Targum Jonathan and Mythicism

I have explained before on numerous occasions the problems which the proclamation of Jesus as a crucified messiah present for mythicism.  Let me try to restate the point again briefly, as I sought to do in a comment on another post:

The claim of Christians is that Jesus was the anointed one descended from David. In other words, they viewed him as the one who would restore the line of David to the throne.

Jesus failed to do so, at least in the manner expected.

It is unlikely that Christians would have invented a Messiah that they wanted their fellow Jews to accept, yet who was a failure.

Some mythicists claim that dying before restoring the Davidic dynasty to the throne was not failure, because there was an expectation that the messiah would die. They often point to Isaiah 53 as evidence of this.

Targum Jonathan illustrates the problem with this. It is the one example of possibly pre-Christian Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 in messianic terms, and it accomplishes this by making it the enemies of the messiah who suffer.

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  • I suspect that most religious movements start with some idea that defies the prevailing cultural expectations. Does the fact that most Christians rejected the idea of undiscovered canonical texts buried in New York give us any reason to think that there is any factual basis for Joseph Smith’s story of the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates?

    It may be unlikely that any specific will win the lottery in any given drawing, but that doesn’t make it unlikely that someone will.

    • If you think that anything you wrote is pertinent to my post, then you must not have understood the point.

      • The fact of the matter seems to be that one of Jesus’ followers (or perhaps Jesus himself) did invent the idea of a crucified Messiah and some of his fellow Jews did accept it. That would make the likelihood 100%.

        • This may be the most ridiculous thing you have written here yet. I have mentioned Donald Trump’s presidency on this blog. Thus the likelihood that someone would “invent” such a thing is 100%, according to you? Can you not see that you are begging the question (on a charitable reading that assumes that your comment makes some kind of sense)?

          • Prior to November, I thought it unlikely that the American people would elect Donald Trump, but they did. I have to conclude from this that my assessment was wrong; in fact, it was much more likely than I realized. I need to interpret the data in light of what actually happened.

            When assessing the likelihood of a first century Jew inventing the idea of a crucified Messiah, I have to take into account the fact that a religion based on that concept took hold and gained adherents among first century Jews. I have to take that into account when considering the range of expectations concerning the Messiah that may have been current.

            It is possible that the idea of a suffering Messiah was completely without precedent in first century Jewish thought, but I don’t know how I can assess that as likely given what occurred.

          • I know you don’t. But historians do. They do it by studying the evidence. And thankfully they do not confuse the likelihood that something might happen in the future, with the likelihood that something did happen in the past given the available evidence.

          • The growth of a movement based on the idea of a crucified Messiah is part of the available evidence, isn’t it? The antecedents to the idea may be difficult to identify in the available evidence, but does that justify the conclusion that there were none?

          • Gary

            Don’t give up the fight.
            I can’t help but think of Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, who was called father of the Jews (2 Macc 14:37).

            Being surrounded, Razis fell upon his own sword, preferring to die nobly rather than to fall into the hands of sinners and suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth. But in the heat of the struggle he did not hit exactly… (2 Macc 14:41-43).

            With his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails, took them in both hands and hurled them at the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death (2 Macc 14:46).

            Oxford NRSV Commentary “This account of martyrdom …is the premise of the victory over Nicanor depicted in the next chapter.”

            What do I deduce from this? Absolutely nothing about whether it actually happened or not. Irrelevant! Nothing to do with Jesus being a real person or not. Everything to do about the Jews around 100BC to 100AD accepting a hero that was a failure. The Messiah thing may have come about not from anything other than Jesus’ Olivet prediction of the Temple destruction – and then the actual Temple destruction in 70AD. Paul and his followers probably would have disappeared in obscurity had that not happened.

            Now you can call it quits.

          • Now you can call it quits.

            Thanks. I do have other things to do.

          • Gary

            I quit a long time ago. It doesn’t pay to get into protracted arguments. Just increases the frustration level.

          • That is true. I spend a lot less time doing this than I did a few years ago, but I still like to have someone take a whack at my ideas from time to time.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny: I’m still not sure what you think is holding up your argument regarding the “James the brother of the Lord.” passage.

            You point to what you see as the contrariety between (a) the presentation of James as being a leader in the Christian movement in the Pauline epistles, and (b) the presentation of James as thinking Jesus was crazy in the Gospel of Mark (If James did in fact think Jesus was crazy in Mark. All we know for sure is that some of Jesus’ family thought this – not necessarily including James).

            But, as I have repeatedly pointed out, this doesn’t work since there is no reason to think there is any historical verisimilitude to (b) because Mark had major theological motivation to present a disconnect between Jesus and his family:

            “4Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.’ (Mark 6:4).”

            This state of mind of Jesus’ family could plausibly be just a Markan invention to get Jesus to conform to what Mark thought of as the archetype of a prophet.

            And anyway, Mark still identifies James as Jesus’ brother, so we have this attested to in Mark and Paul.

            You gotta help me out here Vinny! I’m just not seeing how your argument holds water.

          • Mark says that Jesus had a brother named James, but he gives no information about him that corroborates that he was the same person whom Paul met several years later. Moreover, what Mark does say about James doesn’t point to him being associated with his brother’s movement, although you are certainly right about that possibly being a Markan invention. Acts, on the other hand, gives us information about a James points to him being same person whom Paul met. Unfortunately, Luke does not identify him as the biological brother of Jesus. Therefore, we lack corroboration that the James in Galatians is the same James described as the brother of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, or Josephus.

          • John MacDonald

            Are there other things in the authentic Pauline epistles that lack corroboration in the Gospels? If there are, do you also doubt them, or are you being “selectively skeptical” because the “James the brother of the Lord” passage is so central to the historicist/mythicist debate?

          • I’m skeptical about a lot of things in Paul. Galatians 1:19 is particularly interesting due to the weight that it is asked to carry in the historicity debate.

          • John MacDonald

            If you doubt everything in Paul that is not corroborated in the Gospels, it would make historical research using Paul quite problematic, to say the least.

            On the other hand, expert historical researchers on Paul would probably call such a position something like what Aristotle in the Prior Analytics called a ἡ Εις άτοπον απαγωγή.

            But maybe the consensus of Pauline experts is wrong. What are the “many things” you are skeptical about in Paul? Can you summarize?

          • I don’t think that it is legitimate to ignore sources of uncertainty just because it makes historical easier.

            If my only historical source for the earliest days of Mormonism were the words of Joseph Smith, would you urge me to suspend my skepticism in order to make historical research less problematic?

          • John MacDonald

            Before addressing your analogy with Mormonism, can you first answer my question:

            QUESTION: You doubt the authenticity of James being Jesus’ brother and a prominent member in the Jesus movement as seems to be indicated in Galatians 1:19 because this portrayal is not corroborated by the Gospels. Does this mean that as a heuristic you doubt everything in the authentic Pauline epistles that is not corroborated in the Gospels? Yes or No?

            ps. I do think Joseph Smith was lying when he claimed he found golden plates from heaven. lol

          • Neko

            IIRC, when Paul writes “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!,” Vinny suspects he’s lying. 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            Paul was quite clear that he was “something like” an accomplished liar, modifying his message about Jesus to cast Jesus in the most “sellable” light possible, depending on whether Paul was presenting the message to Jews, or to Gentiles (1 Cor 9:20-21). Since Paul was modifying the message depending on whether it was going to Jews or Gentiles, and he was trying to present the most tempting Christ possible to win the most converts, who knows what he thought about the actual historical Jesus?

