James the Lord’s Brother

I’ve been having a long and extremely repetitive conversation with a Jesus-agnostic over the past several years, including most recently in the comments section on my post “The Quest for the Historical Nazareth”, on the subject of James, the brother of Jesus as evidence for there having been a historical Jesus.

Here’s what I wrote, trying to sum up the evidence:

  • Paul refers to Jesus in a way that indicates that he believes he was a human figure descended from David.
  • Paul refers to “James the Lord’s brother” and to “the Lord’s brothers.”
  • We have no evidence for the use of the phrase “the Lord’s brother(s)” as denoting anything other than biological brothers of Jesus.
  • Even if we were to allow (despite the lack of evidence) that the phrase in the plural could denote Christians, since Paul is writing of meetings with Christian leaders, there is no way that he could have been using it in that sense in Galatians, since it would not have served to distinguish this James from others.
  • Other sources refer to Jesus having a brother named James. Some attribute to him a leadership role in the early Church in Jerusalem parallel to what Paul indicates in his letters, and some also look back to him as having opposed Paul, again in agreement with Paul’s own letters.

What exactly is it that you still need in order to be convinced that Paul was most likely referring to James as the literal biological brother of the Lord?

What would you add, if anything? Obviously this is a summary of points that I have discussed here countless times before, as regular readers will remember (with one possible exception).

 

  • Stephen J. Bedard

    I think one of the issues is the nature book of Acts. Many mythicists include Peter as part of the myth. Then we have to explain why Luke (or whoever) wrote a book that blends a mythic Jesus and Peter with historical James and Paul. It is a bit of a stretch.

    • spin

      Putting aside an obvious interpolation, Paul doesn’t talk about a Peter, only a Cephas. The interpolation Gal 2:7b-8 talks, amongst other things, of a gospel to the circumcised and one to the uncircumcised. The notion that there be more than one gospel was abhorrent to Paul.

      • labarum

        Cephas is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic keypha which means rock. Petra is the Greek translation of the same Aramaic word. This reduces us to believing Paul was referring to either a) the first century Apostle Simon bar-Jonah or b) the contemporary pro wrestler turned bad actor. I think a; I’m funny that way.

        • spin

          We are told that it is a transliteration of כיפא (KYPA) but it could as easily be a transliteration of קפא (QPA), which has been found on an ossuary and indicates Caiaphas!

          Let us assume for the moment that the first is the right one. Paul uses the name Cephas everywhere except Gal 2:7b-8 (which has the offending stuff about two gospels). The Epistle of the Apostles has a list at the beginning which includes both Cephas and Peter. Good procedure says to stick with Cephas when dealing with Paul in order not to inadvertently bring in errors.

          The gospels were written after Paul’s time. Mark, the earliest, assumes the Jewish war in the parable of the wicked tenants and the overthrow of the temple with the rending of the curtain in the temple. The first gospel is several decades after Paul. Using the gospel material about Peter is anachronistic. You have no way to tell if it reflects reality or harmonization.

          • labarum

            I made no reference to Galatians 2:7; just to the use of Cephas. The question is does there exist any reference to a first century person of prominence among Jesus’ followers (give the references to Cephas were to a person of importance in that group) that would match that reference. There exists someone in the Gospel of Mark (Simon bar Jonah) who was referred to by a Greek word that just happens to be the translation an Aramaic word that could also be transliterated as Cephas. The idea that it might be someone named Caiphas (a far less common name than Simon – is there anyone other than the high priest found to have that name?) who was never mentioned elsewhere and the author of Mark just coincidentally invented some Simon guy and gave him a name that could match Cephas in Paul but required first century Gentiles to know Aramaic to understand that seems to a rather large reach.

            • spin

              Putting aside the musing on the rareness of the name Caiaphas, your comments are still anachronistic. “You have no way to tell if it reflects reality or harmonization.”

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

                I love how you are willing to speculatively bring Caiaphas into the story in a desperate attempt to avoid the more natural way to understand the relevant textual data.

                • spin

                  Actually my interest was in קפא, which is a valid source for the name transliterated as Cephas. I’m amused by your “deperate” comment, given your implied naive literalist approach to later literature and its retrojection into the context of Paul.

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

                    LOL. If you’re going to accuse me of something, at least make it seem slightly plausible!

                    • spin

                      You’re the one rabbiting on about “the more natural way to understand the relevant textual data” which translates to retrojecting what you find in the gospels into Paul. After all, we are dealing with the figure Cephas in Gal 2:7b-8.

                    • spin

                      …with the figure Cephas in Galatians.

              • labarum

                Still a reach. In any other context, two ancient documents decades apart would be checked one against another and a hypothesis legitimately formed. We know there is a Christian leader named Cephas who came before Paul in that group. We later find references to a Christian leader coming before Paul whose common nickname would be transliterated as Cephas but was translated instead as Petros. There is no record of any early Christian leader named Caiphas nor anyone else but the high priest with that name (I assume that is the ossuary to which you referred). That is pretty much a slam dunk as the coincidences involved is looking like absurdly ridiculous odds. In fact, were there not an ideological motivation to avoid the obvious, there would be no argument. We are not arguing over alleged miracles here – just some guy’s name. You are arguing against them being the same guy because it might affect the odds of some other guy (James) being the brother of yet another guy (Jesus) whom you cannot accept the thought of existing even if it were as someone who did not raise the dead, etc. The deeper you go, the stranger it looks.

                • spin

                  Your continued talk of the Greek name form Caiaphas misses the discussion. It is the underlying Semitic name that is of interest, as Caiaphas is one Greek realization of it only. The significance of קפא in the discussion is that it could be transliterated into Greek as Cephas, making a connection based on the notion of “rock” a possible folk etymology. Your musing regarding Caiaphas are not relevant here. One has to make a case for the connection between Peter and Cephas based not on retrojections from later literature that have decades of possible manipulation embedded in it, but return to what Paul is able to tell us, which doesn’t allow much of what you said above. The reason why things look stranger to you is because it is through the distorting laminae of later tradition. When you are through tying yourself up in knots, you might like to discuss things without the anachronistic approach.

                  • labarum

                    But your point is absurd. The fact is we have no record of anyone by that name apart from the high priest and not a single person among early Christians ever using that name. We do, however, have someone named in GofM refers to by a nickname that can be transliterated from Aramaic as Cephas and that person also like Cephas is named as an early Christians leader. The probability that someone would coincidentally invent that moniker and assign it to someone with the same status as Cephas but not be the same person is so remote it isn’t even worth mentioning. Also note that neither GofM nor anyone else even bothers trying to force the connection to Cephas. Greek speaking Gentiles would have needed the connection to Cephas explained to them but the author does not bother – unless, of course, it was common knowledge. Again the deeper you go, the sillier it gets.

                    • spin

                      Ha, ha, ha! This is the sort of argument from silence that people make for the non-existence of Nazareth.

                      Where in Paul is Cephas named as an early christian leader? Nowhere. The term hadn’t been coined. There is an over-tendency to retroject ideas from later literature whose value cannot be shown to be relevant.

                      I don’t know how deep you can get in that bath. Your water is far too shallow.

                    • labarum

                      A shallow bath in which you are apparently drowning. At the opening of Galatians, Paul makes the claim of being an Apostle but states he did not go to Jerusalem to meet with those who were Apostles who came before him, but after three years did go to Jerusalem and met with Cephas who was the only Apostle he saw apart from James the brother of the Lord. In this context, an Apostle is obviously someone in leadership. You get sillier with each succeeding comment. Not to mention the fact that the folks in Galatia are unlikely to have been impressed that Paul met somebody in Jerusalem unless that person was of some importance within the Christian community.

                    • spin

                      Oh, novel, trying to rework someone else’s joke! Keep trying.

