Responding to Richard Carrier’s Response to Bart Ehrman

I linked previously to Bart Ehrman’s piece on whether Jesus existed in The Huffington Post. A response has been written by Richard Carrier (also discussed by Tom Verenna and Neil Godfrey), and I want here to point out some problems with that response.

Let me begin by emphasizing that when scholars write op-ed pieces for newspapers, what we write almost never ends up preserving the precise nuance that we consider important. I do not believe I have ever had such a piece published that did not end up having editorial changes made to the wording. Public scholarship of this sort involves a trade-off – we either allow others less concerned about nuance and accuracy be the only voices, or we participate despite the fact that we are unable to ensure that our precise wording will be what people get to hear. And so anyone who picks apart the wording of Ehrman’s recent piece in the Huffington Post, rather than interpreting it in light of what he says elsewhere and what mainstream scholarship concludes, is at best engaging editors rather than Ehrman himself, and at worst using quotes from a brief summary for a popular audience in order to assess a matter of mainstream scholarship.

And so before proceeding, let me offer this clip from PRWeb, a promotional video with Ehrman speaking in his own words:

YouTube Preview Image

Now, on to Richard Carrier’s response. It is called “Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism.” And it is a disappointing and ineffective response that will only carry weight with people who desperately want there not to have been a historical Jesus, so much so that they cease to care about historical methods and evidence. It is disappointing to find folks like P. Z. Myers, who works so hard to defend science from internet attackers, applauding a similar attack on mainstream history.

Carrier’s main points relate to the main points of Ehrman’s op-ed piece, and so let me address each one. But let me begin with the end, because Carrier engages in a common mythicist tactic also used by promoters of other forms of pseudoscholarship: begin with the less strong evidence and sow doubt, in the hope that when you get to the stronger evidence, your audience will be inclined to accept your implausible dismissal of it.

Carrier describes as “Ehrman’s only evidence” Paul’s reference in Galatians to having met “James the brother of the Lord.” He attempts to sow doubt about the meaning, but the phrase is clear. There is no evidence for any Jews in Paul’s time speaking of God having a brother, and so the most natural reference is to Jesus being the Lord here, as indeed Paul refers to him often with this title. Carrier then follows mythicists like Earl Doherty in trying to suggest that “brother(s) of” can mean the same thing as “brother(s) in.” But the two phrases are obviously distinct in meaning, and based on the evidence available, it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as “brothers of the Lord.” (I should add even using the term “Christians” is anachronistic). Carrier’s attempt to appeal to New Testament sources as evidence to the contrary, when those same sources provide evidence of a historical Jesus, is very strange indeed, and thoroughly unpersuasive.

Carrier also mentions other possibilities – that some part of the phrase could be an interpolation. But if one is willing to posit interpolations where the manuscript evidence does not show evidence of such interpolation, then one can draw any conclusion. The historian, however, seeks to draw the best conclusion possible based on the evidence we have. And so Carrier, at this point if not before, has moved from being a historian to being an apologist for mythicism. He is clearly and unambiguously trying to make a case for a predetermined conviction, not follow the evidence where it leads. The evidence we have available leads in a particular direction, and mythicist use denialist tactics to try to obscure this point.

Now let me return to some of Carrier’s other points, which he disingenuously lists as Ehrman’s “mistakes” as though these are errors, as opposed to either shorthand summary of conclusions Ehrman argues for at greater length, or simple facts that have not been articulated in the writing or editing process as precisely or clearly as they could have. That you do not accept what someone says does not make it a “mistake.” And even though Carrier acknowledges that they may not be mistakes on more than one occasion, that does not stop him from listing them as such over and over again.

The first “mistake” is surely not that. Ehrman points out that Roman sources do not mention Pontius Pilate. Presumably he does not mean writers of the Roman era, but Roman authors in the strict sense, since there is no way that Ehrman could possibly be unaware that Philo and Josephus made reference to Pilate. And so clearly his point is that, much as we do not find Roman authors in that same sense contemporary with Jesus referring to him, we do not find Roman authors contemporary with Pilate referring to him. We have authors who had some particular interest mentioning him, because they had motives to do so. Likewise with Jesus. If this is the case for a major provincial functionary in Roman government, why is anyone surprised that such authors do not mention Jesus? And as with the historical figure of Jesus, where Philo mentions correspondence between Agrippa and Augustus, what we have is the wording of Philo, but that does not mean that there was no such letter, nor that Philo fails to accurately indicate even the gist of the actual letter. Such comparisons are in fact a key reason why historians are universally confident that there was a historical Jesus, even while emphasizing that the material attributed to him by ancient sources regularly gives at best the gist and not the ipsissima verba of Jesus.

Carrier’s mention of inscriptions leaves off the obvious reason why we have no inscriptions referring to Jesus: prefects and procurators and governors and kings made inscriptions, as did other public functionaries. When, where, and why would a figure like Jesus have made an inscription, or had one made that referred to him? Mythicists regularly and frustratingly fail to compare like with like.

To give credit where credit is due, however, Carrier in the process of his response offers what is in fact a statement that defends rather than discredits mainstream historical scholarship about Jesus and early Christianity:

The only explanation for why Philo never mentions Christianity is that it was not as important to Jews as Acts depicts, but was a tiny fringe cult of no significant interest to the Jewish elite. And that is an important conclusion. Mythicists will say he doesn’t mention Jesus because there was no Jesus, but that does not explain why he doesn’t mention Christianity. Certainly, if Jesus was as famous and controversial as the Gospels and Acts depict, then Philo’s lack of interest in either the man or the threatening and grandiose claims made about him becomes improbable, but if we accept that the Gospels and Acts hugely exaggerate his fame and importance, then Philo’s disinterest goes back to being probable again. The consequence of this is that you must accept that Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. One must therefore conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus. I don’t think Ehrman disagrees with that conclusion, but he loses sight of it in his attempt to mock the importance of this kind of evidence, the silence of external sources.

This is (apart from the very last clause, perhaps) a wonderful statement of the very point Ehrman is seeking to make, as Carrier seems to realize. Yet for some reason, Carrier aligns himself against Ehrman and mainstream scholarship even when articulating the evidence in favor of its conclusions.

The second “mistake” Carrier refers to is in reference to the following statement by Ehrman:

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.

Carrier makes much of the statement “we have” but once again there is no sense in which Ehrman could reasonably be thought to be claiming that he has a copy of Q, for instance. His meaning is not ambiguous, nor is it mistaken. There are good, solid reasons for discerning behind our New Testament sources earlier ones, both written and oral, which reflect a specifically Jewish setting in an Aramaic-speaking linguistic environment. One of the many problematic aspects of mythicism is that it makes much of vague parallels to non-Jewish religions, while failing to do justice to the unambiguous evidence that what we now refer to as Christianity arose in a Jewish context that was committed to monotheism, observant of the Jewish Law, and unlikely to create a fictional Messiah based on pagan myths. And while mythicists either try to cast doubt with respect to the evidence or ignore it, it remains the case that there are points of contact between the letters of Paul and the Gospels which point clearly to material which later got embedded in the Gospels existing in Paul’s time and being known to him. His use of the Aramaic Abba meaning “father” and his reference to teaching about divorce that comes from “not I but the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7 can be interpreted in all sorts of creative ways, but not more persuasively than is done in mainstream historical scholarship, i.e. in terms of knowledge of Jesus tradition that later was recorded in the Gospels.

Since this post is getting long, and Carrier says that “mistake #3″ is technically not a mistake at all, let me skip to #4. Perhaps Ehrman ought to have said explicitly “Davidic Messiah” to avoid ambiguity. But Ehrman is clearly correct that there was no expectation prior to the rise of Christianity that a Davidic Messiah – i.e. the one who would restore the kingdom to the line of David – would be executed by the foreign empire ruling over the Jewish people. And Ehrman’s point about this being unlikely to have been made up still stands. In theory, anything can be invented. But if we are asking what is likely, as historians are supposed to, then the evidence fits more naturally a scenario in which a historical figure was crucified and those who believed him to be the Davidic Messiah found ways of maintaining their beliefs in spite of the cognitive dissonance caused by his crucifixion.

Carrier’s discussion of probabilities (using Bayes’ theorem) regarding what sort of Messiah people would or would not invent misses the point, in my opinion. People discussed “Messiahs” – i.e. anointed ones – they expected to appear in human history. For the most part, the focus was on the expected descendants of David and Aaron who would restore the kingship and high priesthood to the rightful lines. To suggest that someone invented a Messiah whom they claimed already came, or would never come in history, is to suggest a sort of “creativity” that seems unlikely and ill-fitting with the evidence. The earliest Christians whose writings we have believed that a figure with the ordinary human name Joshua which we render into English “Jesus” was the Davidic anointed one. No mythicist account I have yet encountered makes sense of this most basic piece of evidence.

I won’t extend this post even longer, even though some might feel that I ought to have gone into even more detail on some points. For instance, more could be said about Carrier’s reference to Thomas Thompson’s mythicism which downplays that Thompson’s expertise is in a different area. When people who are scientists but not biologists sign a “dissent from Darwin” document, it is rightly pointed out that this should not obscure the true picture, i.e. the confidence that almost all biologists have in the conclusions of mainstream biological sciences.  And Carrier’s attempt to bring academic freedom into the discussion likewise parallels the tactics used by evolution-deniers. One will ruin one’s career in most contexts not by pursuing an unconventional approach, but by pursuing junk scholarship. Ehrman rightly puts it this way:

These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

Carrier doesn’t address whether he thinks people ought to be allowed to pursue young-earth creationist or intelligent design research in mainstream academic contexts. But his argument is one that proponents of those views have used to argue precisely that. And his point, that people ought to be able to pursue controversial theories if a credible academic case can be made for them is precisely what one finds in the academy, apart from in religiously affiliated contexts which require one to sign a statement of faith and interfere with academic freedom. One can pursue any idea if one can make a credible case for it. Mythicists have not done that yet.

In conclusion, the main thing that has to be said can be said briefly: Ehrman did not make mistakes in his piece, and if there is infelicitous or ambiguous wording, one should not try to use that against him any more than one should accept the use of ambiguous statements by scientists in an attempt to undermine their credibility. It remains the case, Carrier’s lengthy blog post notwithstanding, that the evidence available leads most naturally to the conclusion that a historical Jesus more likely existed than not. The attempt to manufacture controversy about this is one of the reasons why mythicists are rightly compared to creationists and other denialists.


  • Brad

    Nice. I’ve thought about this topic more than most but not as much as a expert on the topic. For sure I may “borrow” your Pilate comparison. Never made that connection until now!

  • Anonymous

    I think one of the reasons I have always been such a big fan of Ehrman is that he does such a good job of laying out the evidence fairly.  I often see internet apologists write things like “What Ehrman doesn’t tell you is. . . .”  However, when I check him out for myself, I invariably find that he did address the point that was allegedly omitted.  Even when I have disagreed with Ehrman’s conclusions, I have always felt like I had an accurate picture of the evidence upon which his conclusions are based.

    As a result, I was very disappointed to see Ehrman write “we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels” because we don’t.  What we have are hypothetical reconstructions of those sources (a point which I happily understand Ehrman makes clear in the book), and like it or not, how scholars reconstruct those sources depends to some extent on the assumptions they make about historicity.   I don’t think it can be fairly claimed that those hypothetical reconstructions are part of the evidence that we have for historicity.  They are inferences that we draw from the evidence we have.  They may be very reasonable inferences, but we don’t have them.

    BTW, I know you won’t believe it, but I really couldn’t care less whether there was a historical Jesus or not.  The last thing in the world I want is to be associated with Holocaust deniers, Young Earth Creationists, Birthers, or 911 Truthers.  I have already ordered Did Jesus Exist? and I would love nothing more than for Ehrman to make a compelling case for a historical Jesus.  Nevertheless, I was very disappointed in Ehrman’s HuffPost article and I think that Carrier’s criticisms are fair.

  • Antonio Jerez

    I actually have to agree with Vinny that Ehrmans piece was pretty weak. I myself don´t see any of the gospels as independent of each other. The author of GJohn definitely knew at least GMark. And I cannot fathom what aramaic sources Ehrman claims can be dated to “within just a year or to of his (Jesus) life”. Happily James has made sharpened the arguments of Ehrman considerably. Yes, Carriers attempts to explain away Paul´s talk about meeting the “brother of the Lord” is just pathetic. Carrier usually has a sharp mind, but sometimes he seems a bit too much in love with his own cleverness for his own good. A good example of how silly things can get is a piece he wrote recently on his blog called “The God impossible”.

    • Robert OBrien

       No, John did not know Mark and, in a related vein, John is an early, not a late, Gospel. (The idea that John is “late” because it evinces a “high Christology” is pure flatulence, since Paul’s Christology in Philippians is just as high and he was writing in the 50′s and 60′s.)

      • ThusBloggedAnderson

        No, John did not know Mark and, in a related vein, John is an early, not a late, Gospel.”

        See, anyone who makes categorical statements like this is someone I feel pretty safe in disregarding completely. I’ve found that people who actually know this stuff also know how tentative our “knowledge” of ancient history really is.

