Review of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection

I am grateful to Kris Komarnitsky for sending me a copy of his book Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?  For some, the title may seem appealing, while to others it may be disturbing, but when it comes to historical study, the simple fact is that there is no way for a historian not to doubt the resurrection – or to put it more precisely, a historian cannot but raise questions about the historical factuality of the early narratives that tell the resurrection story. To paraphrase Bart Ehrman (the actual quote is here), there are any number of improbable historical scenarios for which there is no evidence whatsoever, but which are nevertheless inherently more likely than that an individual who had been dead entered into the resurrection life of the age to come. In addition to legitimate skepticism about unparalleled claims, a historian is trained to ask about cultural-historical dynamics and other forms of explanation on a human level. Those who find such a naturalistic approach threatening to their faith will want to avoid all historical study and not just Kris’ book. Those who are interested in exploring plausible historical explanations, on the other hand, will benefit from reading this book.

At this juncture, I should mention a biographical detail about the author: he is by profession an airline pilot and not a historian or Biblical scholar. As a professor, for the most part I teach undergraduates very few of whom go on to become scholars of religion or history. The aim of perhaps the majority of educators in my field is not to persuade most human beings to pursue higher degrees in our fields so that all attain the same level of expertise and qualifications, but to equip people with tools for critical investigation which they can use in a variety of settings, regardless of their professions. Kris may not be a professional historian, but he approaches historical questions using the appropriate tools, and he has familiarized himself with the work of experts in the field and seeks to build on their contributions. Those of us who are frustrated by misconstruals and inaccuracies in media treatments or popular opinions regarding our fields will find Kris’ book an encouragement. If nothing else, it proves that if someone takes the time to investigate a topic, including learning how the relevant disciplinary tools are applied and familiarizing themselves with what experts have already written on a subject, they can draw balanced and even insightful conclusions.

The book deals with many topics that I am particularly interested in, such as the dishonorable character of Jesus’ burial, which is the focus of chapter 2. Komarnitsky provides a cogent case for the possibility that Jesus may have been buried in a trench grave rather than a rock-cut tomb, mentioning in this context a reference in the Secret Book of James to Jesus having been buried “in the sand.” Chapter 3 investigates the background to the early Christian interpretation of Jesus’ death as salvific, including a helpful treatment of cognitive dissonance reduction. Also provided are Greco-Roman parallels to the disappearance of the bodies of those believed to have been translated to the realm of the gods.

Chapter 4 focuses on the appearance traditions, and relates them to the not uncommon experience of people seeing a deceased loved one some time after their death. What struck me most about this chapter were testimonies of individuals who had such experiences and, after seeing the deceased individual, were overcome with a sense of inner peace which sounds very much like the testimony those of us who have had a “born again” experience might give.

Chapter 5 tackles the early resurrection tradition in 1 Corinthians 15 and its mention resurrection on the third day “in accordance with the Scripture.” The possibility that Jesus was not buried in a rock-cut tomb faces the hurdle that the narrative accounts in the Gospels connect the belief that Jesus was “raised on the third day” to the discovery of the empty tomb. In addition, the question of which Scripture(s) were in Paul’s mind is difficult if not impossible to answer. Kris combines both these questions and offers an intriguing suggestion: Psalm 16:10. Might it have been this text, combined with the belief that after three days a body underwent corruption, that led to the belief that Jesus had been “raised on the third day”? On this point I found the argument less persuasive, since Luke-Acts (where we find Ps.16:10 applied to Jesus) emphasizes the flesh-and-bones, corporeal character of Jesus’ resurrection body in a way that Paul and other of our earliest sources do not. Moreover, decomposition presumably was well underway by the third day in most cases – it was the face becoming unrecognizable by the third day that led to the Jewish belief that the soul of an individual remained in the vicinity until that time. Nevertheless, it is not clear that early Christians would have reasoned as I do about this subject, and thus the possibility that “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” indicated a belief inspired by Ps.16:10 deserves further consideration. For Kris, the early Christians who formulated the “creed” in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 already believed that Jesus had been bodily raised to heaven, in a manner that involved the disappearance of the corpse from whatever grave it had been buried in.

The final chapter offers some practical, functional reasons for the success of Christianity. It is to Kris’ credit that he has no interest in denying the existence of positive aspects of Christianity. Indeed, if one is to provide a plausible explanation of its success in naturalistic terms, presumably one cannot at the same time deny that there is anything about it that might be appealing! From a Liberal Christian perspective, it is not only non-threatening but perhaps even encouraging to consider that Christianity may have thrived and flourished precisely because it broke down social barriers and united people. Kris summarizes his own view as follows: “the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection” – by which he doesn’t mean that human equality is an idea that originated with Christianity, but simply that Christianity’s emphasis on this point was central to its power and spread.

There is often a tendency to skip over appendices, but the one appendix in Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection is extremely interesting and ought not to be overlooked. Interacting with such great scholars as Strauss, Sherwin-White and Scholem, Kris provides a compelling argument that legends can grow and develop at various rates, and thus one cannot extrapolate from allegedly typical growth rates for myths to the historicity or otherwise of the Gospels. And, quoting Strauss, Kris points out that Jesus was understood by early Christians in messianic terms, and messianic concepts had been growing and developing within Judaism for centuries prior to their being applied to Jesus, which makes for a potentially different scenario than when a heroic leader becomes the subject of legends starting, as it were, from scratch (p.151).

On the whole I found Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection to provide many insights and much food for thought. Although Kris is not a scholar by profession, his treatment of both primary and secondary sources is certainly such that even someone who is a historian or New Testament scholar by profession will benefit from thinking about and interacting with his discussions.

Ultimately, the subtitle of the book is both on target and potentially misleading. It asks the question “What happened in the black box?” The reference is not to the “black box” they look for when a plane crashes (however apt that might seem as a metaphor, given Kris’ profession), but to a mysterious unobservable area with data going in and results coming out, but little or no opportunity to observe the intervening processes. The precise events and phenomena that bridge the historical data of Jesus’ life and death on the one hand and the rise of resurrection belief on the other are obscured from view by time and by sources that are piecemeal and at times divergent. And so the book does not purport to tell us “what happened in the black box” – indeed, the book’s conclusions are impressive for not claiming to have reconstructed “what really happened” but “one plausible way to read the evidence” (p.130). But that seems to be the best a historian can do, and among the plausible interpretations of the evidence, Kris’ deserves thoughtful consideration.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03201490337520769596 Eric Gregory

    I still have yet to find any compelling reasoning for doubting the resurrection (beyond the "natural" or "sensual" rationale anyone has in disbelieving the overcoming of death – 1 Corinthians 2). Komarnitsky's work, as you review it, does exactly the opposite from the intention, in my opinion.While I have yet to read the book, he seems to take clearly apocryphal accounts of gnostic "secret" misunderstandings of Christianity and uses them as historical evidence for Jesus not being buried in a tomb (which has full synoptic support, if I'm not mistaken), and then extrapolates from that far landing spot that Jesus may not have actually died because … why, exactly?If the only reason for doubting the Resurrection comes not from historical evidence (your brief summary of Komarnitsky's work indicated a lack thereof in his argumentation), but from a simple refusal to believe the impossible, then there isn't much reason to do so, is there?Additionally, the idea that "the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection" is absolute lunacy if we look to Paul, as we must, for an understanding of Christian theology and historicty in the first century (as we was the most prolific writer of the time). Once there's something that's not quite as outrageously apocryphal as the Secret Book of James indicating something other than the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, my ear will perk up again. As for Komarnitsky: I'll refrain at this point – not from lack of "faith" or lack of trust in history, but from his apparent lack of evidence. Other things are worth more of my time…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18299186132406664998 chollie

    …it was the face becoming unrecognizable by the third day that led to the Jewish belief that the soul of an individual remained in the vicinity until that time.Interesting (although the actual timing of deliquescence does vary considerably)! Do you have a reference for the Jewish belief on hand? As you know, the Mandaeans hold similar beliefs about the ruha and the nishimta, or at least it is always on the third day after death that the masiqta is performed, unless that day is infelicitous. I have a copy of Sheikh Rafid's Arabic language monograph on the masiqta that I'm thinking of translating into English over the summer.

