Early Converted Skeptics?

In recent discussions and reading, I’ve encountered on more than one occasion mentions of James the brother of Jesus as having been skeptical of Jesus during his public activity, and also mentions of him and Paul as two skeptics who were “converted”.

I have no particular wish to counter that claim, if it is correct. But I certainly do have an interest in critically evaluating it so as to evaluate whether it is likely to be correct or not. And it seems to me that there is, at the very least, reasonable doubt.

Let us begin with James, Jesus’ brother. I recently had passed on to me a copy of a small booklet published by Sean Freyne, entitled Retrieving James/Yakov the Brother of Jesus. Flipping through it, I found some quite common claims repeated (pp.4-5): On the one hand, James is presumed to be included in the generic references to Jesus’ brothers in Mark 3:31-35 and parallels, and John 7:2-10. On the other hand, Freyne notes that “The most plausible inference would be that Jesus and James were somehow at odds during this period, but personal animosity is scarcely provable” (p.4).

Such evidence needs to be contrasted with the reference in the Gospel tradition to families being divided because of him, which might lead us to believe that he had some supporters within his own family. But even if there were antagonism or otherwise soured relations between Jesus and James, this does not in any way lead to the conclusion that the estrangement lasted until Jesus’ death. In the early Jewish-Christian work known as the Gospel of the Hebrews, James is depicted as fasting and eagerly anticipating seeing Jesus alive! While there is no real reason to think the scene is historical, it does suggest that the Jewish Christians who produced that work did not think Jesus and James were estranged in the period immediately following the crucifixion, and there is no indication that this represented a changed state of affairs.

This is important because James is sometimes listed as a skeptic who was converted, and converted skeptics are often appealed to as evidence of a religion’s truthfulness. It does not seem that the evidence we have regarding James fits unambiguously into this category.

When we turn to Paul, we clearly are dealing with an opponent who becomes a proponent of the movement he once persecuted. But here too we could easily be misled by the assumption that the account of Paul’s Damascus Road experience is historical, or if historical that it is straightforwardly so. Paul mentions having had visionary experiences, but never describes a “conversion experience” with details resembling what is narrated in Acts.

Paul’s persecution of the church requires prior awareness of Christianity. He mentions that he had relatives who joined the Christian movement before he did (Romans 16:7). Is it not possible that Luke has confused the order of two significant events (just as we know that events are not always related chronologically in the Gospels), and that Paul was first struck by blindness or some other illness, a Christian prayed for his recovery in spite of Paul’s persecution of the movement, and as a result Paul changed his mind about them – and eventually had an experience that persuaded him that he was called not only to cease persecuting Christians but to spread their message himself? These are the details we find in Acts 9:1-19 – with one relatively minor but nevertheless important difference in chronological order. And without a confidence about the precise chronological arrangement of material in our narrative sources that no one who has studied the Gospels critically can have, the assumption that Paul went from persecutor to proclaimer of Christianity as a result of a direct encounter with or vision of Jesus cannot be regarded as having a high degree of certainty.

None of this proves that ‘Christianity is false’, or that ‘religious experiences are the result of nothing more than the workings of the human subconscious’. But it does suggest that it may be unjustified to regard Christianity as being in a category all of its own, with irrefutably powerful historical evidence in its favor that other religions do not have. On the contrary, the evidence we have does not prove, but certainly seems compatible with the viewpoint, that people were drawn to Christianity in its earliest years for much the same reasons, and by way of many of the same processes, as result in conversions today. And if that is the case, then it may be that the appropriate questions to ask about Christianity are not “Can its claims about past events be proven beyond reasonable doubt?” but “What was/is it about Christianity that has led people to have a positive life-changing experience in connection with it?”

