Review of Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? Part Two

This is the second part of my review of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, in which I discuss the second and third parts of the book. The first part of my review, on the first part of the book, can be found by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

The first part of the book focused on making the positive historical case for there having been a historical Jesus of Nazareth. The second part of the book focuses on specific mythicist claims, and the first chapter in this section is dedicated to claims that are weak and/or irrelevant. By way of illustration of the need to identify and set aside irrelevant arguments, Ehrman looks at one often used by conservative Christians, namely the claim that because the New Testament writings are frequently attested, therefore they are reliable, and explains why the supposed logic of the claim does not work (p.178).

The first mythicist claim Ehrman turns to is that the Gospels are highly problematic as historical sources. He agrees – and then proceeds to show why the point is irrelevant to the question of whether there was a historical Jesus. That some material is forged about an individual does not mean that all of it was forged, and the fact that we do not know who wrote something likewise does not mean that a historian cannot determine whether or not it is likely to contain historical material. So too with discrepancies, which Ehrman (like all historical scholars) acknowledges are present in large numbers and on matters both large and small (pp.182-183). The Gospels contain nonhistorical material. But historians are adept at examining sources that contain a mixture of historical information and legend and distinguishing between the two. Even when one sets aside not only the clearly unhistorical but also the uncertain, material remains that shows itself to be of historical value. The use of historical critical methods places significant amounts of material under a question mark – but some mythicists wrongly claim that if doubt has been raised about something, it has been demonstrated to be more likely ahistorical. That is not so across the board.

The second major claim Ehrman addresses is that Nazareth did not exist. On the one hand, it is irrelevant, because if Jesus was not from Nazareth it doesn’t mean that he was from nowhere (p.191). On the other hand, this claim is connected most recently with Rene Salm, who is not an archaeologist and who had the misfortune of publishing his already problematic claims about this subject a year before archaeologists uncovered a house from the time of Jesus in Nazareth (pp.196-7). But even before this decisive evidence was uncovered, it was clear that the attestation of the existence of the village in later Jewish sources could not be accounted for in terms of Jews deciding to create a village borrowing its name from Christians! In examining the methods used by mythicists in arguing these cases, and the credence that is given to a musician over actual archaeologists, is every bit as egregious as the tactics conservative Christian apologists use.

The third major claim that Ehrman examines is that the Gospels are “midrashic” paraphrases of the Jewish Scriptures. The ultimate problem with the argument is this: “The fact that a story about a person has been shaped according to the mold of older stories and traditions does not prove that the core of the story is unhistorical. It simply shows how the story came to take its shape” (p.198). And so the claim is at best irrelevant, but in some instances it clearly also does not fit the evidence. Ehrman can hardly contain his bemusement as Robert Price not only appeals to unconvincing similarities between Gospel narratives and accounts in the Hebrew Bible, but even stretches as far as Zoroastrian material in order to find some possible basis for the invention of the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist (pp.203-204).

Claim #4 which Ehrman addresses is that Jesus was invented on the basis of pagan “divine men.” Ehrman begins by indicating why historians set aside the claims of miraculous birth and other supernatural occurrences connected with certain figures – such as Apollonius of Tyana – but include that they existed. Ehrman then proceeds to trace the penchant of mythicists for making up and exaggerating parallels between Jesus and other figures, going back to the 19th century. Authors like Graves and Zindler are shown to have simply invented stories about allegedly parallel stories, beliefs, and practices for which there is simply no evidence at all. Yet the claims about such parallels continue to be repeated. This is not to say that there are no similarities, but merely that some are interesting, some are superficial, and some are made up. And so under such circumstances the claim of wholesale borrowing is yet one more instance of apologetic fabrication rather than a conclusion justified by evidence and scholarly analysis.

The same is true of the focus in the next chapter, that Jesus was invented on the basis of dying and rising gods. In both cases, secondary sources have popularized the view that there are striking parallels between Jesus and other figures. Many of the claims continue to be repeated today by people who fail to realize that some of them have no primary source in their support, and the secondary sources that popularized many of them were viewing the evidence from a perspective familiar with Christianity and thus looking for such parallels, in some cases finding them where the evidence on closer examination does not support them. Recent studies have either challenged the notion that there were gods who died and rose again at all – most purported examples did one or the other, not both – or have cautiously suggested that such cults may have existed in some places but were not widespread and are not well evidenced. Neither scholarly viewpoint places such cults in Palestine where Christianity arose.

But there is a more fundamental reason not to think that Jesus was not invented on the basis of dying and rising gods. In our earliest sources, Jesus is not a god. It is not so much ironic that atheist mythicist apologists and conservative Christian apologists argue against this mainstream conclusion of historical scholarship. Time and again mythicists believe Christian claims that historical critical scholarship calls into question – that Jesus was always believed to be divine, that the supposed predictions about him in Jewish Scripture offer a precise fit, and so on. In ignoring the methods of historical scholarship, mythicists are actually seen time and again to fall into pitfalls of the gullible, because they are not availing themselves of the safeguards that allow scholars to try to avoid simply reading early texts through the lens of later beliefs, or finding in them what we wish to. While even those using scholarly methods are not immune to such missteps, those who eschew scholarly methods unsurprisingly do far worse.

Turning to the claims of Earl Doherty, Ehrman explains the Jewish context of Jesus and the movement centered on him, and explains why the significance of resurrection in a Jewish context makes it unlikely that Paul had in mind a figure from some time in the ill-defined past. While generously not lumping Doherty together with Murdock, Freke, and Gandy, Ehrman does point out that Doherty’s 800-page book is so filled with errors that it would take a 2400-page book to address all the problems (p.252). Among the issues are Doherty’s claims to know things about the mystery religions that we cannot, and that there was a single ancient viewpoint (Platonism) that would supposedly have been reflected in the mystery religions (pp.252-255). And there is at any rate no evidence that mystery cults were present in the regions where Christianity first appeared. The evidence from Judaism offers a better and different context than the one Doherty posits, but even without that context, Paul and other early Christian sources simply do not say what Doherty makes them out to. (For those interested, I’ve been blogging through Doherty’s book in even greater detail on this blog, and agree with Ehrman that the claims Doherty makes about what early Christian literature says are false/wrong, and the errors in the book are egregious and painful).

In the third part of the book, Ehrman asks whether we can know more than the absolute bare minimum, such as the name of this figure and that he was crucified. Ehrman answers yes, and outlines the scholarly consensus about the Jewish setting of Jesus (including information about other groups that existed in his time), explains some of the key things historians look for in material to assess its historicity, and then surveys briefly the evidence that Jesus was an apocalypticist who wrongly expected the dawn of the kingdom of God in the near future, his ethical teaching as a response to that expectation of the imminent end, as well as who he associated with and what he said about and did in the temple. In the process, Ehrman suggests that it is likely that Jesus himself indicated his expectation that he would be installed as king when the kingdom dawned.

Ehrman concludes the book by talking about the mythicist agenda and whose interests seem to be driving it. The reactions on blogs from some biologists who are atheists has appalled me, and seems to confirm Ehrman’s point. That academics who devote significant attention to defending science education would then jettison those principles and listen to random fringe voices about a matter of history is disturbing and dismaying. While Ehrman is sympathetic to the opposition to traditional religion that drives mythicism, and understand why some would seek to use the claim to complete ahistoricity to knock the legs out from under Christian claims. But Ehrman rejects their claims about Jesus for two reasons: First of all, because they are not true, and getting history right matters to him. But secondly, because the accurate information that genuine historical scholarship produces is far more effective in countering the claims of any and all of those who try to wield or appeal to Jesus to serve their contemporary interests or turn him into a figure of our time.

Ultimately, mythicists “are not doing history; they are doing theology” (p.338). They are seeking to counter a religious viewpoint, and in doing so are allowing their conclusions to be driven by those religious (or better anti-religious) concerns rather than historical ones. (I would add to this that there are certainly mythicists who do not fit this category – but in almost all cases the views that they hold have come ultimately from someone who was more concerned with religious polemic than historical evidence.)

The reactions of many mythicists to Ehrman’s book, and the manner of response seen in some comments on this blog and elsewhere, says a lot. Several have pointed out what may or may not be errors, or at least examples of imprecision, in the book, in a manner that suggests they think that being capable of error means that everything one writes can be summarily dismissed. Apart from it being the case that, if this were so, mythicism would clearly have been discredited by multitude of the errors that each of its proponents has been guilty of, there is a more fundamental point. Scholars make errors. Scientists make errors. The greatest minds in these categories are not infallible – Einstein, Darwin, Newton, and any others one might name. That Stephen Jay Gould may have allowed his admirable opposition to racism to bias his treatment of certain data does not mean that he is incompetent and to be dismissed with regard to everything he says. It means that he is human. But because they are mostly former fundamentalists, one distinctly gets the impression that mythicists are still on a quest for inerrant sources of truth, and that dismissing mainstream scholarship on the basis of its lack of inerrancy is foolish. Hopefully those who are genuinely seeking after truth will realize that seeking the truth can only mean getting as close to the truth as we fallible human beings can muster, using the tools and methods (whether in science or history) that help us to account for our own shortcomings and biases and draw the best conclusions that we can. Bart Ehrman’s book offers a fantastic example of a scholar doing precisely that, explaining how historical conclusions are reached – and where the claims of denialist critics are wrong or irrelevant – in a manner that allows the reader to understand the relevant evidence and why the consensus is so strong about this particular topic. I highly recommend this book.

I am grateful to have been included in this blog tour. Click through to read what other bloggers are saying about Did Jesus Exist?

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    “Several have pointed out what may or may not be errors, or at least examples of imprecision, in the book, in a manner that suggests they think that being capable of error means that everything one writes can be summarily dismissed. ”

    That’s a very good point.  I wonder how our lives might change if we applied it to the Bible as well.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Since I frequently see Jesus being from Nazareth cited as proof of his existence because no one would have invented a messiah who came from such a podunk town (and I do think that it is one of the better examples of the criteria of embarrassment),  I cannot see how anyone could claim that the existence of the town is irrelevant to the question of Jesus’ existence.  Ehrman is correct to point out that it is not dispositive, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

    If each and every piece of evidence that historicists cite could be shown not to support the inference that Jesus existed, that might not conclusively prove that he didn’t exist, but it would be more than sufficient basis to have some healthy doubts about the question.  Since Nazareth is a piece of evidence that historicists  regularly cite, proving that it didn’t exist at the necessary time (which I don’t think mythicists have shown) would be relevant to the overall case for Jesus’ existence.  

    Ehrman’s frequent claims that a mythicist argument is irrelevant just because it isn’t dispositive is one of the things that really bothered me in the book.

  • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

    Yes.  The existence of Nazareth in the First Century is an important question.  If Nazareth was not actually inhabited at the time of the “Jesus of Nazareth” it  further undermines the already shaky credibility of the Josephus-Plagiarizing Gospel author we call Luke.

    Interestingly, the discovery of a supposed first century house in Nazareth (reported in Dec 2009 to much fanfare) has apparently NOT had any verification of the primary artifacts supposedly found on-site.  Nothing shows up online since this discovery was breathlessly trumpeted to the world through the major media outlets.  To date, this supposed evidence for a first century dwelling is no stronger than the verbal claims of the archeologist discoverer of the find, Yardenna Alexandre.  AFAIK, she has not yet presented any of her finds for verification by qualified experts.  How fortuitous that this unverified blockbuster claim happened to be on the site of the International Marian Center of Nazareth – a Catholic Church owned tourist destination.  It sure can’t hurt the revenues any…

    Could Dr. McGrath share with us how he and Dr. Ehrman can confidently accept this claim without any further confirmation?  Perhaps they would also like to add the Shroud of Turin to their pile of pseudo-evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus?

    Dr. McGrath seems very quick to dismiss the amateurs looking into these claims and yet the ‘professionals’ working for agencies dedicated to drumming up pilgrim tourist revenue are somehow beyond reproach and accepted at face value.  I see confirmation bias hard at work here.

    It may be that the Mythicist claim that: ‘Nazareth did not exist in the first century” will be falsified; but, the jury should still be out on this important question.

    -evan

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

      Welcome to the world of real archaeology, Evan. A report, published, confirming what we could already tell by other means. No attempts to sensationalize it. No attempts to “refute” it from a distance by people who have not worked on the site. Slow, painstaking, and mostly dull.

      • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

        Thank you James.

        Perhaps you had a reference attached to your last post & it didn’t come through? 

        I am not an Archeologist but I am interested in the results of this report as a ‘Distant’ observer.  Can you confirm that this finding is verified by other other Archeologists with expertise in this field?  If so, this would go a long way towards falsifying the contention that Nazareth was not in existence in the First Century?  If not, then why haven’t these findings been verified?

        The Church has a very long history of manufacturing artifacts in the absence of real ones. We have also seen a long string of so-called significant archeological finds which on closer inspection turn out to be frauds & forgeries. (The James Ossuary, the Jordan Lead Codices come to mind).

        In the absence of third party verification, I am not prepared to accept an unsupported verbal claim of this very significant finding  – are you? 

        -evan

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

          Evan, in what sense are you using “verified”? Are you asking for an independent team not connected with the Israeli Archaeological Authority to have gone in and looked at the site? Or to have done another dig nearby to see whether other houses and materials from the same period turn up? I am not even clear what it is that you are looking for. Perhaps this is because the status of Nazareth in the first century was already probable based on the available if minimal archaeological evidence and the probabilities related to the textual sources.

          It sounds to me like you are asking whether all the professional archaeologists on the team that did the dig overseen by the Israeli government took additional steps that might persuade a musician who is a Nazareth-denialist to change his mind? If so, then my question is why would anyone who is engaged in serious archaeological work waste their time on such an endeavor, when Biblical studies and Biblical archaeology is plagued by such crackpots, no matter what evidence reputable digs may or may not turn up. Perhaps what you are really asking is whether the best approach to the crackpots and cranks is to address them or ignore them? I am really not clear on what you are looking for in this.

          • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

             I am willing to be set straight but as I understand it the Discoverer of these important artifacts has yet to allow anyone knowledgeable examine and verify their qualities or authenticity.   Neil’s post does raise some of these issues. The IAA is very sensitive I understand to the economic implications of these finds as they help generate pilgrim type tourist dollars. As much as the Turin Chamber of Commerce would like me to venerate the famous Shroud housed in their community, I would not take their stamp of Authenticity at face value either.

            Both you and Dr. Ehrman appear content to accept the finding as genuine & thus Nazareth has been proven to be inhabited in 1st Century Palestine.  If the discoverer is unwilling to present her findings for verification; it raises a red flag to me.  (Perhaps the artifacts are sitting on a shelf right beside a few genuine fragments of the Cross and right underneath the missing Golden Plates that Joseph Smith had so much trouble locating…  ;-) 

            -evan

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

              Evan, it is my understanding that the dig in question was not one in which a single individual took a spade and dug out some artifacts.

              But let’s set that particular case aside, if you prefer. For the most part, past digs were not in the location where the first century hamlet was thought to have been, but even so coins from a range of times including the Herodian era were found. And we also have Jewish mention of Nazareth in a later period in connection with priestly groups. Is it likely that Jews created a new village and chose to name it after a fictional one invented by Christians? I’m not asking whether it is possible or impossible – is it likely?

              I think it is interesting that you are comparing the finding of a residence from a certain period to golden plates. This find doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know by other means. No one has claimed it was the home of Jesus. No one has claimed that it demonstrates anything about him. And yet you are suspicious of conspiracy. I simply can’t grasp what motivates this. Is it your view that the majority of people who are religious tell lies about most subjects most of the time?

              • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                I am agnostic as to the question of a First Century Hamlet called Nazareth.  This so-called proof of First Century habitation which satisfies the question for you and Dr. Ehrman has yet to be verified by independent authorities; that, to me is a little suspicious.  

                Call me suspicious if you like.  I was taught a lot of untruths in Sunday School and the apologetic literature I once devoured. (Eusebius wasn’t the last to endorse pious fraud it seems.)

                The ‘Holy Land’ is littered with Holy artifacts and redundant sacred sites.  When
                Profit & Religious enterprises join hands, fraud appears to be a
                pretty close companion, so when someone comes along with yet another discovery to prove such and such a Biblical timeline or event, it should be taken with a fair measure of skepticism.  (Archeological sites such as Albright’s Solomonic stables, or the Jericho ruins have all been quite contentious and often, after the initial hype gets examined properly,  fail to support the Biblical version of history.)

                My suspicions? 
                Since it appears that noone was even aware of their content or existence until mid-second century, I am becoming more convinced that the Canonical Gospels we have are largely second century creations; highly redacted, interdependent and of a unique genre we could safely call “Pious Fiction”.  That a Second Century writer with Josephus on one lap and a copy of ur-Mark on the other could arbitrarily place his hero as hailing from Nazareth is not beyond possibility.  (We do know that the geographic knowledge of the Gospel writers was not exactly stellar.)  If indeed, Nazareth was not inhabited at the time of the supposed Jesus of the Gospels, that would only demonstrate further the fictional character of this personality so dear to the hearts & minds of the Bible Guild.

                It seems that the Historicists are happy to dismiss the supernatural, miraculous elements of the Gospel Jesus and yet confidently distill out some sort of charismatic messianic preacher who just managed to stay under the radar of the historians of the day.  Somehow he inspired what we call Christianity. Fair enough; he was so obscure no one noticed him.  In that case, this Jesus of Nazareth was so unlike the Gospel Superstar Jesus, that the point is almost moot and unfortunately, unfalsifiable. 

                How convenient is that?

                Cheers.

                -evan

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

                  Evan, thank you for your reply. I don’t think anyone, least of all mainstream scholars of archaeology and history, would dispute that there are a great many sites that became identified with sites mentioned in Biblical stories only centuries or more after the fact. Indeed, it is archaeologists and historians who have uncovered the evidence for this and publicized it. And so I don’t understand your suspicion of mainstream professional archaeologists when they uncover evidence that someone had a house in an area that we already had evidence was inhabited in this period.

                  This is what puzzles scholars like Ehrman and myself about mythicism, I think, more than anything else. Mainstream historical scholarship is what has undercut the veracity of much that the Gospels and later religious traditions claimed. And yet mythicists seem happy to lop off the branch that helped get them to that point because the tools of historical scholarship confirm that not everything religious people have said down the ages was entirely made up from scratch. I don’t think that most people have ever doubted that, anyway, but again, perhaps you had a church context in which everything anyone ever said was lies with no element of truth in them whatsoever, and that shapes how you approach this topic now?

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    It is indeed a worthwhile question to ask: “Why are mythicists not content to deny the resurrection of Jesus, but rather driven to deny that he ever existed at all?”

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

                      Hi Mike, long time no see. Maybe the answer to your question is that many “mythicists” (are they all a single blob in your view?) simply don’t give a damn whether Jesus existed or not. It means nothing to me and many others I know whether he was historical at all. Who cares?

                      But it does begin to make a lot of sense if there are those of us who are also interested in the historical question of the origins of Christianity.

                      Now most mythicists I know don’t have a vested interest in upholding a personal faith, or in undergirding a professional career devoted to selling books or establishing a professional reputation upon exploring a “historical Jesus”, so methinks that such people are a priori in the better position to be less personally biased on the question. Yes?

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Neil, most (all?) mythicists are atheists so clearly they are not upholding a personal faith. Though atheism is nonetheless an unverifiable philosophical position. I don’t accept that just because somebody is an atheist, they have an unbiased view of questions relating to religion.

                      Also, a lot of mythicists out there clearly are selling books, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to refer to them in the discussion above! Just because somebody has written a book about something, that doesn’t automatically make them wrong, or even necessarily biased.

                      Finally from looking at a few bios of mythicists out there, it does seem that are some ex-Christian fundamentalists. Perhaps mythicism at least for some people, is more of a reaction against a fundamentalist background than an objective position on history?

                    • Alphazulu

                      Hey Mike, Kirk Cameron called. He wants his brain back when you’re through with it.

  • Katoikei

    ‘But because they are mostly former fundamentalists, one distinctly gets the impression that mythicists are still on a quest for inerrant sources of truth, and that dismissing mainstream scholarship on the basis of its lack of inerrancy is foolish. Hopefully those who are genuinely seeking after truth will realize that seeking the truth can only mean getting as close to the truth as we fallible human beings can muster, using the tools and methods (whether in science or history) that help us to account for our own shortcomings and biases and draw the best conclusions that we can.’
    Extremely well put. I think that’s going to find a frame or at least a special place in my memory.  Thanks for you determined efforts.  Peace. 

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

    LOL – just 2 points for now since a bit rushed:

    1. Ehrman points out that Doherty claims there was only a single ancient viewpoint (Platonism)?? Not even McGrath himself noticed that error in Doherty — and no wonder, because this claim is one of Ehrman’s mere “imprecisions”– i.e. a blatant, outright, bald-faced, or let’s just say downright careless misquotation of what Doherty wrote — he simply changed a word Doherty wrote from the plural to the singular, and ignored the other points of view at the time that Doherty also referenced. Mere imprecision, of course: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/bart-ehrmans-false-or-careless-assertions-and-quotations-concerning-earl-doherty/

    2. The reference to the house in Nazareth from the time of Jesus??? Oh my — what ever happened to critical reading? http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/that-jesus-era-house-in-nazareth-discovery/

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

    Regular readers will know that I’ve had to give up trying to interact directly with Neil Godfrey because of his tactics. But lest anyone be misled by his misinformation, I can confirm that Doherty’s book does indeed convey that there is a unified viewpoint that one can safely assume not only the mystery religions but Paul himself shared. And that Godfrey prefers the viewpoint of a musician with no expertise or experience in archaeology to the results of an official archaeological dig by professionals should tell you all you need to know.

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

      Sorry, Dr McGrath, but it’s simply a matter of reading and quoting. Ehrman blatantly misquoted Doherty. You cannot deny that. Doherty explicitly mentions a range of ancient viewpoints of the time. You cannot deny that. I have given all the quotations and set them beside Ehrman’s own words. Ehrman blatantly and carelessly built a sustained argument on a MISquotation of Doherty. Ehrman clarelessly read Doherty’s world “viewS” and changed it in his own book to “view”. You have the book. Check it for yourself.

      Of course when I point out the clear evidence you refuse to acknowledge you have no recourse but to accuse me of misinforming. But just read it for yourself, James. You are the one who has failed to accept the evidence.

      As for your ad hominem against Salm, I only refer you to the post I linked and where the apologetics behind the reports are abundantly clear. I also note a commendation of a very reputable archaeologist on the cover of Salm’s book. But the difference is I have read the book and know the scholarship on which it draws and relies. You have not so must attack the person of the author. Nice.

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

        I encourage and trust interested readers to fact-check the amateurs Neil Godfrey recommends (as well as his own claims) and draw their own conclusions, being sure to get information from people who professionally do actual research in history, actual archaeology, or actual work of whatever sort is relevant to the question under discussion. As for me, I stand by what I wrote. The problem with Doherty’s book is not the presence or absence of an “s” but his depiction of a unified viewpoint that doesn’t even reflect Platonism well, but certainly cannot be assumed to be that of Paul, the mystery religions, or anyone else.

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

          Oh my goodness, James. It’s a good thing that Doherty does not “assume” anything in his argument as you here suggest, and he even denies outright that the mystery religions were “Platonic” — as I have QUOTED on my blog posts. But of course, my quotations against your and Ehrmans’ assertions are such nefarious tactics designed to “misrepresent” the true state of affairs. :-)

          But I do appreciate James’ encouragement for readers to fact-check anything I have written, or that Doherty himself has written, about Ehrman’s book and his mere “imprecisions”.

          My posts, and Earl Doherty’s own chapter by chapter replies, are archived here.

          Nice little stoush, James. After that little round can we go down to the online bar and shout each other a virtual beer just to show there is no personal animosity in any of this?

        • Just Sayin’

          Neil Godfrey is living, blog-commenting testimony that Mythicism is truly the Creationism of atheists.

          • Rationalis

            Just Sayin’:

            Obviously you don’t contribute to a scholarly discussion; you just call people names.  So what are YOUR credentials, after all? 

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            At least creationists have a text to guide them.  Mythicists operate on blind faith.

    • Just Sayin’

      It does indeed tell me all I need to know about Neil Godfrey, and safely commit him to the Crank To Be Ignored category. 

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

         But, Joel, neither you nor James do ignore me, do you! ;-)

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

    The third major claim that Ehrman examines is that the Gospels are
    “midrashic” paraphrases of the Jewish Scriptures. The ultimate problem
    with the argument is this: “The fact that a story about a person has
    been shaped according to the mold of older stories and traditions does
    not prove that the core of the story is unhistorical. 

    To bring into play my nefarious tactics once again, I have to point out, once again (yawn!) that this is a tired old straw man. Doherty does not argue this, nor do I, nor any of the mythicists I myself have read. The argument is that – unlike the case with clearly historical figures who are modelled on mythical characters either by historians or their own propagandists (including themselves) of their day — once you take away the mythical trappings there is nothing left of Jesus. But take away the mythical trappings of Hadrian and Alexander et al and very little actually changes. THAT is the difference; THAT is the argument. But it’s a complicated one and clearly beyond the ken of some.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Neil, to my mind, both McGrath and Ehrman have given the mythicist arguments far more attention than they merit.  While these two may not reproduce your arguments as precisely as you’d like, they’ve brought more attention to the mythicist camp than it was ever likely to gain on its own.  I would think you’d be more grateful for the respect they’ve shown your position by taking their time to argue with it, identify its proponents, and call attention to the strongest parts of your arguments.  

    Why don’t you just thank God for all the ink these fellows have given you and call it a day?   

    • Tim Widowfield

      Mike Gantt:  “Why don’t you just thank God for all the ink these fellows have given you and call it a day?”

      I must have misread you, Mike.  I thought God was against bearing false witness — great or small, intentional or unintentional. And surely if someone repeats false statements even after it has been pointed out continually that they are false, one can presume clear intent. (Hmmm.  Is it a question of intent or competence? Either is rather unsavory, don’t you think?)

      But apparently the Bible has an escape clause for “imprecision” that I have overlooked.  Please tell me more.

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

    I trust that anyone interested can actually look at the earliest Gospels for themselves and judge for themselves whether sayings, teaching addressed to disciples, interactions with other teachers, debates about the Jewish Law, apprehension, execution, and other such mundane human activities really are not to be found in those Gospels.

    Once again, why I consider it not to be worthwhile interacting with someone who stoops to Neil Godfrey’s level of deceit and misinformation should be clear to anyone who reads his previous comment and knows what the Gospels contain.

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

       James, that is a nasty accusation. If I have at any point resorted to deceit I demand you demonstrate that – - not merely assert it. Or withdraw your lie.

      You are right about one thing. It is not about a matter of a single “s” in the word “Views” that Ehrman imprecisely dropped off. It is also a matter of Doherty’s discussions of the philosophical and religious chaotic and competing views of the day that Ehrman failed to read. That’s a common mistake for anyone who merely skims a book to make.

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

      Dr McGrath, the Gospels contain echoes of OT tales through and through. So called “historical details” such as Jesus’ rejection by his family is a trope commonly applied to holy men ever since Abel. Jesus’ family rejection sets Jesus in the mold of the righteous holy man who must suffer like Joseph, like David and others. That the disciples fled is not an embarrassment but clearly a sign of fulfilled prophecy that exalts the status of Jesus who must suffer and save the world alone. There is not a theological or mythical detail to Jesus that, once removed, leaves a real person — and this is quite unlike the situation of real historical persons who were depicted with mythical trimmings. Jesus is through and through constructed of such tropes. Even your own scholarly guild says the Gospel Jesus is a Christ of Faith and not historical — but then try to say these parts are historical anyway!

      That does NOT prove Jesus was a myth. But it leaves us no room to believe he was historical, either. For that we need other information.

      • FM

        That’s a VERY weak argument. Actually no argument at all. In my opinion. It’s just too vague and too coincidental to even be an argument.

        Mythicists continue to build castles in the sky from “pseudo-evidence” or weak parallelisms.

        If you read Lincoln and JF Kennedy story, many things that happened in Lincoln’s life also happened in JFK’s life. There are many parallelism. Was then Lincoln a myth? or was JFK a Myth built on Lincoln?

        No, obviously. Parallelism as an argument for the ‘myth theory’ are very weak as well, and with Jesus the ‘parallelisms’ are often stretched or just trivial.

  • Claude

    I’ve but a glancing acquaintance with the New Testament, an infidel new to this debate with no dog in the fight. I have read a few of Prof. Ehrman’s books, including this most recent, and am grateful for his ability, and willingness, to distill his erudition with such clarity and lack of condescension to the reader.Anyway, Neil Godfrey–I read your link. I only have Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle, and there he pretty much posits what Ehrman describes: that the prevailing conception of the cosmic order for Paul and the early Christians was a Platonic higher realm for symbolic actors that represents the genuine and timeless counterpart to visible reality (pp. 96, 98). (Jesus was crucified in this location, Doherty suggests, by demon spirits.) Also, do you guys dispute Ehrman’s contention that virtually nothing is known about the mystery cults? They seem pretty important to Doherty’s development of Christianity by osmosis.Thank you.

    • Claude

      Yikes, not sure why the formatting dropped out. Do I have to use HTML?

      Sorry.

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

      Claude, what is called the Platonic world view in this context — earthly events a pattern of heavenly ones — was pre-Platonic and well established throughout the Middle East long before Plato. The formulations of Plato influenced a host of other philosophical world views, too, such as the Stoics. And there is, I believe, a strong and respectable school of NT scholars who strongly argue for the influence of Stoicism on Paul.

      Doherty, I believe, has conceded that he appears to have overstated or not qualified clearly enough this in his first book and he certainly does expand and clarify and leave no room for misconceptions in his new work.

      If you have really read even the first book by Doherty you will know something of the role of “neo-Platonism” and the wild varieties of thought and concepts it spawned. Hardly the “one ancient world view” of which Ehrman falsely accuses Doherty as having argued. Doherty’s whole point of his application of these ideas and influences in the wider culture is their variety and adaptability and mutability.

      For some reason Ehrman himself explained the very way — the means of communication — by which these philosophical ideas trickled through to the wider popular culture in however a garbled form, yet he writes as if such a world did not exist when arguing against Doherty. Strange indeed. But you have read the evidence for that hypocrisy on Ehrman’s part in my archive.

      If you read the posts in my archive then you will also have read that Doherty says the very opposite of what Ehrman says (another one of his imprecisions) that the mystery cult adherents thought like philosophers or Plato.

      You will also have seen that Doherty points out quite clearly as strongly as Ehrman himself does the basic truism that everyone learns in first year classes of ancient history that we don’t know the details of what was taught in the mystery cults.

      Why Ehrman inferred Doherty did not know this when he clearly says it as plainly as Ehrman himself is, well, another imprecision on Ehrman’s part.

      Ehrman has said Doherty makes assertions that he simply does not make at all. You would have seen the quotations alerting you to another Ehrman’s “imprecisions” here. Doherty does indeed cite evidence of more than one kind from which reasonable deductions can be drawn.

      I don’t know what you mean by referring to Doherty’s argument for a development of Christianity by osmosis.

      If Ehrman were not condescending to his readers why is he so careless with his facts and what he passes on to them? Why so many “imprecisions”?

  • Claude

    Neil Godfrey–

    Thank you for your expansive reply. I’ve not “really read” The Jesus Puzzle; I started it some time ago but, discouraged, didn’t get far. Of course I don’t mean to dispute the influence of Platonism here, but rather whether Ehrman did Doherty an injustice.

    I checked where Ehrman starts complaining about Doherty’s “ancients’ view of the universe” (p. 252) and indeed his footnote 26 is to “The Jesus Puzzle,” not to “Jesus Neither God Nor Man.” And in “The Jesus Puzzle” Doherty writes:

    “To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ view of the universe and how it worked, the concept of myth, and the features of the pagan salvation cults know as the ‘mysteries.’”

    So though Ehrman truncated the quote, he did not misquote by omitting an “s”.

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

      Claude — Ehrman’s misquotation of Doherty’s “the ancients view of the universe” is in the very sentence following on from the one with footnote 25. Footnote 25 is a reference to page 97 of “Jesus Neither God Nor Man”, Doherty’s 2009 book. The quotation is adjacent that footnote. On page 97 of JNGM we read Doherty wrote “views”, not “view” and he elsewhere explicitly points out that there were many such views. It is not just a misreading of one word, but a whole thrust of Doherty’s argument and clear statements to the contrary.

      Your footnote 26 is to page 5 of the earlier book The Jesus Puzzle and is used by Ehrman to commit a howler of a non sequitur. Saying the mystery religions were the predominant form of popular religion of the day is simply basic standard text book stuff. Yet Ehrman tries to twist this into suggesting that Doherty is saying most people in the ancient world were members of the cults. This sort of misreading and non sequitur is a clear indication that Ehrman is reading with hostile intent.

      I see now that you – and perhaps Ehrman — have quoted from page 95 of the earlier book. Why that is when that book has been updated and revised is itself interesting. But even the context of that phrase in TJP makes it clear that he is using the word “view” in the most general sense as a catch-all for many different views that we today find difficult to grasp. The evidence for this is a few lines later where he writes:

      “This was pure Platonism. But the more popular view, a melting pot of more than one line of thought and many cultural backgrounds, was a little less pristine and a lot more chaotic.”

      He then speaks of “many an ancient philosopher” in the context of many views extant. Pages 32 and 33 speak of the various philosophies extant and especially of the rise of neo-Platonism at this time — another simple fact of textbook history. There was a common denominator across many of these philosophies and I have addressed this in other posts looking at the trend towards monotheistic concepts in the ancient world. Platonic strands fed into a wide range of (often rival) philosophical views.

      It is clear as day from all of this that Doherty is arguing for the relevance of the “riotous diversity” (a term he uses in another context) of philosophical and religious ideas of the day — and in particular of one particular concept that is known to have fed the philosophical writings of the day — the trend to find allegorical meanings in the myths. This was a widespread philosophical trend, NOT the thinking of the wider community, but Ehrman himself shows how such ideas did almost certainly trickle to the wider community in some form.

      If Ehrman has quoted from page 95 of the earlier book without regard to Doherty’s specific clarification in the revision which he clearly had in front of him, and in defiance of the larger argument Doherty makes about the diversity of views of the time — in fact his argument hangs on such diversity — then he is no less to be censured for his carelessness and outright misrepresentation of Doherty’s argument. Doherty by no means says that there was only one point of view about the world at the time. He says — in both books — the very opposite.

      You have admitted to not having read even The Jesus Puzzle, but only bits of it. Don’t you think it rather careless to be making public pronouncements about what it says and doesn’t say if you have only read bits of it?

  • Claude

    Neil,

    My bad for forgetting to note the page number. Yes, Ehrman quotes from page 95 of “The Jesus Puzzle,” not page 97 of “Jesus Neither God Nor Man.” And the sentence that ends in footnote 25 is followed by a new paragraph that begins with this sentence:

    “Doherty’s reason for this remarkable statement involves what he calls ‘the ancients’ view of the universe’ (was there one such view?).”

    The penultimate sentence of the paragraph ends with footnote 26.

    Now it’s perfectly understandable how this confusion arose, but you really ripped Ehrman over this quotation issue on your blog, and it seems Ehrman was not so dishonest after all, at least not in the letter.

    I don’t doubt that Doherty elaborated “riotous diversity in his later book,” but in the “Who Crucified Jesus” chapter in The Jesus Puzzle he moves in short order from the Platonic cosmos to its mythological denizens and the crucifixion of Jesus by demons in the upper world. (“Certain texts will be offered to support this,” Doherty assures us.) I did find Ehrman’s critique a bit meandering, but I don’t fault his incredulity.

    You wrote:

    “You have admitted to not having read even The Jesus Puzzle, but only bits of it. Don’t you think it rather careless to be making public pronouncements about what it says and doesn’t say if you have only read bits of it?”

    Yes, I do! Good night!

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

      “Not in the letter!” Thanks, Claude. I also find it curious you are not interested in correcting what you see as my error in the place where I supposedly made it, on my blog.

      Ehrman makes no reference in any citation to page 95 of Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” so I don’t know how you can be so sure it was that book that he was quoting from, especially when the words in question appear adjacent to the footnote citing the very phrase in question. Perhaps Ehrman read the words in TJP and carelessly read them into page 97, the cited footnote, of JNGM.

      But you are avoiding the context – a context you imply you have not even read – where Doherty is clearly addressing many viewpoints of the ancients. And yes, there is one particular one Platonic idea that permeated a whole range of philosophical thinking of the day — you seem bent on avoiding that simple text book fact that Doherty makes, and you seem to do so entirely on the grounds that Ehrman himself has misrepresented Doherty by overlooking the pages of argument and context.

      Yes, Ehrman is at fault. He has been professionally careless. He has fed his lay readers with careless work that actually misrepresents Doherty’s argument.

      Readers deserve better.