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

    Eric, I am puzzled by your assumptions about the book, which you admit not having read. The argument about Jesus being buried in a trench grave mentions an extracanonical Gospel, but is based primarily on the evidence for burial in a tomb normally having been something for the wealthy and the honored. Other evidence includes the notion of the "Field of Blood" being a place for foreigners to be buried. Nowhere does Kris suggest that Jesus never died – again, it isn't something in the book (which you haven't read) and isn't in the review, so I don't know what led you to mention that.As for the accusation of "lunacy" I think that it is uncalled for. Certainly Paul was motivated by belief in the resurrection, but he clearly emphasized equality across social boundaries, and there is nothing inherently implausible about the latter being a key reason for Christianity's "success." That might be wrong – but we're all wrong sometimes, and being wrong is, in my thinking, different from being a lunatic (although I may be wrong about that).Chollie, here's one classic example: Genesis Rabbah 100.7 I believe says "Bar Kappara taught: Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body]. Thus itsays, `But his flesh grieveth for him, and his soul mourneth overhim' (Job 14:22)"Another relevant text from the Babylonian Talmud (b. Semahot 8:1): 'One may go out to the cemetery for three days to inspect the dead for a sign of life, without fear that this smacks of heathen practice. For it happened that a man was inspected after three days, and he went on to live twenty-five years; still another went on to have five children and died later. There may be other references – I'm at home and thus relying on things I could find from here. As for the translation you hope to work on, I'm all in favor!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Hi Eric,I understand your dismissal of my book. I too use reviews to decide if a book is worth my time. Another review (written by me) can be found here (http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2009/11/doubting-jesus-resurrection.html), but this too is ultimately only a snippet because most people aren’t willing to read internet posts that are more than a thousand or so words.Before addressing your comment about my use of a late Gnostic gospel, let me first say up front that my book is definitely written from the skeptic’s position. I am very open about that in my book. My book also does not attempt to settle the question of gospel reliability. Essentially I ask the reader to table that topic and hear me out. The reason I do this is because I consistently see those who argue for gospel reliability use the very early beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7 — Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and appeared to many people – as “external evidence” for gospel reliability. It is the rise of these beliefs and traditions that is the entire focus of my book. The question I ask is: If the gospels are not reliable, is there any other plausible explanation for the rise of these extraordinary beliefs and traditions? I point out that if there is a plausible answer to this question that does not entail Jesus resurrecting from the dead, then there is nothing about 1 Cor 15:3-7 that supports the conclusion that the gospels are more likely historical rather than legendary expansions of these beliefs and traditions. If so, 1 Cor 15:3-7 should not be used to support the idea that the gospels are historically reliable. At the end of my book, I drop the reader back off at the gospel reliability question, hopefully with a different perspective on 1 Cor 15:3-7. In short, my book is not very broad in scope, but I think it does look pretty intensely at one part of the problem that has not been flushed out very well. Regarding your comment about my use of a late Gnostic gospel, I actually only refer to that as an afterthought at the end of my burial chapter. James probably could have given a better representation of this chapter in his review of my book. I’ll post my basic argument from the burial chapter in my book for you or anyone else that is interested in the next four posts because each comment posted is limited to 4096 characters (although this will still be a very condensed version of my chapter). Since I know these types of conversations can sometimes go on forever, that's probably it for me on this topic. All the best no matter your thoughts about my book.Kris K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Obscure Burial Part II start off by pointing out that first-century Jews who were poor were not normally buried in rock-hewn tombs. Instead, they were buried in the ground. I think this is widely accepted. For example, Jodi Magness says: Because of the expense associated with hewing a burial cave out of bedrock…only upper class and upper-middle class Jerusalemites could afford rock-hewn tombs. The poorer members of Jerusalem’s population apparently disposed of their dead in a manner that has left few traces in the archaeological record, for example in simple individual trench graves dug into the ground….The majority of victims crucified by the Romans belonged to the lower classes – precisely those who could not afford rock-hewn tombs.…Because trench graves are poor in finds and are much less conspicuous and more susceptible to destruction than rock-hewn tombs, relatively few examples are recorded….Jesus’ family did not own a rock-hewn tomb. (Jodi Magness, “What did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2006, 41, 47, 48.)I then look at a well known Mishnah passage which says:They did not bury the condemned in the burial grounds of his ancestors, but there were two graveyards made ready for the use of the court, one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burned. When the flesh [of the criminal] had wasted away they gathered together the bones and buried them in their own place [the family burial place]. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5-6)Many people seem to think from this passage that criminals from impoverished families received a rock-hewn tomb burial in the specially designated criminal’s graveyard referred to in this passage (the reference in this passage to gathering the bones and burying them with the family strongly suggests that rock-hewn tombs were used for criminals so that their bones could be easily collected at a later date for burial with the family). However, going against this conclusion in the case of poor criminals is that virtually all archaeological discoveries of Jewish ground burials (those of poor people) have only individuals in them. As archaeologist Boaz Zissu says, “In most cases, the Beit Safafa graves contained only one body each” (Boaz Zissu, “Odd Tomb Out: Has Jerusalem’s Essene Cemetery Been Found?,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 1999, 52). Zissu goes on to say that none of the tombs had more than two bodies. Hershel Shanks finds the same thing at Qazone and Qumran: “…each grave [at Qazone] contained a single body, as did almost all the excavated tombs at Qumran” (Hershel Shanks, “Who Lies Here? Jordan Tombs Match Those at Qumran,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Sep/Oct 1999, 51). Shanks also goes on to say that no grave ever contained more than two bodies. Similar graves of individuals have been found at Ein el-Ghuweir. These finds suggest to me that poor people did not have a place where they consolidated the bones of family and therefore did not practice the secondary burial suggested in the Mishnah passage above.If poor people did not practice secondary burial, then the Mishnah passage above, with its implied rock-hewn tomb, most likely applied only to criminals wealthy enough to expect secondary burial in a family tomb or, for those only moderately wealthy, an ossuary. This would leave the poorest criminals to be buried in the ground, and only once. This conclusion is consistent with the archaeological evidence; again as Jodi Magness says:There is no evidence that the Sanhedrin or the Roman authorities paid for and maintained rock-hewn tombs for executed criminals from impoverished families. Instead, these unfortunates would have been buried in individual trench graves or pits. (Jodi Magness, “What did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2006, 48)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Obscure Burial Part III then go on to look at how the graves of poor first-century Jews were marked. According to Jodi Magness:After the trench was filled in, a rough headstone was often erected at one end. [Today,] the headstones are uninscribed, although some may once have had painted decorations or inscriptions that have not survived. (Ibid., 48)In contrast to what Magness found, Boaz Zissu found at the Qumran tombs mentioned earlier fewer graves marked by headstones and more marked with just a pile of loose rocks: “each…is marked by a cairn or, less often, a large standing stone” (Boaz Zissu, “Odd Tomb Out: Has Jerusalem’s Essene Cemetery Been Found?,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 1999, 52). According to Jon Davies, some graves may not have been marked even by a cairn, but only the mark described in the Mishnah to give warning of uncleanness: “whiting mingled with water and poured over the grave.” (Death, Burial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), 102).All of the above suggests to me that Jesus, whether buried in the criminal’s graveyard or not, would have under normal circumstances been buried in the ground. If there were no family or friends present at the burial, and especially if Jesus was buried dishonorably, both of which I will suggest in a moment, then it is plausible that those who buried Jesus did not make any special effort to gather a headstone and inscribe Jesus’ name on it, but simply marked the grave with whiting to show uncleanness or with a pile of loose rocks to show that someone was buried there.Regardless of whether the charge brought against Jesus was legitimate or not, if Jewish officials urged Pilate to execute him, it seems likely that they would have followed through and treated him as a criminal in his burial too (I cover the in my view likely transfer of Jesus’ body from the Romans back to the Jewish authorities earlier in the chapter). This would have resulted in a dishonorable burial. Virtually all scholars agree that rites of mourning were not allowed at a dishonorable burial. In the Old Testament it is said of a criminal’s burial, “They shall not lament for him…” (Jer 22:18). A continuation of the earlier Mishnah passage suggests that no mourning was allowed for those criminals who received a secondary burial, which would imply the same restriction existed at their primary burial:The kinsmen came and greeted the judges and the witnesses as if to say, “We have nothing against you in our hearts, for you have judged the judgment of truth.” And they used to not make open lamentation, but they went mourning, for mourning has its place in the heart. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:6)The Talmud also restricts mourning: “For those executed by the court, no rites whatsoever should be observed…” (Semahot 2:6). Although the Jewish court did not themselves execute Jesus, they nevertheless handed over Jesus to the Romans with the intent that he be crucified and so this passage would seem to apply.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Obscure Burial Part IIIThe texture of a dishonorable burial is further filled out by Josephus, who suggests that few would attend: “He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner” (Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.6). Although Jesus may not have been charged with blasphemy as the gospels claim, Jospehus’ remarks nevertheless reflect the obscure nature of a criminal’s burial in general. Josephus also makes reference to a “night” burial which may be just another way of referring to an obscure burial. For those dishonorable to their parents Josephus says, “…and there let him be stoned; and when he has continued there for one whole day, that all the people may see him, let him be buried in the night” (Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.24). Referring to a thief Josephus says, “…he was immediately put to death; and attained no more than to be buried in the night in a disgraceful manner, and such as was suitable to a condemned malefactor” (Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.14).It is unclear if a dishonorable burial entailed the banning of all attendance or only the attendance of those who might mourn. However, even if the latter, it is unlikely that any of Jesus’ followers who thought they could keep from mourning would have attended Jesus’ burial. Without a family burial place to later move the bones to, and with his burial spot in Jerusalem far from where most of his followers lived in Galilee, knowing the exact spot where Jesus was buried would not have been important. More significantly, and because Jesus at the moment must have looked like a failure, those who were associated with him may all have stayed back to avoid public humiliation. There would also have been an incentive for Jesus’ followers to avoid his burial due to fear of being identified by Roman or Jewish authorities who could make reprisals against them or usethem to get to other followers of Jesus whom the authorities might still have seen as potential troublemakers. Such behavior by the authorities is noted by Tacitus. He noted that as people lingered around the corpses of those executed by the Romans in 32 C.E. (within a year or two of Jesus’ crucifixion), “Spies were set round them, who noted the sorrow of each mourner…” (Annals 6.19). In conclusion, if Jesus was buried dishonorably, it is doubtful that any of his family, friends, or followers would have attended the burial.But what if Jesus was for some reason buried honorably? It turns out that nothing substantial changes, for in this case mourners still would not have been allowed to attend the burial. This conclusion is based on a Mishnah passage which reads, “A mourner must not observe mourning on festivals, for it is written: ‘And thou shalt rejoice on thy feast’ [Deut16:14]” (Moed Katan 3:7-9). As William Craig says about this passage:According to the Mishnah, lamentation for the deceased is actually forbidden during a Jewish feast to all but the next of kin (Moed Katan 3.7-9)….Executed by crucifixion during the juxtaposed feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, he [Jesus] could not be publicly lamented by his followers. (William Lane Craig, “Was Jesus Buried in Shame? Reflections on B. McCane’s Proposal,” The Expository Times 115 (2004): 406)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Obscure Burial Part IVAlthough the context of the above passage allows mourning by next of kin, even the gospels do not place a next of kin at Jesus’ burial. Regarding the woman named Mary (with different sons referred to) in the gospel burial accounts – “Mary the mother of Joses” (Mk 15:47), “Mary the mother of James” (Lk 24:10), and “the other Mary” (Mt 27:61) – R.E. Brown says:The possibility that this Mary is the same person known to John as Mary of Clopas [Jn 19:25] is good….In John alone the mother of Jesus is at Golgotha [observing Jesus’ crucifixion]; but she and the disciple whom Jesus loved seem to depart before Jesus’ death (19:27), and they are absent from the burial account. (R.E. Brown, Death of the Messiah, II (ABRL, 7; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1017 and “The Burial of Jesus,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly Vol. 50.1 (Jan 1988): 236 n. 7).In conclusion, whether Jesus was buried honorably or dishonorably, mourning would have been prohibited. In this case, attendance at the burial, if not altogether banned, would have been restricted to those who could keep from mourning. However, it is likely that those followers of Jesus who thought they could keep from mourning stayed away from the burial to avoid public humiliation and out of fear of reprisal or monitoring by Roman or Jewish authorities. In this case, none of Jesus’ followers would have been present at Jesus’ burial and so none would have known where he was buried. It is worth noting that Jesus’ burial location would still have been unknown to his followers even if he was buried in a rock-hewn tomb in the criminal’s graveyard instead of in the ground. However, not only does the evidence suggest a ground burial more likely, but, counterintuitively, a ground burial actually makes better sense of the way in which a rock-hewn tomb burial legend came about in the first gospel (the Gospel of Mark). I then go on in my book to look at Mark’s burial account, take a brief look at the tomb veneration issue, mention the Secret Gospel of James in passing, and address the question of why the authorities didn’t exhume Jesus’ body to debunk the resurrection belief.In short, it looks to me that a person is Jesus’ situation would have under normal circumstances received a ground burial, probably in the Kidron or Hinnom valley, with nobody attending except for an indifferent burial crew who only cared to mark the site with whiting or a pile of loose rocks to give warning of uncleanness. This scenario is consistent with how the burial appears in the earliest literary evidence: “he was buried” (1 Cor 15:4).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16361320688190031978 Alan Lenzi

    Thanks for taking the time to review this book. I know someone who would really enjoy it. I'll keep it in mind for his birthday.Also, I appreciate your historical no-nonsense statements in the first paragraph. Many people just don't understand that investigating history in and around the Bible shouldn't be different than investigating, e.g., American history. Doubt and evidence are key to decent historical reconstructions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Chollie,Below are the Jewish references that I am aware of which reflect Jewish observation that the face of a corpse distorts no later than the end of the third day after death (with accompanying beliefs about the soul, which may or may not have applied in the first century). 1] Bar Kappara taught: Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body]. Thus it says, “But his flesh grieveth for him, and his soul mourneth over him” (Job 14:22). (Mid Gen Rab 100:7. Written in the fifth century, Bar Kappara’s tenure being around 200 C.E.)2] They derive testimony [concerning the identity of a corpse] only from the appearance of the whole face with the nose….They give testimony [about the identity of a corpse] only during a period of three days [after death]. R. Judah b. Baba says, “[Decay in corpses] is not alike for all men, all places, and all times.” (Mishnah Yebamot 16:3-4. Written in the second century. Note possible dissenting opinion from R. Judah b. Baba in addition to the three-day timeline that is clearly expressed.)3] R. Abba b. R. Pappai and R. Joshua of Siknin said in the name of R. Levi: For three days [after death] the soul hovers over the body, intending to re-enter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change, it departs, as it is written, “When his flesh that is on him is distorted, his soul will mourn over him” (Job 14:22). Bar Kappara said: The full force of mourning lasts for three days. Why? Because [for that length of time] the shape of the face is recognizable, even as we have learnt in the Mishnah: Evidence [to prove a man’s death] is admissible only in respect of the full face, with the nose, and only [by one who has seen the corpse] within three days [after death]. (Mid Lev Rab 18:1. Written in the eighth century. As already noted, Bar Kappara’s tenure was around 200 C.E., as was the tenure of R. Levi.)4] The natural extension of these observations about the decay of the face of a corpse to the decay of the corpse in general can be seen in the expectation of odor from the tomb of Lazarus after the three day period was over: “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days” (Jn 11:39).Hope that helps.Kris K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03201490337520769596 Eric Gregory

    Kris:Thank you for entering into the discussion of your book (apologies to both you an James – I hadn't realized that I assumed you said something negating Jesus' death: that was not my intention at all.).It's curious that you, at my first reading of your posts, never discuss Joseph of Arimathea (who appears in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus' death) and his gift of the rock-hewn tomb for the burial. Do we not think that all four gospels are historically relevant?I have no issue with how Jesus SHOULD have been buried (your arguments seem completely sound for suggesting that Jesus, like any other executed like a criminal, would be buried in the ground), but the setting aside of Joseph of Arimathea doesn't seem logical in the least. The best and most logical answer seems to be that Jesus was buried in a rock-hewn tomb in place of the traditional ground/dirt.Could you explain?(Additionally, James, my accusation of lunacy, while hyperbolic, still stands. From your review, I gathered that Kris believes "the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection". Paul makes it quite clear, as does the author of Acts, that the apostles/disciples believed the "founding event of Christianity" was in fact the resurrection and not merely "human equality". Yes, "no Jew or Greek, male or female", etc., but those comments are made on the basis of the resurrection ushering in new life, unlike the life of this world that separates classes of people. It seems absolutely ludicrous to assert, based on a complete lack of evidence, that equality was of more importance to the founding of Christianity than the resurrection. If the comment was made in reference to human equality being the LASTING understanding of Christianity the world can see, since most won't accept a resurrection story, then I think we could argue clearly.)

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    I think too much may be made of the Jesus dumped in a shallow grave theory, just because it was common doesn't mean it was what happened in this particular case, and Jesus may have died penniless but he seemed to have some wealthy boosters. My main issue with the physical resurrection as an article of faith is the pitch that is based on at best second hand information in a report 2000 years old. Would a person believe any similar claim from another source? Paul's first hand account doesn't necessitate a physical resurrection. If the apostles did get to touch His wounds (why did he still have them?) and eat fish with Him, that means nothing to us we can't talk to the Apostles to see what kind of folks they are. if this sort of thing was supposed to be evidence to the faithful now shouldn't Jesus materially appear at least for Easter and Christmas service? Does any one know of a report of someone meeting Jesus in the flesh recently? Do they believe the report? If Jesus resurrection and few weeks of wandering around is supposed to reassure us of a physical resurrection for us then it's a bad idea. If we are to be assured of a life beyond this mortal one then it's not really necessary. that I or anyone else place their fingers in his unhealed wounds.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03201490337520769596 Eric Gregory

    Mike:I actually think we do, and can, trust those sorts of facts. We have Josephus we seem to adhere to greatly, other non-first-hand sources to corroborate evidence of Shakespeare writing the plays he did, etc. I'm sure we can think of more…It seems like the actual reason many people disbelieve the resurrection is for the same reason that the Greeks did in Acts 17:32a: "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered".I haven't found a historical reason that remotely merits questioning it beyond this.That's why faith/trust is known as a "leap" a la Kierkegaard.(Is it important to question the existence of wounds/scars on a resurrected body?)

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

    Paul never says what happened 'in the black box'Not even when refuting Christian converts who were scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.So if Paul never says what happened , why should we expect Kris to do so?Why not just follow Paul who explains 'Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.'Paul regarded the Corinthians as idiots for even discussing how corpses could be raised, much as people would be idiots for discussing how God is going to turn a fish into the Moon.If the body is destroyed, you get a new one. In Paul's view, the corpse is dead. 'The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam, a life-giving spirit.'

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

    ERICIt seems like the actual reason many people disbelieve the resurrection is for the same reason that the Greeks did in Acts 17:32a: "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered".CARRSO why did they convert to Christianity after sneering at the resurrection?'But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?'Clearly they were converted by stories of Jesus being alive, but still sneered at the idea of ordinary mortals being resurrected.Gods can appear on earth in human bodies and then leave them behind.Mortals can not. They are restricted to their bodies.Paul explains to them what idiots they are to worry about bodies and that they will be resurrected like Jesus was.God will just give them a new body, just like he gives a seed a new body after the seed dies.'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.'The body that was planted in the ground was not the body that was raised. What was raised was the body created by God.Paul then explains that earthly things do not become heavenly things, just like a bird does not turn into the Sun.'All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.'Fish do not turn into birds. Corpses do not turn into heavenly bodies.So why were the Corinthians talking about raising corpses, and so doubting their resurrection?What idiots they were!

