Richard Carrier Illustrates Historical Jesus Methodology

While one might or might not see fit to dispute Richard Carrier’s specific conclusions in his recent post, “The Dying Messiah Redux,” I think that the most important thing to note is the approach to history that it illustrates.

Carrier argues that, because certain views expressed in Jewish literature from several centuries after the rise of Christianity would not have been invented by Jews in that period, or indeed once Christianity became widespread, they must predate the rise of Christianity.

That principle is one that is well-known by those who are involved in the historical study of Jesus. Material in sources, even if they are disconcertingly later, are likely to contain information from an earlier period if it is inherently unlikely that the material was invented subsequently.

This is, of course, a basic working principle that historians use regularly. I confess that I still have yet to read and review Carrier’s book on the use of Bayes’ Theorem in historical study. But it is good to see that he still considers valid this generally-accepted mode of arguing about historical probability. If only mythicists would learn from his example. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed mythicists either objecting to the use of such reasoning, or claiming that it is limited to the quest for the historical Jesus.

As for the rest of the post, I will leave it to Thom Stark to reply to most of it – if he does, it will inevitably be at ridiculously great length, if past precedent is anything to go by. Carrier’s view that the Dead Sea Scrolls envisage a Messiah who will offer himself as a sacrifice in an eschatological Day of Atonement seems to read much more into the texts in question than they actually say. I can only assume that he considers it self-evident that the term translated “cut off” in Daniel 9:26 can only mean “killed,” which suggests he may unwittingly be reading it through the lens of later Christian interpreters. He also may be assuming that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls cared about the original contexts of verses that they quoted, which anyone who has delved into their peshers will know is debatable. But again, such considerations are perhaps best left to one side for the time being, since they are not my focus in this post.

I will, however, point out one thing. Near the middle of his post, Carrier wrote the following:

“Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” remains a plausible hypothesis…

I don’t see a problem with this statement as such. It could be, for instance, that Jesus saw himself as destined to be a dying Messiah that others had also discussed, even if the only actual evidence we have for such a view is written much later, and even if it remains likely from the literary evidence we have that most if not all Jews preferred their Anointed Ones to be victorious. All that is neither here nor there when it comes to the question of a historical Jesus – whether the expectation of a Messiah who would die existed prior to Christianity is not determinative of the historicity of Jesus, any more than the existence of Roman Emperors prior to Hadrian (for instance) is decisive about Hadrian’s existence.

But I would point out that Christians did not merely expect a Messiah who would die. They believed that the Messiah had died. And that surely has relevance to whether or not there was a historical Jesus. Perhaps others expected such a figure. Christians believed – and we have no evidence that their contemporaries disputed this point – that the figure had in fact appeared and had died. That is the key point when it comes to the existence of a historical figure of Jesus – which I realize was not the focus of Carrier’s post, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t point out the relevance of his post to mythicism, as others are bound to in this way or that.

  • Neil Godfrey

    Can you clarify? Are you saying that Christians believed Jesus was qualified to be a messiah even though he had no victorious accomplishment but only a death?

  • Neil Godfrey

    McGrath wrote: “Material in sources, even if they are disconcertingly later, are
    likely to contain information from an earlier period if it is inherently
    unlikely that the material was invented subsequently. . . . . This
    is, of course, a basic working principle that historians use regularly. . . . If only mythicists would learn from his
    example”

    This is surprising given that James McGrath claims to have read Earl Doherty’s book since he has no doubt read mythicist Doherty’s own use of exactly this argument himself on occasion. Twubble is, Doherty gets attacked for it as an invalid methodology by historicists for his efforts.

    McGrath also writes: “I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed mythicists either objecting
    to the use of such reasoning, or claiming that it is limited to the
    quest for the historical Jesus.”

    The difference is in that key phrase, “if it is inherently
    unlikely that the material was invented subsequently”. Now — how does one decide that? Are there methods? Or is it a case that there are sound methodological grounds for concluding the likeliness in some instances while in others there is nothing but a “could have been derived from an earlier source” argument? Is there a method or is there simply a “could have been therefore was” assumption?

    Big difference.

  • Tom Verenna

    “I can only assume that he considers it self-evident that the term
    translated “cut off” in Daniel 9:26 can only mean “killed,” which
    suggests he may unwittingly be reading it through the lens of later
    Christian interpreters.”

