Overview of Part One of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (with Baloney Detection)

Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical JesusWe have reached the end of Part 1 of Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. In assessing the case and claims he has offered so far, I found myself inspired by GakuseiDon’s comment mentioning Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit (inspired by Carl Sagan’s). I thought I would apply that kit to Doherty’s book thus far, as a way of assessing what it has offered as well as bringing in an additional perspective to help me and others evaluate my own impressions.

Here are the questions Shermer encourages skeptics to ask, with answers based on what Doherty has written in the first part of his book.

1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
    Michael Shermer rightly points out that everyone makes mistakes, and so errors do not automatically relegate one to crackpot status. That is fortunate for me, as I have made errors, even in print, and although I would have expected that all bloggers would know better than to throw stones in the glass house of blogging, I’ve still encountered some who are ready to treat a late-night post or failure to proofread carefully as evidence of thoroughgoing incompetence. Be that as it may, frequent errors do undermine credibility, and it is not clear in every instance whether Doherty’s failure to discuss evidence that undermines his claims represents an oversight or an attempt at spin. Presumably, at the very least, he is hoping to make a strong enough impression based on partial evidence, that the reader will be willing to ignore or reinterpret the evidence against mythicism if and when he discusses it later in the book.And at least with respect to the reading of later doctrine back into New Testament documents without discussion of other possible interpretations, Doherty is open to the charge of unreliability with respect to his failure to discuss major interpretative issues and offer justification for his own conclusions.

2. Does this source often make similar claims?
    Yes.

3. Have the claims been verified by another source?
    I know a blogger and some commenters who finds Doherty’s views persuasive, and Doherty clearly found a couple of scholars to say favorable things about his work. Does that count in Doherty’s favor? It is hard to say. Neil Godfrey appeals frequently to a seemingly favorable statement by Stevan Davies, but elsewhere in the same discussion forum Davies indicates that he had not read Doherty’s book and describes it as equally nonsense viz-a-viz the dominant scholarly paradigm. And so the favorable statement is about what Davies had been told about Doherty’s stance, not about the actual articulation of it in detail in his book. While Doherty should not be blamed for what one of his supporters has done, this still serves as a cautionary reminder that quotes in favor of a fringe view sometimes are not what they initially appear to be.
     I can only submit to the reader what I have been presenting in my blog series along with specific examples and illustrations: that I have been looking at Doherty’s claims closely and have found them wanting in the best of cases, in many others at best possible but unproven, and in still others patently false. So far there have been responses to my blog series which have nit-picked the tone and the wording of some of the posts, but have done nothing to salvage Doherty’s substantive points, as far as I can see. And it is not clear that other mainstream scholars who have looked at Doherty’s claims in detail speak in favor of the details, however much their words may have contained enough that is favorable to serve as a blurb.

4. How does this fit in with what we know about the world and how it works?
    There is nothing in principle impossible with the core assumption of mythicism, namely that people invent stories and religious beliefs. Few things are strictly speaking impossible, so that isn’t saying much, but neither is it a criticism. Mythicism is not disqualified as baloney on the basis of this criterion, however much it might be on the basis of others. But if we are asking not merely whether mythicism is baloney but whether it is correct, then the issue is not whether the invention of stories ever happens (it surely does), but rather, since it does not always happen, the appropriate historical question is whether the evidence suggests it has happened in this case.

5. Has anyone, including and especially the claimant, gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only confirmatory evidence been sought?
    As I have shown, evidence that runs counter to Doherty’s assumptions has been ignored, misconstrued, dismissed, or postponed for later discussion in the book thus far.

6. In the absence of clearly defined proof, does the preponderance of evidence converge to the claimants conclusion, or a different one?
    A different one. I don’t think that even most mythicists would say that it is as a result of specific positive claims and evidence that the mythicist case is made, but that it is largely a matter of how to interpret the lack of evidence in places where some expect to find it. If there are a few verses that might seem to directly support mythicism, depending on one’s interpretation of them, the same can surely be said even more so with respect to the case of mainstream secular history’s conclusions. The preponderance of evidence, even on the most sympathetic reading of the evidence Doherty has focused on, raises the question of why Paul does not unambiguously quote Jesus and discuss events in the life of Jesus more clearly and/or more frequently. This is genuinely a question for which we should seek an answer. But the fact that mythicism takes the question seriously and claims to have answered it does not mean that mythicism has in fact answered it in a way that follows or coheres with “the preponderance of evidence.”
     This is a point that I think many supporters of mythicism are confused about. Having made an attempt to answer a question, or even having provided something that constitutes a potential answer to a question, does not mean that one has provided the best answer, much less the clearly correct one. Mainstream historical study has provided answers too, and if those answers to the specific question of Paul’s silence can be demonstrates to be inadequate, it does not follow that mainstream historical scholarship is wrong about Jesus’ existence. One should not make a claim akin to that made by creationists, that if there is doubt about the adequacy of a particular explanatory mechanism or a particular aspect of evolution, then the whole theory is placed under a question mark. Mythicism does not only have to provide what seems like a plausible answer to the matter of Paul’s relative silence; it needs to fit well with all the relevant evidence, and account for it in a more satisfactory way, before it can claim to have something better to offer than the mainstream scholarly paradigm. And however much mythicists may hope to get there, it should be clear to everyone that mythicism is not there yet.

