Who Was Jesus?

I’m not a Biblical scholar but I know many of you (including Christians) have strong opinions on this issue.

Reader Melissa sends this in an email:

… I feel as though I am reliving last semester — a period in which I took both Mythology and History at once. During the beginning, due to the influence Mythology had on me, I was positive that “Jesus Christ” was just a fictional character, spread by merchants over large lands, that evolved and continued to spread due to the various cultural impacts. But upon taking History, my entire train of thought came to a halt when my professor taught us about Jesus and all that transpired before and after his birth. While my professor was Catholic, he taught us right out of the text, which was a very feminist, liberal-as-you-can-be book.

So here I am, stuck in the thought process, wondering if Jesus really existed and was a good man who people mistakenly took as their savior, or was just a fictional character who went by many names all throughout the continent.

While I don’t expect you to really have an answer for me, I was wondering if you had any book suggestions that might help me sort things out a bit more? I’m personally leaning towards the Jesus with many names and faces, but while I like to believe that, the chronological time line I was taught in history disproves that.

Do you have any suggestions as to good resources for Melissa so she can investigate this further?

(Please keep the comments tame.)

  • http://www.poligazette.com Lynx

    The problem with the historicity of Jesus is that it is inevitably colored by the personal belief of the person studying it. Someone who is a Christian (or even a Muslim) will be biased against data denying the existence of Jesus, even if in all other aspects they are solid in their scholarly integrity. People of other or no religions can be biased against the existence of Jesus, though not necessarily, as the existence of Jesus does not need to imply his divinity.
    I don’t really think that for someone who is an actual student of history a single source would be adequate. The wikipedia entry on the historicity of Jesus provides references to several different accounts and scholars on the subject. Hope that helps.

  • http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com James F. McGrath

    I’ve had some interesting discussions on my blog (and on YouTube) about the question of Jesus’ existence.

    As a New Testament scholar, I’d recommend E. P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus as a nice, mainstream, scholarly treatment. For more detail, the multi-volume series by John P. Meier (entitled A Marginal Jew) is good, as is the textbook by Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus. A good book that surveys differents historical portraits of Jesus is Mark Allen Powell’s Jesus as a Figure of History. And a look at the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus is a good place to get into the nitty gritty of the latest scholarship in detail.

    Hope this is useful!

  • Adrian

    Wow, a big question. There are a lot of different opinions on this one. Personally I think that there’s a huge difference between saying that there was a real-life preacher upon whom the Jesus-character was based and saying that there really was a Jesus so I think it’s a huge stretch to start asking what Jesus really did or didn’t do.

    There are a few different opinions on this subject. I have been convinced by the arguments of the mythicists but I’ll happily change my mind if historicists can provide some evidence. Good sources for the mythicist position are:

    http://www.humanists.net/jesuspuzzle/home.htm This is one of the best Internet resources including the full text of Doherty’s first book. It has bite-size chunks in addition to meaty portions so take your time, there’s a lot of material to cover.

    Richard Carrier is writing a book on the mythic Jesus but it hasn’t been released yet. In the meantime: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html

    I haven’t read any books by Bob Price, just listened to his interviews but many people have recommended his book “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man”: http://www.amazon.com/Incredible-Shrinking-Son-Man-Tradition/dp/1591021219/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1230224094&sr=1-2

    On the sceptical historicist side, Dr Hector Avalos wrote “The End of Biblical Studies” which is supposed to be very good. There’s also “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart D. Ehrman.

    There are millions of books by people who think that not only was there an historical Jesus but he really did everything described in the bible. They’re a dime a dozen and I haven’t found any that are worth the paper they’re printed on but it’s worth spending some time reading it just so you understand where they’re coming from, in their own words.

  • J Myers

    I believe Richard Carrier was writing a book on this subject, to be released in 2009; I’d keep an eye out for that. His latest radio appearance addressed the origins of Christmas and the historicity of Jesus, though I haven’t listened to it yet. I’d also keep checking here (The Jesus Proeject–presently under construction).

    Generally speaking, I wouldn’t worry about it much–what does it matter? He is either all myth or part myth, and even if the latter, there are much more interesting historical figures to study.

  • Adrian

    To add to my first paragraph, there was a real-life Saint Nicholas who left coins in children’s shoes and who is the basis for Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas isn’t Santa Claus though he may have inspired the legend. There are so many problems with the gospel accounts of Jesus that there’s virtually nothing which could plausibly be original to a hypothetical real preacher that I think it’s deceptive to even refer to them by the same name since it’s too easy to associate all of the magic and miracles with the name. Call any potential real-life preacher J1 or Jones and ask what we know about him (essentially nothing), but talking about a real-life Jesus makes as much sense as talking about the real-life Superman or Santa. I think your professor does you a disservice by confusing this issue.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    There is an article by J.Z. Smith in the Encyclopedia of Religion called “Dying and Rising Gods” that argues that the whole concept of dying and rising gods is poorly evidenced and in no small part a product of trying to impose Christian categories on non-Christian religions.

    I haven’t read much of Bart Ehrman, but from what I’ve heard, he seems to be a decent source on the historical Jesus.

    Also, why should a historical Jesus have necessarily been a “good man”? Why could he not have been a lunatic, not much different in some ways from modern cult leaders?

  • Erp

    Actually there can be some doubt on the real life St. Nicholas. It is possible that multiple people were combined and a dose of mythmaking to create what we ‘know’ about St. Nicholas.