            And there is good reason to suspect that Paul was lying, since, as you pointed out Neko, he was constantly protesting that he wasn’t lying (a possible sign of guilt). Paul wrote:
            1. “I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie (Galatians 1:20)”
            2. “I speak the truth in Christ; I am not lying, as confirmed by my conscience in the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1).”
            3. “I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:23).”
            4. ” The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is forever worthy of praise, knows that I am not lying (2 Corinthians 11:31).”

            As Shakespeare wrote, methinks Paul “doth protest too much.” Paul may be construed as a liar who is worrying about getting caught.

            Eisenman is right. There is no reason to trust Paul. Paul obviously “lies” to support his arguments. For instance, Paul claims the risen Christ appeared to “500 of the brothers AT ONCE (1 Corinthians 15:6).” That’s ridiculous! Paul is obviously making stuff up to persuade his readers that Christ really rose. lol

          • Neko

            Ha ha! I thought Paul got those 500 from the creed he received from Jesus followers who preceded him in the movement, er, I mean, from revelation.

            Yes, I’m aware of this image of Paul as noble liar. But perhaps his protests are more a rhetorical device than a guilty conscience. He might’ve picked up some flourishes from the Greek and Roman philosophers. He cribbed from them in other ways, after all.

          • John MacDonald

            Skeptics have long posited naturalistic explanations for Jesus’ resurrection appearances to Cephas and the Twelve. Maybe, out of terrible grief or some completely natural transcendent mental state, the disciples were hallucinating. On the other hand, maybe the disciples were inventing resurrection stories to lend divine clout to, and carry on, Jesus’ social ethic cause of “loving your neighbor and enemy,” a ethical cause the disciples may have been willing to die for (like Socrates). Paul may have gotten caught up in all this.

            Richard Carrier characterizes the possibilities in the following way in a recent blog post:

            “Of course Habermas tries to sell Strobel on the tired apologetic line that “no one dies for a lie.” Surely not, “if they knew it was a hoax,” we hear said. This is a classic straw man. And as such, another lie. It’s one thing to ask how likely it is the resurrection appearance claims were a hoax. It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.” see: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

            If you are interested, I have outlined the theory that the resurrection stories were “Noble Lies” here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/ – check it out along with the reader comments, Neko!

            What do you think? Should we have a naturalistic or miraculous explanation for Jesus’ resurrection appearances?

            I don’t think the “lie” hypothesis is “probable,” but it is interesting to outline it as “one of the possible secular explanations” of the appearance of Jesus to Cephas and the twelve (and Paul).

          • Neko

            Thanks for the links; I’ll check them out!

          • John MacDonald

            The Greek thinkers said the difference between the wise and the masses is that the wise were always drawn to what is “essential,” leaving “trivial” matters to others. In religious studies, I certainly think deciding between a naturalistic, or miraculous, explanation for the apparent miracle of the resurrection appearances of Jesus to Cephas and the twelve qualifies as “essential analysis.” Some say the “miraculous explanation” is ruled out a priori, at least as something that can be arrived at through sound historical/critical investigative methods.

          • Neko

            I agree miracles are beyond the purview of historians, though I can think of one (Dale B. Martin) who disagrees.

            Meanwhile, I read Carrier’s review of “The Case for Christ,” though it took me forever due to the fact that Carrier is an insufferable windbag, and I was compelled to take frequent breaks to check my twitter feed, watch some paint dry, grab a beer, and recover from having my head bashed in by a sledgehammer.

            Oh my God, man. The movie is propaganda, you say? I didn’t get that the first twenty times, could you please play it again? Apparently Carrier thinks his readers are a bunch of idiots, which is weird considering part of his schtick is reassuring his fanboys that Christians are stupid and atheists are brilliant.

            However, I was intrigued to read his remark on the 500:

            The words for “five hundred” and “Pentecost” are nearly identical, as are the words for “all” and “above.” And Paul alludes to the resurrection of Jesus in terms that reference the Pentecost later in the same chapter.

            Is that true? Though I have less confidence in Carrier than St. Paul as a reliable narrator I guess the great Doctor can read koine Greek, so hooray. Paul is off the hook for that one.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier’s longwindedness is understandable (if lamentable). Heidegger says somewhere that the fact we need books of 400 pages or more to express our thoughts shows just how far we are from essential thinking. Parmenides, for example, was able to distill the essence of his thought into a simple didactic poem, and Plato regarded him as one of the heavyweights of ancient Philosophical thinking.

          • Neko

            Carrier’s prolixity is sheer self-indulgence and lack of discipline as far as I’m concerned. I find his blog unreadable.

          • John MacDonald

            Suppose this: In ancient China, there is an account, attested to in different sources, of a known amputee who miraculously regrew his leg in front of the royal court of the emperor. Is there anything in these multiply attested accounts that would persuade us this actually happened?

          • Neko

            I can’t speak for “us,” but as for me, No.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s honest!

            By the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the blog post link I gave about my thoughts on Christianity and The Noble Lie. It was http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/

          • Neko

            OK, I’ll read it now.

          • John MacDonald

            Be kind … lol

          • Neko

            Ha ha! Well, I genuinely enjoyed it (and bookmarked it). Again I took time out, but this time to excavate my copy of The Bacchae to throw on the pile. Thanks!

            However, I doubt Jesus’s followers would risk persecution if they weren’t convinced he was the Messiah. The ethic of love for brother was hardly unique to Jesus (perhaps “love your enemies” was distinctive). The notion of “inventing” a crucified Messiah is glib; I think Jesus’s disciples believed he was among them after death and looked to scripture for why God willed the Messiah’s shocking execution. That is, I find the conventional narrative persuasive.

            I never did veer too far out into Paul as double-agent. People have religious conversions all the time, and the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think they invented a crucified messiah. I think the historical Jesus really died. I just think the disciples saw Jesus’ message of love of neighbor and enemy as something that might change the world if it was given the clout of a divine resurrection behind it. Keep in mind their world was pretty bleak, being under the mighty Roman thumb.

            As I quoted Carrier above,

            “Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.”

            The “lie” hypothesis is just another secular hypothesis to go along with the other secular option that Cephas, the twelve, and Paul were all hallucinating the risen Jesus.

          • Neko

            No, I didn’t mean to suggest you claimed a crucified Messiah was “invented”; I was alluding to other comments. It was perhaps a misplaced remark.

            From what I understand, many Jews believed in the resurrection of the body (Prof. McGrath can zap this if I’m wrong). The Sadducees didn’t, but the Pharisees and others did.

            It’s very hard to imagine what it must have been like to be an illiterate 1st century Palestinian peasant under occupation and enamored of a charismatic prophet who promised deliverance in a just kingdom just over the horizon. Crucifixion is just horrific. A catastrophe for these people. Again, unimaginable.

          • John MacDonald

            We can speculate what people in such a horrific situation might have done when they encountered verses in their scripture such as:

            “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22”

            If God was a liar, and individuals like Rahab were justified in lying for a greater good, who knows what they might have been capable of …

          • Neko

            But you think this greater good is loving your brother? You don’t think Jesus and the disciples were apocalyptic? Jesus’s appeal to moral perfectionism seems meant to anticipate the reordering of reality in the kingdom of God.

          • John MacDonald

            This apocalyptic focus would have been good incentive to get people behaving morally:

            Jesus: “The world is about to end, so you all better get right with God and start loving one another!”

