Mythicist Eisegesis in 1 Corinthians 11

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul addresses issues related to the communal means the Christians in Corinth were practicing. In the process, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul cites the following famous material:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul explicitly says this is tradition that he had passed on to the Corinthians in the past. And we have no choice but to accept this claim, since there are too many unanswered questions in the material for it to represent new teaching that Paul was passing off as previously-presented material. The passage raises but does not answer numerous questions: “Betrayed” (or “handed over”) by whom? To whom was Jesus speaking? What night, when and where?

Mainstream historical critical scholarship concludes that there is a connection between this tradition, passed on orally by Paul to the Corinthians and then mentioned again in a letter probably written in the mid 50s CE, and the material that is clearly a version of the same tradition found in Mark 14. Most scholars date Mark’s Gospel around a decade or perhaps two later than 1 Corinthians.

What mythicism does with 1 Corinthians 11 is, on the one hand, refuse to allow the slightly later Gospel of Mark to shed light on it, while on the other hand, posits that Paul is referring to a heavenly occurrence in a mythical realm. For the latter understanding of the passage there is no explicit evidence in Paul’s letters, much less earlier. Mythicism then has to posit as well that someone in the years between 1 Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel reinterpreted the mythical celestial story as an earthly one – a process of reinterpretation for which, once again, we have no evidence, including there being nothing in the Gospel of Mark that indicates that it is engaging in such a radical resetting of the traditional material it incorporates.

Historians and scholars always have to fill in gaps in our piecemeal evidence from antiquity. But convincing mainstream scholarship tries to limit the number of ad hoc assumptions brought in and to offer not merely a possible interpretation of the data, but one that is relatively probable and does as much justice to as much of the relevant evidence as possible.

Can anyone seriously claim that there is a mythicist scenario that offers that? I think the example of 1 Corinthians 11 illustrates well why the vast majority of scholars find mythicism unpersuasive. It takes evidence that can be explained in a relatively straightforward way, and posits instead a scenario for which there is no evidence and claims that it is preferable.

I think I understand why this is done. It is much simpler to say “Jesus didn’t exist” than to say “Jesus almost certainly existed, and he probably said X, but may not have said Y and almost certainly didn’t say Z.”

But making the lives of contemporary people easier is not a valid criterion for drawing historical conclusions.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03251760833738663423 Gilgamesh

    Certainly if one has this passage and Mark 14 it would be reasonable to conclude Paul is talking about the same thing as the Last Supper before Judas does Jesus in. But there is one curious detail that I am not sure is explained by the mainstream: Paul says he received this tradition "from the Lord". When read in the light of Gal 1, where Paul says he received his gospel from no man, should we see this tradition similarly, that Paul understood he learned of the Eucharist via revelation?This is a point where a mythicist could try and read things differently. What makes this reading unlikely given the Gal 1 context?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    I'm no bible scholar, but the passage seems clear to me. It seems to present a very likely scenario that developed, and something that is totally human nature. So it doesn't indicate in any way "Jesus didn't exist". Specifically, 1 Cor 11:21 "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk." 1 Cor 11:27 "…eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner…" So typically human, a ceremony that started as a rememberance, started to become, to some followers, an excuse to "party" and provide an excuse to excess in food and drink (like the pagan celebrations they were probably use to in the past, temple offerings – Bar-B-Q time, Christmas shopping and feasting today, etc.) Human nature, and totally reasonable scenario to develop, which Paul wanted to squash, like ministers today remind us it's about Jesus, not Christmas/Santa Claus, shopping, feasting, etc. Mythicist's need proof for everything. I only need reasonable explainations that potentially make sense. Leave the absolute proofs to the physicists, although even they don't have the proofs in cosmology (M-theory), only conjecture, some reasonable, some not so reasonable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Dr. McGrath,For your consideration:1) "what I also passed on to you":If the Corinthians knew about it already, why go into a lot of details? Furthermore, the Greek tense used here is aorist:Blue Letter Bible "The aorist tense is characterized by its emphasis on punctiliar action; that is, the concept of the verb is considered without regard for past, present, or future time. There is no direct or clear English equivalent for this tense …"Therefore Paul probably meant it was his policy to pass what was revealed to him, without suggesting he already told the Corinthians about a particular revelation. Let's also note the NLT translation: "For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I received it. …" 2) "the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed"The Greek word can also be translated as 'delivered', as in the YLT & Darby bibles. Furthermore, the Greek tense is imperfect, meaning Paul indicated Jesus was "delivered" more than once that night (i.e. to the chief priests, then to the Romans):Blue Letter Bible "The imperfect tense generally represents continual or repeated action. Where the present tense might indicate "they are asking," the imperfect would indicate "they kept on asking.""3) My opinion:a) Paul likely knew about Jesus being handed over to the chief priests, then to the Romans, all of that at night but before he had his supper.b) From that, Paul could imagine that in his cell at night (and with no eyewitnesses!) Jesus was given bread & drink, which would allow him to say the words of 1Cor11:24-25b, with no risk of anyone contradicting Paul!4) For further justifications (about Paul making up the story), we can follow Paul's line of thoughts leading to 1Cor11, in previous parts of the letters:1Cor6:15 "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? …"1Cor10:15-16 "I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.[these words indicate the following intellectual proposition was new for the Corinthians]` Is not the cup of Thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?[how could Paul propose such a concept if he knew Jesus originated the Eucharist and the Christians were already told about it (1Cor11:23)?]"1Cor10:18 "Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?"5) Another clue about Paul's imagination:The practice of eating bread first (in antiquity, the main food) and then after the meal drinking wine, is a Gentile tradition and not a Jewish one:"… a two part sequence of eating and drinking, of breaking bread and pouring a libation before drinking wine, or more simply, of bread and wine, summarizes and symbolizes the whole process of a Greco-Roman formal meal"John Dominic Crossan, The Historical JesusPaul wrote Jesus was a Jew interacting with Jews, but he has him following a Gentiles' tradition!6) Paul wrote about Jesus' last supper for the sole purpose to bring order to the Christians of Corinth common meal (called the Lord's supper), an opportunity for gathering. Bringing fix to problems & issues is what Paul did in that part of the letter, in succession. Without the Corinthians abusing their common meal, we probably would not have the Eucharist!Bernard

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

    Gilgamesh, that is indeed what I would expect mythicists to point out in response. And in reply, I would ask why we should take Paul's claims to know things directly from the Lord at face value. It is particularly prominent in Galatians, where Paul's authority seems to have been challenged precisely in terms of his dependence on, and inferiority compared to, the Jerusalem apostles.I would ask which is more likely: (1) Paul received tradition from human sources but sometimes tried to eliminate the middleman and claimed to know things by supernatural revelation and thus not depend on anyone else for his knowledge, which detracted from his authority.(2) Paul in fact came up with this material in his own mind, circulated it, and within a decade or two it was being included in a Gospel as something that actually happened, and what's more, with another decade or two after that was being included by Jewish Christians in their Gospels and other writings.When #1 fits so much that we know from Paul's letters, I would ask what if anything could make option #2 seem like a more compelling historical scenario.Gary, I appreciate your comment and would just say that mythicists say they want proof for everything. But I regularly hear from mythicists that the Jesus story and Christianity could have originated significantly earlier than Paul's time, even though there is no evidence for it having done so. One of my main objections to mythicism, or rather, one of the main reasons I consider it pseudo-scholarly, is that the need for evidence seems to be something demanded from those who adopt mainstream scholarly conclusions but not in equal measure for mythicist claims, assumptions and reconstructions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I need to be clear in my head what you are proposing here. It seems to me that you may be proposing one of four different possibilities with different historical trajectories behind them, so I would like to know which one you are actually a partisan of.1. The author of Corinthians received the tradition of a Christian meal from another human being and then told the Corinthians that tradition for the first time. This presupposes that, prior to meeting the author of Corinthians, the people of Corinth did not celebrate a meal.2. The Corinthians, prior to meeting the author of the epistle, were celebrating a communal meal, but did not understand its significance. The author of the epistle explained that significance. He learned this significance from another person.3. The Corinthians had never previously celebrated a communal meal, and the author explained it to them because he had a revelation of a supernatural type.4. The Corinthians had previously celebrated a communal meal, and the author explained its significance due to a supernatural revelation.Behind these statements, there would seem to be three different historical trajectories:1. The epistle writer had a supernatural vision of a communal meal and/or its significance.2. The epistle writer was told by a person that there was a communal meal and/or what the significance of it was.3. There was a pre-existing tradition of a communal meal and its significance that epistle author simply confirmed.None of these seem to have bearing on the Gospel directly. Can you explain how you can clearly connect the epistle to the Gospel if, for example, cases 4 and trajectory 3 are correct? In addition, if case 4 and trajectory 3 are not correct, how do you know that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Dr. McGrath,Maybe I did not express myself enough about the topic of Mythicism. But it is clear to me that Paul described an earthly scene, with a cup, drink, bread, supper and his body & blood, alluding that Jesus had been on earth (with other elements in Paul's letters to justify the later point).I got more about the Last Supper here. Click forhttp://historical-jesus.info/hjes3.html , then search on 'Last Supper' Bernard

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

    On whether he invented this tradition, i do think it would be a risky move for Paul to invent an event in the life of Jesus that could be contradicted by any of the other apostles that came into contact with the community. It is interesting that John doesn't use the formula at the last supper, but he has thoroughly integrated the notion of Jesus as bread and wine in his gospel. For whatever reasons, it seems to me that John's community has re-envisioned the Eucharist not as a memorial meal, but very much as a symbolic eating of Jesus. Jesus becomes food to them. John is not evidence that some communities evolved from sects that never heard of the Pauline or Markan formula, but only that the tradition changed. Regarding Paul's receiving this from the Lord, I think, while it is possible that Paul had some sort of vision of the last supper (Margery of Kempe, a medieval mystic, has visions of being present at the birth of Christ), i think it is simpler to interpret this as Paul saying that Jesus instituted this meal, so no matter who informed you of it, it is something you get from Jesus. By way of analogy, imagine that Nero sends a messenger, Gaius, to Paul to inform him that he so like what Paul is doing that he will send money to the church in Corinth. When Paul tells the Corinthians the good news, need he say "Gaius told me that Nero said …" If Paul does not doubt the message is truly Nero's he need only say, "I received from Nero what I will say to you, Nero wants to send you money"Look at how Paul discuses the command of the Lord on marriage in 1 Cor 7:10,25. Paul is clear to point out what is his opinion and what is Jesus. Paul does not mention an intermediary source, but only introduces it as the Lords command, which for Paul, if he believes Jesus said it, it is. A pastor need not say, "the Bible says that God said do not kill" he need only say that God commands we don't kill. There is no reason to introduce the more elaborate idea that Paul is getting mystic commands from Jesus that he keeps separate from his own opinions.To further support that, look at Galatians 1:11-12. Paul is clear here in saying no person gave him his gospel. Now to clear up a misconception, the gospel is not a narrative of Jesus' life. It is a proclamation, a message of salvation, the one Paul is preaching to the Galatians; you are not saved by obeying the Law. Paul states in no uncertain terms that this was received by revelation. Paul was not converted by any ones preaching, he had a mystical experience and became enlightened to this message. He does not preface either the command on marriage nor the words of Jesus at the last supper with such a statement. He says he received it from the Lord. This is different from Paul's prayer concerning his thorn(2 Cor 12:9), where simply says, "he(Jesus) said to me." Paul speaks of receiving when he discusses traditions, the congregation received from Paul (1 Cor 15:1-3) a tradition that he had received concerning the resurrection and the order of appearance. He does not say he received this from the Lord, because this was not a message ascribed to Jesus, it appears to be a kind of creedal statement, something a congregation would affirm at meetings, "Christ died for our sins according to scriptureHe was buried and raised on the third day according to scriptureshe appeared to Cepheus and then to the Twelve"Now if this creed was phrased as the words of Jesus to the disciples, like "Behold I have risen and appeared to Cepahs and now to you, the twelve after spending 3 days in the earth according to scripture, now tell all the world" Paul would be justified in saying he received it from the Lord, it is the Lord's proclamation. Likewise the last supper is a command from the Lord, it is his message, his command that is still being carried out today.

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

    Sorry to go on so long, but on another note. if this is in fact something Paul received, it is possible that it is something Jesus said. We only have to posit that A. Jesus thought of him self in a very elevated way, and B. Jesus was aware he was going to die. I dont think either is beyond the scope of a figure as Jesus as he is presented. While liberal Christianity is uncomfortable with Jesus thinking of himself as some central peg in his disciples life, that they would want to share in his body and blood, it is not outside the scope of the mystic or the eschatological prophet.

  • Anonymous

    Mike, I agree with you on Paul's Gospel. I discuss this in my review of Earl Doherty's Jesus Neither God Nor Man here:http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/JNGNM_Review3.htmlPaul writes that churches of Judaea which were in Christ claimed that “he which persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which once he destroyed.” So if Paul had been preaching a gospel message that, in its entirety, came from "no man", then we have the strange situation of Paul preaching a gospel message that had been revealed by "no man" but was actually the same message as those he had been persecuting.GakuseiDon

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

    Evan, I'm not clear from what you wrote whether you are referring to Paul's visit(s) to Corinth or to something you see him doing solely by means of his letter.GakuseiDon, thanks for making such a powerful and yet succinct point. It suggests that, if mythicists are consistent with their own logic (such as it is) they probably ought to accept Paul's claim to have received supernatural revelation! :-)

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

    Bernard, thanks for your detailed thoughts and clarifications. Just a quick observation: it seems to me that there is at least one Jewish meal at which wine was consumed subsequent to bread, namely the Passover meal, which of course the 3 Gospels that have an account of the Last Supper say or imply that it was.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, the author if 1 Cor is pretty clear that he is reiterating something he previously said to the recipients of the letter. However we would have no way of knowing if it was in person or in the form of a previously extant but lost manuscript. My list of 4 options seems complete to me if we assume it was in person. The key questions are firstly whether the Corinthians heard of this meal only from the author previously, or if they had heard it from someone else before he "passed it on" to them and secondly whether he added to their prior understanding of the meal or not.

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

    Evan, thanks for the clarification. Since we don't have any of the letters the Corinthians wrote to Paul, it isn't clear how we could find out whether there were "Christians" in Corinth before Paul got there, who had heard of Jesus and something he did with bread and wine. I don't see anything in Paul's letters to them that would require us to believe, or even suggest, that they were familiar with it prior to Paul "passing it on" to them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Gakusei Don, (hajimemashite, dozo yoroshiku onegai shimasu) I have read your review and since I can't comment there I am hoping you can answer a question for me.If the epistles attributed to Paul were written pre-70 CE, what do you consider Romans 11 to be referring to? What is 1 Thess 2:16 referring to?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    So, you are limited to cases 1 and 3 then, Dr. McGrath. Which do you think is most likely?

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

    Evan, nihongo go wakarimasu ka?I would pick #1, that Paul had received it from other people. It seems to explain how what Paul passed on to the Corinthians can be found so widely in early Christianity even outside of Pauline circles. even the Didache, which has a different interpretation of the significance of the bread and wine, nonetheless assumes that their symbolic use in Christian gatherings is a given.I'm certainly open to the possibility that the specific version in 1 Corinthians is not something that was universally shared among Christians. But the widespread practice of which Paul's instructions are but one example seems to me to suggest that Paul is here drawing on a wider stream of Christian tradition, rather than giving something that he dreamt up (literally or metaphorically). :-) We could of course add an additional option – that Paul was an opponent of Jesus and his movement during his public activity, was involved in his arrest, and actually "received from the Lord" in a more historical, mundane sense. It would make an interesting article or thesis, as I am not aware that anyone has explored that possibility.

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

    A.N. Wilson, I believe, did a biography of Jesus, and speculated that Paul may have been part of the group that had Jesus condemned. I'm not sure of the specific arguments. It is not impossible, I don't think, just not substantiated, so we can never know for sure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Dr. McGrath,From a Jewish website called "Jewish Virtual Library" http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/holidaya.htmlI got this info:There are 10 steps before the Passover dinner proper:At step 1, the wine is blessed and a first glass of wine is drunk.At step 4, some bread (matzah) is broken but not eaten yet.At step 5, a second cup of wine is drunk.At step 8, a bit of bread is eaten for the first time.At step 10, more bread is eaten.Then comes the dinner proper (step 11) when almost anything can be eaten, including bread.At step 12 "The piece of matzah set aside earlier is eaten as “desert,” the last food of the meal".At step 13, a third cup of wine is drunk.At step 14, a fourth cup of wine is drunk.So, before the meal of Passover, it is wine first (step 1 & 5) , then a bit of bread, step 8 & step 10 (the bread here is a late addition by Rabbi Hillel).After the meal, what is eaten only is bread (as desert) (step 12). Wine in drunk at the last 2 steps (13 & 14).It is rather complicated, but the wine drinking comes first.So I think I'll stick with Crossan's Gentile custom.Bernard

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

    Bernard, it certainly is the case that the Passover as we know it today is complex and features bread, wine and other items interspersed. My point was simply that the sequence in the Lord's Supper traditions could be found at certain moments in the Passover meal. Whether that is the best way to account for see features is another matter and would require a much more extensive discussion. :-)

  • Anonymous

    What if John's chornology is correct which in that case, Jesus would have just been eating a normal meal with his diciples.~Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Dr. McGrath,Bread before the meal and wine after would confirms the tradition is Gentile and from someone dealing with Gentiles, as Paul was towards his Corinthians. And if Jesus, as an orthodox Jew in a Jewish environment, could not have said that, then who would invent it? The answer has to be Paul.How did Paul come up with the Last Supper? It is well explained in the chapters preceeding 1Cor11 such as 6:15, 10:15-16 & 10:18.Why would be Paul's motivation for generating the Last Supper? Again, it is well explained in 1Cor11:17-22 and 1Cor11:26-34.Bernard

  • Anonymous

    Depends what you mean by Orthodox, I'd be relucant to say that just because he diverged from the traditional meal doesn't mean that the tradition doesn't come or in some form reflect a historical episode. Besides you don't tick off temple leaders by being a good Jewish boy.As for Corinthians 11:17-22, it appears Paul is just chastisizing the church for rude conduct and is recounting the supper to remind them of how it should properly be conducted.Though is the passover meal you posted above a description on how it was eaten then or now? Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath,Eigo ga wakarimasu. Watashi wa Nihongo o sukoshi hanasu.So it seems by picking #1 that you are suggesting the author of the epistles was either lying or puffing himself up (slightly different than lying but on the same continuum), and that you would be left with only historical trajectory #3 (that the author of the epistle was telling a story told to him).If this is the case, it cannot be firm footing to ground the gospel account in.Someone who is a liar or, at best, serial exaggerator cannot be considered to be a reliable historical witness to a fact, especially when he is simply re-stating a story that was previously told by someone else in a manner clearly at odds with what you, the investigator, believe to be the actual facts of the case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Brian,I think that for historical study, we should consult all the evidence."what I also passed on to you" can as well be "what I also pass on to you" because of the Aorist tense in the verb. I indicated through 1Cor10:15-16 that Paul could not have divulged the Last Supper to anyone before.For the sequence of wine then bread, I trust a scholar who studied the topic, that is Dominic Crossan.It looks Paul had Jesus addressing his Gentile Christian audience.And in 1Cor11, there is nothing about the Corinthians observing a ritual in memorial of Christ & Sacrifice, just they had common meals together.It seems to me the Passover meal (with rituals before and after the meal), as described in the Jewish website I specified, were observed in the time of Jesus (because of the mention of Rabbi Hillel). You are welcome to do some research on the subject.Bernard

  • Anonymous

    I intend too. But I generally lost all faith in Crosssan so I'm curious on how you plan on using him for your reconstruction. But if you say so, I'll take your word for it.Brian

  • Anonymous

    Evan, こちらこそ!I know 1 Thess 2:16 is generally considered a post-70 CE interpolation, but not sure what you are pointing to in Rom 11 I'm afraid.GakuseiDon

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

    Evan, I think you are applying the adage "How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving" too literally and woodenly. I suspect that all historians have some doubts about Josephus' account of his prophecy About Vespasian becoming emperor. But Josephus is demonstrably correct about some things. It simply doesn't seem to work as a principle that, if an ancient author incorporates stories of the miraculous or thinks highly of himself in religious terms, then he is always untrustworthy when it comes to mundane recounting of events.On the one hand, I think it may be making too much of Paul's wording in 1 Corinthians 11 to say that he is being entirely dishonest. He "cuts out the middleman" and says that he received this tradition "from the Lord." He is guilty of omission, from his perspective, not pure fabrication.On the other hand, if we completely distrust Paul, can we then turn to the Gospels which begin to be written within a decade or two, and critically examine them to see if they give us the historical truth in a way Paul does not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Regardless of what you think of Paul's honesty, if you believe he received the tradition from someone else, then he is not an independent historical witness to it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Don, all of Romans 11 seems to me to be a meditation on a calamity that has befallen Israel. The author says, "Did God reject his people?" He then says, "What the people of Israel sought, they did not obtain."The only known calamities that would meet these criteria would be the sack of Jerusalem by Titus or its razing by Hadrian. Is there some other calamity that you believe the epistle is referring to?

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

    I don't think anyone has ever suggested that Paul was an eyewitness to the Last Supper. As to whether he is "independent" it depends what you mean. He doesn't depend on the Gospels, which had most likely not been written yet, nor is it clear that our earliest Gospels drew directly on Paul. And so Paul can in this specific sense be an independent witness to early Christian oral tradition in the same way that the Gospels can, albeit in a different genre.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    I would think that the popular view of the "Lord's Supper" presents a larger problem for anyone who thinks that the disciples were caught off guard by Jesus' death and deified him later on. The Lord's Supper is clearly treating Jesus as some sort of deified [human?] being in which the believers could conjur up the deity's spirit during the sacred meal by symbolically consuming his body and blood. If this supper was instituded by Jesus himself, then Jesus must have already thought of himself as either equal to YHWH or his divine intermediary. Justin Martyr complains that the followers of Mithras had a similar ritual. I assume that the followers of Mithras didn't think that Mithras was originally a normal human being who got deified later on. Conversely, I would think that symbolically eating a human being's body and blood would be much more of a skandalon to Jews than the cross. As far as I'm aware, we have no other examples of Jews symbolically eating the blood and flesh of one of their revered leaders. But we do have other examples of Jews having communal meals restricted to members of a covenant; meals that you don't come to expecting to get full or drunk.The Lord's Supper as it is currently envisioned, to me, seems to actually be an argument for mythicism, if it is earlier than Paul. I happen to think that Paul's very Jewish lordly supper was hijacked by later (non-Jewish) Christians and turned into "the lord's" supper to explain why Christians were doing a communal meal similar to Mithraism. At this other blog the argument is spelled out a lot better: http://www.freeratio.org/blog.php?b=31

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09708981993708509662 Robert Oerter

    There's also the possibility that the whole passage is an interpolation. Consider: nowhere else does Paul directly quote Jesus' words, nowhere else does he tell a story about what happened during Jesus' lifetime, nowhere else does he mention the Eucharist tradition, except in 1 Cor 10, where it is quite a different tradition. The interpretation of Jesus' body/blood is different than elsewhere in Paul. And we know early Christians liked to rewrite the Eucharist traditions: look at the different versions of Luke, and the differences between the Gospels in general. (No Eucharist in John at all!)This isn't my idea; it was suggested (AFAIK) by R.D. Richardson in his commentary on Lietzmann's Mass and the Lord's Supper. I've never understood why no one considers this possibility seriously nowadays.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, the epistle, as you seem to understand it, is only an independent witness to a tradition, not to a fact. This same tradition is, under your thesis, also being placed in the gospel but your assumption is they are from the same root, yes? Therefore, the epistle cannot be an independent witness to a historical fact.

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

    Evan, Perhaps you can clarify, with reference to historians and historical methodology, how you are using the term "fact." In my own view, "what really happened" is not something accessible to us. "History" is what we can deduce based on the sources of information that have come down to us. And so if you are using "fact" in anything like its normal English usage, then this may explain why we see things so differently.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04707019493180787753 EvanG

    Simply put, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 does not offer meaningful evidence that Jesus lived, or that Jesus had any particular teachings. Rather, at best (assuming that Paul is being truthful) it offers evidence that before Paul there was an earlier Christian tradition of a communal meal and invocation. If you think otherwise, could you explain why the following invocation is any more or less factual or historical than that reported by Paul?O Providence, O Fortune, bestow on me Thy Grace – imparting these the Mysteries a Father only may hand on, and that, too, to a Son alone – his Immortality – a Son initiate, worthy of this our Craft, with which Sun Mithras, the Great God, commanded me to be endowed by His Archangel; so that I, Eagle as I am, by mine own self alone, may soar to Heaven, and contemplate all things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Robert,Paul quoted Jesus' words in 2Cor12:9 and presented 1Th15b-17 as "according to the Lord's own words".The Last Supper in 1Cor11:23b-25 is most crucial for Paul in order to correct the disorder among the Christians of Corinth when they were taking their common meal. So I cannot see 1Cor11:23-25or26 as being an interpolation.Bernard

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

    EvanG, I think the relevance to the question of the historical Jesus is not whether Paul or the Gospels provide accurate information about a final meal Jesus had with his disciples, but the simple fact that some material that would get incorporated into a Gospel a decade or two after Paul wrote was already known and circulating in Paul's time. And to that extent Paul's letters provide useful evidence that the Gospels are not inventions out of whole cloth, as it were, but however much we may conclude that they innovate and/or fabricate, they also incorporate traditional material going back to earlier decades. And that is important for a historian to know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Fact — a historically verifiable event.It is a fact that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. It is a fact that the Roman emperor Hadrian razed Jerusalem and replaced it with a city, Aelia Capitolina.It is a fact that bacteria arose on earth between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago.It is a fact that Augustus Caesar wrote his Res Gestae Divi Augusti and had them engraved and placed in major cities of antiquity.Things that are not facts but that can be historical are interpretations of facts that fit them into a viable framework.Given the fact of the bullet wound in a head and the ballistic signature of a gun, it is reasonable to determine from those facts that the gun was used in a particular crime.When there are no facts, all you have is a narrative.The narrative cannot, without corroboration, be considered a fact. It is a fact that there are stories about William Tell from the 15th century. It is not a fact that William Tell existed in the 14th century.Eric Hobsbawm is clear on this:"In no case can we infer the reality of any specific ’social bandit’ merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions."Mario Liverani is quoted in Lemche as stating: "Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events, they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation."This concerns April DeConick a great deal. She states:"The entrenchment of the academy is particularly worrisome for me. Scholars' works are often spun by other scholars, not to really engage in authentic critical debate or review, but to cast the works in such a way that they can be dismissed (if they don't support the entrenchment) or engaged (if they do). In other words, fair reproduction of the author's position and engagement with it does not seem to me to be the top priority. The quest for historical knowledge does not appear to me to be the major concern. It usually plays back seat to other issues including the self-preservation of the ideas and traditions of the dominant parties – those who control the churches, and the academy with its long history of alliance with the churches."Mary Beard's work on the Roman Triumph is a particularly well-known example of taking the conventional wisdom about an ancient issue and reducing it to known facts, thereby upending the scholarly consensus.

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

    My, that Hobsbawm quote is popular among mythicists. And in typical quote mining usage, it almost sounds like it supports mythicism. But in context, its point is one that is axiomatic in historical Jesus study: we cannot assume that the myths that grew up around a figured tell us what he was really like.So too with the quote from Liverani. No serious historian would adopt a story about Jesus rather than critically dissecting it.If mythicists want to be taken seriously by scholars then quote-mining is not the way to accomplish that. Or are you going to tell me at you actually have read Hobsbawm, Liverani and DeConick and genuinely came away from reading their work with the impression that it supports mythicism?

  • Anonymous

    Plus mythicism doesn't fare any better in fact it offends academic sensibilities more than those who affirm Jesus' historicity. Really James, you ought to write a blog post telling us how you manage to retain sanity afer being expose to the likes of Evan for so long.Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    If no serious historian would adopt a story about Jesus, rather than critically dissecting it, why are you accepting the testimony of the author of Corinthians as corroborative of the gospel narrative when you seem to believe that the author did not witness the event, and is only a witness to an extant narrative? This is credulous, not critical.

  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure what you're asking here. I guess a historian would have to accept the story because of multiple attestation you can't really disect it anymore than that. But Paul knew the apostles personally so if he derived his testimony from them [who were eye witnesses] then we should give Paul's account of the supper more support. Also James do you think John's chornology is correct? I always thought so due to my belief that Jesus' ministry lasted several years and when you factor it into the opening of Luke 3 it sort of fits [27/8-30]. Plus, if Jesus was an eschatological prophet who in a sense sensed that he would die during the tribulation then having him celebrate a solemn meal with his closest friends before facing his death head on would make a lot of sense. I of course cite Meier and Allison for my point of view but what do you think? I also like Mcknight's theory that Jesus thought his death would have some sort of meaning and if he died when the passover lambs were being slaughtered than that gives a meaning to the Christian understanding of the passover. Jesus' blood was suppose to act as a sheild so that God's judgement would passover Israel. Brian

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

    Evanmost historian find themselves working extant narratives rather than witnessing the events. I think what James is saying is it is preferable to judge the meaning of tradition in one book by similar material in others of the same cultural community rather than by a hypothetical tradition. This is not an argument for this event being something Jesus did, only that this event is best interpreted as what Paul believed was an event in Jesus human life. We have no reason to interpret it another way, only if we prove mythacism true, would we prefer it. We know for a fact that Mark portrays events in historical places, with historical people with only a minimal amount of invention, primarily in minor characters. This of course does not include those who are simply not confirmed historical, only those strongly suspected of being inventions. We know for a fact that this line is in Corinthians, and Corinthians claims to written by Paul, and very few disagree that it is.