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  • Don M. Burrows

    Thank you for this, Prof. McGrath. I’m a classicist, and in the firestorm surrounding the release of Ehrman’s book, I’ve been shocked at the level of ignorance of the methodology used in ancient history in general. It’s especially disappointing to see other academics, like Myers, dismissively dispatching with what everyone else in biblical and classical studies has to say on the matter. I do see that a lone classicist has taken up the task on Myers’ blog post linked above, but she’s being subjected to the same boilerplate nonsense. These people just don’t get that to take an a priori level of skepticism to Jesus that you would take to no other event or person from antiquity (because of a hostility to the subject matter) is precisely the same fault that Christian apologists commit when they take an a priori position on the Bible, exempting it from the due level of critique you would take to any other source, much less ancient source. Very bizarre that they can’t see that.
    Again, thank you.

    • Neil Godfrey

      Don, I do not have any hostility to the subject matter — I in fact ‘love’ the subject matter. But can you tell me any field of ancient history where the historians begin with entirely uncorroborated and unprovenanced narratives that are filled with clearly mythological anecdotes and construct a set of “criteria” in order to locate the “real facts” behind the story as the foundation for their historical reconstruction?

      • Don M. Burrows

        Sure: All of them. That’s my point exactly. All of our ancient sources contain problematic witnesses to events and people, almost all contain elements of the supernatural in some form or another that we sift through, and almost all of them treat matters with a clear point of view (they are not entirely disinterested, except sometimes in offhand remarks about side issues, which then become some of our best witnesses for said events/people, but this is, again, rare). We don’t even talk of “historians” per se, but “historiographers,” those who write about history. 
        Much of ancient history is one big question mark at the end of the day. All we can do is talk about what most probably is the case. Our main source for the Persian Wars is Herodotus. Read Lucian’s (2nd century CE) take on Herodotus. He envisions him in a punitive part of the afterlife reserved for liars. He’s replete with fantastical tales and digressions. But we don’t doubt there was a Xerxes, a Leonidas, or even many far lesser figures in his tale, and we generally take for granted many of his versions of events. Every single piece of ancient historiography presents most of these same exact issues. That’s why almost all classicists and biblical scholars are tearing out their hair at the brouhaha among some skeptics about this book. It’s questioning fundamental aspects and methodologies of the discipline(s) at large. So Ehrman’s and McGrath’s comparisons to climate-change deniers and anti-evolutionists are quite apt. I’m heading to bed but I’ll check back tomorrow to continue our conversation if you’re interested. Have a good night.

        • Neil Godfrey

          Don, what you appear to be overlooking is that Herodotus is not our sole source for the existence of Xerxes or the fact of the Persian wars. We have independent controls to check against Herodotus’s claims, known provenance and clearly understood genre of the sources. That is the difference.

          You have not given an example of anything comparable to the way NT “historians” work with the study of Jesus: — i.e. entirely uncorroborated and unprovenanced narratives that are filled with clearly mythological anecdotes and construct a set of “criteria” in order to locate the “real facts” behind the story as the foundation for heir historical reconstruction.

    • James F. McGrath

      Don, thanks for your comment! Some of the mythicist commenters here will only confirm what you already know: they are sure that those who’ve studied history or classics agree with them or otherwise must not have been paying attention in any of their classes. It is incredibly frustrating, and particularly disappointing inasmuch as many of those who buy into mythicism think of themselves as “freethinkers.”

      • Neil Godfrey

        James, instead of calling me insane and talking to me sideways as if I am not in the room, why not return from your walking away from my attempt to solicit evidence-based and validly justified assertions. Stonewalling until after an interminable time you simply say that you “gave all the answers way back at the beginning” when you clearly did not, and then declaring me to be too insane to address, is not the mark of a reasonable gentleman or scholar.

        I am “trained in ancient history” and do understand and follow the arguments about historiography in the mainstream, and you have never once addressed my clear demonstrations of the stark contrasts between HJ “historiography” and other historiography — except by means of insult. Your final jibe was to call me insane as an excuse never to avoid being shown as incapable of addressing my points in a reasonable manner.

        • Matt Browwwwn

          You aren’t a professional historian

      • Dave A Smitty

        mythicism.. as far as the bible is concerned it makes 100% sense my friend ,,,,absolutely ,,,its astonishing the amount of people that still believe in the bible considering the bible is definitely a myth ,,why do you find that so hard to see,,,,,,, nothing of the bible can be used as credible or reliable, evidence ,,the bible has been changed ,and altered , even the historians agree

        • James F. McGrath

          Pseudoscholarship often seems like it makes complete sense to people ill-acquainted with a field. That is how various denialists and conspiracy theorists win people over. I take it you have never actually read a historian’s study of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth?

          • Dave A Smitty

            the historens agree the bible is just a 2000 year old book and was never to be taken as factual events,,

            • James F. McGrath

              This is wrong on multiple points. No historians I am aware of make the mistake of claiming that the Bible was a book 2,000 years ago. This is a collection of books, written separately. Second, historians agree that the Bible’s contents relate to historial events in a variety of ways. The story of the Garden of Eden is myth with no relation to historical events (unless one counts the way that the hstorical experience of exile is woven into it). The story of the Assyrian seige of Jerusalem is based on a historical event that we know of from Assyrian records, and offers a theological interpretatio of that event. The reason you are having trouble grasping what historians say is most likely first and foremost that you are not actually reading any historians, but if you did, you might still be confused, because you think the Bible is a book rather than a collection of books and other kinds of literature.

              • Dave A Smitty

                i know the bible its little bits and bytes if writings, and and stuff was added,and taken away ,, the bible is confused the bible can even come to a conclusion if Jesus was god or the son of god ,,, the bible to day in 2014 is reverent,, its means nothing in the real world ,its just a good read, on what happen to some small groups of people way back in the day ,,just a mixed up story.

                • James F. McGrath

                  Writing about others being confused in a manner that sounds confused and hard to understand is pretty ironic, I think.

            • Jonathan Bernier

              Mr. Smitty,

              Your comment, as I take it, has to do with the intention of the writers of “the Bible.” I’ll reinterpret that to mean the intentions of the writers of individual books. I’ll narrow it to the gospels, which are the matter under discussion. If your claim holds then you would have to show that all historians take the view that the Evangelists (i.e. the writers of the gospels) never intended to report “factual events.” Let us consider this claim.

              Certainly Luke thought that he was reporting upon “factual events” (cf. 1:1-4), as did John (cf. 20:30-31 and the more textually precarious 21:24-25). We cannot as clearly identify Matthew’s intention or Mark’s, but given that all four were read the same way by the early Christians with no distinction made with regard to the intention to report “factual events” (the four-fold canon seems to exist within a century of their composition), and given that Luke almost certainly used Mark’s Gospel and clearly stands in a close relationship with Matthew’s, and given that they belong properly in the same generic category, the balance of probability seems to swing towards a positive affirmation: yes, Matthew and Mark intended to report “factual events.”

              And note also that an intention to report “factual events” does not mean that the events reported happened and if so as happened. But you wrote about intention, and it is on that matter that I tend to focus a great deal of my own work as a historian. And that brings us to the salient point of this comment. Note that the above paragraph is the synopsis of a chapter in a forthcoming monograph on the philosophy of history in historical Jesus studies, written by a historian who specialized in the study of the historical Jesus, namely myself. Of course, none of the argument advanced above are unassailable, and in the 10000 word version of the chapter I deal at length with various conceivable objections, but for purposes of this discussion it is irrelevant whether I am write, for the very fact that I advance this argument in a soon-to-be-published work disproves your theory that “the historens [sic] agree the bible is just a 2000 year old book and was never to be taken as factual events,” as does the fact that the argument with regard to John’s Gospel appeared already in my published dissertation. Add in that in fact none of these arguments are original to myself but merely being employed in my monograph to support a larger argument and your claim begins to look pretty shabby.

              • Dave A Smitty

                let me ask you ,, do you believe the bible to be 100 % accurate

                • Jonathan Bernier

                  Please allow me to draw your attention to the following words, written above: “And note also that an intention to report ‘factual events’ does not mean that the events reported happened and if so as happened.” This would seem to suggest that a negative answer to your somewhat baffling question. And I will confirm that suggestion, and add that your question as stated borders on the incoherent, for three reasons.

                  One, Prof. McGrath has noted and you have just ignored: there is no such thing as “the bible,” and certainly not the *Christian* bible, prior to lengthy canonization processes that post-date the apostolic era. Two, although you claim to know what historians think on the matter, you seem blithely unaware that historians, whether they study the historical Jesus or Lincoln Abraham, do not sit around asking whether their sources are 100% accurate. Three, and this is where the incoherence comes out the clearest, the object of history is in fact not texts but rather events, with texts (and other artifacts) used as data to construe those events. Speaking of texts as 100% accurate makes as much sense as speaking of stomach pains as 100% accurate: what is accurate is not the symptom, i.e. the data, but rather the inferences that are drawn from the data, in the case of the medical data a medical diagnosis, in the case of the historical data a historical narrative.

  • Neil Godfrey

    To address just one point for now, McGrath attempts to brush aside Ehrman’s error about the messianic expectations of Jews of the day with

    Perhaps Ehrman ought to have said explicitly “Davidic Messiah” to avoid ambiguity.

    No, Dr McGrath, Ehrman did mean exactly what he wrote. Your attempt to convince us he meant something else does not work. Ehrman made his point even clearer in his book:

    In short, ancient Jews at the turn of the era held a variety of expectations of what the future messiah would be like. But all these expectations had several things in common. In all of them the messiah would be a future ruler of the people of Israel, leading a real kingdom here on earth. He would be visibly and openly known to be God’s special emissary, the anointed one. And he would be high and mighty, a figure of grandeur and power.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, so here is the basic outline of history for those of you who aren’t being brainwashed by secular elitist ignorant historians like James Mcgrath who don’t know what they are talking about.

    6000 years ago, God created the earth. Magically. In 6 days. No questions asked. After an incident with some fruit, a snake, and a women, and a couple hundred years God destroyed the entire planet in a flood, then everyone built a tower and God made everyone speak a different language. As the people started to spread out, they made contact with aliens, which they confused with gods. The aliens made such things as the pyramids (power convertors for their satellites) and other ancient monuments. They helped the hebrews escape from egypt, and later gave them their secret power source in the ark of the covenant. A whole lotta boring later, some people randomly came up with this crucified messiah thing and started Christianity. Then, the church fell away from the truth, and Jesus appeared to the native americans who were at the time white, giving them the gospel. Eventually however, they all became apostate and God punished them by making them not white. Now, over a thousand years later, God founds the United States of America as a beautiful Christian nation. America is shinning and spotless country of perfection all the way into the 20th century, when Satan begins his plans and infiltrates the liberals to try to destroy America. America is a Godly nation clear up through the 1950′s; Satan succeeds in taking over in the 1960′s which is why God’s annioted loses to the godless commies in Vietnam. Oh I forgot, aliens and the government conspire together to assassinate J.F.K. In 1977 aliens adduct Elvis. In 1988 Jesus comes back. In 1989 Jesus comes back. In 1992 Jesus comes back. In 2000 Jesus comes back. In 2001 the Bush administration, seeking justification to go to war with Iraq, masterminds the most extensive plot known to history and successfully fools the American people into thinking terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the WTC and the pentagon. However, for some reason he couldn’t fool them into thinking the terrorists were from Iraq, so when we go to war with Iraq liberals lie and pretend that we went in under false pretenses. Then, a Kenyan Muslim is elected President. Sometime around here God punishes Haiti for signing a pack with the devil. The government takes complete control of healthcare and starts death panels for the elderly. During this time too the gays begin to cause the destruction of marriage as we know it.

    Clearly if James wasn’t so ignorant he would acknowledge the TRUTH :-D

    • Porlock Junior

       This is a remarkable piece. I’m greatly impressed by its thoroughness and scrupulous accuracy. However, I must respectfully suggest a little emendation.

      You say that this was a godly nation clear up *through* the 1950s. And yet, in 1952 or thereabouts Whittaker Chambers met the Devil himself and got rather an extensive interview from him, in which he (Satan, not Chambers) gloated about the progress he’d made, describing Evolution as one of his cleverest tricks. And he (Chambers, presumably, not Satan — but are we sure?) published the interview in Time magazine.

      Sorry about the vagueness here; I got this information from _The Spoor of Spooks_ by Professor Bergen Evans, and I know the events were from the 1950s and not later, because that’s when I read the book. Not having re-read it in the past few decades, and not having the book with me, I have to leave out some details. But the Time article should be easy to trace (unless it was actually Life) and should be good reading for followers of Satan’s work in America. So should Evans’s book, which deserves to be revived.

  • Paul D.

    I don’t have a horse in this race, but I do think it’s disingenuous to compare arguments for a mythical origin of Jesus with creationism. The two situations are nothing alike, and numerous credentialed scholars think the matter is an open one until more evidence comes to light.