                      Does Paul ever indicate that those apostles believed in Jesus? He certainly does not do so in Galatians, which I am using as the yardstick here. The people in Jerusalem were certainly messianists, but were they any different from Johannine messianists? Paul contrasts his Jesus with their torah adherence throughout the letter. You either have Jesus or you have the torah. The Galatians cannot have both.

                      Paul clearly says he got his gospel from a revelation from god. He says he didn’t get it from other people. Nowhere in Galatians does he connect Jesus with the people in Jerusalem or other apostles.

                      As you don’t seem to be attempting to discuss things, you can continue doing whatever it is you are doing with someone else.

                    • labarum

                      Ah, the red herring!! Where does anything I have written even mention Jesus? I have intentionally restricted by comments to the matter of whether or not it is likely that Cephas and Peter are the same. I never mentioned Johannine messiahists or the other stuff you are throwing about here. Although none of this surprises me since someone so motivated by ideology is usually incapable of logical deduction once their conspiracy theories are challenged. Obviously this is a waste of my time. Go talk to Joe Atwill. I’m sure he’ll understand.

                    • spin

                      You talked about apostles. For that to have significance for apostles before Paul, you’d have to establish that significance. I’ll leave Joe Atwill to you. He’s on your mind. Bye. (Watch for door.)

  • Andrew Dowling

    You seem to be thinking that you are debating with people who want to look at this subject objectively.

    • spin

      Ironically, we all like to think that we are more objective than the next.

  • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

    Even as an Evangelical, I thought James was the brother of Jesus. (For the very reasons you mention) Such a view is consistent with text.

  • spin

    I stumbled into a long and extremely repetitive conversation with James McGrath on the issue of

    the brother of the lord four months ago. (See the comments for his blog entry “Vridar No Longer

    Available”, June 28, 2013.) Although I could be called a “Jesus-agnotic” (I don’t believe that

    the available evidence is sufficient for us to say Jesus existed), I don’t know who

    James is referring to as the person with whom he conversed “over the past several years”. It

    wasn’t me, though the discussion between us went on for several days. He stopped the

    conversation abruptly and I assume now he intends to bring some as yet unstated new thoughts to the discussion.

    As a preamble to the current blog entry, a few thoughts: Paul claims to have learned about

    Jesus through a revelation from god (Gal 1:15-16) and not from humans (Gal 1:11-12). Paul never

    had any contact in this world with Jesus. His knowledge concerning Jesus cannot be taken as

    source material for historical research, despite the fact that his theology needed a real live

    Jew to be eligible to die under the law.

    In the previous conversation I pointed out that Paul used the term αδελφος to refer to any

    believer. One certainly cannot assume from its presence that we are dealing with a biological

    brother. When Paul refers to biological relations he usually indicates them with the phrase

    κατα σαρκα (“according to the flesh”):

    Romans 1:3

    the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh

    Romans 4:1

    What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

    Romans 9:3

    For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own

    brothers, my kindred according to the flesh.

    Another complaint is that any formula starting “brother of…” implies a biological significance for αδελφος, yet Paul refers to Titus as τον αδελφον μου (“the brother of me”) in 2 Cor 2:13 and I doubt any has attempt to make Titus Paul’s brother according to the flesh. It seems that the assertion regarding “brother of…” is false.

    We have no indication from Paul that in Gal 1:19 he is using αδελφος any differently from his

    usual usage.

    The next problem to be faced is that, although later christian literature has no problems

    equating κυριος (“the lord”)–when it operates not as a qualifier (“the lord Jesus”) or a

    descriptor (“the lord of the harvest”) but as the equivalent of a name–with Jesus, Jews

    equated this non-titular usage of κυριος with Yahweh and had no trouble with the distinction found in LXX Ps. 110:1 and Mk 12:36, “the lord says to my lord”. Without need for discussion the first “lord” refers to Yahweh. Paul himself was certainly no trinitarian, as he declares, for example, “one god, the father… and one lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6). (And note the titular use of “lord”.) When Paul talks of “the lord” in Gal 1:19, it is likely that it ultimately refers to god, as there is no suggestion to the contrary: it is not a titular usage, but in lieu of a name.

    This is followed by forgetting the issue regarding Paul’s usage of αδελφος = fellow believer and arguing that “the brother of god” is highly improbable. Obviously “the brother according to the flesh of god” is certainly improbable, but that is not what we are dealing with in Gal 1:19. If one talked about a person being “the hand of god”, I doubt anyone would take that as literal. As Paul uses αδελφος to refer to a believer, we have a reference to a certain believer, qualified as a “believer of god”.

    Had Paul intended to refer to James as the biological brother of Jesus, he certainly had ways of doing so, yet Gal 1:19 does not talk of a biological brother of Jesus, but of “the brother of the lord”. Clearly Paul is not referring to James simply as a believer, for he qualifies αδελφος with “of the lord”, so Paul is saying something more than simply that James was a believer: he was one of those who were “brothers of the lord”. Whatever that phrase means exactly (and I have suggested that it is an honorific for important figures in the Jerusalem group of messianists), Cephas was not one of them. In fact Cephas was an apostle according to Paul, who spent much of his time in lands frequented by Paul, ie outside of Palestine.

    As to the fact that Other sources refer to Jesus having a brother named James Paul is the earliest christian writer we have, so injecting these other sources here is an attempt to

    retroject a state of christianity that is posterior to the time of Paul and so taint the

    evidence we are dealing with with later understandings. This is not a useful approach.

    Let’s go over the problems once again.

    1) There is no reason to believe that “brother” means anything other than “believer”.

    2) There is no reason to believe “the lord” must be Jesus.

    3) There is no explanation as to why Paul didn’t say what people wanted him to, ie “the brother in the flesh of Jesus”.

    The interpretation of “James the brother of the lord” as the biological brother of Jesus is not supported by Paul himself.

    • spin

      Windows Notepad can be such an annoying program. It secretly puts in line breaks that are kept in copy-&-paste actions. I hope you all can get the flow of the discussion.

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

        Spin,

        Using Google Chrome, when I right click in the comment box, it gives me the option “Paste as plain text.” When I click on that, a comment written in Word pastes without all the line breaks.

        • spin

          Thanks. I habitually use Notepad, but as I haven’t engaged in such discussions recently, I didn’t think of the line break issue. All you have to do is remove wordwrap and then copy. Hopefully, I’ll remember that in the future.

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

      Given that I linked to the conversation I was referring to, how can you say that you don’t know to whom I was referring?

      All of the points above are ones I’ve addressed before. Paul doesn’t simply call James a brother. He calls him ‘the Lord’s brother.’ If that was a way of referring to all Christians, then calling him but not others that in this context makes no sense. It makes sense as a reference to an actual brother of Jesus’. Who else do you think the lord in question could be?

      Why do you choose to believe Paul’s self-serving claim to not depend on the Jerusalem leaders for information, but not the things he says indicating that he did in fact receive information from others, and in fact persecuted the movement and knew something about it?

      • Herro

        >Who else do you think the lord in question could be?

        James, spin says this in the comment you’re responding to:

        >When Paul talks of “the lord” in Gal 1:19, it is likely that it ultimately refers to god, as there is no suggestion to the contrary: it is not a titular usage, but in lieu of a name.

        So there’s your answer.

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

          Since I had addressed that several times before on the blog, I had hoped perhaps he might show some evidence of recalling that. But just as a refresher, the view that it means “brother of God” does not fit a first-century Jewish context.

          • spin

            Perhaps “the hand of the lord” (χειρ κυριου) doesn’t fit a first-century context either. Or does someone believe that LXX Ex 9:3 is really about a hand? The notion of a real hand of god is just as strange as a real brother of god.

            James still assumes “brother” must indicate other than “believer” to Paul and James’s co-religionists. He also assumes that the genitive must indicate a literal relationship, though “father of lies” and “son of perdition” should preclude the assumption.

