Earl Doherty as Christian Reformer

I decided to break what had been one very long post about two mythicists into two shorter ones (although I will be the first to admit that neither is particularly short, which gives you a sense of why I thought it best to split them). The first was yesterday’s about Richard Carrier.

Today’s takes its point of departure from discussions around  another mythicist, Earl Doherty. Jonathan Bernier pointed out (in a post which he subsequently deleted, but which Neil Godfrey nevertheless chose to comment on at length) that mythicists are really engaged in Christology, offering a reinterpretation of early Christian sources in a manner that is theological rather than historical. And so that is much more readily viewed as a work of reform rather than an attack, in the same sense that Luther attacked various authorities and practices, but in the interest of re-envisaging and changing.

Matthew Green made a similar point in a comment on the blog a while back, suggesting that, while mythicism is at odds with what most Christians think, to the extent that many Christians are open to revising their views in light of evidence, if mythicism did turn out to be true, all that would likely happen would be a shift to focusing on learning what the celestial Jesus rather than the historical one taught. Indeed, for many Christians Jesus is a celestial figure who still speaks to them in the present day. For atheists to try to use mythicism as though it were an argument against Christianity makes no sense.

Since Jonathan Bernier’s blog post disappeared, and yet his points are always interesting and insightful, let me share a couple of great quotes from his book The Quest for the Historical Jesus after the Demise of Authenticity: Toward a Critical Realist Philosophy of History in Jesus Studies. This first one is from p.57 n.6:

Bernier footnote

This quote from p.160 also encapsulates his point in the book as a whole, as well as in relation to mythicism:

Bernier quote

I should also perhaps mention what an individual that I recently had to ban here sent me by email. It wasn’t an apology for his behavior, but just more of the same (although nothing as bad as what he has aimed at Larry Hurtado on his blog). His email including the following:

As to your response to Carrier, you said,

“If so, then what would it indicate if Paul singled out James as ‘the brother of the Lord’ in a letter in which he also mentions other Christians?”

Which he answers in his book: Paul did that to distinguish James in 1:19 from James the apostle. Alternately, if we assume that James the apostle was the “James, brother of the Lord” mentioned in 1:19, then a biological interpretation is falsified by the fact that Luke-Acts knows of no biological brother James who held an active role in the church.

This is typical of mythicists – being satisfied with any counterclaim without paying attention to or even giving much thought to the details. In this example, for instance, isn’t it obvious to everyone else, and not only to me, that if “brother of the Lord” means “Christian” then it is no more useful as a way of contrasting one Christian James from another who happens to be an apostle, than it is useful as a way of distinguishing between the James and Peter mentioned in Galatians?

See also the chain of bait-and-switch reasoning recently at Vridar on the same topic, with no attention to details, dates, or even references to or citations of primary sources where those would be crucial.

Jonathan Bernier also wrote a response to Joseph Atwill’s nonsense making an appearance in the news once again a while back. So too did Eldad Keynan.

See also Simon Joseph’s recent post about the crucifixion as historical bedrock and as icon.

Craig Evans’ debate with Richard Carrier from last year will likely also be of interest, the video of which is online.

Also relevant is Larry Hurtado’s discussion of being a Christian and a scholar:

Despite what some have claimed, Amazon’s Echo is not a mythicist.

Finally, mythicists are among those who are prone to misuse the term “refuted,” and thus could benefit from the linked article.

"I don't think so. Maybe people are actually encountering the divine through these things. I ..."

Racism, Young-Earth Creationism, and the New ..."
"So you wouldn't say, when trying to infer whether an historical event happened, that it ..."

Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a ..."
"I am not aware of guerilla battles for "years" afterwards. I would be interested in ..."

Conflict among Fallible Humans
"No, I wouldn't. Absoutely nothing is gained by sticking numbers on a qualitative judgement when ..."

Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Neko

    For atheists to try to use mythicism as though it were an argument against Christianity makes no sense.

    For Catholics, the largest denomination worldwide, the Incarnation is essential to Christian belief. When professing the Nicene Creed at Mass the congregation bows (or kneels in the pre-Vatican II liturgy) during these lines of the Creed exclusively:

    and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
    and became man.

    Since it’s impossible to prove that mythicism is true, mythicism as subversion of Christianity is a dead end.

    I’d be interested in reading Bernier’s now-deleted post! It seems to me mythicists think of themselves as revolutionary iconoclasts.

  • John MacDonald

    “Finally, mythicists are among those who are prone to misuse the term ‘refuted.’ ”

    It’s bizarre the way Carrier uses words like “refuted” and “proved” and “lying,” as though they are neologisms.

  • Mark

    Your correspondent is not getting Carrier’s view across. If I remember it correctly, Carrier suggests that there was a special group in Jerusalem called ‘Brothers of the Lord’. This is supposed to be helped along by 1 Cor 9:5 where Paul mentions ‘the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas’

    What all the uses of ‘brother’ seem to have in common is a horizontal element, in which ‘brothers’ are somehow equal and united; and a vertical element of a common superior that brings the unity about. This is a parent in the ‘biological’ reading; but it can be e.g. an organization, as in the Brotherhood of Teamsters or a college fraternity; or a community, as e.g. the old African American usage of ‘brother’ for fellow (male) African American (the locution I think draws attention to the importance for each of the community); or a common higher idea or cause, etc.

    If ‘brother of the Lord’ is to make sense, we need to find a way to put James //on a level with// ‘the Lord’, and find the superior element to which they bear a common relation. And of course the solution needs to add an identifying discrimination to “Jacob”

    On a biological reading, it is the human father or mother. On a ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ reading it would have to be Christ or else God. Thus somewhere I think Paul speaks of everyone in the resurrection as Christ’s brothers. Here we have a common manifestation of God’s power or something, and in it we are all in the same position as Jesus. Where Paul addresses us as ‘brothers’ it is with Christ as equalizing superior. Subjection to Christ unites us and Paul.

    I don’t see how Carrier’s idea can work, it presupposes that James and a few others //share with ‘the Lord’// a common relation to third thing – which can in fact only be God – and that others outside this select group do not bear the same relation to the same thing. The biological reading doesn’t have this problem, nor does a Teamsters (carpenter’s union?) reading.

    It’s surprising at first, but a “spiritual” or “Christian” reading is basically ruled out by the structure of the epithet ‘brother of the Lord’ – unless it applies to all humans, all Christians, all of the resurrected, etc.

    • John MacDonald

      “Your correspondent is not getting Carrier’s view across. If I remember it correctly, Carrier suggests that there was a special group in Jerusalem called ‘Brothers of the Lord’. This is supposed to be helped along by 1 Cor 9:5 where Paul mentions ‘the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas’.”

      – Carrier’s argument is that non-apostolic baptized Christians like James were “Brothers of the Lord,” and apostolic Christians like Cephas were not “Brothers of the Lord” (see Carrier OHJ, 582-592). I find it silly that Cephas would not have been a cultic brother of the Lord on Carrier’s reading, but that’s what he argues.

      • Neko

        Curious what Carrier’s evidence for this distinction would be.

        • John MacDonald

          You’re right, of course. There’s nothing in Paul that points to the distinction Carrier is arguing for here. Carrier is doing extreme mental contortions here to try to ignore the plain biological reading of the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage and to, so to speak, twist the “round” text of Galatians into his “square” hermeneutic hole of mythicism. On the usual reading of Galatians 1:19, the whole of the mythicist argument collapses, so it is understandable that Carrier is desperately clinging to this, at best, idiosyncratic reading.

          • Neko

            Ah! Thank you. It seems on the critical point of the Lord’s brother Carrier has abandoned “parsimony” for special pleading.

      • Mark

        Right I found my copy, I was mixing up two mythicist theories. But Carrier’s account fails for the structural reason I mention. It is essential to ‘Y is brother of X’ that X and Y are in some way equalized, or put on a level, by their common relation to a third thing or person or idea.

        Carrier says that Paul’s use of “brother” in addressing the recipients of the letters is a truncation of “brother of the Lord”. But in so speaking, Paul clearly puts himself on a level with the hearer in their common … subjection to Christ. Christ himself does not fall into the unity, but is the superior that holds it together. Everyone who falls into this unity is a Christian, but Christ is not in this sense a Christian, and not another ‘brother’.

        By contrast the proposition implicit in the Galatians reference – “James is the brother of the Lord” entails “The Lord is the brother of James”. It puts James on a level with the Lord in some way – in their common relation to a third. It can’t mean ‘fellow Christian’. It could only mean: fellow son of Joseph, or fellow member of the carpenter’s union, or fellow member of the Alpha Beta Gamma fraternity.

        What all available interpretations have in common is that they are incompatible with mythicism. No way of reading ‘X is brother of the Lord’ is compatible with mythicism, unless say X is a fellow great angel or the like.

        • arcseconds

          I agree that if we exclude the interpretation of the normal biological sense of ‘brother’, the next most likely set of alternative meanings of Galatians 1:19 entail that Jesus existed as a historical individual, here are some examples:

          *) James has a kinship relationship (either by blood or marriage) with Jesus, but not one we would normally term ‘brother’, e.g. cousin, step-brother
          (this is a very long-standing interpretation, naturally).

