Zeba Crook and Richard Carrier Discuss the Historicity of Jesus

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Click the above to watch their discussion on YouTube. I didn’t watch the whole thing, having just gotten back from Israel late last night, but I listened to snippets. On the whole, the parts I listened to seemed to provide a good overview of the scholarly consensus view as well as of the mythicist viewpoint.

I appreciated Carrier’s acknowledgment that the argument from silence (especially when coupled with dubious claims such as that “Pontius Pilate was a meticulous record-keeper”) don’t work because of the nature of the evidence.

Carrier’s statement right at the end, that Agapius’ version of the Testimonium Flavianum has been demonstrated to derive via the Syriac from the altered version of the passage, certainly does not seem to me to reflect the consensus on the issue at all.

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  • Matt Brown

    Crook-1 Carrier-0

    I thought Crook made a few errors here and there, but overall he didn’t do too bad. I really liked his opening statement focusing on Paul’s epistles. If mythicism were true, then where did Paul get these teachings from? He certainly doesn’t claim they were his, especially considering that Paul was a pharisee before his vision of Christ on the road to Damascus.

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

      Paul doesn’t claim the teachings were anyone else’s either. He says he got them by revelation.

      It seems to me that there are three possibilities: (1) Paul came up with the teachings himself and attributed them to revelation; (2) Paul got the teachings from someone else and attributed them to revelation; and (3) Paul actually got the teachings by revelation. I think either of the first two are reasonable possibilities.

      • Bob

        Paul received the soteriology by revelation, according to his comment in Galatians, but what other teachings would you consider to have been initiated specifically by Christianity that didn’t already pre-exist in some form in either Judaism or the Helenism, for that matter, of the time?

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

          I don’t doubt that Christianity was pulled together from pre-existing elements. My question concerns who pulled together the formulations that we find in Paul’s letters. Did Paul learn them from those who had visions of the risen Christ before him or was he primarily responsible for working out the meaning of the visions

      • Matt Brown

        But Paul makes some very off-the-cuff remarks about Jesus that would indicate to us the readers that Jesus was actually a historical figure that existed.

        The argument that mythicists use about Paul receiving these words himself from revelation is a non-sequitir becaue it at best proves that Paul(and early Christians) believed in a real Jesus, who was also divine.

        • Speusippus

          “But Paul makes some very off-the-cuff remarks about Jesus that would indicate to us the readers that Jesus was actually a historical figure that existed.”

          Which off-the-cuff remarks do you have in mind?

          • Matt Brown

            Several, if you look at Zeba’s opening argument, he gives some examples around 17:00 minutes during the debate.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgmHqjblsPw

            • Austin Hill

              Hm. Not very convincing. Considering the other part of the argument is that they are specifically trying to make Jesus out to be a deity that came to earth as a person. Why the wouldn’t he say he was born of a woman?

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

                Paul does say that Jesus was “born of a woman” as well as mentioning that he was allegedly of Davidic descent. Mythicists deal with these texts by claiming that you could be born of a woman and of Davidic descent in the celestial realm. The problems with that approach have been discussed on this blog before more than once.

                • Austin Hill

                  He does say that. The argument I was aware of was that they were trying to give this deity an earthly place. Why wouldn’t somebody with that goal use those words?

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

                    Mythicism is the view that Paul didn’t think Jesus had ever been a historical person on Earth. Is that not what you were talking about?

                    It is clear that some early Christians wanted to give the human person Jesus a celestial origin, but that is something very different, is it not?

                    • Austin Hill

                      Please excuse me as I am new to this particular topic and am trying to learn more. I’ve studied biblical history, not as a major, but I never got into the historicity of Jesus before. What interested me in this topic was Richard Carrier. From my understanding of his theory was, Paul was trying to place him on earth purposely while knowing him as a celestial being.

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

                      No, Carrier and others like him claim that Paul thought Jesus was a figure who had never appeared on Earth, except in dreams and visions.

                      The evidence seems to me to make much more sense when viewed as instances of some Christians claiming that the human being they thought was the Messiah having pre-existed in heaven, whether as a human being, or in the sense that some divine attribute, such as God’s Word or Wisdom, was embodied in his earthly life.

                    • Austin Hill

                      At the moment. I am inclined to disagree. Why does he constantly make the comparison to the convention of putting gods on earth and in points of history? Is he not referring to Paul?

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

                      No. Not unless he has changed his mind about his understanding of Paul.

                    • Austin Hill

                      Who is he referring to then, if not Paul?

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

                      Carrier’s view, unless I am mistaken, is like Doherty’s, and says that the Gospels try to turn the originally purely celestial Jesus of Paul’s letters into a terrestrial human being. Obviously that claim is problematic, since we see an overall trajectory in early Christianity to increasingly exalt Jesus and to downplay his humanity. Mythicism claims the reverse happened first.

                    • Austin Hill

                      They all seem to equally depict a magical deity come to earth and rise from the dead to ascend back to heaven as well. There could be other attributions to him becoming more mythical as well. Since its been discussed people had a hard time accepting the original story.

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

                      First, could you kindly take the time to word your comments clearly?

