Review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man chapter 9

Chapter 9 of Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man is a mere six pages in length. Into this small space is packed, first of all, a brief presentation of Platonism and Stoicism, focusing on transcendence and immanence and the use of concepts such as Demiurge, Logos and Wisdom to bridge the gap between the transcendent creator (in those systems featuring such) and creation. As is widely known, two key aspects of Wisdom in Jewish thought – pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation – are also attributed to Christ in the New Testament – although the precise passages and their precise meaning are in fact topics of significant ongoing discussion among scholars.

Since none of the above is in dispute between mythicists and those who hold other viewpoints, let me turn attention to the heart of the matter as relates to the subject of mythicism. Doherty writes on p.94 that the “fallacy” of the widespread view that the aforementioned ideas are being applied to a historical Jesus is that “No identification with a human man is ever made, no writer gives us even a hint that an “application” to an historical Jesus is anywhere in their minds. As suggested earlier, scholars are guilty of reading into the text things they find hard to believe are not there.”

An uncharitable reading would be to say that Doherty is simply being dishonest. He continues to postpone discussion of all the hints that seem to point to a historical Jesus, but to say that they do not exist or are not at least hints is doing more than simply ignoring evidence. I know that Doherty will later in the book offer his own implausible attempt to eliminate any trace of a historical Jesus from these passages. But can one honestly and truthfully say that there is “no hint” in them? In addition to the passages we have mentioned so many times already which hint at Jesus’ humanity through their mention of his brother, his blood, his death by crucifixion, and his descent from David according to the flesh, consider the following as well:

Romans 9:4-5 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the Israelites. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them the Messiah according to the flesh.

Philippians 2:7-8 he made himself nothing by taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Hebrews 2:14-17 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

No hint? Surely this is more than exaggeration. It will remain untrue even after Doherty offers his unconvincing attempt to explain these passages away later in the book. But to say there is “no hint” before even doing so is far worse, in my opinion. Doherty will actually note slightly later, on p.96, that Hebrews 5:7 says “During the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” To simply postpone once again discussion of the apparent reference to a human (fleshly) existence of Jesus, and merely state without discussion that the activities attributed to Jesus here are “derived from Scripture,” is simply unacceptable. For until some plausible mythicist interpretation of such apparent counter-evidence is offered, Doherty’s claim that there is “no hint” of a historical Jesus remains at best unpersuasive and at worst sounds like it is a lie.

What are we to make of this? Perhaps a more charitable reading would be to say that Doherty is blind to the fact that he is “reading out” of the text things he wishes not to find there, at least as much as the reverse is true in the case of just about everyone else reading the text, whom he accuses of reading things into the text. But many of us thinks that these hints are real and encourage us to take them seriously and posit that they mean what they appear to and at the bare minimum hint at a historical Jesus being in view.

A statement of Doherty’s on p.95 seems to me to get at the heart of the matter. He writes that “The saving acts which have occurred in the present time are not the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are God’s granting of the rite of baptism and the bestowing of the Spirit…Christ, then, operates entirely on a spiritual level. He is a communicating and sacramental power now present in the world, impregnating the hearts and minds of believers. These are highly mystical ideas, and there is no justification for scholarship’s frequent attempt to see the Pauline phrase “in or through Christ” as a cryptic summary of Jesus’ life on earth.” I am not sure what scholars supposedly interpret the phrase “in Christ” in that way (when it is “through Christ” then it may in some instances be another matter). Certainly Albert Schweitzer offered a classic treatment of Paul’s “Christ mysticism” which E. P. Sanders revisited in his treatment of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. I doubt that many scholars or other interpreters would object much to what Doherty has written here. And yet even on his view, there is an earlier crucifixion and resurrection, which have salvific importance for Paul – they just happened in the celestial realm. And so the fact that Paul focuses so much attention on the present, on the spiritual experience of being “in Christ,” is compatible with both mainstream historians’ viewpoint and with mythicism, and is presumably an important part of the explanation for why the focus is less on past events in history or in the heavens than either side might expect given their understanding of Paul. Present spiritual experiences can often overshadow focus on past events – one need not seek demonstration for this only in ancient texts, since time spent in a Pentecostal congregation will demonstrate the same to be true.

Doherty concludes with some final consideration of the way early Christians viewed Christ as the one speaking in Scriptural passages. Since Doherty finds this phenomenon in 1 Clement, it is perhaps worth noting that this early Christian homily/letter says the following (1 Clement 32:2): “For of Jacob are all the priests and levites who minister unto the altar of God; of him is the Lord Jesus as concerning the flesh; of him are kings and rulers and governors in the line of Judah…” Since Doherty doesn’t discuss the text here, I will likewise leave it until later. But until he discusses it, please note for the time being that the author of 1 Clement doesn’t sound like a mythicist any more than Paul does, when one doesn’t ignore the hints the letter provides – and in some cases, what seem to be plain statements.

This chapter marks the end of part 3. I still do not see how anyone could conclude on the basis of what Doherty has written up until this point that mythicism is more likely to be correct than the existence of a historical Jesus. What do others think?

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

    I do not see how anyone could conclude on the basis of what McGrath has written up until this point that mythicism is more likely to be correct than the existence of a historical Jesus. McGrath has simply ignored Doherty’s arguments. Or where not ignored managed to present them in the “half-truth” format, which is sometimes worse than a lie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James, thats an interesting theory about the power of the present in the mystical community and the downplaying of the past. So long as the group supports vibrant charismatic leaders there is not much room for the constant back wards look that characterizes more settled religions.  Truly brilliant answer to a question i have been puzzling over. I have noticed time and again the charge that you only provide part of the arguments, or misrepresent the argument, but none of their rebuttals fixes the supposed issues or provides a more convincing argument. It seems to be an empty charge. Even if you are misrepresenting him, he doesn’t respond with a convincing argument.

    If I understand you argument, there is no reason to doubt Doherty’s notion that the sort of Platonic doctrines that were read into the person of Jesus, could well have also been envisioned as belonging to a purely spiritual realm, and were. But Doherty still hasn’t given us a reason to conclude that early NT writers id not see Jesus as person in history, and no reason that a person of Jesus could not be seen as those qualities made flesh. The problem is proclaiming that there is no support for an earthly Jesus thus vastly inflating the power of his argument (most we have seen, and have shown in, fact, very challengeable when not impossible.), which leaves his theory only outside speculation if it isn’t. 

  • Geoff Hudson

    I would say that all your references (from Romans, Philipians and Hebrews)  occur in quite large sections of text which are fabricated interpolations.  Proving that is another matter.  But don’t you think it is wrong to quote verses in isolation?  The truth or falsity of a particular verse is surely dependent on whether the passage is true or false.  Does Doherty base his arguments on isolated verses?  

  • Anonymous

    “In short, Paul cannot be considered a reliable witness to either the teachings, the life, or the historical existence of Jesus.”

    How would mainstream scholarship regard such a statement?

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

    @Geoff, thus far the essence of Doherty’s “case” has been a combination of saying that there are no hints of a historical Jesus in the epistles, combined with a postponement of discussion of counter-evidence. Everything else in the book seems to be an attempt to wrap that “case” in enough packaging that readers will not notice what it is they are being sold.

    I won’t accuse Doherty of dealing with verses taken out of context, since I think we all discuss small snippets of texts at times to make them manageable. But he certainly does postpone a consideration of some verses and passages that seem to provide counter-evidence for his claims.

    • Geoff Hudson

      The quotation of single verses with no context is a serious error. 

  • Trey

    The problem I see here is that Doherty ignores Occam’s razor of selecting the simplest theory with the fewest assumptions. If one can accept that the gospels are not strict historical accounts and that the gospel writers freely embellish the story to make theological points then the fact that the epistles and historians contemporary to Jesus’s time make little or no mention of the man and his deeds, his miracles and the dramatic events portrayed in the gospels is not in the least bit surprising. Based on the evidence – Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’s brother and the brothers of the Lord having wives, the gospel story being contemporary to the time of the gospel writers – it is easier for me to believe that when the embellishments are peeled away Jesus was a historical person and not purely mythical.

    • Anonymous

      Trey which theory is simpler, that there was a King Arthur, a Gawain the green knight, a Mordred and a Lancelot or that someone made up the story? 

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

    Trey, if you respond to Evan, make sure you get him to address whether the stories of the knights of the round table are comparable in genre to the Gospels, and why he thinks that the fictional or legendary character of the myths about King Arthur would necessarily require one to conclude that there was never a King Arthur. If we had a letter from someone who had met King Arthur’s brother, we would be confident of his historicity, even while dismissing the later stories about him as mostly or entirely legend. So I hope that you and others will not let yourselves get roped into a discussion that is based in mythicists’ false antithesis and lack of attention to genre.

    • Anonymous

      The question is not about genre or anything else, but simply one of logic. Which is a simpler explanation, that a story is true or that a story is made up? Occam’s razor, which is bandied about frequently here by some people is very much applicable. In Latin the principle is stated:

      Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora

      So it really is a basic question as to which hypothesis requires more entities and I imagine simple reflection would give a rather rapid answer.

    • Anonymous

      In addition, Galatians 1:19 says nothing about meeting a brother of Jesus, so the analogous letter regarding King Arthur would be someone writing a letter about meeting the brother of the King, which would carry significantly less evidentiary weight.

  • Earl Doherty

    Jim: “thus far the essence of Doherty’s “case” has been a combination of saying that there are no hints of a historical Jesus in the epistles, combined with a postponement of discussion of counter-evidence.”

    Once again, Jim, you are guilty of misrepresenting my arguments, falsifying what I say, and then thinking to discredit your own straw men. You really do need to read me more carefully. But I know that you are so blinded by your rabid animosity toward mythicism and mythicists that you just charge ahead and (mis)represent me in whatever way suits you best.

    I did not make any blanket statement that “there are no hints of an historical Jesus in the epistles.” The subject matter you were responding to related to those descriptions of the Son such as we find in Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3 and so on. Let me quote right from your above review:

    “As is widely known, two key aspects of Wisdom in Jewish thought – pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation – are also attributed to Christ in the New Testament – although the precise passages and their precise meaning are in fact topics of significant ongoing discussion among scholars.

