Why Jesus Didn’t Exist

Historian Dr. Richard Carrier recently spoke to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics group about why he believes Jesus did not exist:

I haven’t had a chance to watch the video, but please leave any notable timestamps/summaries in the comments!

(Thanks to Phillip for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ellen

    My husband and I watched this a couple nights ago. It gets off to a slow start, but hang in there because it is definitely worth it. There is no doubt I will be buying his book on the subject when it comes out. I hope to contrast it to Bart Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist?” I’d love to see them go head-to-head in a debate.

  • Mister Gradenko

    Richard Carrier is a guy I would love to talk to for hours. Great talk. I will have to seriously think about his theory that Jesus never existed. Not sure about it, yet. But he makes a compelling case.

    • Pseudonym

      Elaine Morgan is a similarly personable speaker who makes a compelling case when she talks about the aquatic ape theory, so I’d take that with a grain of salt.

      A good scholar is their own harshest critic, and the one hour talk
      format is totally inadequate for presenting all of the flaws in your theory, so I didn’t expect much from this. The biggest highlight for me was the frank admission there hasn’t been an academically respectable case for Jesus mythicism, and Carrier’s work is really the first serious attempt to do it. It’ll be interesting to see what mainstream secular historians have to say about it; that will be the most important test.

      • C Peterson

        Actually, there is nothing at all compelling about Elaine Morgan’s aquatic ape theory if you know anything about paleontology and paleoanthropology. Do not confuse sounding authoritative with being an actual authority. Carrier’s credentials as a historian are far better than Morgan’s as a paleontologist.

        I do disagree that there hasn’t been a respectable case presented for Jesus mythicism, however. Certainly, earlier work has had deficiencies, but that is often the case with early work, especially in nonrigorous fields like history. What we see with new work, however, is a degree of validation of earlier ideas, suggesting that others were already on the right track. It is, of course, reassuring that a serious academic historian would insist on a high burden of evidence, and I think that was actually Carrier’s point.

        • jjramsey

          Do not confuse sounding authoritative with being an actual authority.

          That was pretty obviously the point that Pseudonym was making. As for Carrier’s credentials, let me point out how Thom Stark showed Carrier’s ignorance of Hebrew, even to the point that he bought into an evangelical interpretation of Daniel 9:25 that the bulk of critical scholars don’t buy. Carrier apparently even cited a source as supporting a position that it actually contradicted! So, yeah, he and Elaine Morgan may very well have more in common than you’d like to believe.

          • Pseudonym

            You got it, but I will go out on a limb here and say that Richard Carrier’s credentials are much better than Elaine Morgan’s. Not as impressive as Bart Ehrman, or Paula Fredriksen, or R. Joseph Hoffmann, to name but three.

  • C Peterson

    There’s simply no credible evidence that Jesus existed- indeed, not even any poor evidence. I don’t think any intellectually honest historian can seriously consider it likely. Most of those who do show signs of a serious bias created by their own religious views or background. And now we have more and more solid work by uncorrupted historians (and atheist theologians) demonstrating very believable mechanisms explaining how the myth developed. I think that this will become the mainstream view among academics outside of religious institutions in the not too distant future. The “evidence” that many are willing to consider for Jesus wouldn’t begin to pass muster for any other supposedly historical figure, a fact that is becoming apparent to a growing body of nonreligious academics.

    • Pseudonym

      You’re not a historian. That wasn’t a question, it was a statement. I know it’s true based entirely on what you said. Even Richard Carrier wouldn’t say what you just said.

      I’d suggest going and reading some stuff by atheist historians of the Ancient Near East on the historicity of Jesus (e.g. Bart Ehrman, R. Joseph Hoffmann), but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do any good. They’re all “corrupted”, after all.

      • C Peterson

        I make no claim to be a historian. I do, however, have an undergraduate degree in history and am well read in the subject, so I think I have a good sense of what constitutes good scholarship in the subject.

        Carrier might not express himself exactly as I did (he has to deal effectively with his peers, after all), but I doubt his thoughts on the matter are all that far from mine.

        I have read Ehrman and Hoffmann, and frankly, find their historical analyses flawed, since they draw strong conclusions without evidence of any quality. Given that both men are or were theistic theologians, I consider that they probably are corrupted by their religious biases.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

          Carrier has an ax to grind. He is fun to watch, but lets not pretend his investigation is objective.

          • C Peterson

            Carrier is simply intellectually honest. Unlike most theologians, what we don’t see in Carrier’s work is evidence of strong bias (which isn’t to say he doesn’t have opinions, but he presents actual evidence of the sort that is generally required by historians investigating anybody else except Jesus).

            • Pseudonym

              I believe that Carrier is intellectually honest. What you don’t seem to get is that mainstream historians are also intellectually honest.

              Secular mainstream historians don’t believe that Jesus existed because of inertia, or pandering to theists, or brainwashing, or a grand conspiracy theory. They believe that Jesus existed because it is, at the moment, the most parsimonious explanation that fits all the facts.

              That, by the way, won’t change the moment that Carrier’s book passes peer review. Carrier (and possibly those who come after him) still have a lot of work to do to make their argument stand up to intense scrutiny.

              Assuming that it passes peer review, what he’s done here is to produce the first non-crackpot theory of Jesus mythicism. That is a great achievement, and I don’t want to suggest otherwise. But it’s only the first step.

              • Mario Strada

                Thank you. I think your posts (and some of the others) are helping me sorting through my own thoughts and readings.

                I am fascinated by the subject and somewhat well read on it, but I don’t have the academic tools to be able to truly claim understanding of it. While I am a history buff, my education was elsewhere completely.

                My current opinion is that it is academically prudent to claim the evidence shows Jesus to have existed and I can easily see why. No need to invoke conspiracy theories. I think the existence of Jesus has been taken for granted for so long that saying otherwise has that faint smell of crackpot only mature and established historians can really overcome.

                I do want to point out that while my “opinion” currently tends toward jesus being a fabrication, either totally or inspired by real people, but I am far from being able to claim I am sure.

                In fact, to me is mostly a fascinating question but one of far less importance than “was Jesus the Son of God”. That one I am 99.99% sure the answer is NO.

                Theists think that atheists want to prove Jesus didn’t exist for our own nefarious reasons, but I see it as simply the answer to a very interesting question. The real deal breaker is his divinity and since I don’t believe in god, that’s a pretty mute issue for me.

                Proving Jesus real or not is purely a curiosity for me and I assume for a lot of other people, meaning that either answer would not change my outlook on life. If the person Jesus could be proven beyond a doubt that he existed, would not make Christianity any more valid in my eyes.

                • Pseudonym

                  Mario, what do you mean by this?

                  I do want to point out that while my “opinion” currently tends toward jesus being a fabrication, either totally or inspired by real people [...]

                  As Carrier points out, there are basically three positions you can take on the historicity of Jesus.

                  1. The “fundamentalist” position is that Jesus existed, was somebody special, and the gospels are a completely accurate depiction.

                  2. The “historicist” or “mainstream” position is that Jesus existed, was nobody special, and the gospels are a collection of material of varying veracity, ranging from “probably pretty close to what happened” to “complete myth”, with possibly a bit of “fabrication” thrown.

                  3. The “mythicist” position is that Jesus did not exist, and the gospels are a completely inaccurate depiction of anything that happened. Carrier’s theory can be considered to lie within this position.

                  We can safely dismiss the fundamentalist position. Note that the burden of proof is extremely high: it requires that every single saying or deed attributed to Jesus in the canonical texts is completely accurate. As soon as you allow even one canonical text to be inaccurate, you have effectively conceded the argument, and we’re now arguing about exactly how much of the NT material is accurate.

                  Here’s the thing, though: One key reason why the mythicist position is similarly rejected by mainstream historians is that the burden of proof is similarly quite high.

                  Non-existent people don’t say things or do things. If you think that even one of the reported sayings and deeds of Jesus has a real first century Palestinian rabbi said or did them, then, once again, the mythicist position is basically conceded, and we’re back to talking about how much.

                  So one important reason why the mainstream position is mainstream is that it carries a comparatively low burden of proof. There’s no shortage of apocalyptic mystic preachers like Jesus whose existence are not seriously in doubt. So what’s so special about Jesus that he specifically didn’t exist?

                  The position that you describe, that Jesus was “a fabrication, either totally or inspired by real people”, is not Carrier’s position. Carrier does not believe that Jesus was “fabricated” (in the sense of being invented), but nor does he believe that it was inspired by any real person.

              • C Peterson

                I disagree that “secular” historians who examine the historicity of Jesus (to the extent you can find any) are intellectually honest or unbiased. In the absence of any real evidence at all for a historical Jesus, the suggestion that he existed doesn’t even rise to the level that concepts like parsimony can be applied. And there is plenty of previous work that rises well above the “crackpot” level. Certainly, the vast majority of mainstream work proposing a historical Jesus fails to meet even the most minimal of academic or intellectual standards. I’d go so far as to characterize most of it as complete rubbish.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      This reminds me of something posted just the other day by Chris Hallquist: Some Biblical scholarship/early Christianity basics

      So first of all, it would be helpful to define be able to use the
      term “mainstream” with respect to Biblical scholarship, but I have to be
      a bit careful here. Biblical scholarship is something largely done by
      seminary professors, or at least people who got their degrees at
      seminaries. Bart Ehrman, for example, is an agnostic employed by a
      secular university, but he got his degree from Princeton Theological
      Seminary.
      The smartest thing I’ve ever read about claims about what the majority of Biblical scholars supposedly believe is Robert M. Price’s point that this is largely going to be a matter of which denominations can afford to produce more Biblical scholars…

    • jjramsey

      Here’s the thing about mythicism and historicism. They are both basically two different sets of explanations as to how the content of the New Testament — flaws and all — came to be. One judges them by how parsimoniously they account for the contents of the New Testament as well as any pertinent archeological and documentary evidence. Now take for an example the two contradictory accounts of Jesus’ birth from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke:

      * The “naive” historicist approach, i.e. the view, common amongst evangelicals and other devout Christians, that the New Testament is basically or entirely true, fairs poorly in the parsimony department: Joseph and Mary leave Nazareth for Bethlehem on account of the Roman census and then stay in Bethlehem a couple years until they see the wise men, flee Bethlehem for Egypt, and then return back to Nazareth. Just internally, this harmonization has problems, such as why Joseph would settle in Bethlehem instead of going back home as soon as possible, why Luke doesn’t indicate this long stay, or why Matthew gives no indication that Joseph and Mary had lived in Nazareth before traveling to Bethlehem. There are also plenty of other problems that I won’t name for the sake of space, and these can be found elsewhere, e.g. The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox.

