Chapter 2 of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man

Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical JesusChapter 2 is a refreshing change from what preceded it. Up until now, the impression one gets when reading Earl Doherty’s book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, is that the author is simply trying out a different way of reading certain New Testament texts. In some instances it may seem plausible, and in others severely problematic, but in none did it naturally seem to arise from or be required by the available evidence. It has consistently seemed that the theory came first, and the major issue was how much the evidence would have to be cut or stretched to fit this mythicist procrustean bed.

In chapter 2, however, Doherty turns his attention to something that ought genuinely to puzzle modern readers of the New Testament epistles. Why do we have so many quotations from the Jewish Scriptures which are attributed to that source, but few if any quotations of teaching of Jesus that are clearly and explicitly attributed to him?

While this is a genuine puzzle, and if it has never puzzled you it should, this is not to say that the best explanation is that which Doherty offers – and which, I should add, he offers without any attempt to engage in a detailed analysis of the evidence for or persuasiveness of other possible explanations.

So what options are there besides Doherty’s, which posits that Paul and the churches to which he wrote did not focus on a Jesus who was thought to have lived a human life in human history? First and foremost, it must be said once again that the most fundamental consideration is one that Doherty is either deliberately downplaying or has altogether failed to grasp. Paul’s letters were written to Christians, and if there was any teaching that allegedly came from Jesus that was passed on to Christians, we would expect it to be presented to Christians in the process of persuading them to believe in Jesus, and in introducing them to the faith once they came to believe. We should not expect such things to be the major focus in letters, which seem for the most part to have been written in response to unexpected issues and questions for which answers were not readily available in the teaching of Jesus. Paul’s preaching is not what is in his letters, and this ought to be obvious, even though it seems that it is not to Doherty (see for instance pp.26-27).

At this point I must mention another issue with Doherty’s book. He regularly points to sayings attributed to Jesus in later Gospels which, if they had been known to Paul, he could be expected to have quoted to end debate and provide a definitive answer. But the study of a wide range of figures leads scholars (but not the conservative Christians who seem to be Doherty’s primary conversation-partners) to acknowledge that material was invented later and attributed to the central authoritative figure. And so what Doherty identifies is a motive for skepticism about some of the saying attributed to Jesus in later times. But this process of invention, like the even more impressive multiplication of hadith attributed to Muhammad, complete with chains of transmission supposedly vouchsafing their authenticity, does not demonstrate the non-historicity of the figure in question. That must be settled not by noting the proliferation of inauthentic material, but by determining whether anything can be deemed early and authentic when subjected to critical scrutiny.

Returning to the question of how one is to explain the failure to quote Jesus regularly in the epistles, Doherty offers another explanation, although because of the agenda that drives his book, he fails to use it in this rather obvious way. If Paul spent relatively little time with the Jerusalem apostles (a subject which we cannot attempt to tackle here without disrupting the flow of this post), then he would have had very little authentic Jesus tradition to quote. And we might expect him and others like him to offer teachings that were allegedly mediated to them by supernatural revelation. What isn’t clear is why this is not immediately recognized by Doherty as an explanation, whether whole or partial, of Paul’s failure to quote more frequently from teaching of Jesus and stories about him.

But another consideration might itself provide a better solution, even if we were to find the others I have mentioned thus far inadequate. In primarily oral cultures, notions of authorship are very different from our own, and it is noteworthy that the quotations Paul offers are almost exclusively from written sources (he does not clearly quote his opponents either, and even when we suspect that Paul may be quoting from the Corinthians’ letters to him, he doesn’t make it as explicit as we might expect someone writing today to). Doherty does not even investigate whether cultural norms for citing and passing on traditions prior to their being written in some sort of collection might be part of the explanation. It certainly seems that this ought, at the very least, to be thoroughly studied when evaluating possible ways of accounting for this puzzling aspect of the epistles. But one does not get the impression when reading Doherty’s book that considering all options, evaluating them as impartially as possible, and then choosing the conclusion that best fits the evidence is what he is setting out to do.

The authenticity of the epistles attributed to Plato is sufficiently disputed that it might be ill-advised to use them in an analogy. But perhaps other readers can think of ancient letters which fail to quote extensively, or to clearly attribute quotes to, someone we might expect them to if they followed our contemporary practices? Certainly if one thinks of the medium of oral preaching today, one scarcely needs to say “As John Newton wrote, ‘I once was blind, but now I see…’” And so there are examples even today that suggest that something sufficiently well-known can and will be mentioned without any need to specify where it comes from. And so it seems that whether we have teaching of Jesus that was widely disseminated among early Christians, or a situation in Pauline churches in which Jesus’ teaching was not at all well known, we have possible explanations for the dearth of explicit quotations which are at least feasible, and do not bring with them all the difficulties and problems that removing a historical Jesus creates.