                      Second, other than the Gospel of John, none of the Gospels in the New Testament depict Jesus as a figure that comes to earth from heaven. That is a relatively late development. He is depicted as a human figure. There certainly are claims of miracles, but those are quite common in literature from the ancient world, and in a time when illness was blamed on demons, many historical individuals practiced exorcism. Not believing in demons does not mean that one ceases to conclude that human exorcists did not exist, any more than rejecting astrology ought to lead one to conclude that ancient astrologers did not exist.

                    • Austin Hill

                      My apologies. I will try to be clear. Do none discuss him as the Lord or son of god?

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

                      If this is genuinely you trying to be clearer, then that doesn’t bode well for this conversation.

                      Who does “none” refer to? What do you think the terms “lord” and “son of God” mean and what do you think their relevance is to the subject which I thought we were discussing?

              • Matt Browwwwn

                I don’t see how Jesus’ divinity disproves his humanity, especially when all four gospels say that Jesus had an earthly family that was composed of human brothers and sisters, as well as an earthly mother and Father. We know that James is mentioned as being the brother of Jesus in all four Gospels, Paul’s epistles, Josephus and a few early church fathers.

                • Austin Hill

                  Well they also claim he rose from the dead. Should the fact all four agree to this mean we should view it as a probable fact?

                  • Matt Browwwwn

                    Sure, because there are multiple independent sources for the gospels on both things.

                    • arcseconds

                      Do you normally believe in incredible stories if there are multiple independent attestations for them?

                      There are many stories from multiple people about Uri Geller’s paranormal abilities, for example: his (purported) ability to read minds, appear in places when he was known to be elsewhere, etc.

                    • Matt Browwwwn

                      Hello arcseconds,

                      Multiple Independent attestation does not mean that because multiple authors mention an event or person more than once, it is therefore true. It means that if authors have multiple independent sources to access their stories, then it is more probable or likely to not have been invented.

                    • arcseconds

                      So, you think that it’s most likely true that Uri Geller can read minds and teleport, then?

                      How about UFO abductions? There are a lot of attestations to this phenomenon, they tell the same sort of story as to how a UFO abduction proceeds, and they are largely independent of one another to a greater extent than the Gospels are thought to be, in the sense that the people reporting them don’t know one another personally, aren’t passing on someone else’s testimony, etc.

                    • Matt Browwwwn

                      I don’t know who Uri Geller is and whether or not there are independent sources to his supposed paranormal abilities. All I I’m simply saying is that NT scholars and historians agree on these things because like any other historical event, if you have several independent sources then it’s more likely to be historical then made up.

                      I think some UFO abductions are real, but that’s irrelevant to the historical evidence for the Gospels on Jesus’ burial and Resurrection.

                    • arcseconds

                      NT scholars and historians don’t agree on these things. Don’t misrepresent expert opinion. Ehrman, Hoffman, and McGrath, to name but three, do not believe in a literal resurrection. Goodacre I’m almost certain does not either, and he wouldn’t believe it on the basis of the criterion of multiple attestation, because he doesn’t like the criterion. I am of the understanding that many of the scholars that do believe in a literal resurrection do not think it can be proven historically, and so remains a faith-claim.

                      (Given the discussion that’s been happening lately, it’s clear that by saying such things you are only going to encourage the view of some mythicists that NT studies is conducted entirely by credulous, uncritical believers, and deserves no serious attention)

                      And it’s perhaps as well they do not.

                      Genuinely independent evidence would raise the probability of an occurrence, yes, but the likelihood of the occurrence has to be taken into account. ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, as the saying goes, and this can be established fairly simply on Bayesian grounds.

                      For example, it’s somewhat unlikely that McGrath is a bridge champion, but there are thousands of bridge champions in the world, so it’s not overwhelmingly unlikely. If two people acquainted with him were to tell me this, I wouldn’t have too much difficulty in believing it. I would find it a lot harder to believe he’s in the witness protection programme after testifying against the Mob, so I’d need more than a couple of people I don’t know telling me that to believe it. I’d need even more convincing evidence to believe he’s actually from Outer Space.

                      If you genuinely believe that two or three people telling you something independently of one another means you can trust whatever it is they say to be true, I’d strongly encourage you to think very carefully about this, because such a credulous attitude puts you at significant risk of fraud.

                      Anyway, the Gospels are not actually genuinely independent of one another, are they? The synoptic gospels are all viewed (by all serious scholars, as far as I know) as having drawn on the same source material. In fact, they’re all viewed as deriving partly from Mark. And the standard view seems to be that all of them, including John (at least when it’s not being other-worldly), are derived from an earlier oral tradition. The accounts we have about the apostles after the crucifixion suggest that they maintained a community, which is a plausible locus for the kernel of the oral tradition.

                      All we can really say under these conditions is that something that’s multiply-attested to probably wasn’t made up by both writers independently of one another. Either one is copying from the other, or both are drawing on the same source (which may in fact be several different versions of the same story, perhaps transmitted orally). Or maybe they collaborated to make it up, but that’s rather less likely.