    James, excellent post, thank you. I may write something fuller in a minute or two, but wanted to be clear that the phrase ‘cut-off’ is generally accepted to mean ‘killed’, i.e., the interpreters of Dan. 9 used the phrase to talk about Onias III, who did die, so in this context it definitely does mean ‘killed’ and it was certainly interpreted this way by the Gnostics when they wrote Melchizedek. So while it doesn’t eo ipso mean ‘killed’, in the interpretation of this phrase from Daniel 9, it probably does–with a higher probability than any other meaning, and enough probability that it is unlikely that its interpreters used it to mean something else.

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

      Thanks for your comment, Tom! As I also said on your blog, there has been discussion about whether “cut off” refers to the exile of Onias III or his murder. But Carrier is at any rate emphatic that the original referenceto Onias is not determinative of the text’s meaning for the Qumran group, and if his point is accepted, then it would be problematic to then require that the word translated “cut off” be limited to what it may have meant in its original context.

  • Landon Hedrick

    “All that is neither here nor there when it comes to the question of a historical Jesus – whether the expectation
    of a Messiah who would die existed prior to Christianity is not
    determinative of the historicity of Jesus, any more than the existence
    of Roman Emperors prior to Hadrian (for instance) is decisive about
    Hadrian’s existence.”

    Suppose somebody argued like this: The fact that no pre-Christian Jews expected the messiah to suffer and die is excellent evidence that Jesus of Nazareth did exist, since his followers claimed that he was the messiah and that he had suffered and died. The only way this group would have made such claims about the messiah is if they believed Jesus to be the messiah while he was alive, and then Jesus ended up getting killed, and then they had to somehow square that fact with their previous beliefs about him.

    I take it you don’t think such an argument would be at all convincing. This argument, after all, relies on the assumption that no pre-Christian Jews expected the messiah to suffer and die. So, if proving that assumption false has no bearing on the historicity of Jesus, neither would proving the assumption true have any being on the historicity of Jesus.

    Or perhaps you just want to say this: It might constitute some evidence for the historicity of Jesus if it proves true, but it just isn’t “decisive.” (You do say that it isn’t “determinative of the historicity of Jesus,” though I don’t know whether you mean that it doesn’t provide evidence for the historicity of Jesus or, instead, that it doesn’t provide decisive evidence for the historicity of Jesus.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

    I guess the reason that Dr. Carrier is interested in establishing that the Jews anticipated a dying Messiah, is to counter the Criterion of Embarrassment. Which often cites the lack of expectation of a Messiah, to “prove” or suggest that the event must be true and real; since the death was included, even over and against any lack of anticipation of any such event. In attempting to establish that Jewish tradition DID include some anticipation of a dying Messiah, Carrier is probably interested in establishing that there WAS such an expectation; in order to defeat the Embarrassment arguement for the genuineness of the crucifixion.
    1) But I suggest here first of all, that Carrier needn’t have bothered to even address the so-called Criterion of Embarrassment.
    In part because after all, the Criterion is rather silly and flawed. Since in effect it argues that if something that seems really stupid or inconsistent, appears in a tradition? It must be true; since, as they say, “no one would make that kind of thing up.” But here the “Criterion of Embarrasment” ends up … deifying stupidity and inconsistency itself. The dumber something is, the more true it must be? I suggest we can safely ignore the Criterion of Embarrassment. And its alleged argument for the genuiness of the crucifixion.
    2) Personally moreover? I feel that there really wasn’t much JEWISH anticipation of a Messiah, or a dying MESSIAH properly speaking. There was a) much anticipation of a “lord” or “king” that would save Israel, and punish its enemies, like David; and there was b) anticipation of God himself returning to do this too, on the Day of the Lord. But there was in fact very little to indicate a Messiah – or even less, God – showing up and … dying. At least, in Old Testament/Torah Jewish thought.
    3) Though however? Carrier is partially right – but is looking in the wrong places to establish what he wants to say. In fact, there was lots and lots of thinking, advocacy, of Jewish HEROES, dying as MARTYRS. In say 2 Mac. 7. Jewish leaders, heroes, dying for their country; but by dying, somehow achieving a moral victory.
    4) Finally moreover? In spite of the Maccabean revolt against Hellenistic influence, the anticipation of a dying messiah, I suggest here and elsewhere (on Neil’s blog), probably came from – or in any case is best found in – not classic Old Testament/Torah Judaism … but ironically, from GRECO-ROMAN thought. Where the martyr, dying for his country and god, was a major part of Greek legend (Thermopylae, Socrates). And of course, the ideal of a hero, dying to save his country and god, was projected by Roman rulers/gods, as the ideal for Romans and Roman soldiers especially.
    So Carrier is partially right: around the time of Jesus, there WERE many key traditions in place that would contribute to expectations of, legends of, a dying savior. Specifically I suggest: of one who would die to save his country. This though was not such a popular Idea in mainstream Torah culture; though key elements of it are found in Maccabean ideas about heroic martyrs. But especially it was a popular idea, being spread around the Middle East, by the Mediterranean conquests of Greece, and Rome, from about 300 BC.
    How widespread were Greek and Roman ideas becoming? Alexander the Great spread Greek culture widely, from about 300 BC. While Greco-Roman ideas would have been even more prevalent, when Jerusalem came under direct Roman control, with Pompey c. 64 BC. Especially for a c. 30 AD Jerusalem that was governed by a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
    Under such pressures, a Jewish culture whose conservative elements normally rejected alien and Hellenistic influences adamantly … would have been under considerable cultural pressure to increasingly adopt many Greco-Roman mandates, and cultural ideas. Including? Partially Jewish but also quite Hellenistic ideas, of heroic martyrs, dying to save their country.
    The heric martry, dying to save his country, i suggest, is one of the main contributing legends, myths, cultural stereotypes, that eventually fed into the Jesus legend. And that makes cultural, even traditional sense of the crucifixion.