At any rate, underlying his whole treatment of Paul’s letters is the problematic assumption that because Paul’s letters are our earliest sources, the earliest Gospels are not in any sense early sources. I won’t extend this post further by tackling that subject here, especially as the Gospels will be discussed more directly later in the book. But one thing I think we can say with confidence: the Synoptic Gospels are neither so early and so directly connected with eyewitnesses or the locations in which stories are set that they do not make errors; neither are they so late and so completely fabricated that they do not get enough details about geography, people and events right to exclude their being works of pure fiction. In later times, a Bram Stoker could go to a library and read about Transylvania without ever going there, and set a story against that backdrop. We must ask whether it is realistic to imagine something similar happening in the first century. If not, then the accurate details in the Gospels, which include things such as the proportions of common names typical in Jewish Palestine in the first century, suggest that the middle course of mainstream scholarship is more likely to be correct. It views the Gospels as, like most sources historians have to deal with, neither entirely trustworthy nor entirely fabricated. The conservative apologists and the mythicists share this in common: they both find genuine evidence that some things are authentic/fabricated, and then try to use that to argue that everything is authentic/fabricated, even when the evidence for some of the material does not fit. A better course, I believe, is that taken by mainstream scholarship, recognizing that we have a collection of material that combines the historical and the ahistorical. While we may never be able to completely disentangle the contrasting threads, and certainly are left wondering which is which in a great many instances, denying this multifaceted, composite nature of the evidence creates more problems than it solves. Neither the fundamentalist apologists nor the mythicists are completely wrong, and that is not why I reject both stances. The problem is that neither is completely right, and they are not the only two options. There are possible stances in between, which recognize that the situation is not as simple as either side would have us believe.

Albert Einstein is purported to have said “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I have not been able to trace the source of the quotation. But either way it seems applicable to the current context. If it is authentic, it is applicable to the apologists on both sides of the spectrum who would have us believe that Jesus simply never existed or simply was exactly as described in the Gospels and the later creeds, when the reality seems more complex than either extreme does justice to. But even if the saying doesn’t really go back to Einstein, it then becomes relevant in another way, because the fact that spurious stories and quotations have been made up and attributed to Einstein is not an argument against his having been a historical figure.

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

    The fact that "Elementary, my dear Watson" was never uttered by Sherlock Holmes in any of Conan Doyle's books doesn't mean there was or wasn't a Sherlock Holmes, either. Nor does that fact that neither Rick nor Ilsa ever say "Play it again, Sam," show that there was or wasn't a bizarre love triangle in Casablanca during WWII involving a Frenchman, Scandinavian and American. The final statement of this review is calls into question your ability to reason logically, Dr. McGrath.False attributions are simply that, false. They don't bear on the historicity or lack thereof of anyone.

  • Anonymous

    I don't follow you Evan, you say McGrath's observation calls into doubt his logical reasoning, then you repeat the same observation, that false attributions aren't relevant to questions of historicity. Did some part of his statement convince you he was arguing that having a statement falsely attributed to a figure is evidence for historicity? You have your foot in your mouth so often you must be confused whether you should see a pediatrist or a dentist. The regularity of this sort of thing from you is boring. Think before you leap.Mike Wilson

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

    I am sure there is some sort of logical fallacy in your last paragraph about Einstein or it is an obvious rhetoric device.Imagine people arguing about Big Foot or Loch Ness Nessy — do we really have to compromise because "not existing" is "too simple"?Finishing your post like this gives away your objectivity on the issue, no matter what Doherty argues, no?

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

    Sabio, my point is that some mythicists say that, if some, perhaps many, of the stories and sayings attributed to Jesus are fabricated, then why not simply go the whole way and say that they all are complete fiction with no basis in history whatsoever? My answer is "Because doing so doesn't fit the evidence and creates more problems than it solves." Perhaps I misunderstood what Einstein (or Pseudo-Einstein ?) meant by not making things simpler than possible? I took it to mean oversimplification, simplification that no longer does justice to the evidence.

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

    Let me also add that a comparison with Nessie and Bigfoot is inappropriate, since the existence of a historical person is an everyday sort if occurrence, not a supernatural or even highly umusual one. Jesus or Socrates may have existed or may not have, but surely it is not the same sort of question as whether the Loch Ness Monster exists or existed.

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

    James,Yeah, interesting points. But just because a myth is formed into a person rather than a beast makes it no less likely to be false.I agree that just because some quotes by someone (Jesus or Einstein) are made up and used as tools of manipulation, does not negate the actual existence of that person. Smile

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

    Mike, I'll break it down for you — Einstein is clearly a historical figure. We have photographs, artifacts, notes from meetings he attended, attestation from students, published contemporaneous works and multiple extensive biographies that have sources and date to the time when he was alive. So there is no comparison to Einstein when it comes to doubting historicity.Now imagine that we have another historical figure who we only know from books that describe fantastic events, miraculous healings and ascent and descent to heaven. Imagine further that you lack all of the solid sources we have for Einstein — no undisputed artifacts, contemporaneous documents and there is silence in the record regarding any of his statements for over two generations.I think, then, that it would be reasonable to conclude that Juan Diego didn't exist. You seem to think so too. So why then, do you conclude that Jesus did, just because false stories are attributed to him, just as they are to Juan Diego?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    McGrath: "some mythicists say"Neil: Which mythicists? Please be specific. Citations??

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Why does an academic, McGrath, have so much time for Doherty's book? My response to this post on vridar.

