Chapter 1 of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man

Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical JesusI have often had the opportunity or the necessity to read a book that I expected from the outset I would disagree with or find unpersuasive. I have quite often been pleasantly surprised, while in other cases, I have written a very negative review of the book on my blog.

Reading chapter 1 of Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man was unlike both such types of past experiences. It was more like the sensation of having entered The Twilight Zone, a parallel universe where you are told that things you doubt to be true cannot be doubted, while things that you (and, you thought, most other people) conclude are likely are in fact supposedly impossible to believe.

I will set aside the fact that this chapter is largely an argument from silence, since we are promised that that will be the focus of the next chapter. Indeed, at the beginning of part 1, Doherty does a good job of outlining what lies in store, so that one can reserve judgment in some cases and await a fuller treatment of a particular subject. I still hope at some point in the future I will have time to do a survey of other letters to see how often it is typical for ancient authors to mention the humanity of figures with whom they can safely assume the recipients will be familiar.

For now, I will simply point out what I have said before – the alleged “silence” is not as complete as Doherty seems to think. The references we have to Jesus being born, bleeding and dying as a result of crucifixion, and even being raised from the dead, all represent things that as a rule happened to human beings or, in the case of resurrection, were expected to happen to humans. As for the question of why the focus in the epistles is pretty much exclusively on Jesus’ death and resurrection, rather than his teaching or exorcisms or anything else, the answer has been given by traditional scholarship and remains satisfactory. The death of the Messiah at the hands of foreign overlords required explanation (and Doherty shows himself to be unaware of the work that has been done to explore the background in Jewish thought that provided a framework within which to make sense of this – the martyr theology given expression in 2 Maccabees and elaborated even more in 4 Maccabees, as well as the traditions related to the Akedah echoed in early Christian language applied to Jesus’ death). It was natural for this to become a major focus, since it required attention and explanation. As for the resurrection, the belief that an end-times event had occurred, marking the inauguration of the age to come, was bound to become a focus of attention. Does it really require explanation that the supposed vindication of Jesus beyond death by his becoming the first human raised from the dead into the life of the age to come would come to center stage and overshadow his teachings?

It should also be mentioned here that Doherty makes an unpersuasive analogy between where the preaching in Acts begins – with the life of Jesus – and where the epistles begin – with the heavenly Lord. To anyone who actually pays attention to the audiences in view in each instance, a simple explanation presents itself: those who received Paul’s letters were part of Christian communities, and the way they became part of those communities was by believing the basic introductory things they were told about Jesus. Doherty says more than once that this solution is inadequate, but he neither shows it to be inadequate, nor offers a better one.

The bulk of this chapter consists of claims about what is supposedly unimaginable on the traditional scenario – and it is here that Doherty’s writing most clearly crosses the border from the merely unpersuasive to the bizarrely surreal. Doherty says more than once that it is inconceivable that a group of Jews could have deified Jesus in the way traditionally thought. Here’s a selection from a key passage on p.22:

Is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which the followers of such a man, a humble preacher whose deeds – critical scholars are now agreed – could not possibly have matched those of the Gospel story, would have elevated him to such a cosmic level? Though men, such as Roman emperors, could be called divine and “sons of God,” Jesus’ degree of elevation would have been virtually unprecedented in the entire history of religion.
It is especially inconceivable among Jews, who had an obsession against associating anything human with God…The idea that a man was a literal part of God would have been met by almost any Jew with horror and apoplexy.
Yet we are to believe not only that Jews were led to identify a crucified criminal with the ancient God of Abraham, but that they went about the empire and practically overnight converted huge numbers of other Jews to the same outrageous – and thoroughly blasphemous – proposition.

A great deal of work has been done on the subject of early Christology and monotheism, and I’ll say more about that in a moment. But let me focus first on what struck me most strongly as I read this chapter: It isn’t clear how if at all mythicism mitigates the problem even if Doherty has rightly identified it. How does positing that a celestial figure is turned into a crucified human sidestep the issue, any more than the view that a crucified human was deified? How does separating the history of Christianity into the separate strands Doherty proposes in any way change the fact that, sooner or later, we are still dealing with the strange attractiveness of the seemingly blasphemous proclamation of a crucified Messiah and a crucified God? Explaining how we got there in plausible terms is indeed an important issue, but at present it is not at all obvious that mythicism does a better job of accounting for what happened plausibly, than more mainstream reconstructions of the evolution of early Christianity and its beliefs.

The way out of the apparent paradox, which at the very least mythicism seems to solve no better than historicism, is to rethink early Christology. When mythicists accuse scholars of clinging to too many traditional Christian views, or reading later orthodoxy back into earlier sources, they seem not to grasp what this means, and so perhaps they are simply echoing what scholars themselves often say. If there is an area in which it has proven particularly difficult to avoid reading later orthodoxy back into early sources, it is the ideas of pre-existence and the Trinity. And as we have already seen in this survey of Doherty’s book, mythicism does no better even than the worst (if I may put it that way) of more mainstream New Testament scholarship. But there have long been major voices in mainstream scholarship calling for a rethinking of how the language used in New Testament sources relates to later doctrines. I treat that subject in more detail in my book The Only True God and so will direct those who may be interested there, where they can find one example (by no means the only one) of how New Testament Christological statements can be understood in a way that sets them squarely within the context of first-century Jewish monotheism.

In the present context, let me just offer the following few observations. First, the character of first-century Jewish monotheism is such that it has been possible for some scholars, rightly or wrongly, to deny that it deserves to be called monotheism at all. Doherty seems at times to be aware of this, mentioning as he does the ubiquitous appearance of a supreme mediator figure. It isn’t clear why Doherty expects that his own view, which will presumably have a divine savior who is a “part of God” crucified by the powers in the celestial realm, to be less controversial than the idea that God exalted a crucified human to the status of his second in command. Nor is it clear why mythical ideas akin to stories about Osiris and Attis would have been able to get under the radar of Jewish monotheism in what he calls the “Jerusalem” strand of tradition that flowed into Christianity, while Christian ideas as understood by mainstream scholarship supposedly could not. But perhaps those questions will be addressed in a later chapter.