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

      Bretton Garcia, I really do wish that you would at least make an attempt at finding out what the “criterion of embarassment” is and how it works before commenting on it. It is a line of reasoning that Carrier himself uses in his post and which I highlighted his use of in this one.

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

    Thom Stark has posted part one of his reply to Richard Carrier’s reply to his reply to him…
    http://religionatthemargins.com/2012/06/it-is-finished-for-richard-carriers-dying-messiah-part-1/

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

    James has unfortunately broken off diplomatic relations and will not reply directly to me. I need a third party to ask a question and solicit a reply. Any takers?

    James says that Christians did not “merely expect a Messiah who would die. They believed that the Messiah had died.” This is unclear to me at least.

    I will give James the benefit of the doubt and assume that he did not mean to add “merely” to his sentence. I am sure he did not mean to suggest that there were Christians before Jesus who were expecting a Messiah who would die or that Christians after Jesus still expected such an event.

    But my question is: What was the full content of the Christian belief in relation to the Messiah? What was the full content of that Christian belief pertaining to the Messiah? It surely could not have been that they believed a Messiah was one who was to die. That makes no sense at all. Everyone dies. So what does James think was that earliest Christian understanding of Messiah in full — in addition to one who had died?

    To my thinking it makes a lot of sense if these earliest Christians believed Jesus was a great conqueror who conquered all the peoples (gentiles) a messiah was expected to conquer. But what was his secret weapon to enable that conquest? Great powerful displays in nature with angels and meteorites? Or — most subtle of all — his death, as we learn from Paul?

    If the death of Jesus was his means of conquering these peoples (beginning with their demonic rulers in the heavens) as Paul himself repeatedly indicates, then there was no conceptual difference between Paul’s/the Christians’ messiah and the Jewish messiah of the Second Temple era. The only difference was the means by which he won the victory.

    This makes sense to me at least, but I confess I have picked up the idea from a scholar who is by no means a mythicist.

    But if all of the above makes any sense at all — and peer-reviewed journals have published this very idea over recent years — then it follows, surely, that such an idea is more compatible with Earl Doherty’s thesis of Christian origins than with a model that holds to a real human smashing his followers’ hopes by getting himself killed.

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

    As anyone who reads the exchange can see, I repeatedly emphasized in comments here that I meant the opposite of what he claimed I did, and he nevertheless proceeded to misrepresent me on his blog, because apparently my repeated protestations of “No” and “I meant the very opposite of what you are claiming I do” to him were not enough. And so I am not sure what would be gained by trying to do the same once again, since there has no indication that Godfrey has repented of his previous tendency to deliberately misrepresent.

    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

      I would think the best approach would be to clarify each and every statement Godfrey asks you about (love the sinner, you know). If he chooses to misrepresent you again and again, well, that’s between him and his god. Beyond taking the high road, it would probably improve the clarity in your writing.