    As for Jesus, I suspect there was a real person at the core but that most of the story is later additions (the two nativity stories of Matthew and Luke in particular).

  • Helene

    I believe Barbara Walker is also writing a book on the theory that Jesus was wholly mythological. I heard her in an interview making the case for this kind of made-up saviour figure which I believe she argued was a common and accepted thing at the time.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Adrian, I have yet to be impressed by Doherty. I noted in an IIDB post where he uses equivocation to render the Greek phrase kata sarka as meaning “in the sublunar realm.” That phrase supposedly ties Paul’s words to Doherty’s take on Middle Platonic ideas about the sublunar realm.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    If you’re a serious student who is interested in investigating all the available evidence and assessing all sides of the debate I would highly recommend reading N T Wright.

    His ‘The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is’ is good if you’d like a light introduction, his ‘The New Testament and the People of God’ and ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ are good if you’re up to something more meaty.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    BTW, I think that the better blog post of Dr. McGrath’s take on Jesus’s existence is here:

    Messiah vs. Myth: Did Jesus Exist? A Response to Tom Verenna

    The comments are especially interesting. I especially like this comment by Dr. McGrath:

    It is hard to understand why you think Christians would have done in their time what would have been the equivalent of, in a modern American context, inventing a story about a president who never gets elected but instead gets executed by lethal injection, and they then proclaim him as the true president who one day will return to take office.

    (Unfortunately, one of the repliers to this comment seemed not to have understood that this hypothetical “president” never took office but was supposedly proclaimed as president in spite of this.)

  • Eric

    Just going to echo some of the responses others gave – check out Carrier. Secular Web has a bunch of his stuff, and as mentioned, his book is coming out (hopefully) soon.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned it or not, but Bart Erhman (sp?), Religious Studies Prof at UNC-Chapel Hill has written a great deal on this subject. Some of it is even understandable to the non Religious Studies major (i.e., me).

  • Glen

    For an interesting read, look up ‘The Pagan Christ’. It’s an interesting comparison of the stories of Jesus in the bible and other pagan faiths.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    I’m with Matt Stone on this one.

  • Tyler

    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com

    Despite the seeming brazenness of the name, one of the most comprehensive sources on the subject anywhere.

  • Spacesocks

    I recommend “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” by Bart Ehrman.

  • xxldave

    ATL-Apostate Says:
    December 25th, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned it or not, but Bart Erhman (sp?), Religious Studies Prof at UNC-Chapel Hill has written a great deal on this subject. Some of it is even understandable to the non Religious Studies major (i.e., me).

    I agree. I by chance stumbled upon a lecture series by Prof. Ehrman title The Historical Jesus Ehrman is an agnostic, so his teaching’s are generally non-christian biased.

  • Tao Jones

    Does it really make a difference if he was a real person?

    That doesn’t say anything about his relative divinity or whether or not any of the stories attributed to him are true.

  • http://www.yostivanich.com/ Justin Yost

    I’ve always subscribed to the belief that he (Jesus) existed and was probably a good person who did teach and was religious. However that his ideas and what he said has been misinterpreted or misrepresented by people using him for their benefit or in a misguided belief.

  • http://brentcliffe.blogspot.com Alex

    On iTunes U, there’s a Stanford University lecture series by Thomas Sheehan called The Historical Jesus. I think Sheehan is a great lecturer: well-spoken, erudite and funny.

    It’s a 10 part lecture series. Best of all, it’s free.

  • Thorongil

    I recommend “The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ” by Gerald Massey, which tries to separate fact from religion.

  • False Prophet

    For another take on the historical Jesus, try How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson. Wilson, a theologian, was an Anglican (Episcopalian) who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and believes the Jewish rabbi Jesus of history was co-opted by Paul into the pagan-like resurrected divinity Christ.

  • Steven Carr

    The search for the historical Jesus has failed so many times that now these failures are numbered – the first quest, the second quest, the third quest.

    Historicists cannot produce a consistent historical Jesus.

    Some of the wilder theories about the historical Jesus (he went to India, he married Mary Magdalene) are crazier than some mythical theories.

    Similarly some mythical theories (the NT was all written by Romans…) are crazier than some historical theories.

    We know from 2 Corinthians that Christians had lots of different Jesus’s.

    The period between 65 AD and 90 AD was when any controlling influence from Jerusalem was lost, and when knowledge of the early church vanishes to almost zero.

    So we really don’t know what Christians of that time were or were not making up about a Jesus.

  • Steven Carr

    MCGRATH
    It is hard to understand why you think Christians would have done in their time what would have been the equivalent of, in a modern American context, inventing a story about a president who never gets elected but instead gets executed by lethal injection, and they then proclaim him as the true president who one day will return to take office.

    CARR
    Would no radical Muslim sect never think somebody executed by the Great Satan would become a noble martyr?

    Especially if the Koran foretold a Messiah would be ‘cut off and have nothing’ or foretold a suffering servant?

    Why would people invent stories of Dionysus being torn to pieces and then ascending to Heaven?

    Justin Martyr points out in his First Apology all the really embarrassing beliefs Greeks had ‘Far be it from every sound mind to entertain such a concept of the deities as that Zeus, whom they call the ruler and begetter of all, should have been a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that moved by desire of evil and shameful pleasures he descended on Ganymede and the many women whom he seduced, and that his sons after him were guilty of similar actions. ‘

    Proponents of a historical Jesus must believe that all this happened, because their ‘criterion of embarrassment’ tells them that nobody invents embarrassing stories about their gods.