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

    Evan, I think I am finally starting to understand where you are going with this.You are saying that we should never watch the news, or at least should always assume that it is misinforming us, since the reporters were in almost no instances themselves eyewitnesses to the events they report.In fact, it would be great if more people treated the news critically – but while you rightly understand "credulous" to denote the stance that accepts everything, you wrongly use "critical" as though it means the stance that ignores or rejects everything on principle. In fact, being critical when it comes to the news or ancient sources means asking about evidence in each case and claim, and not merely accepting it all or rejecting it all, which is as a rule the stance of the apologists on either side, not of the historian.Or perhaps we should take an example that is closer to home. Do you genuinely believe that I should dismiss everything that you say here on this blog, because you have proven not to actually be acquainted directly with sources that you have quoted (or in some cases failed to show awareness of) in at least a few instances?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath I think I understand you as well now. The purpose of this post was to show how critical you are.You state unequivocally that "we have no choice but to accept this" because this had to be part of the same tradition that became the gospel. Yet you make no allowance for legendary development over time. You believe you are critical because you believe a story about the founder figure of a religion explaining to his believers how to access his body and blood magically that appears in a book where a man walks on water. You can show this because another, earlier, book tells a similar but decontextualized story, claimed by the second author to have been given to him supernaturally.As for the numerous personal attacks that are being leveled here, I am used to them. I get them all the time when I argue with creationists.

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

    Mythicism then has to posit as well that someone in the years between 1 Corinthians and Mark's Gospel reinterpreted the mythical celestial story as an earthly one – a process of reinterpretation for which, once again, we have no evidence, including there being nothing in the Gospel of Mark that indicates that it is engaging in such a radical resetting of the traditional material it incorporates.Doesn’t much of Mark’s gospel consist of the incorporation of the Old Testament into the life of Jesus? Wouldn’t that be some evidence that its author is quite capable of resetting traditional material?

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

    Evan, I have elsewhere discussed issues of development and historicity in the last supper traditions. My point, which you seem once again to have failed to grasp, is that the mythicist attempt to set the event in the celestial realm faces severe difficulty. If you want to discuss things which, as a result of critical analysis and examination, we might suspect are in fact later accretions and secondary developments within this tradition, we can do so. There is a lot of scholarly literature about this. And that's the key point. Mythicists are not informed about critical scholarship in this area. They simply do what fundamentalist apologists across the aisle from them do – ask if you believe it or disbelieve it. Vinny, there is certainly much that looks like presenting Jesus in ways that intentionally echo stories from the Jewish Scriptures. There is no real evidence for the process that mythicists seem to have taken from Spong, namely the large-scale creation of most stories from tidbits of language and ideas from other texts. Once again, each case must be evaluated on its own merits. There are certainly places where it is very plausible to suggest that early Christians, lacking information, wove a narrative of what they thought "must have happened" based on Scripture. In other cases it seems like we have genuine historical tradition recast to emphasize a similarity with something in Scripture. And in still others, attempts to derive stories from Scriptural prototypes are based on flimsy evidence or none at all. And so we need to determine this on a case-by-case basis.

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

    James McGrath, I would be interested to hear your opinon on the idea that 1cor 11:23-26 is actually an interpolation.And doesn't the whole "eat the flesh of the god" sound like something we would not expect from a historical Jesus but rather something like a mystery religion? I expect that you would see that as a secondary layer to the tradition, and I think that is a reasonable view, but I think that the origin of "eating Jesus" is a relevant question.

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

    Hjalti, what do you do with the fact that in the earliest Gospels, Jesus is not a "god"?Be that as it may, I am certain that there was some sort of Christian reinterpretation of the meal in light of Jesus' death and the significance Christians came to attribute to it after the fact. The question is what if anything represents addition, what is traditional be reconfigured, and what if anything represents something historical. But even if the entire meal tradition were a fabrication, that would not be the same thing as what some mythicists claim, namely that the whole thing represents something that was thought to have taken place in a mythical or celestial realm. My point in this post was not to argue for the historicity of the last supper tradition in detail, but to argue against the claim that some mythicists have made that it reflects a celestial rather than terrestrial event, and provides support for their claim that Jesus was originally thought of as a celestial, non-historical figure.

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

    Hjalti, what do you do with the fact that in the earliest Gospels, Jesus is not a "god"?What do I do with it?Be that as it may, I am certain that there was some sort of Christian reinterpretation of the meal in light of Jesus' death and the significance Christians came to attribute to it after the fact. The question is what if anything represents addition, what is traditional be reconfigured, and what if anything represents something historical.Right, and whether there was a Jesus or not, I can't but see this "reinterpretation" (if we asssume that it wasn't the original one) as something that was derived from mystery religions. But even if the entire meal tradition were a fabrication, that would not be the same thing as what some mythicists claim, namely that the whole thing represents something that was thought to have taken place in a mythical or celestial realm.I agree, I find the whole "It was a meal in heaven." rather suspicious.But OK, you are not discussing the historicity of the eucharist or the possibility that this is an interpolation here. You wrote to evan that you have discussed "issues of development and historicity in the last supper traditions" elsewhere, is that an article, paper or some blog-post?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Talk about eisegesis. You claim to be reading Paul accurately — yet you state he was lying when he says he received the tradition from the Lord.You claim to be reading Mark accurately — yet you ignore the start of his Gospel, which describes Jesus as the son of God. I submit that the ancients viewed the sons of God as divine. The Dioscuri have temples and festivals named after them, as does Hercules. Justin is clear that Jesus belonged in this group:"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Aesculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Caesar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre?"Note what Justin doesn't do here. He doesn't dispute the historicity of the tales told about the pagan divinities.Am I taking that out of context?

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

    Evan, you might want to add some research on Judaism to your investigation. It is one of the most frequent errors that those studying other times in history, or trying to communicate across language barriers, make, to assume that what a phrase means in one culture or language it means in the other.Hjalti, I actually thought I had blogged about this more than it seems that I have. But there are at least a couple of posts that address the issue of whether Jesus is likely to have foreseen his death, which is a crucial prior consideration to the question of whether he said anything to interpret it.

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

    Brian, I think it is very difficult to determine the extent to which John's chronology reflects historical reality, but there certainly are points at which the other Gospels imply a longer public activity by Jesus.The only place I have engaged the subject in depth is in my contribution to the second John, Jesus and History volume.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, it has always been my understanding that Justin was well within the mainstream of 2nd century Christian belief. If he were not, I would assume this statement would have been branded as heretical by other 2nd century Christians, or some later Christians. I am not aware of this happening, but I welcome your correction, should this be the case.

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

    Evan, if you are not willing to allow that a Gospel written much sooner after Paul wrote can legitimately be used to shed light on what Paul wrote, why are you bringing a second century author into the discussion?

  • NateP

    First time reading this blog…wondering why you, Dr. McGrath almost never (if ever) respond to the critiques of Vridar? Linking to his blog below doesn't really offer much of a defense to his analyses, which for my part, absolutely outdo your work on all accounts and at every level.Also I'd like to weigh in on this issue and simply say…Evan seems to be making a direct, coherent, and worthwhile case about methodology here, and Dr. McGrath seems to be obscuring of obfuscating the issue at hand, and simply repeating his assertion that mythicists are capable of eisegesis. Of course mythicists are capable of eisegesis, though. Even if he's right that this eisegesis often (and the frequency is debatable) occurs in regards to this 1Cor11 passage, the historicist position still has the dilemma before it that Evan raises. I don't see how Dr. McGrath can hold up the Pauline corpus as an independent witness to the historical jesus, without defining a brand new historiographic method that is utterly foreign to the field. I'm sure one could play the "I just don't buy the idea that positivism in necessary" card, but any historian of ancient history knows that positivism is the only acceptable currency in the historiographic economy. It is only faith-based subsets of history that justifies its own rival methodology where narrative sources don't require external corroboration.

  • NateP

    "…is necessary", not "in necessary", if that wasn't obvious. Sorry, I'm the typo king.

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

    NateP, welcome. I wonder whether your impression that I don't interact with Vridar is based on having read only a few recreant posts. Neil Godfrey and I have certainly had some extensive interactions.I believe that the impression that Evan (and/or Neil) is taking a stand for mainstream historiography is accomplished largely through sleight of hand. The quote mined from Hobsbawm gets discussed and placed in the context of Hobsbawm's work in one of my more recent posts, which you may find interesting.

  • NateP

    Where are these interactions. I would think you would at least have his blog as a followed blog on your profile if you want to be thought of as engaging (rather than dodging) his arguments.Let's make this simple – no quotes, no appeal to expert authorities, just a point blank question about method: Do you, Dr. McGrath, believe you can establish the historicity of an ancient figure with zero external corroboration of the sources first bring the figure to our attention? If not, please explain how this is not in fact the status of evidence for Jesus. If so, please explain how you feel entitled to such a method when historiography has time and time again rejected such a method's validity. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I must be missing a first century extra-canonical reference to the gospels or the epistles. I have never found one and I have asked you about them several times. The second century seems to be the first time either is discussed, so since Justin is about as early as I have found, he is the one I have mentioned. I am sure I am so ignorant I am failing to note some important first century witness to the gospels and I hope you correct me so I can see my error.Additionally, in your wide reading, which ancient Christian source disputed the historicity of the Dioscuri, Attis, Mithras, Hercules or other pagan figures?

  • Anonymous

    I think we can we use the various criteria (embaressment, coherence, ect.), The fact that the gospels depict a crucified messiah who erred in his eschatology is enough to prove that these Christians are not making this historical figure up. If Jesus was indeed nonhistorical than you'd think Luke wouldn't have gone through so much trouble to have Jesus born in Bethlehem or they could have made him more successful instead of being abandoned by his friends.Brian

  • Anonymous

    I don't know what you're talking about Evan you're analogy fails for the same reason the whole Paul mistaking Adam and Abraham as historical figures did. Jesus was a figure who lived recently hence when Paul talks about his resurrection he calls him the first fruit had Jesus lived long ago that would have made no sense. Especially since Paul believed in an iniment end.Brian

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

    Evan, Paul was not a Christian, at least in the very strict sense that the term doesn't even seem to have been coined yet when he wrote his letters. Paul was a Jew, and I believe that the appropriate place to look to understand what Jews meant by phrases like "son of God" is – first and foremost- Jewish sources.Christianity is not something static. It develops over time, and one of the things critical study of the New Testament has shown is that it is possible to find that the NT documents reflect different perspectives and views than what was later defined as orthodoxy.Scholars of religion regularly encounter similar phenomena across multiple cultures and periods in history, even when there is little or no chance of direct influence. In other instances, there is indeed influence, but the relationship is complex. And so I think the crucial question for our own interests in this discussion is not whether there is any similarity between Jesus and other figures, but whether they reflect direct borrowing to create a myth, the application of existing typologies and ideas to a real person, or simply the use of cultural norms of religious devotional terminology without an attempt to emulate or borrow from another specific tradition.

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

    NateP, I do think it is possible to make a historical case for the existence of a figure whom we know of only from textual sources – which in antiquity is pretty much everyone who was not part of the ruling elite. Obviously there will be less certainty in such instances, since such figures do not leave inscriptions and mint coins. But you will find that not all mainstream historians dismiss a priority the existence of Socrates, John the Baptist, Hillel, Peter or Jesus simply because they are only mentioned in texts. It is possible for a historian to make a case in such instances that the individual is more likely to have really lived than to be a fabrication. And then comes the harder part – sifting through the references to see to what extent we can separate material that is likely to be authentic from material that is not.Does that answer your question? Just read any mainstream textbook introducing historical study, and you should find some explanation of how historians proceed in such cases – as well as examples of the debates about them that inevitably ensue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    Do we have evidence that a Jesus, as described in the gospels (with their unhistorical, embellished & fictional many parts) existed? My answer is NO.Do we have evidence that a minimal Jesus, who through being credited of petty healing, through becoming seen by some as the replacement of John the Baptist, through the efforts by some activist Jews who saw him as the future King of the Kingdom of God (to come soon!), through his crucifixion (mostly due to the "disturbance" and the kingly claims about him), and through post-mortem beliefs & wishful thinking becoming "Lord", "Christ", "Son of God", "Saviour" (and of course saved in heaven!), all of that from common Gentile & Pharisaic beliefs, bits of the OT taken out of context, Philo of Alexandria writings, etc., existed? My answer is YES.Evidence for this minimal Jesus can been drawn from Paul's seven epistles, Mark's gospel & "Q". Other writings are mostly useless.External evidence? For a minimal Jesus, very little would be expected. However, despite (unevidenced) counter-theories, "the brother of Jesus called Christ, whose name was James" from Josephus' Antiquities is very likely valid. Furthermore, Josephus, as a young man living in Jerusalem, would have known James (as an elderly man then) and him being the brother of the one "called Christ".Tacitus & Suetonius' testimonies are also valid regarding the existence of Christians in Rome under Nero's rule.Bernard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    "I must be missing a first century extra-canonical reference to the gospels or the epistles."True, the writers were not dating their works. But that does not mean some of these works had to be written in the 2nd cent. at the earliest! Furthermore, internal evidence has to be considered also. And bits of external evidence can be found, in most case, to track closely the dating through the internal evidence. But I agree that regarding dating of ancient Christian texts, we have to use often evidence which is far from being overwhelming."I have never found one and I have asked you about them several times. The second century seems to be the first time either is discussed, so since Justin is about as early as I have found, he is the one I have mentioned. I am sure I am so ignorant I am failing to note some important first century witness to the gospelsHowever it can be argued (with evidence) that 'Ephesians', '2Thessalonians', 'Colossians', *'1Clement', *'Barnabas' epistle', *'Didache', *'Revelation', *'Luke's and Matthew's gospels', were written in the first century and contains elements from previously written epistles and gospels. (note: * means explained in my website). But I agree that these cannot be compared with "important" witnesses such as Justin & Irenaeus."Additionally, in your wide reading, which ancient Christian source disputed the historicity of the Dioscuri, Attis, Mithras, Hercules or other pagan figures?"Maybe, for some on the list, you are right. But it was not in the interest of apologists to antagonize Pagans. Those apologists wanted to defend Christian beliefs & Christians, not to get into more troubles!Paul acknowledged the alleged existence of other gods and lords (or these gods & lords were believed as true by Pagans) but still stressed that for Christians only one God and one Lord exist (implying the others are false!) in 1 Cor8:5-6"For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"–yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ …"Bernard

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

    And so I think the crucial question for our own interests in this discussion is not whether there is any similarity between Jesus and other figures, but whether they reflect direct borrowing to create a myth, the application of existing typologies and ideas to a real person, or simply the use of cultural norms of religious devotional terminology without an attempt to emulate or borrow from another specific tradition.For me, the crucial question is whether we can distinguish between “direct borrowing to create a myth” and “the application of existing typologies and ideas to a real person.” From our vantage point, I am not sure why we would expect them to look any different.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Evan (as my two previous posts),I submit that the ancients viewed the sons of God as divine. The Dioscuri have temples and festivals named after them, as does Hercules. Justin is clear that Jesus belonged in this group:"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. … [see Evan's post for cut content] … And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Caesar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre?"Note what Justin doesn't do here. He doesn't dispute the historicity of the tales told about the pagan divinities.On your later point:But Justin does just that a few paragraphs later:"Those who believe these things [tales about Pagan gods] we pity, and those who invented them we know to be devils.And Justin also wrote that Jesus Christ's (alleged by Pagans) myths" (some looking exactly like the ones about Pagan gods, such as virgin birth & resurrection) were "true" and therefore Jesus did not belong in this group (of alleged gods with myths):"we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation""we say true things: and that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will"Bernard

  • Anonymous

    Let's also be clear: there are anonymously authored, highly mythologized literary narratives written under clear theological and apologetic commitments without unproblematic relationship to known ancient genres; and there are literary sources written by authors who are themselves known to history, who cite sources, and who follow the accepted ancient conventions of an established genre such as a "life" or historiography. Would you agree, James, that there is a difference?It is possible for a historian to make a case in such instances that the individual is more likely to have really lived than to be a fabrication. And then comes the harder part – sifting through the references to see to what extent we can separate material that is likely to be authentic from material that is not.You present this as a two-step process, but in the case of HJ and NT scholarship, it isn't. The activity of "sifting through the references" is integral to the case that, in theory, you seem to agree should be made before the results of the "sifting" can be judged.–CJ O'Brien

  • http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php/Main_Page JoeWallack

    CJ:"Let's also be clear: there are anonymously authored, highly mythologized literary narratives written under clear theological and apologetic commitments without unproblematic relationship to known ancient genres; and there are literary sources written by authors who are themselves known to history, who cite sources, and who follow the accepted ancient conventions of an established genre such as a "life" or historiography."JW:And who exactly is your source for this.Joseph

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

    CJ, I am not sure if I've understood exactly where you are coming from, and so I apologize if I haven't understood what you were asking. But on the question of the two-step process, when we are dealing with a figure for whom our only sources are in the writings of others, our only way of ascertaining the likelihood of the figure's existence is to evaluate the likelihood that the textual information provided is reliable. If even some of it is likely to be historically accurate, then it would seem incongruous to suggest that we have information that probably contains a kernel of historical truth, but the person it relates to probably didn't exist. Does that answer your question? If not, let me know!

  • NateP

    No Doctor, that muddles the problem even worse, since you, a professor of a field founded on history, somehow miss the central tenets of "any mainstream textbook" in your field of expertise. This is very troublesome. I'll demonstrate…Jesus not being a politician/ruler does not make him a minor figure in any way. We date our calendar by his supposed life – he should garner more historians' attention then the endless train of Roman "elite", not less. He may not have had the monetary means to commission statues with inscriptions, but Joseph of Arimathea could have, had he been a true disciple of Christ. It was not at all uncommon in the Greco-Roman world to construct or commission an image, bust, or sculpture of a beloved philosopher or teacher, assuming one had the means. We have real corroboration of ancient figures (non-rulers) from this practice…why is it too much to expect of Jesus (if he truly raised from the dead and appeared to so many)? Surely a certain portion of his followers had the means to do so.Beyond that, your raising of these other "historical" figures only goes further to make my point.Socrates – historians will confidently say ALMOST NOTHING about the details of his life, precisely because we have such scant evidence of his historicity. His existence is likely, because there's not much to be gained in the historicizing of a philosophy. He made no claim on the lives of those he crossed, he simply offered his views of reality. Therefore, he historicity is more or less immaterial, and why little time is spent on the issue (relative to HJ studies).Hillel – we should take time here to note how you've minced words again…i asked about "establishing the historicity" of an ancient figure. you didn't say yes or no to that, but instead spoke of "making a case". Hillel is a good example of the difference. We can all make cases for his historicity (based on Talmud and Mishnah), but no historian equates this with establishing historicity. It's not a matter of enormous contention, because again, there is no historical detail concerning him which constitutes a claim to which followers must adhere. The same can be said of Shammai, his rival, and countless of other Mishnaic rabbis. We have no pressing need to ESTABLISH their historicity, so we live with the probabilistic tension (caused by lack of external sources).+ notice that Jesus is not the only figure whose establishing would be greatly consequential to further historical study! We couldn't construct a good history of the Hellenistic Period without establishing the historicity of Alexander. Likewise, there's no history of Imperial Rome without establishing Julius Caesar. The list of crucial agents of history could go on forever, but neither Hillel, Shammai, nor even Socrates are on that list. So like I said, we live with the tension of a probability, and with all the people you mentioned (including Peter and JtheB), we can easily afford to live with said tension. This is what the textbooks teach. But with figures of immense influence on history (and on our way of life, ostensibly), we cannot afford to forgo establishing historicity. So it is with Alexander, Julius Caesar, and more than any other figure in collective memory, Jesus the Christ.

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

    NateP, if you wish to discuss this subject in an academically rigorous fashion, you might begin by noticing what later sources add to earlier ones. Joseph of Arimathea is turned into a disciple of Jesus in later sources. In Mark's Gospel, he is simply a righteous member of the Jewish ruling council who ensures the law is followed, providing Jesus with a dishonorable burial.What Christians said about him later has no bearing on his historicity. Whether someone made a calendar based on him should not be allowed to sway things one way or the other.My argument is not for eliminating historical certainty, by the way, as I have emphasized countless times before. My point is simply that, as in the case of Socrates and others, it is possible to argue in probabilistic terms as to whether the figure having lived is more likely or his having been invented. If Jesus were a dying and rising god, we might evaluate things differently. But a crucified Jewish messiah son of David is a different kettle of fish, and I know of no historian who is familiar with ancient Jewish sources who thinks that such a figure is something that someone would make up and then proceed to seek to persuade their contemporaries to believe in.But from what you wrote, you aren't interested in the historical Jesus. The historical Jesus is a Jewish teacher, not a miracle worker or someone who rises from the dead. And so if you want to discuss historical study, you'll need to accept as a methodological principle that it is never going to find a miracle-worker and has no business looking for one.

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

    Sorry, that should be "historical uncertainty. The question is not whether we can have some sort of absolute certainty about Jesus having existed, but what we can conclude by weighing probabilities based on available evidence and using mainstream historical critical methods.

  • NateP

    "If even some of it is likely to be historically accurate, then it would seem incongruous to suggest that we have information that probably contains a kernel of historical truth, but the person it relates to probably didn't exist."Are you kidding me??? Have you ever taken a course that dealt with historical criticism of the OT? Are you going to act like there aren't myriad figures in the OT who are obviously mythical but are nonetheless situated in a narrative that contains "kernels of historical truth"? You can't actually deny that, can you? And if you don't deny it, then how can your suggested precept stand?

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

    NateP, I apologize that I apparently expressed myself so unclearly that you felt it appropriate to sarcastically ask me, even though I teach such subjects for a living, whether I had ever taken a class about that.I was not suggesting that characters in stories which have kernels of historical truth must have existed. Historical fiction regularly sets stories about fictional characters against the backdrop of real events.My point was that if there seems to be a kernel of historical information about something an individual said or did, then it makes no sense to say that that information about that individual is historically probable, while simultaneously maintaining that the figure's existence is historically improbable.

  • NateP

    "I know of no historian who is familiar with ancient Jewish sources who thinks that such a figure is something that someone would make up and then proceed to seek to persuade their contemporaries to believe in"uh, try Richard Carrier, a legit historian from a legit ancient history program. i don't mean this as aggrevated ad hominem, but just because a university or college claims to have a program in ancient history or literature doesn't mean they're doing/supporting more than an endeavor of apologetics with an eye to ancient sources. i think (and hope) you'll agree that these methodologies don't deserve to be called equals when the integrity of the social science is on the line."it makes no sense to say that that information about that individual is historically probable, while simultaneously maintaining that the figure's existence is historically improbable"problem is…you have no information about Jesus that is historically probable. you have some contingent possibilities, like "if he existed at all, he probably lived and moved in Galilee and at some point came to Jerusalem". those things would necessarily be true IF we could ever authenticate the NT documents. But since we can't (by the broader historiographic standards i've been harping on), there remain literally NO details of a HJ that aren't fully contingent on other claims. the historicity of the details completely rise or fall with the historicity of the figure himself. to suggest otherwise is the very confusion of historical method that i, and others, are bringing to your attention.

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

    NateP, you are absolutely right, I ought not to have said that I could not think of even one (although Carrier has yet to publish his current views on this and many other topics relevant to our discussion). Every fringe viewpoint, including the cdesign proponentsists and even young-earth creationists, have at least one legitimate PhD who will speak in their favor. And so I really ought to have kept the discussion focused on the overwhelming conns us, sorry.As for your last paragraph, that simply isn't true. Mythicists bend over backwards to suggest alternative, less plausible meanings or settings for Paul's references to having met Jesus' brother and other snippets of information. Any historian will tell you that what we have in this category is minimal, but that is what ultimately separates mainstream historical study from mythicism, the latter's determination to treat what little evidence we have in a manner that quite possibly only one historian of the ancient world finds it possible to take seriously.As for the matter of historical method, if you listen to Richard Carrier you'll understand where I agree with him against the likes of Neil Godfrey. Historical Jesus studies is doing what mainstream historical study does, and to make a plausible case for mythicism would involve redefining historical study, not getting those who study Jesus and early Christianity to adopt mainstream methods. we already do that, as Carrier has pointed out in a recent interview on Common Sense Atheism (a blog where I have also been interviewed, I should perhaps add).

  • Anonymous

    to make a plausible case for mythicism would involve redefining historical studyYou can't possibly be serious. Are you really saying that the only way to make a plausible case for Jesus of Nazareth originating as a literary fiction is to go out of bounds?! And you're saying that Carrier says this? The same Carrier who's working on a book intended to lay out how a plausaible case might be made given the methods of historical study? You get more dogmatic on this every time you write about it.If you really meant what you wrote there, can you illustrate for me a couple of principles of mainstrean historical study as it is currently practiced that would need to be thrown out or radically altered as part of this redefinition? I'm not talking about question-begging generalities I always get from you, like "historians deal with probabilities" or "the most straightforward interpretation of the evidence". I'm asking for specific, currently illegitimate methods or criteria that would have to be legitimized, across the board, for all historical inquiry, or specific currently practiced, mainstream methods that would have to be considered invalid, in order to make this hypothetical case plausible.–CJ O'Brien

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

    I am serious about what I said, but I don't think it came across clearly. certainly if the evidence were different, it might be possible to make a case for mythicism using mainstream historical methods.What I said is that Richard Carrier, in his recent interview, rejected the claim that mainstream historians and scholars investigating Jesus use different methods than those investigating other historical matters. And his aim is to redefine historical study in general and make it more rigorous and scientific using Bayesian analysis. Read or listen to the interview and the comments on it, and you'll see what I was referring to.

  • Anonymous

    I just read the transcript. I think you're equivocating. He appears to be saying that non-historian apologists make a mockery of historians' methods by making sloppy and invalid use of them. I mean, if my auto-mechanic and I both use a wrench, but he uses it to loosen and tighten nuts, and I use it to hammer nails, I guess "we're using the same tools".Anyway, I need to read it again more carefully, so I can address the specifics with some care lest I be accused of quotemining. Anyway, I'm not really wedded to this idea that non-Biblical historians don't ever make use of criteria like embarrassment and multiple attestation, if that's what you're on about. I think my main objections have more to do with the assumptions that are made prior to the use of criteria about the nature of the texts concerned and what exactly constitutes relevant background evidence, those sorts of questions.–CJ O'Brien

  • NateP

    I don't think the debate here hinges on the views of Richard Carrier, I only brought him up to disprove your gross generalization about historians. You conceded that, so fine, no need to appeal to other experts to make my argument for me.And to set the record straight. I'm not a mythicist. I am someone who lives in probabilistic tension in regards to Jesus. I just think the numbers suggest (only slightly) that character depicted in the canonical gospels did not really exist. There may have been some historical figure upon which the gospels are loosely based, but that's far from a Historical Jesus that you and other Christian scholars are searching for. I honestly think a decent case can be made from both sides (although "decent" is relative to the historian in question – Carrier just happens to make the most decent case I've come across so far)…the problem lies in what I stressed before. "Making a case" is lightyears away from establishing historicity. The former is of course possible, and as I said, there are decent HJ accounts out there. But the latter is next to impossible with the person of Jesus, which SHOULD put a halt to further construction of Christian history with an assumed HJ at its center. It SHOULD, but it doesn't, and that is the fact I'm decrying. Apologetics has no ground to stand on. Systematics loses most of its basis, since much of it depends on an HJ. If you want to put Jesus in a category with Socrates and Hillel – where we don't dare to suggest much about their personal histories but instead analyze the words and ideas ascribed to them – that's fine and good. But if you want to have Jesus in a category with people who had material influence on history (my examples were Alexander and Julius Caesar), then we have a problem. Jesus' existence (due to the sources available) does not enjoy the status of "established" (like Alex and Caesar), or even "safely presumed" (from which more historical construction would be warranted and feasible). It's simply not in the cards for Jesus. The probability is 50/50 (at best) in my view, and that's simply not strong enough statistically to start a whole enterprise of research/study based on the HJ premise (with entire schools and programs founded on them). Just do a thought experiment: What would happen if the 50/50 probability (or anything NEAR that ratio) were reality that seminaries and schools of theology were forced to accept? How would one proceed with half the courses offered in such places? What becomes of the Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, pneumatology, etc that's being taught to seminarians in an ordination track? I say they devolve into irrelevance (and I'm a graduate of one such institution), because they are founded, in part, on historical claims that have dubious probabilities at best.Although a bit of a rant, this is my main concern and proposal to you, Dr. McGrath. I would sincerely like to know how you react to my concern if you can relate to it, or how you can deny that this is the state of affairs if you don't relate.[as a relatively unimportant aside, in response to your middle paragraph in last response to me: a historical snippet about Paul does not count as information about Jesus' personal history. perhaps Paul did confer with a James. that shows nothing. perhaps James fabricated his relation to a Jesus of Nazareth. perhaps "brother of the Lord" didn't denote blood relation. any number of possibilities emerge, even if the meeting between Paul and him is confirmed. still, it's too far removed from the living/breathing Jesus in question to count as a point in your "minimal" case. beyond that, your case becomes an argument ad populum, combined with a general (and vague) appeal to authority.]But I REALLY hope you'll take a moment to reflect upon my suggested thought experiment and address my overall concern about Jesus studies. Thanks.

