation for historicism appears to be his fallacious argument from incredulity — that no-one would make up a story about a crucified messiah. This is repeated like a mantra, and like a mantra it requires no argument to justify it. Just repeating it is apparently meant to settle the question. This, despite the known fact that some Second Temple Jews did indeed "invent" the story that the offering of Isaac was literally a human sacrifice and resurrection, the blood of which atoned for sins of the nation, and that the blood of Jewish martyrs themselves likewise had an atoning power. It is no giant leap from Isaac and Jewish martyrdom and their atoning power to a messiah also martyred with salvific effects. Unless, that is, one insists on relying on evidence only applicable to towards the second century that Jews came to think of a messiah as an imminently anticipated kingly figure, as both Talmon and Fitzmyer demonstrate, and insist that this was "the belief" of all Jews in the first century.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    (and this bit also had to be sent separately)So the argument from incredulity is not unlike Tertullian's "I believe because it is impossible". The gospels portray most Jews not believing Jesus was the messiah before his death, but on the strength of Acts scholars insist that these same Jews by their thousands suddenly came to believe he was the messiah in the wake of his crucifixion. And mainstream scholarship appears to be too lazy (see quotes from Liverani and Clines at end of this post on scholarly laziness) to even contemplate the real evidence for a more rational model of origins, and continues to rely on manufacturing evidence from criteria to fit the Bible's implausible scenario.McGrath laments that the responses to Price will not diminish the interest in mythicism. Strange as it may seem to him, there are good reasons for this.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com neilgodfrey

    Something wrong with the blog input form here — I got messages telling me my post/s could not be sent. But it appears after some time they did go through after all. Would like to remove the repeats.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    A fair review of Price's chapter I read back in an earlier round of Mythisist hoopla. Mythicist hang their argument on the odd notion that a person must by tangible physical contemporary evidence be confirmed to have lived in order for us to consider the possibility for there existence. Hence they need to offer no evidence for why this myth came about and came to be taken for a historical event. It is possible their theory is true and impossible to prove the existence of more than a handful of people. It is possible that A Satanic cult killed lacy Peterson, and impossible to place Scott Peterson physically at the scene of the crime. He couldn't have done it!Beowulf I think the line you mentioned about Paul's understanding of the God of the World and the God who brought light from the dark in interesting. I've been thinking about Paul and earlier Christianity in relation to Jewish Mysticism and Platonic mysticism. My thought (and who ever else shares it) is that Gnosticism and Orthodox Christianity have a common ancestor and one is not simply a corruption of the other. Paul does at times seem to speak of other spirit beings as gods. I doubt he rejected the Hebrew scriptures and God as the God of this world as Maricon did. To believe that requires the editing you spoke of, and with out other evidence to back that up, we could say Paul believed a lot of things that were later edited out. I claim editing with extreme caution. We say a line of Josephus about Jesus was edited because it is so out of line with his thought and in line with later editors. But we wouldn't rush to claim later editor for problems about his description of Essenes for example.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    "But as with all good conspiracy theories, the conspirators have obliterated all clear evidence…."Pause. It is hilarious that all the good 'orthodox' people (and liberal theologians pretending to be 'orthodox') are so quick to label it a "conspiracy theory" when you point out the fact that Marcionism preceded 'orthodoxy.' Yet somehow, they are all too blind to see that 'orthodox' Christianity is the real conspiracy theory: The Messiah of the Jews walked among them and they murdered him, and yet somehow all the evidence was obliterated. 'Orthodoxy' is an antisemitic conspiracy theory clearly aimed at accusing the Jews of doing something they never did, i.e. killing the Messiah…..because there never was any Messiah to kill. Now if accusing people of killing someone who never existed to be killed in the first place is not a conspiracy theory, explain how it isn't! (I don't mean Jesus didn't exist; I mean the Messiah didn't because he wasn't the Messiah nor did any such claim exist until 150.)mikew1584, read 2nd Cor 3 and 4 apart from all the rest of his writings and you will have to admit that by itself it is 100% clear that "the god of this world" can only be he OT god. Then try to understand why the material in other place contradicts this, keeping in mind clear interpolations of OT material in his epistles, and it will be clear that Marcion was not very much an innovator at all but truly a faithful interpreter of the real Pauline epistles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    I don't see James as making any points of value. But as a known supernaturalistic apologist that has time and again attempted to marginalize jesus myth views this is not s surprise.But for those that are interested in Robert M. Price. I happen to have a intro to religion audio files of an intro to religion course that he did at webulite.com if anyone is interested in it. And if that turns out to appeal to people, I have about 5 or 6 different lecture courses like that that I helped Bob put together when I was helping him with a bible geek site he did a while back.Cheers!RichGriese.NET

  • Mike K

    Labelling James McGrath a "known supernaturalist apologist" is just ad hominem and shows a basic confusion between what happens in academic Religious Studies which is a descriptive exercise where the tools and methods developed in the humanities generally (history, classics, literature, etc) are applied to the history and literature of early Jewish or Christian social formations versus Theology which is a confessional pursuit. No where at all in this post does James appeal to supernatural revelation to support his views but appeals to actual arguments – Price's misapplication of the criterion of dissimilarity, a misunderstanding of how midrash works, the parallelomania in the comparison of the Christ cult and the mysteries (cf. Jonathan Z. Smith, "Drudgery Divine", available on google books), the plausibility that the early Christ followers responded to the cognitive dissonance of the crucifixion by combing the scriptures for proof texts and offering various rationalizations rather than they created a myth out of whole cloth sui generis. The argument about Isaac and the Maccabean martyrs does not work because they were not messianic figures (in spite of diverse expectations from a Davidic King to a priest to a Moses-like prophet to a eschatological judge to popular sign prophets to a lack of such ideas at all in some quarters, what needs to be shown are any parallels of a suffering messianic figure in the Second Temple period) and the whole theology of atonement were again secondary rationalizations for either a pre-existing scriptural tradition or actual historical martyrdoms under Antiochus Epiphanies (reflected in the legendary embellished account of the woman and her seven sons).

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

    Neil, why is it that in your mythicist parallel universe, it seems helpful to point to the Akedah – the interpretation of an already-known figure, namely Isaac, in sacrificial terms – in support of your viewpoint? It is clearly an example of Jews interpreting a figure from their Scriptures (one whom they would have assumed to be historical, I might add, even if neither we nor they have any way of confirming that) in a certain way, not of beginning with Scripture and creating a new figure.You also seem not yet to have grasped the Davidic Messiah concept sufficiently well to understand why the interpretation of martyrs' deaths could take on sacrificial overtones and yet the idea of a crucified Davidic Messiah could still seem paradoxical.I would also point out the irony that, after having falsely accused me of basing my views about mythicism solely on web sites and blogs rather than the few books and chapters written by the few appropriately accredited mythicists, you are now distancing yourself from Price's chapter and directing me back to your blog? :)Mike K, thank you for pointing out Rich's dubious claim before I had a chance to. I wonder if he'd like to offer some shred of evidence, however small, for his depiction of my stance, or whether this is yet another example of how mythicists feel no need to have evidence to support their own claims, even though they claim that evidence or the lack thereof is what is important to them. P.S. Neil, I'm not sure which posts you'd like to keep up and which not. If you can no longer remove your own posts, then let's just leave them up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    I will happily concede that many of the mythicist scenarios seem far fetched to me. On the other hand, the historicists never seem even to offer an explanation for the almost complete absence of a historical Jesus from the first century epistles. This strikes me as every bit as "sad" as any of Price's transgressions.