            The message was apocalyptic – Paul called Jesus the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection, after all. Jesus learned from John the Baptist how effective threats could be in getting people to “repent.”

            Long after Jesus was gone, the resurrection would have replaced this apocalyptic incentive for most when it became evident the world wasn’t ending any time soon.

            Then again, many Evangelicals today still think we are in the last days, citing such evidence as the Jews returning to live in the holy land as fulfillment of prophesy. This certainly bolsters their faith.

          • John MacDonald

            As we know, Jesus was a liar:

            Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”

            [Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:8-10)

          • Neko

            Unlikely John’s dialogue attributed to Jesus goes back to Jesus, no?

            Now the president of the United States, there’s a liar.

          • John MacDonald

            If John was just inventing material about Jesus, it would be odd that John would be inventing a story where Jesus turns out to be a liar – unless John was conveying the point that lying in certain circumstances was justified, like the author of James argued:

            “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. (James 2:25).”

            I’ve always been curious about Carrier’s argument that there might be a “noble lie” source for Christian origins. He hints at it from time to time, but as far as I’m aware he has never “elaborated” on his reasoning on this point. The post you read by me ( http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/ ) was my own “detective work,” but I’d be curious what Carrier has to say on the topic. I disagree with Carrier’s mythicism and his attitude toward people he disagrees with, but he is a smart guy (he has a PhD from Columbia, after all) none the less and I hope he expands on his thoughts about this topic some day.

          • Neko

            John 7 relates that Jesus is already a marked man, and his brothers, who we’re informed do not believe in him (after Mark?), dare him to go down to Jerusalem and show ’em what he’s got. Jesus waives them off. That doesn’t make him a “liar.”

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but went anyway “in secret.”

            [Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:8-10)

            As Dr. McGrath said: “I found myself wondering whether Jesus might have been viewed by the Gospel author as, like God, above such ethical matters just as God could be depicted as sending a lying spirit to deceive a king (1 Kings 22:22). I also wonder whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.” – see Dr. McGrath’s full remarks on this issue at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2016/08/snts-third-main-paper-and-simultaneous-short-papers.html

          • Neko

            That was interesting, thanks. I defer to Dr. McGrath, who I believe is an expert on John (?) and agree on “the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.”

          • John MacDonald

            This sounds right. “Truth” doesn’t just mean honesty and correctness, but also “exemplary,” like when we call someone a “true friend”. Jesus may be depicted in the Gospel of John as an exemplary way to behave when facing persecution – The societal norm of honesty may need to be bracketed for a while. This is echoed in the New Testament when the author of James says: “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. (James 2:25 )”

            On the other hand, suspending the rule of honesty when it is needed or inconvenient, opens up a slippery slope. For instance, maybe the original Christians felt God was commanding them to be deceptive to sell Jesus to the masses in order to ultimately realize God’s plan. It is not out of the realm of possibility to speculate that the miracle/resurrection tales about Jesus started as Noble Lies to assist in selling Jesus’ ethical teaching of “love your enemy and neighbor,” a cause the disciples may have been willing to die for. A lot of the miraculous material about Jesus may have been Legendary embellishment that accrued over time, while some might be a result of “Noble Lying,” such as the resurrection appearance stories about Cephas and the twelve seeing the risen Jesus related in the Pre Pauline Corinthian creed, which may be too early to be legendary embellishment.

          • Neko

            There was nothing controversial about “love your neighbor”; it was a well-established ethic in Judaism. Paul was selling a much grander vision with Christ crucified.

          • John MacDonald

            And what did Jesus think of the morals of the ruling Jewish elite?

            Hint: The Temple Tantrum

            Are you saying Jesus wasn’t an ethical innovator in his time (love of enemy and neighbor)?

          • Neko

            Yes, I’m aware that, like other Jewish reformers of his time, Jesus was angered by the corruption of the ruling Jewish elite.

            I don’t know how much of an ethical innovator he was. “Love your enemy” may have been an innovation.

          • John MacDonald

            And if love of neighbor was so prevalent among the Jewish people, why did Jesus and Paul have to mandate it?

            (A) ’30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

            (B) “10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another. (Romans 12:10)”

          • Neko

            As presented in the synoptics, Jesus was a prophetic reformer. Judaism had become corrupted by institutional religion as well as worldliness, and Jesus exhorted his followers to perfect themselves spiritually and in their relationships with others in anticipation of the kingdom of God, when justice would finally prevail.

          • John MacDonald

            No one is disputing that the message of the “soon to come to pass” Kingdom of God that Jesus was preaching would have been a wonderful motivator in getting people to, as you say, “perfect themselves spiritually and in their relationship with others.” The original Christians may have thought God was encouraging this lie, in a case like when God said:

            “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22”

            Again, this is mere speculation. I am not arguing it is “probable” the original Christians were perpetrating a hoax, just that this is one secular option along with the other one that Cephas, the 12, and Paul were hallucinating the risen Jesus

          • John MacDonald

            If this was all a lie by the original Christians, it would not be the first time a lie was proposed to dupe people into being more loving and ethical toward one another. After all, Neko, this was one of the main thrusts of the “Noble Lie” in Plato’s Republic.

            Plato presented the Noble Lie (γενναῖον ψεῦδος, gennaion pseudos, literally – “a lie or wrong opinion about origin”) in a fictional tale, wherein Socrates provides the origin of the three social classes who compose the republic proposed by Plato; Socrates speaks of a socially stratified society, wherein the populace are told “a sort of Phoenician tale”:

            “…the earth, as being their mother, delivered them, and now, as if their land were their mother and their nurse, they ought to take thought for her and defend her against any attack, and regard the other citizens as their brothers and children of the self-same earth…While all of you, in the city, are brothers, we will say in our tale, yet god, in fashioning those of you who are fitted to hold rule, mingled gold in their generation, for which reason they are the most precious — but in the helpers, silver, and iron and brass in the farmers and other craftsmen. And, as you are all akin, though for the most part you will breed after your kinds, it may sometimes happen that a golden father would beget a silver son, and that a golden offspring would come from a silver sire, and that the rest would, in like manner, be born of one another. So that the first and chief injunction that the god lays upon the rulers is that of nothing else are they to be such careful guardians, and so intently observant as of the intermixture of these metals in the souls of their offspring, and if sons are born to them with an infusion of brass or iron they shall by no means give way to pity in their treatment of them, but shall assign to each the status due to his nature and thrust them out among the artisans or the farmers. And again, if from these there is born a son with unexpected gold or silver in his composition they shall honor such and bid them go up higher, some to the office of guardian, some to the assistanceship, alleging that there is an oracle that the city shall then be overthrown when the man of iron or brass is its guardian.”

            Socrates proposes and claims that if the people believed “this myth…[it] would have a good effect, making them more inclined to care for the state and one another.” This is his noble lie: “a contrivance for one of those falsehoods that come into being in case of need, of which we were just now talking, some noble one…”

          • John MacDonald

            And the idea of the “noble lie” or “pious fraud” was known to the Greeks in ways besides from Plato. Euripides, in “The Bacchae,” has Cadmus explore the theme by saying:

            “Even if this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you think, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.”

            Seneca famously characterized how the elite ancients viewed religion in antiquity by saying:

            “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.”

            For an example of what Seneca meant, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was strategically introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

          • Neko

            The Christian is always suspended in the end times. The day will come like a thief in the night.