                    • Matt Browwwwn

                      Um, excuse me, but I never made the claim that all historians believed in a literal resurrection. What I said was that historians agree with certain facts about Jesus that happened after his death. The burial/empty tomb, the appearances to his followers, and his followers had truly been convinced that he was the risen Christ. None of these facts are “extraordinary”. These facts can be demonstrated by the historical-critical method. What would be extrarordinary is the best explanation of these facts. Extraordinary claims does not require extraordinary evidence. All a claim needs is facts and evidence to show that it is true. IF you presuppose philosophical or scientific naturalism, then obviously, miracles can’t happen because your conclusion is your assumption. But if you are open to the possibility of miracles, then it’s possible that a miracle has accord. Hume’s argument that you seem to be touting here, has been disproven by probability theorists and philosophers. You can’t rule out the possibility of a miracle simply because it’s so improbable. You have to show the probability of a miracle not happening relative to the event. Even though the gospels are not entirely independent of each other, the passion narratives as well as the narratives about Jesus after his death, are independent of each other. They are in early sources, like Mark, that go back to within even 1-5 years after Jesus’ death.

                    • arcseconds

                      Um, excuse me, but I never made the claim that all historians believed in a literal resurrection.

                      Well, it certainly sounded like it. Austin asked:

                      Well they also claim he rose from the dead. Should the fact all four agree to this mean we should view it as a probable fact?

                      You said in reply:

                      Sure, because there are multiple independent sources for the gospels on both things.

                      And then a little later:

                      All I I’m simply saying is that NT scholars and historians agree on these things because like any other historical event, if you have several independent sources then it’s more likely to be historical then made up.

                      As the only thing that had been discussed up until that time was Jesus rising from the dead being viewed as probable fact(*), how could we understand ‘these things’ that NT scholars and historians agree on as be anything other than Jesus rising from the dead? I mean, apart from us being required to read your mind?

                      Certainly the view that Jesus somehow survived his execution seems to have been an early tradition, and there seems to be reasonably widespread agreement that his followers experiencing seeing him and an empty tomb are on the table as possibilities, so to speak.(†)

                      But if you want us to understand it’s that that historians agree on, rather than the resurrection, you need to clearly distinguish an empty tomb and possible appearances from the resurrection.


                      (*) well, I had also mentioned Uri Geller, but clearly you weren’t thinking that NT scholars agree about his alleged paranormal powers.

                      (†) Although I don’t think there’s a consensus on this. One biblical scholar (Ehrman, I think) has recently become convinced that Jesus’s body was probably left on the cross for the birds and then discarded.

                    • Matt Browwwwn

                      Okay, I’m sorry for the confusion. Perhaps I should have made myself more clear.

                      There isn’t a consensus on the burial/empty tomb but most scholars would say that it happened since there is a very good amount of evidence to substantiate it happened. There is widespread agreement on the appearances though.

                      I’m not sure where you see Jesus surviving his execution as something that was embedded in the early tradition. There isn’t any evidence to support this because we know the nature of Crucifixion and it didn’t usually involve people surviving it. Even if Jesus did survive his execution, how would you then explain his disciples believing in him as the risen messiah? They would realize that he’s still alive and didn’t yet die.

                  • arcseconds

                    Does the fact that a document attests to incredible happenings automatically mean that it’s to be dismissed when it mentions mundane things?

                    For example, let’s say someone tells you they were involved in a horrific car accident. Normally we just believe these accounts, don’t we? Now lets say they claim to have experienced going up to heaven and seeing their dead relatives while they were unconscious. OK, so we doubt that actually happened, but does this mean that the car accident itself is to be dismissed as fiction?

  • Bethany

    “Pontius Pilate was a meticulous record-keeper”

    I thought we didn’t have *any* contemporary records related to Pilate. (And why would he have had a record related to Jesus anyway? It’s not as if he had to justify executing him to anyone.)

    • Matt Brown

      Even Carrier himself admitted at the end of the debate, during the Q&A that, we have little to no court affidavits or trial records written. The fact that Jesus is mentioned by Josephus and Tacitus, is enought corroborate the gospel accounts on Jesus and his crucifixion.

      • Speusippus

        What’s the basis for saying Josephus and Tacitus suffice to corroborate the existence of Jesus, rather than the more conservative conclusion that they suffice to corroborate the existence of stories about Jesus?

        • Matt Brown

          Because they’re both historians who are giving a history of events during Jesus’ time. The fact that they both mention that there was a Jesus that was crucified by a Roman governor named “Pontius Pilate”, and was the leader/founder of Christianity, is evidence that verifies the gospel accounts on the exact same thing.

          • Ken Scaletta

            It shows, at most, that that Christians existed at the end of the 1st Century. In point of fact, Tacitus does not know Jesus’ name and calls him “Christos” (and even that appears to have been altered from “Chrestos” in the oldest manuscript). Tacitus also gets Pilate’s title anachronistically wrong, which shows he was not getting his information from any official records (records which are highly unlikely to have ever been in the Roman archives in the first place), but only from other Chistians.

            The Testimonium is at least partially forged, is at the least, untrustworthy as being authentic at all (though I don’t deny it’s possible) and the James passage, I think, has nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth (which would make no sense to the reader since Josephus only calls Jesus “Christ” in a line of the TF which virtually everybody agrees is forged), but with Jesus ben Damneus, who Josephus says was appointed HP after the stoning of James. “Messiah” was a title of office for all High Priests, so Jesus ben Damneus would have literally been a “Jesus called Christ.”