    • Neil Godfrey

      Creationists are poo-poohing the daily work and evidence-based tests and demonstrations of scientists; holocaust deniers poo-pooh the ongoing claims of the holocaust. But mythicist arguments that I am familiar with are engaging seriously with the HJ scholarship, they poo-pooh nothing, but they do question the UNexamined assumptions at the base of it all. The ad hoc ‘proof-texting’ — pulling out a verse from Galatians, making up a “they would not have invented this” scenario, etc, — is hardly a credible foundation for a secure historical fact and exposes the ad hoc nature of the historicist arguments. They attempt to cover this ad hoc nature of it all by smearing with insult those who challenge their views, of course.

    • James F. McGrath

      Paul D, I am not sure which “credentialed scholars” you have in mind, but I am quite certain that I can produce a higher proportion of credentialed people who speak in favor of creationism than you will come up with in support of mythicism. And I think that speaks volumes. There are relatively few forms of pseudoscholarly bunk that do not have someone with a PhD who at least is in favor of “teaching the controversy” on whatever that subject may be. In the case of mythicism, all the folks with relevant credentials of whom I am aware are not actively engaged in teaching or research at an accredited university, whereas there are at least a few folks who look better in paper who support Intelligent Design, for instance.

      • Anonymous

        I am quite certain that I can produce a higher proportion of
        credentialed people who speak in favor of creationism than you will come
        up with in support of mythicism.

        I am sure that you could Dr. McGrath, but wouldn’t most of these credentialed people have a faith based commitment to the historicity of the biblical texts that prevents them from honestly examining the evidence for evolution?  How much of the scholarly consensus on the historicity of Jesus is composed of scholars with similar faith based commitments?

        • James F. McGrath

          Among secular historians of ancient Judaism, the Greco-Roman world, and early Christianity? None whatsoever or very little. Certainly there are people in seminaries and religiously-affiliated schools who may not have asked critical questions about the evidence. But I do not buy the claim that the majority of scholars, including historians in other related fields, have simply accepted a faith-based assumption that Christians have. What such historians have written on the topic indicates otherwise.

          • Anonymous

            Dr. McGrath,

            I have seen you quote Craig Evans’ opinions on mythicism.  Would the scholarly consensus on the historicity of Jesus include him?  How about Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, and Darrell Bock?  

            • James F. McGrath

              You have a mix of moderate and conservative Christian scholars there, but let me ask you whether, if most experts in a given field who are also Christians of some description agree about something, and it is a topic that other experts who aren’t Christians likewise agree on and draw the same conclusion, then would you say that the conclusion is suspect because there are Christians in the mix? If not, then I am not sure where you are going with this. Most biologists who are Christians agree with the majority of non-Christian biologists regarding the facts of evolution, too, but that seems to me to support the effective working of mainstream scholarship in the academy, not call it into question.

              • Anonymous

                 [I]f most experts in a given field who are also Christians of some description agree about something, and it is a topic that other experts who aren’t Christians likewise agree on and draw the same conclusion, then would you say that the conclusion is suspect because there are Christians in the mix?

                Not the conclusion itself, but if the conclusion is one that the Christians’ faith commitment obligates them to reach, I would say that the appeal to scholarly consensus as a reason to accept the conclusion is likely to be suspect.

                One of the reasons the scholarly consensus on evolution impresses me is because I think I have a reasonable basis to believe that the overwhelming majority of scholars who reached that conclusion did so by applying methodologies that are designed to be as objective and unbiased as possible.    Part of that method includes vetting by other scholars who are committed to exposing biases and faulty methodology. That would be my reason for respecting scholarly consensus in any field.

                However, in the field of historical Jesus studies, I know that a non-trivial percentage of the scholars work for institutions where they are required to adhere to doctrinal statements on biblical inerrancy or they adhere to such doctrines personally even if not expressly required to do so by their employers.  I have read many such scholars whose methodologies seem to be designed to confirm their biases rather than confront them.  Moreover, these scholars are also responsible for vetting the work of other scholars for bias.

                This does not of course make Ehrman’s conclusion that Jesus existed wrong.  I believe, however, that it does make appeals to scholarly consensus much less persuasive than they might be in a field with less ideologically driven research.

                I have a similar problem when I see someone appealing to scholarly consensus in the field of economics.  There are a substantial number of conservative think tanks whose reason for existence is to produce scholarship that supports conservative economic policies.  That means that a scholar who advocates unfettered free markets has better chances of finding employment than one who advocates greater government control.  It doesn’t mean that scholars cannot reach either conclusion non-ideologically, but it skews the consensus nonetheless.   

      • josh

        “And I think that speaks volumes.” Congratulations, you have just discovered the religious bias prevalent in society.

    • Robert OBrien

      Richard Carrier is a noxious mediocrity, not a scholar. He is not content to limit his ineptitude to his own discipline but also demonstrates his incompetence in other fields such as mathematics and statistics, which are the disciplines I have my degrees in.

  • Neil Godfrey

    A point by Carrier that McGrath would do well to note:

    You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message. The fact that he then finds this a mark against mythicism betrays his circular reasoning. No, Dr. Ehrman, it is a mark against mainstream scholarship. You are acting like it is a religion, with dogmas that cannot be challenged, lest you suffer the consequences. Just imagine all the professors who find some mythicist theories plausible, reading your article. You have just successfully intimidated them into shutting the hell up. Or at least, apparently, you hope to have. That’s not admirable. And it’s not how an institution that values the pursuit of the truth should behave.

    The only people who should be in danger of losing their careers in the field, and who should be criticized as such, are those who persistently fail to follow sound and defensible methods, or persistently demonstrate dishonesty or incompetence (James Tabor I fear might be going down that road; time will tell). Taking a controversial position and arguing a controversial theory does not rise to that level (much less merely considering or discussing it as a possibility). Thus, you should not attack mythicists as a group, for merely sharing a common position or theory, as if there were no distinctions among them as to capability and quality of work. That’s defending a dogma, not a method. Rather, you should attack particular and demonstrable failures of method and competence. And not just claim incompetence, but prove it. Anything else is just special pleading and ad hominem. To do it in the guise of shaming anyone who would dare side with us by denouncing in advance their competence and sanity and implicitly threatening their jobs only makes this despicable rather than merely fallacious.

  • admiralmattbar

    I often hear praise of Richard Carrier as a genuine historian who has interesting ideas that he comes to while still playing by the rules of history, even if they disagree with him.  I take it from your blog post that you do not have this view (at least when it comes to his last article).  Has Richard Carrier put himself outside of the scholarly community in your opinion?

    • James F. McGrath

      admiral mattbar, Richard Carrier is certainly outside the academy in the practical sense that he has chosen a career path that eschews teaching at a mainstream university and carrying out research which is then published in mainstream history journals. But that doesn’t mean that he could not pursue such a course, were he to wish to. The main thing that undermines his credibility in my thinking, even though I greatly appreciated some of his earlier publications, is the fact that he says he finds Earl Doherty’s muddled pseudoscholarship persuasive. I fail to see how anyone who takes the time to look carefully at what Doherty claims and check the logic and evidence can fail to perceive that it is pseudoscholarship which makes no contribution to our understanding of anything to do with ancient Christianity, but only offers apolgetics with a scholarly veneer that it is easy to see through.

      • CrazyHorse

        You seem to like throwing the pejorative adnoun “pseudoscholarship” around, James.

      • AnotherOakMan

        Richard Carrier hasn’t eschewed teaching at a mainstream university.  I asked him on a radio call-in if he was looking for such a job and he answered in the affirmative, but that he could not leave California because of his wife’s job and there are no jobs in his field to be had in California these days due to budget cuts.

        I don’t know if you are involved in academic hiring at all, but such jobs (at least, non-adjunct, tenure track jobs) are very hard to come by these days.

        This isn’t to say Carrier’s views are mainstream (they are not), but his lack of a professorship doesn’t seem to be because he doesn’t want one.

        • James F. McGrath

          I fully understand such reasoning. I know plenty of people who have made similar choices – they typically will teach adjunct somewhere, just to remain as part of the academy and not abandon their scholarly careers altogether.

          Thanks for the additional information!

  • Neil Godfrey

    I think one sign of pseudoscholarship would be someone reviewing for Amazon an 800 page book after reading only the first 20 or so pages. Another sign would be a reviewer who announces that he has no intention of explaining the arguments of the book he is reviewing lest he appear to be giving them credibility. A further sign would be one who blatantly asserts the book says things it does not and does not say things that it does. All of these indicators of pseudoscholarship are documented in my, Doherty’s and others’ responses to the “reviews” of Doherty’s book in this archive.

  • Paul D.

    I’m saying it’s apples and oranges, Dr. McGrath. There is no honest comparison between the certainty of what we know about the historical Jesus (nothing in the gospels is certain, for example), and the foundational role evolution plays in biology with its literally billions of pieces of corroborating physical evidence that can be tested in the lab or in the field. Denying evolution (which most ID’ers no longer seem to do, btw) is more like a historian denying that the Roman empire existed.

    Put down the likes of Robert Price or Thomas L. Thompson all you like. I think you’re being blatantly dishonest on this matter if you think a historian having doubts about the historical Jesus is like a biologist doubting evolution.

    I’m not a mythicist myself, and I love most of what you write (as well as what Bart Ehrman writes), so take that as you will.

    • James F. McGrath

      Paul D, I have emphasized on several previous occasions that the point of the comparison between mythicism and creationism has never been that biology and ancient history draw conclusions with comparable degrees of certainty. My point has always been and continues to be that in both domains, conclusions drawn with the high degree of certainty possible using particular scholarly methods are denied using similar denialist tactics.

      Note for instance how Neil Godfrey in a recent comment seems blissfully unaware that far more substantial numbers find evolution not only less than obvious but false and evidence that mainstream scientists are incompetent.

      The main reason I make the comparison is because (1) the tactics used by both sorts of denialists are very similar, and (2) mythicists are almost universally people who see what is wrong with treating the entire body of scientists as ignoramouses, and yet they do exactly the same thing with mainstream historians.

      • Neil Godfrey


        Note for instance how Neil Godfrey in a recent comment seems blissfully
        unaware that far more substantial numbers find evolution not only less
        than obvious but false and evidence that mainstream scientists are

        Sorry, Dr McGrath, but your figures are a reflection of your own country and not of the western educated world generally. Statistics show, I believe, that the U.S. population is as ignorant of science, or as fundamentalist in outlook per head of population, as the less industrialized states and some Islamic dominated areas in the world.

        Accounting for this exceptional status of the U.S., in my mind, is best explained by the dominance of religion and churches over social and political life there, compared with other western states. This in turn may well be attributed to the crushing of other social support and activist movements in the past, such as workers cooperatives and unions, leaving the churches the main social hub for society as a whole.

        American statistics on unscientific beliefs are comparable with those in less developed countries and are an anomaly beside other western countries, I believe.

      • Neil Godfrey

         More to the point, though, I should also point out the other obvious fact: I am sure it is a fact. Very many people you talk to who say they believe in evolution will say they do so because of the evidence they have seen. Those who have left old creationist beliefs will say they have been persuaded by the evidence in books like those of Jerry Coyne (and many others) — NOT because of the “authority” of the academy!

        • James F. McGrath

          Don, if you are new to interacting with Neil Godfrey, his recent comments are par for the course. You’ll have noticed his insinuation that historians accept the existence of Jesus on the authority of the academy rather than because of the evidence, and his claim that in spite of the fact that he praises mythicist pseudoscholarship, he isn’t arguing for mythicism.

          If you are tempted to try to engage him in conversation, I would encourage you to review his past interactions with myself and others whose views reflect mainstream historical scholarship, just so that you know what to expect and what you are getting yourself into.

          • Neil Godfrey

            Dr McGrath, a more constructive response would be for you to actually address any of the points I made instead of this personal attack and attempt to impute to me things from your own imagination. Our past conversations have always floundered on a point where you have opted to resort to ad hominem or outright insult in place of a reasoned response, I’m sorry to say.

            An excellent example of our attempt to discuss the sort of methodology I am addressing here, or at least its first principles, begins at:

            A word search on our names coupled with Prevenier and Howell, and Socrates, will yield other informative exchanges.

            You appear to be suggesting I am hypocritically claiming not to be arguing for mythicism when I supposedly am. Yet you yourself have railed against me for NOT arguing a case for mythicism! I have attempted to point out repeatedly that I am open to Jesus being historical, as much as mythical, and that the methodology I am addressing is taken straight from the pages of the likes of Howell and Prevenier and other better known historians themselves. Thompson’s methodology, alongside that of Davies and Lemche, is demonstrably drawn straight from the methodologies of historians in the non-biblical studies.

            To be fair to the study of Christian origins we should use the same methods there, too. But unfortunately the study of Christian origins has been largely hijacked by the “quest for the historical Jesus” in one form or another.

            Yet one of the first things I learned in ancient history class is that we can’t study what we don’t have evidence for. And Ehrman himself as good as concedes (though he may not want to put it so bluntly) all our pre-Gospel sources and all our “facts” about Jesus are entirely — entirely — hypothetical. And that hypothesis rests entirely – entirely – on the assumption that there was a historical Jesus to study.

            You can disagree but you are disagreeing with Thompson, which you may well relish doing. But do not put down the argument to “mythicist pseudoscholarship”. It is not. It is taken straight from the books of ancient historians, or any other historians, really, as my many posts and comments have shown — and in response to which you regularly retort with ad hominem. No argument. Just insult and ridicule.