          • John MacDonald

            From what I’ve heard, The Anti-Christ will come first.

            Wouldn’t it be amazing to be the Anti-Christ?! Imagine all the wonderful women who have left the church who would be mesmerized by someone who can dethrone Jesus (Carrier has plugged into this demographic with Polyamory)!

            In fact, taking out Christ would be hilarious just for the sport of it! Recall Alfred’s characterization of the Joker to Batman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGhJ5FuxUZU

          • Neko

            In fact, taking out Christ would be hilarious just for the sport of it!

            Christus Victor defeated the Evil One once and for all. Good luck taking him out, mythicists!

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not a mythicist. As I said, I believe Jesus was crucified by Pilate. I was making a joke. I’m a secular humanist, so I don’t believe in The Anti-Christ any more than I believe in the end of days. My citation was Batman for crying out loud! lol

          • Neko

            I know you’re not a mythicist! I was also just jesting. 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            Here is the original Christian’s theme song lol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx6aRCa8lrE

          • Neko

            John McDonald, have you seen this?

            “The Resurrection of Jesus and His Modern Appearances: Revisiting the “Liar” Hypothesis?”


            I ended up being disappointed by this piece since it’s largely devoted to a Reddit post that I immediately suspected of being a Poe by some guy trolling the Christianity threads but thought it might interest you nonetheless.

          • John MacDonald

            Thanks for sharing! In bold the author says his investigations may “open the door for seeing the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament as actual pious fabrications: that is, as in some sense knowingly untruthful” – although he ultimately concludes he doesn’t doubt Paul et al had visions of Jesus. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the tradition of the “noble lie” in Judeo Christian and pagan writing that I ground my analysis in, which may cause him to tip the scales of probability a little more toward the idea that, in Carrier’s words, Christianity “might” have been a hoax. I would have sent him some links to my thoughts, but he didn’t have any place for comments in his blog post. (I didn’t really think there was much of substantial “meat” to his long post, and he probably could have accomplished the same thing in a few paragraphs).

          • Neko

            (You’re welcome!) I don’t know…the guy’s an independent scholar “of early Judaism and Christianity,” so I’m guessing he is aware of the tradition of the noble lie.

            He does have a forum for comments but uses a platform other than Disqus, the “World Table” that McGrath experimented with as well.

            Felker is rather prolix, because (unlike Carrier) he’s all analysis and no invective.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m sure he’s aware of the “noble lie” in Plato’s Republic, but maybe not in Euripides and other sources I cite (although who knows, he may be). It’s possible there are some scholars of the Judeo Christian tradition that are not aware of “noble lies” in that tradition (because it is not their research area), such as:

            1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh.
            2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies.
            3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.
            4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die.
            5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.”
            6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”
            7. 7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets.

            Again, I don’t think it is “probable” Cephas, the 12, and Paul were lying about the resurrection appearances, just that it is one possible secular explanation along with the other one that these were all perfectly naturalistic hallucinations.

            On the other hand, maybe the risen Jesus actually did appear to them …

          • Neko

            I’m guessing Felker is well acquainted with the OT. He’s extremely knowledgeable.

            On the other hand, maybe the risen Jesus actually did appear to them …

            When’s that Parousia coming!

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus just showed up at my house. He apologizes about the long wait … and the crusades. Apparently he thinks the Methodists got it right.

          • Neko

            Wow. Was He tall and “olive-skinned”?

          • John MacDonald

            Visually, he’s a stunner, although I wouldn’t expect any less from the Son Of God (as it turns out, modern critical scholars were wrong about that: he really was born of a virgin! – at least that’s what he claims). He seems like a pretty good guy – a little bit too preachy. He’ needs to work on some of his grooming habits, though, because he comes from a time with no toilet paper or deodorant (yuck!).

          • Neko

            Interesting Wikipedia entry on Jesus’s appearance:

            Celsus: “ugly and small”;

            Andrew of Crete…relates that Christ was bent or even crooked….

            Hierosolymitanus and John of Damascus claim that “the Jew Josephus” described Christ as having had connate eyebrows with goodly eyes and being long-faced, crooked and well-grown….

            Christ’s prediction that he would be taunted “Physician, heal yourself” may suggest that Christ was indeed physically deformed (‘crooked’ or hunch-backed) as claimed in the early Christian texts listed above.


          • John MacDonald

            I’m starting to wonder if maybe the guy who showed up at my house isn’t really Jesus Christ. Maybe he just said that to get a good tip for the pizza and chicken wings he delivered?

          • Neko

            Don’t tell me you gave him more than 20%!

          • John MacDonald

            I thought 10% percent was fair. That’s what he gets for tithes in church.

          • Neko

            Whatsoever ye do to the least of these pizza delivery guys…

          • Regarding Galatians 1:19, the primary source of my skepticism is the lack of corroboration within Paul’s writings, i.e., Paul’s silence regarding the historical Jesus, rather than the lack of corroboration within the gospels.

            I cannot see anything that leads me to think that anything Jesus said or did during his time on earth mattered to Paul. For Paul, all that mattered was the risen Christ who manifested himself through appearances, revelation, and scripture.. I don’t think that Paul thought that anyone he knew had been part of Jesus’ earthly ministry or even that Jesus had a ministry during his time on earth.

          • John MacDonald

            So you are more or less following Doherty’s argument?

            Recall Paul said “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2),” which seems to suggest that there was much more about Jesus Paul knew and could have been sharing, but Paul thought it was important for the listener’s faith to focus on the core of Paul’s Gospel.

          • I haven’t read Doherty’s books so I am not certain how closely my position tracks his. I think that my position corresponds more or less to that of Wells. Like Wells, I don’t think that it necessarily follows that there was no historical Jesus–just that Paul didn’t know anything about him. It may be that 1 Cor. 2:2 implies some knowledge that Paul isn’t sharing, but I don’t see any particular reason to think it concerned the earthly Jesus.

          • John MacDonald

            And I think Jesus’ central mandate of loving one another, found in Mark, is echoed in Paul:

            (A) ’30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

            (B) “10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another. (Romans 12:10)”

          • One of the problems is determining who is echoing whom, or whether both are echoing someone else.

          • John MacDonald

            So, regarding the ethical mandate of “brotherly love,” you think that instead of Mark 12:30-31 being an early attestation of Jesus’ social ethic philosophy, which is echoed in Paul’s Romans 12:10, you would say Mark might have read Paul and just attributed these words to Jesus without ever having a source on the matter besides Paul? Or, on the other hand, you say both Mark and Paul might be coincidentally referencing someone either than Jesus?

            Is that right? You’re not making it easy to do historical research! lol

          • Would you expect it to be easy? Our sources consist of anonymous writings filled with supernatural events based on unidentified sources which are removed an unknown number of times in decades of oral tradition from the originators of the stories who may or may not have been eyewitnesses to any of the relevant events.

            Most classicists don’t think that it is possible to distinguish the ideas that originated with Socrates from the ones that Plato originated and attributed to Socrates. Why would we expect to be able to figure out which ideas go back to Jesus and which ideas were attributed to him later?