      I am pleased you have no stake in the question, too, by the way. I am arguing here a point of professionalism and intellectual honesty. Ehrman is lacking both here. As for whether Jesus was mythical or historical means nothing to me either, so we are on the same page there. I’d like to see you come over to the side of intellectual honesty and fairness and truth in reviews.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Actually, Neil, given the weight of history, and of common sense, it would seem that the explanation for the mythicist missionary exercise does lie somewhere in the realm of personal bias.  That’s not to say, of course, that the individual mythicist is always aware of it.

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

      Thanks for your contribution to the argument, Mike. Just say “mythicists are wrong” and not even aware of their own biases, and that’s it. Not very profound. Do you actually have an argument that comes from reason, evidence and nothing to do with faith in the above?

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

    Paul, I can’t speak for others but I do know I am not alone is espousing atheism not so much as a “philosophical position” (a highly ambiguous expression) but simply as a default position that says: I see no reason to believe in god/s so I choose not to believe in god/s. There’s nothing more to it than that for many of us.

    Of course I have biases towards religion. I can’t help that, given my background. But I had those same biases for a long time while still believing Jesus was a historical person and it would make absolutely no difference to my atheism if I decided to lean back in that direction again.

    As for mythicists selling books, that has to be rich innuendo given Ehrman’s efforts! But if you want to know, I was persuaded towards mythicism entirely from online discussions and material before I knew about or had any access to the books on the subject. And that was when I was spending most time engaged online with mainstream scholarly discussion venues.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say “just because somebody has written a book doesn’t automatically make them wrong or biased”. Presumably you mean to apply that equally to mythicist authors, but I can’t imagine anything I have said that would lead you to apply such a sentiment to me.

    Have you also looked at bios of liberal theologians? Or do you look at only one side? Have you also looked at the religious (and Buddhist) mythicists “out there”? Do you really think that anyone who has not had a background in Christianity and who has since left Christianity would have any motive to be even interested in mythicism? So I think your criteria for bias are themselves flawed. Have you considered the pressures upon the scholarly establishment to defend the historicity of Jesus to the hilt — money, careers, faith, reputations, are at stake there. Does that not ring any alarm bells for you? Or do you only look for ad hominem when it comes to the mythicist side of the question?

    I suggest you get to know the people and their arguments. McGrath and Ehrman and others have made some very nasty personal attacks on some mythicists, including me even, and I know for a fact that their mind- and motive-reading abilities are completely off the planet in several cases, especially mine.

    If I were out to “attack Christianity” the last thing I would do would be to point out the strengths of a mythicist argument. That would backfire immediately. I would lose my intended target. I know from experience the worst way to approach someone to turn them off their faith is to step up with an outright denial of the most fundamental tenets of their faith.

    Maybe, just maybe, it makes a lot more sense that I have another motive entirely — one that I have pointed out many, many times. Maybe I am not alone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      Neil, in your post above you stated that most mythicists don’t have a vested interest in “undergirding a professional career devoted to selling books… so methinks that such people are a priori in the better position to be less personally biased on the question.”

      I was simply pointing out that mythicists very clearly do publish books, so your argument is an odd one. I’m not for a moment suggesting that mythicists are in it for the money. In fact I should think that with a few obvious exceptions, writing books about Christian origins to make money is (to misquote Bob Monkhouse) like joining a monastery to meet women.

      I’m not sure if your point about the scholarly establishment is serious. If it was intended as a joke or rhetorical, then please do ignore the rest of this post, which assumes that you are serious. 

      My experience of Religious Studies at University and now teaching it in school is that it takes a secular approach to its object of study – though that might be different in the US or elsewhere. I simply don’t see how teaching mythicism (if there were good arguments for it) could pose any more risk to faith, promotion, reputation, etc than of the other secular perspectives that are already considered in Religious Studies.

      After all, even as a secondary school Religious Studies teacher, my students have to consider the views of, for example, Marx (you believe in Jesus because you’re oppressed by the ruling class), Freud (you believe in Jesus because you want to nail your mum and kill your dad), Ayer (belief in Jesus is an unverifiable non-statement) and Dawkins (you believe in Jesus because you’re stupid). Again, I just don’t see that ‘Jesus is a myth’ is any more radical or challenging than these approaches. It’s arguably less so, as Jesus being a myth just buries Christianity, not all religions in general. If it’s not being taught, it’s because it’s an unconvincing theory.

      If you have any evidence that the academic community is ignoring or actively suppressing mythicism (you know, emails, recordings of threatening phone-calls, the tearful confessions or closet mythicists, that sort of thing), then I think you should share it. If you have no evidence, then I honestly think you need to reconsider whether such views are fair or reasonable.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Paul, 

        I consider myself a historical Jesus agnostic or minimalist.  I think that the sources are too problematic to know what if anything is historical.  When I express my position in this way, I generally find that my comments and questions are treated with reasonable respect.  However, if someone gets the idea that I am arguing that Jesus’ existence is less likely than not, I am accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid” and I find myself lumped in with Young Earth Creationists, 911 Truthers and Birthers.  I don’t think that “a historical Jesus is unrecoverable” is all that far away from “a historical Jesus is unlikely” on the spectrum, but from experience, I can affirm that they evoke widely different reactions.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          Vinny,

          I would say it’s a big step from getting some stick on a blog to saying that the academic community is deliberately ignoring or suppressing mythicism.

          If I went on the blog of a mainstream Professor of Paleontology and expressed doubts about a piece, or indeed every piece, of evidence that supports the theory that a giant meteorite killed off the dinosaurs, I might find my views were respected, even if not accepted. If at times I seemed to claim that my doubts about the evidence somehow made it reasonable to assume that The Flood is the best explanation for our current lack of Triceratops, I’d probably find I’d get some abuse.

          That would not, however, mean that any academics who ignored or ridiculed my postdiluvian ecological crisis hypothesis were doing so because they were scared for their job or their reputation. They’d be doing it because as a theory it stinks!

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Paul,

            You are absolutely correct and I don’t for a minute want to suggest that my experience in the blogosphere is evidence of a conspiracy in academia. 

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

        Paul, I have no doubt that academic approaches to Jesus studies are essentially secular in secular institutions. I have never suggested anything close to “actively suppressing” mythicist studies.

        But a few biblical and other scholars themselves have said that the reason mythicism is not undertaken in the guild has more to do with concerns for academic tenure than the rationality of the question.

        There is no need for “active suppression” of the kind you raise. No-one enters the guild unless they have demonstrated a “right thinking” along the way to get there. We only need to look at the well-known model of how self-censorship works in institutions in democratic societies like ours. We can see what happens whenever the question of mythicism does raise its head: public censure and what amounts to intellectual bullying. I do know a couple of biblical scholars who are sympathetic to mythicism but know darn well that they have to keep their mouths shut. Thompson, as Carrier himself points out, only waited till his retirement to come out with his views.

        Perhaps you might think that the attacks on those who raise the question are inspired by intellectual argument. If that were the case I would expect to see the same approach we have from scientists towards creationism. But that’s not what we read from McGrath or Ehrman.

        (It is also obvious that even though the approach to religious studies is very often secular biblical studies is dominated by people with confessional interests of some kind. It is not easy to find scholarly books written primarily for other scholars without some such confessional interest expressed by the author. And those who don’t have a confessional interest very often are found to be making some accommodating remarks that are either apologizing or finding it necessary to explain their lack of such interest!)

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          Neil,

          For me if that were true, it still wouldn’t explain why other perspectives that are challenging to religious views are widely studied. Again, the Christ myth theory tries to debunk Christianity, but I would argue that the views of Marx, Durkheim, Freud, Feuerbach, Ayer etc are far more problematic for the religious perspective more broadly, yet they are nonetheless considered within Religious Studies departments.

          Within Biblical Studies more specifically, any number of critical approaches have challenged aspects of Christian orthodoxy, yet they are still widely accepted. In fact if my memories of my time at University are representative, I would say that they are the mainstream approach. Once you have already robbed Jesus of his virgin birth, divinity, miracles, and resurrection I don’t see that then going on to say that he didn’t actually exist as a historical figure is somehow beyond the pale. If anything, by sparing Jesus going through the whole crucifixion thing for nothing, you could arguably say that you’re doing him a favour!

          I would also say that you are overstating the homogeneity of the academic community. Within textual criticism, say, there are a variety of different approaches. Looking at the synoptic problem, the two-source hypothesis is the dominant model, but there are scholars out there who are reject or modify it (e.g. Goodacre) without obvious damage to their reputation. You even have theologians like Cupitt or Robinson who deny the objective reality of God’s existence. Their views are obviously every bit as radical as those of Christ mythicists, but in my Uni experience their views were always treated fairly with respect, even by those who disagreed with them. 

          While mythicism obviously aims to pose a radical challenge to Christian belief, the historicity or otherwise of Jesus is of marginal importance to what is actually studied in many RS departments or the way it is taught, as people who study degrees in Theology and Relgion do not spend 3 or 4 years studying the historical Jesus. If mythicism were to be considered as a viable alternative approach to historicity, I’m not sure that the effects would be all that radical: New Testament Greek would still be New Testament Greek, Patristics would still be Patristics, The History of the Byzantine Church… I’m sure you get the point. 

          Reading this blog and the comments on it, I’ve seen plenty of arguments why we should reject this or that passage as evidence for a historical Jesus, some perfectly reasonable, some less so. I have yet to see a single piece of evidence presented that would make me think that the Christ myth theory is a viable alternative. In fact, I have yet to see a version of the Christ myth theory presented in a way which is reasonably concise, and some of the versions put forward on here are not even internally coherent. There is a huge difference between attacking somebody else’s theory and putting forward a convincing alternative or your own. 

          Again, I don’t think that there is any passive or active conspiracy against mythicism. I think that if the Christ myth theorists can put forward a coherent case for their views that fits in with the evidence – which is not the same thing as being sceptical about every piece of evidence that supports the mainstream approach – the theory will be studied and debated. If they can’t, it won’t.

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

            For me if that were true, it still wouldn’t explain why other
            perspectives that are challenging to religious views are widely studied.

            If it were true for the Christ myth it doesn’t have to explain other things.

            the Christ myth theory tries to debunk Christianity

            I never knew that. It certainly doesn’t in my experience or from the perspective of anything I’ve studied, read or thought through.

            Within Biblical Studies more specifically, any number of critical
            approaches have challenged aspects of Christian orthodoxy, yet they are
            still widely accepted.

            Of course. I am very aware of all of this. I’d dare suggest even most critical scholars in secular tertiary institutions embrace a very liberal form of faith-outlook. I don’t see what this has to with the Christ-myth question, though, or how it supports your assertion that the Christ myth concept is rejected solely on grounds of spurious arguments.

            While mythicism obviously aims to pose a radical challenge to Christian
            belief, the historicity or otherwise of Jesus is of marginal importance
            to what is actually studied in many RS departments or the way it is
            taught . . .

            I don’t understand why you are saying all of this. “Mythicism obviously aims” to do something in relation to Christian belief? That makes no sense to me and simply does not conform with anything I understand about “mythicism” in my experience, as mentioned above. You seem to be imputing repeatedly some sort of hostile mind-set to an abstract concept. Or perhaps you mean to impute it to anyone who supports a mythicist argument. Aren’t we into unfounded ad hominem if so? This is part of the problem in my view.

            And of course the historicity of Jesus is of marginal importance to what is actually studied, etc etc. That’s why I find so much of genuine scholarly value in so many publications of biblical studies. And there are times when such studies, if taken to their logical conclusions, do indeed raise questions about the historicity of Jesus — and sometimes the authors betray their awareness of this by gingerly pointing out that they are not doubting Jesus’ historicity. Little things like that show the perceptive reader where it is well implicitly understood the limits lie.

            There is a huge difference between attacking somebody else’s theory and putting forward a convincing alternative or your own. 

            Of course. I have never tried to persuade anyone in a blog comment that Jesus is not historical. What you see here — I suspect — are twigs of the tree that are related to the arguments and points that really do carry potentials for alternative interpretations that are part and parcel of a conclusion given Jesus is not historical. What you are seeing here, I suspect, are challenges and debates over opening up one’s mind to the very possibility of an alternative paradigm. It would be silly to expect a full blown argument for an alternative paradigm to come through blog comments.

            <Again, I don't think that there is any passive or active conspiracy against mythicism.

            Why do you say this again, then? I have made it clear I agree.

            I think that if the Christ myth theorists can put forward a coherent
            case for their views that fits in with the evidence – which is not the
            same thing as being sceptical about every piece of evidence that
            supports the mainstream approach – the theory will be studied and
            debated.

            I think differently. James McGrath has made it very clear, for example, that it is completely irrational to doubt Jesus’ historicity. He will not entertain any possibility. You are a like a creationist if you suggest this, and are worthy of being insulted and ridiculed. Other scholars also disagree with you and have expressed as much. R. Joseph Hoffmann even said it outright on my blog some time back.

            It is the ridicule, the personal character attacks, the refusal to even consider, to even read, the arguments and give them a serious rebuttal, that is the evidence for my viewpoint.

            I know McGrath denies this by saying he has spent more words on a book review of Doherty’s book than would ever be found for any other work. But when I have quoted and cited his arguments and set them beside Doherty’s own arguments and demonstrated the black and white undeniable fact that McGrath has outrageously failed to even read Doherty’s own words in the chapters he is reviewing (clearly he skims) 0r has twisted plain statements and arguments into the opposite of what they say or something quite different (a clear indication of reading with hostile intent), and when McGrath justifies his refusal to repeat Doherty’s arguments that he claims to be reviewing because he doesn’t want to appear to be given them any credibility whatsoever — and when I find the same sorts of evidence of careless, or contemptuous skimming in Ehrman’s book, and non sequiturs and straw men and red herrings in his HuffPo article, — it is very clear that the intent is to persecute heresy rather than engage in a serious engagement with the arguments.

            If historians responded this way to holocaust deniers or evolutionists this way to creationists, we would surely see growing suspicions of establishment claims about the holocaust and evolution. Maybe the failure of biblical scholars to seriously address the question is one reason mythicism as an idea is attracting more interest.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              “If historians responded this way to holocaust deniers or evolutionists this way to creationists, we would surely see growing suspicions of establishment claims about the holocaust and evolution. Maybe the failure of biblical scholars to seriously address the question is one reason mythicism as an idea is attracting more interest.”

              OK Neil, go on to the blog of a mainstream history professor and start agruing for or sympathising with holocaust denial and see how you get on. 

              On second thoughts don’t do that – Holocaust denial is  actually *illegal* in many European countries, so you might find yourself chucked in prison. Are suspicions of establishment claims about the holocaust growing? Or are they still confined to a bigoted fringe? 

              Oh and Dawkins has quite proudly refused to debate with the likes of William Lane Craig, I think because he doesn’t WLC’s interpretation of some passages of the OT. Failing to address the question? Ad hominem attack? Or just plain old fashioned being nasty about someone whose views you think are hogwash?

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

                Paul, your remarks gratuitously offensive. What provoked them? It is because historians and scientists have the very clear case for the holocaust and evolution that they do not need to resort to personal attack in order to establish these facts of history and science.

                But when anti-mythicists resort to character assassination and abusive insults, such as comparing mythicist with holocaust-deniers and creationists, and even admit that they do not even know the arguments underlying mythicism beyond a few blog comments (or reply with insult when their “reviews” are demonstrated clearly to be misrepresenations), then the point I have been attempting to demonstrate is clear.

                Your assertion that the only reason biblical scholars do not address mythicism is because of the intellectual content is left suspiciously without warrant.

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                  Neil,

                  I don’t see anything in the least offensive in my remarks.  And the first person to mention holocaust denial (in this thread at least) was you.

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

                    Excuse me, Paul. My reference to holocaust denial was to express its secure intellectual place in history and to point out there was ample evidence for it against the emotive and fallacious claims of the deniers. You then said, ” OK Neil, go on to the blog of a mainstream history professor and start
                    agruing for or sympathising with holocaust denial and see how you get
                    on.” Are you now saying you were not inferring that my position is akin to holocaust denial? Do explain!

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

                    Or to give you the benefit of the doubt, Paul, perhaps you were suggesting that scholars do indeed react with personal insult against certain contrary views. If so it was tastelessly done.

                    If so, my reply would be to draw attention to what I said about the lack of need for this, and the clear and abundant dispassionate arguments and claims that establish the facts.

                    I am sure many scientists speak insultingly of creationists. But we also have the clear public works that establish the case of evolution clearly and without recourse to any of this nonsense.

                    I have yet to see this approach from the mainstream towards mythicism. Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things) in fact has a salutary lesson with respect to this: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/wordpress-glitch/#comment-24215

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      “Or to give you the benefit of the doubt, Paul, perhaps you were suggesting that scholars do indeed react with personal insult against certain contrary views. If so it was tastelessly done. ”

                      I simply don’t see what was tasteless in my comments, and as I have made no attempt to equate your position with Holocaust denial, I will not to apologise for doing so. Once again I would point out that you were the person who introduced the idea of Holocaust denial into the discussion. 

                      But you are right – the point I was making is that such contrary views would generally be given short shrift, that may or may not reach the level of personal insult. The more so in a relatively informal context such as a blog or forum. And in such a context, I hope you will agree that any negative, overly personal, or even ad hominem responses to a particular argument do not in themselves add a picogram of weight to that argument.

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

                      So, Paul, you have no comment to make on the fact that despite what scientists and historians might personally say about certain folks, they nonetheless produce dispassionate scholarly work clearly that can argue the case comprehensively without resort to insult or blatant misrepresentation.

                      So why can’t biblical scholars do the same with mythicism?

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Neil, I would say that I have no comment to make on your *opinion* about how biblical scholars represent their case.

                      As I have indicated elsewhere I am on the blog, I accept the existence of a historical Jesus because it seems to be the best model for understanding what the NT is and why it looks the way it does, for understanding the way that Christian thought has developed, and for integrating the limited non-Christian evidence that exists. 

                      I’m not a historicist because of anything that our host or Dr. Ehrman has written. I’m not a historicist because of I’m part of the academic establishment (I’m not) or because I seek money or fame writing books about the historical Jesus (I don’t). When somebody is able to set out the mythicist argument in a coherent way and explain why it offers a better fit with all (or indeed any) of the evidence, I’ll be more than happy to reconsider my views. 

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

                      Hi Paul, I thought your point was that the academy does not give mythicism the time of day because of its intellectual vacuity. I and others have quoted scholars themselves in the biblical studies guild denying this many times now. So it it hardly just my opinion.

                      I think you should be able to see from the many online discussions that point out the concrete evidence — not opinions, the specific and abundant quoted evidence — for Ehrman’s less than professional treatment of mythicism you should also be aware of the point I have been attempting to make.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Hi Neil, 

                      The errors that you and others have said appear in Ehrman’s book certainly do appear rather sloppy (if sometimes trivial), though I’ll withold judgement until I’ve actually been able to read it. I have no particular opinion either way on Ehrman as a scholar so I don’t feel obliged to defend him here. If he has made silly mistakes, then well… he only has himself to blame if his opponents hammer him for these rather than address his broader arguments.

                      But as I say, I’m not remotely a historicist because of Ehrman. You could show me conclusive proof that Ehrman wrote the whole book in a mediumistic trance while channelling the departed spirit of Elvis: it might tarnish Ehrman’s academic reputation somewhat but that in itself would not change my reading of the evidence or (at least for me) make the mythicist case any more convincing.

                    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                       Perhaps a read of Doherty’s response to Ehrman would be helpful.

                      See:  http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/3-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-chapters-1-2-2/

                      I think you will find it quite reasoned and he makes some very valid points.

                      I personally do not think that Ehrman or Dr. McGrath for that matter (sorry)  have really given Doherty a fair hearing.

                      -evan

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Many thanks for the link Evan, it’s an interesting read. 

                      I hope you’ll appreciate that it’s hard to comment in detail on Doherty’s response to a book I haven’t read, harder still to criticise his criticisms! Some of the arguments that Doherty is criticising are obviously weak although I note that e.g. Doherty seems to have gone from the following Ehrman quote “(Jesus’ teachings) have impacted the world ever since. Surely that is one gauge of genius” to criticising Jesus words as intolerant and in any case  unoriginal. 

                      Both these criticisms may or may not be valid, but to me it doesn’t seem that either criticism directly responds to Ehrman’s claim that Jesus’ teachings have had an impact. For example I don’t think that Dawkins is so influential because he is smarter or more original than other evolutionists, in fact I think many Dawkins fans would struggle to name a single  scientific paper he has written. I would say that Dawkins is so influential because he has gift for restating existing arguments with clarity, vigour, and a deadly wit. (Actually, I’ve always suspected that Dawkins and Jesus would have got on rather well…)

                      I would also restate my general moan that being sceptical about the evidence for the mainstream view is not the same thing as putting forward a coherent mythicist alternative or showing how it is a better fit with the evidence.  

                      I wouldn’t say any one piece of proves that Jesus must have existed, as it’s obviously hard to think of any single piece of evidence that *could* definitively prove the existence of a Jewish teacher who lived 2,000 years ago. There are plenty of pieces of evidence that individually seem to be pretty good evidence that he did exist, and viewing the evidence as a whole I think it’s as near as dammit certain.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Evan, 

                      If you know of a link to a one-paragraph, or one-page, or even 10-page summary of the mythicist argument (that is, how this mythical figure came to be regarded as historical), I’d be happy to read it.  The material at this link is like other mythicist literature I’ve read – just a tedious catalog of all the things about which the writer is doubtful.  

                      I know what mythicists don’t think happened; I’ve yet to find out what they do think happened.  Until then, they’re not giving us better history; they’re just saying they don’t like the history we have.

                    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                      Hi,

                      As one might expect there are a number of summaries of the ‘Mythicist’ argument by different authors.  I would sum them up with the following Statement:  Christianity started out as a heterogeneous collection of those who worshiped a Celestial Christ Messiah figure.  This myth was eventually historicized in the context of great ideological conflict and struggle in the 2nd Century C.E. with the historicists eventually tampering with and rewriting the history of their movement to include an historical Jesus figure.  (Ehrman has already written extensively on the fraud rampant in the Second Century as seen in many of the Pseudo-Pauline letters etc. The Canonical Book of Acts is a good example of this and IMHO represents a Second Century pseudo-history & is not at all reliable as history.) 

                      I am not trying to suggest that Doherty is the only spokesperson for the mythicist position but he does a good job of briefly summarizing and articulating the reasons why when one looks at the data and evidence we have for the history and evolution of the the Christian Faith, it can be shown to support a mythical / celestial Jesus as the earliest manifestation of Christianity.  He gives a good brief summary, showing that it is only in the latter part of the second Century CE that a clear “Gospel Jesus” emerges from the multitude of conflicting Jesus’ of Christianity.

                      Rather than me bastardizing his prose, have a read of the ‘Jesus Puzzle in a Nutshell’ here: 
                      http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/jesuspuzzle.html

                      His pages summarizing the Second Century Apologists arguments  is to me one of the most convincing bits of data to show that an Historical Jesus never really existed until the Second Century CE.  Well worth consideration in my opinion.

                      See:
                      http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/century2.htm

                      If further data eventually comes along to contradict the heart of his conclusions I would be happy to assent to the existence of an historical Jesus founder for Christianity, but I think the Mythicist interpretation of the data has better explanatory power & is actually simpler.

                      -evan

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Evan,

                      Thanks for taking the time to write this.  As I can make the time, I will read the material to which you have provided links.

                      As for your summary paragraph, I must say that, while I appreciate your composing it on behalf of the movement, it strikes me as an utterly preposterous scenario – if nothing else, then in the light of the seven “genuine” letters of Paul to which you may have seen me refer in this comment thread.  There is no doubt that first-century believers in Christ looked to Him and were devoted to Him as a heavenly figure…but only because He had first been born a descendant of David, walked the roads of Galilee and Judea as a prophet, and had  been crucified by Roman authorities for claiming to be the Messiah of Israel.  The seven letters of Paul are dated roughly 50-60 CE.  The balance of the New Testament is generally considered to have been completed by the end of the first century.  To suggest that people in the 2nd Century could have falsified these documents – when, by that time, there would have been copies of each of them all over the Mediterranean, would take far more faith than believing that God raised Jesus from the dead.

                      As for your promise to assent to the historical Jesus if and when sufficient data comes along, let me assure you that lack of data is not the source of your opposition.  

                    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                       Hi Again,

                      Mike: “The seven letters of Paul are dated roughly 50-60 CE.  The balance of the New Testament is generally considered to have been completed by the end of the first century. ”

                      This is what we were taught in Sunday School and Bible School; but, where are these generally accepted datings from? What evidence do we have that these dates are valid?  The Author of “Luke” clearly had Josephus’ works on his lap as he constructed his Gospel and some NT scholars like Richard Pervo would date Acts to no earlier than 115 CE. Already we are straying well into the Second Century.  Many of the epistles like  1 & 2 Peter 1-3 John  are clearly aimed at Second Century controversies. The canonical names betray an attempt to grant the authors a first century pedigree which is clearly factitious.  (i.e Bullshit polished into holy writ.)

                      Hermann Detering has even gone so far as to suggest that the Pauline corpus is a creation of Marcion in the second century.  How could he suggest such a thing except for the fact that we have so little corroboration for  dating for these works until they are referenced much more clearly in the latter half of the second century…  Detering’s assertion should be easily falsifiable and yet it isn’t.

                      History is written by the victors. In the second century the war between the Gnostics and other heretics and the Orthodox Catholic progenitors was eventually won by the Historicists; it is their version of history we have been given to believe.  When one looks for evidence to corroborate these dates, it isn’t there.

                      We are told that there was a vital, growing and empire-wide Christian movement so significant that the emperors of Rome targeted them for special persecution.  Peter & his church established a vibrant community of believers in the city of Rome…on & on it goes and yet when one looks for any secular evidence of this phenomenon what do we find?  Nothing.  No external evidence for an historical Jesus & precious little for his first century followers either.  How is this compatible with the timelines that we have been told are so secure?  The Earliest second century apologists’ writings (like those of the Pauline corpus) seem oblivious to the Gospel Jesus and the key events of his ministry.  How can we explain this in the typical historicist timeline?  Where is the rich oral tradition of Gospel stories we are told was the staple of the first hundred years of the Christian church?

                      (BTW; Doherty accepts the conventional datings for the NT but I’m not sure that these are all that well supported by the evidence.)

                      I am no scholar; but it is clear to me that the NT is chocker block full of fiction and propaganda of the most deliberate sort.   I think Ehrman has said as much before, but he just doesn’t go far enough to take it to its natural conclusion and accept the radical notion that the whole thing  is, to its very core, based on a pious fiction.

                      I don’t expect a lot of agreement here so I will back off but perhaps my skepticism will be a little food for thought.

                      Best regards,

                      -evan

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Thanks for sharing the links to the Jesus Puzzle Evan.

                      I have to say that I find the evidence and arguments dismal. I know that’s not a particularly polite word, but I really can’t think of anything constructive to say about it.

                      The “conspiracy of silence” is one of the most egregiously bad arguments I’ve ever heard advanced for anything. It completely ignores the many, many, many ways in which the evidence from the epistles either agrees or dovetails with the evidence from the gospels.  It’s ignores any consideration differences in historical context and purpose between the gospels, the letters, and some of the much later Christian interests he alludes to. And perhaps most tellingly, he fails to identify a single *disagreement* in the historical details about Jesus between the epistles and the gospels.

                      I’m quite sure I could pick almost any letter that relates to a historical person, compare it to a brief biographical outline of that person, and find any number of “silences”. The “conspiracy of silence” is so obviously bogus that I’m honestly stunned he could put it forward as some kind of important evidence. 

                      I’d also say he wholly misunderstands or misrepresents the evidence from the second Century apologists. Again, he fails to take seriously the authors’ purpose and audience and as such draws invalid conclusions. Also – time after time he writes things like “apart from Justin…” I thought that at some point we’d get on to Justin, as Doherty plainly seems to realise that Justin treats Jesus as a historical figure, so I thought we’d find some kind of detailed consideration of Justin’s evidence, but nope, he just ignores it. Conspiracy of silence?

                      I know that’s a harsh summary, but like I say it’s dire. Is Price any better?

                    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                       Well, that’s that, then.  Nothing here move along…

                      As a non-scholar, I find Doherty’s observations to be very interesting and worthy of consideration.  I do not intend to enter into a long argument but this is my take on the situation.

                      I find the lack of any evidence for First Century Christianity in any First Century secular writings and the lack of a clear Gospel Jesus in any datable Christian writings until mid-second Century to be a very significant observation.  Doherty lists a good number of authors that, like the various Pauline authors of the NT Canon, one would expect to be acquainted with the flesh & blood Gospel Jesus of History; but, they aren’t.  Early Second Century Christianity as described by the so-called Apologists seems to be some sort of Platonic Logos cult devoid of a Gospel Jesus. It is clear from Ehrman’s own analysis that many of the Canonical Epistles are forged in the name of various apostles and come to us out of the second century.  They further support this notion as they too are relatively devoid of any Gospel Jesus details as well.  How can anyone claim that any of these anonymous undated Gospels (canonical or otherwise) are truly reliable, un-redacted first century sources?  (Even Justin’s initial conversion does not have anything to do with the Gospel Jesus Salvation mytheme or doctrine & only develops later.)

                      What about the real Historical Jesus?

                      The  Historical Jesus of Ehrman (& many modern non-fundamentalist believers) appears to be some sort of unremarkable small-town apocalyptic prophet with an overinflated messiah complex.  An obscure Jesus of Nazareth who quietly won over a few followers in his brief sojourn before he was unjustly crucified is certainly a possible explanation for the lack of any non-sectarian documentation.  This Historical Jesus is by definition unverifiable.  You can have him if you like.  He is of academic interest only and certainly NOT the Jesus of the Christian Church.

                      The Jesus of the Gospels, as opposed to the Ehrman or McGrath Historical Jesus, is another thing altogether.  This miracle worker had a miraculous birth, attracted huge crowds & stirred up the authorities at every level.  The Gospel accounts clearly describe him being quite famous throughout the Region.  His very public trial and execution could not have been anything but the talk of the town, not to mention the untimely darkness, earthquakes and Zombie parades accompanying his death.  His subsequent resurrection appearances would certainly have generated a lot of public interest.  The Acts version of his Ascension into heaven and the disturbances of Pentecost and the resultant rapid growth in the numbers of his zealous followers should have also generated a lot of interest from those historians  attending to the newsworthy aspects of Palestine. But no, we have nothing to corroborate the official ecclesiastical version of these events despite many observers writing about the events of this time & region.  This Jesus who is still the object of veneration & worship, the putative saviour of the world who will one day  come in glory judge the quick & the Dead is clearly NOT historical. 

                      I would suggest that this is the only Jesus that really matters.  This Gospel Jesus (the one that Ehrman & McGrath reject too) is nothing more than a pious fiction. 

                       -evan

                    • Claude

                      Your channeling of Doherty preserves his penchant for making assertions as if they were definitive, when they are not. Such as:

                      Paul and other early writers place the death and resurrection of their Christ in the supernatural/mythical world, and derive their information about these events, as well as other features of their heavenly Christ, from scripture.

                      Your honor, I submit my client is not guilty, because I assert my client is not guilty. 

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

                      Claude, are you aware of the source of your supposed quotation of Doherty? Are you aware you have quoted the words from a critic’s Amazon review? Or maybe you copied them from Darrell Bock’s blog? If you did some seriously heavy research, perhaps with the help of some assistants, you might be lucky enough to discover they are a paraphrase of point 4 of Doherty’s bare-bones outline of his argument in “12easy pieces” from his website.

                      That is, the paragraphs are not his rationale or reasons for his claims, but a simple set of points to help readers grasp what he does argue in his website of many articles and hundreds of thousands of words and in two books. They are the conclusions of his arguments.

                      And people think I’m out of touch for claiming so many critics of Doherty and mythicism don’t bother to read his stuff or any mythicist literature for themselves.

                    • Claude

                      Huh? I quoted word for word from The Jesus Puzzle, which is sitting here in front of me (I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve read it). I’ve never heard of Darrell Bock, and no way am I going to trawl through Doherty’s amazon reviews. I can just imagine.

                      Of course, my point is that Doherty uses his conclusions to argue for his conclusions. It undermines his credibility from the get-go.

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

                      My mistake. I was relying upon the online copy. But I don’t know how you can say Doherty uses his conclusions to argue for his conclusions. He does present the evidence for his hypothesis and also argues why the same evidence does not fit the historicist view. If you know of exceptions to this then point them out to us.

                      Bock is (in my definition of conservative anyway — not sure about American meanings) a conservative Bible scholar.

                    • eheffa

                       I am not channeling Doherty. 

                      He is quite capable of defending his own arguments.  Doherty  provides many examples of where Paul explains that his understanding of Christ is derived from Scripture and inexplicably refrains from using any sort of terrestrial event as recorded in the Gospels.  Pretty strange for an ardent follower of the Flesh & Blood Messiah.

                      Instead of simply scoffing at Doherty’s assertion,  perhaps you could refute the Doherty quote above with something from the the “genuine” (less corrupted / redacted) Pauline corpus? 

                      It  looks like I need to reiterate my position.  I’m not sure if Doherty is correct in his theory but it is very clear that the Jesus of the Gospels is a fabricated entity (read myth).  This myth story does not really seem to take its final shape with all the clearly worded pericopes and vignettes until well into the Second Century; (i.e. when the Gospels are first quoted from by their adherents.)  The evolution of the extant & datable literature we have starts with a Celestial, Spiritual Scripture-derived Logos Christ and evolves towards a physical flesh and blood Messiah figure grounded in the world of First Century Palestine.  If the Christian movement had started with a Gospel Jesus I would expect that evolution of thought to be the other way round.  Doherty presents an hypothesis as to how this might have happened.

                      That the early church fathers were not above altering and even forging their primary documents should be quite evident to any open-minded reader.  I don’t think the Gospel Jesus is any more authentic than the Canonical forgeries we call the Pastoral Epistles or the fictional history called the Acts of the Apostles.  Christianity is founded on a tangled web of Second Century fictions.  The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can get on and live an authentic life free of this toxic belief system.

                      -evan

                    • eheffa

                       I should strike that last sentence as it is unnecessarily provocative.  As a former fundamentalist I clearly have lots of baggage. ( I don’t like being deceived or lied to…)  That I spent such a long part of my life believing and defending this false belief system is my own fault really.

                    • Claude

                      Since you’re a former fundamentalist you certainly know the NT better than I, a lapsed Catholic and nonbeliever. Really, you think Paul did not think Jesus had been crucified on earth?

                    • Claude

                      Thank you, but I understood you the first time. Why should I bother quoting Paul to you? Presumably you’ve read the letters and agree with Doherty. I’ve read the letters (in English) and disagree with Doherty. He does read Greek, and I don’t, so advantage Doherty. Still, as you know, the relevant passages are hotly contested and interpretations are speculative. To quote another of Doherty’s puzzle pieces (p. vii):

                      There is no non-Christian record of Jesus before the second century. References in Flavius Josephus (end of century) can be dismissed as later Christian insertions.

                      It’s my understanding that parts of these references are agreed to be interpolations, but the rest are contested. Furthermore, there are additional, also highly contested references to Jesus in non-Christian texts within a hundred years of his execution. References are scarce, yet Doherty still overstates the case. Scarce isn’t scarce enough?

                      Let’s just say my BS detector went into overdrive before I even reached page 1 of The Jesus Puzzle.

                    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

                       Hi again,

                      Could you please cite these non-Christian references to Jesus?  I trust that you are not simply referring to the Tacitus or Suetonius passages…

                      -evan

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

                      Paul, I only referred to Ehrman as the latest of but many instances. Only the naively romantic would think that academics in a heavily ideological field such as biblical studies are not influenced by something other than pure unbiased reason alone. Schweitzer himself made the point in his day. There is simply nowhere on record that the guild has seriously addressed mythicism. Occasionally a book is written, such as Ehrman’s, and people will read that and conclude that mythicism has been thereby bunked. Replies of mythicists themselves will be ignored. No-one will be the better informed. That is how it has always been. This is but a repeat of a very monotonous pattern.

                      But the significant point is seen most clearly when you compare this reaction to the way scholars respond to other issues such as creationism, history wars, holocaust, etc — the arguments are dealt with and updated and seriously, and challenges responded to. Scholars are well aware of the opposing arguments they are dealing with. This is not the case with mythicism.

                      We have scholars in the guild today who themselves have posted or published as much.

                    • Gakuseidon

                      Neil: Scholars are well aware of the opposing arguments they are dealing with. This is not the case with mythicism.

                      I probably know as much about mythicism as anyone. But what is the mythicist case that scholars should be opposing? Is it Acharya S’s astrotheology? Doherty’s celestial Jesus? Atwill’s Caesar Jesus? Wells’ 2nd C BCE Jesus? Harpur’s Egyptian Osiris one? Freke & Gandy’s New Age one?

