Julius Caesar Mythicism vs. Jesus Mythicism: Smackdown!

Tom Verenna shared some thoughts on something I wrote recently, in a comment on the Vridar blog, in which I suggested that it is not harder to be a mythicist about Julius Caesar than about Jesus, and that the same tactics and methods used by Jesus mythicists could be employed for good effect in the case of Julius Caesar or anyone else from the ancient world, and perhaps even more recent times.

I agree with Tom completely that the comparison that is often made between evidence for Jesus and for Julius Caesar is problematic. The latter was the sort of influential and powerful figure that people would make busts of even in their own time, while Jesus was not, and it is unrealistic and misguided to expect there to be inscriptions by or monuments to Jesus from his own time. All the early sources suggest he was not that sort of figure.

But precisely for this reason, the comparison between the two possible mythicisms can be instructive, because if someone could deny the existence of someone like Julius Caesar using the same sorts of tactics and approach as are used by Jesus mythicists, would this not constitute an adequate demonstration that the approach of Jesus mythicists is problematic?

And so let me invite those who see the problems in Jesus mythicism to join in a fun little exercise in the comments section on this post. See if you can make a case for Julius Caesar originally having been a mythical figure who was later historicized. See if there is any evidence that you cannot explain away or find grounds to dismiss.

With any luck, Jesus mythicists who are annoyed by the comparison may chime in to defend the historicity of Caesar. Anyone want to be that if they do so, they will end up using some of the same sorts of arguments used by mainstream historians and scholars to argue for the historicity of Jesus?

An interesting twist is that there is more than one fringe mythicist-type book out there arguing that Jesus Was Caesar

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

    Round and round we go. I’ll defend the historicity of Caesar without making the same kind of argument at all, because the arguments in favor of the historicity of Jesus depend on literary narratives, and the historicity of Caesar does not. Put as succinctly as I possibly can: There is a “hole” in history that the figure of Julius Caesar fits into. Our reconstructions of the conquest of Gaul, the Civil War, and the dawn of the principate among many other well-attested historical trends and events would need to be radically revised if they did not feature the political and military protagonism of Julius Caesar. There is no such gap corresponding to the career of Jesus. This is indeed, as you say, because “The latter was the sort of influential and powerful figure that people would make busts of even in their own time, while Jesus was not” etc.

    I just don’t see why you can’t see that this whole line of comparison is completely misguided, and that the fact that we don’t have that kind of evidence for Jesus and should not expect to (with which I totally agree), does not provide license for elevating the kinds of evidence we do have to the same level. Please help me understand this disconnect, because I find myself incredulous that an intelligent, well-educated academic can apparently not see this, to me, blindingly obvious difference.

    • MikeMcKinniss

      The argument you make here about Caesar fitting an historical hole, citing the conquest of Gaul, the Roman Civil War, etc., are the same sorts of arguments that Bible historians use for the historicity of Jesus.  The massive cultural shifts in mid-first century Judaism – the onset of characters like Paul, Peter, et al., the perseverance of early Christians through Jewish & Roman persecution – all makes the best sense if a figure similar to the Jesus portrayed in the canonical gospels lived in the first third of the first century.  Or at least, that a core (a hundred or two hundred?) of Jews believed that figure similar to Jesus walked among them.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/ Tom Verenna

    My reply James.  I agree, but I think your position is a little untenable as it currently stands for the reasons I discuss in my response:

    http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/smackdown-more-on-mythicism-james-mcgrath-and-caesar/

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

    My reason for doing this is that, using the same sorts of arguments that they mythicists use in relation to Jesus, one can dispense with Caesar. If Caesar’s historicity seems solid, and yet can be called into question using mythicist tactics, does that not suggest that the approach of mythicists is problematic.

    For instance, historians see the removal of a historical Jesus from the origins of Christianity as leaving a problematic hole as well. Simply inventing a crucified Davidic Messiah may not be impossible, but it is surprising and not an obvious thing to do, to say the least. And if mythicists say that a purely mythical figure could inspire the early Christians to spread their message across the Roman empire and beyond, then why could a purely mythical figure not inspire the Romans to conquer Gaul?

    The evidence for Jesus is not the same sort of evidence as we have for Julius Caesar. It therefore does not allow for the same degree of certainty. But it is sufficient, unless one attacks it with ad hoc “What if…?” and “How do you know implausible scenario X didn’t happen instead?” questions, of the sort that can make a Caesar disappear as effectively as an itinerant Galilean teacher or messianic claimant.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/ Tom Verenna

    James, also I didn’t know about that book, thanks for the heads up!  It seems like something written with Joe Atwill in mind; if you aren’t familiar with Atwill’s tripe, its for the better.  His point is beyond far fetched.  

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/ Tom Verenna

    James, also I didn’t know about that book, thanks for the heads up!  It seems like something written with Joe Atwill in mind; if you aren’t familiar with Atwill’s tripe, its for the better.  His point is beyond far fetched.  

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

    Perhaps we should use the book you listed too. Obviously the guy has already put a lot of work into this idea and I think that even the mythicist would agree that it is very unlikely so we can examine the arguments. Even the brief blurb at Amazon is instructive.
     
     
    Review
    “The territory in which the new Christian religion spread two thousand years ago can be defined as the Imperium Romanum. This process met with success because after three centuries the late Roman emperor Constantine the Great made Christianity the official cult of the state. Historical research has always emphasized the tight interconnection between this religion and the Roman world empire. The book at hand ties in with this fact but goes further and reveals new connections which have never been seen that way.” — Erika Simon PhD, Professor emeritus of Archaeology, Wurzburg.
    Product Description
    The question is: Is Jesus Divus Julius? (Is Jesus the historical figure of Divus Julius, the god to which Julius Caesar was elevated?). The iconography of Caesar do not fit our idea of him. In our minds Caesar is a field marshall and a dictator. However, authentic images portray the idea of the clementia Caesaris, a clement Caesar. Jesus’ life is congruent to the life of Caesar. Both Julius Caesar and Jesus began their careers in northern countries: Caesar in Gaul, Jesus in Galilee; both cross a fatal river: the Rubicon and the Jordan; both then enter cities; Corfinium and Cafarnaum; Caesar finds Corfinium occupied by a man of Pompey and besieges him, while Jesus finds a man possessed by an impure spirit. There is similarity in structure as well as in place names. People in the stories of Caesar and of Jesus are structurally the same people, even by name and location. Caesar’s most famous quotations are found in the gospels in structurally significant places.
     
    Note the loose use of parallels, the same sort of argument used to claim that the Gospels are dependent on the Homer or the Elijah narrative.  At 512 pages, there must be a lot of detailed arguments made.  And note how a PhD is made to appear supportive of the book’s thesis.
     
    My hope for mythicist is that they learn to discern between worthwhile scholarship on the subject and sensationalism. Their seems to be a bit of a group mentality that feels that criticism of any author arguing for a Jesus myth is an attack on the whole concept.  This may be because the fringe authors are more willing to present their case as comprehensive and unassailable, and thus more assuring to ones faith in the idea being true. As presented by Wells and Price, it would not be unreasonable to still conclude Jesus may have existed, and I think that level of uncertainty is unacceptable to people wanting to use Jesus myth not as a historical argument but a polemical one against Christian fundamentalism. This is the mirror image of the evangelical argument that there can be no rational doubt of Jesus’ existence since that would make it rational to turn down Christian salvation (of course this will be rejected by those few who feel that no one could study the evidence and rationally doubt that Jesus is a myth).

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

    Perhaps we should use the book you listed too. Obviously the guy has already put a lot of work into this idea and I think that even the mythicist would agree that it is very unlikely so we can examine the arguments. Even the brief blurb at Amazon is instructive.
     
     
    Review
    “The territory in which the new Christian religion spread two thousand years ago can be defined as the Imperium Romanum. This process met with success because after three centuries the late Roman emperor Constantine the Great made Christianity the official cult of the state. Historical research has always emphasized the tight interconnection between this religion and the Roman world empire. The book at hand ties in with this fact but goes further and reveals new connections which have never been seen that way.” — Erika Simon PhD, Professor emeritus of Archaeology, Wurzburg.
    Product Description
    The question is: Is Jesus Divus Julius? (Is Jesus the historical figure of Divus Julius, the god to which Julius Caesar was elevated?). The iconography of Caesar do not fit our idea of him. In our minds Caesar is a field marshall and a dictator. However, authentic images portray the idea of the clementia Caesaris, a clement Caesar. Jesus’ life is congruent to the life of Caesar. Both Julius Caesar and Jesus began their careers in northern countries: Caesar in Gaul, Jesus in Galilee; both cross a fatal river: the Rubicon and the Jordan; both then enter cities; Corfinium and Cafarnaum; Caesar finds Corfinium occupied by a man of Pompey and besieges him, while Jesus finds a man possessed by an impure spirit. There is similarity in structure as well as in place names. People in the stories of Caesar and of Jesus are structurally the same people, even by name and location. Caesar’s most famous quotations are found in the gospels in structurally significant places.
     
    Note the loose use of parallels, the same sort of argument used to claim that the Gospels are dependent on the Homer or the Elijah narrative.  At 512 pages, there must be a lot of detailed arguments made.  And note how a PhD is made to appear supportive of the book’s thesis.
     
    My hope for mythicist is that they learn to discern between worthwhile scholarship on the subject and sensationalism. Their seems to be a bit of a group mentality that feels that criticism of any author arguing for a Jesus myth is an attack on the whole concept.  This may be because the fringe authors are more willing to present their case as comprehensive and unassailable, and thus more assuring to ones faith in the idea being true. As presented by Wells and Price, it would not be unreasonable to still conclude Jesus may have existed, and I think that level of uncertainty is unacceptable to people wanting to use Jesus myth not as a historical argument but a polemical one against Christian fundamentalism. This is the mirror image of the evangelical argument that there can be no rational doubt of Jesus’ existence since that would make it rational to turn down Christian salvation (of course this will be rejected by those few who feel that no one could study the evidence and rationally doubt that Jesus is a myth).

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

    /For instance, historians see the removal of a historical Jesus from the origins of Christianity as leaving a problematic hole as well./

    Bald assertion. This needs argument and citation for me to understand the nature of the problems and whether they are in any way similar quantitatively and/or qualitatively to the very obvious problems with removing Caesar from the historical events of his period. As it is, incredibly, you really seem not to understand the difference between a figure who may have inspired literary narratives and a figure who led armies and changed the political landscape of a vast empire. Again, succinctly: literary narratives are commonly written about fictional entities, persons who did not exist; armies do not ever lead themselves, nor are political agendas ever prosecuted by mythical figures. 

    • MikeMcKinniss

      ConnorO, the best work I’ve seen on a historical Jesus fitting the gap in Judaism ca. AD 30 is NT Wright’s Christian Origins series.  I wish I could cite more.  Others can probably site more.