      * The critical historicist approach, where the New Testament is treated a mix of fact and legend, provides a fairly simple explanation for the contradictory narratives. Most historicists believe that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that stories were made up about Jesus being born in Bethlehem in order to appear to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. This explains the contradictions and historical problems well enough; they’re the byproduct making up stories without fact checking. It also trivially explains why Jesus was said to be from an unimportant small village of no theological significance in the first place: he was born there.

      * The mythicist approach explains the contradictions in the stories well enough, and for pretty much the same reasons as the critical historicist approach. When it comes to why Jesus was born in Nazareth, though, one runs into the problem of why Jesus would have been said to come from an obscure village that many would not have even heard of. There are various speculations about “Nazarene” being the name of a pre-Christian sect or a reference to nazirites, and some mythicists even get into pseudohistory Nazareth not existing in the first century.

      Or take as an example why Christians proclaimed as the Messiah someone who had by all appearances failed to be messianic, with the most blatant failure being the crucifixion itself. The historicists cite this as a brute embarrassing fact that Christians were stuck with. Mythicists have recoursed to the supposed dying and rising savior myth, but that often amounts to little more than force-fitting various pagan myths into a Christian-inspired framework. We have Carrier trying to argue that some Jews had expected a dying messiah, but his arguments kept running up against inconvenient facts, as Thom Stark demonstrated.

      Basically, mythicists have yet to improve over what historicists have had to offer, and often end up providing claptrap to boot.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

        To his credit, Carrier did address Stark’s criticisms and modified his opinions in response: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1440

        My problem with judging either the mythicist or historicist positions is that I don’t have the background knowledge necessary to have an informed opinion. But I am confused as to how anyone can claim to completely exclude mythicist models absent any direct evidence of a historical Jesus – this all comes do to relevant probabilities.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    There’s simply no credible evidence that paranormal or supernatural deities exists – indeed, not even
    any poor evidence. I don’t think any intellectually honest historian
    can seriously consider it likely. Most of those who do show signs of a
    serious bias created by their own religious views or background. And now
    we have more and more solid work by uncorrupted historians (and atheist
    theologians) demonstrating very believable mechanisms explaining how
    the myth developed. I think that this will become the mainstream view
    among academics outside of religious institutions in the not too distant
    future. The “evidence” that many are willing to consider for the existence of paranormal or supernatural deities wouldn’t begin to pass muster for any other supposedly paranormal or supernatural historical
    figures
    , a fact that is becoming apparent to a growing body of
    nonreligious academics. Credit C Peterson

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      You may be missing a point here. Carrier isn’t arguing between a supernatural historical Jesus and an entirely mythical Jesus. He’s arguing between an entirely mundane historical Jesus who became the center of later myths and an entirely mythical Jesus, and decides that an entirely mythical Jesus is a better explanation of the available evidence.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        Great. I’m confused, what is the difference between supernatural and mythical?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          Three possibilities:

          1. Supernatural historical Jesus – what most current Christians would like to believe. This did not happen.

          2. Mundane historical Jesus – one of a number of schismatic Jewish preachers prior to the First Jewish-Roman War became the focus of later myth-making. This is the historicist model.

          3. Entirely mythical Jesus – followers of a syncretic blending of Judaism and a dying-and-rising-god mystery faith around or after the Jewish-Roman war made up stories depicting what was originally an entirely mythical figure as having been a real person several decades before. This is the mythicist model Carrier describes (assuming I understood him correctly).

          • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

            The real question we must all be asking is, “Is Jesus Christ really the historical manifestation of Divus Julius?”

          • maddogdelta

            Of course you just summed up my post better than I could… serves me right for not reading the whole thread.

        • DavidMHart

          Supernatural (very approximately) equals magic, like having the power to raise the dead, or indefinitely multiply fish. Mythical just means made-up. So Jesus in the Gospels is a character with supernatural powers (whether or not a historical Jesus existed). By comparison, Robin Hood probably also didn’t exist, but the only extraordinary claims made about him were top-class archery skills and a radical wealth-redistribution agenda (neither of which violate the laws of physics), thus making him mythical.

          Supernatural is a claim about whether something has magic powers; mythical is a claim about whether something actually existed. So all supernatural things are mythical, so far as we can tell, but not all mythical things are supernatural.

          Though if you can stand a long screed, Richard Carrier has also written
          a very finely wrought exegesis on just what ‘supernatural’ means.

      • Erp

        And on that point almost all historians of that era disagree with Carrier including non-Christians like Bart Ehrman. A historical Jesus who lived, was executed, and became mythicized seems to make the most sense for the start of Christianity.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          Carrier and the rest of the mythicists disagree, for the reasons that Carrier outlines in the talk. Basic argument: there is no evidence for a historical Jesus existing, since the available evidence is equally well explained by an entirely mythical one.

          I cannot claim any expertise sufficient for an informed opinion on if Carrier’s argument is correct, but I note that it was only 40-50 years ago that the consensus of historical opinion was that the biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, etc.) existed. Now, thanks to careful analysis and a bunch of archaeological work, it is quite clear that they did not.

          • Pseudonym

            It’s a good question.

            I think that the main problem that mythicists have to overcome is that apocalyptic preachers of the type depicted in the more reliable passages of the gospels were extremely common. Jesus is exactly the kind of figure that the time and place produced.

            I also noted that Carrier didn’t mention any of the early “sayings and deeds” gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas and Q. It seems to me that to buy Carrier’s theory, you’d have to believe that Q didn’t exist and that Thomas was late, both of which are also non-mainstream theories. And not because of bias for Christianity, either, since an early Thomas is very bad news for the more orthodox forms of Christianity.

            We have multiple converging lines of evidence pointing to a generally accepted theory which fits all the known facts, and (at the moment) no plausible alternative theory which fits all the known facts. Carrier’s work has not passed peer review, so this is still the situation at the time of writing.

            It is still fair to say that Carrier’s theory is unlikely to be correct. However, he may have contributed something significant; we’ll have to wait and see.

            • TheBlackCat13

              First, I am not clear why a list of sayings should be problematic. Anyone can write sayings.

              Second, I was under the impression there is no agreement that the Q document even existed, not to mention when it was written.

              And finally, what do you mean by “late”? Even at the earliest, I was under the impression that it was no earlier than the synoptic gospels. Why would that be a problem?

              • Pseudonym

                Carrier’s thesis, you may recall, is that Jesus was a celestial figure, whose teachings and acts occurred in a celestial realm, and were given to writers in a vision. An early text which details deeds (e.g. miracles very much set on Earth) is evidence against that theory.

                It is generally agreed, among secular experts on the topic, that Q existed, and that it was a “sayings and deeds”-type text. It is also generally agreed that at least some of the Gospel of Thomas is quite early. There exists a minority of respectable academics who disagree.

                My point is that Carrier basically has to take a minority view on these “sayings and deeds” texts: either they’re late, or possibly nonexistent in the case of Q. That’s fine, but if his theory requires a textual history which is generally believed to be unlikely, then that makes his theory correspondingly unlikely.

                • Pseudonym

                  Incidentally, I should be clear by pointing out that I’m just guessing here. I haven’t read Carrier’s book (essentially nobody has). I’m merely bringing up one objection which Carrier didn’t address in his talk. That’s understandable, since you can only say so much in an hour, but it’s something that deserves a decent response in the book.

                  What I think most of the blog chatter will be about will be the “dying and rising gods” argument. Carrier believes that there are plenty of pre-Jesus examples of dying and rising gods, where mainstream scholars are of the opinion that there are not, and it’s mostly a case of reading stuff into texts.

                  It will be particularly interesting to see what Carrier thinks of the (commonly-made) observation that the three earliest gospels do not appear to identify Jesus with God, which strongly suggests that the earliest Christians didn’t believe it.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

              I thought that while it contained elements that may date as early as 40 CE, the Gospel of Thomas dated to c. 100 CE? And skimming through an online English translation, I don’t see any biographical information about Jesus. So why is it problematic for a mythicist model?

              • Pseudonym

                Just to be clear, I’m not saying that it’s a problem for “a” mythicist model. I’m saying it’s a problem for Carrier’s mythicist model, which relies on there being no early “deeds” stories.

                Moreover (and perhaps more importantly), the Gospel of Thomas does not contain any of the activities which Carrier identifies as having occurred in the “celestial realm” (e.g. death, resurrection, final judgment). It is a book of sayings and deeds of a human teacher, not a book of revelations from a celestial being.

                Your last paragraph misses the point, BTW. There were plenty of apocalyptic Jewish preachers, some of whom were not mentioned in contemporary documents (and hence for whom we only have indirect evidence; incidentally, the climatic conditions in first century Palestine left us fewer documents than historians might hope for) and some of whom did get a mention.

                Besides, Jesus did get a mention from the only people he mattered to: his followers.

                The mainstream position was that Jesus was nobody particularly special at the time. He was one preacher out of many, exactly the kind of figure that the time and place produced a lot of. He received pretty much exactly the same amount of coverage as everyone else in his position.

                A historical Jesus is exactly what a historian would expect to find. A completely mythical Jesus (especially one who was so unimpressive) would be an unusual thing indeed given the evidence that we have.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  “The mainstream position was that Jesus was nobody particularly special at the time. He was one preacher out of many, exactly the kind of figure that the time and place produced a lot of. He received pretty much exactly the same amount of coverage as everyone else in his position.”

                  Except for the ones who were mentioned in contemporary sources. Presumably they were better-known at the time than a historical Jesus would have been. So what is the relative probability of someone as poorly-known as a historical Jesus had to have been having later success as compared to syncretic religions developing featuring a variety of mythical characters with elements similar to that of Jesus and then one of those becoming more popular than the others later on?

                  And this is where my knowledge of history reaches its limits.

                • Pseudonym

                  Except for the ones who were mentioned in contemporary sources. Presumably [...]

                  You don’t need to presume. You can look at people whose existence is not in doubt, and who should have been mentioned in contemporary sources, but either weren’t mentioned, or no mentions survived. Most names on people the Jewish side of the First Jewish-Roman War, for example, we only know of through Josephus.