          *) James was Jesus’s bestie, so close they were termed ‘brothers’, possibly even they swore an oath of brotherhood (this happens, of course, and I do not see what the third party is here, so unless you can explain otherwise, I think you’re wrong in insisting there must be one)

          *) James and Jesus were part of the same fraternal organisation (as you suggest).

          However, at the risk of giving mythicists ammunition, there are some other possibilities that could be the case even if Jesus was understood to be a celestial being (I do not pretend they are very likely):

          *) James is part of some inner circle called ‘the brothers of the lord’ who are distinct from ‘rank-and-file’ Christians. Other Jameses are not.

          You allow that elsewhere it could mean ‘Christian’, all that we need to imagine here is that there’s some subset of Christians
          to which this description applies.

          (This seems to be Carrier’s position, and while it assumes the existence of a group of non-literal-brothers and a label for them we don’t have any evidence for, and makes Pauls apparent reference to all Christians as ‘brothers in the lord’ awkward and super-confusing, it is not ruled out simply on the logic of ‘brother of’, as you seem to be suggesting. You allow for ‘brother of X’ to pick out membership in a group of ‘brother of X’, you just need to imagine a different group here. (‘Jane is a Sister of Mercy’ does not entail that Mercy is Jane’s sister. )

          *) James claims brotherhood with a celestial being. This is pretty strange, but not completely unknown: in an earlier discussion along these lines, Maja Erwin informed me that Hong Xiuquan claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ. Of course, we think Jesus existed, but it seems pretty clear that Hong claimed to be a celestial brother of Jesus qua celestial being.

          *) James had an idiosyncratic habit of calling a celestial being ‘brother’, rather as Jesus himself called God ‘father’.

          *) it’s a nickname that indicates something about James’s personality or the esteem in which he was held. Perhaps he was considered so divine he was considered on par with celestial beings (as Jesus came to be thought of, on the assumption of historicity). Or perhaps it’s actually ironic, and he was so arrogant that people came to say he was putting himself on the same level as Jesus.

          • Other options are indeed possible. That’s where the question of evidence comes in… 😉 We have early sources that are close to Paul’s time which view Jesus as a human being with human siblings rather than a celestial figure, much less a purely celestial one.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, given the background knowledge that Jesus is portrayed as a historical figure, Galatians 1:19 basically removes any reasonable doubt about the matter.

            If, on the other hand, we had very compelling evidence that he was a celestial figure or entirely mythical living in a mythic past, then we would probably search for another interpretation. To take a rather extreme example, Philo referred to someone as “the brother of the Logos” we would probably not start wondering whether the Logos was actually a historical individual. (This is more or less the mythicist position, of course.)

            Even just Paul is enough here, though. He clearly thinks that Jesus was flesh-and-blood (no weight can be put on his use of gignomai, that’s conspiracy-theorist style reasoning right there), and lived in the recent past. That’s probably enough to already at least suspect a historical origin for the figure, as entirely mythic but corporeal (in the myth) figures dwell in the distant past. Either the crucifixion or meeting his brother is enough to tip the scales, as at that point you have to start telling some pretty odd alternate stories.

          • Neko

            I had to google “gignomai.” Please, what’s the controversy there? (I vaguely remember some dispute over being born or–brought into being?)

          • arcseconds

            (*groans*) it’s so painful…

            OK so apparently Paul normally uses γεννάω (genno) to mean ‘born’, (e.g. Galatians 4:29 in the form ‘gennetheis’) but when he tells us Jesus was ‘born of a woman’ in Galatians 4:4, he uses ‘ginomai’ (in the form ‘genomenon’).

            (‘ginomai’ is just a different form of gignomai, it seems – thought I had made a mistake there, but no!)

            Gignomai normally means ‘born’ when applied to human beings, but it also means ‘to come into being’ or ‘to be produced’.

            Now, obviously when someone uses one word most of the time, and a different word that normally means the same thing some other times, this is of Great Significance, and they can’t possibly mean the same thing as they’d use the first word to mean.

            So clearly, everyone has mistranslated and misunderstood Galatians 4:4 for centuries, and what it actually means is that David’s sperm was magicked away, and used to create a celestial being several centuries later.

            It’s really quite simple, and it’s only people’s irrational allegiance to a historical Jesus that prevents them from seeing the obvious…

            Capiche?

          • Neko

            Ha! Yes. Thank you.

          • arcseconds

            I think the tactic is interesting, though. Find some small deviation from something you can drum up some expectation for, and claim you’ve explained it, and demand an explanation from your opponents on the basis of their theory.

            You see this a lot in justifications for fringe beliefs.

            I think this can be quite psychologically and rhetorically effective. It can seem like the mainstream theory has a hole in it.

            But often there’s nothing much to explain, and in this case there is literally nothing: people use one word most of the time and another synonym or near-synonym on the odd occasion all the time, and if we need an explanation for this it’s a general matter for psycholinguistics.

            In this case I suppose it’s likely that Carrier or whomever needed a way of explaining away Paul’s apparent statement that he thinks Jesus had a mortal birth, so he can push the idea Paul thinks Jesus is a celestial being. I’m not suggesting he’s consciously concocting a bizarre theory. It’s actually rational to an extent: if you were absolutely convinced of one thing and found an isolated statement that suggests strongly otherwise on a plain reading, you probably ought to consider alternative interpretations of that statement too, cf. my counter-factual of Philo calling someone ‘brother of the Logos’.

            But when I first heard it, it struck me that it was similar to the kind of thinking one sees with paranoid schizophrenics. The style of thinking they use to support their persecution beliefs isn’t necessarily just about persecution: they often do this more generally, and it seems like their pattern-detection has gone a bit wild and they will imaginatively concoct theories to explain the patterns they think they see, which they never or seldom reject, because their internal epistemic criticism is impaired.

            I am not suggesting mythicists have paranoid schizophrenia. But abnormal psychology is often just an extreme form of normal psychology, so I wonder whether fringe theorists and in fact just about everyone often do exactly what I described above, obviously to a lesser extent than people with a clinical diagnosis.

          • Neko

            I also vaguely remember this point of contention over “γεννάω” being related to some theory (discussed by Tim Widowfield?) about Paul and Gnosticism and Paul’s desciption of himself as an “abortion.” I don’t know a thing about koine Greek, so… ¯_(ツ)_/¯

            All to say that concerning your very interesting comments on the tactic of seizing on discrepancies to envision or argue alternative narratives, you’re right! It’s characteristic of fringe theorists. The whole modern mythicist project appears to revolve around discrepancies between Paul/Pauline texts and the gospels. But it’s also good critical practice to determine the significance of discrepancies.

  • Chuck Johnson

    None of this contention is especially interesting to me.
    Since I don’t believe in the supernatural, the miraculous Jesus obviously didn’t exist.

    As for a human, historical Jesus, the evidence is so inadequate that I think that the much more important story is the story of how the Jesus stories have become used (and abused) over the past two thousand years.

    • Mark

      “The miraculous Jesus obviously didn’t exist” is at best an incredibly strange way of saying something that might be said clearly. Try e.g. “Jesus obviously didn’t perform any miracles” and experience a salutary feeling of actually saying something.

      There is plenty of evidence that Jesus existed. For any given story about Jesus, not so much.

      • Chuck Johnson

        “Try e.g. “Jesus obviously didn’t perform any miracles” and experience a salutary feeling of actually saying something.”

        That presupposes that Jesus existed as a human being.
        I do not presuppose that.

        • Mark

          Yes, so if you want actually to say something, try “Even if Jesus existed, he didn’t perform any miracles”.

          • Chuck Johnson

            I did.
            You just misrepresented my writing because you enjoy insulting.
            It’s called trolling.

          • Mark

            No, it’s just that I’ve run into a shitload of toxic inferences that proceed by multiplication of Jesuses.

    • Neko

      Since I don’t believe in the supernatural, the miraculous Jesus obviously didn’t exist.

      The issue of the supernatural aside, this is a whopping non sequitur. If you don’t believe something, it (“obviously”) doesn’t exist? Yikes.

      By the way, the historical Jesus debate is emphatically not concerned with the supernatural. It’s concerned with arriving at the most credible reconstructions of history on the basis of the evidence. It’s also a very interesting epistemological debate.

      • Chuck Johnson

        “The issue of the supernatural aside, this is a whopping non sequitur. If
        you don’t believe something, it (“obviously”) doesn’t exist? Yikes.”

        I didn’t say that “therefore the supernatural doesn’t exist for Neko”.
        That would be a non sequitur.

        • Neko

          You didn’t have to. Your sentence means the existence of Jesus is contingent on your belief. But I’m not interested in arguing your bad writing any further.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “Your sentence means the existence of Jesus is contingent on your belief.”

            If you don’t understand something you should ask.
            But for you, strawman arguments and insults are more your style.

          • Neko

            That is funny. I understood what you meant. It was simple. You didn’t write what you meant. Think I’ll block you for being tiresome.

      • Chuck Johnson

        “It’s concerned with arriving at the most credible reconstructions of
        history on the basis of the evidence. It’s also a very interesting
        epistemological debate.”

        To me, it’s not that interesting.
        That’s because of the scarcity of good evidence.
        Also the search for the historical Jesus is poorly defined.
        What if (for example) the historical Jesus would be found to have existed but his name wasn’t really Jesus ?