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

    Vinny, thanks for your comment. Are you acknowledging that there is evidence in the epistles, and expressing puzzlement that there isn't more? If so, I wouldn't really disagree – scholars have often wondered why there isn't more explicitly said about or attributed to Jesus in the epistles.But as someone pointed out in a discussion a while back, this is puzzling for a mythicist scenario. Whether the figure being proclaimed is historical, mythical, or a bit of both, we are given less details about his myth or about his history, about his historical teaching or his revelations from the celestial realm, than we might expect on either scenario. And so it is indeed a puzzling feature, and explanations that have been offered (e.g Paul didn't know the historical figure of Jesus directly) may or may not satisfy you. But this latter one may just manage to explain Paul's relative (but not complete!) silence if it is a historical figure he's talking about. It doesn't explain at all why he fails to provide more details about the myth if that is all that he is propagating.

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

    P.S. Blogger is indeed buggy at the moment. If you get a "not found" message, try using the "back" button. That's what I did, and managed to submit the comments on the second try.Also, select the text of your comment and copy it before pressing submit – then you can always try again.I'm not sure what the problem is, but I hope Blogger fixes it soon!

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

    Scott, I can't think of any historian who drew the conclusion that the historical figure of Jesus thought he was the second person of the Trinity. There are some who, when they take off their historians' hats, may say in the afterword or concluding unscientific postscript that they believe that later Trinitarianism is not an inappropriate outworking of the impact of Jesus, or something to that effect. But I think everyone that "plays by the rules" of mainstream historical study recognizes that Jesus' status is made more exalted by Christians with the passing of time. And this is relevant to the discussion of mythicism, since some mythicists claim that the earliest Christians invented or borrowed a deity. It then becomes hard (or perhaps impossible) to explain how we end up with the depiction of Jesus as not divine or pre-existent in the Synoptic Gospels.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    What I think is that the evidence that is there is ambiguous. For example, Paul talks about the last supper, but he doesn’t reference any of his contemporaries being there and he claims that he received that particular teaching from the lord. Does that indicate history or revelation? Let’s say I concede that, all other things being equal, the odds that “the brother of the lord” is being used in a biological sense are 80%. Doesn’t the lack of other corroboration for a historical Jesus in the epistles give me reason to think that all other things are not equal? Given their scarcity, it is hard for me to conclude that the few passages that might be pointing to a historical Jesus should be interpreted as doing so. That Paul did not know the historical Jesus personally just doesn’t seem very persuasive to me because he is supposed to have known lots of people who did know the historical Jesus. The things that the historical Jesus said and did would have been part of the culture of the early Christian communities, and, most importantly (to me anyway), part of the theological controversies of the early Christian communities. There would have been arguments about the meaning of the things Jesus said and did, and false teachers would have invented sayings and attributed them to Jesus in order to bolster their own positions. Had the Jesus of the first century Christian communities actually been the Jesus of the gospels, I don’t see how so many letters could have been written without discussing the meaning of the things Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry.The argument that this poses a similar problem for the mythicist position seems rather weak to me. It is hard for me to see how I could have any unfulfilled expectations relating to the celestial Jesus since I have no idea what the celestial Jesus was supposed to have said and done, nor do I know that anyone thought they knew what the celestial Jesus had said and done. However, I know these things about the historical Jesus and I have pretty specific expectations of how he should be showing up in the epistles. BTW, I am not persuaded by the celestial Jesus theory in part because of the point you make about the humanity of Jesus in the Synoptics. It seems to me that Paul also thought of Jesus as a real historical person who walked the earth (even if he did not know where or when). The reason this does not change my agnosticism about a historical Jesus is that it seems to me Paul also thought of Adam as a real historical person who walked the earth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Sorry about the repetition there. Blogger kept giving me error messages.