    Since none of the above is in dispute between mythicists and those who hold other viewpoints, let me turn attention to the heart of the matter as relates to the subject of mythicism. Doherty writes on p.94 that the “fallacy” of the widespread view that the aforementioned ideas are being applied to a historical Jesus is that “No identification with a human man is ever made, no writer gives us even a hint that an “application” to an historical Jesus is anywhere in their minds. As suggested earlier, scholars are guilty of reading into the text things they find hard to believe are not there.” ”

    By the time you got to your next paragraph, you apparently forgot that I was in fact talking specifically about descriptions and characteristics of the Son such as you outline above: things like pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation, unifying and sustaining the universe and triumphing over the demons, ‘mythological’ features (a term which even mainstream scholars use in such contexts), the sort of features we find in those passages I just itemized. Where do you find a hint of an identification of such a Son with the Gospel Jesus in passages like Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:7-10 or Hebrews 1:1-3? Where is the vast difference between Hellenistic descriptions of the Logos and those of the Christian Son, namely that this Christian ‘Logos’ was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth on earth? Isn’t that an important distinction, not to mention advantage? What about the difference between personified Wisdom as God’s intermediary (who was also said to “dwell among men” without being incarnated in a human body—did you miss that?) and the Son/Christ as God’s intermediary? Is it feasible that every epistle writer giving us a description of God’s emanation who filled some of the same roles as Wisdom and the Logos would fail to mention that one little trifling point, that he had been recently incarnated, on earth, as a full human being, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (or whatever one wants to call him).

    Even in a Christological hymn like Phil. 2:6-11, there is not the slightest identification with a known or recent human man. Did you not notice that? This “hint” only repeats that constant motif we find throughout the epistles (and even outside them), that the Son, in performing his redeeming act of death and rising, took on the ‘semblance, likeness’ of flesh/humanity. Odd language, considering that alongside it no writer ever actually says he was a full human being, that he took on this ‘likeness to flesh’ on earth, or lived a life, much less provide a time, place and human identity for this ‘likeness.’ I guess that doesn’t even pique your curiosity.

    There is no dishonesty here, and no lies, if you will simply read my book as it is written. If there is any dishonesty involved, it is your misrepresentation of what I write. And I am sure we are all getting tired of your constant mantra that I “postpone” evidence which would destroy my case. That would be pretty stupid of me, don’t you think, to ignore evidence in the early stages of the book that in later stages I simply wouldn’t have any means of countering or reinterpreting? Who would I be fooling, and for how long, if when I got to “born of woman” and the like I had no way of preventing it from washing away all the material I had dealt with thus far, as you seem convinced is going to happen? (You are already blustering about me going to “explain away” such conclusive evidences for historicism, and we’ll see about that, although I notice you hedging your bets by calling them “apparent references” to an HJ.) Your objection makes absolutely no sense and is getting very tedious.

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

    Presumably the previous comments illustrate well why I warned Trey about the risks of trying to have an intelligent conversation with @beallen0417:disqus .  I have yet to hear a plausible alternative suggestion as to who “the Lord” was in the phrase “the brother of the Lord” in Galatians, other than Jesus.  

    • Anonymous

      Paul uses the Greek term for lord to mean Yahweh in many places in his text, as was the convention in the LXX.

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

    @1339a2323379bb5d87a8b2a609ca574d:disqus  , I realize you are consistently surprised that Paul did not write “…And being found in appearance as a man, he spent a significant amount of time teaching (let me tell you some stories about that…) and eventually humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (And just to clarify, that cross was on earth, not somewhere else).”

    Gosh, it is almost as though Paul didn’t foresee the claims mythicists would make about his writings! And given that some think that Paul is here quoting an early Christian hymn, why didn’t he just have them sing the contents of Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” in the middle of it, just to make it clear that he was talking about an actual person? The result could have been famous, if only for giving Psalm 119 a run for its money.

    @Earl Doherty wrote, “That would be pretty stupid of me, don’t you think, to ignore evidence in the early stages of the book that in later stages I simply wouldn’t have any means of countering or reinterpreting? ”

    I presume that the effect you intend is that through constant repetition, you will persuade some readers that there is indeed little evidence, just a few minor instances which can easily be explained in another way, so that when you do eventually get to your treatment of those texts, those who have read through the book that far (and who must therefore want to believe you – or in a few rare instances, be a reviewer like me determined to persevere to the end) will want to be persuaded and will be open to accepting your claims about those texts in spite of your interpretation being less plausible than that of mainstream scholarship.

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

    Paul had met Yahweh’s brother? Apparently mythicism involves not only the belief that Jesus was a myth but belief in and creation of mythology!

    • Anonymous

      Paul states that he met James the brother of the lord. Given that the idea that Christians have a family relationship with God is an idea that persists to this day, it hardly seems impossible that this is what he means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    Evan, your contribution to a discussion is on par with the poetry found in bathroom stalls. It would be awesome if you kept it off these walls and displayed your art on the bathroom stall that is Vridar.

    • TruthOverfaith

      Dates that are anxiously awaited by much of humankind:

      1. The second coming of Jesus.

      2. Mike Wilson’s first post that doesn’t make him look like a secular version of Kirk Cameron.

      I’m bettin’ on #1!!

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

    I think we have the makings of a good discussion of what constitutes a crank: someone who is satisfied if the arguments supporting his or her own view are “not impossible” but demands a demonstration of probability or certainty from those whose point of view is different from his or her own.

    • Anonymous

      If Gal 1:19 is going to be used to prooftext the HJ, there are several problems. Jesus is not mentioned in it, and there are plausible alternate readings of the word kyrios (titular for example, as used in the LXX). The fact that there are alternate readings simply is another piece of evidence, it does not cinch either case. But one side in this debate seems to think it is the end of all discussion. Nobody has done anything but sneer, yet I have given links to several cases where authors in the NT including Paul clearly derive a familial relationship with God and cannot be speaking literally and pointed out that this practice continues to this day. 

      It seems as if there will be no counterargument offered.

  • Moewicus The Xty Xth

    1 Galatians 1 would seem to establish that Jesus Christ was not a human, at least in my neophyte reading of it. 1 Gal 11 refers to the recipients of the letter as brothers or bretheren, surely not indicating literal kinship, thus establishing that the terminology includes more than the biological meaning. Matthew 12:48-49 indicates that Christians used terms of kinship, even in the case of relationship to Jesus, as being more spiritual than biological. Even 1 Gal 19 seems to indicate that “apostle” and “brother” are interchangeable. Robert M Price here gives a number of alternate possibilities:
    http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_sweet_brother.htm
    There seem to be too many other relevant possibilities to list 1 Galatians 19 as defining James as Jesus’ biological brother.

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

      I have considered the issue previously in more detail and encourage you and others to click through. In a nutshell, there is a difference in meaning between phrases like “brothers in the Lord” and “brother of the Lord” both grammatically and contextually. It is important not to take the approach to Bible reading that Christian fundamentalists do, where if a word has a meaning in some places, it is OK to read it into every occurrence.

  • Stevencarrwork

    Has James McGrath realised yet that he had to add words to Hebrews 2:17 not found in the Greek text, and then put them in bold to try to make a case?

    Tom Verenna pointed that out.

    It has to sting when it is pointed out to a Bible scholar that his case rests on words not found in the Greek text.Surely McGrath would have known that he to make his case, he had to a) add words not in the Greek, and b) put them in bold to try to emphasise the importance of words entirely missing from the Greek.But his bolding of words missing from the Greek only emphasises how weak his case is.He actually has to change the Biblical text to try to make his case stronger, but in so doing he only draws attention to the fact that Hebrews does not say what he is trying to make it say, and that the text differs from what he would like it to say , if it supported him.

    Perhaps McGrath would like to point out places where Doherty has bolded English words not found in the Greek text?

    After all, McGrath is the scholar here, and Doherty is the amateur.

    One would expect an amateur to rely on English words not found in the Greek text, not the scholar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      My source has a word “panta” or “pas” here as “in every way,” what are these guys talking about?

      • steven

        Are you claiming that Tom Verenna was wrong or that the ‘panta’ or ‘pas’ is attached to ‘adelphos’?

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

    McGrath, instead of sarcasm can you give a straight answer to Doherty’s point that you have quoted his “no hint” phrase out of context and accordingly misrepresented what he was saying?

    Doherty wrote: “I did not make any blanket statement that “there are no hints of an historical Jesus in the epistles.” The subject matter you were responding to related to those descriptions of the Son such as we find in Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3 and so on. Let me quote right from your above review: . . . .

    By the time you got to your next paragraph, you apparently forgot that I was in fact talking specifically about descriptions and characteristics of the Son such as you outline above: things like pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation, unifying and sustaining the universe and triumphing over the demons, ‘mythological’ features (a term which even mainstream scholars use in such contexts), the sort of features we find in those passages I just itemized. . . . . ”

    Will you respond directly to this criticism of your review statement? You have only rebutted with verses that are not relevant to the point being made or with sarcasm to those that do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    How many more chapters are there? I’m afraid this is like one of those books from a Lovecraft story and at the end you will wind up gouging out you eyeballs with an ice pick. Just look at the mind state of the book’s fans.

    • TruthOverfaith

      Next time you’re cleaning your ears with a Q-tip, remember to STOP at the first sign of resistance, Mike.

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

        Just for clarification, when the substance of a comment (even if paraphrased slightly) is borrowed from somewhere, even if it is a fictional character as in this instance (the insult was used by Chandler on Friends), it is appropriate to give credit to one’s source. :-)

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

    In this chapter the focus may indeed be more restricted, but I am not ignoring what Doherty has written elsewhere in the book up until now. Here is one example: “Thus, we are left with an entire corpus of early Christian correspondence which gives us no indication that the divine Christ these writers look to for salvation is to be identified with the man Jesus of Nazareth whom the Gospels place in the early 1st century – or, indeed, with any man in their recent past” (p.19).

    I was not misrepresenting Doherty, but I understand why his defense attorney would try to manipulate the jury to try to get him off on a technicality. But his statement of a more restricted nature in chapter 9 seemed to me to be an expression of, and in keeping with, a more general view of the epistles, because Doherty had articulated that view earlier in the book.

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

      McGrath, your statement (in relation to both sentences by Doherty) that context is a mere technicality is interesting.

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

      McGrath wrote: “I was not misrepresenting Doherty, but I understand why his defense attorney would try to manipulate the jury to try to get him off on a technicality. But his statement of a more restricted nature in chapter 9
      seemed to me to be an expression of, and in keeping with, a more general view of the epistles, because Doherty had articulated that view earlier in the book.”

      Neil: So the evidence McGrath cites for Doherty’s “earlier” articulation of a view that he did not repeat on page 95 (except as “an expression of, and in keeping with, a more general view of the epistles” articulated earlier :) –  that sentence on page 19 is, if anyone takes the trouble to read it, a synopsis of the very same thought expressed in chapter 9!