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Since Jesus' mother is expressly mentioned in Mark 3:31, I guess we would have to conclude that she was a skeptic, too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Paul never says Jesus was persecuted or that Jesus was part of a persecuted movement.Paul contrasts himself as somebody who persecuted the church with people like James.Perhaps Paul didn't have any dirt on James?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    It should also be pointed out that Luke/Acts, and the Epistles of James and Jude have no hint that any James had ever even seen Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, thank goodness you made your last comment. You see, I have a sister, but I've taken for granted that people would assume I've seen her. Now that I know that not everyone can be trusted to make such a deduction, I will put this fact explicitly in writing for the benefit of posterity: I have seen my sister.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    OK, where do Luke/Acts and the Epistle of James and Jude let slip that Jesus had a brother called James?I guess fundies harmonise that the people who read Luke/Acts knew this James was the brother of Jesus because Mark's Gospel said Jesus had a brother called James, even though one work says James was a sceptic, and the other work never says James was a brother. Why did Luke take Mark's Gospel and airbrush out of his work any suggestion that this James had been the brother of Jesus?Historicists never answer this question.Who were the other brothers in the Lord in 1 Phillipians 14? Presumably they were some sort of authority figures in the early church, rather than just Joe Christian.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    And why does Paul contrast himself as a persecutor of the church with people like James?Had James not also been a sceptic?Why does Paul not defend himself by throwing back in the face of these 'so-called apostles' that they had been sceptics of their own brother or had deserted Jesus?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Where in the remaining bits of the Gospel according to the Hebrews does Jesus ever avoid using the term 'My brother' to refer to Christians in general?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    "1 Phillipians 14"?! "Where in the remaining bits of the Gospel according to the Hebrews does Jesus ever avoid using the term 'My brother' to refer to Christians in general?"?!?! I think the only appropriate response is "lol". But I will add that we do have references to Christians in general as "brothers" in early Christian sources, but that simply highlights the distinctiveness, and presumably difference of meaning, when James is singled out as "the Lord's brother" along side other Christians who are not so designated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    1 Philippians 1:14 , of course.SO still no answer as to why Luke decided to airbrush all familial connection of James the church leader to James the brother of Jesus according to Mark.No answer will ever be forthcoming, as it involves taking seriously the idea that Luke did not think of James the church leader as being the same Jesus as the James in Mark.Whether Luke did think of 2 James or not is irrelevant.As that idea cannot even be entertained as a topic for discussion, there will be a total silence when faced with the question of why Luke/Acts airbrushes out of history the idea that Jesus had a brother called James.And James is putting a lot of exegesis on the group of early Christians known as 'brothers in the Lord' and a reference to 'the brother of the Lord'James is 'singled' out as being the only person other than Peter that Paul had seen.Paul could hardly have written that he had seen the brothers in the Lord, if he had only seen one.But why is there no hint in Paul's letters that Jesus had been part of a movement that had been persecuted?Another interesting, but unanswered question.Is Paul implying that persecution of the church only happened after Jesus died? That whatever had been preached before Jesus death had not led to persecution? Had it been a message that was innocuous?I think there is much profit to be gained in Biblical scholarship by discussing such questions.People more qualified than I am to discuss such matters could make good progress in finding out about the historical Jesus.But Biblical scholars can see that such questions raise the prospect of having to consider the idea that Paul does not mention persecution of a Jesus-led movement , because there had been no Jesus-led movement.And even the mere prospect of having to think about such possibilities means that such Historical Jesus questions can never be studied.

  • http://mwhitenton.wordpress.com/ mwhitenton

    Steven,I'm still confused, "1 Philippians 1.14"? Which letter is that? (I'm sure you mean Philippians, but, honestly, if you are going to try to argue crack theories, at least get the documents in the NT right.)Also, you concluded your last comment: "And even the mere prospect of having to think about such possibilities means that such Historical Jesus questions can never be studied."Amassing a laundry list of questions without trying to answer them cogently does not itself amount to evidence. The burden of proof is on you, my friend, to make the case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Philippians 1:14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. I ask questions to learn from the answers.Historicists cannot say why Luke airbrushes out the idea that the James the church leader was the James the brother of Jesus according to Mark's Gospel.Fair enough. They have not studied the historical Jesus yet.When they do, and make a case why Luke would do that, then I can learn from them.Similarly why is Paul so defensive when the people he is being compared with (Peter, James) allegedly misunderstood Jesus so badly?Paul could not have had any dirt on Peter or James.And , of course, both the authors of James and Jude make no reference to their supposed skepticism as brothers of Jesus, or any reference to any family relationship.Richard Bauckham writes 'Palestinian Jewish-Christian circles in the early church used the title ‘brother of the Lord’ not simply to identify the brothers, but as ascribing to them an authoritative status, and therefore the brothers themselves, not wishing to claim an authority based on mere blood-relationship to Jesus, avoided the term…'I was hoping for a better answer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08132483361614162693 TOTtomdora