                  While I’m on the topic, one thing that shocks a lot of people is that there are no surviving contemporary accounts of the destruction of Pompeii. There is one surviving eyewitness account by Pliny the Younger from 25 years after the event, which only exists because Tacitus asked him to write it down so he could put it in his Histories.

                  “Contemporary sources” are fabulous when they are made and survive, but they’re far more rare than most people think.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Actually, that’s not true. There was a massive discussion of just this subject (did Jesus the person actually exist) over at Unreasonable Faith, another of the Patheos atheist blogs. It’s under the Bertrand Russell post, at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2013/02/bertrand-russells-why-i-am-not-a-christian/

          It’s a very, very long thread, but well worth reading.

        • Greg G.

          A historical person who was mythified doesn’t fit the evidence. The oldest writings, that is the epistles, only talk about the crucifixion and resurrection, giving details that appear to come from scripture and not from known events, but never talk about a ministry, teachings, or even an anecdote.

          • jjramsey

            You are trying to claim that the contents of the epistles are inconsistent with there having been a Jesus who was crucified and then thought to have been raised from the dead on the third day by followers engaged in delusional or wishful thinking. However, all you have offered here is an argument from silence.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

              But the argument from silence isn’t a fallacy, as long as the author would have had the information and it would have been important enough to be mentioned at the time. Why then do the earliest Christian texts not have any biographical details?

              • jjramsey

                Yeah, but Greg G.’s argument breaks at least the second condition, that it be “important enough to be mentioned at the time.” Remember that the earliest texts are letters to fellow Christians about issues that were current at the time. Biographical details of Jesus would be largely irrelevant in that context.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  You would still expect biographical touches, e.g. mentioning where and when Jesus said something or did something (and what exactly he said and did), if there was a historical event that was being compared to. That is lacking.

                • jjramsey

                  You would still expect biographical touches, e.g. mentioning where and when Jesus said something or did something

                  No, I wouldn’t. Depending on the nature of such touches, I might find them to either be flourishes of the author, or I might find them suspiciously convenient, as if the author were writing for the benefit of someone other than those to whom he is writing.

                  How likely is it that if there was a historical Jesus, no biographical details at all would be mentioned in the earliest Christian texts?

                  The only texts where one could reliably expect even legendary biographical details would be, well, biographies, and those are not our earliest texts. For any other kinds of texts, the presence or lack of such details is going to be hit or miss, so the answer to your question is “Pretty high, actually.”

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  I do not think what you have said justifies your assessment of the probability. If you were claiming particular insight into what a real-life leader taught, why _wouldn’t_ you reference the actions of that leader as well as claiming revelation?

                  Consider the early documents of other groups where we know there was a historical figure at the center. For example, there is biographical data on Muhammad in even the earliest Islamic sources (the Qur’an, specifically).

                • jjramsey

                  This is what I found in Wikipedia regarding biographical details of Mohammed in the Qu’ran and elsewhere:

                  The Quran is the central religious text of Islam and Muslims believe that it represents the words of God revealed to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel.

                  Although it mentions Muhammad directly only four times, there are verses which can be interpreted as allusions to Muhammad’s life. The Quran however provides little assistance for a chronological
                  biography of Muhammad, and many of the utterances recorded in it lack historical context….

                  Next in importance are historical works by writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Muslim era (A.H. — 8th and 9th century C.E.). These include the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad (the sira literature), which provide further information on Muhammad’s life.

                  So in the earliest Muslim texts, we have a pittance of biographical detail on Islam’s central human figure, with most of what we think we know of Muhammed coming in two or three centuries after Islam began.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  Muhammed’s _early_ life is not mentioned in the Qu’ran. But there _are_ mentions of his actions while he was dictating it – the Battle of Badr; little bits of his interactions with his wives, his adopted son, and one of his uncles; that he did not have any genetic sons who lived to adulthood. So while there isn’t a large amount of detail, there is some – although much of it isn’t timestamped.

                  That by itself would not be enough for historicity (for that, independent sources such as the “Teaching of Jacob” from Palestine in 634-640 are relevant), but you see the point.

                • jjramsey

                  I see the point that you are attempting to make, but I just not impressed by it. Your argument amounts to “Well, the early religious texts of some other religions mentioned historical details, why shouldn’t Christianity’s,” which (1) suffers from a faulty factual claim, at least with regard to Islam, and (2) ignores fundamental differences between the texts being compared, e.g. making an apples-and-oranges comparison between mundane letters about specific church matters and writings done by a man thinking he was taking dictation from an angel.

                  As for your question, “If you were claiming particular insight into what a real-life leader taught, why wouldn’t you reference the actions of that leader as well as claiming revelation?” think carefully about it. First, given that Paul would consider the crucifixion and resurrection to be actions of Jesus — and the ones that were the most important — then Paul has done just that. If by “actions” you mean Jesus’ teachings, well, judging from the Synoptics, Jesus’ basic teaching was that God is coming soon to judging the living and the dead, and that one should become righteous lest one burn. Judging from Paul’s mentionings in his own letters of his hope that God will come soon, again, Paul has apparently done that. So he’s covered the important teachings and actions, so then what? Well, some saying perhaps? If the saying is a recap of the teachings of Jesus that Paul already gave, well, how does that help? Or how would it help to mention some biographical detail like where Jesus was born, or who his mother was, or what olive tree he sat under while delivering some parable?

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  “How would it help to mention some biographical detail like where
                  Jesus was born, or who his mother was, or what olive tree he sat under
                  while delivering some parable?”

                  By adding credibility to Paul’s claim that Jesus actually said what Paul says he did. Details of real-life events surrounding the crucifixion, for example, would be important.

                • jjramsey

                  By adding credibility to Paul’s claim that Jesus actually said what Paul says he did.

                  How would it add credibility? Any old fool can make up details, especially to an audience in no position to verify them.

                  Details of real-life events surrounding the crucifixion, for example, would have been important.

                  Why? Jesus is just as crucified if the Roman soldiers are holding their spears in their right hands rather than their left. He’s just as crucified regardless of whether his mother or his friends come to see him. The details are interesting flourishes, but important? Not so much.

                • Greg G.

                  Remember that the earliest texts are letters to fellow Christians about issues that were current at the time. Biographical details of Jesus would be largely irrelevant in that context.

                  Those epistles are answering questions that the churches had. The epistles quote the Old Testament time after time. The Epistle of James quotes the OT 7 times, according to the footnotes of the NIV on biblegateway.com. Didn’t any of the epistle writers learn anything quoteworthy from Jesus? 2 Peter 3:18 suggests one should grow in knowledge of Jesus but doesn’t tell us anything about him. In 3:15-16, he recommends people read Paul’s letters but they don’t say anything about Jesus’ teachings.

                  It’s not just biographical details lacked by the epistles. If the early Christians were saving the letters, they would certainly have preserved anything written about Jesus’ life. It seems more likely that nothing was written about him than that no contemporaneous writings about him were saved.

                  How could the most remarkable man in the world have no remarks preserved about him?

                • jjramsey

                  How could the most remarkable man in the world have no remarks preserved about him?

                  He’s not the most remarkable man in the world. He’s a nutter with what appears to be a fairly simple apocalyptic message. I also find it laughable that you are using a pseudonymous Petrine letter as an example of an early Christian text.

                  If the early Christians were saving the letters, they would certainly have preserved anything written about Jesus’ life.

                  You are forgetting something very important: early Christians thought the world was ending Real Soon Now(TM). It doesn’t take that much effort to hold onto letters that are already written. But why write down saying and histories for posterity if one doesn’t think there will be a posterity? It’s no wonder, then, that such works were written down much later, when it became clearer that Real Soon Now(TM) wasn’t going to be that soon.

                • Greg G.

                  Hi JJ

                  He’s not the most remarkable man in the world. He’s a nutter with what appears to be a fairly simple apocalyptic message.

                  Who quotes Jesus with an apocalyptic message in the earliest Christian writings? I see Paul and James with a similar apocalyptic message but neither are quoting Jesus. Both say the are serving the Lord Jesus Christ so they do think he’s remarkable. They both quote the Old Testament but they don’t quote Jesus. Those facts don’t make sense if they were worshiping a real person. If they were worshiping a heavenly being, it does make sense.

                  I also find it laughable that you are using a pseudonymous Petrine letter as an example of an early Christian text.

                  2 Peter certainly was an early Christian document. Why do you want to exclude evidence? We may not know who wrote it but somebody did and that person wasn’t recommending Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

                  You are forgetting something very important: early Christians thought the world was ending Real Soon Now(TM). It doesn’t take that much effort to hold onto letters that are already written. But why write down saying and histories for posterity if one doesn’t think there will be a posterity? It’s no wonder, then, that such works were written down much later, when it became clearer that Real Soon Now(TM) wasn’t going to be that soon.

                  [Emphasis added]

                  Paul thought the world was ending any day now but the letters didn’t exist before he wrote them. Many of them were written in response to letters written by others. Same with James. If they thought it was worthwhile to correspond, to ask questions, to explain things, to talk about the apocalyptic message, talk about the future Jesus, and quote Old Testament verses, why wouldn’t they quote Jesus or share a helpful anecdote? There were plenty of things written in the early and mid first century but nothing about Jesus as a person. Even people who didn’t believe him didn’t mention him.

            • Greg G.

              Hi JJ

              Actually I claim that the contents of the epistles are consistent with there having been a Jesus who was crucified and then thought to have been raised from the dead on the third day and I would argue that the followers engaged in delusional or wishful thinking. I argue that the epistles are inconsistent with the most remarkable man who ever lived having a ministry because as much as they talk about him, they never remark about his teachings or even an anecdote. Absence of evidence really is evidence of abscence. Absence of evidence where there should be evidence is really good evidence of absence.

              Then there’s verses like Hebrews 8:4 “If he were on earth…”

          • Ian

            The only scant details Paul’s epistles do give about Jesus pre-crucifixion, are biographical (he was a jew, he had a brother, he had twelve disciples). So that doesn’t wash. And even if you argue those away (they are scant, after all), how do you then explain that the epistles in the NT that are undisputably written after the gospels, and even the epistles of the apostolic fathers written later still, also give very scant biographical details (they do, however, quote gospels, so we know they are written later and they are aware of them). Clearly that suggests that the epistolic form isn’t much concerned with the biography.