  • http://www.shinyphoto.co.uk/ Tim

    it seems to me Paul also thought of Adam as a real historical person who walked the earth.I've also wondered that. Presumably based on Romans, "for as in Adam all die", and what else? Can you not treat those metaphorically, and equally well assume Paul *didn't* mean a literal Adam, taking his point in terms of a death/life narrative without necessarily grounding *both* parties mentioned?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Tim,You could. I'm just not sure you should.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    it seems to me Paul also thought of Adam as a real historical person who walked the earth.I don't see this. Mistaking scripture for history isn't quite the same as mistaking figures from recent myths for recent historical persons. Especially when you have professed to have met in person people who were in close relationship with the recent figure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Smijer,The problem is that Paul didn't profess this. He never indicates that anyone he had met had ever interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry. He only professed to have met people who had witnessed appearances of the risen Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Vinny, I'm speaking of his Jerusalem meeting (presumably his first one, if there was more than one) with Peter and James.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    Wow, I just did a simultaneously post asking folks to help come up with an abbreviation about the ontological status of Jesus, so atheist would not need to write such large caveates when discussing Jesus given the current questions about his real existence.These mythicist posts have been very interesting ! I had never thought about these issues as deeply before — nor about historical analysis in general. Very helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Smijer,Paul never indicates that Peter knew Jesus during his earthly ministry. If we assume that Paul intended to indicate that James was the biological brother of Jesus, it is reasonable to guess that James had some contact with Jesus prior to his crucifixion. However, Paul seems quite adamant in Galatians that none of the apostles in Jerusalem could add anything to add to what Paul already knew about Jesus via direct revelation. That does not seem to point to Paul thinking that these were people who had been directly taught by the Lord for three years.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Vinny, I included that as an "especially if" clause because I know that some mythicists hold that Paul's notion of apostlehood doesn't necessarily entail having known Jesus during his ministry, and because some hold that Paul didn't hold James to be a biological brother. I disagree with both those positions – pretty strongly – but I was trying to acknowledge them. I think Paul's use of "Apostle" was the traditional one, and his appropriation of it under special terms is what led him to buttress it unceasingly. I think that Paul's use of "brother of the Lord" to refer to James and no other apostle (as practically all early Christian witnesses do) implies a unique relationship unavailable to other luminaries like Peter or Paul himself. And, I think that Paul was buttressing his own authority against claims that he was not a "real" apostle when he insisted that what he preached came directly from Jesus, and not on the authority of those other apostles. Still & all… it doesn't mean the same to say that he thought Adam was a real historical figure and to say that he thought Jesus was a real historical figure. He could have been mistaken about both, but the mistake would have been of a different category in the case of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    "For instance, is it possible that early Christians went through the Jewish Scriptures, choosing a story here, a turn of phrase there, and weaved them together to create a fictional Messiah? Certainly – as are all other scenarios. What is never explained is why someone would have done this, much less done it to produce a crucified Messiah rejected by his contemporaries." (James in the OP)Although I even lost track of what the point of my comments was, the point was to answer this question. Why would someone come up with a crucified Messiah? Because the crucified savior who was a totally new and never before revealed God concept on which the new religion was initially founded worked well up until 150 or so due to the focus being on converting Jews and Jewish proselytes who were looking for freedom from the Torah's crazy ceremonial demands. But when the focus shifted to converting Pagans (who never had been in such bondage) the novelty of the new God coming totally unannounced out of nowhere seemed to work against the religion, so a cabal of its members got together and sold it out in order to "save" it (in their view). They tied it to the OT to make it look "ancient" and as part of this process they turned the crucified never before revealed God into the very well known and infamous god of the Old Testament and the Messiah.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Smijer,I question your use of the term "traditional." Paul is our first source. When reading Paul, no understanding of the terms "apostle" or "brother of the Lord" can be deemed traditional because we have no other usages at the time of Paul to compare them to. We can speak of how later writers understood interpreted these terms and I certainly see that they deserve some weight. However, if the mythicist argument is that the gospel writers historicized a figure who was for Paul essentially mythical, then I don't think appealing to their understanding of "apostle" and "brother of the Lord" is terribly helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    My reasons for applying the "traditional" meaning were given and do not depend on it having been "traditional" in Paul's time. However, the tradition that exists among other Christians on the use of that term is another line of evidence. Certainly, it is possible that later evangelists historicizing Paul changed the meaning of "apostle". But without evidence that this happened, there is a certain probability that this was how the term was understood already, before Paul.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Re: "apostle," if the term had the meaning "follower of the earthly Jesus" for Paul and his contemporaries, then why do the evangelists of the gospels use the term "disciple" for this meaning? It seems to me that somewhere along the line, these two terms came to be treated as synonymous, where before, apostolos had its plain Greek meaning, "messenger or delegated authority" which is consistent with the sense of "one sent by the lord," but not necessarily with "follower of a teacher figure."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    C.J. you may be correct about that. I don't know how one would go about establishing the provenance of the term, but I see that the Gospels use of another term does serve as evidence against its antiquity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09550781249705011630 Eliyahu

    If I understand correctly that you do lend credence only to extant sources and perhaps archeological evidence I am wondering what you actually think about the person who in all likelihood was called Yehoshua. Isn't the purpose to come as close as possible to what actually transpired or is it merely amusement in the end? And if you change the names you really aren't trying to get as close as possible, I mean to history. Yehoshua a Jew by name, J-sus a…a….well there are legion of opinions aren't there.

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

    Eliyahu, I really can't claim to get where you are coming from. I don't know of any historian who thinks the form of Jesus' name used by his contemporaries was Yehoshua. That is of course a fuller form of the same name. But extant sources would suggest that Jesus' name in Aramaic was ישוע If you are going to insist on transmitting his name accurately, presumably you should use the alphabet which would have been used by his contemporaries, since English uses an alphabet that does not faithfully represent all the sounds in Aramaic. The closest equivalent in English letters, if we're aiming for the Galilean pronunciation, would be something like "Yeshu."Our earliest sources are in Greek, of course, and not one attempts to provide a precise sound-by-sound or letter-by-letter rendering or his Aramaic name. They use the already-accepted Greek equivalent, Ἰησοῦς.If you are going to use the original languages, then by all means use them – and be consistent about it, never using "James" or even "Jacob" when neither precisely matches what the Hebrew name sounded like.But in my opinion, as important as the relevant languages are, I think you have missed in your comment that historical study involves understanding not only a different language but a different culture, a different time and place, a different economy, and much else that is different. It is possible to use the commonly-accepted English form Jesus and yet be aware of the differences, just as it is possible to use a Hebrew name in an attempt to give an air of authenticity to one's stance, and yet not deal with the historical distance in an informed an accurate manner. So, if you don't mind me asking, what was your point?

  • Anonymous

    Reading his article right now I think it is very telling you ignore his comparison to the hadiths of Islam and how religionists have no problem completely making up stories about their 'prophet'.

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

    Anonymous, I didn't discuss that point because it is not at issue. No one seriously disputes that material was created subsequently and then attributed to Jesus, Muhammad, and probably most historical figures. In some cases, the amount of material is more substantial. But that is not the issue that separates mythicism from mainstream historical study. What distinguishes them is that the former claims that the sayings made up later are being attributed to a figure who never existed in history in any way, shape or form.

  • Boz

    James McGrath said: "And so the criterion of dissimilarity is useful inasmuch as it provides a small number of sayings which, since they were unlikely to have been invented by his followers or adopted from elsewhere, most likely come from Jesus himself (cf. p.95). "Why is it that when a new/dissimilar theme appears, it is likely to have come from jesus and not a follower?I would have thought that a new idea would be equally likely to be made up by any person?

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

    Boz, I don't think you've understood the criterion of dissimilarity. The New Testament is full of what seem to be new ideas or at least distinctive emphases of these works and their authors.The criterion of (double) dissimilarity suggests that material which is distinctive against the backdrop of the wider culture, and does not fit with the empases of the diverse Christian groups whose literature we have, most likely comes from Jesus himself.Obviously this doesn't give us certainty. It merely helps identify material that is more likely to be authentic than inauthentic. That's the most that historical study is capable of offering.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Boz,I would recommend that you keep in mind that Jim McGrath is not a historian, but is a supernaturalistic apologist. I would recommend that if you want to study the history of Christianity, and the development of early Christianity, that you find and read people that have degrees from history departments, NOT religious departments. I recommend this after studying the subject for about 20 years now. You will find that religious departments generally produce people that support the general field of supernaturalism. That interest in the supernatural brings big money to schools, and book sales to authors, but it does not in any way further the study of Christian history. In fact, it deters from this study. In that it creates a large degree of false information.My recommendation would be, and this is somewhat difficult because it is so easy to find material from folks from religious departments, and more difficult to find material from people from history departments. But, if you try to limit your search for material from people that have gotten degrees in history from history departments, you will not get sidetracked with crap.Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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