        What if (for example) the historical Jesus would be found to have existed as two or more people who were then referred to as one person (Jesus)?

        • Neko

          Fine, it’s not interesting to you. Just sayin’ why it’s interesting to people not-you.

        • arcseconds

          Anyone can say ‘what if’ about any historical event or person, and they frequently do.

          What if Shakespeare was a front for several different people to get their work published?
          What if Tristran Tzara, James Joyce and Lenin all hung out together in Zurich?
          What if the Holy Grail exists, and is being kept hidden by a secret order of knights?

          This is obviously a rich avenue for fiction, but in the absence of even the slightest evidence for any of these suppositions that’s all it is, or at least ought to be.

  • Catholic Online lists forty-seven different Saints named Joseph, along with a Josaphat, a Josef, a Jozef, and a handful named Jose. Many of these men did work, but, as a matter of convention, one of them is known as “the Worker.”

    In a culture without surnames, like that of the early church, means of distinguishing men with the same name were needed. In many cases, they were distinguished by their relatives, e.g., John the son of Zebedee. In other cases, it seems that a sort of nickname was used, e.g., Simon the Zealot, James the Just, John the Baptist. These designations were useful not because there was only one Simon who was zealous (or a Zealot), only one James who was just, or only one John who performed baptisms. They were useful as a matter of convention because people understood them as identifying specific people.

    Even if James was a brother of the Lord in the exact same sense as many other men named James, Paul might have used “the brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19 simply because his readers knew which James was commonly identified by that particular phrase.

    Of course I don’t believe that this is a matter of certainty. Moreover, it is possible that James acquired that designation because he was the unique biological brother of the earthly Jesus. Nonetheless, that many men named James could have been considered brothers of the Lord in the spiritual sense does not precludes one particular James being designated “the brother of the Lord” as a matter of convention.

    • Just saying “it was a nickname” without explaining what that nickname would have meant and how it would have made sense in the contexts in which we find it used in the New Testament – in the plural as well as in the singular – is not adequate.

      • I am only addressing your claim “that if ‘brother of the Lord’ means ‘Christian’ then it is no more useful as a way of contrasting one Christian James from another who happens to be an apostle, than it is useful as way of distinguishing between the James and Peter mentioned in Galatians.” It is an argument that I have seen you and others make, and I think that it is weak. As can be seen from the use of “the worker,” “the zealot,” and “the just,” a term that might equally apply to several people who share the same name can be used to identify just one of them.

        I make no claim that this point is adequate to resolve the issue of James’ relationship to Jesus, but I do think that it is adequate to show that the particular argument you made is anything but “obvious.”

        • You seem to have only two options: either something is “obvious” in the sense that it is so overwhelmingly clear that no other possibilities can even seem remotely worth considering, or otherwise things are radically uncertain. I am not persuaded by this dichotomy. But apart from that, unless you want to argue that there was a category of “brothers of the Lord” that did not mean “Christians” (Peter was one of those too, as were all the other people that Paul mentions alongside the “brothers of the Lord”), and provide evidence to support it, then you still seem to be engaging in mere speculation, and frustratingly unwilling to accept that, in the absence of such evidence, the remaining mundane meaning of “brother(s) of the Lord” would indeed be the obvious choice.

          • You seem to have two options as well: either address the point I made (e.g., defend the argument you made or concede its weakness) or try to shift the discussion onto other points that I haven’t argued.

        • arcseconds

          It being a nickname and it meaning ‘Christian’ are two different cases. McGrath has argued against the latter, and you are suggesting the former for consideration.

          • And if it is a nickname, then what does it mean in the plural when used without names (as in 1 Corinithians 9:5)?

          • arcseconds

            ‘The brother of the lord’ in Galatians 1:19 is a nickname, in 1 Corinthians 9:5 “the Lord’s brothers” refers to a special circle of early Jesus followers, in Philippians 1:14 and elsewhere “brothers in the Lord” means Christians, and in Mark 6:3 it means biological brothers. Or step-brothers, or cousins.

            What could be simpler than that?

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe it’s just a “coincidence” that Mark knew of a James who was the lord’s relative, and Paul characterizes a James in the same way, but in this case “brother” was a nickname, not an indication of being a relative – lol

          • arcseconds

            You jest, but this is actually a consideration. Jesus would be a historical figure if this were the case. He would also be a historical figure if any one of the references to people being his brother were based on them actually being his brother or having a close relationship with him. He would also be a historical figure if all the references to brothers were invented, but the crucifixion story was based on a Jesus actually being crucified. He would also be a historical figure if the crucifixion and the brothers were made up, but the apocalyptic preaching actually was given by someone called Jesus, etc.

            Mythicism has to affirm a massive conjunction of various propositions, many of which only have possibility arguments in their favour. To assert historicity, and only that, is to assert a large disjunction of various propositions, many of which are pretty natural ways of explaining features of the text we have. So of course historicity is more probable.

          • In this post (and in others) McGrath has argued against the latter on the grounds that “brother of the Lord” couldn’t have meant Christian because that would have rendered it useless in distinguishing one Christian James from any other Christian James. I maintain that these grounds are unpersuasive because the use of such terms can be simply a matter of convention. As examples of this, I have cited Joseph the Worker, Simon the Zealot, and James the Just.

            The only thing I am suggesting is that the grounds he offered are weak. I am not saying anything whatsoever about the strength or weakness of any other grounds.

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Vinny. What do you think of the name of Jesus’ biological brother in the Gospel of Mark, James, lining up with the name of the person Paul calls the brother of the Lord? Is this just a coincidence? Where do you think Mark got the name, James, the brother of Jesus, from?

          • As I understand it, James was a pretty common name at the time. I suspect that the coincidence has little statistical significance.

          • John MacDonald

            I think James can be a common name, but it would still seem unusual for Mark to simply list the name James off the cuff along with Joses, Juda, and Simon, as though the family of Jesus was well known to the audience, and for Paul to luckily pick the same name, calling James the brother of the lord (which he certainly would have to do to identify James as Jesus’ biological brother), but intending “brother of the lord” in a different sense from Mark’s sense. It just fits well that Mark and Paul are intending James to be the biological brother of Jesus. Your interpretation isn’t impossible (what is?), but I don’t think it’s very likely.

          • Our intuitions about the improbability of certain coincidences tend to be pretty poor. See Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. What seems unusual to us is often statistically normal.

          • John MacDonald

            Derrida said our “feeling” of the apparent reasonableness of something is no evidence of its “actual” reasonableness. Would you concede that your “feeling” of the reasonableness of the “Nickname” hypothesis is no evidence of its veracity?

          • I will happily concede that my feelings are not evidence of anything whatsoever other than the way I feel. That people were given nicknames like “the worker,” “the zealot,” and “the just” doesn’t seem to be a matter of dispute.

          • Did you mean to write Kephas/Peter instead of James one of those times?

          • No.

          • arcseconds

            There are two different possibilities here:

            1) ‘brother of the Lord’ normally just means Christian, and is not a nickname for James.

            2) ‘brother of the Lord’ normally just means Christian, but in the case of James it’s a nickname.

            In case (1), James is correct: this makes Galatians 1:19 a very strange thing to say. A meaning-preserving paraphrase would be “Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James (who happens to be Christian).”

            or perhaps, if it is supposed to distinguish him from other Jameses he could be confused with “… except James (you know, the Christian James)”

            These are bizarre things to say given he is talking about apostles, so I think we can safely exclude this possibility.

            In case (2), you are correct that this is a possibility. But this requires something in addition to ‘brother of the Lord’ meaning ‘Christian’, it also requires it to be a nickname for James. ‘brother of the Lord’ is not otherwise attested to as meaning ‘Christian’, so we’re already talking about something that’s quite unlikely.

            And James’s question is appropriate: how did he come by this nickname? Surely the most likely explanation for why someone is nicknamed ‘X the brother of Y’ is that he actually is the brother of Y, and the next most likely explanation is that he has some kind of close familial or quasi-fraternal relationship with Y such as is fairly commonly referred to as ‘brother’ (these require Y exists), etc.

            Actually, of course, your position seems to be a subset of (2), i.e.

            3) ‘brother of the Lord’ normally just means Christian, but in the case of James it’s a nickname, somehow based on the fact that he is a Christian.

            This of course is theorizing a very specific case of how the nickname came to be, so has to be regarded as significantly less probable than (2).

            And while you’re right that ‘X the Y’ doesn’t necessarily indicate X is the only Y or even the Yiesty Y, it still seems quite odd to me that amongst a group of people calling themselves ‘brothers of the Lord’, one should be nicknamed ‘James the Brother of the Lord’. Does this ever actually happen? Like among modern-day Baptists, is there anyone called by them e.g. James ‘the Baptist’ McGrath, or within They Might Be Giants to distinguish the two Johns could one of them be ‘They Might Be Giants’ John to his fellow band-members?

            This isn’t impossible, of course, it just seems like quite a bit of a stretch. He may have received the nickname in contrast to other, non-Jesus-following James and it got imported into the Jesus-following circles despite it being applicable to all of them, but we are starting to get to some pretty unlikely hypotheses here, it seems to me.

          • Paul E.