            • Greg G.

              Hi Ian

              I’m not sure where Paul says Jesus was a Jew but Romans 1 says he was descended from David. Paul is telling us this information comes from scripture, not from recent memories. There are clear prophecies about the Messiah descending from David which the early Christians combined with out-of-context verses on suffering but they don’t seem to have worked out a time line.

              You are reading the gospels back into the Epistles. The Twelve are mentioned in 1 Cor 15 but not as disciples. 1 Cor 9:5 has a similar but reversed list where the Twelve best corresponds to “the brothers of the Lord” but they seem to be evangelists who are financially supported by the Corinthian church and they travel with their wives.

              Galatians drips with sarcasm. Paul opens by inserting into the greeting that he is sent by the Lord and not by a man, implying that somebody is sent by a man. He tells he has disagreed with Peter in the past. He tells us James orders people around to other cities and that Peter respects his power. Paul talks about those who seem to have higher positions with disdain. From chapter 3 on he argues that faith is all that is required and not works. The Epistle of James addresses nearly every point, sometimes in agreement but refutes that faith alone is enough. So it seems that Peter was the one who was sent to the Galatians by James to teach the necessity of works. Paul says he was sent by the Lord while Peter was sent by James who Paul sarcastically calls “the brother of the Lord”.

              If the 2nd century writers followed an epistolic form, it would follow that the form was established by the 1st century writers. It seems illogical that they would all decide to omit all details about Jesus’ life except what can be found in the Old Testament and to only quote scripture but never quote Jesus even if it would make a better argument. If they followed an epistolic form of barely mentioning Jesus, that form came because the early writers didn’t know a 1st century Jesus.

              • Ian

                Comment threads like this are tough to use to respond point by point, so I can either write a huge tl;dr, or just sum up without detail.

                I’m aware of the normal mythicist responses to the very scant information Paul gives about Jesus (another biographical detail I forgot to mention in the crucifixion, of course).

                To make the mythicist position work you have to go through and find some other reason for each. So ‘born of a woman’ means this, ‘line of David’ that, ‘brother of the Lord’ something else, ‘the twelve’ has to have changed its meaning, and so on.

                Fair enough – the different explanations get a bit dubious, imho, but I’m sure others don’t agree. That’s fine. Paul says very little, (little enough that I think it is somewhat conspicuous) but not nothing. And other than one or two teachings, the information he does give is biographical.

                My point is that, having explained away those details, it is highly misleading to pretend they aren’t there and say Paul never says anything about Jesus the man or his teachings. That smacks of intellectual dishonesty.

                As for your specific refutations of the biographical information – some of it is Doherty by the sound of it, but your reading of 1 Cor 9:5 ignoring the καὶ was new to me, and — imho — highly dubious (and irrelevant, surely, since even your unique reading doesn’t suggest that the twelve were understood differently by Paul to the rest of the early Church writings).

              • Ian

                I’d still be interested in your answer to the second part of my post too.

                If you claim that it is conspicuous that Paul’s epistles don’t mention things Jesus did or said. And the best explanation is that nobody had yet invented the things Jesus did or said (since he was only a celestial being at that point). How do you explain the fact that epistles that everyone agrees were written after a biography was created, epistles even beyond what became the NT, also don’t tend to mention events or teachings from that biography? (Not all, of course – some later epistles do, but I hope you see my point: many of them don’t, so clearly it isn’t only a lack of access to a biography that would motivate an epistle writer to elide that information).

                • Greg G.

                  Hi Ian

                  I haven’t looked at 2nd century material all that much. I looked at quotes from the early church fathers on several pages for words about Jesus. The only thing I saw that isn’t from the Old Testament is that his mother was Mary. It’s interesting that most languages from western Europe to eastern Asia use “ma” or a variant for mother. It’s possible that the early church fathers didn’t think Jesus lived in the first century so the gospels weren’t important to them.

                • Ian

                  I don’t understand, are you trying to say that all post-gospel epistles do have biographical detail?

                  “It’s possible that the early church fathers didn’t think Jesus lived in the first century” – unlikely, literary dependence on the gospels comes early. Unless you want to suggest that the gospels don’t depict a first-century human Jesus.

                  Anyway, my aim is not to argue on the point of mythicism, just to point out that the reality of the textual situation is much more complex, and requires careful unpicking.

                • Greg G.

                  I don’t understand, are you trying to say that all post-gospel epistles do have biographical detail?

                  No, no. I am not very familiar with the second century documents. I just searched for quotes about Jesus from the early church fathers. So it was pretty much a random sampling but none of them had anything more than Paul writes except the one about Mary. I didn’t see any quotes that indicated they thought Jesus was in the first century.

                  - unlikely, literary dependence on the gospels comes early. Unless you want to suggest that the gospels don’t depict a first-century human Jesus.

                  I do recall that at least one early church father had some text that suggests it came from John. Do you have any quotes from them that show that any of them were talking about the first century Jesus or and not the Jesus taken from the Old Testament?
                  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some early church fathers that accepted a first century father and I wouldn’t be surprised if some thought of Jesus as being more of a heavenly being who came much earlier. Lost Christianities tells us there were lots of different beliefs about Jesus in the 2nd century.
                  I’m curious. What is the earliest clear proof that a church father thought of Jesus being a first century figure?

                • Ian

                  I’m curious. What is the earliest clear proof that a church father thought of Jesus being a first century figure?

                  I’m not sure what you’re quite asking for.

                  Do you think the gospel of Mark indicates a historical Jesus who’s a first century figure? If so, then the other synoptics have a literary relationship there, and are the earliest use of the idea. The Didache relies on Matthew. 1 Clement seems to be dependent on the synoptics. There’s a possible dependency in Justin Matyr. Explicit quotations come later. But, again, explicit quotations of anything come later, so it isn’t particularly conspicuous.

                  All of these are literary dependencies. If you’re asking when the first person conclusively thought of Jesus as a historic person, then you may be getting when people started talking about such stuff. Depends what you’re looking for.

                • Greg G.

                  Having a literary dependence doesn’t mean that the copier believes everything the original says. Luke is dependent on Mark but where Mark portrays a Jesus who was fearful and reluctant, Luke’s Jesus is calm and at peace. He even prays for the guys nailing him to the cross. The only verses that portray him sweating blood aren’t found in the earliest manuscripts. I’m curious if any of the second century church fathers actually talk about Jesus as a first century person, not just things like “the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried and rose on the third day” as that is what Paul got “according to the scriptures”. I’m sure they all believed that. Who actually said they believed Jesus existed in the first century.
                  I’m not sure that even Mark actually believed his story was literal. It may have been a midrash to explain why Jerusalem was destroyed. He has Jesus curse the fig tree, then throw his temple tantrum, then they notice the withered fig tree. In the years after the war, people would recognize the last part of the syllogism as the destruction. The Evil Tenants parable right after that explains it further. The demons cast into pigs seems to come from the Cyclops story in The Odyssey. I noticed that the Cyclops name was Polyphemus. My knowledge of algebra and geometry told me that “poly” meant many and reminded me of the “for we are many” line. I found that Polyphemus means “famous” because literally it is “many talk about”. Mark used the word “Legio” from the Latin word for “many soldiers” (the specific number was not consistent over time). The Greek word for “said” is “lego” which was used immediately before “Legio” so it wouldn’t be missed that Legio meant many and had a similarity to “lego”. He also used “polys” for “many”. It shoud be as obvious as John Goodman’s eyepatch in O Brother! Where Art Thou? that the character is the Cyclops. Matthew and Luke seemed to recognize it and removed that part. The rest is explained at the link I put in a post an hour ago or so. Dennis MacDonald explains Mark’s dependence on The Odyssey and he is a Christian and not a mythicist.

                  The historical Jesus scholars speculate about Matthew’s source, and Luke’s source. When a source with the same information that was known to exist at the time and was almost certainly known to anyone literate enough in Greek to write, it is discounted because it isn’t about Jesus.
                  I’m not a scholar. I started reading Ehrman’s books 5 or 6 years ago and took an interest in the Book of Mark. It was Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? that showed me how thin the evidence for Jesus really was. His arguments against Doherty prompted me to read The Jesus Myth and Robert M. Price’s The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. The link I mentioned is the major part of Price’s book.

                • Ian

                  “Having a literary dependence doesn’t mean that the copier believes everything the original says. ” – no. But it certainly means you’re aware of what it says.

                  If your criteria is: when is the first person who declares that the gospels are historically accurate, then I don’t know. But I guess quite a bit later, I’d be willing to bet not before the C4. I could imagine it being one of those historical curiosities that ends up being a thousand years later. Either way, I think that has moved it away from the point I was trying to make (I think, hard to remember what I was thinking).

                  The historical Jesus scholars speculate about Matthew’s source, and Luke’s source. When a source with the same information that was known to exist at the time and was almost certainly known to anyone literate enough in Greek to write, it is discounted because it isn’t about Jesus.

                  I think you’re confusing literary dependencies, with more general patterns of source. Literary dependences are direct. If you’e not, then you seem to be a bit mistaken over the state of the field. Catalogues of the kinds of precursors found in Price’s essay are detailed in great depth in any good critical commentary. The Hermeneia commentary on Mark, for example. I’m not sure why you think this is discounted. It is a huge part of critical scholarship. Perhaps you’re missing something about what critical scholars are actually claiming?

                  “Did Jesus Exist?” I don’t tend to read Ehrman’s popular books. But folks I know and trust tell me this book is pretty poor. I’ve read Doherty, at a point where I really wanted to get rid of Jesus. But I found it massively underwhelming. It put together a case, but it sounded so much special pleading to me. But, hey, we’re all different. I’d read the article you linked quite a long time ago, but I’ve not read Price’s book. Like I say, I’m not a scholar, I have an undergrad degree in this only, so I can but make my mind up on how things appear to me.

                  Anyway, as per below, thanks for the discussion. Its been fun. No offence if I bow out.

            • Greg G.

              The epistles talk about Jesus a lot. They just don’t say anything that doesn’t come from Old Testament scripture. If it says the Lord was made of David’s sperm then he was. If it says he was born of a woman then he was as far as they were concerned. In Hebrews, Levi paid a tithe to certain priest hundreds of years before he was born because he was part of Abraham when Abraham paid the priest. I don’t think they put much thought into ironing out the wrinkles.