            • Matt Brown

              “shows, at most, that that Christians existed at the end of the 1st Century. In point of fact, Tacitus does not know Jesus’ name and calls him “Christos” (and even that appears to have been altered from “Chestos” in the oldest manuscript). Tacitus also gets Pilate’s title anachronistically wrong, which shows he was not getting his information from any official records (records which are highly unlikely to have ever been in the Roman archives in the first place), but only from other Chistians.”

              That’s not simply the case. Christos is a mispelling of “Christ”, there is no evidence in the manuscripts that we have that would show a Christian altered it to mean what you think it says. The tone is very hostile toward Christians, and it’s highly unlikely that Tacitus got his information from a Christian source. In fact, Tacitus in his other works would mention if he was writing from “hearsay”, however, his passage contains nothing about hearsay. It would not have been unlikely for Tacitus to get his source from a roman record since he was a member of the inner circle in Rome.

              “The Testimonium is at least partially forged, is at the least, untrustworthy as being authentic at all (though I don’t deny it’s possible) and the James passage, I think, has nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth (which would make no sense to the reader since Josephus only calls Jesus “Christ” in a line of the TF which virtually everybody agrees is forged), but with Jesus ben Damneus, who Josephus says was appointed HP after the stoning of James. “Messiah” was a title of office for all High Priests, so Jesus ben Damneus would have literally been a “Jesus called Christ.”

              The first mention of Jesus contained an authentic core or nucleus that mentioned Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, and his movement that followed after his death, however, what most historians think is that it was later touched by a Christian hand.

              The second passage is not a forgery and is highly authentic. There is no evidence that it was forged and also, there is no evidence to suggest that Josephus was talking aobut Jesus ben Damneus. That view is highly problematic and not held by virtually any historian.

              • Ken Scaletta

                That’s not simply the case. Christos is a mispelling of “Christ”,

                If I recall correctly (and should have when I posted the first time), Tacitus says “Christus,” which is a Latin transliteration of XRESTOS, which is how “Christ” is always spelled in Greek. “Christ” is an English transliteration of XRISTOS.

                “there is no evidence in the manuscripts that we have that would show a Christian altered it to mean what you think it says.”

                There is a visible correction from “Chrestianos” to “Christianos” in the only surviving manuscript copy, which is itself only from the 9th Century CE.

                http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2008/11/07/a-quick-backtrack/

                http://www.textexcavation.com/documents/zaratacituschrestianos.pdf

                “The tone is very hostile toward Christians, and it’s highly unlikely
                that Tacitus got his information from a Christian source. In fact,
                Tacitus in his other works would mention if he was writing from
                “hearsay”, however, his passage contains nothing about hearsay. It would
                not have been unlikely for Tacitus to get his source from a roman
                record since he was a member of the inner circle in Rome.”

                It’s irrelevant that it’s hostile to Christians since I’m not saying it’s forged. His OPINION of Christians does not mean he didn’t get his information from a general knowledge of what they claimed. It’s editorialized, but it shows no knowledge independent of Christians.

                What makes you think a Roman inner circle would have known or cared or had any access to information about the execution of some obscure provincial peasant 100 years prior? What Roman record would have called Jesus “Christ?” Why didn’t Tacitus know the name “Jesus?”

                • Matt Brown

                  “If I recall correctly (and should have when I posted the first time), Tacitus says “Christus,” which is a Latin transliteration of XRESTOS, which is how “Christ” is always spelled in Greek. “Christ” is an English transliteration of XRISTOS.”

                  Christ is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah”.

                  What makes you think a Roman inner circle would have known or cared or had any access to information about the execution of some obscure provincial peasant 100 years prior? What Roman record would have called Jesus “Christ?” Why didn’t Tacitus know the name “Jesus?”

                  Because he was a part of an inner circle, he must have had some sort of document or source that was reliable. Also, he was giving a history of Nero, which in turn dealt with the Great Fire of Rome, which then describes who Nero blamed the fire on(Christians). Tacitus then descrbies who the founder of Christianity was.

                  “It’s irrelevant that it’s hostile to Christians since I’m not saying it’s forged. His OPINION of Christians does not mean he didn’t get his information from a general knowledge of what they claimed. It’s editorialized, but it shows no knowledge independent of Christians.”

                  This is highly incorrect. Due to his hostile attitude toward Christians, it doesn’t make sense to say that he borrowed his information from them, and that hostility shows that his passage wasn’t a “forgery”. If it was a forgery, the tone would have been much more subtle, not hostile.

                  “There is a visible correction from “Chrestianos” to “Christianos” in the only surviving manuscript copy, which is itself only from the 9th Century CE.

                  http://www.roger-pearse.com/we

                  http://www.textexcavation.com/…”

                  This is simply mistaken. There are no forgeries, but a mispelling of “Christians”. many sources indicate that the term Chrestians was also used among the early followers of Jesus by the second century .The uncorrected Codex Sinaticusn Greek reads Chrestianoi.

          • Speusippus

            What do we know about these two individual’s methods in determining what to write down in their histories? Particularly, what do we know about how those methods applied to the passages in question?

            I’m asking questions like this, I should admit, because I’m a little suspicious of your confidence here, since as eminent an existence-supporter as Bart Ehrman was explicit in his recent book that the TF and Tacitus’s words aren’t particularly relevant to the question of Jesus’s existence, precisely because for all we know those two were simply repeating what Christians believed about themselves.