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

    NateP, if you aren't a mythicist and your interest is in the Jesus that Christians are looking for rather than the Jesus historians investigate, then perhaps you can explain to me why you came to this blog and started disputing my criticisms of mythicism, which are about historical study and have nothing to do with apologetics?As for your other points, you mention a lot of "perhapses". Those indicate that things might perhaps have transpired otherwise, and is one reason historical study, in the absence of (literally) solid evidence, leaves a great deal of room for uncertainty. But if you are suggesting at historians should not sift through the possibilities and render a judgment on which of them, if any, is more likely based on historical evidence, then you are in fact closer to mythicism, and further from mainstream stoical study, than you realize.

  • NateP

    Shame shame, Doctor. Your CV betrays you! You can't claim to be separated from apologetics (or let's say christian theology, since that's the real claim i was making) if you have done all this:1. You are first and foremost a professor of RELIGION, not history. By definition, your theological work PRESUMES certain things about Jesus, so it jumps the gun of what your historical inquiries can safely assert.2. The two endorsers of your book are 1) a Catholic theology expert and 2) a fairly conservative NT scholar…neither are historians.3. You attended a phd program where (possibly under Dunn) you studied Religious Studies – don't pretend that's another way to say "Ancient History". Even if your exegesis classes cover a lot of history, your theology classes (of all kinds) rely on the presumption of historical claims not yet established.4. When you taught New Testament in Romania, i know that wasn't a class in history. Don't pretend that it was.5. When you teach Revelation or the Gospel of John, that is not teaching history. That is teaching higher critical methods applied to a text (at best) and otherwise teaching the theological implications within those texts.Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with those courses, programs, etc. I loved being in them myself during my studies. They shouldn't be called apologetics, that's true. But they should be called endeavors of theology that DON'T DO history, but rather RELY on (extremely shaky) historical claims, so that they can center their discipline on the life and person of Jesus Christ.It's only right for you to be honest and forthright about your pursuits, Doctor.

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

    NateP, you seem not to be aware of the distinctions between religious studies/the academic study of religion, and theology. Although I have a connection with progressive Christianity which is no secret, and have even taught in theological schools in the past, that doesn't determine what sort of methodology I am using or what my current perspective is. Is Bart Ehrman a "theologian" simply because of where he studied as an undergraduate? And, for that matter, should Robert Price be dismissed since his studies and current affiliation are with theology programs? I hope that, if you are determined to avoid having anything to do with anyone who has potentially been "tainted" by the study of theology, you will at least do so consistently.Those who study religion, New Testament, Classics, and several other interdisciplinary types of degrees get training in and exposure to an array of approaches and methods. I think it would be rather silly to ignore anything that a Classicist says about Greek or Roman history because their degree says "Classics" rather than "History." But again, you are free to do silly things if you so choose.

  • NateP

    Whether these things I do are silly will ultimately be determined by time and by results. My prediction is that you will teach many students, but NOT ONE of them will go on to do anything influential in the field of history.-Not because you aren't a fine educator. I would bet that you are. And I'm sure you have the best of educational intentions as well.-And perhaps some students will go on to decent work in theology (possibly even ministry).But NONE will go on to do actual history. The excellent work of "interdisciplinary" scholars like Dunn still add nothing to the textbooks of history. They are consigned to the self-enclosed world of Christianity. "Religious studies" is just a euphemism at that point. And as for "Classicists", scholars like N.T.Wright are no more historians than Bultmann, or Barth, or the man on the moon. They are theologians who trade (at times) in historical currency. But they do so to buttress their theological agendas.Get back to me if my prediction is proven wrong. Until then, know that it's been proven right in too many places elsewhere to be called silly.

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

    Let's set everyone who straddles the boundary with theology aside. Which historians' published work on Jesus would you say typifies where you are coming from and draws satisfactory conclusions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    As a person with a BS in physics, and an MSEE in solid state and laser physics (no PhD though), I find it amusing concerning the statement "but NOT ONE of them will go on to do anything influential in the field of history". I thought those that major in history go on to teach history, but that is about it. I guess I am showing my ignorance. If someone was really influential in the study of history, they'd find a way to stop history from repeating itself, as in war after war after war.

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

    James, how do you put up with this nonsense?You should have stopped after noting that mythicysts (and nate is one despite his protestations to the contrary, much like his hero vridar) demand proof of Jesus' historicity while concocting scenarios based on layer after layer of nothing more than fevered imagination.It's not a serious argument. You should demand some real proof on their part that Jesus was invented, like a photo. Proof is not picking odd phrases out of the writings of people who almost certainly believed that Jesus was real and pretending that they mean something secret that had never been discovered before.

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

    Agreed. I think may feel some energy to matter thing is involved when determining that someone historically existed, like they are creating a person out thin air, and well ideas require so much less history. I feel however that saying and idea existed require the same level of evidence as a person or event. There is no preference for saying something is true of a text over saying something is true of a person. It seems that the folks are utterly credulous for any literary theory that supports their premise and only think skeptical when an idea is against it.

  • NateP

    There are no historians that typify my views. I am truly in the middle, influenced by mythicists, HJ proponents, and even the early First Quest thinkers. Even though his works are a bit dated, my journey of beliefs/conclusions probably follows most closely with Strauss. You may have heard that he wrote an award-wining dissertation about the details of the resurrection account, and then confessed that he didn't buy a single word of what he wrote. I had a similar experience with a thesis concerning the development of the Kingdom of God concept.So I wonder…what do you mean by "straddling the boundary with theology"? Are you denying being trained in theology more than history? Or are you saying you're trying to focus on history over against theology in your current work? Or neither?TOTtomdora…you don't seem worthy of reply, but I'll oblige anyway. First, I am not a convinced mythicist, I just lean that way. Secondly, how could Vridar be my hero when I just "met" him a few months ago? Calling him my hero is just a childish ad hominem. Lastly, if there is a burden of proof here, it's undeniably on the side trying to argue the historicity of anything. We don't start with an assumption of unicorns and Loch Ness Monsters until they're proven fictitious, do we? Go read up on the bases of empiricism, then you might have something to contribute to this conversation.

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

    NateP, the burden of proof is on the one who wants to propose the historicity of a Jesus myth. It cannot just be assumed Jesus was a myth if he is not proven to be historical. Since no document of antiquity describes a Jesus Myth, and all sources of Jesus tradition presume him to be a historical person, then the burden of proof is on the one who claims Jesus is not historical. With out serious evidence for a Christ Myth, there is no reason to consider it. Its popularity beyond the 3 or so Phd's that support it is a testament of the ability for belief to warp reason. If it weren't for people with religious hang ups, you would never hear about it.

  • Anonymous

    Isn't Robert Price one of those Ph.d's? And speaking of him, I always thought he wasn't being serious you could sort of tell that he's just trolling around especially in debates about the historicity of Christ. He seems like the kind of guy who's just in it for the laughs but you never know this could be an example of Poe's law.But I don't think shifting the burden of proof to those who affirm historicity is all that big of a deal, afterall we can handle said burden quiet well.Brian

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

    NateP, if one studies for a degree with such a theological sounding name as "Bachelor of Divinity" at the University of London, and choose mostly courses on Biblical studies and church history, then you will largely be trained in historical critical and literary critical methods. Biblical studies at some seminaries may cross the boundary into theology, but at most universities the two main disciplinary areas that are focused on are the tools for the academic study of literature and of history. And so, as would presumably also have been the case if I had studied Classics, the focus of my training was on how to study history and literature in an academically rigorous way. And as for my current work, it is indeed largely focused on historical questions.As for your first point, I can only say that if my views, or worse my approach, whether in the realm of the natural sciences, history, or something else, did not resemble those of any mainstream scholar working the field in question,I hope I would find that worrying rather than reassuring.

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

    Perhaps I should say more, since what one studies for a degree in any field must seem rather arcane to those outside it. By way of analogy, my department colleague who teaches ancient philosophy uses similar disciplinary tools to my own. To the extent that he studies philosophy or I study theology, it is the attempt to historically reconstruct the thinking of ancient authors and groups based on the texts they left behind. Neither of us has adopted the precise views of the ancient authors we study, and neither of us is attempting to persuade our students to do so. His field is "philosophy" and mine is "religion" but as far as the disciplinary tools we both use, they are drawn largely from history and other methods relevant to the study of ancient literature. Does that help clarify things at all?

  • NateP

    You're simply mistaken, MikeW. It's virtually axiomatic to take all affirmative claims as needing support. So it is your burden of proof not mine. There is nothing in the universe that should be presumed to exist until proven otherwise. Logic works the other way around. And the lens of faith is a much greater bias (demonstrably) than what you call "religious hang ups", which may or may not be present at all.

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

    And a Mythicist is making an affirmative claim that there was a mythical origin for Christianity. let me repeat that because I don't think that is soaking in. And a Mythicist is making an affirmative claim that there was a mythical origin for Christianity. This like saying, a number of ancient Romans studied Confucius. That claim requires evidence. Mythacist have presumed the Christ Myth without proving it or even showing it probable, and thus are illogical. A Christ mythacist has to present evidence for their view. The evidence for there view is far less than evidence for the view that Jesus was a person. Since we seem to be limited to two possible explanations, Jesus was a Person or Jesus was a myth, it is logical to conclude Jesus was most probably a person. You can claim you don't have to argue for your position, but know respectable scholar would agree with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To NateP,There is nothing in the universe that should be presumed to exist until proven otherwise.Are you saying because an earthly/human Jesus cannot be proven to exist, the default position has to be a non-existent Jesus?Of course a mythicist will never accept Paul's mentionning Jesus as a man, a Jew, brother of James (also from Josephus), descendant of a woman, Abraham, Jesse, David & Israelites, so Jesus cannot be proven, which is self-serving.What about:There is nothing in the universe that should be presumed not to exist until not proven otherwise.Simplifying the last cause with two negations (not & otherwise, cancelling each other):There is nothing in the universe that should be presumed not to exist until proven (not to exist).Bernard

  • NateP

    MikeW and Bernard, I fear you're both losing your marbles."Are you saying because an earthly/human Jesus cannot be proven to exist, the default position has to be a non-existent Jesus?"No I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the burden of proof lies with the person making an affirmative proposition, insofar as we even care about the implications. I don't care about the existence of Socrates, for example, so I have no default position on his historicity. If someone wants me to operate with the premise of his historicity, then it is their responsibility to make a strong enough case to establish his historicity, then we can go from there. I don't need to prove his fictitousness, not because that's a "default position", but rather because the issue is not that pertinent to me or most philosophers for that matter.Now Mike, a true mythicist might make an affirmative claim about how the myth of Jesus got historicized, but I am not such a person. I am under no burden to explain how Jesus was a myth. Historicists are the ones making an affirmative claim (though implicitly), and this happens BEFORE any would-be doubter or skeptic has the opportunity to respond. If you want to rewind to before either are made (claim & response) then we have a figure mentioned in some texts. Fine. At that point, Jesus is in the same category with people like Socrates. A burden of proof only arises when someone thinks it important enough to consider explore the historicity question. And once they do, they CANNOT say "since this person is mentioned in texts, i can assume they existed until i see evidence to the contrary." No no no. Since they raised the issue, they are making the affirmative claim, and they inherit the burden of proof. If you don't want to accept it, then you need to leave Jesus as a character within a text, and leave his existence or non-existence as an unanswered question. You can't have it both ways.And no Bernard, you can't change things up to a more convenient methodology just because you're unhappy with the scarcity of your corroborating evidence. [for future reference, how does one turn words to boldface in the posts? i'd rather do that than the annoying all-caps for emphasis]

  • NateP

    Dr. McGrath,I sorta see what you're getting at, but I suspect you're still fudging the reality a bit…"if one studies for a degree with such a theological sounding name as "Bachelor of Divinity" at the University of London, and choose mostly courses on Biblical studies and church history, then you will largely be trained in historical critical and literary critical methods"I for one studied at an institution far more progressive (less influenced by its religious heritage) than any in London, in fact I was advised to disregard phd programs in the UK because they are more conservative than any top tier program in the US (besides Princeton, perhaps), and I took mostly Biblical Studies classes and Biblical languages, with a smattering of church history, systematics, and ethics thrown in as degree requirements. But both the Biblical studies and the church history classes are much more about theology than you're letting on. If you compare them to secular counterparts on campus that study literary and historical criticism regarding other time periods, you can see the difference plainly. Those two critical disciplines are applied very differently to the Bible (and to patristic texts) than they are to any secular subject matter on a given campus. You can deny or argue semantics all you want, but I know active students/scholars at Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Columbia, Chicago, Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, Emory, Duke, Northwestern (Garrett), and plenty self-proclaimed conservative seminaries across the country…and despite that being an extremely wide spectrum (left right leanings), all these people will report the same difference in their coursework. The methodology applied to religious material is NOT the same as the methodology applied to secular material. I have a hard time believing that Butler and your chosen associates at other schools have successfully bridged that gap where these other schools have not."Neither of us has adopted the precise views of the ancient authors we study"That's really not what's at issue, because you can agree or disagree with Jesus' ideas on many other grounds besides historical ones. I wouldn't hold it against you if you were compelled by the teachings of the NT after doing a literary analysis of them. What's at issue is methodology, not so much the conclusions we make and apply to our personal convictions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To NathanP,Why should you operate according to the premise of Jesus' historicity? And if he ever existed, what are you afraid of? I think Mohammad existed, but I have reasons to believe he did not get revelations from God, and consequently not become a Moslem. And we have a few pieces of data about Socrates (at least one not complimentary) from others than Plato, and before the later used him a lot for his philosophic discussions, putting words in Socrates' mouth, and, as a side effect, elevating him greatly. So yes I dare to think Socrates existed, but certainly not as Plato made him.What about Jesus? I think he existed, but not with pre/post-existence and not with the many additions to his account and many words put in his mouth. That allowed me also to understand how Christianity started, because I did not have to trash all the gospels and 'Acts', with their evidence and historical thread, just because they mention a HJ. And more than ever, be certain in my mind that Christianity is all bunk (and why, step by step, over and over).I am not unhappy about the corroborating evidence (why do you think otherwise?) and my stated one-sentence methodology is as valid as yours. That is you need to have affirmative evidence on your own to reject the non-existence (other than a lack of statues. Do you know of statues of Josephus, John the Baptist, Philo of Alexandria, the high priests? Actually the Jews abhorred human representation. It seems you are the one who cannot come up with corroborating evidence about the non-existence).The problem is that Mythicists are asking for truck loads of evidence which could only be supplied if Jesus lived in modern time.You can bold words as such your words without the dots!. Replace the 'B' by 'I' for Italics.Bernard

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

    NateP, if you aren't willing to say where you studied it is hard to make comparisons. My own experience suggests that there is sufficient diversity in institutions, as well as sometimes significant differences even in the same institution if it has both a seminary/divinity school and a department of religious studies, that make it problematic to generalize about liberals and conservatives on a national scale. But I will say that, at least among mainstream scholars, there is significant interaction between historians and scholars of Christianity, of Judaism, of Gnosticism, of Greco-Roman religion and history, and so I fail to see how it is remotely plausible to suggest that those studying religion historically are not applying the same methods of historical criticism, and yet the only people who seem to be aware of it are bloggers but not scholars.In my experience, academic programs in religion are full of people who were once connected with Christianity but now are no longer. They are happy to present their conservative Christian students with material that undermines their faith. If they found the case for mythicism plausible, they would present it happily. The reason they don't is not because of religious sympathies, but a desire to be intellectually rigorous.I hope that at some point you will further explore what secular historians have to way about Jesus. I am persuaded that there is a reason why it is not only Christians who are persuaded that Jesus existed, and it is the same reason not only atheists accept that evolution happen and is happening. It is because the evidence points in that direction. Obviously with ancient history there is far more room for uncertainty than with biological processes that can be observed and studied in the present. But that doesn't mean that in history all conclusions based on the available evidence are equally plausible. Although agnosticism as the default position makes sense in a way mythicism does not, I personally don't find the available evidence quite so ambiguous as to leave no choice but to feel completely uncertain.

  • Anonymous

    Undermines the faith how, such as showing that eyewitness did not write the gospels or Moses did not write the Pentanteuch? If so than, I as a somewhat Orthodox Christian have nothing to fear.Brian

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

    "And once they do, they CANNOT say "since this person is mentioned in texts, i can assume they existed until i see evidence to the contrary.""But Alas they do, hence you will find few studies into the historicity of Julius Caesar, William the Conquerer, George Washington, or George Bush. That they are real people is just taken for granted. no one is going to try and be the first to publish a paper titled "The proof that George Bush is a historical person". There is simply no doubt in the historical community, in spite of no one making a published peer reviewed case for this. In fact, if you claimed Bush didn't exist, the burden of proof would be on you. If you claimed that there isn't enough evidence to make the case for Bush's existence, the burden of proof is on you. If you claim a reasonable person might have doubt Bush exist, the…well you get the picture. history is no place for the intellectually lazy.

  • NateP

    Bernard, you're just wrong. This is getting tiresome, like having to spell out why 2+2=4."The problem is that Mythicists are asking for truck loads of evidence which could only be supplied if Jesus lived in modern time."Just plain wrong. We have already discussed many figures of Jesus' day that we have established the historicity of, because we have material evidence, or corroborating external controls. I can't waste time reminding you of what's been covered already. Just read everything again if you've forgotten. Material evidence is not only statues, there's all kinds of options in that category, and they could easily be expected of Jesus if he was as influential as the Gospels claim. I'm not afraid of his existing…I AM NOT A CONVINCED MYTHICIST…stop labeling me that. I'm only arguing that you can't proceed with further analysis of his person/ideology as if his historicity is established when it's still a very very open question by historiographic standards. I'm making a claim about proper method and rhetoric (i.e. grounds and warrants), that is it. Please stop expanding the issue and stay on point if you want to keep talking.

  • NateP

    Dr. McGrath, I'm not interested in your making comparisons. Rest assured that I went to one of the schools in that short list. I'm not saying where because I have a respect for my professors, and I don't want them personally implicated in my claim that "Biblical Historians" aren't really legitimate historians. They are fine men and woman, but those that work in seminaries, schools of theology and divinity schools are not abiding by the same historical standards that they're secular counterparts are. I am in fact calling into question the legitimacy of their fields and their posts, so I'd like to keep folks unnamed, lest they think I have a lack of respect for them. You might not agree with my rationale, but this is my personal decision and I need not justify it to anyone here. But I promise you my experiences are genuine, not concocted, and I wasn't exaggerating one iota about the reports of my colleagues at all those schools.And as for this supposed collaboration between scholars of Christianity and their secular counterparts…you are just making this up or grossly overstating the reality. Why do you think we have separate schools for subsets of history dealing with religious claims? We call them Divinity schools, and for good reason! A university's history department is not divided into different time periods and geographic locations (like one school for Asian dynasties, one school for the Roman empire, and one school for Viking studies). No, secular history is generally all put under one department, and students choose their focus by the classes they select. The Bible/Church/Christianity gets its own school because of it's religious dimension. You may also see a separated entity for Jewish Studies or Islamic Studies. Let me be clear – there is nothing inherently objectionable about this. I think the logic is that such a field of story will go beyond mere questions of historical fact and will pursue analyses of the principles of the religion as well as its praxis. I entered graduate school with the assumption that these analyses are incredibly worthwhile endeavors, BECAUSE I thought their historical foundation (the person of Jesus) was solid and incontestable. During my time there, and through studying history (sources in original language, as well as historical method and epistemology to undergird it all), I found that Jesus' historicity is nowhere near incontestable. We might disagree about the exact numbers in the probability…but since we've trodden very similar roads (in terms of coursework), I think we can at least agree that the probablitity is considerably lower than what one would need to call it established. If you want to give legitimacy to the subsequent disciplines of theology (christology, soteriology, etc.), whether or not they are your personal interest (I presume you don't object to them being taught in your Religious Studies program?), then we need to do more than "make a case". Anything short of ESTABLISHING Jesus' historicity fails to legitimize the bulk of a Divinity school's curriculum, which of course stem from important historical claims.Maybe a provocative (if somewhat silly) analogy would be helpful. If I came to you and said, "my reading of texts about Hercules inspires me so much that I'd like to design some classes that examine his very nature (was it human? divine? demigod?) and how that nature affects anyone who follows him today"….I would HOPE you would interject something: "Nate, we have good reasons to believe that Hercules never existed, so that sorta quashes the value of examining his nature."Now I know this drives us back to the differing probability numbers we have, but can you at least agree that the analogy makes a valid point (modulo the probability difference)? And do you therefore see why the connection of "Biblical history" to theological study is problematic and a fair concern for me to have?

  • NateP

    oops…that should say "field of study", not "field of story". haha. a freudian slip perhaps, but not an intended pun.

  • NateP

    Mike, in order to avoid saying things that are bound to be insulting, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you don't really mean half the things you type. You got a great sense of humor, therefore, jokingly putting American presidents in with folks like Caesar. Really, that is quite witty of you. But some of us here are trying to get to the bottom of a serious question, so although you've displayed great comedic talent in that last post, we really should gather ourselves and stay serious.

  • Anonymous

    We'd have reason to believe that Hercules existed if we had documents written within the time period he supposedly lived you know something like Galatians or Thesolians which was written within twenty years of the crucifixion, but if you want to believe Hercules was a historical person be my guest.As for your concerns they aren't worth being listened too.

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

    NateP, Thank you for your most recent comments. I didn't want to make any comparisons – you were the one who suggested that all schools in a particular category or country could be generalized about, and I wanted to resist stereotyping, nothing more.It sounds like you had to work much of what you say out on your own. I wonder how much the difference of outlook I have is a result of the fact that as I was wrestling with the fact that much that takes place at more conservative theological schools and in Christianity has slim historical foundations, I had the privilege of reading authors who were themselves academics wrestling with that issue. Lessing's ugly ditch is by no means a new discovery or one that has been neglected by those doing historical critical study in connection with Christianity. But I am certainly aware that once you get outside of the Biblical studies classrooms, it can seem as though the historical issues are being completely ignored. And alas, one major reason why relatively few Christians (in some denominations more than others) are aware of the historical difficulties is that, even if their ministers are are of them, they have been taught to preach as though none of that matters.Let me also add that I am relieved that you aren't a mythicist, and I share your hope that MikeW will stop mentioning Julius Caesar. :-). Neither Hercules nor him are good examples of the state of evidence for a figure like Jesus. Jesus lines up somewhere between John the Baptist and Socrates if we put them on a spectrum of how strong the evidence for their having lived is, in my opinion.

  • NateP

    You mean the crucifixion that we assume occurred in the 30s CE, which is only attested in the Gospels themselves? You mean that crucifixion? Are you aware that some actually make the argument that the crucifixion didn't happen? That's what the mythicist debate is about, Anonymous. If first 1Thess a/o Gal are written circa 50, then they are twenty years after another proposed (not established) event. An early dating of the first epistles does not buy you any further leverage.

  • NateP

    Doctor, you left the upshot of your last post a little nebulous. We both agree that comparisons and generalizations don't get us very far. And you appear to concede that there's a problem in Christian teaching/preaching but I couldn't tell if you were divorcing it from the common (virtually ubiquitous) structure of divinity schools and religious studies programs. I don't think it can be divorced, so I'd like you to clarify, if you would, about that. Do you or do you not see the subsequent forms of theological study being inevitably hindered by the pile and unanswered (if not unanswerable) questions about the HJ?As to Lessing's ditch, I think we should note that he was speaking about miracles (as an evidence of God) and the difficulty of substantiating them with historical study. I believe Lessing knew the work of Reimarus, and that's enough to get you started with the problems of the NT as historical source material. Beyond that, I just don't see how can say his dilemma "has [not] been neglected by those doing historical critical study [of Jesus]". I would say, given all we know about how mainstream schools of theology are structured, and the invariant reports of how all the top religion programs operate, we must say that "neglect" is the perfect way to describe the modern treatment of Lessing's ditch.If you truly don't see eye to eye with me on that, please explain how that doesn't constitute neglect. Or if you question the evidence that I'm submitting to define the state of affairs in academia…please clarify your disagreement.

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

    Since we seem to be limited to two possible explanations, Jesus was a person or Jesus was a myth, it is logical to conclude Jesus was most probably a person.Mike,I think that this is the heart of my problem with the historicist argument. It is true that existence and nonexistence are mutually exclusive choices but we are not obligated to choose either one. It may be that the logical choice is to declare that the source material is insufficient to render a verdict either way. It may be logical to conclude that Jesus’ historicity is as lost to us as that of King Arthur of Camelot, Paul Bunyan, and Ned Ludd.The only way I know of to go about showing that agnosticism is the most logical choice is by trying to build a mythicist case and comparing its explanatory power to that of the historicist case. I find that there are some things, like Paul’s silence, that mythicism explain much better. Moreover, I think that mythicists are correct in pointing out how thin the evidence is for many of the conclusions that historicists draw. However, there are plenty of issues that the mythicists address less convincingly.I don’t think that the positive case for a purely mythical Jesus can ever be much more than an intriguing possibility because the mythicists are handicapped by the problems with the sources just as much as the historicists are. The only mythicists for whom I have any respect acknowledge that eliminating the possibility that there was a historical Jesus with any degree of confidence is just as forlorn a hope as eliminating the possibility that there wasn’t. I think they are really just making a case for historical Jesus agnosticism.One of the refrains I hear from the historicists is “We have to go with the evidence.” My answer is “Not necessarily.” If the evidence is problematic and insufficient to eliminate alternative possibilities, then we shouldn’t go with it. We should say “Even though the gospels point to Jesus being a historical person, it is hard to feel secure about conclusions drawn from source material that is infused with so much mythology.”I think that NateP makes a great deal of sense. He is not a mythicist as far as I can tell. He is an HJ agnostic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To NateP,Sorry if I annoyed you but I have to answer your latest post to me.Material evidence is not only statues, there's all kinds of options in that category, and they could easily be expected of Jesus if he was as influential as the Gospels claim.But I took great pains explainining this Jesus was not necessarily as described in the gospels, but a much lesser Jesus, who by a set of circumstances and some flukes (notably his crucifixion as king of the Jews), provided a start for the development of Christianity. So your aforementioned argument, with its qualifier, would not work for a minimal Jesus, more so if he was not normally buried (many times the only material evidence about the past existence of person dead long ago is his/her tomb).Please note if I answered about your expectation of statues, it was not by malice, but because it was the only thing you mentioned in this blog about expected material evidence.I want to add here that I compared the role of Jesus (in regards to the outset of Christianity) to the one of a woman from Alabama. From my website:"By a simple act (remaining seated in a bus, then arrested), Rosa Parks (a humble seamstress then) provided the spark which gave birth to the momentous modern Civil Rights Movement, led by others from the start. Decades later, she was considered its "Mother" and revered as an icon, despite the fact she withdrew from it early on."Sure, I have to admit, Rosa did not get worshipped as the "Daughter of God", but I hope you get the idea. Few "historians", if any, have followed this concept (maybe Dr. McGrath can set me straight on this).Bernard

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

    NateP, in my experience there is a difference between how these matters are treated in religious studies programs at institutions with no religious affiliation or divinity school, and how they are treated at religiously affiliated institutions. And even at the latter, there can be an enormous difference between the historical uncertainty expressed in a class about the historical Jesus, and the total neglect of that uncertainty in a class on systematic theology or homiletics.My reference to Lessing was simply an allusion to a classic instance of someone discussing historical issues for Christians in a prominent, open fashion. For a current example focused on more general historical uncertainty, Dale Allison's recent book seems to address that directly and openly.My point is simply to indicate that, while there are individuals and institutions that are downplaying these issues, it is not my experience that all are. The Jesus Seminar provides a fairly well-known example of a group that felt it could be confident about very little that Jesus said or did.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    "Are you aware that some actually make the argument that the crucifixion didn't happen?"Some have made arguments that the earth is flat. Shall we then be doubful (or agnostic) about a spherical earth?Anyone can make arguments against prevaling &/or proven things.For HJ crucifixion, we havea) Jerusalem was a place in these days where people were crucified.b) Somebody who would make a disturbance in the temple, plus believed by some to be a king-in-waiting, was very likely to be executed.c) The earliest Christian writings stated Jesus was crucified.You need a lot of powerful arguments to overcome that!That's a tactic which is used often (but wrong methodology!) by Mythicists & others. It goes:If I can raise any kind of doubt/argument against a prevailing notion (even if it is well documented & accepted), that means this notion is off the table!Bernard

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

    Vinny, saying that a thing is not known or cannot be determined with any reliability is a viable option. There is no consensus on the relationship between the legend of King Aurthur and all the potential sources of that legend, be it Roman generals, warlords, or Celtic myth. One need not be a Homer Mythasist to say you can't be sure if the author of the Iliad was named Homer or something else, whether he/she was blind or could see. The sources are that imprecise. To direct toward NateP, yes I was serious, and back to Homer, at one point Homer's authorship was the consensus and it was later researchers that established that the sources are not good enough to allow that identification to be sure. We inherit an accumulated body of knowledge from the past and are not obligated to dismiss it all each generation and prove it all again. instead we should investigate and challenge consensus views, but until they are successfully challenged, they remain as part of the accumulated facts of our society.And agreed, no more Julius Caesar or Heracles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Vinny,"One of the refrains I hear from the historicists is “We have to go with the evidence.” My answer is “Not necessarily.” If the evidence is problematic and insufficient to eliminate alternative possibilities, then we shouldn’t go with it. We should say “Even though the gospels point to Jesus being a historical person, it is hard to feel secure about conclusions drawn from source material that is infused with so much mythology.”On your last point, I agree, as long as it is regarding the issue of embrassing or rejecting Christianity. But I do not think it is valid regarding researching how Christianity began. Part of the evidence might be problematic and insufficient, and not defining with certainty who HJ was or was not, but it is there (you forgot to include Paul's letters which mention a minimal Jesus, at a time human and earthly). As far as possibilities, well, they can be dreamed up for and against anything. In any case, I would not considered ill-documented possibilities as counter-evidence.For me, in view of the evidence for a HJ, as compared with evidence against it, the HJ existence comes way on top. But questions remain: He existed, but as what? What was his role in starting Christianity?Obviously the gospels are not reliable but they contain pieces (more so from Markan material) which are acceptable after critical analysis. And many of these pieces can be put in sequence, and together with other historical factors, would explained how a minimal HJ (not a teacher, not with divine power, but lower class Jew & accidental petty healer) would trigger, by others, the beginning of Christianity.Bernard

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

    For me, in view of the evidence for a HJ, as compared with evidence against it, the HJ existence comes way on top. But questions remain: He existed, but as what? What was his role in starting Christianity?I think there will always be more evidence for a person’s existence than his non-existence. You would never even suspect that a person didn’t exist unless you first had some basis to think that he did, and I think it would usually be the absence of evidence in places you expect to find it that aroused your suspicions.For me the question is not whether there is more evidence for a historic Jesus than against, but whether there is enough evidence for a historic Jesus to make it meaningful to talk about what he actually said or did rather than to talk about what people believed about him. I don’t see it.Paul’s letters do seem to mention a Jesus who was human and earthly at one time. By the same token, Joseph Smith’s writings refer to a Moroni who was human and earthly at one time, but the source of Smith’s knowledge was his claimed encounter with a supernatural being who had once been the earthly and human Moroni. The source of Paul’s knowledge about the once human Jesus might have been better than that, but I think that it’s difficult to be certain that it was. He doesn’t seem to claim that he had any more reliable sources for a historic Jesus than supernatural revelation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Vinny,I must confess that the possibility that Paul invented a human/earthly Jesus, minister to Jews and crucified as Christ, took me by surprise. I never had to face that before.Considering only Paul's letters, we have Gal1:19. The James in it is corroborated in Josephus' Antiquities, chapter 20. You have to reject that evidence, because if Paul met Jesus' brother, he would likely get info from him about HJ (if Paul did not know yet about HJ!). James' visit in Gal1:19 might have been short, but according to Gal2:9, that James was in cahoots with Peter/Cephas. The later had many opportunities to learn about HJ from James (if Peter did not know already about HJ, contrary to the gospels evidence). And Paul stayed with Peter/Cephas for fifteen days (Gal1:18), certainly long enough to be told everything about HJ.So the evidence is here, without looking at the latter gospels. I suppose there are other arguments against the possibility of Paul inventing a human Jesus, but I do not have anything in my mind now.And I do not think Smith claimed he met Moroni's brother, person to person, as Paul met James.Bernard

  • NateP

    Bernard, I have no interest in your "Lesser Jesus", especially if you're going to ascribe him only circumstantial impact like that of Rosa Parks. I don't see why he would be worth studying if there is nothing truly unique about his person (whether he's divine or not). If you think things like the atonement of death, his resurrection, and his expected Parousia (in any form) are fictions added on to a regular Galilean bloke, and that those added fictions contributed to the felicitous growth of Christianity (probably more than the deeds of the actual HJ did)…then fine, I have no problem with such an HJ. But the point then becomes…WHY SHOULD WE CARE? Why study such a minimally influential figure? Why even read the New Testament, as if it has spiritual wisdom to impart, when you're acknowledging that the figure described is embellished to a large degree? Maybe time will prove me wrong, but I don't think that, even hundreds of years from, people will become scholars of Rosa Parks (or of any embellished stories that arise around her).I guess I don't see why you, or anyone who shares such a minimal HJ view, remain interested in the hunt as it were.