    Dear Boz (and Rich), I would keep in mind that the only thing that is clear about this commenter Rich Griese is that he is a liar. I have emphasized in print as well as on this blog that historical study cannot embrace the supernatural and I've explained how it is distinct from apologetics. He never quotes anything that I've allegedly said as justification for his claim. Rich, I'm waiting. Either an explanation of why you are being dishonest, or what I said that you misunderstood to mean what you wrote, or an apology, should be forthcoming. It doesn't do your views any favors when you are dishonest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Jim,quoted;Rich, I'm waiting. Either an explanation of why you are being dishonest, or what I said that you misunderstood to mean what you wrote, or an apology, should be forthcoming. It doesn't do your views any favors when you are dishonest.—I am not sure what dishonesty you are talking about. Or what you feel I should apologize for. Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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

    Sure you do. This is the second time you've said I'm a supernaturalistic apologist. Please provide some evidence for this. It simply isn't true, but perhaps I said something in a blog post that wasn't carefully worded, and if so I'd welcome the opportunity to clarify. But my hunch is you are just trying to use the label to discredit my conclusions without actually knowing the first thing about what I've written. And you try to give the impression of familiarity by calling me "Jim" when anyone who knows me even a tiny bit knows I always go by James. And so honesty and evidence, please! When have I ever engaged in apologetics for the supernatural?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    nternet Law 34.921, subsection b. :The inherent ass-hattery of any particular internet commenter is in direct proportion to their copious use of sign-off phrases such as:Cheers, Peace, In Christ and any other words meant to imply good will but actually carrying nothing but sarcastic bad will.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    PART 1 of 2Dear James,quoted;Sure you do. This is the second time you've said I'm a supernaturalistic apologist. Please provide some evidence for this. It simply isn't true, but perhaps I said something in a blog post that wasn't carefully worded, and if so I'd welcome the opportunity to clarify. But my hunch is you are just trying to use the label to discredit my conclusions without actually knowing the first thing about what I've written. And you try to give the impression of familiarity by calling me "Jim" when anyone who knows me even a tiny bit knows I always go by James. And so honesty and evidence, please! When have I ever engaged in apologetics for the supernatural?—The 'Dear Jim" was a standard salutation used on all correspondence. Many bloggers often overlook this, but I do not, for two reasons. 1) I want to make sure that the person I am addressing realizes I am addressing them 2) as a computer person who runs scripts on my emails I find it useful so I do it myself. Since I run scripts on my emails to send them to folders. For example, if I make a comment on someone's blog, and receive followup emails, I generally route all followup comments from that post to a comment folder, while if the comment contains various permutations of my name I will leave them in my inbox. Since most bloggers do not provide an email contact, but only a comment system, the only real way to communicate with a blogger is to post a comment on one of their posts. And if you then rely on the email follow up to get the response from the blogger, you also have to wade through all the other comments of people that are also making comments on that post. Very often you are simply interested in the bloggers response to you, and do not wish to follow the entire thread, so using scripts to route posts is handy, and this routing relies on you being able to identify when someone is actually speaking to you in the thread. So I always start my posts with "dear Bob," or "hey Betty," and hope others do the same.Regarding your most recent post itself. Are you saying that you are not a supernaturalist? If you are not a supernaturalist then I am completely at a loss as to who I was referring to. I thought I was referring to the James McGrath from the Religion department of Butler University that is a christian. As all Christians are supernaturalists, I use the general term for all supernaturalists be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, etc… I use the term to identify the two sets of people in the world; supernaturalists, and naturalists. Naturalists being people that do not look to the supernatural for explanations, and supernaturalists being those that do. Similar to the binary set of {theists, atheists} of those that believe in gods, and those that do not believe in gods. I prefer the set {naturalist, supernaturalist} rather than the set {theist, atheist}. This is probably because I a not a theist, but atheist sounds like a stupid term. I mean, I am not a plumber, but I don't refer to myself as a aplumber. It also seems dopey to use a label to describe what you DON'T think. So naturalist seems like a more logical term than atheist to me. If I was to use the term atheist, I would feel that I would have to also list all the other things I am not, and therefore naturalist is the term I tend to use more. So I describe things in the {naturalistm, supernaturalist} set rather than the {theist, atheist} set. This seems reason and non-insulting to theists too, since supernaturalists almost always are naturalists … PLUS. So a supernaturalist believes in multiplication, and most things that naturalists believe in, they simply add some additional beliefs to those of naturalists, hence they are super-naturalists.continued…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Part 2 of 3My understanding is that you are a supernaturalist (specifically a Christian) if I am incorrect on that you can correct me.If you are that James Butler my original post to Boz was an attempt to provide him some information in that he seemed to be asking about Christian history and/or the origins of Christianity.In your posts you will often explain what "historians" do. Some people might be misled and think that you were a historian, or that your comments on historians might have some authority. I was pointing out that you are not a historian so that he did not make the mistake of reading your comments on what historians do as some kind of authority.I am not a supernaturalist and have studied the history of Christianity for about 20 years now. I find that a large number of people have passing questions about Christian history, and it is a very difficult thing for a person that has not dedicated a lot of time to the subject to get a handle on.Many people can get sidetracked from their initial passing questions about how Christianity began when they begin to look into the subject, because they often end up reading stuff from people in religion departments, instead of history departments. I have found this is a major problems. Religion departments and history departments are vastly different things. And what you will find in religion departments is a tendency to direct people to issues of the supernatural, or claims that by religion department people that historians cannot address faith belief events in Christianity. I completely disagree with this. Historians can and do explain beliefs of groups in history, and do not rely on supernaturalistic ideas to explain them. They draw on the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and other disciplines, and provide perfectly acceptable explanations for historical groups and events.Since I have an interest in the study of the history of Christianity, and am not a supernaturalist, I will often give suggestions to those that I come across that seem to be asking questions that are of a more historical basis, those that seem to be asking about the history of Christianity. I will make some suggestions, and will indicate that I am also interested in the subject, and most of my posts have some kind of followup link, and if the person reads my posts, and things I might be a good resource for followup contact, I am always available from them to do that. I can then recommend them to some books, major events in the subject, and other resources that can help them in their quest to understand early Christianity that is completely reasonable from a historical, psychological, sociological standpoint that does not involve supernaturalistic explanations. As supernaturalistic ideas are so pervasive in our western society, some people have a difficult time understanding how Christianity could have begun, developed and grown without some connection to supernaturalistic events. What generally happens is that people that get involved in looking into the subject, naturally end up reading writings and ideas from people in religion departments. This is natural since religion departments which developed out of theology departments which developed out of Church dogma, are very powerful and ubiquitous in our society. You can't swing a dead cat without coming across some book by some person in a religion department talking about Christianity, while finding books by people with degrees in history is more difficult. And I have found it to be good advice to give people to be aware of this, so that each time they pick up a book they ask… does this writer have a degree from a history department or a religion department. I think it is perhaps the single best screening mechanism that a beginner should be aware of when they are blindly trying to choose books to read on the subject.continued…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    PART 3 of 3It seemed like Boz might be looking for some historical information. Who knows I could be wrong. But if I was I thought I would give him the suggestion.In addition, I do see a lot of supernaturalists, like yourself, with degrees from religion departments talking about what historians do. And, as I said, or wished to say, what you think about what historians do, is about as relevant as your thoughts on what jazz musicians or firemen do. I do not mean that as an insult. But as I did point out, your degree is in religion, not history. Yet you talk so often about what historians do, that someone that is not paying careful attention, or may not know the difference, may not realize what is actually going on there. And may inadvertently think that you are speaking with some kind of authority on the study of history. I was simply pointing out to Boz that this is not the case.Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04707019493180787753 EvanG