              • Ian

                “They just don’t say anything that doesn’t come from Old Testament scripture.” – that assumes your conclusion, of course. They could equally well use OT to interpret prosaic events. A similar process happened to dress the events of the Bar Kokhba revolt in OT garb, for example. And Christians do the same thing now, where just about anything that happens is tied directly into whole swathes of scripture. There is huge amounts of 9/11 scriptural material online. The idea that we should therefore think the events in the NT are unlikely to be true, purely because they are scripturalized, seems tendentious to me.

                The reason that I tend to think there was a historical Jesus character, a galilean follower of John the Baptist, of dubious parentage, who became a wandering preacher and exorcist, who was crucified. Is because those details appear to constrain the narrative and generate quite tortuous scriptural justifications. The kinds of twists that would be unnecessary without that constraint. That suggests that, even if Jesus were purely mythical (a possibility, of course), those who invented the myth felt some set of pre-existing constraints on what they could invent.

                I’m quite willing to entertain a mythicist solution to those issues. I’ve read folks give an account of how those features are justified, but not why those constraints were willingly adopted.

                But, as I said, all this isn’t my point. I just wanted to point out that the text of the epistles aren’t so clear as you were suggesting.

                • Greg G.

                  “They just don’t say anything that doesn’t come from Old Testament scripture.” – that assumes your conclusion, of course.

                  There’s also the lack of quotes, talk of a ministry, teachings, and anecdotes. Paul tells us that what he knows is “according to the scriptures”. There’s very little about Jesus and it all seems to come from the OT. I thought there probably was a first century Jesus until I became aware of the extent. So I didn’t assume my conclusion to make the conclusion.

                  Josephus lists 18 high priests from Herod’s time to the destruction of the Temple and 4 of them were named Jesus. So there may have been dozens of wandering preachers named Jesus who got crucified. It’s just that the Epistles aren’t about any of them.

                  New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash collects the work of several scholars who have traced the sources that Mark used. Most of them are not mythicists. Combined, their work account for nearly every passage about Jesus to the Old Testament and Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad. I think Mark used Q, too, as in Mark 4:1-34.

                  I think Mark used Galatians and 1 Corinthians. Compare the argument Paul and Peter have in Galatians 2 with Mark 7:1-19. If Mark was right, Peter should have been on Paul’s side. Jesus’ three sidekicks in Mark are the same guys mentioned in Galatians – James, Peter and John. We also find “Abba, father” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” in both. Mark also mentions a brother named James at the end.

                • Ian

                  “Paul tells us that what he knows is “according to the scriptures”.” – do you really think Paul meant what you’re suggesting? Even if Paul did understand Jesus to be mythological, I can’t read that as saying that the information was derived from that. He means it matches the scripture, surely? It would change Paul’s whole argument to suggest he knew that the Jesus myth was taken from scripture. That’s not something any mythicist I know argues. As such, I think using that passage in that way is careless.

                  “There’s very little about Jesus” – if you mean, Jesus pre-crucifixion, that’s true. But don’t discount the crucifixion. “and it all seems to come from the OT. ” – that’s the bit that assumes its conclusion. How would you determine Jesus “was born of a woman under the law” was OT-inspired invention, or true?

                  How would you determine that Jesus’s crucifixion came from someone reading Psalm 22 and inventing a crucifixion, rather than finding Psalm 22 and using it to justify the crucifixion? Saying “it could have” (clearly it could) is not the same as saying “it all seems to come from the OT”.

                  That’s the original point I was trying to make — just that whatever our conclusions, we can be honest about the state of the evidence.

                  New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash collects the work of several scholars who have traced the sources that Mark used

                  Hmm, now you’re getting perilously close to quote-mining. One step removed, admittedly! You know who wrote that article. Price is a good enough scholar, but it is definitely not a straightforward collection of other’s work is highly tendentious.

                  Don’t they come across to you as a really wild jumping ride, theologically? We’ve got the baptism of John as roughly Zoroastrian (okay yeah, very roughly, but that explains nothing of its oddness in the narrative), to the massive consensus on the temptation in the next paragraph, and then onto suggesting that going to Capernaum was invented as a reference to Nahum 1:15 (the discussion of ευαγγελισαμενου is a red herring, since although Nahum does have it, it is a word Mark never uses). And that was just checking he first few.

                  Even if Mark was inventing the biography of Jesus, he’s likely to have innovated in some of those areas, right? I mean, some of the possible tenuous links Price points out might not be why Mark invented Jesus that way. So under either conclusion, such a list as Price’s is begging the question, surely.

                  But again, regardless of whether we agree on the conclusions, I’m mostly concerned that we aren’t unduly tendentious in spinning the evidence. Mostly because it is easy to slip from there into a view where any reasonable person reading a couple of books and a website can clearly see where a generation of specifically trained and qualified experts are totally wrong about their areas of expertise. And that is just creationism.

                  I think you can think they are wrong. I’ve no problem with your conclusion, though I don’t share it. But the over-simplification of the evidence doesn’t help anyone I think.

                  Anyways, I’m tl;dr-ing, which I said I wouldn’t. So I’ll bow out and let you have the last word, if you want it. I’ve no great desire to be right about the historical Jesus. It would certainly make my life advocating for non-theism easier if I could wholeheartedly adopt the mythicist position. It just doesn’t seem to fit for me. Hey ho!

                • Greg G.

                  I’m already in bed and replying with my phone. I’ll touch a couple of things and maybe hit it again in the morning.

                  I don’t think Paul saw it as mythology though. The ancient Norse didn’t think they belived in mythology either but we might call them myths so I suppose your use is fair in that sense. Paul proudly tells us that nobody added to his message and that he got it from the Lord. If he thought Peter and James knew Jesus I expect he would have added some knowledge from them.

                  About Price’s book, I had read Helms book before and Price used his material “faithfully”. Helms is also a Christian AIUI. I am reading the book by MacDonald on the Homer angle and Price left a lot out. I don’t know any of the writings of the others.

                • Ian

                  Also dropping off…

                  If he thought Peter and James knew Jesus I expect he would have added some knowledge from them.

                  Except that the context for this whole thing is an extended argument to justify his own authority. If he thought James and Peter didn’t know Jesus, if he thought he had sole knowledge, I think he wouldn’t have felt like he had to tortuously justify his authority. The Acts account of Paul being late to the party, and basically forging his own ministry in an existing sect focussed on Jerusalem and Judaism, seems to correlate with the politics (if not the historical details) of Paul’s writing. Again, I think that would be true regardless of conclusion on HJ. At least I can’t imagine why you’d want to posit that Paul invented the Jesus cult himself, given Galatians.

                  Price used his material “faithfully”

                  I’m getting sloppy with how I’m expressing myself, I think. Price is using this faithfully, yes, but he’s marshalling a broad range of stuff to a conclusion that those individuals don’t share. The overwhelming consensus of scholars is that the gospels drew heavily on the OT to weave their Jesus mythology. It is the idea that all the Jesus biography was pieced together from different pre-existing sources that I was suggesting is bizarre and unwarranted by the scholarship Price lists. I think it bizarre, even under the mythicist view.

                • Greg G.

                  Hi Ian

                  I’m enjoying this conversation and we’ve digressed into many topics so that it’s unwieldy in this format.

                  I would like to investigate another tack. If I may, I’d like to sum up your position this way. You believe there was a man who preached a message so convincingly that his followers deified him when he died. They decided (collectively or independently? ) to only write about him in terms they could find in the scripture but never mention anything about the person you accept as real or his ministry and teachings, except when Paul accidentally spilled the beans about James being his brother.

                  The Old Testament has apocalyptic prophecies about a coming Messiah so the acceptable Jesus was not new and different. The message doesn’t require a new person bringing it.

                  It is more likely that a group who accepted the Messiah prophecies and hoped he would arrive in their lifetime looked for signs and justifications for that hope. They began to “discover” new interpretations of old verses, including many of the same verses Christians use when they point to fulfilled prophecy.

                  It seems too farfetched to think a person nobody wrote about for decades is going to have accurate records written then. The main record is clearly based on other writings about other people. You can point to tenuous links as an excuse to reject the idea but you are ignoring the smoking guns. Reading the later information back into the earlier writing won’t work if the later author was using that as inspiration or trying to spin it.

                • Ian

                  Yes, basically.

                  I also believe that, billions of years ago, a bag of just the right chemicals happened to come together in just the right configuration to make self replicating molecules, that over a course of more than a billion years, through a series of incredibly unlikely coincidences gave rise to increasing complex species, and, driven by purely random mutations, happened upon every useful biochemical function needed to create the full diversity of life on earth as we currently see it.

                  If you were trying to frame your view in as incredulous a way as possible, how would you do it?

                • Greg G.

                  Hi Ian

                  OK, I’ll try.

                  One civilization that favored blood sports and public executions ruled another civilization but required their judicial system to get permission before carrying out executions. Permission was usually denied for anything from picking up sticks on the Sabbath to sassing parents. After hundreds of years of such oppression the subjugated society still fancied that their scriptures were correct that he would soon deliver them from the tyranny. Some despaired and gave the scriptures another look and found out of context verses that told of someone who suffered and died for their iniquities.

                  Now there were lots of men in the day who claimed to be said Messiah but the sect ignored every one of them and placed the crucified savior in the undefined past of all places. Shouldn’t we expect them to do something different than so many other religions of the day.

                  They spread their message while debating what the scriptures actually meant. They even argued amongst themselves yet people all over the empire bought in when there were new religions popping up all over.

                  After most of them died or were left homeless and destitute, people still not only believed the stories but came to think they knew the guy.

                  The most literate followers used mimesis but not just on Homer like most Greek writers. They applied it to Jewish scripture. Who would ever do that?

                  How could such a religion diverge into so many versions in a few decades? By then, nobody really knew whether there was a real Jesus or not but nonetheless the better story won the hearts of people for millenia.

                • Ian

                  Thanks :) Framing issues is interesting, I think. I would have been a bit harsher, but that is really the point.

                  Anyway, I’m genuinely not sure where to go now. Looking back over the topics, it is a bit scatter-gun to feel like we’re dealing with any issue to resolution, and even if we focussed, I suspect we’d both run out of expertise fairly quickly. So its been interesting chatting, and I don’t want to shut down the conversation, but I’m not sure where to go next. Feel free to suggest angles.

                • Greg G.