  • NateP

    Man, I'm still the Typo-King:*atonement of his death*hundreds of yours from nowBoth obvious, I'm just a little embarrassed 😉

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

    NateP, your latest statement is anti-human and anti-life. This is like finding a 1000 year old diary and dismissing it as of no value if the person writing it was not a great figure. People have a value beyond their legendary super powers. And minimally influential is a Joke, this person, that you are willing to accept as a person, if as we do, affirm he did no magical deeds. But the memory his person is one of the core symbols of our society. That little snow flakes rolled into a giant avalanche. And I hope in the future people do become scholars of Rosa Parks, because what she did started a beautiful movement.

  • NateP

    Dr. McGrath,"in my experience there is a difference between how these matters are treated in religious studies programs at institutions with no religious affiliation or divinity school, and how they are treated at religiously affiliated institutions"Of course this is the reality, but it's precisely why I was sure to list schools on both sides of this fence, with the common denominator being the lack of responsible communication of historical findings to those colleagues who engage in the resultant theological disciplines."even at the latter, there can be an enormous difference between the historical uncertainty expressed in a class about the historical Jesus, and the total neglect of that uncertainty in a class on systematic theology or homiletics"I would actually expect that chasm to be greater in conservative schools than at more progressive ones, but that's somewhat beside the point. My point IS that, insofar as the historical uncertainties are present at a given institution, they should PREVENT the "neglect of that uncertainty" from happening. What good is it to be colleagues with someone in an adjacent field if they aren't heeding the implications of your findings for their work? It's your responsibility as a Biblical history scholar to pass on these many uncertainties to your colleagues, and it's their responsibility to appropriate those findings as they make speculations about the theological Christ. My point is that I seldom see that happening, across the board from liberal to conservative schools. Rather I see everyone operating with a presumption of the HJ that fits best with their theological framework, and I dare say this is a mockery of good social science.And I'm glad you raised the Jesus Seminar – it's existence makes my point perfectly for me! Something like the Jesus Seminar is only possible OUTSIDE the context of a given school or program. Although it is comprised of professors from various schools/programs, it is not responsible for integrating its findings into an overall curriculum that's then delivered to its paying students. If all Jesus studies occurred in a context like the Seminar's, I would be a happy camper, but alas such a ideal is unattainable, and my complaint against Religious Studies programs remains.

  • NateP

    The fact that what she did was beautiful, and later gained momentum into a movement, does not make the figure worthy of scholastic study. That is just absurd, Mike. Same with this minimal Jesus idea (remember, this is Bernard's proposal, not mine). He maybe said some profound things and inspired things across the land. However, we could a graveyard the size of Texas with such figures of the past, figures that largely go unnoticed by future generations. What Bernard is saying about the composition of the NT amounts to saying this: the only thing that separates Jesus from this mass grave of forgotten teachers is the fact that his story took off where others' didn't (like "an avalanche" if you like). But that is to the credit of the NT authors, not to Jesus himself. That is the point! If it weren't for their cunning and skill, we would never care about such a Jesus centuries later. And indeed such a Jesus would be worth forgetting.

  • NateP

    Wow, Typo-King at it again:*inspired people – not things, haha.*we could make a graveyard.

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

    We don't know any thing about the others. That is why he is historicly valuable. He was a common man that is depicted in some of the riches buildings in Europe. That makes him all the more facinating. He is one of only a handfull of such figures in history, whose ideas were the seeds of the worlds great religions.

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

    NateP, I don't find that your description of the academy matches my own, but of course, we all extrapolate from our own experiences, and so I have no doubt that we are both right, in a sense, but it would still be worth trying to figure out whether your impression is typical and whether the experience it is based on is widespread.Bob Funk graduated from Butler University, and was a graduation speaker here shortly before he passed away. In my class on the historical Jesus, we do not only discuss the Jesus Seminar, we take a day to reenact it's methods, using M&Ms; to vote (we call ourselves the Jesus SeM&Minar;). I know a member of the Jesus Seminar who teaches at another institution here in Indianapolis, and can say with confidence that in his case, he does not set aside his work with the seminar and pretend to hold different views in the classroom.Collaborative endeavors like the Jesus Seminar are only challenging to organize because of the logistics that face any attempt to bring significant numbers of people together. But while some obvious and unsurprising criticisms have been leveled at the Jesus Seminar by conservatives, it should be pointed out that there has also been a lot of critical response to the Seminar from the mainstream academy. The aim of the Seminar is partly theological, and the desire to find a Jesus who could be followed, rather than the apocalyptic prophet who expected the end of the world in the lifetime of his hearers, resulted in Funk bringing together hand-picked scholars and other individuals in a fashion that was open to criticism not for being insufficiently conservative, but for being insufficiently scholarly, minimizing the presence in the Seminar of one of the most widely held views of the historical Jesus.Whichever of our experiences is more typical of the academy, the truth is that many mainstream historical Jesus scholars criticize the Jesus Seminar for finding the Jesus they wanted to, in much the way conservative scholars do, by organizing their own hand-picked group of scholars with particular views. It still seems to be the majority viewpoint among historical scholars that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet no more conducive to Liberal Christianity than to more Conservative varieties.

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

    Bernard,I think Paul is telling the Galatians that they should look to him as their sole source of information about the gospel because he knows by revelation everything there is that is worth knowing. I don’t think that he could have been that dismissive of his predecessors in the faith if he actually believed that they had been disciples of the human Jesus during his earthly ministry.If we only had Paul’s letters to go by, I don’t think we would ever conclude that Christianity originated with the earthly ministry and teachings of an itinerant preacher in first century Palestine. Rather, I think we would conclude that it originated in visions and revelations of a divine being that were experienced by Paul and some others. Like Moroni, this being was thought once to have been a man who walked the earth, but it was only the fact that he was once a man that was theologically important, not what he said and did when he was a man. In that context, it seems unlikely (although certainly not impossible) to me that Paul intended his reference of “the Lord’s brother” to designate a biological relationship rather than a spiritual. I just don’t see anything else to suggest that Paul thought the human Jesus was a contemporary of people he knew.It seems to me that Paul’s claims to having visions and exclusive revelations from God is sufficient reason to consider that the possibility that he suffered from some sort of psychological or personality disorders along the lines of a Joseph Smith or a David Koresh, and that he may have invented much more than he is commonly given credit for inventing.

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

    Vinny, how seriously do you take that "if" at the start of your second paragraph? It sometimes seems as though you actually believe we only have Paul's letters to go by.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To NateP,Bernard, I have no interest in your "Lesser Jesus", especially if you're going to ascribe him only circumstantial impact like that of Rosa Parks. I don't see why he would be worth studying if there is nothing truly unique about his person (whether he's divine or not).I totally agree. This Jesus is not worth studying, not just because he was just a lower class non-divine Jew with a 15 minutes fame (due to a set of circumstances, most of them beyond his control), not just because he was uneducated & therefore not a teacher (most sayings, all parables –as fully explained on my website– and all discourses were invented), but because so little reliable stuff can be known about him through the gospels, regarding his character and what he did & was before his final year. What I found worth studying is not really HJ, but how Christianity started. It was a mystery for me; I like detective work & analysis; I got hooked to it. Furthermore my research made me very confortable about not being a Christian, not being religious in any way and being an atheist.If you think things like the atonement of death, his resurrection, and his expected Parousia (in any form) are fictions added on to a regular Galilean bloke, and that those added fictions contributed to the felicitous growth of Christianity (probably more than the deeds of the actual HJ did)…then fine, I have no problem with such an HJ.Yes I think all these things are fiction, but I went way beyond "thinking that" on my website. I explained with evidence when, where, how and why these things came about. But the point then becomes…WHY SHOULD WE CARE? Why study such a minimally influential figure? Why even read the New Testament, as if it has spiritual wisdom to impart, when you're acknowledging that the figure described is embellished to a large degree?I explained why I cared about: explaining how Christianity started & justify my non-Christianity. I want to add up: To invite people to do critical thinking, make people suspicious of any religion. Why read the NT? because a lot of the primary evidence (which of course have to be sorted out first!) resides here.NateP, you declared yourself a HJ agnostic. So what do you spend so much time on Christian and Mythicist blogs? If I had a 'do not care' attitude on the subject, I would do other things.A HJ agnostic neither rejects or accepts the existence or non-existence of HJ. And if a HJ is not rejected, then it has to be explain how he could have existed without being the Christ (alias Son of God) of Christians. This is what my website is all about, with plenty of evidence at every points.Bernard

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

    Vinny, how seriously do you take that "if" at the start of your second paragraph? It sometimes seems as though you actually believe we only have Paul's letters to go by.I don't believe that at all, but I do believe that we should let Paul speak for himself first before interpreting his statements in light of what some others had to say. That would seem to me to be the only valid way to determine whether, in fact, Paul and the others are saying something different.

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

    I don't disagree in principle, but it seems to me that in some cases some go beyond that, trying rather hard to interpret Paul as meaning something other than we might understand him to in light of other sources.It is indeed important to avoid assuming harmony, but I think that sometimes there is a danger of forcing disharmony where the evidence does not require or suggest it.

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

    Good point James. Some people make to much of Paul being the earliest writer. It would be odd in deed if no subsequent Christian writing reflected his ideas, particularly those sects that preserved so much of his material. It is hard to believe that the founding story of the movement could be so completely changed in such a small time that it would leave no trace in Christian institutional memory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Vinny,I think Paul is telling the Galatians that they should look to him as their sole source of information about the gospel because he knows by revelation everything there is that is worth knowing. I don’t think that he could have been that dismissive of his predecessors in the faith if he actually believed that they had been disciples of the human Jesus during his earthly ministry.But Paul's "gospel" means "good News", not a (speudo-)bio of HJ. What do you know of the faith of the alleged disciples of a human Jesus? After years of analysis, I concluded those never became Christians and considered Jesus as no more than a mortal (apocalyptic) prophet with a salvation message. But I agree entirely with you for your first sentence.If we only had Paul’s letters to go by, I don’t think we would ever conclude that Christianity originated with the earthly ministry and teachings of an itinerant preacher in first century Palestine.Exactly, but once again, after studies, I concluded that Jesus did not have much of a ministry, nor he was much of an itinerant preacher. In other words, Paul did not have to ignore a lot about HJ, just there was little of HJ to work with (but he did, on his human origin, poverty, Jewness, humbleness, dealing with Jews and of course the crucifixion as "Christ"). Rather, I think we would conclude that it originated in visions and revelations of a divine being that were experienced by Paul and some others.I have no problem with Paul's gospel being mostly his invention. Of course, I think these visions and revelations were also either imagined (as appearing in dreams) or invented.Like Moroni, this being was thought once to have been a man who walked the earth, but it was only the fact that he was once a man that was theologically important, not what he said and did when he was a man. In that context, it seems unlikely (although certainly not impossible) to me that Paul intended his reference of “the Lord’s brother” to designate a biological relationship rather than a spiritual.You certainly like to bring about that Moroni, don't you? But I do not think that it was in Paul's interest to elevate James, more so when, according to 'Galatians', Paul did not follow James' men instructions. And then we also have Josephus' Antiquities, book 20.Bernard

  • NateP

    It would make him uniquely fascinating if his biographies (the Gospels) were less propagandist embellishment and more reliable testimony. But on the account of Bernard (your fellow convinced historicist), that's not what the sources are at all. The Lesser Jesus remains in that cemetary until you can show that his actual (not the reported) deeds are worthy of elevating him to the titles you wish to ascribe him. And by "show" I mean with the same source standards that we use for his contemporaries.

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

    What do you know of the faith of the alleged disciples of a human Jesus?I’m not sure whether I know much of anything with much certainty. There are various possibilities, but I don’t feel like there is enough evidence to point decisively to any one of them.I concluded that Jesus did not have much of a ministry, nor he was much of an itinerant preacher. In other words, Paul did not have to ignore a lot about HJ, just there was little of HJ to work with (but he did, on his human origin, poverty, Jewness, humbleness, dealing with Jews and of course the crucifixion as "Christ").That sounds completely plausible. I think it would belong on my short list of reasonable possibilities.I have always wondered who did most of the talking when Paul visited Peter in Jerusalem that first time. On one side you had a well-educated dynamic missionary who had been spreading his message successfully throughout the region for three years. On the other hand, you had an illiterate peasant fisherman who had been sitting around Jerusalem. Although it is impossible to say how much of Christianity Paul invented, I can imagine that Peter might have been perfectly willing to go along with anything Paul had to say. Given Paul's reputation for violence towards those who disagreed with him, I wonder whether Peter would have even tried to tell him about a person he had known in the flesh. You certainly like to bring about that Moroni, don't you?I do like the Moroni analogy because I think it illustrates the point that Paul’s belief that Jesus was once earthly and human does not by itself establish that Paul’s Jesus was historical. I also like Mormon analogies a lot in general. The main reason is that the Latter Day Saints are the largest and most significant world religion for whose origins we have abundant historical information from the perspective of outsiders. What we find is that it would be very foolish for a historian to treat the insiders’ versions of events with anything less than the utmost skepticism.

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

    Dr. McGrath,I would think that harmony is like historicity. You start from a position of neutrality and then look for evidence that points one way or the other. Mike,My agnostic’s argument would be that for Paul, Jesus’ humanity was purely a theological concept, so he might not have had much in the way of ideas about the historic Jesus to be reflected.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    to NateP,It would make him uniquely fascinating if his biographies (the Gospels) were less propagandist embellishment and more reliable testimony. But on the account of Bernard (your fellow convinced historicist), that's not what the sources are at all. The Lesser Jesus remains in that cemetary until you can show that his actual (not the reported) deeds are worthy of elevating him to the titles you wish to ascribe him. And by "show" I mean with the same source standards that we use for his contemporaries.I am not sure that post is addressed to me but I want you to know I am not a fellow of Dr. McGrath and I am sure our views of HJ are very different.I want to add here the true deeds of Jesus were certainly not worthy to elevate him to titles such as King, Christ, Lord, Son of God, Saviour and I explained how & when these titles came about on my website.Bernard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    to Vinny,I have always wondered who did most of the talking when Paul visited Peter in Jerusalem that first time. On one side you had a well-educated dynamic missionary who had been spreading his message successfully throughout the region for three years. On the other hand, you had an illiterate peasant fisherman who had been sitting around Jerusalem. Although it is impossible to say how much of Christianity Paul invented, I can imagine that Peter might have been perfectly willing to go along with anything Paul had to say. Given Paul's reputation for violence towards those who disagreed with him, I wonder whether Peter would have even tried to tell him about a person he had known in the flesh.Hum, up to that point, the only place where he would have preached was in Arabia and the city of Damascus (Gal1:17). But Paul did not report any preaching there (but he did just that for his latter works in Cilicia & Syria, Gal1:21-24), which would have very advantageous. And I do not think Paul was in position to bully his host. If he were, he would have summoned the other apostles and told them what to believe & preach. But, according to Gal1:19, Paul did not get to see them, except James.Bernard

  • NateP

    Bernard, thank you for clarifying, and now I finally understand your take on things. I think your perspective makes a lot of sense, and I can even understand wanting to study these sources in order to bolster and clarify your "non-christianity"I'm motivated to do a little more of the same, and then to leave these HJ/mythicist blogs alone. Thanks.

  • NateP

    Dr. McGrath,I think I can agree with virtually everything you put in your last post to me. I'm befuddled by how we can have such variant experiences, but it's always possible that we have. Maybe I should understand the setting of your current work a little better – then I won't be making (implicit) comparisons to the scholars I know and have dealt with.So first of all, do you teach undergrads at Butler, or graduate students, or both? Secondly, is the department you're in able to offer degrees towards ordination, or is it completely secular in its educational aims? Thirdly, are their courses in Christian theology offered there, or just theology within a context of comparative religions? Maybe the format at your school is very different that what I was imagining and/or gleaning from knowledge of Butler in general.If that's the case, I will gladly celebrate your school/program/department as laudable and noteworthy, a rare exception that the Harvards and Yales of the world should take some cue from.

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

    NateP, at Butler I teach almost exclusively undergraduates. Butler University has no religious affiliation – it did in the past, as did most universities, and previously had a graduate school of theology which some decades ago became a separate institution – Christian Theological Seminary. There is no formal connection between the two institutions – although I am thrilled that they allow Butler faculty and students to use their library, since all the good older books in religion went to the seminar when the split occurred. I am pretty sure that when Bob Funk studied at Butler, that was before the split, and some of the research I did on the history of Butler suggests that tensions between the graduate theology school and the religion program for undergraduates in the college of liberal arts and sciences may have been one of the reasons for the split.At any rate, we do not train seminarians, although we do occasionally have students graduate from our program who are interested in seminary. And all of this is speaking from my limited experience – I have been at Butler for less than a decade, and the religion program is a fairly small one, meaning that I teach more students who are taking courses for core curriculum credit or electives than who are religion majors or minors.Anyway, I hope that this gives a sense of what Butler is like. Whether we do a better job than Harvard or Yale in some areas, I can't really say, and although it is hard to refuse such a compliment, I wonder if we shouldn't let someone with direct experience of both Butler and one of the Ivy League schools to provide their input on that question. But what I can say about our program at Butler is that we certainly try! [END COMMERCIAL]. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To NateP,Thank you for the compliments. Maybe you could read my website: http://historical-jesus.info/By any chance, do you happen to live in a city and a country whose names start by the same two letters? You can answer me personally (see my blogger profile for email address).Bernard

  • NateP

    No Bernard, sure don't. I'll take a gander at your site some time. Thanks for the link.

  • NateP

    Dr.McGrath,See I was under the impression that you taught grad school mostly. I understand the difference now. The scenario at Butler is very similar to the scenario at my religious studies program in undergrad. Similar university to Butler, and a similar state of affairs.But I think that most schools that teach religious studies at the graduate level usually do so in a Divinity School (if not outright seminary) context. That means that the interaction between the historians and the theologians is more or less assumed in the very structure of the program. I'm sure you can see why my complaint is likely to be valid with most such schools – even Ivy Leagues, due to the structure itself. Regardless, thanks again for clarifying all these things for me. I appreciate it.

  • Samphire

    “Paul explicitly says this is tradition that he had passed on to the Corinthians in the past.”

    Where does he say that it was a tradition? What Paul actually says are words to the effect that at some time in the then recent past an (unoriginal) idea had popped into his head which he attributes to “the Lord”. Paul then started the ceremony within his church which, in time, became a tradition. The first celebration of the eucharist was not a tradition, nor was the second, nor the third. Perhaps after a few months of repetition it could perhaps reasonably be then called “a tradition”.

    It may be that the tradition commenced at another of his churches and was then introduced by him to the Corinthians – but he doesn’t specifically say so. But the point is that according to Paul the idea didn’t come from Jesus’ fleshy lips but from his own mind and therefore in the same way that I received an important message this morning from Harry Houdini (or was it Harry Potter?) it is no indication in itself whether the sender of the message was historical or mythical.

    As we know that the Paul thought in theological terms – after all, he tells us that he took a night flight up to the Third Heaven at one stage – we know that Paul’s mental processes weren’t entirely reliable and therefore to my entirely reliable mind it is more reasonable to postulate that Paul believed in a Cosmic Jesus rather than a very recently deceased Jesus of Nazareth, of 2 Stone Cottages, Capernaum Street (knock twice but, if no answer, try around the corner at the carpenter’s shop), an address Paul, unlike vast hordes of retired Americans, never seems to have wanted to visit.

    Either Paul was lying in saying that he had received the subsequent tradition directly from the celestial sphere or Mark wasn’t happy with Paul’s explanation so “historicised” it and why wouldn’t he? I think it unreasonable to suppose that Mark was engaged in reportage while Paul was able to indulge in word-perfect 20th century remote viewing with equal accuracy. In similar fashion the later gospel writers did not agree with the earlier Paul on the supposed nature of Jesus’s post-resurrection body. Mark chickened out on that impossible issue but, in a strange way, Paul’s hypothesis was somewhat more rational than those of the other gospel writers in that, at least, he realised after much intellectual wrestling that there is no point in unglorified dead bodies resurrecting.

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

      You can, if you wish, assert that when Paul says that he passed on what he received, there was a radical difference between how it was passed on by him to the Corinthians and how he received it.

      But don’t be under any illusion about the difficulties this creates. We find not only authors like Mark and Luke which embraced Paul’s view, but also Matthew which reflects an anti-Pauline stance, taking over the tradition that you claim originated with Paul and accepting it. More than that, we are supposed to believe, on your account, that the other tradition he says he received and passed on to them, found in 1 Corinthians 15, agreed with what other Christians were proclaiming (1 Cor. 15:11), and yet presumably was likewise something Paul made up.

      And so his own creative inventions seem to miraculously match up with what other early Christians adhered to.

      Mainstream secular historical study doesn’t accept miracles, and so hopefully you can understand why your account will seem less persuasive than one which posits more mundane historical explanations.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Even assuming that when he says “I received this from the lord” he means he received it via other apostles, this doesn’t actually help the non-mythicist case. The story is still something “received from the Lord.” It’s not depicted as an event the apostles _witnessed_, but rather, as information which they _received_.

        If I got in a car wreck, and my friend James told my other friend Paul about it, then Paul, in reporting about the wreck, wouldn’t say “I got this information from Kris via James.” Rather, he would say “I got this information about Kris from James.”

        • Paul E.

          Vinny and I had a brief discussion about this in the Myth of Mythicism’s Newness thread. It wasn’t exactly about what you’re saying here, but just fyi if you’re interested.

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

            One can certainly make the case, bringing the Didache into the picture, that the Eucharistic formulas are products of the early church, probably attributed to divine revelation rather than merely themselves as human authorities. Scholars have long doubted whether Jesus himself interpreted his own death before the fact in the way that Paul and the Gospels depict. This isn’t an argument for mythicism. It is mainstream skeptical historical-critical scholarship.

          • Paul E.

            I agree; that’s why Kris’s post and my discussion with Vinny are a little different, I think. Vinny and I were talking about what kind of inferences were possible or precluded. I certainly think the formula itself is most probably a later interpretation.

          • Greg G.

            The ritual may have been common to many religions for a long time.

            Jeremiah 7:18
            18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven,; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.

            Jeremiah 44:15-18
            15 Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you. 17 Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. 18 But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.”

            It looks like similar customs pre-dated Jeremiah’s time.

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

            This is bizarre. Are you simply indicating here a lack of awareness that things like bread and wine are used in a wide array of religious traditions? If so, then clearly you ought to read more widely on this subject.

            The Synoptic Gospels depict Jesus as participating in the Passover. Do you have some reason to think that, rather than what is explicitly said in the text, the authors meant instead that Jesus was reviving the worship of Asherah?

          • Greg G.

            The Other Gospel has Jesus in the tomb on Passover. The whole theme is that Jesus is the Passover Lamb and had to be killed on the day before Passover.

            The Synoptics have Jesus getting crucified because of the Temple tantrum. John moves that to near the beginning and has Jesus killed for the resurrection of Lazarus.

            Mark weaves together Jesus’ trial with Peter’s denials to indicate simultaneous action. There is no way a person could have been in both places and nobody had watches to time each proceeding in order to compare notes. It is a literary story. Mark’s irony has Jesus being beaten and ordered to prophesy simultaneously with his prophesy being fulfilled.

            John uses the same literary technique for the same story line. That is a sign that the Gospel of John is a story partially taken from Mark. Both are works of literature.

        • Mark

          Kris, is the suggestion that those who are instructed to ‘do this in memory of’ him, on the night he was handed over, never did it in memory of him? Meanwhile, though, other people who weren’t told to and didn’t remember it, did it in memory of him.

          • Mark

            Paul has already used γὰρ/for earlier in the sentence, but it seems that ὅτι here might also be translated by “for” or the like. Then it would read something like “What I passed on to you, I received from the lord; for on the night he was handed over … do this in memory of me … ” On this reading no special revelation to Paul is needed: his converts have received what he has received and what the original recipients received, all of them from the lord. Paul is the agent of infection who transmits a tradition from elsewhere to the converts. The story, which is just represented as a fact, itself validates the claim “what I handed down to you, I was passed down from the lord”, since he received it as they did. He is clearly thinking that his converts’ activity obeys a command Jesus addressed to other people, and the only way seems to be by all of them being members of a group of which those people are or were members. If Paul is needing any special revelation it is presumably that this repeated activity should be extended to his gentile converts, that is, a clarification of Jesus’ intention in “Do this in memory of me”. This reading seems anyway somewhat more natural. A past heavenly statement addressed to no one, “do this in memory of me”, can’t really make sense of the passage.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I’m sorry to say I can’t figure out where you got that from.

            The suggestion is that Paul said the apostles told him that Christ told them that on the night he was handed over he broke bread, said it was his body, and that the apostles should similarly break bread as a reminder of the event and its significance.