    Steven:I think your questions about James and Jesus are answered by some scholars, including James Tabor's book, "The Jesus Dynasty." I can't go into details here, but Tabor believes that Jesus' brothers were not opposed to his ministry, and in fact were among the apostles. I'm not sure I buy all that, but James by many historical accounts was made head of the movement after Jesus died. The idea being that the lineage was a big thing to the movement, which was very Jewish at its origin. James was written out of the NT narratives as a way of making the origins of the movement less Jewish and more universal. The NT was mostly compiled and edited by the followers of Paul, when the audience was broadening beyond the original Jewish apocalyptism. Clearly James was in charge of the movement and he and Paul were at odds.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    "Similarly why is Paul so defensive when the people he is being compared with (Peter, James) allegedly misunderstood Jesus so badly?"What are you referring to here? I don't recall Paul ever naming to whom he was being compared.Also…..so many of the questions you are asking rely on "if it were true than such and such should have happened or been said."….nothing more than speculation.Demanding that someone answer why Luke wrote what he did is a fool's errand. We can't say "why" someone wrote what they did. We can theorize, we can speculate….but ultimately there is no "why"….there is only what is written.Another point….your question about Jesus being persecuted. The gospels themselves do not portray Jesus, or his movement, as being persecuted. In contrast, they depict the Jewish leadership as afraid to do anything because of the people's love/regard for Jesus.That's the point of the whole conspiratorial story of Judas and his betrayal. They had to scheme to do something to Jesus. There was no long period of persecution for him.That would be why Paul doesn't mention it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    Mr. McGrath, Paul uses the word brother/brethern far too often for you to suggest that James' being "singled out" is suddenly a "special" designation. In Philemon,Paul refers to Onesimus as his "own" son(v.10)and also as the Lords brother(v.16). There is not one instance in the entire Pauline corpus where anyone is specifically designated as a blood relative of Jesus. Perhaps you should re-read your dialogue with Tom Verenna on this matter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Philemon 16 in Greek uses 'beloved brother' and 'in the Lord'; but even if it called him (as it does in the NIV for some reason) "a brother in the Lord", that still wouldn't be the expression used in Galatians 1:19, where James is called "the brother of the Lord".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    mwhitendon,Nitpicking about typographical errors in blog comments is juvenile, even if one hasn't seen that the error has already been pointed out and corrected.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't think it was a typo. He called it "1 Philippians" twice…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    I don't really care if he did it ten times. It is still just an erroneous citation. I doubt that there are many bloggers who never make such errors and the ones who don't are the ones who most need to have their heads examined.