                  I found two arguments I want to compare. One says Mark used the Gospel of Thomas as a source. I skimmed over it and found some ponderable ideas. The other argues that Mark and Thomas used a common source. I haven’t downloaded those PDFs.

                  I have been looking at the epistle of James as a response to Galatians. James gives a sermon on many little things Paul said, agreee with Paul on things and he refutes Paul very much. Paul seems to be arguing about James’ general position but James argues specific points. Paul quotes Lev 19:18 saying fulfilling that fulfills the whole law. I think there was a rabbi who said something like that and that the rest is commentary. James says it’s good to follow it but if you break one point, you’ve broken the whole law.

                  Are you interested in any of that?

                • Ian

                  I’m interested, I’m just not sure I have any specific knowledge to determine what is a good argument or not. My koine is okay, but certainly not good enough to follow detailed linguistic arguments, and my general knowledge of other texts usually lets me down on bigger picture stuff. But yeah, always interested!

                • Greg G.

                  Ancient Greek is all Greek to me. I know math prefixes. I make do with a concordance so you’re way ahead of me there. I’d like to bounce a few ideas off your head.

                  It seems to me that the Epistle of James is a response to Galatians. James agrees in places and disagrees in places. Do you see a relationship between the following verses?

                  Galatians 1:1; 1:6; 3:1 -> James 1:26
                  Galatians 1:14 -> James 4:6
                  Galatians 2:6 -> James 1:9-10
                  Galatians 3:5 -> James 2:19-20
                  Galatians 3:6-12 -> James 2:21-26
                  Galatians 5:13-26 -> James 4:1-12
                  Galatians 5:14 -> James 2:8-10
                  Galatians 6:1-5 -> James 5:19-20
                  Galatians 6:7-10 -> James 5:7

                  Rabbi Hillel is a famous Pharisee from the first century BC when Augustus Caesar was emperor. His most famous quote is “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and
                  learn.” Paul’s interpretation of Leviticus 19:18 in Galatians 5:14 agrees with Hillel. James 2:8,10 disagrees. James does seem to follow another of Hillel’s quotes in his last verse:

                  James 5:20 Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

                  compared to Hillel:

                  whosoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whosoever that saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

                  I just discovered this. The name “James” appears three times in Galatians. It appears in 1 Corinthians 5:7, James 1:1, and Jude 1:1. He is featured in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts but his name never appears anywhere else in the Bible.

                  Does any of this make sense to you?

                • Ian

                  I’m on my way to bed, but I’ll chase the references at the top. Doesn’t particularly surprise me if there is a natural dialectic there, but I’ll have a look. Certainly there is a very famous theological disagreement. I’ve not read anything that shows a literary dependency, but I’ve got a couple of good critical commentaries on both Gal and Jam, so I’ll look it up.

                  The Hillel quote you write out in comparison with James seems really really tenuous to me. I’d suggest you could find correspondences like that between James and Moby Dick.

                  The connection with Gal 5:14 is closer (i.e. the idea of the law being summed up in one command). A bit unfair to read a disagreement from that passage though, I’d say. James is making a point about the inability to fulfil all the law, which Paul seems to agree with, in the famous Rom 3 passage. That notwithstanding that there are plenty of reasons that the author of James wouldn’t have seen theologically eye to eye with Paul.

                  Another comment on this. From Gal and the later propagandizing version in Acts, I think it likely that the Jerusalem leadership were Judaizing. That there were, at least initially, Jewish and Gentile groupings. When Paul is writing, the Gentile one is the junior party (note that, despite spitting mad at the apostles, calling them names, he still admits he consults and takes orders from them – petulantly adding “which is what I wanted to do, anyway”), but the Jerusalem power base is in trouble (Paul is collecting money for them), and not longer after is the fall of Jerusalem, and the other epistles reflect a shift towards Paul’s theology heavily. With a couple of exceptions. James being one, Hebrews being a slightly more Pauline other. So although I’ve not read anything to suggest EpJames is directly arguing against Paul (I’ll check your references), they are widely thought to be arguing on different sides of a long-running power-struggle.

                  There are a couple of James’s at least (probably more). James ben Zebedee, and James ben Alphaeus, were members of the twelve, James is given as the first named brother of Jesus on more than one occassion, there’s a James the younger in the gospels (probably the son of Zebedee), a James was at the transfiguration with Peter and John. We don’t know which of these were which. And early tradition puts the author of James as Jesus’s brother: the leader of the Jerusalem church, before the destruction of Jerusalem. Modern scholarship concludes it is very unlikely the Epistle was written by any of the mentioned James’s, by virtue of its date, language and early use.

                  “his name never appears anywhere else in the Bible” – That’s quite a lot of mentions. There aren’t many names mentioned more widely. Outside Paul’s letters (real and pseudonymous) and Acts, Paul isn’t mentioned, is he? (check: once, in 2 Peter 3:15). What point are you wanting to make from all this?

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  That was Hillel. A man came to him and asked him to recite the whole Torah standing on one leg, since he was supposedly so amazing. Hillel picked one foot off the ground and said “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you. The rest is commentary. Go learn and study, my son.”

                • Greg G.

                  Hi Feminerd

                  By coincidence I brought up Hillel and posted almost simultaneous with you. I used a different translation but I’ve heard the version you quoted more often. I noted that Paul agreed but James disagreed. James seems to agree with a different Hillel quote in his last verse.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Ok. I’ve been reading the discussion betwen you and Ian and lurking on it, since I have no idea on the actual historicity of Jesus. I just know that quote (raised Jewish, and it comes up a fair bit in liberal Judaism as one might expect). I don’t know that you could say James or Paul agreed with Hillel though- it’s certainly possible they could have heard of him, given the famousness even at the time of his arguments with Shammai, but I have no idea how likely it is that they’d have been paying attention to doctrinal disputes in Judaism at a time they were breaking away from it (or already had).

                  Anyways, I didn’t mean to digress the conversation. Carry on :).

                • Greg G.

                  Hi Feminerd

                  I don’t know that you could say James or Paul agreed with Hillel though- it’s certainly possible they could have heard of him, given the famousness even at the time of his arguments with Shammai, but I have no idea how likely it is that they’d have been paying attention to doctrinal disputes in Judaism at a time they were breaking away from it (or already had).

                  Hillel was famous in the first century BC. His descendants still played roles in Judaism until the destruction of the Temple. Paul says he was advancing in Judaism beyond his years (Gal 1:14) so he would have been aware of Hillel.

                  In Gal 2:11-14, Peter thinks that what happens in Antioch, stays in Antioch so he was eating with the Gentiles until James sent a couple of agents. Then Peter began to abide by Jewish customs. So Peter wasn’t so strict unless someone was watching but he obeyed if he thought word would get back to James. In Galatians, Paul argues against following the Jewish law because faith was all you needed. James argues that faith is good but you also need to show it through works and to follow the Jewish law.

                  Paul does seem to align with Hillel when he talks about Leviticus 19:18 but James insists that loving your neighbor as yourself is good, but not good enough.

                  Anyways, I didn’t mean to digress the conversation. Carry on :).

                  Ian and I enjoyed a good conversation on that subject but began to run dry so we’re looking for something else to argue about. We probably agree on 99% of our opinions so it’s a challenge. I’m glad to hear we were at least entertaining.

        • primenumbers

          Of course they think so – Christianity (and hence Christians) have dominated such scholarship throughout history. What is becoming apparent though is that their evidence for suggesting that such a historical Jesus existed is somewhere between slim and none, and is mostly upon the inference that “someone had to start Christianity, and that someone must have been JC”.

        • C Peterson

          There are very few historians without religious bias who have looked at this subject closely. (I would not consider Ehrman to be unbiased; neither would I consider him to be primarily a historian, but rather a biblical scholar.)

          In
          fact, the profound lack of any evidence at all for a historical Jesus
          is amongst the strongest evidence for the nonexistence of any such
          actual person. If even a fraction of the events associated with Jesus
          were real, we would expect to see contemporary evidence of his
          existence. The historical records of the time are quite good, and a
          great many people of far less social significance are documented.

          There’s no evidence for a historical Jesus. And rational people do not believe in that for which there is no evidence.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    The real question we must all be asking is, “Is Jesus Christ really the historical manifestation of Divus Julius?” and “Was christianity just a propaganda campaign designed to convert Romans to a watered down version of Judaism, to help win the war(s) against the Romans?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      No.

      Carrier makes it very clear in his talk that he is not considering any conspiracy theory models of Christianity, since they are not supported by the evidence. The mythicist model is that there was a pre-existing background of religions similar in many ways to early Christianity, from which something like early Christianity was likely to appear without any deliberate attempts at social engineering.

      “Divus Julius” was the deification of Julius Caesar by the Romans. We know quite well Caesar existed as a historical person. That case is not directly relevant to wither or not there was a historical Jesus. What is more relevant is that Romulus, an entirely mythical god, was supposed to have died and been resurrected to ascend to heaven, and that that story later became set at a particular time and place in real history. Carrier’s model of Jesus-as-myth follows a similar pattern.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        Sense of humor this one has not

        • Pseudonym

          When it comes to Jesus mythicists, it’s difficult to tell a Poe. Well played!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          I have given up on being able to detect sarcasm in written text.

  • Mario Strada

    A lot of bible scholars I admire do think the evidence proves that Jesus exists, but they have not convinced me yet.
    For starters, this is not a simple “is/isn’t” question. There are actually 3 possibilities here:

    1) Jesus Existed but was NOT the Son of God
    2) Jesus existed and he WAS the Son of God
    3) Jesus didn’t exist.

    There is also a 4th possibility, which is that jesus like prophets existed and taken together we call them “Jesus” but I consider that a nuance of #1.

    The reason these historians have not convinced me yet is because they use the same evidence the believer use while at the same time strongly hinting that evidence is tainted.

    I get the strong impression that historians like Herman HAVE to declare Jesus existed in order to be taken seriously by the rest of academia. The reason academia requires that stance is because saying otherwise most certainly would make the discussion degrade much more than it already is.

    Right now we don’t see crazies with signs asking for the head of Herman and his colleagues because by and large their arguments are very nuanced and frankly many fundamentalists don’t quite get his ultimate conclusion (that Jesus existed but was not the son of god).

    If he actually declared Jesus a fabrication not only he would be a lot more controversial, but the bulk of his studies would be considered toxic by many learning institutions and he would have a much harder time making inroads in academia.