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

    Neil, I don't really have time, but am making time in the hope that it will end the claims that I don't interact with the "best", book-length mythicist literature, the same complaint one gets from young-earth creationists and cdesign proponentsists when one addresses their typical online arguments. I read your "response" and can only say that I hope you and other mythicists will in fact realize that the only way to show that your solution to a problem or puzzle is to be preferred is to actually investigate alternatives and show them wanting, and show that your own does not simply create more problems than it solves.It seems like the matter of primarily oral cultures is like that of classic orthodoxy. Mythicists are familiar with a modern/later way of interpreting the New Testament texts, cannot imagine how relevant background and contextual studies could change that (in spite of extensive scholarly work and publication on the subject), and so continue to find all arguments against their viewpoint unpersuasive.If it will make my point more convincingly that mythicism is not a sufficiently well-argued, well-developed or convincing viewpoint to merit serious attention, I'll happily stop blogging through the book. But that is the problem with creationists and mythicists. One cannot win, most of the time. If you ignore them, they complain that they are being ignored. If you take the time to explain why the best of their claims are unpersuasive and the worst nonsensical, they claim that your taking the time to do so shows that their ideas have merit.I'm taking the time to do this because I care about the public understanding of history and of religion. Is it a waste of my time? Quite possibly. Only time will tell.

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

    Dr. McGrath,You suggest Doherty should have considered the possibility that Paul doesn’t cite the teachings from Jesus’ earthly ministry because he hadn’t spent enough time with the apostles in Jerusalem to have access to many of them. On the other hand, you also think Doherty should have considered the possibility that Paul doesn’t cite them because the members of his congregations knew these teachings so well as a result of their initial conversions that they are assumed as background knowledge. Aren’t these theories somewhat inconsistent?

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

    Vinny, yes, they absolutely are, and I am not suggesting that one embrace both simultaneously. Doherty seems at times to entertain both, but my point is simply that either explanation would help account for this puzzling aspect of the epistles, without creating the additional puzzles that mythicism does.

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

    Dr. McGrath,I am glad to see you acknowledge that this is a genuine puzzle because it is the issue that most keeps me agnostic about a historic Jesus. I find it interesting that two such radically inconsistent explanations can be plausibly posited.

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

    It is always going to be speculative when we try to answer a question like "Why doesn't X mention Y?" It is because the answer "There was no Y" doesn't seem to fit with other evidence that I explore other possibilities. But apart from that other evidence, most answers to the question would be equally speculative, since we are asking a question that only Paul could answer definitively, and if he had done so, we wouldn't be asking the question. :)

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

    Take it or leave it, according to my research:HJ's message, because of Jesus' lack of education, had to be very simple & limited, and readily acceptable by other uneducated lower class Jews (furthermore, Jesus started his 15 minutes fame not as a sage and teacher, but as a believed petty healer).I extracted the major components:- The Kingdom is coming (soon as implied) on earth (as implied) (that would be a repeat of part of John the Baptist's message). It will benefit the poor (Jews as implied), by supplying them with food, drink and clothes (which means a lot less work!). And Jesus was saying he was a fervent admirer of John the Baptist.If it is so, let's see if it was compatible with Paul's message and why it would be ignored.- The Kingdom is coming (soon): That's a given in Paul's teaching, fully accepted by his followers, and probably the main reason for their conversion: no need to mention Jesus said the same (which would bring about JtB as the originator!) and his audience would already know.- The Kingdom is for the poor: Well Paul, and probably other apostles, were getting generous donations from the few wealthy converts. Certainly Paul was not going to aleniate his benefactors in saying: you have no chance to be saved (from death or/and earthly living conditions or/and God's wrath).- The Kingdom being on earth, with free supply of the necessity of life: Rather mondane and low key and against Paul putting the Kingdom in heaven (mostly for political reason), with the elects being there in spiritual bodies (and the Roman empire still existing, even if subjected to some God's wrath!).- And Paul was certainly not going to mention JtB, because a competing cult was existing around him in the Diaspora, as witnessed from some of the gospels (mostly gJohn).That would certainly explain the silence of Paul in his epistles about Jesus' message.

  • Anonymous

    James, good post. Your mention of the fact that Paul frequently quotes written sources but not oral ones is interesting. i was wondering if there is an issue of authority involved when one quotes as opposed to paraphrases or passing along without citation. Note how often mythicist make use of the arguments made by mythicist authors without citing who's argument their using. It just becomes part of the common fund of mythicist (knowledge? seems like an odd word for information makes you less educated when you learn it, maybe anti-knowledge). It is common to hear conservatives quote the founding fathers as authoritative sources on the the way the government should be run, but how often did the founding fathers quote each other? Does Jefferson cite where he got , life liberty and the pursuit of happiness? How often did Henry Ford's successors quote Ford when when managing the company? you were either well versed in Ford's ideas or you were not there. jesus' successor would not only know his word, better yet they knew his intent and mode of thought. later generation would have to obsess over what exactly did he say, and use it as an authority.Mike Wilson