  • http://www.thegoldenrule1.wordpress.com Mike Koke

    Vinny, maybe you are right that it is not fair to pick on an erroneous citation but I think people get frustrated with having to hear this same long list of questions and accusations over and over again even when they have been answered. Over three months ago I received the same question and replied: "As far as the brothers “in” the Lord (ἐν κυρίῳ), well Paul often speaks about believers as a fictive family (brothers) and of believers being “in Christ Jesus” (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ), but that is very different from saying someone is the “brother of the Lord” (τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου)." And Josephus multiply attests the existence of James the brother of Jesus in his Antiquities. Also, about James original post, I wonder if passages like Mark 3:31-35 or John 7:2-10 may reflect some of the evangelists and their communities own polemic against the family of Jesus?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Mike,I can appreciate your irritation with Steven's approach. I often do not find it particularly conducive to profitable conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    MIKEOver three months ago I received the same question and replied: "As far as the brothers “in” the Lord (ἐν κυρίῳ), well Paul often speaks about believers as a fictive family (brothers) and of believers being “in Christ Jesus” (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ), but that is very different from saying someone is the “brother of the Lord” (τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου)." CARRClearly the brothers in the Lord in Philippians 1:14 are not the general Joe Christian , but a special group.Mike claims he has answered the questions by positing that when Paul writes 'Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.', Paul is referrring to believers generally.No, Mike Koke hasn't answered the question (nor did he attempt to explain why Luke/Acts airbrushes out all reference to Jesus having a brother called James)Did Paul really claim that most Christians were now speaking out more courageously because of him?No, Paul is clearly referrring to a special group called the brothers in the Lord.So Mike's answer was a wrong answer.This group also appear in 1 Corinthians 9. So Mike is putting a huge amount of weight on Paul referring to James as he does in Galatians 1, when Paul has very good reasons for singling out one particular brother of the Lord from the brothers. After all, James was the only brother in the Lord that he had seen.As for Josephus, most scholars don't believe that Ant. 18 referred to Jesus as the Christ, which means that Josephus could not have back-referenced to 'him called' the Christ in Ant. 20.Only in the world of Historical Jesus studies can writers make back references to references which did not exist.Mike can say he has answered this, but you also have to have a good answer, not just an answer….The Gospel of Mark has no knowledge of James , the brother of Jesus, playing any later part in church leadership.Luke/Acts , James and Jude have no knowledge of James the leader of the church, having been a brother of Jesus.I guess fundies harmonise this by saying the one and the same James must have been a sceptical brother, who then became a leader of the church.Of course, such questions are not 'particularly conducive to profitable conversation.' as they can never be asked. They are taboo subjects for studies of the Historical Jesus.As for James Tabor claiming the lack of references in James and Jude being because James was written out, how exactly does that work?All Luke/Acts 'writes out' is any mention of James having been one of the family of Jesus , ie as having been a sceptic.He still has a James as the church leader.Of course these questions are not 'particularly conducive to profitable conversation.''Profitable conversation' means a hundred years or more of trying to find the Historical Jesus, as a result of which people now write books documenting the failure of these projects.Claiming all these questions have been answered when clearly Historical Jesus studies is an utter mess is not impressive.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    Mr. McGrath,you're putting an awful lot of weight on a single preposition. How many varitations are there in New Testament manuscripts? How many interpolations? How sure are you that Paul used the word "the" in the original writing, which of course we don't have, the earliest copy we have being from the 3rd or 4th century. Also, by the late 2nd centuty James the Just had become known as "the brother of the Lord" in the sense of sibling, which could have been a compelling reason for a scribe to change whatever Paul said to the current phrase. 1 Cor 9:5 uses the phrase "the brothers of the Lord" as though they are married and active in the missionary movement. If this is a reference to blood siblings of Jesus, then where is an account of any tradition about these "blood" brothers of the one and only Son of God? Give me one detail that is written about their lives by anyone who knew them or knew of them. How do blood brothers of Jesus, active in the missionary movement, disappear from any record in early Christian history?Apparently the early Christian writers didn't notice the "the" just before their titles and must have assumed they were merely "brethern". Mike Koke–To indicate that the authenticity of the Jesus/one called Christ phrases in Josephus are setteled matters is very sophmoric. Earl Doherty has an extensive expansion of this question on his website. I realize that he doesn't have the correct "letters" behind his name but I don't think you'll be disappointed in his scholarship.Trust me Mike,your Jesus brain could use a little light.