    That said, I am not an expert at how that world works. For all I know, my whole premise could be wrong and Herman says what he says because he truly does think his evidence leads him there. I read most of his books and his evidence leads me to highly doubt Jesus existence, so when he takes it for granted I am left puzzled.

    Maybe someone else can set me straight on that (it’s not like I am even close to having a working expertise in the matter). It could be I am reading things in his and other academics’ writings. But so far I am not convinced at all.

    • Claude

      HIstorians are not concerned with whether Jesus was “the son of God.” This is a theological question outside the purview of professional historical inquiry, as Ehrman points out in practically every book he’s written. Also, Ehrman doesn’t have to be concerned with “making inroads in academia.” He has tenure at a major university and is a scholar-celebrity.

    • Claude

      HIstorians are not concerned with whether Jesus was “the son of God.” This is a theological question outside the purview of professional historical inquiry, as Ehrman points out in practically every book he’s written. Also, Ehrman doesn’t have to be concerned with “making inroads in academia.” He has tenure at a major university and is a scholar-celebrity.

    • C Peterson

      The first two options are irrelevant and absurd, given that there are no gods, and even a suggestion to the contrary removes the question from rational consideration. The two possibilities are that the character described in the New Testament is either wholly mythical, or is derived at least in part from a historical person.

      I think your assessment about historians is accurate. In the same way it is very difficult for researchers to study something like intelligence differences between races (despite being an academically valid subject), it has, until recently, simply been out of bounds for a historian to argue that Jesus didn’t exist. But the trend now is for social sciences and humanities to actually operate scientifically, to operate with rigor. This exposes the appallingly poor scholarship that has been accepted without question for decades, and spells the end for the academically unsupportable belief that Jesus was a real person.

      • Claude

        If by “recently” you mean the nineteenth century, yeah.

        • C Peterson

          No, I mean perhaps the last ten years. The historicity of Jesus is something that has simply been accepted without question by the vast majority of historians. The question has been out of bounds. For such a culturally important question, it is remarkable that in the last 100 or more years only a handful of scholars have even looked closely at the question- most of whom were biblical scholars, and not even historians.

          • Claude

            Well, OK, but mythicism emerged in the nineteenth century, not ten years ago. Help me out here; who (among historians, not Biblical scholars, who you clearly think do not count) besides Richard Carrier are engaged in a serious critique of the historical Jesus?

            This exposes the appallingly poor scholarship that has been accepted without question for decades, and spells the end for the academically unsupportable belief that Jesus was a real person.

            Whether Jesus existed or not is immaterial to me (so to speak), although I find the debate extremely interesting. But your confidence that historical Jesus is done for is perhaps unwarranted. In lieu of additional evidence the existence of Jesus can’t be established definitely one way or the other; all that can be determined are probabilities. Most scholars think the evidence supports an historical Jesus, but a few don’t. That’s fine, but mythicists have yet to mount a persuasive enough case to “spell the end” for the consensus view. Carrier fancies himself the man with the goods. From what little I’ve read of his exchanges with knowledgeable critics (like J. J. Ramsey upthread, for example) I’m skeptical, but I do look forward to reading his book when it comes out.

            • C Peterson

              To be clear, I think the mythicism case is far from being well developed. There is room for a great deal of additional scholarship in the area. My position is not one of support for mythicism (although I think that broadly, this is an accurate view), but of a lack of support for historicity, for the simplest of rational reasons: there is no credible evidence at all for the existence of Jesus as a real person, despite the fact that there ought to be. In my view, this reduces the likelihood of his existence to a very small probability (outside the rather trivial possibility of a wandering rabbi with this name, which provided some basis… but no actual teachings that ended up in the NT).

              I don’t know of any modern historians with strong academic credentials and operating in solid academic environments who are looking closely at the historicity of Jesus (besides Carrier), although I think that there are non-academics (like Doherty) who are doing good work and adding valuable insight to the discussion). BTW, I don’t automatically discount biblical scholars, I simply note that the vast majority were trained in a religious environment, by religionists, and are religionists themselves. I am deeply skeptical of the actual degree of disinterest a Christian can maintain in questioning the existence of Jesus.

              • Ian

                “outside the rather trivial possibility of a wandering rabbi with this name, which provided some basis… but no actual teachings that ended up in the NT” – on what possible grounds could you suggest that this wandering rabbi couldn’t preached some material that ended up in the NT? If Jesus was a regular wandering apocalyptic preacher and exorcist, what evidence “ought there to be” of his historical existence, other than the hagiographic writings of those who followed him?

                “there is no credible evidence at all” – which is beautiful question begging. The evidence for historicism and mythicism is the same. They are both answers to the questions of how the communities that wrote the NT came to develop their beliefs. If historicism has no credible evidence, then mythicism doesn’t either. Unless you are highly tendentious.

                “I simply note that the vast majority were trained in a religious environment, by religionists, and are religionists themselves” – yet the vast majority of atheist biblical scholars are not mythicists. I don’t suppose you’ve been to an SBL meeting and actually discussed people’s religious beliefs? This conspiracy theory that all the qualified academics are somehow so biased that it compromises their conclusions, and the unqualified independent scholars who self-publish are the only rational ones is laughable if you’ve ever actually met and engaged with these people. I get the same kind of arguments about why all evolutionary biologists are ideologically compromised and can’t admit the truth of creationism too.

                • C Peterson

                  No, the evidence for mythicism and historicism aren’t the same at all. There isn’t any historical evidence. However, there are numerous parallels between the Jesus myth (and there is no doubt that the majority of the story is myth, regardless of whether or not Jesus existed) and many other religious myths, which prove the truth of the mechanism.

                • Ian

                  The question is, which historical sequence is the best explanation of the evidence. The evidence is the same in each case: the writings of the early Jesus movement. You don’t get to discard that evidence.

                  Don’t confuse whether a text is historically accurate with whether the text itself is historical evidence. No mainstream scholar thinks the texts of the early Jesus movement are historically accurate (nor do any historians think that any text is historically accurate).

                  The comparison with other religions is pointless. Religions often mythologize historical people and attribute them miracles and divinity. There are examples both ways, it doesn’t tell you much. There are numerous parallels between Jesus and other Jewish figures, other messianic figures, other religion founders, other mythologized humans. There are also numerous parallels with all kinds of other figures that the consensus says are mythological, as you point out. Selective use of the evidence is tendentious.

                  But this just brings us back to the last point. You have to believe that the overwhelming majority of qualified scholars of all faiths and particularly none, are so totally ideologically compromised that they all can’t see the obvious truth that there is no evidence for their conclusion. But that fact is clearly seen by the handful of unqualified independent scholars who are courageous enough to state the obvious.

                  It is a position that the small number of actual mythicists don’t hold. Talk to Carrier, and he’ll be a lot more nuanced on how both groups are using the evidence.

                  I think there is a potential scholarly case to be made around mythicism. But it isn’t being made well yet.

                  Mythicists are doing a good job playing to the choir though. Which is annoying, because it encourages the same kind of anti-scholarly attitudes I’ve been arguing against in creationism for 20 years. I’m not saying that folks like Carrier or Doherty are basically creationists, just that the rhetoric among the folks who suck this up to fuel their anti-religious sentiment, is depressingly similar.

                • C Peterson

                  I simply don’t see any historical evidence at all. I’m not discarding anything. There isn’t a single piece of contemporaneous historical documentation of Jesus. By far and away, seeing this as a tale created later, by the same mechanisms behind the creation of other religions, is the most reasonable, the most parsimonious explanation. Given the fact that almost everything about Jesus found in the NT is unquestionably mythical, to try and claim some sort of historical basis really is grasping at straws.

                  And yes, I do believe that most of the scholars who have actually looked at this closely (and there aren’t many) are biased by their religious views. I am very skeptical of any Christian, or anybody who calls himself agnostic, to approach this subject objectively. Indeed, most of the scholarship out there isn’t simply poor, it’s appalling.

                • Ian

                  You don’t seem to be listening to what I’m saying. At least, you seem to be making similar claims without engaging my points. Perhaps I’m not explaining them well (or concisely enough!).

                  1. The question being asked is HOW the early Jesus movement developed its teachings.

                  2. The writings of the early Jesus movement *are* the main evidence for Christian origins. There is very little else that tells us anything about what Christians believed. And none of that is useful for telling us how those beliefs developed.

                  3. You point to similarities among myths (there are clearly all kinds of parallels). But ignore similarities to historic figures. Both are valid, but no more than arguments from analogy.

                  Thanks for admitting your belief that those most qualified on these subjects are compromised ideologues. Which presumably is why there is almost no peer-reviewed scholarship putting forward mythicism: because these ideologically compromised scholars (atheists included) want to make sure than nobody can challenge their cozy hegemony or rock the boat. And the atheists who tow the line are just going along because they fear being Expelled from their jobs, I guess. All very familiar insinuations, unfortunately. And the main reason why, in my opinion, mythicism’s community of apologists are depressing.

                • C Peterson

                  I understand that a question (not particularly the question) is how early Christianity developed. However, that isn’t the question I’m addressing in my comments, other than pointing out that I find the mythicism theories currently under development to be quite compelling. I can recognize that there is no quality evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus without requiring an alternate explanation- even though I think there are alternate explanations of higher quality.

                  I also understand that the writings of the early Jesus movement represent evidence for Christian origins. In my view, those writings do not represent the only evidence, and such as they are, they represent evidence too weak to present a case for there being a high probability of an historical Jesus.

                  I don’t consider atheist historians to be ideologically compromised, or certainly not to the degree that Christian historians are in addressing this question. An atheist has no dog in the fight- whether or not Jesus was historical or not has no bearing on his personal philosophy. For a Christian, however, that question is at the heart of their core belief system. Losing the historicity of Jesus is likely to be emotionally devastating to a Christian. I am skeptical that many Christian scholars of this subject can separate history from theology. Furthermore, I consider all Christians to be operating at a disadvantage when it comes to rational, logical thinking. Theism and Christianity require irrational thinking, so the rationality of a Christian in academic discourse depends upon their ability to compartmentalize… which is not a healthy thing.

                • Claude

                  Good grief, Fr. Thomas Brodie is a Dominican priest who concluded that Jesus (and maybe even Paul) was mythical. Some of the most vocal anti-mythicists (Bart Ehrman, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Maurice Casey) are at the least agnostic and the Christian James McGrath is perfectly logical and rational.