            Even if one would grant for the sake of argument that it was a nickname, I wonder what evidence that would supply for a mythicist thesis? Wouldn’t such a nickname more likely indicate some special relationship with a human being? Is there any evidence of nicknames such as “brother of Hercules” or “brother of Loki” or “brother of Gabriel” or something like that? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely curious.

          • I am curious as well. Mark 3:17 says that John and James were called “sons of thunder.”

          • Paul E.

            Yes, good example of Jesus giving out a nickname! “Son of” is interesting in contrast to “brother of,” especially in this context. “Son of” has a fairly common metaphorical usage (sometimes, of course, derogatorily in English), whereas I can only think of the usage of the term “brother” (and not even “brother of”) in a real relational sense. I’d really be interested in some examples, especially as they would pertain to this particular context. Interesting issue!

            EDIT: I should add that when I say relational sense, I mean in how people relate, not that the relationship has to be biological (e.g., “brothers” of a lodge, or “we’re like brothers”, etc.).

          • arcseconds

            There is a film called Brother of the Wind, it seems to be about eagles.

            However, these are fairly clear metaphors. What sense does it make to refer to someone as being the brother of another person in a metaphorical sense, where that doesn’t indicate either a close relationship or membership of some kind of fraternal organisation? We have names like ‘Sons of Anarchy’ today, but could we call someone ‘James Son of Abraham Lincoln’ to metaphorically indicate statesmanship, or something? It seems to me to be too easily confused with expressing an actual relationship between the two people.

            Note that ‘Sons of Lincoln’ actually does make sense as the name of a group.

            (So does ‘Brothers of the Lord’, it’s just that there’s no particular reason for thinking such a group existed, and it seems pretty confusing given that ‘Brothers in the Lord’ means Christians…)

          • arcseconds

            Yes, I think I covered that off in the comment you’re replying to 🙂 the most likely way the nickname came about is because he is the brother of Jesus, the next most likely is that he’s a step-brother or cousin, etc.

            I don’t know of any nickname relating a human being to a god like that.

          • Growing up, I had three uncles named John. We called them Uncle John Martini, Uncle John Bourbon, and Uncle John Vodka.

            How he came by the appellation would be pure speculation. Maybe there had been another James who left the fold between the time of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem and his letter to the Galatians, so that James the Brother of the Lord was in contrast to James the Apostate.

          • This is highly speculative, and still does not explain why this nickname was chosen to convey the meaning that you speculatively propose.

            Is there any point at which your speculation might reach a limit at which less speculative possibilities might begin to seem more probable to you?

          • I acknowledged that I was engaging in pure speculation in my comment.

            What isn’t speculative is that terms like “the worker,” “the zealot,” and “the just” were used to distinguish between people who shared the same name even though the terms could logically be applied to more than one of them. Beyond that I am not making any claims about what did or didn’t happen.

          • No, you’re just doing your usual “there are other possibilities” without ever making a case – much less a solid and persuasive one – for those possibilities, and then using that as though it excused your refusal to accept that an option which does not require such speculation, and for which a strong case has been made, deserves to be considered more probable.

          • Once again you are responding to arguments that I haven’t made rather than the one I did make.

            I responded to the question you posed: “[I]sn’t it obvious to everyone else, and not only to me, that if ‘brother of the Lord’ means ‘Christian’ then it is no more useful as a way of contrasting one Christian James from another who happens to be an apostle, than it is useful as a way of distinguishing between the James and Peter mentioned in Galatians?”

            I answered “no” to that question and provided reasons, which I think are persuasive. Rather than defending your argument or conceding its weakness, you keep arguing about claims that i haven’t made.

          • When called upon to defend the explicit or implicit details entailed by your position, you always retreat to this kind of evasion. Why do you think your position is justified, or even justifiable?

          • How is it an evasion to address an argument that you made in your post?

          • It wouldn’t be, if you would actually do that. But offering speculations as though they are as probable as options rooted in the available evidence is not addressing an argument made in my post. Does it seem otherwise in your thinking? If so, perhaps we’ve finally reached the point where you will be willing to provide a justification for your stance and an explanation of your reasoning?

          • John MacDonald

            I know, since we are just randomly speculating without any evidence backing it up, I want to argue that the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage is an interpolation by ancient Jesus historicists to combat the Jesus mythicism of their time!

          • I do not claim that I was addressing an argument in your post when I engaged in pure speculation; I was responding to a comment by arcseconds when I did that.

            I was responding to an argument in your post when I explained how a term can be used to distinguish between people who share the same name even if the term might logically be applied to more than one of them.

            Would you care to respond to the argument that I have made as opposed to positions that you merely think that I hold?

          • You have not shown that the nicknames in question were used in a context in which the individual bearing the nickname was so referred to in a context in which they were being distinguished from others who could be referred to by the same nickname, and yet in that context were not. Do you plan to do so?

          • I’m not entirely sure what you are asking.

            Any time St. Joseph the Worker is referred to by that nickname, it is being used to distinguish him from other men named Joseph who have been canonized by the Catholic Church who might also be considered workers. Any time James the Just is referred to by that nickname, it is being used to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee as well as any other men named James in the early church who could also be considered just. Any time Simon the Zealot is referred to by that nickname, it is being used to distinguish from Simon Peter as well as any other men named Simon in the early church who might have been zealous (or zealots).

            I am not aware of any case in which such nicknames were used where it was pointed out that the term being used as a nickname could also be applied to others.

          • But you aren’t explaining what the nickname meant in a context in which all the other individuals in question, such as James the son of Zebedee, could have equally worn that label!

          • It means “the particular James who is known as ‘the brother of the Lord,’” just as Joseph the Worker means “the particular Joseph who is known as ‘the worker.’” That other Josephs could have worn the label “worker” doesn’t matter, because we agree which one is “Joseph the Worker” as a matter of convention.

            In fact, we can use the nickname without knowing why the person was so named. No one seems to know why Simon was “the Zealot,” why Thomas was “the Twin,” or why John and James were “the Sons of Thunder,” but it doesn’t matter since we know to whom the names refer.

          • I know what a nickname does. That was not the question. And we most certainly do know what nicknames like twin, zealot, just, and worker mean. We may not always know why a particular individual was given a particular nickname, but we understand their meaning.

          • In a context where other men named Joseph might equally bear the label “worker,” Joseph the Worker means the one particular Joseph who by convention bears that nickname. Nicknames don’t acquire or require additional meanings by virtue of the fact that someone else could have reasonably born the nickname had convention attributed it to them.

          • That is not the point. The issue is that you keep insisting that the meaning of nicknames is so arbitrary and unclear that we have no reason to think these individuals were zealous, just, worker, or sibling.

          • I have insisted absolutely nothing of the kind. I have responded to your claim that we can exclude possible meanings on the grounds that convention might have applied that meaning to someone else as well.

            We cannot be certain whether Simon the Zealot was so named because he was zealous in his faith or because he was a political Zealot. I understand that the former is considered more likely because the evidence suggests that the political movement came later. So far as I know, the fact that Simon Peter might also be considered zealous in his faith does enter into the probability assessment.

          • And so James the brother of the Lord could have been called that because he was the brother of Jesus or…?!

          • . . . or because he was a spiritual brother of the risen Christ.

          • What is your evidence that he was thought of in that way, and that it distinguished him from James the son of Zebedee?!

          • I don’t know which James it distinguished him from. I infer that there was some other James around since Paul felt that the Galatians needed some clarification, but I have no way to determine who it was.

            One piece of evidence I do have is the author of Luke/Acts not identifying James as Jesus’s biological brother. The simplest explanation for that has to be that the author didn’t think that he was, doesn’t it.

          • John MacDonald

            So you think Luke had a source unique to him claiming Jesus didn’t have a brother named James?

          • No. I simply think that Luke might not have thought that the James who makes an appearance in Acts 15 was that person.

          • John MacDonald

            If Luke didn’t have a source denying Jesus had a brother named James, then why would Luke’s mere late speculation and guessing on the matter have anything to do with whether the historical Jesus had a brother named James? You may be right and Luke may not have believed Jesus had a brother named James, but if Luke was just speculating on the matter of James without a source, then what bearing does this have on the question?

          • I think that there is a bit of question begging in your query.

            I accept the consensus that Mark is earlier than Luke, but I am troubled by the notion that Mark is somehow early historical bedrock while Luke/Acts is “mere late speculation and guessing.” I view both as reflecting traditions that were current in the latter half of the first century.

            Luke mentions Jesus having brothers in Luke 8:19 and Acts 1:14, but he does not name them. Given the fact that the Gospel of John also leaves Jesus’ brothers unnamed, I suspect that there were some sources or traditions in which they were not given names. Presumably Luke knew that Mark had given them names, so either Luke didn’t trust the tradition upon which Mark relied or he didn’t think that their names were important, perhaps because he knows of no traditions about them subsequent to their being in the upper room. In neither case would I describe what he was doing as denying, speculating or guessing.

            In Acts 15, Luke references a James who was a leader of the Jerusalem community who seems likely to be the same James that Paul references in Galatians. I don’t think we can be sure whether Luke knew that Paul referred to him as “the brother of the Lord” or what Luke thought that meant if he did know. Since we cannot establish that Luke knew of any tradition making that James the biological brother of Jesus, it is meaningless to talk about him denying it. Rather the simplest explanation for Luke not identifying James as Jesus’ biological brother is that he had never heard such a story.