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I'm not putting undue weight on a preposition. I'm putting weight on what these ancient texts actually say. Until you are willing to deal with the actual wording of the texts, you'll find few scholars who will treat you with any other attitude than that which mythicists themselves have for scholarship.And so, when this conversation stops abruptly – as it inevitably will – I want to say for the record that it will not be because we could not answer, but because dealing with fundamentalists who will accept no evidence that these texts don't say what they want them to say is frustrating and often a waste of our time.Now, if anyone wishes to discuss the actual words of the text, Paul says in Galatians that he met with two of the apostles: Peter, and James the brother of the Lord. Not 'a brother in the Lord' but 'the brother of the Lord'. Why is this important? Because its what he actually wrote.I can surmise a number of reasons why Acts might not mention that James was Jesus' brother (one hypothesis might be the desire not to waste expensive ink stating the obvious). But from a historian's perspective, Paul's letter to the Galatians is solid evidence, regardless what another author may have written half a century later.If you wish to have a conversation, I'd recommend that you drop the stance of apologists for mythicism, and engage instead in serious critical study of the texts, and let the evidence lead you where it consistently leads historians and scholars who are genuinely interested in allowing the evidence to shape their conclusions, rather than vice versa.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    James McGrath said-"I'm putting weight on what these ancient texts acutally say". In a recent post you questioned the accuracy of the Damascus Road conversion story in the book of Acts. You said that it's possible that the author of Luke/Acts may have made a mistake in relating that story.Why don't you accept what the ancient text says in that instance? Isn't that what Luke "actually wrote"? Is that so different from what I'm asking? I'm not remotely a scholar,as I'm sure you can tell, just an interested amateur who spent the first 30 or so years of his life as a believing Christian and now have come to hold different beliefs. I am sincerely interested in learning the facts and I do appreciate a credentialed professor like yourself taking the time to dialogue with me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for the question. Let me clarify what I meant. My point about "what the text actually says" doesn't mean that one should always judge the text to relate accurate historical information, or indeed any at all. One has to engage in historical critical inquiry, as with any ancient texts.My point was that, in undertaking our historical investigation, our judgment should be based on what the texts actually say. And treating a reference to "the brother of the Lord" as though it was simply one more instance of the expression "brothers in the Lord" was what I objected to. Whether that demonstrates what I believe it to or not is a separate question, but it is important the the discussion not misrepresent the basic facts and data.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Who were the 'brothers in the Lord'?Clearly they were a separate group of Christians and not family brothers of Jesus.The fact remains that not single one other New Testament book claims that Jesus had had a brother called James who became a church leader.So a lot of exegesis is being put on a bet that Paul would never refer to one of the 'brothers in the Lord' as a 'brother of the Lord' (NB not brother of Jesus)And that Luke/Acts airbrushes out all mention of Jesus having a brother called James for entirely innocent reasons….And historicists leave totally unexplained why James and Jude never hint that this James allegedly had a famous brother. Jude defines himself by family reference to James, not Jesus.Historicists always leave such questions unanswered.Perhaps mythicists are a bit like creationists , asking questions.But when creationists ask questions about evolutionary theory, they tend to get bombed with literature documenting the answers to all these questions.That never happens with mythicists.If they ask why Paul thinks the advantage of Jews was that they had been entrusted with the scriptures, no historist will literature bomb mythicists with documentation as to why Paul did not think it was Jews who had been entrusted with the words of his Lord and Saviour.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, we've dealt with this already. We're not discussing "brothers in the Lord". We're discussing "James the brother of the Lord". If you wish to discuss this, feel free to do so. In your comment, you seem not to be aware even that this phrase is in the New Testament.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    MCGRATHI can surmise a number of reasons why Acts might not mention that James was Jesus' brother (one hypothesis might be the desire not to waste expensive ink stating the obvious).CARRYou mean leaving out that James had been the brother of Jesus freed up expensive ink to give 3 versions of Paul's conversion and 2 accounts of Peter's vision?And freed up ink to give a genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam?It is so unexpected that Luke/Acts never claims that James had been the brother of Jesus that many historicists simply do not know that is the case.They just assume that it is obvious that Luke/Acts would mention James as the brother of Jesus and have to double-check when you say it never does.Perhaps Luke/Acts leaves out the fact that the James the church leader was a brother of Jesus because he wasn't.Just as the Gospel of Mark has no hint that any brother of Jesus would become a church leader.That is the possibility that can never be admitted or discussed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    I frequently have the sense that Steven has not actually read much of the New Testament, especially those sections which don't seem to have much to do with his agenda.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    That would explain why he is trying to change the subject. :)I was being mostly facetious about Luke saving ink. My main points were: (1) that one can in most cases only speculate about why an author chose to write this or that; (2) Luke didn't need to say "the brother of Jesus" if he could assume people would know which Jacob he was talking about; (3) Luke writing this or that many decades later is not the issue, the issue is Paul's reference to a brother of Jesus. Your attempts to distract from your apparent failure to even be aware that this is what Paul wrote are not impressive.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    So were the "brothers of the lord" in 1Cor 9:5 the biological brothers of Jesus?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Who else would they be?