7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others which lead to the desired conclusion?
    In Doherty’s book there is an attempt to give the impression that appropriate research tools are being used. But having reached the end of part 1 with the discussion of substantial amounts of counter-evidence still being postponed leaves me no choice but to describe Doherty’s approach as unscholarly. So too is the failure to provide essential contextual and linguistic information on terms being interpreted, such as Messiah, when Doherty’s interpretation of them differs from generally accepted views of their meaning as evidenced by texts from the relevant period in history.
     Doherty has been appealing to readers practically from the outset to accept his paradigm, even before he had finished the first part of his case in its favor. That is not part of the accepted rules of reason and research, and runs counter to the principle of critical thinking that encourages us to refrain from drawing conclusions before we have considered all relevant evidence.

8. Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomena, or is it strictly a process of denying the existing explanation?
    Doherty has done both, and so on this point Shermer’s criteria are favorable to him.

9. If the claimant has proffered a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation?
    No it does not. It has thus far left all the references to what seem like details of a human life in Paul’s letters unaccounted for. In essence, Doherty offers an “explanation” that is supposed to account for what we do not find in Paul’s letters, and in the process he renders much of what we do find in Paul’s letters unintelligible.

10. Do the claimants personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa?
      My impression is that it is biases that drive the conclusions. I know that Doherty would say the same about mainstream scholarship.
      In some instances, Doherty’s bias might seem scholarly, but on closer examination it turns out not to be. Let me give an example of what I mean, where Doherty appears to have taken a legitimate principle of caution from scholarship and turned it into an end in its own right. Doherty takes the concern to avoid simply reading later material from the Gospels (or even later Christian orthodoxy) back into the epistles, and on the one hand, fails to do so consistently (he reads later Christology back into the New Testament), while on the other hand, he changes the caution against inappropriate anachronism into a principle that demands that one interpret the epistles in a manner that is at odds with what we find in the Gospels even when the two naturally converge or agree. That seems to me a principle that has no justification, at least when used in that manner. While one should not read later sources back into earlier ones when there is reason to think that the earlier source may have held a different viewpoint, it is nonsensical to demand that earlier and later works from the same religious tradition must hold different views. This is, in essence, the same error that some scholars committed in turning the criterion of double dissimilarity into a positive principle. And so it is an error that even scholars have fallen into, but the fact that Doherty in places resembles scholarship at its worst does nothing to improve the overall impression of what he is doing.

I invite others to take up the tools of the Baloney Detection Kit (whether Shermer’s or Sagan’s) and evaluate Doherty’s claims for themselves, as Shermer himself would encourage you to do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    You said "Davies indicates that he had not read Godfrey's book" Do you mean "Davies indicates that he had not read Doherty's book"

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

    Yes, thank you – I will fix the post accordingly.

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

    I fixed it – thanks again for pointing out the error!

  • Earl Doherty

    It would have been difficult for Davies to have read my book (the first one, The Jesus Puzzle), since his comment dates from before it was published. Davies was commenting on the basis of my website as it existed in the late 90s.

  • Earl Doherty

    Jim: No it does not. It has thus far left all the references to what seem like details of a human life in Paul's letters unaccounted for.Nonsense. Every single passage ever appealed to in support of an HJ in the epistles is addressed in the course of the book, and accounted for. As I said before, it is a bit risky, and premature, to make sweeping statements about a book when one has only read about 5% of it. And even within that 5%, some of those passages are touched on, and not always in only preliminary fashion (such as Paul's "Lord's Supper".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    The crosstalk · Historical Jesus and Christian Origins blog entries refereed to in #3 are from a defunct blog whose archives end in June 1999.

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

    Earl, I think what you meant to write is that it was premature for you to make sweeping statements about what Paul doesn't say when you had only accounted for a fraction of the evidence.Vader and Earl, thank you for the clarification, but the point is that whatever and wherever the 250,000 words were that Earl had written at that point, Stevan indicated that his assessment was not based on reading them.

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

    But if we are asking not merely whether mythicism is baloney but whether it is correct, then the issue is not whether the invention of stories ever happens (it surely does), but rather, since it does not always happen, the appropriate historical question is whether the evidence suggests it has happened in this case.Declaring that to be the appropriate historical question presupposes that we have some credible criteria that enable us to distinguish ancient religious stories that are invented from those that are not invented. I have my doubts that we do.The historical question I find myself asking is whether any specific reconstruction of a historical Jesus contains any fewer unaddressed flaws/problems/puzzles/shortcomings than a mythicist reconstruction along the lines of that suggested by Doherty. Until I am able to answer the question, I suspect that I will remain agnostic.

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

    James, at no point have I ever faulted you for a late-night post or failure to proof read carefully as indicators of "thoroughgoing incompetence". My concern is your erroneous claims about Earl Doherty, in particular that he "for most part lumps all the NT epistles together". That is simply an untruth, and I have posted the evidence for that. You have since been shown additional evidence to contradict you insinutation that Doherty does not recognize his sources, and that you used a mistranslation and selectively tendentious one to argue against his position. As for Stevan Davies, I was careful before ever using his crosstalk statement (that is far more than simply "seemingly favourable" if you read it) and sought his permission and explained the context in which it would be used. I keep such permissions on my blog permissions page. The crosstalk post you link to in which he refers to not having read all 250,000 words of Doherty's argument is — and you can verify this by going back through the crosstalk posts — a reference to the complete website of Doherty, not to his book. That post was also made 17 days prior the one I referred to and there was much more discussion and input from Doherty and academics before and in between.As for the "nonsense" post, it would be more honest to point out that Davies was saying "all theories" are "nonsense" — yours included. You have misssed the ironical sense in which he was discussing that word. It also needs to be placed beside Davies' other words where he writes: But it's not that Earl advocates lunacy in a manner devoidof learning. He advocates a position that is well argued based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge of Greek.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    Assuming that a mythicist reconstruction is the best answer, how do we determine its probability. It may be the best answer, but just how probable is it?