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

              That’s not at all a helpful analogy with the hand, but it is indeed true that people in the first century often treated as anthropomorphism what ancient Israelite authors may have thought was literal. I don’t see that that in any way makes your viewpoint seem more plausible.

              Son of is used as a way of indicating categories. That again is well established. How does that make “brother of the Lord” mean something other than what it seems to, in a context in which it simply cannot mean “Christian” even if that were one of its uses (which you haven’t shown), since this individual is being distinguishes among Christians and not as a Christian from others who were not.

              Why can’t you deal with the evidence instead of offering dubious and unpersuasive apologetics-style attempts to spin the evidence to mean something it quite obviously does not? What is your aim in this?

              • spin

                How about if I ignore your unintended self-irony in your last paragraph?

                Your approach to the comparison between “brother of the lord” and “hand of the lord” is a typical one: simply deny it. If you don’t want to deal with issues why post blog entries about them? You’ve brought nothing new to the topic.

                One of the things that is so frustrating in talking with you is that you seem to skim rather than read. You have made the same erroneous assertion too many times:

                How does that make “brother of the Lord” mean something other than what it seems to, in a context in which it simply cannot mean “Christian” even if that were one of its uses (which you haven’t shown), since this individual is being distinguishes among Christians and not as a Christian from others who were not.

                In my first post to this blog entry I wrote:

                Clearly Paul is not referring to James simply as a believer, for he qualifies αδελφος with “of the lord”, so Paul is saying something more than simply that James was a believer: he was one of those who were “brothers of the lord”. Whatever that phrase means exactly (and I have suggested that it is an honorific for important figures in the Jerusalem group of messianists), Cephas was not one of them. In fact Cephas was an apostle according to Paul, who spent much of his time in lands frequented by Paul, ie outside of Palestine.

                You can go back to the previous blog entry and you’ll find you made the same assertion even though it had been answered.

                Of course “brother of the lord” cannot simply mean “Christian”, especially when I have made it clear that Paul uses “brother” for “believer” (which you rewrite to “christian”). Paul uses “brother” for many individual believers, but “brother of the lord” for a select group, of which James is one.

                You put aside the fact that Paul uses “brother” to indicate a believer and that “the lord” means Yahweh to any Greek speaking Jew of the era. You do so because of what seems an a priori commitment to James being the biological brother of Jesus, as, sadly, that linguistic artifice is the closest thing you have for evidence that there was a real Jesus. Even the apologetic Acts knows nothing about this James, though you’d expect it to trumpet the fact.

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

                  Brother of Yahweh. Right…that’s plausible in a first century Jewish context.

                  Are you doing this as a parody, to illustrate the ridiculous extremes to which one has to go in order to deal with counter-evidence as a mythicist?

                  • spin

                    Brother of Yahweh. Right…that’s plausible in a first century Jewish context.

                    Would you stop mindreading your potential ancient sources? There is no problem with the name Ahijah.

                    Such soundbites as this are not a meaningful response. You are left guessing that Paul doesn’t mean what he usually means by αδελφος because you don’t want him to mean it.

                    I do enjoy your eisegetical approach to the text.

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

                      Can you show me an example of that name from this time period, when the Jews had embraced exclusive worship of one God alone? You mentioned that before, and I addressed this, and so I am not sure why you are mentioning it again as though the previous conversation never occurred.

                    • spin

                      The name occurs several times in the Hebrew literature of the time, so the idea of “brother of the lord” is not strange.

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

                      Which time? Back when Yahweh had a wife and so a brother would not be a surprise? Or after the exile?

                      Why not just provide your examples, and then I can tell the rest?

                    • Herro

                      James, I’m not sure if you’ve answered these points in some other discussion with spin, but I would like to hear what you think of two of his points:

                      1. That Paul mainly uses kinship terms with a non-literal meaning, and when he doesn’t he tends to use “kata sarka”.

                      2. That “the lord” was a substitute for the name Yahweh (so it probably isn’t Jesus, but Yahweh).

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

                      Yes, these points have been discussed before. The two main points to note are these:

                      1. Paul uses “brothers” for Christians, never “brothers of the Lord” and if the latter were simply a variation of the former, then it would not make any sense in the contexts in which he uses it, which is to single out specific individuals from among other Christians. While Paul sometimes emphasizes “according to the flesh” where there might be some room for ambiguity, because he does not use this phrase for Christians in general, such ambiguity did not exist and no clarification was necessary.

                      2. The notion of a “brother of Yahweh” is unattested in Judaism or indeed at any point subsequent to monotheistic reforms which took place centuries prior to the emergence of Christianity. And so simply tossing this out there without any attempt to explain what it means or how it would have made sense in the framework of the world in which early Christianity emerged is not merely unpersuasive, but smacks of a last-ditch attempt to offer anything in an ideologically-driven attempt to avoid the more natural meaning of the relevant sources.

                    • spin

                      1. I don’t know why you are still lost here, James. “brothers of the lord” refers to specific christians, who were on a par with apostles in significance. So Paul generally indicates biological relationships with κατα σαρκα, but what makes you think that αδελφος is being used any differently by Paul from his usual usage, but with a qualifier indicating a specific subset of brothers?

                      2. That “brother of Yahweh” is unattested in Judaism is merely an argument from silence which does not require its consideration by anyone. You could just as easily say that “herodians” is unattested etc. and provide another argument from silence which is just as underwhelming. An argument from silence needs you to supply a reason for why one should expect the noise.

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

                      What a silly comparison. The Herodians are mentioned in the New Testament, so presumably you mean that they are unattested elsewhere. But Herod is attested, and so really the only question is what the relationship between Herod and these other individuals was as envisaged by the author who referred to them in this way. That doesn’t help your claim, which is positing an equal of Yahweh’s which is at odds with the repeated statements by Paul and his other Jewish contemporaries that there is only one God and that there is no one equal to him.

                      And the claim that kin are always designated “according to the flesh” is pure bunk. Romans 16:7 is just one counterexample that comes to mind. More than that, when the Gospels soon after Paul’s time mention Jesus’ siblings, they do not add “according to the flesh.” When the context made this clear, there was no need to specify it, just as today people can use “brother” in more than one way and have context clarify the sense in which it is being used.

                      Please stop grasping at straws in a haphazard manner and offer something of substance if you want to discuss this seriously. If not, there are plenty of other places online where you can make any claim you wish and not be asked for evidence, and you might prefer to spend your time in those venues.

                    • spin

                      Are you usually this poor a reader? If you want to terminally misrepresent people, why do you bother starting conversations? Do you have quantification problems? Really, when I say “generally” do you have to pervert the statement into “always”?

                      The Herodians are mentioned in the New Testament, you say. Well, doh! It has to be mentioned somewhere, if I am talking about it, doesn’t it? Outside the two references in Mark and one repetition in Matthew it does where do you find “herodians” in historical literature. Outside the two references in Paul where do you find “the brothers of the lord”?

                      You are too distracted and not making much sense.

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

                      Are you usually this unnecessarily insulting? It takes real audacity to be insulting when you’ve offered nothing but ridiculous claims that you refuse to substantiate.

                      There is a reference to Herodians. There is no reference to Yahweh’s brother unless it is in Galatians and thus begs the question. We do however find reference in Mark to Jesus having had a brother named James, not to mention all the later literature that says the same thing. And so trying to claim that I am the one who is distracted and not making sense is either projection, dishonesty, or shows that you don’t know this literature well enough to understand what I am saying. Whichever is the case, I hope you will try to do better.

                    • spin

                      Are you usually this unnecessarily insulting? It takes real audacity to be insulting when you’ve offered nothing but ridiculous claims that you refuse to substantiate.