Another puzzle piece that is relevant to this, and which Doherty has as yet shown no interest in doing justice to, is the phenomenon of Jewish Christianity in the post-New Testament period. Somehow those later Jewish Christians produced Gospels, unaware that they had the option of bypassing that genre and it’s problematic identification of a central celestial mediator with Jesus of Nazareth, and/or attribution of its ethical teaching to a crucified Messiah, depending on which of Doherty’s strands it supposedly emerged from. Somehow later Gentile Christians regarded Jewish Christians as odd because they observed the Jewish Law, not because they held vies anything like those described by Doherty. And when centuries later Jewish Christians produced the Pseudo-Clementine literature, they would show that what set them apart is not whether they have Jesus of Nazareth as part of their system, nor whether they exalt him using language similar to the highest Christological language in the New Testament, but the fact that they understood that language the way many New Testament scholars think the New Testament authors themselves understood it – in terms of agency, in a manner compatible with Jewish monotheism. And so apparently the key forms of Jewish Christianity that Doherty claims to detect in or behind New Testament Writings left no impression in the one place we might most expect to find them, namely Jewish Christianity itself.

Making sense of Christian origins is indeed like putting together a puzzle. And we are indeed missing many pieces we wish we had. But I think the reason Earl Doherty constructs Christian origins as he does is that he is ignoring some of the pieces we do have – evidence about the character of Jewish monotheism, evidence about Messianic beliefs, and evidence about later Jewish Christianity, to name but a few.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    "Is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which the followers of such a man, a humble preacher whose deeds – critical scholars are now agreed – could not possibly have matched those of the Gospel story, would have elevated him to such a cosmic level?"First, in my research, the initial followers (HJ's buddies) were not the ones who elevated him, certainly did not see him as Christ or Son of God or even resurrected. That was later done by others wanting to make converts and keep them (Paul for example)."cosmic level": it sounds like a rocket was needed to get him there. What was needed was words. Words are cheap & easy, and out-of-context Jewish Scriptures could be used for justification."Though men, such as Roman emperors, could be called divine and "sons of God," Jesus' degree of elevation would have been virtually unprecedented in the entire history of religion."Well there is a first for everything. And that process happened after the crucifixion, not before. In other words, it does not affect the existence or non-existence of HJ."It is especially inconceivable among Jews, who had an obsession against associating anything human with God…"There are plenty of humans associated with God in the OT & apocrypha, some very closely (and during their lifetime on earth!)."The idea that a man was a literal part of God would have been met by almost any Jew with horror and apoplexy."Doherty is putting some trinitarian thinking into that statement. Jesus as part of God came well after Christianity had started. And he would be then a part of God as an heavenly being, not as a man. Again, Doherty is writing about later development, not impacting a HJ or no HJ."Yet we are to believe not only that Jews were led to identify a crucified criminal with the ancient God of Abraham,"Here we are again: Jesus is the God of Abraham. One more red herring set up by Doherty. And certainly Jesus was not presented as a criminal. Where did he get that?"but that they went about the empire and practically overnight converted huge numbers of other Jews to the same outrageous – and thoroughly blasphemous – proposition.""pratically overnight": that took decades, and the number of Jews converted could have been only hundreds, possibly a few thousands. Where did he get those huge numbers (and pratically overnight)? Maybe dubious Eusebius (4th cent.)Lot of verbiage & populist rethoric, cheap assumptions, red herrings cropping up here and there, confusion of issues … And only in one paragraph!

  • Anonymous

    It's clearly a book with an agenda — to reach a certain predetermined conclusion. Such a book, whether by a fundamentalist or an atheist, may contain some scholarship but is not itself scholarship. It's propaganda.

  • http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/JNGNM_Review3.html GakuseiDon

    I think the reason Earl Doherty constructs Christian origins as he does is that he is ignoring some of the pieces we do have – evidence about the character of Jewish monotheism, evidence about Messianic beliefs, and evidence about later Jewish Christianity, to name but a fewThat's right. Doherty seems intent on wanting readers to choose between two options: the orthodox Christian one and mythicism. So any viewpoint outside of that rarely gets a mention. "Son of God" means what the 4th C orthodox Christians mean, not what it might have meant in a Jewish context. Doherty writes just above the passage you quoted above:"Those who derive their view of Jesus from the Gospels might be startled to realize the highly elevated nature of the Jesus preached by early Christians. He is a part of the very Godhead itself. His nature is integral with that of the Father. And he has been given all the titles previously reserved for God alone…This supposed elevation of a human man is quite staggering. To the extent that they are familiar with them, Christians have had almost 2000 years to get used to such lofty ideas. But we lose sight of the fact that if the orthodox picture is correct, someone or some group one day decided to apply all these ideas to a human being for the first time and actually went out and preached them."Most modern scholars don't work under the assumption that "the orthodox picture is correct". But you wouldn't know it reading Doherty. Adoptionism, separatism, etc, barely makes a mention in Doherty's book. His book is certainly useful for the mythicist who wants to argue against modern orthodox Christianity; but as a piece of scholarship it leaves too much out. GakuseiDon

  • Anonymous

    Well even when he tries to read an Orthodox prespective into the Gospel text he doesn't exactly get it right. Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    "But we lose sight of the fact that if the orthodox picture is correct, someone or some group one day decided to apply all these ideas to a human being for the first time and actually went out and preached them."Doherty is using beliefs of conservative Christians in order to justify his theories. Critical works and alternative reconstructions are ignored.Against the assumption of an instant creation of the most advanced Christology which was immediately preached by many:Paul might have been the one, or among the first ones, to greatly enhanced Jesus status fairly early on, but other Christian groups did not endorse all his ideas. For example, the Synoptic gospellers did not mention pre-existence, and "Matthew" and more so "Luke" implied "the Son of God" started his existence at conception and (human) birth (but his divinity was "dormant" up to well into adulthood!). James' epistle is barely Christian (mostly through two occurences of "Jesus Christ"). The Jewish Christians did not accept pre-existence for a long time and the Ebionites started as later followers of Jesus but not truly Christians. Trinity got official in the 4th cent. One of the problem with Doherty's work (as for most mythicist writers) is it delivers anti-orthodox_Christian propaganda when pretending to make a historical study. I think the two do not mix. You can do one, or you can do the other, but doing the two together stinks.