          • Mark

            You are imagining that Jesus says to the apostles (or whoever is getting visions): “On the night I was handed over, I took bread etc.”, and then in a second statement, says “You terrestrial guys should do this too; do this, which I just told you I did, in memory of me” But the bit about telling whoever to “Do this in memory of me” is clearly being represented as part of the original event, and this seems crucial to Paul’s argument, whatever exactly it is. On the theory that, say, Jesus is breaking bread with angels in the story, and telling them to remember him (I guess angels can eat and drink) we need a new and completely different commandment to get a terrestrial tradition going. What Paul would have to say is, “The Celestial Christ broke bread with the angels, telling them to do this in memory of him; then later the Celestial Christ pointed out to his terrestrial apostles that he had done this, and told them they and their followers should do what he *had done* in memory of him; so here we are today doing it in memory of him.” This is a tradition that goes back to the second commandment, the one to the mortals. No amount of information about the celestial action and commandment could have the desired effect, but this, on the present account is all that Paul bothers to relate.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I’m not imagining Jesus said anything, nor am I imagining what anyone thought Jesus said to them. I’m pointing out a fact about what Paul must have been saying, if he was talking about getting his information via the apostles. Given what the verse says, Paul must be saying, not that the apostles witnessed something which they later told Paul, but rather, that Jesus told the apostles something which the apostles later told Paul.

            You’re asking how to make sense of what Jesus is supposed to have said, but to a large degree that’s beside the point. In fact, if it is on point at all, it’s a point in favor of mythicism if, in fact, on the “via the apostles” interpretation of the verse, what Jesus is supposed to have been depicted as saying makes no sense.

            But in any case, your concerns about there needing to be a “whole separate commandment” etc seem unmotivated. In my experience and in my reading, religious practices, when justifications or explanations are offered for them, don’t always (or perhaps even usually) refer to a single explicit commandment, but instead to a pattern that needs fulfillment. So for example here, perhaps Jesus said it to angels (and perhaps the angels went on to fulfill it or whatever–who says the original audience didn’t fulfill the imperative?) and the early Christians saw themselves as participating in that. Or maybe the original vision was of Jesus talking to the apostles about what was happening, as it happened, just as in many visions from the OT and the NT.

          • Mark

            The text is nonsense if its whole content is a revelation to Paul, and it is nonsense for the same reason if it is a visionary revelation to the early apostles later retailed to Paul. If I tell you what I told someone to do, I don’t tell you what to do. If (say) the angels are being addressed, the story describing this has no tendency to suggest that these apostles or Paul should do the same, or be so bold as to aspire to their condition. If, however, it is describing a commandment to some early members of the ‘church’, everything makes sense. Then there is a chain of tradents and the Corinthians, hearing about the earliest link can think: “Oh, right, we who do this do it in memory of him” – which is Paul’s purpose in the passage. If the whole thing is just the content of a revelation of heavenly events, the Corinthians can only think: “Oh, so the angels do something like this in memory of him; I don’t know what we’re doing though, or why.”

          • Kris Rhodes

            //The text is nonsense if its whole content is a revelation to Paul, and it is nonsense for the same reason if it is a visionary revelation to the early apostles later retailed to Paul.//

            It’s okay for the text to be nonsense. 😉

            If we can’t make sense of what the text says, let’s at least acknowledge that it _does_ say what it says, whether what it says seems sensible to us or not. And what the text does say, sensible or not, is that what Paul is relating is _information which was originally told to someone_ by Jesus, and not _information which was originally witnessed as occurring_ to Jesus.

            Is it really nonsense, though? It may seem that way, if we’re missing crucial information. As with all ancient texts, it is very likely that we are missing crucial information. I illustrated a couple of ways that gap could end up being filled. But importantly, since it’s so common for us to be missing crucial information, we should not reject an interpretation simply because it seems like nonsense to us. There can be many reasons to reject an interpretation, but with ancient texts (especially religious ones righ?!) “that doesn’t make sense to us” is often not a good reason to reject the interpretation.

            //If I tell you what I told someone to do, I don’t tell you what to do.//

            No, but if I tell someone what to do, and I’m an important supernatural religious figure, it’s no surprise at all if those who worship me take my imperative to be universally applicable, a pattern to be fulfilled, whoever it’s original audience-in-story might have been.

            //If the whole thing is just the content of a revelation of heavenly events, the Corinthians can only think: “Oh, so the angels do something like this in memory of him; I don’t know what we’re doing though, or why.”//

            Admittedly I’m interposing my own personal experience here, but my upbringing in a Charismatic religious community does not bear out what you’re saying. This is not, in my experience, how religious people reason, especially those oriented to visions and mystical experiences. Or even those oriented towards taking rituals a certain kind of seriously. Seeing the way spiritual realities play out in the world is awesome, from this PoV. Actually participating in that process explicitly through communal actions? Even more awesome.

          • Kris Rhodes

            On further thought, it really seems too quick to me to say the text is nonsense if it’s relating information originally said to have been given by Jesus.

            Keeping in mind that that is what the text most literally says, we are motivated at least a little to ask ourselves whether there are independently plausible scenarios that may have occurred which would have led both to that story being told and to Paul’s relating it in the way he did.

            And there are plenty of independently plausible scenarios that lead to this.

            For example: James (the name I use to designate whoever the original revelator might have been) reveals the Last Supper incident, together with its imperative, and the imperative is depicted as given to angels, but James also states, explicitly, that the church ought to reenact that supper. The story and the accompanying directive get passed around to early churches. Paul retells the story in 1 Cor, but not the accompanying directive, because he doesn’t need to, because they already know about the accompanying directive and the accompanying directive is beside his point in the passage.

            Or: James reveals the Last Supper incident, and depicts the imperative as being given, not just to the audience present at the incident, but to all people everywhere, or at least all people who believe in Jesus everywhere.

            Or: When James revealed the Last Supper incident, he depicted it as something that was currently happening at that very moment, that he was being given an ecstatic vision of. The original imperative was given, by James, as being from Jesus, to James’s immediate followers.

            And so on. There’s nothing particularly strange about any of these scenarios, and they all make sense of what we have from Paul. And we do have what we have from Paul, namely, we have from him a statement that the information about the Last Supper in some sense comes from Jesus rather than just being about him.

            I think it will be tempting for someone to respond that my position must be weak since it relies on speculation, so to stave that line of argument off let me clarify the logic here. You have stated that my interpretation is implausible because there’s no way to make sense of the scenario if my interpretation is correct. I am answering that objection, negating its force, by showing that there are many ways to make sense of the scenario. If my sense-making efforts relied on implausibilities, that would be a problem (though not as serious as you might think, since the facts about what the text does in fact literally say weigh pretty heavily here), but my point is I don’t even have to rely on implausibilities. There are many perfectly ordinary scenarios that would give rise to the text as we have it. This means the objection has no force.

          • Paul E.

            This is a good point. I think the two starting-point poles of “Jesus never existed so there can’t be any real incident behind this” and “it happened basically like how it’s depicted in the gospels and Paul just reflects that tradition” get in the way of interpreting exactly what Paul says and then coming to the most likely scenario given the evidence. Setting out possible/plausible scenarios based on an interpretation of exactly what Paul says, in its immediate context, is where I think you have to start (or at least do as a comparative to whatever your personal hypothesis is), even if some of those scenarios seem strange or nonsensical to us.

          • Mark

            //And what the text does say, sensible or not, is that what Paul is relating is _information which was originally told to someone_ by Jesus, and not _information which was originally witnessed as occurring_ to Jesus. //

            Not at all. Where are you insist that anyone is being represented here as getting _information_? There is no proposition that the Lord is represented as telling anyone until ‘This is my body’, and even that could be take as ‘performative’. You are reading the implied subject in “what I handed down to you I received/accepted/took from the lord Jesus” as a proposition, but it is a tradition of action.

            I can’t tell if something is excluding it but it might even be possible to take the subject of παρεδίδετο to be the tradition itself; it, rather than Jesus, is being ‘handed over/down/etc.’. He has just used the same verb in saying he has handed the custom down, παρέδωκα, to them. Then, on this reading, the whole passage is structured thus: “What I handed down to you I received from the Lord Jesus. On the night on which it was handed down, he took bread, etc. Do this in memory etc. ” This view of the subject of παρεδίδετο might be perverse, but it emphasizes what I take to be the sensible reading, which simply does not refer to any _information_.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Where are you insist that anyone is being represented here as getting _information_?//

            Well, Paul says he “received” (i.e., “got” as per the verb used in the abovequoted) _something_. What is he saying he received/got, if not information?

          • Mark

            The Lord’s supper, which is the present topic. Where did the Corinthians ‘get’ it from?

          • Mark

            Paul is getting a *tradition* from the earlier church, together with information about it; the Corinthians are thus in a position to receive the same tradition and use the same information to comprehend it – on condition that they understand the story as inaugurating the very tradition they received and perpetuate and spread to other churches they evangelize or whatever.

            If you represent Paul, or anyone, as *just* getting information from anyone, then the story cannot make sense of what the Corinthians are doing. If what is “via the apostles” is the tradition itself and not just the information “this happened on the night I was handed over”, then the passage makes perfect sense and moreover serves Paul’s purpose.

  • Greg G.

    1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a suspected interpolation as it sounds like it comes from the Pastorals and is inconsistent with Galatians 3:28. Following Winsome Munro, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 has a pattern of an exhortation, some questions, and an explanation using the same metaphor as the question. The third leg’s explanation can be found at 1 Corinthians 11:30. That makes everything from 1 Corinthians 10:23 through 1 Corinthians 11:29 suspect and the suspect part includes 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 but also 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

    If so, Mark may have made up the story by combining Psalm 41:9 for the breaking of bread and the betrayal by a friend with Isaiah 53:12 to get the wine from the “pouring out unto death”. Luke 22:15-22 certainly comes from Mark 14:22-25. I believe I saw a footnote in a Bible that the “do this in remembrance of me” is not found in some of the oldest copies of Luke. If not for that, I would suspect the interpolator of 1 Corinthians got the passage from Luke but it could have come from Mark, Matthew, or Luke.

    On the other hand, Ben Goren, a frequent commenter at whyevolutionistrue.com , makes a circumstantial case that Paul could have taken it from the Mithras cult. Justin Martyr claims that the Mithras cult stole the ritual from the Christians. But Plutarch reports that the pirates around Cilicia practiced Mithaism in the middle of the first century BC and “their rituals continue to this day”, being late first/early second century. Paul tells us he visited Cilicia at least 14 years before he wrote Galatians. So Paul may or may not have stolen the ritual from the Mithras cult.

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

      It never ceases to impress me how mythicists will decide that material in our earliest Christian source is a later interpolation if it suits them, and will trust a significantly later Christian author if it suits them.

      Historians need to be more critical than that, alas for mythicism.

      • Greg G.

        Winsome Munro is a mythicist?!?! I had no idea.

        I don’t see that as a mythicist argument.

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

          The point was not about Munro being a mythicist. The point was about you picking and choosing from among what scholars have proposed those views that suit you, regardless whether they are found persuasive by most scholars and historians in relevant fields.

          • Greg G.

            I’m looking more at the evidence itself. What do you think of the verses mentioned? Do you think 1 Corinthians 11:30 does not fit at the end of 1 Corinthians 10:14-22? If not, why not?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Richard Carrier wisely avoids the temptation to explain away inconvenient passages as interpolations – except in the case of 1 Thess. 2:14-15, where there is some agreement.

            When I find an appeal to the possibility of interpolation and the injudicious use of the criterion of emulation in the same argument, I tend to lose interest.

          • Greg G.

            My position is that Paul seemed to think Jesus existed on Earth between David’s time and up to or including Isaiah’s time. I differ with Carrier and Doherty on that point but they may be correct about the Epistle of Hebrews and the Ascension of Isaiah. I just don’t think Paul read those. Lost Christianities tells us there was quite a diversity by the second century.

            It doesn’t matter whether Paul wrote it originally or it was added later, 1 Thessalonians 2:15 supports my position as it lists Jesus before the prophets where it says they were killed.

            I tend to think it was added after the destruction of Jerusalem primarily based on the wording compared to 1 Thessalonians 1:18. I expect that someone would be more biased than I if that person’s position assumed it means it happened in the first century.

            If I argue for an interpolation that has no divergent manuscript evidence or ancient attestation, it is based on the internal evidence and possibly comparison to other writings by the author or group. It has been noted that there were more alterations to the text before canonization than after so it doesn’t seem rational to think that there were no alterations to the text before our oldest copy was made.

          • Mark

            The thought that temporal order is expressed by “Jesus and the prophets”, is groundless. It doesn’t matter how many times you assert it, it doesn’t make it true. If I say, “God loved your father and your forefathers”, I don’t say that God loved your father first and the others later.

          • Greg G.

            Right but I’m not using it to support my argument. The verse is important to the historist case, however. The temporal order is important to make the historist case. It most definitely doesn’t say that Jesus was killed after the prophets, which is the point the historists try to make with it. So it doesn’t support a first century Jesus.

            It shouldn’t matter to the historist whether it is an interpolation. It really doesn’t help their case.

          • Mark

            The ‘historicist case’ is settled by the constant juxtaposition of the name Jesus – an aramaic corruption and one of the most popular baby names of first century Palestine – with the epithet ‘Christ’. Even if later Christianity hadn’t happened, and if Paul were himself explicitly docetic, and even if the documents were dug up in Greece, any rational person would say the same: looks there there was an otherwise unattested messianic enthusiasm in Palestine around another ‘Jesus’; it evidently ended badly as all messianic enthusiasms do; in this case the matter is being managed temporarily by a conviction in resurrection and a later arrival of the king; there seems to have been some temporary success in getting gentile greeting corps running for the arrival of the King.

            The documents would still be invaluable for historical purposes as providing direct access to 1st c. Jewish religious possibilities. The only other documents that come with a name attached and directly express religious ideas are those of Philo and some passages of Josephus.

            You are making an exception from the laws of history for this particular case, this can only be for polemical and personal reasons.

          • Greg G.

            Sure, about 1 in 20 men had the name Jesus. Pilate probably crucified many of them. If Solomon had as many children as is claimed in the OT, most everyone would be descended from David. Some may have come from Galilee. Some may have ridden a donkey. But the epistles are not about any of them. They only wrote about Jesus in terms of references to scripture. The epistles do not support a preacher or a teacher from Galilee. They don’t have teachings. None of the epistles even use the word “disciple”.
            The gospels draw from the epistles and add more references to scripture. The author of Mark never knew Jesus but each of the other three gospel authors used that gospel.
            Authorship is irrelevant because the epistles are not making a case for a first century person.

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

            I do not follow your reasoning here. How exactly do you know that the Jesus about whom Paul writes is not someone named Jesus who was executed by Pilate?

          • Greg G.

            Paul writes about Jesus a lot but here is the list of all I can find where he gives information about Jesus plus Old Testament references for that information. Of the hundreds of times Paul writes about Jesus, he never gives any independent information except when he is at his most sarcastic. But it is not just Paul, because that goes for all the epistles. 1 Timothy and 2 Peter have some gospel references but no information independent of their scripture of Christian writings. If they were writing about a real person, it would be pretty much impossible to write hundreds of things about a real person without actually saying something of independent knowledge or even hearsay.

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

            I take it your thinking has been so influenced by traditional Christianity that you cannot see that, in most instances, Jesus is being read into and not out of those passages?

          • Greg G.

            Paul would not be repeatedly writing about hidden mysteries if he was reading explicit passages about Jesus. Ephesians 3:5 may represent Paul’s thinking where it says that it was hidden from former generations but is revealed to Paul’s generation, and that was an indication to Paul for him to think the Messiah was coming during his lifetime, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

            Galatians 1:11-12
            11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

            Romans 1:1-2
            1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

            Romans 16:25-27
            25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

            1 Corinthians 2:7
            7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

            The author of Ephesians said:

            Ephesians 3:2-9
            2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

            Paul also mentions in Galatians 2 that Cephas and James did not add anything to his knowledge.

            Paul tells us he got his information from reading scripture. New ideas he got from the scriptures, he took as a revelation from the Lord or as information he received.

            Many historicists claim that early Christians found such verses and added the Christ part to their Jesus after he was crucified. Many historicists read the gospels back into the epistles, too.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            The Gospel writers portray events in the life of Jesus as the fulfilment of Scripture. Scripture cannot record events that occurred in the time of Pontius Pilate (not before the Gospels themselves came to be regarded as Scripture); so the relationship between events and Scripture can only be one of fulfilment.

            This raises an interesting question: what was Paul’s understanding of the relationship between events and Scripture? What does it mean when Paul says that Christ died according to Scripture? Does the event fulfil Scripture, or does Scripture cryptically record the event?

            I leave it to readers to decide for themselves.

          • Greg G.

            Since we have several epistles from different authors speaking about Jesus perhaps a thousand times but never giving any first hand information that is clearly independent of scripture (or the gospels in the cases of 1 Timothy and 2 Peter), it would seem that the phrase is not referring to events that fulfilled the scriptures but to events thought to have been recorded in those verses after the fact.

            1 Corinthians 15:3-4

            3a For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:

            Received from whom?

            Galatians 1:12
            … I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation.

            3b that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

            Isaiah 53:5 (NRSV)
            But he was wounded for our transgressions,
                crushed for our iniquities;
            upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
                and by his bruises we are healed.

            4a and that he was buried,

            Isaiah 53:9 (NRSV)
            They made his grave with the wicked
                and his tomb with the rich,
            although he had done no violence,
                and there was no deceit in his mouth.

            4b and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,

            Hosea 6:2 (NRSV)
              After two days he will revive us;
                on the third day he will raise us up,
                that we may live before him.

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

            I see the problem. You find Christian claims that Jesus was predicted in Scripture credible and are trying to discount them by insisting that they made him up from those Scriptures. But what neither you nor the Christians you are arguing against are taking seriously is how poor the fit between those texts and Jesus is.

          • Greg G.

            No, I see the same similarities that everybody else sees. Paul read the OT passages as history and wrote about them. Mark wrote his gospel as a first century allegory. Christians and historicists have been reading the gospels back into the epistles ever since.

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

            No, historians are careful to avoid reading the Gospels back into the epistles. You are confusing that for what you are doing, which is driving a wedge between Paul and the Gospels even when they agree.

            Do you have any evidence that Mark wrote an allegory?

          • Greg G.

            It has been done:

            How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity, by R. G. Price, who is not Robert M. Price.

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

            Not being Robert M. Price is not the only thing that one needs to accomplish in order to be persuasive.

          • Greg G.

            In the links you provided me where you reviewed Brodie, you talked a great deal about how wrong he was but you didn’t attempt to demonstrate where he wrong on a single point. You assume anything with the name R. M. Price is wrong even if he is citing other scholars. The R. G. Price piece is quite lengthy but you seem to assume it is wrong and you responded in less than a minute so I take it you are not going to consider it.

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

            Then you did not read what I shared with you, and would appreciate it if you would do so before we proceed.

            http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/03/mcg388024.shtml

            And here is some of my previous interaction with what Price has written.

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2010/06/review-of-the-historical-jesus-five-views-jesus-at-the-vanishing-point-by-robert-m-price.html

            I simply do not have time to repeat the same things over and over again. Please inform yourself about mainstream scholarship, and about what has already been posted on this blog, and then we can take things further if you wish.

          • Greg G.

            I will look at more later. Clicking through the top links brought me to this:

            To which I reply: If picking late evidence that supports your viewpoint, while disregarding or rejecting early evidence that undermines it, doesn’t suggest one is engaging in “apologetics,” then I don’t know what would.

            I think the late writings are irrelevant. None of my arguments use them. The links I have provided are not based on late writings.

          • Mark

            Not at all. You constantly bring in the gospels and Ephesians and so forth as a diversionary technique when people are attempting a disciplined exposition of the authentic letters of Paul.

          • Greg G.

            Are you conceding that Ephesians and the gospels don’t support your position? Does it bother you that they support mine? You aren’t doing so well with the authentic Pauline epistles either.

          • Mark

            Any one of these documents is quite adequate to settle the question of ‘historicity’. Any attempt to deny it just leads to unending epicycles and is basically religious in character. All these texts announce the period equivalent of “The lord Jim-Bob messiah, etc. etc. who humbled himself even unto death in the electric chair, etc etc. yet he rose again etc etc with his arrival, every knee shall bend etc. and recognize him as Lord and Messiah etc. etc. etc.” Anyone who knows how to read a book knows the causal background immediately: an Aramaic speaking Jewish messiah who ended badly, as they all do; in this case he was clearly killed by the Romans; the enthusiasm was maintained by some mixture of post-Maccabean resurrection ideology and an anticipation of later installation of the king. Any scholar would know and affirm this even from a small fragment. Anyone who would deny it has a religious motivation or is lying or is using.

          • Mark

            Again, even if Paul had been overtly ‘mythicist’ in his teaching about “Lord Josh Messiah, the lethal-injected one, first fruits of the resurrection”, as of course he isn’t, still the secular scholar would over-rule him and declare this to be a docetic development for which the causal background is: an Aramaic speaking Jewish messiah who ended badly, as they all do; in this case he was clearly killed by the Romans; etc. etc.

          • Greg G.

            First, Paul quotes several verses of scripture to derive his formula in Galatians 3:6-13 and gets the crucified part from Galatians 3:13 from the Septuagint Deuteronomy 21:23 where the word for tree is used in the Hebrew text but the word in the Greek text can be translated as “tree”, “wood”, or “cross”.

            Where do you get that the Romans killed Jesus from the epistles? You are reading the gospels back into them. Historicists rely on 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 for their evidence and it says the Jews did it, not the Romans.

            the enthusiasm was maintained by some mixture of post-Maccabean resurrection ideology and an anticipation of later installation of the king.

            Yes, I agree. They were waiting on the Messiah and, according to 1 Corinthians 15:5, Cephas was the first in his generation to see an excuse to think it would happen soon by reading about a character in the scriptures.

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

            I don’t think you’ve understood what Deuteronomy 21:23 says and why it would have presented a problem for the development of Christian thinking.

          • Greg G.

            It is not so much what the verse actually means, it is how Paul used the verse.

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

            That comment does not show that you have understood the issue.

          • Greg G.

            What issue?

            Galatians 3:10-13 (NRSV)
            10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” [Deuteronomy 27:26] 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”[Habukkuk 2:4] 12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.”[Leviticus 18:5] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—[Deuteronomy 21:23]

            The Hebrew text has a word that means “tree”, according to all I have read on it. Paul uses the same word the Septuagint uses for tree, which is translated as “cross” in many translations of 1 Peter 2:24.

            Paul seems to be equivocating the word “curse” in order to have it lifted.

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

            No, he is dealing with the problem of claiming that a man who was impaled and thus accursed according to the Torah was nonetheless the awaited Davidic anointed one.

          • Greg G.

            I see the problem. You find Christian claims that Jesus was crucified in the first century credible and are trying to discount them by insisting they made up reasons for it from Scriptures. But what neither you nor the Christians you are arguing against are taking seriously how poor the fit between those texts and Jesus is.

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

            Are you a troll? That comment makes no sense.

          • Greg G.

            No, I am not a troll. That is a sample of the kind of response I get here, nearly verbatim of one I got this morning.

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

            The one I wrote made sense. If you wish to continue commenting, I expect respectful engagement with scholarship. By all means opt for a fringe viewpoint if you must – but be aware that you are rejecting scholarship, recognize that the onus is on you to make your case, and reflect the kind of humility appropriate for one adopting such a stance.

          • Greg G.

            If you haven’t read the R. G. Price article in the last six months then you haven’t read it.

          • Mark

            You mean this pleasant seeming internet crank?http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/index.htm You don’t seem to submit your sources of information even to a minimal sniff test, e.g. whether they had patience to learn any Greek or Hebrew, but still figure someone like McGrath should stop presses for them…

          • Greg G.

            This is a classic ad hominem fallacy. You call him a crank instead of addressing his argument. That seems to be the modus operandi of historicists.

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

            No, there is no reason for anyone to refrain from using the term “crank” in relation to views which are popular online but not found persuasive by scholars. Is Intelligent Design a crank view or not? Does one have to repeat all of the criticisms of a viewpoint that have been offered by mainstream scholarship into blog comments? It is not ad hominem to point out that, based on the consensus of experts, a viewpoint is a fringe one that people ought not to be adopting.

          • Mark

            I’m all in favor of pleasant internet cranks. I just think it is a really elementary principle that we not cite in argument writers who have not submitted to really elementary features of learned discipline. In the present case some knowledge of the original languages is really, really, really elementary; it’s the ABC’s, the alpha-betas. On the face of it, the reason you cite authors like the earnest R. G. Price rather than actual scholars is the same as the reason why fundamentalist ultras – Jewish, Christian or whatever – avoid actual scholars. If you do not have access to a research library, or lack the irritating protocols needed to access scholarly journals, I strongly suggest that you sign up e.g. for academia.edu as an independent scholar. Then you can download or request actual pieces of scholarship from a surprisingly decent cross-section of actual practicing scholars. Hey, here’s McGrath’s page https://butler.academia.edu/JamesMcGrath With a little practice you will find out how to sort apologists from the great body of immensely learned people, and will be able to detox from this list of blog-posts and self-published screeds.

          • Greg G.

            I take that as a concession that you cannot refute my arguments so you are resorting to the consensus supporting the consensus as your argument.
            Does the consensus have any stronger arguments than have been presented here? Why not try those?

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

            Please do not use this creationist tactic of complaining that people accept the consensus of experts, and dismissing them as unpersuasive when they are summarized in blog comments which inevitably do not do justice to the detailed treatment given to these matters in scholarly monographs. The onus is on you to inform yourself from such sources. If you are here to troll, then this is the wrong site for you, as here I work hard to ensure a serious level of discussion.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            You would also argue, would you not, that most or all of the events in Mark’s Gospel are traceable to the Old Testament, but these were clearly the fulfilment of Scripture. If, according to Paul, Scripture records rather than prophesies, but according to Mark, it prophesies rather than records, I wonder what brought about this radical change in understanding.

          • Greg G.

            Yes, basically. Mark combines the OT, other Jewish literature, Pauline epistles, and Greek literature, often mixing them up into a pericope. But not so much as prophecy but as allegory.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Greg, the simpler theory is that the perceived relationship between events and Scripture remained the same: i.e., one was the fulfilment of the other. One can speculate about shifts in the relationship, but I am not convinced that this adds to our understanding.

          • Greg G.

            New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M. Price combines the work of several scholars, most of whom are historicists, that together cover almost all of Mark, except for chapter 4 which can be explained by Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas (Part 1) by Stevan Davies.

            How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity, by R. G. Price (not the same Price as above) explains the allegories.

            Mark seems to have taken real characters and portrayed them as opposites. The milquetoast Pilate who asks the crowd for advice and worries about whether Jesus is guilty does not sound like the Pilate portrayed in Philo or Josephus. The “pillars” described in Galatians do not sound like illiterate fishermen.

            The simplest explanation is that Mark is a fictional allegory.

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

            Quoting a scholar with highly idiosyncratic views and an online posting is not a reason to dismiss the consensus of scholars and historians. And how do you get from “the Gospel authors distort Pilate in order to shift blame for Jesus’ death away from Rome” to “allegory”?

          • Greg G.

            Do you have a script that automatically posts that? I already listed the bibliography for it and struck out the mythicists for you. You seem to be using it as an ad hominem so you don’t have to deal with the points it makes.

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

            The fact that mythicists cite other scholars who find them unpersuasive does not make their claims more persuasive. If I seem to be repeating myself, it is because you seem not to have taken these points to heart.

          • Greg G.

            How do you know their points aren’t persuasive?

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

            Greg, I simply note that you have one theory to explain the relationship between events and Scripture in Paul, and a different theory to explain the relationship between events and Scripture in Mark.

          • Greg G.

            Putting the Pauline corpus and the Gospel of Mark in one package does not mean that one theory can explain them both. They are different writers with different training and technique. The Gospel of Mark was written as a chiasm.

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

            I’m not persuaded that it is a chiasm (or better an extended inverted parallelism). I’ve rarely found a proposed structure of this sort spanning a work which does not make implausible stretched connections.

          • Greg G.

            Chiastic Structure of Mark by Michael Turton gives the rules he uses to construct the chiasm and shows most of it. I think he does the last part as an excursus on the commentary for chapter 16.

          • Pofarmer

            “one was the fulfilment of the other.”

            Given the nature and history of prophecy, and the fact that we have individuals scouring the bible to this day, Ala Harold Camping et al, why is it hard to envision first century Jewish apocalyptic prophets doing the same thing?

          • Mark

            How do you think you know that the author of Mark knows the letters of Paul? 1 Clement suggests that at least one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians was known outside Corinth at the end of the century – supposing it is dated correctly. Given the unlimited space of possibilities you pretend to be working in, you ought to have grounds for doubting they are expressions of the same messianic movement.

          • Greg G.

            Here is my evidence. There may be others that I have missed.