            But here you’re saying confidently that this is (I assume you would say “probably”) not so. What is it that you know about Josephus and Tacitus that makes you that much more confident than Ehrman on this?

            • Matt Brown

              You’re incorrect. Ehrman does think that Josephus and Tacitus are relevant in the historical Jesus studies. THe reason is because they both corroborate the crucifixion of Jesus.

              • Speusippus

                Ehrman on TF:

                “But that [the TF is at least patially genuine] is not the main point I want to make about the Testimonium. My main point is that … [it] … probably does not ultimately matter for the question I am pursuing here. Whether or not Jesus lived has to be decided on other kinds of evidence from this. And here is why. Suppose Josephus really did write the Testimonium….. [W]here would Josephus have derived this information?”

                “…even though both the mythicsists and their opponents like to fight long and hard over the Testimonium of Josephus, in fact it is only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed.”

                Ehrman on Tacitus:

                “At the same time, the information [about what Tacitus said concerning Jesus] is not particularly helpful in establising that there really lived a man named Jesus. How would Tacitus know what he knew?”

                As I said, Ehrman is explicit that these passages are not particularly relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed.

                But you are confident otherwise. So, as someone who likes to learn, I’m asking you–whence your confidence?

                • Matt Brown

                  I’m not sure where you’re getting these quotes, but it’s irrelevant to mainline scholarship. The point is that we have extra-biblical sources that confirm the existence and crucifixion of Jesus.

                  Eddy and Boyd state that it is now “firmly established” that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.”

                  “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.” John Dominic Crossan

                  • Speusippus

                    The quotations are from Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist.” Sorry I forgot to say that. I don’t have page numbers unfortunately because I only have the Kindle edition.

                    I am afraid I’ve lost your train of thought because you don’t seem to be arguing for the same claim from post to post. To organize things a little bit, let me reiterate that in a previous post you said Ehrman thinks the TF and Tacitus _are_ relevant to the question of Jesus’s existence, but with those quotes, I’ve shown that he thinks they are _not_ relevant. The question of the relevance of this came up because you expressed confidence that they _are_ relevant. This surprises me in light of the fact that Ehrman–AFAIK about as “mainline” as you can get among biblical scholars who are not conservative evangelicals anyway–said the opposite of what you’re saying. This doesn’t make you wrong, but it does show that I needn’t put that much weight in your words without further argument.

                    In this last post you’ve given a little bit of further argument, but only in the form of counterquotes–quotations from other scholars who apparently disagree with Ehrman.

                    I’m used to quote/counterquote approaches from conservative Christian apoligists ;) but not from people discussing scholarly questions about history, biblical or otherwise.

                    My question for you hasn’t been “are there scholars who agree with you,” but rather, “why are you confident in your view, when there exist well-respected mainline scholars who disagree with you?” Counterquotes don’t really answer this question, because they immediately invite the further question–why do you give weight to what some scholars say but not to what others say? What is the information you have that lets you make a judgment between them?

                    • Speusippus

                      Above, where I wrote “the question of the relevance of this came up because you expressed confidence that they _are_ relevant. This surprises me…” that should read “the question of the relevance of the TF and Tacitus came up because you expressed conidence that they are relevant, and this surprised me in light of the fact…”

      • Austin Hill

        Josephus’s writings are highly suspect and Tacitus doesn’t write about Jesus as much as use his crucifixion story as an allegory to describe a later event that involved Christians. The fact that these are considered to validate Jesus’s existence seems a suspect method.

        • Matt Browwwwn

          They’re only suspect in the minds of mythicists:)

          • Austin Hill

            That’s not true at all. Most historians will tell you that Josephus’s writings on Jesus don’t match with any of his other writings.

            • Matt Browwwwn

              There are two passages that mention Jesus that were written by Josephus. The first passage is agreed by most historians to have said something about Jesus, but was later interpolated by Christians. The second passage talks about Jesus’ brother James and his execution. The second one is not disputed and is wholly authentic, of course.

              • Austin Hill

                Josephus’s mention of the crucifixion is considered to be a fake for many reasons, while I keep hearing the claim that “most” historians think it said something about him before being rewritten, there is no evidence or reason to think that.
                For the other passage on Jesus’s brother, there are a lot of historians that think the note about Christ could have been added. That he was referring to another Jesus known at the time who was also known to have a brother.

                • Matt Browwwwn

                  I’m sorry but that is not true. There is a lot of anti Christian friendly stuff in the first passage. The second passage contains no signs of any forgery or added words in any of the manuscripts. The only historian who thinks that is Richard Carrier. Jesus of Nazareth is being referred to here because it fits the context since Josephus talks about James’ execution. The other Jesus comes in later and is unrelated to the death of James.

                  • Austin Hill

                    I’m sorry but I don’t follow. What is this about anti Christian friendly stuff, and what passage are you referring to?

                    Even if Carrier is the only one to think that, why would his hypothesis seem wrong? We can clearly see that Josephus’s writings were purposely changed to display the Christian narrative, yet this idea is crazy? It’s a fairly sound hypothesis. What would debunk this theory?

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

                      His view does not adequately address the evidence of Agapius’ knowledge of the text of the TF in a form that lacks Christian tampering.

                    • Matt Browwwwn

                      The first passage talks about Jesus being crucified under Pilate, something that would have been an embarrassment to the early church.