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

    Again, nobody seems willing to define any terms here. I argue that Clark Kent is a mythical/fictional creation even though he is based on Harold Lloyd. Harold Lloyd was born in 1893 and was just the right age when the first Superman comic book featuring Clark Kent came out. We have contemporaneous reports of people who knew him alive. But even if we went through the stories of Harold Lloyd's life and compared the data points to those of Clark Kent, it wouldn't make Clark Kent historical.Jim West was very clear: "Without provenance, without context, there is no meaning. This is true of both texts and artifacts."We have neither the provenance nor the context for the Gospels. Therefore, they simply can't be fully understood by modern citizens. But it doesn't stretch credulity to imagine that the Jews developed a mystery religion in the 1st century CE that needed sacred stories for itself. So it is for even historicists, who since Strauss, Wrede and Bultmann have been fully aware of the fictional character of the Gospels (including Dr. McGrath, who likened the Acts of Thomas to a novelistic fiction once).Therefore, if the vast bulk of what we read about Jesus in the gospels is wrong on either reading (historicist or mythicist), the concept that one group is a bunch of crazy, wacked out creationist conspiracy theory types, and the other group are sober, forthright historians is simply crazy. Just because Harold Lloyd was born, raised by parents in the United States, ate food, wore glasses, a hat, shirt and a coat and could change his identity by taking his glasses off that doesn't therefore mean that Clark Kent is historical. If you think so, I wish you well with your historical Jesus. But if you don't, then Dr. McGrath himself is proving the mythicist case. Here are his touchstones:birth, Davidic descent. taking bread, bleeding, dying, and being buried.That's it? That's all you can say? Nothing there to see as far as I can tell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13867929998135821311 Howard M.

    I know its a little off topic, but I wanted to mention a few things related to the fact the Paul does not seem to quote Jesus in his letters. I have not read Doherty’s book, so I do not know his precise reasoning on the matter. I quote James as explaining his position as “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?” From this, is Doherty implying that Paul’s letters came first and the gospels were written later to fabricate a historical person to go along with Paul’s teachings? If that is the case, then it leaves us with another puzzle. Why do the fabricated gospels, which would be based on Paul’s letters, not quote any of Paul’s words and artfully re-word them and attribute them to Jesus? Actually, Paul’s lack of quotations from the gospels is not really that hard to understand. How many pages of blogs and academic papers are there that discuss Christianity, but do not contain a single quote from Jesus? Lots of them. And the reason they do not contain quotations from Jesus is because of the subject matter and the audience. On the one hand we have preaching, which is trying to convince non-Christians to become Christians. That is what Jesus was doing. Then we have instruction/theology, which is directed toward people who have already accepted Jesus and are Christians already. This is what Paul was doing. There was no need for Paul to preach to his audience in his letters as if they were non-Christians. Paul did preach to non-Christians as well, but that is not what we find in his letters.

  • Anonymous

    Mike WilsonEvan, not much stretches credulity to imagine when you are ignorant. When I was a kid it seemed plausible that an alien from Krypton would look just like an average American, or a radioactive spider might give someone spider like abilities. Sadly my rudimentary knowledge of science has reduced this all to fantasy. But thanks for repeating your position again, I don't find it anymore convincing now than the first dozen or so times you have stated it, and if you have forgotten why, just take a tour though all the post on mythicism over the year. Howard M, good point, if all one had were gospels, we would never know Paul existed (except of course the Acts half of Luke/Acts.) I think, and I move into dangerous territory, Doherty would argue that the Gospels came out of the common world of Paul and Peter, as is the case for most real scholars as well. If your Evan or Godfrey all this talk is a little foolish since all the Pauline works are forgeries written in the second century, which we know because that is when they are independently attested and we should not ask why any one would make such an intricate forgery, but only assume one, since we can't prove they are earlier than the second century. Why they feel the need to defend Doherty's position since the man gullibly accepts the genuineness of Paul like a fool, is beyond me, must be religious solidarity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    Acts reworks Paul's biography and words to be compatible with the Gospels/orthodox theology. I have read the theory that Paul's works 'accidentally' ended up on the canon. The verses in Paul's works that relate to a HJ could have been added at a later time to make Paul's works minimally compatible with the Gospels. A lot less work to do that than quote Paul in the Gospels.

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

    I've attempted to offer McGrath some useful advice he was seeking in earlier posts, and have offered some corrections to McGrath's post here on my blog.

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

    Neil, thank you for clarifying that the scholar who has spoken most favorably about Earl Doherty's paradigm had not had the opportunity to read either of his books, nor had he read his web site.