  • Earl Doherty

    One man’s “surreal” is another man’s “clarity of understanding,” especially when the former has to be jolted out of a lifelong subscription to a traditional paradigm and the fodder of received wisdom. Reconfigure the walls of your box if you need more breathing room, but dismantling it entirely is just too “surreal” to imagine.Jim complains: “It isn't clear how if at all mythicism mitigates the problem even if Doherty has rightly identified it. How does positing that a celestial figure is turned into a crucified human sidestep the issue, any more than the view that a crucified human was deified?” All I can say is that Jim’s bias seems to be making him unable to read or absorb anything I write (which does not augur well for his review as a whole). The difference is that in the former, no human person is involved, which very much gets around the Jewish paranoia of associating anything human with God. If God’s emanation gets crucified in the heavenly world, no such problem arises. Yes, any kind of crucified Messiah, even in heaven, was a new development, and turned off many Jews, but that doesn’t make it impossible in a given situation and sect. After all, Paul tells us that it could all be found in scripture. And he was right, given that Christians for two millennia have appealed to the fact that everything Christ underwent WAS to be found in scripture. (Of course, that’s because it was the source of the Gospel story.) Similarly, the compromise to monotheism which the heavenly Son presented also turned off many Jews (and explains the persecution the new Christ cult suffered, which Saul allegedly took part in), but no picture of the diversity of contemporary Judaism would enable Jim to rule out the feasibility of the rise of such a divergence and compromise, especially in a Hellenistic-Jewish setting.But the essence of Jim’s objection in this chapter is contained in his proposed solution: “Rethink Early Christology.” It is the ‘solution’ which the most recent critical scholarship has seized upon, since the last few generations of NT study have backed it into a corner where the only way out is to completely overturn 2000 years of orthodox (and scholarly) outlook on what the NT texts mean. In other words, we will impose a radical new interpretation on the early Christian writings and the minds of their authors in order to serve our purposes, in order to make things acceptable to us and extricate ourselves from an increasingly untenable situation. A divine Jesus in the Gospels? Not at all! He was merely a ‘son of God’ in the sense of so many Jews who were seen to have incurred God’s favor. And since few critical scholars—if any—that I know of (and I’m quite sure Jim is not one of them) are willing to completely divorce the Christ of Paul from the Jesus of the Gospels, then Paul and his fellow epistle-writers also have to have their Jesus ‘dumbed down’ to something less than a divine emanation of God himself, which forces them to do great violence to many epistolary texts. Nothing in the Gospels can be identified as ‘history remembered’? Just play up the midrashic and Old Testament fixation of the Jewish ethos (regardless of whether a good portion of the NT writers seem to have been gentile and all wrote in Greek) which was incapable of writing contemporary history or thinking about current events in anything but OT motifs. The graphic heavenly “blood” sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary in Hebrews is too bizarre and embarrassing? Simple—just turn it all into a metaphor for Calvary (as Attridge and others have done), even if Calvary is never mentioned. And while you’re at it, chuck the obvious Platonism inherent in the Hebrews mindset (which older scholars like Moffatt fearlessly acknowledged), arbitrarily bring heaven to earth, and presto! you’ve got that nice Jewish linear progression from past to present, all of it securely earthbound.Jim will pardon me if I do not focus my book on such ‘innovative’ scholarship (though I do deal with a lot of it). My intended audience is not the Jesus minimalists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    Doherty wrote: "If God’s emanation gets crucified in the heavenly world, no such problem arises. Yes, any kind of crucified Messiah, even in heaven, was a new development, and turned off many Jews …"If Christ would have been said crucified in some celestial realm, as a Spirit who, strangely enough, turned into a flesh and blood under the Law in mid-air, many other problems would have arised, and much stronger as the ones raised if he were crucified in Jerusalem.Let's think about it: the ethereal Son of God, witnessed (likely through (dubious) revelations and visions, what else) to have been crucified by demons in some heaven (where death is possible!), for atonement of sins allowing Christians to go in the Kingdom, in the near future!Even if some would have been hooked to Christianity (because Jesus was branded as a saviour when the Kingdom will come (soon)), Christians, such as the inquisitive Corinthians, would have kept asking questions about it. Not a trace in the Pauline epistles!A crucifixion in heaven, not only would have turn off the Jews, but also the Gentiles. But then, there are no efforts in Paul's letters to defend the very improbable location of that crucifixion, nor how it got witnessed, and why, if the crucifixion was meant to be the ultimate Sacrifice, the whole thing did not happen publicly on earth, with Jesus as a human (temporarily), therefore in flesh & blood and subjectable to death? And when Paul kept giving human ancestry to Jesus (from Abraham, Jesse, David, Israelites and a woman) and a brother James (which the mythicists have to dismiss). Go figure. Maybe you can."but that doesn’t make it impossible in a given situation and sect. After all, Paul tells us that it could all be found in scripture."What did Paul find in the scriptures? Crucifixion in heaven? Where?