          • John MacDonald

            Well, everyone (except Dr. Hector Avalos) thinks Jesus was a paradigm of ethical virtue, and Jesus mandating people to love their neighbor and enemy may be the most virtuous thing anyone ever said, so Jesus must have said it! lol

            On the other hand, if you think Jesus was a moral monster, you can read Dr. Hector Avalos’ book “The Bad Jesus” : https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Jesus-Ethics-New-Testament/dp/1909697796/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492902229&sr=8-1&keywords=hector+avalos+bad+jesus

            So, it seems clear that Jesus both may and may not have been one of the great ethical teachers in history (depending if any of the statements attributed to him actually go back to him), and Jesus was also fundamentally a moral monster (if you buy Avalos’ analysis / and if the passages Avalos cites actually go back to Jesus). Jesus both is and isn’t all things to all people!

            Do you believe I studied Derrida, Vinny? lol

          • Mark

            I’ve known plenty of scholars who’ve labored trying to figure out what Socrates thought and how he proceeded.

          • John MacDonald


            I am curious as to what you think about Dr McGrath’s thoughts on the reliability of historical investigation. In his recent article on Paul and Gethsemane, Dr. McGrath writes:

            “Some, however, have sought to find a new approach along a middle path which recognizes
            the impossibility of absolute certainty in nearly all matters of history, yet considers it
            possible nevertheless to evaluate stories and memories about the past as involving greater
            or lesser degrees of distortion. For instance, the Johannine rejection of the notion that
            Jesus would pray to be saved from the hour reflects a framework which had begun to be
            imposed on Jesus quite early, and yet which did not succeed in obliterating from the source
            material – or from the historian’s view – the fact that Jesus prayed in something like the
            manner that the Fourth Gospel denies. Indeed, the very insistence of the Gospel of John,
            considered in conjunction with other sources, makes the case for the historicity of the
            Gethsemane incident stronger. While the traditional criteria of authenticity have received
            deserved criticism, once again it seems to be a matter of achieving balance rather than
            discarding altogether the work undertaken by previous generations. In particular, the
            criterion of embarrassment – the recognition that authors often include details that do not
            support their own viewpoint precisely because those details are known to the author and
            readers already, and cannot be easily swept under the carpet – is a well-established
            principle of historical investigation, and if it does not guarantee historicity, neither is it
            without value in assessing probability.”

            What do you think of Dr. McGrath’s remarks Vinny? Is the Criterion of Embarrassment not useful? Dr. McGrath seems very on point to me.

          • John MacDonald

            Of course, Vinny, Dr. McGrath could be wrong and the Gethsemane tradition might not be historically accurate. Whoever birthed the tradition might just have believed it was far more “noble” to portray Jesus as bravely struggling with and ultimately choosing to obey God’s plan, rather than just having Jesus merrily going to his death. The historical Jesus may never have had doubts about God’s plan. A death where Jesus “overcame” tremendous fear would be far more “meaningful” and “noble” to some readers than one where Jesus just calmly accepted his fate and went to it. Under this reconstruction, the author of the gospel of John would not have known “Jesus in terror” was merely a literary invention, so John may have avoided it thinking it was historical because it was contrary to his point of view.

          • I don’t think that the criterion of embarrassment can carry the weight that New Testament scholars put on it. I think that you have already touched on some of the reasons.

            Perhaps the biggest problem is that we cannot get in the writer’s head to know what he considers embarrassing and what he considers to be necessary plot points. Most heroes of the Jewish faith had character flaws so why should we think that Mark was embarrassed by anything that showed Jesus’ human weaknesses.

            Since the gospels writers clearly made choices about what to put in and what to put out, I think that we have to assume that everything served a point the writer thought was necessary to the story.

            I think that the historical Jesus is irretrievable. I don’t think we can know which elements represent preserved memories and which ones represent inventions. I don’t think that we can even be sure that there are any preserved memories. Paul’s silence may indicate that the earliest message was based exclusively on the risen Christ and that stories about the earthly Jesus developed later.

            With regards to Jesus’ prayer, our source tells us that there were no witnesses because Jesus went off by himself and the disciples fell asleep. How can we claim to have any certainty about that?

          • John MacDonald

            I suppose you could argue that there was a primitive tradition that expressed the idea that Jesus was terrified of dying, and that only later got embellished into the story in Mark that had the “no witnesses” element, but as you say that would just be guesswork. Good thoughts. Thanks!

          • Neko

            Maurice Casey (who I believe described himself as “irreligious”) thought it plausible both that the Gethsemane event occurred and that the disciples heard Jesus’s prayer.

            (Type “distress” in the search box, and it will bring up page 149.)


          • I suppose it’s plausible. It’s also plausible that Jesus prayed out of the range of their hearing. It’s also plausible that the whole incident was a later invention.

          • Neko

            Right. I specifically replied to your comment:

            With regards to Jesus’ prayer, our source tells us that there were no witnesses because Jesus went off by himself and the disciples fell asleep. How can we claim to have any certainty about that?

            Not sure who’s claiming any certainty here? I’m not saying it happened, only that it could’ve happened.

          • I think McGrath is claiming it “likely.” It has been a long time since I read Casey’s book; I remember unwarranted certainty on a number of points, but I don’t remember whether that prayer was one of them.

          • Neko

            I had a lot of problems with Casey’s book (I also read it a long time ago), but his argument is presented at the link I provided and can be considered in isolation.

          • Casey’s hypothesis of the eavesdropping arises during his discussion of the antecedents to Hebrews 5:7-9.

            In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered,

            Casey berates Doherty for suggesting that the Hebrews passage draws on two Psalms, saying that “neither reference is close enough to the wording of Hebrews for us to posit direct usage.” Casey, on the other hand, claims that it “refers clearly to Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane,” which seems to be to be at least as speculative as Doherty’s claim.

            Casey contests Doherty’s claim that the garden prayer is Mark’s literary invention, relying on the criterion of embarrassment:

            [I]f the story is not literally true, it is difficult to see why the followers of Jesus should invent it. This is especially the case with Jesus’ prayer, which may easily be read as showing that he was reluctant to die, which is not what his followers who believed in the atoning value of his death would need, unless it were true.

            I think this illustrates many of the flaws in the way the criterion is applied, if not in the criterion itself: (1) It wasn’t the followers of Jesus who are alleged to have invented the story; it is one particular follower. (2) That particular follower portrays the most human Jesus of any of the gospel writers, and he may have seen no conflict between atonement and fear of death. (3) He might simply not have noticed the conflict. Writers often overlook plot holes in their stories. (4) Even if he saw some conflict, he might have seen it as more important to establish Jesus’ foreknowledge and voluntary acceptance of his death.

          • Gary

            On the Criterion of Embarrassment, I agree…there must be some limitations. I think even Ehrman uses it to say the crucifixion was true. Which I believe. However…

            On the Razis story, 2 Macc 14, it would be totally embarrassing to have your hero (Father of the Jews), try to kill himself, and fail rather incompetently.
            “But in the heat of the struggle he did not hit exactly”… (2 Macc 14:41-43). Then, in desperation, throw his intestines at his enemy, and die.

            Therefore, a story of hero martyrdom with incompetence, along with ultimate victory – may be real, or just a good story Israelites enjoyed to tell.
            Unless the Criterion of Embarrassment only applies to Messiahs, which sounds more like apologetics to me.

            As far as the Gethsemane tradition that “may not be historically accurate”, I have a note that verifies may verify that:

            Luke 22:43-44 “And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.”

            “According to Bart D. Ehrman (1993) these two verses disrupt the literary structure of the scene (the chiasmus), they are not found in the early and valuable manuscripts, and they are the only place in Luke where Jesus is seen to be in agony. Ehrman concludes that they were inserted in order to counter doceticism, the belief that Jesus, as divine, only seemed to suffer. While probably not original to the text, these verses reflect first-century tradition.”