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

    I've given up trying to respond to Evan's comments, but I should take advantage of his illustration of what makes mythicism, at least of the brand he represents, crazy.Imagine that we find the birth certificate of an otherwise unknown individual. What will we know about him? At that point, only the bare fact that he once existed and the details provided on the birth certificate about parents and place of birth. Evan and others like him would have you believe that, when that is all we know, we may as well deny the person's existence, and that that there is nothing crazy about doing so.I beg to differ. Little knowledge is not the same as no knowledge at all, little historical information is not the same as none at all, and little evidence that someone existed is not the same as none at all.

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

    Of course! Dr. McGrath's logic is unassailable!He seems to think that a verifiable, primary document asserting existence is the same thing as a story involving demons going into pigs, a man walking on water and raising people from the dead.So Dr. McGrath evidently would now assert that Gone with the Wind was a history book if someone could find a Georgia birth certificate from 1845 with the name Scarlett O'Hara on it.I also love the fact that he's given up trying to respond to my comments by continuing to comment on them. That speaks volumes for his credibility as a writer. As for you Mike — again, 90% is myth. Tell me the 10% that is both unique and true.

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

    Evan has illustrated again why I have pretty much given up any hope of his understanding how scholarship works. Historians obviously don't accept the Gospels as true accounts about Jesus in every detail simply because they have reason to think that there was a historical Jesus. It is the same all-or-nothing mindset that plagues fundamentalism of all sorts, whether mythicist or Christian.Evan also still seems not to have grasped the difference between the Gospels and comic books, and so I will direct him once again to a previous attempt I made at clarifying this for him.

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

    Yes, Dr. McGrath. I am aware you don't think stories about men coming back to life don't mark out specific genres of literature as non-serious. Thanks for not responding to my comments. It's fun to have you not commenting by commenting. Historians, however, don't just think that the Gospels aren't true accounts. Strauss stated that they were myths. Wrede thought they were fictional. Bultmann thought nothing could be known about Jesus at all. Burton Mack thinks the Gospels are fictions written by early Christian factions to support their own theological agendas. You, Dr. McGrath won't disagree with any of those statements on their merits, but you choose repeatedly to heap scorn on someone who goes one step further and suggests there is no solid ground on which to base a presumption of historicity on the literary character of Jesus of Nazareth. Your data that "prove" your point are vague statements from the epistles about " … birth, Davidic descent, taking bread, bleeding, dying, and being buried," as if those are unique identifiers.

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

    Can anyone else perhaps help Evan understand that while everyone was born, each person's birth is unique to that individual (excepting twins, triplets, etc….)? I'm still not sure why things that are obvious to the rest of humankind our so hard for him to fathom. Perhaps someone else can help him understand?

  • Anonymous

    Well, this may be the usual definition of a scholar. But one is not just concerned with an understanding of Greek or any other language, but about logic, inconsistencies and history. With regard to history, given the translations that are available, biblical scholars have become almost dispensable. And on the subject of logic I find scholars (both of the bible and history) leave a lot to be desired. A hint at this yawning, gaping hole in their logic: Brian W. Jones, Reader in the Department of Classics and Ancient History wrote in his book Suetonius on Vespasian, p.35, "ONCE AGAIN, the Flavian historians on whom Suetonius relied strained the truth TO AND BEYOND its limits in disguising the slavish adulation lavished by Vespasian on the emperor of the day." And yet the history of Nero that was passed to us, and widely understood by us, is not so. So what else did Flavian historians lie about?GH

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

    Dr. McGrath, your non-responses to me could fill a good sized article. You seem not to understand that to say a story is historical in some detail means just that.I wonder why that is. I wonder who would think that authenticity was a rabbit hole that goes too far down. Maybe someone who said:"The contrast between an older method, creating piles of inauthentic and authentic material, and a newer one that seeks to explain the whole tradition, sounds promising …"So … is it a pile of authentic material about someone to say that they were born, bled and died?

  • Anonymous

    JFM: "Evan has illustrated again why I have pretty much given up any hope of his understanding how scholarship works." That's rather harsh, don't you think, "doctor"?JFM: "Evan also still seems not to have grasped the difference between the Gospels and comic books, and so I will direct him once again to a previous attempt I made at clarifying this for him."I'm still not sure whether you truly don't understand Evan's points or if you're just playing some sort of dramatic role on the Web. Just in case you really don't understand, let me try to help.NT scholars use historical criteria in order to try to reveal probable historical events and sayings from the life of Jesus. Suppose we apply these same criteria to examples wherein we absolutely know there is no underlying historical basis. If it can be shown that the criteria continually return false positives, then they are useless for proving historicity on their own. In the case of Clark Kent vs. Harold Lloyd, we have primary evidence to overturn the false positive. In the case of Jesus, we do not. We merely have relative probabilities.As Carrier puts it, it's like having 100 pictures of a distant relative you've never met. You have lots of evidence, but nothing primary to compare it to.–Tim Widowfield

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

    And so then do you deny the existence of the relative? Or do you just admit that you know very little about him or her?At any rate, if you want to have a serious discussion, of which the subject of genre will inevitably need to be a part, then hopefully you will understand why comparing the Gospels to comic books is going to need to be set aside.

  • Anonymous

    Mike WilsonTim what is the false positive in the Kent vs. Lloyd situation? I'm not familiar with this aspect of Super-Man Comics, so fill me in.