      So on page 19 we do find that Doherty has said the same thing as he says on page 95, with the same point about divine Christ as articulated in chapter 9, and after just having up-front addressed apparent exceptions to his thesis (something McG says Doherty has never discussed at this early stage of the book) —

      So when Doherty expresses the same point about the same context twice, and after addressing two apparent exceptions that I don’t recall McG mentioning in his chapter 1 review, McG says he is not expressing the same point — except as “a general expression . . . . etc”

      McG — please just try to read carefully and inform your readers as a good reviewer should what Doherty actually does say, in context. Saying that it is a mere technicality that you are in breach of is, well, . . . .

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

    @Steven Carr, I am not sure what you are trying to say. Do you translate kata panta in some other way? Or did you see a criticism by Tom Verenna and decide to repeat it without checking it simply because you dislike me and my views? Please do clarify what you are talking about!

    • steven

      I checked that there were no Greek words which meant ‘in every way’.   

      Although, to be honest, I have no idea what the Greek for ‘way’ is. What is the Greek for the English word ‘way’?

      Was Tom Verenna just plain wrong when he said what he said?

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

    Steven, if you don’t have enough Greek to discuss this then why bring it up, much less offer it in the form of an accusation about my supposed ignorance or error? Do you really think that such behavior is appropriate?

    It is perhaps worth mentioning that languages do not work in the way you suggest – the way to render “in every way” into Greek or some other language is not to look up each individual word and substitute what you find in the dictionary in each instance. Languages have idioms. “In every way” doesn’t really have anything to do with the usual meaning of “way” – it is an expression.

    I should perhaps also mention, as a humorous aside, that I went to Tom’s blog to see what Steven’s comment was referring to. In writing my comment to Tom over there, being so steeped in discussion of Earl Doherty’s book and views at the moment, instead of writing kata panta as I intended, can you guess what came out subconsciously? KATA SARKA!!! :-) Is this an indication that mythicism is penetrating into the deepest recesses of my brain?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      The impression I got looking it up as this is a common way of translating the words in question. That “in every way” is not in the Greek of course is true, “in every way” is English. Of course a simple point to point transliteration of NT works are a string of words amounting to near gibberish. Thus the necessity of trained experts in the language to translate. I have no respect for unlettered armatures who want to second guess a literate persons translation (literate and unlettered in reference to the Greek language, I also being illiterate in Greek) 

      • TruthOverfaith

        Mike Wilson said … “I also being illiterate in Greek”

        Mike, “you also is illiterate in English,” apparently.

  • jeffreyspm

    Professor McGrath

    Why do you bother with the mythicists? They’re nuts – that’s a technical term, not a term of abuse, used by historians to describe the approach taken to the New Testament and related literature.

    I was trained as an historian. I studied the period of the New Testament as part of my degree. I also studied Anglo Saxon England and the transformation of Britannia into England, and the people and events in the New Testament are far better attested than anything Anglo-Saxon scholars have. But that doesn’t mean they throw up their hands and claim that everybody mentioned in, say, Bede, or the ASC or Gildas are just fakes or myths. Some may be, but the vast majority not.

    Reading the various episodes in the Gospels, one is frequently confronted with what reads like witness reports, in inconsequential details, in a general coherence with non New Testament evidence, such that overall one believes that one is reading about a real person, a real Jesus.

    The mythicist case is just so incredible and ludicrous that I’m astonished you are so patient with it.

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

    @jeffreyspm, I suppose part of it has to do with my having been a young-earth creationist briefly in my teenage years, and having changed my mind, I am perhaps influenced both by a desire to do penance for the brief role I played in spreading pseudoscience, and also reason to hope that people can and do change their minds from positions of dogmatism. I know of several people who’ve changed their minds as a result of online or classroom interactions about the evidence for the historical figure of Jesus, which likewise provides encouragement.

    So it isn’t just that I have a masochistic streak! Having seen how much harm has been done to science education by an approach that uses methods and “arguments” of a sort comparable to the mythicists, I figure that as someone who works in this field and who has a blog, I should not just sit silently by while the same happens in the realm of history.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

    @jeffrey
    At least with Bede we can put a name and a date and a milieu with certainty to the author. We know roughly his station in life, his contemporaries, the things he could be expected to have known first-hand, or from credible sources, or from questionable sources. Please explain how we have anything comparable for a single one of the evangelists.

    what reads like witness reports

    And that’s it? It reads like something to you, therefore X? That’s a terrible argument, and I counter it by saying, in my view, the episodes in the gospels do not read like witness reports, they read like fiction in a realistic mode, which by definition includes “inconsequential details” and “general coherence” with the time and place of the setting to the degree those are known by the author.

    overall one believes that one is reading about a real person, a real Jesus

    You do. You believe that. You give no reason why any”one” else should, and yet you have such snide, sneering confidence that anyone who reads it differently than you do is “nuts” and their ideas “ludicrous.” Disgusting.

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

    @Neil Godfrey, it is typical of your approach to my blogging and to mainstream scholarship that you take what I write and try to twist it. How is treating Doherty’s statement about a specific matter in light of what he has written throughout the whole book treating context. A technicality? Why is it not on the contrary an example of reading contextually?

    As for your attempt to confuse the issue in other regards, Doherty is of the view that there is only a divine heavenly Jesus, not a human one, in the epistles. And so how is his saying that there is no hint of that celestial figure being identified with a historical human being in the epistles different from saying that there is no hint of a historical Jesus in the epistles? If you are suggesting that Doherty thinks that there are hints of a historical Jesus in the epistles, but that figure is separate from the divine Christ, then I suggest that you have misread him or are misconstruing him.

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

      Was GakuseiDon misreading or misconstruing Doherty at http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/19/no-evidence-for-a-historical-jesus-or-evolution/#comment-261309320 when, in another of your post comments here, he quoted Doherty  saying:

      “Is this a piece of historical information? If so, it is the only one Paul ever gives us, for no other feature of Jesus’ human incarnation appears in his letters.”

      The two passages you cite as evidence are both clearly stating that there is clear sign of an attempt to attribute the cosmic-divine nature attributed to Christ to a historical person.

      You have mistaken those two sentences to mean Doherty is saying there is no hint of a historical Jesus in the epistles.

      But discussion is difficult with you — it would help me understand if would some time actually spell out what you mean by the terms “evidence” and “sources”. Are they one and the same for you? I don’t mind if they are — at least that will help me know what YOU mean by the terms.

  • jeffreyspm

    @yahoo-MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ:disqus

    re Bede. Really? Anglo Saxon scholars know really very little if you’re going to hold them to the same standards demanded of the New Testament period. How many independent contemporaneous witnesses do we have of Bede? or of Gildas? and the vast empty pages of Anglo Saxon history NOT recorded in the ASC. We have a few lines about Aelle and some battles in what later was the territory of the kingdom of the South Saxons. Yet Bede wrote he was the first to hold imperium, the second and third being Ceawlin and Aethelbert. (This was later termed Bretwealda in the ASC). So he must have been a figure of some importance. But we have virtually no information about him. However, despite this, most scholars – not all, there are minimalist scholars in Anglo Saxon history – think that the existence of someone like Aelle is plausible – after all, why make him up, there’s no connection to Northumbrian history, or kings of the West Saxons?
    The contrast with Jesus is stunning, lots of near contemporaneous records, claims in terms of style to historical biographies of a recognisable type, coherence with social, cultural and historical data of the period. And, yes, the detail in the Gospels themselves presents itself as with an eye witness quality. Not to say that the stories have not been told and retold many times before committing to writing. This is why historians find the attitudes of mythicists as frankly ludicrous.
    There’s also the fact that ignoring the Gospels as we have them, together with the rest of the New Testament and later writers is illegitimate. You can’t wish away or ignore texts just because they’ve got supernatural elements in them – you’d have to write off, say, Livy or Polybius and with them vast chunks of Roman history if you take that attitude.
    This does not mean that you have to take texts always at face value or uncritically, but it does mean you have to take them seriously as evidence.

    • Robert Tulip

      “The contrast with Jesus is stunning, lots of near contemporaneous records, claims in terms of style to historical biographies of a recognisable type, coherence with social, cultural and historical data of the period. And, yes, the detail in the Gospels themselves presents itself as with an eye witness quality. Not to say that the stories have not been told and retold many times before committing to writing. This is why historians find the attitudes of mythicists as frankly ludicrous. ”
      Well, no.  There is no definitive evidence of the existence of the Gospels in the first century, putting them far too late to be more than hearsay for a historizing fictional agenda.  Philo, who should have heard of Jesus had he existed, does not mention him. The mentions by Josephus are late frauds. The mythicist argument is the only scientific explanation of the rise of Christianity, explaining all the evidence, and its exclusion is simply a matter of group think by academics.

  • Earl Doherty

    You still haven’t got it right, Jim. My “earlier in the book” statement (p.19) had a broader application than the one which you misrepresented in chapter 9, but it still holds good. As quoted by you:

    “Thus, we are left with an entire corpus of early Christian correspondence which gives us no indication that the divine Christ these writers look to for salvation is to be identified with the man Jesus of Nazareth whom the Gospels place in the early 1st century – or, indeed, with any man in their recent past” (p.19).

    First of all, you failed to point out that this quote followed on a brief preliminary noting of three passages which “present apparent exceptions” to my statement (p.17) that all the epistles fail to identify their Son and Christ with a recent incarnation, that an equation such as “Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah” is missing from all early Christian correspondence, and that the Jesus of the epistles is never spoken of as a man who had recently lived. Those three “apparent exceptions” are 1 Thess. 2:15-16 (generally regarded as an interpolation), 1 Timothy 6:13 (from a 2nd century document), and the Lord’s Supper scene in 1 Cor. 11:23 (which Paul says he knows through revelation). All three are dealt with at various points in the book.

    Within that context, my earlier statement stands. My chapter 9 statement, which you flagrantly misrepresented, makes the same kind of point, only in a narrower sub-class of descriptions of the Son which never identify that Son with the man we know of from the Gospels. The void in this sub-class is particularly blatant, since such passages involve descriptions of the Son and his (exclusively mythological) roles, with no identification of this cosmic Son with an earthly incarnation, no mention of a life on earth, let alone the character portrayed in the Gospels.

    In regard to my ch. 9 statement, you even further misrepresented me. You made it sound as though I was claiming that the epistles never contain a “hint” of an historical Jesus, period; i.e., nothing is ever said that could convey the idea of a human being, even if that human being was never located in a time or place in history, or identified as the character we know from the Gospels. That would be nonsense, since we have all along been debating the meaning that should be attached to “of the seed of David” or “born of woman” and the like. I have never said, and never would, that such phrases contain no “hint” of an historical individual. The question is, is that the only way they can be taken, given the contexts of such passages, and the wider context of a void on an HJ in the non-Gospel record.
     