                      You write as though the ‘mythicism’ case is a distinct theory rather than a broad church. If you want scholars to be aware of the arguments, then the onus is on the mythicist side to build the best case possible and make it available in an academic format. Otherwise expect popular press responses to popular press arguments.

                      I think that once Carrier publishes his books in an academic format, then scholars will become aware of the arguments; that is, at least, Carrier’s ones. When that happens, the other forms of mythicism will either gradually become sidelined or refit themselves to conform to Carrier’s points. Since the sillier and wilder parts of mythicism disappearing will only make mythicism stronger, so this is a good thing. But get ready to say good-bye to 90% of Doherty’s “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man”.

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

                      Schweitzer did not seem to be so confused by what he had to respond to in his day. Ehrman appears not to have been fazed by the various types of arguments, either.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    For one, the seven uncontested letters of Paul are assumed to have been written roughly 50-60 CE – that is, some 15-20 years after Jesus.  I cannot conceive how anyone reading those letters would think that Jesus was a mythical figure anymore than I can conceive of someone coming across some of the Federalist Papers some 2,000 years from now could think that there wasn’t a George Washington.

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

      Mike, the Federalist Papers were in part contemporary correspondence with George Washington. If Paul was writing to Jesus we would have an equivalence of evidence and there would be no thought of Jesus mythicism.

      But you are right when you say Paul’s letters are uncontested and assumed such and such. That is not a very disciplined approach for any historians to take to their sources.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Really Mike?  You can’t even conceive of it?

      Paul believed that he had encountered a supernatural being.  Paul may have thought that the supernatural being had once been a man who walked the earth, but he never met that man.  He never claims to have heard anything about the man from anyone who knew him.  Paul’s interest in the man is based on the supernatural events that occurred after he died rather than anything he said or did during his life.  It is the theological significance of those supernatural events that is the primary (if not sole) concern of Paul’s letters.  Paul indicates that he knows other people who encountered the supernatural being.  He doesn’t indicate that he knows when or where the man lived or died.  He doesn’t claim to know anything the man said or did prior to the night before he died, and what he does claim to know, he claims to know by divine revelation.   The only sources Paul ever cites for his understanding are revelation and scripture. Paul doesn’t seem to know that the man was a teacher or a healer and he doesn’t seem to know that the man had disciples. 

      Most of the facts that historians claim can be known with reasonable confidence about Jesus  (e.g., He was born around 4 B.C.E,  He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth;  He was baptized by John the Baptist;  He called disciples; He taught in the town and villages and countryside of Galilee; He preached “the kingdom of God”; Around the year 30 C.E. he went to Jerusalem for Passover;  He created a disturbance in the temple area;  He had a final meal with his disciples;  He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities;  He was executed on the orders of Pontius Pilate) are not corroborated by Paul in any way and the few that are are only corroborated partially i.e., Paul doesn’t say who was at the final meal or who ordered Jesus’ execution.

      Do you really mean to say that there is nothing about that which might cause a rational person to wonder whether Paul’s Jesus was actually a real person?  If my earliest historical source for George Washington looked anything like that, I think that I might have a doubt or two about his existence as well.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        VinnyJH – you are drinking the Kool-Aid, too?!

        Almost every assertion you are making here is refuted by a straightforward reading of Paul’s letters.  He refers in Gal 2 to having met with those who walked with the earthly Jesus.  While the Damascus Road experience got him on the right track, it was the fulfillment of Scripture that nourished his personal and missionary journey (Rom 1 and 16, and elsewhere).  In Phil 2 and elsewhere he quotes hymns or confessions that arose in the Christianity of the 30′s before he wrote any of the letters.  In 1 Cor 15 he quotes the gospel as preached not just by him but by all the apostles everywhere.  The letter to the Romans is written to a church that he did not found and he had never previously visited, yet he quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him.  He indicates in Rom 1 that Jesus was born a descendant of David and in 1 Thess 2 that He died in Judea.  He quotes the earthly Jesus’ words and actions from the night before He died in 1 Cor 11.  He quotes His teaching in 1 Cor 7 and 9, so how can you say he didn’t know the Lord was a teacher or that he didn’t know Jesus had disciples?  He taught about miracles in 1 Cor 12 and attributed them to Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit, so how can you say he didn’t know Jesus was a healer?  

        Paul didn’t corroborate all those details about Jesus that you listed because he didn’t need to.  Many of the people he was writing knew all those things and more.  If he had written any of his letters to skeptics I’m sure the content of the letters would carry much of what you’re seeking.  He was writing to deal with issues that arose within the movement.  Even then, apostles always preferred to do their work face to face and not through literature.  It was primarily an oral culture in that day and the apostles were commissioned to preach, not write.  The literature we have testifies of a much richer dialogue both inside and outside the movement of Christ that the literature itself contains.

        Be aware that I have only given references from the uncontested letters of Paul.  There is obviously much more evidence for Jesus in the other writings attributed to Paul and well as to other sources both within and without the rest of the New Testament.

        Yours is the sort of willful ignorance of obvious facts that gives Jesus Mythicism a bad name.  Nonetheless, I like your spunk.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Almost every assertion you are making here is refuted by a straightforward reading of Paul’s letters.   He refers in Gal 2 to having met with those who walked with the earthly Jesus.  

          Show me where in Galatians 2 Paul says that anybody he ever met “walked with the earthly Jesus.”   I dare you.  I double dare you.  It’s just ain’t there. 

          While the Damascus Road experience got him on the right track, it was
          the fulfillment of Scripture that nourished his personal and missionary journey (Rom 1 and 16, and elsewhere).

          So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?

           In Phil 2 and elsewhere he quotes hymns or confessions that arose in the Christianity of the 30′s before he wrote any of the letters.

          So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?

           In 1 Cor 15 he quotes the gospel as preached not just by him but by all the apostles everywhere.  

          So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?  All he says it that other people encountered the same supernatural being that he encountered.

          The letter to the Romans is written to a church that he did not found and he had never previously visited, yet he quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him.

          You are going to have to be more specific than that.

           He indicates in Rom 1 that Jesus was born a descendant of David and in 1 Thess 2 that He died in Judea.

          The only reason he knows that Jesus was a descendant of David is because the scriptures told him so. Maybe he is saying that Jesus was killed in Judea or maybe he was just saying that Jesus was killed by the Jews. That passage is not undisputed, but I’ll grant you half credit on that one.

           He quotes the earthly Jesus’ words and actions from the night before He died in 1 Cor 11.

          Yes he does, but he claims that he received it from the Lord, not that he heard about it from anyone who was there.  That is not the way that we normally think people come by historical information.

           He quotes His teaching in 1 Cor 7 and 9, so how can you say he didn’t know the Lord was a teacher or that he didn’t know Jesus had disciples?

          He doesn’t quote teachings of Jesus.  He attributes commandments to the Lord. There is nothing to indicate that he thought these came from a historical person rather than by direct revelation to Paul or other early Christians.

           He taught about miracles in 1 Cor 12 and attributed them to Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit, so how can you say he didn’t know Jesus was a healer?

          I can say it because absolutely nothing in 1 Cor. 12 even hints at Paul thinking that he is talking about what a historical person did.

          Paul didn’t corroborate all those details about Jesus that you listed because he didn’t need to.

          Maybe so, but you claimed that you couldn’t conceive of anyone thinking Jesus was mythical after reading Paul’s letters. You may think you know the reason that Paul doesn’t corroborate those details, but you can only get that by reading the gospels back into Paul.  Maybe that’s even a legitimate approach (although I have my doubts), but it’s not something you can get to from reading Paul.

          BTW, I am not a mythicist.  I am agnostic about a historical Jesus. I think that our sources are too problematic to determine what if anything is historical fact.   I think that claims to certainty on either side of the debate are silly.

          Yours is the kind of wishful thinking that makes it makes it so hard to separate legitimate historical arguments from faith-based apologetics.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            VinnyJH,

            There are two kinds of agnostics.  There is a relatively passive kind who says, “I don’t know, or at least I’m not sure.”  Then there is an aggressive kind who says, “I don’t know, but I do know for sure that you don’t know or can’t be sure.”  One of these attitudes is healthier than the other.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              Mike,

              Fair enough.  There also two types of historicists.  There are those who say “I understand why you find the sources problematic and it is unfortunately the case that we cannot know as much about the ancient world as we would like, but I find the evidence sufficient to establish the likelihood of my position.”  Then there are those who say “I cannot conceive of anyone reaching any conclusion different than the one I have reached without ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’.”  Guess which attitude I consider healthier.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                VinnyJH,

                I was encouraged to see you exercise more restraint in your subsequent posts here – at least those ones you directed toward James.  I am thereby encouraged that you indeed have not yet drunk the Kool-Aid.

                As far Paul’s letters, I was not saying that I find it inconceivable that anyone would read them and come to a different conclusion than I have.  People come to various conclusions about Paul’s letters all the time.  Rather I was saying that it’s inconceivable to me that someone could read those letters and conclude that Jesus was a mythical figure.  Nonetheless, some people obviously do.  I’m just mystified about what’s going on in their mind when they do.  As I said to Neil, I’ve seen no succinct, much less plausible, theory that would square with the realities of those seven extant letters.

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  Mike,

                  I can only speak for myself, but what’s going on in my mind is that I’m looking at what Paul actually says about the earthly Jesus rather than making assumptions based on what I’m sure Paul must have known and what I’m sure his readers must have known.  If Paul doesn’t say that someone walked with the earthly Jesus, I’m not assuming that he knew that they did.  If a passage makes no reference whatsoever to Jesus healing people during his earthly ministry, I’m not treating that as evidence that Paul knew that he did.  

                  What’s going on in my mind is that I’m starting with what Paul demonstrates that he knows about the earthly Jesus and how he indicates that he knows it before I try to draw inferences about other things he might have knows and how he might have come to know them.  Since Paul is my earliest source for Jesus, I am trying to let him speak for himself first and only then moving on to the question of how later writings might shed light on what he meant.   I think that’s a reasonable approach.

        • Tim Widowfield

          Mike wrote: ”
          The letter to the Romans is written to a church that he did not found and he had never previously visited, yet he quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him.”

          I just rechecked Romans again, since I couldn’t remember any quotations of Jesus by Paul in this epistle. Naturally, if Paul is laying out his gospel to a congregation he has not yet met, we should expect him to refer to doctrine of Jesus, the Great Teacher.

          I’ll cite for you the chapters and who (or what) he quotes instead (from the NEB).

          Chapter 1:  Hab 2:4

          Chapter 2:  Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12

          Chapter 3:  Ps 51:4, Ps 14:1-3, Ps 5:9, Ps 10:7, Isa 59:7-8, Ps 36:1

          Chapter 4:  Gen 15:6, Ps 32:1-2, Gen 17:5, Gen 15:5, Gen 15:6

          Chapter 7:  Exod 20:17; Deut 5:21

          Chapter 8:  Ps 44:22

          Chapter 9:  Gen 21:12; Gen 18:10, 14; Gen 25:23; Mal 1:2-3; Exod 33:19; Exod 9:16; Isa 29:16; 45:9; Hos 2:23; Hos 1:10; Isa 10:22-23 ; Isa 1:9; Isa 28:16; 8:14

          Chapter 10:  Lev 18:5; Deut 9:4; 30:12; Deut 30:13; Deut 30:14; Isa 28:16; Joel 2:32; Isa 53:1; Ps 19:4; Deut 32:21; Isa 65:1; Isa 65:2; Isa 52:7; Nah 1:15

          Chapter 11:  1 Kgs 19:10, 14; 1 Kgs 19:18; Deut 29:4; Isa 29:10; Ps 69:22-23; Isa 40:13; Job 41:11; Isa 59:20-21; 27:9; Jer 31:33-34

          Chapter 12:  Deut 32:35; Prov 25:21-22

          Chapter 13:  Exod 20:13-15, 17; Deut 5:17-19, 21; Lev 19:18

          Chapter 14:  Isa 45:23

          Chapter 15:  Ps 69:9; Ps 18:49; Deut 32:43; Ps 117:1; Isa 11:10; Isa 52:15
          —————-

          We continually read that the epistles were “occasional letters” and we should not be surprised that Paul doesn’t quote Jesus (from the “rich oral tradition” (© &tm;)) in them. But Romans is a different case. Paul is saying, “Here is what I teach.” However, at no point does he bring in the gospel of Jesus to corroborate the the gospel of Paul.

          If I missed something, please let me know.

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

            Tim, I am rather confused by your comment. On the one hand, I thought you accepted that the Gospels were written after Paul’s time, and so I am unclear as to what sorts of quotations you think he should have offered, and from where. On the other hand, you will note that Paul assumes that the basic things he writes about are already familiar to his readers: what a gospel is, who Jesus is, etc. He may be clarifying his distinctive view of the inclusion of Gentiles without the requirement to observe Torah, but he is quite obviously writing to a group of Christians who share many things in common with himself. And so I wonder whether you were indeed missing these points, or whether I have misunderstood what you were trying to convey.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              Dr. McGrath,

              I’m not sure what your position is, but as I understand Ehrman, there was this rich oral tradition going back to the earliest apostles in which the things Jesus said and did were preserved and discussed among his followers.  It has always seemed to me that trying to figure out the meaning of the things that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry would have been of vital importance within all of Paul’s communities and that whatever arguments arose, someone would have claimed that something Jesus said or did was dispositive (whether it was or not), e.g., “Jesus observed the Mosaic Law so Christians should, too.”   I think the main reason that I find Paul’s silence so puzzling is because I would have expected “What did Jesus say regarding this?” and “What did Jesus do regarding this?” to have come up again and again even though Paul did not personally know Jesus.

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

                Well, I think there are at least two issues, Vinny. On the one hand, there are places where Paul refers to the example of Jesus as though his readers are familiar with it, and mentions a “word of the Lord” or “not I but the Lord” or something that he received (not necessarily directly, despite what mythicists like to assume) from the Lord, suggesting that such material was indeed of interest. On the other hand, it is very hard for us to imagine what it was like to be in a primarily oral context in which there was as yet no written record (as far as we can tell) of what Jesus had said. In such a context, would you turn to recollections of things you had been told that Jesus had said, and about which those who disagreed with you arguably knew more, teaching which wasn’t in dispute but did not address your mission’s aim of including Gentiles into the movement without circumcision? Or would you turn to a written text that you had more training in dealing with than your opponents, but which they too regarded as authoritative? One cannot answer that with absolute certainty, but when mythicists suggest that the answer is obviously what is behind door #1, they seem to me clearly to not have given the details of the matter full consideration.

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  Or would you turn to a written text that you had more training in dealing with than your opponents, but which they too regarded as authoritative?I can understand why Paul would have wanted to argue things that way, but personally, I really wonder whether he could have gotten away with it.One of the problems we have is that we are not really sure about the context.  It’s sort of like listening to a stranger having an argument on a cell phone on the bus and trying to figure out what the argument is about and what positions the person on the other end of the conversation is taking.   We’re only hearing Paul’s end of the conversation.  I think my main question would be what the oral tradition looked like.   Do you think that there would have been a relatively fixed group of Jesus’ teachings that everyone agreed were authentic or might people have invented sayings to meet their rhetorical needs as they arose?  If it was the former, then I could see how Paul might have argued in the way you describe.  However, if it was the latter (which the cynic in me suspects), then I think that Paul would have forced to address the question of how to distinguish authentic teachings from spurious ones (in somewhat the same way that spurious letters attributed to Paul became an issue).   

                  • Tim Widowfield

                    Vinny: “. . . I think that Paul would have forced to address the question of how to distinguish authentic teachings from spurious ones . . .”

                    Paul does address spurious teaching, but (as far as I can recall) only about the crucifixion and resurrection.  I suppose you could take it as a blanket statement when Paul says not to trust anyone who teaches differently from what he taught — not even an angel.  

                    But even then, the “teaching” is about believing that Jesus died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and that we’re saved by that belief and by confessing that Christ is our Lord. Everything else about Paul’s gospel is derived from reading scripture.

                    My question is whether Paul or anyone in his time actually thought there were any teachings of the earthly Jesus worth passing on. One gets the feeling that he views Jesus as a distant, silent, obedient character who follows God’s will, dies, is resurrected, and is exalted to the right hand of the throne in heaven.

                    But did Paul, irrespective of whether he thought Christ walked the earth or not, believe that Jesus was a great teacher, healer, and exorcist? He says we should imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, but with respect to *what*?  His obedience to God?  Is there anything else?

            • Tim Widowfield

              James wrote: “On the one hand, I thought you accepted that the Gospels were written after Paul’s time . . . ”

              The canonical gospels, yes.  But we are told there was a “rich oral tradition” that everyone was aware of and even participated in.  If I understand Bart Ehrman correctly, he thinks the Aramaic sources (oral, then perhaps translated into Greek when they became part of Q) go back well before Paul’s time:

              “But most significant of all, each of these numerous Gospel texts is based on oral traditions that had been in circulation for years among communities of Christians in different parts of the world, all of them attesting to the existence of Jesus. And some of these traditions must have originated in Aramaic-speaking communities of Palestine, probably in the 30s CE, within several years at least of the traditional date of the death of Jesus.” (p. 74)

              James wrote: “. . . and so I am unclear as to what sorts of quotations you think he should have offered, and from where.”

              I’m not sure whether you’re arguing that Paul had no sources to quote from or that Paul had no reason to quote Jesus or both. If the standard apocalyptic prophet model is correct, then there would have been lots of sayings floating around in the oral tradition, with perhaps some “story framework” to go with it.  I think most scholars would be amenable to the idea that Mark inherited the tradition of the passion, which might have been in written from by his time.  Quoting Bart again:

              “It is often thought that Mark used a passion narrative that had been written years earlier in which the episodes of Jesus’s arrest, trials, death, and resurrection were already put into written form.”

              So the answer to the question “where” would be from the rich, varied (and somehow independent) oral tradition along with the written fragments that are the antecedents of the canonical gospels, assuming they exist.

              The answer to the question “what” would be any of the known sayings of Jesus regarding his death and resurrection or regarding righteousness (Sermon on the Mount?). 

              Can you tell me why you think Paul did not quote Christ when explaining his understanding of Christianity?  Is it because you think he did not have access to the tradition? Can you not imagine places in Romans in which a quote from the oral tradition might have bolstered Paul’s case?  

              Here’s one:

              Romans 5:6 “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. [For the Lord said, 'The Son of Man cometh to give his life a ransom for many.']”

              I’ll bet you can think of many other places where logia that “must have been” known by Paul’s time would fit.

              James wrote:  “And so I wonder whether you were indeed missing these points, or whether I have misunderstood what you were trying to convey.”

              Specifically, I responding to Mike Gantt who said that Paul “quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him.”  I have found dozens of quotes from the OT in Romans, but I’m still looking for any specific teachings from the founder himself.  Hence, I wonder what these “many teachings” are and why they don’t come from the Great Teacher’s mouth.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Tim,

                I’ll let James answer your questions addressed to him, but as for what you addressed to me: If you’ll return to what I wrote above you’ll see that I said regarding Romans that Paul ” quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him” – not teachings “of” Jesus.  Those teachings “about” Jesus would indeed have been located in what we call the Old Testament.

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

                When Paul talks about the crucifixion, or about things Jesus was remembered to have said, but which were not yet written down or at least not in a form that was available to Paul (again, as far as we can tell), then what would a “quotation” have looked like? And going further, from the research done on societies that are more oral/less primarily literate than our own, is there any research that suggests that in such societies individuals are quoted in the same manner as written sources by the literate few? It seems to me that that would be a good place to start looking into this, rather than simply proceeding as though Paul wrote in a context like our own, and at times seeming like you expect Paul to “quote” sayings of Jesus found in the Gospels when the Gospels had not been written and so could not be “quoted” in the same manner as written sources can.

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

                  James, I am sure you have done or know of this research yourself and can share its results with us, especially since most readers here surely do not have ready access to the resources you do.

                  But aside from that, what we have with Paul and the Gospels are authors who are known to “quote” sources, to relay words that they say came from the mouths or pens of others. Are you suggesting that in this case it is possible (we would need to do the research to know for sure) that they did not inherit any comparable quotations from Jesus in the oral tradition but that they constructed these themselves out of the oral material at hand?

                  Don’t many Jesus scholars dedicate hours to analysing how the quoted words of Jesus changed through the tradition as relayed from one situation to another?

                  In other words, don’t we have a prima facie reason for expecting to find even an oral tradition passing on in some form quotations or sayings of Jesus that people like Paul and the evangelists translated into their recognizable literary forms?

                  I would be interested in the existence of your apparently implied research demonstrating whether or not in oral traditions people are quoted “in the same manner” as they are in literary works, and the relevance of this study to the questions raised in the exchange between Mike and Tim.

                • Tim Widowfield

                  James wrote: “. . . then what would a ‘quotation’ have looked like?”

                  Well, I suppose it could look like the allusion to the divorce doctrine in 1 Cor 7:10-11.

                  James wrote: “. . . is there any research that suggests that in such societies individuals are quoted in the same manner as written sources by the literate few?”

                  If the studies of Q can be used as one bit of evidence in the discussion, then we might conclude that the sayings of Jesus remained plastic even after they were written down.  We’ll recall that the Beatitudes vary among Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Presumably there were many sayings that were swirling around in the primordial oral soup. Further, it should be safe to assume that the very reason we know about them is that they were passed around, remembered, rehearsed, and finally written down.

                  I’m just trying to find out why Paul opted not to do so in a document that explains his take on the Gospel of Christ.

                  James wrote: “. . . rather than simply proceeding as though Paul wrote in a context like our own . . .”

                  I do not assume that Paul operated “in a context like our own.”  I only note that Paul is comfortable quoting humans and God from OT sources. But despite having access to Jesus’ teachings (from the “rich oral tradition” and from what Cephas and James “must have” told him) none of it comes to mind while writing a fairly long explanation of what he believes.

                  I’m trying to picture Paul’s revelation of Christ. Did Jesus appear to him as a vision that did not speak?  Did Jesus simply point to the specific verses in the LXX, then nod and smile?  Is this the explanation for why Paul has to “derive” the gospel from a new understanding of scripture?

                  James wrote: “. . . and at times seeming like you expect Paul to ‘quote’ sayings of Jesus found in the Gospels when the Gospels had not been written and so could not be ‘quoted’ in the same manner as written sources can.”

                  Oh, James.  Really?  Do I have to use the words “from the rich oral tradition” every time I ask the question?  Yes, the canonical gospels were written after Paul. But the oral tradition was alive and well, and we’re told that Paul visited Cephas and James.  Is it the word “quote” that bothers you?  How about “alludes to logia of Christ, which he may have picked up from the R.O.T. or from Peter’s (or someone else’s) kerygma”?

                  Look, if we happened to find the long-lost epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans that contained the words, “Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, thus showing us that the Law was not created to rule over us,” the NT scholastic world would be ecstatic.  Scholars wouldn’t say, “Wow, it’s really odd that Paul quoted Jesus, given the largely oral milieu.”  They’d say, “See?! — We *told* you so!”

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

                    Tim, what is your reason for viewing Romans as presenting Paul’s take on the Gospel of Christ, as opposed to his argument for the inclusion of Gentiles in the movement without the requirement that they convert to Judaism?

                    • Tim Widowfield

                      James:  “Tim, what is your reason for viewing Romans as presenting Paul’s take on the Gospel of Christ, as opposed to his argument for the inclusion of Gentiles in the movement without the requirement that they convert to Judaism?”

                      I view the purpose of the epistle to the Romans in much the same way that James D. G. Dunn does:  “Romans, after all,” he writes, “is an exposition of God’s righteousness.”  

                      This is the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus: that we are no longer under the law but under grace. Our belief (or faith) is, as Abraham’s belief was, counted as righteousness.  

                      Should I infer from your question that you disagree, and instead think the main point of Romans has something to do with rules about what Gentiles should do in order to convert?

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

                      When I studied at Durham with Jimmy Dunn, the postgrad seminar worked through the manuscript of what would eventually be published as his The Theology of Paul the Apostle. My own thinking on Paul in general and Romans in particular has very much been shaped by Dunn’s work on the topic, before, during, and after my studies with him. I don’t see in your brief quote about a theme of the letter any reflection of what Dunn has to say about the purpose of the letter, for instance on pp.lv-lvii of the first volume of his commentary.

                    • Tim Widowfield

                      James wrote:  “I don’t see in your brief quote about a theme of the letter any reflection of what Dunn has to say about the purpose of the letter, for instance on pp.lv-lvii of the first volume of his commentary.”

                      In his commentary (pp. lv-lviii) Dunn cites three purposes (over which scholars continue to argue):

                      1.  Missionary Purpose:  Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles.

                      2.  Apologetic Purpose:  Setting out a “full statement of his understanding of the Gospel.”

                      3.  Pastoral Purpose.

                      He ends the section by saying that all three work together.  I suppose I can buy that.

                      James, please recall that you at first asked me, “Tim, what is your reason for viewing Romans as presenting Paul’s take on the Gospel of Christ, as opposed to his argument for the inclusion of Gentiles in the movement without the requirement that they convert to Judaism?”

                      I take Romans, mostly, to be Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.  Paul wants to lay it out carefully and “gain acceptance for that understanding.”  I like the way Koester put it — “a letter of recommendation which Paul has written on his own behalf.”  Hence, I think purpose number 2 (Apologetic) is Paul’s main reason for writing the letter and the other purposes that he weaves into the letter are subordinate to this main purpose.

                      On the other hand, I don’t see how you can conclude that the primary purpose of Romans is to present Paul’s “argument for the inclusion of Gentiles in the movement without the requirement that they convert to Judaism.”

                      I agree with you that Paul’s theology does not require Gentiles to adopt the ritual aspects of the law.  However, I don’t see how this is the main point of the epistle to the Romans.

                      Finally, I still think “an exposition of God’s righteousness” is a pretty good short description of Romans.

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

                      The basic Gospel is something that Paul largely assumes and takes for granted as shared assumption between himself and the Christians in Rome. He doesn’t need to introduce Jesus or that he was crucified nor even the idea that his death has salvific value. Even some of the possible distinctives of Paul’s theology, such as the idea of Jesus as the Last Adam, only break through to the surface on rare occasions in the letter.

                      I know there is a long history of viewing Romans as Paul’s exposition of his whole Gospel, a sort of Pauline systematic theology. I just happen to agree with Dunn, Watson, and various others who have argued that even in Romans Paul is not setting out abstractly what he thinks, but focusing on particular matters either because he thought they were relevant to the church in Rome, or perhaps because he thought they were controversial and might detract from his support base in Rome if they were not explained and defended. Even in Romans, Paul simply assumes many things – in particular, who Jesus is and the entire story about him, i.e. the basic Gospel message and core beliefs that he and other Christians apparently shared.

                • Tim Widowfield

                  Oh, hey.  I forgot to mention a pretty interesting article by James D. G. Dunn called “Q1 as Oral Tradition,” found in _The Written Gospel_, Cambridge Press, 2005.

                  Well worth reading.

                  But back to the point about Paul and his apparent lack of interest in citing anything Jesus said and very little of what he did (other than dying and rising), I thought I understood your previous stance to be:

                  “Paul didn’t quote Jesus because his epistles were occasional in nature, and there just wasn’t any need to bring up stuff that his audience already knew.  Paul knew plenty about Jesus; he just didn’t feel the urge to bring it up.”

                  But now that we’re talking about Romans (a congregation at a church he did not found and had not yet visited), I think your current stance might be:

                  “Paul didn’t quote Jesus because there was nothing solid for him to quote. In the 50s CE, the oral tradition didn’t support quoting Jesus to make your points.  In an oral culture you don’t quote the founder of your movement when explaining your understanding of said movement.”

                  Have I misstated your positions?

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

                    My position is that there is no way of knowing for certain exactly why Paul doesn’t include more of the teaching of Jesus in his letters, but there are many explanations which are plausible, and which fit with the other things that Paul says about Jesus, whereas the mythicist position offers what it claims is an expanation of this relative paucity of sayings at the expense of making the clearer parts of Paul’s letters into nonsense.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Tim,

            James has already answered you essentially as I would have, so I’ll forego repeating.

            I’ll only add that while some of the Hebrew Bible passages you quoted were employed by Paul in the service of the argument of his letter, others were appeals to the common understandings of which James spoke.  In every case, the frequent and common appeal to Scripture in the name of the gospel of Jesus the Son of God is ample testimony itself that Paul was confident that he and his readers held much in common even though he was not their sole teacher.

  • Claude

    Neil:

    Good morning. You wrote:

    “I also find it curious you are not interested in correcting what you see as my error in the place where I supposedly made it, on my blog.”

    I discovered your error only during our conversation on this blog, and only because I possess The Jesus Puzzle by Doherty and not the later book. I duly followed your link (it was not my first visit to your blog, however) and was simply trying to be fair to your side by trying to determine if and how much Ehrman had actually misrepresented Doherty. Since I’m aware that Jesus Neither God Nor Man is an expanded and revised edition of the former, it occurred to me that Doherty’s arguments about 1st century conceptions of the cosmic order might be presented in like fashion in the first book, and then it occurred to me that perhaps Ehrman was referring to The Jesus Puzzle to begin with. I’m surprised you don’t concede the point since the footnote order in Does Jesus Exist? is plain as day.

    I’ll just note that, since you have clearly been immersed in this subject for a long time, that you may lose sight of why someone like me, with a passing interest in this subject, might have set Doherty’s first book aside. Although I’m about as religious as a rock, I’m still a product of a culture that has conditioned me to think of Jesus as a man, and indeed the power of the Jesus story rests in an understanding of Jesus as a man. So the bar for you mythicists is very high. If you are to challenge prevailing orthodoxy and scholarly consensus, you must keep your skeptical reader in mind. Doherty makes strident, eccentric claims early in The Jesus Puzzle with little qualification, ongoing deferrals (just wait! you’ll see!), and darting, ad hoc references that presume on the reader’s familiarity with the texts. He doesn’t suggest, he asserts. He shuttles information to appendices that should be part of the main body of his argument. And so on.

    Mind you, I would prefer for the mythicists to be right. If Jesus suffered a symbolic rather than actual crucifixion, all the better. But you have to be scrupulous and, obviously, persuasive, in making your case. Still, now I’m motivated to read The Jesus Puzzle to see if Ehrman did misrepresent Doherty in the spirit, though he clearly did not do so in the letter. I kind of doubt he did, but fair is fair.

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

      Hi Claude,

      Since Ehrman nowhere footnotes page 95 of The Jesus Puzzle but does foornote page 97 of Jesus Neither God nor Man where the phrase does occur, I cannot assume that Ehrman was quoting TJP. The footnote you refer re TJP is to page 5 which prompts Ehrman to in invalid non-sequitur. If he did take the phrase from TJP I still have no interest in forgiving him since there is no suggestion anywhere that Doherty admits to a single world view in ancient times — in either the first or later edition of his book. The context alone makes that clear.

      (And why should Ehrman be bothering with TJP at all when he had a copy of the later revision of Doherty’s work in hand anyway?)

      Had Doherty done so (suggested there was a single world-view at the time) he would have been hung, drawn and quartered long before now for such a fundamental basic text-book and ignorant error.

      Since Ehrman is clearly referencing the later (2009) book elsewhere I can only assume he either skipped most of what Doherty wrote there or else carried over a hostile interpretation of the phrase from TJP into the matching place in JNGM.

      Ehrman is no better than McGrath in his “review” of Doherty. He simply ignores much of what Doherty writes and several times says Doherty asserts things that are simply quite untrue or even the opposite of what he has argued. I have demonstrated McGrath’s propensity for this by setting Doherty’s words side by side McGrath’s assertions on numerous occasions. I have done the same with a few sections of Ehrman’s book. I only stopped because so many others were doing the same thing and there was no point in my repeating their efforts.

      I don’t think that Ehrman or McGrath is ignorant or incapable of reading. I think the sorts of errors and misrepresentations they make are best explained by a hostile approach to their reading of Doherty. As I have pointed out elsewhere, I myself have made the same sorts of misinterpretations and misrepresentations of other works after reading them with hostile intent.

      I can understand some of your frustration with Doherty’s approach. For one such as yourself who has, as I understand it, very little religious background, many of the questions and issues Doherty is anticipating in readers may not exist for readers such as yourself. Hence many of his “this will be explained later” starts to be a bit repetitive. But at the same time, in the later revision where many of the appendices of the first version are brought into the main text, Doherty was actually faulted by McGrath for not explaining all his arguments in the very first chapter!

      I should point out that though I do definitely lean towards mythicism I do not think of myself as a mythicist. To me the term indicates someone who is out to prove Jesus was a myth. I have no problem with people who choose to do that by any means. But it is not where I am coming from.

      To me the only valid historical question is how to explain the evidence we do have. The evidence we have is of a literary and theological Jesus. The explanation I lean most towards is that of Thomas L. Thompson in his The Messiah Myth. But Doherty has opened so many new gateways to explore that, even though there are points of his argument I disagree with, he is clearly a major influence in the development of mythicism today and cannot be ignored. His depth of research and addressing of mainstream scholarship has opened so many new pathways for exploration.

      • Gakuseidon

         Neil: And why should Ehrman be bothering with TJP at all when he had a copy of the later revision of Doherty’s work in hand anyway?

        That may have been because of Richard Carrier, who regards Doherty’s “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man” as “90% speculative digression” and urged Ehrman to use Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle”.

        Carrier writes:

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255/comment-page-1#comment-4551

        “I know Ehrman read Doherty’s monstrous second book but not his original Jesus Puzzle, and yet the latter is a
        far superior argument for his conclusion, by the standards Ehrman
        would expect, whereas the second is 90% speculative digression
        (hundreds and hundreds of pages worth) which is exactly the kind of
        thing that chaps the hide of professional scholars. So Doherty may
        have shot himself in the foot with that one, and it may show in how
        Ehrman treats him. I tried to persuade Ehrman to ditch the second
        book and read the first, but I might not have been adequately
        persuasive.”

        • jjramsey

          Actually, Gakuseidon, Ehrman bothers with TJP because he contrasts it with Doherty’s later work.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Neil, your answer demonstrates why you entertain Jesus Mythicism.  That is, you major on minors.  Or, as Jesus would put it, you strain out gnats and you swallow camels.

    You asked for an argument against Jesus Mythicism and I gave you one.  Instead of answering it by explaining how Paul and all those letter recipients could either be victims or perpetrators in historicizing a myth, you focused on how the Federalist Papers aren’t exactly like the letters of Paul.  

    I suspect that your penchant for focusing on minutiae might be part of what frustrates James.  You are not unique in this for it seems to be a characteristic of mythicists and their sympathizers (I take your point to Claude that you fall into the latter and not the former category) to be verbose.  When you ask a person to plow through an 800-page book to get the point, it reminds me of one of the cardinal rules of direct mail marketing which is to write very long copy.  The idea is that if you can get the prospect reading long enough, you can hook them.  I suspect this is also why infomercials for some products work far better than standard commercials.  When you hold someone’s attention for that long you can get them to buy things they otherwise wouldn’t.  

    I notice Richard Carrier following this same pattern.  I ask him questions about his quarrels with Ehrman and he just keeps telling me to buy his books.  I’m all for books, and even for long books where warranted.  But if you’re trying to make an argument you ought to be able to distill it – to give longer and shorter versions of it.  The simple fact that mythicists and mythicist sympathizers can’t give a succinct summation of how the myth of Jesus arose and then became considered history diminishes their credibility at the outset.

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

    I got Ehrman’s book a couple of weeks ago but school has
    kept me from reading it completely.  I’m
    glad to see the exchange between Neil and Claude. Neil had a tizzy on his site
    about Ehrman misquoting Doherty which I couldn’t confirm because I don’t have
    any of Doherty’s books. What they established, that Ehrman is quoting from the
    earlier edition The Jesus puzzle not the later Neither God nor Man. In the
    amount of material Doherty put out I wasn’t surprised that he’s taken a couple
    of positions and Ehrman went with the most disagreeable. I can’t fault him for
    this. One, Doherty clearly formulated his idea in the earlier work and that
    formulation is on Platonism being the view and not one of many views. Of course
    if the Platonism he is suggesting Paul used was only one of many views held, it
    is difficult to say Paul must have had it in mind, and without that, there is no
    reason to think he did. Doherty’s earlier position is really very important to
    his argument and diffusing it under cuts his argument.  It also shows that when Doherty was first
    putting together his theory he really did not understand the ancient roman
    world and now he is simply modifying his theory to fit the real facts as he
    discovers them, bad scholarship, this is what the ancient astronomers did when
    they made little modifications to the earth centric solar system to explain aberrations
    in planet orbits.

     

    I’m personally happy that Ehrman uses some of the arguments
    I used in countering mythicism (that not only Paul, but a wide range of early
    Christian literature don’t make much use of the words and deeds of a historic
    Jesus, even when they explicitly affirm they believe in one), lets me know
    qualified scholars think like me, and that is encouraging as I press on for my
    PhD.