          • I don’t doubt that a crucified Messiah was unthinkable to most first century Jews, but what does that tell us about how the idea arose? While the cognitive dissonance of the followers of a failed messianic claimant is plausible, I don’t see that we have any data that would enable us to determine its likelihood. Any pious Jew who was disappointed by God’s failure to send a champion to deliver his people might have stumbled across the idea while searching the scriptures.

          • arcseconds

            But we already know what your reply to corroboration is: later Christian interpolation. If you think you’d be convinced if only Paul had mentioned Jesus’s family on one or two other occasions, I’m afraid you’re underestimating yourself.

          • And if there were a whole lot of references to Jesus’ family, then the response could be, “Someone must have disputed that point.”

            When an approach such as mythicism or unswayable agnosticism is compatible with any and all evidence, then it clearly isn’t based on or even related to the evidence.

          • John MacDonald

            As Hegel pointed out, the more all-encompassing the category, the more vacuous it is (such as “BEING,” the broadest and emptiest of all categories).

          • Andrew Schefe

            If that’s the case, could you tell us what evidence a historical Jesus isn’t compatible with?

          • As I have already said, no evidence stands in the way of ideologues determined to make a case for a view that they already hold. But if the evidence for Jesus was like that for figures that historians judge unlikely to be historical, then that same judgment would be rendered in the case of Jesus, too.

          • John MacDonald

            I suppose everything Paul doesn’t mention 3 or more times must also be doubted? lol

            As I said above, Vinny clearly seems to be guilty of a ἡ Εις άτοπον απαγωγή

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think mythicists are very good at making their arguments. No one is debating that there are Hebrew scripture references in the New Testament accounts, but rather critical scholars argue there is a historical core underneath all these references.

            Now if I was a mythicist, which I’m not, I would try to argue that the core of the Jesus story was borrowed from scripture. Carrier, in “On The Historicity Of Jesus,” says 1 Cor 15: 3-8 may be read to mean that Paul discovered all the things surrounding Jesus crucifixion by reading scripture, not just that they were just the fulfillment of scripture:
            “3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)”

            If I was arguing Carrier’s position, I would point to Paul, in Galatians 3:13, and investigate whether Paul may be indicating that he discovered Christ’s crucifixion by allegorically reading Deuteronomy 21:22-23. In Galatians, Paul writes:

            “13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14) .”

            In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, it says if a man has committed a sin worthy of death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, 23 then his body must not remain all night on the tree, but you must bury him that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God) so that your land may not be defiled, which the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

            Similarly, Mark might have found the explanation in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 as to why the words from Psalm 22 needed to be spoken by Jesus: “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) = “He that is hanged is accursed of God, (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).”

            Galatians 3:13 also seems to anticipate the climax of Mark’s gospel within it. Galatians 3:13 says:

            “13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14) .”

            This is also symbolized in Mark with the tearing of the veil of the temple, indicating the reconciling of man with God, as well as the words of the centurion (“truly this man is the son of God”), reconciling Jew with Gentile.

            And the act of crucifixion may also be an allusion to Plato’s impaled Just man (Plat. Rep. 2.362a) – crucifixion being a type of impaling.

            And Isaiah 53 for may be responsible for Paul learning the atonement component of Christ’s death. It may not be relevant how others have interpreted Isaiah 53 (such as Targum Jonathan), since the Christians often offered idiosyncratic understandings of the Septuagint, such as with Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”):

            :“5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
            He was bruised for our iniquities;
            The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
            And by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).”

            Anyway, that’s the sort of thing I would argue if I was a mythicist, which I’m not.

          • I think that mythicists suffer from the same handicap as historicists: the problematic nature of the sources precludes the degree of certainty they wish to claim.

            Even if there was a historical Jesus, Paul’s message doesn’t seem to be based on much beyond his own visions and revelations of the risen Christ, and the communities he founded may have had no access to anyone who with authentic stories about Jesus the man. If someone in such a community wanted to know what Jesus had done during his time on earth, his only option would be to search the scriptures for clues to the kinds of things the Messiah would have done.

            On the other hand, I don’t see any way to preclude the possibility that genuine memories were interpreted to conform with the scriptures.

          • John MacDonald

            The relationship Paul identifies in Galatians 3:13 between Christ’s crucifixion and Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is interesting because it is the one place in the typology argument where a mythicist might argue the New Testament crucifixion act itself is typology. That doesn’t help answering whether Paul started with memory of the historical Jesus being crucified and then shaped it according to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in Galatians 3:13, or if Paul is indicating in Galatians 3:13 that he discovered that the celestial Jesus was crucified by an allegorical reading of Deuteronomy 21:22-23?

            Strauss said: “when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. (Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, p. 89)”

            I’m not a mythicist, but I think there are more and less intelligent ways to argue mythicism. Some issues are central, while others are barely peripheral.

          • John MacDonald

            And Isaiah 53 may be responsible for Paul learning the atonement component of Christ’s death. It may not be relevant how others have interpreted Isaiah 53 (such as Targum Jonathan), since the Christians often offered idiosyncratic understandings of the Septuagint, such as with Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”):

            Fundamentalists would say likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

            The only thing is, mythicists would say Isaiah wasn’t making a prophesy aboout Jesus. Mark was doing a typology on Isaiah. So, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which Mark turned into the story of the scourging of Jesus. This is, in part, is where atonement theology comes from, but it would be silly to say II Isaiah was talking about atonement. The servant is numbered among the transgressors in Isaiah, so Jesus is crucified between two thieves. The Isaiah servant would make his grave with the rich, So Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a person of means.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s fun to debate, and you learn when your arguments fail.

          • Neko

            What makes you think the Olivet Discourse goes back to Jesus?

          • John MacDonald

            Is “wishful thinking” a reason?

          • Gary

            It may only go back to 70AD.

            I said “The Messiah thing may have come about not from anything other than Jesus’ Olivet prediction of the Temple destruction – and then the actual Temple destruction in 70AD.”

            I could have said “The Messiah thing may have come about not from anything other than the stories, both oral and eventually written (>= 66AD” about Jesus’ Olivet prediction of the Temple destruction – and then the actual Temple destruction in 70AD.”

            It is really irrelevant whether the predictions were real stories or manufactured after the fact. Jews are devastated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, so they were willing to except anything to explain it. Better jumping on the bandwagon of Messiah, than saying they were all incompetent in military matters, Israel was a backwater third world country, Yahweh was incompetent in protecting them, or they were all so sinful that they got what they deserved. Hey, even I would have joined up to a martyred Messiah – with a promise of something after that particular, miserable, life in Palestine post 70AD. At least I don’t have to kill myself, and throw my guts at the enemy, like Razis

          • Neko

            The “Messiah thing” predates the fall of Jerusalem by decades. I can’t remember exactly, but Paul converted something like three years after the crucifixion. And needless to say, Paul was apocalyptic.

          • Gary

            As I remember, before 70AD “Christianity” was more a minor cult of Judaism. It really took off after 70AD. Paul was apocalyptic, true, but he didn’t do the Harold Camping thing, and predict specifics. It would seem that if he had met James the brother of Jesus, and they both knew the obvious, that the Temple was going to be destroyed in 70AD, Paul would have told someone, instead of just telling people to not get married, and preferably stay away from sex. As a member of the Pauline congregation, the first thing I would have said, is “what are you talking about? No marriage and no sex? Come on Paul! Give me some specifics?”