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

    @Earl Doherty, I am sorry you feel that my way of putting things misrepresented your stance. Perhaps I should instead have emphasized the circularity of your position, since there is only a “void on an HJ” if those hints do not mean what they appear to mean, and yet when you discuss them, you say that they should be treated as something other than references to a historical Jesus precisely because it would be odd if they are the only such references in the “void” – which, if they are what they seem to almost all readers to be, is therefore not a void.

    It seems to me that you don’t realize how easy it is to dismiss the pre-existent heavenly aspect of Jesus for Paul using the same method. Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20 if you think that is Pauline, a handful of others, all of which can be understood differently.

    If one of the two has to go, it would be easier to eliminate pre-existence than humanity, since the few references to the former can be given more plausible alternative explanations than your interpretations of the latter.

    But my point here is that, if having only a few references to something is grounds for eliminating or dismissing it altogether, then why do you still attribute to Paul a pre-existent heavenly Jesus? It doesn’t seem to me that you are treating that evidence in the same way.

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

    McGrath, you will be interested to read what a circular argument actually is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning and http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/jepsonrw/chap95.htm are two useful sites.

     

  • dave

    there r sevral exsamples of people not recognizing   god but only see a farmer=jesus of nazerath i suspect that many here would see the same thing iff he stood before u or not lol thats the point god gave a man powers and abillities can be done to anyone at anytime somuch off these debates have no relivance to anything at all seems just as foolllish as people who blindly follow  most churches views off things do this or else seems most offf u need to reed the book as a babe whith no preconcieved notions except the obvious fact that all stories r there  to free the poor and oppresed all off them lead to this the sad thing is that humanity has taken so long to evolve if properly interperted there is no room for judgment hate war or any other negative violent actions pharoe good or bad the man killed by touching ark wen falling good or bad it really seems most off ur argument leave u looking just as foollish as the idieas and people ur  debating against just long winded double talking giber gab y in the world would u take somuch time debating somthing off complete fallisy and nonexsitance

  • dave

    o thats the point off the bible its a circular unexcapable discusion and if things werent said in that manner it would never reach the popularity that it has   it would have been crushed burned  long ago many things and words changed all manner off new versions further attempting to  divide and dumb down the people2ti 2:13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.2ti 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truthJer 7:19 Do they provoke me to anger? saith the LORD: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?yeah and freewill means u will never know ur test u will never know what truely saves someone its not knowable preach about the thing that make a difference guns dont kill people laws dont stop them the heart soul and mind soul will abide faithfully if u exercise ur mind and feed ur heart words of god i say the law was made irrellivent from the very begining the jews ubelief brings in gentiles nobody knows the will /plan of god but isnt that the point off the book all u can do is try and be a good person helping others were u can  its amazing the storie were desciples divide all there goods up evenly made it into the finall versionyeah and freewill means u will never know ur test u will never know what truely saves someone its not knowable preach about the thing that make a difference guns dont kill people laws dont stop them the heart soul and mind soul will abide faithfully if u exercise ur mind and feed ur heart words of god i say the law was made irrellivent from the very begining the jews ubelief brings in gentiles nobody knows the will /plan of god but isnt that the point off the book all u can do is try and be a good person helping others were u can  its amazing the storie were desciples divide all there goods up evenly made it into the finall version

  • dave

    Ac 2:22Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:  Ac 2:45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

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

    This is why it is so important to highlight the similarities between mythicism and creationism. The last comment by Robert Tulip would sound appealing to someone who didn’t know anything about the field – the desire to be scientific is a good thing. But what you miss if you don’t investigate further is that Philo lived in Alexandria in Egypt, and so there is no particular reason for him to have heard of Jesus, unless Christians came there talking about him, which still would not be first-hand information. One mention by Josephus clearly has been tampered with, but probably is not a whole cloth addition, and the second mention could still be authentic even if the Testimonium Flavianum is not. And the lack of “definitive evidence” for the existence of the Gospels in the first century does not mean that it is plausible to posit that they were first composed in the second century, and fails to mention that our copies of the Gospels are much closer in time to when they are believed to have been composed than most other texts that historians work with from the ancient world.

    Lots of people present their view as offering a “scientific approach” and so it is crucial to look at a person’s method and not simply the marketing claims for their view. In this case, what could sound scholarly to someone without a background in the field is clearly exposed as bunk with just a little investigation. Just like creationism.

  • Robert Tulip

    Creationism is abundantly refuted by science.  The hypothesis that Jesus Christ is a myth is scientific.  This is a basic difference.  

    The hypothesis that Jesus Christ did not exist as a historical individual is the most plausible explanation for the production of the Gospels. Daniel’s prophecy of the anointed one (9.26) led to the Essene claim that this prediction would be fulfilled in 27 AD, as the long awaited messiah.  So the starting point for Christian ideation was the idea of Christ.  The historical Jesus appears to have been invented much later through a process of ‘Chinese Whispers’.

    Just as King Josiah filled in the details of David and Solomon to justify his temporal ambitions (cf Kings, Deuteronomy), the Gospel authors took the spiritual Christ described in Paul and other writings and filled in the details to produce a believable literal history, suitable to mobilize a mass movement.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo explains that Philo was a prominent leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria at the alleged time of Christ, and evidently visited Jerusalem.  He is also a prime source of the Logos theology in the Gospel of John, describing the Logos as God’s blueprint for the world.  It simply beggars belief that Philo never mentions Jesus Christ, given his abundant writings on topics at the center of Christian theology, unless there is something fraudulent in the Christian texts.  If Christ was a public figure as described in the Gospels, the complete absence of mention of him by reputable independent sources for a century after his supposed life is incredible.  It is as if some one today wrote an account of a person allegedly living during the second world war based only on hearsay and expected people to believe it as history, with no corroborating evidence.

    The real link to creationists here is among the apologists, who cannot bear the psychological trauma of seeing their beloved dogma exposed as the biggest lie in history.

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

    @Robert Tulip, if the approach you advocate is scientific, then surely you will not mind me asking for some evidence.

    First, where did the Essenes predict that Daniel’s prophecy would be fulfilled in 27 AD?

    Next, why do you claim that Paul’s Jesus was purely spiritual when Paul mentions his having been born, of Davidic descent, having a brother, bleeding, and dying by crucifixion?

    Third, what makes it seem plausible that within not more than a hundred years someone would take a purely spiritual savior, concoct stories about that person appearing in history, and persuade people of their religion to believe this so effectively that no one who knew of the original purely spiritual savior version seems to have been around?

    Fourth, if being a public figure merited mention by Philo, then why is Philo silent about teachers and other public figures of that sort from this period whose existence is often considered plausible or even probable based on other sources?

    Finally, why do you seem unwilling to consider the mainstream historian’s approach and conclusions, namely that there are indeed things that are fabricated in the Gospels, but that not everything is fabricated? If you think history works like the natural sciences, you are badly mistaken. But even in terms of what historical study can offer, you seem completely uninterested in it, preferring to discuss the matter in the apologist’s all-or-nothing manner. If your approach is scientific, then why is that?

  • Robert Tulip

    Thank you James.  The Docetic Gnostics were a prominent early Christian group who held that that Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism

    The triumph of orthodoxy over the Docetic view was primarily a matter of numbers, that a simplified historical salvation myth was accessible for the general public, whereas a complex spiritual vision involved use of allegory that required a high level of education to understand.  Therefore, Church Fathers whose main objective was church expansion were those who aligned their views to the literal story with its potential for political influence.  They were easily able to isolate and suppress the views of their opponents.  The attack at 2 John 1.7 on ‘deceivers’ illustrates that such doubts about the historical Christ were widespread, and also provides a foretaste of the methods the church later used to suppress unbelievers.

    On Paul, Professor Elaine Pagels of Princeton University argued in her 1975 book The Gnostic Paul that the authentic epistles operate at two levels, a spiritual level for initiates and a simplified level for the general public.  So I would not say Paul’s Jesus is “purely” spiritual, rather that it is primarily spiritual, with the few material references intended as allegory.  Against the few mentions of a bodily Jesus, we find that none of the tales in the Gospels except the Last Supper and the cross are mentioned, with no detail, leaving open the strong probability that Paul knew nothing of Jesus of Nazareth, but primarily wrote for a spiritual audience, adding the occasional physical references to generate broader interest by claiming he was talking about real events.  The absence of detail in these physical references suggest they may have been hearsay, or a misunderstanding on Paul’s part of an original spiritual or cosmic message.  They are seized on by the church to justify the gospel message, but are so scanty, and lacking in any corroboration, that it makes more sense to read Paul as a waystation between an originally spiritual messianism and the eventual literal story of the gospels.  It is worth noting that Paul’s suggestion of Davidic descent in Romans 1 directly contradicts the virgin birth myth.

    My source on the Essenes’ use of Daniel is The Jews Against Rome by Susan Sorek of Lampeter University.  I mentioned it primarily to illustrate that the messianic yearning of the times was a decisive factor in the construction of the Christ myth.  The theory that Daniel predicted the time of Christ using the day-year principle was propounded by Isaac Newton, but I do not know of ancient references other than Sorek’s claim.

    On Philo, it is not just that Christ as a public figure should have been mentioned by anyone outside the charmed circle of Christian propaganda if he existed. Philo wrote extensively on the theme of the word or Logos, and is arguably the real source of this idea in John. Philo was a main advocate for the Jews to Rome, and died in 50 AD, some twenty years after the claimed date of the death of Christ.  If a Christian community was really active as described in Acts, it really is extremely surprising that this messianic advocacy went unnoticed by Philo, given his keen interest in related topics, and the extensive communication between Alexandria’s big Jewish community and Israel, unless of course these claimed historical events did not occur and were invented later. 

    I question mainstream Christian history simply because it is far more plausible that the causality of Christian origins went from Christ to Jesus, not from Jesus to Christ, in view of the abundant continuities between Christian doctrine and earlier mythology.  The Christian record of censorship, especially the wholesale destruction of Pagan documents, raises the question of what they had to hide.

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

    Thank you, Robert. The Docetists we know of from actual ancient texts took the beliefs that other Christians had, about a Jesus who appeared in history, and denied that that Jesus was a fully flesh-and-blood human. It is not evidence that anyone everr thought of Jesus Christ as a purely celestial figure. You seem to have been listening to mythicists who ignore such important evidence as the fact that the expectation of the kind of anointed one (Christ/Messiah) that Christians claimed Jesus was, that of the line of David, was expected to be a human figure, because the whole concept was the restoration of the kingship to the line of David. Nor do we have evidence of Jews naming purely celestial saviors with mundane Jewish names like Jesus (which is simply an English way of rendering the form of the name Joshua used in the Gospels).