  • Anonymous

    Mike, I was referring to Evan's statement: "But even if we went through the stories of Harold Lloyd's life and compared the data points to those of Clark Kent, it wouldn't make Clark Kent historical." As he points out, Clark Kent's character was modeled after the typical role Lloyd played on screen. If centuries from now all you had was fragmentary literary evidence that correlated Kent to Lloyd it would not prove historicity, even if our well-beloved historical criteria caused us to suspect so.Probably a better cases for comparison would be King Arthur, William Tell, etc., where we have (1) literary evidence, (2) strong cultural reasons to *want* to ascribe historicity, (3) attribution of magical deeds, and (3) a distinct lack of primary evidence.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. M: "And so then do you deny the existence of the relative? Or do you just admit that you know very little about him or her?"It depends on my primary evidence. If nobody in my family has a recollection of this relative, and the only evidence I have is a shoe box full of old photographs (many of which seem to be of a different person), then what should I say? What would *you* say? I think you'd probably say, "Well, they tell me this is my Great Aunt Phoebe, but I don't have any proof, and it's odd nobody told me about her before."Now, suppose inside the shoe box you find some notes and letters. One says Phoebe was born in Albany, New York, in 1912. Another says she was 20 feet tall and once swam up Niagara Falls. What would you say then? Be honest, now — would you really say, "The historical Great Aunt Phoebe (who nobody in my family remembers) was almost certainly born in Albany?"I think you'd be a Phoebe-agnostic until you had more information. Notice, I'm not saying you "know very little," but that your data are inconclusive and point to a mythical character by their very nature.(I hope most of that made sense. I just came back from the dentist and have a head full of Novocaine.) –Tim Widowfield

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

    Personally, based on my own experience of family history research, I would probably accept photos and letters as evidence that I had a relative, and treat claims to royalty and amazing feats with skepticism, and claims of the paranormal I would dismiss altogether. To relate this to the New Testament question (which hopefully won't have you wishing for another dose of Novocaine) the sources which question that Jesus had a brother are later than our earliest which assumes he did and that this is familiar information to Christians. The truth is that in general, mundane facts we tend to assume are reported reliably unless we have good reason to doubt them. Have you done extensive research to verify the information that Clark Kent was based on Harold Lloyd, for instance? If one is unwilling to trust anyone then there will be little information that one can feel confident about. Something that has long puzzled me is why mythicists are willing to give priority to late sources that deny Jesus had a brother, in the interest of increasing Jesus' uniqueness and the status of Mary, over early ones that run counter to that later church dogma. Mainstream historical study, all other things being equal, does precisely the opposite.Sorry if this worsened your toothache – or made you feel like you have another one!

  • Anonymous

    JFM: "Personally, based on my own experience of family history research, I would probably accept photos and letters as evidence that I had a relative"I'm guilty of stretching the metaphor past its breaking point. Carrier's analogy originally had to do with the evaluation of material in the Gospels. Is the "real" Jesus the itinerant sage of Q? Or is he the apocalyptic prophet in Mark? How do we say "that sounds more like Jesus" when we don't have a firm reference point?In other words, given that we believe we have a Great Aunt Phoebe, how do we pick which photos are of her if we've never seen her before? That's the conundrum.JFM: "Something that has long puzzled me is why mythicists are willing to give priority to late sources that deny Jesus had a brother…"I think if there was a Jesus he probably had lots of brothers and sisters. (Of course I'm a Jesus-agnostic, so I'm probably not the one to ask.) The point I struggle with is whether "brothers of the Lord" (1 Cor 9:5) indicates family or some kind of inner group of Jerusalem apostles, and whether James is their leader or "chief brother."At any rate, I'm starting to doubt we really know anything about the historical Paul, which makes pessimistic about the historicist *and* the mythicist positions.–Tim Widowfield

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    I take a bit different view. It is true that there is no primary evidence that a Historical Jesus existed. Stop at that answer and many are unsatisfied. They have a desire to know. Some for faith, some for anti faith and some just to know. When you have no primary evidence you have only secondary evidence and in the case of the search for Jesus all that is available is problematic secondary evidence. The searcher has to use what there is and make more of less informed speculation. Experts are better at informed speculation than lay persons in general. Rules help to make informed decisions. For example only naturalistic explanations allowed. Multiple attesting of an event from multiple sources is a good thing. In the end there are limits. In the case of a HJ, the HJ advocate sees a HJ in the record, but determining who or what that HJ is results in a lot of possible HJs. see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html. The MJ/JM advocate has a similar issue unless they stop at Jesus was a myth. That issue could be a lot of mythical Jesuses depending on which myth drove the development of the mythical Jesus.

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

    Tim, I think the analogy is apt if we adapt it to something that has a closer parallel in the New Testament and could have existed in antiquity. Let's say that you find a letter among your family heirlooms in which the author, whom you'd heard of before, mentions a sister Phoebe, whom you had not heard of before. The letter mentions that she was executed, and not much else.Then you find a novel among that box of personal effects that has a main character Phoebe, who in the end is executed, but before that, does some outlandish and frankly unbelievable stuff.You dismiss the likelihood of the novel containing anything that you can confidently regard as based on fact. But do you accept the likelihood that there was an actual Phoebe in your family based on the letter? In theory, she might have been a 'sister' in the sense of a nun in a religious order – but it doesn't sound like that is what is meant. What would the appropriate stance be under such circumstances?