                      I guess you don’t appreciate the hypocrisy.

                      There is a reference to Herodians. There is no reference to Yahweh’s brother unless it is in Galatians and thus begs the question.

                      There are “brothers of the lord” in 1 Cor 9:5. You cannot tell me what “herodians” means. You are expecting more than you reasonably can regarding “brother of the lord”. This is because you feel you are allowed to retroject later ideas and confuse the text.

                      We do however find reference in Mark to Jesus having had a brother named James, not to mention all the later literature that says the same thing.

                      And here we go with the retrojection again.

                      We are trying to understand what Paul meant, not what later writers understood. So, if we can get back to the evidence and stop this sort of stuff:

                      And so trying to claim that I am the one who is distracted and not making sense is either projection, dishonesty, or shows that you don’t know this literature well enough to understand what I am saying.

                      With your insinuation of dishonesty here you would normally be warned in most moderated forums.

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

                      Making sense of Paul on his own terms is not what you are doing. You are trying deliberately to make Paul mean something different from what very slightly later texts say. That is forcing a wedge where two sources agree, which is inappropriate, whereas avoiding a forced harmonization would be appropriate.

                      That your complete lack of concern for historical evidence, scholarly methods, and contextually-appropriate interpretation is combined with arrogance only makes you seem like a very common type of online commenter. If you want to distinguish yourself, and be taken seriously, why not try actually learning something about the subject and offering a case for it, rather than insulting those who try to do that? Is it just because dealing with historical matters is hard, or is there some other reason?

                    • spin

                      As you can guess I don’t find your assertions here of any weight. You claim that I am not trying to make sense of Paul in his own terms, when I try to bring you to appreciate the way he uses his terms. He does not generally use αδελφος the way that you want him to and you have failed to show why he must mean what you want. You have also failed to show that the non-titular usage of κυριος should refer to Jesus. And for lack of dealing with Paul you inject material whose connection to Paul’s comments you cannot justify.

                      The rest of your post is just one long insult that merely reflects poorly on your lack of response to the substance of the discussion.

                      So, if you’d care to say why you think you can ignore Paul’s usages and infect his meanings with apparently extraneous later sources, please do.

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

                      Your comments are rather comical. Is that intentional? It is as though you figure out what the appropriate objection is to what you’ve written, and then cast it at the person with whom you are speaking and hope that no one will notice. Unfortunately for you, on this blog people do notice such things.

                      So let’s tackle every point you mention. First, you yourself acknowledge that Paul is not incapable of using αδελφος with a literal meaning, which is good. But you then claim that I have not shown that a figurative meaning does not work here. But I have. “Brother of the Lord” is nowhere used as a phrase denoting Christians, but even if it were, it could not distinguish this James from other Christian Jameses, so that cannot be its meaning here for one if not both of those reasons. And you have not shown that anyone in Judaism in general or early Christianity in particular thought that Yahweh had a brother, or even shown that such thinking would have been acceptable to anyone in that context, whereas as I have pointed out more than once, there are plenty of specific references to there being only one God in Paul’s own writings, and texts like 2 Macc. 9:12 are also of obvious relevance.

                      I also pointed out that you are not merely avoiding inappropriate harmonization with other texts from within decades of Paul’s writings and close to his own context. You are deliberately trying to avoid having them say the same thing. And so you are engaging not in a scholarly attempt to understand the phenomenon of early Christianity, but in an ideologically-driven attempt to get the text to mean something it doesn’t seem to and which no evidence that you have cited supports.

                      I would be delighted if, in your next comment, instead of thinking that somehow insulting me further will make your case better, you actually try to present evidence and arguments. If you do so, even if unsuccessfully, it cannot make your stance appear any worse than it does now, whereas continuing with your current approach does make you appear to be less and less interested in either truth or reason with every comment you leave.

                    • spin

                      First, you yourself acknowledge that Paul is not incapable of using αδελφος with a literal meaning, which is good. But you then claim that I have not shown that a figurative meaning does not work here. But I have. “Brother of the Lord” is nowhere used as a phrase denoting Christians, but even if it were, it could not distinguish this James from other Christian Jameses, so that cannot be its meaning here for one if not both of those reasons.

                      I’m disappointed to say there is no substantial logic here. Once again we have an appeal to silence. Your use of “christian” is somewhat anachronistic, so I hope that I can assume you mean believers as of the type Paul accepts, his brothers. We can assume that both James in Gal 1:19 and those brothers qualified as “of the lord” in 1 Cor 9:5 are such believers. But I don’t see the functional content in the apparent non sequitur, “Brother of the Lord”… could not distinguish this James from other Christian Jameses. Surely, you cannot believe that Paul’s use of “brother” is equivalent to “brother of the lord”. That must show that there is something more in the term than you are willing to see. How is that something more not sufficient to “distinguish this James from other [believer] Jameses”?

                      Next non sequitur:

                      And you have not shown that anyone in Judaism in general or early Christianity in particular thought that Yahweh had a brother, or even shown that such thinking would have been acceptable to anyone in that context, whereas as I have pointed out more than once, there are plenty of specific references to there being only one God in Paul’s own writings, and texts like 2 Macc. 9:12 are also of obvious relevance.

                      Did the people who used the name Ahijah in Samuel think that the name implied there was more than one god??? (Shakes head in bewilderment.)

                      I would be delighted if, in your next comment, instead of thinking that somehow insulting me…

                      It’s sad that your irony meter is so out of order.

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

                      Ah good, feeling bewildered is often the gateway to learning something new, if you approach it right. The next step would be to inform yourself about the things that I’ve been pointing out to you, namely the development of Jewish exclusive devotion to one God alone, and the fact that ancient Israelites were polytheists. Once you are familiar with this, much that I have been saying to you will hopefully begin to make more sense.

                    • spin

                      Your unintended self-irony now concerns you earlier comment about arrogance. I’d say you like the taste of foot.

                      Now you are unexplainably talking about polytheism, because you are insisting that “brother of the lord”, if it doesn’t mean what you want, must be polytheistic. The reason for this polytheism crock seems to be because you have cannot deal with Paul’s usage of either αδελφος or κυριος It is extremely hard to get a serious conversation from you while you’re busy conducting both sides of it.

                      I don’t mind if you feel the need to insult or be arrogant, but I do wish you would openly participate in a discussion like a regular person.

                    • spin

                      The Jewish literature available at the time Paul was writing. It may have come from centuries earlier, but that does not change the availability of the name or its significance to a Jewish audience.

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

                      So its significance was akin to that of the names Ishbaal and Mephibaal?

                    • spin

                      I don’t know what you intend to convey here with “akin”, but note what happened to those names in Samuel and Kings. Someone certainly knew what they meant. baal -> bosheth.

                • stuart32

                  Can you explain how that small group came to be known as brothers of God? What was it that distinguished them from believers in general? Does Paul give us any clues about the nature of the distinction?

                  • spin

                    There are only two indications regarding the brothers of the lord, 1 Cor 9:5 which places them on a par with the apostles and Cephas and Gal 1:19 which talks of James who is one of the most important people in the Jerusalem group. This James is so powerful that his agents can browbeat Cephas into behaving like a torah-adherent when he was being wayward in Antioch (Gal 2:11f). These sources don’t tell us how they became known as the brothers of the lord, but it would seem that their respected position could account for the distinction.

                    The popular theory is that the brothers of the lord are the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the gospels, but had the gospel writers known about how important the biological family of Jesus would become to the faith, you would expect that the language about their rejection of their brother (and his of them) would have been ameliorated by the knowledge of their future change of heart. There is no sign of such knowledge. Had James the brother of the lord been Jesus brother, you’d expect Acts to have made it blatantly clear, but it didn’t. Neither the gospels nor Acts knows anything about this group that was significant in Paul’s era.