    I assume that since you do not have any evidence for it and will accept that Isaac Newton is not prior to the composition of the Gospels, the claim about what pre-Christian Essenes believed is being dropped.

    You talk about what is more plausible, but for an approach to be in any sense “scientific,” surely it must taken the relevant evidence into account, don’t you think? Once one has a preconceived theory, and is determined to adhere to it, there is rarely any evidence that cannot be made to fit somehow. And so I would encourage you to work inductively from the source material about early Christianity and its context as the appropriate way to answer historical questions.

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

    @Robert, I meant to mention in my previous comment that you are absolutely right that Paul’s statement about Jesus being of Davidic descent is indeed incompatible with the later development of the idea that Jesus was conceived without a human father. But what needs to be added is that it moves away from later dogma in the direction of Jeaus being an ordinary human being, not in the direction of his being an exalted, miraculous, celestial entity.

    • Anonymous

      Just to be clear, under this argument, is it put forward that Paul does not describe an exalted celestial entity?

  • Robert Tulip

    On the Essenes, my source for their views on the date of the messiah was a scholarly history of the Jewish War as mentioned.  I will contact the author Susan Sorek to find her source for ancient existence of the 26 AD prediction from Daniel as her text is not footnoted.

    If Jesus was not flesh and blood, then he was celestial.  This is the direct implication of the attack in 2 John – “many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.”  If Jesus Christ has come as not flesh, but as spirit, it suggests a celestial mythological identity.  This primary celestial exalted vision accords with the visions of Jesus Christ as ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’, ‘before Abraham was, I am’, ‘I and the Father are one’, ‘I am the alpha and omega’.  Similarly the cosmic hymns in Colossians 1 and Philippians 2.

    The scientific question then becomes how the ancients formulated this celestial messianic vision.  My opinion is that Christianity was originally primarily astrotheological, using the Hermetic principle “as above so below”, reformulated as “thy will be done on earth as in heaven,” to produce a mythology of earthly events reflecting the slow cycle of the stars.  The main candidate for this astronomical basis is precession of the equinox, seeing Christ as the mythic avatar of the Age of Pisces.  This vision was too complex for a mass movement and was condemned and suppressed as heretical (Docetist), leaving only concealed traces such as the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  This miracle appears six times in the Gospels, more than any other.  It makes complete sense as allegory for the shifting position of the sun and moon against the stars at Easter, as the equinoxes precessed into Pisces (fish) and Virgo (loaves), as a symbol of miraculous creative abundance.  

    Theological scholarship on astrotheology remains in its infancy, other than in works by Carl Jung such as Aion and Answer to Job.  The orthodox view that this interpretation is heretical remains a major obstacle to rigorous research.  However, the cosmic theology accords far better with the evidence than the literal historical story of tradition.

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      I’d like to hear what Sorek says! Please let me know!

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

    What you think makes complete sense doesn’t fit well with the evidence. The earliest sources clearly have a human figure in view, to which increasingly exalted heavenly roles eventually get attributed. As one traces that trajectory, the divination of Jesus eventually results in denial of Jesus’ real humanity, because of the difficulty of having suffering and deity coincide. That is exactly what 2 John 1:7, from late in the NT period, has in view: not people who deny that Jesus Christ ever appeared in human history, but people who deny that he came in flesh.

    Your view fits poorly with the evidence. The fact that you couch it in the language of New Age mumbo jumbo does not make it seem more scholarly, to say nothing of scientific.

  • Robert Tulip

    JM: “The earliest sources clearly have a human figure in view, to which increasingly exalted heavenly roles eventually get attributed.”In fact the process was the reverse.  The New Testament gives a naïve reader the impression the Gospels preceded the Epistles, whereas the genuine Pauline letters are the earliest texts.  The human Jesus of the gospels, with the miracles, parables, family story, etc, is basically absent from Paul, for whom Christ performs a primarily mythic and symbolic role as mediator and redeemer.JM: “As one traces that trajectory, the divination of Jesus eventually results in denial of Jesus’ real humanity, because of the difficulty of having suffering and deity coincide. That is exactly what 2 John 1:7, from late in the NT period, has in view: not people who deny that Jesus Christ ever appeared in human history, but people who deny that he came in flesh.” It is far more plausible, as Doherty argues, that Docetic thinkers understood Christ as a myth from the start. The concept of a historical but non-fleshly messiah is contradictory, and simply shows that orthodox detractors of the Docetists distorted their views and failed to understand them.  The only way Christ could have “come into the world” without being flesh and blood was as the symbolic basis of a universal cosmic vision specifically pointing to the actual time of Christ.  This is precisely what we see with precession of the equinox at the time of Christ, with the shift of the spring equinox point, the alpha and omega of the Jewish calendar, from the constellation of Aries into the constellation of Pisces. JM: “The fact that you couch it in the language of New Age mumbo jumbo does not make it seem more scholarly, to say nothing of scientific.”In fact, precession was known well in ancient times, and is a purely scientific observation.  Sir Norman Lockyer, founder of the prestigious scientific journal Nature, argued that alignments of Egyptian temples indicate a clear knowledge of precession well before the time of Christ.  There is no need to introduce any “mumbo jumbo” to defend the hypothesis that observation of the slow sweep of the stars due to precession was an organizing principle for ancient mythology, including Christianity.  We do not need any astrological speculation to see that this is a simple matter of long term observation.  I discuss this in more detail, including showing how the years around 20 AD mark a clear moment  of observed shift, at http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/116815-On-the-possible-discovery-of-precessional-effects-in-ancient-astronomy 

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

    Robert, Doherty’s views are not persuasive, and what you are talking about may be something that you can read into New Testament texts, the way Christian believers often read their dogmas into them, but they are not what one actually finds in them.

    In calling your views “scientific” I think you may be confusing astrology with astronomy.

  • Robert Tulip

    A problem with the mythicist debate is that conventional theology has many deep-seated assumptions, such as the assumption that any effort to see stellar allegory in the Bible, e.g. between the twelve apostles and the twelve signs of the zodiac, or between Jesus and the sun, is the first step on a slippery slope to irrational astrological fatalism.  

    In fact, precession of the equinox is purely astronomical, and requires no astrological assumptions to understand.  It is an entirely legitimate scientific and historical hypothesis that the authors of the New Testament developed a symbolic mythology from observation of the slow shift of the stars, with Christ as the Alpha and Omega reflecting on earth the observed shift from one Age to the next in the zodiac.  

    Perhaps Roman Emperor Hadrian was telling the truth when he said after a visit to Alexandria that “there is no Christian leader who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or a master of wrestlers.” (Letter to Servianus, 134 AD)

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

    The problem is not in noticing that early Christians and Jews made connections between the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve apostles and/or the twelve tribes of Israel. The problem is reading every early Christian text as though it were a coded message about the stars, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so. Ancient writers were as a rule interested in astrology. That doesn’t mean that they were not capable of writing about anything else, or about talking about actual events and people even in conjunction with astrological considerations.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //A problem with the mythicist debate is that conventional theology has
    many deep-seated assumptions, such as the assumption that any effort to
    see stellar allegory in the Bible, e.g. between the twelve apostles and
    the twelve signs of the zodiac, or between Jesus and the sun, is the
    first step on a slippery slope to irrational astrological fatalism.//

    On the contrary, the problem is that Mytherists will perform great leaps in order to conclude that influences from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian were significantly more influential on the early Jesus movement than the Second Temple Period socio-religious context in which the movement actually emerged.

    We’re supposed to believe that people who never even left Judea in their entire lifetimes were learned in the myths about Horus, Osiris, Mithras, and Buddha, but were virtually unaffected by the religion in which they were raised. However, the socio-religious context in first century Judea points in another direction entirely.

    When we see twelve disciples in the early Jesus movement, Occam’s Razor leads us to conclude that the inspiration is the twelve tribes of Israel (as the gospel texts actually indicate), not the twelve signs of a Greek zodiac in Egyptian Alexandria.

  • Robert Tulip

    @ Jonathan Burke, speaking of what “we’re supposed to believe” and “great leaps”, Christians ask us to believe that Josephus, military leader of the Jewish rebels in Galilee in the first century and primary credible historical source for the period, considered Jesus of Nazareth as of such little importance as never to mention him, despite mentioning a range of messianic pretenders.  And, that the messiah had no one who wrote his life story until more than a generation after he walked the earth.  The more parsimonious and credible explanation is that the literal historical Jesus Christ was  invented as a work of imaginative fiction in Alexandria in the second century.  If Acts and the Gospels reflect actual events, why were these considered as of such little importance as to escape the notice of the chronicler of the Jewish War?  How did the genius supposedly at the origin of dogma manage to so comprehensively fly under the radar of historians who made this place and time one of the best recorded in the ancient world?  And please don’t bring in the tired old fraud of the Testimonium Flavianum, which is a Christian fraud interpolated by Eusebius.  If Josephus made these astounding out of context Christian statements, it would have been noticed with alacrity by the early Church Fathers who discuss his work at length.  No one noticed the Josephus comments about Jesus until Eusebius in the fourth century.  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html states”No form of the Testimonium Flavianum is cited in the extant works of Justin Martyr, Theophilus Antiochenus, Melito of Sardis, Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Pseudo-Justin, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Methodius, or Lactantius. According to Michael Hardwick in Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius, each of these authors shows familiarity with the works of Josephus.”

  • Jonathan Burke

    //…Christians ask us to believe…//

    Let’s forget about what Christians ask us to believe, and focus on what professional historians agree on. Once you understand what professional historians agree on, and why, you’ll understand the answers to your questions, and the reason why your own suggestion is completely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.

    The fact that you dismiss the entire Testimonium Flavianum as a Eusebian
    fraud demonstrates a lack of awareness of the text’s history and
    professional analysis.

    /And, that the messiah had no one who wrote his life story until more than a generation after he walked the earth.//

    How do you know?

  • Robert Tulip

    Hi Jonathan, thanks.  There is much evidence that professional historians have been intimidated by Christianity into avoiding the question of the historicity of Christ.  We see this in the jailing and sacking and shunning of historians in the nineteenth century who sought to investigate this topic.  The result is that Christians can say ‘see we managed to ignore these amateurs’, because deference to the church has been an unspoken criterion for preferment.  Sadly, integrity in historical and theological matters requires independence from institutional shackles.