  • Anonymous

    JFM: "In theory, she might have been a 'sister' in the sense of a nun in a religious order – but it doesn't sound like that is what is meant. What would the appropriate stance be under such circumstances?"In the case of 1 Cor. 9:5, I think the natural reading of "ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα" is "sister-wife," a euphemism for "a mate chosen as a helpmate in a Platonic relationship." I see no reason convert "sister" into an attributive noun and come up with "believing wife." What, is Paul hell-bent on letting us know that the apostles' wives were also Christians? So what? Is this a crucial point? And yet this strained "believing wife" translation seems to be the consensus among today's NT scholars.On the other hand, "καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου" (still reading from 1 Cor. 9:5) strikes me as meaning something other than (or at least *more* than) Jesus' siblings. If it said "καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ" (cf. Acts 1:14) it would be a slam-dunk. I think 1 Cor. 9:5 is very instructive as we see experts more than willing to take "sister" as meaning something other than sibling — viz. a coreligionist — but equally adamant that "brothers of the Lord" can *only* refer to a familial relationship.Could it be that some people so desperately want the James in Paul's epistles to be the same James in Mark that they refuse to see the ambiguity?–TAW

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

    Do you prefer to be addressed as TAW or Tim? You can call me James. I think that if Paul had written "brother of Jesus" we might be suspicious, since Paul typically uses "Christ Jesus", "Lord Jesus", "the Lord Jesus Christ" or "the Lord" and only occasionally "Jesus" on its own.Since Paul didn't say "James the brother-husband of the Lord" I think we can leave out one particular line of interpretation. If Paul had written that, presumably we wouldn't be having ts conversation (although we might then be having a different and even more interesting one).We have no evidence that "brother(s) of the Lord" designated a leadership position that did not involve actual siblings of Jesus. It is not impossible, but neither do we have evidence for it, and so I am wary of drawing conclusions based on speculation when there are more straightforward options available to us.We should not read Mark into Paul, but would you agree that we should not force them to disagree if they seem quite naturally to converge?I think your last question can be reversed – can it be that some so desire Jesus to be purely a myth that they see ambiguity where, if it were anyone else, they wouldn't seek around for other meanings that do not arise naturally from the sources?

  • Anonymous

    Call me Tim.James: 'I think that if Paul had written "brother of Jesus" we might be suspicious, since Paul typically uses "Christ Jesus"…'I agree. It would most likely be "καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ."James: "It is not impossible, but neither do we have evidence for it, and so I am wary of drawing conclusions based on speculation when there are more straightforward options available to us."I understand what you're saying, but 1 Corinthians as a whole is hardly a straightforward document.For the past few months I have been mulling over Margaret Barker's Temple Theology, which borrows heavily from Segal's "Two Powers in Heaven" motif. Now you and I can read Paul's letters and easily (so we think) distinguish between the κύριος that refers to Jesus, the lord or master and Yahweh, the Adonai (יְהוָ֜ה).And yet Paul is writing, so we're told, to recent Gentile converts, using the terms interchangeably — flitting from Lord to Lord, so to speak. Of course, God the father (El Elyon) is almost always quite distinct from the Lord. Theos is the ultimate, most high God from whom the Lord (Yahweh/Adonai/Kurios/Christ) emanates.Consider 1 Cor. 10:9. "Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents." This, of course, is a reference to Num. 21:6, where Yahweh/the Lord sends fiery serpents among the people, and many died.According to Paul, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. God (El Elyon) operates through the Lord (Christ, the incarnation of Yahweh), such that: "there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."All of that sounds crazy the first time you hear it, but it makes a great deal of sense when you examine all the evidence. The upshot is this: I have a hard time picturing Yahweh having a blood brother.

  • Anonymous

    Mike WilsonJames, really wow outlandish are the miracle tales really? He faith heals, he cast out demons, raises the dead, calms storms, feed multitudes. You can find that at any hillbilly Pentecostal church. Seriously though, there are exorcist and faith healers in the world today. storms start and they stop. I mean some of it yeah is far out, but a lot of those activities happen now. i mean it is only outlandish if you think there really demons. The notion that this is so fabulous a tale that no one would put this in what they were presenting of a mans story, isn't really true. it is just unusual because not many upper class romans were into that stuff, and so we have less of their books(upper class romans had a mass printing publishing advantage.)

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

    @Mike, you can find modern examples along those lines. One famous one is Jim Jones, of Jonestown infamy. I've taken some snippets from here:http://jonestownapologistsarticlearchive.blogspot.com/~~~~~~"REDWOOD VALLEY —- A man they call The Prophet is attracting extraordinary crowds from extraordinary distances to his People’s Temple Christian (Disciples) Church in this Mendocino County hamlet.His followers say he can raise the dead…Here is an excerpt from a Stoen letter to The Examiner received five days ago:“Jim has been the means by which more than 40 persons have literally been brought back from the dead this year. When I first came into the church, I was the conventional skeptic about such things. But I must be honest:“I have seen Jim revive people stiff as a board, tongues hanging out, eyes set, skin graying, and all vital signs absent. Don’t ask me how it happens. It just does…"I know that Pastor Jim Jones is God Almighty himself!" cried one of the more than 1000 people who overflowed the auditorium of Benjamin Franklin Junior High School on Geary Boulevard yesterday morning and Saturday night…He reflected only momentarily upon the lady's enthusiastic affirmation of his divinity before replying:"What do you mean by that? If you believe I am a son of God in that I am filled with love, I can accept that. I won't knock what works for you – but I don't want to be interpreted as the creator of the universe."Then he added, gently:"If you say 'He is God,' some people will think you are nuts. They can't relate. I'm glad you were healed, but I'm really only a messenger of God….I have a paranormal ability in healing."…Stoen's statement also contains the following:"People's Temple Christian Church does not, as far as I know, advertise that Jim Jones raises people from the dead."Yet the People's Temple's mimeographed bulletin, which was distributed at the 11 a.m. service on Sun. Sept. 10 (at which Stoen was present), specifically reported that in Los Angeles:"Pastor Jones walked to the dead man and commanded 'Arise!' Instantly the man was resurrected before thousands there."~~~~~~Interesting stuff. Did these things happen, perhaps as a set up by Jones? Or is this fiction, put out as propaganda by Jones' organization? If we had just that webpage, I think we couldn't tell if it was a report of an actual event, or it was deliberate fiction.. and this happened only 40 years ago!