            Of course this doesn’t prove anything conclusively one way or the other, but I think it is more than sufficient to put to rest any claim that the “early sources agree.” Mark, Matthew, and Josephus seem to agree that Jesus had a brother named James, but none of them indicate that he or any other biological brother of Jesus was a leader in the early Christian community. Luke is the only one besides Paul who mentions a James who was such a leader, but he does not identify him as Jesus’ brother despite knowing of a tradition that Jesus had a brother of that name.

          • Neko

            Just going to stick in here that though I think “James, the Lord’s brother” probably means “James, the Lord’s brother,” I enjoy your ruminations. Carrier insists that Paul is distinguishing a mere brother of the Lord from an apostle. But in English Gal1:19 says: “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” That would make James an apostle.

            I’m sure this has been asked and answered a million times, but why would James be considered not-an-apostle who must be identified as a spiritual brother of the Lord when it appears Paul considers James an “other” apostle? Is it some dispute over the Greek? Do redundancies appear in Paul like “I saw none of the other apostles except James the apostle”?

          • In my humble opinion, Paul is not drawing a distinction between James and anyone other than the James who the Galatians might have thought was in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s visit. I don’t think that there is any way to know whether that was James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, or James the Knight who said “Ni!”

            I agree that it sounds like Paul is identifying James as an apostle, but you are quite right that I do not know any koine Greek. I also agree that Carrier’s disinterestedness is open to question.

          • Neko

            I don’t think that there is any way to know whether that was James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, or James the Knight who said “Ni!”

            You made me laugh, so up-arrow for that!

          • It’s hard to go wrong with Monty Python quotes.

          • Neko

            Come on now, it was a well-placed cite.

          • You are too kind.

          • Mark

            Here are all the other uses of the the ‘εἰ μὴ/ei mē’ idiom (subliterally: if not) in Paul, authentic or not http://lpaste.net/raw/2323447457389740032 They all involve the kind of opposition Carrier is trying to get rid of. KJV uses different words – ‘except’ ‘save’ ‘but’.

            The wackiest part of Carrier’s particular theory is the claim that when Paul uses “brother” to address the reader, he is truncating the full expression “brother of the Lord”. But “brothers” is not truncated, it’s just standard ‘fraternal address’. “Brothers, …” is the same speech operation, and means the same, when I say it to my trade union, college fraternity and church. The different ambient fraternal relation of course puts different people at the other end. You might as well say that when different people say “I” it truncates different expressions – “I, Mark”, “I, Neko”, etc. according to the case.

            Carrier likes the idea that “Brothers, do XYZ” is short for “Brothers of the Lord, do XYZ” because it makes it seem like “brother of the Lord” is latent everywhere in the text, which it isn’t – and that it means ‘Christian’, though how it could mean this is never explained.

          • Neko

            Wow, thank you!

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said: “Rather the simplest explanation for Luke not identifying James as Jesus’ biological brother is that he had never heard such a story.”

            – Sure he heard such a story. He read it in Mark.

          • Yes. I mentioned in my comment that Luke knew of the tradition that Jesus had a brother named James. The question is whether he had any reason to think that the James who makes an appearance in Acts 15 was the same person. I submit that Luke’s failure to note the relationship may be evidence that he did not know of it.

          • John MacDonald

            Does Luke mention the names of Jesus’ other brothers Joses and Judas and Simon?

          • No. He never names any of Jesus’ brothers (which I also noted in my comment).

          • John MacDonald

            I would say that since Luke didn’t feel the need to name Joses and Judas and Simon, there is no reason to find it odd he didn’t feel the need to name James as Jesus’ brother.

          • Jesus’ brothers never play any role in the narrative. However, there is a man named James that does. Since Luke frequently provides identifying information for others, e.g., James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus, I do think it odd that he wouldn’t pass on such information about James if he had it.

            In any case, although we are free to speculate that Luke really did know that James was Jesus’ biological brother, we cannot claim that the sources agree on the question.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said: “In any case, although we are free to speculate that Luke really did know that James was Jesus’ biological brother, we cannot claim that the sources agree on the question.”

            So, as I asked above, you believe Luke had a source unique to him that disagreed James was the brother of Jesus?

          • I am suggesting that the sources and traditions available to Luke did not identify the James who appears in Acts 15 as the biological brother of Jesus. Since we cannot establish that Luke knew of any source that did so identify James, it is meaningless to speak of him having a source that disagreed.

          • John MacDonald

            You seem to be inventing sources to bolster your argument, and you are assuming that Luke’s sources for the James in Acts 15 don’t identify him as Jesus’ brother just because Luke doesn’t, which is an unwarranted assumption because you can’t infer from what Luke said to what his sources said (since Luke may just have been free-styling on this point, ignoring the direction given by his sources). Again, Luke doesn’t identify by name any men or women as Jesus’ brothers or sisters, so it isn’t surprising he doesn’t do so in Acts 15.

            By the way, are you going to see the new Star Wars? I am. I’m going tonight!

          • What are talking about? Are you really claiming that it is unreasonable to infer that Luke wrote the things he wrote because he believed them to be true based on the information that was available to him?

            Of course he may have been free styling just as Mark may have been free styling when he named Jesus’ brothers just as Paul might have been free styling when he called James “the brother of the Lord.” That doesn’t eliminate the simplest explanation that Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the sources he had.

          • John MacDonald

            You keep referring to “The simplest explanation,” and yet deny the same simplicity to the idea that Luke simply didn’t bother identifying James as Jesus’s brother, or, to use Dr. McGrath’s example, saw no reason to emphasize the authority of an opponent of Paul’s. Maybe you could define what you mean by simple?

            You’ve also invented a hitherto unknown source that Luke had denying James was the brother of Jesus, but fail to connect how we know the absence of the brother identification in Luke was also in that source, when Luke could have just been free-styling the “non sibling” James. We know the gospel writers sometimes just invented stuff. Matthew, for instance, was free-styling when he invented all the “Jesus as the New Moses” stuff. He had no source for that. And Luke often deviates from his sources (e.g., Luke uses much less of Mark than Matthew does).

          • Yes. I do think that “Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the information available to him” is simpler than “Luke omitted a significant detail for political reasons.” However, I am not claiming that the latter is implausible, and I don’t doubt that Luke did such things from time to time. I just don’t see how we are justified in concluding that it was most likely that he did so in the case of James’ biological relationship to Jesus.

            To repeat myself, it is meaningless to talk about Luke having a source that denied that James was the brother of Jesus unless we can establish that he had a source that averred it. We can’t.

            How do you know that Matthew invented the New Moses stuff? The fact that it’s not in Mark doesn’t preclude the possibility that Matthew found it in some other source or tradition. Does it have the “ring” of free-styling?

          • John MacDonald

            So you still refuse to define what you mean by “simpler,” and you still appear to be presenting the much less “simple” argument by assuming a hitherto unheard of source Luke had denying James was the brother of Jesus. You have not answered the “simple” objection that Luke simply omitted the identification of James as Jesus’ brother (just as he omits identifying the rest of Jesus’ siblings), just as you have not answered Dr. McGrath’s objection that Luke may simply have wanted to omit lending weight to an opponent of Paul. You reject my argument that Luke may just have been free-styling on this point by arguing your view is “simpler,’ but as I say, without arguing what “simpler means. You reject the analogy of “free-styling” with Matthew and the “Jesus as New Moses” stuff, and thereby invoke yet another unheard of source Matthew was drawing on to demonstrate Jesus in Matthew recapitulates the story of Moses and presents Jesus as the new and greater Moses. In fact, the “simplest” answer here is that Matthew was simply inventing stuff about Jesus in this case. And even if Matthew had a source for this, analogous to your Luke and James scenario, it doesn’t mean the “Jesus as the New Moses” narrative elements are therefore historical. Luke clearly may have been “free-styling” simply because he wanted to draw attention away from the authority of an opponent of Paul, or because he simply didn’t feel like identifying any of Jesus’ siblings. So “free-styling” was not uncommon at all. How about when Mark shapes part of his passion narrative to resemble Psalm 22?

          • Your question begging in getting tiresome John.

            I do not assume that Luke had a source that denied that James the Just (hereinafter referring to the James who was a leader in the early Christian movement and makes an appearance in Acts 15 and biological relationship to Jesus is the point of contention) was the biological brother of Jesus. By the same token, I do not assume that Luke had a source that denied that Jesus performed his first miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana. By the same token, I do not assume that James had a source that denied that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In all these cases, I infer that it is most likely that Luke’s sources did not contain this information, not that they denied it. I do concede the possibility that Luke was aware of sources that contained such information, but that he did not consider them reliable. I also concede the possibility that Luke omitted these or other things due to political motivations.

            Neither have I rejected anything about free-styling. I do maintain that “Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the sources available to him” is simpler than “Luke free-styled for reasons of his own,” but that is not rejecting the possibility of the latter. I also maintain that “Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the sources available to him” is simpler than “Luke may simply have wanted to omit lending weight to an opponent of Paul,” the main reason being that the latter assumes the point at issue.