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

    Eric, thanks for the stimulating interaction – and thanks to Kris for clarifications and to everyone for getting this discussion off to a great start!I'll encourage Kris to speak for himself regarding the "founding event" language. As for me, I think that shifting the discussion to other terminology makes sense since the substantive issue ought to be the focus of discussion, rather than the best way of expressing it. Perhaps one way of getting at the underlying issue would be to ask whether a religious movement that claimed an individual had been resurrected, but didn't offer either a mystical transformative personal experience or a changed social reality or something else of that sort, would have spread effectively. But again, the best thing will be if Kris, having demonstrated an eagerness to speak for himself and clarify his conclusions, were to do so on this topic too! :)As for Joseph of Arimathea, I do think he is a figure that needs to be taken seriously. But I would also note that in Mark the tomb is not said to be his, nor is Joseph yet turned into a disciple of Jesus'. And so the most natural reading of Mark if we didn't have later (re)interpretations of it influencing us would be that the tomb was a nearby one, either one used for burying criminals executed at the site, or one that was borrowed because of the need for a speedy burial to fulfill the requirements of the Torah.It would be great to see more work done on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The first-century tombs found beneath it suggest the site was more like a "graveyard" of rock-cut tombs than an isolated individual one. Perhaps further work on this could elucidate just what sort of individuals were buried on the site, which might help ajudicate between the two options I mentioned.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04605470284153454825 phil_style

    It would be great to see more work done on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The first-century tombs found beneath it suggest the site was more like a "graveyard" of rock-cut tombs than an isolated individual one. You might end up with both types of burial methods at the site! the ground is a little bit lumpy, and cutting sideways into rock is easier than digging downwards.

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

    There is no evidence that Joseph of Arimathea existed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03201490337520769596 Eric Gregory

    Steven:I'm not sure about that at all – what evidence do we have for supposing that he did not exist? Again, one has to completely throw out the Gospels (as he appears in all four of them), which seems like an odd thing to do. My research doesn't show Joseph being ADDED to any of the Gospels, or any reason to disbelieve his existence.

  • http://www.wideeyedpictures.com Dan

    I am currently reading this book, and am enjoying it thoroughly so far. I am really happy to see that Mr. Komarnitsky has come to this site to add to the discussion. It shows his passion and professionalism for his readers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Eric said: “It's curious that you, at my first reading of your posts, never discuss Joseph of Arimathea (who appears in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus' death) and his gift of the rock-hewn tomb for the burial.”Eric,The problem with abbreviated presentations like I just did on the idea of a ground burial is that one can then come back and say I never discussed this or that. I think you would find my book very comprehensive within the confines of its scope. I do address Joseph of Arimathea in my book. I argue that the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea as a real person does not matter for my analysis, but the historicity of his purported actions in the gospels do. I argue that even if Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and buried Jesus, the use of his name in burial legends years later that relate allegiances and actions that he never had or did would not be surprising if he was by that time dead or not in the locale where the story was growing. I addressed in my previous post the contribution my book attempts to make to the gospel reliability question. In addition, and as James pointed out in his review of my book, I address the myth growth rate argument (which impacts on both gospel reliability and interdependence) in the appendix to my book, especially the thoughts of A.N. Sherwin-White which do not pan out for me in the way that some people assert. In short, I don't think the four gospel burial accounts are reliable or truly independent from each other.Kris K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Steven,I respect your hypothesis that Paul thought Jesus' body decayed in the grave, but I think Paul can also be read to have thought that the seed became the plant, i.e. the raised "spiritual" body is the corpse transformed and therefore the corpse is gone. This is the view I take in my book and I list it as a presupposition in the introduction with no effort to defend it. My book would be of no use at all to someone with your view. However, to the best of my knowledge, this is a very unresolved issue, even after being debated by Richard Carrier, who I think is its strongest proponent. I am sure you are aware of the recent debate on this, but for others interested, it can be found here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-oconnell/assessment.html

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

    I doubt if Paul even knew or cared what happened to the body of Jesus.He never once refers to any detail of what happened to Jesus's body in 1 Corinthians 15, as he works out what happens in a resurrection from theological principles rather than from empirical evidence.Paul goes out of his way not to say that the naked seed becomes the plant. He says God gives it a body. It has to be given a body.And if stories of corpses leaving graves were what converted the Christians in Corinth, then they would never have scoffed at the idea of bodies coming back.

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

    There is a discussion, abandoned by Kris at Discussion

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    Dan,Thanks for the compliment and I am glad you are enjoying my book!All, On the founding event of Christianity topic, again we are running into the problem that James was simply giving a brief review of my book. In reaction, Eric understandably points out:"From your review, I gathered that Kris believes the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection. Paul makes it quite clear, as does the author of Acts, that the apostles/disciples believed the founding event of Christianity was in fact the resurrection and not merely human equality."Well, before I make that statement — "In my view, the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection" (pg. 143) — I have just spent five chapters outlining a naturalistic hypothesis for the rise of the resurrection belief based on my doubt that such a thing ever happened. So obviously I don't think the resurrection is the founding "event" of Christianity. However, I do agree with Eric in the sense that Jesus' followers would never have continued a movement after his death if they did not believe that Jesus resurrected. Implicit in my naturalistic reconstruction of the resurrection belief is that Jesus' followers thought pretty highly of him before he died; therefore, for a doubter like me, the ultimate founding “event” of Christianity must lie in the impression Jesus made on his followers before his death.This leads to all of the arguments for the historical Jesus, which I am not prepared to get into here, but in a nutshell I think Jesus may have offered a less class-based and less ritualistic view of the Jewish God than was prevalent amongst other Jews of the time. I hypothesize in the last chapter of my book that this is what appealed to Jesus’ followers, it is why they thought or hoped he might be the messiah, and it is why they did not accept his death as the final word. The idea of equality before God seems to me an inherent part of Christianity and it seems to have played out in a haphazard and messy way over the centuries, including contributing to the rise of secular human equality in institutionalized form. After tracing all of this as best I can in the last chapter of my book (which was really just an add on to the main focus of my book), I then try to summarize it in a powerful and succinct way with the statement that was so confusing to Eric when read in isolation — "In my view, the founding event of Christianity is human equality, not resurrection". I hope this somewhat explains this statement. It might make more sense if one reads the whole chapter.I should say too that I know some people will accuse me of being way too generous to Christianity, and I have already taken heat from some on this, but that’s just the way I see it right now and, again, this concluding chapter is independent of my hypothesis of Christian Origins which is the overwhelmingly main focus of my book. A final clarification on the topic of human equality. I am not saying that the idea of human equality was founded by Christianity (look carefully at my original statement quoted above). Kris K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09235183610435673590 Kris

    "abandoned"Hey, that's pretty good.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Eric Gregory wrote:"It seems like the actual reason many people disbelieve the resurrection is for the same reason that the Greeks did in Acts 17:32a: "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered".I haven't found a historical reason that remotely merits questioning it beyond this."Well, that is probably because you have spent too much company with "historians" like Wright, Bauckham and Witherington and haven´t asked enough simple nononsense questions that may cut though the maze. Like asking how come that a resurrected lord of the universe appears to the faithful (or uses his spirit) and hands out all kinds of predictions about the nearness of the Eschaton that turn out to be untrue. Or are we to surmise that the risen Christ just showed himself to the faithful but stayed mute. Is it possible that the faithful just saw a mute risen Christ and through some guesswork of their own concluded that the Eschaton was very near?

  • Anonymous

    Mike wrote:"Does any one know of a report of someone meeting Jesus in the flesh recently?" Well, I actually saw I man in the tram the other day screaming out loudly that he had REALLY met Jesus recently. And we should all acknowledge that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. For a moment I felt like being with Paul on the tram :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03201490337520769596 Eric Gregory

    Antonio:I appreciate your comments, although I'm a bit confused. Have you not heard of preterism? There's a significant line of thought that suggests "the Eschaton" has already come to pass, and offer some compelling evidence for it (though they tend to be biblical literalists, which I can't support).My only issue with completely disregarding a text (which is what you seem to be doing) is that it is not genuine to the text itself. I'm not suggesting that one need believe (if you do or don't, that's none of my business), but tearing apart the text with the outlying assumption that the resurrection CANNOT have happened is not good historical study any more than coming to the text with the outlying assumption that the words were dictated by a booming, incorporeal voice from the clouds. Again, even your questions regarding Jesus' eschatology and it's perceived immanence aren't the sort of "evidence" one needs to disbelieve the Resurrection.(Additionally, Paul instructs his disciple Timothy that the Church – not the Scriptures – are the foundation and pillar of truth about Christ in the world. Perhaps we should be looking at the Early Church – both pre- and post-Ecumenical Councils – along with the Bible. After all, it was only through the gathering of bishops that we even have the texts we seek to discuss here.)Questions are always good, but assumption (pun intended) is what limits our knowledge.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Gregory,thanks for your comments. I sure have heard about preterism, just like I have heard about a lot of other apologetic nonsense that many Christians come up with all the time to convince themselves that their Lord or his earlist followers cannot possibly have been wrong about a thing like the Fate of this planet. The latest drivel I read along the preterist path was Andrew Perriman´s "The Coming of the Son of Man". A book distorts the theology of Paul, Matthew and the others to the point where probably them are spinning around in their graves (or in heaven if one may believe so). And as I explained earlier in a message to Terri on another thread I definitely do not reach my conclusions about the non-resurrection of Jesus based on some prior belief that miracles like that are an impossibility. Maybe it is worth reminding you that once in a time I saw miracles from the same angle as you – a Christian raised by Christian parents who took a thing like miracles for granted. It is the nature of the Christian texts, their conflicting testimonies and the claims Paul and the others make about both themselves and their Lord – claims that are often proven to be wrong on crucial matters, that have convinced me that the reality of the risen Christ is just about as "real" as the extraterrestials a lot of folks claim to "see" every day around the globe. And I am not sure how much personal experience you have of studying religious cults of different stripes, but from your comments so far I get the feeling that you still have a lot of homework to do.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Eric wrote: "(Additionally, Paul instructs his disciple Timothy that the Church – not the Scriptures – are the foundation and pillar of truth about Christ in the world. Perhaps we should be looking at the Early Church – both pre- and post-Ecumenical Councils – along with the Bible." Well, if you want to stick to what the "Church" and the Church Fathers taught, until some Christians in pretty recent times came up with totally different views about the Parousia, then you´d better throw preterism out the window. Not only does preterism do violence to the teachings of Paul and the others in the NT, it also does violence to the teachings of the "Church" you talk about.

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

    So the only evidence for Joseph of Arimathea is that he is mentioned in 4 anonymous books in the Bible, two of which we know were definitely copying from a third, while the fourth has no provenance?Joseph appears from nowhere, buries Jesus, and disappears from history to the extent that no Christian in the first century put his name to a document saying he had ever been heard of by anybody.Even Arimathea disappears from history.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Stephen Carr wrote:"So the only evidence for Joseph of Arimathea is that he is mentioned in 4 anonymous books in the Bible, two of which we know were definitely copying from a third, while the fourth has no provenance?" I suppose that the fourth gospel without "provenance" that you are talking about is Gospel of John. But the fact is that an increasing amount of scholars believe for good reasons that GJohn is dependent on at least GMark. Which means that we actually don´t have any independent attestation for the existence of Joseph of Aritmathea.

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

    Prof. McGrath,Really enjoyed your review of this book and the following discussions.How about a review of Dohertys work? I know your not a fan of the mythicist position but the critique of a (liberal?,moderate?) Christian scholar like yourself would be interesting, I believe.Doherty has a new,greatly expanded edition of his book out now. How about it?

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

    I've not heard that Doherty has published something recently that makes his views more persuasive. Is there anything in the revised book that you feel genuinely makes mainstream historical scholarship require reconsideration?I've posted on the topic before (and even made a couple of videos and am wondering what if anything Doherty has written that requires anything more than a restatement of things that mainstream historians are already point out.

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

    Please restate one more time mainstream historians view of why Paul says in Romans 10 that Jews did not believe either because they had never heard of Jesus apart from Christians preaching about him, or they rejected Christian preaching about him.I can restate the view of mainstream historians, as Bart Ehrman said in an email to me 'The historical problem is that Paul in his letters almost never (just a handful of times) refers to anything Jesus said and did while alive, even though he is constantly reminding his converts what he taught them. So it's hard to know how interested either he or they were in knowing these traditions — as counterintuitive as that might seem.'So mainstream views of what we should expect from early Christianity are counterintuitive.And therefore not to be questioned….

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

    Dr. MgGrath,I'm wondering why you wouldn't be at least a little interested in critiquing the specific work of Doherty since he is by far the most "discussed" author on this subject in many years.As you probably know, Richard Carrier cites Doherty as influential to his own beliefs regarding this subject.Wouldn't it make an interesting and engaging series of blog posts?Just my two cents. I won't continue to pester you with this.

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

    Steven, first it would help if you explained why you think Jews (other than in Galilee and perhaps some in Jerusalem and its vicinity) would have heard about Jesus without someone telling them.Kilo, I am happy from time to time to address just about any subject. But what I'm most interested in spending my time on is making progress in understanding the historical Jesus.Steven's comment provides a useful illustration of why. On the one hand, there are indeed many puzzles in our sources. On the other hand, mythicists like creationists misinterpret unsolved problems as indicating that mainstream science/scholarship has failed

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

    In Romans 10, Paul makes no distinction between Jews in various places.That non-existent distinction has to be imported into the text by people who need to reconcile the text with their views.