  • Brettongarcia

    Paul et alia.: 

    I’d say that Mythicism is in its infancy, right now,  today; 2012.  Though it can borrow on many strong texts, in Religious Studies, and from Classics departments, it has not yet quite found itself. 

    Has Mythicism yet come up with a very, very strong, coherent model?  Probably not.  But I’d suggest it has just very, very, very recently begun; c. 1999-2012.  And in a very few years more?   We should see something pretty solid. 

    Don’t forget how long it took Physics - or more recently Phychology - to look very solid at all.  And?  Id say the earlier Ehrman, and Doherty, are a fair start, for essentially a brand-new field.

    In the meantime?  In light of widespread disenchantment with promises of miracles, and 2,000 years of clearly sophistical apologetics?  I really can’t blame people if they are getting a little arbitrary, and tired of listening to excuses.  I’d forgive them if, after 2,000 years of often clearly false promises, they just said “No!”  I really wouldn’t blame the great bulk of people, if they were content with a few dismissive jokes, or even preliminary scholarship, as enough response, to just cast it all off.

    To be sure?  Of course, for those who remain interested in increasingly academic subjects?  I’d like to see a more considered scholarship continue to develop.  As  I think it is beginning to develop, even here and now.

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

      “Rationalis” I have
      to point out the facts that mythicism has been around for over 100 years, nearly
      as long as the critical examination of Christianity itself, so it is not in its
      infancy, it’s older than the general theory of relativity.   I would
      say not only has mythicism not come up with a “very, very strong, coherent
      model”, it has not come up with a very strong coherent model, a strong coherent
      model, or a coherent model. Given the easy dismissibility of all the theories
      offered so far, I can’t expect anything solid in the future. I mean it’s hardly
      a matter of time before they find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I suspect
      the only reason mythicism is being discussed at all (and this is a purely non-academic
      discussion) is as you explain,

      “In light of widespread disenchantment with promises of
      miracles, and 2,000 years of clearly sophistical apologetics?  I really can’t blame people if they are
      getting a little arbitrary, and tired of listening to excuses.  I’d forgive them if, after 2,000 years of
      often clearly false promises, they just said “No!”  I really wouldn’t blame the great bulk of
      people, if they were content with a few dismissive jokes, or even preliminary
      scholarship, as enough response, to just cast it all off”

      I’m not surprised that either that people disenchanted with
      their old religion come up with some dopey new ideas to replace the dopey old
      ones that gave their life meaning, but secular scholarship does not exist to
      make people feel better about themselves by creating historical fantasies to present
      as fact but to discover what is true.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    VinnyJH,

    Thanks for explaining your mindset.  It’s helpful.

    Your logic seems quite reasonable except for one thing: you are bringing to your reading of Paul’s letters an assumption that if there was a historical Jesus that Paul would make statements establishing that point, and it he doesn’t establish that point then you have no evidence from his letters that Jesus was a historical person.  That’s an assumption for which there’s no reasonable warrant.  And it brings to my mind the trenchant statement made above by Paul Regnier:

    ” I think that if the Christ myth theorists can put forward a coherent case for their views that fits in with the evidence – which is not the same thing as being sceptical about every piece of evidence that supports the mainstream approach – the theory will be studied and debated. If they can’t, it won’t.”

    That is, you’re being excessively skeptical.  Bart Ehrman is quite skeptical about the New Testament documents.  Famously so.  But he has his limits.  You should want some, too.

    If you were to go back through seven of the letters I have written in my life you will find that they omit reference to all sorts of important beliefs that I and my recipients held.  And why is this?  Because those beliefs were never at issue in those letters.  These seven letters of Paul bear witness to a geographically-widespread movement of people, significantly constituted of Jews and certainly led by Jews, who believed that a particular person had fulfilled the messianic prophecies of their scriptures.  To expect Paul to write about something that no one questioned would be like expecting my letters to speak of things that neither I nor the recipients of my letters even thought to write.  Not even the resurrection of Christ was in question (and you can’t have a resurrection if you haven’t had a life in the first place).  1 Cor 15 doesn’t even try to establish the resurrection of Christ.  It uses the resurrection of Christ to prove to them that they should not give up hope in their own eventual resurrection.  I suppose if the Corinthians had begun doubting their own existence, Paul might have had a reason to invoke Jesus’ own existence to buck them up.

    I support a point Tim Widowfield raised above: that it is curious that Paul doesn’t quote more of Jesus’ own teaching.  It’s a reasonable question about which we can rightfully be curious (though I think the curiosity is better placed on the NT letters from Peter and John since Paul, who didn’t walk with Jesus as they did, actually does quote Jesus some while they don’t at all – scholars who dispute Petrine and Johannine authorship, of course, will have less reason to be curious).  Nevertheless, to leap from that curiosity over all the evidence we have for Jesus’ existence (Bart, James, et al) to a position of skepticism about the existence of the person everyone in the letters believed was raised  is a leap too far, and a leap based on something other than reason.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      No, no, no, Mike. 

      I am not assuming that if there was a historical Jesus, Paul would make statements that establish that point. (However, I do think that if he doesn’t establish the point, then at best the evidence in his letters in inconclusive.)  My starting point includes the possibility that there was a historical Jesus that Paul did not know about as well the possibility that Paul knew a historical Jesus without making statements that are sufficient to establish his knowledge.  I assume that there are many things that Paul knew that didn’t make it into his letters.  I also assume that it may be possible to establish what some of those things were.  All I am trying to do is to explain what I consider to be a reasonable method to investigate the possibilities.  

      If I had those seven letters of yours, I would not assume that everything you knew or the recipients knew was contained in those letters.  Nevertheless, those letters would be my starting point and possibly my best evidence for what you knew.  Moreover, I wouldn’t assume that I would be able to establish your knowledge of things that weren’t in your letters without additional evidence.  

      Suppose for example that in one of your letters you described seeing a prowler in your yard at 10:30 one night and you knew the time because you watch the 10:00 PM news every night before going to bed.  I might reasonably conclude from that your knowledge includes events that were reported on your local news.  However, I would still have to establish that something was covered on your news before I could conclude that you knew about it and I couldn’t establish what events were covered by the fact that you watched the news.  I couldn’t say that there must have been a tornado in your town because that’s the kind of thing your local news would have covered and you would have watched.

      Even if I could establish that something was covered by your local news, I would have to consider your knowledge of the event much less certain than an event you explicitly address in your letter.  It’s possible that you only knew what time you saw the prowler because you watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island every night, but you were too embarrassed to put that in the letter.  It’s also possible that you only watch the news on nights where you have no other scheduled activities such as bowling league or Bible study.  This becomes particularly important if your knowledge of an event serves as a premise for some further conclusion that I am going to draw.  If I am inferring your knowledge from an explicit statement rather than the fact that the event appeared on the news, my further conclusion is going to be much stronger. 

      I am not starting with not an assumption about what Paul should or shouldn’t establish.  I am starting by asking what it is that Paul demonstrates he knows in his letters.   If he doesn’t demonstrate that he knows something, I have to look for some other reason to think that he does. 

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        And so when Paul says that he now preaches as raised from the dead the same Jesus whose followers he used to persecute for saying Jesus was raised from the dead, how do you manage to avoid the fact that the dead consists only of people who formerly lived?

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          I don’t avoid that fact Mike.  I embrace it.  

          However, I then ask myself whether the existence of a historical person can be inferred from the fact that someone claims to have seen the person’s ghost.  My conclusion is that it cannot.   I ask myself whether the existence of a historical Moroni can be inferred from Joseph Smith’s claim that an angel who had once been that person appeared to him.   My conclusion is that it cannot.   I then ask myself whether a historical Jesus can be inferred from Paul’s claim that a supernatural being who had once been that person appeared to him and others.  My conclusion is that it still falls short of proving a historical Jesus.  I still think we need more than Paul’s letters give us.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Your equating of Paul’s letters with Joseph Smith’s testimony about an angel named Moroni leaves me speechless.  I won’t even try to address it.

            While I think that Paul’s letters are sufficient, there is, of course, more available.  Ehrman’s book (the point of the original post) gives a lot of that to you.  Ironically, Ehrman shares almost all your skepticism about Christ and about the New Testament’s reliability.   If you won’t accept a reasonable case from him for the historicity of Jesus, I shouldn’t think you’d accept one from me. 

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

              I think that the analogy Vinny made with claiming to have seen a ghost is worth exploring, even if “ghost” is not the appropriate category. If we found a letter from whoever, in which they said that they believed that they had seen the ghost of X who had died, would we not understand them to mean that they believed that X had once been alive? And if so, by analogy, doesn’t Paul’s language about Jesus having died clearly render extremely improbable Earl Doherty’s claim that Paul believed Jesus to be a figure that had never appeared on Earth or lived in human history?

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                “I think that the analogy Vinny made with claiming to have seen a ghost is worth exploring”

                I was thinking much the same thing. On a different thread I mentioned the ghost of Freddy Jackson – To assert a belief that that the ghost of Freddy Jackson was photographed two days after he died would also logically seem to require a belief that Freddy Jackson was at some point alive. 

                And that belief that Freddy Jackson was at some point alive would not seem to be dependent on any knowledge of the things that Freddy Jackson actually did or said. 

                So if I referred to my belief in Freddy’s ghost in a letter, but my letter could not be proved to show any particular knowledge of or even interest in the things that the earthly Freddy Jackson did and said, that still wouldn’t make me a Freddy Jackson mythicist, right?!

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  No that wouldn’t make you a Freddy Jackson mythicist, but someone reading your letter might still have cause to question whether a historical Freddy Jackson ever existed.  If you saw the ghost of Robin Hood or King Arthur, that wouldn’t be much evidence that either of those people ever existed.

                • Brettongarcia

                  I think we’re ALL lost in ego issues; why not put quibbles aside, and get back to something substantive.

                  To try to get back on track?  Take Paul R’s point:  If  st. Paul believed in a “ghost” or spirit,was he therefore denying a real Jesus?  Paul R. asks:   if St. Paul did not explicitly deny the real jesus, then would his merely posing his own new spiritual Jesus, a ghost, deny that historical/traditional Christ?

                  But?  I’d say that even if st. Paul did not explicitly deny the concrete historical Jesus,still,  to the extent that he merely shifted the emphasis to his new Platonic spiritual Jesus/Holy Ghost?  He was in effect posing a new God, and a new, different Christ. 

                  This relates to the substantive subject I’d like to propose:  what was the Christ of the Jerusalem disciples?  And how did Paul’s Christ differ from it? 

                   And?  Which, if either, was the “real” Christ? 1) Paul’s spiritual “vision”?  Or 2) Jerusalem’s apparent idea of a walking, talking Christ or Jesus?

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Brettongarcia, I suppose that it’s because you may deny the resurrection of Christ that you don’t appreciate its galvanizing force to all the apostles and all the believers of the New Testament hat age.  You will actually find more quotes of the earthly Jesus in the letters of Paul than you will in the letters traditionally ascribed to the “Jerusalem apostles.”  All of them were most concentrated on the fact that the earthly Jesus had become heavenly.  

                    If you read the New Testament documents (but not the gospels) you will see a picture of people who believed that the erstwhile earthly Jesus who was now resident in heaven was pouring out the Holy Spirit to convey His present-tense thoughts to all who believed in him.  Of all those non-gospel documents, Paul gives us the most material that explicitly references statements of the earthly Jesus.  

                    When you set perceptions of the heavenly Christ against those of the earthly Christ you divide into two something that Paul and all the apostles saw as One.  The resurrected Christ had triumphed over death and they were naturally more interested in introducing Him to the world as He was, not merely as He used to be.

                • Macroman52

                  I thought ancient people’s could talk of gods who died. If so, saying one saw a ghost of someone who died would notnecessarily mean one saw a human who lived and died recently.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                I don’t know whether it does or not.  The word “ghost” today evokes a specific transaction that occurs after flesh and blood humans die on earth.  I don’t know whether anyone in Paul’s day actually believed that there were heavenly realms in which people could experience death or not.  I’m waiting for Carrier’s book on the subject.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              Goodness gracious!  Call for the smelling salts!  How dare anybody compare Paul to the founder of any other religion.  Best to feign outrage and refuse to respond. 

              Just to clarify, I did not equate Paul’s letters to Joseph Smith’s testimony about Moroni in any general sense.  I drew the analogy for the limited purpose of responding to your rather convoluted question “And so when Paul says that he now preaches as raised from the dead the same Jesus whose followers he used to persecute for saying Jesus was raised from the dead, how do you manage to avoid the fact that the dead consists only of people who formerly lived?”  Smith and Paul both claimed to have encountered supernatural beings.  They both claimed that these supernatural beings had once been men who walked the earth, died, and returned in a glorified form.  In neither case does the fact that a real person must be alive before he is dead in any way go to show that a claimed encounter with a supernatural being is likely to have been based on a real person.  That was the only point to the analogy.

              You are quite right that there is more than Paul’s letters but throughout this discussion I have only been addressing the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those letters and not the cumulative case for  a historical Jesus.   I was really hoping that Ehrman would make a convincing case for the historicity of Jesus because I would much rather not be sitting on the fence on the question as it tends to put me at odds with people on both sides of the debate.  Alas, I do not think he has.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Vinny, I just think the Smith analogy is way too much of a stretch.  But if you want to focus on just that one angle, then go ahead.  It only demonstrates the difference in the two cases.  Paul wasn’t claiming to have seen just “a supernatural being.”  He was claiming to have seen the one that everyone knew had been crucified.  Smith was claiming to have seen someone no one had ever seen before, and who no one claimed was a human being.  James’ question to you is the same as mine, just worded differently.  I’ll try to frame it yet a third way:

                Do you not see that in claiming to have seen the Jesus that his fellow Jews in Jerusalem knew had been crucified Paul was not claiming to have seen a heavenly Jesus who had never lived on earth?

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  You just can’t resist reading them gospels back into them epistles, can you Mike?

                  Paul never says anything about everyone knowing that Jesus had been crucified and he never says anything about what his fellow Jews in Jerusalem knew.  In 1 Cor. 15, he tells us that some other people had encounters with the supernatural being that were similar to his own.  That’s about it.

                  BTW, every copy of the Book of Mormon contains the names and affidavits of the twelve witnesses who corroborate the appearance of the Angel Moroni and the existence of the Golden Plates.

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

                    Vinny, avoiding reading the Gospels back into the epistles is one thing, and driving an unnecessary wedge between them quite another. In this case, we are dealing simply with the matter of reading the epistles. Paul doesn’t say that a supernatural entity appeared, he says that somehow a person with a common Jewish name died, was buried, and then rose and appeared to people. It is perfectly fine to say that the latter claim simply cannot be accepted by a historian. But it is absolutely clear from what Paul wrote that he is referring to a human being. There is no ambiguity whatsoever except for a handful of denialists who for some reason want it to be otherwise. But what Paul wrote is not even slightly ambiguous, in all honesty, when it comes to this particular point. To insert a previously unknown purely spiritual entity, who inexplicably has an ordinary human name, and who somehow died and was buried in an unprecedented fashion, is not to offer an explanation of the evidence, but to insert ad hoc assumptions simply to try to make the text mean something it doesn’t. If one wishes to ay such games, one can do so with any texts. But surely a historian should not do so.

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

                      Oh my goodness Doctor McGrath! Are you still struggling with that little old canard that Jesus was such a common name no-one would ever have assigned it to a divinity?

                      Even Classicists can see through the fallacy on that one. You have surely read Classicists like John Moles and C. J. Mackie address that very question and conclude that Jason/Joshua/Jesus is THE MOST APT name for a new saviour/healing god!

                      Check out “Greece & Rome”, vol. 48 no. 1, April 2001 (Mackie: The Earliest Jason: What’s in a name?” — this article takes on special significance when read alongside the next one . . . ) . . . that next one being John Moles’ more recent article, linked at Gospel Puns on the Name Above All Names and Creativity with the Name of Jesus the Healer in the Gospel of Mark.

                      And remember back in the days when critical biblical scholarship was dominated by those far more extensively incisive French and Germans? ;-) — Even the anti-mythicists of those days could bring themselves to question the historical plausibility of the name of Jesus of Nazareth — Would the historical Jesus of Nazareth really have been named Jesus of Nazareth?.

                      I don’t think we need Bayes’ theorem to sort this out really, but I would be happy for you to itemize the values you would feed into a Bayes’ formula to test your subjective assertion that Jesus was too common a name to be assigned to a divinity.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Dr. McGrath,

                      I’m not really sure what you are driving at.

                      Are you saying that the risen Christ is not a supernatural being?  I am happy to accept that Paul believed that there had once been a man named Jesus who had been crucified and who died.  I will also concede that Paul believed that it was that man who was resurrected from the dead and exalted to heaven and who subsequently appeared to Paul and others.   I will also concede that those are perfectly reasonable inferences to draw from Paul’s letters.  However, what Paul is describing in 1 Cor. 15 is the encounter that he and others had with the heavenly being, not with the man, isn’t it?  

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

                      I have no qualms whatsoever about the way you described what Paul thought in your last comment, Vinny!

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Dr. McGrath, 

                      That’s good to know.  I know that sometimes I get a bit snarky.

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

                      James wrote: “But it is absolutely clear from what Paul wrote that he is referring to a human being. There is no ambiguity whatsoever . . .”

                      No ambiguity whatsoever? The first time one reads of the name Jesus in the earliest letters of Paul one encounters Jesus coupled with God himself, and regularly the brethren are said to be dwelling “in” this Jesus and he “in” them, not unlike the Stoic Logos/Reason concept of indwelling and binding all in whom it dwells into a united brotherhood. This Jesus is revealed “in” Paul and is crucified before the very eyes of the Galatians. . . .

                      But there is no ambiguity whatsoever that he was a human being.

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    VinnyJH,

                    You say, “BTW, every copy of the Book of Mormon contains the names and affidavits of the twelve witnesses who corroborate the appearance of the Angel Moroni and the existence of the Golden Plates.”

                    Again, the comparison to Joseph Smith reveals that he was talking about a supernatural being, not a human being who had lived, died, and had been raised from the dead.  The difference between the Smith case and Paul on this point is just one of many.  This point alone, however, undermines the mythicist case because this contrast alone demonstrates how Paul’s letters reveal a widespread belief in human being who had experienced an unprecedented transformation – not in “a supernatural being” who some had seen.

                    You say, “In 1 Cor. 15, he tells us that some other people had encounters with the supernatural being that were similar to his own.”

                    In 1 Cor 15:3ff, Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that the gospel that he and all the apostles (including, of course Peter and James) preached was about a man who had died (which, of course, requires his having lived first).  This is how you can know that what they all (i.e. the apostles, the believers at Corinth, as well as, of course, many in other places around the Mediterranean) believed was that a historical person had been raised from the dead according to the promises God had made in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Take away the historical person and substitute “a supernatural being” who never lived on earth as human being and their talk about his having been “raised from the dead according to the Scriptures” becomes utterly incoherent.  This also defeats the mythicist claim.

                    You say, “Paul never says anything about everyone knowing that Jesus had been crucified and he never says anything about what his fellow Jews in Jerusalem knew.”

                    Earlier in 1 Corinthians (2:2) Paul characterized his gospel in this way:  “I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  In Galatians 2, Paul says he went to Jerusalem to submit his gospel to James, Peter, and John for their review.  He reported that they concurred with his view of the gospel.  The only difference between them was that Paul was to take this gospel to the Gentiles while these “pillars’ were to take it to the Jews – thus confirming what Paul had said in 1 Cor 15 about there being one gospel that apostles preached and believers believed.  That Christ was crucified was, as Paul said, an essential aspect of that gospel.  Everyone who believed that Jesus had been raised believed that He had first been crucified.  The crucifixion and resurrection were two sides of a coin.  Put another way, there was no supernatural Jesus without there first having been a natural Jesus.  Someone can read the letters of Paul and decide that they don’t believe what Paul, the other apostles, and the believers believed.  But to say that those folks didn’t believe in a historical Jesus requires some motivation other than reason.

                    You said, “You just can’t resist reading them gospels back into them epistles, can you Mike?”

                    You’ll notice that there’s nothing about the gospels in any of what I’ve explained here.  The gospels would, however, even in the hands of a skeptic like Bart Ehrman, provide yet more substantiation for the historical Jesus view.  Yet it should hardly be necessary.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Everyone who believed that Jesus had been raised believed that He had first been crucified.

                      So what Mike?  Everyone who believes that the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith believes that there once was a man named Moroni who died.  

                      The question is not whether Paul and others believed that Jesus had been crucified.  The question is why they believed that there was such a man who had been crucified.  If that belief was solely the product of vision or revelation, then it doesn’t provide the historian with much evidence to think that such a person ever existed. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      And with that, VinnyJH, I must leave you with your view.  Thanks for engaging with me.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It was a fascinating encounter Mike.

                • Macroman52

                  He was claiming to see someone who everybody knew dad been crucified recently.
                  I don’t know that I ever understood gal 3:1, but it might mean some Galatians Christians had some doubt about Jesus having been crucified recently. Note I said, might mean. I don’t know what Paul when he says Christ was portrayed before their very eyes as crucified. Some seem to think he is saying, look I told you he was crucified.

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt:

    I think beginning with Paul, may eventually have some startling implications for Jesus scholarship.  But as a methodological principle, it seems fair enough; as fair as any other.

    And there?  Though there is evidence eventually, for a Christianity community, that does not seem to happen in Paul’s first visits, at least as narrated in Acts say.  While most importantly, Paul’s doctrine of Jesus himself?  Is vague in the extreme.

    You assert over and over that Paul is clearly speaking to people who are already Christians; evidencing a strong Christianity before Paul.  But suppose we allow, in our “Pauline Primacy,” borrowing from the account of Paul, in Acts, for a second?  (As at least an account of Paul).  It seems clear in Acts that Paul is at first mostly meeting religious persons … who are mostly Jewish at first, and not Christian.  Or who are Greek gentiles, and pagans.  Indeed, Paul is travelling … in order to establish Christianity, Christian churches in these areas, mostly for the first time it seems.  While in most towns?  Paul is being run out of town, and all but killed, in one village after another.  Far from behing greeted by legions of pre-existing Christians, he is reviled and almost killed, by countless J ews and pagans.

    Paul’s first travels, it seems in Acts, are to rather virgin, non-CHristian parts of Turkey, Greece, Rome.   ONly later, come his letters; writing back to churches he apparently himself founded earlier, in his “mission to the Gentiles.” 

    By the time of his letters, to be sure, paul is writing to better-established churches, it might seem.  But how firmly Christian are even they, in turn?  In 1 Corin. 1.12-4.6, there seems to be some knowledge of Christ there; but the community is not fully centered on Christ.  Since there are “dissentions”; in which some say “I belong to Paul, or ‘I belong to Apollos,” or I belong to Cephas,’  or ‘I belong to Christ” (1.12).  (While he asserts things “God has revealed to us throught the Spirit” 2.10).  Here, many Corinthians do not seem to think of themselves as even following Christ; but rather, Paul.  Or Apollos. 

    While in Galatians, Paul at first denies there are other gospels; and then asserts that if there are any such, they are false (Gal. 1.6-12).  Even as he re-iterates his assertion that his source of authority is not the reports of men, but of “revelation” (cf. “vision”).   THere he especially notes that James and Cephas and John, were only “reputed pillars” (2.9); while he calls Peter/Cephas a “hypocrite,” or “insincere” (2.11-16).

    Are we being unreasonably “skeptical”?  How skeptical should we be, about evidence presented by people who historically, often, claimed to… walk on water, and make bread appear out of thin air?  I’ll leave that to you to judge. 

    Do you yourself have total faith in institutioal religion?   But how objective are these institutions?  And how objective is research by their researchers … who are  in effect sworn in advance, to have “faith” in the traditional acounts of Jesus -  faith, even when they are contradicted by apparent evidence?  The commitment to faith is itself, an explicit rejection of simply going by the evidence.  The whole call to “faith” is a call to partiality; to ignoring any and all signs that your religion is false. 

    To such a faith community no doubt, simple objectivity – and/or even a cynicism bourne of long hard experience, with countless empty promises of miracles and so forth – appears like an assault.  But?  Such an attitude is fully warranted, by long, hard experience.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Rationalis,

      There are many things you have said that I would like to set right.  However, I’ll confine myself to a central issue in your view that seems most relevant to this post and this thread.

      You seem to misunderstand the context of Paul’s letters, and the believing landscape of 30-60 CE.  There was a robust Christianity (though of course it didn’t call itself by that name) before Paul became an active missionary (it was its robustness that he was persecuting prior to his own conversion) and certainly before his missionary activity that led to the seven letters that are almost universally attributed to him.  That prior Christianity, if we can continue to use that term, was centralized in Judea, and, more broadly to the eastern shore region of the Mediterranean.  Paul’s letters were to churches westward of that region, and these were churches that Paul had founded (as contrasted with those in Judea and surrounding regions that had preceded him).  Because of the Jewish Diaspora, the mobility of the Jews for whom Jerusalem was still a central life concern, and because of the general mobility afforded by the Mediterrean Sea and the Pax Romana, there was some fluidity movement to the Jewish population.  As if that wasn’t enough, you have Jews expelled from certain areas and later allowed back which caused even more movement.  As a result, these congregations were not static.  Moreover, you could have Paul write a letter to Rome, a place he had never been, and yet he could address person after person who he knew would be on the receiving end.

      These are just some of the things you need to keep in mind as you read Paul’s letters.  Perhaps you have all this in mind, but it did not at all seem so when I read your post.  Failure to adhere to these realities would lead to some of the false trails you pursued.

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

    It is not an abusive insult to compare Jesus mythers and
    holocaust deniers. They both make irrational arguments for their claims and
    retreat to endless illogical arguments to defend those claims. That it sounds
    bad to be in the same league as holocaust deniers is because the myther uses a
    type of reasoning that uncivilized ideas is because it is uncivilized thinking.
     It is not that asserting that Jesus is a
    myth is as harmful as denying the holocaust it’s just that neither position is supported
    by facts. The position that Jesus was a person is supported by facts and this
    has been explained on this blog, mythicist internet response threads, Ehrman’s
    book and many other documents. That mythicist use perverse logic to deny the
    evidence is not the problem of rational investigators.  No one is obligated to take position
    seriously if it has no reasonable merit. Mythicists seem to think that telling
    them the truth, that there argument has no merit and is irrational is a
    personal insult.

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

    Although I have given up trying to interact directly with Neil Godfrey because of his dishonesty and his various other tactics, I really must express gratitude that he linked to an article that includes the following in its conclusion:  “Thus this paper supports Geza Vermes’ central claim about the historical Jesus: that he was a Jewish charismatic, the core of whose activity was healing” (p.167).

    The article Godfrey links to mentions puns involving the names of Peter and Rome, and so I have to wonder whether he is also a Peter/Cephas mythicist and a Rome-mythicist, or whether he so badly understood the article as to genuinely believe that it somehow supports his mythicist bunk, or whether he has not actually read it, or hoped that others would not. But presumably this provides a wonderful illustration of either his dishonesty or his incomprehension or his madness, any of which are adequate to account for my avoidance of interaction with him.Whichever is the case, I certainly encourage anyone interested in the perspective of a Classicist on the Gospels and the traditions behind them to read the article. It contributes in its own small way to the case against mythicism, discussing, among other things, pre-Markan tradition. The article even suggests that Petronius’ Satyricon might provide independent or quasi-independent evidence of the passion narrative. And, just for the record, nothing in the article suggests that the name Jesus was not an ordinary human name, as were some of the others on which puns were made in ancient literature. Here’s the link to the article:  http://research.ncl.ac.uk/histos/documents/2011104MolesJesustheHealer11782.pdf

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

      James, I have discussed and linked to Moles’ article explicitly because it demonstrates that the name Jesus really was — despite its being a common name at the time — nonetheless one worthy of being the name above all names.

      You spoke of my supposed deceit and tried to point out, as if I was hiding the fact, that Moles believes in the historical Jesus. I was not deceitful at all but I made that fact clear in the very opening sentences of my first post:

      John Moles is definitely not a mythicist and my interest in the article is primarily the light it sheds on the nature of the Gospels. What sorts of documents are they, what led to their creation and how were they initially understood and received?

      In your intemperate vitriol and slander against me you forgot to mention that one central fact — the very reason I linked to the article.

      Of course Moles believes in the historical Jesus. So what’s your point? I offer an article that overturns your subjective line that no-one would have applied the name Jesus to a divinity and you dig out a whole lot of red herrings from it to avoid that single issue and to cast all sorts of innuendo at me.

      You should read Richard Carrier’s book on sound argument and logical fallacies. Included there is one that points out that if a source is quoted to illustrate a singular point then that is the point of agreement — and one cannot infer the one citing agrees with everything else in the text. Otherwise no-one would ever be able to cite anyone else unless they agreed with their every other word.

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

      Psst. James, before I posted my outline of John Moles’ article I actually took the trouble to email him to discuss it and what I planned to do.

      When he saw the manner in which I had addressed his article after posting it on the blog I did receive a reply of commendation on the neutrality and objectivity of my presentation.

      I had bent over backwards not to misrepresent him or to make his views appear to be mine and vice versa so I concluded that my efforts clearly paid off.

      Only you somehow see in my efforts dishonesty and deceit. The author certainly did not.

    • steven

      JAMES
       “Thus this paper supports Geza Vermes’ central claim about the historical Jesus: that he was a Jewish charismatic, the core of whose activity was healing” 

      CARR
      I thought Jesus was as an apocalyptic prophet, the core of whose activity was preaching about the forthcoming Kingdom of God.

      Are we talking about the same person?

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

      Dr McGrath, would you like to assure your readers that you regret implying that I tried to deceive readers about John Moles supposed support for mythicism when I in fact made clear in the opening sentences that John Moles was definitely not a mythicist?

      Would you also like to follow up with the professor himself by means of a quick email to gauge his own view of the way I commented on his article in my blog posts to see whether he agrees with your assessment that I was in any way dishonest, uncomprehending or mad?

      Would you now like to engage in a serious discussion about the appropriateness of a very common name like Jason (an equivalent of Jesus) meaning Healer being applied to a hero who was devoured by death and who returned to life and who, as a result of a period in a wilderness, acquired miraculous powers of healing, both physical and metaphysical healing? And if so, would you like to reconsider the question of the name Jesus — that was clearly considered of equivalent significance by the author of Mark’s gospel — being assigned to a heroic divinity?

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt:

    Did “everyone know” Christ had been crucified?  Then why is Paul going on a missionary tour?  Teaching them what they already knew? 

    Paul teaches very, very little about Jesus; but crucifixion, “Christ crucified,”  is the one thing he does teach.  And?  Over and over, the accounts outside Jerusalem at least, give the impression that quite often and even normally - his listeners have not heard of it. 

    It is for all the world as if a single, quite subjective, vision-prone person, Paul himself, is their main source for that “information.”    (Outside Jerusalem and immediate environs; which is another question).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

    Rationalis,

    >>
    I’d say that Mythicism is in its infancy, right now,  today; 2012.  Though it can borrow on many strong texts, in Religious Studies, and from Classics departments, it has not yet quite found itself. Has Mythicism yet come up with a very, very strong, coherent model?  Probably not.  But I’d suggest it has just very, very, very recently begun; c. 1999-2012.  And in a very few years more?   We should see something pretty solid.
    >>

    Mythicism has been around since the early 18th Century. You suggest that ‘in a very few years more… we should see something pretty solid.’ Considering mythicists have already spent 200 years failing to develop ‘a very, very strong, coherent model’, I won’t be holding my breath for a breakthrough.

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt:

    When he spoke of “Jesus,” Paul was claiming he had seen a “vision,” that he took to be some kind of manifestation.  Perhaps even superficially, some might have thought, of roughly  the “Jesus” that alleged witnesses apparently claimed to know around him.  But of course, Paul’s vision of Jesus, was not quite the same as what first-person witnesses would have seen. 

     And Paul’s concept of Jesus, seems to have differed significantly from others around him too.  As evidenced by what scholars call the notorious difference between “Pauline Chrsitianity” and the rest of the NT.

    Paul was not an eyewitness to a physical, material Jesus; but only a “vision” of him, as he said.  And though he spoke of what he saw, as linked to whatever “Jesus” it was that those in Jerusalem saw, finally, the leaders in Jerusalem did not encourage Paul to stay ini their town with his vision; but sent him out of town.  To preach to the heathens – the Gentiles – only.Probably because, indeed, whatever view of “Jesus” it was that Paul had, often differed from for example, what Peter remembered.  Peter/Cephas somehow for instance, for a while, believing that not dining with Gentiles, was consistent with Jesus’ example it seems.  

    In spite of at times receiving the “right hand of fellowship” with other (CHristian?) leaders, Paul and his “vision,” in fact often conflicted with the local rulers.  Even with alleged Christian rulers –  in Jerusalem; with Peter and James.  And? After being sent out of  town for a while, when Paul came back?  Far from being welcomed by Jerusalem overall, instead Paul was immediately arrested, and sent off to prison.  To presumably die in prison.  Without truly effective help from the local Christian community.

    For these and other reasons, we might well ask this therefore:  had Paul really seem the “same” Jesus as the others? 

    Or related:  Is having a “vision” of something, inevitably reliable; is it really the same as meeting the real thing (if there is a real thing out there)?  The Bible itself warned that there are problems with visions, and dreams, and trances; the Bible warning of “false spirits,” “illusions,” and “delusions.”  And even specifically, warning about “False Christs.”  So that visions in themselves, are not entirely reliable.

    And again finally?  Whatever “Jesus” Paul say, was different in some ways from whatever it was, that was believed in, in Jerusalem.  Different enough, that Paul and local Chrsitian leaders often conflicted severely; Paul calling Peter a “hypocrite.”  And though they seem to have made up for a while?  After teh briefest of meetings with peter and james, Paul was simply sent out of town.  To speak of HIS vision, only outside of native Jerusalem.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia, the view you are presenting here is constructed from an idiosyncratic reading of selected passages from the New Testament.  

      You will notice disputed issues in the New Testament epistles, but none of the disputes are ever about the identity of Jesus.  In fact, the identity of Jesus is a cornerstone to which all the apostles and believers continually return, a defining issue by which all other issues can be navigated.  That’s why their letters begin and end so often with “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or some variation thereof.  The common view of this first-century  Mediterranean-wide faith community was that Jesus was the prophet who had been crucified for claiming to be the messiah – a claim they believed had been vindicated by God raising him from the dead.  Were you to read the story of Paul in context, you would see that the Jesus whom Paul claimed appeared to him was the Jesus whose followers he had been harassing.  Those followers had claimed that Jesus was a descendant of David, that he was the promised messiah of Israel, that he had been wrongly crucified, and that God raised him from the dead.  Paul said that the Jesus who appeared to him identified himself by saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” thus identifying himself in the most personal way with those who had been confessing him as risen from the dead.  Therefore, the Jesus whom Paul believed in was the same Jesus whom had been proclaimed by his earthly followers and erstwhile sibling skeptics.  Paul would have no part of any other Jesus, for there was only one that mattered. (2 Cor 11:4).  The vast majority of what Paul wrote in his letters can be, and has been, traced back to the Judean believers whom he had been persecuting.  Consider just some of those things:  Paul didn’t invent the Lord’s supper, he didn’t invent baptism, he didn’t invent calling upon the name of Jesus, he didn’t invent the idea of the Holy Spirit being bestowed on believers in Christ.  And yet these issues and others like them took up much ink in his letters.  The only important sense in which Paul was unique was his mission to incorporate the Gentiles more aggressively (even Peter had preceded Paul in introducing Gentiles to the faith – Acts 10).  The bifurcation between Pauline and Judean Christianity which Jesus’ mythicists seek to impose is born of imaginative interpretation of some texts and selective ignorance of others.  There is some precedent in the history of Christian theology to make more of a distinction between Paul and his fellow apostles than is warranted by the evidence.  But Jesus’ Mythicists take this to unprecedented extremes.  Biblical scholarship since World War II has done a much better job of understanding the Jewishness of all that was going on in the New Testament and redeemed much of prior scholarship from its more limited view.

      Jesus’ Mythicists are essentially hyper-skeptics.  This is why they exhibit feelings of betrayal toward the skeptical side of the religious establishment, saying, in effect, “We are only extending a road which you yourselves have traveled.”  However, the Jesus’ Mythicists do go much further down that road.  For there is little evidence that will impress a skeptic, but there is no evidence that will impress a hyper-skeptic.  

      When Jesus’ Mythicists encounter someone like me (i.e. someone who believes in Jesus and in all the Old and New Testaments say about him), he may be amused or frustrated, but he never feels betrayed.  However, when their view are rejected by someone like Bart Ehrman, who thinks Jesus was a failed apocalyptic preacher, or a James McGrath, who routinely and energetically disparages anyone who believes in the Genesis account of creation, they feel that they’ve been betrayed by those whose own skepticism gives them more reason to be supportive.  Conversely, establishment skeptics like Bart and James are embarrassed by the mythicists (because they’re giving skepticism a bad name by taking it too far) and therefore want to distance themselves.