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

        Mark, I would genuinely like to know how I could have been clearer than I was. I made repeated reference in the post, the comments, and elsewhere, to ways that scholars investigating the historical Jesus have sought to make criteria more explicit and the standard of evidence required higher than in the case of any other figure in history, because anything connected with Jesus gets disputed and dissected to a much greater degree. Godfrey insisted that I meant that those working in the historical figure of Jesus use completely different methods than historians and scholars working on any other figure use. I am not sure that I clarified my meaning the full 70×7 times that might have illustrated a Biblical level of forgiveness of Godfrey’s sins against me, but at this stage I think it would be tedious to go back and count them all.

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

          I made repeated reference in the post, the comments, and elsewhere, to ways that scholars investigating the historical Jesus have sought to make criteria more explicit and the standard of evidence required higher than in the case of any other figure in history, because anything connected with Jesus gets disputed and dissected to a much greater degree.

          Dr. McGrath,

          I think that this comment gets to the nub of my skepticism about the entire historical Jesus enterprise. When I hear that a higher standard of evidence is required, I think in terms of “beyond a reasonable doubt” as being higher than “preponderance of the evidence.” The only way to meet a higher standard is by producing more evidence and/or better evidence. Without more or better evidence, the only effect of a higher standard is to reduce the level of certainty.

          Unfortunately, there is no way to come up with more or better evidence for the historical Jesus. All we have, and all we are ever likely to have, is that same group of problematic documents that scholars have been poring over for centuries. As far as I can tell, all scholars really do is go over that same evidence again and again with a finer and finer comb. I don’t see how that makes the standard of evidence any higher.

          To my mind, historical Jesus scholars are like the people who keep trying to dissect the Zapruder film in the hopes of trying to find some new clue to Kennedy’s assassination. It doesn’t matter how many times you stare at the thing, it has no new mysteries to reveal. That film has told us everything that it is going to tell us.
          You might fiddle around at the margins, but if you ask for a higher standard of evidence, all you can do is acknowledge a greater degree of uncertainty.

          • J. J. Ramsey

            To my mind, historical Jesus scholars are like the people who keep trying to dissect the Zapruder film in the hopes of trying to find some new clue to Kennedy’s assassination.

            Funny, that’s about what I think of the mythicists. They keep looking at the film over and over to find something that contradicts the “lone gunman” explanation and fits with their conspiracy theory.

            Mythicists have had hundreds of years to come up with a coherent explanation for how the New Testament and related documents could have arisen from a mythical Jesus, and time and time again, what they have offered has been pseudohistorical claptrap that is speculative at best and disingenuous at worst. If it is that hard to explain the NT, Josephus, etc., in terms of mythicism, that tells me that historicism is probably true.

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

              I think that my remarks apply equally to any mythicist who claims to be applying a higher standard of evidence.

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

          Dr McGrath writes: ” I am not sure that I clarified my meaning the full 70×7 times that might have illustrated a Biblical level of forgiveness of Godfrey’s sins against me, but at this stage I think it would be tedious to go back and count them all.”

          The maths is easy, James. 0+0+0+0+0+0+0+0+0+0=0

          But I will make it even easier for you. Just quote me one comment of yours in our exchanges that did indeed provide the clarification I was asking for.

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

            As anyone who clicks through will see, even though I was clear from the outset, I tried providing additional clarification, as well as unambiguous and emphatic statements indicating that I did not mean what Neil Godfrey claimed. But to no avail. I have no interest in doing the same again unless I see some change in Godfrey’s tactics, accompanied by an apology for past misdeeds.

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

              I’m “anyone” and I have clicked through and this is what I see:

              [In my link #1:] I ask you for a specific example to illustrate your claim that other historians tweak and refine basic processes to suit their area of history.

              Your reply? To give an example from Vansina where he embraced the standard method without any tweaking or refinement.

              My response? To point out to you the plain fact for anyone to read that Vansina actually used the method without any tweaking, refinement or modification in any way, shape or form.

              Your response? Insult.

              [In my link #2;] I ask you about your claim that other historians (like biblical scholars, you say) refine and tweak methods to suit their area of research and if I have understood you correctly.