  • Neil Godfrey

    Ehrman fallaciously attempts to give validity to an argument that is nothing more than an appeal to authority by writing likewise:

    In the field of biology, evolution may be “just” a theory (as some politicians painfully point out), but it is the theory subscribed to, for good reason, by every real scientist in every established university in the Western world.

    The difference is, of course, that every schoolchild, every layperson, can see the clear and abundant evidence for evolution and most are persuaded by it because it is so overwhelming and visible to all to see. The claim that Jesus is historical is intimated (as in Ehrman’s Huffpo article — unless as Dr McG says the editors put all those wrong words into it) to be something only those trained scholars in ancient languages etc can or have the authority to establish. This is nonsense, of course. Anyone — again every layperson — can be shown the evidence for other ancient historical persons. But Jesus — unless you are an apologist who has only one interpretation for one or two bible verses — well, his historicity can only be assured by the theological authorities, it seems.

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  • Landon Hedrick


    You might like what Ehrman has to say about Doherty’s book on p. 252 of “Did Jesus Exist?”:

    “It is rather difficult to respond to a book like Doherty’s recent massive tome, Jesus: Neither God nor Man.  It is an 800-page book that is filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2,400-page book to deal with all the problems.”

    On another note, regarding Carrier, you’re right that he hasn’t pursued a teaching position.  But I think you’re wrong to suggest that he hasn’t sought to carry out research to get published in mainstream journals.  He has publicly stated that this is one of the goals of the research he’s been doing for the past few years, and in fact he has a peer-reviewed paper on an interpolation in Josephus coming out this winter.  He also aims to get “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ” peer-reviewed before publication, I believe.  And I suspect that he’ll (at least try to) take the debate about mythicism to respectable history journals.  So he’s not losing touch with academia altogether; he’s engaging in the debates from the sidelines, since he has not pursued a teaching position for whatever reason.

    • Neil Godfrey

      It is even more interesting to see what Ehrman classes as “an error of fact” on Doherty’s part. For example, Doherty is quoted as saying:

      Doherty claims [mystery religions] provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.”

      Ehrman tells his readers that this does not mean what it says, but rather it means that Doherty is trying to deny that “most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.”.

      But Doherty does not in any way indicate otherwise. He says that mystery religions were “the predominant form of popular religion in this period”. Every text book and every work on Roman cultural history will tell you that. Ehrman is clearly reading Doherty with a jaundiced eye that twists what it reads into something fallacious — rather like another scholar who is known to frequent this blog.

      One will also observe that Ehrman does not address Doherty’s detailed discussion but confines himself to a synopsis of a conclusion (only) for his criticism — again not unlike the tactics of another scholar here who faulted Doherty for not presenting all of his arguments in the very first chapter!

      • Don M. Burrows

        I see, Neil, that you have replied several times in my absence to both me and Prof. McGrath. I don’t have time to address each and every comment, but the general thrust of your argument seems to be that we don’t have as much corroboration for Jesus as other historical figures. This simply isn’t true. There are a host of other minor historical figures we take for granted existed, whose existence is mentioned in only one or two sources (though it should be pointed out that Jesus is mentioned in far more than one or two). As for Herodotus, he might not be our only witness for the fact that the Persian Wars happened, but he is our primary source for how they went down. And he’s full of fantastical narrative, the sort which you seem to think discredits ancient sources. He also was writing a generation after the fact.
        This is the overall issue: to subject virtually any other person or event of Jesus’ stature (and remember, he doesn’t have the stature of a Xerxes) in antiquity to the level of skepticism that mythicists do, would eradicate most people and events from existence in the ancient period. Most sources come upwards of 50 to 100 years after a person or event. Our main written sources for the Julio-Claudian Caesars are of course Tacitus and Suetonius, writing generations after their subject matter – and these are about Caesars! And both present their share of problems as to reliability. Earlier, Cato the Elder has achieved near legendary status by the late Republic, but almost everything we have (other than his own short work on farming) is written long after his death in 149 BCE. Who was Catiline? A pariah about whom good republicans in the late first century apparently told bedtime stories to their children. We have Cicero’s self-congratulatory speeches against and about him, and a monograph by Sallust some 20 years later. But Sallust undermines himself at every turn, and Cicero clearly has an agenda. Indeed, using these sources some scholars have suggested the Catilinarian “conspiracy” was blown way out of proportion by Cicero and was probably not too significant an event. They determine this using the same sources that treat it as precisely the opposite (a really big deal!) using just the sort of careful, critical analysis of our meager sources that New Testament scholars do when evaluating the Gospels. 
        You might say, but we have Cato’s own writing! Or we have inscriptions from the Caesars! But again, why are you trusting them but not the Christian sources? I mean, if early Christians are apparently capable of making up individuals, certainly the conservative aristocracy in Rome could make up someone like their hero Cato the Elder, fake his writings, etc. Once you replace what’s most probably the case with what could possibly be the case, anything in antiquity can be deconstructed out of existence. That’s just it: mythicists demand a level of “proof” for Jesus’ mere existence that they demand of no one else in antiquity. Scores of books and cottage industries could be just as easily made for most other individuals in antiquity, but of course they wouldn’t make money nor draw interest. Why Jesus? Why subject Jesus to this level of scrutiny but not all others? The answer, of course, is that these same individuals just so happen to be anti-Christian polemicists, who rather than sticking to all the very real and genuine criticisms one could make about Christianity and its claims, go for the most shocking and sensational, and undermine their credibility in the process. 
        Jesus existed and was crucified. That’s about all ancient historians claim with certainty. And indeed, given the apparently scores upon scores of Jews crucified in Roman Palestine in the first century (so many that Josephus at one point says there weren’t enough crosses for all the bodies), and given how common a name Yeshua was at this time, I find it almost impossible that someone named Jesus didn’t run afoul of the Roman Empire and at some point wind up on the cross. It did not appear to be a hard thing to accomplish. 

    • Anonymous

      Note Carrier also seems to have liked “The Jesus Puzzle” and says to avoid “Jesus: Neither God nor Man” where he thinks Doherty went off the rails, so they agree on that much anyway. ;-)

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  • Veitch57

    i am 61% thru “did Jesus exist” thus far seems to be very good as best I can tell. I would be Interested to see price and carrier respond … after they have read his book

  • Gakuseidon

    I’m shocked by the tone in Richard Carrier’s response to Ehrman’s Huff Post article. I’ve written some posts on a FRDB thread on the subject here:

    Ever since Ehrman announced his intention of writing a book against mythicism, among mythicists he has gone from flavor of the month, to stink of the year. I cannot believe the ill-will blowing his way, even though I predicted it. And very disappointing to see it come from Carrier.

  • Neil Godfrey

    Hi Don, I have studied ancient history myself and am well aware of the sources you discuss and how historians use them, the problems they pose, etc. But what you have done here is to impute to me arguments that I have never at any time made and that completely sidestep the point I raised with my question.

    It appears you glanced at my question and assumed erroneously that I was suggesting we can’t use the gospels because they are biased, contradictory, contain much mythical material, are late, etc. — and that I am setting a higher bar for the historicity of Jesus than for any other ancient person, and that I am on some sort of anti-Christian agenda.

    None of that is the slightest bit true and your response completely missed the question I raised. I am certainly well aware of how historians work, how various sources are used and evaluated, etc.

    I discussed this question on another thread here:

    I invite you to reconsider my actual question:

    Don, I do not have any hostility to the subject matter — I in fact
    ‘love’ the subject matter. But can you tell me any field of ancient
    history where the historians begin with entirely uncorroborated and
    unprovenanced narratives that are filled with clearly mythological
    anecdotes and construct a set of “criteria” in order to locate the “real
    facts” behind the story as the foundation for their historical

    Note that I by no means suggest the mythological aspect in and of itself as a reason to dismiss documents as historical sources. That would be absurd as you rightly point out.

    My question targets what I believe to be the heart of the difference between normative historical inquiry and HJ studies so I would be interested in an answer that does address it rather than what you imagine I am thinking.

    I have discussed this many times, with a few of those discussions addressing the point of my question at:

    Historical facts and the very unfactual Jesus: contrasting nonbiblical history with Jesus studies

    What is history? What is a historical fact?

    Comparing the evidence for Jesus with other historical persons

    How do we know anyone existed in ancient times?

    Confusing character and plot setting with historical fact

    Lazy historians and their sources

  • Brad Matthies

    An interesting post that is tangentially related to this discussion:

    “If you catch yourself rejecting evidence, rejecting observation, ask
    yourself what territory you are defending that is more important than
    the truth. You probably won’t be able to answer honestly, our tribal
    programming goes deep. But give it a try.”

  • Eliyahu Konn

    What I am missing in all of this is who you are talking about.  An “historical J*esus” would be anachronistic in the 1st century.  Outside of the 1st century you may have a J*esus but it would not be the human that lived and died and was likely buried in Talpiot.  It would be the beginning of a myth.  The real man, tomb, bones, and all, would have been lost for 18 some centuries except for those exceptional scholars, academic and not, that placed the man in his 1st century Jewish culture, as a Torah observant Jew.  Even Jewish in that case though, is different than today’s Jewish.  Have any of you read James Parkes, Oxford scholar, “The Conflict of the Church and Synagogue?”  

  • Don M. Burrows

    Neil, you can imagine my confusion. Your question is quite
    odd. Let me repeat it again:

    But can you tell me any field of ancient history where the
    historians begin with entirely uncorroborated and unprovenanced narratives that
    are filled with clearly mythological anecdotes and construct a set of
    “criteria” in order to locate the “real facts” behind the
    story as the foundation for their historical reconstruction?

    Now, of course we have to start with your criteria, which are
    in essence your caricature, rightly or wrongly, of historical methodology and
    the source material available for the historicity of Jesus. First of all:
    “entirely uncorroborated.” Explain? As I have mentioned numerous
    times, there are many people from antiquity whose existence is accepted even
    though they are recorded in a single source written generations after they
    supposedly existed. But of course, this is inapplicable to Jesus, since we have
    multiple sources for Jesus’ existence, even if we confine ourselves to the
    canonical material alone (for sake of argument, I’ll leave off Tacitus and
    Josephus, anticipating the typical arguments in response). These canonical
    texts are each separate sources, often at odds about other details, but they
    corroborate each other in several particulars. Are you suggesting they are
    uncorroborated by unChristian sources? If so, so what? Our sources for almost
    all of Roman history are uncorroborated by non-aristocratic individuals, many
    details uncorroborated by non-Romans. Why subject Christian sources to a
    standard to which you would not subject Roman, Greek, or Jewish sources when it
    comes to corroboration? You can see where we might get the idea that polemic is
    behind this. Using “uncorroborated” to begin with is a red flag,
    since nothing in antiquity is corroborated with photographs or video or other
    modern standards of proof, and since accounts of Jesus are, in fact,
    corroborated, I’m wondering why in the world that’s even part of your question
    or criteria.

    “Unprovenanced” – what do you mean? Do you mean to
    say that because we don’t have a precise history of transmission for the New Testament
    texts, that this makes them unreliable in general? Of course, that’s also the
    case with all classical material. This is pointed out ad nauseam by Christian
    apologists who want to then leap to the conclusion that every single detail in
    the gospels is factually accurate and authoritative, but neither should the
    opposite be claimed, that because of a rough and sometimes problematic
    transmission history (which, it should be pointed out, is in fact better
    attested than many other works of antiquity), nothing in them is worth
    considering. Perhaps you are trying to convey something else with this term; if
    so, please enlighten me.

    “Filled with clearly mythological anecdotes” -
    we’ve tackled this already. Much of the material we have contains what we would
    perhaps call “mythological material.” Of course, this raises a
    further problem: what do you mean by mythological? Fantastical? Supernatural?
    Those three terms are in fact distinct. A writer in Jesus’ time using the term
    “mythos” probably referred to a fable of some sort, or even the
    emerging fictional narratives we call novels that are developing at this time.
    These aren’t “mythological” in the Hesiodic or Genesis sense; rather,
    they’re just “stories” (the basic meaning of mythos). But we’re only
    now starting to get a grasp of that emerging notion of fact vs. fiction. I
    suggest the collection edited by Gill and Wiseman, “Lies and Fiction in
    the Ancient World,” for a look at this issue.

    Next, “construct a ‘criteria’ in order to locate the
    ‘real facts.’” Yes. 1,000 times yes. This is why we’re all so perplexed
    about this stuff. That criteria is called philology. We study the texts, paying
    attention not only to what smacks of ahistorical (dare I say supernatural?)
    material, but also equally important issues like polemic and apology,
    rhetorical devices, literary allusions, and on and on. Pretty much the same
    methodology used by Biblical scholars is used by classical scholars as well
    (especially since we overlap in the Greek language and the Roman period).
    They’re both daughter disciplines of philology, the careful study of ancient
    texts, though they are not always the most amicable of siblings.