      None of this speaks well for skepticism, whether it be conventional skepticism or hyper-skepticism.  Better to simply be reasonable about the evidence.  Those who are recognize that Jesus of Nazareth deserves more attention and respect than we are giving Him.     

  • Brettongarcia

    1) Paul speaks as if Jesus was a human being; but critics note that his Jesus is quite vague and sketchy; he for examples does not give you dramatic scenes, with Jesus himself walking and talking in red print.  Obviously at best he’s at some distance from the historical events; he is not an eyewitness (as much of the Bible demands).  And his account, though it references a real Christ it seems to some, is not very concrete.

    2) While if, Paul’s Christ is vaguely implied at best – in say “Romans”?  His name is invoked  as a sort of vague metaphorical backdrop or aegis (or Trojan Horse?)  for rather Roman, Stoic-looking moral principles.  Like?  The desirability that all human persons – not just Jews – be allowed within the saving umbrella of the new Christianity.  Which is a useful new ethical principle … but one rather at conflict with the God of Judaism; and with the early Peter too.  And only marginally consistent with the more Jewish Jesus, as some say, of Jerusalem.  A view that scholars long held … and a view that is long due for a revival and expansion, today.

    3) Was Paul’s Christ really very different, very Hellenistic say?  Related to this, Don’t overlook the MASSIVELY “spiritual”izing moment:  the moment when Paul adds, beyond Christ, an entire Third Member to Judaism, and Christ:  the HOLY SPIRIT.  While indeed, this “spirit” infuses everthing … and all but entirely dematerializes even his “Christ.”  Interfacing neatly with a Idealizing spirituality/Platonism, that at times drifts rather far into spiritual Gnosticism; implying (at times, if not consistently) that this entire material “world” and “flesh” are bad and evil, and that we must therefore be … spiritual.  Like the Holy Spirit.

    THis is a BIG difference.  In adding the Holy Spirit -  more than had been done before in Judaism, Paul is giving us a “Christ” that is so different from what we had often seen before.  So different that scholars might be rather justified in calling him a “different” Christ. 

    Finally, is the over-spiritual Christ of Paul Even… a False Christ?

    4)In fact finally and most conclusively?  The BIble warned of many Christs; some of them false.  Paul for his own part, is quite aware that his “Jesus” is different from others: though he regards his own as the real one.  So that?  In any case, Paul  even warns that others are following “ANOTHER JESUS” than the right one (2 Corin. 11.4).

    There?  Paul EXPLICITLY SAYS THAT HIS CHRIST IS DIFFERNT from some others!

    There were many “Christs” around, Paul (and John) warned.  And?  Many ofthem were false.   

    So finally,  who were these other false Christs that Paul was warning about?  Some scholars think that Paul, furthermore, was hinting at the “CHrist” of the “reputed” apostles in Jerusalem.

    [N.B.   By the way?  As far as I'M concerned, Vinnie is MORE than welcome back into the conversation, ANY TIME!  Good work Vinnie!

    Neil and Paul?  Try to make up!  If you go back about two days, you'll find that you began to disagree based on a misunderstanding!  As I recall vaguely, Neil (?) was actually making a series of statements (slightly) supporting of Mythicism ....  Those statements were misunderstood?  Or the other way around? ]

  • Brettongarcia

    Further note:    I am not ultimately, permanently abandoning the thesis of Pauline Priority.   But?  This concept seemed too difficult for many.  So?  For purposes of this argument, for purposes of convenience, I am putting that thesis aside at times. 

    And so?  Now and then I will now speak more conventionally, as it the realistic Jesus was “before” Paul, as most think.   As if Jesus had been a “real” person, before Paul’s letters. Though?  I will ultimately return to that thesis; the notion that Pauls’ abstract account was FIRST; and  that the details, the “real”istic details, were actually filled in LATER.  

    For now though?  Let’s just seek a simpler point:  going ahead with the temporarily-forbidden “wedge.”  And restablishing first the DIFFERENCE between the Gospels and Paul.  Only on then?  Only after that?  Returning to the more challenging original thesis.  (That there is a difference, between the “real” “original” “historical” Jesus, and Paul’s vague vision.  And furthermore?  The “Realsitic” “original” Jesus, was NOT before Paul, but after.)

    Possibly, for purposes of argument what if we say, there was SOME kind of sense of “Jesus” in Jerusalem, before Paul.  (THough we can’t take the Gospels as firm evidence of that).  But even if we say temporarily conceded that for purposes of discussion?  Then … who or what WAS that “first” jesus?  Who was the Jerusalem jesus?  

    If there was any Jesus at all? I suggested earlier he was generated in Jerualem, before Paul… but we generated him, out of Oral Culture:  myths, rumors.  Rumors partciuarly regarding the “sons” of the lord God, Herod, etc..

    But again? IF this seems too difficult?  Let’s just look at the admittedly better known, more conventional scholarly point:  the two different view of Christ.   

    Or less conventionally?  The first two CHrists. 

  • Brettongarcia

    These last two notes are addressed to (/at?) Gantt, especially. 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Alas, I’m too perplexed to respond.

  • Brettongarcia

    Is there currently, an absolutely compelling defense of Mythicism?  There might not be.  But how high should we set the bar?  Does it have to be “absolutely compelling”?  The standards probably should not be set quite THAT high.  Keeping in mind that after all, believers set in a sense no intellectual standards whatsoever:  everything is to be accepted solely on the basis of “faith,” not proof.

     Christians themselves therefore, have set a very, very low bar for “proofs.”  So mightn’t Mythicists be allowed some standard short of “absolutely complelling”?  Suppose we go with the standard say, of just a Probable vs. Improbable Christ? 

    By that standard?  Much has been accomplished already.

    1) Keep in mind especially, that the first target of Mythicism, seems actually, fairly easy to demolish.  And in fact, the first target has already been demolished for even most “believers”:  the idea of Jesus as a worker of physical miracles, walking on water and making bread appear out of thin air. 

    NOting problems with the “Miracle Jesus” would be the first, simple target of Mythicism.  And noting severe problems with that, would seem extremely easy to accomplish; indeed, it is already accomplished, even in the mind of most “believers.”  And even those in the search for an Historical Jesus.

    2) So what’s left?  What is left is say, the “spiritual” Jesus. 

    3) And then,say?  The very last tiny residue:  whatever it may be that the “Historical Jesus” might be. Which already appears quite minimal. 

    And especially, lets keep in mind how very, VERY LOW the standards have been in the past, for belief in the Miracle and spiritual Jesus; and even for the Historical Jesus.  Indeed, traditional institutional Christianity constantly reviled the idea of proofs at all; and asserted that everything had to be accepted, absolutely, without any proof at all:  but on the bases of simple, total “faith.”

    Isn’t it a double standard, when Christianity asserts it does not have to offer any proofs at all … while Mythicsts are told they, however, just present say “absolutely compelling” evidence?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Here is my problem with mythicism.  The more I look at things, the more it looks to me like the historical Jesus is a house built on sand.  Unfortunately, I can’t figure out where the mythicists are going to build their house other than on that same sand.  For that reason, I find it hard to see how their claims to certainty can be any more credible than those of Ehrman or any other historicist.

    • FM

      This kinf of makes no sense.

      If the Hystorical Jesus is a ‘House build on sand’ , i.e. something backed up by weak arguments then the mythicists have their work half done for them.

      Mythicist are not trying to ‘build a case’ but to destroy one.

      The fact that no serious scholar, even atheist ones or agnostic like Ehrman has believed in the ‘Christ myth’ theory for several decades now, means that the Christ myth theory not only is unlikely, but that the evidence shows that it’s false.

  • Brettongarcia

    Vinny:  that seems fair enough.  In fact, I’d say that Mythicism and Historicism are about equally weighed right now; neither of them are all that certain.  Though both are interesting. 

    Historicism has a more complicated methodology it might seem.  But the objectivity of that method is not as great as some think.  While Mythicism has some obvious facts on its side:  like the fact that no one is literally walking on water.

    I think Dr. McGrath is right in asking for a more solid method from Mythicism; but he overstates the solidity of Historicism, at the same time.  And he overlooks some obvious points in Mythicism’s favor.

    Meanwhile?  In fact, I think of Mythicism as being in its “exploratory” stage, to be sure.

    Feel free to continue with our admittedly, preliminary speculations.  I think our notion here, of a vague JESUS in Paul, stands up in academic literature.  I’d probably still even add, that though Paul’s audience/CHURCHES at times seem solid in the letters?  The writing in Acts gives a better idea of a chaotic situation, like the one that Paul probably  met in founding the churches.  Before writing his letters.  Likely the first Christian communities c. 30-50 AD were not wellformed at all.  And had no solid impression/doctrine of Jesus.  (While then too?  There are MANY scholars who feel that one or two – or all – of Paul’s letters are forged.  In which case EVERYTHING collapses).

    Yes; everthing is rather preliminary, and up for debate….  But that is true of both Mythicism, and Historicism. 

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Brettongarcia,

      I agree.  

      If historicism is wrong, I think that it is wrong for the reason that our sources are insufficient to support any degree of certainty about either a historical or a mythical Jesus.  This leads me to think that the best that either side is going to be able to offer is intriguing possibilities.  

  • steven

    On 16 April Bible Geek podcast, Price claims at about the 29 minute mark that Ehrman has responded that it is common procedure to get graduate students to read the books,and not read them himself.

    Amazing!

    Did Ehrman really admit that he did not read the books himself?

    Price calls not reading the books  ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disgusting’.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with having a graduate student do research work, but that doesn’t relieve Ehrman of the ultimate responsibility for the work.   You have to be sure that the researcher will play the devil’s advocate to the best of his ability rather than engage in cherry-picking to confirm the opinions you already hold.

      • steven

        You can get your graduate students to read the stuff for you, and then boast about how your credentials let you read the primary sources, while the people you denigrate don’t have your skill at reading primary sources.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          I think that Ehrman has every right to think that his knowledge of ancient languages gives him an edge over someone who doesn’t possess that expertise.  I think his problem might have been in thinking that his ancient language skills would enable him to tell whether his graduate students were accurately summarizing the mythicist position and accurately identifying the points which required a response.

    • steven

      Ehrman says it is a ‘flat-out’ lie that he did not read the mythicist books through.

      I was astonished by Price’s claim, and asked for confirmation if it was true.

      Although it was amusing to see James and Mike defend as perfectly OK, something that Bart is highly indignant (to say the least!) about being accused of.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Bart was indignant at the accusation that he didn’t read the books.  I don’t think that he was indignant at the accusation that he might have used research assistants.  

        Here is another hypothesis.  Ehrman read the books he says he read, i.e., the books he discusses in his book.  He assigned research assistants to read some of the other works by the same authors in order to see whether there were any additional points that needed to be addressed.   Those research assistants only knew which books had been assigned to them, not which books Ehrman read for himself.  One of those grad students talked to Price’s source and told him that Ehrman farmed out the reading. 

        • Gakuseidon

           Vinny, I think you are probably correct. Or he might have read the books and also asked his students to provide their own feedback on those book, and incorporated their feedback. I would be very disappointed if Ehrman had relied on grad student summaries and commented on anything that he hadn’t read himself. His book had always been promoted as his own work and own response to mythicist books.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Steve, the first reference I can find to Ehrman using his grad students is on an internet message board, and was posted by… Acharya S. 

        http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=25540#p25540

        I’d say it’s pretty amusing to see mythicists, who say that we shouldn’t believe anything unless anything without critical and dispassionate examination of the evidence, trumpeting as fact something which turns out to be second hand hearsay at best.

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

          I’d say it’s pretty amusing to see mythicists, who say that we shouldn’t believe anything unless anything without critical and dispassionate examination of the evidence, trumpeting as fact something which turns out to be second hand hearsay at best.

          Hi Paul,

          Then what emotion is evoked when you see “mythicists” also checking the evidence and asking Ehrman himself for his account when they hear the rumour? Doing this was indeed my first instinct: Bart Ehrman Assures Us He Read All The Mythicist Books.

          Is it just possible that “mythicists” can no more be lumped together than “Christians” or “New Testament scholars” can? Is it just possible that demonizing and stereotyping are unhelpful?

          P.S.
          Dr McGrath — have you emailed Professor Moles yet to ask him his view of my treatments of his article, and whether I indeed handled it dishonestly or uncomprehendingly in any way whatsoever? Even the busiest of us can always dash off an email to check things such as this, whether to Ehrman or anyone else . . . .

        • steven

          REGNIER
          I’d say it’s pretty amusing to see mythicists, who say that we shouldn’t believe
          anything unless anything without critical and dispassionate examination of the evidence, trumpeting as fact something which turns out to be second hand hearsay at best.

          CARR
          I never said it was a fact, as my posting on Tom Verenna’s blog showed, I said it ‘strained credulity’

          So it was also on Acharya S,s forum was it, as well as Price’s oral podcast?

          I can see why some people were confused by this  multiple, independent attestation and rich oral tradition into thinking that anonymous unprovenanced reports just must be true.

          This is all very embarrassing for Price. 

          So it must all be true! Why would he say something so embarrassing to him?

  • Brettongarcia

    Steven?  On the other hand, I wonder how many alleged Christians vociferously assert over and over that the Bible is absolutely holy and sacred, that it is the word of God … yet they themselves have never bothered to read it all. 

    Wouldn’t you THINK, that if someone really thought that in one book, they really had the absolute word of God himself, they would read it all?

    Hypocrisy and inconsistency are not unique to secular life; Jesus noted it ESPECIALLY in fact, in religious conservatives.  Including not just Pharisees, but also specifically, the great Christian Apostle/St. Peter (/Cephas).  Who is often said to be the founder of the Church itself.

  • Macdonaldjo

    In his April 16th “The Bible Geek” podcast, Robert M Price says it has come out that Bart Ehrman never even read through any of the mythicist books he talks about in “Did Jesus Exist.”  Ehrman just had his graduate students read them and report to Bart about what sections he should look at.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      “It has come out” is a bit vague, what’s the source for it? Is this something Ehrman has confirmed in an article? An email? A phone conversation? 

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

        I agree that the vague character of the claim is worrying. But even if true, it doesn’t strike me as inappropriate that someone who has graduate assistants make use of them, especially speaking as someone who has plowed through significant amounts of mythicist literature and can testify that it is a frustrating waste of time. If Ehrman was able to get assistance that left him with more time to do actual scholarship, good for him!

        • steven

          McGrath is now saying you don’t even have to read mythicist books if you are a True Scholar, who writes books on mythicism which can be praised to the hills as scholarly.

          Sorry, James. Bart did not even get the name of Doherty’s book correct.

          If he didn’t read the books, it is game over.

          Mind you, there is so much bad logic and audacious claims in Bart’s book that it is going to be chewed on for quite a while.

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

    Ah yes, we have seen it so many times before. Apparently no
    mythicist argument can be understood without reading the whole of mythicist
    literature and of course only those who agree really understand the argument.
    Fortunately it seems that mythicism only appeals to the blatantly dishonest and
    the woefully ignorant so I can’t say I’m worried this might catch on.

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

      And since I have yet to see any mythicist who seems anywhere near as familiar with mainstream historical scholarship on Jesus as Ehrman is on mythicism (to say nothing of his intimate familiarity with the actual scholarship on the subject), this really is at best a case of the pot calling the kettle black. 

      • steven

        James doesn’t seem to understand that a scholar reads the books he is claiming to give a scholarly refutation of.

        But keep digging, James. It will all get quoted later. 

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Steven,

          Let’s not take our eye off the ball here.  If a research assistant accurately summarizes the arguments and the scholar accurately responds to them, they are just as much refuted as they would be if the scholar read everything himself in the original.  If the scholar fails to respond accurately, then he was foolish to rely on the grad student without reading things for himself, but the key point is still the validity of scholar’s arguments. Poor methodology may explain how the scholar came to make bad arguments, but it does not in itself make them bad.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Steven,

          If Doherty’s argument is so fragile that it can’t be read by a college graduate and faithfully related to an academic superior, what does that say to you about the quality of the argument?

          As Michael Wilson said, “Apparently no mythicist argument can be understood without reading the whole of mythicist literature and of course only those who agree really understand the argument.”

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Sorry Mike.  Your argument is fallacious.  The fact that a grad student didn’t accurately summarize the argument for his academic superior is no proof whatsoever that a grad student couldn’t do so.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              VinnyJH, I don’t think you understood my point.  I agree that a grad student can do so.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                 No Mike.  I don’t think you understood your point.  You wrote “If Doherty’s argument is so fragile that it can’t be read by a college
                graduate and faithfully related to an academic superior, what does that
                say to you about the quality of the argument?”  Such a question is only relevant if in fact a college student can’t do it and the only evidence we have to bear on that question is that it appears that a college student didn’t do it. 

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  VinnyJH, my point was independent of whether or not a grad assistant actually did or did not misrepresent Doherty to Ehrman.  It was based on what some were saying was the potential for such misrepresentation if Ehrman did not himself read every page of Doherty’s book.

                  A professor who does not take advantage of graduate assistants is not a good steward of resources, and thus impedes his own scholarship.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    I agree that there is nothing wrong with a professor using graduate assistants.  Of course the professor is still responsible if the assistant makes a mistake which the professor fails to catch.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Agreed.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        That seems a little harsh.  Even Ehrman acknowledged that Price, Carrier, and Wells know their stuff. 

        I have argued with many internet apologists using Ehrman’s books as my reference and I don’t ever think I have been caught short by unexpected arguments or evidence.  I think this is because Ehrman anticipates counter arguments so well because he understands the fundamentalist mindset so well.   I don’t think he does a good job of that in Did Jesus Exist/

        I do agree though that there is nothing wrong with having a graduate assistance do research.  However, if the assistant makes a mistake, it’s not his name on the book jacket.

    • steven

      Err, Mike…

      You are far better off claiming Bart did read the books.

      If a scholar doesn’t read the books he is arguing against, that is schluss.

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

        I haven’t finished a single Von Danikin book or Zechariah
        Stitchen book, or any books promoting creationism. Do you suppose there may be
        something hidden in there that might make the ridiculous arguments that have
        been debunked seem more reasonable? 
        Ehrman is not attempting a systematic study of what mythicist believe and
        why they do, that is for a sociologist or a psychiatrist. Bart is addressing people
        who might be curious by explaining the case that Jesus is a historical person
        and some of the primary arguments of mythicist. If the main arguments are crap there
        is no need to waste time examining the sub claims.  If it is most likely that Egyptians built the
        pyramids, then there is no need to examine what planet the aliens that
        supposedly built it came from or what their reasoning is. You have never put forward
        a reasonable argument that Jesus is a myth so why should believe your claim
        that there is one out there. If there were shouldn’t you have used it?

  • Brettongarcia

    Steven:  

    Wait a minute; if you cannot say anything about books that you haven’t read, or about mythicists, if you haven’t read them all, then?  Shouldn’t most members of this blog go silent?  Most of them not having read ALL(or even most of)  the relevant literature?

    • beallen0417

      The difference between blog comments and published refutations using major publishing houses and multiple interviews and op/ed pieces establishing oneself as the source of the refutation and a qualified expert should be apparent to anyone giving even cursory attention to the issue.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Does anyone think that Coyne and Dawkins read every book that comes out of the Discovery Institute or  Answers in Genesis?

    • steven

      Ehrman has claimed that it is a flat-out lie that he did not read the mythicist books. 

      I indeed was astonished at the claim that he had not done so.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    BTW, Price says he got the story from an anonymous source who talked to one of Ehrman’s grad students.  I think I’ll wait for something stronger than that.

  • Brettongarcia

    Lots of different groups claim esoteric knowledge; and claim that you can’t criticize it, unless you’ve read all of it.  Mythicists might do this sometimes; but so do Christians.  Most Chrsitians claim you can’t criticize the Bible, until you know the Bible as well as they do.  And can cite it as effectively.

    But?  Probably both are wrong.  I don’t have to read all of Hitler, say, to know that Hitler was not good.

    In any case, to be sure, this is a BLOG; not a professional journal.  We’re all basically amateurs here.    

    So?  As far as I’m concerned, anybody can talk.  Though?  If someone shows up, that sounds like he  really knows what he is talking about now and then?  We should listen up for a second.

    Thanks notably to Even Effa.  Not least of all for his citation of a brief online summary of Doherty, by D. himself.

    Personally?  I’d like to formally open this blog for free discussion, for anyone who cares to join in. 

    Though let’s all try to be respectful, when someone seems to actually know something?  And even somewhat respectful, when someone seems to know nothing at all.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Do mythicists have as their goal to seek truth or to defeat Christianity?  If the former, why is their opinion of the behavior of Christians at all relevant?

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike Gantt raises an important objection:  I’m setting up a dramatic contrast, between an allegedly very “spiritual Jesus,” from Paul.  And then, in contrast, a more “physical” and a real-seeming Jesus, back in Jerusalem and/or from say, the synoptic gospels.  The objection is:  isn’t this division between the two, overstated? 

    I’d have to admit, we can easily over-state this difference.  And indeed, eventually I’ll want to say that the Bible overall, is a sort of continuous dialogue, between 1) a spiritualizing religion, and a 2) more materialistic one.  While both elements of this dialogue are  found in probably every single major individual book, and apostle. So that for instance, even the rather Platonic-seeming spiritual Paul, will now and then speak of the importance of the “flesh” and the “body,” say.  Or in Gantt’s example:  Paul after all seems to insist on a “resurrected” Christ:  which would seem to be God returned to this physical earth, and physicality, after all. 

    This is an important and useful observation.  However?  Just how DETAILED, say, is the material Jesus of Paul?  Compared to the material jesus of … say, Matthew?  In Matthew note, we see a rather fully-fleshed out Jesus, like a normal human being in many ways:  walking on the earth and doing things:  getting thirsty and asking for water; getting hungry and asking for a piece of fish .  Jesus looks rather like a character in a novel:  a rather fully drawn, real-seeming being that walks and talks.  Though he also mentions spiritual things to be sure, he at the same time seems QUITE physical.  But do we have anything  quite as vividly physical at that, in Paul?  A good writer they say does not just write words; he makes you see an “image” of his character in your mind.  And the gospels do that.  But does Paul?

    Paul to be sure, gives lip-service to phsicality, and a physical resurrection, over and over.  But … where is he?  Where is the phsyical Jesus?  Where is that walking, talking character, obviously a human being in many ways, eating and drinking, and running from the bad guys?   Paul says he has been resurrected, even phsyically.  But .. where IS HE?  We never see him in the same obvious way that we did in his appearance in the Gospels.  We see Paul have a “vision” of him – that quickly disappears.  We hear constant assertions that Jesus has been resurrected … but he never shows up physically, in the very visual-seeming way he does, as a person we would see in real life.

    Paul’s “physical” Jesus therefore?  Just isn’t really physical enough.  And not as physical-seeming as the walking, talking, eating and drinking Jesus, that we see in the Gospels.

    We hear the bare insistance that Christ has indeed been “resurrected” into phsyicality:  but .. WHERE IS HE?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      There is indeed a progression of focus in the Bible: from the fleshly to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly, from the seen to the unseen.  This progression is concentrated intensely in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
      As Paul said, “though we have known him in the flesh, we know him thus no longer” (2 Cor 5:16).  Peter is likewise portrayed throughout Acts as focusing his listeners on the resurrected Christ, not the the fleshly Christ.  The letters ascribed to John similarly call attention to the now invisible Christ.  Even the John of Revelation is no exception to this as he paints a portrait of Christ that exceeds all earthly limitations. 

      All the apostles agree that the historical Jesus was the real deal, but not the ultimate deal. The question you closed with is the very best one you could ask.  Here’s a clue to finding Him: if you search for Him in the flesh, you are going against the grain of the progression in biblical revelation.  If God were interested in physically manifesting Himself to you there’d still be a temple in Jerusalem and Jesus would be teaching in it.  But then everyone would need airfare to get there.  His way is better: and when you search for Him with all your heart, you’ll find Him.  

  • Brettongarcia

    So Gantt:

    “Christ sat down on the rough wooden chair, being careful to avoid splinters; he took off his sunglasses and glanced at the plastic-encased, flyspecked menu; and ordered a glass of the house wine.  Which he expected, would not be good in this remote Mediterranean motel.  But- as he thought to himself, scratching under his beard – it was probably all they had out here.”

    That would be (my admittedly crude) attempt to get at the sense of a very physical Christ.  Which we begin to see to some extent, in the Gospels, but not in Paul. Paul just says “he is resurrected.”  that’s it; just a bare assertion.  No detailed picture.  While we might well ask, if he is resurrected, where was he?  Around the corner, for all six or seven letters from Paul?    It’s a problem for credibility.

    And in fact, as you are now admitting,   1) In fact, the Christ of the Gospels WAS a LOT more physical, than Paul’s rather more spiritual Christ.    But 2) now?  Now you’re saying that however, the new spiritual Christ is better. 

    That may or may not be the case.  But in any case, we are  now getting to this important first point:  1) the Christ of the Gospels and Jerusalem, was more physical than 2) Paul’s Christ. 

    And from that I would add?  In effect, we have … two Christs.  Two very different pictures of/manifestations of, Christ. 

    And interestingly?  The one that published first, was not the physical one; but the vague spiritual one of Paul, first published in the 50′s.

    Next:  was that spiritual Christ the better one? Was his “faith” better than the rest?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      If the mythicists reading this – and those who are investigating mythicism as well (I don’t know which you are, but you sound as if you’re one or the other) – are really as interested in scholarly approaches as they say, I would recommend reading A.N. Hunter’s classic “Paul and His Predecessors.”  It will open your eyes to just how much of what Paul taught and wrote came the the Jerusalem apostles and believers before him.  Your dichotomy of Paul from the rest of the apostles has no foundation except for those who are immersed in mythicist literature and barely aware of the Scriptures themselves or of historic scholarship about them.  

      Mythicist writers are not in search truth – they’re in search of legitimacy.  And that’s why Bart’s book has been so painful for them.

      • Brettongarcia

        Jesus himself had a legitimacy problem:  he was born from a mother who was already pregnant when she married.  When he was older, he often referred to his “father” in strangely ambiguous ways.  And others often asked him who his father was.

        Thanks for a written reference.  Yes, I am interested in this academically.  But I’ve already skimmed plenty of literature; mere citation of yet another book in itself isn’t quite enough these days.  But I may look at it.

        In the meantime, rather that just citing it by reputation only:  could you present its main idea?  That would give us something to work from.

        In the meantime, note that there are LOTS of good books out there.  And lots of bad ones too.  And?  To me the books that are thought to be fantastic in Evangelical Scholarship, seem all too obviously biased to me:  their authors have been told that Christianity MUST be proven true, no matter what the facts are; they must have faith.  And so?  Their scholarship tends not to be very objective.

        That is why mythicism- and indeed the whole real “world” –  is so painful for them.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Brettongarcia, 

          As for more information on Hunter see my response to Neil Godfrey nearby where I gave some.  I can add here a paraphrase of Hunter’s table of contents.

          1. Pre-Pauline traditions (to which Paul refers in his letters)
          2. Pre-Pauline creedal and confessional fragements (to which…)
          3. Pre-Pauline Christian hymns (to which…)
          4. “Words of the Lord”
          5. Pre-Pauline ethical teaching (to which…)
          6. Paul’s inherited use of OT texts
          7. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper preceded Paul
          8. Paul’s inherited Christology
          9. Paul’s inherited view of the Holy Spirit
          10. Paul’s inherited view of eschatology

          Where I say “inherited” above it refers to material that Paul used which, upon inspection, is revealed to have come from the pre-Pauline Judean Church.

          Hunter does not attempt to be exhaustive.  But what he does reveal is more than enough to make a person realize that Paul got far from Jerusalem than he ever got from Athens, and far more from the OT than he ever got from Greek philosophers.  In fact, one could easily say that while Paul was turned around by the blinding light on the road to Damascus, he received far more of his teaching material from the Judean believers he persecuted and the Jerusalem apostles he befriended.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            In fact, one could easily say that while Paul was turned around by the blinding light on the road to Damascus, he received far more of his teaching material from the Judean believers he persecuted and the Jerusalem apostles he befriended.

            So Paul was just lying when he wrote “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Not at all.  If you read on from that statement in Galatians you see that Paul submitted what he’d received by revelation to make sure it matched up the gospel that had been preached beforehand.  What distinguished Paul was that he was sent to aggressively bring in Gentiles while Peter retained the Jewish focus.  Same gospel, different means of receiving it.  Same gospel, different mission fields.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                 Mike,

                If I read on from that statement, I find that Paul didn’t bother to submit his gospel to the apostles until seventeen years later and even then he insists that “they added nothing to my message.” Only the most fanciful of wishful thinking can turn that into evidence that he received much if any of his teaching material from his friends in Jerusalem.

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

                  Vinny, I’m not so sure. I think that if the Jerusalem apostles indeed checked what Paul was proclaiming and stipulating and added nothing to it, then either Paul received a revelation that made the possible, or more probably, Paul’s own basic Gospel was something that he knew of from relatives and victims and eventually friends and co-workers by more mundane means. That Paul completely independently came up with the same basic message as the Jerusalem apostles just through his own imagination seems a distant third, far less probable than that he actually knew something about Christianity even before he himself was a Christian, and persecuted the movement precisely because he knew something about it.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    Dr. McGrath,

                    I think that there is another possibility, i.e., Paul added a whole lot to the message.  Perhaps the historical Jesus’ message had been little more than “Repent because the end is near” and all you had in Jerusalem was a handful of illiterate peasants who claimed to have visions of Jesus after he died which confirmed that even though he had been crucified, the end was still near.  Maybe it was the brilliant Paul who figured out all the theological meaning, i.e., that his death atoned for sins, that his resurrection was the event that announced the beginning of the end times, that it foreshadowed the resurrection of all who believed in him, and that all these things were the fulfillment of scripture.    If so, I think he would have considered all these things part of his revelation.

                    Paul tells us that he didn’t even bother to go meet the apostles in Jerusalem until after he had been preaching for three years.  Who do you think would have done most of the talking at that meeting, the brilliant dynamic preacher or the illiterate peasants?  I think that one obvious possibility is that the illiterate peasants would have been convinced that the true meaning of all the events they had experienced had actually been revealed to Paul.  I think that one obvious possibility is that they would have conformed their understanding to his rather than the other way around.  Of course they might not be perfectly in sync so it might be necessary for Paul to return to Jerusalem from time to time to straighten them out.  

                    I realize that this is speculation, but I don’t think that there is anything far fetched in it or inconsistent with what Paul writes.  I think that one reasonable possibility is that when Paul says that they added nothing to his message, it’s because they really didn’t add much of anything to his message.  It’s possible that while persecuting a heretical cult he picked up the basic idea of a messianic claimant who was crucified and then appeared to his followers, but that everything that we think of as the gospel message was the product of Paul’s theological creativity.  Paul viewed the apostles in Jerusalem as his predecessors because they had visions of the risen Christ before he did, but when it came the understanding the meaning of those visions, they were Paul’s followers.  

                    I don’t claim any certainty about this and I would never claim that it is the most likely possibility, but I think that it is a logical possibility that we will never be able to eliminate.  It is the existence of these kinds of possibilities that keeps me agnostic about the whole historical Jesus question.

                • Gakuseidon

                   Vinny, I thought that Paul’s gospel was his message to the Gentiles, i.e. that Jesus’ death had significance for them to. Thus his comment about him preaching “the gospel of the uncircumcision” and Peter “the gospel of the circumcision”. But you seem to be suggesting that Paul had a broader meaning for his gospel. What do you think Paul meant by his gospel? Was it the same as Peter’s gospel?

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    I’ve always thought of Paul’s gospel as encompassing the entire meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection and that its significance was the same for Jews and Gentiles.  I don’t think that Paul gives us enough information about what Peter thought to know how his understanding might have been different from Paul’s.  However, assuming that Peter’s understanding was the product of the time he spent with the historical, I can imagine that it might have been very different from the message that Paul derived primarily from studying scripture.

                    My main point is I don’t think that it is possible to determine how much of Paul’s understanding is the product of what Peter and those Paul persecuted believed before Paul came along or how much of Paul contributed to the gospel message as it came to be understood.  

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

        I would recommend reading A.N. Hunter’s classic “Paul and His Predecessors.”  It will open your eyes to just how much of what Paul taught and wrote came the the Jerusalem apostles and believers before him.  Your dichotomy of Paul from the rest of the apostles has no foundation except for those who are immersed in mythicist literature and barely aware of the Scriptures themselves or of historic scholarship about them. 

        Mike, Hunter addresses nothing that has not been addressed in scholarship since the 1920s. It is not only mythicists who argue Paul was influenced in a large measure (by no means exclusively) by Hellenistic philosophical and religious terminology and ideas but mainstream scholars themselves. In fact, mythicists I have read rely heavily upon mainstream scholarship to establish this view of Paul.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Neil, I didn’t recommend Hunter because he was being novel, but rather because his work 1) provides a summary of the pre-Pauline (i.e. Judean Christian) thought in his letters,2) has stood the test of time, being a reference a reference point for many other scholars, and 3) is a compact volume, totaling only 150 pages (35 of which are the appendix added in the 1961 edition, the original edition being published in 1940).  That other authors have made similar points is highly likely.

          Around the turn of the previous century Wilhelm Bousset wrote his classic “Kyrios Christos” which indeed attributed much of Paul’s thinking to Hellenistic influences.  However, the trend over the last hundred years for scholars has been to increasingly recognize the Jewish influence on Paul in general and the Judean Christian influence on him in particular.  Thus the notion that Greek ideas animated the theology of Paul has been increasingly de-emphasized.  Hunter is but one example of this trend.  E. P. Sanders another.  In fact, the entire field of Second Temple Judaism has flourished and served to give Jewish thought its proper place not just in Pauline but in New Testament theology. 

          From what I’ve seen of mythicist thinking, it seems to rely on this largely discredited view of Athens rather than Jerusalem being the driving force of Pauline Christianity.  While I’m not suggesting mythicists are anti-semitic, nor am I suggesting that German theologians of the late 19th and early 20th century were all anti-semitic, it is true that you can read some statements about Jews from scholars of that period that you would not find in the writings of more contemporary scholars.  The essential truth that has been brought back to the forefront is that Jesus and all the apostles including Paul were Jews, and the Hellenistic influences came after, not during, the apostolic period.  It’s as if the mythicists have never heard of the New Perspective on Paul.  
            

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

            Mike, so what place do you accord Greek ideas in the shaping of Paul’s thought? None?

            Scholarly perspectives are always changing and one thing I like to try to assess is the cultural context in which they change. Do some ideas come to dominate for a while less because new things have been discovered but more because new ways of looking at the same things coincide with broader social changes?

            Is it coincidental that the very strong influence of conservative scholarship — conservative to the extent where works of scholars that seriously argue for the historicity of the resurrection are accepted in the intellectual community and are referenced and engaged with by others in the academy — in biblical studies has coincided with the decline of Europe’s influence and rise of America’s influence since World War 2? The U.S., of course, has a much stronger social-cultural conservative religious base than was ever found in Europe since the Enlightenment era.

            Ditto for the influence of Jewishness upon Christian origins. Since the War there have been serious social pressures to speak positively about Jewish contributions and influence at all levels in society and history and current affairs. To do anything else is to risk being censured with innuendo (or much worse) of anti-semitism. So we have today even moves to rehabilitate Judas, too. I can’t help but see behind this trend a lot of social pressure to work through guilt over the Holocaust.

            I don’t mean to say that these broader social-cultural influences are misleading academics to come up with flawed scholarship. But when we study the history of ideas it is so easy to see how intellectual fashions were shaped by the wider society of the times.

            Is it not therefore a worthwhile exercise to attempt to be as aware of what might be happening in our own day? And if we do, might that not be a good thing to help us evaluate the arguments for and against certain topics with a bit more effort at trying to be aware of our (and others’) biases and to make allowances for them?

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Neil,

              Paul, like all of us, was to some extent a creature of his time and place.  His dominating worldview, however, was constructed from the ideas emanating from the prophets of Israel, not the philosophers of the Acropolis.

              Yes, scholarly views change.  And, yes, scholars, like all of us, are to some extent creatures of time and place.  But notice that, by contrast, the Scriptures themselves do not change.  Thereby they provide for us an  anchor – which makes them so much more valuable than the opinions about them.

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

                A growing number of scholars are suggesting that Paul’s basic idea of the Gospel was an adaptation of Stoic philosophy. Christ has the same function as the Stoic Logos/Reason — it/he lives in those it has condescended to save, uniting them all in one body, changing them into new creations renewed in their minds, living as a new brotherly community “in Christ/Logos/Reason”.

                Eating the symbolic flesh of a god was probably not the most Jewish of ideas, either.

                You’re right about the scriptures not changing. They are a relic from a primitive age when morality was a matter of rewards and punishments and stress upon external codes and inculcating feelings of abasement and servile childlikeness always dependant upon a higher power that threatens to wipe out all who do not accept the bloody infanticide he performed.