                  Didn’t you say elsewhere that your views on historical Jesus are largely informed by Earl Doherty? Do you suppose that Doherty is less “ideologically compromised” than actual scholars in the field?

                • C Peterson

                  I did not say every Christian was biased or unable to conclude that Jesus was not a historical person. Only most.

                  I do not consider anybody who calls themselves “agnostic” to be less likely to be biased.

                  I did not say a Christian couldn’t be logical and rational, only that this requires a high degree of compartmentalization.

                  I did not say that my views on this matter are largely informed by Doherty. I do think he has some interesting ideas, and I have no reason to think he is ideologically compromised because of his beliefs. My views on historical matters are, first and foremost, informed the way my views on physical science are: by evidence, or the lack of it. I do not have a strong opinion on the details of any theory of mythicism, because I don’t think such theories are well enough developed yet. My opinion that it is likely that Jesus was not historical, or only very marginally historical, is based on the simple lack of evidence- something that can be ascertained even by a non-specialist.

                • Claude

                  Well, I am sorry if I presumed too much. We’ve discussed this issue before, and I remembered some of your points were reminiscent of Doherty and that you mentioned him favorably.

                  Scholars maintain there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than most of his contemporaries. Apparently the NT is considered a goldmine by the standards of antiquity.

                • Ian

                  Claude, I can understand how views like C Peterson’s are so attractive.

                  As an atheist myself, I find myself exasperated by the trumped up claims of religionists about the NT texts. Arguing against the idea that the NT is good evidence of the resurrection is important, and wearying. The scholarly idea that there was a Jesus is far too easy a bedfellow with the idea that Jesus was the figure Christians want him to be. This has been exacerbated by the ‘quest’ approach to finding the historical Jesus, which just uncovers what you want it to. And add to that that, even though the current consensus on the historical Jesus is *nothing* like the Christian Jesus, Christians also just see “Jesus” as shorthand for what they believe, and widely believe that scholarship supports their position.

                  So the temptation is to confuse scholarly opinion with theological opinion. Not least because scholars have been poor at distinguishing them. And of course, it becomes easy to discard it all as biased nonsense.

                  Whereas actually engaging with the scholarship is harder.

                  In academic theology / biblical studies departments, it is well known that a hefty proportion of students will lose their faith as a result of what they hear. Even in seminary courses. The fact is that almost no preacher dares to tell their congregation anything about modern biblical scholarship. I’ve spoken to Christians who’ve been in relatively liberal churches for decades who are astounded by what they learn in the first few lectures of an academic course on the bible.

                  So it is no wonder that atheists get pushed to the extremes, academically. And it is no wonder that outsiders look in and see scholars as basically in bed with the theological conservatives. The reality is very different, however. Attending a conference and chatting in the bar afterwards would dispel this kind of idea in very short order.

                • Claude

                  Thank you for this thoughtful response. I’m aware that you’re involved in the unenviable task of talking down Christians from the creationist menace, and yes, that must be quite wearying. I am more laissez-faire about (most) Christianity than I used to be and would certainly avoid discussion of such beliefs as the resurrection. At a certain point argument is futile.

                  The thing that rankles me about the mythicism movement is not the idea that Jesus might never have existed, which is interesting to speculate about, but something you mentioned elsewhere in this thread: the way scholars and scholarship are discounted by many mythicists and their acolytes. I’m obviously not a scholar, but it just bugs me. I admire expertise in any field, and Biblical studies is no exception. Yes, when Bart Ehrman says Jesus “certainly” existed, I’m a bit skeptical, but I take his views seriously since he knows what the hell he’s talking about.

                  Anyway, as you suggested, the historical Jesus is an elusive and minimal figure who bears slight resemblance to the legendary “Christ of faith.” That Jesus doesn’t appear to be fading anytime soon, regardless of the HJ controversy.

                • Ian

                  It is *the* question that is at the heart of Christian origins, and historical criticism of the NT, yes. I get that it isn’t the form of the question that many atheists are obsessed with.

                  But that is exactly why ‘mythicists’ and scholars often talk past each other. By posing the question in the same way as “Does the Loch Ness Monster Exist?” mythicists completely misunderstand the methods and the focus of the scholarship. As evidenced by your responses.

                  “I also understand that the writings of the early Jesus movement represent evidence for Christian origins.” – good, then, thanks for conceding this point. It does nobody any good to pretend that there is no credible evidence for the other side, when both sides are using the same evidence. It is just begging the question by claiming the evidence is not credible when used in one way but credible when used in another.

                  Please say what other direct evidence there is for the emerging beliefs of the early Jesus movement. I suspect you’re going to head for “similar myths” again, but if you are, please also address comparisons with the messianic and religious figures of the period who you agree were probably historical. Do you know of any? Possibly not, if you only read mythicist arguments.

                  “Losing the historicity of Jesus is likely to be emotionally devastating to a Christian.” For a few, yes. But again, you thinking that indicates to me that you’ve never seriously discussed this with any of these scholars. The historicity of the Christian figure of Jesus was conceded 100 years ago, and is a cornerstone of modern scholarship. There are a few holdouts in mainstream scholarship, but they are as rare as mythicists. Before you invent this horrible conspiracy full of mentally corrupt people, you migt want to actually discuss it with some of these people you’re very quick to characterize.

          • Strac5

            There were actually quite a number of scholars and intellectuals during the Enlightenment before the 20th century who questioned the existence of Jesus. There is evidence that Thomas Jefferson was one of them. We just don’t hear about them because the religious community refused to acknowledge them and tried to erase all evidence of their work from history.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      “There is also a 4th possibility, which is that jesus like prophets
      existed and taken together we call them “Jesus” but I consider that a
      nuance of #1.”

      That’s not quite right – your 4th possibility could be a version of your 1st one, or it could be a version of your 3rd one. It depends on how closely real historical figures need to correspond to the character in the later Jesus myths in order to count as being a historical Jesus.

      Consider the character of John Frum of the Vanuatu cargo cults. He’s an entirely mythical amalgamation of old Tanna mythological figures and elements of real-life South Americans, Europeans, and Americans who visited the islands. At some point, the contribution of any one real person is diluted so far that the mythical character is better considered as an original invention.

  • Tasha

    Am I a total schmuck for not really caring what the answer to the “historical Jesus” question is? Since I don’t accept the premise that prophets/superpowers exist, the remaining possibilities regarding Jesus’s historicity (one guy without superpowers/ a combination of folk tales) are kind of… uninteresting. That is, unless there was one super famous “prophet” person who started a movement in his day, which would be pretty cool to read about, but seems extremely unlikely given the lack of contemporary historical evidence about him.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      I agree. I suppose the historicity of Jesus is interesting on some level, but it’s also profoundly irrelevant to atheism. A lot of theists seem to think that the existence (or not) of Jesus is crucial to whether we believe in their deity, but people have claimed to have supernatural connections throughout history. Just because someone says he is a god or a prophet does not mean there is any reason to take him seriously. Jesus is no more relevant to my atheism than Muhammad or Zoroaster.

  • Gerry

    If you can accept (not talking about religious belief) that Jesus is the great central mythical hero of our age, then you pretty much have to believe he was real. Without that belief, mythical heroes have no potency whatsoever.

  • scottbignell

    I think Carrier makes the best case one can for a mythical Jesus, but I’m just not convinced. To say that when the book of Hebrews talks of Jesus’ “flesh and blood” and his crucifixion “outside the city gate” isn’t referring to an actual human who was crucified, but instead events happening in the ‘celestial realm’, I find particularly questionable. Similarly, it’s clear that Paul thought Jesus was some sort of angel or heavenly mediator, sure, but he also clearly thought he was human: to write off Paul’s comments off about Jesus’ “descendence from David”, his being “born of a mother under the law [of Moses]“, and, in particular, his disgruntled meeting with Jesus’ brother James in the book of Galatians, as again, either happening in this hypothetical ‘celestial realm’, or a misunderstanding, I just find a stretch. I’m a staunch atheist, but I still think it’s more likely that there was a historical Jesus, in which the ‘basics’ of his story, can be deduced from the early letters and gospels.

  • Strac5

    Carrier is being way too accommodating to the religionists by allowing that “Paul” and some of the other texts were written prior to 70 ACE. It’s not known who Paul was or what his real name was or when he actually wrote. And why assume that the temple cult had to be dead by 70 ACE? Isn’t that a little like saying that Mithraism had to be dead by 325 ACE? The only real cap on the temple cult in that region was when the Bar Kochba rebellion was defeated in the 130′s ACE, causing the Diaspora. It just defies common sense that anything that could reasonably be interpreted as actual Christian existed in the first century. Mid-second century is more like it.

    Related, it seems like he is allowing the legitimacy of a lot of what are probably interpolations. Some of these passages may be legit and can be understood as an extension of Platonism, but others are probably just outright forgeries.

    Absent more archaeological findings, advanced computer lexicometry will eventually sort it all out. I just get the impression that despite the superficial bravado and defiance, on a really deep level, Carrier is afraid of being disapproved of by the academic community, so he holds back from claiming what ought to be obvious to everyone. This accommodation happens a lot. People don’t want others to be mad or disapprove of them, so they allow bogus claims by the other side and try to work around them.

  • Strac5

    Carrier is being way too accommodating to the religionists by allowing that “Paul” and some of the other texts were written prior to 70 ACE. It’s not known who Paul was or what his real name was or when he actually wrote. And why assume that the temple cult had to be dead by 70 ACE? Isn’t that a little like saying that Mithraism had to be dead by 325 ACE? The only real cap on the temple cult in that region was when the Bar Kochba rebellion was defeated in the 130′s ACE, causing the Diaspora. It just defies common sense that anything that could reasonably be interpreted as actual Christian existed in the first century. Mid-second century is more like it.

    Related, it seems like he is allowing the legitimacy of a lot of what are probably interpolations. Some of these passages may be legit and can be understood as an extension of Platonism, but others are probably just outright forgeries.

    Absent more archaeological findings, advanced computer lexicometry will eventually sort it all out. I just get the impression that despite the superficial bravado and defiance, on a really deep level, Carrier is afraid of being disapproved of by the academic community, so he holds back from claiming what ought to be obvious to everyone. This accommodation happens a lot. People don’t want others to be mad or disapprove of them, so they allow bogus claims by the other side and try to work around them.


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