    Finally, I present an individual who most certainly meets
    your criteria, flawed though I feel it is: namely, Apollonius of Tyana, a
    Neopythagorean wanderer whose life is fully narrated in only one account:
    Philostratus’ “Life,” some 200 years after his existence in the first
    century. He was a miracle worker and Philostratus’ account is full of clear
    fictions, including probably the “diary” upon which he claims he
    wrote the work. Yet as the Oxford Classical Dictionary sums up:
    “Philostratus is highly untrustworthy, and references elsewhere scanty;
    but Apollonius’ existence and Pythagoreanism need not be doubted.”

    Someone clearly needs to alert them to the new
    “mythicist” methodology.

    • Neil Godfrey

      Hi Don,

      By uncorroborated I mean exactly what Albert Schweitzer himself meant when discussing the evidence for Jesus’ historicity. All our sources go back to the one tradition for which we have no external controls. This simple fact, said Schweitzer himself (who of course was not a mythicist) means that we cannot raise the probability of the existence of Jesus above zero.

      I am not, by the way, saying any of this proves that Jesus is a myth. I am saying that the methodology forces us to start from a neutral position on that question.

      Now I am not just “quote-mining” Schweitzer, and have discussed his words in context many times as you will see from the post I linked to above. Schweitzer’s words are consistent with same point about external controls and corroboration made by other biblical scholars, both NT and OT specialists, and I have quoted some as long ago as 1904 and others as recently as 2007. I am obviously just covering here the main points to show where I am coming from and this is not the place to present the full citations and arguments. See the first post I linked to in my previous comment for that.

      But when it comes to our other historical figures we do have external controls that we bring to bear on the texts — usually at the unconscious or general social level, but real nonetheless. Many times I have referred to Socrates as a case-study. We have accounts of him from different traditions, quite unrelated perspectives, and these are even provenanced to contemporary witnesses. That does not “prove” Socrates was historical but it makes it a very probably a priori case that he was. We have nothing comparable for Jesus.

      As for the tales of myth, the key question here is genre. Genre is a major key (not the only one) to understanding the “intention” of the author — see Vines on his application of genre theory by Bakhtin to the Gospel of Mark — and that is what helps us decide if in a text of fables there is an authorial intent to record real “history” as well. That is the difference between Herodotus, Livy, and the Gospels. The Gospels are faith documents, written for the purpose of inculcating or supporting a faith. Burridge’s argument that they are “biographies” is without theoretical foundation and overlooks the literary clues to authorial intent.

      You mention people who are mentioned in a single source and whose historicity we take for granted. That again relates the clear establishment of the nature and intent of the sources we are reading  — questions decided by both genre and corroboration in other details through either primary evidence or other literature that can be tied to primary evidence. Again I am not giving the details or examples — provided in the posts to which I linked — just the principles that apply to all historical analysis of text documents, whether with explicit consciousness on the part of the modern reader or not.

      By provenanced I mean what we understand from the explanations of Prevenier and Howell (historians Dr McGrath advised me to read on methodology) — we have no knowledge of the provenance of the gospels comparable to what we have for our other ancient sources. Studies of Gospel provenance are a speculative work in themselves and have varied widely in their conclusions.

      As part of that, we have to remember that scientific dating of sources (Lemche) — scholars today generally date the gospels in a manner that is quite opposite to the way historians normally date sources. (See the link.)

      As for “real facts” — historians work with data that they can process as information and then knowledge about what may have happened. And all of this is clearly established through sources supported by external controls of some kind — without exception – combined with genre analysis in order to justify our interpretations. 

      These methods DO account for those persons of which we have but a single reference, and they are how methodologically aware historians work with the evidence. Those who “lazily” merely paraphrase what they find in a narrative are soon called to account. (See my “lazy historians” link in the previous comment.)

      I concur with Thomas L. Thompson’s methods — they are merely the application of normative methods of ancient historians with Greek and Roman texts — applied to biblical books, whether old or new testament. That is where I am coming from. My views are hardly idiosyncratic. But applying them to the Gospels offends many people, unfortunately.

      You can quote a few scholars who insist so and so was definitely historical, but I challenge you to question those scholars and ask them the basis for their assertions. Don’t accept anything on authority. (I’m not saying here that their claim was wrong- – but I need to see justifications, rationales, that I can make sense of). I can quote you scholars saying or suggesting the opposite possibility. That gets us nowhere.

    • Neil Godfrey

       Don, you wrote:

      Someone clearly needs to alert them to the new “mythicist” methodology.

      Sorry, but no, it is NOT a mythicist methodology. It is NOT an argument for mythicism that I am addressing in this analysis of historical methodology.

      You seem to be fixated on imputing your own assumptions into what i am arguing or saying and unable to look at what I do say. I can understand that, given that we generally only encounter one way of thinking from the NT or religion academy.

      The methodology is addressing the way historians normally work with documents — your counter-arguments are mostly straw-men attacking what you think or fear I am arguing — and studying Christian origins in the same way.

      The question is NOT “was Jesus historical or mythical”. It is how do we account for Christianity. It is from that question the historian needs to examine the documents — Thompson got it right for the OT, and his methods are equally valid for the NT — because his methods are drawn from, the same as, all valid ancient historical studies.

  • Kevin4

    Errorman’s book is just a smear campaign against mythicists and mythicism. His book has ruined his credibility.

    The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican

    The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican

  • Anonymous

    Ehrman has built up a lot of credibility over a lot of years with a lot of excellent work.  Judging him solely on his opinion on one particular controversial topic is foolish. 

  • Trey

    My approach to this ongoing debate is quite simple. The simplest explanation is usually the best. It is more believable to me that the Jesus of the Christian tradition is rooted in history and the story got taller with each telling, than to believe that Jesus never existed at all. When I contemplate too the divergent perspectives on Jesus, of the Aramaic speaking Jewish Christians who saw Jesus as the messiah – in the Jewish sense of the word – and the later greek speaking Gentile Christians who elevated Jesus to God incarnate it becomes easier to understand how a story rooted in history took on so many legendary elements.

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    Re. ‘Evidence’ For and Against The Historical Jesus…

    More often than not, most people (whether scholar or lay) assumes ‘Christ’ to be or not. Therefore, the search for the ‘historical Jesus’ is already skewed, misleading and leads naturally into endless arguments to nowhere. There is no ‘smoking gun’ that proves ‘Christ’s’ existence, -the later-day ‘Christ’, as far as I am concerned, in the last analysis, is a Greek philosophic notion (invented by the Jew hating, schizophrenic and temple thug named Saul of Tarsus aka Paul, with the literary assistance of Mark and Luke, -none of whom ever knew either ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ personally). Indeed, no Jew, during Pontius Plate’s reign, ever knew or saw, or even heard of ‘Christ’. Jesus Christ was not ‘crucified’ under Pontius Pilate notwithstanding the Holy Gospels, although thousands of men were routinely crucified.

    ‘Christ’ came into literary existence after Saul’s epiphany. That said, there most certainly were a number of Jesus’ or Joshua’s or whatever His name was at that time. But the most enigmatic Jesus of them all is Barabbas, -that no one seems to know anything whatsoever about (save the muddled and highly biased Gospel accounts).  Nevertheless, every ‘biblical’ scholar Should know of the originally written Greek Gospel according or attributed to Matthew: “Whom shall I (Pilate) release unto you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” His name [Jesus] was removed and omitted from the Latin ‘translation’ of the same text and most of the subsequent ‘translations’ thereafter, -leaving us later-day people with only Barabbas (as if That was His name) instead. Barabbas is not a proper name or surname, it is, rather an Aramaic appellation, the meaning of which is: Bar = Son + Abba = Father (as in ‘the Father of us all’ or ‘God’ if you will).

    But nobody bothers to look at [Jesus] Barabbas… as if This ‘Jesus’ doesn’t matter… so much for the search for the ‘historical Jesus’. The same is also true regarding the ‘insurrection’ that He was alleged to have been a principal participant thereof… Insurrection, -what insurrection, -and what does that insurrection have to do with the search for the ‘historical Jesus’?

    Briefly, Judas the Galilean rose up an insurrection (ten years after the death of king Herod or around 6-7 c. e.) in attempt to overthrow the secular government of the Herods and re-establish the heretofore theocracy of David and Solomon, marginalized since the days of Rehoboam. That insurrection continued until the wealthy Jews scattered themselves abroad, the temple at Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the Jewish nation ceased to exist in 70 c. e.

    King David, by the way, replaced the ‘anointed’ king Saul, -who failed to obey the (unseen) Lord’s injunction “to lay waist Amalec”. Later, in a battle against the Philistines, the dethroned Saul “fell upon his own sword”, -ostensibly to avoid the humility of being captured, -this abominable, sinful, cowardly, shameful and dishonorable act brought everlasting dishonor and shame upon his descendants thereafter (young Saul of Tarsus, -descendant and namesake of his forefather king included).

    But the larger question ‘scholars’ never ask or answer is: Who is the (living) Lord?

    Why should anyone want to know who was the bygone Lord of Adam and Eve’s day or of Isaiah’s day or Samuel’s day or Pilate’s day? As for me, if I were in need of medical attention, I would not seek Hippocrates; if I were in need of legal advise and counsel, I would not seek Moses, -our Lawgiver; if I were in need of spiritual attention (and I am), I would seek Him who has himself sought his Lord.


  • Michael Turton

    But Dr M, it is very unlikely the Huffpost editors altered his piece, since they don’t do that. I’ve published something there, and they didn’t alter it. They lack the time and expertise.

    Your point is true in a vague and general way, as I know from tracking the media in detail on my Taiwan blog. But in this case it is wrong. What’s up at Huffpo is likely what Ehrman wrote. Has Ehrman disavowed it?


    • James F. McGrath

      Michael, I can only say that in my experience with writing op-ed pieces for places like USA Today and the Indianapolis Star that editorial reworking is common. Sometimes it may be one’s university’s publicity person who tries to transform the typical way academics express themselves into what newspapers are looking for. But it is very common. My point, at any rate, was not that that necessarily happened in the case of this particular piece, but that precisely because of the nature of op-eds, trying to dissect the wording so as to suggest that Ehrman erroneously said things he is unlikely to have meant is not going to contribute anything useful or helpful to the conversation.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe Jesus existed. Maybe he didn’t. I think with Erhman that he did, although I haven’t yet read his book. For me this is a non-issue. It doesn’t matter. What we know is that the Jesus represented in the four gospels never existed and that’s good enough, isn’t it? What I don’t quite understand fully is the emotional reaction from many mythicists when someone like Ehrman or McGrath or Casey disagrees. I don’t see this coming from Carrier, or Doherty, or Price. But I do see this regularly from others. Hey folks, it’s a historical issue. There’s no need to be so emotionally tied to the mythcist position just because others disagree. Expect disagreement, especially when your view is an extremely minority one. Don’t get so bent out of shape about it. History does not give up its conclusions very easily at all. It provides at best weak evidence, which can easily be disputed.

    I did a small amount of research and this is what I found: 

    1. Skeptics who think there was probably a historical founder of the Jesus cult represented in the gospels: Bart Ehrman, Tim Callahan, Paul Kurtz, Gerd Lüdemann, Paul Tobin, and G. A. Wells, who had been the leading defender of Jesus mythicism in our generation but later “repudiated” his former view. [Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity (Peru: Illinois, Open Court Press, 2009), p. 334].

    2. A skeptic who is agnostic about this question: Hector Avalos.

    3. Skeptics who think the Jesus story is probably a myth: Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Thomas L. Thompson, Dan Barker, and Frank Zindler.

    • Robert OBrien

       “What we know is that the Jesus represented in the four gospels never existed…”

      Who are “we”?

  • Don M. Burrows


    This is, as James warns, getting rather tedious. The main
    problem, of course, is that you are, in fact, “quote-mining” to a large degree
    on a number of topics.


    You start with the assumption that “All our sources go back
    to the one tradition,” but in fact they do not go back to a single tradition.
    In the canonical material alone, we can see numerous traditions at odds with
    one another. They provide each other with external controls and corroboration
    in just this manner.


    Socrates is a decent example. What keeps us from assuming
    that there was an archetypal philosopher figure called “Socrates,” whom
    Aristophanes made a character in his play and later philosophical students like
    Plato and Xenophon wrote up based on some later (24 years later) tradition that,
    based on the hostility present in this play, this is just the sort of thing the
    Athenians would do (kill a guy like this)? I find that exceedingly improbable,
    as the default position on someone’s existence or an event’s happening is not,
    as you seem to suggest, always “neutral,” but rather the benefit of the doubt
    is given to the author describing it, and the material is then teased out to
    determine what most probably occurred. But if I were convinced that Socrates was
    a myth, there would be a host of selective material I could mine to make a
    pseudo-scholarly case for it. After all, this is at the heart of the “Socratic
    problem,” which at its worst means we have a literary character transmitted to
    us based on an historical figure about whom we can say almost nothing, other
    than he lived and was executed.


    You seem to think we have far more sources for the vast
    majority of events and people listed in, say, the Oxford Classical Dictionary,
    than we actually do. Whatever Schweitzer says on the matter of Jesus, this “neutral”
    model applied to the rest of classical material would be a mess. Your
    assertions to the contrary, that’s not how it works at all. Indeed, you still
    have not addressed Apollonius of Tyana. Yesterday I quoted an older edition of
    the OCD (which our departmental library really should update), but at home now
    in my newer (2003) edition, the editors say he’s a “pythagorean holy man whose
    true history and persona it is scarcely possible to grasp.” But note that they
    do not call into question his existence, despite Philostratus’ highly, highly
    fictionalized account of his life 200 years later and scarcely anything else
    surviving. And his miracle-working, sage-like reputation was very similar to
    Jesus (in fact compared to him by pagans).