  • Anonymous

    "Is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which the followers of such a man, a humble preacher whose deeds – critical scholars are now agreed — could not possibly have matched those of the Gospel story, would have elevated him to such a cosmic level? Though men, such as Roman emperors, could be called divine and "sons of God," Jesus' degree of elevation would have been virtually unprecedented in the entire history of religion."I think that part of the problem is the idea that no one would think of Jesus in the elevated way Paul does unless he performed the deeds ascribed to him in legend. I have read a lot though on guru's and charismatic religious leaders, and the attribution of divinity to men who are somewhat less powerful than the gospel's Jesus is far from unprecedented in the history of religion. Their also seems to be some confusion the relation of a divine emanation from God, to God. I have come to disagree with those who feel that Jesus was thought of in terms of a human who is a Davidic king or messiah. I think that paul had a very elevated view of Jesus, and Peter and James did as well (christiology doesn't seem to be the arguing point between the apostles). I think Paul sees Jesus as God's spirit, as in second cor 3;18 or in Rev. 5:6 where the lamb has 7 eyes representing god's seven spirits. I don't think though that that identification means Paul thinks Jesus is God. The impression I get from Jewish philosophy of the period and in the NT is that only God in his most ultimate form is God, and everything else is not god, thus you can have very lofty beings that are components of God, his spirits, that are not God. So one could personify God's spirit as a being apart from God but being effectively god, but not violate the rule that God is One. For the christians, it seems to me, have identified the risen messiah as not just another human, or number one human, but as God's very spirit. It would be troubling to anyone who did not share their high appraisal of Jesus, but not technically blasphemous since they aren't saying Jesus is God, or another god, but that Jesus is merely God's spirit.Doherty, on the heavenly alter of Hebrews, i don't think either you nor your opponents think Jesus was actually killed in the heavenly temple. if I am not mistaken, you think the crucifixion took place in the realm of flesh in a lower sphere. So It seems either if he was crucified there or Calvary, we have a symbolic transportation of Jesus' blood to the heavenly alter, which certainly is in the highest heaven.Mike Wilson

  • Earl Doherty

    I would just like to say in regard to Bernard that he is the most frustrating dissenter to my views that I have ever tried to deal with–bar none (and that's saying a lot). I think I have said all that it is humanly possibly to say to deal with someone like him (including many comments by Richard Carrier that I incorporated along with my own) in my very long rebuttal article to him on my website. I intend to ignore him here, as I have elsewhere for several years now.

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike: “I think that part of the problem is the idea that no one would think of Jesus in the elevated way Paul does unless he performed the deeds ascribed to him in legend. I have read a lot though on guru's and charismatic religious leaders, and the attribution of divinity to men who are somewhat less powerful than the gospel's Jesus is far from unprecedented in the history of religion.”This is a prime example of being trapped thinking inside the box. The mysteries spoke in elevated fashion of Osiris, of Attis, of Mithras. Did those devotees do so only because they were historical figures who performed the deeds ascribed in their myths? And even if they did think so, does that mean that those mythical deeds were actually historically performed? Did the Mithraists elevate Mithras on the basis that he actually did engineer the precession of the equinoxes? (As well, what inspiration would have been forthcoming from Attis’ legendary self-castration to elevate him to savior-god status?)In any case, how could Paul have elevated Jesus on the basis of his alleged deeds and yet show not the slightest interest in or dependency on such deeds? How could he speak of the genesis and development of his faith in ways which ignore and virtually exclude such a figure, let alone his deeds? How can he preach the “gospel of God” and never attribute any such derivation to Jesus? How could he argue a key part of his gospel, freedom from the Law for gentiles, and never look to the question of what Jesus himself might have preached on that score (whether authentic or not)? How could he speak of God appointing apostles and never give a hint that Jesus himself was responsible for any such actions?When one is stuck inside the box to this extent, it’s no wonder that the simplest questions get overlooked or require the grossest contortions to ‘explain’.Yes, in Hebrews, to the extent that it is mentioned at all, Jesus’ death would have taken place in the lower heavens, since the heavenly sanctuary where the blood is offered is located by the author in a higher realm in which a god could not undergo death and suffering. But that offering is never said to be “a symbolic transportation of Jesus’ blood to the heavenly altar.” In the author’s portrayal it is literal (showing that it is not human blood but corresponding divine blood of a spiritual nature—note Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods). It has to be, because the author creates a graphic parallel between the actions of the high priest on earth bringing the blood of sacrifices into the inner temple, and the action of Jesus the High Priest bringing his own blood into the heavenly inner sanctuary (a Platonic parallel to the earthly one) and offering it there. Any thought that the latter is symbolic or metaphorical is a scholarly rationalization, for there is nothing in the text to justify such an interpretation, and it would destroy the workings of the very parallel the author is at pains to create. Once again, one has to step outside the box to see this.I am very much looking forward to Jim tackling my chapter on Hebrews. If he lasts that long.

  • Anonymous

    Did you really refute Bernard's criticisms of your book Earl or did you just write back to him? There is a difference you know.Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    to Doherty,I take that as a compliment. I did not think that humble gentleman me would be so frustating to you. Your critique of my own critique was indead very wordy but with little substance. Most was aimed at wooing Carrier into the mythicist camp, which I found humiliating, because you did not deal with my critique a lot. I did not answer it for that reason, and the fact my rethoric is deficient compared to yours. Anyway I addressed the few points you (& Carrier) raised by adding up clarifications and explanations on my work, but I did not have to change much of anything.

  • Anonymous

    For people like this, any answer at all, especially a really verbose one, automatically constitutes a refutation. That's because we're all stupid theists, don'tcha know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    Doherty wrote: "In any case, how could Paul have elevated Jesus on the basis of his alleged deeds and yet show not the slightest interest in or dependency on such deeds? How could he speak of the genesis and development of his faith in ways which ignore and virtually exclude such a figure, let alone his deeds? How can he preach the “gospel of God” and never attribute any such derivation to Jesus? How could he argue a key part of his gospel, freedom from the Law for gentiles, and never look to the question of what Jesus himself might have preached on that score (whether authentic or not)? How could he speak of God appointing apostles and never give a hint that Jesus himself was responsible for any such actions?One way to explain that: these extraordinary deeds were invented later and, among other things, were incorporated in the gospels in order to divinize a very human & humble Jesus. BTW, I do not think any gospel has Jesus preaching "freedom from the Law for Gentiles". So Paul cannot be blamed about missing that. As for the apostles in question, Paul was likely referring to non-eyewitness Christian preachers (in the Spirit and benefitting of visions from above!), as he was.Doherty wrote: "But that offering is never said to be “a symbolic transportation of Jesus’ blood to the heavenly altar.”"Argument from silence again. It also looks you read an update from my critique. And I do not think the author would be concerned with "technical" details about the nature of that blood and the exactitude of the parallelism with ritual sacrifices in Jerusalem. The blood here looks to be the symbol for Jesus' death/sacrifice on the cross and therefore brought to the highest heaven.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    to Anonymous,I am not a Theist, nor a Christian.