                Fortunately many of us have moved on since then to something far more ethical. We’ve thrown out everything else from the Iron age — it’s time that went, too. :-)

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  There are many things you may have done with the Scriptures, Neil, but, as evidenced by your blogging activity, moving on from them is not one of them.

                  You are, so far, operating in reverse trajectory from Paul’s, but I have hope for you.  Many things that you reject in Christianity are worth rejecting, but Christ is not among them.

  • Brettongarcia

    Steven and Vinny:

    Then Jesus gave the pieces of fish to the crowd of 500,000,000; and all were satisfied.  But then a graduate student said:  “Jesus did not catch these fish himself!  He sent graduate students/disciples to BUY them!  Therefore?  Jesus is only pretending to do the work himself!  So therefore?  The whole thing is … a charade!”

  • Brettongarcia

    Gak, etc:

    On the other hand?  One of my favorite quotes was from a famous thinker who, when being congratulated on his brilliance, said that he only seemed so tall … because he was standing on the shoulders of his greater precessor(s).

    I think the best of us humbly acknowledge that much of what we do and are, is thanks in part to the efforts of others.  

  • Brettongarcia

    And so, in your “new” scholarship (from c. 1940), Paul never says he is a Roman, for example?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      No one denies that Paul was born a citizen of Rome.  They’re just not taking such statements out of context, as you just did.

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

        No one denies that Paul was born a citizen of Rome.

        No one? I’m not so sure. When Paul boasts of his many sufferings he does not sound as if he exercised such a citizenship privilege very often. We only have Luke’s word for it, and if we date Acts by the same sorts of criteria historians normally date documents we have little reason to think it was written until well into the second century; and besides, Acts has a pro-Roman agenda that must give any sober reader pause before taking anything he says in that department at face value.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Given that Paul did not marry, one could say he had a history of not always exercising privileges he had.

          A sober reader would not glibly assign 2nd-century authorship to Acts, given that its author claims to have been on the ship that took Paul to Rome.

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

            Was Paul a suicidal masochist or martyrdom-seeker then for not exercising his citizenship rights to avoid being beaten sometimes to the point of death? (I find Spong’s various arguments to support his suggestion that Paul may well have been tormented by homosexual tendencies quite interesting, too, by the way, since you brought up his not-marrying. ;-)

            I’m glad you agree that those mainstream scholars who date Acts to the second century are very sober and anything but glib with their very serious arguments.

            As for the “author’s claim” to have been on a ship in the narrative I can recommend a number of excellent scholarly works on literary analysis and appreciation. I also have a book here that says it’s written by an Australian bushranger over 100 years ago. It’s written in his dialect and slang, too. It’s very authentic in all its details. It’s probably a true story given that it’s written in the first person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Hello Neil,

    Please don’t confuse a somewhat facetious comment on a blog with a developed view on the methodology of mythicist theory. A couple of comments on here were (and other threads I’ve read elsewhere) were attacking Ehrman on the basis of hearsay before they’d looked into whether it was true. If you or anyone else took the trouble to check with Ehrman directly first, then they have my complete respect for doing so.

    I would say though, as far as I can follow the way things have developed, we have:

    A) Acharya S claiming that she knows from an anymous source that Ehrman got assistants to do the research for him.
    B) Price in a podcast, saying that Ehrman had said that it was OK to do that.
    C) Ehrman stating “it is absolutely false… I read all of the books myself”

    Unless Ehrman is lying, is does raise two questions:

    1) Where did Acharya get her information from, and why she didn’t check with Ehrman herself before passing on a malicious piece of gossip?

    2) Where did Price get his information from that Ehrman had defended such a technique, and again, why didn’t he check with Ehrman before podcasting about it?

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

      Paul, as far as I am concerned we have claims and counterclaims. Nothing else more substantial. I do not see myself in a position to ever “get to the bottom” of any of them. There is vagueness and unanswered questions on both sides — though Ehrman’s denial in itself is by no means vague.

      I am personally not interested in pursuing the matter any further. I can’t see any point. Two assistants of Ehrman are named in his preface and who knows if one of those is the only one in a position to really bring certainty to the question and I would not expect either of them to do so. That’s not a criticism of them. They are young and have careers to build and for their own sakes they should keep confidentiality. The question is not big enough for either of them to risk their standing among academics with whom they need to maintain professional relationships.

      Nothing is changed about the debate itself.

      I think it would have been better for Ehrman to have followed McGrath’s apparent recommendation and to have done what Price suspects he did — to have not bothered reading the books himself. Such an admission would have been embarrassing but at least it would have given him some excuse for the blatant and otherwise incomprehensible errors in his book.

      As it stands, Ehrman’s strident declaration he did read all of all of the books, including Doherty’s ‘Jesus: Neither God Nor Man’, leaves him far more damned. I have sent three other emails to Ehrman asking him for comment on his misquotations and unsourced claims about mythicist arguments in those books that as far as I am aware are completely false. He replied very quickly and personally to my 2 emails that raised the question of whether he read the books; but he has not had the time to reply to my other 3 emails at all.

      His affirmation that he has read the books raises more questions than it answers and I wish he were as diligent to answer those email queries.

  • Brettongarcia

    All these rich oral tradition rumors, are really – as oral rumors often are – confused, and about a very very minor matter.  If E skimmed a few books, instead of fully reading them, or read relevant chapters after an abstract from graduate students, that is no more or less than what lawyers do;  many make use of “abstracted” cases for lawyers, “amicus briefs,” etc..  When there is some slight need to look at literally tens of thousands of books?  Someone might be forgiven for using an abstracting service now and then. 

    So I’m ignoring this “rich oral tradition” of dozens of conflicting accounts; the world of gossip and slander.  And am moving on to more substantial matters.

    I’m suggesting - with much of classic scholarship in fact – that Christianity is essentially Hellenized Judaism.   Though this view is currently “decisively disproven” in the minds of Evangelical “scholars,”  my experience both as an historian and also as a specialist in culture, suggests that there are fashions in intellectual theory; an idea that is out of fashion for a while, comes into fashion again a generation later.  While in rthe present context?  The classic idea that much of Christianity is actually Greco-Roman, is due for a revival. 

    There is MASSIVE evidence that Christianity was prodominently Jewish-influenced; but also  HEAVILY influenced by Greco-Roman myth. 

    When I noted that Paul himself says he is a Roman citizen, to cite just one example out of litearally hundreds?  Was that really exceptional and “out of context”?  In fact, it is from teh very main, core idea of all of Paul, as outlined in the books of – what do you know – “romans.”  That idea being:  that in Christianity, it is no longer ncessary, as in much of Judaism, to be biologically Jewish, or “circumcised” as Jews as, to be saved; but now, you can be Jewish or – what do you know, Paul says, “Greek” – and uncircumised, and yet be saved.  By – what do you know – your “faith” or “spirit.” 

    The core, main idea in Paul in fact, is that Judaism could and should be in effect, Hellenized; Greeks and Romans should be admitted.  Says Paul, who by his own assertionis  a Citizen of Rome.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      I would actually agree with you that Christianity as it has existed since the 2nd-Century is, to a large degree, Hellenized Judaism.  This Christianity exalts the church instead of the synagogue, and has bishops instead of rabbis.  They’re just different versions of the same thing.  One believes their messiah has not yet come and the other believes its messiah has not yet come again.  Both Judaism and Helllenized Judaism (i.e. Christianity) promote institutionalized religion rather than relationship with God.

      I argue for Christianity as taught and practiced by Jesus and His apostles –  that is, a first-century Christianity.  For them the church was simply a gathering to prepare for the coming kingdom of God.  That kingdom came and it is that kingdom we are to seek.  

      Paul’s acknowledgement of his political citizenship was in no way a renunciation of his spiritual heritage.  The way to understand Jesus is the way Paul did – as the last and greatest of the Jewish prophets who fulfilled the apocalyptic and eschatological hopes of Israel.  Of course, Jesus is more than that, but that is the place to start.  Neither Judaism nor Christianity get that.

  • Claude

    Paul may have married as a young man, as he would have been expected to do, but was divorced or widowed by the time of his mission. Who knows.

    Also, it’s not clear Paul was a Roman citizen. Acts is pretty dubious.

  • Claude

    Vinny’s theory is plausible (and compelling!). Paul was some kind of religious genius. I can imagine the apostles being wowed by him. Was Peter capable of the kind of philosophical speculation Paul expresses in Romans 8, for example? Doubtful.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Wowed and maybe even a little intimidated.  After all, Paul was not known for dealing kindly with theological opponents.

  • Macdonaldjo

    I didn’t see any response from Bob Price

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

       As of 10:45 AM CST, it shows it as being 19 hours ago.  It comes right after a comment of mine. 

      • Macdonaldjo

        After your post at 20 hours, there is a post by John Stevens at 18 hours, but nothing by Bob Price

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          You are looking in the wrong comment thread.  Ehrman made two posts about an hour apart yesterday.  Price’s comment is on the most recent one which has about twice as many comments.

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

          It may be visible only to Facebook friends. Facebook isn’t generally a good way of making a public statement!

          • Macdonaldjo

            I can’t see it.  If Dr. McGrath doesn’t mind, could someone copy and pastes Price’s Facebook comments here? 

            • Macdonaldjo

              “paste”

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Price’s comments are:

              “If anyone is lying in the matter, it is one of your own grad assistants who told this to Steven Styles. Should I regard it as true based on the criterion of embarrassment? Isn’t it too early for oral tradition to have gone so far astray? In any case, true or not, it is quite plausible given the astonishing level of your critique of our books. In the case of Earl Doherty, you are grossly misrepresenting the poor fellow and his arguments. I hope he is not in a litigious mood. I can hardly believe you fail to grasp what I am saying re the criterion of dissimilarity and James the Just. Nor do I think the fault is lack of clarity on my part. I can only hope your readers will take the trouble to look up my books to see if I am truly the fool that you make me out to be. You see, on the very same podcast you so condescendingly deigned to listen to, I also recommended your fine book Forged, as I often have praised The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (and will continue to do so). In view of the excellence of these works, I cannot understand the hack job contained in Did Jesus Exist. A second-hand acquaintance with our books would explain that.”

              They’ve not been removed, you just have to click to show the older comments.

    • hardindr

      It was in the second Facebook posting I linked to, it appears that the comment from Bob Price has been removed.

      • Macdonaldjo

        What did Price say?

        • hardindr

          He said that he learned of the alleged fact that Ehrman didn’t personally read Mythicist work from one of Ehrman’s graduate students on a message board.  In general he was angry and indignant.  I probably should have taken a screen grab.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

             Do you have a cite for someone saying that one of Ehrman’s grad students posted it on a message board, or is that what you think you remember Price saying on Ehrman’s Facebook page?

            • hardindr

              Regrettably I read this when I got home from a long night at work (like at 3 AM local time).  Price cited some message board, but didn’t link.  Sorry I can not be more helpful.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                 No problem.  I thought something like that might be the case, but I just wanted to be sure.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Vinny, I think the message board reference must be the one I posted above, at least it’s the first reference I’ve found to the rumour online:

              http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=25540#p25540 

              Though in his facebook post, Price says that Ehrman’s grad student to this to someone called Steven Styles. Maybe Acharya’s quote on the message board is from an email from Price? 

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                 No doubt there has been corruption in transmission.  Perhaps some things in the margins are being added to the text.

  • Brettongarcia

    I agree with Vinny’s view in part, of a powerful Paul, defining Christianity for most in his time.  And to answer James McGrath’s objection:  Paul’s view did not agree with Gospel; he Gospel, written later, agreed with him.  (While adding “realistic detail.”  Like conflicting geneologies and so forth.)

    What makes our Pauline Primary theory even more likely?  Answering one frequent objection to what Vinny says:  how was it that if Paul WAS generating/inventing most of teh material, that at least SOMEONE back in Jerusalem didn’t object that Paul was making it up?  Why didn’t Jerusalem conflict a bit MORE with Paul?  (More than when Paul called Peter a “hypocrite,” and Peter and james merely “reputed pillars”?  And when he was politely invited to leave town, to preach to the Gentiles only?).  

    First remember, Paul and Jerusalm had agreed on separate turfs:  Jerusalm wouldn’t bother Paul -as long as Paul left town.  And was only speaking to gentiles … not Jews.  So Paul and jerusalem has a mutal non-aggression pact or jurisdictional partition or  treaty.

    But I might add this further fact:  what was it that finally clinched the triumph of Hellenization?  Note that in addition to Paul’s impressive personality and so forth, we should not forget that behind his Greco-Romanizations, was no less  considerable force than … THE ROMAN ARMY.  Which … burned Jerusalem to the ground, in 70 AD.  And when THAT happened?  Whatever independent leadership there had been in Jerusalem, in Jamesian- Judaizing Christianity … would have been dealt a devastating blow; its capital would have been all but utterly destroyed; most of its advocates killed or scattered; its chief documents burned.   As Rome took over fully.   Later Roman governors, emperors, even forbidding Jews to live in the city of Jerusalem, within the walls.  (Hadrian?).

     Though Paul himself to be sure at times conflicted with Roman authority – thanks to the Jew’s constant insistence he was a bad cat -?  famously, Pilate and other Roman authorites often “found no fault” with him; it was only the Jews in particular that were after paul.   Since ultimately his theology was more inclusive of “Greeks” and Romans.  And because of this deep compatibility? 

    Eventually Hellenized Judaism/Chrsitianity and Rome reconciled, c. 300-400 AD.  So that ?  to this very day, Rome is considered the capital of christianity, by one billion “Roman” Catholics.

    Leaving us to wonder to be sure, what the “real” Jesus, if any, had really been like.  Since there were obvious problem with the first two Christs:  with 1) the miracle-working Christ that promised an ideal physical kingdom “soon”; but also with the 2) hellenistic spiritual Christ too; who taught tolerance and spirituality, but ultimately won because of the Roman Army. 

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

      Bretton Garcia, the written texts known as Gospels come along later than Paul, but the gospel as in the message that Paul persecuted others for proclaiming and then came to proclaim himself was around before his letters. Perhaps you thought I was referring to the former when I meant the latter?

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Dr. McGrath,

        Since Paul never tells us anything about why he was persecuting the believers who came before him and he only cites scripture and revelation as his sources, I don’t think that we really have much basis for determining the degree of continuity between the gospel that Paul preached and the gospel that existed before he came along.  An awful lot of what we find in his epistles could reflect Paul’s theological creativity more than anything explicitly professed by his predecessors, couldn’t it?  He believes that the apostles in Jerusalem were in accord with him, but he apparently hadn’t spent much time there.  Isn’t it possible that he believed that his revelation was complete and correct and he just assumed that all right-thinking believers agreed with him or he simply declined to acknowledge that anyone else thought any differently?

        To go back to the Mormon well for an analogy, Joseph Smith claimed that his message wasn’t new, but that it was just the true and correct understanding of what was originally Christianity.  Nevertheless, most Christians view it as a radical departure.  I don’t think the fact that Paul viewed his gospel as being in continuity with his predecessors eliminates the possibility that it was a very new thing that contained significant portions that were Paul’s invention. 

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

          Vinny, I certainly agree that Paul was innovative. With respect to the matter at hand, I think the more that one regards him as an innovator, the less it matters what he thought about Jesus when it comes to assessing the case for the historical Jesus. And conversely, to the extent that one regards him as not a wholesale innovator, the little he says about the historical figure of Jesus becomes valuable.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

             I’ll have to give some thought to the various permutations of more and less innovative, but I think I agree.  I also think that my hypothesis is consistent with a historical Jesus, although I don’t think it necessitates one.

  • Claude

    In comments to the latest facebook post by Ehrman one Toney Miller is spreading the meme that Ehrman misquoted Doherty on “the ancients’ view of the universe” thing. Somebody needs to go on there and set the record straight: Ehrman accurately quoted Doherty from p. 95 of The Jesus Puzzle; he did not quote this line from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. I would do it myself, but I’m not on facebook.

    As for Price, before slandering Ehrman on a podcast he could have asked Ehrman directly whether Ehrman had read the mythicist books himself. From my brief observance I’m amused by all the wailing from mythicists about Ehrman, since they are quick to commit unforced errors themselves.

  • Macdonaldjo

    If The Center For Inquiry has any moral fiber, it will cancel Robert M Price’s “The Human Bible” podcast and disassociate themselves from Price for engaging in such libel and slander of Ehrman.

    • Macdonaldjo

      ” dissociate”

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Since there is nothing unethical about having a grad student provide research assistance, I’m not sure that Price’s allegation is libelous.

      I suspect that he owes Ehrman an apology though. 

    • steven

      I doubt slander can be shown to have happened would succeed.

      Price will simply call NT scholars – to wit, James McGrath and asked them if they posted comments saying that not reading mythicist books was a perfectly acceptable thing for Bart Ehrman to have done, and that he did not regard Ehrman’s reputation as damaged in any way if he had not read mythicist books.

      You can’t slander somebody if one of their friends has publically posted that he saw nothing wrong with somebody behaving the way it is now alleged as ‘slanderous’ to describe him as behaving. 

  • Brettongarcia

    Well, if Paul is a great innovator?  Then … the size of the Historical Jesus likely …. shrinks. Possibly to the vanishing point.  Which is our hypothesis here.Likely there was nothing much more there –  than say?  Perennial Jewish hopes for/rumors of, a new Jewish rebel savior leader, who would overthrow the Roman occupiers, and set up a Jewish “kingdom” again.  History suggests there had been not one, but a dozen or more of them; many executed furthermore.  That would set up a rumor base; oral culture.  Likely Jews were trying to rally around one or two Jewish nobles, potential rebel leaders; or any one of dozens of their “son”s.  that woujld be  Enough to form the basis of Paul’s impressions.

    So was Paul failing to say much more about Christ, just  because he assumed the background info was already wellknown?  Not necessarily.  Likely there just wasnt much there.   And what little was there, that is he reacting to/persecuting?  Could be anything; and not much at all.  LIkely Paul the Roman citizen, was reacting against perennial Jewish rumors of a kingdom Zionist?  And preferring finally a self-sacrificing, even dead/crucified Jesus?

    After Jesus was dead, then Paul would have built up his own view, 30-60 AD, ff..   Others could have begun to generate their own gospels – as Paul at times hinted they already were, in his own lifetime.  The whole package might have been a hard sell for a while; until Rome destroyed Jerusalem. Then after 70AD, most real information about the origins of Christianity would have been destroyed, or dispersed.  and? Paul and whoever else was around, could say whatever they wanted about Christ; and there wouldn’t be much evidence to contradict them.Those in charge would have edited/redacted the many reports, according to their own preferences.  And could have even added new material.

    Real historial evidence having been burned to the ground already.

    It wouldn’t be the first time a religion established its claims against all others, just by burning all opposing books, and so forth.  Once real history was effaced? The survivors could claim whatever they wanted, without contrdiction.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      I agree that the historical Jesus gets smaller as we attribute greater innovation to Paul, but if he disappears, does the mythical Jesus appear in his place?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      That does rather beg the question of why bother inventing the whole Jesus thing though?

      If Paul had wanted to present some kind of Hellenized version of Judaism, why do just that and cut out the crucified middle man? Philo, for example attempts to fuse Greek and Jewish philosophy and didn’t need Jesus to do it. 

      Paul was versed in Jewish scriptures, and could perfectly coherently argue for his faith-not-law based Judaism on the basis of them (e.g. Galatians), so why not just pitch up at the nearest synagogue, get chatting with the local god-fearers and hey-ho you have your own community?

  • Brettongarcia

    That’s a puzzling and interesting moment for Doherty too, in one sense:  so where does the name “Jesus” come from?  Is it just from myth?  If so, which myth?

    D does not quite have the answer for that in our link above; he just suggests it seems, that the Q3 community, more or less, had at first a different name for its founder; but then shifted to “Jesus” because of some other (Markian?) apocalyptic tradition using the name.  D still begging the question however.

    Here we need to be aware, that the term “CHRIST” is a little different than “Jesus”; it basically seems to mean more or less a “Christened one.”  Or someone chosen to be marked specially, by having oil etc,. poured on him; marking him as special, by this christening ritual.  Likely most kings were christened, as part of their coronation ceremony or some such. 

    So “Christ” is a rather general term; probably being more or less identified with whoever it is that is being made the next Jewish king.  And? There would have been LOTS of “Christs” or christened one; dozens, hundreds.  All contributing to legends, expectations – myths - for the next christen’d king.

    But the specific name “Jesus”?  It seems to be the Greek version of “Joshua”; among whom was especially a special assistant to Moses.  But more interesting to me at the momen, is “Jeshua”; a name that also seems to be associated with especially priests (specially Levite priests). I speculate it is close to a generic name, for “priest.”

    While indeed?  Q material seems to be from a group of people hoping to overthrow occupiers, and found a real Jewish kingdom, helping the “poor” Jews and so forth; but then when such efforts fail, and their would-be hero or Christ is killed?  They become philosophical, Platonic; about sacrifice and martyrdom.  Which would form the basis of the first Christian priesthood?

    This construction fits the common idea that a “priest” is a stand-in for Christ, so to speak; “En persona Christi.”  (SP?).

    Though of course we might well ask, if they have ever been fully adequate stand-ins.

    This of course does not answer the FULL implications of your question?

    Arguably priests have never been quite adequate; and their various mythologizings of History, though they filled a gap with stuff?  Were never quite good enough either.

    So someone might say, we might look for a “Christ,” beyond our priests?

  • Brettongarcia

    Evan:

    That’s a great summary.  In fact, it’s so good that, the Mythicist position being so well outlined … I’m tempted to change sides just for a moment.  And argue the other side, just for balance….

    Would anyone care to argue that it is say, a brilliant fiction?  

    Or say, rather than a “pious”  fraud, a BRILLIANT fraud?

  • Macdonaldjo

    Richard Carrier will be posting his review of Ehrman’s book tomorrow.  Should be good.

  • Macdonaldjo

    Ehrman seems inconsistent at times.  He says Jesus as a suffering messiah can’t be a midrash on Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Psalm 69, because no jews ever thought of these passages to be describing the messiah.  But at the same time, Ehrman allows that Jesus’ return from Egypt to Israel in Matthew 2:16 is using Hosea 11:1 as a midrash even though the “son” referred to in the Old Testament passage was the nation of Israel, not the messiah, and not even a person.  Why can Ehrman allow a midrash out of context in the latter case, but not the former?

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

    The third major claim that Ehrman examines is that the Gospels are “midrashic” paraphrases of the Jewish Scriptures.

    Dr McGrath, you will have noticed that Ehrman writes: “A number of mythicists argue that the New Testament Gospels are little more than reworkings and paraphrases of passages of the Old Testament applied to an invented figure Jesus. Within Jewish tradition this approach to interpreting a text by paraphrasing, expanding, and reapplying it is called Midrash; if the text is a narrative rather than a set of laws, the Midrash is called haggadic (as opposed to halakhic).”

    That is, Ehrman himself is the one who explains that this sort of Gospel narrative is, “within Jewish tradition”, called “Midrash”.

    Is Ehrman ignorant of what midrash really is? Do you think he has ever seen a work of real midrash? Why do you think he so ignorantly used the term midrash to apply to the gospels when scholars like yourself know that this is a misuse of the term?

    • Macdonaldjo

      Neil,

      It’s not just mythicists who are discussing midrash and the New Testament.  A recent SBL meeting that highlighted “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” and “The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation” made Midrash one of its major themes.  For instance, Robert M Price essentially makes the same argument as Rivka Ulmer in her essay “Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: Thr Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus” when Price writes, regarding the crucifixion,

      “The substructure for the
      crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all
      the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark
      24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark
      15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm
      22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you
      forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts
      in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43//Psalm 22:8),
      as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to
      Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p.
      362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us
      and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses
      us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and
      calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
      the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike
      that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something
      base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous
      happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and
      let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is
      God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his
      adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how
      gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful
      death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”  As for other details, Crossan points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar
      and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but
      call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is
      nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as
      the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of
      the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture
      citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death
      (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan).  Whence did Mark derive the tearing
      asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the
      death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies
      forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women
      do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already
      been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be
      a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.”

      Dr. Alan Avery Peck, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Midrash, says that, on the whole, Robert M Price is correct in his Midrash and the New Testament argument, and that “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” develops the concept in a fruitful way.  The first problem, in terms of method of historical research, as the editors of the “Jewish Annotated New Testament” realize, is that if we encounter midrash, does this mean we started with facts about Jesus and then shaped them to resemble stories from the old testament, or we started with stories from the old testament and simply invented stories about Jesus reflecting their pattern?

      • Macdonaldjo

         Rivka Ulmer in her essay “Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus.”  Sorry, bad spelling

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

         macdonaldjo, I agree. The way the term midrash is used by Price and by Earl Doherty is entirely correct and in full accordance with both New Testament scholarship AND RELEVANT JEWISH scholarship, as I have pointed out in detail in a series of posts archived at http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/religion/midrash/

        I raised the question with Dr McGrath because he continues to make a fool of himself by jumping up and down accusing Doherty of not knowing what the term means and using it incorrectly. There has been a lively debate among a number of scholars about the strict meaning of the word, and the various forms of midrash, but one only has to read the basic introductory texts produced by scholars specializing in midrash — including discussions and explanations by Jewish scholars of midrash, to know that the debate is largely misdirected.

        I have quoted, among others, Jewish scholars of midrash themselves referring to the gospels as being essentially midrash in many of their narratives. But some professors are a pretty vain lot and sniff at any corrections being pointed out by mere outsiders. So I was wondering what Dr McGrath thought of Ehrman himself using and explaining the term “midrash” in exactly the same way as do Price and Doherty himself.

        • Macdonaldjo

          Neil,

          Please keep in mind that Dr McGrath is completely correct that it is extraordinarily difficult to make an argument, against Ehrman, that midrash or copying Pagan deities was used to come up with the idea of Jesus as the suffering messiah.

          Mythicists are fighting a terribly difficult battle against Ehrman’s central argument about the suffering Messiah and the relation of that concept Judaism.

          Scholarly consensus has, for over a century, said that Jesus could not have foreseen his suffering, death, and resurrection because the concept of a slain savior who rises from the dead was alien to the Judaism of his time.

          On the other hand, some scholars disagree.

          Israel Knohl, on the basis of hymns found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls, argues that, one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose in the Qumran sect who was regarded by his followers as ushering in an era of redemption and forgiveness. This messianic leader was killed by Roman soldiers in the course of a revolt that broke out in Jerusalem in 4 B.C.E. The Romans forbade his body to be buried and after the third day his disciples believed that he was resurrected and rose to heaven. Knol argues this formed the basis for Jesus’ messianic consciousness. For Knohl, it was because of this model that Jesus anticipated he would suffer, die, and be resurrected after three days.

          Similarly, Rivka Ulmer challenges the ideas that the Messianic expectation of Jesus was something imposed later, and she disagrees with the claim that the idea of a suffering servant as a messiah was not part of Jewish thinking. To her it seems reasonable to assume Psalm 22 was hermeneutically reconstructed by early Christian writers to tell a midrash story about a Davidic heir, namely Jesus, while analogously the rabbinic interpretation in Pesiqta Rabbati applies the suffering of King David in Psalm 22 to the future Messiah Ephraim (son of Joseph), who is not viewed as a descendant of King David.

          But generally speaking, it’s an extraordinarily difficult argument for mythicists to make. 

          • Macdonaldjo

            Here is a good video of Dr. McGrath explaining the enormous difficulty of the position mythicists are trying to argue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVAhw3S2r7g No mythicist I know has offered any argument by way of historical analogy or otherwise that would refute what Dr. McGrath is arguing here.

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

              Macdonaldjo, you are new here. McGrath’s video has been discussed in depth and exposed as a pack of straw-man apologetics. He even ignores the recent scholarship in the field. I will have to dig out the relevant comments and posts this weekend.

          • beallen0417

            Bart Ehrman seems quite clear that Jesus did foresee his own death. He regards the last supper as historical since it is attested in both the gospels and Paul. For the last supper to be historical, Jesus had to foresee his own death. 

            • Macdonaldjo

              “There were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought Isaiah 53 (or any of the other “suffering” passages) referred to the future messiah,” quote from Bart Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?” 

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

            Macdonaldjo, McGrath talks a lot about “mythicists” being guilty of misrepresentation but it is he who is the one who is misrepresenting the arguments. As has been pointed out to him many times — so one can only think he is by now being willfully ignorant — the argument is NOT that a midrashic or literary or mythical borrowing to garnish a character means that the character is fictional. Even Ehrman misrepresents the argument this way.

            But the argument is clear to anyone who reads it in its sources and not through hostile critics.

            There is simply no question that many peoples, ancient and modern, are adorned by either themselves or others with comparisons with legendary and mythical figures.

            The argument is that once one removes the mythical elements there is no personality or actor left in the case of Jesus. Remove Dionysus and Achilles from Alexander and we still have 99% Alexander. Remove the Heracles from Hadrian and we still have 99% Hadrian. That is not the case with Jesus. I would suspect that nearly all the narratives told about him are mutations of Old Testament and other literary tales and characters. No-one can say anything similar of Alexander or Hadrian. Or even of Socrates, if you argue that political figures are not a fair comparison. Socrates is compared with Achilles in the record, nobly excelling at what he does best even though it means sacrificing his life for the good of the state.

            The argument is not at all difficult. It is a simple matter of literary analysis. Theologians like McGrath have even written that their job as “historians” is NOT “literary analysis”. On the contrary. A genuine historian must start with literary analysis to understand the nature of the sources being studied. McGrath would bypass this step completely and unjustifiably begin with the assumption that the documents are a window to historical events.

            But none of this is pertinent to my point to McGrath about midrash. His accusation has regularly been that Doherty is misusing the term midrash itself. Doherty is not. Nor is Ehrman.

            • Macdonaldjo

              Then where did the idea of Jesus as a crucified messiah come from (if not the crucifixion of the historical Jesus).  Price, Doherty, et al have not made any argument by virtue of historical analogy or otherwise about where the idea came from.  As McGrath says in the video, scholarly consensus agrees such an idea does not fit into Jewish thought.

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

                Apologists concede that Jews of the day could create an idea of a dead hoped-for messiah really was a messiah in a higher spiritual sense, one who saved not from the Romans but from sin, death, demons. Jews were quite capable of coming up with such an idea, everyone admits. They do admit it because that’s what they say actually happened in the case of Jesus.

                So the question becomes, why would it be imaginable for a Jew that a messiah could die and still be a messiah nonetheless?

                The answer is found by a study of the messiah concept in the Jewish writings and in comparable literature of the Middle East. (McGrath will no doubt be able to supply a bibliography of recent scholarship arguing this, or he might just point to mine.) The first messiah or anointed one was the high priest whose death meant the liberation from captivity or exile of those who had to flee their home towns because of their accidental sins.

                Saul was another messiah of the Lord whose death in battle meant the exaltation of David.

                David himself, an anointed one, was himself, in his Psalms, often brought to the point of death but always with hope in ultimate deliverance from God. This is the first messiah who went to the Mount of Olives in prayer when expecting any moment to be delivered to death after being betrayed.

                Then we have the related concept of spiritual salvation by means of the blood of the saints that atoned for the sins of Israel. This was related to Enochian and Daniel-like and other Second Temple literature. Isaac was believed by some to have actually been slain by Abraham but then resurrected — his shed blood atoned for the sins of the nation of the Jews. This concept arose at the time of the Maccabean martyrs whose blood was also said to atone for, to save spiritually, the Jewish people.

                In Daniel we meet the Son of Man who first appears as a metaphor (as the preceding beasts are metaphors) for the people of God who are being slain. The Son of Man represents their victory through death to become the kingdom of God.

                Daniel also explicitly refers to a death of a messiah in the final chapters. (Recall even pagans — like Cyrus — can be messiahs whose acts and deaths can related to the salvation of Israel).

                No-one would make up a messiah who conquered the Romans simply because someone would have eventually noticed that the Romans had not been conquered. But we know that Hellenistic thought, in the absence of material conquests, turned to spiritual conquests. Conquering sin, one’s own nature, the powers of evil, death.

                This is why Jesus is described as a greater than Solomon. He is the Son of Man Messiah who took on the role of the Beloved Son (a technical term for the eldest son to be sacrificed — see Levenson) who by means of his blood saved the world from sin and death, overcoming the powers of Satan and his demons.

                The creation of Jesus is a very natural extension of the various concepts of Messiah and religious hopes that had been evolving since the Maccabean era.

                • Macdonaldjo

                  “The idea of a suffering messiah ran so counter to scripture and the righteous expectations of God’s people that it was completely unthinkable, even blasphemous,”

                  quote from Bart Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?”

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

                    The idea of suffering David, a suffering Saul, a dying high priest, the death of a messiah (the latter not only in Daniel but in extracanonical Second Temple literature as well) is “counter to scripture”?

                    Ehrman has not kept up with the scholarly literature on this, beginning with a little piece by William Scott Green.

  • Brettongarcia

    The objection is raised:  didn’t Paul firmly believe in a real, crucified Christ?

    I’d say Paul, insofar as he was a good Roman citizen, believed firmly, absolutely, in the reality of “The Martyr.”  In an heroic type, with many historical references and examples.

    The ” hero,”  especially the heroic martyr, dying for the state, for the people, dying for his God, was one of the core images, beliefs, of both Greeks and Romans. 

    And?  Martyrs also begin to figure promimently even in strictly Jewish tradition, at Masada; the Maccabean revolt; the (very Greco-Roman-seeming) intertestamental works…

    The image of the dying martyr would have been taught to every Jewish and Greco-Roman child, from infancy.  Andthat image therefore had, no doubt, a vivid reality for everyone.

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

      What is the relevance or significance of Paul being a Roman citizen for you argument?

  • Brettongarcia

    As far as Paul embracing the image of the dying hero?  Probably not necessary.  Just to add that 1) not only would Paul, insofar as he is a Jew, have been exposed to this image; but 2) also insofar as he was Roman, as well.

    More generally?  Many Bible scholars feel that Christianity is formed, because Judaism is exposed to Greco-Roman invasions … and cultural influence and myths.  This traditional view of scholars, in effect forms the strongest case for mythicists; who agree that Greco-Roman myths (or semi-historical narratives) especially, modify Judaism, for many. To create Christianity.

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

      I have no doubt Paul was heavily influenced by Hellenism and “non-Jewish” thought (though a lot of Jews were Hellenistic in their thinking so this a silly way to put it). I just don’t see how we can know whether he was a Roman citizen or not. The author of Acts has a particular agenda vis a vis Rome so is hardly reliable, imho.

  • Brettongarcia

    And so?  If Paul is seen conversing with Greeks in Ephesus; if he speaks and writes Greek; if some of his language is borrowed from Plato’s Theory of Forms; if he is himself a Roman citizen?  That would indeed fit the model, and explain in part how it all happened: right in the middle of early Christianity is precisely, a Roman citizen.  Funneling Greco-Roman ideas, into Judaism.  To create Christianity.

  • steven

    Ken Humphrey’s did way more damage to Bart’s reputation than Price ever did.

    Or rather, Humphrey’s pointed out where Bart changed into William Lane Craig-lite.

    http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=313610

    Read page 108 of Did Jesus Exist? and weep over what Bart has been reduced to saying….

    Matthew and Luke contradict each other about Judas…

    So…..

    (wait for it, wait for it)

    ………

    They contradict each other, so what can we conclude from that?

    ……….

    Time’s up.

    Here is the answer….

    It must be true!

    Because Matthew and Luke contradict each other, they must be speaking about real events.

    ‘The two utterly irreconcilable deaths of Judas (Matthew; Acts)? For Ehrman they stand not as two examples of palpable fraud but as evidence for “an early historical tradition.” (page 108). Would he tolerate this sort of self-serving nonsense from mythicists?’

  • Brettongarcia

    Maybe we shouldn’t firmly say Paul was literally a Roman citizen; if Acts is regarded as unreliable.  Still?  We can in any case see LOTS of Greco-Roman thinking in Paul, and in the culture all around him in Tarsus and Ephesus, etc..  Even aside from whether he was really, literally, a Roman.

    In any case my immediate point was?  That many might object to D’s Mythicist theory of Paul;  to the idea that he had a vague, metaphysical view of God and Christ, and even and vauge, metaphysicalized view of the crucified Christ.  The frequent objection is that the image or idea of the crucified Christ seems so VIVID in Paul, that it must be based on immediate historical reality.  My point though?  Was that the image of a crucified or martyred hero, would have been extremely vivid in the minds of nearly everyone in this era … just from various myths. Whether or not a real Christ had existed. 