  • Grimalkin

    I think we can pretty much assume that Jesus existed. The entire birth-30years story is fiction and anything added on after the crucifixion is fiction. Most of what is in-between has been mythologised, making it extremely difficult to tell which parts of that are fiction. However, there are some bits that ring true.

    Consider this: why would a bunch of people get together and just make up a leader? That would take a deliberate attempt at myth-making. Isn’t it easier to believe that they just started off with dead preacher and tacked a whole bunch of “I heard he…” stories onto that? If we can assume that there is no god because of all the explanations and logical hoops we would have to go through to explain his possible existence, then we must for the same reason assume that there WAS a Jesus.

    The overall story of Jesus with all the miracles and sayings taken out fits with what we know of Judea at that time. We know, for example, that Passover was an extremely explosive time and we know that the Romans would have been quick to get rid of any Jews talking about a “new kingdom” that would come and replace the current leadership – especially at a time when the population is so condensed (with everyone going to Jerusalem for the celebrations) and everyone is thinking about a story of escaping from oppressors.

    We also know that there were tons of guys who walked around Judea around the time of Jesus, guys we have a lot more contemporary evidence for. We know that they preached various things, some in-line with what Jesus supposedly preached. We know that several of them were crucified. We know that after their deaths, their followers sometimes believed that they had seen them post-mortem and that their births had been somehow miraculous (the virgin birth was not uncommon). We even know that several of them were called “son of god” by their followers. Just to give you a couple examples, we know about Honi the circle-drawer and Hanina ben Dosa (being the most famous).

    So why is it difficult to believe that there was just one other such guy who attracted just enough notice to get himself killed, but not enough for anyone to bother writing his name down?

  • Grimalkin

    J. J. Ramsey – you are absolutely right that, while we can assume Jesus existed, we absolutely cannot say whether he was a “good person” or a “bad person.” It’s hard enough to pass such black/white moral judgement on people we know all about – it’s all that much harder when we know next to nothing.

    In Mark, we have Jesus coming up to a fruit tree that is NOT in season, finding no fruit, and throwing a tantrum – cursing the tree. This story was embarrassing enough that Matthew changed it to a tree that WAS in season, therefore giving a “meaning” to the story (if you don’t fulfil your purpose, god will curse you). So let’s imagine that this story was true – that there really was some preacher who was really hungry, who saw a tree, wanted fruit, but it wasn’t in season so there wasn’t fruit. So he completely freaked out! We have a human Jesus who has a bad temper – maybe he’s having a bad day, or maybe he’s a schizophrenic or manic-depressive. Maybe he’s a drunk (Jesus does a LOT of drinking in the NT). Maybe he’s got one of those insane and overpowering personalities like Charles Manson.

    Not saying he did – just that there would be an argument (quite a solid argument) to be made that he really wasn’t such a good and wonderful guy. It seems to me that people who say that he was “real but just good guy” want to have it both ways – they want to reject Christianity without offending it.

  • bernarda

    The French/German tv network ARTE has three documentary series on the history of xianity.

    Look up Corpus Christi and The Apocalypse at their site.

    http://www.arteboutique.com/detailProduct.action;jsessionid=0510340F124F548F7FB3AEB3C5191EEF?fromMenu=true&bundle=true&attributeId=4&product.id=4049

    The Romans wrote extensively about the goings-on in their empire. All sorts of people are documented, but no Jesus.

    Even Apollonius of Tyana, the likely model for the Jesus action figure is documented.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    CARR
    Would no radical Muslim sect never think somebody executed by the Great Satan would become a noble martyr?

    Carr, we aren’t discussing a mere martyr here. We are discussing someone who is supposed to displace foreign rule over the Jews and become a leader, but instead not only fails to displace the rulers but is executed by them. In other words, a failure.

    Note that the resurrection doesn’t make Jesus less of a failure as a Messiah, since he still didn’t do what Messiahs are supposed to do, namely get rid of the foreign oppressors and usher in a new age.

    We are inured to Jesus’ failure because our expectations of a Messiah have been reshaped by Christianity. We are so used to thinking of Jesus offering a “spiritual” redemption through the crucifixion that we forget that it is a watered-down, “spiritualized” version of what a Messiah is supposed to offer.

    Especially if the Koran foretold a Messiah would be ‘cut off and have nothing’ or foretold a suffering servant?

    Except the Bible foretells no such thing, and the verses said to foretell the Messiah’s sufferings are about Israel.

    Carr, what McGrath is saying is that the mythicists are alleging that Christians made up a kluge out of whole cloth. It would be one thing simply to profess that a Messiah would come in the future. It is another thing to say that the Messiah came, failed to do what Messiahs are supposed to do, but will come back Real Soon Now to do the job that he didn’t do the first time. That’s where McGrath’s analogy of the phony president executed by lethal injection comes in.

    bernarda:

    The Romans wrote extensively about the goings-on in their empire.

    Maybe in mundane Roman records, perhaps, but the bulk of those are lost.

    BTW, about the JesusNeverExisted site, I can see in the page on Mithraism a rehash of some urban legends about Mithras, especially that he had 12 disciples and that he died and rose.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    For an interesting read, look up ‘The Pagan Christ’. It’s an interesting comparison of the stories of Jesus in the bible and other pagan faiths.