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

    Earl Doherty is right. I have a bias of which I cannot seem to rid myself no matter how hard I try. I prefer theories that make sense of more evidence to ones that make sense of less, and prefer both of those to ones that make little sense of the evidence at all. I am biased against innovative claims that suggest that everyone with expertise is a blind fool, while proposing a scenario that creates more problems than it solves. I am biased in favor of historical reconstructions that make historical sense and against those which retroject later ideas into earlier times when they had not been developed yet. And I persist in this bias regardless whether the one retrojecting later orthodoxy is a conservative Christian apologist or an atheist mythicist.We all have biases, and I much prefer mine to some others I have encountered. But maybe that's just because I am biased in that direction…

  • Anonymous

    "I prefer theories that make sense of more evidence to ones that make sense of less"Doherty prefers theories that get him to his desired conclusion. Don't matter how.

  • Earl Doherty

    Brian: "Did you really refute Bernard's criticisms of your book Earl or did you just write back to him? There is a difference you know."Judge for yourself. As I have said here before, my refutation covers three long articles (written 2005). You can read them on my website starting at:http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesMuller1.htmFor Muller to claim that they had no substance, or that Carrier contributed nothing by way of rebuttal either, is the biggest joke of all. Unfortunately, he's only played it on himself.And Brian (I assume you're also the later "Anonymous" poster), the accusation that myself or mythicists/atheists in general use or twist the evidence to arrive at predetermined conclusions is the oldest ploy in the historicist book, especially when it is not accompanied by argued demonstration–and of course it rarely is. It's the biggest cop-out of them all.Some might say it's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Or are you claiming that there is no tradition of predisposition on the historicist side? That predisposition is the only explanation for the host of fallacies which traditional NT scholarship has always indulged in, and which are exposed in spades in my book.

  • Anonymous

    Earl, you may have misunderstood me. I don't think either Jesus or Osiris did the fabulous deeds ascribed to them in legend. It is not necessary for a historical person to do incredible miracles in order for contemporary people to think they are divine beings identifiable with God. Jesus did not have to raise the dead, still storms, or turn water to wine to convince people that his spirit was God's Spirit. It is likely that his followers interpreted events around him as exorcisms of demons, healing, and other examples of divine favor. That is not an uncommon experience in the world. Paul doesn't mention which of Jesus deeds convinced him that he was an elevated being other than his death and resurrection. It is not known what other miracles or acts of Jesus Paul believes took place, if any. He mentions some teachings and being handed over after a meal. Paul does state that he personally can attest to Jesus' resurrection. It is not unlikely that he believes this, other religious figures also report visions of dead people or deities. This was probably enough to convince Paul Jesus was as his devotees claimed. If this is the case, that Paul's belief he had seen Jesus resurrected, caused him to believe Jesus is a heavenly being, then it is not shocking that he does not dwell on other actions of his life; Paul says he is only concerned with Jesus death and subsequent rebirth. This may be a bit of hyperbole, as Paul does mention a few other things about Jesus, but you see what the focus is. We may presume Jesus was not a ordinary person before his demise, and he generated some expectation that he might be somehow extraordinary, whether as a human or as a mythic being. Paul doesn't say much on what that may be though. A portrait of Jesus from the letters is incomplete. It is odd the lack of Jesus material that Paul uses, in light of how we think of Jesus in the Gospels, only in John does Jesus say a lot of Paul like things. Paul doesn't quote Jesus sermons or sayings to his readers. It does give evidence of how paul views jesus, and how Christianity of the time viewed Jesus, and how Jesus viewed early Christianity. I don't think it overwhelmingly problematic however. I don't expect members of the same small group to use quotes in communications, though they sometimes do. Communist could understand certain principles were communist without having to underline "Marx taught…" It does not require the acceptance of another theory of Jesus that is problematic in its relation to other evidence. I may not be thinking out side the box, but i don't go for radical theories if simple ones work. Still i think it would be interesting to look at other similar works for similar situations and see how they compare.On freedom from the law, I don't think Jesus had anything to say on what is a central theme of Paul's letters. Even if Paul would invent a message teaching from Jesus, it would carry less weight than the counter from someone who knew Jesus, that goes for any personal revelations from heaven. Again, though i think it is a good question of why Jesus is not quoted more in the letters, and not just of Paul. Mike Wilson

  • Anonymous

    There is, and it has been mentioned before, little information in the letters to any past, mythic or otherwise for Jesus, so it doesn't require a Jesus myth. The indirect and vague references to Jesus story can't be said to be evidence for a mythic jesus, as though mythic beings like osiris and thrice great hermes did not have developed mythologies surrounding them or teachings. It seems that positing a mythic Jesus, and all the difficulties it creates is a much more gross contortion to solve that problem.On Hebrews, the thing is, if he did not die in the heavenly temple, then he has to travel there to officiate at the alter, unless his death at point x is seen as the way the blood is poured on the alter. You seem to reject this, but still, Jesus must ascend to heaven to offer this blood in the heavenly temple. so whether he died on calvary or the sublunar heaven, he has to ascend to heaven. to officiate at the heavenly temple, and the common understanding of early christianity is that the resurrected jesus went to heaven. Your interpretation offers no advantage, because mythical Jesus has to travel to heaven too, he isn't already in the heavenly temple. What would keep the raptured Jesus or Elijah, Enoch, or moses from god's temple as opposed to a purely heavenly being?Mike Wilson

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    to Doherty,Reread my post: I never said Carrier did not do a rebuttal of my critique, nor you did not include some of his critique in your rebuttal of yours. However it looks you worked very hard to enhance yours and you took out the wooing addressed to Carrier. So many words! Certainly a lot more than my own critique.But I do agree with your opening remark: "What we have here is a failure of imagination." which "sums up a key aspect of the opposition to the Jesus Myth case". Definitively, imagination is required to understand your case.