    We do not have clear evidence of the four canonical gospels until late in the second century, with Irenaeus.  The burden of proof rests more with those who wish to claim an early date.  The absence of comment from Josephus and Philo, the absence of any archaeological or other early textual corroboration, and the precedent of the invention of religious claims (Serapis by Ptolemy I, Deuteronomy by King Josiah) makes the whole gospel story extremely fishy as literal history.

    Generally, those who wish to support authenticity of the Testimonium Flavinium are Bibliolaters first and scholars second.

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

    Robert, would it be safe to guess that you have not attended a private secular university – at least, not in the 20th or 21st century? You seem to either have little idea how things have changed, or prefer outdated examples because they are the only ones that allow you to make your case.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //There is much evidence that professional historians have been
    intimidated by Christianity into avoiding the question of the
    historicity of Christ. We see this in the jailing and sacking and shunning of historians in the
    nineteenth century who sought to investigate this topic.//

    Really? How many were HISTORIANS were jailed, sacked, and shunned for investigating this topic? How many HISTORIANS have been jailed, sacked, or shunned in the last 50 years for investigating this topic?

    //The result is that Christians can say ‘see we managed to ignore these
    amateurs’, because deference to the church has been an unspoken
    criterion for preferment.//

    Evidence please.

    //We do not have clear evidence of the four canonical gospels until late
    in the second century, with Irenaeus.  The burden of proof rests more
    with those who wish to claim an early date.//

    The Didache, Ignatius, Marcion, Justin Martyr, Clement, these don’t count?

    //Generally, those who wish to support authenticity of the Testimonium Flavinium are Bibliolaters first and scholars second.//

    Evidence please.

  • Robert Tulip

    JM: “The problem is reading every early Christian text as though it were a coded message about the stars, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.”  
    The problem is that the eschatology of the new testament has a close actual fit to real observation of the temporal movement of the stars, caused by the 25765 year long period of the spin wobble of the earth’s axis.  The cause was not known in ancient times, but the effects most certainly were.  Christ represents the actual shift of the equinox from Aries to Pisces around 20 AD, and the Second Coming of Christ represents the actual shift of the equinox from Pisces to Aquarius early in this millennium.

    What we have here is a cosmology that does actually inform the visions of the New Testament.  This cosmology is entirely natural, but was suppressed because the church felt it conflicted with the idea of the transcendence of God.

    Far from making “absolutely no sense”, this reading recognizes the central place of observation of the stars in ancient religion, and sets the rise of Christianity within this historical framework, producing a far more plausible explanation than traditional ideas that rely on miracles and the supernatural.

  • Robert Tulip

    “The Didache, Ignatius, Marcion, Justin Martyr, Clement, these don’t count?”
    Jonathan, perhaps I am wrong that the first evidence of the Four Canonical Gospels, as distinct from ideas presented within them, is with Irenaeus.  What is the hard evidence of earlier existence of these texts as we have them?

    I have looked quickly at the sources you mention and find no evidence.  For example, Justin Martyr – “Nowhere in his works, the name of any canonical gospel is mentioned specifically, other than this general designation of the “Memoirs of the Apostles”,”

  • Robert Tulip

    JB:  “How many were HISTORIANS were jailed, sacked, and shunned for investigating this topic? How many HISTORIANS have been jailed, sacked, or shunned in the last 50 years for investigating this topic?”
    I was thinking of the nineteenth century cases of David Strauss (sacked) and Robert Taylor (jailed) and Gerald Massey (shunned).  The sad fact is that this intimidation was so successful that the universities have been corrupted to neglect and ignore this major fascinating topic.

    Your term HISTORIANS invokes the True Scotsman fallacy, along the lines that a true historian would not investigate the question of whether Jesus Christ is a myth, so anyone who does investigate it, such as Gerald Massey, AB Kuhn, Earl Doherty, Robert Price or DM Murdock, is ipso facto not a true historian.  

    Obviously, if HISTORIANS shun anyone who studies this material, then no HISTORIANS will study it.  The recent mocking of Earl Doherty on this blog, such as comparing him to Velikovsky, is threadbare and desperate, but illustrates the strange anti-intellectual hold that has gripped theology, and its hand maiden HISTORY.

  • Robert Tulip

    JM:  “Robert, would it be safe to guess that you have not attended a private secular university – at least, not in the 20th or 21st century? You seem to either have little idea how things have changed, or prefer outdated examples because they are the only ones that allow you to make your case.”
    I received a Master of Arts (Honours) degree for a thesis on The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology from Macquarie University in 1992.
    However, I have found that my interests in religious cosmology appear to be subject of some sort of strange taboo.

    If things have changed, why are there no conferences on mythicism, and why do no universities invite provocative speakers such as Earl Doherty or DM Murdock to speak?  Are they afraid of free speech?

    The censorial attitude of the Jesus Seminar recently described by Doherty is scandalous.  Academic scholarship is seriously corrupt.

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

    @Robert Tulip, that you can treat a viewpoint that is only in your own imagination and not in the earliest texts, and view it all as part of a conspiracy of the later church to cover it up, illustrates that you are living in a fantasy land and not dealing with actual scholarship, actual texts, or actual evidence.

    That you consider an unwillingness of a periodical to accept money in exchange for publishing something that they consider to be unscholarly and unserious to be an indication of corruption rather than a repudiation if corruption on their part is also telling.

  • Robert Tulip

    James, I really appreciate your willingness to sustain a dialogue on these matters.  I do not allege a “conspiracy” (your term) on the part of the church.  It was just that they did not understand the astrotheological message of the natural unity of the earth and the cosmos in Christ, they failed to recognize the light through which the world was made, and so they rejected the stone which was the head of the corner, placing their own invented creation in its place, which they worshiped rather than worshiping the real natural creator.  

    Earl Doherty is a real scholar.  If Christian theologians had any scholarly integrity, they would arrange public debate on mythicism, instead of continuing the prejudiced timid behaviour of the church through the ages of suppressing what they emotionally react to as heresy.  Their error is intellectual and political, and is manifest in a prejudicial judgment that ideas they have not properly examined, and refuse to debate, are unscholarly and unserious.  To non-Christians, they give the impression they are too scared to air these matters publicly for fear of damage to their links with their institutional pious constituencies.

    Irenaeus devoted considerable energy to attacks on Gnostic heresies that are highly astrotheological.  Looking at this debate from the vantage point of today, it appears the Gnostics had the intellectual high ground, while the main orthodox motive was the growth of the church among the ignorant masses, restricting its message to something easily believed, and excluding complex messages that recognized the continuity between the new gospel and earlier mythology.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //I have looked quickly at the sources you mention and find no
    evidence.  For example, Justin Martyr – “Nowhere in his works, the name
    of any canonical gospel is mentioned specifically, other than this
    general designation of the “Memoirs of the Apostles”,”//

    Please also REPRESENT YOUR SOURCE ACCURATELY. You have taken that sentence completely out of context. The preceding sentence says this:

    * In general, Justin USES THE MATERIAL FROM THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – but his use of John is somewhat debatable

    You omitted that information, which clearly contradicts your claim. You also failed to quote this statement, which follows the sentence you did quote:

    * It is believed that Justin used some sort of a Gospel Harmony THAT INCLUDED THE MATERIAL FROM THE 3 SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

    This also contradicts your claim. Furthermore, you failed to quote this statement from Koester, which is in the same section as the sentence you lifted:

    * On the basis of the GOSPEL QUOTATIONS of the First Apology and the Dialogue with Trypho, ONE CAN CONCLUDE WITH GREAT CERTAINTY THAT JUSTIN ALSO HAD COMPOSED A HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS OF MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE (he did not know the Gospel of John), which is lost but was used by his student Tatian for the composition of his famous and influential four-gospel harmony known as the Diatessaron

    Your gross misrepresentation of your sources is completely indefensible, and demonstrates you are not treating the subject objectively.

    //I was thinking of the nineteenth century cases of David Strauss
    (sacked) and Robert Taylor (jailed) and Gerald Massey (shunned). //

    So your answer to my first question is ‘Only three’, and your answer to my second question is ‘none’. Thank you. This proves the point very well. Any suggestion that historians and other scholars have been silenced on this issue by systematic persecution (or by persecution at all), is false.

    //The sad fact is that this intimidation was so successful that the
    universities have been corrupted to neglect and ignore this major
    fascinating topic.//

    Evidence please.

    //Your term HISTORIANS invokes the True Scotsman fallacy, along the
    lines that a true historian would not investigate the question of
    whether Jesus Christ is a myth, so anyone who does investigate it, such
    as Gerald Massey, AB Kuhn, Earl Doherty, Robert Price or DM Murdock, is
    ipso facto not a true historian.//

    That is completely untrue. I don’t argue that a true historian wouldn’t investigate the question of whether Jesus Christ is a myth. I don’t believe anyone who does investigate it is ipso facto not a true historian. Any true historian who investigates the question is a true historian, including those true historians who reach the conclusion that Jesus is a myth.

    I don’t believe Doherty is a historian, because he’s completely unqualified as a historian. I don’t believe Murdock is a historian, because she’s completely unqualified as one; she probably has a certificate in aromatherapy or something, but that wouldn’t be relevant.

    • Dave Burke

      Ironically, Richard Carrier (a somewhat lukewarm ally in Doherty’s crusade against the historical Jesus) is actually qualified as a historian, but has never been employed in that capacity AFAIK.

      Over at Neil Godfrey’s blog, Toto refers to Carrier as a professional historian, yet his CV shows this is not true.

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

    @Robert Tulip, I am a curious how you can express appreciation for both ancient Gnostics and Earl Dohery’s reconstruction of Christian origins. For Doherty, Jesus was derived from Jewish Scripture, while for Gnostics, the Jewish Scriptures were the work of the inferior demiurge. For ancient Gnostics, Jesus descended to earth and appeared in human history to reveal the true nature and origins of human beings, and the way to ascend past the malevolent powers of the seven (sun, moon and visible planets) and the twelve (signs of the zodiac) to return to the realm of the truly good and divine; Dohery’s Jesus, on the other hand, never makes it down past the firmament.

    Is there a chance that you have either misunderstood ancient Gnosticism, or misunderstood Earl Doherty’s position?

  • Robert Tulip

    JB: “You omitted that information, which clearly contradicts your claim.”

    It does not.  You have helpfully clarified the status of emergence of the canonical gospels, but have not shown that any of them existed in their canonical form.  As I said, some text within them preceded Irenaeus, but major Christians writing in 150 AD, such as Justin Martyr, did not recognise four canonical gospels, it appears they only knew of some text within the synoptics.  