            No specifics. Seems like if he spilled the beans, someone would have written about it!

            Paul being apocalyptic, reminds me of the scene in “Life of Brian”, where there was a crazy guy on every street corner, preaching the end of the world.

          • Neko

            Who said James and Paul knew specifics? Paul thought the end was imminent and said so.

          • Gary

            Supposedly James knew Jesus as a bro, and Paul had visions of Jesus. Of course – my position is that we don’t really know what the truth is – so I’m open to anything. Others seem to be stuck on one position or the other. My only position, is we really don’t know.

          • Neko

            “We really don’t know” is a more widespread position than you seem to think.

          • Gary

            Actually, since you guys are so absorbed into what Paul may, or may not, have said…
            Did Paul every say anything to validate the Olivet Discourse prediction? As far as I know, he didn’t. But maybe I am wrong. You would think a prediction of the destruction of the entire Israelite Temple system and gravy train for Sadducees would be a rather significant nugget for Paul to relay to his followers before he bit the dust? I guess it wasn’t important enough for Jesus to relay this info to Paul during his visions. Or to James, as well, considering he was head of the church in Jerusalem, and Jesus’ brother? Grain of salt.

          • Neko

            Again, Paul was apocalyptic. Presumably the Temple would be destroyed in the wake of the new creation.

          • Gary

            On the Temple destruction influencing later writers (authors of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John), regarding their view of Jesus…I am influenced by Bart Ehrman, “Jesus Before the Gospels”.

            In a section entitled “The Collective Memory of Masada”, Ehrman described how Masada started out as an embarrassment. Failure by a group of Jewish assassins, involved in killing fellow Jews who were seen as collaborators with the Romans. They committed horrible acts of violence against Jews. In modern times, they became heroes, in a modern myth.

            To quote the book, “But the tale about the event still in wide circulation today is not giving – and is not particularly interested in giving – the historical past as it really happened. It is interpreting the event in light of the present situation.”

            The very next section of Ehrman’s book talks about “Jesus as Remembered in the Gospel of Mark”, so historical past (Jesus in 33AD) as interpreted in light of the present situation (70AD destruction of the Temple).
            Later chapters deal with “The Kaleidoscopic Memories of Jesus: John, Thomas, and a Range of Others”.

            Ehrman should have even thrown in the Razis story in Second Maccabees.

          • Neko

            That’s all well and good, but it’s a different subject from whether Paul anticipated the destruction of the Temple.

          • Gary

            I think Paul anticipated the destruction of the entire world as he knew it. I am not so sure he had a problem with the Temple. So actually, just conjecture, if Paul knew about the Olivet discourse prediction by Jesus (assuming that it was true and not myth), Paul may have actually disagreed with Jesus. But my overall emphasis, good or bad – is Paul and his followers would have disappeared into history with not a trace, other than some re-copied old letters – if the Temple hadn’t been destroyed in 70AD. Then Jesus and his brother James would have been in the same class as Valentinus. Interesting side light, but no one would really care. If you take away the religious aspect (divinity of Jesus) away from it, no one would deal so emotionally about the subject.

          • Gary

            Back to Masada and Ehrman’s book – the thing that changed Masada from an embarrassing failure sidenote in history, to a major hero-status story, was looking at the past from the influence of emotional present events. So maybe the same thing happened to Paul. The gospels established Jesus as a martyred hero, then God, and then Paul became famous post 70AD, based upon Jesus becoming God. Paul may have been unlucky in love, but extremely lucky and famous by current events in 70AD.

            Just conjecture – I don’t really know.

          • Neko

            The interpretation of the past in terms of the present is a given.

            You’re aware Paul preceded the gospels, right?

          • Gary

            Jesus and Paul (past) were both “reinterpreted” by the future (Temple destroyed, Gospels and Acts PR). Not that they didn’t exist. Just that they were relatively insignificant beforehand. Paul did’t even get mentioned by Josephus (even if you might believe Jesus was mentioned). You’d think a fellow High level Jew would mention Paul, if he was such a mover and shaker. (“How Jesus Became God”, Ehrman seems to give the mechanics of such a thing).

          • Neko

            What indicates to you that Paul was a “high-level Jew”?

          • Gary

            This is getting ridiculous. Josephus wrote a whole history of the Jews. Josephus, a Pharisee, investigated all sects of the Jews. Good old William Whiston, translator, said in his notes he thought Josephus was an Ebonite Christian (which I don’t believe). Josephus was a know-it-all Jew, who wasn’t afraid of displaying his knowledge. You really think he’d fail to mention Saul, a fellow Pharisee, who spearheaded a Jewish cult lead by James, “brother of Jesus”, based in Jerusalem? Now, you are just making things up that don’t even make sense, to respond to my comments. I think you are commenting based upon “emotional”, rather than “clinical”, and wasting both our time. Don’t you think it odd that someone that wrote (or was faux wrote in his name) about half the NT, wasn’t mentioned in anything outside the Christian religious texts of the time 33~150AD. As much as Paul was suppose to be hitting up Romans for money, you’d think some Roman would write about “crazy” Paul/Saul?

          • Neko

            What am I making up? I didn’t weigh in on your assertion. I just asked about your reasoning. Your digression assumes Paul was a “high-level Jew.” I asked why you make that assumption. And what do you mean by a “high-level Jew” in the first place? Except for the usual suspects I haven’t read Josephus. Have you?

            You’re also contradicting yourself:

            But my overall emphasis, good or bad – is Paul and his followers would have disappeared into history with not a trace, other than some re-copied old letters – if the Temple hadn’t been destroyed in 70AD.

            On the one hand you think Paul was so obscure history would have forgotten him if not for the fall of Jerusalem; on the other hand, you think he was high profile enough to warrant mention by Josephus. Which is it?

            You wrote:

            Don’t you think it odd that someone that wrote (or was faux wrote in his name) about half the NT, wasn’t mentioned in anything outside the Christian religious texts of the time 33~150AD.

            Clement of Rome and Ignatius mention Paul (late 1st-early 2nd century). No, I don’t think it’s odd. If we take Paul at his word, he believed the end of history would arrive in his lifetime, so he would have been quite surprised to learn his correspondence had been canonized in a “New Testament” and was being debated 2000 years later.

            If anyone has become emotional, it’s you.

          • Gary

            I will humor you for the last time:

            “What am I making up?”

            Do you really expect me to believe you don’t know Paul was a Pharisee?

            “And what do you mean by a “high-level Jew” in the first place?”

            Either you are high level, Pharisee or Sadducee. Or crazy, Essenes. Or a dirtbag, poor Jew.

            “Except for the usual suspects I haven’t read Josephus. Have you?”

            That should have been obvious since I mentioned one of his translators, Whiston.

            “On the one hand you think Paul was so obscure history would have forgotten him if not for the fall of Jerusalem; on the other hand, you think he was high profile enough to warrant mention by Josephus.”

            The whole point is that Paul wasn’t significant enough a Jewish or Christian leader to warrant mention by anyone (Except Christians after 70 AD).

            “Clement of Rome and Ignatius mention Paul (late 1st-early 2nd century).”

            Hello? They are Christian writers!

            “If we take Paul at his word..”

            I think that is why you are emotional.

          • Neko

            You’re not humoring me. You’ve mostly been peevish and defensive.

            Obviously Paul was well-educated, a self-described Pharisee and zealot. Apparently that’s what you mean by “high-level.” Uh, OK.