    Interesting, but apparently wrong.

  • http://blargen.com/blog/ postsimian

    Considering the fact that his story is lifted from other religions which predate Christianity, I think the story of Jesus is quite fictional and lacks meaningful historical value. Around that time, there might have been a social/spiritual leader named Jesus who was more comparable to Gandhi and was simply assigned divinity by his followers (or perhaps mistakenly claimed it for himself). This seems plausible to me. Even if they aren’t true, it doesn’t take much for rumors to spread or become legends (Washington and the Cherry Tree, anyone?).

    Anyway, I think it’s possible he may have existed, but certainly not in the manner that his followers wrote of decades after his death (the gospels).

  • Grimalkin

    Sorry, postsimian, but I take issue with the idea that Christians just “lifted” the story from other religions. It makes it sound like some guys are standing around saying “hey, you know that story about Apollo? That one’s pretty good. Can we use that one?”

    That’s not what the process of myth-making is about. It’s not because Alexander the Great was supposedly born of a virgin that Jesus gets to be too. The early Christians started with the idea that Jesus is super awesome. In a time when superstition felt real, the next logical thought is: “If Jesus is so super awesome, how can he possibly have been born in the normal way – the way in which all of us are born?” Basically, it’s difficult to think that an extraordinary person could possibly come through ordinary means.

    So yes, Alexander was born of a virgin, Isis got pregnant despite her husband’s penis getting cut off, and Buddha’s mother was impregnated by a white elephant entering her side while she slept. That doesn’t mean that each of these religions “lifted” the myth from the others. It merely means that there is a natural process of myth-making that Christianity – like Buddhism, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians, the Jews, the Hindus, etc. – all participated in.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    postsimian: “Considering the fact that his story is lifted from other religions which predate Christianity …”

    I’m trying to be nice here, but I keep finding that this supposed fact has been based either on very stretched parallels or outright misinformation.

    Back to Steven Carr …

    Historicists cannot produce a consistent historical Jesus.

    This is a poor objection to the idea that a historical Jesus existed. On can easily argue that the evidence is good enough that a historical Jesus is the most parsimonious explanation, but not good enough to support more than the bare fact of his existence.

    That said, IMHO, I’d say that you were overly pessimistic. I’ve seen two broad categories of historical Jesus:

    * The wisdom teacher. Sometimes derisively referred to as the “hippie Jesus” or “California Jesus.” This Jesus is someone worth admiring, and is in that sense, “safe” for very liberal Christians. The apocalyptic aspects of this Jesus are underplayed or dismissed as legendary accretion. The Jesus Seminar, IIRC, advocates a Jesus like this.

    * The apocalyptic preacher. Preaches that the kingdom of God is coming soon, and we better get ready by shaping up morally. This Jesus is consistent with the broad outlines of the messages in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of the synoptic gospels, but isn’t nearly as safe, since he is clearly mistaken about the apocalypse, which should have happened some time in the first century. One can all too easily picture him as a crackpot. IIRC, this is the sort of Jesus that Bart Ehrman has in mind.

    IMHO, the first broad category is a by-product of those who wanted to somehow retain an admirable Jesus even as they chucked the legendary dross. The second broad category lacks a bias in favor of such a “safe” Jesus and, IMHO, is far more promising.

    We know from 2 Corinthians that Christians had lots of different Jesus’s.

    Evidence?

    Justin Martyr points out in his First Apology all the really embarrassing beliefs Greeks had ‘Far be it from every sound mind to entertain such a concept of the deities as that Zeus, whom they call the ruler and begetter of all, should have been a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that moved by desire of evil and shameful pleasures he descended on Ganymede and the many women whom he seduced, and that his sons after him were guilty of similar actions. ‘

    Proponents of a historical Jesus must believe that all this happened, because their ‘criterion of embarrassment’ tells them that nobody invents embarrassing stories about their gods.

    This is a strawman of the criterion of embarrassment. Fundamentally, the criterion of embarrassment is just a statement that generally speaking, people are more likely to be telling the truth when making statements that are perceived to be against their interests. Note that this isn’t an absolute statement, just a statement about likelihood. There are two things that make your claim problematic.

    The most obvious one is that the statement about Jupiter is made, well, about Jupiter, a supernatural being. One can imagine a two-pan scale where any possible embarrassment goes in one pan, while the supernatural nature of the claims is in the other pan. Here, the supposed embarrassment is simply outweighed by other considerations.

    The second one is that you haven’t established that the ones originally making the claim about Jupiter were embarrassed by it. (This, BTW, is why I referred to “supposed” or “possible” embarrassment earlier.) That the stories are embarrassing to Roman elites does not mean that they are embarrassing to the stories’ originators.

    BTW, Grimalkin …

    It’s not because Alexander the Great was supposedly born of a virgin that Jesus gets to be too.

    More to the point, yes, there was a story of Alexander the Great being the son of a god (though, IIRC, not virgin-born), but Alexander the Great still existed.

  • Grimalkin

    J. J. Ramsey – you are right when you call out the embarrassment factor as it was presented. We can see where there was embarrassment in Christianity because we have three gospels to look at (discounting John because… well… that one’s just crazy). Where a story in Mark has been changed from a version that is theologically problematic to one that is not (either in Matthew or Luke), we can be pretty sure that at least some early Christians found it embarrassing – such as Jesus failing the first time he tries to heal the blind man.