            Just to open another can of worms, I will even acknowledge that the simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the most probable explanation. In fact, I think that reality tends to be extremely complicated and that simple explanations necessarily miss a lot. Nonetheless, I do think that it makes sense to start with the simplest explanation as a matter of historical methodology. If it is impossible to either confirm or rebut the simplest explanation, then there isn’t much point in considering more complex ones. For example, if we cannot corroborate that Luke knew any sources making James the Just the biological brother of Jesus, it is silly to start talking about him having sources that denied it or about reasons why Luke may have left it out.

          • John MacDonald

            Once again, your argument makes no sense. How am I being questioning begging simply by pointing out your position is groundless? If Luke, as you now claim, had no source denying James was the brother of Jesus, why would Luke not simply rely on Mark for this point? If you are right and Luke believed, but had no source, that James was not the brother of Jesus, then Luke was simply guessing, in which case what does such late speculation have to do with whether the historical Jesus had a brother named James?

            But it gets worse. At this point the God of Logic has an aneurysm.

            You wrote “I do maintain that ‘Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the sources available to him’ is simpler than ‘Luke free-styled for reasons of his own.” So at this point you are back peddling an saying Luke WAS relying on sources? And this is gibberish anyway: As has been repeatedly pointed out to you, Luke had Mark as a source on the James issue, so your argument only works by Luke DENYING sources, namely Mark. Analogously, your position here entails it would be the most likely Mark actually thought the passion of Jesus did historically mirror what happened in Psalm 22, or Matthew thinking the events of Jesus’ life actually did recapitulate the events of Moses’ life in history. A straightforward cause being a source does not “simply” automatically trump the idea that the author was free-styling in gospel hermeneutics.

            You maintain your position by a shaky command of logic to say the least.

          • John MacDonald

            Humor me for a second. Speculate and tell me what Luke’s hypothetical source you imagine, which both does and does not exclude James from being Jesus’ brother, might have said?

          • I don’t think that I should have to go through this because I don’t think that you are as obtuse as you pretend to be, but I will humor you.

            There are two separate questions:
            (1) Did Jesus have a biological brother named James?
            (2) Was James the Just the biological brother of Jesus (i.e., was the James who is discussed in Acts 15—the James who was a leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem—the same James who is identified as Jesus’ biological brother by Mark, Matthew, and Josephus.)

            I am not assuming that Luke had a source that denied that James the Just was the biological brother of Jesus. Since I cannot establish that Luke has a source that identified James the Just as the biological brother of Jesus, it is question begging to talk about him having a source that denied it.

            I am pretty sure that Luke had a source, Mark, that said that Jesus had a biological brother named James. Nevertheless, I would not infer from the fact that Luke does not name the brothers of Jesus that Luke had a source that denied that Jesus had a biological brother named James, i.e., a source that specifically affirmed that none of the brothers of Jesus were named James. Rather, I would think it more likely either that (1) Luke had a source or tradition that did not name Jesus’ brothers at all and thought it more reliable than Mark or that (2) Luke did not bother to name the brothers of Jesus because he did not think that their names were important.

            I interpret your repeated claims that I am assuming that Luke had a source that denied James was the brother of Jesus as claims that I am assuming that Luke had a source that expressly denied that James the Just was the biological brother of Jesus. I do not assume that. I infer that Luke’s sources did not identify James the Just as the biological brother of Jesus, but not that they expressly denied it. I infer that Luke didn’t identify any of Jesus’ brothers by name either because he had a source that didn’t do so or because he did not consider Mark reliable on this point.

            Does that help?

          • John MacDonald

            “I don’t think that I should have to go through this because I don’t think that you are as obtuse as you pretend to be, but I will humor you.”

            – If anything, I am probably more obtuse than you believe, lol.

            “Luke had a source or tradition that did not name Jesus’ brothers at all and thought it more reliable than Mark.”

            – So, as I said above, you are inventing a hitherto unknown sources to bolster your argument, and beyond that are reading Luke’s mind as to which source he found more reliable, and you think this is “simpler” than:

            1. Luke didn’t bother to identify Jesus’ siblings because it was irrelevant to his narrative; or
            2. Didn’t want to bolster the credentials of an opponent of Paul; or
            3. Wanted to distance Jesus from his siblings because pre resurrection appearances they thought Jesus was crazy; etc?

          • Do you even read what I wrote John?

            I specifically said “Luke did not bother to name the brothers of Jesus because he did not think that their names were important.”

            How is that any different from “Luke didn’t bother to identify Jesus’ siblings because it was irrelevant to his narrative”?

            This is so tiresome.

          • John MacDonald

            The point was, which you conveniently ignore, that inventing a source to ground your pet theory is not “on par” probability wise with explanations 1-3 that I gave. Occam’s razor, parsimony and all that.

          • I have answered your nonsense about me “inventing sources” enough.

          • John MacDonald

            Consider an analogy with Matthew.

            Matthew omits Mark’s explanation of Jewish customs (Matt. 15:1–2; cf. Mark 7:3–4). Is it more reasonable to think Matthew had a special source that omitted this tidbit which he trusted over Mark, or did Matthew omit this because he is writing for Christians who are either ethnically Jewish or well-acquainted with matters of Jewish tradition?

            Your “special source” argument is highly speculative and unnecessary.

          • You are correct that it is not necessary, because I agreed with you that he may simply have thought that the names were unimportant.

            As far as it being highly speculative, it is no more speculative than many mainstream scholars who suggest Luke’s and Matthew each had their own sources along with Q and Mark.

            I would also say the fact that John does not name the brothers of Jesus suggests the existence of sources that didn’t.

          • John MacDonald

            Your purpose escapes me. Are you not trying to argue the existence of the special source you claim for Luke is “probable,” or are you simply arguing that it is “possible,” like the position Luke thought the names were unimportant is “possible,” so that we really have no clue what’s going on?

          • I realize that my purpose escapes you. You have fixated on this question-begging notion that I am inventing sources that deny things that haven’t been averred, and you seem convinced that if you just keep pounding away at it, it’s going to lead somewhere. I don’t think that it will, and I would give it a rest if I were you.

          • John MacDonald

            Arcseconds put the same question to you. Are you arguing the “nickname” theory is “probable,” or merely “possible,” and so we don’t know what is going on?

          • I have repeatedly stated exactly what point I am arguing with my “nickname theory.” I am countering McGrath’s claim that “brother of the Lord” obviously could not have meant spirtitual brother because many men named James might have been considered brothers of the Lord in that sense. I have made no claim about the relative probability of a nickname.

            If you don’t know what is going on, it’s not my fault.

          • You are still either confusing or misrepresenting the issue. The contrasts Paul makes are between one or multiple brothers of the Lord, and Peter and other apostles. This is not about a nickname used for one individual in contrast to another of the same name. How many times will I have to reiterate this?

          • I am neither misrepresenting nor confusing the issue. I am disagreeing about it.

            My hypothesis about Galatians 1:19 is that Paul is attempting to communicate to his readers who it was he met on his first visit to Jerusalem. That’s it: identification.

            There is only one Peter/Kephas, so all Paul has to do is to name him. There was more than one significant person named James in the early church, and there may even have been more than one in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s visit. In order to make it clear to the Galatians who it was he met, Paul provides the additional identifying information “brother of the Lord.” I don’t think that this phrase is intended to communicate anything in particular about the relative status or position of Peter and James.

            My hypothesis is completely independent of the meaning of “the brother of the Lord, i.e., whether it meant that James was the biological brother of Jesus, whether it was just a nickname that had been attached to one particular James, or whether it was that James was the member of a select group of Christians known as “the Brothers of the Lord.”

            I can’t say that I know Carrier’s exact theory, but I gather he reads Paul as communicating “I met Peter who is a member of a group known as the Apostles, and I met James who is member a group known as the Brothers of the Lord. This, of course, fits in nicely with his reading of 1 Corinthians 9:5.

            Some historicists also argue that Paul is communicating something about the relative status or position or Peter and James, although it is not clear to me exactly what that is or what Paul’s purpose might be. Is Paul’s intended meaning that James is a biological brother of Jesus and Peter isn’t? Is it that unlike Peter who is an apostle, James is a biological brother of Jesus?

            As Paul makes it clear in the second chapter that Peter and James’ reputations mean nothing to him–and by implication, should mean nothing to the Galatians–I cannot see why he would be contrasting the two of them based on their positions or status in chapter one. For that reason I don’t think that either Carrier’s theory or the historicist’s theory is persuasive. I think that it is much more logical to think that Paul was only seeking to distinguish James from other men who shared that name.

          • John MacDonald

            You do realize, I suppose, that if your reasoning about James in Luke/Acts is correct, this absurd way of thinking could be used to cast doubt on the historicity of everything in Mark that is not appropriated by Luke?

          • You do realize that corroborating sources is HIstory 101, don’t you? It’s what historians do. If Luke does not follow Mark on a point, then Luke does not corroborate Mark on that point, and an uncorroborated point is necessarily less certain than one that is corroborated.

            You also realize, I suppose, that the Gospel of Mark is a work of unknown authorship based on unknown sources replete with tales of supernatural events that are removed an unknown number of times in an oral tradition from their originators who may or may not have been eyewitnesses to any of the events in question. The historicity of everything in it is subject to question, even when both Luke and Matthew agree.