    I bring him up because I use him in my own research. I’m writing
    my dissertation on the ancient novels and prose narratives in general from
    later antiquity (contemporary with Christian works). So I’m quite well familiar
    with issues of genre. What you have betrayed by your comments, I’m sorry to say, is that
    you are not. “Genre is a major key,” you note, then suggest there is a “clear
    establishment of the nature and intent of the sources we are reading.” There
    are books upon books that have been written and compiled over the past 20 years
    tackling this ever-problematic issue: that it is not “clear” at all, and that classification
    of genre, especially in this period, is highly problematic. The problem is that
    in this period, narratives began appearing in prose, intentionally frustrating the
    traditional boundaries between history (generally in prose) and literature (in
    poetry). What’s more, they used rhetorical tricks and devices to authenticate
    their narratives in the same way historians did, but if Lucian is to be
    believed, the historians were no more trustworthy than their fiction-writing
    counterparts. This is precisely what people have then examined with respect to
    Philostratus above. It’s not a clear-cut affair at all. In fact, the opposite.

    You call the gospels “faith documents” and then suggest
    there are clues to their “authorial intent.” For one, very few literary critics
    today talk about “authorial intent,” especially with respect to an author
    living two millennia ago, especially more so with an author about whom we know
    very little, and even more so an author who is anonymous. Secondly, that they
    might be “faith documents” or written with some religious intent means they
    pose the same problem as the vast majority of our sources which likewise have
    biases, the likes of which (polemic, self-interest, etc.) I briefly outlined in
    the last post. Why subject this particular bias to an even greater level of
    scrutiny? Well, because the people doing it are by and large hostile to the religion
    involved, and work from a “faith vs. reason” narrative that they then apply to
    the text, in a way that, again, would render problematic most other texts in
    antiquity. This becomes ever more apparent when bits of nonfactual narrative
    are sprinkled throughout their discourse, like suggesting that the “normative
    methods of ancient historians with Greek and Roman texts” are not applied to
    the gospels. They are. Everyone else in classics and biblical scholarship
    thinks they are; only you and Thomson say otherwise. Classicists, who work in
    these texts, don’t. By all means: find me an academically published work by a
    classicist on this score, bemoaning that biblical scholars don’t use their methodology,
    and that if they did, Jesus would be considered a myth alongside Dionysus. I
    will hungrily consume it. But as a classicist with a Ph.D. minor in New
    Testament, I’m fairly confident I would have run across it by now.


    Another bit of narrative is the throwaway line, “applying
    them to the Gospels offends many people, unfortunately.” Well, we’ve already
    established that everyone else in the discipline does think we’re applying
    normative methodology, but this narrative betrays why you think they aren’t.
    Because of course, we’re all devoted in some fashion to these texts and to the
    historical Jesus, I guess. But most classicists are not believing Christians, I
    think it’s safe to say, or as one fellow classicist of mine once put it, “Some
    of us chose the classics (side of philology) because we don’t like
    Christianity.” The notion that this would be done if it weren’t “offensive” –
    that this is some sort of bizarre collusion among scholars afraid to offend anyone
    – is just silly. It is done, and the logical conclusion is reached. That some
    guy named Jesus existed. It is also done to reach a number of other conclusions, the bulk of which actually do offend many believing Christians on a regular basis. The conclusion that he was made up is one
    not entertained by any ancient writer, Christian, pagan, or Jew, nor virtually
    any modern scholar on the subject.


    You’ve accused me of importing to you motives you don’t
    have. I’m sorry. If I have, it’s in large part because your motives are difficult to discern
    because your method is unrecognizable to me, and I’m guessing to James as well.
    I really don’t want to sound condescending, but you’re all over the map here,
    and you are, from a standpoint of within the discipline, “quote mining.” There
    are assumptions about the texts (sources) that are not true, and certainly not
    as simplistic as you term it; there are assumptions about genre that are in no
    way true, and again, not as simplistic as you put it even if they leaned true. This
    is no doubt what James (and increasingly myself) find frustrating. And while we’re
    on that score, don’t link me to your blog. If you’re trying to make a credible
    argument, do what I try to do on my blog: link to the text in Google Books, if
    possible, or at least to the permalink in JSTOR or the abstract from the
    journal itself.


    You say you’ve studied ancient history: so why not go pro?
    You clearly have a passion for the material. I assume from some of your
    comments you’ve taken classes, either at the undergraduate or graduate level.
    Why not go to graduate school to become a full participant? Have you? If not,
    why not?


    Meanwhile, I have a paper I’m presenting at the regional
    meeting of the SBL next week, so whatever energy I have, it should be spent in
    that direction. Good luck. to you.

    • James F. McGrath

      I hope your paper goes well, Don!

      • Don M. Burrows

        Thank you! It’s coming together …

    • Neil Godfrey

      Hi Don,

      I want to thank you for taking the time, tedious though you said it was, to address me in the scholarly manner and detail that you have. I feel very honoured and find your comments most thought-provoking.

      You even took the trouble entirely on the strength of my comments, even though you don’t know me, to offer me career advice. Now that is going above and beyond and I am indeed flattered.

      What I find particularly gratifying is that even though you acknowledge not understanding my motives nor my argument, or at least that you have difficulty discerning these, you nonetheless condescended (your own description of your painstaking efforts) to tell me what I “obviously” did not know and what I clearly “needed” to learn.

      You even suggested I learn to imitate you and that if I wanted to make a credible argument I should do what you do on your blog: link to the text in Google Books or at least to a permalink in JSTOR or the abstract from the journal itself. So I am sure you will be most gratified when I tell you that that is exactly what I do do on my own blog. I earlier linked to some of my blog posts where I do just these sorts of things. I can understand you are a very busy person with an article to write, but I would beg your forgiveness for attempting to summarize key points and a few supporting quotes from my fuller arguments in this tiny comments section here that is very ill-suited for posting a full argument.

      It is a pity you chose not to read my arguments the way you suggest I should read yours — in full on your blog, with links to JSTOR and all.

      So you are confusing me. Do you want me to do as you do, and post detailed arguments on my blog with links to JSTOR and Google Books etc, or do you want me to do what you don’t do, and that is re-post full arguments in this commments box here?

      I can understand why you dismiss my summaries here as “quote mining” when you declare you have no interest in following through where I have emulated your fine example and posted my arguments fully in my own blog.

      I am especially grateful to you for confirming for me what another Classicist scholar has indicated to me, and that is that literary genre theory has but a limited place in Classical studies. This probably may well account for why there is so much confusion that you speak of in this area. I trust I am correct in my understanding, since I am relying entirely on what you do and don’t say in your comments here and take that as the complete substance of all you know and argue. (I am emulating your example of how you treat my comments.) You should study Bakhtin and you may find many of the problematic issues of what I loosely called authorial intent, especially in the case of mixed and overlapping genres, will find very respectable resolutions. (Oh, I do understand the issues surrounding implied authors, narrators, etc etc — literary theories and studies is also one of my favourite interests. I am sure I can learn lots from you in this area, too.)

      Unfortunately your points about Socrates and Apollonius were completely lost on me, sorry. Perhaps you can clarify how what you say addresses my argument. I accept all the theoretical possibilities you advance in your discussion of these, and I myself have addressed the very same points (but only in my blog posts linking to JSTOR etc, sorry.) Your discussions here demonstrate that you have not understood my summary points at all.

      Maybe it would help if you actually attempted to summarize what you think my argument is, and I yours, so we can be sure we do understand each other and not waste time in tediously and condescendingly spouting put-downs of what we admit we don’t really understand about the other.

      Perhaps you are confused because you find a disconnect between what I have written and what Dr McGrath says I really do argue. This, I am sure, must confuse you about my motives and my argument.

      What I would like to learn from you in particular is how you justify a “benefit of the doubt” position for historicity. I am sure that there are cases where this can be done, but you did not justify your position. And once again you only repeated an academic assertion as if that settles the fact of historicity. Do you also have validly rational arguments to support your assertions — and the assertions of your peers?

      I am surprised that you find my method “unrecognizable”. You dismiss Thompson as if his arguments were lone mavericks, thus demonstrating your lack of familiarity with the wider scholarship in this area. You obviously have not read his arguments or you would certainly not find mine “unrecognizable”. So I wonder how you dismiss Thompson without having read his — or similar — arguments that have been published now for the last 20 years.

      But I do thank you for your post that by your own description was tedious and condescending.

  • Anonymous

    By the way, I did an interview of Richard Carrier about his book “Proving History,” which can be read here:

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  • Rochejaquelein

    Dr. Price shows in his article “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash” why the Christ mythicism has some solid ground to stand on. Many so called facts from the life of Jesus look like pastiches of Old Testament stories, even the crucifiction which is based on psalm 22. One can find some traces leading to Homer as well. Someone who defends the historicity of Jesus should deal with these questions.

    • James F. McGrath

      Rochejacqueline, scholars have been aware that Psalm 22 is placed on the lips of Jesus by the earliest Gospel account of the crucifixion for as long as there has been scholarship. They have also been aware that Christians have claimed that Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the crucifixion. One major problem with the views of Robert Price and others like him is that they far too credulously accept the claim of apologists to the effect that Psalm 22 and Jesus’ crucifixion correspond precisely. When one doesn’t read Psalm 22 with the crucifixion of Jesus already in view, one finds very little there that would lead one either to see in it a prophecy of such an event, or a text that would inspire the composition of a passion narrative.

      • Gakuseidon

         James: One major problem with the views of Robert Price and others like him is
        that they far too credulously accept the claim of apologists to the
        effect that Psalm 22 and Jesus’ crucifixion correspond precisely.

        You know, it’s weird. A few years back, it was “See how Jesus doesn’t fit the prophecies in the OT! It shows the Gospel writers were just making the links up!”

        And now it is “See how precisely Jesus fits the prophecies in the OT! It shows the Gospel writers were just making the stories up!”

      • Anonymous

        Dr. McGrath,

        I don’t think that it’s a question of whether Psalm 22 would inspire the composition of a passion narrative so much as it would be a useful source for details (such as casting lots for Jesus’ clothes) once the decision to compose one had already been made.

  • christthetao

    A few points, from a different perspective.  (I’m author of a book called The Truth Behind the New Atheism, one of the first rebuttals of Dawkins et al, also a student of world religions, especially Chinese religious & Christianity, who has done some work on the Gospels.) 

    First, if you’re a skeptic, you may find PZ Myer’s behavior “disappointing.”  I find it typical.  He is, in my view, a timid man, with an intellectually timid fan base, that protects its doctrines with heaps of vitriol, and not much in the way of real argument, for any dissidents who show their noses there.  Welcome to the club. 

    Second, in my own post on “Carrier vs. Ehrman: Drama Queen Smackdown,” I make the same analogy to ID.  However, the analogy is limited in the following way.  Those who deny the existence of Jesus, are in essence asserting a universal negative — there is no valid historical evidence for him, the evidence we have all being irreparably tainted.  By contrast, it is those who deny ID, who essentially assert a universal negative — there is no evidence anywhere in biology, for intelligent intervention in evolution.  So in a sense, ID is much harder to dismiss (a priori) than Christ mythicism — as, I think, Mike Gene’s The Design Matrix shows.  They are epistemologically assymetrical. (I say that, as more or less a neutral.)  

    Third, I’m impressed by the comments of both McGrath and Burrows.  But I don’t think Apollonius of Tyana is a very good parallel to the Gospels, for reasons I give in Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus.  Aside from the reasons given in this thread, the parallel between the “sageliness” and the miracles of the two men is, IMO, unsustainable. 

    • Don M. Burrows

      Mr. Marshall, 
      Thank you. I didn’t give Apollonius of Tyana as a parallel to the gospels, nor cite him as a parallel of Jesus (that would be a whole separate debate); I gave him and Philostratus’ “Life” as examples that fit Neil’s methodological criteria, problematic though I found them.

  • Bruce Gerencser

    I wish Dr. Ehrman hadn’t written the Huffington Post article. It was too short ad lacked the nuance that is found in his latest book. I was sent a copy to review and when I compared the book introduction to the Huffington Post article it was quickly evident that the article was missing important points and explanations.

    Sadly, a lot of people will only read the article and never read the book. That is too bad, because, so far, I have found Did Jesus Exist to be an engaging, thoughtful read.

    For those of us who are not academics/scholars/experts we will have to decide which argument is more probable.