      Also, I think it’s a mistake, in the case of Jesus, to limit ourselves only to the literary documents about Jesus.  Just like for Caesar there are major events and movements that occur because of his actions, so there are major shifts in history for which someone like Jesus may be the best explanation.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, Mike McKinnis, thank you for showing the apologetic undergears of the entire historical Jesus enterprise. Skeptics of Jesus are supposed to find the words of a man who is a bishop and believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus as compelling scholarly work. It is possible that Bishop Wright may not be the most critical scholar on earth if he genuinely believes that Jesus was not only historical, but also the son of God and a zombie who saves souls. One can imagine Bishop Wright penning a lengthy tome on the historicity of walking on water as well. 

        • MikeMcKinniss

          Beallen, I would not expect a skeptic to take Bishop Wright’s work on the basis of who he is, but on the basis of his work.  Further, his particular set of beliefs no more disqualifies him to do scholarly historical work than the scholar who happens not to believe.  Both would come at the evidence with their own preconceptions.  Neither is disqualified from honestly assessing the data before them.  Both scholars’ work is subject to the same open forum, but their background ought not color the criticism of their work.

          • Anonymous

            MikeMcKinnis, it’s not his beliefs that discredit Bishop Wright, it’s his work! He has written a book regarding the resurrection that purports to be scholarly, it purports to be historical, yet it is intrinsically crazy. If you want to talk about fringe, creationist-type beliefs, look no further than your supposedly mainstream scholar from Durham.

            To quote the bishop:

            “… (5) that the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again and (6) that, though admitting it involves accepting a challenge at the level of worldview itself, the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.”

            As an aside, the bishop certainly would have no truck with the argument that early sources of Christianity didn’t see Jesus as divine:

            “However, within the world of meaning the early Christians found themselves exploring, it was clear that the resurrection did not suggest the adoptionist view that Jesus became, at Easter, something or someone he had not been before. It made clear, to those who followed its inner implications, what had always been the case. It declared that Jesus always was ‘God’s son’, in this sense as in others.”

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

    /For instance, historians see the removal of a historical Jesus from the origins of Christianity as leaving a problematic hole as well./

    Bald assertion. This needs argument and citation for me to understand the nature of the problems and whether they are in any way similar quantitatively and/or qualitatively to the very obvious problems with removing Caesar from the historical events of his period. As it is, incredibly, you really seem not to understand the difference between a figure who may have inspired literary narratives and a figure who led armies and changed the political landscape of a vast empire. Again, succinctly: literary narratives are commonly written about fictional entities, persons who did not exist; armies do not ever lead themselves, nor are political agendas ever prosecuted by mythical figures. 

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

    And it’s not a matter of “inspiring” the Romans to conquer Gaul, at all, is it? It’s a matter of someone having the requisite charisma and strategic acumen to actually do it.

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

    How is that inherently different from the mainstream historian’s argument that belief that someone is the crucified Davidic anointed one who was expected to restore the royal line of David requires a charismatic individual whose impact on his followers was such that they found a way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance and continuing to believe he was the anointed one in spite of this apparent counter-evidence?

    • Anonymous

      According to this argument, the historical Jesus was a charismatic individual who impacted nobody to ever write his name down as having met him.

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

    Thanks  @openid-86893:disqus  ! I do hope that the arguments that will get used here will be quite precise parallels and not merely ones that mythicists could hypothetically use.

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

    Thanks  @openid-86893:disqus  ! I do hope that the arguments that will get used here will be quite precise parallels and not merely ones that mythicists could hypothetically use.

  • AtheistSceptic

    As you said James, many scholars believe Caesar was Jesus. And since Dohery has established that Jesus did not exist it follows that Caesar, being Jesus, did not exist. 

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

    /The argument you make here about Caesar fitting an historical hole, citing the conquest of Gaul, the Roman Civil War, etc., are the same sorts of arguments that Bible historians use for the historicity of Jesus./

    No they aren’t. Those arguments are all about the features of literary narratives: primarily via the sub-disciplines of form and redaction criticism.

    /The massive cultural shifts in mid-first century Judaism/

    Like what, exactly? The shifts in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE seem to me much more salient than anything that occurred in the 1st century CE. And how is this (arguendo) marginal, itinerant exorcist an explanation for any cultural shift other than the decidedly non-massive early Christian groups, which the whole thesis of mythicism maintains can be explained by other means anyway?

     /- the onset of characters like Paul, Peter, et al.,/

    Question-begging. And anyway, if it weren’t for the fact that a collection of letters attributed to Paul and a literary narrative –Acts– featuring him, how would we even know about Paul and Peter? These are simply not the same sort of contextual issues we run into if we try to excise a figure like Caesar from history. This is my only point here. Just as Jesus is not like Julius Caesar, Paul and Peter are not like Cicero and Octavian. 

     /the perseverance of early Christians through Jewish & Roman persecution -/

    Explain how the real existence of a figure like Jesus makes this perseverance more likely. No one questions the religious commitment of the earliest adherents; it’s the origin of the tradition that is in question. What evidence do we have that traditions founded by single, historical individuals exhibit greater perseverance in the face of cultural opposition than traditions centered on fictional entities or mythical figures?

    /all makes the best sense if a figure similar to the Jesus portrayed in the canonical gospels lived in the first third of the first century./

    I simply disagree. You’re doing nothing more than restating the mainstream view as if it were an argument.

    • MikeMcKinniss

      ConnorO, I appreciate the time it’s taken to reply to these comments.  Plus, it’s a good challenge.

      I should say that not all Bible scholars use the “historical hole” argument.  But some do.  And it’s valid.

      Perhaps “massive” wasn’t the word to use in considering the shifts in 1C Judaism.  Or, perhaps I should have qualified it.  The onset of Christianity in the first century CE likely consisted of not many people, but for any 1C Jew to claim that their Messiah had indeed arrived, been killed, and resurrected would seem pretty massive to them.  Nevertheless, a significant shift, even if at grass roots levels in the mid-first century, is evident in the simple facts that nothing of Christianity’s sort was existent BCE and that this distinct Jewish sect had been established by the second half of the first century.

      You’re also right that Paul & Peter are very different from Cicero & Octavian, just as you or I are very different from Obama & Katie Couric.  My (I’ll speak for myself) sphere of influence is minuscule in comparison.  Nevertheless, the fact does not necessarily call into question Paul’s or Peter’s existence.

      I suppose, at the core of it, the early Christians’ willingness to stand on their beliefs to the point of death speaks to their level of conviction, not necessarily the historicity of the one in whom they’ve placed their faith.

      Is it safe to say that, for most of us, it’s a question of which option makes better sense?  Does it make more sense that someone looking and acting something like Jesus would inspire a core group of Jews to drastically alter their beliefs?  Or does it make more sense that a small group of Jews got together to plan that major alteration and fake their “evidence”?

      • Anonymous

        There very clearly was a massive shift in 1st century Judaism. It happened in 70 CE. There was an even more massive shift in 2nd century Judaism, that ended in 135 CE. After that, we begin to see widespread evidence of Christianity. 

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

    /How is that inherently different from the mainstream historian’s argument that belief that someone is the crucified Davidic anointed one who was expected to restore the royal line of David requires a charismatic individual…/

    Because beliefs are known to arise in other ways than from the careers of real, historical individuals while the execution of military campaigns and political programs are not. This is an inherent and very salient difference and your response strikes me as deliberately obtuse.

    And this isn’t really the place for it, but I have a critique of your incessant harping on the “Davidic annointed one” as central to the earliest Christian confession.

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

    The anointed one the Christians spoke of, when they specified more, was said to be of the line of David. This was an expected human figure in Judaism. You no less need a human being to believe that the Messiah has come, than you need one to lead the troops.

    The size of the hole left by removing Jesus or Caesar may differ, but holes are left in both cases.

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

    /The anointed one the Christians spoke of, when they specified more, was said to be of the line of David. This was an expected human figure in Judaism./

    Attempted sleight of hand there: “when they specified more” implies “[in every instance] when they specified more” which is not the case.

    /You no less need a human being to believe that the Messiah has come, than you need one to lead the troops./

    This is demonstrably false, if you mean by “a human being” “a present, living human being.” Did not the members of the Corinthian churches, for instance, believe the messiah had come? Where was the human being? I don’t happen to believe this, but for the sake of argument Paul could have been a pure charlatan making up a figure out of whole cloth, and said all of the same things to the Corinthians that he in fact did and they could have arrived at their beliefs all the same, yes? In which case you would have the belief without the human being.  
    /The size of the hole left by removing Jesus or Caesar may differ, but holes are left in both cases./

    You really never listen to anyone you disagree with, do you? I am making a point here as patiently as I possibly can, and you won’t budge an inch despite being clearly wrong, in the sense in which I am using the concept of this “hole in history”. It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising anymore.

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

    I don’t see myself as being clearly in the wrong.

    There was no sleight of hand. The early Christians sometimes simply referred to Jesus as “anointed one” and there were two major types of anointed one expected, two roles God was expected to restore, the king and the high priest. But at times, Christians specify that they viewed Jesus as the Davidic anointed one, never the Aaronic anointed one. I am suggesting that when they say “anointed one” even without always adding a mention of David, it is clear that that is what they mean, because on some occasions they specify this.

    My point about a human being being required is that the claims of Earl Doherty and others, that Jesus was initially conceived of as a purely heavenly figure, does not fit the words the early Christians used in the context of their historical and cultural setting. I am happy to acknowledge that we do not know for certain whether Paul actually saw Jesus on any occasion. But I consider his having met his brother to be sufficient to establish the likelihood of the existence of the historical Jesus.

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

    You no less need a human being to believe that the Messiah has come, than you need one to lead the troops

    I can’t let this go. I want you to slowly reread what you just wrote. “No Less.” really? No less, at all, not even a little? You are doing exactly what I said you have no warrant to do, and that is to elevate certain types of evidence only because of the absence of better or more certain types, not because of its inherent quality or reliability. You appear really to believe that ancient beliefs as possibly inadequately and certainly imcompletely articulated in the idiom of modern concepts are equivalent to military conquests that demonstrably happened in terms of their respective implications for a plausible historical reconstruction. I want you to affirm this explicitly, because if you really believe that then … I’m at a loss. There’s nowhere for discussion to go from there.

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

    Well, obviously you can claim that the Messiah came in history when he had not, and you can claim that a new emperor has come to power and orders you to march even if no such emperor exists. My point is about mythicist claims. Do you find the mythicist claim that Paul and other early Christians thought of Jesus as a purely spiritual/celestial figure as poorly fitting the actual evidence, as I do?

    As I said from the outset, I am making an analogy here, not suggesting that Jesus and Julius Caesar are or should be comparable in terms of their evidence. My point is that all the objections that mythicists raise to the historicity of Jesus could be used to do the same with Julius Caesar, and that suggests that the mythicist approach must be fundamentally flawed. We agree that there are important differences. But do you agree on my points about the problems with Jesus mythicism?

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

    /you can claim that a new emperor has come to power and orders you to march even if no such emperor exists/

    Someone has to actually give the order to march! Someone has to have the strategic ability and logistical control to have brought the army to the theater of conflict in shape to fight. The “inspiration” for the campaign, when it comes time for an army to engage an enemy force, is irrelevant.