    (By the way though?  I personally don’t regard Acts as any more or less reliable than the rest of the Bible; all of which is always in question, to many scholars.  So I’m likely to quote something from Acts, as just as reliable as any other part) 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      What Major Clipton said as he surveyed the closing scene in the film “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” has applicability when surveying this Ehrman-Mythicist conversation.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcio wrote:

      I personally don’t regard Acts as any more or less reliable than the rest of the Bible;

      Interesting. Here we have the luxury of comparing events as described by the person who experienced them with events as described by an author, writing after the fall of Jerusalem, who had not. Not only that, but the version of events in Acts is highly implausible, and it is in Acts that Paul is identified as a Roman citizen (incredibly, wikipedia cites Acts to assert that Paul was a Roman citizen!).

      Who you gonna believe, Paul or “Luke”?

  • Brettongarcia

    Well, my ultimate position is that the Bible is a self-deconstructing document, to be sure!  :  )  Cf. Richard Bauckham’s famous position on Peter’s warnings about “false teachers” as being perhaps, a self-criticism (“Peter,” The Oxford Companion to the Bible,” pp. 586-7).

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Righto, Col. Nicholson.

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude:

    But on the other hand, the Mythicist position we are looking at here, of Doherty, suggests that not just Acts, but also the Gospels, and their “real” accounts,  are in question.  While, though we are using the epistles of Paul here as our more reliable reference point, as the earliest written corpus on Christianity?  Paul’s letters could be rather unreliable too.  In which case of course, the whole Bible collapses.  And game is over.

    But if we are going to honor/weight any part of the Bible over others?  Between Acts and the letters of Paul, I can see some reasons to slightly prefer the letters; there is scholarship that dates Acts from 70 to 170 AD.   Though note:   Acts could have been in turn, using an earlier source; there is a “we” in Acts, that suggested a first-person witness. 

    In any case, though?  I would have no great objection to someone weighing the Letters slightly over Acts. 

    (By the way?  If I’ve said that the mythic “image” that Paul had of a heroic martyr was “vivid,” I meant he and most would have  had such ideas strongly in mind from semi-historical legends; though those ideas in turn, would not be quite as strong as still more vivid, detailed characterizations drawn from real life.).

    • Claude

      Why would Paul’s letters be any more unreliable than anybody else’s letters from the first century? Did he have a bad memory? Is he a liar? The lateness of the earliest copies of Paul’s letters (late 2nd century?)? The discrepancies between copies of Paul’s letters?

      “Game over” is a fantasy. Even if every syllable in the Bible was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to be fictitious and false, it wouldn’t be “game over” for Christianity. Believers believe, come what may.

  • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

    Doherty continues his own review of Ehrman’s book.

    I think that he writes soberly, sticks to the issues at hand and makes good points as to how Ehrman has failed to use good evidence to claim the existence of an historical Jesus as the founder of the Christian Faith.

    see:

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/4-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-chapter-2-continued/

    -evan

    • Claude

      Earl Doherty’s response to Ehrman Part 4 is further evidence that Doherty is the non-credible author I found so off-putting in The Jesus Puzzle. I’ll refer to a single example to minimize tedium.

      Doherty introduces a paragraph under the section “The Kind of Evidence Historians Want” with the following sentence (bold Doherty’s):

      Ehrman focuses on the most common form of written witness: documents about a person. The more the better, and best that they be independent and corroborative.

      So far, so good. We are encouraged to think that the rest of the paragraph will present Ehrman’s arguments about which documents provide evidence acceptable to historians concerning the existence of Jesus. But it turns out this graph is a bait and switch:

      At this point, he once again fails to make it clear that the four Gospels are anything but independent and corroborative. They are all dependent on Mark, with one reasonably perceivable lost source, the Q document extractable from Matthew and Luke. John, too, is dependent on Mark for his passion story, and where he is not dependent on a Synoptic source, namely in his portrayal of Jesus’ ministry and the content of his teaching, he is not corroborative….

      Of course, these are all Doherty’s assertions, not Ehrman’s. To the contrary, Ehrman emphatically rejects the notion that “all [the Gospels] are dependent on Mark”:

      Nothing could be further from the truth. (DJE, p.75

      and

      …where [the Gospels] do share the same stories, John tells them in such a different way that he does not appear to have received his accounts from any or all of them….It is equally true of John’s account of Jesus’s death. (DJE), p. 76

      Doherty is at best misleading and at worst just bad.

      • steven

        Ehrman has literally zero evidence that the author of ‘John’ was not getting his basic story line from the synoptic Gospels. (What happened? Did nobody read the Gospels?)

        As a True Historian, Ehrman should know you cannot claim something is independent of something else, if you have no idea who wrote it or why.

        ‘John’ uses the same basic story line as Mark, and appears to be deliberately moving things in the synoptics around , for example, he moves the demonstration in the Temple, and removes any baptism scene.

        Oh no, I hear you cry. John heard independently about a demonstration in the Temple , which took place 3 years  before the totally independent other demonstration in the Temple.

        What are the odds of that, eh?

        • Claude

          Let me get this straight: if John did not use the synoptics, then “nobody” read the Gospels?

          ‘John’ uses the same basic story line as Mark,….

          Prior to the narrative leading up to Jesus’s death, most of the stories in John are found only in John, whereas John does not include most of the stories found in the other three Gospels. (DJE, p. 76)

          My point, of course, was not to resolve the problem of John, but to demonstrate that Doherty is a confusing, tendentious writer.

          I don’t know what you’re talking about in your last graph. Perhaps, speaking as a “True Historian,” of course, you can enlighten me.

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

          Anyone who is familiar with this topic will know that Steven is misrepresenting the discussion and ignoring important options. There is in addition to the possibility that John read Mark and moved the action in the temple earlier, the possibility that it occurred earlier and Mark placed it at the only point he could in his narrative, since Mark only narrates one visit by Jesus to Jerusalem. Other options include that both knew of the event independently of one another, knew when it occurred, and one of them moved it; and that the story circulated without it being set at a specific point in Jesus’ life. 

          On the evidence for John having had independent information at this point, see my chapter on that topic, ““Destroy This Temple”: Issues of History in John 2:13–22″, in John, Jesus and History vol.2. 
          http://works.bepress.com/jamesmcgrath/41/ 

          The entire chapter is part of the Google Books preview: http://books.google.com/books?id=ex4E_GGNh5MC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=mcgrath+john+jesus+history+%22Destroy+this+temple%22&source=bl&ots=b8nrZG_Qw-&sig=3dDclhsekGMV7pN–w_Jy-hnTFE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vGCQT8SLNtOI6AHugYWlBA&ved=0CEAQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=mcgrath%20john%20jesus%20history%20%22Destroy%20this%20temple%22&f=false

          • steven

            James has a huge number of could-haves there.

            Does being an expert mean that you get to put forward any ideas that come into your head?

            The only one he is prepared to rule out is that the author of John knew the story line of the synoptics, because that would go against the line he is trying to sell.

            I don’t see no evidence in what you wrote that the author of John did not get his storyline from a knowledge of the Gospels.

            Not only was there this amazingly convenient oral tradition floating around, but it seems that (very conveniently) nobody talked about the Gospels so the author of John had no idea what was in them and could not have used their story line – after all he is independent.

            Although we know that the Gospel of Mark was used by the other two, which makes you wonder why John was kept out of the loop.  

            But this is all academic. I’m sure McGrath will produce his evidence that the author of John had no idea what was in the other Gospels….. 

            • Claude

              steven,

              You don’t seem to have read that essay very closely…

          • steven

            In James book he says John is both dependent and independent.

             I guess James is not a historian….

            He claims in his work that ‘…the Fourth Evangelist may have known other Gospels in written form….’

            Which rather neatly trashes Ehrman’s line – ‘.where [the Gospels] do share the same stories, John tells them in such a different way that he does not appear to have received his accounts from any or all of them’

            I’m sure that McGrath will explain how somebody could read other Gospels in written form and still be held up as independent of them.

            Which will only show his basic lack of ability to grasp historical method.

            And his fundie approach (shared by Bart) of channeling William Lane Craig’s method of claiming that anybody who changes anything counts as independent attestation.

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

              I’m pretty sure the Steven who has been commenting here is Steven Carr, about whom I previously made a decision to ignore his comments, because of the level of dishonest tactics and inane polemics to which he stoops. Those who wish to actually understand what is involved in careful, cautious historical investigation of early Christianity (which always involves uncertainty and unless one is very foolish, hesitation) will read what scholars write, and will leave these attempts at word-twisting and point-scoring to the apologists. 

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

                 

                Those who wish to actually understand what is involved in careful,
                cautious historical investigation of early Christianity . . . will
                read what scholars write

                That’s the problem James. Many of us DO read what the scholars write. I have read scores of books and articles by scholars on the Gospel of John and the quality varies widely, including the one most pertinent to your question here, Moody Smith’s ‘John among the Gospels’ (Sorry, I just used quotation marks so you probably don’t believe I have read it (though I even own a copy of it) but anyway . . .). Among so many authors there are multiple levels of assumptions and hypotheses that in the end do make the whole exercise look very questionable by comparison with genuine historical studies in other ancient fields. The tragedy is that there are scholars who do cut through all of these hypotheses upon hypotheses but they are so often simply dismissed as “the few” and so ignored. Most of your peers really do rather opt for the house of cards option because that’s where you feel most comfortable, presumably.

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

            Thanks for the link to your chapter in Google Books preview, Dr McGrath. One question comes to mind. Have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor? You address only one possible scenario (as if possibility of various hypothetical sources means probability — e.g. oral tradition from a saying and action of Jesus himself that became divorced from its original setting and took on various meanings and applications that lost all contact with the original) and fail to address the alternative possibility for which one needs far, far fewer hypothetical constructs to make it work: the scenario proposed by scholars such as Mack and Fredriksen among others. Admittedly the hypothesis of a common literary motif that was freely adapted and applied by authors within the broad literary-theological culture is a minority one. But given that biblical studies is surely the most ideological of “disciplines” it is important to be conscious of the ideological pressures that do underpin majority opinion and to give serious consideration to minority views where they are supported by far more rigorous logic and rely on far, far fewer hypotheticals to make them work.

      • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

         OK Claude, so you have a visceral distaste for Doherty’s style?  We have his assertions stacked against Ehrman’s & you like Ehrman’s better. 

        What is the evidence (besides Bart’s incredulity) that gJohn is not dependent of Mark or urMark?  I understand that this is a complex debate with experts of both persuasions lined upon either side. 

        The fact remains that all of the Canonical Gospels are written as hagiographic evangelistic tracts with very questionable veracity (unless these histories are in fact accurate when reporting these amazing miracles & the resultant effects etc.)

        Doherty’s point remains, we do NOT have the sort of robust documentary evidence that would establish the existence of Jesus like we do for other persons of the ancient world – Pontius Pilate for example as per Dr. Ehrman’s choosing.

        Your dislike for Doherty is not an argument.  I think Doherty does a good job of refuting Ehrman’s thesis with evidence and without the rancor I see in the Historicist crowd.  The fact that he has remained so graceful despite the onslaught of ad hominem attacks is quite remarkable to me.  I would not be so restrained.

        -evan

        • Claude

          Excuse me, I have not expressed a “visceral distaste for Doherty’s style,” but an intellectual distaste for Doherty’s machinations.

          If you understand that sourcing John is a “complex debate,” why are you asking me for evidence! I’ve made it clear I’m no historian or textual critic. I read Prof. McGrath’s essay linked above, and it was quite suggestive and enlightening (thank you, Prof. McGrath). If you are burning for knowledge about John, why don’t you go read it?

          The fact remains, etc.

          You take a rather Manichean view of the matter. Either the Gospels are all true, or they’re all lies! Um, no.

          Of course, I didn’t offer my “dislike” of Doherty as an argument about anything. I simply demonstrated why I have little confidence in him. No doubt Doherty is thrilled with all the attention he’s getting courtesy of Bart Ehrman. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to him!

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

             Oh Claude, you should learn the difference between machinations and interpretations. You highlight one part of Doherty’s sentence and then call it machinations when he follows up by addressing principally the part of the same sentence you did not highlight. That smacks of reading with hostile intent in most people’s books.

            • Claude

              Oh Claude, you should learn the difference between machinations and interpretations. You highlight one part of Doherty’s sentence and then call it machinations when he follows up by addressing principally the part of the same sentence you did not highlight. That smacks of reading with hostile intent in most people’s books.

              The gall. I broke off where I did so the quotation wouldn’t be overlong in an already long post. The additional sentences would only further my point was that Doherty didn’t even bother to present Ehrman’s positions before breathlessly (and somewhat seamlessly–a machination!) restating his own convictions about Mark, etc. It had nothing to to do with the truth-value of his claims (although I’m skeptical). You guys are so jittery.

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

                Oh calm down, Claude. I spoke of the part of the sentence you highlighted as opposed to the half you did not highlight.

                • Claude

                  Neil, what?

                  You highlight one part of Doherty’s sentence and then call it machinations when he follows up by addressing principally the part of the same sentence you did not highlight.

                  I restate because I made such a hash of my last post and will leave the reader to interpret this brazen deflection.

                  I’ll have you know at the time I dutifully read Doherty’s explanation of why he dates Mark c. 90. My favorite part:

                  Certainly, 50 or 60 years is the outside time within which such a prediction ["this generation will  live to see it all"] made around the year 30 could still have legitimacy. Yet of Mark were creating only a symbolic Jesus within a midrashic tale, such a limitation would not apply.

                  Problem solved! And before you go accusing me again of misquoting Doherty, that is from p. 195 of The Jesus Puzzle.

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

                    You’ve totally lost me Claude. I have no idea how your response relates to anything I pointed out. I never accused you of misquoting Doherty at all. What is your problem?

                    • Claude

                      You’ve totally lost me Claude. I have no idea how your response relates to anything I pointed out. I never accused you of misquoting Doherty at all. What is your problem?

                      Seriously? As a courtesy I’m not going to remind you of the last time you accused me, wrongly, of misquoting Doherty. I’ll admit my response was incoherent, though it was directed to something you pointed out–that because I object to the way Doherty constructs his arguments (or even find it entertaining) that I read Doherty with “hostile intent.” Not sure that’s true.

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

                      What I said, Claude, was
                      That is, the paragraphs are not his rationale or reasons for his
                      claims, but a simple set of points to help readers grasp what he does
                      argue in his website of many articles and hundreds of thousands of words
                      and in two books. They are the conclusions of his arguments.

                      And people think I’m out of touch for claiming so many critics of
                      Doherty and mythicism don’t bother to read his stuff or any mythicist
                      literature for themselves.

                      So it is not out of courtesy you are failing to point out where I accused you of misquoting Doherty, but it is out of the impossibility of finding where I said any such thing. You are reading me with the same hostile intent you read Doherty, and reading into my words things that are not there just as you do with Doherty, I imagine.

                    • Claude

                      Oh my. Just for that I’ll remind you that you accused me not as you describe in your  reply but thus:

                      Claude, are you aware of the source of your supposed quotation of Doherty? Are you aware you have quoted the words from a critic’s Amazon review? Or maybe you copied them from Darrell Bock’s blog?

                      Why would you resort to dishonesty over such a quibble? This latest exchange started when I said, in so many words, that I try to be conscientious by reading what Doherty has to say. Why would I read him , or you, with “hostile intent”? I would prefer for the Jesus myth to be true, since one less crucified man is to be wished for.

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

                      Claude my friend, I can do nothing more than offer you a free virtual beer to make amends or if you are a teetotaller and gay I (who am not gay) will come half way and kiss you on your forehead. I am sure you are the most honest person in the world so when you failed to notice that my very next post to the one from which you quoted me said: “My mistake. I was relying upon the online copy” I am fully confident you never noticed it in the first place.

                      But even if you refuse to accept all of that — and why not, I am an atheist and seen to be a mythicist, so I must be in the pits of evil — even the words you throw back at me are not an accusation of misquotation. They are entirely and completely an accusation that you have simply lifted a paragraph from a dot-point list in which Doherty summarizes the outline of his argument, and nothing more. Yet you said that this paragraph you quoted from the list lacked a full argumentation to support it, so Doherty was therefore at fault. In other words, you lifted a summary conclusion from a dot-point list and faulted it as if it were supposed to contain the full argument that is in fact found in the rest of the book following.

                      McGrath would be most proud of you. He was able to write a review of the entire book of Doherty’s merely from reading the first 20 pages or so of an 800 page book.

                      In other words, Claude, you are a making mischievous assertions about a paragraph of Doherty’s that you have lifted out of context.

                      So I rest my case. You are reading Doherty (and me!) with hostile intent. The evidence for this is that when one compares your accusations with what is actually written there is no correlation whatsoever.

                    • Claude

                      Neil,

                      That you acknowledged your error doesn’t mean you didn’t make the accusation in the first place! And (as I’ve explained), the excerpt is as an example of Doherty using his thesis (Paul and others describe a supernatural, mythical Jesus constructed from the OT) as one of the twelve (heh) pieces of the puzzle he argues will demonstrate that Jesus is mythical. I find this reasoning dubious, not least because it is hardly axiomatic that what Doherty says about Paul and the others is true. You suggest that what I quoted is trivial, but it’s a tenet of Doherty’s whole argument!

                      But even if you refuse to accept all of that — and why not, I am an atheist and seen to be a mythicist, so I must be in the pits of evil — even the words you throw back at me are not an accusation of misquotation.

                      This is sheer melodrama. I am also an agnostic/atheist and do not think of people who disagree with me as “evil.”

                      I certainly do not want you to kiss me but would not mind a beer. Or two.

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

                       Sorry Claude, but that you insisted I accused you of misquoting Doherty when at no time did I ever do so, and now continue to appear to imply that I did that and even admit to it, suggests to me that we are simply not on the same wavelength and no communication is possible. I bid you fare-well as you go your way of uncomprehension of reading matter.

                    • Claude

                      I guess this means you aren’t going to give me even a mythical, midrash of a beer.

                      Thank God there’s one that actually exists in the fridge.

                    • Macdonaldjo

                      making “gay jokes.”  Why are you even allowed to post here?

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

                      Macdonaldjo, to answer your question, the reason Neil Godfrey is allowed to post here even though I’ve given up trying to get through to him myself or merely get him to behave like a decent human being, is precisely that through his tactics of jumping back and forth between insults and demands for civility, and his selective treatment of evidence and inane pseudoarguments, he does far greater harm to mythicism than I could accomplish through careful analysis of its claims alone.

                    • Macdonaldjo

                      I really don’t know why you bother with Mythicists Dr. McGrath.  Mythicists don’t care what a straightforward examination of the evidence reveals.  They twist and distort evidence, draw irrelevant analogies and cry “interpolation” until the bible fits into their absurd cookie cutter of a mythical Jesus. 

                      Those with credentials, like Price, can’t even get a job because his theories have no merit.  Here is an excerpt of Price’s most recent review from the SBL.  As the reviewer says,

                      “The book Jesus Is Dead by Robert M. Price follows in the train of other similar books written by the same author, such as Beyond Born Again, Deconstructing Jesus, and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Price’s writing is not the typical writing one would expect in New Testament studies or historical Jesus studies. Price, in fact, contends that Jesus of Nazareth never actually existed and that most if not all the narratives found in the New Testament Gospels are woven together from the fabric of Greco-Roman religious myths …While this book may be attractive to the reading populace at large, it has little to commit itself to the scholarly field of New Testament studies. The writing is not a serious discussion of the issues among one’s scholarly peers but rather comes across as an extremely bitter rant against conservative Christianity and those who subscribe to it.”

                      Price writes in an unprofessional and occasionally sarcastic manner.  He is a rude person who accused Ehrman of not doing his own research based on no reliable evidence.  He has no business teaching anyone.

                      Doherty is a layperson.  He has no credentials.  He has been reviewed by you, Ehrman, and R. Joseph Hoffman.  Each time it has been determined that his work has no merit.  This is Doherty’s account of what happened when he tried to submit his work to a journal for peer review:

                      “I am periodically criticized by my dissenters on Internet discussion boards for not making a more determined effort to do that, though it’s clear that their motives are anything but prompted by a desire to have the case for Jesus Mythicism properly evaluated. They fully expect that if “peer-reviewed,” that case would be soundly trashed and mythicism revealed as charlatanry. Of course, “peer review” is a woolly term, and if the dissenters themselves are any indication (and they are), those “peers” would hardly give it an honest hearing, assuming journals were even willing to publish such things. One journal was not.,”

                      There is Doherty, told once again his work has no merit.

                      Richard Carrier has produced some good work, but he is arrogant, cocky, and needs to grow up.  He is so unbelievably insulting that he actually wrote this on his blog about James Tabor and things related to “The Jesus Discovery” :

                      “But given that he (Tabor) has been so thoroughly disgraced by expert analysis on this (and yet gives the book an absurdly confident title like that), I can only assume he has tenure, as otherwise he would cease to be employed by now,” Richard Carrier

                      Carrier is saying Tabor should be fired?  I don’t care what the quality of Carrier’s work is, comments like that are insulting and unprofessional.  He is sarcastic, swears, and does not assume the responsibility that comes with being a professional.  He has no business teaching anyone either.

                      As for Neil, who cares?  He’s an uninformed loudmouth layperson with a website.  The internet is the great equalizer.  Suddenly everyone’s opinion matters, no matter how ignorant and obnoxious they are.

                      Midrash and mythicism?  John Dominic Crossan has been writing about midrash since the 60′s, knows more about the bible than any mythicist on earth, and knows full well there was a historical Jesus.

                      But I still don’t know why you waste your time with the mythicists James.  They’re just like the young earth creationists.  It doesn’t matter what your argument is, because they’re not listening. 

                      And do you know what the funny thing is?  Mythicist probably think Ehrman wrote a book against mythicism because mythicism has become a real academic position.  He didn’t.  Ehrman wrote that book because people wouldn’t stop E-Mailing him asking if Jesus existed or not.

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

                       Well you disappoint me macdonaldjo. I had thought you would actually attempt a reasoned response to my argument.

                      But, well, like Dr McGrath, if the argument is something you can’t believe because, well, it’s not what you’ve always believed and all those you respect believe, then you have no recourse but to declare the one making it unworthy of engaging in discussion.

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

                      Oh come on now James. Where is your sense of humour? Do allow me to respond once in very long while to your vicious accusations of dishonesty and madness with a little light humour. But nope, I can’t do that coz it shows how rude I am in not duly cringing before your character attacks when you have no reasoned response to offer.

  • Claude

    Ugh, sorry about the formatting.

  • Claude

    Will my html woes never cease.

    That second graph should not be in italics. Sorry again.

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

    Neil Godfrey is either pretending not to comprehend, or actually failing to comprehend, the distinction between a king being killed during a period of monarchy, and an individual expected to restore a defunct monarchy being killed (by the foreign overlords, no less). Is it safe to assume that this is clear to everyone else who is participating in this conversation? Did anyone else understand the claim that the awaited Anointed One not being expected to die was somehow a claim that no king or high priest could die? I think the problem is just with Neil’s dishonest tactics or comprehension, but for the benefit of others, I thought I should ask to make sure.

    • Claude

      Prof. McGrath: Roger over and out.

    • Macdonaldjo

      I don’t see how Neil Godfrey’s examples help the mythicist argument in any way. 

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

        I don’t see how Neil Godfrey’s examples help the mythicist argument in any way.

        That’s not exactly an argument. Do you have an argument?

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

      Dr McGrath, it is neither gentlemanly nor scholarly to pronounce a different interpretation and perspective on the evidence as “dishonest”. I am referring to the scholarship that has been published (peer review etc) on this question. So why do untruthfully say these ideas are “mine” and hide the fact that these ideas are found in the literature? (e.g. Green, Thompson, Staley, et al)

      The general assumption in scholarship has been that around the time of Jesus there was a general expectation of a conquering messiah to come but the evidence for this is nonexistent or based on hypothetical extrapolations from much older literature for the elites or interpretations of certain events from the latter half of the century during significantly different circumstances (via Josephus).

      But we do know  — and you yourself know — that the concept of the messiah was not so cut and dried. Your repeated claim is not the only one that was extant and not all of your own scholarly peers will agree with you.

      So rather than attempt to defend your argument you find it much easier to denounce alternative views as dishonest. Charming.

  • Macdonaldjo

    Generally speaking, the mythicist appeal to midrash assumes too much. 

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that  Rivka Ulmer is right in her article “Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus,” and in fact Psalm 22 was rewritten by the New Testament authors as a midrash story of the suffering of Jesus, analogous to how the rabbinic interpretation in Pesiqta Rabbati applies the suffering of King David in Psalm 22 to the future Messiah Ephraim (son of Joseph), who is not viewed as a descendant of King David.

    What would that prove?

    Robert M Price, following Earl Doherty, gives the following explanation:

    “It has been customary to suppose that early Christians began with a set of
    remarkable facts (whether few or many) and sought after the fact for scriptural
    predictions for them, the goal being to show that even though the founding
    events of their religion defied contemporary messianic expectation, they were
    nonetheless in better accord with prophecy, that recent events clarified ancient
    prophecy in retrospect. Thus modern scholars might admit that Hosea 11:1 (“Out
    of Egypt I have called my son”) had to be taken out of context to provide a
    pedigree for the fact of Jesus’ childhood sojourn in Egypt, but that it was the
    story of the flight into Egypt that made early Christians go searching for the
    Hosea text. Now it is apparent, just to take this example, that the flight into
    Egypt is midrashic all the way down. That is, the words in Hosea 11:1 “my son,”
    catching the early Christian eye, generated the whole story, since they assumed
    such a prophecy about the divine Son must have had its fulfillment. And the more
    apparent it becomes that most gospel narratives can be adequately accounted for
    by reference to scriptural prototypes, Doherty suggests, the more natural it is
    to picture early Christians beginning with a more or less vague savior myth and
    seeking to lend it color and detail by anchoring it in a particular historical
    period and clothing it in scriptural garb,” Robert M Price, ‘New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash’ in ‘The Encyclopedia of Midrash” (here is Price’s article) http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm

    Does Price’s (Doherty’s) argument make sense?  Absolutely not.

    As I explained to Dr. Marc Z. Brettler, Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies
    at Brandeis University, and an expert on the issue of the use of midrash in the New Testament, if we encounter a case of suspected midrash, this means either (1) the writers started with facts about Jesus and then shaped them to resemble stories from the Old Testament, or (2) the writers started with stories from the Old Testament and simply invented stories about Jesus reflecting those Old Testament stories? Can we simply assume, with Price and Doherty, that the whole midrash story is fiction?  Absolutely not!

    It’s a methodological nightmare to figure out if the midrash is all fiction or part fiction (What method would you employ),  But as Ehrman says in his book the presence of midrash is irrelevant.  The mythicist would have to show the midrash is more likely than not all fiction.  

    • Macdonaldjo

      it should be a period after “stories,” not a question mark lol

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

      (1) the writers started with facts about Jesus and then shaped them to resemble stories from the Old Testament, or (2) the writers started with stories from the Old Testament and simply invented stories about Jesus reflecting those Old Testament stories? Can we simply assume, with Price and Doherty, that the whole midrash story is fiction?  Absolutely not!

      What is the evidence that the writers started with facts about Jesus and then shaped them to resemble stories from the OT? Is this simply assumed?

      (I don’t know why you assert that either Price or Doherty “simply assume” the whole midrash story is fiction. They don’t.)

      • Macdonaldjo

        Neil,

        I assert it because that is what Price says in the article:

        “That is, the words in Hosea 11:1 “my son,” catching the early Christian eye,
        generated the whole story,” Robert M Price, “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash”

        -did you catch that, Neil?

        “GENERATED THE ‘WHOLE’ STORY”

        (This is like debating with a 4 year old)

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

          McGrath does not appreciate insults and rudeness on this blog, Macdonaldjo. You should follow his example.

          Rather than jump to insulting conclusions it would be appropriate to take a moment to think about what the other person actually said — you know, just in case you are misinterpreting something. I sometimes respond too quickly and more often than not regret having done so.

          What I have been attempting to emphasize or draw attention to is your assertion that Price and Doherty “assume” or their assertions are “simply assumed”. I do not see that in the quotation you provide.

          From what I recall they actually present an argument for their claim. It is not an assumption.

          Now, will you apologize for your insult?

          • Macdonaldjo

            Neil,

            Price’s sentence reads ” the words in Hosea 11:1 “my son,” catching the early Christian eye, generated the whole story”

            GENERATED THE WHOLE STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            If a mythicist is not claiming that the midrash is more likely than not ALL fiction, then what does it mean to be a mythicist? Are you saying “maybe the midrash is all fiction, or part fiction, but I have no idea which.”

            If that’s the case then Doherty is an agnostic regarding Jesus’ historicity, not a mythicist.

            Why are you assuming I insulted you?  I’ve never met you.  I just assumed your age was four years old because you have the rhetorical abilities of a four year old.  What evidence do I have that you are not in fact four years old?  Dr. McGrath doesn’t even respond to you anymore because of the level of immaturity you present.

            But if I said something that hurt your feelings then I am sorry.  I didn’t intend to insult you.  Honestly. 

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

              Your abusive manner is noted. McGrath must be proud of you.

              Generating a whole story is exactly what does happen with midrash. If you weren’t so hung up about finding ways to insult me but actually took a breather you might be able to understand how midrash actually works, and that it is you who have failed to present any argument beyond simple assumptions. That is, all assumption, no argument.

              I have posted links to detailed discussions by midrash experts and you clearly have not bothered to read them to understand what midrash is or how it works.

              Nor have you given any indication that you are familiar with the actual arguments, not the simple assertions or assumptions, of Doherty and Price.

              • Macdonaldjo

                Neil writes: “Generating a WHOLE story is exactly what does happen with midrash.”

                No competent scholar on the planet would argue that, and I’ll show you why:

                Take this example of a hypothetical midrash:

                All Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians about the crucifixion is just one line: “Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”

                Did Paul record no narrative details of that event because there were no narrative details at the time he was writing?  That is quite probable, because Mark tells us that when Jesus was arrested ALL the disciples “took flight and fled (14:50).”  There is no reason for Mark to recount the embarrassing abandonment if it were  not true.  This would mean Jesus in all probability died alone, without any eyewitnesses.  This would, of course, have made the details of the crucifixion impossible to record, since no one witnessed the event.

                Accordingly, the well known events in the narrative of the crucifixion could have been invented through midrash, exactly as Dr. Price describes below and I posted earlier:  

                “The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” As for other details, Crossan points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan). Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.”

                Even if everything in Price’s interpretation is true, if all the details of the narrative were just made up in the writer’s creative imagination, it doesn’t mean Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t a real historical event.  Under the reconstruction posted here, even the fact that the apostles abandoned Jesus really happened.

                Any competent scholar will tell you that haggadic midrash as a literary form in the New Testament always presents two opposing poles of interpretation.  As I said, (1) on the one hand we can say the entire story was invented through midrash, (2) and on the other we can say a little bit of the story is midrash and the rest is historical fact.  And there is a lot of room in between

                That’s just the way biblical hermeneutics works.  Mythicists may not like it but there is no way to argue that it is more likely than not that the core of the Christian story never really happened. 

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

                  No competent scholar on the planet would argue that,

                  Do you know what scholars who specialize in midrash do argue and explain about midrash?

                  You are overlooking that the Gospels explain that the detail of the disciples fleeing from Jesus in Gethsemane is in order to fulfill prophecy of the OT. So we have a theological reason or motive for creating this detail. It is to fulfill prophecy. That is clear and indisputable. The prophecy is quoted in the Gospels as the explanation. Now what evidence do you have that there is any other reason for the detail? What evidence do you have that it is more than just a made up detail to fulfill prophecy?

                  You are simply assuming that the narrative about Jesus is based on historical events. I make no such assumption. Nor do I assume that there is no history behind it. I start from the “I don’t know either way” stance and look for evidence to sway me either way.

                  And one fundamental principle of historical verification is that a text is not allowed to be its own self-witness alone. There must always be at some level some independent or external control or verification that the text can be interpreted as genuine attempt at history.

                  It is fallacious to simply begin with the assumption that a story is “true” unless it can be proved otherwise.

                  And in the case of the disciples fleeing the text itself gives us the reason this event was mentioned. Prophecy had to be fulfilled — just like the so-called prophecies that Jesus was to be born of a virgin and be resurrected (at least according to the evangelists  these were prophecies). Were they true historically? The fleeing of the disciples is told for the very same reason.

                  Even if everything in Price’s interpretation is true, if all the details of the narrative were just made up in the writer’s creative imagination, it doesn’t mean Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t a real historical event.

                  You’re simply not reading anything I say. I agree with you here completely. Just because we have mythological trappings does not mean the story was made up. We need more reasons than that. We have lots of cases where real historical people had mythical descriptions but they were still real people.

                  But when we compare those people with Jesus and the evidence for each we see that Jesus is made up of nothing but myth. There is nothing left after that is peeled away.

                  You appear to be beginning with the default position that the Christian story is true and mythicists must prove it false. Nonsense. We should start with the fact that we have a story and then look for reasons to see whether or not it should be considered mythical or historical.

                  And just because the narratives are mostly midrash does not in and of itself prove they are fiction.

                  You don’t seem to know what you are arguing against.

                  • Macdonaldjo

                    Neil,

                    I agree we must look at each story individually to determine whether there are historic elements, cores, or whether it is all midrash.  I find it convincing that Mark filled in the narrative with midrash because the disciples took flight and there were no witnesses.  I don’t think fufilling OT prophesy is the hermeneutic key here, but that’s just the way I read it.  Or maybe there were just no witnesses and Mark thought Jesus was the messiah crucified by Pilate and wanted to write a story about it.

                    It’s clear that the story we are dealing with is highly fictional, for the reasons I posted, not only because the story contains what Jesus said from the cross, but what Jesus and the high priest said to each other and what Jesus and the crowd said to each other (who would have been around to record these conversations?).  What we seem to have are liturgical interpretations based on Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.  What we are probably reading is how the oral tradition  about Jesus was shaped in the synagogue in the light of the Passover and the messianic expectations of the prophets before the gospels were written.  I just think the story make more sense if you posit a historic core.

                    For instance, Pilate is just too anchored in all the gospels regarding Jesus’ death for the writers to just be putting him there arbitrarily.  Pilate appears eleven times in Mark, nine times in Matthew, twelve times in Luke, 21 times in John, and and 3 times in Acts.  I would want to here an argument explaining away the strong connection between Pilate and the death of Jesus that goes beyond the mere literary fancy of the authors doing midrash.   

                    I picked this story because there seems to be a high degree of midrash in it.  But I don’t think you have any basis for arguing the mythicist position that it is more likely that there is no historical core to it rather than there is a historical core.

                    Price says in his article “The Quest of the Mythical Jesus” that:

                    “It is just that the evidence now seems to me to point that way (in favor of mythicism) …  I fully admit and remind the reader that all historical hypotheses
                    are provisional and tentative. This one certainly is. And yet I do favor it.”

                    I simply don’t see what tips the scales in favor of the idea that the crucifixion story has no historical core.  And I am being very generous.  I picked a story where you can plausibly argue for a lot of midrash.  I could have asked you to explain why a story that points out Jesus has a sisters but doesn’t bother to name one isn’t historical.

                    And all this really doesn’t matter, because while a crucified Jewish messiah may have been invented, history books, by virtue of the laws of probability, will always say it is far more likely he really existed by virtue of the unlikelihood of the idea.

                     

                    • Macdonaldjo

                      “sisters,” not “a sisters” lol

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

                      The story of Jesus having sisters and brothers is just as typical of the motifs of other persecuted godly heroes in the OT as the disciples fleeing. I have written and expanded on that just as often. You seem to think “mythicism” has not bothered to consider the full range of evidence.

                      But everything you say here appears to miss my point completely. Can I ask you to re-read my previous post carefully. Not quickly. I chose each word carefully for a reason.

                      You are still missing my point. Completely missing it.

                      Back up a bit.

                      You have a story. Let’s say it’s the Gospel of Mark. Imagine for a moment there are no other gospels, no New Testament, just this Gospel of Mark that was found in a clay jar in a cave somewhere in Syria or Egypt or in a black market that had lost all trace of its origins.

                      Now. Imagine you are the first person in the world reading this story. How would you decide if the story you are reading is true, partly true, or entirely mythical?

                      Think about that for a while. I’m in no rush for you to reply. Take your time.

          • Macdonaldjo

            Now you’re just making things up.  Neither Price nor Doherty provide such a demonstration. 

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

          Macdonaldjo,

          My main query was this: “What is the evidence that the writers started with facts about Jesus and then shaped them to resemble stories from the OT? Is this simply assumed?”

          Now that is where I feel assumptions are brought in to play. Are you interested in responding to this question?

  • Brettongarcia

    I think mythicism could simply concede this point if it wanted to:  just agree that the notion of a crucified messiah is unusual, unexpected,” IN JEWISH SCRIPTURE.”  But?  Then we note that 1) in fact Jesus himself was not regarded as a good Jew, following Jewish scripture, by the Jews of this time; indeed that is why he was pursed and in effect executed by them.   So?