  • Anonymous

    "And Brian (I assume you're also the later "Anonymous" poster), the accusation that myself or mythicists/atheists in general use or twist the evidence to arrive at predetermined conclusions is the oldest ploy in the historicist book, especially when it is not accompanied by argued demonstration–and of course it rarely is. It's the biggest cop-out of them all."If I read correctly, the accusation is aimed at your book specifically not mythicist, much less atheist, generally. Of course, the poster probably doesn't have access to your thoughts or how you reach conclusions, but I think speculation is in order for why people believe things and come to conclusions that can't be supported logically. There are some historicist though who make the same mistake of getting an attachment to a particular solution and all there error that can flow from that.This a good conversation, i think, for internet readers. Your book is very popular with the mythicist set, and while there are a number of responses to your work on line, given the amount of chat about the subject here, it is good to discuss the work in detail. Perhaps we will see the fallacies you expose in NT scholarship. My thanks to James for giving a detailed treatment and hope he keeps it up, and my thanks to you Earl for defending your work.Mike Wilson

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17974403961870976346 Michael Turton

    Dr. McGrath, thanks for taking the trouble to review this text. I am enjoying all the exchanges here and in the comments.Michael Turton

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike: "On Hebrews, the thing is, if he did not die in the heavenly temple, then he has to travel there to officiate at the alter, unless his death at point x is seen as the way the blood is poured on the alter. You seem to reject this, but still, Jesus must ascend to heaven to offer this blood in the heavenly temple. so whether he died on calvary or the sublunar heaven, he has to ascend to heaven. to officiate at the heavenly temple, and the common understanding of early christianity is that the resurrected jesus went to heaven. Your interpretation offers no advantage, because mythical Jesus has to travel to heaven too, he isn't already in the heavenly temple. What would keep the raptured Jesus or Elijah, Enoch, or moses from god's temple as opposed to a purely heavenly being?" I'm not sure what your point is. Of course, the heavenly Christ, killed in the lower heavens (where, by the way, he was "for a time lower than the angels") had to ascend after this death (his resurrection) to the higher heaven which contained the heavenly sanctuary, there to offer his blood. You ask what the difference is??? The purely heavenly Christ was never on earth, there was no historical Jesus. That's the great debate going on here. Did you miss it?By the way, more than one scholar on Hebrews has fussed over the question of how Jesus could carry his (human) blood from Calvary up to heaven and offer it in the spiritual sanctuary. (One of them even questioned whether the Calvary crucifixion really produced that much blood!)Right. No wonder Attridge was driven to pronounce Hebrews' heavenly sacrifice merely a metaphor. :-)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for you impute Mr. Doherty, Your defense of your work adds value to the review, and enhances your image as someone who would like to be taken seriously. It seemed to me that your were arguing that the description of Jesus' heavenly temple activities were more supportive of a mythic christ. But if he has to be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven to do this in either scenario, I'm not sure how this passage from Hebrews supports one theory over the other. Mike Wilson

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

    "more than one scholar on Hebrews has fussed over the question of how Jesus could carry his (human) blood from Calvary up to heaven and offer it in the spiritual sanctuary"…I find it amusing that people fuss over literal interpretations even in the NT when they are obviously symbolic. Human authors writing from their perspective, NOT GOD writing literally. Too many conflicts between other verses/authors (Rev 21:22, no temple in heaven), and conflicts between common sense. I would assume they also think the communion bread and wine are ACTUALLY transformed into blood and flesh (nice canabalistic religion), and the medical approach to cleansing leprosy (Lev 14), which I don't think has been adopted in medical schools yet. But that doesn't mean I don't believe in Jesus as an historical figure.

  • Earl Doherty

    Dear Gary,Please give us one passage in the epistle to the Hebrews which would indicate that the author's elaborate presentation of Jesus' offering of his blood in the heavenly sanctuary is "obviously symbolic," rather than an actual scene he envisioned as having taken place in heaven.

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike: “It seemed to me that your were arguing that the description of Jesus' heavenly temple activities were more supportive of a mythic christ. But if he has to be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven to do this in either scenario, I'm not sure how this passage from Hebrews supports one theory over the other.”To understand this, you have to be familiar with the picture of the “sacrifice” presented in Hebrews. Not just Jesus’ sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary itself, but the parallel being made with the earthly sacrifice by the high priest in the temple on earth. That comparison excludes any thought of an earthly dimension to Jesus’ death and offering of his blood. Let me quote from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.237-8):"If the author thought that Christ had been on earth and crucified on Calvary, he too, like modern scholars, would surely have found it impossible not to regard that earthly phase as part of the sacrifice. Indeed, several scholars have imposed that understanding on him. But if he were to regard Calvary as part of the sacrifice, then Christ has de facto performed—at least partially—his sacrifice on earth. His priesthood would have been in part conducted on earth, and thus the direct statements that Christ has performed—and had to perform—his sacrifice in a sanctuary not made by man (8:2), not belonging to this created world (9:11), would be incorrect, or would need to be qualified. If Christ’s sacrifice taking place in Heaven is regarded as making it ‘perfect, spiritual and eternal’ (9:11-14 [NEB]), if cleansing heavenly things requires a heavenly sacrifice (9:23), then such claims are foiled if part of the sacrifice was in fact not heavenly at all. And if it was performed in the same venue as the sacrifices of the earthly priests, this would produce an outright incompatibility with the statement of 8:4….…But then the writer would have been overwhelmed with all those pesky complications. Wasn’t the blood human and not spiritual? Wasn’t a human act in the material world by definition “imperfect”? Since Calvary was a key event in salvation and thus of the New Covenant, wasn’t it taking place at the same time and in the same venue as the old earthly acts of atonement under the Old Covenant? Didn’t the exclusive territories the writer is at pains to delineate in fact overlap? Even if he could have found ways out of these complications and others like them, he would have had to outline his solutions, to show some recognition that he was aware of the conflict…"My chapter on Hebrews is 37 pages long and demolishes any possibility of regarding its Christ figure as ever incarnated to earth. Eight pages of that is devoted to analyzing chapter 8, verse 4, which by itself tells us in no uncertain terms that Christ had never been on earth. I look forward to Jim tackling that one.P.S. Would someone like to enlighten me on the tags for italics and indentations on this blog? Thanks.