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

    JAMESOn the other hand, mythicists like creationists misinterpret unsolved problems as indicating that mainstream science/scholarship has failedCARRSo which of the many Quests for the Historical Jesus has not failed?

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

    How is interpreting the entirety of Israelites in Paul's time to include people outside Galilee and Judea "importing" something into the text? It is importing a knowledge of where such people were to be found in that era. How is that inappropriate?And what do you mean by "failed"? Failed to reach a consensus on many points? Yes, they've all done that. Failed to lead scholars to conclude that Jesus didn't exist? They've all done that too. You've apparently misunderstood references to the failure of these quests to mean "failure to find any trace of Jesus" rather than "failure to come up with a well-rounded picture of Jesus that historians of all stripes can have confidence reflects the historical figure of Jesus accurately in detail." Failing to reach agreement about what Jesus meant by "kingdom of God" is a far cry from failing to conclude that he said it, and much further still from concluding that because of uncertainty about what he meant, he must not have existed.But we've had these conversations so many times, and it is interacting with you, more than anything else, that persuades me that spending much time interacting with mythicism is not time spent productively.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04605470284153454825 phil_style

    This thread is a right old giggle!

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

    So James simply doesn't bother to produce a word from Romans 10 to support his claim that Paul was referring to Jews outside Galilee/Jerusalem.No wonder his time is not productive when he cannot refute mythicist claims. To the extent that he has now just given up and has taken to claiming things in the text that are just not there at all.There are web sites devoted to refuting creationist claims.But then historicists can't even find evidence for Judas, Thomas,Joseph of Arimathea,Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Nicodemus,Bartimaeus etc etc, so a web site devoted to refuting mythcisist claims is going to look very shallow.

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

    JAMESSteven, first it would help if you explained why you think Jews (other than in Galilee and perhaps some in Jerusalem and its vicinity) would have heard about Jesus without someone telling them.CARRJames carefully distinguishes between those regions.And when it is pointed out that Paul makes no such distinctions…JAMESHow is interpreting the entirety of Israelites in Paul's time to include people outside Galilee and Judea "importing" something into the text?CARRSO you are now including people INSIDE Galilee and Judea in Paul's 'entirety of Israelites' who have never heard of Jesus apart from Christians preaching about him?And presumably Tacitus and Pliny the Younger also fall in the group of people who only heard of Jesus from what Christians said about him.

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

    JAMESJews did not only live in those places where Jesus and his followers are said to have been during his public activity. Paul knew there were Jews and Gentiles all over the known world, and made it his mission to bring the message to them. I interpreted the text against the background of what we know of that time and what we know about Paul's own aims.STEVENLa la la, I can't hear you, I'm going to miscontrue what you wrote, you didn't answer my question, mythicism wins, mainstream historical scholarship has been refuted, la la la.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hey kilo papa,I have read Doherty's argument here;http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/jhcjp.htmactually on a older version of that site, but it looks like the same info in the newer site. I found it very interesting, and making many good points.I would certainly be interested in hearing any updated information he has added to it. I would also love to hear comments on it from folks that work in the field. Although, what I often find is that often people want to steer far clear of this subject if they work in the field. Apparently publishing on this topic is not good for your professional future, if you hope to make a living in the field of religion.Often I find the generic comment when folks in the field do comment on it is something like "The vast majority of scholars….", which seems odd to me, cause you would think that scholars in the field would know this is a logically fallacy called "appeal to authority". But it often seems they limit their comment to this, as a way to avoid actually addressing the arguments of people that they are asked to give their professional opinion on.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

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

    I certainly agree that an argument from authority is problematic. But is that really what is going on when one says "the vast majority of historians are persuaded Jesus exists" or "the vast majority of biologists are persuaded by the evidence for evolution"? Isn't it rather a shorthand way of indicating that those who spend vasts amount of time addressing the evidence in detail have reached a consensus on this point. And there doesn't seem to me to be anything illegitimate about doing that in principle – and some use it as an excuse for ignoring not only the scholarly consensus, but the evidentiary base that has persuaded "the vast majority of scholars" as a result of careful, detailed, long-term investigation of said evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04605470284153454825 phil_style

    on "appeal to authority". If we trust the scientific method, then whats the problem with saying the majority of scientists agree X? Presumably they've follwoed the method right? Hence their publication in rigorously peer reviewed journals.Unless of course, the method is so open to abuse and innacuracy that it is altogether untrustworthy. In which case we'd be right not to appeal to authority in the case of scientific endeavour. Which leaves us in the odd place of not knowing anything.. again…

  • Anonymous

    God bless historical research, but nobody will ever be able to prove — or even come close to proving — that Jesus didn't exist. I say that not as one who believes the Bible is inspired, but so many of these arguments are a dead end. If there is some actual evidence from antiquity — such as an ancient book alleging that Jesus was a mythical figure — that would move the debate.But it is not serious to read negatively into every little thing that Paul (or whoever wrote the books in his name) did not say or might have said. There is no credible reason to believe that Paul did not think Jesus was a real person. Again, that's not to say Paul was right about Jesus being the Messiah. But the mythicist argument boils down to absence of what they think should be, not about evidence that is.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Apparently comments can only be 4096 characters long, so I had to edit down my original 6683 character comment. I have posted the entire comment here; http://webulite.com/node/2747 below is pieces from it.My initial interest was primarily making a list of the things we know about Jesus. Within the first year, I was amazed at what I had learned. 1) The amount of material we have about Jesus was much less than I had expected. 2) Scholarship is not really science.I am used to science, and the difference between hypothesis and fact.Yet, what I found in my NT studies is that practically nothing is demonstrated. Almost everything seems to be based on scholars undemonstrated agreement, which have been influenced by traditions created at a time when the world was dominated by supernaturalism. What most scholars BELIEVE in not really important, it is what they can DEMONSTRATE that is important.3) That University "Theology" Departments are promoting supernaturalismIt seems to me that colleges and universities should not even have "Theology" departments. In reality, what these NT scholars are mostly claiming to write about is HISTORY. Specifically certain historical aspects of a time where Christianity was beginning. So why are not all these studies rolled into the Universities HISTORY department? Just like a history department allows people to address "The French Revolution", or "US history", or "The Cold War Era", or "Roman Institutions".All religions really fall into the superset of supernaturalism. So a Theology department is really a department dedicated to the study of supernaturalism. If that was not the case, as I mentioned, they would be rolled into the history departments. And if you wanted to study the Council of Nicea you would become a history major, and would take the appropriate course.The entire idea of a "Doctor of Theology" is laughable. A 5 year olds views on gods are as valid as someone with a Doctor in Theology. Since all god ideas are undemonstrated speculation. Now some might say the Doctor of Theology knows a great deal about the history of the subject, then I would counter by saying, then they are skilled in history. But a Theology Doctor's opinion of the validity of say "The Trinity" is as authoritative as a High School Students. And to imply that there is any difference is a fraud.But let me bring this back to the issue specifically of Earl Doherty and his hypothesis. Any scholar that does not give Doherty's ideas as much time and effort as other ideas in the field is being lazy. In fact, I would say they are doing the field of history a disservice. Since the question of Jesus historical existence, I would argue is of higher importance than many of the topics of articles you see in SBL other scholarly papers on the field. Also, to avoid addressing his hypothesis head on and appealing to "the majority of scholars in the field already believe that a Jesus existed", again is lazy science. No scholars have yet DEMONSTRATED that a Jesus existed, we do not care what they hypothesis, we care what they can demonstrate.Until NT scholars begin to think of themselves as scientists, only citing things they can demonstrate, and stop being lazy and in affect promoting traditions that were created in a time when the world was dominated by supernaturalism, I don't think that NT scholars, or the entire can be taken seriously or seen as anything more than just another attempt to promote supernaturalism.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

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

    Ricco, let's set aside theology departments, since that's a separate issue, as I don't think anyone involved in this discussion at present is connected with a theology department or religiously-affiliated institution. As for Doherty's arguments, I absolutely support their being considered carefully by historians. But when they are so reviewed and found unpersuasive, and the response is then to blame it on a conspiracy to cover up the truth, mythicism starts to show itself to resemble young-earth creationism and all sorts of crackpot theories that use the same tactic. And like young-earth creationists, most mythicists seem willing to do anything except familiarize themselves with mainstream scholarship to figure out why their arguments seem unpersuasive to the vast majority of people with relevant qualifications and expertise.To put it more briefly, how many times must these arguments be found unpersuasive before you'll be willing to entertain the possibility that it's because they're unpersuasive?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hey James,Thanks for the comment. I am sorry, if I use the unclear "theology" when I was talking about schools, departments, or degrees. I would include in that idea Religion departments, or whatever colleges and universities are calling them. For example, your position at Butler University, is it part of a History Department, or is it part of a Religion Department? I am sorry, if I was unclear earlier talking about "Doctor of Theology" specifically. I was talking about Degrees in religion. To me, they should all be rolled in History departments.In future posts, I will try to also be more clear and go into detail about this historical Jesus thing. I am not saying I am promoting Earl Doherty's specific hypothesis. What I am trying to say in general is that Religious scholars, as you say "on the whole" believe a Jesus existed. Yet that hypothesis has never been demonstrated. I find that this aspect should be more clear as the message from the scholarly community. That no one as yet has demonstrated that a Jesus has existed, and that while we continue to look to demonstrate various ideas in religious history, at this point, very little has been demonstrated, and most of it is simply undemonstrated opinions.Cheers! Ricco

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

    JAMESAs for Doherty's arguments, I absolutely support their being considered carefully by historians. But when they are so reviewed and found unpersuasive….CARRSO where are the peer-reviewed articles by historians reviewing Doherty?In which journals?

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

    McGrath continues his slur campaign of comparing mythicism with creationism.When he knows full well that he cannot put up a web site criticising all mythicist claims in the way that there are many web sites which tackle all creationist claims.Instead, he has now taken to citing non-existent peer-reviewed articles by historians in non-existent journals.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    Oh that Mystic Jesus! I've been reading the tremendous amount of response to this post and I was wondering what all the fuss was about so I read the article from Doherty and I was like "Doh!" It always seemed like a someones attempt to make a big insight from nothing. Really, why would Paul, Peter, or James invent a mystery religion based on a fictional nobody who lived a few years before? Wouldn't Moses or Enoch make a a better vehicle to deliver new mystic insights? Making a big deal about the recent exploits of someone who never existed seems like a sure way to get busted out. And Paul definitely talks about Jesus as a real human being. I'm sure you guys have gone round and round on the evidence, but I always feel when I see particularly lame ideas on the internet, to chime in and say "No!" lest someone mistakenly believe this is a legitimate idea. It's the kind of idea you entertain for a second then drop when you realize how mind-numbingly dumb it is, like maybe your a butterfly dreaming to be a man. Of course there is no proof that Jesus existed, there is no proof that Paul did. Maybe some Christian invented a fictitious traveling preacher to spread the message of another fictitious traveling preacher? The purveyors of this stuff aren't interested in truth but promoting their weird mythical Zeitgeist conspiracy. It's a crutch to protect them from a world that's beyond their control.

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

    So no evidence.Simply claims that people like the Angel Moroni, the Angel Gabriel, the Maitreya, Jesus could not be invented because people just don't invent those sorts of things.I agree that if Christianity was invention they would have invented stories of Moses coming back to speak to this 'Jesus'.

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

    Ricco, thanks for the reply. I think the reason why religion is not usually lumped into history departments is obvious: plenty that falls under the heading 'religion' isn't history. Would all the literary approaches, and study of works of fiction and mythology, be abandoned, and if so why? But moving to the point about 'demonstrating' Jesus' existence, historians have shown to the satisfaction of pretty much everyone who doesn't have their mind made up in advance, that on the one hand much that is in the Gospels is of uncertain or improbable historicity, but on the other hand, Jesus' existence is far more probable than that he didn't exist, because other options don't offer plausible historical explanations for the data we have.That's the best history can do: "The existence of a historical individual Jesus of Nazareth is more probable than his not having existed." When mythicists counter with "You haven't proven…" it simply reinforces the impression professionals have that mythicists haven't really familiarized themselves with how historical study works and what it can and cannot do

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

    Steven, please help me out here. I'm having trouble finding Doherty's own peer reviewed publications which would supposedly then have been responded to by others in a similar venue. Can you please list at least some of Doherty's peer-reviewed work, so that I can more effectively search for responses to it?