    First time poster here.I'm not a religious scholar, but I am a lawyer, and I simply don't see sufficient evidence to say that it's more likely than not that Jesus was historical. (Yes, it's quite possible, but I don't think it's probable.)Everyone here probably already knows the below, but let me run through why I feel this way.First, the best sort of proof for the existence of Jesus would be contemporaneous evidence. As I imagine everyone here is willing to admit, there is none of any sort whatsoever — no writings by Jesus or his followers during his lifetime, no writings by Jews or Romans, no inscriptions, nothin'.Second, there are only a few writings from shortly after that time suggesting that Jesus lived: the writings of Paul, the Gospels, Josephus, etc. But since these aren't contemporaneous, it's quite possible that the authors are merely repeating stories or legends (some of which originally might have been about other similar figures such as John the Baptist or Apollonius of Tyana, etc., then reworked to feature Jesus) rather than relating historical events. In addition, each of those sources has its own problems: Paul generally refers to a deity or demigod-like "Christ" rather than any sort of historical Jesus or the events of his life, Mark clearly seems to be rewriting Old Testament stories about Elijah and Elisha, the Psalms, etc., Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark (and most likely so is the Fourth Gospel), Josephus includes at least some interpolations and isn't contemporanous, etc. Moreover, stories about unquestionably mythical people have been known to develop in a fairly short time — for example, John Frum of the Cargo Cults. (Other possible examples: Robin Hood, Ned Ludd, Jack Straw, etc.)Given all of the above, I'd say it's quite possible — but not more likely than not — that Jesus existed. Of course, I'd say the same about Jesus ben Anaias, Jesus ben Sapphiah, Elymas bar-Jesus, Jesus Barabbas, Honi the Circle Drawer, and Simon Magus as well.I'd ask people who feel differently: why do you feel that it's more likely than not that Jesus existed?

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

    Evan, welcome! You'll find that there's significant previous discussion on this blog about that topic, and so I'd encourage you to poke around a bit, and feel free to leave comments. If others feel like repeating past discussion (since I know that several of the participants in those earlier discussions have commented on this post as well) please feel free to do so!Rich, it is clear from your comments that you have not actually read anything I've written on this blog. So rather than challenge your faulty premises, may I ask you a question? Do you just pop on here as a troll from time to time to make false accusations? Are you an apologist? If not, then what is your reason for making accusations against someone without ever having taken the time to find out what their views are?As for your point about what historians think about Jesus, it is fine as far as it goes. My own experience is that those whose expertise is in history more broadly defined are far less skeptical of our sources than many New Testament scholars and often have less clearly defined criteria of evidence. Perhaps you'd care to mention some specific historians you'd recommend? I assume Richard Carrier might make the top of your list, but I wonder who else you'd recommend.James

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear EvanG,Quote;I'm not a religious scholar, but I am a lawyer, and I simply don't see sufficient evidence to say that it's more likely than not that Jesus was historical.—Your subject even has a name. It is called Historical Jesus studies. I can recommend three books that are the "catch up" book. The most important work on the subject, and one that represents where the issues are today.I'll give you links to online versions, they are also available in hard copy. If you have a hard time finding them, just contact me via my email, and I will hook you up with them. But they are not that hard to fimd.1) I call the first the "catch up" book cause it is an overview of pretty much everything that happened until modern times. Albert Schweitzer's _the Quest of the historical Jesus_http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/schweitzer/2) Is the major work on the subject. David Friedrich Strauss's _The Life of Jesus Critically Examined_. This book pretty much revolutionized historical jesus studies. And demonstrated that some if not much of what we know about the character is mythology. This was a revolutionary idea at the time, and pretty much cost Strauss his job and his reputation. But it is incredibly detailed work of over 1000 pages. That covers pretty much every aspect on the topic of Jesus. And is THE must read for any serious student of the topic.http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/strauss/(the chapters that are not linked in the upper section are in a more raw format below, but still readable, so don't be confused by the layout of that page.). A popular and affordable (like $40) edition of that in hard copy is from Sigler Press.http://www.siglerpress.com/Strauss.htm3) Believe it or not, since Strauss and Schweitzer not much NEW has been added. Recently a number of scholars have begun to question if a historical Jesus actually existed at all. Up till recently this was not possible or even conceivable. Up till a few hundred years ago suggesting such a thing could get you killed, and even in Strauss's time (about 1860) his landmark work pretty much ruined his career and made him a outcast. While even today, those that broach the subject of the possible non-existence of Jesus can and often do lose their university teaching jobs, and attempts are made to marginalize them, work is starting to be done in this area. I believe that this area will inevitably be explored, but it will take time, since the supernaturalistic ideas of a Jesus character are so ingrained in our society, that even talking about the idea that he was a creation is a subject that angers many.It seems that much of what even scholars have written about Jesus has really simply been assumed material carried over from Church dogma. Until recently, almost nobody has actually started with the question; "Do we have any actual data about Jesus? And if so, what can we be assured of?"A work I recommend, simply because it is available for easy read online, and yet is still a very good introduction to some of the questions that have up till recently not even been asked is, Earl Doherty's _The Jesus Puzzle_. He has a section called "Main Articles" that are composed of 6 parts (it's obvious where to follow) that summarize his particular Jesus myth ideas. His are not the only ones, but they will give you a start.http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/mainarticles-1.htmlAll those can be read right online. If it is a topic you are interested in feel free to contact me by email if you have any more questions. My interest is the formation and growth of Christianity from a historical perspective, and I am always happy to meet others that are also interested in the topic.Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear James,This exchange seems to be turning hostile, so I will end with one final post. My original post to "Boz" recommended that he look for people with degrees in history if he was interested in the study of Christian history. My reference to you included claims that you might not be the best person to get info from because you were 1) religion degreed not history degreed 2) supernaturalistic 3) apologist.You took offense but were not specific on what exactly you took offense to. I wrote an explainatory post describing my reasoning in some detail with specific statements, and asked you to correct me if any of my statements were incorrect. You tacitly accepted my arguments.Looking at your latest reply the word you are focusing on is "apologist". I notice that I specifically elaborated on the "religious degree" and "supernaturalist" which you also tacitly acquiesced to. So your continued hostility must be about the word apologist. I will address that.An apologist is; a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc… And in religious usage more specifically someone who defends a faith belief.I used the phrase "supernaturalistic apologist". My meaning was that you are one that defends supernaturalism, specifically Christian supernaturalism.We know that people do not rise from the dead. This is a fact. So, when we study Christian history we don't have to take any time wondering IF or HOW a person rose from the dead. We know this did not happen. A historian addressing Christian history that does not state this clearly is doing apologetics. All quotes are from your book _The Burial of Jesus_.Historical study deals with evidence, with the question of what we can know about the past, and with what degree of certainty. Christians cannot afford to ignore or bypass such historical investigations. And yet many of Christianity's traditional claims, including (but not limited to) the resurrection of Jesus, may not be able to be proven with certainty, “beyond reasonable doubt”, from our perspective in time and space.Anything other than starting out with "We know this did not happen… but the interesting question for us is how could our society come to believe it did?" Is an apologetical argument. One does not even need to be a historian, just a human. Humans know that people don't rise from the dead. Any writing or thesis that holds out the slightest idea that the story of a man rising from the dead is anything other than mythology is apologetics. Some apologists are strident; "this did happen", others are more subtle "we cannot rule this out". You are more of the latter, but still an apologist.You also have written about faith with regard to Christian history. I am not talking about the faith of Tertullian or Augustine, which a historian might address, but the faith of your reader, and faith as it applies to your reader on the subject. This is not something a historian does.This impression is inevitably true [that they do not hold Christian faith] of some who work in the field of history, just as it is true of some biologists and some musicians and even some preachers, but there is no reason to think that it is true of the majority of scholars working in any of these fields.Indeed, there is much evidence to refute it, much evidence that there are many people working in the fields of history and Biblical studies as an expression of their faith rather than because of opposition to it.The idea that we use history as an expression of our faith is an apologetical argument. These are not issues for the historian. This is a apologetical view. Hence my identifying you as a "supernaturalistic apologist".Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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