            Mark 1:16, 19 > Galatians 2:9. Peter, James, and John, the three mentioned as “pillars” in Galatians are introduced. After Jesus, these are the next three main characters.
            Mark 1:30 > 1 Corinthinians 9:5. Mark may have inferred a mother-in-law from the mention of a wife.
            Mark 2:16-17 > Galatians 2:11-12. Eating with another sect questioned.
            Mark 6:7 > 1 Corinthians 9:2-6. Going out two by two, Paul describes apostles traveling with another.
            Mark 7:1-19 > Galatians 2:11-14. Mark gives Paul’s argument to Jesus. If the story had been real, Peter would not have argued with Paul.
            Mark 7:15, 18-19 > Romans 14:14, 20. What goes in doesn’t defile but what comes out.
            Mark 7:20-23 > Romans 1:29-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 12:20-21; Galatians 5:19-21. Lists of vices, take your pick.
            Mark 7:27 > Romans 1:16. “To the Jew first” in Romans, “Let the children be filled first” to the Gentile in Mark.
            Mark 8:11-13 > 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. Jews demanding signs.
            Mark 8:14-21 > 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. Beware of [metaphorical] yeast.
            Mark 8:32 > Galatians 2:11. Rebuking Peter.
            Mark 8:35 > Philippians 1:20-21. Dying is gain.
            Mark 9:1 > 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Apocalypse would occur during life of those present.
            Mark 9:33-37 > 2 Corinthians 10:1-18. The Dispute about Greatness
            Mark 9:38-41 > Philippians 1:18. Do false motives matter?
            Mark 9:42-48 > 1 Corinthians 12:14-21. On Temptations.
            Mark 10:5 > Galatians 3:19. Origin of the law.
            Mark 10:11-12 > 1 Corinthians 7:10-12. Paul was writing to Greeks who lived where women could divorce. Deuteronomy 24:4 has no provision for that so Paul says the Lord says women should not divorce. The concept of women divorcing would be foreign to the disciples (pun intended) in Mark. Matthew and Luke dropped it.
            Mark 10:35-45 > Galatians 2:6, 9. Paul shows disdain for the bigshots. Mark portrays them as wanting to be bigshots in heaven.
            Mark 10:44 > 1 Corinthians 9:19. Being a slave to all.
            Mark 11:23 > 1 Corinthians 13:2. Faith to move mountains.
            Mark 12:15-17 > Romans 13:1-7. On paying taxes.
            Mark 12:25 > 1 Corinthians 15:35, 40, 44. On resurrected bodies.
            Mark 12:31 > Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14. Jesus demotes Paul’s greatest commandment to number two.
            Mark 13:13 > 2 Corinthians 11:23-26. Expect persecution.
            Mark 13:30 > 1 Thessalonians 4:15. This generation shall not pass away…
            Mark 13:32-37 > 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6. Keep alert.
            Mark 14:1 > 1 Corinthians 5:7. Association of Passover with Jesus being sacrificed.
            Mark 14:22-25 > 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Last Supper, though the internal evidence of 1 Corinthians suggests this may have been interpolated into 1 Corinthians.
            Mark 14:36 > Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6. “Abba, Father”. Mark uses this to teach his readers that “Abba” is Aramaic for “Father”. Likewise, in Mark 10:46, the name “Bartimaeus” was used to teach that “bar” means “son of”. In Mark 15:6-7, his readers will know that “Barabbas” means “Son of the Father”, creating the scapegoat scenario from Leviticus 16:8-10 with two called “Son of the Father”.
            Mark 14:38 > Romans 8:5. Spirit willing, flesh weak.
            Mark 14:58 > 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. On destroying the Temple.
            Mark 14:66-72 > Galatians 2:11-14. Peter called on hypocrisy, asked “Are you a Jew/Galilean?”

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

            I think that if you read these works, instead of prooftexting from them in a manner that is obviously parallel to the way conservative Christians use them, you will get a different impression.

            Paul says that the Jerusalem leaders added nothing to his law-free gospel message, no requirement of circumcision or other observance of Torah. Why would you try to twist that to mean that he learned nothing from them?

          • Pofarmer

            “Why would you try to twist that to mean that he learned nothing from them?”

            Correct me if I’m wrong here, but after his conversion, Paul doesn’t go to Jerusalem for what, three years? Then he’s with Cephas and James for a couple of weeks? It seems to me that there was a cult preacing a crucified savior that was going to come down from Heaven and kick some butt, but it seems like the Jerusalem faction and Paul were preaching fairly different messages, even granting that Paul was going to Gentiles and Cephas and James to Jews. In fact, Pauls letters even show this “who has bewitched you” etc.

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

            Once again you are twisting the text to say something it cannot mean. Paul persecuted the sect he eventually joined. He had relatives who were part of it before he was. Even if he said that he knew nothing about Jesus before becoming a Christian, a historian would not believe him.

          • Pofarmer

            Paul persecuted the sect he eventually joined.

            And it’s unspecified what that even entailed.

            He had relatives who were part of it before he was.

            Really?

            Even if he said that he knew nothing about Jesus before becoming a Christian, a historian would not believe him.

            Now here I agree, obviously he had bumped up against the information somewhere, if he was persecuting something, you would think he would know what he was persecuting, after all. Maybe some lonely preacher fleshed it out for him somewhere and he had his Eureka moment. Who knows? But with all the acrimony Between Paul and the Jerusalem group, why would it have to be Cephas and James?

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

            It might help if you became familiar with what Paul wrote before trying to reconstruct the history of early Christianity. This is like people on the internet trying to say what conclusions should be drawn by biologists, who have never set foot in a lab.

          • Greg G.

            Galatians 1:11-12
            11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

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

            And? You seem to think that means something it cannot mean within the framework of the letter, much less his writings as a whole.

          • Greg G.

            It means he got his knowledge from the scriptures. If Cephas or James told him anything, he already had read it in the scriptures so they didn’t add to it.

            Could Paul make these statements if he thought they had actually known Jesus?

            2 Corinthians 11:4-6 (NRSV)
            4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. 5 I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.

            2 Corinthians 12:11 (NRSV)
            11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

            In 1 Corinthians 15, he uses the same Greek word for “appeared to” for all the others that he uses for himself. He doesn’t seem to think they got their information any differently than he did.

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

            It says that they all came to believe they were commissioned by the resurrected Jesus by means of similar visions, yes. But if you want to claim that that was how they came to an essentially common gospel except for the matter of Gentiles, only through visions they independently had, then I am sorry but secular historical study has no place for such appeals to the miraculous, especially when more mundane explanations are available.

          • Greg G.

            Where can we find out exactly what the Jerusalem Christians believed so we can compare their notes with Paul’s? There were more differences than just the Gentiles. Just from Galatians, we can see there were differences regarding food rituals, circumcision, whether “love your neighbor” fulfilled the whole law or if the whole law still needed to be obeyed (Galatians 5:14 vs James 2:8-10). Paul wasn’t name-dropping in Galatians 1 & 2, he was trying to discredit Cephas and James. They may not have thought that Jesus was publicly crucified (Galatians 3:2), but only died for sins (1 Corinthians 15:3b).

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

            Counterfactual speculation can be fun. But do you have any particular reason to doubt – especially given the controversies Paul shows he was involved in and the challenges to his authority – that he agreed with them on what he says he did, and disagreed with them on what he said he did?

          • Greg G.

            that he agreed with them on what he says he did, and disagreed with them on what he said he did?

            There wouldn’t be much point in writing the letters to people if he wasn’t trying to straighten out the issues. All I have to go on is what Paul says. I would expect that there would be other points where they agreed and where they disagreed, just because it is typical of humans. Maybe some disputes were in letters lost to history. It would do no good to speculate on the content of the letters.

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

            If all you have to go on is what Paul says, then why won’t you go on what Paul says?

          • Greg G.

            Insert a tu quoque here.

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

            No, it is a serious question. Why do you say you won’t speculate beyond what Paul wrote, and yet ignore what he actually wrote?

          • Greg G.

            I do not ignore what Paul wrote. If I speculate about what Paul didn’t write, and we agree, it doesn’t mean we are correct, but if we disagree, neither could back up our position on the subject.

          • Paul E.

            This post raises a question that, at least to me, is related to how to interpret 1 Cor. 11, and that is: what was the role of the Jerusalem church for, or perhaps vis-a-vis, the gentile churches prior to 70? Paul’s letters indicate a kind of “authority,” but it is difficult to discern exactly what that authority was, its scope, how it was grounded or exercised, etc. (and perhaps even why an authoritative group of proto-Christians were in Jerusalem at all rather than, e.g., Galilee, and how that may be related to any “authority” that church may have had). Do you have any suggestions as to scholarly materials on this topic?

          • Paul E.

            Good morning, James. Would you have any quick suggestions as to a favorite author or article on the topic(s) I mentioned below (the authority of the Jerusalem church, and perhaps why they were in Jerusalem at all)? I have been looking a bit, and am finding very little. Thanks!

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

            Hi Paul. Sorry for the delay in replying. I guess I’m not sure what you are looking for. Is it something to indicate how it is that a movement purportedly centered on Jesus of Nazareth ends up seeming to be based in Jerusalem rather than Galilee? It is a good question – I might just post it on the blog and see what kind of discussion it generates. The short answer is that Jerusalem was the hub of Judaism and so it was a natural move if there were to be any impact of the movement. But it would be great if we had more details, if we had sources that actually described the developments and articulated the rationale.

          • Paul E.

            Thanks! Yes, that’s the basic idea. It would be interesting to see a study on how the early church could have felt safe there, what the decision-making process may have been, etc. And then sort of growing out of that, how the authority or “ecclesiatical structure” worked, especially vis-a-vis the gentile churches. I.e., how would we describe what kind of “authority” the Jerusalem church had over other churches – was it just influential, or were there more formalistic types of authority structures in place, etc. Come to think of it, I would bet A Polite Bribe would cover at least some of this – I have yet to see it.

          • Mark

            In Galatians 2 Paul is clearly saying he took the public service announcement he had hitherto been delivering to the gentiles … and put it by the Jerusalem notables for review. They were cool with it. That is, he represents his current subjective conviction that *his Gentile mission and the particular public announcement he is as it were carrying in his pocket* are directly from Christ, as *owing in part to the Jerusalem notables.* That they didn’t add anything to *the public announcement he is as it were carrying in his pocket* doesn’t mean they didn’t add all kinds of things to his knowledge. It doesn’t even mean that he was not willing for them to add thing to the public service announcement. On the contrary, it is clear that he *was* willing for them to add things to it. Of course if they had, he would become an emissary of Christ and of them, and lose some of his spectacular rhetoric; but they didn’t. It is thus partly from them that he knows, or has confidence, that he is not acting as their subordinate but is rather on a mission from God. He is thus in a position to use the public service announcement they have left uncriticized as a ground for criticizing them. That he thinks they are inconsequent, weak-willed, untutored bumpkins doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think they are hagioi who better deserve the title of apostle/emissary than he does; he does think they are hagioi who better deserve the title of apostle/emissary than he does. We don’t know, but it is likely that they are illiterate and trapped speaking Aramaic; their ‘inferiority’ is palpable to him.

            In particular Paul is aware that the propositions contained in the public service announcement he is carrying were known to him, though not accepted by him, before he became a follower of Jesus. They belong to the proclamation of the ones he ‘persecuted’ and is now, in Galatians 2, comparing notes with. *He is constantly working with this identity.* It is a logical consequence of his self-depiction that he had to believe that Jesus was Christ, before he could accept a mission and a proclamation from his ruler as a mission from his ruler. He does not open the letter he understands himself to have received from his ruler, and find out from reading it, that the one from whom he received it is his ruler.

            The mind-numbing closed circle of internet memes you go round and round in is completely blind to the obvious distinction between the propositions someone personally knows and is convinced of, and the propositions contained in a message he has been entrusted to carry to various places and, as it were, read out. *This distinction structures everything in Paul.* That *What I Know and Believe* and *What This Message Says* are categorially different is clear from the case where the parties are human: I might know that the message I am have been deputed to read out over the PA is false. This is closely associated with the willful blindness of mythicist and suchlike Jesus-Birther writers to the obvious meaning of the word Christ and to the history of Jewish messianic ideas and enthusiasms.

          • Pofarmer

            “You are making an exception from the laws of history for this particular case, this can only be for polemical and personal reasons.”

            I disagree, I think it is the historicists that are bending the rules as far as possible.

            https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/?s=Gospels+as+history

            Of the Sources we have, none of them but Pauls are signed by the Authors. There is no known chain of Custody, we don’t know the authors sources. We have no sources from contemporary or even opposing sources. We have no archaelogical evidence, etc, etc. in fact, if it weren’t for the whole “ressurection from the dead thing” and the later adoption ofmthe Christian cult by the Roman Emporer, we might very well simply consider this just another ancient myth like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Or any myriad others. But Paul created a religion with a Carrot , Everlasting life!, and a stick, You’ll go to hell and be tortured of you don’t believe! And this became the standard religion of the Roman empire. It was then enforced with the threat of death, and sometimes the implementation of it. Wars, inquisitions, witch hunts, all designed perfectly to keep a gullible populace in line. And today, modern Chriatians simply don’t give it a second thought. “What! 2000 years ago a guy raised from the Dead! hallelujah!” ” Oh, you mean it was Ceasar?, that’s just silly.”

          • Mark

            Pofarmer if you can’t distinguish between the proposition “Jesus existed” and the proposition “Christianity is true”, you are going to have a lot of trouble with historical enquiry.

          • Pofarmer

            You could use Odysseus and the Iliad just as easily. Or Achilles and the battle of Troy. It was common to put mythical heros in common settings fairly contemporary to the writer. There is certainly nothing in Pauls writings that requires Jesus being historical. He never met the guy. He appeard to him in a miracuous vision, which is the same way he says Cephas and James knew him. Jesus wasn’t a Pharisee or Saducee that got written about. He wrote no works himself. He left no trace other than miraculous stories written about him some time after he lived. Even Bart Ehrman agrees that if Jesus existed, we can know almost nothing about him.

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

            This is only “true” if one ignores what the letters Paul wrote actually say, and the context in which they were written.

          • Greg G.

            Where does Paul talk about Jesus as a first century person keeping in mind the context?

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

            He talks about the coming of Jesus and his resurrection as bringing in the dawn of the age to come, which he and his contemporaries would see arrive. Even without knowing that he met Jesus’ brother, we could deduce that Jesus had not lived and died in the distant past from Paul’s eschatology. And of course, there is no reason to drive a wedge between Paul’s letters and the Gospek of Mark, written not much later and clearly incorporating traditions at least as early as the 40s.

          • Greg G.

            We mostly agree except the foundation of your position is based on what Paul wrote in his most sarcastic letter.

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

            I don’t see that we agree on much of anything. My view of what Paul meant is based not on one epistle, sarcastic or otherwise, but his letters as a whole, considered in their historical, cultural, religious, and literary contexts.

          • Greg G.

            Galatians 1:19 is sarcasm, 1 Thessalonians 2:15 list Jesus as killed before the prophets which would support my position, Paul describes the “appeared to” for the other apostles the same way he describes his own, and he doesn’t think they know more than he does, all “the Lord said” verses are ambiguous and appear to refer to the Old Testament.

            Considering the historical, cultural, religious, and literary contexts, Paul looks like he had reformed the Old Testament passages that he considered long hidden mysteries into a midrash.

            What else do you have?

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

            None of that is persuasive, and so it scarcely seems appropriate to move on. Your notion that there was a genre (whether called midrash or not) in which people took stories and turned them into completely new stories which could then be mistaken for history is unfounded. It is also doing precisely what mythicists accuse mainstream scholars of doing – starting with the Gospels and literary composition.

          • Greg G.

            But a historian is jumping the gun if he or she does not ensure the writing is not just literary composition.

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

            One can often mix and match parts of a letter, or a Gospel, especially at section breaks. That doesn’t mean that in doing so, one is recovering the original order.

          • Greg G.

            Thank you for your response. I take it from your use of the word “match” that you do recognize that 1 Corinthians 11:30 does have the appearance of the possibility that it could match up with 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. In and of itself, it is a piece it is evidence that supports an interpolation but you are correct that it doesn’t prove it.

            But 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is incongruous with Galatians 3:28, “…there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The passage sounds like it came from the writer of 1 Timothy 2:11–15, not the writer of Galatians.

            There are two lines of evidence. One is the subject matter looking like an interpolation and an apparent scar in the text where it was inserted.

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

            It does not support the case for interpolation. Paul’s writings, like the writings of many ancient authors, are full of tensions. There have been attempts to divide up Paul’s letters into much smaller fragments with extensive interpolations in an attempt to achieve complete consistency, but most scholars find those to reflect more on the modern scholar than the original form of Paul’s letters (see for instance the work of John C. O’Neill).

            Are you familiar with the suggestions regarding the Gospel of John’s history of redaction and/or rearrangement? Even in instances in which a relatively strong case can be made, one needs to demonstrate (1) that the text in its present form is a problem and not just something typical of an era in which editing and rewriting were not easy undertakings, and (2) that the proposed solution is genuinely better than what we find in the text. But even then, it remains hypothetical unless there is actual manuscript evidence to support it, and so building mythicism on such a foundation does nothing to made mythicism more probable, even if one does this with all the places where Paul makes reference to Jesus being a human being, under Torah, of Davidic descent, and so on. Indeed, positing multiple interpolations makes your overall proposal less likely, not more, unless the case for each is extremely strong.

          • Pofarmer

            Just a question. In the Authentic writings atributed to Paul, how many are there that need to be interpolations or additions to support the case for an Historical Earthly Jesus based on Paul? About half a dozen? Off the top of my head you have the Last Supper passage in Corinthians, which is also notable because it is also the only place, to my knowledge, that Paul quotes Jesus. Then you have the “James the Brother of Jesus” when he goes to see Cephus and James. It’s argued that the “Born of a woman, born under the law” could be seen celestially. The passage with “Jesus appeared to Cephas, then James, then the 12, then 500 together l then lastly, to me” isn’t really definitive, anyway. So, how many passages do we have that really need to be interpolated or changed slightly to support the idea Paul thought there was an Earthly guy named Jesus?

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

            Nothing needs to be an interpolation in order for the conclusions of professional scholars and historians to be correct. And while mythicists claim that one can be born of a woman, of the seed of David, in the celestial realm, that does not make such claims plausible or persuasive. Anything can be shifted to the celestial realm if one wishes to deny its historicity.

          • Pofarmer

            So, it’s that hard to name the passages that leas directly to Paul believing in an earthly Jesus?

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

            Did you perhaps word the original question so that you asked the opposite of what you meant?

          • Pofarmer

            I didn’t think k so, I was simply asking for the passages that were most problematic for mythicists.

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

            You wrote:

            In the Authentic writings atributed to Paul, how many are there that need to be interpolations or additions to support the case for an Historical Earthly Jesus based on Paul?

            It is hard to quantify how many texts one needs to explain away as a mythicist. I would say that every single instance which uses the ordinary human name Jesus, every mention of him as the anointed one whom God had sent or had come and not merely as one still to come. But mythicists claim the number is much smaller.

          • Greg G.

            I think that if you knock out the Gospel of Mark, all later accounts that follow Mark are also knocked out. New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M. Price (this is the heart of his book The Christ Myth and Its Problems) collects the work of several scholars, most of whom are Jesus historists, and combines them to show that most of Mark comes from the literature of the day and his stories about Jesus were originally about other people and fictional characters.

            Price leaves a gap for Mark 4 which can be filled by Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas (Part 1) by Stevan Davies.

            So we have the Epistles which do not support an itinerant preacher/teacher from Galilee and the Gospel of Thomas which does not support a descendant of David who was crucified and resurrected. It’s like Mark melded the two Jesuses into the concept we have today.

            The Sermon on the Mount Site: James and the Sermon on the Mount by Robert I. Kirby raises a question, though Kirby doesn’t consider it, that Matthew may have reworded the Epistle of James for Jesus’ teachings. Kirby unintentionally provides a lot of evidence for that and his list is not exhaustive. Remove the verses that Matthew got from Mark, from the Old Testament, and from James and there a few sayings from the Gospel of Thomas. The rest could be Matthew’s own writings so there is no need for a hypothetical Q document. The Farrer-Goulder hypothesis that Mark Goodacre touts looks pretty good.

            Look at how closely John 6 follows Mark 6:30 through the Feeding of the 5000, the Walking on Water, and the trip to Gennasaret in order. it becomes hard to deny that John knew Mark. The John the Baptist passage shows similarities. The trial of Jesus using the same intercalation technique for Peter’s denial is apparent.

            Matthew used a lot of Mark but re-ordered and reworded it a lot. Luke used a bit less of Mark than Matthew but preserved more of the order except in the Central Section. John used less of Mark than Luke did and changed the wording more than Matthew.

            R. J. Hoffman is a defender of the historical Jesus and a scholar. He says in The Historically Inconvenient Jesus

            I don’t know too many New Testament scholars who would argue that the gospels are good history, and some (me among them) who would say that for the most part the gospels are totally useless as history. The gospels were written as propaganda by a religious cult. That impugns them as history, even at a time—the last decades of the first great Roman imperial century—when history wasn’t especially committed to recording what really happened in a dispassionate and disinterested way.

            Given that there is (a) no reason to trust the gospels; (b) no external testimony to the existence of Jesus (I’ve never thought that the so-called “pagan” reports were worth considering in detail; at most they can be considered evidence of the cult, not a founder); (c) no independent Christian source that is not tainted by the missionary objectives of the cult and (d) no Jewish account that has not been invented or tainted by Christian interpolators, what is the purpose of holding out for an historical Jesus?

            But in my view there is no convincing argument that establishes that priority, and the disconnect between the two literary strands, gospel and epistle, is so sharp that it is impossible to conclude that a figment invented by Paul could have served as the literary model for the Jesus of a gospel like Mark’s.

            If the gospels are not reliable, then anything that depends on them are not reliable either.

            The extrabiblical accounts are too late to tell us anything reliable. None of them were written by somebody who was alive before 35 AD.

            I will argue that the Testimonium Flavianum, the John the Baptist reference and “the brother of the so-called Christ” are interpolations in Josephus.

            What evidence is left?

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

            Well, if you find Price persuasive (including his misuse of terms like “midrash” to say nothing of the substance of his views) then you can’t have read anything much mainstream written by historians or New Testament scholars.

            You seem to think that, if Mark is not the kind of historical writing that historians consider good, then that means historians have decided it is pure fabrication. If you want to interact with historians and scholars, you are going to need to be capable of recognizing more nuanced conclusions.

          • Greg G.

            Price is just the messenger who compiled the studies of other scholars. Brodie and Thompson are the only two mythicist that I know in the bibliography and he doesn’t rely much on them, IIRC.

            You seem to be pre-judging the evidence without considering it.

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

            Not at all. I’m familiar with Price’s views, and Brodie’s, and Thompson’s, and have interacted with all of them before on this blog. I’m aware of their claims in detail. I just don’t find them persuasive, nor do other scholars, with rare exceptions.

          • Greg G.

            Did you read what I actually said? I pointed out that he did not rely on them that much. Actually it’s Brodie and Doherty, not Thompson. I was suggesting you consider the bulk of the essay that relies on non-mythicist scholars. Was Brodie a mythicist when he wrote in 1988? Does that work even address mythicism?

            Here is the bibliography. I struck out the two mythicists that I know of:

            References

            Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981

            John Bowman, The Gospel of Mark: The New Christian Jewish Passover Haggadah. Studia Post-Biblica 8. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965

            Thomas L. Brodie, “Luke the Literary Interpreter: Luke-Acts as a Systematic Rewriting and Updating of the Elijah-Elisha Narrative in 1 and 2 Kings.” Ph.D. dissertation presented to Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome. 1988.

            John Dominic Crossan, The Cross That Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988.

            J. Duncan M. Derrett, The Making of Mark: The Scriptural Bases of the Earliest Gospel. Volumes 1 and 2. Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire: P. Drinkwater, 1985

            Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Ottawa: Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999.

            C.F. Evans, “The Central Section of St. Luke’s Gospel.” In D.E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R.H. Lightfoot. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967, pp. 37-53.

            Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989.

            Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1977-1978. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

            Dennis R. MacDonald, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000

            Dale Miller and Patricia Miller. The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature. Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 21. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press

            Lilian Portefaix, Sisters Rejoice: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians and Luke-Acts as Seen by First-Century Philippian Women. Coniectanea biblica. New Testament series, 20. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wicksell, 1988.

            Wolfgang Roth, Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code of Mark. Oak Park: Meyer-Stone Books, 1988.

            William R. Stegner, “The Baptism of Jesus: A Story Modeled on the Binding of Isaac.” In Herschel Shanks (ed.), Abraham & Family: New Insights into the Patriarchal Narratives. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2001.

            Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 88. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997

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

            I know that mythicists cite non-mythicists, just as proponents of Intelligent Design cite mainstream biologists. But if they do so to make a case that no one they cite will find persuasive, other than the smaller number of ideologically-driven authors, then the presence of mainstream authors in their bibliography doesn’t mean much. And in the case of this particular subject, the fact that some New Testament scholars don’t know enough about Jewish literature to know what “midrash” is illustrates the specialization of knowledge and the dangers inherent in trying to draw on another area with which one is not intimately acquainted.

          • Greg G.

            I have always been uncomfortable with Price’s use of “midrash”. That was a Jewish thing and the gospels were written in Greek so “mimesis” would be the more appropriate word. But a misspelling or taken liberties with a word doesn’t invalidate the logic behind it. But he seems to have borrowed Miller and Miller’s use of the word inThe Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature.

            You are not dealing with their arguments. The people he cites are knowledgeable about Jewish literature. When you inspect their claims, they make sense. When you lay each of the claims they make out side by side, the Gospel of Mark is covered.

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

            Thanks. I’ll check them out later as I am meeting someone for lunch.

            Have you addressed the points Brodie was making in 1988? His contribution to Price’s book relates to Luke regarding Elijah and Elisha, and not about the Gospel of Mark.

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

            I think you’ll find that my overall conclusion is that Brodie takes an important point – that not just the Biblical authors, but ancient authors in general, regularly conformed events to literary types and motifs – and insists on forcing all stories and most details to conform to that theory, no matter how much of a stretch is involved in making the connection. Ironically, it is a lot like the way Christians have historically approached the Jewish Scriptures – it is easy to draw connections with Jesus if you go looking for them, but that is not the same thing as finding the meaning of the texts on their own terms.

          • Mark

            That he calls him Christ on every page entails at the very least that he will become earthly.

          • Pofarmer

            Well, that’s what he expected, Christ to come down from heaven a D kick some ass.

          • Mark

            Right, and the one who will be kicking actual ass with his actual boot, was at some pointed handed over, and told people to do things to remember him etc. etc.

          • Pofarmer

            Riiiiggggghhhhtttt. Mark, do you understand what Cosmological model this was based on? This was based on a model where the Earth was covered by the dome of the filament with the waters above and the waters below. People believed that Angels drug the sun across the sky at ni th t. They believed windows opened up in the firmament to allow it to rain. They also believed celestial beings could go back and forth through these windows. Guess what? It ain’t 1 A.D. any more. It ain’t happenin. It wasn’t ever gonna,happen. It’s a myth, no different than the many other myths it’s built on.

          • Mark

            We are interpreting a passage, not deciding whether it is true or false. If you can’t make this distinction, communication will be severely impeded.

          • Pofarmer

            It’s hard to tell when believers switch from dicussion to prosylezation.

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

            The discussion here is about the conclusions of secular scholarship about early Christianity. If you are looking for arguments about believers and proselytizing then you are in the wrong thread. Unless, of course, you meant mythicist “believers” since their ideologically-driven denialism is certainly germane to this discussion.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Is “drug” the past tense of drag, or the reason for the slightly incoherent writing?

          • Greg G.

            I gave an overview of my position in a response to Cecil Bagpuss.

            “Lord” is used interchangeably for God or Jesus. 1 Corinthians 14:21 is a “says the Lord” verse that is quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 has “the Lord commanded” and alludes to Deuteronomy 18:3-8. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 has “not I, but the Lord” alluding to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which doesn’t have a provision for women divorcing men, but Paul was writing to a culture that allowed it. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 has “by the word of the Lord” but nearly everything in the passage seems to come from Isaiah 26:19-21; Daniel 7:11, 13; Daniel 12:2; and Isaiah 25:8. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21 also seem to draw on those verse, too. So we can reasonably expect that “For I received from the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 might come from the Old Testament, too, and Psalm 41:9 has the breaking of bread and a hint of betrayal from a friend while Isaiah 53:12 has “he poured out himself to death” to suggest the wine.

            So I don’t see that as being an argument supporting historical Jesus or mythical Jesus, whether it is an interpolation or not.

            all the places where Paul makes reference to Jesus being a human being, under Torah, of Davidic descent, and so on. Indeed, positing multiple interpolations

            I do not claim any interpolations for my position. Where Paul make reference to Jesus being a human being, it seems that he has no knowledge except from centuries old scripture. Even his theology comes from that.

            Paul says he didn’t receive his gospel from human sources and he specifically says Cephas and James did not add to his knowledge. He speaks of “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known”. Is Paul telling the truth? Let’s compare everything he says about Jesus to see if we can find information he would have received by word of mouth.

            Past

            Descended from David > Romans 1:3, Romans 15:12 > 2 Samuel 7:12, Isaiah 11:10

            Declared Son of God > Romans 1:4 > Psalm 2:7

            Made of woman > Galatians 4:4 > Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 49:5

            Made under the law > Galatians 4:4, Galatians 3:10-12* > Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4, Leviticus 18:5

            Did not please himself > Romans 15:3* > Psalm 69:9

            Became a servant of the circumcised > Romans 15:8 > Isaiah 53:11

            For the Gentiles > Romans 15:9-12* > Psalm 18:49, 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, Isaiah 11:10

            Was betrayed > 1 Corinthians 11:23 > Psalm 41:9

            Took loaf of bread and wine > 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 > Psalm 41:9, Exodus 24:8, Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12 (“wine” = “blood of grapes” allusions in Genesis 49:11, Deuteronomy 32:14, Isaiah 49:26, Zechariah 9:15)

            Was crucified for sins > 1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:13* > Isaiah 53:12, Deuteronomy 21:23

            Was buried > 1 Corinthians 15:4 > Isaiah 53:9

            Was raised > Romans 1:4, Romans 8:34, 1 Corinthians 15:4 > Hosea 6:2, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 41:10

            Present

            Sits next to God > Romans 8:34 > Psalm 110:1, Psalm 110:5

            Intercedes > Romans 8:34 > Isaiah 53:12

            Future

            Will come > 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54*, Philippians 3:20-21 > Isaiah 26:19-21, Daniel 7:11, Daniel 7:13; Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 25:8

            (* indicates that passage contains a direct quote from the Old Testament)

            That is from the least disputed Pauline epistles but we could do the same with the early pseudo-Pauline epistles and the early general epistles. Throw in the Pastorals and 2 Peter, and you get a bit from the gospels but still nothing that could not have come from the OT or the gospels.