    /all the objections that mythicists raise to the historicity of Jesus could be used to do the same with Julius Caesar/

    As I said, round and round we go. All of the comments by me in this thread argue against this idea. You don’t engage, but remain content to merely restate your hopelessly flawed thesis. Can you honestly not see that this is intellectually bankrupt?

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

    At least this conversation makes it plain that you’re not being honest when you say that you believe it’s possible there was no historical figure behind the gospel accounts of Jesus. It’s just lip service to the secular mores of academia and the idea of free inquiry to say so.

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

    ConnorO, I wonder why you are taking exception to what I am doing here in this way. Where am I being dishonest? Why could someone who wanted to claims Julius Caesar was a myth attribute the actual orders to a Paul-like figure, who believed he could proclaim the will of the celestial Caesar?

    My point here is that one can doubt anything using the approach that mythicists do, and so I am questioning whether that is reasonable doubt. Mainstream scholars question things too, but ideally (not always, since we are human) try to allow room for the possibility that, after careful investigation, some evidence may withstand critical scrutiny and be judged authentic.

    I really don’t understand why you are reacting to what I have written here in the way that you are.

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

    Because I doubt the historicity of Jesus, and I know full well that there are a great many things I cannot doubt on the same grounds, and because I’ve encountered the very same attempt at a reductio many many times before, and I consider it a deeply flawed argument for the reasons I have articulated here and which have been summarily ignored. 

    • Anonymous

      ConnorO, I know exactly how you feel. 

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

    I humbly suggest that it is not that you cannot doubt other things and people on the same grounds, but either have not tried, or have no interest in doing so, or do not wish to do so.

    If by doubting the existence you mean recognizing that the evidence does not allow for certainty, then I grant that without hesitation. But mythicists actually claim that the existence of Jesus is unlikely. Is that your view?

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  • Jonathan Burke

    //As an aside, the bishop certainly would have no truck with the argument that early sources of Christianity didn’t see Jesus as divine://

    I suggest a little more reading of the good bishop is in order; ‘son of God’ is not the same as saying ‘God’ (or even ‘divine’). Loook at this from Wright.

    //Within these passages, and others like them (for instance, the remarkable Romans 8:3-4), Paul, like other NT writers, uses the phrase “son of God” to denote Jesus.  Later Christian theologians, forgetting their Jewish roots, would of course read this as straightforwardly Nicene christology: Jesus was the second person of the Trinity.  Many have assumed that this is meant by the phrase in John and Hebrews, though that assumption should probably be challenged.[23]  Paul’s usage, though, is much subtler and offers further clues not only as to what the earliest Christians believed, but why “Son of God” in Jewish thought was used occasionally for angels, sometimes for Israel (e. g. Exod 4:22), and sometimes for the king.  These latter uses (such as 2 Sam 7:14, Psa 2:7 and Ps 89:27) were influential both in sectarian Judaism (“son of God” is found as a messianic title at Qumran[24]) and in early Christianity.//

    //Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying.  I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female.  He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!”  Rather, “as part of his human vocation grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.”//

    //My case has been, and remains, that Jesus believed himself called to do and be things which, in the traditions to which he fell heir, only Israel’s God, YHWH, was to do and be. I think he held this belief both with passionate and firm conviction AND WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT HE COULD BE MAKING A TERRIBLE, LUNATIC MISTAKE.//

    Emphasis mine. That’s very carefully worded language, easing his way through the minefield, but it’s clear that he has written it like this because he can’t in all honesty make the assertion that Jesus was God, as orthodoxy requires. The section I’ve placed in capitals is not orthodox by any means.

    • Anonymous

      No, he makes the assertion that Jesus actually was the son of God. It’s a different assertion, I grant you, but it’s still divine. I am not saying he’s orthodox. I’m saying he is apologetic.

  • Gakuseidon

    Well, I believe that the cumulative case for a historical Jesus is strong, even if we can say next to nothing about him, so in some ways he might as well not existed. But I’ll see if I can start to build a case for a mythical Julius Caesar.

    Back in the First Century CE ancestor worship was an important part of a family’s life. Families worshiped the gods but also had their own family gods. As Doherty has shown us:

    “For the average pagan and Jew, the bulk of the workings of the universe went on in the vast unseen spiritual realm (the “genuine” part of the universe) which began at the lowest level of the “air” and extended ever upward through the various layers of heaven. Here a savior god like Mithras could slay a bull, Attis could be castrated…”

    So we have no reason to think that people then didn’t think the same way about their house gods.

    One of the most illustrious families, which eventually provided the Romans with their first emperors, worshiped a family god called “Julius Caesar”. The name is instructive: “Julius” means “Jove’s son”, and “aesar” is Etruscan for “god”. In other words, the family god was “Jove’s Son, the God”. But they never thought of this Son as being on earth. All his activities — his martial campaigns against the enemy gods (he was a martial god) — were all done in a celestial realm, where the average pagan thought such activities took place.

    In the First Century CE, the Roman Emperors — who sprung from this family — started to become known as gods themselves. So, to impress their adversaries in the East — the Persian god kings — stories started to be created that they were descended from this “Son of Jove”. Probably this was done by Roman governors to the East, rather than deliberate deceptions by the emperors themselves.

    We start to see Julius Caesar being “brought down to earth” in Virgil, who writes:

    “Now bend your twin eyes here, [and] hence look at your tribe and your Romans. Here is Caesar and the whole progeny of Iulus, about to come from ‘neath the mighty axis of heaven.

    Here is the man, here he is, whom you heard was promised to you rather often, Augustus Caesar, son of god, who will found the golden age again in Latium throughout the fields once ruled by Saturn, and [who] will carry his empire beyond both the Garamants and the Indians.”.

    Notice the reference to “‘neath the mighty axis of heaven”. This is frustratingly vague. If Julius was on earth, why not just say that? The pagans believed that the air, under heaven, was its own realm, so there is nothing stopping us from concluding that this Julius was a house god who lived in the air.

    Notice that Augustus is referred as “Son of God”. But in fact, he was regarded later as the **adopted** son of God. This shows that at that time Julius had not yet been “brought down to earth”, so actual “sonship” couldn’t be claimed. Similarly, an inscription to Augustus provides strong evidence that “Julius Caesar” was thought to have acted in a Platonic celestial realm:

    “Since Providence, which has ordered all things of our life and is very much interested in our life, has ordered things in sending Augustus, whom she filled with virtue for the benefit of men, sending him as a savior both for us and for those after us, him who would end war and order all things, and since Caesar by his appearance surpassed the hopes of all those who received the good tidings, not only those who were benefactors before him, but even the hope among those who will be left afterward, and the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of the good tidings through him; and Asia resolved it in Smyrna.”

    Doherty has already shown us that such language can be applied to a celestial being ‘sent’ to earth as a spirit by God (Providence) so there is nothing stopping us from believing that the reference to “Caesar” here is providing a parallel to the celestial life of “Julius Caesar”, as per Platonic resonances. As Doherty has shown us, “as in heaven above, so on earth below”. But some were confused by these Platonic resonances, and people started to think that Julius was an actual ancestor of Augustus.

    So stories started to be written about an actual descendent of Augustus’s called “Julius Caesar”. There were probably a number of actual people that the stories were based on. For example, the books by “Julius Caesar” on Gaul were probably written by an actual general, and this person probably had conflicts with Cicero; but these were later retrogened to “Julius Caesar”. After all, we have no manuscripts from those times. What we have now are copies of copies of copies, passing through the hands of Claudians for a hundred years before being passed to us. I think we need to be skeptical about such texts, as representing the “Claudian orthodoxy”

    The first few generations of Claudians knew that Julius Caesar wasn’t a historical figure. But after the first few generations this belief died out, replaced by a belief that Julius Caesar was historical. Why? Well, it just did! But we don’t see evidence in the texts for this, because, after all, once the belief had died out, why would anyone question it? Forget for the moment that I said the prevailing belief was in celestial figures. It’s not important.

    Some questions answered!
    1. Q: What about coins and inscriptions?
    A: These were later representations, or were about the Celestial Julius Caesar. After all, we have coins with Hercules on them, but no-one thinks that he was historical, right?

    2. Q: What about Cicero and others that talked about Julius Caesar as a historical person?
    A: These manuscripts have passed through numerous hands. We can’t say for sure what the original ones said. Unless they can be validated by other sources, we can’t lay much weight on them as reliable.

    3. Q: Why would people lie about Julius Caesar being historical?
    A: No-one actually lied. Someone decided to write a stories about an earthly Julius Caesar like a Greek tragedy, not realising that it would be taken seriously. Imagine their horror when the stories started to be taken seriously?

    4. Q: Why has no-one else found out about this?
    A: It’s because the historical Julius Guild is too strong. People just **assume** there was a historical Julius Caesar. Has there been any peer-reviewed articles **proving** that Julius Caesar existed.

    I’m not asking people to believe I’m right, only to not automatically conclude I’m wrong. Let’s not just assume that there was a Julius Caesar. After all, everyone thought Galileo was wrong, and he was in fact right. I think that scholars should start to examine my case. I don’t need no
    stinkin’ peer-review. At the least, scholars should deal seriously with
    the evidence!

    So who is with me? Who thinks we should get scholars to deal with the evidence about a historical Julius Caesar, and not just **assume** there was one?

    • Anonymous

      Don you fail entirely to explain Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra, his writings of the civil wars and Gallic wars, his detailed descriptions of geography, battles he personally took part in that archaeologists can confirm took place at the time and place he describes, his relationship with Pompey Magnus, the physical busts that exist that show very little variation in his physiognomy … et cetera, and this is just off the top of my head. Good try, but a giant fail. 

      • Gakuseidon

        beallen0417: Don you fail entirely to explain Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra, his writings of the civil wars and Gallic wars, his detailed descriptions of geography, battles he personally took part in that archaeologists can confirm took place at the time and place he describes, his relationship with Pompey Magnus, the physical busts that exist that show very little variation in his physiognomy …

        You are just arguing from personal incredulity. Are you relying on the consensus of modern scholarship for that view? Has there been any peer-reviewed paper proving that Julius “Jove’s Son” Caesar existed, or is modern scholarship just assuming it?

        Beallen, show me any critical scholarship about the life of Julius Caesar that doesn’t just assume that there was a Julius Caesar.

        Anyway, I did explain it. To quote my earlier post: “There were probably a number of actual people that the stories were based on.” Julius Caesar, “Jove’s Son” was originally a celestial being who was never on earth. All his actions took place in a celestial realm, where he undertook “campaigns” against other gods, but as Doherty tells us these campaigns took place in the Platonic world of myth and higher reality.

        The celestial stories of his campaigns against the Egyptian gods were later historicized as the story with Cleopatra. Just because Cleopatra was a real person, does that automatically make Julius Caesar a real person?

        Now, at some point someone wrote a history of “Julius Caesar” as being an actual person living on earth, placing the time as at the start of Augustus’ life, in order to show that Augustus was the natural successor of the god Julius Caesar. Once people started to believe that Julius, “Jove’s Son”, was an actual historical person, then the stories started to grow organically, and some were applied to actual people, probably from the Claudian family. So the author of the Gallic Wars was a real person, but the name “Julius Caesar” was given to him by later proto-orthodox Claudians.