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    S. Carr, the angel Moroni was the invention of Joseph Smith, who most historian agree was a real person. He claimed to get information from Moroni. The Maitreya is a prophesied future Buddha so I'm not sure how that would be a comparison for Jesus who was claimed to be the brother of a guy who lived in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18,19 "Then after 3 years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him 15 days. I saw no other apostles only James, the lord's brother.") Claiming Jesus is a myth is quite different than saying the angel Gabriel is a myth, no one says Gabriel was a human on earth. Claiming Jesus is a myth is like claiming Brigham Young invented Joseph Smith. As for no evidence beyond Paul's belief that Jesus was born, died, buried, and that he had met his brother in Jerusalem (all very queer things to say of a heavenly mystical figure), yes it is true that there are no Jesus coins from the 30's A.D., no triumphal arch of Jesus, no reference to Jesus in lives of the Emperors (something akin to having David Koresh appear in a British authors book on the cold war). If this is what it takes to assume the existence of a person in history, than most history carries no more insight into the happenings of the past than an issue of Conan the Barbarian comics. Of course this would be a very obtuse way to approach history. If you take out all the passed down written histories what would we know about the ancient Greeks or Romans? If most historians go with Jesus as being a person who existed i's because it is the simplest explanation and they don't have the deep seated emotional need to believe differently.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hey James,Thanks again for all your time. As just a schmoe that studies this kind of thing at home, it is nice to talk with someone with degrees in the subject, and even teaches at a university level too.I could talk to you for hours, and hope to have some future conversations with you. We have already touched on a number of things in the two or three back and fourths. But let me ask you this. Nothing to do with the existence of a historical Jesus, but just info that looked for back about ten years ago, and did not find, but maybe you can give me some help.There are obviously many issues within the religious studies field. The existence of Jesus being one, but there being many many others. For example, that the gospel of Mark was written before the Gospel of Luke. Or the author of Matthew having a copy of Mark when writing, or that the writings we attribute to Paul actually being written by a variety of authors. I am not asking about any of these specific claims, but the process itself. If someone were to say that "the majority of scholars believe that Mark was written before Matthew", where is that data coming from? Is the organization that tracks scholars and are they queries occasionally for opinions on some questions? My understand is that there is no such organization or process. So when someone says "the majority of scholars believe X" for any claim X, where is that data to back that up coming from? This would be interesting data to know. Meaning, if in 1960 80% of the 12,000 scholars believe X on something, it would be interesting to compare that to the percentage that believe the same think in say 2005. So that trends in scholarly change of view can be tracked. Cheers! Ricco

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

    Ricco, that's a really good question. It is essentially the same process (I believe) as in other matters of literature and history. I'm not aware that departments of English, Classics or History do things differently than what I'm about to describe, but I welcome those associated with those fields to tell me if I'm wrong.In essence, the process is that something is debated over a period of time and particular evidence and arguments seem to win the day. As a result, when scholars in the field write introductory books on the subject, they describe where things are out. When something remains the standard view in the textbooks and other similar publications of a wide range of scholars, for decades or longer, it indicates a strong feeling that the matter is established to whatever extent specified.Religion like other academic fields thrives on people trying to introduce a new insight or prove incorrect established knowledge. If you want a PhD, you have to at least be able to make the case for a conclusion that is not simply already found in print somewhere. And so prevailing views are challenged constantly. Anyone with any academic competence can come up with an alternate interpretation of data. But whether it will prove to have the evidentiary support or persuasive arguments in its favor so as to overturn a consensus, that's much rarer – and so it should be, since something doesn't become the consensus without good reason, precisely because if there is no evidence to support a common conclusion, scholars will of course seize the opportunity to say something new and different!

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

    So the Maitreya is not a good comparison for claims that non-existent people are on Earth?Really?Have you seen claims that the Maitreya lives in London.There is even a picture of him.But this person does not exist.I have no idea who is in the picture, but it is not the Maitreya who has been alleged to be appearing to the public for the last 30 years.We can see with our own eyes people today proclaiming the existence of non-existent people, telling us where they live on Earth.And just like Paul about Jesus, Benjamin Creme goes around saying that people would never hear about the Maitreya if not for preaching about him.So it takes a lot more than an ambiguous reference to 'Brother of the Lord' to compete with photographs. Especially when nobody else in the NT thinks this James was the brother of Jesus….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12887786896056573371 Neil

    James and Mikew1584,the logical fallacies in Creationism are there for all to see. Creationist tendentious selection of evidence and ignoring of other evidence is well known. Yet it is the Jesus historicists who are the ones who consistently fail to address the charges of logical fallacies and inconsistencies in the handling of evidence. The responses from historicists are too often merely slurs and insults, rhetorical questions, and misrepresentations of the challenges put to them.

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

    Neil, rather than simply focusing (yet again) on why your claim is untrue, I think it may be more useful to focus on how very ironic it is. First, your claim is exactly what young-earth creationists say about themselves in relation to mainstream science. Second, to claim that the mythicists offer evidence and arguments while historians offer slurs and misrepresentations, on a thread in which Steven Carr has been aptly showing the reverse, is so very amusing.But I'll say to you what scientists say to the anti-science crowd: publish your work in appropriate venues and persuade the experts. That's how scholarship in every field works. It thrives on new research overturning accepted conclusions and paradigms. Blogs are great places for discussion, but they aren't the place where scholarly consensuses are made and broken. So by all means discuss this here, but don't be surprised when peer-reviewed research doesn't show the impact of your views. Regardless whether your conclusions are correct or not, you're writing about them in the wrong place to have the effect you desire – and that's something typical of young-earth creationists as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hello James,You are saying that this data has not been gathered, and is not available for reference?Let's say the question arises; "The majority of scholars believe that Gospel of Mark was written before the Gospel of Luke". Your saying that there is no repository that can be looked at to determine what percentage of scholars believe "yes" and 'no" to this question? Ok. That was what I had found about ten years ago. I wondered if things had changed since then.Do you know if any studies have been done to check out opinion consistency on this? For example, if I ask 5 scholars "What percentage of scholars think that Letters we call "of Paul" were written by more than 5 people?", Would the three different scholars give answers within some range of consistency? Have studies been done on this? I don't talk to many scholars, so I don't know if scholars use terminology like "the majority of scholars believe…" or "the vast majority of scholars believe…" in a technical fashion. But if a laymen uses the phrase "The majority of scholars believe that 'the 12' and 'the disciples' are the same group". Is this something that scholars have stated that can be accessed in some database, that the laymen is referencing that I am not aware of?You earlier said that there is no repository where statistics about scholar's beliefs on various ideas, or any aggregate data exists. So when a person, either laymen or scholar says "the majority of scholars believe…" or "the vast majority of scholars believe…", or 'scholars almost universally agree that…", where is the supporting data for their statement coming from?Is there a list of items that "a vast majority of scholars believe…" is documented? Any kind of database where this information is accessible?When you examine the phrase; "a majority of scholars believe…", it isn't a very positive assertion of consensus. That could be a 51% to 49% split, and in reality, it indicates total non-agreement. While the phrase "a majority of scholars agree…" may sound convincing, in the 51 to 49 percent breakdown it indicates total non-agreement. Are there percentiles in the industry for various modifying terms, and are they used in any technical fashion by scholars? Would "vast" be 75% or more percentile agreement, while "there is virtually universal agreement…" be in the 95-98% range of agreement?This may sound like a strange question. But as you said, the historical method differs from the scientific method. The scientific method relies on empirical demonstration, while the historical method relies on consensus. In science, things are demonstrated, so that all can reproduce results, and you are forced, even against your will, to agree with new correct findings. Whereas, you say that religious scholarship works instead on consensus as the gauge of accuracy.It would seem to me that for the historical method measuring consensus is of critical importance. And that without accurate methods of gathering data on consensus and publishing such for reference and verification, the value of the historical method would be suspect. Cheers! Ricco @ webulite.com

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

    James still cannot find these peer-reviewed rebuttals of Doherty which he claims exists.How he would love to cite them.But he can't.

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

    Steven, you misunderstood me. I am quite sure you are not expecting anything as ludicrous as peer-reviewed treatments of non-peer-reviewed publications. You wouldn't look for a peer-reviewed interaction in a science journal with something from Uncommon Descent, would you? And so I asked you to provide me with a list of some of Doherty's peer-reviewed publications, to help me work out where to look for responses. If you can't do that, then the situation is pretty clear.Ricco, you are right that the terminology of "the majority" is unhelpful, since it doesn't indicate whether there is an overwhelming consensus or a nearly even split. As for where this consensus is encountered, assumed, explored, and sometimes challenged, in addition to standard scholarly publications and textbooks, there is an annual conference at which scholars in Biblical studies meet and present papers, and there too one gets a clear sense of both the things that have come to be taken for granted, challenges to consensus, and new areas of inquiry. But clearly the humanities lack some of the more scientific ways of approaching scholarship that can be found (perhaps not surprisingly) in the natural sciences. For instance, I'd love it if we could find out citation frequency as efficiently and accurately as I've heard one can in the natural sciences!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hello James,Thank you for the info. Yes, it would be nice if data in the field was more available. Since the field as you said, works on consensus, and not emperical evidence, without access to this consensus data, it is impossible to make any kind of judgements.Just an aside. I do see that Steve Carr has posted in what may seem like a hostile manor, so I don't know if your resulting posts to him is kind of a smack down. But, I did notice that one aspect in this comment log went sort of like this;1) … discussion came up about Earl Doherty2) you posted that his ideas have been refuted by the scholarly community3) Steven Carr ask where4) you then posted asking for a journal Doherty published in5) Steven Carr again asks where the scholarly community refuted Doherty's ideas6) You seemings to saying it would be ludicrous for the scholars to review his workEither the scholarly community has refuted Doherty's ideas and a reference can be provided, or the above claim that scholars have refuted his ideas was just a mistake.I for one was looking forward to the answer to that question, as I have read Doherty's ideas, and find some aspects of them quite good. Now, I am familiar with the chat world, although am new to the blogging world. I know that in the chat world often games sort of evolve where people really end up just harassing each other instead of actually having exchanges, so if this is the case with yourself and Mr Carr, I understand. But if it was just a unintentional sidetrack that ended up in the source of scholarly refutation of Earl Doherty's work being not mentioned, I would be thankful if you could provide one.Cheers! Ricco @ webulite.com

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

    Hi Ricco. I do feel that Doherty has been adequately refuted – on blogs and in books, by authors such as James D. G. Dunn who have taken the time to address Doherty's claims. And Dunn is an expert in New Testament whose work has undergone peer review. But it sounded like Steven was looking for more than refutations by experts and asking whether there have been publications on Doherty's work that are themselves peer reviewed articles or monographs. And so it seemed appropriate to point out that it is unusual to find a peer reviewed publication which focuses its attention on the sort of claims that can't pass peer review. There are plenty of individuals who make claims that are not the majority viewpoint, but who get their work peer reviewed, because they practice historical criticism, or literary criticism, or source criticism, or whatever the relevant scholarly method is, in the way established in the relevant discipline. For instance, Mark Goodacre's arguments about Q have not persuaded most scholars, although they have persuaded some. But because Mark is doing source-critical analysis, he has no problem getting his work published. The reason mythicists don't manage the same is that they refuse to practice historical study as defined by historians, and fail to even follow their own claims and arguments consistently. For instance, you'll find the same discussions between me and Steven Carr, where I point out that Paul had met Jesus' brother; then Steven will claim something like "Other sources did not recognize James as having been Jesus' brother" without specifying which sources. But since Paul is our earliest source, clearly he must have in mind the Gospels that he himself refuses to accept as evidence on other matters because they are later. A good historian, on the other hand, will not simply quote early and later sources when they suit their preconceived ideas, but will engage in careful critical analysis of details in sources, whether a decade or almost half a century away from the events they purport to refer to.Anyway, that's just by way of background to this ongoing discussion. If you stick around, you'll see the same cycle again, and won't feel like you've missed anything by joining in late. My prediction is that sooner or later I'll decide I have better things to do than repeat myself over and over again. Presumably then Steven will do what creationists do in similar circumstances: declare victory because I've failed to respond (since earlier responses to the same claims apparently do not count for these purposes).The only point I'd contest in your statement about history is your claim that it doesn't focus on empirical evidence. That's hardly correct. It focuses on whatever sort of evidence is available. If we have a battlefield filled with remains of bodies and their shields bear inscriptions indicating whose armies were fighting, that's certainly empirical evidence, and a historian may feel that a conclusion can be drawn with an unusually high degree of certainty. In other cases, a historian will have only one or more written accounts of the battle, and although the conclusions may in such instances be less certain, that doesn't mean they necessarily have so slender an evidentiary base that a historian cannot have reasonable confidence in his or her conclusions. In some of the natural sciences – particularly evolutionary biology prior to genetics filling in essentially all the gaps – there have been instances where it has been possible to draw sound conclusions even without having all of the evidence one might wish one had.

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

    So where does Dunn address Doherty's claims? In which book?Here is what Dunn cites as proof that Jesus existed.(But not in response to Doherty)Romans 15:3For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."This astonishing claim that a quote from the Old Testament proves Jesus existed can be found in Dunn's writings at page 96 of 'The Historical Jesus – Five Views'In the real world, in Romans 15:3 Paul is clearly getting information about Jesus life from the Old Testament.Yet Dunn actually cited Romans 15:3 as a proof that Jesus existed on Earth.MCGRATHwhen Steven will claim something like "Other sources did not recognize James as having been Jesus' brother" without specifying which sourcesCARRI thought James would already know.But it seems not.Luke/Acts never claims Jesus had a brother called James.The Epistle of James (!)The Epistle of Jude.Indeed, Acts distinctly mentions the brothers of Jesus before almost in the next breath claiming they were not even considered for inclusion as leaders.And the earliest Novel, 'Mark' gives no hint that the James who thought his brother was off his rocker was the same James who went on to lead the church.1 Corinthians 9Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?It seems to have been a real family business.But how did you get to be an apostle?Same chapter….1 Corinthians 9Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Apostles were people who had seen the Lord.Paul carefully distinguishes apostles from the brothers of the Lord.And protests that he has also seen the Lord, just like the apostles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hello James,So James D. G. Dunn would be the one to look at? I looked at his wikipedia entry; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_D._G._Dunn and wonder if the book you are talking about might be; James D. G. Dunn (1985). _The Evidence for Jesus_. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. ISBN 978-0664246983. Could you confirm this?I looked at the table of contents but do not see anything that indicates it is a refutation of Doherty. I don't see Doherty's name, or any of the phrases I would recognize from his essay;http://books.google.com/books?id=hfAcOPGt69YC&printsec;=frontcover&dq;=isbn:9780664246983&cd;=1#v=onepage&q;=&f;=falseBut this seems to be the only book I could find on that list that I thought might be the one you were talking about.If you know of any other scholars that have refuted Doherty as you think further, please let me know. I would like to examine this refutation of Doherty as much as is possible.[McGrath said]And Dunn is an expert in New Testament whose work has undergone peer review.[/end]Are you saying that Dunns work refuting Doherty's ideas has undergone peer review? If so, can you let me know where I can find that?On a different subject…[McGrath said]The only point I'd contest in your statement about history is your claim that it doesn't focus on empirical evidence. That's hardly correct.[/end]This goes back to my prior words about the issue of "demonstrating that a Jesus existed", or other issues in religious study, where I was saying that it has not been done. Your reaction to that was that as opposed to demonstrating things as they are done in science, in religion, the scholarly community use 'consensus". And that religion (I guess we might use the term you introduced, the humanities) cannot demonstrate things, they can only talking about things probably being the case. And the field judges the magnitude of this probability by aggregating the scholars view of probability. This would not be something that would demonstrate something in the sciences.You seemed to agree with this here;[McGrath said]But clearly the humanities lack some of the more scientific ways of approaching scholarship that can be found (perhaps not surprisingly) in the natural sciences.[/end]Which indicate that our "knowledge" of say "Did Jesus exist?", and "Does gravity exist?" are greatly different. I was using the term "empirical evidence" in the sense of results of a demonstrated experiment. Which as you pointed out is not possible in history. So the science claim "gravity exists" and the religious studies claim "Jesus existed" are not demonstrated in the same way, or to the same degree of certainty.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

  • Anonymous

    Steve Carr, you emulate fundamentalist Christian behavior to a "T". Your method of interpreting bible passages is almost exactly the same as those trying to prove the rapture.You ignore the most likely interpretation of a passage, rob it of its clear meaning and then derive a crackpot message from what is not said. Just like Hal Lindsey and his ilk.Of course, you may be right, just like there might be a rapture. But I have yet to read anything remotely logical in your tiresome arguments. That would even be OK save for the fact that you have such a clearly high opinion of yourself and are so smug. Stop acting like a second-grader.pf

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

    So just abuse and no attempt to explain away these Bible passages like Romans 15:3 that Dunn proof-texted for his historical Jesus…..