            It is remarkable that there is no clear evidence of first-hand or word of mouth information about Jesus in all of the epistles.

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

            This seems very odd. Paul is claiming that a particular individual, Jesus, despite evidence to the contrary, is the restorer of the old Davidic dynasty. Of course he makes reference to the Jewish Scriptures! He does so in relation to his own life and activity too, you may have noticed.

            It is interesting that you find plausible, in a way historical critical scholars do not, the attempt to read Jesus into texts such as Isaiah 53.

          • Greg G.

            Paul thought the Messiah was coming within his lifetime. The resurrected Jesus would fulfill that line. It’s not that much different than Christian belief except the time frames. If Ephesians 3:2-9, particularly verse 5, is indicative of Paul’s thinking, it would suggest that the fact that the revelation was made to that generation was an indication that the Messiah was coming to that generation.

            I think it is more important what the epistle writers were saying about Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. The Philippians Hymn has many parallels to those passages from Isaiah. Where James compares the suffering of Christians to Job, 1 Peter 2:18-25 compares it to Jesus’ suffering but in terms of Isaiah 53, not from any first hand knowledge or hearsay.

            Paul quotes Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book.

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

            Paul thought that the Davidic anointed one had already come. If he only used future tense verbs, the situation might be different. Do you regard all instances of Jesus having come or been sent as interpolations, too?

          • Greg G.

            When we were discussing whether 1 Corinthians had an interpolation, it was based on the text itself. It had nothing to do with the existence of Jesus. I do not argue for any interpolations in regard to the evidence for Jesus’ existence or non-existence.

            Paul thought that the Davidic anointed one had already come.

            I agree. Paul seems to have thought that person came centuries before, died, and was resurrected and that he was coming back to fulfill that role. See 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and Philippians 3:20-21 where he speaks in the future tense.

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

            That seems to fit poorly not only with the fact that Paul had met Jesus’ brother, but also the whole eschatological urgency in his epistles, especially the earlier ones. Of course, one can find ways to work around such details, but workarounds to conform evidence to a preconceived stance are less attractive than interpretations of the evidence which allow themselves to be determined by what the evidence actually indicates.

          • Greg G.

            You missed Paul’s sarcasm in Galatians.

            Galatians 5:11-12
            11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

            Galatians 2:11-12
            11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.

            Galatians 2:6
            And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me.

            Paul identifies who those were who made no difference to him:

            Galatians 2:9
            and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

            Paul expresses his disdain at the “circumcision faction” with sarcasm.

            The opening of Galatians is unique:

            Galatians 1:1-2a
            1 Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2a and all the members of God’s family who are with me…

            That is the only epistle that opens with who he was not sent by but he generally mentions that he is an apostle of Jesus by the will of God. Paul mocks James as “the brother of the Lord” because he sends people to places like Antioch the way Jesus sends Paul to places like Antioch.

            Paul spent two chapters discrediting James and Cephas so that his readers would know who he meant in his rhetorical question “Who has bewitched you?”

            Don’t read the Bible with so much solemnity and gravitas that you miss the humor in it.

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

            Saying that Paul is sarcastic doesn’t address the issue. Paul is capable of playing on words – the Greek word for “pillars” as a play on “apostles” – and saying that they are reputed to be such but it is up to God to judge. Paul also mentions the brothers of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 9. You need to offer a plausible explanation of what the words and phrases Paul uses mean in their context, by which I mean both their literary context and their ancient historical, cultural, and linguistic context. Just saying “Paul was being sarcastic” in a way that doesn’t show what that means for his wording, or how it makes good sense of it, is obviously not going to persuade anyone actually familiar with the details of what Paul wrote.

          • Greg G.

            Are you saying Galatians 5:12 isn’t sarcasm directed at the circumcision faction identified as including James?

            In 1 Corinthians 9, it seems that somebody has questioned Paul’s financial support. There is a sarcastic tone to his defense there, too. Isn’t that the only other place Paul mentions Cephas? It seems they were making trouble for him in more than one place. He was probably more than miffed. His livelihood seems to have been threatened.

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

            As I already said, saying “this is sarcasm” isn’t an interpretation, it is an assertion. What you need to do is explain how you think invoking sarcasm impacts the meaning of the text, and offer an interpretation of the precise language used.

          • Greg G.

            SARCASM. 1 : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain. 2 a : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.

            Paul used unusual language in his opening about not being sent by human authority. He specifies that the two men who came to Antioch were sent by James, who he identifies as a human authority. Calling James “the brother of the Lord”, the Lord that Paul nearly always claims sent him, he is making a caustic, ironic utterance directed at James.

            Some people are oblivious to irony and sarcasm. I once tried to explain it to one such person. I don’t believe I want to try that again. Do you see the sarcasm in Galatians 5:12? Or are you adamantly not saying one way or the other? That verse fits the first definition to an even greater level.

            I don’t think I need to prove that it is sarcasm. I have pointed out many utterances that look like caustic irony – sarcasm. If you can’t show that it is not sarcasm, then you can’t use the verse as evidence for a historical Jesus. To show it is not irony, you would first have to prove Jesus is historical without using this verse in a circle, then show that Jesus and James were brothers.

            Just curious: do you have an opinion on whether James and Jesus were brothers on their mother’s side, their father’s side, or both?

            Just thinking aloud:

            If your brother was crucified for saying he was the “Son of God”, would you want to be well-known as his brother?

            John 19:26-27

            26 Therefore when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour, the disciple took her to his own home.

            Did the author of John not know that Jesus had a brother who was a leader in Jerusalem? Maybe Pagels is right that John was written as a response to the Gospel of Thomas and this passage is directed at Saying 12 which says “Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.'”

          • Neko

            That is interesting about Pagels. Did you read that in Beyond Belief, or where?

            In the Roman Catholic Church John 19:26-27 is interpreted to promote the stature of Mary, not the beloved disciple, glossing over the suggestion that the beloved disciple was to take care of Mary (or, symbolically, as Mary’s “son,” to perpetuate the legacy of Jesus). They got it backwards, it seems to me.

          • Greg G.

            Most of what I have read from Pagels is from Google Books and quotations in studies and articles on the Gospel of Thomas. They all seem to include her view point.

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

            But Paul is granting James a connection with Jesus that he had no need to if it were not also a well-known reality. And “brother of a celestial being” or “brother of someone who lived generations ago” are not obvious ways to speak sarcastically, if that is what you were trying to suggest.

            I’ve often thought that the detail you mention in the Gospel of John would fit well with James and his siblings being Jesus’ half-brothers on their (deceased) father’s side. And there is a tradition to that effect which could reflect the developing idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity, but seems too early to be connected with that.

          • Greg G.

            And “brother of a celestial being” or “brother of someone who lived generations ago” are not obvious ways to speak sarcastically, if that is what you were trying to suggest.

            In Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians, Paul uses :Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, and “Christ Jesus” 300 times and about 90% of the uses are about Jesus in heaven. That seems to be what he was thinking most of the time. The few times he says something that is not like that, the information can be found in the Old Testament. So when he refers to James being the brother of the Lord, he is connecting to Galatians 1:1 where he is referring to Jesus relating to Paul from his then current location.

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

            I’m not convinced. Why on earth (pun intended) should anyone interpret what Paul wrote the way you suggest?

          • Greg G.

            Someone has brought a different message to the Galatians. Paul asks “Who has bewitched you?” right after he has been deriding James and Cephas so his readers and hearers would know the answer to the rhetorical question. Galatians is laden with sarcasm and derision of James and Cephas.

            It also provides an explanation for the unusual part of “sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father”.

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

            And so what makes James a “brother of the Lord” but Peter not, in light of what you wrote?

          • Greg G.

            Galatians 2:12a for until certain people came from James

            A sampling of first verses of other Pauline Epistles:

            Romans 1
            1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God

            1 Corinthians 1
            1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

            2 Corinthians 1
            1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

            Ephesians 1
            1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

            Philippians 1
            1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

            Colossians 1
            1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

            Galatians 1
            1 Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

            Galatians is the only letter where Paul contrasts who sent him with who did not send him. If James sends people the way Jesus sends Paul, then the implication is that James has assumed the authority of Jesus, as if he is at that level, which would make James a brother brother to the one who sends Paul. It is similar to the expression said sarcastically to a person who is getting bossy, “Who made you God?”

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It seems ironic that in the same thread, we have one mythicist arguing that “brother of the Lord” is a sarcastic put-down, and another mythicist arguing (by way of Vridar) that it is an honorific title.

          • Greg G.

            The Greek words for “brother” and “sister” in all their forms begin with the root “adelph-“. In the Gospels, it is that root is used about half the time for literal siblings and the other half in the figurative, religious sense.

            In the Epistles, the root “adelph-” root is used 192 times. It is used in the figurative religious sense 187 times. Once, in Romans 16, it refers to a literal sister. Twice in 1 John 3:12, it is used in the literal sense, once as a noun, once as a possessive, but it is referring to Cain and Abel.

            If Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5 are actually referring to Jesus having literal siblings, those would be the only times Paul used that root for a literal brother and those would be the only times in all of the epistles where “adelph-” is used for a brother who actually existed.

            I haven’t seen the other guy’s argument but these statistics might favor either argument. If you reject the statistics, my argument is favored.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I am aware that Paul uses the term “brother” metaphorically. The claim that he is using the term in that way when he refers to James is undermined by the fact that there appears to be a distinction between brothers of the Lord and brothers in the Lord.

            But it isn’t enough to argue that the term is metaphorical. There are plenty of relationships between metaphorical brothers. What we need to know is whether James was the brother of someone who never existed.

          • Pofarmer

            What we need to know first is the Greek, then we can see how it is translated. Assumptions of the translator can often change the meaning if a text. I think it’s a combination. I think in Galatians Paul is being mocking and sarcastic. I think in Corinthians it is a General title. “I went to see Cephas, and James, the Lords brother”. Also, in reading some stuff by Origen, you also have to be aware that they simply didn’t structure their arguments like we do today. It’s not always exactly obvious who or what they are refering to.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Fair enough. I’ll leave James to comment on that.

          • Pofarmer

            Crud, I missed that the “James, the Brother of the Lord” passage was in Galatians and not Corinthians. I may have to get in board with the Sarcasm argument, especially since the parties involved were having a tiff.

          • Greg G.

            There is a plural “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 but it is part of a tiff about financial support. That would be a motive for sarcasm there, too.

          • Mark

            This “brothers of the Lord” passage is sometimes used by mythicist types to argue that this was a special group or status, like ‘the twelve’ or ‘the apostles’ or etc. (I think Price is one of those who say this?) Of course that interpretation would make nonsense of your account, since it turns ‘brother of the Lord’ into an identifying epithet.

          • Greg G.

            If we had some strong evidence for “Brothers of the Lord” was a specific designation, that James was part of it, and that Paul meant that (or some combination of evidence that made that the most probable explanation), I would accept it. But Galatians 5:12 is still sharp sarcasm directed at the circumcision faction in Galatians 2:1-14. It also wouldn’t explain the bit in Galatians 1:1 about who does not send Paul on missions.

            I think this explanation explains points that have been ignored for a long time. I’m not a genius Bible scholar. I’m just a schmuck on the internet. There may be some related points in Galatians that I am oblivious to that could refute this explanation or, if the explanation naturally explains them, it would tend to confirm the explanation by showing it is robust.

            If I am wrong, I would like to be shown that I am wrong.

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

            Thank you for illustrating the biggest problems with mythicism: its proponents do not know the relevant texts even superficially, and are happy to latch onto any argument that seems to support the view they dogmatically insist must be true.

          • Pofarmer

            I confused the location of a Bible passage, oh, the horrors.

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

            Have you ever spoken to science deniers who get the basic facts wrong, but insist that their understanding is right nonetheless?

          • Pofarmer

            Like people who insist 2000 years ago the Son of God rose from the dead yet are impartial,secular scholars?

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

            They aren’t, obviously. But what is your point? Were you not taught growing up that two wrongs don’t make a right?

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

            So you imagine, I take it, that when a monk (who daily refers to his fellow monks as brothers) says “I am meeting my brother for lunch,” everyone is confused and cannot figure out what he means?

            The issue is not statistics of word usage in the abstract but context and grammar.

          • Greg G.

            They might get it right most of the time but not on the day when he has lunch with his parent’s other son who isn’t a monk. How about people who don’t know he is a monk? Does he ever use the term playfully?

            Do you imagine there are people who would never make such an error?

          • Pofarmer

            Apparently, in McGrath world, people never miss understand one another. BTW irony and sarcasm are very hard to write. I can’t count how many times I’ve been misunderstood making a sarcastic comment on a blog somewhere.

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

            I am sure there would be people who might misunderstand him, just as you seem to be misunderstanding Paul. But I expect that most people who paid attention to exactly what he said would not mistake his meaning. Did you misunderstand that he was referring to “his brother” which is a way that one might refer to a blood sibling, and not a normal way of referring to another monk?

          • Greg G.

            If a person says “brother” meaning a sibling, that’s what it means. If the word is in a different way, it’s probably not a sibling. You have to pay attention to the context where it is used to understand it.

            You seem to look at one phrase and say “Hey, that says what I need it to mean!”

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

            No, on the contrary, it is mythicists who seem to look only at the fact that “brothers” is used metaphorically and then argue that it must mean that even when Paul uses a different grammatical phrase, and uses it in a context which distinguishes James from other Christians and so in which it simply cannot mean “Christian.”

          • Greg G.

            Who are you arguing with now? That is not my argument. My argument is that “brother” is used sarcastically, which means it would have to be used in the sibling sense but ironically.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Greg, I’m not sure what you are hoping to achieve. You may genuinely believe that your interpretation is correct, but it seems utterly untenable to me. At the end of Galatians 1, Paul is very carefully laying out the facts. According to you, in the middle of this he says, in effect, “And I swear to God that I met no one else except that bighead James.” This is impossible, especially since he is mentioning James for the first time.

            There is certainly sarcasm later in the letter, but to see it in the passage in question is bizarre.

          • Neko

            Yeah, in English, anyway, Paul sounds so not sarcastic in Gal 1. On the contrary, he seems at pains to persuade of his sincerity: ” (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)”

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Indeed!

          • Greg G.

            Paul opens Galatians with a salutation in 1:1-5. There is a little sarcasm in the unusual part of the first verse where he says who he was not sent by. Then he says there is no other gospel in 1:6-10. Verses 1:11-14 covers his life before Christianity.Verses 1:15-17 is the first three years of his life after becoming a Christian.

            In 1:18-20, Paul speaks of meeting Cephas and James with more sarcasm. Verses 1:21-24 is on the next fourteen years.

            The sarcasm on circumcision in Galatians 5 points back to the talk of the circumsion faction discussed in Galatians 2:1-14.

            Paul airs some dirty laundry at the expense of James and Cephas, expressing some disdain with their position in the community.

            All that makes the answer to the rhetorical question in Galatians 3:1, “Who has bewitched you?”, most likely to be James and Cephas, so they were known to the Galatians already.

            The Epistle of James looks like a response to the letter to the Galatians. After the opening matter, James 2:8-10 refutes Galatians 5:14 after agreeing that it is just a good start. Paul says Leviticus 19:18 fulfills the whole law. James says you break one bit of it, you’ve broken it all.

            James 2:8-10 (NRSV)

            8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

            Galatians 5:14 (NRSV)

            14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            Galatians 5:14 sounds like it comes from the Rabbi Hillel school of thought about the summary of the Torah – “Don’t do what your neighbor hates. All the rest is commentary.” That verse probably gave Luke the idea to write that Paul/Saul studied at Gamaliel’s feet, Gamaliel being a descendant of Hillel.

            Paul talks about the faith of Abraham in chapter 3, James emphasizes the works of Abraham, Paul talks about the faith of Abraham’s women, James talks about the deeds of a different woman. James continues responding to Galatians in order to the end of Galatians, but James isn’t finished. He seems to go back over the last two chapters of Galatians discussing what he missed.

            Perhaps the Epistle of James is a response to Galatians from James, himself. Perhaps it was written a generation later as an exercise in studying James’ position as writing if you were James. I have heard that was how Greek writers were taught.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Greg, perhaps we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. I am not trying to convince you that you are wrong. You are entitled to your view, but I just don’t find it remotely plausible. You have made your case and people can make up their own minds about it.

          • Greg G.

            Feel free to read and respond if you wish. Feel free to not read or respond if you don’t want to do so.

            I responded to the original article from a position that had nothing to do with the historicity of Jesus but others turned it into this conversation. I have more to say about the topic. Maybe you should stick around.

          • Mark

            Or maybe Acts gave the rabbis the idea that Gamaliel existed … just what they needed to complete their version of apostolic succession! Josephus mentions a Shimeon ben Gamaliel ‘of a great family’ etc, but I think not Gamaliel himself. Maybe I’m missing something but I think you’ll have to wait another hundred years after Acts to get more news of him.

          • Greg G.

            Acts 5:33-39 has Gamaliel speaking in the 30s AD about Theudas rising up and being defeated. Then it says Judas the Galilean rose up after Theudas but at the time of the census and that he was defeated.

            In Antiquities of the Jews 20.5.1, Josephus tells about Theudas rising up when Fadus was procurator of Judea, which would have been in the mid-40s AD, a decade in the future of the Acts speech. In Antiquities of the Jews 20.5.2, the very next paragraph, Josephus mentions the sons of Judas of Galilee being dead and recounts Judas of Galilee revolting during the census of Quirinus. That event was in 6 AD.

            That shows that Luke was using Josephus as a source. Luke makes a similar error in Acts 21:38 by mentioning the Egyptian, who led people to the Mount of Olives (Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.6), with a group of people led into the wilderness (earlier in Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.6), and with the Sicarii (Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.5, Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.10).

            You may be right that the authors of the Talmud got the name from Acts but there is no family connection there. It seems more likely that they could have got it from Josephus and just supposed that the prominent family might have been from Hillel. Of course, they may have had their own records and writings, too.

            I may be presumptuous to assume that Luke knew that Gamaliel was a descendant of Hillel or that he recognized Galatians 5:14 as being similar to Hillel. I was giving Luke the benefit of the doubt. He may have just picked the name out of Josephus. Luke and Acts has many characters that we only know from Luke/Acts and Josephus. Many of the names seem to have been added to Acts for verisimilitude as the character plays no role in Acts but does in play a role in Josephus’ narrative. Apologists will try to refute that Luke used Josephus by picking out five or six instances in Luke and Acts and trying to convince us that those are merely coincidences. But when you get over two dozen coincidences, you have established a pattern that “mere coincidence” doesn’t explain.

          • Mark

            My point was, Gamliel is not mentioned in not in Josephus, only a figure name Simeon ben Gamliel is.

          • Greg G.

            Touché. I get many arguments touting Luke being a good historian by grading Luke/Acts against Josephus. They count that as a hit.

          • wtfwjtd

            “…it is mythicists who seem to look only at the fact that “brothers” is used metaphorically and then argue that it must mean that even when Paul uses a different grammatical phrase…”

            Uh, no. Catholicism vehemently denies that James was the physical brother of Jesus, long before mythicism was ever heard of. Are you saying that Catholicism, one of the oldest forms of Christianity, is wrong about this?

          • Jim

            So let’s say Jesus was subpoenaed to give a testimony in court (and swear on the bible) re one of the following: that he had a brother who broke his carpentry project, or that he had a celestial mythical, and/or catholic step brother – wtfwjd?

          • wtfwjtd

            Eh?

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

            Yes I am. Moreover, the notion that “Catholicism [is] one of the oldest forms of Christianity” is problematic and irrelevant, since historians can study the history of this religious tradition and, like all religious traditions, it is not unchanging. Historians are not interested in later dogma, but about what early evidence indicates about matters such as what happened and what peope believed.

          • wtfwjtd

            Are you saying that Catholicism, one of the oldest forms of Christianity, is wrong about (James not being the Lord’s physical brother?)

            “Yes I am…”

            Fair enough, you believe The Catholic Church is in error, and has been for nearly 2,000 years. The idea that James *isn’t* the physical brother of the Lord goes way, way back, and has its origins in Christianity itself. To pretend that it’s an argument made only recently by mythicists is not correct.

            “…the notion that “Catholicism [is] one of the oldest forms of Christianity” is problematic and irrelevant,…”

            It may be problematic and irrelevant to you, but it sure isn’t problematic and irrelevant to them. I’m rather surprised that you would so quickly and callously dismiss the scholarship and traditions of, yes,one of the oldest forms of Christianity still in existence.

            “…like all religious traditions, it is not unchanging. Historians are not interested in later dogma,…”

            So much for the unchanging nature of God. And like a lot of other ancient texts, the New Testament itself seems to have underwent numerous changes and revisions over the centuries; hence, our understanding and interpretation of it is also subject to change and revision. And that’s something that scholars and historians everywhere are in near universal agreement on.

          • Neko

            The Catholic Church’s denial of Jesus having any biological siblings is a feature of its dogma on the perpetual virginity of Mary. Apparently the Greek word in the NT that is translated as “brothers” can also mean “cousins.” The Church regards the brothers and sisters of Jesus explicitly mentioned in the gospels as step-siblings or cousins.

            Dr. McGrath is quite right that this dogma is irrelevant to the question of whether in Gal 1:19 Paul means to identify James as a biological brother of Jesus.

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

            There is a different word that explicitly means “cousins” and so the view that James was Jesus’ cousin is the least likely scenario. Most likely he was either Jesus’ full brother, or his half brother if Joseph had been previously married.

            But apart from that quibble, your point is a sound one and made well. Later dogmas are irrelevant to determining the meaning of texts written before those dogmas were formulated.

          • Neko

            Thank you for your response. I’ve spent many an hour arguing with orthodox Catholics over this business of Jesus’s siblings.

            If anyone’s interested, a detailed roundup of the state of the debate, albeit one hosted by a Catholic organization, is located at:

            http://campus{.}udayton{.}edu/mary/Rossier{.}html

          • wtfwjtd

            “Apparently the Greek word in the NT that is translated as “brothers” can also mean “cousins.” ”

            So by your own admission then, the Catholic take on James not being a physical brother of Jesus has as much chance of being correct as your assertion that he is. I’m glad you put it that way, I see we’re in agreement on this point.

            “…this dogma is irrelevant to the question of whether in Gal 1:19 Paul means to identify James as a biological brother of Jesus…”

            Once again, it may be irrelevant to you but it’s not irrelevant to them.

            Besides, Paul says plenty of things that Christians don’t take literally. Why should we make an exception for this one verse, where Paul may well be speaking metaphorically(again)?

          • Neko

            The Catholic position has nothing to do with historical probability and everything to do with theological conviction. So no, we don’t agree on that point.

            Once again, it may be irrelevant to you but it’s not irrelevant to them.

            I meant theology is irrelevant to the issue of whether the historical Jesus had a biological brother James. I’m in no position to make an educated guess about that.

          • wtfwjtd

            But it’s not just Catholic dogma that asserts Jesus had no siblings, it’s the formulation of that dogma based on texts such as the one in Galatians that makes their position completely relevant to the topic.
            Since the Bible is the sole source of any details about the life of Jesus, including whether or not he had any siblings, the interpretation of that text by Christians over the generations is noteworthy.

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

            Historians do indeed take particular note of such instances when later Christians have sought to deny that a text means what it clearly states.

          • Neko

            The dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin has nothing to do with Galatians!

            Further, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

            498 People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark’s Gospel and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus’ virginal conception. Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery, or incomprehension of non–believers, Jews and pagans alike; so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, etc.

          • wtfwjtd

            “The dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin has nothing to do with Galatians!”

            Yes. So? Why are you changing the subject? My initial assertion was that it was Christianity itself was among the first to make the claim that Jesus had no siblings. I made no comments as to the basis of that argument, only that Christianity itself was one of the first to make it. I said that to pretend that modern mythicism was among the first to make it, is not just disingenuous but factually incorrect. And I stand by that statement.

          • Neko

            Huh? I responded to this:

            But it’s not just Catholic dogma that asserts Jesus had no siblings, it’s the formulation of that dogma based on texts such as the one in Galatians that makes their position completely relevant to the topic.

            The point is the dogma developed not based on but despite “texts such as the one in Galatians,” as the Catechism’s too-much-protest makes clear.

            That the conviction that Jesus had no biological siblings was asserted early in the development of Christianity is not at issue.

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

            Wow, you seem to be reading Paul’s letter not as a letter but as Scripture the way fundamentalists do. This verses uses “from” and this one uses “from” therefore the meaning must be parallel. Prepositions in real life don’t work like that.

          • Greg G.

            I’m reading the letter as a letter dripping with sarcasm. You are really trying to say that “nor from human authorities” and “from James” are not alike while only looking at one word?

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

            Paul may well have been emphasizing that s status does not depend on James or anyone else in the Jerusalem church, but that doesn’t change the meaning of the words he uses about which we have been talking.

          • Greg G.

            Paul mentioned Cephas, James, and John together as pillars. John is not discussed. There is no reason to bring up John unless the three are leaders. Your theory that “pillars” could mean “apostles” fails for this instance. Paul reports that Cephas was intimidated by James’ agents which indicates James out-ranked him. So status does seem to be a factor.

          • Pofarmer

            There was another link on vridar when I was searching, ( yeah, I know) to a scholar arguing that the “Brother if the Lord” appelation was indicating James rank as opposed to the other “pillars” Paul was meeting with. In other words, in the Hierarchy, James was just below Jesus, who was the head, etc. if you search its not hard to find. It is interesting that there is more of a scholarly back and forth than McGrath lets on.

          • Pofarmer

            So, one line in Galatians makes it a fact that Paul met Jesus brother?

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

            No one piece of evidence makes anything a fact. It is the careful scholarly study of the evidence that leads to conclusions about what was the case in the past.

            Does one coin mentioning a ruler, or one text mentioning an ordinary person, make it a “fact” that that individual existed? Probably, in most cases, once the overall evidence, and the likelihood of that source meaning what it appears to and being reliable, is assessed.

          • Pofarmer

            I know the argument has been advanced that Paul uses the phrase “Brothers and sisters of the Lord” to refer to pretty much all those who were preaching or involved in Christianity at the time. Since Paul generally seems to refer to Cephas first, why then, wouldn’t it be consistent that Cephas was the ringleader of the Jerusalem group, and James was a “Brother of the Lord” or member of the group?

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

            Mythicists have claimed that, ignoring the distinction between “brothers and sisters in the Lord” and “brother(s) of the Lord.”

          • Pofarmer

            What’s the distinction? Paul was meeting with a small group.

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

            You don’t understand that the phrases are grammatically and semantically distinct? What group are you talking about, and what does its size have to do with it?

            Maybe these posts will help you understand the problems with the way mythicists ride roughshod over the evidence:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/11/james-the-lords-brother.html

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/mythicism-and-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-a-reply-to-richard-carrier.html

          • Pofarmer

            “Other sources refer to Jesus having a brother named James. Some attribute to him a leadership role in the early Church in Jerusalem parallel to what Paul indicates in his letters, and some also look back to him as having opposed Paul, again in agreement with Paul’s own letters.”

            Which other sources outside the Gospels?

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

            Rather than me typing them out for you here, let me link to John Painter’s book on the topic which provides a useful survey, and the table of contents of which will answer your question to a large extent.

            https://books.google.com/books?id=HQGsx8ycHcsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=james+brother+of+jesus&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XukvVePDIcTHsAXov4DgDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=james%20brother%20of%20jesus&f=false

          • Pofarmer

            How about someone who Isn’t a theologian ?

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

            Linking to Vridar is not an argument. I presume you know the story of Neil Godfrey’s behavior both on that blog and here?

          • Pofarmer

            I wouldn’t look at it either.

          • Neko

            Actually, it was pretty good as vridar goes. I remember reading in some bewilderment Hoffmann’s refutation of what I thought was the consensus that “James the Lord’s brother” refers to a biological sibling. Hoffmann has offered conflicting views on this pretty pivotal issue, and I’m not clear where he stands.

          • Pofarmer

            I wonder if his change of position didn’t come about because of him writing a book on historicity

          • Neko

            You think he’s begging the question? I doubt it.

          • Pofarmer

            It’s not like nobody ever changed their mind to support a position they wanted to hold.

          • Neko

            Yeah, I’ll stick with assuming some reconsideration of the evidence compelled him to change his mind. He’s probably explained it somewhere, and I just don’t know about it.

          • Pofarmer

            Well he wrote a book on historicity and there’s no doubt that that passage is problematic

          • Neko

            I don’t believe that book has seen the light of day.

          • Pofarmer

            I thought Wikipedia had it listed as 2010

          • Neko

            Sources of the Jesus Tradition, a collection of essays Hoffmann edited, is not his own book on historicity (apparently a work in progress).

          • Pofarmer

            Jesus the Nazarene. 06

          • Neko

            Hoffmann wrote the introduction to that book. Quit googling, Pofarmer. I’m referring to a book that I thought Hoffmann was writing in conjunction with the Jesus Process. Maybe he abandoned the project, I don’t know.

          • Pofarmer

            Sorry. I was looking at his wiki entry.