              Your reply? That I am wrong (no explanation why or where I am wrong) and that your earlier example was valid — but no argument to overturn what is plainly there for all to see, that there was no tweaking by Vansina. Just blanket assertion in defiance of the facts and no attempt to show me where I was wrong or how V “tweaked” anything.

              [In my link #3:] I spell out in detail how Vansina used the methods without any tweaking whatever.

              Your response? Insult and change the subject. . . . .

              Do you want me to spell out your responses to the rest of my requests for an explanation or clarification?

        • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

          My point wasn’t about last post, but this one. Here’s the question: Are you saying That Christians believed Jesus was qualified to be a messiah even though he had no victorious accomplishment but only death?

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

            Mark, I do not find that question particularly clearly worded, and it seems to me to be asking not for clarification of what I wrote, but something else. So could you perhaps explain how this question relates to the content and subject matter of this post?

            Neil Godfrey often asks strangely-worded questions seemingly intentionally trying to either direct the discussion away from the original topic or to make it seem as though the person is admitting something, when all they are trying to do is to get through to him and get him to see that his claims about historical study in general, and the quest for the historical Jesus in particular, are either badly mistaken or deliberately misrepresenting the actual state of affairs.

            So why don’t you just ask your own question, in your own words, or at least say what you understand the question to be asking and how it relates to what I wrote in this post?

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

            Good luck, Mark! I see from James’ first reply to you that you are going to have the same run around if you try to pin the good doctor down on anything he says. And as James himself acknowledges in his reply, — and we do have to give him credit here — he knows damn well that what he has said is indefensible nonsense but something inside him simply won’t ever allow him to admit it — he knows that he is being forced to think clearly but that could mean coming face to face with the muddled fuzziness and contradictions at the heart of historicism and his circular methodologies unique to biblical studies.

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

              Once again, Neil Godfrey is misrepresenting. I am confident that Mark, if he is not simply an alias of Neil Godfrey’s, will be able to pose the question he wants to ask in a clear way. I hope he will do so.

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

                McGrath: “to pose the question he wants to ask in a clear way”

                Translation: Drop it. Ask me something else.

              • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                Of course I’m not an alias of Godfrey’s! What happened to Christian charit-(able assumptions)? I will try to remain as simple as possible. “They believed that the Messiah had died.” Why did they believe the person who died was a Messiah? He wasn’t victorious.

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

                  That is a great, clear question, Mark! It is possible that he told them he was the Messiah. We have authentic sayings which give him a preeminent role in the kingdom of God that he predicted would soon dawn. When he told his chosen group of Twelve that they would sit on Twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, he was not elevating them above himself, and indeed, his authority to appoint them to such roles implied his own role.

                  The group centered on Jesus expected him to be victorious. And the reason Christianity continued was precisely because the group that came to be known as Christians believed that even death would not stop Jesus from eventually conquering, one day.

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

                    Well congratulations, Mark. You have elicited a clear direct response from our Doctor! A remarkable achievement.

                    So, the answer to my original question, “Are you saying that Christians believed Jesus was qualified to be a messiah even though he had no victorious accomplishment but only a death?” is a simple “Yes!”

                    Now why on earth could not Dr McGrath have simply said so from the beginning?!

                    Or am I misrepresenting you, Dr McGrath?

          • Guest

            Good luck, Mark! I see from James’ first reply to you that you are going to have the same run around if you try to pin the good doctor down on anything he says. And as James himself acknowledges in his reply, — and we do have to give him credit here — he knows damn well that what he has said is indefensible nonsense but something inside him simply won’t ever allow him to admit it — he knows that he is being forced to think clearly but that could mean coming face to face with the muddled fuzziness and contradictions at the heart of historicism and his circular methodologies unique to biblical studies.

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

      James, you write: “because apparently my repeated protestations of “No” and “I meant the very opposite of what you are claiming I do” to him were not enough”

      No, James. That’s the problem. You never did say anything like that whenever I was asking you for clarifications.

      I gave the links to our exchange. Point out which one of those you answered directly as you now claim. You cannot do that. You never explained to me where my paraphrase was wrong or what you originally meant. Never. Not once.

      You only have to read the exchanges between us — I have linked to the key comments in a couple of them so readers and you can see exactly how you responded — to see that the problem is that you NEVER DID clarify your position.

      You just did not give an unequivocal reply and I have just provided the links to demonstrate this. Every time you equivocated and waved your hand at the original statement that you always insist was “clear enough”.