    Rich, the only "hostility" in this exchange was when you came to a blog, didn't read much if anything by its author, and then made accusations about him. That is absolutely hostile. There is no hostility from my part, just a request for honesty.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    I've probably read less McGrath than others so wouldn't be in a good spot to weigh in on this one, but speaking philosophically and not so much practically, isn't hard to demonstrate what occurred in events with no physical evidence or witnesses? I mean I could point out that in all the millions of deaths every year how many come back from the dead or can they point out, other than Jesus, another case of this occurring. It may not convince some one that that couldn't happen. There could be something utterly bizarre at work. We send people to the gallows not because we know they are murderers, but if we are honest with our selves, 99.9% sure, maybe less. It just seems presumptuous given all the counter intuitive things we have discovered that we could know what couldn't possibly be. Now mind you Jesus returning physically from a state of death is as likely as my dog being an alien spy, but it could be explained to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    And so to propose the principle of analogy and then claim that anything with an analogue is derived from other texts is, as Darrell Bock puts it in his response, a "heads I win, tails you lose" type of game. And not surprisingly, this is not a game that most historians are interested in playing.Dr. McGrath I'm glad you don't do apologetics. Dr. Bock seems to, and you are quoting his critique approvingly here. What about this performance would you disagree with?Does this video seem to damage Dr. Bock's scholarly credibility to you?How about this one?You consider Dr. Bock a serious scholar and favorably reviewed him. Would you say that he is closer to your way of thinking than Dr. Price is?

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

    Evan, almost everyone thinks Price is wrong. That Darrell Bock is one of them has nothing to do with it and is an attempt to distract from substantive issues.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Wow, that is quite an argument from authority. I like the emphasis. It focuses the eye on the authority. But Darrell Bock is a key here. You don't think he's a kook or a crackpot. You think he's a scholar. You reviewed his contribution with kid gloves. With Price, you tore into him with statements suggesting his beliefs are "fringe", he ignores his own principles, his points are "unjustified", his case is "weak and tendentious."What similar adjectives did you use when you reviewed Bock?At one point you call him "credulous" but that appears to be the extent of your critical verbiage for him. You did manage, in a review of Bock, to speak negatively once more of Price.So any person who was reading your review would think that Price was a crackpot and Bock was a serious scholar. If you recall, this all started with your linking the idea that Jesus is a literary fiction with creationism. So it seems to me very basic that you should be MORE critical of a view of the Gospels that suggests they are the literal word of God, miracles and all than the position that they are literary fabrications if you wish to be consistent, since that position is clearly the closest to creationism. But you aren't.

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

    But Evan, I am not evaluating these scholars' worldviews here, I am evaluating their claims and arguments. I find simply taking the text at face value naive and credulous, and the claim to be doing history when you are not being critical to be at best inaccurate, and more likely dishonest or downright fraudulent. I find pretending to be doing history and simply concocting stuff to be even worse than showing a naive willingness to trust ancient sources. One is being uncritical in treating the evidence. The other is simply making stuff up. If you prefer the latter to the former, that is your prerogative, but while neither is serious historical critical scholarship, that doesn't mean that both are equally ridiculous.

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

    McG: …almost everyone thinks Price is wrong. That Darrell Bock is one of them has nothing to do with it and is an attempt to distract from substantive issues.That almost everyone in a religionist field thinks Price is wrong has nothing to do with it either and to appeal to a majority as you do here is also to distract from substantive issues. Something between 90–97% of Americans believe that Oswald had help on the fateful day he entered history. Forgive me if the evidence leads me to a different conclusion. To further claim that Price is "making things up" without bothering to find out what it is that he is actually saying is lazy and partisan, as is the dismissal of Evan's main point, which you don't seem to get either. He's calling you out on a double standard, not equating Price approach with Bock's. He's right to.The fact is that you, in the post that prompted all these comments, have misrepresented Price's case (in a caustic manner) while tolerating Bock's transparently apologetic approach (in an obvious "enemy of my enemy" manner). McG: "…I am not evaluating these scholars' worldviews here, I am evaluating their claims and arguments."No, you are not. You will doubtless claim that you have not misrepresented Price's case, but anyone who is at all familiar with his work will immediately see that you have here made the type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by presenting the opponent's argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous. I read the book under review after reading your post, just to see what it is that Price said that inspired such vitriol in you. It turns out that you didn't even address his points at all.Your approach would be simply uninformed, if it wasn't so caustic. Ó

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    You are indeed not evaluating their worldviews if you give Dr. Bock such a pass. But if you are going to equate mythicism with creationism, you should consider why you do. If the average creationist is wrong because he is credulous, then credulity at all levels should trouble you equally if you want to try to be somewhat consistent. Modern biological theory is a product of continuing skepticism about all claims to vitalism, divine sparks, animal forces and supernatural intervention in the production of life, and if you want to denigrate skepticism in one area, you should consider what that means to your support of it in others.Again, if you simply disagree with the theory that Jesus is a literary figure but find the arguments worth addressing so that you can refute them, there is really no need to have such vitriol. You need simply refute them with no additional name-calling or arguments from authority with italics needed.