          • Mark

            On your view Paul is waiting for King Messiah now that he’s joined the ‘church’, same as he was waiting for King Messiah before he joined the church. Why was he persecuting these people?

          • Greg G.

            Maybe he was still a Pharisee who hadn’t read the Suffering Servant verses as a hidden mystery yet?

          • Mark

            What are you thinking is unpharisaical about the teaching Paul adopted? Or rather, what is punishable from a pharisaical point of view? You are claiming that Paul was converted to standard Jewish messianic hope with maybe a special esoteric back story. Why would a pharisee persecute someone who piously awaits the anointed, thinking “and though he tarry, yet I will wait for him every day”?

          • Greg G.

            What exactly was Paul doing? In Galatians 1:13, he is talking about his earlier life. In the next verse, he sounds like he was a teenager. His persecution may have been doing pranks for quite immature reasons.

          • Mark

            I see. In other words, he had no reason. And so: while ‘persecuting’ these people, he held to standard Jewish messianic expectation; and after he was done persecuting, he held to standard Jewish messianic expectation. Nothing happened. He is just repeating the familiar phrases of the prophets the same as everyone else in Judea.

          • Greg G.

            Paul doesn’t say. I don’t know why he did what he did. You don’t know why he did what he did. Paul doesn’t say what he did, either. He says he persecuted the church God when he was younger. He says he was advanced in Judaism for his age, which is only significant if he was still young. Elsewhere he says he was a Pharisee.

            You can speculate but those details will always be speculation.

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

            It is interesting that mythicists object to speculation only when doing so might lead to a conclusion they want to avoid.

          • Greg G.

            I don’t object to speculation, only to pretending speculation is not speculation. It’s not like historists are different than mythicists like that. To me, it sounds like you are projecting.

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

            Not at all. Mainstream scholars speculate all the time, and recognize it as such – most of the time, at least.

            To be a mythicist, on the other hand, you have to let speculation run rampant. You have to pretend that ancient people were so different from us that one could write about someone who is the anointed one, the fleshly descendant of David, and actually mean a state of affairs in the celestial realm. Indeed, calling that speculation is altogether too charitable. It is an outright denial of what most sources of information actually indicate about how terminology was used and what ancient people in the relevant time and context meant by it.

          • Mark

            Are you suggesting that the text doesn’t impute his opposition to the ‘ekklesia’ to religious zeal? I wasn’t appealing to ‘what he did’, e.g. throw rocks — just to the fact that he was somehow opposed, and intensely opposed, and on religious grounds – grounds of a sort that only make sense between Jews. This would presumably have to be reduced to what the opponent perceives as violations of the law or some sort of turpitude in worship.

          • Greg G.

            Are you assuming Paul had a legitimate reason? Catholics and Protestants have violently persecuted one another with religious zeal since the Protestants split off. Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims have been fighting and killing for centuries over religious zeal. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” has been enforced by Christians in the past and in the present with religious zeal. Jews were killed in many places because of an incorrect idea that their red wine rituals were performed with wine made from the blood of Christian children with religious zeal.

            Translations consistently use a form of the verb “persecute” but the adverbial phrase varies from “without measure” to “violently”. Maybe he tried to destroy Christianity by not baking cakes for their weddings or he might have been with the Sicarii.

            Paul may have violently persecuted early Christians with religious zeal for any reason you can come up with but he may have been acting on incorrect information, just like the witch killers do.

          • Neko

            The Jesus followers believed that a crucified man was the Messiah. That might have sufficed to infuriate Paul.

          • Mark

            I’m not thinking Paul had a legitimate reason. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” is a reason. But where has Moses given a law against esoteric backstories for messianic expectation? On your account it is as if he persecuted pious fellow messiah-anticipating Jews for the shape of their feet or the shadow they cast.

          • Greg G.

            Let’s suppose we both agree that young Paul was violently persecuting a sect that he thought had followed an itinerant, apocalyptic preacher/teacher from Galilee whom they thought would be a zombie messiah. You say he was doing it based on a true belief and I say he was doing it based on a false belief but once he discovered their actual claims of an ancient savior, it resonated with him and he converted.

            People can be willing to crash planes full of random people based on false beliefs.

            No matter what the reason Paul did it, the argument gets nowhere but back to the starting point.

          • Mark

            It seems like your argument against any demand for historical comprehension is, well they were crazy it can’t be comprehended. There is no reason to think this was anything but standard-issue messianic enthusiasm for a real person. The phenomenon is a completely familiar one, like lightning and the arrival of spring. It had to deal with apparent disappointment, but they all do. You wouldn’t exhibit this phobic attitude to comprehension if you were discussing the followers of Sabbatai after the apostasy or Schneersonites after his death — why do you insist in this one case that there is a cognitive black hole in which all speculations are equal, even e.g. one that involves people thinking that someone was named Jesus before that corruption of the name Joshua was invented?

          • Greg G.

            I have bent over backwards to let you put whatever you want in Paul’s mind as his motive for the violent persecution mentioned in Galatians. I will either agree or not and I may point out that his belief may have been wrong. A person does not have to be crazy to be wrong. Paul doesn’t say what his motive was. I point out the range of possibilities but since that includes things you refuse to consider, you try to twist my position into the most extreme opposite.

            Your assumption for Paul’s motive seems contrived to arrive at the conclusion you want.

            Perhaps we are talking past each other or you are trying to make a mountain out of a quark.

          • Mark

            > I have bent over backwards to let you put whatever you want in Paul’s mind

            Your idea that people here ‘want to put things in Paul’s mind’ is, as far as I can tell, pure projection.

          • Greg G.

            When I say that “you can put whatever you want into Paul’s mind”, it means you could say “Reason X” for all I care. It doesn’t have to be specific. That does not change the argument. I would simply say that Reason X may have been incorrect or it may have been a false belief on Paul’s part. Then we are back to square one.

            To make your argument work, you need to prove that Paul’s motive was based on beliefs that were true. If you don’t even know what those beliefs were, you will not be able to prove them true. But those reasons may well have worked in my favor.

            Your idea that people here ‘want to put things in Paul’s mind’ is, as far as I can tell, pure projection.

            That is very ironic because you started this thread by asking me to put things in Paul’s mind:

            Why would a pharisee persecute someone who piously awaits the anointed, thinking “and though he tarry, yet I will wait for him every day”?

            Just to change the subject, what is your position on the Testimonium Flavianum, the passage on John the Baptist, and “the so-called Christ” in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews?

          • Mark

            No, you suggested that maybe Paul persecuted the ekklesia because he was a Pharisee who hadn’t read the suffering servant passages. I then reasoned from what I supposed, rightly or wrongly, to be pharisaical thinking. The point of departure was your pretending to think “that Paul seemed to think Jesus existed on Earth between David’s time and up to or including Isaiah’s”.

          • Greg G.

            I asked a question “Maybe he was still a Pharisee who hadn’t read the Suffering Servant verses as a hidden mystery yet?” in response to your question “Why was he persecuting these people?”

            Here is you trying to project what you would like me to have said when I didn’t follow your script:

            “I see. In other words”

            “On your account it is as if he persecuted pious fellow messiah-anticipating Jews for the shape of their feet or the shadow they cast”

            “It seems like your argument against any demand for historical comprehension is, well they were crazy it can’t be comprehended.”

            Then you accuse me of projecting:

            Your idea that people here ‘want to put things in Paul’s mind’ is, as far as I can tell, pure projection.

            I infer from Romans 1:3 and Romans 15:12 that Paul thought that Jesus was descended from David and he may have got the idea from Isaiah 11:10, though there are plenty of other possibilites. Paul quotes Isaiah more than any other book of scripture and the Suffering Servant songs contain some of the information Paul writes about but those are written in the past tense. Hence, Paul’s Jesus was after David, being a descendant but in Isaiah’s past at the time he wrote.

            Made of woman > Galatians 4:4 > Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 49:5

            Became a servant of the circumcised > Romans 15:8 > Isaiah 53:11

            Was crucified for sins > 1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:13* > Isaiah 53:12, Deuteronomy 21:23

            Was buried > 1 Corinthians 15:4 > Isaiah 53:9

          • Guest

            Yes, but, as I said, there is a problem of internal coherence of the theory that imputes this meaning to Paul, namely that he says he thought he had good grounds for persecuting these people, when in fact they were just quoting Isaiah etc.

          • Greg G.

            Disqus is strange today. The is the link in my email notification that said it was from Mark but here it shows as “Guest” while a later post from Mark to me shows up with his name plus all his other posts.

            Paul says he did not get his gospel from human sources. Everything Paul tells us about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament scripture. Paul uses “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, and “Christ Jesus” over 300 times in the least disputed Pauline epistles, including pronouns and the ambiguous “Lord”, without citing any knowledge from a first century source. Ergo, Paul only knew Jesus from the Old Testament. Paul also says that his knowledge was not inferior to the knowledge of the other apostles. Ergo, Paul didn’t think they knew anything about Jesus from outside the scriptures. That is supported by the fact that other epistles also only speak of Jesus in Old Testament terms, except 2 Peter and 1 Timothy where they show knowledge of the gospels but no independent knowledge of Jesus.

            Paul and the other apostles agreed on some things and they disagreed on some things. Paul’s thinking changed and the thinking of the other apostles may have changed of that 17 year or more period. That is what we can infer from what is written.

            Don’t say that what I say below is my position. I am only trying to illustrate how much we don’t know. We don’t know what Paul found so offensive about ohter religions. We don’t know what offended him about the church of God. Maybe it was “church of God” that drew his wrath.

            It doesn’t matter whether Paul thought he had good grounds for persecution. Uneducated Christians who didn’t understand that red wine the Jews used in rituals was made from grapes and not the blood of Christian children killed Jews over it. If they had been correct, it might have been justified, but they were tragically wrong. Likewise, Paul’s reasons may have been incorrect.

            Paul also may not have been persecuting early Christians exclusively. He may have been against several sects and tried to destroy them all.

          • Mark

            I’m quite confident Paul’s reasons were incorrect; his every proposition is that of a first c. second temple fanatic. It is a question of locating the text and its meaning in the actual history of Second Temple religious ideas. Anyone who asserts ‘Maybe Paul thought his “Jesus Christ” was born and died somewhere around thousand years etc. earlier; scholars are overlooking this possibility” is like someone who asserts “Maybe Obama was born in Kenya; the newspapers are overlooking this possibility”. No one who says either can possibly have the least interest in history, truth or reality; they are up to something different. This fact about the motives of people who say such things is itself so certain that it would only be denied by those same corrupt people. This in turn is objective fact, etc.

          • Occam Razor

            Paul says he had superior knowledge about Jesus, yes. But if you finished the thought, the distinction is not about scriptural interpretation, but that Paul thought he had superior knowledge than the apostles who LIVED WITH the eartly Jesus.

            That’s the argument in a nutshell. It’s a simple dispute, not hard at all to understand.

            Trying to pretend that the argument between Paul and the apostles was over something else demonstrates that mythisicts can only handle the facts of their own choosing, not the facts that actually exist.

          • Greg G.

            2 Corinthians 12:11 (NRSV)
            11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

            mythisicts historicists can only handle the facts of their own choosing, not the facts that actually exist.

            FIFY

          • Occam Razor

            Maybe you could explain to me how that passage has anything to do with your point?

            The passage you quote is an example of my point. Paul’s argument is with those he refers to as “super apostles,” who had more status among many in the movement as a result of their closeness with the historical Jesus.

            Paul is saying that he is not inferior to the people who lived with Jesus. He claims to have spoken with the resurrected Jesus, which to his point of view is worth more than those who were merely with him than when he was alive.

            Now I have no idea whether Paul saw Jesus after he died, but that has nothing to do with the fact that there was a major conflict between those who knew Jesus personally and those who didn’t.

            Again, what is your point?

          • Greg G.

            Sigh. Do you really think Jesus appearing to Paul can be taken seriously as history?

            I have gone over this a few times. Paul writes of not getting information from human sources and about getting revelation from scripture, found as long hidden mysteries.

            In 1 Corinthians 15, he says Jesus died for sins (according to the scripture in Isaiah 53:5), was buried (according to the scripture in Isaiah 53:9) and rose on the third day (according to the scripture in Hosea 6:2). The “appeared to” is the same word he uses for his own “appeared to” indicating that he doesn’t think theirs was different than his own. They all got the idea that there was a Jesus from scripture, not from knowing a first century teacher/preacher.

            I have shown that of the hundreds of times Paul refers to Jesus, the few times he gives actual information, it seems to have been found in the OT. Furthermore, every other early epistle does the same. They only mention Jesus in terms of OT verses. That would take some work to do that consistently through all the NT epistles if they were referring to a real person and not accidentally giving some kind of actual info. 1 Timothy and 2 Peter give some information from the gospels but no other independent information about him.

          • Occam Razor

            Greg, the point is so simple that you have to try hard to not get it. No, Jesus appearing to Paul can’t be taken seriously as history, but that is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT to the point.

            The relevant fact is that there was an argument between Paul, who said he spoke to Jesus after he died, and the apostles, whom Paul notes knew the historical Jesus.

            Again, Paul bitterly denounces those who lived with the human Jesus because they were taken more seriously than he was. Because they knew the flesh and blood Jesus and he didn’t. The followers of Jesush included his IMMEDIATE FAMILY,

            The point is simple and has nothing to do with whether Paul saw Jesus or not. Until you can adequately address that simple point, the rest of your claims make no sense.

            It’s amazing how so many people, by your telling, all came to the same wrong conclusion about a dead savior figure being in the Jewish scripture and all giving the same name to this person and inventing the same basic story.

          • Greg G.

            Again, Paul bitterly denounces those who lived with the human Jesus because they were taken more seriously than he was. Because they knew the flesh and blood Jesus and he didn’t. The followers of Jesush included his IMMEDIATE FAMILY,

            The point is simple and has nothing to do with whether Paul saw Jesus or not. Until you can adequately address that simple point, the rest of your claims make no sense.

            I have addressed the point. Paul was bitterly denouncing those who were moving in on his turf with a different message than his, which involved circumcision and following the law. The Corinthians apparently supported him financially but they were threatening to cut back on him. That is why he was bitter. He was not addressing anybody who lived with Jesus. He did not know anybody who was related to Jesus. That was Paul being sarcastic because of his bitterness.

            It’s amazing how so many people, by your telling, all came to the same wrong conclusion about a dead savior figure being in the Jewish scripture and all giving the same name to this person and inventing the same basic story.

            Paul tells us that Cephas was first, then the twelve, then the 500, then James. There is no reason to think Cephas wasn’t passing it around. Cephas may have got the name from a priest in Zechariah. It was not an uncommon name. Of the 18 high priests of the Temple built by Herod to the destruction, four were named Jesus.

            The circumcision faction seemed to maintain the OT law. Cephas was intimidated to follow the food laws. Paul says in Galatians 5:14 that “love your neighbor” fulfills the whole law. James 2:8-10 says that is a good start but breaking any part of the law breaks the whole law.

            The fact that Paul had to spell out his formula in Galatians 3:6-13 shows that the Galatians got something else from Cephas and James. There is no reason to think that Paul wrote up all their differences.

            Most of what I have heard on this site over the past five or six days is “nuh-uh”. There are hints that the basic position is not the same as most historicists. Apparently, one is not allowed to mention anything but seven epistles. Is that the whole argument?

          • Occam Razor

            I have no idea what you mean in your last paragraph, since it doesn’t seem to relate to anything I’ve said.

            But this is very frustrating, since you insist on denying what is fairly obvious. Question: Do you really deny that Paul and the apostles fought over the issue of who was more credible based on their relationship with Jesus?

            Yes, Paul and the apostles differed over circumcision and the like, but again that highlights my point. The apostles taught what was largely in synch with the teachings of their leader, Jesus. Note how similar the epistle of James is with the sermon on the mount, for example. Meanwhile, Paul made stuff up that he learned in a vision. That created tension. This is all very simple human behavior.

          • Greg G.

            But this is very frustrating, since you insist on denying what is fairly obvious. Question: Do you really deny that Paul and the apostles fought over the issue of who was more credible based on their relationship with Jesus?

            I deny that any of them had a relationship with Jesus. Paul’s Jesus must have been thought to be a descendant of David but was primarily based on the Suffering Servant songs in Isaiah which are in the past tense, so Paul’s Jesus was thought to be younger than David but older than or as old as Isaiah. I have given my explanation backed up by his words in a few places in this thread. Paul says he is receiving revelation from long hidden mysteries in the scriptures. I have validated it by showing that all the information Paul gives about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament.

            Yes, Paul and the apostles differed over circumcision and the like, but again that highlights my point. The apostles taught what was largely in synch with the teachings of their leader, Jesus. Note how similar the epistle of James is with the sermon on the mount, for example. Meanwhile, Paul made stuff up that he learned in a vision. That created tension. This is all very simple human behavior.

            The apostles taught what was in synch with Jewish law where they differed from Paul.

            The relationship between the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle of James is greater than you give it credit for. James never cites Jesus as the source for his arguments even when it would have strengthened his case with a “Jesus said”. If you account for the verses Matthew gets from Mark and the Old Testament and the ones that are similar to James, there is no need for the hypothetical Q.

            In fact, after the parry with Galatians 5:14 at James 2:8-10, James seems to be arguing against Galatians topic for topic. Paul talks about Abraham’s faith, James counters with Abraham’s works. Paul mentions the faith of the women in Abe’s life, James talks about the works of a different woman, Rahab. It continues that way to the end of Galatians and James goes back over some things he missed the first time.

            Human nature accounts for all the writings in the New Testament without needing a real Jesus.

          • Pofarmer

            “The apostles taught what was largely in synch with the teachings of their leader, Jesus.”

            Paul certainly doesn’t act like the apostles in Jerusalem new Jesus in any way different than he did, and he says as much. As GregG notes, all of the arguments could have been put to bed with a “But Jesus said…….” but we don’t see that. You are reading the Gospels back into the Epistles.

          • Pofarmer

            “whom Paul notes knew the historical Jesus.”

            Anything more than “James, the brother of Jesus?”

            “It’s amazing how so many people, by your telling, all came to the same
            wrong conclusion about a dead savior figure being in the Jewish
            scripture and all giving the same name to this person and inventing the
            same basic story.”

            Look at Mormonism, or Scientology, or miracles at Fatima. Large groups of people come to false beliefs all the time.

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

            We could include mythicism’s bizarre fringe views on your list, too, along with Holocaust denial. Denialism is at least as common a form of false belief as the concocting of something false. This is an argument for engaging in historical critical study, not an argument for engaging in still further denialism.

          • Pofarmer

            That’s a good point. Let’s start with the archaelogocal evidence, like the case for early tomb veneration, oh, wait. Maybe we could look at the records indicating Jesus from contemporary authors-bollucks. I know, we’ll look at the documents said to be by Jesus own hand-nuts. I have it, we’ll just use these religious hagiographies that don’t agree and were sorted out to give an appearance of some kind of early consensus view-yeah, that’ll work.

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

            Your ignorance on the aforementioned subjects isn’t an argument. If you don’t know what the evidence regarding the archaeology of the tomb is, look it up. If you don’t know what kind of attestation we have for Jesus and what it is reasonable to expect, look it up. But arguments from ignorance are no less laughable when they come from mythicists than when they come from creationists. And the fact that these matters have been discussed on this blog before makes your ignorance less excusable.

            In addition, I do not allow profanity on this blog, and so please edit your comment accordingly.

          • Pofarmer

            You should know what an argument from ignorance is, before you accuse someone of it. Also, maybe in bizzare views, you should include the belief in all powerful God men rising from the dead? Or the idea that he’ll return with armies of Angels? Nah, those beliefs are too widespread to be termed bizzare.

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

            I meant exactly what I said. You seem unaware of the archaeology related to the likely place of Jesus’ burial, and made your lack of awareness a foundation for something that could not in any meaningful sense be called an argument.

            And the fact that what historians are discussing are not miracles but mundane history has been explained to you over and over and yet you ignore it.

            Your time trolling this blog is over. If you think that you can raise the level of your discourse from profanity and snide remarks to actual engagement with scholarship, feel free to get in touch and I will consider lifting the ban.

          • Mark

            You seem not to have noticed that no one on this page has been arguing that Jesus was a first century teacher or preacher.

          • Greg G.

            I’ve noticed. But then what do you think he was that they would think up excuses for his crucifixion?

          • wtfwjtd

            “Paul is saying that he is not inferior to the people who lived with Jesus. He claims to have spoken with the resurrected Jesus,…”

            This would be akin to me telling you that I know your best friend better than you do, even though I have never met him. Any rational person would think me to be rather foolish to make such a ridiculous claim, don’t you think? In the same way, this argument makes Paul look petty and foolish, and rather seriously undermines his credibility concerning his claims about Jesus and the message he claims to have received from him.

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

            But Paul is claiming to have met him, to have been sent by him, and thus not to be inferior to them. If they had no advantage over him – if they all just had the same experiences and nothing more – then he could have claimed to be superior to them, to know more than they do. But he doesn’t do that. The most natural explanation as to why he doesn’t do so is that he can’t, and that this is well-known.

          • wtfwjtd

            “… if they all just had the same experiences and nothing more – then he could have claimed to be superior to them, to know more than they do. But he doesn’t do that. …”

            Actually, according to Paul, there are at least 2 crucial differences between him and the rest of the apostles:

            1) in 2 Cor 11:6, he admits that he is not a “trained speaker”. This also implies that at least several of the other apostles were in fact trained speakers, giving them what he perceived as an advantage over him. (So much for the ages-old claim that the apostles were mostly ignorant fishermen).

            2) In 1 Cor 15:9, Paul gives a prime reason why he says that he does “not even deserve to be called an apostle” : because he “persecuted the Church of God.” Clearly, they all didn’t just have the same experiences and nothing more–Paul was a persecutor, and you can be sure the other apostles didn’t let him forget it.

            With these two thorns in his side, Paul would, by his own admission, look foolish to claim superiority over the other apostles.

            And finally, Paul claims in 1 Cor 15:5-8 that Jesus “appeared to” Peter, the Twelve, 500 of “the brothers” simultaneously, James, all of the apostles, and lastly, to him. Paul makes it crystal clear that Jesus appeared to everyone in this group in the same way.

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

            That last point is not in dispute, is it? Those appearances are subsequent to the other details, such as the crucifixion, and so claims about post-resurrection appearances don’t support mythicism in any obvious way. Indeed, given that they presume a human death and burial, they are most naturally understood the way all scholars except a couple understand them.

            Your first point seems to be somehow completely unaware that Paul shows evidence of his education in his letters, and that emphasizing that one was not offering eloquent speech and rhetoric is precisely what people were trained to say when they studied rhetoric. “This isn’t mere words, mere eloquence of speech, mere persuasive rhetorical trickery.”

          • wtfwjtd

            “That last point is not in dispute, is it?”

            Actually, there are plenty of Christians that dispute it, and claim that Jesus’ appearance to everyone but Paul was a physical appearance just after Jesus’ supposed resurrection, whereas Paul’s was via vision or revelation. This is what the tradition I grew up in taught, and was clearly in error.

            “Those appearances are subsequent to the other details, such as the crucifixion, and so claims about post-resurrection appearances don’t support mythicism in any obvious way.”

            Fair enough. They don’t offer direct support to mythicism, but taken as Paul actually wrote them they don’t offer any direct support to historicism, either–at least, not without reading the gospels back into them. I prefer to let Paul speak for himself.

            As for presuming a human death and burial, Paul informs us that “according to the scriptures” “Christ died and was buried…that he was raised on the third day..” again, “according to the scriptures”. When and where did Paul believe this happened? Ah yes, there’s the rub, he never says, and leaves us guessing.

            “Your first point seems to be somehow completely unaware that Paul shows evidence of his education in his letters,…”

            I am totally aware that Paul was a very learned and intelligent man, and I’ll go one further: he was also a very persuasive man. This doesn’t necessarily imply he was a great orator though–maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe the other apostles could give him a good whipping from the pulpit, and this galled him(he was obviously a very proud, boastful man).

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

            One should definitely let Paul speak for himself. One should not on principle disallow the possibility that texts by different authors but from the same tradition may share common assumptions and information, especially when they show evidence of doing so.

          • Mark

            You are ‘following my script’ just fine. You are saying that the early church, and Paul upon joining it, are just quoting Isaiah, not issuing (e.g.) a blasphemous interpretation of current events in the light of it. You thus cannot have any account of Paul’s ‘persecution of the church’. This was the original difficulty and you still don’t have any account of it. In one remark you suggested that he stopped persecuting them when he realized they were just quoting servant song; this can’t explain why he joined them, which on your account could only mean, joined the Jewish people.

            It is just an objective fact that your ‘interpretation of Paul’ is itself as deranged as it makes Paul out to be; it belongs with an interpretation that says “Paul says he was abducted by inter-galactic space aliens in 2 Cor 12, though of course we know this never happened, since galaxies are just too far apart” which despite its ‘rational’ codicil is if anything more symptomatic of mental illness than the proposition that “Paul was abducted by intergalactic space aliens, as we know from 2 Cor 12.” All these propositions are suitable for the world-system of a schizophrenic, but don’t have anything to do with objective historical enquiry. Of course I don’t actually believe that you believe any of this.

          • Greg G.

            In one remark you suggested that he stopped persecuting them when he realized they were just quoting servant song; this can’t explain why he joined them, which on your account could only mean, joined the Jewish people.

            I don’t know why Paul did what he did or why he stopped and neither do you. When I give such a possiblitly, I am trying to expand your mind to other possibilities, not stating my opinion. You don’t seem to grasp the extent of the possibilities. Just because you can’t think of very many is not a sign that there are no other explanations. The problem might be something else.

            Paul may have been studying Isaiah, came across the Servant Songs, and it suddenly made sense to him. The operative word is “may”. Do you get that?

            I don’t think Paul was deranged. He may have had a lucid dream. It is not uncommon. He was reading old allegorical writings and thought he was reading about a real person. It is not uncommon. Many people read the New Testament gospels that way to this day.

          • Mark

            This is like: I don’t know where Obama was born, and neither do you. When I give Kenya as a possibility, I am trying to expand your mind to other possibilities, not stating my opinion.

            The apparent ‘openness’ to evidence attached to this nonsense just makes it more mentally debauched. Similarly if you continue, I don’t think Obama is lying. He seems completely sincere. He may have been given false documents by his parents. It is not uncommon.

            These are not the statements of a serious person interested in history and objective reality. And no serious person interested in history and objective reality will ever greet your proposition “Here’s one of the possibilities: Paul thought his Jesus lived before 800BC” with anything but this attitude, but will see immediately that he or she has to do with toxic anti-rational disinformation of a polemical and motived character devoid of interest in history, reality, science and truth.

          • Greg G.

            It is just the opposite of like that. If you ask where Obama was born, I would say that Obama says Hawaii and he has documentation to back it up. You ask me what Paul thought and I said I don’t know because he doesn’t tell us. You kept asking so I gave you a range of possibilities that you didn’t like.
            You have no point to make. No you are arguing about the argument.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Greg, this looks like a rather cavalier application of the criterion of emulation. The claim that Jesus was buried, for example, is a very mundane one. We hardly need to posit a scriptural inspiration for it. If we were going to speculate about a reason for inventing the claim, it would make far more sense to suppose that the followers of Jesus came to believe in his resurrection as a result of visions, and then assumed that he must have been buried, in order to be resurrected.

          • Greg G.

            Cavalier? The post has everything Paul says about Jesus in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians. It would include 2 Corinthians and Philemon if I had found statements about an earthly Jesus.

            If we were going to speculate about a reason for inventing the claim, it would make far more sense to suppose that the followers of Jesus came to believe in his resurrection as a result of visions, and then assumed that he must have been buried, in order to be resurrected.

            I am presenting evidence that Paul didn’t know anything about a first century Jesus. He doesn’t think the other apostles knew any more than he did. The other epistles only refer to Jesus in terms of the Old Testament verses.

            Have I missed a verse somewhere that doesn’t have information from the Old Testament?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            The image that comes to mind is of someone cutting the Old Testament up into thousands of individual words and phrases and then picking a dozen of them at random. The result is the story of Jesus.

            A more likely scenario is that the story was known in advance and the pieces were chosen as a way of telling the story. But given the mundane nature of the parallels, even this seems like an unnecessary speculation.

          • Greg G.

            I see it as somebody studying Isaiah’s Suffering Servant as a metaphor of Israel but having an idea pop into his head that it might be a hidden history instead of a mere allegory. Then several verses would confirm that idea through confirmation bias the same way some Christians see them as prophecies. That person may have been influenced by some of Philo’s ideas which might have primed his brain to see that sort of connection. Paul seems to have done it but he credits Cephas as being the first in 1 Corinthians 15.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //The image that comes to mind is of someone cutting the Old Testament up into thousands of individual words and phrases and then picking a dozen of them at random. The result is the story of Jesus.//

            You say this as though people didn’t regularly and with enthusiasm build up entire worldviews out of effectively randomly chosen parts of the scriptures they’ve inherited.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I think it is more likely that the early Christians went looking for Jesus in the scriptures than that they found him by accident. And the extent to which he is found in the scriptures seems to be exaggerated by fundamentalists and mythicists.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Yes, you think it’s more likely.

          • Mark

            Every rational person knows that this is what happened.

          • TheNuszAbides

            that’s a handy statistic.

          • Greg G.

            Philo started with some Greek ideas and found justification in the scriptures for his Logos.