      And you nearly always ended up saying that you answered my question but
      you never did. It’s simply not there. If it is you can point to a link
      to show me I am wrong.

      And you are doing it all over AGAIN NOW. I asked you for a clarification on what you meant about the messiah and early Christian belief and you refuse to clarify yourself. You just don’t ever do it. Instead you lash out with a personal attack.

      Would you like me to provide more links to prove my point more thoroughly?

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

      James, why not try to prove your case (if not for me then for the others) just this once and provide the clarification I specifically sought re your remark about messianic expectations and death of Jesus?

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

      Neil says something funny a few comments down about having
      some free time. He apparently has lots and lots of free time. I wouldn’t bother
      with responding either, he is a troll. He misrepresents what others say, what
      he says, changes subjects, etc. Basically dialogue with him is bore that has no
      edifying purpose. I’m sure he’ll keep posting demanding some audience, but I
      would just let have his tantrum till he passes out from oxygen loss. I’ve lost track of what he even wants to talk
      about. I think he is just parasitically using your blog as an additional
      platform to express his ill-conceived views just in case not enough people
      swing by “vridar”.

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

      James, you will be happy to be reminded that far from misrepresenting your words on my blog I quoted you in full, along with context, so readers could make up their own minds about your words — and I included links so they were all free to check for themselves. In none of your responses have you ever once taken the trouble to explain exactly how I misrepresented you, what I got wrong, or what you in fact really did mean by way of clarification. Just blanket declaration that I misrepresented you. mmmmmm

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

    Mark, as you can see, a clear question gets a clear answer. Anyone familiar with the Gospels or other early Christian sources would be aware of the ambiguity in asking whether Jesus did anything “victorious.” From whose perspective? Christians managed to turn even the cross into a victory. Some Gospel authors told stories about exorcisms which they understood as victories over the forces of darkness. Healings were understood in the same way. And so clarity and nuance are crucial, and the importance of such precision often seems to be lost on the mythicists.

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

      Ah, now we are getting even more clarity and refinement to the answer. It never rains but it pours! So we are now learning that the original statement claiming that the key point about the disciples’ attribution of messiahship to Jesus was his Death was not quite true. It was much more than his mere death after all. The original statement was incomplete.

      What Dr McGrath appears to mean — and I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong — is that the disciples may have heard, and believed, Jesus himself saying he was the Messiah, and that they interpreted his exorcisms and healings as victories over darkness, and his death as a victory, too.

      Now that makes some sense in the light of Jewish understandings of “messiah” in that period. A messiah was a victor, a conqueror, by definition. So when Jesus dies, the disciples see even his death as a victory. So in other words, the disciples are not radically departing from the fundamental meaning of “messiah” in their own day at all.

      A messiah was a conqueror and ruler. Jesus rules over the powers of darkness and death.

      If interpretations of the messiah varied according to the political circumstances of the time then this makes a lot of sense. In the face of political powerlessness it was natural to put a spiritual spin on the messianic concept — and the Christians were not the only ones to do this. We see this sort of interpretation emerging in Jewish apocrypha of the period.

      In other words, there appears to be nothing that is strikingly unique or “otherwise inexplicable” about Christians attributing a messiahship to a person who dies — if that death can be interpreted as a means to victory.

    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

      So if Christians turned the cross into victory, the messiah had nothing to do with it, right?

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

        “The Messiah” is a category that historians cannot place anyone in. History is only about what some people believed about one or more messiahs they expected or about an individual they identified as the/an anointed one. But trying to get past that to what I think your question is asking, there is disagreement about what if anything Jesus said about his death prior to it occurring, There are some strang candidates for sayings and actions which suggest that Jesus anticipated his own death and did not escape from it when he could have. But historians are understandably suspicious that sayings interpreting Jesus’ death might be vaticinia ex eventu – “prophecies” created after the fact and retrojected onto the lips of Jesus.

        • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

          I’m afraid that you’re being a bit dense, James. I was obviously referring to the dead guy that the living guys thought was the messiah. I care not what the dead guy supposedly said about his future deadness. Here is my simple statement: the Christians who turned the cross into a victory did it by themselves. They are responsible for creating the messiah they believed in. agree?

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

            @James, Does Neil sometimes remind you of Monty Burns or an old
            Sherlock Holmes villian? His tone is so old fashioned.