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    I don't know. A bunch of guys who do the will of god? I don't know how you can be certain that the word isn't used in a non-biological sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    The term "brothers" is used in that generic sense, either on its own or in the phrase "brothers in the Lord". It is precisely because "James the brother of the Lord" and "the brothers of the Lord" is used in references that distinguish these individuals from other Christians like Peter, that suggests that the term is not simply a designation for Christians, or even for Christian leaders.It is only if one is determined in advance either for Jesus not to have brothers, or for Jesus to have been a mythical rather than biological entity, that it becomes worth trying to interpret the phrase as meaning something other than what it seems to.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    It is only if one is determined in advance either for Jesus not to have brothers, or for Jesus to have been a mythical rather than biological entity, that it becomes worth trying to interpret the phrase as meaning something other than what it seems to.That sounds rather presuppositional to me. Might I not just as well assert that it is only if one has determined in advance for Jesus to be historical that it becomes worth ignoring the possibility that the phrase is meant symbolically rather than literally?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Certainly there might be some who have their minds made up the other way beforehand. But it is also possible to say "Isn't it just your different presuppositions?" to try to claim that two views are equally plausible and valid. And so there we have another similarity between mythicism and creationism.I've been carefully explaining why historians reach the conclusions they do. It is the specific language used, the criterion of embarrassment when it comes to certain elements in the tradition: Jesus being born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem, his being denied and betrayed by his disciples, his being crucified by Israel's overlords rather than overthrowing them. All this evidence mounts up and makes the historical existence of Jesus more likely. Then we note that Paul acknowledges the status of certain Christians not merely as generic "brothers in the Lord" but as "brothers of the Lord" as distinct from other Christians who are never so described. Some of these individuals had different views and practices than Paul's, and so it once again cries out for explanation why Paul would simply grant them this status unless it were well established. And this is within a few years of the crucifixion, that Paul encounters these individuals.So, while new evidence might cause us to reconsider, the evidence we have decisively points to the historicity, obviously not of everything said about Jesus in our early sources, but at the very least of his existence as a historical figure. That's why there is such an overwhelming consensus among historians about this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    "It is precisely because "James the brother of the Lord" and "the brothers of the Lord" is used in references that distinguish these individuals from other Christians like Peter, that suggests that the term is not simply a designation for Christians, or even for Christian leaders."If I understand mythicists correctly, they claim that "brothers of the lord" would have been some kind of a status or a group of specific Christian leaders, not all Christians or all Christian leaders.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    "If I understand mythicists correctly, they claim that "brothers of the lord" would have been some kind of a status or a group of specific Christian leaders, not all Christians or all Christian leaders."On what basis?For the sake of the argument…let's say that was true….that some sort of special group existed which held the title "brothers of the lord". That would mean that there was something definite about this particular group, that they were elected/chosen by the leadership for certain tasks…that they weren't a random group of people.Kind of a like a religious order.If that were so….why don't we ever hear that term continuing to be used in early Christian history? Apostles, elders, deacons….these various terms and forms of order in the church are readily found and in frequent use. What happened to this order of "the brothers of the Lord". WHy wouldn't it have continued? Why wouldn't we have records of people trying to become "brothers of the Lord." That would seem to be a prestigious title to have.No….it just doesn't work to put that forth as a theory.It is the uniqueness of the term that makes it more likely to refer to Jesus' brothers….and not some special order or group of Christians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    "On what basis?"Well they are clearly some group in the christian community, since Paul refers to them. If it is meant as "spiritual brothers" then I can't see what else it could be."WHy wouldn't it have continued?"Maybe it was based in Jerusalem (based on James being one of them)?I just think that this is a piece of data that can be explained by both sides. Sure it maybe looks a little bit contrived for the mythicists, but it's hardly something that settles the issue completely. One other thing, regarding Nazareth, I've read some speculations about that possibly being originally from a reference to Jesus being a Nazorean or a Nazorite or something similar.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    That's probably a fair way of putting it – and presumably there's no need to explain why historians, all other things being equal, opt for the less contrived of two options. :)As for the question about Nasoreans and Nazirites, it's an interesting one. The latter is based on a confusion that arose for speaker of other languages – the distinction between the roots being clear for speakers of Semitic languages (cp. recent discussion of Barack and baraq). Jesus may have made a Nazirite vow at the last supper, according to the Gospels, but that is unlikely to explain his being referred to by this term in a more general sense.I'm disinclined to view the connection with a village of Nazareth as completely invented, precisely because the tendency in the later church was to try to move his birth to Bethlehem, no matter how contrived the story they had to tell in order to accomplish that.But the references to Christians as "Nazarenes" does seem to reflect the view that they may belong in an already-existing category, and Matthew's reference to him being called a "Nazarene" may also be an attempt to try to explain this in terms of the village of Jesus' origin – an explanation that is fairly implausible.I've been doing research of late on the Mandaeans, who are also known