        Keep in mind the unusual parallels between the life of Julius Caesar and the gods. Like Dionysus, Julius was held by pirates whom he later took his revenge on. Was Dionysus real? Also, Julius Caesar was ‘killed’ by Brutus. Brutus was a natural person to assign to this duty, since his family came from a line that opposed dictators. Plutarch informs us that Brutus may have been Julius Caesar’s natural son. This trope is often seen in the ancient myths, where the son overthrows the father.

        I think everything I have written above is accurate, so there is nothing stopping us in thinking I may be right. Beallen, I don’t ask that you believe me, but that you simply examine the evidence with an open mind. I’ve given the evidence. The onus here is clearly on you. Start from the viewpoint that we can’t just assume that there was a historical Julius Caesar, as has been ground into us for the last 2000 years. Will you take the challenge?

  • Jonathan Burke

    Gakuseidon, thank you for an eye opening post. I have learned much from your unique perspective. I’m on the fence right now, what you could call a JC agnostic, but I believe your case has merit.Thinking about the coinage, your solution makes a lot of sense. Why would anyone actually mint so many coins with a leader’s face on them unless there was doubt that they actually existed? It’s like Big Brother in 1984.This also explains why there are no records of anyone actually having met Julius Caesar in person. No eyewitnesses at all! It’s highly significant.

    //”aesar” is Etruscan for “god”.//

    Not only that, but the gods of the Norse were the ‘Aesir’; virtually the same word. The Norse are related to the Germans, and Caesar was famous for conquering… you guessed it, the Germans. When the ‘coincidences’ pile up like this, they start to become facts.

    • Gakuseidon

      Jonathon: Gakuseidon, thank you for an eye opening post. I have learned much from your unique perspective. I’m on the fence right now, what you could call a JC agnostic, but I believe your case has merit.

      Jonathon, as you agree with me, you are obviously a very intelligent person. You are brave to try to break free from the orthodox Claudian hegemony, and you are probably handsome as well. At least you are not automatically dismissive, like beallen (Insert random insults about various people who disagree with me. Include one about modern scholarship for good measure)

      Jonathon: //”aesar” is Etruscan for “god”.//

      Not only that, but the gods of the Norse were the ‘Aesir’; virtually the same word. The Norse are related to the Germans, and Caesar was famous for conquering… you guessed it, the Germans. When the ‘coincidences’ pile up like this, they start to become facts.

      Good pick up! “The God, Jove’s Son” battles the German gods. Where did the gods battle? In the celestial “World of Myth”! More evidence that the original “Jove’s Son” was never thought to be historical.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //No, he makes the assertion that Jesus actually was the son of God.//

    That isn’t the same as saying Jesus was God. It isn’t even the same as saying Jesus was divine.

    //Don you fail entirely to explain Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra//

    There are no eyewitnesses. There aren’t even any Egyptian records of Caesar in Egypt. Don’t you think they’d have at least written something important like that on a piece of paper somewhere?

    //his writings of the civil wars and Gallic wars, his detailed descriptions of geography,//

    Who’s writings? They’re pseudepigrapha at best, and anonymous at worst. Do you realise the earliest copies of Caesar’s text date to the 9th century, almost 800 years after they were allegedly first written? Who knows how many times they were copied, edited,  recopied, rewritten, interpolated, re-edited, recompiled, rewritten, recopied, and redacted yet again, to suit various religious, historical, and political agendas over time?

    We can’t even prove they were written earlier than the 6th century, because no one between the first century and the 6th century makes any reference to them at all; Josephus, Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, Hadrian, Plutarch, you pick a historian and see if you can find any genuine non-interpolated reference to Caesar’s writings. You won’t find any genuine references at all. Isn’t that a bit strange, given that they’re supposed to be major historical sources?
     

    //battles he personally took part in that archaeologists can
    confirm took place at the time and place he describes,//

    No, archaeologists can only confirm that battles have taken place in certain locations and at certain times, without being able to identify which individuals were present (or even why they were fought). The archaeological evidence is open to interpretation. While it can be harmonized with a historical Caesar, that is not the only interpretation with which it can be harmonized, and given the weight of the other evidence against Caesar’s historicity, that’s not even the most likely interpretation.

    //his relationship with Pompey Magnus,//

    We have no writings from Pompey which show he had even heard of Caesar. Of course Pompey’s entire history has been written by the Caesarian faction, so we have no sources for his life.

    ///the physical busts that exist that show very little
    variation in his physiognomy …//

    There are many more physical busts of Zeus and the other gods which show very little variation in physiognomy. Does this prove Zeus and the other gods are historical figures? On the contrary, it shows that Caesar was depicted in a stereotyped stylized manner which was used for mythical divine figures. Busts of a genuine historical figure wouldn’t all look the same, they would show changes in physiognomy over time.

    • Anonymous

      Jonathan, would you like to compare Greek, Roman and Egyptian images of Zeus/Jupiter/Amun and tell me they have “very little variation”? But even better — how about the stability of the images in sculpture of Jesus vs. … for example Julius Caesar or Socrates.

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

        people have been making Jesus images longer than Caesar ones. i think you have to compare variations over equivalent times and distances.

  • Guest132

    Wow, great job so far Jonathan. The “historical Ceaser” is getting PWNED!

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

    Thanks to Do and Burke for putting in the time to discredit the historical Caesar. And remember, don’t let any one tell you that your interpretation of the language or culture is wrong, your the foremost expert and everyone else is trying to sell Julius as some sort of fascist icon.

  • Kris

    Another triumph of the mythers,  we now know Caesar is a mythical  figure too.

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

    /”For the average pagan and Jew, the bulk of the workings of the universe went on in the vast unseen spiritual realm (the “genuine” part of the universe) which began at the lowest level of the “air” and extended ever upward through the various layers of heaven. Here a savior god like Mithras could slay a bull, Attis could be castrated…”So we have no reason to think that people then didn’t think the same way about their house gods./
    Forgive me for intruding on your silly game, but we do, in fact, have reason to believe this was not the way the Lares and Penitentes were conceived of in Roman religion, assuming these entities are what you mean by the imprecise “house gods”. They did not “live in the air” in any meaningful sense, but adhered in the actual material sphere that was their domain, which was by no means limited to a certain house or family, though those were among the most common. Lares were represented by a specific type of idol figure, highly stylized and uniform, and not resembling in the slightest any extant representation of Caesar or any political or military figure. The cult apparatus of the various public and civic Lares was administered by appointed freedmen with slave assistants. Their worship was plebian-oriented, popular in character and not at all a suitable domain for the sort of elite-oriented propaganda that your (I know, intentionally) farcical scenario implies. There were Lares Militaris represented as a soldier-figure on horseback, but as all these stylized representations were the heritage of Republican Rome and had deep roots in native Italian culture, your glib implication that they could be reinvented at will but in secret simply doesn’t cohere with anything else we know. For the sort of very public and explicit religious innovation that could indeed occur, with motives of propaganda, we only need to look at the Augustan reforms in which his own “Genius” was to be worshipped. It seems to me you’re inventing a conspiracy which would have been needless and actually counterproductive, given the ways in which powerful Romans of the era could and did manipulate traditional religious expression for political ends. 

    Which serves, again, to highlight the failure of this little exercise in attempted reductio. I realize that some of you think that removing a historical Jesus from 1st century Palestine does similar or equal violence to the consensus historical reconstruction of that time and place as removing Caesar from late Republican Rome does, I’d like to ask: if there’s a shred of charity for an unorthodox line of inquiry and not just reactionary scorn, please take this as a request to interrogate that belief. Exactly what needs to change about our conception of the history of the period say 20 – 70 CE in Roman Palestine if Jesus didn’t exist? Is there any comparison between the confidence we have in any one picture of Christian origins following the putative date of Jesus’ crucifixion and the picture we have of the events leading to the rise of the Roman principate?

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

      well it is a silly game, but fun if your viewpoint isn’t the subject of the parody. That we have reason to believe this was not the way the Lares and Penitentes were conceived of in Roman religion hardly highlights a failure of the exercise. We have reason to believe the theories of people like Salm, Murdock and Doherty are incorrect on a number of points, but if you are willing to trust self proclaimed experts  and allow all sorts of unlikely occurrences the same probability as likely ones, then you can argue a lot of unreasonable positions, as they do.

  • Kris

    I do have to say I think obviously the historical evidence for Caesar is stronger then the historical evidence for Jesus. But what many mythers seem to forget is that the historical evidence is far stronger for Jesus then such as figures as Arminius and Boudicea. If we are to render Jesus a mythical figure we should certainly consider any figure from antiquity with less evidence then Jesus to be mythical to. Doing this would rip a tremendous gap of our knowledge of ancient history.

    • Anonymous

      This argument that Boudicea and Arminius are as well attested as Jesus is simply false. 

      There are archaeological sites in Britain and Germany that match the strata and nature of battles that both Boudicea and Arminius were reported to have engaged the Romans that we know of from extant texts of antiquity, uncorroborated until the 20th century. This is compelling evidence for their historicity that we simply lack for the historical Jesus, but do have in great detail for Julius Caesar.

  • Kris

    Yawn . I am agnostic and have been so for over a decade. I have no problem comparing Jesus Mythicism to creationism and holocaust denial. Trash is trash after all. Kooks are kooks no matter who they argue for. Ideological driven garbage is ideological driven garbage.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/09 @ 2:54 am | ReplyI imagine Kris is fully aware of the NT scholars, who, according to Tom Verenna are agnostic about the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. All kooks, according to Kris, who thinks abuse is a perfectly acceptable alternative to producing evidence.Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/08/09 @ 5:40 am | ReplyAnd these unnamed scholars are Steve? However in any profession you have some people even if they have relevant degrees are still considered kooks. For example David Irving and Duane Gish. Creationism is not equal to evolution because a few biologist do not accept it. Mytherism is not equal to the historical Jesus just because a few scholars do not accept Jesus existed. Do you think holocaust denial is the equal to the view that the holocaust is a fact simply cause David Irving does not accept it? In academia the consensus carries far more weight then the mavericks.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/10 @ 12:53 am | Reply‘And these unnamed scholars are Steve?’I have no idea.I am just relaying Tom Verenna’s comments.‘ ‘I know several of my professors were agnostic about the question. But it is just not something you write on. Why would you? As Vinny remarks aptly, there just is no reason to write a paper entitled ‘I don’t know’. You write on things you do know, or think you know, whether or not it be on intertextuality or genre or anthropology or some other field. There is no ‘Agnostic Jesus’ field. Maybe one day that will change. I imagine those scholars who write critically about the Gospels, particularly literary critics, are most likely agnostic.’ I’m sure Tom will relay to them your message that they are kooks. I can’t, because I do not know who they are.Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/08/10 @ 1:18 am | ReplySo we have no idea who these professors are so they could all be dare I say it myths. I do find it odd you accept their existence with such little evidence though, surely they should be considered mythical figures unless we produce a few primary sources. At least scientist who are creationist are bold enough to do it for everyone to see. However just because a few scholars deny the existence of Jesus no more makes this view academically valid then holocaust denial which is supported by a few historians. Your side always forgets it is not the only fringe view trying to assault academia.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/10 @ 3:31 am | ReplyThis conversation to me is a perfect example of just how arbitrary Jesus Mythers truly are . Steven Carr was perfectly willing to accept the existence of professors who are agnostic about the existence of Jesus  even without them being named simply cause someone online told him they exist, but he is not willing to listen to any source on Jesus period. He accepts claims with no evidence that suit his purposes but rejects all the evidence for Jesus simply cause that does not suit his purpose.