    2) Not being regarded then as a good Jew, by the real Jews of the time?  Opens up the STRONG possiblity Jesus was influenced by non-Jewish ideas – like especially, Greco-Roman, Hellenistic ideas.  Which included countless dying martyrs, heros, etc..

    3) While MASSES of research by Classicists, finds Greco-Roman influence written all over the NT.  This I note would be especiallystrong, in an era when Jerusalem was occupied by Roman soldiers, and had a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

    No problem here: when confronting objections that the notion of a crucified messiah was alient to “Jewish Scripture,”   just note this:  that the qualifier “in Jewish scripture” is misleading, and itself is the problem.

    Indeed, the concept of a suffering messiah is hard to find “in Jewish Scripture.”  But the Jews themselves felt that Jesus was not following Jewish scripture, but another script. 

    While Classicists note over and over, the huge amount of Greco-Roman scripts, all around.  Plenty including ideas of heros that die to save their country.

    No problem.

    • Macdonaldjo

      I think Jesus liked Jewish scripture: 

       “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not
      come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” Jesus

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

      Second Temple Jews who found the suffering messiah in Isaiah 53 did not agree with you here. I think you are confusing our western understanding of messiahship and reading this into the OT. But recent scholarship has demonstrated that for far too long now the “general consensus” among biblical scholars has been to (mis)interpret Jewish ideas of the Second Temple period and earlier about the Messiah by reading texts where the Messiah is not even mentioned – but only assumed to be mentioned. Circular reasoning at work.

      The concept we most often have of the messiah — and the only one that McGrath himself seems to ever address — was the one that emerged only after the destruction of the temple.

  • Brettongarcia

    What is a midrash?  It’s just an attempt to deal with situations, that are not precisely covered in existing scripture. 

    A midrash is called for, when it seems that a given passage of scripture does not quite exactly cover this or that, usually more modern situation.  And so someone attempts to however, imaginatively extend whatever there is in old literature;  to get it to address the more modern situation. 

    In that attempt to “extend” what was not quite said in older lit?  There is always the possiblity of error, and excessive invention:  “fiction.”

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

      There are various kinds of midrash and the midrash that is the sort of story narrative — that can be entirely fictional at all levels — is haggadah. The link I provided to my archive will also lead to non-biblical examples of this.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mac:

    Jesus was often said to like and to be following Jewish scripture, even to the “letter”; on the other hand, many feel he was streching the law, on many points.  For example?  The old laws of the Jews forbid working, even gathering food, on the Sabbath; but Jesus allowed his disciples to pick corn on a sabbath.

    It seems that Jesus himself was at times, an apparent stickler.  But other times he was willing to stretch a point, in a rather midrash-like way.  And when jesus was busy streching and bending scripture, to fit this or that new, modern situation?  Likely he bent things in a Hellenistic direction, especially.  Greco-Roman influence being all around, after all.

    • Macdonaldjo

      I guess if you believe it’s true it must be true.  Had fun posting here.  Bye

  • Brettongarcia

    And while streching and bending?  He and others could’ve stretching his own story to fit the OT as well.

    Once you’re in a Midrash, you can take things in any direction you want.

  • Macdonaldjo

    One last thing.  Richard Carrier has posted his critique.  In his words, “Ehrman’s book is so full of egregious factual errors demonstrating his ignorance, sloppiness, and incompetence in this matter, it really doesn’t even need a rebuttal. It can be thrown straight into the trash without any loss to scholarship or humanity.”  Here it is: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier Play nicely Dr. McGrath

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Midrash is an interpretive method.  Its use says nothing about the historicity or non-historicity of an event.  Yet mythicists act as if any statement about Jesus that can be characterized as midrash must mean that Jesus, or that aspect of Jesus’ life being described, is invented.  This is simply a misuse of the term.  

    Applying midrash, I could say that that mythicists arguing against Ehrman’s book are fulfilling Psalm 2:1 (“Why do the heathen rage, and the people devise a vain thing”).  You can agree or disagree with my midrash, but neither position you took would change the fact that mythicists are arguing against Ehrman’s book.  

    Until the mythicists can come up with a coherent hypothesis for who, why, and how “the conspirators” were able to invent Jesus from misrashic exegesis and get others to accept the story as historical, they are indeed devising a vain thing.

    By contrast, the straightforward explanation of the gospels is not only coherent, it’s also plausible.  They show that Jesus’ disciples could not accept His interpretation of the Scriptures that the messiah would be killed and then raised from the dead.  As Peter put it, “This shall never happen to you!”  It was only when Jesus had actually been crucified and raised that the disciples had enough reason to open their minds to his midrash.

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

      Until the mythicists can come up with a coherent hypothesis for who, why, and how “the conspirators” were able to invent Jesus from misrashic exegesis and get others to accept the story as historical, they are indeed devising a vain thing.

      Well it seems they are doing just that now. That’s why “the heathen” like McGrath and Ehrman “rage” :-)

  • Macdonaldjo

    Sorry if I ruined “The Passion of the Christ” for anyone with my last post.  It’s still a good movie.

  • Brettongarcia

    Midrashes CAN invent whole stories.  For example?  Suppose the commentator wants to illustrate some abstract principle in the Torah; and makes up a parable  story to illustrate his point.

    Then by the way?  Since the parable story is in “a holy book,” someone might next, take it as an historical account of a real event.

    And presto chango:  an “historical account” of a holy thing is invented.  Out of, basically, nothing.

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

    I hope someone will respond to Godfrey’s hypothetical scenario, since we have found texts in those sorts of circumstances and put them to historical use. But I hope that there will also then be a follow up question to see whether, at long last, he is willing to talk about the Gospels not as hypothetical documents found in our time in a jar, but as texts which belonged to, were read within, and understood a particular way by a community of readers who universally understood them to be about a figure that had appeared in history, and not a figure who died in a celestial realm.

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

      Oh Jimmy, I do wish you would wake up and see how silly you look standing in the room with your back to me and asking others to pass on your messages to me as if you don’t know I am here! ;-)

      But why don’t YOU do what you are asking others to do and respond to my question.

      And why is it — how do you justify — your hypothetical model that texts we have found in jars belonged to such and such communities? And which communities are you referring to as those who understood the Nag Hammadi texts as referring to a Jesus whom historians could identify as an historical identity?

      PLEASE DO!

      You see, James, you are muddling up things no end in your mind. You are confusing literary characters in a historical past with historical characters. Now if you can really try for a little while you might be able to comprehend that there is quite a difference.

      Oh, and by the way, do, please do, as I have begged so many times, please do try not to impute into my words what you imagine I am arguing — as you do here. If you can manage it, try to read what my argument is and stick to that. It may be a challenge, but do try.

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

       Dr James McGrath, since you are responding to me by pretending not to respond to me, perhaps you could explain to your audience (not to me, of course, since you are not responding to me) how one might assess a Nag Hammadi text in the absence of any other gospel literature. What would be the clue to how you would decide (and pretend I am not asking you this but imagine the question is coming from someone else who doesn’t know me) a Nag Hammadi gospel belonged to a community who believed Jesus was a figure whom historians of our modern day would judge to be historical?

      (Pretend my name is Bwian — Neil did not ask you this! — so it’s okay for you to attempt a reply.)

    • Macdonaldjo

      Be fair James.  Maybe Neil is right.  Maybe Jesus was originally understood mythically everywhere, and then all of the sudden for no reason at all everyone everywhere forgot he was a myth, and started believing he existed as a real human.  And no one who used to think he was a myth ever corrected anyone who started thinking he was real.  Your problem James is that you don’t realize what Neil, a layperson with no degrees in bible study realizes, that Earl Doherty, a layperson with no relevant degree in bible studies either who self publishes books, is the greatest textual critic who ever lived.  Or wait, maybe Carrier is the greatest because he doesn’t know how to stop insulting his peers.  Robert Price has two PhD’s.  He must be their leader.  And who did Price dedicate his major work on mythicism to, who he calls the greatest bible scholar of our time?  Hermann Detering, because Detering is hyperskeptical about the authorship of the Pauline epistles.  It’s all becoming clear to me now.  Doherty is right.  A generation from now mythicisim will be a forceful presence in academic biblical study.  And I know how it all happened.  Neil Godfrey presented his first biblical theory and the God of logic had a stroke.  

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Neil,

    Regarding your hypothetical scenario about finding an isolated document from antiquity, you’d obviously seek to connect it with some time and place.  You’d try to determine who wrote it, and to whom.  You’d want to know how the document affected those who read it, how widespread was its distribution.  You’d search all extant documents from that time period to identify any related documents, or any similarities whatsoever.  In short, you’d try to reconstruct the document’s context in order to better understand it contents.  This would be true whether the document was found at Nag Hammadi or anywhere else.

    What puzzles me is why mythicists, while seeking to understand an individual document from antiquity, seek to divorce it from its context.  That is, the only way you can come up with the view that Jesus did not live is to seize upon certain passages in the New Testament, divorce them from their context, and then arbitrarily associate them with passages from other literature of the age.  

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

      Regarding your hypothetical scenario about finding an isolated document from antiquity, you’d obviously seek to connect it with some time and place.  You’d try to determine who wrote it, and to whom.  You’d want to know how the document affected those who read it, how widespread was its distribution.  You’d search all extant documents from that time period to identify any related documents, or any similarities whatsoever.  In short, you’d try to reconstruct the document’s context
      in order to better understand it contents.  This would be true whether the document was found at Nag Hammadi or anywhere else.

      That’s the most correct answer I have seen on this thread, Mike. Truly thou art not far from the kingdom of God!

      But you lack just one thing. You have not explained how one would go about establishing this context or answering the questions you realize are so important for our understanding.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Just survey New Testament scholarship from the 2nd century through the 21st and you’ll see how it’s done.  Obviously, there are many variations in approach but the general principles remain.

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

          No, no, Mike. You’re avoiding the question. I asked you how you would go about ascertaining the provenance of a text you found in effect ex nihilo

          Or if you don’t like the hypothetical, how would you decide that the Gospel of Mark was based on historical happenings and not a made-up narrative?

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Neil, you said:

            “No, no, Mike. You’re avoiding the question. I asked you how you would go about ascertaining the provenance of a text you found in effect ex nihilo
            Or if you don’t like the hypothetical, how would you decide that the Gospel of Mark was based on historical happenings and not a made-up narrative?”

            I’ve already answered you.  But if you must have me spell it out, the other 26 documents of the New Testament give Mark its context.  That is, the New Testament itself is the result of a process of seeking contemporaneous and related documents which speak to the same subject matter and therefore give [Mark] its context.  

            The Old Testament also gives Mark context because, even though its not immediately contemporaneous, it establishes the vocabulary and conceptual inventory for Mark and for all the New Testament documents. The New Testament’s authors were first-century Jews and thus steeped in the Old Testament worldview as practiced in Second Temple Judaism.

            Additional, yet less immediately relevant, material can be found in other Jewish, Roman, and other historical records of that period.

            A large part of historical research is understanding a document in its proper context.  Mythicism, by contrast, seeks to explain documents by removing them from their proper context.  For this reason mythicism can rightly be described as an anti-historical exercise.

            • Macdonaldjo

              Good answer.  I like mine better lol

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                In some ways, I liked yours better, too.

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

               Mike, I disagree completely with you completely about the context, as you would no doubt expect. I believe that the Gospel of Mark should be studied just like any other ancient text. It only appears in the Bible long, long after it was first written. So you can’t say it originated in the context of the New Testament books.

               But I do agree that it needs to be studied within the context of the Jewish scriptures and I have a reason for that. It’s not because it is in the Bible with the OT, but because text itself quotes and alludes to many OT passages. But it also alludes to and draws upon other literature and ideas beyond the Jewish religion. So we need to study it as a part of both literary worlds.

              It is because I  study it in those contexts that I believe it’s Jesus and its narratives are best explained as literary creations with theological messages. But I have seen nothing in the context to justify any argument that its narratives or characters are historical.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Neil, I have re-read these three paragraphs of yours several times, trying hard to understand how you reach the conclusions you do – all to no avail.  All I can say is that you operate with a mindset that I am not able to simulate.

          • Macdonaldjo

            Neil,

            Good Question.

             The early church valued the Gospel of Mark for its preservation of the apostolic voice and gospel narrative of Peter.  Moreover,  an abundance of comment has been discovered to be embedded and interleaved amidst the textual archives of patristic homilies, apologies, letters, commentaries, theological treatises and hymnic verses.  Ancient commentaries on Mark, such as the the insights of Augustine of Hippo and Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian and Cyril of Jerusalem join in a polyphony of interpretive voices of the Eastern and Western church from the second century to the seventh. 

            Our oldest texts that comment on Mark treat it as historical happenings. For those commentators, one would assume that is how Mark was understood in the tradition before them. 

            On the other hand, one could ‘posit’ that Mark started off as made-up narrative, and then “magical event X” happened where everyone forgot it was just made up narrative, and then “magical event Y” happened and everybody suddenly understood Mark to be historical happenings, and our first commentators therefore never knew about the original nature of Mark.  But the only problem with this reconstruction is that you would have to be as insane as Neil Godfrey to argue that the most plausible historical scenario is that Mark started off as complete fiction, everyone forgot, and then everyone suddenly started to understand it as historical happenings.

            I’ll explain it another way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USR3bX_PtU4 

               

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

               I made the mistake of initially thinking Macdonaldjo was serious and intelligent. Had I paused and got to know the tenor of his comments first I would not have bothered with him.

              But for the sake of others interested, his accounting for the context or provenance of Mark is a classic in fallacious reasoning. No doubt he has been reading too many works by muddle-headed theologians. (Not that ALL theologians are muddle headed of course. I am sure McGrath would agree with me on this point at least!) But you can’t take the claims and statements made about a text decades and centuries AFTER the text to inform us about the provenance or origins of the text itself. Those testimonies are evidence of why it was accepted by later generations but NOT evidence for the text’s origins.

              Oh, and not that many people here care, but no-one has ever argued that Mark was written as a fiction and suddenly everyone forgot that and treated it as non-fiction. McGrath has suggested that himself about mythicists and knows from many responses it is not true. So I am sure he was simply too busy to correct Macdonaldjo on this point himself and is grateful I have taken the trouble to do it for him.

              • Macdonaldjo

                I’m sorry Neil.  I must be wrong.  Let’s assume mythicism is true.  Kindly explain how the Gospel of Mark, whose stories and characters were originally, as you said, literary creations with theological messages, came to be regarded by later interpreters as stories about real historical characters.  How could this have happened historically?

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Neil, you said:

                “Oh, and not that many people here care, but no-one has ever argued that Mark was written as a fiction and suddenly everyone forgot that and treated it as non-fiction. McGrath has suggested that himself about mythicists and knows from many responses it is not true. So I am sure he was simply too busy to correct Macdonaldjo on this point himself and is grateful I have taken the trouble to do it for him.”

                Even if what you say here is all true, you have not told us what mythicism does argue for if not scenario that Macdonaldjo described.  I must say that, in this regard, it is a typical response from the mythicists’ side.  That is, you defend yourself vigorously against what you say are false characterizations but never seem to give us what the true characterization should be.  Thus the dialogue doesn’t advance.

                Therefore, let me try to be constructive at this juncture and ask you directly, “If Macdonaldjo’s scenario is an inaccurate characterization of mythicism, what would be the correct characterization?”  In other words, please rearrange Macdonaldjo’s argument into something that represents your position so that we can understand it.

                • Macdonaldjo

                  That’s all I’m asking.  Suggest a model of how it could have happened historically.

  • Brettongarcia

    Does the cultural context verify the real existence of Jesus?  Could someone have just invented him .. without someone objecting in the local COMMUNITIES? 

     
    The first consideration is 1) how well did communication work bad then?  First recall – or discover – just how imperfect communication was in 30 AD; no internet, TV, phones, or easy transportation.  The region was broken up into hundreds of different languages. And dozens of different tiny states.  The level of education was exceedingly poor, even for the time.  While?  The whole region lived in a state that was 2,000 years behind us in scientific and other knowledge.  Could a false rumor have started there, and nobody would firmly know that what was said about someone,  especially in a distant city, esepcially in another country, wAS not true?
     
    2(  Was there a corroborating community around him, tht would make deception impossible on factual matters?  First, that community was – for the times – far away .  But then too?  Consider the case of the Jesus legend.  OftenPaul for example was working in territories that NEVER HEARD OF HIM.  So?  Whatever he said, would be the ONLY account for some time, of Jesus; there would be little local knowledge to oppose him.  (Though what little local knowledge there was, did indeed oppose him and say adamantly that he was wrong).  But by and large for some time, there would be no one much, except from Jerusalem, to contradict him.  While those who WOULD know, many of those from Jerusalem, DID oppose him.
     
    3) While?  For a while, there was a small community here and there – a church of 120 or less – that might have  believed in a “Jesus.”  But?  Note that their beliefs were continually contested, and finally made illegal … by other (better) eyewitnesses.  The rest of the community of Jerusalem.

    4) Then too?  Jerusalem was burned to the ground in 70 AD; which eliminated most of any surviving physical, material evidence; and killed or scattered any remaining personal witnesses.  So that?  After 70 AD, Jerusalem Christianity was effectively destroyed.   And the survivors .. were outside the city;  largely gentiles, with Roman ideas.  Thus cementing Roman/Hellenistic Christianity.  Which was a vague as Paul.

    So what happens when we look at the assertion that surely, no one could have lied about Jesus, or mistook a fiction for the truth, in Jerusalem, say?  Because, allegedly, a community of eyewitnesses would have immediately corrected any such lie?  In fact, it was easily to explain. 

    But in any case?  Countless members of the community DID protest.  That Paul and others like him, were heretics, and liars.  Following a fiction (false dreams, false spirit, probably full of “new wine”).

    4) Then too?  Classic-era scholars confirm that many people in this timeframe, did not even know what “fiction” WAS.  Nearly all writings out of Greece and Rome, believed they were “History”; even the religious ones.  What was written, were overwhelming histories … though which huge amounts of invention in them.   Some scholars once argued that for Greeks and/or Romans, there were no fictional writings at all.  So if a piece of fiction showed up?  It would not even ocur to them that it might be fiction.  At most, they might see it as lies.   

    5) Then too?  Most barely know what a “metaphor” was, or an “allegory.”  The apostles were puzzled by Jesus’ “parables,” and so jesus had to explain them to them.

    So, it is true that no lie, no literary invention, could ever have been passes off as true – in this village community … of rubes?  THINK about this carefully. In the time of Jesus we have an extremely backward, provincial, fragmented group of cultures (relative to our own).  Who would simply not have the sophistication to detect much of anything, in the way of lies, inventions; and especially, fiction.  

     
     

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Oh my, Brettongarcia, how the irony keeps waxing!

      They were “rubes” but we have scientific understanding and sophisticated communication tools.  How then is it that the willful rejection of facts that is  mythicism could never take root in those backward days of antiquity, nor during the intervening centuries, but only in our day and age of modern and post-modern enlightenment?

      • Brettongarcia

        The “facts” being that you yourself can literally walk on water? As the Gospel of John promised you?

  • Brettongarcia

    It’s clear to me that Christians have an emotional tie/committment to Christianity.  That will apparently keep them defending the invisible man that gives them powers to walk on water, endlessly.

  • Claude

    I finally read Richard Carrier’s blistering critique of Did Jesus Exist?. Wow, he sure hates that book. Once past Carrier’s narcissism and breathtaking lack of professional etiquette, there is a great deal of substance to parse. (Don’t some of these guys realize that being totally obnoxious does nothing to further their cause?)

    Now, as an ordinary reader who knows jack about the New Testament, I don’t expect Ehrman’s popular books to be exhaustively sourced (although an index would have been nice). Clearly he synthesizes current scholarship to make a daunting volume of information digestible to the general public and that process necessarily involves omissions and glosses. Ehrman also makes mistakes, which he is quick to acknowledge and address. Carrier obviously thinks Ehrman has been grossly reductionist and careless both in his presentation of the mythicist case and his own arguments for the historicity of Jesus. Not content to deconstruct what he perceives as Ehrman’s shoddy scholarship, Carrier must crush the evildoer.

    Ehrman’s book is so full of egregious factual errors demonstrating his ignorance, sloppiness, and incompetence in this matter, it really doesn’t even need a rebuttal. It can be thrown straight into the trash without any loss to scholarship or humanity. It is, quite simply, wholly unreliable.

    So, I read Carrier’s review suspicious of hyperbole but quite interested in what he had to say. And, curious what others here think of all this, I’ll post an example of my own groping toward a fair assessment of  Carrier’s criticisms.

    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

      Perhaps Carrier hates Ehrman’s book for good reasons.  He exhaustively lists examples of where Ehrman has missed the mark both in his appreciation of the primary data and facts as well as his inability to comprehend and fairly represent the Mythicist literature he so clearly wants to dismiss .  It’s hard to come away from Carrier’s review without recognizing that Ehrman’s conclusions are based on faulty presuppositions, faulty data and faulty logic.

      Whatever you may dislike about Carrier’s confident style, Carrier knows the subject material far better than Ehrman and rightfully points our how Ehrman has made  a series of fatal errors that completely discredit his position and thesis.

      Maybe Bart should just retract the book and try to rewrite the whole mess from scratch.

      -evan

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Evan, you said

        ” It’s hard to come away from Carrier’s review without recognizing that Ehrman’s conclusions are based on faulty presuppositions, faulty data and faulty logic.”

        Hard for who?

        If you’re impressed with Carrier’s argument, there’s something other than logic that accounts for it.

    • Macdonaldjo

      It’s pretty much a pseudo-review that points out a bunch of secondary errors not central to the topic like Acharya S.  Carrier gets back where he should be discussing when he does things like try to defend the dying/rising god issue.  He doesn’t touch the core criticisms of Price and Doherty by Ehrman, which is where mythicists bank most of their Gold.  No real defence of Price and Midrash, of Doherty and the celestial crucified sky savior or the James the Just problem.   That’s really the heart of mythicism, and Carrier ignores them for unimportant secondary issues like the content of ancient Roman letters.   It’s a mediocre review, but I don’t know that he has ever done a professional review for a journal.  Amateur critics often waste a lot of time on secondary issues and don’t tackle the main issues head on.  He repeatedly points out minor errors to Attack Ehrman’s competence but I had hoped for more substance.  But it’s Richard Carrier, so character assasination goes with the territory.

      • Macdonaldjo

        At least that’s what I remember from when I read it early this morning.  I remember thinking he could have essentially have made the same points in 1 fifth the space. 

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          It does seem to be a trait common to mythicist writers to never use one word when ten will do.

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

    Claude, I just posted a relatively brief response to Carrier’s post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/04/carrier-and-other-mythicists-reacting-to-ehrman.html

    Macdonaldjo, I do this at least in part because it disturbs me as an educator who works in this field that people can so badly misunderstand and/or misconstrue what scholars do and have to say on this topic. And I do it at least in part as penance for having been a young-earth creationist in my teenage years for a bit.

    • Macdonaldjo

      I know.  You’re a good man James.  I’ve read some of your stuff and you’re clearly a competent scholar.  Mythicists and fundamentalists have hijacked the internet for so long, it’s good there is a voice of reason out there.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      I think your engagement on this subject has also been helpful because there are many people who, with too little time to pursue academic degrees, use the Internet to seek knowledge on matters as they become personally important.  Mythicists speak with great confidence.  They quote  far more sources than most seekers have time to check out for themselves.  And they write so voluminously that most seekers are simply overwhelmed with far more assertions than they have time to check out (e.g. Earl Doherty’s 800-page tome).  Such writings hardly ever get to the point.  Instead, they take the reader on arduous journeys that wear down any resistance to the claims being made.  It’s like watching an infomercial – if you don’t pull yourself away, you’re eventually going to give in and buy those knives.  Mythicism overwhelms the mind with seemingly relevant thoughts which are, to a large degree red herrings.  Concomitant with this are emotional appeals for acceptance, and stigmas for those who don’t.  Mythicism is very cult-like in that regard.  Even at its best, it’s like a religious denomination.

      If scholars like Ehrman didn’t write a book, or if you didn’t ever deal with it in your blog, then many of these seekers of truth would be left more vulnerable to the mythicists who will simply filibuster some of them into submission.   

    • Claude

      Prof. McGrath, thank you for pointing me to your Carrier post. It was very helpful.

      Thanks also to Evan Effa and Mcdonaldjo for your perspectives.

      I had wondered, for example, why Carrier obsesses about the Pliny citation concerning a reference which Ehrman indicates is minor:

      So at the least we can say that the idea of Jesus having existed was current by the early second century, but the reference of Pliny does not provide us with much more than that.

      I reread Ehrman’s section on Pliny, and, aside from the citation error, he didn’t appear to misrepresent the situation, which Carrier grudgingly acknowledges: “And that’s kind of what Ehrman confusingly says.” What’s the big deal, then?

    • Macdonaldjo

      Well, it’s been nice to meet you Dr. McGrath.  It’s been fun posting on your blog for a few days.  Goodbye.

      John Andrew MacDonald

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt:

    Whereas the Bible itself, didn’t use its own  infinite impenetrability and polysemy, as a similar trap? 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      One does not have to read the entirety of the Bible to understand its argument – quite unlike mythicist books.
      Moreover, the Bible is a bound collection of scores of discrete books, each of which can be read on its own to profit – unlike mythicist books.

      Lastly, one of the longest books of the Bible (Psalms) is itself a collection of 150 or more discrete elements, each of which can be read singularly to profit – unlike  mythicist books.

      Mythicists don’t want to condense their arguments for the same reason that the emperor finally realized it wasn’t advantageous to promenade.  

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    So you are a Christian who feels no particular necessity to read the whole Bible?  And who feels that just a few passages are all one needs? 

    But on the other hand, you insist that Mythicists deal with the full spectrum of things, of “facts” as you call them?

    If one can be forgiven for not looking at it all?  Then let’s formulate an apologetic for Ehrman.  Carriet notes a few mistakes in Ehrman; enough to invalidate Ehrman as A CLASSSICIST.  But not quite enough to invalidate him as a religious commentator.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      I am someone who believes in Christ, that He was raised from the dead and that He is Lord of the universe.  I treasure the Bible and love reading it.  However, I would not say to someone, “Unless you read the whole Bible you cannot understand the point it’s trying to make.”  Conversely, this is what I hear mythicists say about Doherty’s book and mythicism.  

      When asked to outline their theory of how a mythological Jesus came to be regarded as historical, mythicists seem only able to tell you to read one of the long mythicist books.  As for relating to Jesus, all you have to know is that He was crucified, resurrected, and that if you talk to Him He will listen.  And if you walk with Him, He will walk with you.

  • Claude

    Mike Gantt’s upbeat Christianity is charming. There are times I envy you, Mr. Gantt.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Claude,

      If you seriously engage Him, it is you who will be the envy of others.

      • Claude

        Mr. Gantt: I can’t engage him in the sense that I think you mean, but I appreciate the sentiment!

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt:

    But what if I said, all you need to do is given Mythicism a chance; and if you do, it will walk with you and guide you, to a better idea of Christ and truth?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Mythicism is not a person, nor is it true.  Therefore, it could not fulfill the promises you suggest for it.

  • Brettongarcia

    Or better said?  Correcting myself? 

    There are lots of biblical scholars and theologians who feel that if you don’t read all of the Bible, or great chunks of it, you will probably come up with a false idea of Christ. 

    Or as I would put that in Fundamentalist/Evangelical/ apocalyptic language?  You will have been following what the Bible called a “False Christ.”

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      The true Christ is simple and straightforward: love Him above all, and consider those around you more important than yourself.

      Most of the arguments you see among Christians are about issues other than simply trusting and obeying Him.  

      Following His example is more important than writing a theology.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Neil,

    You strike me as a serious, thoughtful, and sincere person.  It continues to puzzle me therefore why you defend the mythicist position.  It has so little to commend itself to a person like you.  

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

       Well Mike, you strike me as a serious, faith-based sincere person. I have no puzzlement about why you defend the historical truth of the Bible. But I think I am more interested in studying Christian origins by the same methods historians study the origins of anything. You and theologians and bible scholars generally are coming at the question from the perspective of centuries old ideology.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Actually, it was history and logic that led me to faith – not the theological route you describe.

        To be more specific, I have always loved history (though I am not a historian).  I didn’t begin reading the New Testament until I was an agnostic in my late 20′s.  The documents struck me as historically sound.  And the rest, as they say…is history.

        It is my historical bent that causes me to recoil at mythicist readings of the New Testament documents as particularly unnatural.  

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

           “the documents struck [you] as historically sound” — how did they do that?

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            A few months ago my wife came across a letter that her uncle had written her  father when they were both soldiers in World War II.  There were some things in the letter I understood, some references that they made that I couldn’t understand, and some things that I thought I at least partially understood.  It was a product of its times, but some things never change.

            Galatians was one of the first documents of the New Testament that I read.  It struck me the same way.  

  • David

    I’m not Christian, neither do I count myself as an Atheist anymore, though I was raised one, and I’m not American either, but, I have to know, why do so many people devote so much time and energy to the theory that Jesus never existed, I mean, I’ve literally seen loads of blogs, websites, and self-published books with page after page attacking the existence of Jesus, and the amount of info that gets put on their websites, IMO, shows they have an unhealthy obsession with this theory.  

    Does anyone who blogs actually have a job?, do they have friends and good social life, off the internet (Twitter/Facebook/whatever Social Network you belong too friends do not count as real, BTW, as, and here’s a shock, the internet isn’t reality!)?. 

    Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised Christian, but, I don’t see the reason why there’s such a fanatical devotion to proving Jesus didn’t exist, just seriously get a life, and, BTW, in case I’m accused of attacking the Christ Mythicers (seriously, that isn’t even a real word), I’d say the same to anyone who was fanatically obsessed with a subject, be it religion, dieting, food, porn, whatever, etc. 

    Is this all the internet is good for?, getting into pathetic arguments and counting how many people like your blog posts or how many “friends” you have on a pathetic social network?, no wonder my lecturers at Uni told me that the internet is worthless for scholarly sources? (Oh my, have I offended those who spend hours updating their blogs, Facebook status, websites, Twitter accounts, etc?!!).

    Anyway, James, I quite liked your post, but, maybe, you should consider just not responding to the Mythicists – starve them of what they truly crave (which is publicity and attention, their version of oxygen).

    BTW, if anyone attacks my post or spends time typing out a response as to why I just haven’t seen the evidence or why I should care that Jesus may not have existed, don’t bother, I won’t be reading your responses (I rarely do read blog comments, I’m young and have a life).

    • Claude

      I could well be off the mark, but the mythicists strike me as a classic case of avant-gardism, perceiving themselves as embattled revolutionaries possessed of groundbreaking verities that challenge an Academy too invested in orthodoxy and self-preservation to embrace the new order. Hence their fervor and absolutism. The irony, of course, is that they crave legitimacy from the very powers they seek to overthrow. Hence the hysteria following Ehrman’s book, which could be summed up as: “Mythicists, you got nothin’.”
      I also get the impression that individuals who have been traumatized by religion are particularly drawn to the idea that Jesus wasn’t really real. It appears to be liberating to them.

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

        I suspect you are well off the mark as you feared when you speak of “fervour and absolutism” among mythicists. (Again, a reading with hostile intent?) The fact is that one of the most prominent mythicists today changed his mind about Jesus not having existed and came to think that there was just such a person behind the Q sayings.

        I think you will find, if you get to know a few, that there are mythicists (probably most of the ones I know) who would have no problem tossing the whole thing and accepting there was a Jesus after all. It makes no difference to being an atheist whether Jesus existed or not. If some athiests have an agenda to attack Christianity then they fully understand that the best way to do that is to NOT argue mythicism — as John Loftus so sensibly notes.

        The hostility and absolutism comes from many of the opponents of mythicism, in my experience. (Not all. I have spoken to a couple of scholars of the historical Jesus who, while not accepting mythicist arguments, are by no means hostile and by no means feel threatened by it. “If the Jews can get along without an historical Abraham then why not the Christians without an historical Jesus?”)

        • Claude

          If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. I have a lot practice in that regard.

        • Macdonaldjo

          Dear Mr. Godfrey:

          I’m sorry to bother you.  I’m not in this discussion any more, but I was passing by the web site and wanted to gently remind you that Mike Gantt asked you a question, and you still have not replied.  I know, things slip my mind some times too.  Anyway, to refresh your memory, here is Mike’s question:

          Neil said: “Oh, and not that many people here care, but no-one has ever argued that Mark was written as a fiction and suddenly everyone forgot that and treated it as non-fiction. McGrath has suggested that himself about mythicists and knows from many responses it is not true. So I am sure he was simply too busy to correct Macdonaldjo on this point himself and is grateful I have taken the trouble to do it for him.”

          Mike said: “Even if what you say here is all true, you have not told us what mythicism does argue for if not scenario that Macdonaldjo described. I must say that, in this regard, it is a typical response from the mythicists’ side. That is, you defend yourself vigorously against what you say are false characterizations but never seem to give us what the true characterization should be. Thus the dialogue doesn’t advance.

          Therefore, let me try to be constructive at this juncture and ask you directly, “If Macdonaldjo’s scenario is an inaccurate characterization of mythicism, what would be the correct characterization?” In other words, please rearrange Macdonaldjo’s argument into something that represents your position so that we can understand it.”

          I imagine Mike is waiting patiently for a reply, so if you don’t mind, now you can elaborate on how the Gospel of Mark, whose stories and characters were originally, as you said, fictional literary creations with theological messages, later came to be regarded by interpreters as stories about real historical characters.  Please be kind enough and suggest a model of how your interpretattion could have happened historically. 

          Thank you for your time, and have a nice evening,

          Yours truly,

          John Andrew MacDonald 

          • Macdonaldjo

            “interpretation” lol bad spelling

    • Claude

      Also–you’re not American. I don’t know if you live in America, but it is a very religious country. In fact, that’s one reason I, an unbeliever, decided to pay more attention to religion. And certainly Jesus is one of the most tantalizing enigmas in history.

      A person cannot be elected president of the US unless they profess to be a Christian. Incredible, really, but there it is.

  • http://meta-yoga.com/ Ananda

    Alarming and disheartening in this age to see all most the complete dismissal of miracles and the supernatural by mythists, historians, atheists, agnostics as well as apologists when that very same is not only a cause but also the very fabric of historical traditions in philosophical, psychological and cosmological allegory that not only transcends cultural boundaries and time but also mundane reason especially when you’re given clues ahead of time, hay this is a spiritual story.  In the beginning was the word and she had long red hair, lived in LA and had flowers in her hair as well as everywhere and THE ALL loved her. She crept into everyone’s mind and THE ALL knew as well as new feelings arose with thoughts of marriage and a rose.
    Commentary:
    R. Carrier ~ “The miracle at Cana is something John just made up. He did not “have a source” for it. And even if he did, that source made it up. Obviously.”
    ~ Its common knowledge in alchemy. The first miracle, degree, transformation every seeker must perform is mastering the red thread of passion. There does exist a member more unruly than the tongue…lol
    R. Carrier ~ That’s why no one had ever heard of it before, or anything even remotely like it before, and why it involved a patently impossible event (the transmutation of matter; or if you have a rationalist bent, a deceptive magician’s trick that would make no sense in context and could not have any plausible motive).
    ~ Even more pragmatic than rational for the context is Holy marriage with white tantra and the motive is compassionate instruction for the quickening…lol or awake sleeping consciousness and practice sahaja maithuna. The sixth Arcanum of the Tarot, The Lovers and Indecision. Water is the second chakra. Blind endless passion must be transformed into the wine of equanimity. High equanimity walks on top of the waters of the cares, riches and pleasures of the world. (Heavens-Jhanas) Transforming lead into gold or water into wine in the west is synonymous with raising that old serpent kundalini in the east.
    R. Carrier ~ There is no argument for historicity here. The story is false. And false stories cannot support the existence of real people.
    ~ Well how about a real story with false people….lol, still today real people  do marry and practice enlightenment.
     
    Is it out of bounds for believing and disbelieving historians to come out of the shadows of the body for without the flesh  ,bones and marrow of the matter there is no comprehension only the living of a myth. Pushing words up the mountain all day long only for them to roll back down the next, o poor Sisyphus.
     
    metta,

    Thunder

    p.s. This applys to Bart and Richard  equally as well as the remanider of humanity.

  • John MacDonald

    Like I said, it’s easy when you’re ther smartest person in the room.
    Now pay for your ticket or God will kill your fucking Jew Asses
    Written and Directed By John Andrew MacDonald
    Senator Palpatine
    Star Wars, Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith
    as I said to Hoffmann, genre is a clue,
    Tragedy,
    Balls
    Fuck, Fuck, Fuck  the policle, go fuck them

    :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jSMTcx69-Q

    Peace Everyone
     Fin

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFSMXPmeX8s&list=PL213F899A77C9C262&index=4&feature=plpp_video

    aka William Shakespeare

  • Pingback: Bart D. Ehrman, author of Did Jesus Exist?, on tour March/April 2012 | TLC Book Tours


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