    As for Alexander, you are absolutely right. My apologies. That being said, I didn’t bring him up to compare him to the idea that Jesus existed, but rather to the way in which myths are formed. I’m not really sure what you are getting at when you say “but Alexander the Great still existed.” Did I ever say he didn’t?

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Grimalkin:

    I’m not really sure what you are getting at when you say “but Alexander the Great still existed.” Did I ever say he didn’t?

    Oh, no, of course not. It’s just that Alexander the Great is a handy example of someone about whom legends accreted but who nonetheless existed, and since you happened to mention it, I went with it.

  • bernarda

    The Jesus guy was obviously taken from earlier, like Heracles. He too performed great deeds, rather more impressive that Jesus. Heracles also had a miraculous birth and died in torture and then was called up to heaven by his father.

    The Xian story is much wimpier.

  • Steven Carr

    RAMSEY
    We are inured to Jesus’ failure because our expectations of a Messiah have been reshaped by Christianity.

    CARR
    Gosh. I had no idea that Christian expectations of a Messiah were so irrelevant to explaining Christianity.

    I now realise that only by talking about Jewish expectations of an all-conquering Messiah can we explain why Paul thought it was necessary for somebody to be hung on a tree to take a curse off humanity.

  • Steven Carr

    CARR
    Historicists cannot produce a consistent historical Jesus.

    RAMSEY
    This is a poor objection to the idea that a historical Jesus existed.

    CARR
    Of course. Just as the fact that mythicist theories vary is a poor objection to the idea that a mythical Jesus existed.

    The failure of historicist methods is simply an indication that historicists do not have a methodology to find an historical Jesus.

    Once they start to do the work, then the debate can begin properly.

    It hasn’t started yet….

    RAMSEY wants evidence that there were different Jesus’s.

    CARR
    Well produce a Jesus of Nazareth from the time of Paul.

    2 Corinthians

    For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

    And Ramsey is quite correct that the criterion of embarrassment only works if the original people are embarrassed.

    Paul scorns Christians who do not realise that the Messiah had to be crucified – that this was VITAL to Christianity.

    Galatians 3
    You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

    We know that Jews were raping the scriptures for hidden meanings.

    And Christians like Paul would certainly have read Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9:26.

    Or even Psalm 22…

    RAMSEY
    Except the Bible foretells no such thing, and the verses said to foretell the Messiah’s sufferings are about Israel.

    CARR
    I know that. You know that.

    But do Christians know that?

    Look at nutcases like the writer of Barnabas who found the cross in the number of Abraham’s servants.

    Or Paul, who took an Old Testament law about oxen, and said it was about Christians.

    It is no use being a 21st century atheist and reading the Bible properly.

    These people were not 21st century atheists…..

  • Steven Carr

    GRIMALKIN
    Consider this: why would a bunch of people get together and just make up a leader?

    CARR
    Romulus…

    Aesop…..

    All made up people.

    Even today, people like Benjamin Creme are making up religions about non-existent people like the Maitreya.

    Creme even produces teachings of the Maitreya.

    Did Paul do the same? Who can say?

    Historicists haven’t done the work.

    Why does Paul claim in Romans 10 that Jews had not heard of Jesus (no preacher you see), and they had not had anybody to preach to them, other than Christians who have been sent (and Paul never says Jesus sent them)?

    You can read commentaries on Romans 10 by people like Wright and just get embarrassed that historicists simply don’t do the work.

    Mythicists read the texts and ask questions.

    Once historicists start to answer the questions, then the debate can begin.

    Instead different historicists come up with different Jesus’s to the extent that it is obvious that they need to start again.

    (Which they keep claiming to do, first, second, third quest etc)

  • http://blargen.com/blog/ postsimian

    Grimalkin: A bit of an over-simplification, wouldn’t you say? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the miracles or other attributes were original. It would be unreasonable to expect these men to be familiar with every other deity’s origin and mythology. On the other hand, I think it’s fair to argue that the authors of the bible were at least somewhat educated–they were able to write, after all. Or, maybe it was passed on orally until someone finally decided to write them down. That gives an opportunity for all sorts of things to make their way into the story. I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that a bunch of guys were just standing around bouncing ideas off each other to write the Jesus myth.

    J.J. Ramsey: Sure, some parallels are far more credible than others. Are you denying the parallels exist?

  • http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    I quote without comment from http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/God_Who_Wasnt_There_analysis_Part2.htm

    When we say that Jesus Christ was produced without sexual union, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you believe regarding those whom you call the sons of Jupiter.”
    - Justin Martyr, church father [21:30]

    Here Justin is trying to convince a skeptical pagan audience that there were parallels between pagan myths and the Christ story.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    CARR
    Gosh. I had no idea that Christian expectations of a Messiah were so irrelevant to explaining Christianity.

    We’re talking about Jewish expectations of a Messiah. And no, they aren’t irrelevant, since you have to account for those expectations in order to explain how Christians managed to proclaim as a Messiah someone who didn’t fulfill them.

    I now realise that only by talking about Jewish expectations of an all-conquering Messiah can we explain why Paul thought it was necessary for somebody to be hung on a tree to take a curse off humanity.

    Actually, that is partly true. Christians (including Paul) needed to find some way of explaining away how the crucifixion didn’t disqualify Jesus from being a Messiah. The other part, of course, is the Christian claims that Jesus would eventually be the “all-conquering Messiah” Real Soon Now(TM).