  • Kris

    Yawn . I am agnostic and have been so for over a decade. I have no problem comparing Jesus Mythicism to creationism and holocaust denial. Trash is trash after all. Kooks are kooks no matter who they argue for. Ideological driven garbage is ideological driven garbage.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/09 @ 2:54 am | ReplyI imagine 

    Kris is fully aware of the NT scholars, who, according to Tom Verenna are agnostic about the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. All kooks, according to Kris, who thinks abuse is a perfectly acceptable alternative to producing evidence.Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/08/09 @ 5:40 am | Reply

    And these unnamed scholars are Steve? However in any profession you have some people even if they have relevant degrees are still considered kooks. For example David Irving and Duane Gish. Creationism is not equal to evolution because a few biologist do not accept it. Mytherism is not equal to the historical Jesus just because a few scholars do not accept Jesus existed. Do you think holocaust denial is the equal to the view that the holocaust is a fact simply cause David Irving does not accept it? In academia the consensus carries far more weight then the mavericks.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/10 @ 12:53 am
     | Reply‘

    And these unnamed scholars are Steve?’I have no idea.I am just relaying Tom Verenna’s comments.‘ ‘I know several of my professors were agnostic about the question. But it is just not something you write on. Why would you? As Vinny remarks aptly, there just is no reason to write a paper entitled ‘I don’t know’. You write on things you do know, or think you know, whether or not it be on intertextuality or genre or anthropology or some other field. There is no ‘Agnostic Jesus’ field. Maybe one day that will change. I imagine those scholars who write critically about the Gospels, particularly literary critics, are most likely agnostic.’ I’m sure Tom will relay to them your message that they are kooks. I can’t, because I do not know who they are.Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/08/10 @ 1:18 am | Reply

    So we have no idea who these professors are so they could all be dare I say it myths. I do find it odd you accept their existence with such little evidence though, surely they should be considered mythical figures unless we produce a few primary sources. At least scientist who are creationist are bold enough to do it for everyone to see. However just because a few scholars deny the existence of Jesus no more makes this view academically valid then holocaust denial which is supported by a few historians. Your side always forgets it is not the only fringe view trying to assault academia.Comment by Kris — 2011/08/10 @ 3:31 am | Reply

    This conversation to me is a perfect example of just how arbitrary Jesus Mythers truly are . Steven Carr was perfectly willing to accept the existence of professors who are agnostic about the existence of Jesus  even without them being named simply cause someone online told him they exist, but he is not willing to listen to any source on Jesus period. He accepts claims with no evidence that suit his purposes but rejects all the evidence for Jesus simply cause that does not suit his purpose.

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

    /If we are to render Jesus a mythical figure we should certainly consider any figure from antiquity with less evidence then Jesus to be mythical to./

    If they were the subject of early portrayals as prima facie mythical –or, at least, mystical– as the portrayal of the salvific Christ figure in the 1st century epistles, I would certainly agree. But Jesus is simply not a historical figure, whether or not such a person existed. I mean this in the sense that Paul’s next-door neighbor in Tarsus must certainly have existed, but cannot be regarded as a historical figure nevertheless. Whatever motivates your disdain for the mythic Jesus hypothesis, you shouldn’t imagine that the choice of the figure for this kind of treatment is wholly arbitrary, or that such arguments from consequences as “Doing this would rip a tremendous gap of our knowledge of ancient history” should have any force. The trajectory of the literature about Jesus is puzzling, in a way that the accounts that come down to us of Arminius and Boudicea are not, as tenuous as they may be for the anchoring of any particular historical reconstruction centered on them.

  • Kris

    OConnor

    We have plenty of references in the writings of Paul to justify the existence of Jesus from purely a natural perspective. We know he had a brother, he taught on divorce, taught on the end times, we crucified, had a passover supper. These are perfectly normal earthly things.

    I really can careless if mythers do not like the criticisms directed at them, my goal is to explain to RATIONAL people why the Jesus myth is absurd and furthermore why it is a brazen attack on all ancient history. I suspect the vast majority of mythers would accept nothing short of time travel to give up this stance.

    Now I want OConnor to explain why he accepts the existence of Boadicea and Arminius seeing they are only mentioned in two secondary sources and those two secondary are clearly unreliable from a myther perspective because they both treat the existence of Jesus as a historical fact.

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

    That we have reason to believe this was not the way the Lares and Penitentes were conceived of in Roman religion hardly highlights a failure of the exercise.

    It does, on the same lines as my “hole in history” concept. The more violence you have to do to sober and plausible reconstructions of well-attested ancient events and practices, the less room for there is for doubt. That has been my only point. You guys seem to think that such a consensus reconstruction exists for the birth of Christianity. But the only consensus is that, whatever happened, a historical Jesus (variously characterized) must have been the start of it. If our understanding of the rise of the principate in Rome were so impoverished then you might have an analogy. As it stands you just have a smug round of mockery, with no attempt to give opposing views a remotely charitable hearing.

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

    Fine Kris, you don’t care about how I feel being the subject of your scorn, and I don’t care about you. That you can’t tell the difference between Tacitus as a historical source and the letters of Paul might be a reason to learn something, but that’s up to you I guess. I won’t be responding to any more of your spiteful outbursts, though.

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

    ConnorO, why is it that you feel that your pointing out errors in the way ancient Roman religion is depicted is fatal to the case for a mythical Julius Caesar, but when errors in the way Jewish religion is being treated by mythicists are pointed out, that is in no way fatal to the case for mythicism?

    If the one thing results from this discussion is that a few mythicists actually begin to care that they are making claims that are at odds with what we know about first century Judaism, I will consider it well worth the effort. But if you persist in not caring about the errors mythicists make about ancient Judaism, you can hardly begrudge the Julius Caesar mythicists for doing the same.

  • Kris

    Actually Tacticus and Suetonius both mention a historical Jesus which is enough to establish him as historical by any sane rational. Same thing with Celsus. And Josephus, twice. You bring all this scorn on yourself  Connor, it is not anyone’s fault but your own that you defend the absurd.

     Connor :I won’t be responding to any more of your spiteful outbursts, though.

    Translation. I am uninformed and if I continue to respond I will be shown to be even more uninformed then people consider me to be now.

    • Anonymous

      This argument again, is completely false and borders on deception. Tacitus mentions a Christus (possibly Chrestus), never a Jesus. Suetonius clearly mentions a Chrestus and places him in Rome in the reign of Claudius and never mentions a Jesus either. The NT clearly mentions that there were false Christs in the first century. Moreso, the historical Jesus enterprise does not believe that Jesus was regarded as the messiah by pagan or Jewish elements in Roman society, so these references cannot support a Jesus in history as they neither mention him by name, nor explain why he is or is not the messiah. Yet within the historical Jesus paradigm, they should never have believed this fact, and thus should not have identified him as such.

  • Kris

    Connor you can whine all you want but people in the know are trying to tell you the Jesus Myth is pretty much impossible to defend rational. I am not a Christian. I have a master’s in history and while my area of research tends to be modern history I certainly know how to evaluate ancient history.

    Doherty’s claims require way way to many how it could have been scenarios for anyone to take them them seriously.  If I felt the Jesus Myth was a rational alternative I would have no problem accepting it as another possible view. But the evidence for a historical Jesus far outstrips the arguments against it.

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

    Our sources are simply better for the attitudes and practices of Roman religion, which was always a highly public affair.

    I suppose you’re talking about your hobby-horse, the Davidic messiah idea, but I just have no interest in such incuriosity about the variegated forms that syncretic Hellenized Judaism may have taken, especially in the diaspora, that may have contributed to the rise of the Christ-myth, whether or not it was originally inspired by a single individual named Jesus. It’s just more unwarranted certainty based, I believe, on a “spurious familiarity” with the thought-ways of ancient persons subjected to the tensions of the religio-political atmosphere in the Greco-Roman East.

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

    And I will thank you for allowing me to take responsibility for my own errors, such as they may be, and not saddling me with the unspecified errors of unnamed others.

  • Gakuseidon

    ConnorO: /”For the average pagan and Jew, the bulk of the workings of the universe went on in the vast unseen spiritual realm (the “genuine” part of the universe) which began at the lowest level of the “air” and extended ever upward through the various layers of heaven. Here a savior god like Mithras could slay a bull, Attis could be castrated…” So we have no reason to think that people then didn’t think the same way about their house gods./

    Forgive me for intruding on your silly game, but we do, in fact, have reason to believe this was not the way the Lares and Penitentes were conceived of in Roman religion, assuming these entities are what you mean by the imprecise “house gods”. They did not “live in the air” in any meaningful sense, but adhered in the actual material sphere that was their domain, which was by no means limited to a certain house or family, though those were among the most common… There were Lares Militaris represented as a soldier-figure on horseback, but as all these stylized representations were the heritage of Republican Rome and had deep roots in native Italian culture, your glib implication that they could be reinvented at will but in secret simply doesn’t cohere with anything else we know.

    Oh, Connor, I’m disappointed. You need to read your Doherty. You are an atomist who is trying to impose modern-day rationality to ancient thoughts. We can’t just look at ancient literature, try to understand what they believed, and then evaluate my theory against that. It just doesn’t make sense that way.

    Let’s start with the basics. There was a class of intermediate beings called “daemons”, who existed between heaven and earth and passed messages from the gods to earth.

    Now, the ancients believed in a “World of Myth”, where the activities of their gods took place. The Greek salvation myths inhabited this mythical world. They too can spin stories about their deities, born in caves, slain by other gods, sleeping and dining and speaking. None of these activities were regarded as taking place in history or on earth itself. There is nothing stopping us from thinking that the Lares, as daemons, were part of this framework.

    So, what we have is a “Lares Militaris” figure for the (later) Imperial Claudian family who was at some point regarded as a general for the goddess Roma, the personification of Rome herself. Pagans believed that each country had their own gods that looked out for them. So Julius “Jove’s Son” undertook campaigns against other gods on behalf of Roma. Now, before you can say that we have no evidence for such a belief, keep in mind that the extant literature is frustrating vague, so we should not rule this out. Ignore the evidence for what they really believed for a moment, and just consider those indicators that agree with my theory. They COULD have thought that way, correct? Would you agree with that? How could you rule that out? Did I mention that the extant literature is frustratingly vague?

    ConnorO: For the sort of very public and explicit religious innovation that could indeed occur, with motives of propaganda, we only need to look at the Augustan reforms in which his own “Genius” was to be worshipped. It seems to me you’re inventing a conspiracy which would have been needless and actually counterproductive, given the ways in which powerful Romans of the era could and did manipulate traditional religious expression for political ends.