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

    Quixie, is there anything specific in my review of Price's chapter that seems to you to misrepresent what he wrote in it?But you are quite right that, whenever I try to get Evan to understand why mainstream scholarship rejects mythicism, my frustration comes across in unhelpful ways. I will need to learn to not continually participate in discussions that are leading nowhere.

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

    McG: "Quixie, is there anything specific in my review of Price's chapter that seems to you to misrepresent what he wrote in it?"Yes. A few things. The first time I commented on this post, in fact, I tried to highlight one such specific misrepresentation. Your only response at the time was "I don't think i have misrepresented his case at all." In one of the review installments that followed this one, I touched on yet another such specific, which was also ignored by you, which is why I felt that to further engage you in the discussion would be fruitless. McG: "I will need to learn to not continually participate in discussions that are leading nowhere."This reminds me of a funny anecdote involving Miles Davis and John Coltrane, who were once interviewed by French journalist. When asked why he took such extended improvisational solos during performances, Coltrane tried to answer the question (not having the interview in hand, I can only paraphrase here): 'Well, what happens is that when I begin soloing, I use so many different approaches simultaneously— harmonic devices, rhythmic variations, poly-harmonic devices, contrary motion, chromatic devices— there are so many possible places to go and I get so into it that sometimes I don't know how to stop.' Miles, true to form, then responded to Coltrane's convoluted answer in his famous raspy whisper of a voice: "Why don't you try just taking the horn out your mouth?" Your biggest error, in my opinion, is your presumption (and insistence) that "mainstream scholarship" has arrived at some kind of monolithic consensus regarding this issue. I think that this is essentially an equivocation on your part. Your reliance on this imaginary consensus leads you to a confidence which is thus unwarranted. Worse, it gives you an air of dismissive, mocking arrogance which might explain some of the flak that comes your way. You are not the only "frustrated" party here.I will write a post on my own blog elaborating on some of this later this afternoon. Ó

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

    I'll look forward to your post. In the mean time, I'll just say that, whatever disagreements there may be, there is indeed a monolithic consensus among scholars and historians that there probably was a historical Jesus and that he was crucified.

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

    James;In the words of one of my favorite album titles of all time, 'I heard you twice the first time.' Now, hear me once for the second time.Your persistent insistence that such a monolithic consensus exists is an example of the semantic and etymological fallacies. Repeating it with conviction doesn't make it better.Anyway, while recuperating from a nasty head cold this weekend, I took my time and wrote a post on my blog addressing this. I hope it's fairly clear (my sinuses certainly weren't). I hope you read it.PeaceÓ

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

    The link.(sorry)

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

    I look forward to reading your post. If you are implying in your comment here, however, that there is significant doubt about the likelihood that a historical Jesus existed among historians and scholars, then I must insist that you are mistaken. But let me read what you wrote and then see what I can say to continue the conversation in what I hope will be a constructive fashion.

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

    Quixie, I had a quick read of your post and it seems to me, on the one hand, to make the implausible suggestion that a field typified by rejection of the virgin birth as myth (suggested by a few to be a way of dealing with Jesus' conception out of we'd lock, perhaps as a result of rape), the belief that Jesus was either a Cynic sage or a failed apocalyptic prophet, and so on, is in fact one in which most people are Christians promoting "conclusions" that are merely axioms of their faith; and on the other hand, to suggest that older theories should be revisited without really providing much justification, if any, for this. Few theories from the period before we had the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi texts, and countless other intervening discoveries, could be put forward plausibly in anything like their original form today and be found to fit the evidence, and so your claim that these particular views are particularly worthy of being revisited seems unlikely. But at any rate, why not simply make a new mythicist theory that takes into account our current state of knowledge, rather than try to revive ones that lacked many pieces of the puzzle which we now have?

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

    I responded to you comment. I DON't assert that accepting historicity for Jesus is an axiom of faith, you inferred that from the examples I chose to illustrate that majority opinions have no bearing on the veracity of an opinion. You've made appeals before to the notion that DSS and Nag Hammadi somehow render the arguments of the radicals obsolete. Can you give us an example of where some datum from these twentieth century discoveries cancels out a specific claim of, say, Baur . . . or of Van Manen? You haven't yet, and I think that "we-know-more-now-than-we-did-then" is an escape-hatch answer on your part, with little actual merit.McG: "… why not simply make a new mythicist theory that takes into account our current state of knowledge, rather than try to revive ones that lacked many pieces of the puzzle which we now have? …"First of all, because, as I have been repeating, these ideas have not yet been dealt with properly, systematically yet, and second, because the "new" pieces of the puzzle don't negate the hypothesis, so far as I can see (again, unless you can show me how they specifically do). Being that we probably don't posses any primary sources regarding the seminal stage of the tradition, the puzzle will never be more than fragmentary. And please don't make the mistake of thinking that I agree with everything that the radicals wrote. I don't. In fact, I have been keeping notes where I, in fact, critique some of their less persuasive arguments. (For instance Baur argues for Matthean priority at one point.)I will maintain that their work was sound, it was cogent, and it is relevant still.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    James, what 5 of PhD holding scholars of the New Testament do you think believe in the virgin birth and a physical resurrection? How destructive to the notion of Christianity would a a mythically created Jesus be? I don't think the Mythic Jacob has been to destructive, nor mythic Adam, even if still believed in by25% of the general population, I would doubt held by 10% of New Testament scholars.I just so often here it implied that Christian belief is the reason why Mythisim doesn't get a fair shake after over 100 years. How many PhDs in any history related field do you think are mouthiest? I keep seeing the same names. It gives me the impression that this is the domain of Price and Carrier. Doesn't even McDonald, the Mark and Homer guy, think Jesus was a real person? Should i really suspect that Christians have such a strangle hold in the field? I really expect a lot of Christians in NT studies, they naturally would have the interest to pursue the field, like a Shakespear fan would more likely study Shakespeare.

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

    Quixie, the older Jesus myth theories that I am familiar with were an outgrowth of the Religionsgeschichliche Schule and its attempt to explain what seemed to be elements foreign to Judaism in early Christianity. Its approach is still found in a revised form in some circles – Maurice Casey's From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God is an example. The older Jesus myth simply cut out the need for a Jewish historical figure who then becomes Hellenized, and attempted to make the case that instead of layers of Greek mystery religions and myth being added, they were there from the beginning and were the only source of Christianity's central figure, with no historical Jesus being necessary. The textual discoveries made since then have shown that there is scarcely anything in the New Testament that was not a part of Judaism by the first century, and so the need to appeal to non-Jewish religious influences even for the later stages of Christological development has been removed. But old ideas die hard, and there are certainly some who would still posit non-Jewish influences for the latest forms of Christology, the need to do so has been eliminated. And so whatever one thinks about such an explanation for later forms of Christology, there is no longer any real room for doubt that Christianity began as a Jewish movement rather than as something borrowed from non-Jewish sources. And the latter has typically been central to the mythicist argument.