            Any how I was interested in Mark’s statement, “Here is my
            simple statement: the Christians who turned the cross into a victory did it by
            themselves. They are responsible for creating the messiah they believed in.”

            That is a possible interpretation. There are some
            indications that Jesus did not claim that he was Messiah. I would say the
            sources of the events then aren’t terribly good and so it is hard to be sure
            what went on in this guy’s life and what he was representing about himself. I
            think it is also possible that he claimed to be messiah either to himself or
            even to larger groups of people. I don’t think the issue has been settled,
            though many may disagree. I will say though that after his death his message
            and image was in the hands of people who lived on and were familiar with him.
            No big revelation there. Even if Jesus told them he was the Messiah, they only themselves
            to blame for believing him, if he did not, then more so. I, however, take from
            that that the diciples had no external inspiration. Few ideas come from a vacuum,
            so I’m sure that the deeds and ideas of many others contributed to the disciples
            thinking, including the impressions on them that Jesus left. What do you all
            think?

            On Neil’s notion that “the disciples are not radically
            departing from the fundamental meaning of “messiah” in their own day
            at all” I would have to say this is more a personal opinion and not necessarily
            the opinion of the disciples or other Jews of their day. To me the fundamental
            concept of Allah is not very different from the fundamental concept of God, but
            many disagree. We don’t have widely accepted evidence that any Jews were
            expecting that a person that dies might be the future redeemer. Neil’s idea
            seems very speculative here. There seems to be no indication that people
            thought Bar Kochba, The Egyptian, or any of the other messiahs like figures of
            the period might still be the messiah. Paul thinks that his dead messiah is a
            sore spot with Jews. All the indicators are that Jews of their own day did
            think a dead messiah was a radical departure, and historically, that’s what
            matters. We could imagine that Christians of interpreted the bible to in favor
            of homosexuality as some modern clergy do, but what evidence do we have? We have
            lots of evidence the opposite is the case, so it is on those that have the
            unsubstantiated claim to try to present a case. It is true that there is nothing
            “otherwise inexplicable” about the disciple claim on Jesus. I mean
            they aren’t proclaiming Jesus is the messiah because he failed, is being eaten
            by worms, and because the messiah is a puss, Rome will rule you pricks forever.
            Was it unique? Hell, maybe all the dead messiah claimants had a couple of guys
            who thought they’d come back from the dead any day now, but we have no evidence
            they did which counts against the popularity of the idea.

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

              sorry about the format, I don’t hin kiwas was writing a poem there.

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

              Neil enters. Wearing black. Looks furtively from side to side. Laughs in an evil villain’s malicious tone. Twirls his handlebar moustache. Moves front centre stage and confides in audience:

              “Haw haw haw! If only these little suckers knew that everything I have in store for them, everything I have said till now, is taken directly from the latest scholarship on the question of the meaning of messiah in the days of Paul . . . . But little do they realize that I have let my trusted accomplices glimpse these ideas in a place they dare not go . . . ! Haa haa haa! Hee! Hee! Hee!”

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

                Neil, having only read your articles and not Novenson’s book, I’m not sure how this challenges what James has written above or supports Carriers position. Paul doesn’t seem to give indications that his view of messiah was common at the time. Second, I was looking at Novenson’s resume and I can’t help but notice that his degrees were earned at theological seminaries. You genrally take a dim view of these sorts of degrees so I wonder why you choose to trust his scholarship when normaly you find being a theologian grounds for dismisal.

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

            Mark, it seems to me that you are not paying careful attention to what you yourself write, never mind to what I have written. How can the extent to which Jesus spoke about this or that not be relevant to the historian’s reconstruction of how much of early Christian thought is indebted to him and how much is their interpretation with hindsight?

            Would it not be better to say that the movement (later to be called “Christians”) configured the shape of their beliefs about the messiah, in light of Jesus’ execution and their coming to believe that God had vindicated him beyond death? To say “created” simply blurs the important distinction between the mainstream historical scholars (who say that a historical figure named Jesus was mythologized by an ongoing group centered on him) and mythicists (who deny that there was ever a historical figure of Jesus around whom the legends and myths grew up and developed). And that distinction is an important one.

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

              “configured the shape of their beliefs about the messiah, in light of Jesus’ execution”

              So you are saying the disciples believed he was the messiah before he was executed but then adapted those beliefs into a different configuration or shape after he was crucified?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X