  • Earl Doherty

    Several people have made very good responses to Jim McGrath’s review of chapter 2, especially Neil Godfrey on his blog, so I won’t repeat arguments already made, but bring my own focus to the questions Jim has raised. There is nothing too original there. Defenders of an HJ in Paul have tried for centuries to explain the silence on the life and teachings of Jesus in the epistles, and Jim is essentially rehashing these. They never worked before and they don’t now.Jim’s biggest problem is that while a given explanation might theoretically be feasible in individual cases, in a piece of writing to one community, it is simply beyond the bounds of the credible to think that it would be operable in every single case. There is such a thing as cumulative effect. Jim postulates that Paul (and let’s not forget every other epistle writer) does not mention or appeal to a teaching of Jesus because all those teachings had already been delivered, were familiar, and did not bear repeating. (This, by the way, is the argument used by J. P. Holding, one of the great apologetic minds of our day.)I hardly need to spell out a counter-argument. It becomes self-evident merely by stating the situation. Would this universal knowledge be securely present in every community Paul is writing to, within two decades of Jesus’ death? These letters were to be read out to the congregation; could Paul feel secure that every single one of those members enjoyed that knowledge, no newcomers since the initial preaching? Paul had not been to Rome himself, and yet he would feel confident that whoever had founded the Roman community had imparted that universal familiarity so that he need not appeal to anything about the life and teachings of Jesus?Those two paltry ‘teachings’ of Jesus in 1 Cor. 7 and 9 are examples of Paul allegedly reminding the Corinthians of what Jesus had said on the topics he is writing about. Evidently, Paul felt that the Corinthians needed telling, or reminding, of Jesus’ views on these subjects. Yet he felt that need nowhere else, not even on issues that were far more important and critical to the life of the movement?Jim has a strange view of human nature. Did he have siblings as a kid, and if he got into an argument with one of them over some activity, would he never have given in to the urge to appeal to: “You know Mom told us not to do that!” even if he knew that his sibling was very familiar with Mom’s proscription? Yet Paul could bite his tongue when arguing for opinions that were crucial to his gospel and never throw Jesus’ words (real or invented) into the pot? Like I said—self-evident.Jim contends that in fact Paul was not familiar with much of Jesus’ teaching because he hadn’t been in the presence of the Jerusalem apostles for very long. That’s certainly true, but that raises other problems. If Paul himself didn’t know those teachings, who was spreading them among his communities to create the familiarity that Paul assumed? If Paul didn’t know them, how could he possibly judge what teachings were familiar or not, how could he argue issues in complete ignorance of what Jesus had taught on those subjects, or knowing that his readers were probably familiar with relevant teachings he had no knowledge of himself? If someone else had imparted them to his communities (those Jerusalem apostles, maybe?), why didn’t Paul get them second-hand through the congregations who had received them? In all his contacts with the spreading Jesus movement of which he was a part across the eastern empire did he not have occasion to learn those teachings at least to some extent, did he not feel the need to do so? Or did he resolutely close his ears? Could Paul’s ministry function in that way?Or maybe no one was spreading them. Did that movement, based on a life and ministry whose elements must have contributed to the reason why even Jews were willing to transform Jesus into the very Son of God, suddenly decide to ignore every aspect of his earthly ministry? Is any of this conceivable? Do Jim’s explanations work?

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

    Earl, thank you for your comment. If it was possible for someone to get caught up on Jesus' teaching, presumably Christian groups did so. If it wasn't, then Paul was not in a position to rectify the situation. In either case, we have interpretations open to us which are at the very least no worse and no more problematic than that which you offer.Mike, thanks for your comment. I had the thought after I completed the post last night that Paul doesn't always specify that he is quoting Scripture, either, and even when he does, he often simply says "It is written…" without specifying where. Ancient authors simply don't treat sources and attribution of authorship the way we do. In the Didache, the whole thing is presented as the teaching of the apostles (i.e. emissaries of Jesus) but nothing is then specifically said to come from any one of them or Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    Evan, I am starting to suspect you are an alter ego James uses to lampoon Jesus mythers. You, your self, said that the attribution of words to a figure is not relevant to the question of historicity. Since it is not in doubt that Einstein existed and yet we have sayings falsely attributed to him that proves that point. Now you have a figure who you do not have evidence like for Einstein concerning their existence. You do have a number of fantastic tales. But since we have fantastic tales attached to people we know existed, the fantastic tales are not relevant to the persons historicity, only to the historicity of the tales. It is not relevant to the historicity of Juan Diego that it is claimed that the Virgin Mary painted a picture for him. You did the research, the reason we doubt the story is because his other deeds, the presenting of this painting to the people of Mexico city, is the sort of thing that should have been remembered, but it is not. It is not the vision that should have been documented, he was the only one there for that, so we can't expect that other people would document this. It is that he told other of it that should be documented, because the relic is a very well known one that is documented in sources, but as someone else's work. We know that the claim of the mass vision at Fatima is true because it is claimed that thousands were there, and we have documentation that thousands were in fact there. If Diego's claim to fame was something scientifically possible, like he led a mob and burned down the governors palace, the same lack of a mention would force us to conclude it did not happen. We would not be able to make the same conclusion if Diego performed his deeds at a time and place were we had little documentation. We could doubt that this really is an oral legend that had been around 100 years before being written down, but we could not demonstrate that he was a myth, whether the claim was that he saw the Virgin or the claim was that he was a talented painter.Neil, it is ironic that you want evidence that some mythicist think that if some Jesus stories are fabricated then we should dismiss him as a historical person in a post underneath Evan'sMike Wilson