  • Anonymous

    James and Tim:Re. 1Cor.9.5: "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us [, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas]?"Don't you suspect that the phrase:"as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas" is a later addition?Geoff Hudson

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

    Thanks for your response, Tim. We already know that Paul uses "brothers" for Christians, and so even without 1 Corinthians we'd get that. But Paul doesn't call them "brothers of the Lord", though, and so we still need to figure out why Paul uses that particular phrase in Galatians, and why I'd is used as distinguishing James from Peter. The suggestion that it was a title for a category of leader is by no means impossible, but neither do we have any evidence that it was used in that way.I am glad that you agree that Yahweh having a flesh-and-blood brother is unlikely. Yahweh having any sort of brother would be a remarkable concept, at odds with Paul's several affirmations of monotheism. And so I think the problem is that you understand Paul to be talking about God or a god when he talks about Jesus. In the two passages you mention, one explicitly says it is using Scripture as a type, and so there is no need to understand it in terms of pre-existence. And in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Jesus is added alongside God, not inside or as part of God. He may be given the status and function of Wisdom, which is something that Jews had earlier done with Torah. But in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is still distinguishing God and Jesus. And so I think one of the problems I have with mythicism is it's uncritical acceptance of the view that the beliefs of Paul and other early Christians match those of later orthodoxy. On this subject, and with a full chapter dedicated to the late Alan Segal's classic work on two powers, I talk at length in my book The Only True God. Some parts of it, whether on my Selected Works page, the earlier article a chapter was based on, and Amazon/Google preview, can be read online. And so if you'd like a more detailed explanation of what I think Jews understood allegiance to one God to mean, and how the view of Paul fit with that, you might find it interesting to take a look at that. If you do, let me know what you think of it!

  • Anonymous

    1 Cor.8.1.Now about [food] {animals} sacrificed to [idols] {God}: We [know] {understand } that [we] {they} all possess [knowledge] {a spirit},……! Cor.8.6.yet for us there is but one [God, the Father] {Spirit}, from whom all [things] {spirits} came and [for] {by} whom we live; [and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live]. 8.1b to 8.5 is interpolation. 8.1a was originally continued at 8.6a. 8.6b, "and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" is an interpolation. Geoff Hudson

  • Anonymous

    The above is the traditional Jewish Spirit who created all things – everything that has the "breath of life" in it to animate.Geoff Hudson

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Daniel James Levy

    @James: Please write a book against mythicism. Or just a book compiled of all your blog posts. I'm sure that would be at least as long as Wright's JVG.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09184413239420165558 vader

    Bart Ehrman's next book is supposed to be an e-book against Jesus mythicism. Here is a word search of brother in the Pauline epistles. http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=brother+&searchtype;=all&version1;=49&bookset;=10.A word search of brother lord: http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=brother+lord&searchtype;=all&version1;=49&bookset;=10Compare these:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+9:4-6&version;=NASB1 Corinthians 9:4-6 (New American Standard Bible) 4(A)Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5(B)Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the (C)brothers of the Lord and (D)Cephas? 6Or do only (E)Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? and http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+1:18-20&version;=NASBGalatians 1:18-20 (New American Standard Bible) 18Then (A)three years later I went up (B)to Jerusalem to become acquainted with (C)Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except (D)James, the Lord's brother. 20(Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you (E)before God that I am not lying.)

  • Anonymous

    The original text of 1Cor. was pretty obviously written in the first person with "I" and "me". Where it switches to "we" you get interpolations such as: "as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas" in 1Cor.9.5.9.1.Am I not free {in the Spirit}? Am I not [an apostle] {a prophet by the Spirit}? [Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?] Are you not the result of my work in the [Lord] {Spirit}? 9.2.Even though I may not be [an apostle] {a prophet} to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my [apostleship] {ministry} in the [Lord] {Spirit}. 9.3.This is my defence to those who sit in judgment on me. 9.4.Don't [we] {I} have the right to food and drink? 9.5.Don't [we] {I} have the right to take a believing wife along with [us] {me} [, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas]? 9.6.Or is it only I [and Barnabas] who must work for a living? 9.7.Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 9.8.Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9.9.For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 9.10.Surely he says this for [us] {me}, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for [us] {me}, because when the ploughman ploughs [and the thresher threshes, they] {he} ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 9.11.If [we] {I} have sown [spiritual seed] {the Spirit} among you, is it too much if [we] {I} reap a material harvest from you? 9.12.If [others] {priests} have this right of support from you, shouldn't [we] {I} have it all the more? But [we] {I} did not use this right. On the contrary, [we] {I} put up with anything rather than hinder the [gospel] {Spirit} of [Christ] {God}. 9.13.Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple[, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar]? 9.14.In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who [preach] {proclaim} the [gospel] {Spirit} should receive their living from the {gospel} {Spirit}.9.15.But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 9.16.Yet when I [preach] {proclaim} the [gospel] {Spirit}, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to [preach] {proclaim}. Woe to me if I do not [preach] {proclaim} the Spirit!Geoff Hudson

  • Anonymous

    Correction9.16.Yet when I [preach] {proclaim} the [gospel] {Spirit}, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to [preach] {proclaim}. Woe to me if I do not [preach] {proclaim} the [gospel} {Spirit}!