    Where have I mentioned conspiracy? I haven’t. All I’m saying is that people over a wide area believed in a celestial figure called Julius “Jove’s Son”. Then someone wrote a story setting him on earth. Within a few generations everyone started to think this figure was historical, and the belief in the celestial figure disappeared, and no-one ever noticed and/or mentioned this change because of later proto-orthodox Claudian hegemony. Where is the conspiracy?
     

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

    Since you’re going to be a reall a-hole and not respect my wish to interact no further with such a derisive and self-satisfied person, I will respond once more. I am not uninformed. I may well be mistaken, but if so it was only in the interest of exploring in the spirit of free inquiry an idea that I believe holds promise for explaining what to me are some deeply puzzling features of the earliest Christian texts. Just lay off, okay. I’ve heard all your arguments and supposed proofs before, and I’m just not interested in addressing them. Be happy with your spurious certainty and leave me alone in my benighted doubt.

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

    Where is the conspiracy?
    The wholesale reinvention of the ineluctably public, longstanding traditional cultus surrounding the Lares Militaris. I get the joke, Don. But it is not inherently ridiculous to at least explore the idea that the traditional view of Paul (and others) has insufficiently appreciated how alien ancient worldviews can be. The Roman no less than the Eastern, but the literature is actually not as vague as you make out in the former case. Late Republican Romans themselves had some questions about the origins and rationales for many of their traditions, and so we have a number of pretty explicit expositions of their import for elite contemporaries, not to mention a host of inscriptions outlining the official story.

  • Kris

    You are clearly uninformed about ancient history as you are defending the Jesus Myth. You can ask me not to respond to your nonsense but I am not under any  obligation whatsoever to  honor that and certainly as you are putting that nonsense on a public forum I am free to explain why it is garbage.

    If you wanted to seriously research ancient history and early Christianity you would read scholars, not bumbling inepts such as Doherty.

    If you hawk the Jesus myth do not be surprised that rational people  refute and question your rationality.

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

    ConnorO, I don’t think that anyone but religious conservatives would object to exploration. But it is no longer exploration when, having had the difficulties of your claims pointed out to you, as Earl Dohery for instance has, you insist that they must be right and all the experts woefully misguided.

    As for the earlier comment, I was not referring only to the Davidic Messiah concept, but also that (1) messiahs were by definition human, the term coming from the custom of anointing King’s and priests with oil, messianic expectations being the expectation that God would restore the rightful possessors to these roles; (2) angels and celestial figures were not given ordinary human names; and (3) self-proclaimed Pharisaic monotheists did not, as a rule, borrow dying and rising godss from mystery cults – to name but a few issues that come to mind.

  • Gakuseidon

    ConnorO: Where is the conspiracy?
    The wholesale reinvention of the ineluctably public, longstanding traditional cultus surrounding the Lares Militaris. I get the joke, Don. But it is not inherently ridiculous to at least explore the idea that the traditional view of Paul (and others) has insufficiently appreciated how alien ancient worldviews can be. The Roman no less than the Eastern, but the literature is actually not as vague as you make out in the former case. Late Republican Romans themselves had some questions about the origins and rationales for many of their traditions, and so we have a number of pretty explicit expositions of their import for elite contemporaries, not to mention a host of inscriptions outlining the official story.

    To be serious for a moment: I agree with you. We do have a good understanding of how the Romans thought back then, and I believe that we can apply it to Doherty’s theories as well as my “Julius Jove’s God” theory, and in both cases the theories fall short of the evidence. But that’s the whole point of this exercise, isn’t it?

    The origin of Julius Caesar as a Claudian household god isn’t that important for my theory. All I need to note is that Julius Caesar was regarded as a saviour god. (There is apparently an inscription that calls him, “descendant of Mars and Venus Genetrix, revealed God and universal savior of the human race.”) From there, my “Julius Jove’s Son” theory leverages off Doherty’s “World of Myth” concept. Here is how Doherty describes pagan beliefs in his “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man”:

    “For all its jarring incongruity with our modern outlook, not to mention centuries of tradition about an earthly Jesus, this is a view that would have been perfectly at home in the philosophical and mythical thinking of the time. It was, in fact, a view shared by a whole range of pagan salvation cults, each of which had its own savior god who had performed deeds in the mythical world. Like Paul’s Christ, savior gods such as Attis and Osiris had been killed; like Paul’s Christ, Osiris had been buried (after being dismembered); like Christ on the third day, Adonis and Dionysos had been resurrected from death. It will be argued that in the cults all these things were not regarded as historical; they had taken place in the Platonic world of myth and higher reality… (page 19)”

    What I’ve done is insert the “savior god Julius Caesar” into the above framework. There was a “divus Julius” cult in the early empire. Is there any reason why a mystery “divus Julius” cult had the beliefs that Doherty expressed above? That is, that the saviour god called “Julius Caesar” performed acts in the Platonic world of myth and higher reality (just like Attis, Osiris, Dionysus and Adonis!), including campaigning against foreign gods? Just concentrating on how Romans thought about a “World of Myth” for a moment: Is not such a scenario possible?
     

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    What I find a little amusing, and a bit perplexing to say the least, is that none of you, regardless of your positions, accepts Jesus in the manner the Bible portrays him. The Bible portrays him as the unique son of God who plays a key role in God’s divine plan. Mainstream scholarship and historians accept the existence of Jesus, but they usually strip away all divine associations and portray him as an ordinary man of the first century who started a movement. Then we have mythicism, where everything is stripped away, except for the mythical stories that were passed down. You guys can believe whatever you want, it makes no difference to me. However, I feel that the reasons why Jesus’ story was offered to us in the first place, has a much greater impact on his existence then merely trying to prove his historical existence. If Jesus was truly who the Bible makes him out to be, then the historical evidence you are looking for may have been purposely suppressed. (John 20:29) “Jesus said to him: ‘Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.’” Have any archeologist discovered any undisputed evidence for any major biblical figure or artifact? No, and there are probably a number of explanations as to why, but my view is that God has suppressed this evidence in some fashion. This would have been done for a few reasons, one of which would be to prevent it from being misused. Therefore, it is only logical that if your intention is to believe Jesus is who he said he was, then attempting to prove his existence by historical methods are hopeless.

    I know most of you do not accept this sort of thing, but if you are going to strip away all divine associations from Jesus and reduce God’s promises to the sayings of a wise man, and then base your acceptance or rejection of this man on the merits of historical evidence, I don’t really see the point in having such heated arguments on the subject. Are you fighting to defend the son of God or your own egos?

  • Kris

    Actually we fight to defend mainstream history from academic assault.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Okay, I can accept that coming from you, as I believe you had said you were agnostic. But what about the rest of what I said? Do you agree that if Jesus truly is the son of God, then a historical search for his existence might be a fruitless endeavor? Unless of course you could never accept the idea of Jesus being God’s son.

  • Kris

    Obviously if Christianity is true then our models of Jesus are flawed, there are you happy?

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      No, not particularly, are your smug remarks suppose to make me happy?

      By the way, which Christianity and which models of Jesus would you be referring to? Considering your position, obviously they are the wrong ones. :)

  • Kris

    I really don’t know what you want me ( us) to say. Obviously if Christianity is true then our skeptical models are false. We just don’t think it is true and therefore the resurrecting dead dude model is not convincing to me(us)

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Okay then, that pretty much tells me everything I want to hear.

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

    I don’t accept Howard’s claims, or Kris’ concession to them. If a historian investigates any of the many figures past and present about whom miracle stories are told, and rightly adopt the stance that a claim to a miracle is never probable and thus can never be judged as historical, they would still get much right about the individual, and might even acknowledge that their contemporaries believed they could do miracles. All that would be missing would be the affirmation that they actually did so. And so I do not accept the statement that what history produces is flawed even if there really have been miracle-workers at some point. History does what it can with the tools it uses. That there are some claims that those tools cannot do much useful with is due to the nature of the situation and the need to use deductive reasoning.

    And for what it’s worth, there are Christians (from the more conservative like Tom Wright to the liberal like Marcus Borg) who find the historical study of Jesus useful even from a Christian perspective, because it provides a challenge to the imposition or projection of dogma or personal preference onto him.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Jonathan, would you like to compare Greek, Roman and Egyptian images of
    Zeus/Jupiter/Amun and tell me they have “very little variation”?//

    Why? It’s expected that one culture will re-interpret the myths of another culture, and present them differently. It just proves that they’re myths. I note you didn’t address anything else I wrote.

    //But
    even better — how about the stability of the images in sculpture of
    Jesus vs. … for example Julius Caesar or Socrates.//

    Pagan Romans smashed all the authentic early sculptures of Jesus, so we don’t have any.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I think you have completely missed my point. If you could imagine just for a minute, that everything the Bible says about Jesus was true. Not that he was merely a miracle worker, but that he was the divine son of God, sent to earth to complete God’s plan of salvation and that life changing heart felt belief was paramount to his followers. I’m asking if this scenario was in any way feasibly possible, then the historical approach might be inadequate to rely on for belief in Jesus. I say this because, if all this were actually true, God wants heart felt belief through his words and promises and not because you HAVE to believe on the grounds of undisputed physical evidence. And that might be why there is no undisputed physical evidence. Could this hypothetically be the case?

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

    @Howard, sure it could hypothetically be the case. And then you have the problem that you are positing a deity who sends a miraculous messenger into the world and leaves later generations with no choice but to either choose to believe or to choose not to, or to be fortunate enough to be born into a family that already believes and fosters belief. And that seems to me theologically problematic, whatever one’s view about history. But since the focus here is on comparing Jesus mythicism and Caesar mythicism, I would prefer not to have the discussion sidetracked onto a different topic, if you don’t mind.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, okay that’s fine. But there is an answer to the problem you raised. I’ll save that for another day.

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

    What I’ve done is insert the “savior god Julius Caesar” into the above
    framework. There was a “divus Julius” cult in the early empire. Is there
    any reason why a mystery “divus Julius” cult had the beliefs that
    Doherty expressed above? That is, that the saviour god called “Julius
    Caesar” performed acts in the Platonic world of myth and higher reality
    (just like Attis, Osiris, Dionysus and Adonis!), including campaigning
    against foreign gods? Just concentrating on how Romans thought about a
    “World of Myth” for a moment: Is not such a scenario possible?

    In this much more general formulation, of course I think such an instance of mythmaking would be eminently possible in many religious systems of the ancient world. But for the JC vs. JC mythicist analogy to work it has both to be possible for the myth to arise and possible to excise the putatively historical figure from reconstructions of the period altogether. That changes everything for the last years of the Roman republic in the case of Caesar, and nothing at all of consequence for the period 20 to 50 CE in greater Palestine except for the inspiration and Sitz im Leben of a few literary texts.