  • Anonymous

    Evan, if i may continue;I absolutely do not think jesus exited because false stories are attributed to him, no one does. This is your fantasy. I think jesus exited because it is the simplest solution to the question "why do Christians think their founder was a person who lived during the time of Pilate?" If he were not really a person, then we have a lot of questions for why all their materials present him as one. Jesus case is different from Diego's because we should expect that Diego's actions, stripped of their supernatural interpretation, should have been remembered. It does not matter whether the Virgin really appeared to him or not for the purposes of determining his historicity since only Diego would have seen it. Jesus' possible actions, are not however the sort of thing i would expect to be documented outside of his followers. I have no trouble dismissing the fabulous from his legend any more than I have trouble dismissing all the miraculous claims in "Autobiography of a Yogi" or dismissing the miraculous claims attributed to Kim Il Sung. This does not mean that once the supernatural is removed the rest is true, but as we have proven, having things falsely attributed to a person does not mean all things attributed to the person are false. we would be foolish then to presume that to be the case until we prove the person existed. If Jesus did control the weather and healed everyone who touched him and raised a multitude from the dead, i would expect some documentation, it would be a spectacular then as today, but I am well aware that people often have fabulous deeds attributed to them so I have no problem with a historical person for whom earth shaking deeds are attributed to. there is nothing about this story that would force an educated person to conclude, "this is a mythical person" any more than I am forced to conclude Sai Baba is mythical person. There is no rule of history that says, "if a person is presented as having supernatural abilities, the presume they are a myth until you have proof they existed, but if they are presented as only doing mundane things, presume they historical". You may have a case if Jesus was presented as only traveling though heaven on a magical horse. But here however edited and embellished it may be, we seem to have an attempt to portray the deeds of a person, and just because we dismiss that actually cast evil spirits out of people does not mean that he did not claim he did or others thought that was what he was doing. Now Evan, don't be tricked into thinking that you presented a clever argument that needs a long rebuttal. The fact of the matter is I have lots of time, and hope that you are not beyond education. Your arguments are not so much duplicitous, or uninformed as they are childish. Some slow learners need more instruction. perhaps they are others like your self that are not so eager to display their lack of comprehetion publicly that might learn from this. i do not think any intelligent person will find your argument persuasive though. If i did not respond, casual lookers would only conclude "well that guy is stupid" I do this as a favor to you.Mike Wilson

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

    Vinny wrote:"You suggest Doherty should have considered the possibility that Paul doesn’t cite the teachings from Jesus’ earthly ministry because he hadn’t spent enough time with the apostles in Jerusalem to have access to many of them. On the other hand, you also think Doherty should have considered the possibility that Paul doesn’t cite them because the members of his congregations knew these teachings so well as a result of their initial conversions that they are assumed as background knowledge."I take that as representing the view of Dr. McGrath.- For case one, Paul in 'Galatians' (and also mentioned in 'Acts' with embellishment) told he spent 2 weeks with Peter in Jerusalem. That's a long time, more than enough for Paul to hear everything about all the deeds and sayings (which, I think, did not amount to much, but that's besides the point) of HJ during his last year. So for me, what Dr. McGrath think here does not fly.- For case 2, the evidence in Paul's letters and 'Hebrews' (see Heb6:1-3 about the initial teachings to the new converts) simply does not substantiate the early converts were administered the teachings (such as sayings & parables) of Jesus. If those teachings were so important, and known by all (including Paul), they would have transpire often in Paul's epistles, in order for him to make some of his points, when, many times, he is running on thin air (the Holy Spirit!). So that does not fly for me either.Of couse, I proposed a solution. Did anyone notice?

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

    Mike, please list all the books in the NT that list Jesus as living "during the time of Pilate". Do you have any leftovers? If you do, the statement that "all their materials present" Jesus as living during that time needs some revision.In addition, you seem unable or unwilling to proofread your posts and yet you seem to think you are the arbiter of the educated classes. It may surprise you to know that the topic here isn't whether Jesus "exited" as you put it, or whether false attributions prove or disprove historicity.The topic is whether it is germane to a review of Doherty's book to raise the question of false attribution as an "out" to explain why none of the references to Jesus in the epistles can firmly be fixed to a historical figure.If we didn't have photos, interviews, texts written by people who met him and other things proving the historicity of Sai Baba, we could be justified in questioning his historicity, as we are justified in doing so for John Frum, Juan Diego, Buddha, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Aeneas, Jason of the Argonauts, Hercules, Theseus, Mithras, Hermodicus of Lampsacus and many other modern, medieval and ancient figures.So the question is what distinguishes Jesus from those figures. You seem to think the gospels and epistles accomplish this task, but I don't. You can name-call all you want, but there's no argument in name-calling.This question has been well dealt with elsewhere, but never seems to be resolved by you and the other historicists who post here, including Dr. McGrath, who brought up Alexander, Marcus Aurelius and the Jewish war. I would submit that if all we had of the above events and people were stories, and there was no physical evidence to back those stories up, then we would be justified in doubting their historicity. Would you agree? It would be hard to imagine Alexander conquering the known world of his day and leaving no trace in the archeological record, and so if we had such a story, but no contemporaneous evidence, it would lead to doubts about the entire story and characters in it.