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike: "If this is the case, that Paul's belief he had seen Jesus resurrected, caused him to believe Jesus is a heavenly being, then it is not shocking that he does not dwell on other actions of his life; Paul says he is only concerned with Jesus death and subsequent rebirth."But you are missing the point. Paul isn't living in a vacuum. He is going about the empire preaching a man who he claims was the Son of God and did all sorts of divine things. He might not be personally concerned with Jesus life prior to his death (although even that doesn't make sense), but that does not mean he would be capable of ignoring it in his preaching. His audiences and converts would not share that lack of concern, and the details of that life would have been of immense usefulness to him in his missionary work. Besides, did every other epistle writer in all those other communities feel the same lack of concern? Could they, too, have gotten away with ignoring anything but the death and resurrection? Think about it.

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

    Earl, on this blog you use standard HTML tags – and so an "i" for italics or "b" for bold enclosed in at the beginning and with an additional backslash before the same letter at the end.

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

    Earl,I guess I didn't make my self clear enough…although thank you for responding. What the author views as real is symbolic to us. I am sure the priests in Lev 14:25 "he shall kill the lamb…and the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot."… I am sure the priests thought they were responding to the direct orders of God (maybe some of them, anyway – those that didn't write Leviticus), but I don't seriously think God told anyone to perform such a task to absolve themselves of guilt. I don't think it is worth the time for me to delve into Hebrews, since I would make a blanket statement that any blood of Jesus being put on an altar in heaven may have sounded valid to its author, but it is clearly symbolic for us. As I said, there is no temple in heaven, and there certainly is no sacrificing of anything in heaven….that was done once here, 2000 years ago, and that was it. I usually don't get involved in deep debate on this blog, since I am not an expert in religion, let alone the bible….although I know what I believe, and debating won't change my mind. Maybe if you want to debate present day cosmology…I feel more comfortable with that.

  • Anonymous

    Mike Wilson,Earl, would not Paul's audience be as interested in details on Jesus' mythic story if they would be interested in details of his human life? Why don't they care what his origin is, how he was crucified, what his relation is to the other heavenly beings? Why is Paul's portrait of Jesus so ambiguous if his congregations are so curious? I don't think his letters though are part of preaching or missionary work. It seems in all cases he is writing to established congregations. If you did not accept paul's argument that Jesus Christ is Lord by way of the scriptural prophecies, you are not getting a letter. It seems doubtful that Jesus own mission was like Paul's, and I'm not sure how Paul would be much more knowledgeable on Jesus trivia than they. And Paul doesn't dwell on trivia on himself or the other Apostles either. Were the congregation not concerned about what Paul did or Peter? They are supposed links to Jesus Christ. Even epistles that clearly place jesus in an historical context (1 Timothy) don't make use of Jesus historical deeds and words in their teaching, (see also 2nd Peter, 1 john, 2 john, Revelation) We can speculate why Jesus stories don't form more of framework for early Christian teaching, but it doesn't seem to support the notion that this is because jesus was viewed as a purely heavenly being.

  • Earl Doherty

    Gary: “I don't think it is worth the time for me to delve into Hebrews, since I would make a blanket statement that any blood of Jesus being put on an altar in heaven may have sounded valid to its author, but it is clearly symbolic for us. As I said, there is no temple in heaven, and there certainly is no sacrificing of anything in heaven.”This is very strange reasoning. You are going to interpret what the ancient writer of Hebrews believed concerning the nature of his Christ (whether historical or spiritual) according to what you believe regarding the elements he presents, like the heavenly temple or the act of smearing blood on a heavenly altar? Because you would not believe in a spiritual Christ operating in the heavens to effect salvation, that means that the ancients did not or could not?We’re not here to discuss what you believe, but what the earliest Christians believed.

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike, I hardly think that audiences would be as likely to pester Paul about the nitty-gritty nature and activities of a Christ who had operated in the heavens, as they would about a man on earth whom Paul was claiming was the heavenly Son of God and Redeemer of the world. The existence of the former would be demonstrated from scripture, something which Paul and other early writers do refer to a number of times. But the validity of the claim about the latter (a man being God, rising from his earthly grave and redeeming the world by his death) would need far more persuasive details about that earthly man to effect conversion to what Paul is preaching about him. Also, that dimension on earth would make available far more useful data for the needs of the ongoing communities that Paul is writing to.As for 1 and 2 John, Revelation and 2 Peter, finding an historical Jesus in those writings is highly dubious, and anyone reading my website and books will find good cases for rejecting any knowledge of such in those documents. Even in 1 Timothy, the only clear statement of historicity is 6:13’s reference to Pilate, and even there, several scholars have noted problems with the placement of that passing reference within its context. (See Appendix 1 in both my books and in my website Supplementary Article No. 3.) They may not choose to opt for interpolation, but the possibility is there. Anyway, since the Pastorals are second century writings—as critical scholars have long judged them—that’s not crucial for mythicism. My own contention is that at least 2 Timothy and Titus do not yet envision an historical Jesus or have knowledge of the Gospels, while Robert Price has presented a good case that 1 Timothy was written later but is dependent on both the other Pastorals, and by then some Gospel ideas may have crept in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Mike Wilson and DohertyYou were referring to 'Hebrews'.A) In Heb4:14, RSV "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,". But, since the air between earth and (allegedly) the moon, was considered for a Jew part of heaven, or one of the heavens (the lowest one), wouldn't that make earth as the start of the passage to God?B) Doherty wrote: "If Christ’s sacrifice taking place in Heaven is regarded as making it ‘perfect, spiritual and eternal’ (9:11-14 [NEB]), if cleansing heavenly things requires a heavenly sacrifice (9:23), then such claims are foiled if part of the sacrifice was in fact not heavenly at all."You should know by now, because of my critique, you made a false declaration with your pseudo quote of the NEB ‘perfect, spiritual and eternal'. Here is Heb 9:11-14 from the RSV:9:11 "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.9:13 For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,9:14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."Where do you see Christ's sacrifice as being made ‘perfect, spiritual and eternal'?The tent is perfect and the Spirit is eternal, so is the redemption. That's it. The rest is from your imagination. On that item, Carrier agreed with me. He wrote: Richard Carrier: "I agree. This is not the only place where D. [Doherty] is a little muddled."Doherty wrote: "My chapter on Hebrews is 37 pages long and demolishes any possibility of regarding its Christ figure as ever incarnated to earth. Eight pages of that is devoted to analyzing chapter 8, verse 4, which by itself tells us in no uncertain terms that Christ had never been on earth."If your comments on Heb9:11-14 is a sample of things to come, I cannot wait. Heb8:4? We went through that already. And why would you need eight pages to explain that a verse "tells us in no uncertain terms that Christ had never been on earth"? Anyway, this is my critiqueon Heb8:4Doherty wrote:"His audiences and converts would not share that lack of concern, and the details of that life would have been of immense usefulness to him in his missionary work."What about if these details were not so interesting and the basic already known by his audience? Furthermore the following definitively suggests a wordly Jesus was known by the Corinthians:DARBY 2Cor5:16-17 " … and even if *we* have known['ginosko' (come to know, understand), Greek perfect indicative: at some time in the past]` Christ according to the flesh,[reference to some worldly knowledge/understanding about Jesus]` yet now we know ['ginosko'] no longer. So if any one in Christ, a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new."The above passage tells something else. Paul was not interested at all by that wordly Christ and asked his Christians to move on to new things (likely his gospel with the heavenly Jesus). Therefore he was not the one likely to dwell on the man Jesus.