  • Anonymous

    Correction: "others" are priests in 1Cor.9.29.2.Even though I may not be [an apostle] {a prophet} to [others] {priests}, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my [apostleship] {ministry} in the [Lord] {Spirit}.

  • Anonymous

    Yet another correction; to 1Cor.9.3:9.3.This is my defence to [those] {priests} who sit in judgment on me.This was a common technique used by the editors – to substitute a non-descript term such as "others" and "those" to hide real nouns.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14552540643465089831 Atheist Jack

    <<8. Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomena, or is it strictly a process of denying the existing explanation? Doherty has done both, and so on this point Shermer's criteria are favorable to him.>>Here Shermer's criteria is expressed in the form of a dichotomy. That is to say the two options are mutually exclusive. It's an either/or question. Your response is to say rhat "Doherty has done both". How is this possible? Even when you concede that Doherty passes your test you are grudging to the point of defying logic. Isn't this a little hypocritical?

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

    Since my point was clear, that Doherty doesn't merely criticize mainstream historical scholarship, but also offers an alternative scenario, and as a result he is evaluated positively on this particular criterion, and yet you see fit to complain about my wording, I'm not sure how it is I who is grudging.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14552540643465089831 Atheist Jack

    I don't thing your point was clear at all. However thank you for clearing it up now. What about this example.<<"4. How does this fit in with what we know about the world and how it works?"… But if we are asking not merely whether mythicism is baloney but whether it is correct, then the issue is not whether the invention of stories ever happens (it surely does), but rather, since it does not always happen, the appropriate historical question is whether the evidence suggests it has happened in this case …>>Again you acknowledge that Doherty has passed the criteria which you decided to judge him by and then go on to move the goalposts. If Shermer's test is good enough when Doherty fails it then why is it not good enough when he passes it?

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

    It is good enough, and on several counts it suggests that mythicism is at least mostly baloney. But the additional comment was simply to clarify that even if someone isn't persuaded along with almost all historians and scholars of antiquity that mythicism is baloney, the fact that something is not baloney doesn't automatically mean it is correct.I apologize if, in making multiple points in this post, I didn't word things as clearly as I could have. Thank you for letting me know and giving me an opportunity to clarify what I was trying to say!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13565890121197051580 John W. Loftus

    I personally don't have as much patience as you do James. BTW Evan used to be a team member with me at DC.

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

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled program (same station, new frequency):http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/05/23/chapter-6-of-earl-dohertys-jesus-neither-god-nor-man/

  • Earl Doherty

    Well, since he couldn’t cope with me in the exchanges over his review of my book on his own blog, Jim regrettably has had to have recourse to a garbage review on Amazon. The following was the result of his reading 5% of the book, addressing none of the key chapters or issues involving my case, and ignoring the feedback arguments I gave him on the five chapters he did review. He also ignored all of the negative reactions from others on his blog who were less than sympathetic to his rabidly hostile, and usually irrational, treatment of mythicists and mythicism. What he wrote on Amazon he could have written—and would have—even before opening Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Instead of anything approaching a substantive criticism of my book or parts of my case, which might have given pause to those in doubt, this thoroughly condemnatory and arrogant dismissal has actually demonstrated where he is coming from (his resume attached to the review helps make that clear) and the untrustworthiness of any review at his hands or others like him. I ought to thank him for making my point.“This self-published book contains nothing that someone well-informed about the tools of historical scholarship, ancient Judaism, and/or the New Testament will be able to take seriously. Evidence that runs counter to Doherty's predetermined conclusion is dismissed or dealt with unpersuasively, in much the manner that conservative Christian apologists deal with evidence that disagrees with their assumptions. Mythicism is to historical scholarship what young-earth creationism is to biology, and this volume is just one disappointing example of it.”It’s too bad that Jim did not use his “well-informed” knowledge of the tools of historical scholarship to actually refute the arguments I made throughout the book. What he gave us for the first five chapters was simply laughable. (Paul’s readers already knew everything! was a good example. Talk about your “well-informed knowledge”!) Unfortunately, Amazon readers will assume that he read the entire thing, and that he could show that the totality of all the evidence is indeed “dismissed or dealt with unpersuasively.” (In fact, Amazon allows a thousand words, sometimes more, for a review; too bad he didn’t use some to actually demonstrate what he claims.) Jim ought to be ashamed of his own lack of honesty, but he’s in good company, and none of it ever shows any shame. Regrettably, authors don’t have the opportunity to comment or rebut on Amazon itself. [Hmmm, I wonder, now that Jim's thrown in the towel from the look of it, how long it will take this posting to disappear?]Earl Doherty

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

    Earl, if you desire further refutation of your arguments, please click the link in my previous comment. At this blog's new location I continue to discuss your book, and have no plans to stop blogging through it until I get to the end.


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