            Why should it be obvious you’ve read Josephus? (In fact, I’m surprised to learn that you’ve done so.) Citing one of his translators hardly means you’ve read him at any length, or even at all.

            The whole point is that Paul wasn’t significant enough a Jewish or Christian leader to warrant mention by anyone (Except Christians after 70 AD).

            I did miss your reference to extra-Christian texts! Sorry about that. Since, as I already mentioned, I haven’t read Josephus except for the obvious selections, I don’t know how odd it might or might not be for Josephus not to mention Paul. I think of 1st-century Christianity as being a marginal cult.

            I’m still not sure why you’d think my comments are “emotional,” but…nor do I care. I’m happy to disengage. Good bye!

          • Neko

            We don’t know what would have happened to the Christ cult if Jerusalem hadn’t fallen.

            You wrote:

            If you take away the religious aspect (divinity of Jesus) away from it, no one would deal so emotionally about the subject.

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. The Christ story has tremendous resonance regardless of whether Jesus was divine.

          • Gary

            But we’d be arguing clinically, rather than emotionally. Maybe not so much us, but certainly others.

          • Neko

            I’m not sure what you mean by “clinically” and “emotionally.”

          • And their awareness of the objectionable character of their beliefs is also part of the evidence.

            Are you really going to try to claim that, in the absence of evidence for something, we still should treat that thing as equally probable with that which we do in fact have evidence for?!

          • I don’t know what evidence we could have that no one would have invented the idea of a crucified Messiah. There is no contradiction between acknowledging that most Jews expected the Messiah to enjoy success and thinking it likely that some Jews expected something else.

          • Some people expected the one whose role by definition was to restore the line of David to the throne, to fail to restore the line of David to the throne? And you expect that claim of yours to be considered not just plausible but likely, without any need to offer evidence?

            Are you kidding?

          • No. I am not kidding. I think the fact that a movement based on that premise enjoyed the success it did makes it likely that there was a wider variety of thinking on the role of the Messiah than it might otherwise appear.

          • Paul E.

            Jesus seemed to expect he was going to die, and the discourses about his attempted explanations of it and the disciples’ failure to understand are very interesting. But what does this say about Jesus’ view of himself? By the end, did he give up on any personal expectation he was a messianic figure? Or was that more a claim that others made about him rather than one he claimed for himself? I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

          • It seems that either he understood that he had to die as part of the divine plan, or if the predictions were in fact about suffering, perhaps his expectation was that God would intervene into the midst of his experience of rejection and suffering to defend and vindicate him. Either possibility is compatible with his having had a messianic self-understanding.

            Do take a look at my recent article that explores this very topic!


          • Paul E.


          • Neko

            Well, this was serendipitous. In the course of a discussion on another site just a few days ago this consonance between the Philippians hymn and Gethsemane popped into my head. I hadn’t been pondering it or anything, and I don’t have the wealth of associations at my disposal that your extremely interesting article provides. So I was psyched to read it.

            There’s so much to consider but one thing that surprised me was the suggestion that Jesus could’ve escaped capture. I had a vague notion that Gethsemane was a high ground advantageous to insurgents but assumed Jesus was pretty much cornered and that his prayer (if ever uttered) appealed for divine intervention in a fate that was all but inevitable. If John the Baptist was indeed executed then Jesus would’ve been aware he was at risk, but to choose martyrdom when there were better options? Hard to imagine.

          • Marja Erwin

            For the record, the American people did not elect that man. The Electoral College, created because a popular vote would weaken states with more slaves, did.

  • Generally I’d agree, but it does seem possible that if a society has a very fixed expectation of X, some wag might invent a character that deliberately subverts that expectation – Perhaps mythicists are wrong to compare Jesus to Batman and Deadpool is a better analogy?!

    Incidentally, I seem to remember Amy-Jill Levine arguing that Matthew’s infancy narratives are a conscious parody of Greek stories about the births of gods.

    • We are not talking about the invention of a literary character, unless you are going to try to make the case that the Gospels were written first, and then Paul came along and proclaimed their central character. We are talking about an individual who was being proclaimed as the Davidic anointed one, i.e. the restorer of the Davidic line to the throne. And those proclaiming him said he had been crucified and died, without in any visible way having taken the throne. Mythicism is implausible not least because it is happy to talk about what authors of literature do in abstraction from questions of what our earliest evidence for Christianity is, and whether it is literary narrative of the sort that makes their claims even remotely plausible, to say nothing of probable.

    • John MacDonald

      Amy-Jill Levine argues that Matthew’s Jesus infancy narratives recapitulate the story of Moses. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses.

    • Neko

      “Amy-Jill Levine arguing that Matthew’s infancy narratives are a conscious parody of Greek stories about the births of gods.”

      I wouldn’t be surprised Levine would mention that possibility, but I am surprised to hear she’d argued in support of it.

    • arcseconds

      Deliberately subverting narrative and character expectation is a modern notion, and even then it’s fairly rare: the vast majority of summer blockbusters and popular TV shows have cool people triumphing over the bad guys, not incompetent blustering cowards talking tough then getting run over by the faceless bureaucracy.

      I suppose it does happen from time to time in ancient sources, but the purpose is usually clearly polemical as far as I recall. Brahma is portrayed as a swaggering fool, unaware his realm is just a part of a much greater reality, in some Buddhist literature.

      So maybe someone invented an inverted messiah as an anti-Jewish polemic, and then this became popular amongst some ironic ancient Jewish hipsters, but a later generation forgot the irony. And maybe there’s a Brahma cult out there that embraces swaggering and foolishness as virtues…

  • John MacDonald

    Dr McGrath wrote: “Jesus failed to do so, at least in the manner expected.”

    You don’t only win when you conquer, but also when your ideology conquers. For instance, Socrates took an ethical stance against authority and died for what he believed in, and his ethical message is still with us today. Jesus learned from the example of John the Baptist that taking an ethical stance against authority could get him killed, but he did it any way – and Jesus’ message of loving your neighbor and your enemy is still the ethical paradigm with us today.

    One possibility is that the disciples saw the continuation and spreading of Jesus’ message as the real victory (the assimilation of people through ideology), not that Jesus was the messiah because he would physically live on and conquer Rome by force.

    Characterizing the goal of the Jesus movement as assimilating others, we read:

    (A) 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

    (B) The Great Commission

    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

    (C) Sending out Emissaries

    Just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be “conquered,” so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).

    (D) For Paul, Jesus resurrection is understood as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection, and so was a selling point for the new religion: “The end of the world is at hand, so you better join the winning team.”

    The Jesus movement was all about winning converts and spreading the word, so it is no surprise that they succeeded doing just that. That Jesus’ message didn’t die with him but continued assimilating people after the fact meant that he hadn’t failed.

  • Neko

    Is that the targum Thom Stark skewered Richard Carrier over a few years back?

    • Yes it is.

      • Mark

        Suppose that something like the “Messiah ben Joseph” trope was already circulating in the early 1st c, organizing Zechariah 12, Isaiah 53 and the rest. Then there would have been pre-existing material for Jesus-enthusiasts to work with. Of course they would have been fusing memes about future kings that later appear as quite distinct. How would this appreciably improve the argument for mythicism, though? Mythicist enthusiasm for such an idea is really aimed at a convenient argument of the scholars, “No one expected a tragic messiah, therefore …” but the rejection of this standard premise seems to commit them to historicism anyway.