    I am put off by all the talk about credentials. So much of it seems nothing more than my dick is bigger than yours talk. (I have 12 inches of credentials and you only have six) Maybe this is a guy thing…I wish we would just let the arguments speak for themselves rather than debating who is the more credentialed scholar. I see ALL of you as smart people that I can learn from. Hopefully my reading and study skills are sufficient enough to come to a reasonable conclusion. (and I side with McGrath and Ehrman on the Jesus issue)

    • Don M. Burrows

      I can appreciate how talk of credentials might come off as arrogant or hyper-boasting. But it really does matter. It’s frustrating that in the field of academia, people often dismiss Ph.D.s as just someone with a slightly more reliable opinion, whereas with other professions at the doctorate level, they do the opposite: people seem extremely concerned that their doctors are actual doctors with medical doctorates; people seek the legal advice of those with juris doctorates; and only people with PharmDs can fill prescriptions. Yet for our fields, people (not necessarily yourself, I’m just ranting in general here) seem to think that Ph.D.s are just folks who have memorized two to three times the amount of information as those with bachelor’s degrees. But there is a host of professional training and examinations (which, trust me, are the most stressful endeavors ever — more stressful for me than the divorce I went through years earlier), not to mention the dissertation process, where you learn just how thorough and tedious scholarship can be, spending days on a half-page footnote on a source that really isn’t even the subject of your argument, but that you must address nonetheless to show you’re aware of the problems involved. 
      When academics point out credentials, we’re not just bragging and puffing ourselves up. Biblical scholarship, classics, biology, any of these disciplines are professions, with their own professional organizations like the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Philological Association, or the American Institute of Biological Sciences, just like the American Medical Association serves doctors. In any profession, if you have someone from outside telling you you’re doing things wrong, and doing so with what everyone else in the profession considers questionable criteria, you can get a bit frustrated.

      • Anonymous


        If three MD’s are asked to consider a particular set of symptoms or three JD’s are asked to consider a particular contract, I don’t think that they are going to vary nearly as widely in their observations and conclusions as three PhD’s in New Testament studies who are asked to consider the historical implications of a particular passage of the gospels.  I also suspect  that where the MD’s and JD’s do vary, they are likely to express less certainty about their conclusions than the PhD’s in New Testament studies.

        I have three siblings who have PhD’s and I appreciate the effort it took to earn them (I only have a JD), but I think that there are perfectly valid reasons why advanced credentials inspire more confidence in some fields than others.   Perhaps the most important is that in some fields there are severe consequences for expressing unwarranted certainty while there are almost none in others.

        • Don M. Burrows

          Correct. Scholars are eager to jump on each other’s work and criticize it heavily. Merely reading the reviews of some scholarly monographs can illustrate just how ruthless this process is. That’s precisely why, when broad consensus reaching near unanimity is reached, it should be cause for attention. Again, “in some fields there are severe consequences for expressing unwarranted certainty while there are almost none in others,” is a bit of narrative. This is a generalized slap with no proof offered. The first two years or so of graduate school (longer for some if it doesn’t take) are spent beating out of us the habit of saying anything with certainty. This has been humorously parodied in many forums: how academics can’t express a conclusion without phrasing it as a strong possibility under a host of subordinate clauses. There are, indeed, consequences for expressing unwarranted certainty. In the same precise vein, there are consequences for expressing unwarranted skepticism, or skepticism selectively aimed at some sources and not others. Using the methodology with which we are all trained and the probabilities upon which we must base almost all of ancient history, none of us are in any doubt that some guy named Jesus existed and was crucified. The doubt and debate usually start at some point after that.

  • Anonymous

    Can we at least agree that we can likely be
    considerably more certain about the existence of a person of prominence in the
    ancient world who said and did things that were noticed by people of prominence
    who were his contemporaries than we can be about the existence of a person who
    went unnoticed during his lifetime by all but a small group of illiterate

    • James F. McGrath

      VinnyJH, I have always said that those figures who left behind more substantial evidence, material as well as textual, are figures about whom our degree of certainty is higher. But of course, mythicists are not those who merely emphasize our relatively lower certainty, but those who argue that it is more likely that Jesus was invented based on either Jewish Scriptural texts or non-Jewish dying and rising gods or whatever. It ought to be obvious to everyone how problematic such claims are, and it is difficult to explain why the obvious does not seem obvious to some.

      • Anonymous

         Dr. McGrath,

        I have seen you say such things on occasion, but I believe that you have also suggested that the kinds of questions that mythicists (and historical Jesus agnostics like myself) raise about the existence of Jesus could be raised about almost any figure in the ancient world and that seems to me not to be the case.   I think the people about whose existence we can generally be confident are people who interacted with prominent contemporaries enough to leave discernible marks in the historical record within their own lives.  Even though the extant biographies of Alexander the Great were composed centuries after his death, they cite sources that we can reasonably believe were composed by Alexander’s contemporaries.

        If there was a historical Jesus, it may well be that he was unnoticed during his lifetime outside of a small group of illiterate Galilean peasants and to the extent he crossed paths with anyone outside the group, he was just another troublemaker crucified by the Romans.   Even when he did eventually attract enough wider attention to leave a mark, it seems primarily due to supernatural events that were claimed to have occurred after his death primarily by men who hadn’t known him personally and whose motivations for leaving that mark were entirely theological.

        I am not an expert in the field, but it would not surprise me if there is no one similar in the ancient world about whose existence historians would maintain certainty.  I will not defend the reasoning on anyone who claims to be certain that Jesus didn’t exist, but I have a hard time buying the idea that the evidence for his existence is as good as most historicists seem to think it is.

      • Anonymous

        Are there any other figures in history who are widely regarded as historical figures who have had entire books written within two centuries of their death concerning whether they had flesh?

  • Anonymous

    Again, “in some fields there are severe consequences for expressing unwarranted certainty while there are almost none in others,” is a bit of narrative. This is a generalized slap with no proof offered.

    What proof do you need?  Lawyers and doctors can get sued for malpractice as a result of expressing unwarranted certainty about a conclusion. They can lose their licenses to practice their livelihoods.  Whatever metaphorical beatings the graduate student may take, the tenured professor is not similarly constrained.

    • Don M. Burrows

      Well, first they have to get tenure, and you do that through publication. So if your scholarship is shoddy, you aren’t likely to get published, and thus not likely to gain tenure in the first place. Should you get tenure, then publish nonsense (assuming it somehow gets published), you might not get published much more after that, and you might gain both yourself and your institution a bad reputation. Ultimately, you can in fact get your tenure revoked. This happens every year, albeit in small numbers.

  • Anonymous

    I think my point still stands.  The shoddy scholar gets his article rejected and he tries again.  I don’t think that’s comparable to getting sued.

    • Don M. Burrows

      Maybe not. But the stakes are not quite the same either. (Since we’ve mentioned siblings, a disclosure: my brother is a doctor.) With medical malpractice, someone has typically died or been worsened by bad medical care. In legal malpractice, someone is out money or liberty as a result. In scholarship, someone has published a bad idea. I don’t think we want to start offering torts for bad ideas, do we?

      • Anonymous

        Of course not, but since we don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised that the professional expertise of the PhD in New Testament studies is perceived differently than the professional expertise of the MD or the PhD.

        I have a JD, but I have not made my living practicing law for nearly twenty years.  If somebody asks me about a legal issue at a party, I make sure that they know how long it has been since I researched any question of law.  On the other hand, my brother with the PhD in economics hasn’t published a paper in better than thirty years.  If someone asks him a question about economics, he holds forth with the same complete degree of certainty that he always did.

  • christthetao

    On a topic on which people have strong opinions, I think we do need a way of weeding out the quacks.  Academic qualifications are a useful shortcut, but good judgement is a better method, if one has it. 

    Intone the word “Tibet.”  Immediately, flakes and crack-pots descend on your position from every closet, out of every cubbyhole talking about aliens, hidden Jesus manuscripts, and 3000 year old gurus in caves.  What is one to do?  Almost none of us reads Tibetan and is in a position to refute all these fanciful and colorful yarns. 

    The impressive thing about the German professor I studied Tibetan religions from, was how boring he was.  His class was overflowing with eager students, as he must once have been, and he bored us to tears.  That helped me recognize the value of academic credentials.  (Though, by contrast, my Chinese religions prof was a VERY colorful character.)  I began to get a real feel for Tibetan Buddhism. 

    Get them out of the classroom, though, and your average professor will spout off on every subject under the sun, as if he knows something about it, then write books like The God Delusion to prove that he doesn’t. 

    So even in evaluating the experts, one still needs sound judgment.  And there’s probably no way to put that in an elixir and distill it and make everyone swallow it — good sense remains an art, not a science. 

    Still, all in all, in my experience, one should listen carefully, when the argument becomes cacyphonous, to the philosophers. 

    And Carrier has made it clear, too many times, how proud he is of his own doctorate, to quickly dismiss the weight of academic opinion. 

  • jjramsey

    I just realized how terrible Carrier’s argument against the claim, “prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any
    kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified
    messiah” actually is.

    He tries to use the Dead Sea scroll about the coming of Melchizedek as an example of Daniel 9.26 being about a dying messiah, but this is how it reads:

    (The …) is that whi(ch …all) the divine beings. The visitation is
    the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the
    captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the
    feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion ‘Your divine being reigns’.” (Isa. 52;7) This
    scriptures interpretation : “the mountains” are the prophets, they who
    were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. “The
    messengers” is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke; “After
    the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed shall be cut off” (Dan. 9;26) The
    “messenger who brings good news, who announces Salvation” is the one of
    whom it is written; “to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the
    vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61;2)

    Daniel 9.26 isn’t being understood as a reference to the Messiah (as opposed to other anointed people), but to the “messenger(s)” in Isaiah 52:7, who is (are?) in turn described vaguely as the “Anointed of the spirit.” If anyone is implied to be the Messiah in that scroll, it’s Melchizedek, who is described as a “divine being” who will deliver the sons of righteousness from Belial. Daniel 9.26 is apparently used by the scroll’s author to refer to the messengers on behalf of Melchizedek, though the translation of the scroll is rather disjointed and hard to read. It certainly doesn’t provide clear support for his case.

    Carrier’s appeal to “Messiah ben Joseph” seems even more iffy, since as far as I can tell, he never argues that a Messiah ben Joseph appears in pre-Christian sources, only that Jews wouldn’t have borrowed the idea of a suffering Messiah from Christians when they came up with this ben Joseph. Carrier’s appeal to his old essay “The Dying Messiah” is problematic as well. McGrath already pointed out, for example, why Carrier’s argument that Targum Jonathan’s take on Isaiah 53 didn’t support the idea of a suffering messiah.

  • PaulH

    beallen0417- The four Gospels were written roughly 30-60 years after the death of Jesus, much less than two centuries. Paul’s letters maybe 15 years after his death.

    • Anonymous

      Paul, i am not referring to the gospels or the epistles. I am talking about a whole book devoted to solving the problem of whether Jesus had flesh by Tertullian. Was there ever such a book written about any other genuinely historical figure?

  • Don M. Burrows

    Sorry you feel I condescended to you. When I suggested links to scholarly sources, I meant to include them here. I merely mentioned my blog as that is what I do there. I’m glad to hear you do that as well. I just found it odd that you appeared to be citing yourself, and your blog no less, as a source.
    You state that someone else has proven to you that “literary genre theory has but a limited place in Classical studies.” I don’t know exactly what you mean, but I assume you’re impugning my discipline as you do throughout. I study the prose narratives of late antiquity. Genre theory for these texts, even at its most basic with respect to fiction vs. history, occupies scores upon scores of collected essays, monographs, and articles. It is, in fact, one of the most in vogue areas of classics, increasingly. The main journal for this (relatively new) subfield in classics is “Ancient Narrative.” Which of course describes almost anything, which is sort of the point. They talk about Bakhtin and his “adventure time” (and how wrong it often is) as well as a host of other literary theories. I pointed all this out before because you suggested that we can clearly divine what genre an author is writing in, whereas the fact is that we cannot always do this, but in fact authors appear to be intentionally frustrating efforts in this regard, which is precisely why so many scholars have written about it. 
    As for your question, I took it, and addressed each part of it specifically. That I did not do so to your satisfaction (apparently) is not really cause for a caustic screed on what an ass you think I am, as entertaining as I found that. It’s because I don’t know you that I asked about your career path. I asked why you would not be a part of the scholarly conversation if you have such a zeal for the material (since your comments indicated a separative relationship between yourself and the academy), and asked if you had gone to graduate school. I did not assume you had or had not. That’s in fact why I asked.
    Yes, we all have “validly rational arguments,” and they have been presented to you. That you and a cadre of others outside the profession do not deem them “valid” does not mean they are not. Everyone within the field apparently does. If you want them addressed, seems like Ehrman’s book is the way to go. I’m halfway through it, and he has pretty exhaustively researched mythicists’ claims and has done a pretty good job so far of refuting them. Since he was the impetus for this entire conversation, I would suggest you take it up with his book. I’m glad he wrote it, because from just my experience of the past week, it is something that should be addressed by someone in the field, but not something most of us would ever have the patience to research. The mangling of the Dionysus myth by Carrier and others alone drove me to drink, but then perhaps that’s appropriate.
    You say: “You dismiss Thompson as if his arguments were lone mavericks, thus demonstrating your lack of familiarity with the wider scholarship in this area.” And again, I ask you: cite for me (here please) an article from a Biblical studies or classical studies journal or a monograph by a scholar in these disciplines, applying Thompson’s methodology to Jesus and supporting the mythicist position. If there has been “wider scholarship” in this area within my discipline or that of New Testament, I would genuinely love to see it. 
    Finally this seems to be becoming far too personal for you. Whatever offense you feel I have done to you, I am sincerely sorry. Genuinely. I’m actually a pretty affable fellow, however I come across in print. But I don’t find your comments on historical sources to be very persuasive. I have little doubt you will find my remarks worth little, however, and so short of a citation of the sort I have asked for, I am not sure this conversation is very productive.
    And Dr. McGrath, I am sorry for my long posts. I sincerely hope this is the last one. Indeed, perhaps I should just ensure that it is.