                      The second passage has no manuscript evidence to support Carrier’s thesis. The context suggests that James was executed, as well as being the brother of Jesus, whom Josephus says was called “Christ”. He’s not merely suggesting that Jesus is Christ, but that Jesus was believed to be the Messiah. Second, the result of James’ execution caused Ananus, who was the High Priest at the time, to step-down and Jesus son of Damneus replaced him. Carrier’s hypothesis is that this Jesus son of Damneus was being talked about in regards to James, and that the bit that calls Jesus the “so-called Christ” is interpolated. Not only is this not supported by the evidence, but it is also very ad-hoc. Jesus was such a common name, it would make sense that Josephus would distinguish between James’ brother, who we know from Paul and the gospels as being called the Messiah and a relative of James, and a high priest.

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

      Yes. Until the inscription was found in Caesarea, we basically knew of him from the New Testament and later Christian works derivative from them, Josephus, and Philo. We barely had evidence for Pilate, never mind from him! :-)

  • Ken Olson

    Hi James,

    Appeal to consensus is always dangerous, both because it’s
    difficult to show there is a consensus and also because a widely held opinion
    may nevertheless be wrong. On the first point, a number of scholars who hold to
    the partial authenticity of the Testimonium, notably including John Meier, do
    not think Agapius preserves a more reliable version of the text. On the second
    point, many scholars who argue that Agapius’ Arabic text of the Testimonium
    sounds more like something that Josephus could have written than does the
    received Greek text simply borrow Shlomo Pines’ English translation of the text
    from _An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications_
    (1971) and don’t discuss the lines of transmission by which the text reached
    Agapius.

    Neither Pines nor any other scholar I know of who has examined the transmission of the text thinks that Agapius had access to Josephus in Greek and no Arabic or Syriac translation of Josephus’ Antiquities is known to have existed. Pines himself thought that Agapius and Michael the Syrian knew their forms of the Testimonium through Syriac sources who took it from Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, who is the source of much of their material. Pines argued that Agapius’ text was likely dependent on a lost early version of Eusebius which had an earlier, more authentic version of the Testimonium. In the paper cited in the video, Alice Whealey agrees that Agapius version of the Testimonium is indirectly dependent on Eusebius through intermediary Syriac sources, but argues that Agapius’ version is a later derivation and his source contained a version of the text very close to that known through our manuscripts of Eusebius and Josephus. (This is one of the relatively few points on which I agree with Whealey).

    I’ve written about the transmission of the text up to Agapius’ here:
    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crosstalk2/conversations/topics/16163

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

      Thank you so much for your comment! Consensuses can of course be wrong – but surely it would be foolhardy to dismiss them for that reason. We should never simply assume consensuses are wrong merely because they theoretically could be. The onus is on scholars who are persuaded that the consensus is wrong to demonstrate that in a way that convinces our peers.

      While Meier has posited a particular reconstruction, with “This one was the Christ” missing altogether, others have suggested that Josephus might have mentioned the designation, but in a less committal fashion, since he refers to him elsewhere as “Jesus called Christ.” And it would be a very significant coincidence indeed if Agapius, as a Christian, paraphrased Josephus in the manner that some scholars reconstructed the pre-interpolation TF without actually knowing the version in Agapius (since, unless I am mistaken, such attempts at reconstructing as original form of the passage in Josephus antedate Pines’ book becoming widely known).

      • Ken Olson

        You’re welcome! I agree that there is an onus on anyone who
        rejects a scholarly consensus (or, really, makes any claim) to make his case. There is also an onus on anyone who claims that there is a consensus on a particular issue to make his. Otherwise it’s just too easy place the burden of proof on the other side and avoid attempting to demonstrate anything oneself. The theory
        that Agapius represents the original form of the Testimonium or something close to it certainly has a number of advocates, but establishing that it is the scholarly consensus would be a tough case to make. It’s rejected or considered inconclusive by a large number of scholars, including many of the major players, not just Meier and Whealey, but also others like Louis Feldman, and
        Heinz Schreckenberg (in his book on the reception history of Josephus). In their Historical Jesus textbook, Gerd Theisen & Annette Merz write of Agapius: “we cannot make any certain
        judgment on the authenticity of the text” (p. 73). I think it’s probably fair to claim, though, there’s a consensus among scholars who discuss the chain of transmission by which the TF reached Agapius that he got it through Syriac sources who got it from Eusebius, as Pines himself said. I’d be interested to know if you accept that.

        Agapius’ text resembles scholarly reconstructions of the TF in omitting or toning down the three parts of the TF most scholars allow are Christian confessions. As I observed in the post to which I linked (sorry, can’t reproduce the whole thing here), these are a small subset of the very large differences between Agapius’ text and the received Greek text. Agapius also says nothing of Jesus’ miracle-working, teaching, denunciation by the Jewish leaders, or the survival of the tribe of Christians named after him. We have a large number of external quotations and paraphrases of the TF and they alter the text in various ways. It’s not particularly unlikely that one or more would omit or qualify the Messianic declaration in the TF (and I’d be surprised if you could name any prior reconstruction that had “he was *perhaps* the
        Messiah”). The striking thing about Agapius’ TF is that it omits or qualifies all three Christian statements. But, as I showed in the linked post (is the link not working?) we know of other texts where Agapius appears to have omitted or watered down references to Jesus’ superhuman nature or abilities from his
        sources,

        Best wishes,

        Ken

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

          Eisler, Pharr, and Bammel held the view that there was a negative mention of Jesus here, with perhaps some reference to people believing Jesus to have been the Messiah. I’m trying to remember what Klausner wrote on the subject. But I was pretty sure that some prior to Pines had already suggested that Jerome’s more tentative phrasing might have reflected the original TF. But I may be misremembering.