                    We know about this group only through the meagre traces in the writings of Paul and they don’t tell us much.

                    • stuart32

                      “you would expect that the language about their rejection of their brother (and his of them) would have been ameliorated by the knowledge of their future change of heart”. Would you also expect Peter’s denial of Jesus to be ameliorated?

                    • spin

                      There is a lot more contextualization for Peter. If we only had the denial and the knowledge of the later ascendancy of Peter, I would.

                    • stuart32

                      But isn’t Mark generally unafraid to pull his punches? He has no qualms about providing a rather bleak account of things. The problem is that your evidence for the brothers of the Lord not being biological brothers is that Mark has been too honest. This seems like very tenuous evidence.

                      There are far more literal brothers than metaphorical brothers. We should assume that the word has a literal meaning rather than a metaphorical one unless the context makes it clear that the meaning is metaphorical. In this case the metaphorical meaning isn’t clear because if it was then everyone would agree on which metaphorical meaning it is. Instead we have several different and incompatible meanings. Robert Price, I think, has offered three different interpretations. His policy seems to be: I want a metaphorical meaning, and if this one won’t do, here’s another one.

                    • spin

                      In Mark we find a lot of information about Peter, who is shown to be the head disciple, the first one called, the one who recognizes that Jesus is the messiah, the one on whom the church is to be built. His role is solidly built, which allows the denial to have its fullest effect. Even someone as important as Peter denied him.

                      Yet the one who is important enough to browbeat Cephas into submitting and returning to torah adherence, the one who was clearly the most significant figure in the Jerusalem group, if he were the James brother of Jesus, gets no solid picture in the gospels.

                      And if you return to Paul, try your hardest to find one use of “brother” to indicate a literal brother. Beyond the one example I’ve already pointed to with the qualifying “according to the flesh” (Rom 9:3), let’s see what you find. It is undeniable that Paul uses “brother” not for any physical relationship, but for a believer. Paul is extremely consistent in his usage, which requires anyone who wishes to argue that he doesn’t mean a believer in Gal 1:19 to make a substantive case against Paul’s habitual usage.

                    • stuart32

                      So all Christians were believers but some of them were believers in God. What did the rest of them believe in?

                    • spin

                      Really?

                      Why do you say that “some of them were believers in God“? It has nothing to do with what I’ve said or advocated. Obviously, all those Paul indicates as believers are believers in god. There is a subset of those believers who are “brothers of the lord”.

                      Would you declare that the “sisters of St Clare” are believers in St Clare? Most of the women of Assisi would have believed that Clare was holy, but the sisters of St Clare were originally a subset of those believing women of Assisi.

                    • stuart32

                      If all Christians are brothers/believers what distinguishes those who are brothers of the Lord from the rest? Wouldn’t all Christians be believers who are of the Lord?

                    • spin

                      I’ve already hypothesized on the matter.

                      Are all women believers qualified as being “of St Clare”? The linguistics here is extremely simple. Paul talks of brothers. He also talks of a specific group as the brothers “of the lord”. James is one of them. They are important people for believers. They are important brothers, which may be the impetus behind “brothers of the lord“.

                    • stuart32

                      So in what sense are the rest of them brothers? Are they brothers of each other in a communal sense? And if they are then there must be two different metaphorical uses of “brother”. There are Christians who are brothers of each other and Christians who brothers of the Lord. But if there are two different senses of the word how do you know that both of them are metaphorical? And if there is only one sense of the term why aren’t they all “brothers of the Lord”?

                      It’s gone midnight here in the UK so I’ll have to leave this till tomorrow. Goodnight.

                    • spin

                      All those Paul calls brothers are believers. There are those believers of importance he calls “brothers of the lord”. The added semantic content seems to be the importance of those so indicated.

                      Goodnight.

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      It makes much more sense that Acts and Mark, both coming from the Pauline tradition which had theological clashes with the Jerusalem church, would not mention James being a biological brother for those reasons.

                    • spin

                      Hmm, ideology as history. That’s new.

      • spin

        All of the points above are ones I’ve addressed before. Paul doesn’t simply call James a brother. He calls him ‘the Lord’s brother.’ If that was a way of referring to all Christians, then calling him but not others that in this context makes no sense. It makes sense as a reference to an actual brother of Jesus’. Who else do you think the lord in question could be?
        I’ve repeated issues that you have failed to answer. And you repeat things that have even been answered in what you are replying to (such as the italicized material above).

        Why do you choose to believe Paul’s self-serving claim to not depend on the Jerusalem leaders for information, but not the things he says indicating that he did in fact receive information from others, and in fact persecuted the movement and knew something about it?

        You assert that Paul is being self-serving and then presume that he must have got his Jesus information from Jerusalem. Paul’s Jerusalemites are law-bound and seem to know nothing that comes from Jesus. Paul contrasts his Jesus with their torah adherence. That’s the dichotomy he makes. It is one of the most significant messages in the letter.

        I work from the narrative supplied by Paul in Galatians and follow it for what it says rather than, a priori, choosing what one thinks he should have said.

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

          No, you really, really aren’t working from the narrative Paul supplies in Galatians, whether treating it in a naive manner or a critical one. Because both the critical professional and the uncritical lay readers get a very different impression from yours, and you are offering nothing by way of evidence to account for this, much less to make a case for your own different viewpoint.

          • spin

            You can assert whatever you believe, James. But that is all you are doing here. I suggest you read the text for what it says, rather than letting the secondary material cloud your analysis.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “Paul’s Jerusalemites are law-bound and seem to know nothing that comes from Jesus.”

          Buuuu whaatt?? And you say this based on what?

          Paul never says his proclamations about Torah came from Jesus. It’s clearly arising from what he believes to be the significance of the death/resurrection event ie his own theology.

          • spin

            Jerusalem was privy to those torah adherent apostles disturbing the Galatians. Paul was surprised about Jerusalem not compelling Titus to be circumcised. James’s agents caused Cephas to return to torah observance in Antioch, after which Paul analyses what happened concluding “if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” It is this torah adherence that is contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

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

    Here is my reply, slightly modified from my comment on the other post:

    Paul may have indicated that he believed Jesus was a human figure, but Paul did not know the human figure. If not for Galatians 1:19, we would not have any reason to believe that Paul thought anyone he knew had been associated with that human figure prior to his resurrection.

    The earliest extant manuscripts refer to James as the Lord’s brother, but uncertainties about the transmission of Paul’s original words don’t go away just by ignoring them. The risk may be low, but it is not zero.

    I think that “We have no evidence for the use of ‘the Lord’s brother(s)’ as denoting anything other than biological brothers” is just a terrible argument. We also have no evidence that Jesus’s biological brothers were ever referred to as “brothers of the Lord.” In the gospels and Josephus, they are always the “brothers of Jesus.” I could also argue that we have no evidence that Paul ever uses the word “brother” to refer to a biological relationship. The fact that no one else uses the phrase “brother of the Lord” or “brothers of the Lord” is no evidence that any particular interpretation is correct.

    It doesn’t matter whether every Christian named James was a brother of Lord in the same sense, “The brother of the Lord” could still serve to distinguish one particular James if everyone understood it that way. “St. Joseph the Worker” and “James the Just” are more than sufficient to distinguish the individuals in question even though “worker” might apply to almost every St. Joseph and “just” might apply to almost every early Christian named James. All that is necessary is that the other guys named James were called something else.

    There is only one New Testament source that attributes a leadership role to a man named James parallel to what Paul indicates. That source does not identify him as being either Jesus’s brother or the Lord’s brother. There are two New Testament sources plus Josephus that indicate that Jesus had a brother named James. None of these indicate that he ever played any role in the early church. These are the earliest sources although they all are still after Paul.