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

    Seriously, did you merely misunderstand Dunn, or are you wilfully misrepresenting him?

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

    As Dunn cites Romans 15:3 as evidence of a historical Jesus, although it is clearly derived from Old Testament Scripture, I can only assume that I am going to be accused of misunderstanding him by people who will never say how I did that.We still have no reference to any publication where Dunn referred to Doherty ,although you told Ricco such works existed.

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

    Paul echoes the language of Scripture all the time, when talking about himself, when talking about those he is writing to, and when talking about Jesus. An echo of the Jewish Scriptures doesn't automatically prove that Paul and his audience didn't exist, not does it automatically prove Jesus didn't exist, it just shows what readers of Paul know well, that he echoes Scripture. And of course, you ignore everything else Dunn says on that page and focus on a minor detail that is irrelevant to the argument.I'm still waiting for the list of Doherty's peer-reviewed publications, which I asked for all along so as to help me figure out whether it is reasonable to expect a peer-reviewed response. If there are no such publications by Doherty, please do just admit it rather than avoiding the subject, if it isn't too much to ask.

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

    SO James cannot show how quoting Old Testament scripture is a proof that Jesus existed, as Dunn claimed.The passage Romans 15:3 obviously supports Doherty's claim that Paul searched the scriptures for information about Jesus.Nor can James produce these peer-reviewed refutations of Doherty, and has now taken to asking for something other than Doherty's book which he was asked to review.And we still have not had Dunn's references to Doherty.Perhaps there is an Old Testament quotation proving that Dunn referred to Doherty….This is adding up to a very embarrassing defense of historicism.

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

    I've just stunningly discovered a very important fact which I think everyone is overlooking!Steven Carr is not a real, historical person. At no point has he provided a birth certificate proving he exists. He also doesn't provide a photo of himself or reveal what his mother's name is.All of his conversations fail to mention historical people who can vouch for his existence. And he never gives detailed biographical information in his comments, leading me to suspect that a tight band of Steven Carr Disciples must be fabricating his personality and blog conversations.It's a conspiracy, folks. The sooner you wake up and realize that Steven Carr does not and has never existed…..because surely he would have provided all of this information in everything he writes if he were really real….the sooner we can rid the world of false Steven Carr worship.

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

    No Terri, you're going about it all wrong.Steven, "surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you."I just applied a text from the Jewish Scriptures to Steven. "Obviously" he doesn't exist.QEDAs for Doherty and Dunn, I already mentioned that Dunn addresses the arguments of G. A. Wells rather than Earl Doherty. Are they that different? Are their views as similar/different as those of Henry Morris and Ken Ham? I focus on keeping track of those who've published peer-reviewed works of scholarship, so sorry if I don't manage to keep track of these guys, whose academic publications you've been asked several times to list. Presumably someone applied a verse from the Old Testament to them and made them vanish along with Jesus…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hello James,I have created a Google Group thread so that I can keep this data about refutation to Doherty's version of the Jesus myth theory organized. The address is;http://groups.google.com/group/webulite/browse_thread/thread/fddd23d34f17f2a5When you are able to give me the exact James D. G. Dunn that you were saying addressed and refuted Doherty's theory, would it be possible for you to post it there. Also if you have any other scholars and/or publications that have directly addressed Doherty's theory, that you think refute it in part or on the whole, I would appreciate it if you would also pop by and list them there.This will also allow use to continue this aspect of the discussion, while not cluttering this comment thread, which really is about a completely different book, and idea.I am going to look to gather information about this Jesus myth theory, and how scholars have addressed it in as much depth as I can, with help from scholars like yourself, and others that I hope to track down and give me a hand.Thanks so much.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hey James,I am getting completely lost here. Two quotes from your comments yesterday[quote James McGrath, 1/29/10]I'm still waiting for the list of Doherty's peer-reviewed publications, which I asked for all along so as to help me figure out whether it is reasonable to expect a peer-reviewed response. If there are no such publications by Doherty, please do just admit it rather than avoiding the subject, if it isn't too much to ask.[/quote][quote James McGrath, 1/29/10]As for Doherty and Dunn, I already mentioned that Dunn addresses the arguments of G. A. Wells rather than Earl Doherty. Are they that different? Are their views as similar/different as those of Henry Morris and Ken Ham? I focus on keeping track of those who've published peer-reviewed works of scholarship, so sorry if I don't manage to keep track of these guys, whose academic publications you've been asked several times to list. Presumably someone applied a verse from the Old Testament to them and made them vanish along with Jesus…[/quote]It sounds like you are completely backing off your claim that the scholarly community has refuted Doherty's view. It now sounds like you are saying that you are not familiar with his view. It also sounds like you are having a difficult time providing any authors that have even attempted refuting his view.If you are unfamiliar with Doherty's view, here is a link to it. I will link you to the "main articles" page where the view is explained clearly in 6 parts;http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/mainarticles-1.htmlThe direct links the six articles that make up the view;1) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/preamble.htm2) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/partone.htm3) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/parttwo.htm4) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/partthre.htm5) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/postscpt.htm6) http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/century2.htmI understand that the urls I show above, summarize an actual book that the view was put forth in. This is the book;http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Puzzle-Christianity-Challenging-Historical/dp/096892591X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s;=books&qid;=1264852507&sr;=8-1Are you familiar with this?If so, are you familiar with any scholars that have directly addressed it, and if so can you provide me with their names, and the publications they do it in.I have also started a google discussion topic here if it would be possible to you to respond at, so that I can yank this conversation with you out of the comment thread.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

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

    What I asked is why, if scholars have taken (or perhaps wasted) their time addressing Wells, Price, and others, what makes you or Steven think that a failure to specifically mention Doherty matters. What in your view makes Doherty's arguments different/superior?I also asked for a list of peer-reviewed publications. You surely don't expect historians to be publishing peer-reviewed treatments of blogs and websites, do you? That's certainly an element in which the natural sciences and humanities are comparable! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Apparently what you are saying is that you do not know of any refutation of Doherty's works. I'll just consider the case closed.Cheers! Riccowebulite.com

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

    If you are acknowledging that Earl Doherty is like Ken Ham and Henry Morris and hasn't even published anything worthy of refutation in a peer-reviewed context, then I guess we do indeed agree. Case closed!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Hi James,First let me say that I love your blog! So far I've always just been a silent viewer but this thread is certainly something that I couldn't ignore.I must admit that I have been puzzled by the confidence of scholars in so easily dismissing the Jesus myth view. I've been examining the evidence and I can't help but feel things are not that clear.My biggest problem I have in your responses is the comparison with YEC. This I think is a very problematic rhetoric. You are trying to make a comparison with the type of arguments Jesus mythicists make and the YEC, while of course realizing that YEC is complete nonsense. You are trying to make your readers think "ah yes, they are just as rediculous as those YEC idiots." This is not very helpful. I am a scientist who has been studying early Christianity for some years and for me the evidence is somewhat balanced. I keep looking for good arguments from the Jesus historicists to counter the Jesus myth position and I'm so often disappointed at the arguments. They typically involve the criterion of embarrassment and the argument from incredulity and very often certain problems are brushed away with ad-hoc arguments. I have to say I'm a bit confused by the confidence of scholars in such seemingly weak pieces of evidence. Just for starters the paucity of evidence in all NT epistles on the historical Jesus is amazing. Yes, James Dunn has an ad-hoc argument that 1st century Christians were using ingroup language and didn't need to indicate whether some saying (in James, 1 Peter, 1 Thessolonians, 1 Corinthians, Romans or 1 John – all closely paralleling Jesus sayings without attribution with just a minor exception) was actually from Jesus. Well, I can't help but feel that the Jesus myth view has some strong ground here. Why is it that the only Pauline epistle to mention Pilate is actually written much later than the authentic Pauline epistles? Where are all the other historical figures in these epistles? Why is it that the clearest reference to a historical Jesus in the Pauline epistles is often considered a later interpolation, even by serious NT scholars (1 Thessolonians 2:13-16)? Of course, there are many more arguments, but all I wanted to do really was express my concerns with the YEC analogy. That is rhetoric that I find quite problematic. I understand that a field dominated by Christians (my guess would be that 95 % of the scholars believe in some sort of Christian God. Am I far off the mark?) is not going to be to welcoming to anybody who supports a mythical Jesus. I am well aware of the fact that YECs say similar things, but does that mean their case is just as strong? Hardly! It's all about the arguments in the end and that is what I am looking for. I just am not sure whether the Jesus historical Jesus position or the mythical Jesus position is stronger. I'm on the fench on this one (but please don't use the rediculous rhetorical comparison with YEC again).Oh, and by the way, Doherty's views are definately NOT the same as Wells's views. Bill Warrant

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

    Hi Bill! Thanks for commenting. I understand that the YEC-Jesus mythicist comparison offends you and others, but I will try to show that it really is apt.Let me begin with your point about scholars. On the one hand, I honestly don't know if the majority of scholars in history as well as New Testament and early Judaism are Christians of some sort. I certainly do not have the impression that the majority (I've interacted with quite a few!) are conservative Christians who read the NT uncritically. But to make the comparison you detest yet again, that seems to me about as relevant as the YEC claim that 'most scientists are atheists.' Scientists agree about evolution whether they are Christians or atheists; historians agree that Jesus existed regardless whether they are Christians, Jews, agnostics, at eists or whatever.Paul, writing over the course of the decades after the crucifixion, mentions meeting Jesus' brother, Jesus being descended from David according to the flesh, and Jesus having been crucified. As you know, mythicists show how it is possible to interpret this data in other ways. But what they never demonstrate is that it is more likely that Jesus was concocted from scratch. The issue with Jesus mythicism, or with holocaust denial, is not that it is impossible to make a case for a different conclusion than the dominant scholarly view. The issue is that it never shows why anyone should prefer that fringe viewpoint rather than the more straightforward interpretation of the data ofered by mainstream historians.Comparisons with YEC or with holocaust denialism are inexact, but the three share in common that their proponents rarely if ever seem to have expertise in the relevant discipline, and they all seem to think that showing their viewpoint not to be impossible ought to lead to others adopting it. But many things are possible in theory, and science and history share in common a weeding out of possibilities based on available evidence.I hope you'll respond, in particular to let me know whether you still feel the comparisons I've made are inappropriate!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Thanks for your response James. Yes, I still dislike the comparison, but mainly because it is deceptive rhetoric (comparing a view to something that is certainly nonsense). I am not concerned with whether some Jesus mythicist might use bad arguments, similar to YECs. I'm concerned with the evidence. My argument is not that NT scholars are Christians and therefore they will support a historicist Jesus. No, after examining the evidence myself I became concerned about the confidence of scholars in a historical Jesus. I thought, well, maybe I'm just crazy – maybe they see something I don't that is so incredibly convincing. Or, perhaps I'm not crazy and their confidence has a more religious origin. Maybe, maybe not, but whether a scholar is conservative or liberal doesn't seem that important, because even a liberal Christian scholar loves Jesus (in his own liberal way – I've talked to Dom Crossan and boy does he love his Jesus :) ). How often does a scholar actually examine the historicity of Jesus instead of just presupposing it? Anyway, this may all be left aside. It is, after all, the evidence that matters. You mention a few things in Paul that you believe point to a historical Jesus. Fine, these references need to be examined of course along with the rest of the material in the epistles. There is no way to deny the paucity of references, but you are correct in pointing out that there are a couple of references that need explaining. But we need to keep in mind that it is all of the data that needs explaining. So, when all of it is examined are the epistles what you would expect if Jesus was historical or are they what you would expext if Jesus is mythical. Which best accounts for all of the material? That is the question (even before we consider the problems in the Gospels themselves). If we go through all of the epistles verse by verse and keep the historical Jesus in our mind do you find what we expect or are there surprising things going on? Well, the mythicist is going to say of course that, yes, something very strange is going on. It is almost as is the authors of the epistles are illergic to the historical Jesus. Countless times they miss an opportunity to call on the ultimate authority of Jesus for a point they are making. Now, concerning your few points of references (and yes, they are just a few) to a historical Jesus: is it the case that the Jesus mythicist is using ad-hoc arguments to get rid of them, or are there simply plausible alternatives to a historical Jesus for the reference? Well, for me the "kata sarka" is the best bet for the Jesus historicist, although Doherty discussed this at length. The "James, the brother of the Lord" reference I find a bit weaker. The way Paul and other early Christians use "adelphos" doesn't make me all that confident that this necessarilty implies kinship. It would be so much clearer if there would be a reference to Jesus's mother anywhere in any of the epistles. I don't really think this is being too skeptical at all. Don't you also find it interesting that the epistle of James is attributed to "James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ." Is this what we would expect if at the time of this pseudographical writing James was considered to be a sibling of Jesus? Well, I guess it's possible, but again I don't think the case is very strong. You may well be right, but I'd sure like some more evidence in the epistles for a historical Jesus. Just imagine for a second, somebody writing Colossians or Hebrews (or whatever) with in your mind the historical Jesus and continually ask yourself "is this document what I expect it would be if there was a historical Jesus?" Which hypothesis best explains the data? This is something that I think is often forgotten: scholars focus on one or two verses and find there evidence for a historical Jesus. Well, no, it's ALL the data that needs to be explained by any hypothesis. Bill (still sitting on the fence)