    RAMSEY
    Except the Bible foretells no such thing, and the verses said to foretell the Messiah’s sufferings are about Israel.

    CARR
    I know that. You know that.

    But do Christians know that?

    But that’s the wrong question. You are (apparently) trying to argue that the crucifixion was made up whole cloth. If that is the case, then, you have to come up with an explanation as to why people reading the Scriptures cold, without pre-existing ideas of a Messiah tortured to death in the first place, would read such a Messiah into Isaiah in the first place.

    2 Corinthians [11:3-4]

    For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

    If you are trying to use this passage to indicate that Christians literally thought there were different Jesuses, rather than different takes on who Jesus was, that is, different “spirits” or “gospels”, then I question your exegesis. If you aren’t been that wooden in your interpretation, then I apologize for thinking that you are that foolish.

    Here Justin is trying to convince a skeptical pagan audience that there were parallels between pagan myths and the Christ story.

    And as GakuseiDon pointed out, Justin Martyr often stretched things to prove his thesis.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    J.J. Ramsey: Sure, some parallels are far more credible than others. Are you denying the parallels exist?

    Depends on the parallels in question. Since so many of the alleged parallels are either stretched or just flat out made up, I don’t trust claims of parallels without clear evidence, preferably from a translation of a primary source.

  • http://blargen.com/blog/ postsimian

    That’s a fair way of putting it.

  • http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    RAMSEY
    And no, they aren’t irrelevant, since you have to account for those expectations in order to explain how Christians managed to proclaim as a Messiah someone who didn’t fulfill them.

    CARR
    Historicists also face this question.

    Why did Paul claim Jesus was the Messiah?

    Even Acts says Christians ‘searched the scriptures’ to prove Jesus was the Messiah.

    SO presumably they did not appeal to anything Jesus did.

    But Daniel 9:26 prophesies a Messiah who will be killed.

    And historicists have to take seriously Paul’s claim that there were different Jesus’s being preached , rather than say there was just one Jesus being preached.

    Sorry, but that is what the text says.

    Historicists do not deal with the texts,preferring to engage in abuse and calling people ‘foolish’ who take seriously what Paul writes.

    As pointed out above, historicists assume Jesus existed and make the text fit that.

    That is a bad methodology.

    Let historicists do the work and find out what Paul meant by saying people were following a different Jesus (and he preached a crucified Jesus)

    And stop calling people ‘foolish’ for asking them to look at the text.

    Abuse is not scholarship, even if historicists can think of no other answer.

    Why would anybody make up ‘out of whole cloth’ the castration of Attis, or Adonis being impaled by a boar?

    People did those sorts of things.

    For Paul, it was *necessary* that Jesus was crucified.

    Jewish religion was based on sacrifice.

    Historicists also have to explain why Jesus was crucified – something they cannot agree on.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Even Acts says Christians ’searched the scriptures’ to prove Jesus was the Messiah.

    SO presumably they did not appeal to anything Jesus did.

    That presumption hardly follows. More likely, Christians took their own spin on what Jesus did and quoted Scriptures out of context as proof-text.

    But Daniel 9:26 prophesies a Messiah who will be killed.

    Harper-Collins Study Bible has this note on Daniel 9:26: “Anointed One, Onias III, the deposed high priest murdered in 171 B.C.E. (2 Macc 32-34). The prince. Antiochus IV.

    Since you are so familiar with the text, you obviously know that the book of Daniel fairly accurately “predicts” the events leading to the 167 B.C.E. desecration of the Temple, you know, the stuff Hanukkah was about. This is how they date when the book of Daniel was finished, after the conveniently accurate prophecies.

    As pointed out above, historicists assume Jesus existed and make the text fit that.

    Funny, what I see is mythicists assuming Jesus didn’t exist, and torturing the text to fit, even if it means a spurious translation of kata sarka or finding kludgy explanations for why James is called “brother of the Lord,” or bad analogies comparing someone who is an “elder brother” to humanity in a spiritual sense to someone who was described as a flesh-and-blood brother of specific persons in the past, or klugey explanations for why the “brother of Jesus called Christ” passage in Josephus’ Antiquities is an interpolation, or, at worst, flat out making stuff up.

    There are historicists who probably have taken Jesus’ historicity for granted. There are also historicists who see what a mess the mythicists make and react accordingly. For a while, mythicists were taken seriously, back in, oh, 1912. They stopped being taken seriously because of nonsense like this:

    As might be expected, the fundamental problems of Pauline study are scarcely touched and no fixed principles of critical investigation are followed. One takes from the literature what he pleases and leaves what he pleases. We are told at the start that no compelling proof for the authenticity of any of the letters can be produced, and yet from them a somewhat elaborate and confident exposition of alleged Pauline thought is derived. Anything in these writings supposedly pointing to the historicity of Jesus is explained otherwise, or is called a later insertion. Finally it is asserted that “the Pauline letters contain no compulsion of any sort for the supposition of a historical Jesus, and no man would be likely to find such there if it were not already for him an established assumption.”