          • Wow, you have botched the notion of corroboration completely. Mark corroborates Paul’s slightly earlier reference to Jesus and James being brothers (in the human realm, in Earth, since those obvious points require stating when discussing with mythicists and their sympathizers). Luke, using Mark, is not providing independent corroboration or disconfirmation of Mark but is dependent on it, and while we can be confident that Luke used other sources, we do not know precisely what they were, and do not know what they said or failed to say about James.

          • If you think that anything I said in my previous comment botches the notion of corroboration, then you are undoubtedly reading things into my argument that aren’t there–as you usually do. I think that the problem is that you are always trying to anticipate some future argument for mythicism. As a result, you are always responding to some argument that you think I am going to make six steps down the line rather than the one I am making. I wish that you could find a way to stop doing that.

            If you take as a premise that Paul meant biological brother, then Mark corroborates Paul that Jesus had a brother named James, but does nothing to corroborate that the person Paul met was Jesus’ brother. Luke and Josephus also do not corroborate that the person Paul met was the biological brother of Jesus.

            If you acknowledge the possibility that Paul did not mean biological brother, then Mark is only independently corroborating Josephus that Jesus had a brother named James. Mark does nothing to corroborate the meaning of “brother of the Lord.”

            If Luke follows Mark on a point, he is agreeing with Mark, but there is no reason to believe that the corroboration is independent.

            If Mark does not follow Mark on a point, but does not contradict him, we cannot be certain whether Luke disagrees with Mark or not. I think we have to acknowledge the possibility that he does; we cannot rationally claim that Luke is agreeing with Mark. We can be certain that he is not corroborating Mark, and the fact that he does not necessarily increases uncertainty about the point.

            We cannot know precisely what Luke’s sources (other than Mark) say about anything. The only thing we have to go on is what Luke writes.The simplest explanation will always be that Luke wrote what he believed to be true based on the sources and traditions available to him. We would be foolish not to acknowledge the possibility, and even the probability, that from time to time he departed from his sources or invented things for reasons of his own, but it is hard to see how we are doing much more than speculating when we try to identify such points.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry for taking so long to respond. To your comment I would add that it was a well recognized problem in antiquity (voiced by Seneca and many others) that ancient historians were well known for simply inventing material for a whole host of purposes, so it is difficult, especially thousands of years later, to rely on even the mundane elements in their works. Even if we can’t think of a purpose for a writer inventing a particular narrative pericope, that doesn’t mean the writer didn’t have one. The pericope or narrative element quite possibly could have been “invented” even if we can’t think of a reason why it would have been.

          • You are absolutely right. That is why I am skeptical of the whole idea of pulling historical nuggets out of sources that are as problematic as the gospels.The idea that we can have any kind of certainty about the kinds of things a first century Palestinian Jew might or might not invent strikes me as wishful thinking. To the extent that I think that there may have been a historical Jesus, I am definitely a minimalist when it comes to what we can hope to know about him.

          • John MacDonald

            The wiki page on the The Historical Jesus says the clearest places of historical bedrock are “Almost all modern scholars consider his baptism and crucifixion to be historical facts.”

            1. Regarding the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John, I try to cast doubt on it with my 4-5 comments on the issue on this blog here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2017/12/jesus-birth-burial.html

            2. Regarding the historicity of the crucifixion, Paul characterizes it as Jesus being hung on a tree (Gal 3:13), the description of which Paul gets from Deuteronomy 21:23, so this is at least “compatible” with mythicism.

          • No doubt I will have scorn heaped upon me for my radical skepticism, but I often wonder how the crucifixion can be considered such a secure fact. We have reports that people saw Jesus alive after he was supposed to have been put to death. That would seem to raise the question of how we know that he had been put to death in the first place. As far as we can tell, the reports of his death originated with people who had every reason to have been in hiding at the time the crucifixion took place. That doesn’t seem terribly reliable to me.

          • I am curious John; if you think that we must recognize the possibility that an ancient writer invented a story even if we can’t think of a reason for his having done so, why would you think that the naming of the brothers of Jesus in Mark has “the ring of truth.” The story makes the theological point that a prophet is not accepted by his own people so the potential reason for its invention is quite clear. We might not be certain why Mark would have wanted to invent those particular names, but they are all prominent figures in Jewish history so don’t we have to allow for the possibility that he did invent them?

          • John MacDonald

            This is quite clearly correct. Mark’s raising of the issue of Jesus’ family may certainly simply be invented to make the theological point of Jesus fitting into what Mark saw as the “prophet prototype” being rejected at home. And, to use Husserl’s language, biblical hermeneutics puts out of play or “brackets” the historicity of narrative elements that could serve a theological purpose. But it’s worse than that. Ancient historians invented material not only for theological purposes, but also for a host of other reasons such as crudely political ones — propaganda, flattery, denigration; literary rivalry (to trump one’s predecessors); the desire to spin a good yarn (often important in Herodotus and other historians of the exotic); sometimes historiographical parody; sheer emotional arousal or entertainment; the need to make moral points or bring out broader patterns or causes behind complicated sequences of events. So really, you could posit any number of reasons as to why something may be invented in ancient history out of whole cloth. Doing ancient historical inquiry can involve mind reading of the ancient historian as to whether they were inventing material on a particular point or not.

          • John MacDonald

            Another possibility is that Mark read or was familiar with the ideas of Paul, and so invented his material about Jesus’ family based on appropriating a “sibling interpretation” of Paul’s “James, the Brother of the Lord” passage. Mark may in fact have not had any source about Jesus’ family aside from a “sibling interpretation” of Paul’s thoughts about James. The sky’s the limit as to how creative our explanations can get!

          • There is not much in the way of limits, but a lot of the explanations lead to the same place: the historicity of Mark’s account cannot be affirmed.

          • John MacDonald

            As you pointed out above, it seems extremely problematic for establishing the historicity of Mark’s account of Jesus’ family when they are being placed amidst a theological confirmation of Jesus following the model of a “prophet” as being without honor among his family. Standard biblical hermeneutics would suggest we “bracket” the historicity of any narrative element with theological overtones (since the writer would have had reasons to invent it), and this doesn’t even begin to go into the problem I outlined above of the plethora of reasons for narrative invention in ancient history generally.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said: “Luke had a source or tradition that did not name Jesus’ brothers at all and thought it more reliable than Mark.”

            – Let’s try an analogy:

            Material from Mark 6:45-8:26 is also unexpectedly missing from Luke’s Gospel. This includes the important events and sayings, in succession:

            Jesus walks on the water
            Jesus in the region of Gennesaret, where even those who touched him were made whole
            Pharisees argue ‘clean and unclean’
            the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought to have her daughter healed
            the trip through Sidon and the Decapolis
            the healing of the deaf and mute man
            Jesus feeds the four thousand
            the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod
            the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida

            Is it your argument that these materials are missing from Luke because Luke had a source that omitted these events, and Luke thought it more reliable than Mark?

          • Vinny, we most certainly do know that Luke used a source that identified a James as a brother of Jesus, namely the Gospel of Mark. That Luke also leaves out this detail is explicable readily in terms that lend no support to mythicism, and our sources earlier than Luke do not provide support for mythicism. You are not finding historical ambiguity about the humanity of Jesus in the source material, you are trying to inject it.

          • Yes. We most certainly do know that Luke knew of a tradition that Jesus had a brother named James (a point that I acknowledged at least twice in previous comments). We don’t know whether he knew of any tradition that identified the leader in Jerusalem named James as the biological brother named Jesus.

            Once again, you are arguing against positions I have not taken. I have not made a single claim about the humanity of Jesus in any comment that I have made on this post. I am merely questioning whether it’s obvious that Paul meant biological brother.

          • How is this in any way relevant to the plausibility of mythicism, given that Luke’s Jesus is unambiguously a human being?

          • John MacDonald

            And doesn’t Mark’s account of Jesus’ family have a ring of truth to it? Mark simply lists off Jesus’ family as if it was well known to the audience. He says: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

          • I think it possible that some historical facts are preserved in the gospels, but I don’t believe that they can be identified by their “ringing.”

          • John MacDonald

            Simply reverse the distinction. If something doesn’t have “the ring of truth,” there may be reason to doubt it.

          • What about a James who was not Jesus’s brother? Would you be at all open to considering that obvious option?

            Why does Luke not stating something at a very late date have any bearing on the historical question, and why do you prefer “was convinced he wasn’t“ over “knew it was obvious that he was” and/or “saw no reason to emphasize the authority of an opponent of Paul’s”?

          • Gary

            I am NOT getting involved in this discussion. But I am still waiting for an explanation of why two 2nd century texts have conflicting views of James’s relationship with Jesus. Other than, it is obvious that even in the 2nd century, no one was sure of their relationship. Without further evidence, why should anyone be sure of one side or the other? No one points to specific evidence in ancient texts. Only conjecture on one side or the other. I’d like to see someone either reject 1st Rev or 2nd Rev of James, and give rationale as to which one is correct. And why the other one is incorrect.

            1st Revelation of James, “It is the Lord who spoke with me: “See now the completion of my redemption. I have given you a sign of these things, James, my brother. For not without reason have I called you my brother, although you are not my brother materially.”