          • Ken Olson

            The position that Jerome’s reading reflects the original
            reading of the TF is actually what Whealey is advocating in the paper Carrier
            cites in the video. She’s arguing that Agapius’ “perhaps” is later and depends
            on the same Syriac source as Michael of Antioch, who has “he was believed to be
            the Christ” in agreement with Jerome. Alice
            Whealey, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic, “ NTS 54 (2208) 573-590. http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/whealey2.pdf

  • Andrew Dowling

    James, respectfully I still don’t understand why you post cat-nip for mythicists. Like anyone who adheres strongly enough to a fringe irrational idea to be posting about it on the Internet, they won’t be persuaded; they’ll just troll the board like they normally do.

    • Matt Brown

      What did you think of the debate?

    • GakuseiDon

      Andrew, even though I myself think the historicity argument is stronger, it is worthy to note is that Dr Zeba Crook states at 12 min 45 secs that “the mythicist position is defensible. They have an argument to make.” While there are various mythicist arguments with different strengths, it shouldn’t be written off as “a fringe irrational idea”.

      • Andrew Dowling

        The problem is its adherents by and large don’t try to sensibly make their case with a large dose of humility, which I think is required when making a position that is very much in the minority. If McGrath was having a dialogue with say Robert Price, that could be interesting (although Price can be a little gruff :) ). But Carrier and his adherents show a religious zeal with believing that Jesus was fiction, owing to some hangup with Christianity/religion they seem to have personally and not by objectively considering the evidence.

        • GakuseiDon

          Yes, I agree that many mythicists — even Carrier and Price — can’t quite divorce themselves from the idea that “HJ = Christianity”. I’m often struck by how often they argue “Christian apologists claim…” I’m left thinking, “Who cares what Christian apologists claim in an argument about HJ? If the claim matches modern scholarship, what does it matter that it is also claimed by apologists? And if the claim doesn’t match modern scholarship, why care about it at all?” (The Carrier-Crook debate doesn’t do that, thankfully.)

          But we need to be mindful of the opposite — that there are some crazy claims by mythicists doesn’t mean that all claims by mythicists are crazy. If a serious case for mythicism is made, it needs to be seriously addressed.

        • Speusippus

          “The problem is its adherents by and large don’t try to sensibly make their case with a large dose of humility, which I think is required when making a position that is very much in the minority.”

          Surely any sense in which you’re correct here is purely rhetorical. The only way I can think of that you’re right in what you’re saying here is by interpreting you to mean that Mythicists would score more rhetorical points, would be more likely to be taken seriously, if they were more humble.

          I say that on the assumption that you don’t mistakenly think that the humility or arrogance with which an idea is presented has much of a relationship to the validity or truth of that idea!

  • D Rizdek

    Setting aside the question of whether the documents and archaeology (or lack there of) generally support the existence of a human called Jesus might be compilations of myths about a being who never walked on earth, is it really that important from a Christian theological point of view? Can someone tell me why it’s more important that Jesus walked the earth vs if he was a spiritual being who battled evil and sacrificed in a heavenly “plane” (not airplane{:)?

    What is it about the earth-walking Jesus that impress folks?

    -That he faced trials and temptations like us so we can know he understands our troubles? Do folks who believe their God is omniscient believe he wouldn’t know that? That would rather diminish the value of omniscience IMHO.

    -He shed blood…HUMAN blood for our sins? Really? An omnipotent God couldn’t figure a different way? And even if some sacrifice was needed, a spiritual sacrifice seems to be entirely sufficient…or at least a God could decide it was sufficient.

    -He was resurrected? Again, really? Paul made a big deal of it, but I’ve always thought that was a ridiculous thing for him to highlight. As if, if Jesus hadn’t been resurrected, then Christianity is all a sham. I think there are several cases of dead folks being raised from the dead in the Bible. So that’s not all that special, Biblically. And IF Jesus is a God, duh! OF COURSE he could resurrect himself. One need not question it…in fact, it is a mark against his divinity if he COULD be killed. I would think that without this doctrine, Christians would be claiming humans cannot actually kill a God.

    -He came to earth to teach us in person. But he only did it for 3 years and many of his teachings are confusing, almost seem contradictory and only seem to reflect the teachings of the time. IOW, is there anything particularly unique in Jesus teachings? Besides, folks were perfectly happy to learn from esteemed prophets and teachers who had wisdom and charisma. So certainly there were other ways.

    He performed miracles to show his authority over the things of the earth. I think folks already thought god’s in general and the Biblical God(s) could perform miracles. Folks today happily recount miracles that were NOT at the hand of a physical human Jesus. Besides, if it was important that folks in general see HIM performing miracles in person, why discontinue?