    It is a bit like the Theory of Relativity – if I said there is no evidence before Einstein, you could point to Michelson-Morley etc as evidence that part of the theory already existed.  Similarly you can refer to Martyr (died c 165 AD) for evidence that part of the canonical gospels already existed when Irenaeus said count unto four, only count unto three if thou then proceedeth unto four, five is right out, or something along those lines.  But really, showing that fragments or even the whole of the Synoptics are found more than a century after Jesus does not do much to prove historicity of Christ – rather like if I now wrote a biography of a First World War soldier based only on hearsay.  You cannot say there is evidence the four canonical gospels existed before Irenaeus.

    As http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus#Scripture says “Irenaeus provides the earliest witness to the assertion of the four canonical Gospels”

  • Robert Tulip

    JB: “Any suggestion that historians and other scholars have been silenced on this issue by systematic persecution (or by persecution at all), is false.”

    I largely agree, and thankfully we live in times where freedom of speech is no longer oppressed by bigoted blasphemy laws as was the case with Robert Taylor.  These days the totschweigtaktik fatwa from scholars is deemed entirely sufficient to cast outsiders into oblivion.

    JB: “I don’t believe Doherty is a historian, because he’s completely unqualified as a historian. I don’t believe Murdock is a historian, because she’s completely unqualified as one; she probably has a certificate in aromatherapy or something”

    You prove my case regarding the prevalence of shunning based on nothing more than mockery and baseless disdain.  Qualifications are not the mark of whether someone is a historian, the real test is the quality of their research. You might care to join our discussion of Murdock’s superb historical analysis Christ in Egypt at booktalk.org.  

  • Jonathan Burke

    //It does not.//

    It does indeed. Your original claims was:

    * the first evidence of the Four Canonical Gospels, as distinct
    from ideas presented within them, is with Irenaeus

    This is patently false, as your own source noted. You misrepresented your own source. Your question was:

    * What is the hard
    evidence of earlier existence of these texts as we have them?

    Your own source provided quotations by Justin Martyr as hard evidence of the earlier existence of these texts as we have them. You failed to mention this at all. You have also failed to address the statement of Koester, which was in your own source.

    //As I said, some text within them preceded Irenaeus, but major Christians
    writing in 150 AD, such as Justin Martyr, did not recognise four
    canonical gospels, it appears they only knew of some text within the
    synoptics.//

    Firstly, the original claim you made had nothing to do with whether or not ONLY four gospels were recognized as canonical, so you are now changing the subject. Secondly, your own source demonstrated that Martyr used a harmony of the synoptic gospel, showing that he knew them as books, not that he knew only ‘some text within the synoptics’.

    //But really, showing that fragments or even the whole of the Synoptics
    are found more than a century after Jesus does not do much to prove
    historicity of Christ…//

    No one was arguing this.

    //As http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I… says “Irenaeus provides the earliest witness to the assertion of the four canonical Gospels”..//

    This is another subject change; this only refers to the ‘ASSERTION of the four canonical Gospels’, it says nothing about whether or not they actually existed by Irenaeus’ time. You are misrepresenting your sources yet again.

    //You prove my case regarding the prevalence of shunning based on nothing more than mockery and baseless disdain.//

    Complete nonsense. It is not mockery when I note the fact that neither Doherty or Murdock are professional historians, nor is it mockery to note that Murdock probably has some New Agey type ‘qualification’ in a completely unrelated field. She herself claims to be an expert in ‘astrotheology’. Furthermore, you can hardly claim I shun Doherty, when I’ve spent hours interacting with him on this blog.

    //Qualifications are not the mark of whether someone is a historian, the
    real test is the quality of their research.//

    This is misleading. Qualifications are an excellent guide to who is and isn’t reliable when it comes to historical analysis. Someone with relevant qualifications may not be an good historian, but they are far more likely to be at least an adequate historian than someone who has no qualifications at all. Would you trust me to fix your car? Your plumbing? Your TV? Your electrical wiring? I’m not qualified in any of these areas, but I feel very strongly I would do an excellent job, and friends of mine tell me I look a lot like an electrician or a mechanic.

    //You might care to join our
    discussion of Murdock’s superb historical analysis Christ in Egypt at booktalk.org.//

    The phrase ‘Murdock’s superb historical analysis of Christ in Egypt’ immediately tells me that I will not be joining an evidence based discussion of any usefulness.

  • Robert Tulip

    Honestly Jonathan, you are the most expert hair splitter I have encountered.  You acknowledge there was no “assertion” of four gospels as canonical before Irenaeus, and yet suggest my analysis is defective when really that was my main point, which you have just misunderstood.  Leaving aside the uncertainty of whether any of them achieved canonical form before Irenaeus, they can’t be canonical if no one says they are.  “Evidence of the four canonical gospels” is an ambiguous phrase.  If most of the the texts existed but they were not regarded as canonical, and perhaps left out chapters and included others different from the later canon, then they did not yet exist as four canonical gospels.  This is a small semantic question of meaning, and does not justify your phrase “patently false”.  I agree with you that parts of the gospels predate the late second century when Irenaeus declared them as canonical, just not that all four existed in canonical form.  Whatever, it was a long time after Jesus.

    I have noticed that some evangelicals are expert at fulminating with empty rhetorical arguments, more suited to the pulpit than reasoned debate.  Your equation of aromatherapy and astrotheology is an excellent example.  One is new age magic, the other provides a coherent scientific explanation of the emergence of the Christian paradigm from older mythology.  But you wouldn’t know that if you take the three monkey attitude ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ and regard science as a danger to the unity of the apostolic faith.   Your “immediate” bullshit detector in this instance, regarding a book that you obviously have not read, looks remarkably like bigotry.

    The context of this storm in a teacup is my response to your question how I know that the messiah had no one who wrote his life story until more than a generation after he walked the earth.  And here you are desperately trying to say there were canonical gospels in 150AD, not only a generation but about five or six generations after the supposed time of Christ.  Such a big gap makes them very unreliable as history, wonderful as they are as myth.

    • Dave Burke

      Robert,

      >>
      I have noticed that some evangelicals are expert at fulminating with empty rhetorical arguments, more suited to the pulpit than reasoned debate.
      >>

      That may be true, but Jonathan is not an evangelical.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //You acknowledge there was no “assertion” of four gospels as canonical
    before Irenaeus, and yet suggest my analysis is defective when really
    that was my main point, which you have just misunderstood.//

    You seem to have forgotten what your original point was. You made two claims. The first claim was this.

    * the first evidence of the Four Canonical Gospels, as distinct
    from ideas presented within them, is with Irenaeus

    In making this claim, you misrepresented the source you quoted, which contradicted your claim directly. It is significant that you selected one sentence sandwiched between two sentences which each contradicted the point you made. If by your original claim you really meant ‘The first assertion of four gospels as canonical is with Irenaeus’, you should have said so; and indeed, I’m sure you would have said so.

    //Leaving aside the uncertainty of whether any of them achieved canonical
    form before Irenaeus, they can’t be canonical if no one says they are.//

    The issue of when they became canonical has never been in dispute in this conversation. You initially raised a completely different issue. The ‘canonical gospels’ are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If we find evidence of them being quoted before Irenaeus, then we have ‘evidence of the four canonical gospels, as distinct from ideas presented in them, before Irenaeus’, regardless of when they were actually canonized.

    //”Evidence of the four canonical gospels” is an ambiguous phrase.//

    Well it’s your phrase.

    //If most of the the texts existed but they were not regarded as
    canonical, and perhaps left out chapters and included others different
    from the later canon, then they did not yet exist as four canonical
    gospels.//

    Certainly, this hasn’t been in dispute.

    //I agree with you that parts of the gospels predate the late second
    century when Irenaeus declared them as canonical, just not that all four
    existed in canonical form.//

    Great, we have some agreement and as for the rest you can think what you like. Let me know when you have some evidence for your theories.

    //I have noticed that some evangelicals are expert at fulminating with
    empty rhetorical arguments, more suited to the pulpit than reasoned
    debate.  Your equation of aromatherapy and astrotheology is an excellent
    example.//

    Nonsense, I didn’t equate them at all. Furthermore, Murdock has not a single formal qualification in astrotheology, so her opinions on the subject are as good as mine. The rest of what you wrote was simply personal attack.

  • Robert Tulip

    LN: “her opinions on the subject are as good as mine”

    Dear Jonathan,

     

    You may consider your remarks to be amusing, but the
    comments you have made dismissing the work of DM Murdock are entirely
    unjustified and demean your standing as a person of any objectivity. 

     

    For you to compare the rational scientific explanation of
    religion provided by astrotheology to aromatherapy, and to assert that Murdock’s
    work lacks evidence, is the sort of comment expected from a fundamentalist
    evangelical bigot, not a serious scholar. 
    You obviously have not read her work.

     

    What we see here is that belief in the historical Jesus has
    become the center of a new fundamentalism, in which scholarly analysis and
    evidence are ignored and mocked, because the new fundamentalists cannot engage
    on criticism of their emotional belief with rational argument.  Instead they resort to rhetorical devices
    such as finding a mote in another’s eye while ignoring the log in their own, in
    a transparent effort to conceal the illogicality of their own beliefs, like
    those whom Jesus called ‘whited sepulchres’.

     

    I would like to respond to your earlier question about
    whether there is any evidence for the suppression of rational enquiry into
    religion.  In view of the widespread
    discomfort about challenging religious beliefs, I found your question
    surprising.  But to examine it properly,
    a good explanation is provided by Sigmund Freud in his brilliant short essay
    The Future of an Illusion (1927).  If you
    cannot bring yourself to read Murdock, I hope at least that Freud will not meet
    with such visceral repugnance.

     

    Freud gives three reasons why religions are believed –
    antiquity, argument and attack.  On the
    third reason, the attack on unbelievers, Freud states “it is forbidden to raise
    the question of their authentication at all. 
    In former days anything so presumptuous was visited with the severest
    penalties, and even today society looks askance at any attempt to raise the
    question again … A prohibition like this can only be for one reason, that
    society is very well aware of the insecurity of the claim it makes on behalf of
    its religious doctrines.  Otherwise it
    would certainly be very ready to put the necessary data at the disposal of
    anyone who wanted to arrive at conviction.” (Chapter V)

     

    You may say that Freud’s critique no longer applies, but I
    beg to differ.  Freud provides a
    comprehensive explanation of how the wish-fulfillment of religion is central to
    the stability and identity of civilization. 
    To dispute accepted religious claims invites broad disapproval.  Only where claims are patently absurd, such
    as creationism or the virgin birth, does this attitude get relaxed.  When it comes to claims that remain central
    to belief, such as the historical existence of Christ, automatic rejection
    kicks in except among the small group of intellectual atheists who are willing
    and able to examine this question on its merits.