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

    "Would this universal knowledge be securely present in every community Paul is writing to, within two decades of Jesus’ death? These letters were to be read out to the congregation; could Paul feel secure that every single one of those members enjoyed that knowledge, no newcomers since the initial preaching? Paul had not been to Rome himself, and yet he would feel confident that whoever had founded the Roman community had imparted that universal familiarity so that he need not appeal to"Why would Paul be needed in order to transfer that so-called initial "universal knowledge" to newcomers in the Christian communities?Local elders would be most capable of doing that.For the Romans, it looks that some of the members had known Paul when they were before in Corinth & Ephesus (before moving to Rome). So they would transfer that so-called knowledge, but likely that was done earlier by others. Of course, this is rather academic for me, because I think this knowledge was very basic and lacking in teachings by Jesus (because he was not a teacher!). And Paul cannot be blamed for not retransmitting what matters for him, that is "Christ crucified".Also, the following can certainly be interpreted as the Corinthians having been exposed to a more basic & wordly Jesus:" … 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." DARBY 2Cor5:16-17The above passage tells something else. Paul was not interested at all by that wordly Jesus and asked his Christians to move on new things (likely his gospel with his heavenly Jesus).

  • Anonymous

    Evan,"The fact that "Elementary, my dear Watson" was never uttered by Sherlock Holmes in any of Conan Doyle's books doesn't mean there was or wasn't a Sherlock Holmes, either. Nor does that fact that neither Rick nor Ilsa ever say "Play it again, Sam," show that there was or wasn't a bizarre love triangle in Casablanca during WWII involving a Frenchman, Scandinavian and American. The final statement of this review is calls into question your ability to reason logically, Dr. McGrath.False attributions are simply that, false. They don't bear on the historicity or lack thereof of anyone."Where in that do you ask " whether it is germane to a review of Doherty's book to raise the question of false attribution as an "out" to explain why none of the references to Jesus in the epistles can firmly be fixed to a historical figure.""If you do, the statement that "all their materials present" Jesus as living during that time needs some revision."Almost got, me, but I learned at Vridar not to take some peoples recollections at face value.I wrote,"I think jesus exited because it is the simplest solution to the question "why do Christians think their founder was a person who lived during the time of Pilate?" If he were not really a person, then we have a lot of questions for why all their materials present him as one."Not to be nit picky, but I argue that Christians think their founder was a person who lived in Pilate's time (can you name an early sect who thought differently, I know you will say something, so please include what work gives the alternate time for Jesus' time on earth, will it be the Jesus as a rock in desert, or will you surprise me?)" Then as a seperate argument, I state that their materials present him as a real person. I admit that is confusing, since they also present god as a real person. By real I mean as opposed to mythic. I will give you that christians did think Jesus went to heaven and thus is now a mythic person. But i can't think of any text that contradict the notion of Jesus having been an objective person on earth. If you do, let me know the text and preferably specific quotes, but don't go out of your way.Don't really pay attention to the spelling, only you complain, and it is just a blog. I am alway happy to restate something if i'm not clear.Mike Wilson

  • Anonymous

    I'll get back to you, Evan, on the whole, what distinguishes Jesus from the other guys thing, I thought that had been covered, but i'm not sure. Its good exercise I suppose. But I wanted to say, you are perfectly justified in doubting Jesus existed. I can't say the same for asserting Jesus was a myth, as per Doherty, I don't think evidence justifies that theory.Mike Wilson

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

    Mike, if you get an answer to your question about sources that place Jesus in a different time period, don't be surprised if the Talmud gets mentioned. The later rabbis combined several individuals named Jesus, with different fathers' names and who lived in different times, identifying them polemically with Jesus of Nazareth. Somehow the passage of half a millennium doesn't diminish the historical value of a source's information if it supports mythicism, but a couple of decades makes a source "late" if it gives the impression that there was a historical Jesus. :-)

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

    Mike please restate your question, since it's not clear.In what way do Christian materials present God as a "real person"?As for Jesus — you are obviously aware of Paul's statements about him. If you are convinced they speak about a "real person" that is your prerogative. I don't know of any individuals who were "spiritual rocks" known to have given "spiritual drinks" to the Jews in the Sinai.But I can't quite get your take on the word "mythic".Do you think Hercules is "mythic"? Do you think King Arthur is "mythic"? Do you think Anchises is "mythic"?

  • Anonymous

    Mike Wilson;Evan, Christians think God exist, hence, "real". They think he has a personality, hence, "person".Regarding mythic, the word gets a few meanings, when I say some one is real, I mean a non-supernatural , non fictional person. mythic people are super natural person or fictional ( not an exact definition, I don't think the Great Gatsby is "mythic") . So I consider the God of the bible to be mythic, not real, Christians may disagree. i consider Hercules to be Mythic, not real, but ancient greeks may disagree. Typically I use Mythic to describe the characters of religious cosmological lore, I like to use legendary for people supposed to have lived in mundane history, but are outside historical documentation, Like beowulf or King Arthur. This line is often confused in antiquity, so some people back then thought Osiris was a historical king, and some king Arthur stories seem derived from cosmological myths. Even early on Cosmological myths like Gilgamesh and Hercules are seen as taking place in a "heroic" age as opposed to the earlier "spirit" age.