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

    Bill, thanks for the reply. The failure to claim to be "James, the Lord's brother" seems odd if it is pseudepigraphical – but of course, perhaps the author is in fact James the Lord's brother, and even if he isn't particularly humble, perhaps he simply assumed everyone knew who he was. But I find it hard to make a judgment one way or the other, because the Pastoral Epistles are widely accepted as being pseudepigraphical, and yet I find it hard to imagine someone who idolizes Paul enough to write in his name penning 1 Timothy 1:15. So ancient pseudepigraphers clearly sometimes did things that we as modern readers wouldn't expect them to.But that is neither here nor there. Paul uses "James the Lord's brother" as well as "the Lord's brothers" in instances where it is clear that he is contrasting them with other Christian leaders, and not using "brothers" as a catch-all phrase for Christians.So neither of those instances seems particularly problematic for the mainstream view. But what seems hardest for me to understand is how we get from Paul, allegedly believing in a Jesus whom he didn't believe to have been a historical figure, to Gospels which assume that he was. Certainly there are parallels for mythical figures later being treated as historical. But how did this misunderstanding happen so quickly, when people who knew Paul and presumably understood him to be speaking of a non-historical person were still around? Again, it isn't that such a scenario is strictly speaking impossible, just that it isn't at all clear why one would prefer it to the view that there was in fact a historical Jesus.And of course, there is the whole issue of why a group that is inventing a Messiah from scratch would invent one that was crucified.I think perhaps I will try to work through Doherty's web site and address his claims in the near future, if I can find the time. But it just seems so bizarre and such a waste of time. Just reading a little, I came across the following claim: "Before Ignatius, not a single reference to Pontius Pilate, Jesus' executioner, is to be found. Ignatius is also the first to mention Mary; Joseph, Jesus' father, nowhere appears." It is hard to read something of that sort and not be puzzled why you think classifying it as nonsense is inappropriate…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    James, concerning Ignatius don't you think he means the first reference outside the Gospels? He dates Mark to the late first century so he clearly must mean the first reference outside of the Gospels. I hope you will spend some time on his arguments. There is about 0 % chance that he will convince you, but I'd be interested to hear your response. So you don't find the paucity of references to a historical Jesus in all the epistles unusual? I haven't been convinced by scholarly explanations for this.In my last comment I forgot to reply to your remark that Paul already refers to a historical Jesus just decades after the crucifixion. First, taking all 7 Pauline epistles together I do not really see what I would expect if Paul is talking about a historical Jesus. Second, the Jesus myth view does not assume that the myth originated at the time of Pilate. Mystery religions are not particulaly rich in textuality. Nothing in Paul presumes a date for Jesus around this time. It is only later that this time is chosen for Jesus's crucifixion. The dates of the Gospels are also not entirely clear. I have no problem with dates in the early second century, but that's a different issue.Bill Warrant

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    This is what Doherty writes on his website:"And yet when we step outside those Gospels into the much more rarefied atmoshere of the first century epistles, we encounter a huge problem.Before Ignatius not a single reference to Pontius Pilate, Jesus' executioner is to be found…."If this is what you were referring to it appears you missed the context of his statement.

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

    It may be that my cursory reading of Doherty led to my misunderstanding. But I find it hard to understand what his point is. Ignatius' epistles are among our earliest post-NT sources. And so even if you are right, I don't get Doherty's point, but it sounds like the equivalent of basing an argument on the fact that 'after Mark, none of the Gospels mentions this detail until Matthew.'But as I said, I will take a closer look and try to interact in detail. I've read some of his web stuff before but it has been a while.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Great, I look forward to hearing your views.

  • Agnosis00

    For those who are skeptical of Jesus' existence, is this a general skepticism of what can be established by history or is it more specific to the existence of Jesus? What about the figures of John the Baptist or even 'the Teacher of Righteousness' at Qumran? Or what purportedly historical figure would be a good comparison? There is a brief discussion trying to answer some objections of historical skepticism in The Historical Jesus by Theissen and Merz.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Hi Agnosis00,Jesus mythicists don't just have a general skepticism concerning what can be known. They consider a mythical Jesus a better explanation for the data. For example, the silence on the historical Jesus across the NT epistles is hard to explain on a historical Jesus view. This is not just an argument from silence, because I think the case for a historical Jesus would actually be better if we didn't have those epistles! It's just that they are not what one would expect if there had been a historical Jesus. Well, that's the idea at least (it's really not for me to defend this view, because I consider myself agnostic on this issue). John the baptist is certainly less problematic. The reference to JtB in Josephus is on much firmer ground than the references to Jesus and there aren't really any serious historical problems regarding JtB. We still can't reallly know much about him of course, but there's not really any good reasons to consider him a fictional creation (unlike Judas, Barabbas and other Gospel characters). I think that's what most Jesus mythicists would argue at least. :)

  • Agnosis00

    Bill,Thanks for the helpful response. I guess it would be good to have other examples to show what exactly is seen as evidence against historicity (not just agnosticism). You mentioned that John the Baptist doesn’t seem to face this problem. What about the “Teacher of Righteousness” or Apollonius of Tyana? Or specifically, what figures would be appropriate for comparison in your view or your understanding of the mythicist view?You make an interesting point about the epistles. Are you saying if it were not for the NT epistles, the case for Jesus’ historicity would be on firmer ground? What combination of texts in the current NT canon do you think would make a historical Jesus more likely than not? For example, only the synoptic gospels or only the gospel of Mark?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    All excellent questions Agnosis00. I'm afriad I don't know enough about the literature on the teacher of righteousness or Appolonius of Tyana to express a confident judgment concerning historicity. I'm sure James knows more about this. I suppose the Jesus mythicists like to compare Jesus Christ to the Greek and Egyptian mystery figures like Dionysos, Attis and Cybele, Osiris and Isis. However, there are important differences of course (not surprising given the Jewish elements) and the Jesus Christ myth clearly developed differently in the post-Pauline era. Focusing on parallels can be somewhat misleading though and I know Christian apologists like to point out the differences as if they somehow refute the whole idea. I think you should read Doherty's "the Jesus puzzle" if you want to know more about the Jesus myth hypothesis.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    Wow this conversation still has a lot of heat in it after all this time. I've spent the time reading Doherty's Jesus Puzzle and sifting though Paul's letters. I misunderstood the the Doherty approach to the Jesus myth as his biography was invented to create the fraud that Jesus was a real person. As I now understand it Doherty claims that Paul's Jesus was not to be understood as a real person at all but a kind of allegory living in the mythic never never land along with Dionysus and Attis.A couple of things to comment on for the conversation here.1. Paul doesn't say much about Jesus before this crucifixion that he is always talking about. If Jesus is a mythic messiah, Paul seems absolutely unconcerned with the myth before his death. Mythic characters like Osiris, Dionysus, Orpheus usually have a back story leading up to their death. Paul never explains how this Jesus character gets crucified or what he was doing before that other than He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4). His flesh was descended from King David (Rom1:3). He was crucified (2 Cor 13:4). He died and was buried (1 Cor. 15:3,4). He descended to the "depths of the earth" hades? (Eph. 4:9) He was raised after 3 days 91 Cor. 15:4). After his return from the dead Jesus is next described as appearing to Peter, "the Twelve", 500 other "brothers and sisters", James, all the other apostles, then Paul( 1 Cor 15; 5-8).From this it's very hard to come up with a mythic background for Jesus. Doherty alludes to a battle with demons and Jesus being crucified by them but this doesn't seem to of interest to Paul. I would argue that Paul is simply not interested in Jesus past before his resurrection. he is not interested in a historical or mythic life. Paul is pushing a a theology based on a resurrected Jesus so the only part that is of use to Paul's argument is Jesus' death. This is why I suppose that we have Paul's letters. i imagine lots of apostles were writing letters. We only have a slim sampling, and one of the things that seems to have helped a letter's survival was addressing a controversy. Letters responding to simple sayings of Jesus or to details of his biography would have been forgotten as people started producing narrative Gospels and sayings Gospels. Paul's letters though established the theology that the "Orthodox' church was built on. Paul was not interested in questions of Jesus' genealogy, the legality of his trial or conversely, what demon crucified him, or the fantastic miracle that brought the mythic savior into being. It's not Jesus' past that is in dispute it is his present. That Paul rarely quotes Jesus is not surprising since Jesus probably said very little about his being Christ or on how gentiles will be saved. If Jesus were a mythic being created by Peter and others he might have addressed these issues more. 3. Paul calls James the Lord's(Jesus) brother (Gal 1:19). Paul also refers to the Lord's brothers in 1 Cor. 9:5. Doherty thinks this refers to a special brother hood in the church. Now we can gather from 1 Cor. 15:6 that believers in genral called each other brother and sister, to emphasis the feeling of family in the community. But Paul doesn't refer to him self or Peter, or any other Apostle as the Lord's brother. Though they were apparently more than one. So who is this special brotherhood of the Lord? Since Paul calls every one brother and sister, why single out James with the description the Lord's brother? Other than the theory that Jesus was not a real person, there is no reason to suppose that Paul does not simply mean that Jesus and James shared a human parent.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    4. Doherty's position seems to rely very heavily on the Gospels being irrelevant to a discussion on the historical Jesus. But taken as a whole the canonized and apocryphal Gospels all seemed to assume a historical Jesus. Most of the material came from communities that adored Paul, why would none of them preserve his idea of a mythic Christ? The best evidence for the mythic Jesus is Paul's lack of historical information. this drop in a sea of opinion that Jesus was a man who lived along side of John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate, who actually lived with his disciples as opposed to merely appearing to them. to accept it we have to presume a lot more than if we accept that there was a preacher named Jesus that later people magnified into a supernatural figure. We have to presume Paul did not mean brother when he called James Jesus' brother, that Josephus' mention of Jesus was added in by later Christians, that the idea of Jesus as a lowly carpenter and exorcist completely overwhelmed the idea of Jesus as a mythic being. Wouldn't a mythic character be more likely to have a grand and miracle filled story than that presented by Paul or Mark? But instead the later the stories about Jesus the more fabulous they become. To summaries, I really have to doubt the mythic Jesus for the same reason Doherty doubts the historical Jesus, Paul doesn't discuss it. But while other writers have created or provided historical narratives and details, the tale of the mythic Jesus does not exist for us to compare.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hello Bill Warrant,If you have not read it, I recommend Robert Eisenman's _James the Brother of Jesus_, http://www.amazon.com/James-Brother-Jesus-Unlocking-Christianity/dp/014025773X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s;=books&qid;=1245897470&sr;=8-1I must warn you, it is horribly written, and infuriating in that respect. He should have had an editor or even a graduate student make it actually readable. He sentences or run on, he wanders in his thoughts, and he tends to tell you many details, and forgets to tell you his actual main point. But the book is well worth reading. He has a lot to say, and it ashame he did not go the extra mile to make sure it was well written. One of his points is that James The Just, The Teacher of Righteousness, and James (Jesus Brother) are all the same person. That This James was the leader of the Qumran community. He also associates the Paul character with "the evil priest" mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition he makes arguments that the Fall of Jeruselem may have been a result of an uprising that resulted from the killing of this James. In addition, he talks alot about how James was written out or de-emphasized by the orthodox Christian writters.It's a big fat book, with lots of stuff in it. Although as I said, be warned about it incredibly bad writing style.I notice you have no contact information. Feel free to email me if you would like to talk more about it, or other history of Christianity topics.Cheers! Ricco@webulite.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    Hey mikew1584,[your quote]Paul doesn't say much about Jesus before this crucifixion [/quote]Yeah, not only this, but Paul hardly quotes any words of Jesus. Excempt for quoting the ritualized "this is my body…" quote. I can't think of any others off hand. Pretty amazing that Paul talks nothing about Jesus life at all, and quote him perhaps only once. Considering the Paul texts now make up almost 1/2 of the NT.Cheers! Ricco@webulite.com