    Even if I concluded that it is more probable than not that Paul was referring to James as the biological brother of Jesus, I would still have to assess the probability that he wasn’t doing so as significantly above zero. Moreover, that chance affects every argument in which my conclusion about what Paul meant becomes a premise and every argument in which any of the premises can be traced back to that conclusion. Even if I said that the chance that Paul meant something else was only 25%, it only takes three premises subject to 25% uncertainty before the probability of your ultimate conclusion is well under 50%.

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

      Making up different monikers that could potentially fit the conclusion you want to draw doesn’t help your case. Showing a genuinely similar one might, but thus far you haven’t done that.

      I said more in the other comment thread.

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

        I don’t see where I have made up any monikers. However, I would assume that if Paul had met some other James on that first visit to Jerusalem he would have wanted to designate them in a way that made it clear to the Galatians which James he met. I wish I knew how the others were designated. I still think that the primary purpose behind designating James as “the brother of the Lord” was to identify which James Paul met rather than to communicate information about the biological relationships of the one he met.

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

          You are making a false antithesis – if someone refers to X son of Y they may only be concerned to identify X from others of the same name, but other information is nonetheless conveyed.

          What does “brother of the Lord” mean in this context that would have distinguished this James in some useful way? Just saying is “distinguished him from others” doesn’t help you make the case for your viewpoint unless you can offer some plausible interpretation other than that of biological brothers which makes sense in the context.

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

            What distinguishes St Joseph the Worker is not that he is the only St. Joseph who is a worker. What distinguishes him is that he is the only St. Joseph who is known as “the Worker.” What distinguishes James the Just is not that he is the only James who is just. What distinguishes him is that he is the only James who is known as “the Just.” By the same token, what distinguishes James the brother of the Lord is not that he is the only James who is a brother of the Lord. What distinguishes him is that he is the only James who is known as “the brother of the Lord.”

            All that “brother of the Lord” necessarily means in this particular context is this particular James. It might mean more than that, but Paul doesn’t need to have meant anything more by his use of it than that.

            The question of what Paul means by using the designation is separate from the question of how James got the designation. Neither Paul nor the Galatians would have needed to know how James got the moniker in order to find the moniker useful.

            • Andrew Dowling

              “All that “brother of the Lord” necessarily means in this particular context is this particular James.”

              Grasp at straws much? I don’t know of other people in antiquity called “X name, mother of __ Y name” of “father of ” or “sister of” and it not designating a biological relationship.

              James is mentioned by Paul, in Acts, in Thomas, in the Gospel of the Hebrews, Josephus etc.. Multiple attestation that would satisfy any scholar of 1st century history looking for evidence of a person within that history.

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

                James was a common name. Josephus’s James is not a leader of the Christians. The James in Acts is not Jesus’s brother. Why would any historian comparing those two writings think they were talking about the same person?

                I don’t know of anyone in antiquity who was called the biological brother of a heavenly being who had only been experienced in visions and revelations.

                • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                  I think you’re getting quite self-defeating now, Vinny. Over-egging it.

                  Josephus’s: James is singled out with a group of other Christians for trial before the sanhedrin and is called Brother of Jesus.

                  Acts: James is the leader of the Jerusalem Christians and meets with Paul to adjudicate on the doctrine of gentile conversion.

                  Galatians: Paul describes a James who he meets with the adjudicate on the doctrine of gentile conversion, and calls him the brother of the Lord.

                  Hegesippus: Describes that James the Brother of the Lord took over the governance of the church in association with the apostles.

                  Now you can weave between these some rationalization, but it is bizarre to ask “Why would any historian think they were talking about the same person?”

                  And your last paragraph impacts the mythicist argument, how does it even touch the historians argument? Surely they would agree, the idea of a biological relationship with a purely visionary being is not found in antiquity. Neither is it found in the NT.

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

                    Ian,

                    Yes. I do get carried away sometimes.

                    However, Josephus doesn’t say that James was singled out with a group of Christians or that the charges against him had anything to do with Christianity.

                    Hegesippus is pretty late. It is hard for me to see that much weight could be placed on his writings to determine what Paul meant.

                    Acts has a man named James as a leader of the Christians. However, despite knowing Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James, Luke/Acts doesn’t name any of Jesus’s biological brothers and doesn’t say that the leader was Jesus’s brother. In fact, the most parsimonious reading of Acts would be that he is James the son of Alphaeus.

                    So our first source to mention the James who was a leader of the Christians in Jerusalem says that he was “the brother of the Lord.” The next source to mention him points us away from him being the biological brother of Jesus. I don’t believe that I am over-egging it to say that there is some confusion about the identity of this James from an early point.

                    Paul encountered the risen Christ through appearance, revelation, and scripture. Paul describes others encountering the risen Christ in similar fashion. As far as I can see, Paul believed that the risen Christ had been the man Jesus prior to his resurrection, but he has little interest in what that man may have said or done because it is only his resurrection that matters. Paul never describes anyone he knows encountering Jesus the man prior to his crucifixion. Therefore, when Paul refers to “the Lord,” I think the most natural reading is that he is talking about the risen Christ who manifests himself supernaturally rather than the man Jesus who walked the earth, and therefore, when he refers to “the brother of the Lord,” I think it reasonable to entertain the possibility that he is talking about a spiritual relationship rather than a biological one.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      Like I intimated, you can argue away these references in a range of ways, and atomise and criticise them. Sure, I get the way that’s done, and I could do the same thing, if I wanted. So my point was not that. My point was that, it is certainly not bizarre or ungrounded that historians consider James the Lord’s brother to be James the Just, and James the leader of the Jerusalem church.

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

                      Ian,

                      With all due respect,

                      I don’t think that I am just “arguing away references” when I point out that Josephus doesn’t say anything about a group of Christians and the Hegesippus is pretty late and of doubtful historical value.

                      If you want to characterize my argument about Paul’s use of “the Lord” as “arguing away references,” I won’t concede your point, but neither will I take offense.

                      Regarding Acts failure to identify James the leader as Jesus’s brother, I’m not sure exactly how significant it is, but I am pretty sure that “everybody knew who he was” isn’t a valid historical argument and that’s the response I usually get when I raise the point.

                      So I would argue that the degree of certainty I see expressed about James being the biological brother of Jesus is somewhat bizarre and ungrounded. The historical evidence is neither unambiguous nor unproblematic.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      Please don’t read more into what I’m saying that what I’m saying.

                      I am pointing out that there are reasons “why … any historian [would] think they were talking about the same person.”

                      Namely that such an identification is consistent with all available texts, and the connection is explicitly made in early writings of the movement (early in ancient history terms), and is uncontested until the 4th century, where it is challenged on obviously theological grounds. And is being challenged now to undermine the evidence for an not directly related historical question.

                      Now those connections and consistencies can be explained or argued away as coincidence, corruption, alternative readings, or pure invention and so on (that is what you’re doing, and if the two Jameses are different they would need to be argued away). If mythicism were correct, then it presumably means the tradition and historical consensus is wrong. And it might behove you to point out that the evidence can support alternative explanations with only minor changes of assumption.

                      But that doesn’t shift the issue that there are reasons why historians don’t see good reason to doubt early Christian tradition on James the Just being the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church. The tradition can, of course, can be argued to be dependent / late / corrupted, etc. And I think there are important questions to be answered by someone who wants to claim that, which I’d probably want to tackle if I cared more about the details of mythicism.

                      But my point is that feigning incredulity isn’t very helpful and doesn’t support the position of impartiality you want to claim.

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

                      Ian,

                      Let me say first that my knowledge of James the Just sources isn’t nearly as thorough as I might like. When I acquired it, I wasn’t looking at Galatians 1:19. I was arguing with “minimal facts” apologists over the evidence for Jesus’s skeptic brother converting when the risen Christ appeared to him. (The conclusion is that no early source tells us when James converted, but what little there is suggests that he was already part of the movement before the crucifixion.) Since most of those apologists knew absolutely nothing about the sources, I did not have to know them all that much better.