  • Earl Doherty

    It would seem that when I post two different messages in quick succession is when one of them gets spun out into the Blogger's wilderness. The following wasn't that important, but I'll repeat it here…Gary: “I don't think it is worth the time for me to delve into Hebrews, since I would make a blanket statement that any blood of Jesus being put on an altar in heaven may have sounded valid to its author, but it is clearly symbolic for us. As I said, there is no temple in heaven, and there certainly is no sacrificing of anything in heaven.”This is very strange reasoning. You are going to interpret what the ancient writer of Hebrews believed concerning the nature of his Christ (whether historical or spiritual) according to what you believe regarding the elements he presents, like the heavenly temple or the act of smearing blood on a heavenly altar? Because you would not believe in a spiritual Christ operating in the heavens to effect salvation, that means that the ancients did not or could not?We’re not here to discuss what you believe, but what the earliest Christians believed.

  • Anonymous

    Mike WilsonEarl, the major flaw of your argument is your belief that Paul's letters are trying to effect conversion to what Paul is preaching about Jesus, his divinity(I think it can be effectively argued that Paul never calls Jesus, "theos"but i accept that to all the world, Jesus seems like a god to Paul), his resurrection, the redeeming power of his death. I see no evidence that Paul's audience in any letter doubts any of these concepts. In Acts we see representations of what Luke claims are missionary speeches. here we see arguments for the above, albeit in a condensed form. This is probably similar to what missionaries preached in Luke's own time, even if we doubt Luke was aware of what Paul's missionary message was. The center piece of the missionary message is, we know jesus is Christ because God raised him from the dead. The message hinges on someone believing Paul's personal account of having seen this. The tales of a exorcist, healer, sage are a dime dozen. It isn't the strongest selling point. As the Gospels say, no sign but the sign of Jonah. after believing that, how much concern is really going to be spent on how many lepers or demons were cast out? How would paul be more informed than they? he wasn't there, he spent a couple of weeks with Peter, he could have related every thing he knew in less time to subordinates. What point would there be in sending a letter to Paul concerning stuff that was done by every tom, dick, and harry? Your continued characterization of Paul's letters, or any letter, as a missionary tool is a gaping weakness in your argument for a christ myth, as is the arbitrary distinction that people would ask about the details of an earthly Jesus but not a heavenly one. It is inconceivable that any one would follow Paul based on what he says in his letters about Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    Earl, your definition of highly dubious is off. At best i give you possible to doubt. 2nd Peter contains a reference to an event clearly echoed in the gospels as the transfiguration story. It is very natural to interpret that reference in light of that story, which of course features jesus as a guy walking around on mountains with disciples. john 1 and 2 warn against people who don't think jesus came in the flesh, it continues themes in John's gospel, reflects what we know about sects that thought jesus was a spirit in the form of a man that interacted in human history. no sect is documented holding ideas like the ones you ascribe to the first christians. Revelation clearly names earthly Jerusalem as the place of Christ executionOn the first Timothy interpolation, special pleading does not remove the issue. Now, on the lateness of it, the Point I was making, by way of "Even epistles that clearly place jesus in an historical context (1 Timothy) don't make use of Jesus historical deeds and words in their teaching" is that other than that little notice, it does not make use of Jesus deeds to make points, not that it is evidence that Timothy knows of a historical Jesus. While look forward to a discussion of your ideas about Platonic cosmology and the new Testament, I cannot find justification for a mythic Jesus the Epistles lack of use of Jesus legends or sayings, though it is an interesting question. But the anomalies are not eliminated by assuming a myth, they would still be there even if your premise was true, nor can i find it incompatible with a historic Jesus. i think i would need a more detailed study of how people in similar situations, (discussing myths and historical persons) use "biographical" details in materials like the epistles.

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

    Earl,Thanks again for your response. Per your comment, "The following wasn't that important, but I'll repeat it here…""Wasn't that important"…The first time I totally agree with you! No need to repeat.

  • Earl Doherty

    Mike, before you make any pronouncements about 2 Peter and the "Transfiguration" scene in it, please read my website article "Transfigured on the Holy Mountain." It's at:http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp07.htmYou're right about one thing. "2nd Peter contains a reference to an event clearly echoed in the gospels as the transfiguration story." Trouble is, 2 Peter doesn't derive it from the Gospels. They have a common source, the tradition of a vision by Peter and others, not of a supposed historical event in the ministry of an historical Jesus.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X