    James,
    (1) messiahs were by definition human, the term coming from the custom
    of anointing King’s and priests with oil, messianic expectations being
    the expectation that God would restore the rightful possessors to these
    roles;

    I know where the term comes from, and I don’t need remedial lessons of this sort. I’m a kook, remember, I’m not stupid. What is of interest, though, is not where it came from, but where it was going. “Rightful possessors” is elite talk, and I think it’s short-sighted to imagine that popular eschatological expression was limited to the forms we find among those who were actually disenfranchised from the roles they still hoped could be restored. Roman hegemony must for many have been perceived as the death knell for any “restored role” of autonomous kingship over the Holy Land. In areas marginal to Jerusalem and especially in the diaspora, it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine a deliberate inversion of the conquering messiah taking root: an expression of piety as found in the prophets, the Suffering Servant as the presiding king of a just kingdom whose only true sovereign can ever be God.

    (2) angels and celestial figures were not given ordinary human
    names;

    I guess Paul didn’t think Jesus was an angel then.

    and (3) self-proclaimed Pharisaic monotheists did not, as a rule,
    borrow dying and rising godss from mystery cults

    Nor did they as a general rule exalt executed dissidents to positions of cosmic glory. On either scenario, I think we have to accept that, by our standards, and by the contemporary standards of self-proclaimed Pharisaic monotheists, Paul believed some unusual things. Incidentally I wonder what difference “Pharisaic” makes in this context, and how much you think we know about what that meant to Paul. As far as mystery cults generally, the god was not what Paul (and/or his predecessors) borrowed but the terms on which personal access to salvation by a god could be granted. No particular mystery tradition need be the source either. This orientation to religion as something offering potential personal rewards as opposed to public cult practice on behalf of a community is one of the hallmarks of the period. The time was right for such an expression to arise out of Judaism as it had out of other Eastern traditions that had been transplanted in polyglot Hellenistic soil.

    • Gakuseidon

       ConnorO: In this much more general formulation, of course I think such an instance of mythmaking would be eminently possible in many religious systems of the ancient world. But for the JC vs. JC mythicist analogy to work it has both to be possible for the myth to arise and possible to excise the putatively historical figure from reconstructions of the period altogether.

      It’s not an analogy, it’s a thought experiment. Using similar arguments used by mythicists, is it possible to wish away the evidence supporting a historical Julius Caesar? Has anyone set out to prove that there was a historical Julius? No. Does everyone just assume that there was? Yes, of course. People have considered this as a settled question. Should they consider it as a settled question?

      My thought experiment theory:

      * Julius Caesar “Jove’s Son” was originally a celestial being that was part of a “Divus Julius” mystery cult. As Doherty tells us, many people thought their saviour gods acted out in a celestial realm.
      * Around 20 CE some people started writing stories that placed this Julius Caesar on earth, probably to legitimize the emerging Augustus Emperor cult. The newly voted God Augustus was the Son and heir of the God Caesar.
      * Within a few generations the original mystery cult had died out, replaced by a cult that believed that Julius Caesar was historical. Why did they die out? It doesn’t matter. They just did.
      * Since the original mystery cult died out, why would anyone question that Julius Caesar was never on earth? So we don’t find anyone questioning it.
      * Stories created by the Claudian family were created to show Julius Caesar interacting with powerful people of his day. Works by Cicero, etc, probably referred to one or more actual people, possibly Claudian ancestors, but these were changed to Julius Caesar.
      * By the time we get to Plutarch, Tacitus and Suetonius, they are just reporting hearsay, so can’t be used for support.

      Isn’t all this at least possible? Doesn’t it provide a valid scenario to question the historicity of Julius Caesar?

      I hereby declare that scholars should take my theory seriously. Never mind that I am just posting this in a blog. Are scholars afraid of Julius Caesar mythicism? And if scholars do address my theory, I’ll take that as vindication that I am on to something.

  • Kris

    Beallen , you are one of the thickest people I have ever come across .
    None of that archaeological evidence proves either Arminius or Boadicea existed. To know that we have to use secondary sources such as Tacticus and   Suetonius. Good luck using  archaeological remains alone  to prove Arminius and Boadicea ever existed. And without using Tacticus and Suetonius how could you put those archaeological discoveries in context? Do you think archaeologist  pulled out of the ground a bronze placard  in Latin saying ” I was here, Arminius”.Let’s quote the full passage of Tacticus.Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expiredDo you know any other figure that remotely fits the bill?  Was it the other Christians who followed the other Jesus executed by the other Pontius Pilate under the reign of the other Tiberius?  Are we in the Twilight Zone now Beallen?Suetonius”As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [ Claudius ] expelled them [the Jews] from Rome.What other figure besides Jesus fits the bill Beallen? What other messianic figure do we know of that was divisive among Jews at this time period?I would attribute your arguments to deception if I did not realize they were just gross incompetence. 

  • Kris

    Beallen , you are one of the thickest people I have ever come across .

    None of that archaeological evidence proves either Arminius or Boadicea existed. To know that we have to use secondary sources such as Tacticus and   Suetonius. Good luck using  archaeological remains alone  to prove Arminius and Boadicea ever existed. And without using Tacticus and Suetonius how could you put those archaeological discoveries in context? Do you think archaeologist  pulled out of the ground a bronze placard  in Latin saying ” I was here, Arminius”.Let’s quote the full passage of Tacticus.Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.Do you know any other figure that remotely fits the bill?  Was it the other Christians who followed the other Jesus executed by the other Pontius Pilate under the reign of the other Tiberius?  Are we in the Twilight Zone now Beallen?Suetonius”As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [ Claudius ] expelled them [the Jews] from Rome.What other figure besides Jesus fits the bill Beallen? What other messianic figure do we know of that was divisive among Jews at this time period?I would attribute your arguments to deception if I did not realize they were just gross incompetence.

    • Anonymous

      This argument suggests that when an author from antiquity tells us about a battle, including the relative sizes of the armies, the names of their leaders and the results of the battle, and then in the modern era we dig up the battlefield and find that the ancient source was correct in the particulars of this description, that doesn’t allow us to conclude that the names of the participants were correct. Yet, when an ancient source gives us the details of a story that predates the birth of the author and was likely derived from an extant story, this is equivalent proof of its veracity. I fail to see how these two situations are analogous.

  • Kris

    I give up on the spacing here folks, sorry.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //There are archaeological sites in Britain and Germany that match the
    strata and nature of battles that both Boudicea and Arminius were
    reported to have engaged the Romans that we know of from extant texts of
    antiquity, uncorroborated until the 20th century.//

    That tells us nothing about either Boudicea or Arminius. It just shows there were some battles there that people knew about. It provides no evidence that either Boudicea or Arminius were at the battles. Of course, once the battles had been fought then anyone could say what they liked about who had allegedly been involved. Who would know otherwise?

    • Anonymous

      Jonathan, you are of course correct that it doesn’t guarantee their existence. They are not as well attested as Garibaldi, for example. Yet if there were battles, both sides must have had leaders. If the ancient source accurately described the location, size of the battle and outcome, this goes to the reliability of the source, as this source could hardly have faked a battle site, corpses and all, and this suggests that the ancient source is likely to be correct about the names of the combatants, but it is possible that it is incorrect. What evidence is there to suggest other battle leaders for the Celts and Germans at these battle sites however? Certainly nobody is going to guarantee Garibaldi-level certainty, and nothing hangs on the historicity of a given named combatant, since the battles clearly took place anyway. In no way is this analogous to the story of Jesus.

  • Gabriel

    I don’t think anyone is afraid of Julius Caesar being a myth. But even your theory is slightly flawed from my own, very limited, understanding.

    Written evidence: Jesus No – Julius Caesar Yes
    Artefacts: Jesus No – Julius Caesar Yes
    Cross References by enemies – Jesus No – Julius Caesar Yes
    etc…

    In any case, the problem is that Christianity is, in my opinion, strongly supported on the assumption of the existence of Jesus Christ and that all the things he said he did were true and that he really died in the Cross and then came back from the dead to save us all from our sins.

    Such claims, arguably, are bigger than anything any other person has ever claimed and supposedly from the son of God.

    The evidence is lacking or at least seriously incomplete. God sends his only son to earth and he doesn’t even do it properly!

    In any case, history is written by the winners and we will likely never be able to prove one point or the other conclusively.

    Gabriel

    Sorry if my English is not the most clear, I am not a native speaker.

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

    ConnorO, It certainly is not impossible that there were other people who believed other things in those times, but do you really think that we should set aside conclusions based on surviving evidence because of what might have been but for which we have no evidence? Can something that involves what might have been but for which we have no evidence ever be judged more likely than a reconstruction based on surviving evidence?

    Paul continued to affirm that he was a monotheist, that there is no God but one, and that seems to make what Earl Doherty and others envisage problematic, to say the least.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //In any case, the problem is that Christianity is, in my opinion,
    strongly supported on the assumption of the existence of Jesus Christ
    and that all the things he said he did were true and that he really died
    in the Cross and then came back from the dead to save us all from our
    sins.//

    Do you honestly believe that’s why scholars such as Ehrman, Fox, and Grant accept a historical Jesus? Atheists and agnostics assume ‘the existence of Jesus Christ
    and that all the things he said he did were true and that he really died
    in the Cross and then came back from the dead to save us all from our
    sins’?

    Your English is great by the way, for someone who isn’t a native speaker.

    • Gabriel

      Thanks for your reply.

      I haven’t read any of those scholars (yet!). I have only read the NT (NIV) and have just bought the Richmond Lattimore version to compare it against.

      I have also bought Earl Doherty’s latest book. I also plan to buy other books (from N.T Wrighht to Ertman) but I have to start somewhere.

      BTW I was very disappointed at James McGrath’s Amazon review of Doherty’s book. I was expecting a well argued reply which could refute some of Doherty’s arguments but instead we just had a bit about his degree and it being a self-published book.

      • Jonathan Burke

        //BTW I was very disappointed at James McGrath’s Amazon review of
        Doherty’s book. I was expecting a well argued reply which could refute
        some of Doherty’s arguments but instead we just had a bit about his
        degree and it being a self-published book.//

        Well he has nine posts up here on his blog critiquing Doherty’s book in more detail, for your reading pleasure.

        • Gabriel

          Thanks – I wasn’t aware, I just stumbled with this blog the other day after reading Tom Verenna’s blog.

          In any case, I think I will read Doherty’s book first and then tackle the more in-depth reviews (positive and negative).

          I was just complaining about his review in Amazon as it doesn’t really give any real insight about the book.

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

    Can something that involves what might have been but for which we have no evidence ever be judged more likely than a reconstruction based on surviving evidence?

    As long as we’re shifting to arguing via leading rhetorical questions, I will ask:
    Would the contention that “Jesus rose bodily from the dead and made apearences to his followers that cannot be explained by ecstatic visions or the like” fall under the category ‘what might have been but for which we have no evidence’ or ‘a reconstruction based on surviving evidence’? (Say this contention were offered as a challenge to your cognitive dissonance reconstruction.)

    And, less rhetorically, when we have competing and mutually exclusive reconstructions based on surviving evidence, none of which, in our judgement, account for the observable facts completely unproblematically, is it ever legitimate to suspend judgment on all of them and investigate a novel reconstruction based on interpreting the surviving evidence differently? That is, does the mere existence of a reconstruction based on surviving evidence –any such reconstruction– compel me to accept it without question? Is there anything wrong with looking for evidence to support a conjecture of what might have been but for which to date there is no evidence?