as "Nasoreans", and it may be that a group like them, or some proto-Mandaean group that eventually developed into later Mandaism, existed already in New Testament times. Epiphanius refers to a pre-Christian Jewish sect of Nasareans. Spelling and the existence of a variety of groups with similar-sounding names, as well as significant uncertainties about Mandaean origins and history, mean that there is a lot of fascinating room for speculation, and for further historical investigation, but at present still a lot of uncertainty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    I understand why Paul’s primary focus would be the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, but it is still hard for me to see how some hint of the parables, the healings, and the exorcisms didn’t creep into his letters somewhere if he actually knew men who had followed Jesus around Galilee for three years. It seems very odd to me that the only detail concerning Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion that makes it into Paul’s writings is the fact that he had a biological brother.I think that Terri’s question is a very reasonable one: If Paul intended “brother of the Lord” as some sort of symbolic title, why is there not other evidence of its use in the early church? On the other hand, I feel like the mythicists ask a reasonable question as well: If Paul understood Jesus to be a historic person who taught Peter and James about the kingdom of God and worked wonders that they witnessed, why isn’t there more evidence of that in his writings?I don’t feel like either side can satisfactorily answer all the questions. I lack the expertise to make an assessment of the relative plausibility of each hypothesis, but I find it hard to eliminate either one as a possibility.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Again, those are fair points, Vinny, although it then becomes important to point out that Paul was writing to already-existing Christian churches, and clearly assumed in his letters that they had already been told things. He's not writing Gospels, but offering follow-up "pastoral advice".In at least one case, Paul explicitly shows an awareness of the sort of teaching attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. In 1 Corinthians he mentions that when it comes to prohibiting divorce, it is "not I but the Lord" who is the source of that.Again, one can always attempt to argue that Paul's teaching or teaching thought to come from a heavenly entity eventually gets attributed to a historical Jesus figure in the Gospels. It's not that one cannot argue that case that persuades most historians, but the fact that it provides a simpler and less complex explanation of the data if one interprets it in terms of there having been a historical Jesus who clearly isn't responsible for everything attributed to him later, but nonetheless whose impact is at least indirectly responsible for the ripples we see later.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    Sure, when it comes to this particular text, the mythicist case might seem more contrived. But some facts seem also to be more contrived in the historicist position (like the aformentioned lack of parables and miracle stories in the epistles)."Spelling and the existence of a variety of groups with similar-sounding names, as well as significant uncertainties about Mandaean origins and history, mean that there is a lot of fascinating room for speculation, and for further historical investigation, but at present still a lot of uncertainty."Yes, and that's why I personally don't buy the argument you set forward regarding the historical Jesus and Nazareth. It could well be the case that he was in fact from Nazareth, but there are other plausible hypotheses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Do you actually have a plausible alternative that you've worked out? Do you suggest that within a few decades, Christians managed to convince lots of people that Jesus was not a Nasoraean but rather it was a confusion because he was from a place called Nazareth; then they suddenly realized that the Messiah was supposed to be from Bethlehem and thus set about trying to convince people he wasn't originally from Nazareth?This is why historians get frustrated with amateurs promoting mythicism or inerrancy. There are lots of "Couldn't this have meant X rather than Y?" but no attempt to offer an integrated interpretation of all the relevant historical data.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    No, I haven't put forward "an integrated interpretation of all the relevant historical data". After all, I'm an amateur ;)But I can imagine that someone was stuck with the title "Jesus the Nazorean" (or something like that) and couldn't imagine or didn't like the idea that the son of god had been a member of a sect.What's your explanation of all the confusion regarding "Nazorean" and all that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    See my previous comment(s).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    It's not that one cannot argue that case that persuades most historians, but the fact that it provides a simpler and less complex explanation of the data if one interprets it in terms of there having been a historical Jesus who clearly isn't responsible for everything attributed to him later, but nonetheless whose impact is at least indirectly responsible for the ripples we see later.I am compelled to acknowledge the wisdom of this observation. There may be little about the historical Jesus that we can confidently say has not been obscured by myth, but constructing a theory for a purely mythological Jesus does seem to take a lot of work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    I know this thread is dea . . .this was fun.I also think that the "brotherhood of the lord" suggestion is painfully ad hoc.So much depends upon a dating of 51-64, though.. . . What if that bit about James being the Lord's brother . . . phrased in that way: ‘αδελφον του κυριου’ . . . is actually evidence of the extremely high christology in evidence in the epistle (and throughout the pauline corpus in general), exceeding even that of the Gospel of Mark (presumably composed after 70), that would necessitate placing their origin later in time? (Well into the second century by some estimations.) If the Dutch radicals were right about Paul, then a reference to James as brother of Jesus need not have a different interpretation than a blood brother either . . .I didn't know you were taking on mythicism lately.I'll read on . . .