                      There may be “reasons why historians don’t see good reason to doubt early Christian tradition on James the Just being the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church,” but I believe that my skepticism about the validity of those reasons is not entirely unwarranted.

                      Awhile back I asked Bart Ehrman on his blog how he reconciled the doubts he has expressed regarding the text of Galatians with his certainty that Paul met Jesus’s biological brother. In part he responded “we know from other sources that the James who headed the church in Jerusalem was in fact known to be the brother of Jesus.” In one of his less bombastic moments, Steven Carr asked what those sources might be and Ehrman responded “In the NT, just Acts. But later traditions of the second century are uniform in making this claim, I believe. And they got the idea from *somewhere*!” Carr asked him where Acts said this and Ehrman acknowledged that “it never explicitly says he was Jesus’ brother.”

                      Now I realize that this is just a blog comment and it cannot be held to the same standard as a scholarly work. Nevertheless, Ehrman had just published a book in which he touted Galatians 1:19 as proving Jesus’s existence “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” and in which he bashed Price and others who argued that Paul might not have meant biological brother. If anyone would have a handle on the “good reasons” historians have for believing the traditions holding James the Just to be Jesus’s biological brother, I would have expected it to be Ehrman.

                      Regarding those second century traditions, it is true that they are pretty early by ancient standards, however, Hegesippus is writing around the same time as Irenaeus who first identifies the authors of the four canonical gospels as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mainstream scholars don’t accept this tradition as accurate as the apologetic motivation for inventing such a tradition is much too obvious. Why then would any similarly dated tradition be considered good evidence concerning James? Wouldn’t the same apologetic motivation exist to link an early leader in Jerusalem to Jesus? Moreover, “he must have got the idea somewhere” is exactly the reason conservative apologists give for believing Irenaeus.

                      I believe in giving the consensus of scholars the benefit of the doubt in most cases. Here, however, I do not believe that I am just “feigning incredulity,” although I admit that I sometimes get carried away by the fun of a good argument. Gary’s observations on the importance of the issue are worth noting.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      I wish I had time to really get into this. It is tough because it isn’t just writing time, but researching time. So I’m cherry picking here, I know. There’s a lot I would like to unpack.

                      Mainstream scholars don’t accept this tradition as accurate as the apologetic motivation for inventing such a tradition is much too obvious.

                      That’s absolutely not why mainstream scholar’s don’t accept the traditional authorship of the gospels. You can imagine an apologetic motivation for inventing most things. The issue is one of consistency with the internal evidence. If the authorship of the gospels fitted with the content of the gospels, the cultural context, the dating, and the other information we have about the apostles, I think historians would have few problems with the traditional authorship.

                      Of course, when something isn’t consistent (with other texts, with archeology, or with itself), the question of who benefits does come into it. And that can be used to make guesses as to original forms or invention. But I’m not aware of where an uncontested, otherwise reasonable and consistent tradition based on early evidence, is overturned merely because the person who wrote it might have some reason to want to write it. Seems a good way to discredit a lot of ancient history.

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

                      I think I stated that poorly. My point isn’t why mainstream scholars reject the traditional authorship. It’s why they don’t find Irenaeous persuasive on the issue. Even if they had all the reasons you mentioned for thinking the traditional authorship plausible, I still don’t think they would give a lot of weight to Irenaeous on the question.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      I disagree. I think you have to be basically credulous, otherwise where do you go? Why is Irenaeus less credible as a witness to a question like the authorship of the gospels than any other? I mean, sure, you ideally want hostile witnesses conceding things that would weaken their position. But even then, you could be skeptical and claim that they are merely repeating apologetics that they had no alternative to. At some point, with history based on few texts, you have to say “we’ll go with the text, unless we have a reason to say otherwise”.

                      If Iranaeus’s claims made sense, fitted the dating, style, composition and likely theology of the people who he’d identified as authors, I think scholars would give his authorship claims weight.

                      Despite all the good reasons to reject Irenaeus’s authorship sketches, for example, his statement about the composition language of Matthew still gets regular airing by scholars. I’m not suggesting they believe him, or that any but a few on the fringe suggest Matthew was not composed in Greek. But many will avoid rejecting the idea that he is reporting a valid tradition of a Hebrew or Aramaic gospel.

                      It wouldn’t be good enough for CERN, but I think history has to work a bit differently.

                      All said with the proviso that I’m not a historian, of course.

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

                      The fact that Irenaeus was writing a book titled Against Heresies tells me that there were people making inconsistent claims. Unfortunately, I can’t always be sure exactly what those claims were or what evidence was offered to support them because the church wasn’t real big on preserving heretical writings. However, I think I can be pretty sure that some were touting the Gospel of Peter and some the Gospel of Thomas or Irenaeus wouldn’t have needed to write a book defending the apostolicity of the writings that he viewed as orthodox. Why should I give Irenaeus the benefit of the doubt just because his version got preserved?

                      I can also see the kind of reasons Irenaeus gives to support his views. There can only be four authentic gospels because there are four winds and cherubim have four faces. Therefore, other gospels must be false. Why should I think that his reasons for thinking that the gospels he favors are authentic are any better than the ones he has for thinking that others are not?

                      My experience with contemporary apologists is that they will pass along anything they hear that supports their position without making the slightest effort to verify it or corroborate it even though it might require no more than a few clicks to do so. I cannot think of any reason to think that ancient apologists were any better. Incredulity seems to me to be the wiser basic approach.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      Why stop there though – the tendency of everyone (not just apologists) to invent or exaggerate or so on, could make any fact dubious, surely.

                      I’m not saying this to make the facile mud-slingy claim, or to appeal to Godwin’s law, but a few years ago, i read up on quite a bit of holocaust denialsm, and there this logic is absolutely forefront. They’ll admit the Nazi’s had gas chambers, but point to the paucity of evidence they bought enough gas to kill more than a few hundred, as well as scant evidence from primary sources in the German army about numbers (excluding those who ‘changed sides’ afterwards). They’ll find inconsistencies and lies in other statements of anyone who is used against their position, and claim that shows they are fundamentally untrustworthy, and anything they say that supports the foregone conclusion of mass murder is therefore to be disregarded as spin. They’ll leap on photos of the gas chamber at Auschwitz, for example (which was built as a memorial after the war), and atomise evidence into the smallest bits to cast doubt on each person who provides it. And so on. So I do struggle to see how one can not at some level give weight to things people are saying, unless there are grounds to think it is false.

                      But again, IANAH!

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

                      It doesn’t make any fact dubious. It makes any story dubious. A story doesn’t become a fact until you’ve done everything you can think to do to verify it and corroborate it. It’s like the old journalistic adage “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it our.”

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      Fair enough. But you’re just arguing about the definition of words, then.

                      What facts are there in ancient textual history? On that basis none.

                      Perhaps that’s okay. But we need another word, then, for things that aren’t facts, but that are consistent pictures of what happened.

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

                      I don’t think that it’s as bad as all that. If I’m reading Tacitus and he tells me what sources he used in composing his history and he tells me how he went about trying to resolve conflicts between his sources, I think I can feel better about thinking that there are some facts in there. On the other hand, if I read Matthew’s account of the zombie saints coming out of their tombs and saying “Howdy,” I think I’m probably justified in treating most of what he says as myth and legend absent some good reason to think otherwise.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      You’re not suggesting you reject Matthew’s Zombies because of a lack of corroborating evidence though, surely? You doubt it because it is inconsistent with what we know about the world.

                      Sure, in one sense you could say “it would take a TON of bullet proof corroborating evidence to make me think this was real”, and so in that sense you are rejecting it from a lack of corroborating evidence. But that’s not quite what we’re talking about here, surely?