    At once several familiar passages demand explanation. For instance I Cor. 11:23ff., describing the last supper on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, seems to point very clearly to a specific event in the life of a historical individual. This difficulty is avoided by assuming that “we have here to do with a clearly later insertion,” at least the reference to the betrayal is “certainly inserted.” Similarly the implication of a historical Jesus in I Cor. 15:5ff. is either another interpolation, or else these experiences are purely ecstatic in character and do not imply, as is commonly supposed, any thought of a definite historical person whose death preceded these unusual manifestations. It is a convenient elasticity of critical method which can allow these options. Again, the mention of “brothers” of the Lord, as in I Cor. 9:5 and Gal. 1:19, is to be understood in the sense of community brotherhood. Yet we are not told why Paul in the same context should not have included Peter and Barnabas in this brotherhood. Moreover brothers in the Lord, not brothers of the Lord, is Paul’s mode of thought for the community relationship. These are typical examples of both the brevity and the method Drews uses in disposing of the Pauline evidence. It is difficult to take arguments of this sort seriously, particularly when they are presented so briefly and with no apparent ground of justification except the presupposition that a historical Jesus must not be recognized.

    Look familiar? The mythicists’ attempts to explain away “brothers of the Lord” haven’t gotten any more elegant since 1912. Or take this, from the same book written in 1912:

    Much is made of the critics’ disagreement on questions of detail, and of their inability to fix upon a definite quantum of information

    Again, this is not only familiar, it is one of your lines of argument. How many times have we seen in this thread you argue that because historicists disagree on various details, the bare fact of Jesus’ existence is suspect? It was no more cogent in 1912 than it is now.

    Mythicism isn’t taken seriously anymore because it was tried a long time ago and found wanting.

  • Steven Carr

    RAMSEY
    Since you are so familiar with the text, you obviously know that the book of Daniel fairly accurately “predicts” the events leading to the 167 B.C.E. desecration of the Temple, you know, the stuff Hanukkah was about.

    CARR
    So what?

    There are many Christians who claim the prophecy is about Jesus.

    If you want to explain Christianity, listening to Christians explain their religion is a first step.

    As for James being the Lord’s brother, that is prima facie evidence for the existence of Jesus.

    Just as Benjamin Creme claiming the Maitreya is an ‘elder brother’ is prima facie evidence for the existence of the Maitreya.

    What historicists have never explained (because they take Jesus for granted) is why a semi-official ‘history’ like Luke/Acts hides all notions of this James ever having seen Jesus , let alone being his brother?

    Or why the author of Jude thinks he can identify himself by calling himself ‘the brother of James’.

    Why identify himself by the rather less important brother, James, rather than Jesus, and why hide the relationship to Jesus?

    And if Jude was the brother of the famous James, and not the brother of Jesus?

    All this is ignored by historicists, just as Ramsey has ignored the Romans 10 point.

    Once historicists start to take the texts seriously, then the debate can begin.

    For example, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08542b.htm claims this Jude was the real brother of James, , yet never wonders why he does not clarify which James he was talking about.

    RAMSEY
    Mythicism isn’t taken seriously anymore because it was tried a long time ago and found wanting.

    CARR
    Of course, this simply isn’t true.

    I guess Ramsey is going to cut and paste the answers to why Acts hides any relationship of James to Jesus, or why Romans 10 says Jews disbelieve because they either have never heard of Jesus or have rejected Christian preaching on the subject.

    But he won’t.

    Because historicists have never done the work.

  • Steven Carr

    RAMSEY
    At once several familiar passages demand explanation. For instance I Cor. 11:23ff., describing the last supper on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, seems to point very clearly to a specific event in the life of a historical individual.

    CARR
    Of course, Ramsey knows perfectly well that Paul uses the word ‘paradidomi’ to refer to God handing over Jesus, or Jesus handing over himself, and that for historicists to translate it as ‘betrayal’ in 1 Cor. 11 and ‘hand over’ in other Pauline passages is simply contentious.

    The founder of the cult founds the highly symbolic cultic meal, where the founder of the cult is finally present among cult members , but in a symbolic, not literal way.

    The one thing Paul mentions Jesus as doing is founding the cult meal.

    That is *exactly* what mythical founders of a religion would be expected to do – found a cult ritual in which the mythical founder is made present, if only in a symbolic way.

    If Ramsey saw another religion where people summoned up the dead , who was then ‘present’ in the food the cult members ate, he would think twice before accepting that the summoned up person had founded that cultic ceremony.

    He would think that cult ceremonies were exactly the sort of thing cult members would assign to the cult ‘founder’.

    But because historicists just assume Christianity was founded by Jesus, they take the Gospel stories of Jesus founding that meal as literal.

    We can see with our own eyes today the founding of a religion based on a non-existent person.

    There is even a picture of this non-existent person at http://www.share-international.org/maitreya/Ma_main.htm

    How is Ramsey going to explain away pictures of people?

    As easily as mythicists point out how Paul has Jesus being revealed ‘in him’, when Jesus was supposed to have been a real person, revealed to the whole of Nazareth?

    Not, of course, that all Gospels record any such alleged event…..

  • Tao Jones

    Regarding this debate going on in here…

    I’ve always been under the impression that when it comes to the historicity of biblical/religious events/people that real scholars of history won’t bother.

    That the majority of works we do have is either by theologians whose scholarship is coloured by their religion or by someone of weak scholarship who is trying to make a point (rather than discover the truth) or simply sell books.

    The real historians are working on things that they believe matter more. They are perhaps also fearful there is a lack of funding for such contentious research which is really only going to piss people off.

    However close this may be to the truth, it is a shame. I, for one, think there should be funding for this kind of research as long as is objective and based in science. I’d love for someone to find — and publish — definitive proof that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the Agricultural Revolution. Then the meaning of the story changes drastically — it’s not a creation story for humanity, it’s a creation story for god.