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

    So … Hercules is a myth in your category and King Arthur is legendary. What about Anchises?

  • Anonymous

    Legendary? And the punch line is…..?Mike Wilson

  • KevinC

    First of all, I'd like to thank both James and Earl for participating in this discussion. I expect to learn a lot. :)James wrote:"Paul's letters were written to Christians, and if there was any teaching that allegedly came from Jesus that was passed on to Christians, we would expect it to be presented to Christians in the process of persuading them to believe in Jesus, and in introducing them to the faith once they came to believe. We should not expect such things to be the major focus in letters, which seem for the most part to have been written in response to unexpected issues and questions for which answers were not readily available in the teaching of Jesus."I am not persuaded by this. For example, one of the major controversies Paul confronted was whether or not Christian men needed to be circumcised and obey the Jewish law. Even if all of the statements on this issue placed into Jesus' mouth in the Gospels were later additions, the very existence of an HJ (Historical Jesus) would impinge on this issue.Was HJ Jewish? If yes, was he circumcised? If yes, Paul's opponents would surely have been able to appeal to that fact for support, and Paul would have needed to respond to it. Did Jesus obey the Torah during his life, or reject it? Even the barest possible tradition of a human life for Jesus would very likely provide some indication one way or the other.If HJ was not Jewish, not circumcised (for whatever reason) or if he rejected the Law, why would Paul make no appeal to Him who was the Source of the Christian faith?The same argument applies to other issues such as Paul's advocacy of celibacy (was Jesus a celibate ascetic, or did he have a wife and family like most Rabbis were supposed to), or relations with government (if Jesus was unjustly crucified by Pilate and the Jewish authorities, then whither Romans 13:3?). Also, just because Paul's letters were not written as evangelistic tracts, that does not provide any positive reason that I can see to completely ignore HJ and any traditions about his life and teachings. If you scan down toward the bottom of this post by Fred Clark, you'll see a reference to one of Jesus' parables, even though Clark is not trying to evangelize, and his audience is already familiar with the Gospels.

  • KevinC

    James wrote:"And so it seems that whether we have teaching of Jesus that was widely disseminated among early Christians, or a situation in Pauline churches in which Jesus' teaching was not at all well known, we have possible explanations for the dearth of explicit quotations which are at least feasible, and do not bring with them all the difficulties and problems that removing a historical Jesus creates."Here we have two possible explanations for the silence of the Epistles (not just Paul's) on the historical Jesus:1) The HJ tradition was so well-known that there was never any perceived need to make reference to it;2) The HJ tradition was not known at all, to the point that Paul and the other Epistle writers "had very little authentic Jesus tradition to quote."I'm not a scholar, so I'll have to take James' word for it that these are both considered plausible explanations in mainstream NT scholarship. What's most striking to me is that they're polar opposites. This can only mean that mainstream NT scholars are not blessed with an overwhelming weight of evidence in favor of either.We would not guess this from the way mainstream scholars sneer at the mythicist position[1]:- Gunther Bornkamm: "to doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all…was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worth while to enter here."- Rudolf Bultmann: "Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement."- Paul Maier: "The total evidence [for the existence of Jesus] is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus' existence. And yet this pathetic denial is still parroted by "the village atheist," bloggers on the internet, or such organizations as the Freedom from Religion Foundation."- Michael Martin: "Wells' thesis is controversial and not widely accepted."- Robert van Voorst: "Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their [i.e., Jesus mythers] arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely."Hopefully James will be able to provide examples from the overwhelmingly compelling mountain of evidence mainstream critical scholars have. Otherwise, quotes like these end up sounding rather like "I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ! PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!"NOTES:1. Quotes cited by Doherty here: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesLicona.htm

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

    I am an atheist and have never studied this issue in any depth. Only after blogging did I hear about it. Most helpful is James' site — for ironic reasons.I have greatly enjoyed James humor, variety of posts, dialogue skills and the information he shares.I was amazed at the beginning that he is a Christian, and only after blogging for 2 years have I started to understand the variety of "liberal" Christians out there.But James' tone against the "Mythicists" has always puzzled me — in fact, his arguments seemed to be reaching and this, ironically, drove me to look at their claims a little more. And indeed the points of the Mythicists on this thread also see to have many good points.I'd almost like to see James give a post entitled, "The Good Challenges made by Mythicists", to help me better understand his view on this.Comments here, when civil, have been fun!

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

    KevinC, it is not a matter of having the sort of evidence we have for emperors and conquerors and the powerful and literate people in antiquity who had the opportunity to leave behind tangible remains. It is a matter of probability, and so far no one I have dealt with has shown that it is more probable that a bunch of Jews invented a crucified Davidic anointed one. All historians agree on this not least because the alternative involves the sort of unpersuasive interpretations of words and phrases, special pleading, and ad hoc assumptions that Doherty and others offer.I've discussed all of this before, and will continue to do so as I continue blogging through Doherty's book.