                      If Tacitus said there were 500 people doing something, that makes sense for 500 people to do, at a point where it makes sense that 500 people were around to do it, few historians would bother doubting it.

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

                      No, what I’m suggesting is that I take everything that Matthew says with a grain of salt because he includes the story of the zombie saints. That causes me to question his reliability as a purveyor of fact. If Matthew told me about 500 people doing something sensible in his story, I would be doubtful about it because I am doubtful about the whole story. It might be plausible for the Romans to place guards at Jesus’s tomb, but the fact that Matthew has demonstrated his willingness to invent things for apologetic purposes gives me cause to doubt that it happened.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      Okay, got ya. So who does make your list of ancient texts that can be thought to have any truth in them? Tacitus you’ve mentioned (I’m not up on Tacitus’s failings). Not Josephus, his reasons for lying are well documented, his life quite literally depended on it, and much of his portrayal of the Jewish war doesn’t match the archaeological evidence from Galilee. Anyone else?

                      I’m out of time unfortunately. Maybe tomorrow…

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

                      I don’t read enough ancient history to have a strong opinion on which historians are reliable and when. I understand that Tacitus had certain issues on which his biases tended to cloud his judgment.

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      “I don’t read enough ancient history to have a strong opinion on which historians are reliable and when.”

                      Then just concede you are out of your element and move on. No ancient historians dismiss an entire author’s work as complete fiction because it contains fictitious elements and for good reason.

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

                      I didn’t say they did or should.

                    • Gary

                      I still vote for Vinny. “No ancient historians dismiss an entire author’s work as complete fiction because it contains fictitious elements”. Key work is ancient. Irenaeus would dismiss all of the Nag Hammadi documents. Being a bishop might have something to do with it. Athanasius effectively filtered all the data being used as evidence drawn from the canon. Maybe because he was a bishop? Of course. So debating a select wording from Paul, on its meaning, as if Paul were inerrant seems to be a wasted exercise. The second revelation of James clearly states James is the biological brother of Jesus. The first revelation of James leaves some doubt about it. Paul’s statements are rather ambiguous, otherwise there wouldn’t be this discussion. So the conclusion, there is some doubt about it. I wouldn’t give Paul an inerrant coat to wear, anyway, just from the words of an ancient historian like Bishop Irenaeus. Or Paul. BTW, just my opinion. Not interested in debate. Vinny wins.

                    • Gary

                      Maybe I should change my mind :-).
                      Jesus – “Hello, my brother; brother, hello”.
                      James – “As I raised my head to look at him, mother said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, my son, because he said to you, “My brother.” You were both nourished with the same milk. That is why he says to me, “My mother.” He is not a stranger to us; he is your stepbrother….
                      Jesus – “Your father is not my Father
                      but my Father has become a father to you.”

                      So that settles it, assuming I give equal weight to “The Second Revelation of James”. Gnostics had an agenda, just like Paul. However, at least the Gnostics don’t beat around the bush, and leave a statement that is ambiguous. In this case, at least.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      [Edit: deleted petulance].

                    • Gary

                      I put the statement by Paul on the same level of truth as the author of the Book of Thomas. “The Book of Thomas” says “Since it is said that you are my twin”, Jesus to Thomas. Doesn’t mean Jesus has a twin or a brother. Doesn’t mean Jesus or Thomas existed. Just that the author believed some people though Jesus and Thomas were brothers. Putting more weight on a statement by Paul, or any Orthodox Church scholar, automatically filters and biases the weight and conclusions drawn from the data. So I vote for Vinny’s position. But I don’t view it an important enough issue to argue about for hours on end.

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

    Just to show you that I am not ideologically committed to agnosticism, I would like to share some thoughts that occurred to me on the train today.

    I still do not think that Galatians provides much evidence of any specific areas of agreement between Paul and the Jerusalem crowd. Paul’s message to the Galatians seems to be “Listen to me, not them.” Among the things he tells the Galatians are: (1) My message came directly from God, not from the Jerusalem crowd; (2) They added nothing to my message; (3) I ignored them for three years; (4) Then I ignored them for another fourteen (eleven?) years; (5) They spy on us and make us slaves; (6) They are hypocrites; (7) Their reputations mean nothing; (8) They agree that it’s my responsibility to preach to the gentiles.

    So the question occurred to me: Why doesn’t Paul just ditch these guys? If they are just making Paul’s life difficult, why not just denounce them as false brothers with a false revelation and tell the Galatians to have nothing to do with them. Paul seems to be doing fine without them and he doesn’t want them to interfere in his communities. If this is just a mystery cult based on visions of a purely spiritual being, I wouldn’t think that would be very hard to do.

    On the other hand, if the visions were supposed to involve the resurrection of a known human being, then it might be very difficult for Paul to question the authenticity of their experiences without calling into question the authenticity of his own. That might explain why he is forced to acknowledge them as his predecessors even though he denies that they contributed anything to his message.

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

      Sorry for taking so long to respond. I appreciate your thoughts on this. Perhaps you are a historicist in train-ing! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!)

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

        The kind of argument for historicity that I think would convince me would be one that best explains some broadly observable phenomenon in the New Testament rather than one that depends on our ability to determine the authenticity and meaning of a specific verse. For example, I have long thought that the fact that Jesus seems to become more supernatural and less human with each gospel might make it reasonable to extrapolate back to a completely human figure at the beginning. Now it occurs to me that the way that early Christian groups continued to identify with one another despite such vigorous disputes might be another broad phenomenon that is better explained by historicity. If the focus of all these visions and revelations was a purely spiritual being, it seems to me that it might be more likely for them to be splintered by the various conflicts and controversies because it would be easy to simply deny the validity of each other’s experiences. However, if the focus was a known historical person. it might be harder to deny the authenticity of another group’s experience without undercutting the authenticity of one’s own. .

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

          Would the shared notion that a crucified man named Jesus was nonetheless the one to restore the kingship to the line of David perhaps also fit this, as a broadly observable phenomenon in early Christianity that it is harder to imagine people accepting on the basis of one person’s visions, than if there was an actual person that multiple people hoped was the anointed one, who then was crucified?

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

            I know you hate Mormon analogies, but I’m not sure that we have any strong reason to believe that more than a single person’s vision is necessary to get a religious movement going. Assuming that there was a historical Jesus, I can’t tell from the earliest writings whether the belief that he was the Davidic Messiah was the result of anything the man did as opposed to being something that was figured out as a result of the visions after he died.

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

              “After he died” still presupposes a historical human being, does it not?

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

                A ghost presupposes a person who lived, but seeing a ghost is not proof of the person who lived. Similarly, a vision of a crucified man returned from the dead presupposes an actual man who lived, but standing alone the vision is not proof that that man existed. I think you still need independent evidence that he existed. The fact that the vision includes the idea that the man had been the Davidic Messiah doesn’t seem to me to tip the scales one way or the other.

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

                  Well, leaving aside the assumption that people really see ghosts, I would have to envisage someone having a dream. I cannot find the view more probable than the alternative the view that someone managed to convince a significant number of their contemporaries that a man no one had ever heard of was the Messiah despite being crucified by the Romans, a man known only from a dream.

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

                    It is easy for me to imagine that many devout Jews were praying for God to send a deliverer to liberate his people from the Romans only to watch in despair as each potential challenger was mercilessly crushed. Such Jews would have been fertile ground for the idea that this was all really part of God’s plan that his anointed one must suffer and die for the sins of God’s people before God would raise him from the dead and send him a second time to establish HIs kingdom. I don’t think the appeal of the idea would depend on whether the hearer had heard of the person who had done the suffering and dying. He might even think it natural that he had been an obscure person when he walked the earth. It would have been what he was going to do when he came a second time that made the message so appealing.


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