    • James F. McGrath

      No need to apologize for long comments – I am delighted when things I post about generate conversation!

    • Neil Godfrey

      Sorry you feel I condescended to you.


      Hi Don,

      It actually had less to do with a feeling than with reading your own description of your words as condescending.


      When I suggested links to scholarly sources, I meant to include them here. I merely mentioned my blog as that is what I do there. I’m glad to hear you do that as well. I just found it odd that you appeared to be citing yourself, and your blog no less, as a source.

      Oh my goodness, Don. How many times do I have to repeat that a comments box here is not the place to discuss arguments in full and that all I can do is offer an outline. How silly of me to link to where I argue my case in full as if I am quoting myself as a source! No, Don, I cannot argue the point in full here. How long do we want these comments to get? That’s why I linked to where I have done such things — which you suggest is not allowed. (Dr McGrath referred you to “other places” to make a point about how our dialogues have gone without having to explain it all here.)

      I certainly can focus detailed aspects, though.

      I raised a question that addresses a much fuller argument and you have said you don’t understand, or find difficulty in understanding, the fuller argument, but that does not stop you from launching into quite misdirected arguments against what you presume it to be, as well as my motives.

      You state that someone else has proven to you that “literary genre theory has but a limited place in Classical studies.” I don’t know exactly what you mean, but I assume you’re impugning my discipline as you do throughout.

      Oh fiddle faddle :-) . When a classicist himself tells me as much I do not presume he is impugning his own discipline. Stop assuming all sorts of character or motivational defects and try to address the points I make.

      Nor, by the way, do I impugn theological studies, despite what you might have heard from other parties. What I do take exception to is when people trained in one area assume to speak authoritatively – and insult others in the process — about things even a layman can see they know little about.

      I study the prose narratives of late antiquity. Genre theory for these texts, even at its most basic with respect to fiction vs. history, occupies scores upon scores of collected essays, monographs, and articles. It is, in fact, one of the most in vogue areas of classics, increasingly. The main journal for this (relatively new) subfield in classics is “Ancient Narrative.” Which of course describes almost anything, which is sort of the point. They talk about Bakhtin and his “adventure time” (and how wrong it often is) as well as a host of other literary theories. I pointed all this out before because you suggested that we can clearly divine what genre an author is writing in, whereas the fact is that we cannot always do this, but in fact authors appear to be intentionally frustrating efforts in this regard, which is precisely why so many scholars have written about it.

      If you were a little more patient and sought clarification you would not need to argue like this. I am sure you don’t jump the gun with your colleagues but are quite willing to seek clarification if you suspect they have overstated or misstated something. Yes?

      I know very well it is not always clear what genre a particular document is. That’s one of the reasons we have genre studies. And I am quite sure Bakhtin is rarely accepted as a final authority in every point he has ever made. So what is your point? How does it address the larger argument in question.

      Do you think you might like to sum up what you think you are arguing against to see that you are indeed on the right track? (It might save a lot of long tedious posts that get us nowhere.)


      As for your question, I took it, and addressed each part of it specifically. That I did not do so to your satisfaction (apparently) is not really cause for a caustic screed on what an ass you think I am, as entertaining as I found that. It’s because I don’t know you that I asked about your career path. I asked why you would not be a part of the scholarly conversation if you have such a zeal for the material (since your comments indicated a separative relationship between yourself and the academy), and asked if you had gone to graduate school. I did not assume you had or had not. That’s in fact why I asked.


      I am a metadata specialist for the preservation and open access sharing of research publications and research data manager (across research faculties) at a university. (But my office is in a library so I’m also called a librarian though my job is unrecognizable as such.) Most of my friends are academics, nearly all of my work colleagues are academics, and I work closely with academics in assisting them with the management, sharing, reporting of their research archives and datasets and publications. I have from time to time been encouraged (ever since my early graduate days) to take up an academic career, and more recently to write for peer-reviewed journals – yes, even on biblical study topics. I have an excellent rapport with quite a few academics even in New Testament and other biblical studies areas. One can point out what one believes are shortcomings in a particular area without being in some sort of “separative relationship” whatever that means.

      Unfortunately there are also a few academics who speak on certain questions as if they have a right to be respected merely because of their letters after their name and they speak quite irresponsibly – even culpably — as public intellectuals. I do not by any means say you are one of those. But Dr McGrath does know at least one person I believe falls into that category.

      Respect is earned by the arguments, and the results that prove the arguments — as with even medical practitioners. Not by mere fact of having acquired letters.

      But it is surely undeniable that we are addressing in the case of biblical studies what must surely be one of the most ideological studies of all. That has a lot of implications that hang over all of this discussion.



      Yes, we all have “validly rational arguments,” and they have been presented to you. That you and a cadre of others outside the profession do not deem them “valid” does not mean they are not.

      I’m aligned or coupled with a “cadre”? What cadre is that?

      Can you be specific, though? I may disagree for various thought-through reasons but that does not mean I consider what I disagree with as an invalid argument.



      Everyone within the field apparently does. If you want them addressed, seems like Ehrman’s book is the way to go. I’m halfway through it, and he has pretty exhaustively researched mythicists’ claims and has done a pretty good job so far of refuting them. Since he was the impetus for this entire conversation, I would suggest you take it up with his book. I’m glad he wrote it, because from just my experience of the past week, it is something that should be addressed by someone in the field, but not something most of us would ever have the patience to research.

      I have taken up his book and am responding to it. I have the advantage of having read the books he is criticizing so maybe I’m in a better position to evaluate whether or not he has done “a pretty good job so far of refuting them”. Have you read them? If not, on what basis do you believe he has done a pretty good job of refuting them?

      I would link you to where I have taken up my posts about Ehrman’s book but I would not want anyone to think I was vainly quoting myself?


      The mangling of the Dionysus myth by Carrier and others alone drove me to drink, but then perhaps that’s appropriate.

      What has this to do with anything I have addressed?

      You say: “You dismiss Thompson as if his arguments were lone mavericks, thus demonstrating your lack of familiarity with the wider scholarship in this area.” And again, I ask you: cite for me (here please) an article from a Biblical studies or classical studies journal or a monograph by a scholar in these disciplines, applying Thompson’s methodology to Jesus and supporting the mythicist position. If there has been “wider scholarship” in this area within my discipline or that of New Testament, I would genuinely love to see it.

      Well this is how it always goes on this blog. I ask James a question. He refuses to answer or ridicules the question and impugns my motives and character, then asks me his own question. Sorry. I’m tired of that game. You first.

      I have quoted scholarly works in relation to these arguments several times, but I would be merely quoting myself again if I linked to where.


      Finally this seems to be becoming far too personal for you. Whatever offense you feel I have done to you, I am sincerely sorry.

      You were the one who spoke of condescending to me. You were the one who has read and published what you imply are my motives. I’m aligned with  a cadre. I’m anti-Christian. I am arguing apologetically for mythicism. I am some sort of “separationist” from the academic field – all things you have imputed into my remarks.

      Actually I don’t think it’s entirely your fault. I have learned long ago that when two people don’t seem to talk in synch like this it can often be a sign that there is someone else behind the scenes influencing one’s perceptions. Maybe things could have turned out differently on neutral territory.

      Genuinely. I’m actually a pretty affable fellow, however I come across in print.

      Me too.

      But I don’t find your comments on historical sources to be very persuasive. I have little doubt you will find my remarks worth little, however, and so short of a citation of the sort I have asked for, I am not sure this conversation is very productive.


      As above.

      And Dr. McGrath, I am sorry for my long posts. I sincerely hope this is the last one. Indeed, perhaps I should just ensure that it is.

      Me too.

      I likewise hope this is my last. I took you as a pretty nice chap from the beginning. That’s why I took the time to address you.

  • christthetao

    Don: Let me ask you a question, please.  I assume you’re familiar with Richard Burridge’s study of the Gospels in relation to various examples of bioi.  Are there any other Greco-Roman texts from the period, that you feel furnish closer parallels to the Gospels, either in bioi or perhaps something fictional, than the ones he studies? 

    I did a comparative study several years ago, in which I first analyzed 50 characteristics that the Gospels share in common, then compared other ancient works, including Go Thomas, Iliad, Ap of Tyana, Agricola, Journey to the West, and Analects of Confucius, on those characteristics. I’d like to extend the study some time, to other works. 

  • Don M. Burrows

    David (christthetao), 
    It’s been a while since I read (portions of) Burridge’s work in my New Testament classes. I do know that we typically still put a question mark as to genre with respect to the Gospels when we reference them in survey courses of ancient material. My work more often makes use of the apocryphal acts, which have traditionally been assumed to be mere extensions of the Greek and Roman “novels” (which they clearly are in many ways), but Christine Thomas’ seminal book on the Acts of Peter (among others) sort of blew that out of the water about 10 years ago. So when I mention genre theory of that sort, that is primarily what I’m thinking of, though I realize it’s perhaps far afield from the concerns of most folks in this thread.

  • Mytherskeptic

    Carrier’s response to McGrath:

  • tutor

     I do not believe I have ever had such a piece published that did not end up having editorial changes made to the wording. 

    McGrath plays the interpolation card. 

    What is needed is textual evidence of these editorial interpolations…..

  • MORGAN-L.G Lamberth

    Besides, being anonmous, we have no way to determine if the writers were credible people, much to dismiss- their miracle stories and their contradictions. Still, I’m not stating that Yeshua that cult leader did not exist as I ,too, agree that  people as with the telephone game, change matters- embellishments and so forth.
     So, then we should look at followers: the early ones would certainly have known him. outside of those writers, do we have reports from other Christians at his time that they followed him? Any letters? That is, the connecton betwixt his early followers and the writers would help. Call it the Yeshua Nexus!
      More important  for me is that he as, deist Miklos Jako in ” Confronting Believers,” the great moral leader is the scam of the ages! G.H Wells notes how the Sermon on the Mount is not for us. Note Yeshua’s love of Hell! He was not much of an innovator and why would any rational person follow his silly or dangerous advice anyway?
       Yes, I thus also agree with Lord Russell and Col. Ingersoll about his awful character. As any cult leader would do, he wants his flock to love him more than they love others and to practice faith-logicide [ Brand Blanchard comes to mind.]. I take his I came not to bring peach but the sword and proclaiming that perforce others would take offense at them as any cult leader would , and thus disagree with Pres. Carter. Wasn’t he referring to himself in that parable about the king who says bring my enemies before me and slay them? Anyway, as Yahweh, he calls for genocide and a totalitarian life style. Perhaps, he didn’t claim to be Yahweh, but he pellucidly states that he did not come to change an iota of the law. Thus, didn’t he then want to stone cheeky children and want women to undergo those silly menstrual routines? He had only one ground for divorce.
      Thus, why don’t we discuss his message? As the esteemed William Kaufmann would say exegesis is eisegesis! Why would Spong’s interpretation of his character be any better than that of any fundamentalist?
       I see him as the writers describe him without their hagiography!      Kaufmann – gentle skeptic  gnu atheist attack
       Bye to the buy-bull @ tumblr.
        Carneades of Ga.; Carneades Hume

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  • Dave A Smitty

    i see you saying a

    “mythicist tactic” don’t you find it kind wired ….why the bible doesn’t make sense, but yet when you hear a “mythicist tactic” every thing starts to make real sense ,,, the bible is nonsense , common sense and using your logic tell you so ,,,, the bible makes perfect sense if you read it as a fictional book only ,,, but when you have people saying is all truth ,, then one starts to laugh ,,,,same goes if someone was to say harry potter was real truth,

    • James F. McGrath

      Historians do not work with “the Bible” which did not exist yet in the relevant period. They deal with early Christian literature, and apply the methods of historical criticism to them. Making a comparison with Harry Potter may seem like a fun tactic for an apologist, but the historian is interested in assessing whether there is any useful historical information in these sources, distinguishing it from later additions and reinterpretations, and other such matters which are not at all reflected in your comments.

      • Dave A Smitty

        work with the bible all the time where are you getting your info.?

        • James F. McGrath

          Only in the sense that they deal with works which, long after their composition, became part of a compilation known as “the Bible.” Hence my comment which made this point and which you seem not to have understood.

  • Leo

    Mathew 13:….

    31He told them another parable:“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

    As some say The Gospels and Acts are a exageration of what really happened..blablabla…Well, I am not schollar but I find this verses very intresting….could we use as fact!?..

    Did not the biggest Empire to ever exist felt to their knees after 325 years?…We know they fought for a long time agaist…I just wonder, what Nero would say if he would be able to see from hell, that his Empire could not cut this small tree!…lol

    Is Jesus speaking HIstory here? the evidences points out to….I you?