    So, why is a earth-walking (and water-walking) Jesus important vs a spiritual Jesus? For all the flim-flannery, drama and shenanigans, it actually makes me think of Jesus as a myth rather than a real human/God. I am NOT a mythicist nor do I esteem Carrier, particularly. Bu little things make me wonder…like:

    The incessant use of “verily verily I say unto you, blah blah blah.” What is that? It’s like every other thing they put in his mouth has to be emphasized with, “I’m really telling you the truth this time…” It sounds all pious, but when I think of it, it sounds made up.

    The fact that this all-important human-God figure only stuck around 3 years and only affected a few, at most, thousand people, in a time and place steeped with superstition.

    Why do all the post-resurrection sightings read like dreams? The folks in the dream “see” a person who they don’t recognize…and then that person “becomes” Jesus. Jesus “appears” to people. He walks through walls. He is seen as allowing someone to poke their finger in holes in his body….really? Didn’t the resurrection “heal” those holes?

    What is with the almost parlor-trick miracles when a God could’ve actually done something significant for the health and safety of mankind. Why just heal a leper when he could have cured leprosy outright. I know I know, there are explanations, but stepping back, what did Jesus really do that was so important.

    The dying for our sins. I know it’s lauded as such a loving sacrifice. But it makes no sense on so many levels. WHO determines that sin is punishable by death? God! So he has himself killed to pay the penalty. Wouldn’t it be just as easy and less dramatic to just decide that death was not the penalty and use other means to emphasize the importance of doing His will and invite folks to repent and seek a new life? How, exactly does even a God somehow make my sins…often against my fellow humans…simply go away by him having him (or his son) killed AND me believing it? How can a God forgive me for things I’ve done to others? What difference does it make…especially to the person or persons I wronged?
    NONE of the above is incontrovertible, and I am familiar with all the other sides of the issue, but I have to take those and some other things into account when thinking of Jesus and who I think he really might have been.

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

      OK, so there are a number of basic misunderstandings in this comment. First, while what became orthodoxy did consider it important to pay lip service to Jesus’ humanity, the tendency is to divinize him so that his humanity is overshadowed. It is the fact that he is not a divine figure in our earliest sources that indicates the trajectory. And for me, the question is not a theological one but a historical one – any theology must deal with the historical realities first.

      You seem not to understand that Paul thought of Jesus as having participated in the resurrection that all humans were expected to undergo at the end of the age. He wasn’t talking about him having been “resuscitated” to life in the present age.

      The fact that problematic theological claims were brought in to make sense of the cross is one of the reasons why historians conclude that early Christians we trying to explain away a troubling historical fact, and not concocting a theology from scratch.

      • D Rizdek

        “You seem not to understand that Paul thought of Jesus as having participated in the resurrection that all humans were expected to undergo at the end of the age. He wasn’t talking about him having been “resuscitated” to life in the present age.”

        Well maybe, but I am aware of that theology. I actually thought, and perhaps still do think, notwithstanding your view, that he was talking about the physical resurrection of Jesus as being that thing, without which “your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” I think many Christians also believe that. I’m not doubting that he was also talking about the resurrection of people who died in Christ or somehow/symbolically that being freed from the death of sin into the life is a sort of resurrection. But, all of that could be true without a physical Jesus who lived and died and lived again on earth and that was the crux of my point.

        To be clear (and perhaps dense), when you talk about a historical troubling fact, are you referring to Jesus death on the cross? So, and please don’t think I’m trying to put words on your monitor, are you suggesting the physical resurrection they claimed happened might have been inserted later to “make sense” of why a chosen one, a leader, a Messiah would have just up and got himself killed instead of sticking around and leading his followers to a glorious awakening of God’s spirit in the world?

        Thanks for entertaining my thoughts, BTW.

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

          I am not sure that you understood my point. Jesus being the first to undergo the resurrection that all would, the Adam/Christ contrast, the emphasis on his being the descendant of David – none of that fits the mythicist view that Jesus was thought to be a purely celestial figure and not a human being who lived on Earth.

          Yes, it has indeed been suggested that belief in the resurrection is an attempt to deal with the cognitive dissonance of the person they believed to be the Messiah being crucified.

          • D Rizdek

            “I am not sure that you understood my point.”

            No, probably not. But thanks for patiently trying to explain.

            edit: Or maybe I do get it. But I won’t try to reiterate it for fear it won’t be right and you’ll have to explain again a different way{: Again, thanks.

            • Joshua Gough

              Very entertaining and informative discussions, D and James. Thanks.

      • Anonymous

        It is the fact that he is not a divine figure in our earliest sources….

        That is absolutely false. In Paul’s authentic letters Jesus is described as a pre-existent divine being.

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

          No, it is absolutely true. It is debated whether Philippians 2:6-11 envisages a literally pre-existent Jesus. But even there, Jesus pre-exists as a figure who, like Adam, exists in the image of God, and who through obedience (unlike Adam) is exalted to a higher status than he ever previously occupied, having the divine name bestowed upon him, which he did not previously bear.

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  • Jonathan Bernier

    This is very interesting. First, as Zeb says in his opening lines, he’s not a Christian apologist. Quite the opposite, in fact. Second, his take on historical Jesus studies is about as skeptical as one will find among professional New Testament scholars. Third, yet he thinks that Carrier is dead wrong. Quite interesting.

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