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

    Mike, so if you think Anchises is legendary, what makes you determine that as opposed to mythic? He is reputed to have given long speeches to Aeneas from the underworld.Can you give me a set of criteria that you apply to Hercules that make him "mythic" that do not apply to King Arthur and Anchises?

  • Anonymous

    Mike WilsonIf you want a technical discussion on the topic, don't talk to me, there are more qualified people. Or just see Wikipedia.

  • KevinC

    "KevinC, it is not a matter of having the sort of evidence we have for emperors and conquerors and the powerful and literate people in antiquity who had the opportunity to leave behind tangible remains."Wha? I never said anything about kings or emperors in my posts, or that an HJ should be expected to leave 60-foot statues of himself as evidence. Where are you getting this? Surely any oral tradition about an HJ, passed on by HJ's own brother, would be able to answer questions like "Was Jesus Jewish?" "Did Jesus obey/uphold the Jewish law, or reject it?" If not, then the HJ pretty much shrinks out of existence for all practical intents and purposes, doesn't he?

  • KevinC

    James wrote:"It is a matter of probability, and so far no one I have dealt with has shown that it is more probable that a bunch of Jews invented a crucified Davidic anointed one."Since we're talking about poor, illiterate peasants who couldn't transmit basic details about HJ over the space of 10 or 20 years (Jewish? y/n? Obedient to Torah? y/n?), how are we supposed to believe that these same people could make an ironclad case that HJ was "Davidic?" Even in our modern, document-rich age, tracing back one's ancestry a thousand years is no simple feat.If HJ's claim to Davidic ancestry was fictitious, that makes both "Davidic" and "anointed one" in your comment above something "a bunch of Jews" invented, HJ or no HJ. Which leaves "crucified." So now we're assessing which is more probable:1) A rather ordinary man whose accomplishments are limited to uttering a few pithy sayings and getting himself crucified is, unique among all Jewish prophets and heroes, joined to the Godhead in some manner within a few short years after his death.2) Death by crucifixion, deliberately used by the Romans as the ultimate expression of their power, could be employed symbolically in a dying/rising god-man saga by Jews for whom a spiritual Messiah liberating their souls in a spiritual, mystical Kingdom of God would answer yearnings that could not be met by earthly Messiah-claimants, several of whom had already gotten their butts kicked by Rome.So far, #2 seems more likely to me.

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

    to KevinC,Strangely enough, I go for 1) because of the evidence. I only dispute "a few years": that took much longer. "limited to uttering a few pithy sayings", just add "and credited to be a petty healer during a rather unique time". For more clarifications:HJ, in a few words

  • KevinC

    James wrote:"All historians agree on this not least because the alternative involves the sort of unpersuasive interpretations of words and phrases, special pleading, and ad hoc assumptions that Doherty and others offer.I've discussed all of this before, and will continue to do so as I continue blogging through Doherty's book."I'm working my way through some of your other posts and posts by some of the other bloggers debating with you. There's a lot of material to cover, so hopefully I'll be getting a better understanding of your position as time goes on, and I look forward to your future posts.

  • KevinC

    Bernard wrote:"Strangely enough, I go for 1) because of the evidence. I only dispute "a few years": that took much longer."If the historicist model is correct, Paul believed that his pre-existent divine Christ Jesus, who created the Cosmos and holds it together by his power, walked the wilderness of Gallilee within his (Paul's) own lifetime. If Paul got this via oral tradition from James and others who knew the HJ personally, that tradition would go back closer to Jesus' death than Paul's letters, which were (IIRC) written in the '50's and '60's C.E.. It may have taken "much longer" for Christians to iron out exactly what sort of divinized Christ they worshiped and get him installed as the second Person of the Trinity, but the earliest sources (Paul and gMark) speak of a divinized Christ right at the start.

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

    KevinC, I wonder if you are running together several issues that need to be distinguished. Could anyone in Jesus' time prove that he was descended from David? No. Can historians today be confident that he was genetically related to David? No. What makes the mention of Davidic descent relevant to this discussion is not it's historical factuality, but the fact that it indicates what early Christians believed about him, namely that he was a human being.I am not persuaded that "divinized" is the right word to use in reference to early Christology. However much Paul connected Jesus with the Wisdom of God, he still says in 1 Corinthians that ultimately the Son will hand his kingdom over to God, so that God's supremacy is made evidence. And whatever one thinks about whether Philippians 2:6-11 envisages some sort of literal pre-existence, it makes it clear that it is God who exalts Jesus, and bestows upon him the divine name rather than Jeaus having in some sense possessed it already. The latter idea we get in John, where the name has still been given to Jesus by the Father (who remains "the only true God"), but the bestowal took place before the foundation of the world.

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

    On the subject of oral tradition, surely you arer right, but we do not have that oral tradition. We have a few written documents written in a context in which most communication was oral, and thus do not mention a great many things that we might have liked them to.

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

    KevinC,Well if you read the page I posted, plus HJ-3b (the beginning of Christianity), you would have a better appreciation how this divination happened. I repeat, Paul did not divinize the earthly Jesus, but only the "prequel" and "sequel" heavenly one (out-of-sight). "Mark" divinized the earthly Jesus after any witnesses were thought gone (after 70CE, in a time of crisis in his community) and when his Christians wanted reassurance.


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