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

    MikeW, I assume that many (although I suspect not all in actual fact) scholars who teach at schools where they have to sign a statement of faith mentioning the virgin birth and resurrection do in fact believe it. But what that means in practice can differ in different contexts. In a Catholic setting, for instance, you will find New Testament scholars who will utterly destroy any grounds for affirming the historicity of the miraculous conception of Jesus – and then accept the doctrine on the basis of church pronouncements. I certainly suspect that there are many people in religious schools who have doubts and uncertainties that they stifle either out of piety or out of a desire to keep a job. And so mythicists are certainly correct that such factors exist. What they are wrong about is suggesting that that conservative Christian experience typifies the academy, including the extensive number of state and private institutions of higher education with no religious affiliation, as well as schools associated with liberal Christianity, where no one has believed in the virgin birth for centuries! :)

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

    McG: "… the older Jesus myth theories that I am familiar with were an outgrowth of the Religionsgeschichliche Schule and its attempt to explain what seemed to be elements foreign to Judaism in early Christianity…"Q:Hmm . . . i asked for a refutation of Van Manen. Instead, you retort with "Religionsgeschichliche Schule." Fancy!! If you squint your eyes just right, it even looks like a diversionary phosphorus flare thrown up in the air. Too bad there's no Teutonic font option in blogger to make it even more ostentatious. At any rate, perhaps you should acquaint yourself with some of the works that are NOT outgrowths of the History of Religions School — but then again, I've been asking you to do that for a while now, so you'll forgive me for doubting that asking once more will have any effect on your reluctance to do so.I am actually familiar with the History of Religions school. It is tangential to the old school mythicism (at best) and almost completely irrelevant to the newer reformulations of the mythicist ideas. For this reason, I never once mentioned it in my brief survey of the idea's progression. Furthermore, I have read Maurice Casey's book. While I don't disagree with your brief assessment of it, this has no bearing on anything that I have been saying here or on my own blog post. The more I interact with biblical studies scholars, the more convinced I become that Hector Avalos is essentially correct in his diagnosis of its current malaise.Funny, but just moments ago, when I checked my email, I found a note from one of your "fans", who bet me $10 that you would not address any of the crucial points in my piece. Hmm. Maybe if you had given it more than a "quick read" …Oh well, I guess I'll have to pay up now. (And here I was, rooting for you. Thanks a lot!)If you ever decide to engage these, I would welcome that. In the meantime, you know where you can find me.McG: "… I will need to learn to not continually participate in discussions that are leading nowhere…."Q:It's easy . . . watch.(well . . . it's easier when it is not one's own blog, I realize — one can't "unsubscribe" and all — but a bit of self discipline will go a long way . . . peace out)

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

    Van Manen (whose work I am much less familiar with than some of the others you mentioned) was but one name you mentioned in a recent comment, and not one of the people that you highlighted in your recent post. You seemed to me to be asking a general question about why mythicism has fallen out of favor, and I sought to answer it as such. if you want to present what it is about Van Manen's stance that makes it stand out among others, that is fine. But I don't think I failed to address your substantive point as I understood it. If I misunderstood what you were asking for, then that is something else, and I apologize. Please do feel free to say more about Van Manen's distinctive arguments. In spite of what "fans" may say I am genuinely interested in this subject, although not all of them understand that discussing mythicism and investigating it's claims is not my full-time job. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    I like probabilities. Probability of someone coming back from the dead? First you have to define death. Then you need to read Schrodinger's cat problem. Of course, the cat being dead or alive is just demonstrating a principle. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the probabilities of an electron to be at one place or another exist, and it is not just the process of making the measurement that determines it's position. There is a real possibility of it being here, or there, like an electron in a tunnel/barrier diode. So probabilities get "averaged" out if you are a cat with billions of electrons. Death is a state, so I believe probabilities rule as well…just because you haven't seen someone come back from the dead doesn't mean the probability is zero. Just means that the sum of all the electron/atom probabilities in a person result in it's classical existence as we know it. Try explaining 10 dimensions. Death would be easy to explain compared to that – since we are familiar with death. Enough philosophy for me…but basic physics is not philosophy, and it tries to describe rules of probabilities.

  • edwardtbabinski

    Bob Price’s point is that there is so much myth in the Jesus story, who knows for sure what’s historical? Bob doesn’t have a particular hypothesis, but he’s familiar with questions raised by one scholar or another regarding the historicity of any and all portions of the Gospel tales.

    But worst of all, two of the book’s other contributors, like Crossan and Dunn find much of the Gospels unbelievable. Crossan’s skepticism is near to Bob’s, claiming that the Gospels are mainly parables, not to be taken literally, though Crossan argues there probably was an historical Jesus, one like himself, a man of peace.

    Dunn is more sure than Price or Dunn that there was an historical Jesus, but even Dunn admits (in his other works, like Jesus Remembered) that The Gospel of John’s narrative is not reliable, nor the claims it makes for Jesus’ quasi-divine status. (In his earlier work, Evidence for Jesus, Dunn didn’t imagine that Jesus spoke even one word reported in John.) Dunn admits there is little to support the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, and little evidence that Jesus supported a mission to the gentiles, and no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah (the term does not even appear in Q), nor is there much left of the “Son of Man,” except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions. Dunn argues that Jesus did not claim any title for himself. Jesus may have believed that he was going to die, but he did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world. “If Jesus hoped for resurrection it was presumably to share in the general and final resurrection of the dead.”

    There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus’ last words were. There is a certain squirming as Dunn admits that Jesus believed in an imminent eschatological climax that, of course, did not happen. “Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events.” Then he goes on for four pages trying to argue that we shouldn’t be too concerned about this. Dunn’s account of the resurrection notes all of the weaknesses of the tradition: The link of Jesus’ resurrection to a falsely imminent general resurrection, confusion as to what sort of Jesus the witnesses were seeing, a persistent theme of failure of the witnesses to recognize Jesus (in Matthew 28:17 the disciples are seeing him in Galilee yet “some doubted,” not just Thomas), confusion as to where they were seeing Jesus (in Jerusalem and Galilee? on earth or in heaven?). Which is not to say that Dunn does not affirm the resurrection — he does, but since he admits so many weaknesses and doubts concerning the written accounts he seems to prefer a visionary explanation.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I’m not sure why you are astonished that the last and thus barely audible words of a man being crucified would not be known, and that those who wrote about it afterward would fill in this gap in their knowledge with things that seemed plausible, whether drawn from Scripture or based on Jesus’ characteristic emphases.

      When one’s approach does not result in a hypothesis, much less a plausible one, that tells us something important, something that sets that individual’s approach apart from others who differ on treating the sources maximalistically or minimalistically, or on how they arrange and interpret those details they consider probable.

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