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Yet, when an ancient source gives us the details of a story that
    predates the birth of the author and was likely derived from an extant
    story, this is equivalent proof of its veracity.//

    What? Who says this?

    //Jonathan, you are of course correct that it doesn’t guarantee their existence.//

    Great, I’m glad we agree.

  • Kris

    Fill in the blank Beallen. The archaeological evidence for Arminius and Boadicea is as follows……

    Of course we do not have direct archaeological evidence for Jesus, but we have plenty of evidence from archaeology for many of places and people mentioned by the NT authors. It is a perfect analogy,we do not have primary sources for Arminius and Boadicea.  We use secondary sources about them. We do not have primary sources about Jesus, so therefore we use secondary sources.

    However I do have to break the news to Beallen, we do not have any archaeological sites that of sure can be tied to the Boadicea Revolt, we just have at best possible sites. And none of those sites once have had anything found stating ” Boadicea was here”.

    So without secondary sources give me and evidence for Arminius and Boadicea. And explain why you would use  either Suetonius or Tacticus sense as a myther you must think they are unreliable.

  • Kris

    So now  Rasputin  never existed using Beallen’s arguments…..

  • Kris

    I guess Beallen thinks there has never ever been an African Shaman either, or New Orleans Voodoo Priestess.  What a failed argument from him, again.

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

    Thanks for pointing out my extensive interaction with Doherty’s book here (which is still ongoing). If Amazon allowed me to link to that more extensive discussion, I would have.

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

    ConnorO, I think that once someone has published a book on a subject, and people around the Internet are claiming that it offers the decisive treatment of a subject, it is time to cease suspending judgment and offer critical evaluation of the claims being made. That is what happens to those of us who work in academia, and if those who pretend to offer historical, scientific, or other scholarly perspectives cannot handle critical analysis, then they should cease claiming to want to be treated as serious, credible and authoritative. Because the only route to becoming an expert in a field is the rigorous and at times depressing process of submitting your work to the scrutiny of your peers, who have little tolerance for unsubstantiated claims and unconvincing arguments.

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

    Okay. To be clear, I do not subscribe to Doherty’s thesis in all its particulars, and I don’t think that a comprehensive or strongly persuasive case for any particular mythicist scenario or reconstruction has been made. I do not read “mythicists” (except for one of Wells’ books, a long time ago), I read mainstream history and New Testament scholarship with a critical mindset and try to integrate what I learn and draw my own (always tentative) conclusions.

    I guess since Doherty’s is the nearest attempt at any such mythicist reconstruction, this is inevitable, but I feel like no matter what questions I actually raise, my arguments are treated as proxies for Doherty’s. My main thrust in all of this is that I find the mainstream reconstructions of the historical Jesus and the rise of Christianity inadequate also. So I’m in limbo; I cannot with integrity say that I accept the mainstream consensus as it stands, but merely for asking questions along lines that are at least sympathetic to mythicist ideas, I am abused by members of your commentariat for committing “academic assault” and other histrionic charges.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //So I’m in limbo; I cannot with integrity say that I accept the
    mainstream consensus as it stands, but merely for asking questions along
    lines that are at least sympathetic to mythicist ideas, I am abused by
    members of your commentariat for committing “academic assault” and other
    histrionic charges.//

    I don’t think you’ve suffered any abuse here other than at the hands of Kris. Certainly no one is actually abusing you merely for asking questions.

  • Kris

    In fairness to me I did not abuse him at all, he simply whined I was abusing him when I called nonsense nonsense.

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

    ConnorO, as I have said many times before, I can empathize with a principled agnosticism and with dissatisfaction with prevailing paradigms. Dissatisfaction is a key step to improvement. My quarrel is with those who claim to be offering something better when it is plain to those familiar with the field that they do not.

    Perhaps you could say more about what you do and do not find plausible in the prevailing paradigm, and what you do and do not find plausible in Doherty’s? If you can compare either or both to Julius Caesar mythicism, that would be an added plus, helping keep the discussing on track? :-)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PJ6PZMYZVJL4CGQBUYBVMQSDPQ james Harrison

    Obviously I’m late to this party, but I was surprised that nobody pointed out that we have an example of what the historical evidence for a real messiah looks like, namely Bar Kokhba. That evidence is, to put it mildly, rather more robust than the obviously fictionalized sacred history one encounters in the New Testament, bolstered, if that’s the right word, by a couple of sketchy remarks by a couple of irritated Roman historians. Instead of engaging in the so’s-your-old-man school of apologetics by cooking up an incredibly farfetched analogy between the evidence for Julius Caesar and the evidence for a historical Jesus, how about coming up with a plausible story explaining that Bar Kokhba was actually a fictional character invented after the fact?

    I think the debate about the historical Jesus are rather like the old bit about the revisionist expert who argued that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays. The true author was a different man with the same name. The theme ingredient in this two thousand year long episode of Iron Chief Theology may have been a thirty or forty year old Jewish zealot/mystic/cynic/rabbi, but whoever he was, if he was, he has long sense disappeared under the sauces and garnishes. That anybody still cares, anybody who doesn’t actually drink the entire chalice of kool aid including the resurrection, that is, is a testimony to the enduring power of the Myth of Mythology, the peculiar idea that the origin of a thing explains what it becomes later on. That there had to be a real Jesus even if he was just a man. I’m reminded of the people who think that they would understand the flood myth better if it turned out that it was really about a particular flood.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Obviously I’m late to this party, but I was surprised that nobody
    pointed out that we have an example of what the historical evidence for a
    real messiah looks like, namely Bar Kokhba.//

    Actually Bar Kochba has been raised several times; I’ve done so myself at least twice. I haven’t seen the Mytherists make any comments on this line of argument.

  • TsfabisiaK

    It’s really funny you would suggest this — a critic of Charles Dupuis satirically applied his methods to the life of Napoleon and in the 1830′s someone wrote a parody of Strauss’ Leben Jesu based on the life of Martin Luther.

  • Deanjay1961

    It only requires a belief in the story, not the story actually being true.

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

      But that still leads naturally back to the question of why someone would invent a Davidic royal heir to claim as the one to restore the kingdom to David’s line, and then invent that they were crucified by the Romans and downplay or have to reinterpret the main features of such Jewish expectations regarding the restoration of the Davidic dynasty.

      • Deanjay1961

        That’s exactly the reason I put the probability of an historical Jesus over 50%, but it’s still based on features of the narrative, not the kind of robust evidence there is for Julius Caesar. I’m not a mythicist, but I don’t think the case for the existence of an historical Jesus is as well-supported as the case for an historical Caesar.

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

          Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. We almost never have the kind of evidence for teachers and ordinary people that we have for emperors and kings. There is typically more evidence for the latter.

  • ivan

    I am interested in the “Jesus Was Ceasar Hypothesis” as a student of Sociology of Religion and History. The enigmatic origin and spread of Christianity, or Christendom, can now be plausibly accounted for after shedding light on the proto-Ceasaro cult (the worship of the Divus Julius) as the humus from which the Jesus Movement or Christic cult arises.

    Dealing with the biblical and extra-biblical documentary and textual materials – such as the New Testament and Koran – (largely piously plagiarized and forged) is only a tool in understanding the deeper issue of the emergence of the pseudo-Christianistic tradition (from which the pseudo-Islamic tradition is a mere rider, not to mention the other post-Ceasaro-Christianistic-Islamic cults and movements in the fringes of this grand delusion – such as Mormonism, Bahaism, etc.). Here, the study of ancient history, rites and rituals, iconography, symbology, linguistic, archeology, depth psychology must be enlisted to discover the truth.

    The 2000 years of Christianity was an era of mass obscurantism and mind control orchestrated by the established pseudo-religions and governments who have behind them the mainstream media and universities.

    The “Jesus Was Ceasar Hypothesis” is an incendiary idea whose time has come. Thanks to the Enlightenment who birthed the free media in the West and North Hemispheres. The East and South Hemispheres (Third World) can hardly engaged the delusive debunkers of this hypothesis given their contrasting socio-cultural, economic and politico-religious complexions.

    Ceasar Worship is the root of all world religions, past and present. All the so called founders of religions (the pharaohs, emperors, popes, kaliphates, sultanates, ayatollahs, and other cult leaders) are power-and-sex-maniacs whose psychological make-up is a fertile ground for trans-modern psychology reseach.

    And the masses? Forget them! According to Julius Divus: The people believe what the wishes. And who do not wish to be Julius Ceasar? Maybe the Christ? Ah! He carries the burdens and sins of the world! What greater megalomania is there than that? All worst crimes and murders in the world are done in his (and his copycat’s) name.

  • ivan

    To resolve the smackdowm about mythicist for Ceasar and for Jesus why not try to write a one million page Julius Myth and you will be cured of your delusion. It’s easy. You will be given access to the classified files of Vatican and her Universities and all the Think Tank of the Establishment and her Media. You will be given an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Mainstream Universities and appointment of professorship and a best-seller award. It’s simple to be reinforced by thousands years tradition. Just make sure that Julius Ceasar is a myth and Jesus Christ is a Superstar!

    Believers must assume the onus probandi of their belief and not the non-believer. To confute the delusive believer is to confer with a madman. It does nor call for logic. It needs imagination and a lot of (non)-common sense.

    Years back and even now, to say that Jesus is myth, you would be signing your death sentence in the stake for burning. You knock at the Vatican and Lateran Archives and Library and the response is enough to tell you that the believers are the real conspiracist. You talk to a Dean of Religious Studies and Theology of a pretigious university and its enough to realize that the institutions of higher? learning are peopled by cretins or cretans.

    What happened to Galileo happened to classical mythicist or non-historicist (Drews, Lessing, Baurs etc.)

  • ivan

    The classical mythicist are real scholars my friend (Drews, for one). The Mythicist Theory does arise as a purely polemical exigengy against fundamentalist and dogmatist obscurantism. It is the apologetical reaction of the mainstream religious intelligentia which is anything but scholarly. The historical materials for the historicity of Jesus are highly problematic from the start, and such problematique is hidden or suppressed by millenia of Christendom, religious bigotry, pseudo-academic obscurantism and scholarly pretense. We must be clear, the question of the historicity of Jesus is a function of modern biblical studies and scientific advance.

    Religious Studies (and the inter-disciplinary ancilla) as secular science is a modern thing and this “polemic” would have been unimaginable prior to our life-time, even as a common table talk, at least in Europe and Americas, the main inheritors of Ceasaro tradition.

    We cannot relegate this polemics to the so called scholars whose brain and stomach are fed and paid by the universities and publishing houses chartered by the establishment of whatever side of the religious divides. The pseudo-Paul reminds us of this.

    For me the existence is Christ (historical or otherwise) is not a purely academic question (powerful or otherwise). The question of the the existence of Jesus (mythic or otherwise) is also a question of power (academic or otherwise).

    At the heart of the “Jesus Was Ceasar Theory” is the question of power and power of question. Now we are glimpsing the answer.


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