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    Yeah, Ricco, it is an interesting subject. When you think about it, the teachings of Jesus only make up fraction of the expression of Christianity. His teachings take a backseat to Paul's godlike messiah. Christianity has been more about accepting Jesus as you savior than giving to all that ask, or judging not.One wonders what the Twelve thought of it. Did they conceive of Jesus in such a grandiose way? I suspect since there is so much more Paul than Peter that their opinions differed a lot. Our NT comes from fans of Paul, not Paul or Apollos. But again I think the reason for so little of the background of Jesus Christ in Paul is due to Paul's message in the letters and the reasons those letters were important to the church. You would expect a mythical person to have some background, but Paul doesn't offer it. All his message revolves around the forgiveness of sins offered by way of this man who was crucified and raised from the dead. I'm sure he would have discuss more than this at some point. People would want to know,"who are you talking about?" Without the kind of information provided by the Gospels, the arguments in Romans seems empty.But his letters weren't intended to explain Jesus to people who had never heard of him. They were to explain controversies and promote his special idea of salvation, which is not based on the words of Jesus.The sermons in Acts may reflect the kinds of sermons that were used to new congregations. Interesting here is that the hook for most of the sermons are Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, who overcame death. It's not the parables or the sermon on the mount. Paul often tells of his transformation by a vision of Jesus. In Acts we see a evolution from Jesus the preacher who who comes to town telling riddles about a kingdom of heaven, into a risen superman who will judge the world. Crazy stuff. Spreading the story of the superman superseded Jesus' own message. The telling of his ethics and life came later from the apostle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Mikew,Great thoughts! I've never heard somewbody criticize the Jesus myth hypothesis before on the basis of the silence on a pre-crucifixion Jesus in the epistles. That's an interesting way to turn things around, but do you really think it is the Jesus myth hypothesis that has the biggest problem with this silence?You rightly point out that for Paul it is all about the Christ who was crucified by "the rulers of this age". I'm not sure what is harder to understand: the dying and rising Christ mystery as just another (albeit Jewish) mystery myth or a historical figure who was crucified and a group of followers who then started to believe in a resurrected Christ. Of course, the complete absence of Mary and Pilate and Jospeh of Arimathea and the empty tomb etc… is not so much a problem for the Jesus myth hypothesis. I noticed that you point out some difficulties with the Jesus myth hypothesis, but you don't really address the problems Doherty sees for the historical Jesus view and you don't address the material from the epistles that Doherty believes fit better with a Jesus myth. All these need to be accounted for too and not just the one or two references that fit the historical Jesus hypothesis better than the Jesus myth hypothesis. Anyway, perhaps a true Jesus mythicist should respond to your comments. How did I get sucked into this one? I'm too neutral to defend the Jesus myth :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Ricco,Thanks for suggesting Eisenman. I've heard his name before in important places, but have not yet read his book. It's going on my list! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Mikew,You write: "Wouldn't a mythic character be more likely to have a grand and miracle filled story than that presented by Paul or Mark? But instead the later the stories about Jesus the more fabulous they become."Well, as you point out yourself Paul is primarily interested in Christ crucified. There are no mythical details OR historical details.You would expect a more miracle filled story than Mark?? I don't know, for me, somebody who walks on water, stills storms, exorcises demons, multiplies bread and fish, heals a man with a withered hand, has as spirit descend on him in the form of a dove and drives him out into the wilderness to be tempted by satan for 40 days, cures the sick, the deaf and the blind, heals a paralytic, is transfigured on a mountain where he meets with Elijah and Moses, can see into the future, and is resurrected….well, that's pretty grand and miraculous to me :)If we add to that the fact that so much of the Gospels is inspired by OT texts, I'm not sure what it is that requires a historical figure. Maybe you are right. Maybe there really was a historical figure to which the resurrection belief was applied even though this person would have to have been completely different from the Jesus of the Gospels. That's possible I suppose, but I'm still not convinced it makes better sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02767468230311587245 Bill Warrant

    Hey guys,Neil Godfrey has an excellent biblioblog at http://vridar.wordpress.com/ and almost all of his recent posts address the historicity of Jesus. Neil knows more about this stuff than I do and I'm sure he'll respond to your questions.

  • Anonymous

    Why do the epistles lack details about Jesus' teachings? It could be that Jesus was invented as a historical figure, but the epistles certainly give the impression that they were written by people who believed that Jesus was a real person. And there are many teachings in the epistles that, while they don't explicitly quote Jesus, refer back in general to things Jesus purportedly said. For example, all foods being clean, or the idea that the Kingdom of God was imminent.The gospels referred to Jesus' brothers and sisters by birth. In addition to James, later authors said that Jesus brother or cousin Simon took over as head of the movement after James was executed. And later still, some of Jesus' distant relations were questioned by the Romans and apparently released when convinced that they were farmers and not a political threat. Odd stories to invent about mythical people.No, the much more logical explanation is that the epistles ignored so much of Jesus' teachings because: 1) those teachings did not agree with the message of Paul and his followers and 2) they didn't know a great deal about the details of hif life owing to the fact that they didn't have access to the gospels.pf

  • Joshua Steiner

    In the first paragraph you said:

    “Those who find such a naturalistic approach threatening to their faith
    will want to avoid all historical study and not just Kris’ book.”

    This is one quote that bothered me. As one who does believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the grave, I don’t see why “resurrection” and “history” have to be kept apart like that. I don’t find naturalistic explanations threatening to my faith, but I do find it odd that one would rule out the possibility of Jesus rising from the grave even before studying the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Indeed, I don’t even consider “resurrection” a ‘supernaturalistic’ explanation when it would really be the effect of a ‘supernaturalistic’ explanation. The resurrection, if it did happen, happened in the real world of space-time history and is thus able to be looked at and examined by our historical tools. I don’t think it is something that can be ruled out because you [not specifically you but ‘skeptics’] deem resurrection something that is ‘supernatural’.

    Basically, I don’t see why resurrection can be ruled out in this scenario, given that it has amazing explanatory power for the rise of Christianity [a definite sufficient condition for the rise of early Christianity and quite possibly a necessary condition].

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

      Historical study deals in probability. It is never going to be more probable that God initiated the age to come by raising an individual into it, than that some people believed that and interpreted more likely events in those terms.

      Perhaps an analogy with criminal investigations is useful, since it has similar constraints. If a crime seems unsolvable in terms of the kinds of things we regularly see happening in human history, the appropriate response is to leave the case open, not to close it by saying “God killed this person.”

      • Joshua Steiner

        Sure. It deals in probability. But doesn’t history also deal with the unlikely and the unrepeatable? Why can’t it be that God raised Jesus from the dead to initiate the age to come? What if the historical evidence lead us to that conclusion?

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

          Unrepeatable does not mean unlikely in the historical sense. There is nothing historically unlikely about someone having won the lottery, if the evidence shows that they did, even though the likelihood that any individual would be the winner was inherently unlikely. It is a different sort of probabilistic question that is being addressed. And it isn’t clear how it could ever be more probable that an unparalleled and unprecedented event occurred than that any number of more mundane and human, even if unique, things happened. If you apply the historical reasoning to any textual evidence for the miraculous outside of your own tradition, I think you will quickly see the problem.

          • Joshua Steiner

            I see the problem. I’ve read other miracle claims outside of my own tradition. And I will say from a probability standpoint, Christianity doesn’t fare any better than say the Qur’an’s claims about Muhammed ascending into heaven or the rumors about Nero’s resurrection from the dead. However, that being said, I still think Christianity needs an explanation for it’s origins, which I think would have to include considerations of an empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus.

            // And it isn’t clear how it could ever be more probable that an
            unparalleled and unprecedented event occurred than that any number of
            more mundane and human, even if unique, things happened.//

            From a standpoint at which we have not looked at the various evidences, texts, etc. I think it would indeed be absurd that we would suppose something incredibly unlikely occurred to explain the beginning of a movement. However, if it early Christianity has been looked at, and the claims of an empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus seem to be, in all historical probability, to be real, strong facts of history, why could we not claim that Jesus had been resurrected? Indeed, all the historian needs is the fact of an empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus to explain early Christianity without any reference to an actual bodily resurrection event, but from an individual’s standpoint, wouldn’t the most reasonable conclusion be that Jesus had been risen from the dead?

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

            I can fully imagine that, if I lived in the first century, and found that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, and had some sorts of visions indicating that he had been raised and exalted into heaven, I would draw the same conclusion that we are told that some of Jesus’ followers did. But I cannot from my standpoint in history know enough about the nature of their experiences to say that with absolute certainty. And it is clear that both then and now, people had life-changing experiences that persuaded them that Jesus was alive. And therein lies part of the problem. I have myself had such an experience, the experience of being born again, but have to admit that such an experience does not enable me to sidestep the methods of historical inquiry, and claim that I can somehow know on that basis whether Jesus’ bod disappeared from a tomb, and if so what precisely brought that about.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Actually, there is far better evidence that aliens from another planet are actively abducting humans from the earth, probing their bodies with bizarre medical instruments, and returning them to the earth to tell the tale. Not only are there more witnesses to alien abduction than there were to Jesus’ resurrection, we don’t have to rely on ancient copies of ancient memories recorded decades after the event. For alien abduction, we have living witnesses willing to testify at this moment!

          • MattB

            we have far better evidence for Jesus being raised from the dead. The naturalist needs to give a natural explanation and not just assume he wasn’t raised.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            A naturalist needs to give a natural explanation for what? Four conflicting accounts of miracle stories written decades after their subject died, three of which clearly copy each other’s material, introducing their own changes, and in a language not even spoken by the apostles?

            There is much better evidence that the emperor Vespasian healed a blind man through the aid of the god Serapis. The miracle is verified by at least three completely independent sources: Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio.

            Matthew Ferguson provides an excellent account of this evidence (and compares it to evidences of the resurrection) on his site:

            http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

          • MattB

            They are independent sources that are written within such an early approximation to Jesus’s death. If your going to deny that Jesus was even buried in a tomb, then you need to provide some justification for that. There’s no reason to deny the burial/empty tomb account since it meets the historical criteria.

            Second, none of these 4 facts are “miracles”. The empty tomb, the post mortem apperances of Jesus, the origin of belief in disciples are all natural facts that most critical scholars agree upon.

            What would be miraculous is the best explanation of the 4 historical facts.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Vespasian’s sources are better and earlier. The god Serapis is a more historically confirmed savior.

            The empty tomb is not a “fact”, it’s a claim from Greek Christians writing conflicting accounts of the empty tomb story decades later. The “most critical scholars” you claim is actually a pretty hazy number. William Lane Craig refers to a vague quote by Jacob Kremer which comes (without evidence) from a book written in 1977. Gary Habermas makes a claim based on a more recent study that 75% of scholars support an empty tomb hypothesis, but he only counted historians who actually wrote something on the topic (a topic most often addressed by apologists, who have a particular axe to grind in this area), so it doesn’t represent a consensus of scholars as people like to claim. Even if a consensus of scholars did support an empty tomb hypothesis – that’s far from being a fact.

            It’s also worth pointing out that Habermas doesn’t differentiate between “scholars” who are NT historians and “scholars” who are theologians. Theologians, of course, have more than a little bias in this area.

            As for the post mortem appearances of Jesus – you won’t find any studies showing that historians agree on that “fact”.

            Maybe you should worship Serapis and signal the abducting aliens, too, just to be safe.

          • MattB

            “Vespasian’s sources are better and earlier. The god Serapis is a more historically confirmed savior.”

            Really? Cite me your sources please.

            “The empty tomb is not a “fact”, it’s a claim from Greek Christians writing conflicting accounts of the empty tomb story decades later.”

            The empty tomb is a fact and conflicting accounts are what make an event more probable than not.

            “The “most critical scholars” you claim is actually a pretty hazy number. William Lane Craig refers to a vague quote by Jacob Kremer which comes (without evidence) from a book written in 1977.”

            What’s so vauge about a historian who says “Most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the empty tomb?” That’s pretty straight forward.

            “Gary Habermas makes a claim based on a more recent study that 75% of scholars support an empty tomb hypothesis, but he only counted historians who actually wrote something on the topic (a topic most often addressed by apologists, who have a particular axe to grind in this area), so it doesn’t represent a consensus of scholars as people like to claim.”

            The 75% is out of 3400 scholars across the world, atheist, agnostic, Jewish, etc. Now you may be correct in saying that it was over scholars and historians who posted about it, but that doesn’t disqualify it.

            “Even if a consensus of scholars did support an empty tomb hypothesis – that’s far from being a fact.”

            Of course, I’m not using that as evidence. I’m simply using that to show how strong of support scholars have for the burial/empty tomb accounts.

            “It’s also worth pointing out that Habermas doesn’t differentiate between “scholars” who are NT historians and “scholars” who are theologians. Theologians, of course, have more than a little bias in this area.”

            Habermas’s survey was taken over peer-reviewed Journals by scholars relevant in the field. This would include people with advanced degrees in NT scholarship or Ancient history, therefore, it’s relevant and it wasn’t some joe off the street.

            Habermas also, as I said before, took a survey of most critical scholars(atheist, agnostic, Jewish,etc.) in order to avoid bias.

            “As for the post mortem appearances of Jesus – you won’t find any studies showing that historians agree on that “fact”.

            That’s extremely untrue. Over 95% of scholars agree with the apperances of Jesus the disciples had with Jesus after his death.

            “Maybe you should worship Serapis and signal the abducting aliens, too, just to be safe.”

            No, I don’t worship false Gods who don’t exist. I worship the one true God who proved himself to humanity in the form of a bond-servant:) Believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior my friend. He died for you and he loves you. Don’t you want to be saved from your sins?

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I find it strange that you ask me for citations, when you don’t provided a single one. I already provided you not only with a source, but a web link to the source. I think you have your numbers wrong on Habermas. Here’s a source you can use from his own website:

            http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

            You’ll notice that he confirms exactly what I said: “Most of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars”.

            Where do you get your 95% number for appearances.

            Wait! I just noticed who you are. You’re the same Matt Brown who copied and pasted several apologist paragraphs into your comments as though they were your own.

            Since you seem to be bound by the opinions of scholars, you should be aware that scholars consider plagiarism lying.

            There is no lack of commenters with whom I can carry on this discussion. I have no interest in conversing with a liar. It’s a waste of time. I’m done.

      • Joshua Steiner

        I see what you mean with the criminal analogy, but I think it should be said that this is different from saying “Goddidit”. We are saying Jesus rose from the dead and based upon that we can infer that God did it. Maybe Jesus’ resurrection in itself isn’t a historical explanation but the fact of an empty tomb and the fact of the appearances of Jesus are historical evidences that can be used just as well as social theories regarding the beginning of the Christian movement to explain it’s beginnings.