    The implications of religion are so incredibly pervasive in our culture, even among us atheists. We really need to understand all the other memes religion empowers.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    RAMSEY
    Since you are so familiar with the text, you obviously know that the book of Daniel fairly accurately “predicts” the events leading to the 167 B.C.E. desecration of the Temple, you know, the stuff Hanukkah was about.

    CARR
    So what?

    There are many Christians who claim the prophecy is about Jesus.

    Yes, Christians who are reading their previously obtained beliefs back into the text. It does not follow from this that pre-Christian Jews, including the ones who supposedly made up this Jesus in the first place, would say that the passage was about the Messiah rather than a very unfortunate prophet, priest, or king, any of which are also anointed.

    As for there being pictures of Maitreya, take a look at this FAQ:

    Q. Will Maitreya look physically like Himself – that is, as He really is – when His first interview takes place, or will He be in a different ‘guise’ – as He usually is when He appears to people?
    A. When He appears to people He is usually using a ‘familiar’, a created person through which some part of His consciousness manifests. But when He appears openly to the world, although not using the name Maitreya, He will appear as in fact He is, in the self-created body in which He manifests now in the world

    Paul does not mention James manifesting himself in such an out of the ordinary fashion.

    As for the reference to 1 Cor. 11:23ff., it is there because it was part of the quote. Shirley Case (the 1912 author of the words that I quoted) mentioned it as a counter to Arthur Drews’ claim that Paul gives no hint of a historical Jesus in his letters. One of the reasons for quoting Case in the first place is to note that historicists were frustrated at the games mythicists played. Speaking of which …

    If Ramsey saw another religion where people summoned up the dead , who was then ‘present’ in the food the cult members ate, he would think twice before accepting that the summoned up person had founded that cultic ceremony.

    I notice that you used the phrase “summoned up the dead,” which suggests the conjuring of spirits or Hollywood’s take on voodoo, when the Lord’s Supper is described more a ritual meal of remembrance. Now, do I think the first communion meal happened as Paul described? I’d say that it’s a definite maybe. :) I would not grant it the certainty that I would the crucifixion. However, the text in 1 Corinthians 11:23ff is far more historically plausible than you grant, and I find it telling that you had to describe it in misleading terms to make it appear less plausible.

    Furthermore, some of your argument is downright bizarre:

    I guess Ramsey is going to cut and paste the answers to why Acts hides any relationship of James to Jesus, or why Romans 10 says Jews disbelieve because they either have never heard of Jesus or have rejected Christian preaching on the subject.

    That Acts doesn’t mention James as the brother of Jesus hardly negates that Mark does. The same can be said for other places where brotherly relationships to Jesus are not mentioned. The idea that Jews hardly heard of yet another poor stiff that the Romans executed is hardly remarkable, and I already explained why many Jews would have rejected Christian preaching on Jesus–because Jesus looks like an utter failure to them.

  • Steven Carr

    So Ramsey thinks it hardly remarkable that the Romans crucified Jesus while the Jews had hardly heard of him?

    Why would they do that, when he was not causing the slighest fuss? Nobody had ever heard of him.

    And I guess that it really doesn’t bother Ramsay that the only even remotely reliable church history never mentions such important things as who this James allegedly was.

    There is no methodology here for finding an historical Jesus.

    It is just all ad hoc hypotheses.

    Historicists haven’t done the work.

    They just cannot say why the author of Luke/Acts would hide such important information or even if he had ever heard of it.

    Once historicists actually produce a methodology rather than spending time counting up how many quests for the historical Jesus have failed, then the debate can begin.

    I would be interested to see how it would pan out. After all , Jesus could well have existed. Who can say?

  • J. J. Ramsey

    So Ramsey thinks it hardly remarkable that the Romans crucified Jesus while the Jews had hardly heard of him?

    Causing enough of a fuss to be executed doesn’t necessarily make one famous. The crowd need not have known or remembered Jesus’ name or what he stood for. And since Paul is writing over a decade after the crucifixion was to have happened, there’s even more opportunity for what little notoriety that Jesus had to fade.

    And I guess that it really doesn’t bother Ramsay that the only even remotely reliable church history never mentions such important things as who this James allegedly was.

    Which “only even remotely reliable church history” is this? Please don’t tell me that you mean Luke, since he had a tendency to “clean up” some of the problems one sees in Mark. Just look at how he reworks Mark 6:1-6.

    Historicists haven’t done the work.

    They just cannot say why the author of Luke/Acts would hide such important information or even if he had ever heard of it.

    Again, this is a pseudoproblem with regard to the question as to whether Jesus existed, since attestation of James as Jesus’ brother is in Mark, the epistle to the Galatians, and Josephus.

  • http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    RAMSEY
    Please don’t tell me that you mean Luke, since he had a tendency to “clean up” some of the problems one sees in Mark.

    CARR
    Yes, he seems to have ‘cleaned up’ Mark’s claim that Jesus had a brother called James.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    CARR
    Yes, he seems to have ‘cleaned up’ Mark’s claim that Jesus had a brother called James.

    Yes, and the reference to Mary from Mark 6:3 as well. So what? Luke radically reworked the story in Mark 6:1-6, so it’s hardly remarkable that incidental details in Mark’s account were lost in the reworking.


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