     

    Robert

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
  • Jonathan Burke

    //You may consider your remarks to be amusing, but the comments you have made dismissing the work of DM Murdock are entirely unjustified and demean your standing as a person of any objectivity. //

    They’re not intended to be amusing, they’re simple statements of fact. It is entirely justifiable for me to point out Murdock’s lack of relevant qualifications, and point out that my opinion is as good as hers. That is being objective.

    //For you to compare the rational scientific explanation of religion provided by astrotheology to aromatherapy…//

    I didn’t. I’ve already pointed this out to you.

    //To dispute accepted religious claims invites broad disapproval.//

    What complete nonsense. When I was going through primary school and high school I was one of only a handful of religious kids in the entire school, and experienced repeated mockery for it. Religion is not only an easy target, but a common target for derision and satire in a range of social media, and has been for decades.

    The idea that it enjoys some kind of special protection from criticism, and that there’s a powerful force which represses the questioning of religion, is complete and utter lunacy. Take a look at the plunging decline of religious belief in Western countries over the last 20 years, for example.

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

    I’ll just agree with Jonathan that anyone who thinks that religion in general or Christianity in particular does not get criticized in our day and age is perhaps from a different day and age.

    But that is besides the point, in one sense. This is not a matter of religion, at least not in the sense of theology. The question of the historical Jesus is a matter of history, of what results the application of historical tools and methods to the sources produces. Most Christians, across the full range of the theological spectrum, agree on one thing: the historical study of Jesus challenges their faith and requires significant rethinking of their theological views and beliefs. That is not to say that historical study is immune from bias or vested interest. But precisely because most people have some bias about Jesus, and yet most who investigate Jesus historically find him to be a figure in at least some respects different from what they expected, suggests that the critical tools are working well, and the notion of widespread suppression or conspiracy is not to be taken seriously.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Well said James.

  • Robert Tulip

    A few things here.  Yes, there is general indifference and ignorance about religion, so society in general no longer cares about Christian doctrine in the way that Freud described.  People are free to engage in open debate, such as on this blog (thank you James).  But there is still the question of attitudes to what I called “accepted religious claims”.  These days, science has cast the old stories of creation and miracle into broad disrepute, so these claims are only accepted by sects, including the fundamentalist wings of mainstream churches.  The miracle and creation stories no longer function in the broader society as accepted, although questioning miracles is still often regarded as impolite.  

    However, the historicity of Jesus is very different.  It remains widely accepted that Jesus Christ was a real man, roughly as described in the Bible.  As Doherty and Murdock have discovered, to apply scientific analysis to this question remains highly controversial and leads to ostracism.The problem is that scholarship has formed into camps.  On the one hand, the Dawkins atheists regard religion as obsolete, and scholarship about religion as basically irrelevant to modern thought.  So they generally do not engage with the Christ Myth Theory.  On the other hand, academic theology and ancient history departments are broadly populated by people who accept the historicity of Christ a priori, and who generally refuse to engage seriously with research on this topic.  I am not sure if even this blog constitutes a serious engagement, because when I read Earl Doherty’s comments here he points out that his arguments are ignored and his critics misrepresent him.It remains the case that the historicity of Jesus is an accepted religious claim, even in the broader post-Christian society.  So we  see that the older practices of suppression of dissent have evolved into a refusal to acknowledge that there are legitimate questions.  I have barely seen this question addressed in mainstream media.  It encounters the suspicions that those who question the accepted story are vilifying religion, and that astrotheology is just wacky astrology.  James and Jonathan underestimate the weight of history.  The origins of many universities in religion produces an ongoing reluctance, which scholars have internalised, to make claims which are likely to cause offence to the religious.  There is broad consensus that Jesus existed, and questioning this consensus is not welcomed.  Overt suppression is no longer applied, it is enough just to ignore and mock those who are interested in these questions.

    I think we are in a transition phase.  The theory of evolution has led to a broad view among liberal elites that religion is irrelevant.  Religion has not yet evolved to make itself compatible with scientific knowledge about evolution.  Recognising that Christ is primarily an astrotheological myth is part of this evolution of religion.

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

    @98dafd7ab0c94eca36e23a8221050ac0:disqus , anyone can say that their view is scientific or represents evolutionary progress, as part of a marketing strategy. Even young-earth creationists, who are in fact opposed to science, claim that they are promoting “true science.” And so rather than merely make the claim, perhaps you could clarify in what sense you understand the “astrotheological approach” to be scientific. From my own perspective, it looks rather like an imaginary construct that some people read into the New Testament texts, but which one does not naturally find there. So I would appreciate some clarification on what persuades you that this approach is “scientific” and in what sense.

  • Robert Tulip

    Thanks James.  If we start from the observation that ancient myth routinely explained stories by reference to observation of the sky, such as the movement of the sun, and constellations as symbols for myth, the hypothesis is that Christianity originated from this same widespread approach.  Precession of the equinox was known by the Greeks centuries before Christ, using information that Hipparchus obtained from meticulous ancient Babylonian records of star positions.  The Egyptians clearly recognized precession, as Norman Lockyer (first editor of Nature) explained in his book The Dawn of Astronomy.

    The question then, is how the story of Jesus Christ matches to the stars?  Some key ideas about Jesus include that he marked a ‘turning point of time’ as reflected in our BC/AD dating of years.  Looking to see how this turning point actually occurred, we see that the start of the Jewish Year, the spring equinox, moved in 20 AD out of the sign of Aries and into the sign of Pisces.  This is a very slow change, tectonic in pace at one degree of arc per lifetime, but readily observable by people with a keen interest in the stars.  

    So, if the ancient seers understood the time of Christ as an observable turning point, a shift of Aeons, just in terms of the astronomy that they clearly possessed, we have a natural source for the elaboration of the literal historical myth of Jesus Christ, the anointed savior predicted in Daniel 9.

    Building on this hypothesis, we find abundant corroboration within the New Testament.  This slow change of the sky serves as a natural pre-existent logos, or cosmic reason, supporting the Pauline cosmology of Philippians and Colossians.  Numerous Gospel references, especially the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the discussion of the end of the Age in the Olivet Discourse, support this natural cosmology of Christ as the incarnation of a new cosmic age.

    The Book of Revelation presents this scientific observational allegory, especially with the idea of Christ as the Alpha and Omega.  There are other allegories within Revelation, such as the river of life as the Milky Way, the tree of life as the zodiac, and the dragon who sweeps one third of the sky giving his seat to the leopard-bear-lion as the precession of the North Celestial Pole. 

    Overall, rebasing Christianity in natural cosmology presents a method to reconcile faith and reason, putting the supernatural myths into a scientific framework.  There is no need to speculate about any magical astrological meaning here, because this framework is simply compatible with the broadly understood nature of ancient thought in its actual observation of the stars as the temporal framework of heaven.

    What is really interesting is how this natural vision was suppressed.  We see it is not compatible with the injunction in Deuteronomy not to worship nature, or with the panentheist transcendence of God.  It appears that this source for the idea of Christ was seen as too close to the pagan views that the church was in political combat with, so its presence within the text was systematically concealed, and then forgotten.

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

    @Robert Tulip, thanks for that further information. What that seems to be missing are a number of key considerations. First, what we a dealing with is not a new mythology but a variation on an existing mythology, that of Judaism, and it’s expectation for the restoration of the Davidic kingship. Second, it seems as though you are suggesting that the inky religious stories and beliefs were metaphors for celestial phenomena, which seems like it would take serious shoehorning to make all evidence “fit.” And finally, it ignores that even those religions focused in the sky could identify or connect actual human beings with celestial figures. Examples that immediately come to mind include the identification of the Pharaoh as the sun/Ra, and the connection of emperors and philosophers with various celestial deities said to have conceived them among the Greeks. And so it seems that your approach is to take one sort of religious belief, assume it is the essence of all religion and myth, and then find ways of reading early Christian literature as an expressions of that sort of belief. My question is why someone would adopt this approach in the first place, rather than a mainstream scholarly one that works inductively from the range of evidence.

  • Robert Tulip

    James, the problem is the inductive gap in Christian origins.  Doherty’s main point, in my limited reading of his work, is that Christian historians apply standards within Biblical scholarship regarding the historicity of the Gospels that are vastly lower than in any other branch of history, where independent contemporary corroboration, whether textual or archaeological, is required to have any confidence in testimony.  Christian literature is all part of a religious agenda, “that you may believe”.  When we look for evidence that we would expect, such as contemporary historians recognising Christ, we draw a blank.

    This absence of inductive evidence for Christ opens philosophical, political and psychological questions about how the Gospels were actually constructed.  Looking to an original astronomical myth, the logos in the stars, seems to me a more parsimonious and elegant explanation of the facts than the conventional claims that the gospels are literal history.  

    When this cosmic account is placed within the context of the evolution of mythology, we find strong continuity between Christian doctrine and earlier longstanding ideas, especially from Egypt and Greece.  These old ideas were put within a syncretic frame that obtained its power by combination with Judaism.  

    Christianity provided a marked advance on the Greco-Egyptian invention of Serapis, in that the New Testament gained a broader historical credibility through its use of the Old Testament as a blueprint for its claims of the realisation of messianic expectations.

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

    @98dafd7ab0c94eca36e23a8221050ac0:disqus , the astrotheological stuff is neither here nor there, so it is best to set it aside. As I have pointed out, even if your understanding of ancient religion were correct, it would remain the case that some historical individuals were interpreted in the context of such beliefs, and so would tell us nothing about the historicity of Jesus.
    Mythicists regularly claim that historical Jesus scholars use lower criteria. If anything, the reverse is true. It is historical Jesus scholars who have, in the interest of religious ideology or simply to find something new to publish in one of the most crowded fields, cast doubt on sayings which no historian working through the evidence as objectively as possible would discard as inauthentic.

    Christian literature has a religious agenda, and critical scholarship is what has been at the forefront of identifying that and treating the sources with appropriate skepticism. But mythicists go beyond that to an utterly irrational viewpoint, suggesting that those associated with a movement focused on an individual are biased and so cannot be trusted to even tell us whether that person existed – or whether they had met his brother, for that matter. Most people down the ages have had some sort of religious beliefs, and most of them do not get disqualified from providing information about mundane matters such as other human beings, except in the case of mythicism and Jesus.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_64NEHWHSAJMVRF3BXHUQUWBPCY Robert

    Edward – I wrote to Ms Sorek via her university about her claim that Essenes predicted a Messiah in 26AD but received no reply.  I will try to write via her publisher.  Writers are not easy to contact if they are not on the internet!  I am now about half way through Doherty’s Neither God Nor Man, and will reserve further comment until I have read the whole book.


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