            2nd Revelation of James, “He said to me, “Hail, my brother; my brother, hail.” As I raised my face to stare at him, (my) mother said to me, “Do not be frightened, my son, because he said ‘My brother’ to you (sg.). For you (pl.) were nourished with this same milk. Because of this he calls me “My mother”. For he is not a stranger to us. He is your step-brother […].”

          • So only Mark is early enough to have a bearing? The fact that Mark said that Jesus had a biological brother named James is unassailable evidence that the James of Galatians 1:19 is the same person while the fact that Luke does not identity James as Jesus’ biological brother is just explained away.

            Of course it’s possible to speculate that Luke had political reasons for ignoring the biological relationship between James and Jesus. Nevertheless, the simpler explanation is that Luke didn’t think that there was one. Moreover, given that Luke is the earliest source after Paul to corroborate James as a leader in the Jerusalem community, the fact that he doesn’t corroborate James’ biological relationship to Jesus has to be a source of uncertainty about the issue.

            I am absolutely open to the option that Paul was distinguishing the James he met from some other James who wasn’t Jesus’ biological brother. I simply don’t find the evidence particularly conclusive.

          • When early sources agree, and a later source provides no clear evidence for or against those earlier sources but is clearly compatible with them, few historians would feel the need for the song and dance routine that you always engage in.

            When things seem possible to you but probable to experts, and things seem possible to you that seem improbable to experts, why do you continue to play this game of pretending that your radical agnosticism on this matter and this matter alone is anything other than an ideologically-driven commitment on your part?

          • As I noted in another comment, I question the grounds for asserting that the “early sources agree.” After Paul, Acts is our earliest source for the James who was a leader of the Jerusalem communtity and it does not agree that he was Jesus’ biological brother. Mark, Matthew, and Josephus agree that Jesus had a brother named Jesus, but none of them agree that he ever played any role in the movement that his brother started. In fact, Mark and Matthew portray him as being hostile to his brother.

            It is true that the various sources can be harmonized, but that strikes me more as the work of an apologist than that of a historian.

            I don’t think that there is anything radical about recognizing that the gospels are highly problematic as historical sources even when they agree.

            While I cannot claim to fully understand what motivates me to take every position that I take, I cannot imagine what my “ideologically-driven commitment” might be.

          • If your issue was with questions about the status of the historical James, this might be relevant. But how does it make the existence of a historical Jesus unlikely?!

          • If your issue was with questions about the status of the historical James, this might be relevant. But how does it make the existence of a historical Jesus unlikely?!

          • If your issue was with questions about the status of the historical James, this might be relevant. But how does it make the existence of a historical Jesus unlikely?!

          • If your issue was with questions about the status of the historical James, this might be relevant. But how does it make the existence of a historical Jesus unlikely?!

          • Once again, you are arguing against positions I have not taken. I have not claimed that any of this makes a historical Jesus unlikely. I am merely questioning whether it’s obvious that Paul meant biological brother.

          • If your issue was with questions about the status of the historical James, this might be relevant. But how does it make the existence of a historical Jesus unlikely?!

          • That the only thing I have been addressing here is the historical James. I have said nothing whatsoever about the likelihood of the existence of a historical Jesus.

          • Mark

            Josephus is presumably earlier than Acts, at least as we have it. For Josephus, as for Paul, it seems that James the brother of the one called ‘Lord’ is some kind of Jerusalem notable.

          • Mark

            In Paul’s view, he’s a spiritual slave of the risen Christ, like himself.

          • Mark

            You are making the usual skeptical maneuver of arguing from “It is possible for an X to be F” (which follows from “Some Xs are F”) to “It is possible that this X is F” – i.e. from “an X can be F” to “Maybe this X is F”. Compare, “It is possible for experiences like mine to be produced in a sophisticated Matrix” ergo “Maybe my experiences are being produced in a sophisticated Matrix” ergo “Maybe I’m in a Matrix”ergo “Maybe all the things I perceive are unreal”. The first proposition in the sequence is true; the last is a special kind of madness.

          • When someone claims that something is “obvious,” it is often sufficient to demonstrate that a counter-possibility exists.

          • John MacDonald

            You mean “counter-possibilities” like “Aliens with transporter technologies” could have beamed Jesus out of the tomb?

          • No. I don’t mean anything like that.

          • John MacDonald

            Following this example, it is not rhetorically sufficient to show a counter-example is “possible.” We need to give evidence that the counter-possibility is at least similar in probability to the original position. Why is the “nickname” possibility similar in probability to the “biological” position?

          • We don’t if we are responding to an argument that something is impossible. In that case, the argument is refuted by showing that the alternative is possible, even if significantly less probable.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think anyone is arguing the “nickname” argument is impossible like a “square circle” or a “married bachelor,” or ridiculously unlikely like “a snowstorm in August in Florida,” just that you are not presenting any evidence that would suggest it is probable. Or is yours just an agnostic tactic to show we simply have no idea what Paul meant by “James, the brother of the Lord” one way or another?

          • I disagree. I think that is implicitly what McGrath is arguing when he claims that it’s “obvious” that “brother of the Lord” couldn’t mean “Christian” because then it couldn’t be used to distinguish one Christian named James from another.

            I don’t know if you read the Vridar post that McGrath characterizes as “bait-and-switch reasoning,” but I think that it very ably lays out the factors that might lead one to reasonably question how much weight Galatians 1:19 can really bear.

            Of course, if McGrath is correct that “brother of the Lord” couldn’t mean anything other than “biological brother of Jesus, then he can sidestep any consideration of any other factors about the weight that Galatians 1:19 deserves. That is why I responded to his argument.

          • Mark

            ‘Probable’ expresses degrees of epistemic modality – where “♢ (this X is F)’ = “Maybe this X is F” = “This X might be F” = “It’s possible that this X is F” = “It’s not certain that this X isn’t F” are opposed to “☐(this X is F” = “It is certain that this X is F” = “It’s not possible that this X isn’t F”. It makes degrees between “Certainly p” and “Certainly not-p”

            Your arguments all proceed from a different modality as starting point, ‘it’s possible for an X to be F’ or “it’s possible that an X should be F” or “Xs can be F” etc. These follow from e.g. “Some Xs are F”

          • Mark

            It’s obviously snowing here.

          • You would know.

          • Mark

            How could ‘brother of the Lord’ mean ‘Christian’ or ‘Christ follower’? I guess it isn’t impossible. But saying ‘the Lord’ this way is what makes you a Christian; at the same time it makes you ‘brother’ with others who do the same, but not with Christ. ‘Brother’ makes you somehow equal; ‘Lord’ makes you somehow subject and unequal. It’s not so easy to fit these together without distinguishing senses, so that the fraternity in question is not that of all ‘slaves of Christ.’

          • arcseconds

            There is actually a contemporary Christian community called ‘Little Sisters of the Lamb’:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_of_the_Lamb

            I suppose ‘little’ puts them in a subordinate position to ‘the Lamb’, but it is kind of claiming fraternity (or sorority) with Christ…

          • Mark

            Interesting. It fits a general formula for religious order “Sisters of ___” and “Little Sisters of ____” which sort of turns the conceptual crank a few times. They are like different ways of naming something that is pre-given as sisters and sisters of each other. (Their material suggests that each of them is a little lamb; I’m lost in the Catholic mysticism of it)

            Googling for them I came across another order “Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb” which uses the format “Little Sisters ___” (no comma) and shows how odd it is. (They’re kind of interesting, since their purpose is to be an order of women with Down’s Syndrome – plus such others as are needed to make that work.)

          • arcseconds

            Probably you’re right and the general sense of this is rather than the sibling-of relationship.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, it is speculation, but that is kind of the point.

            There is more speculation involved in interpreting this phrase as a nickname. In order to assess the relative probability of it being a nickname (as opposed to indicating a normal human relationship), one has to at least make an attempt to account for it being a nickname, and assess how likely that account is. Anything else is just handwaving.

            That any of these accounts involves more speculation than thinking that James was the brother of a human being already indicates that they are much less probable.

            (and, of course, some of the possibilities of it being a nickname actually involve a historical Jesus, too.)

            (Actually, it seems a stretch to say interpreting ‘X is the brother of Y’ as X being the brother of Y is speculation at all, as it is the plain, non-metaphorical, non-insider-reference meaning of a phrase given in a pretty mundane context.)

  • arcseconds

    So now, like Marcion, we can only tell what Bernier’s arguments were by his opponents quoting and arguing against him 🙂

    • John MacDonald

      Did you see Covington’s post he just put out about Dr. McGrath? See https://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2017/12/12/mcgraths-mythicist-gaffes/

      • In view of the sheer volume of writing on any subject, what makes Covington’s posts worth reading? His blog posts seem rather akin to his blog comments here in the past, which I should add were quite amiable initially, before I failed to give him a timely endorsement on something he asked for, at which point he shifted to mythicism…

        • John MacDonald

          I certainly don’t think Covington, or any mythicist, has the intellectual highground. The main swipe Covington takes at you in the post is when Covington said:

          “Responding to someone in the comments section who commented on the many possibilities mythicists have concerning Galatians 1:19, McGrath’s circular reasoning becomes apparent: McGrath: ‘then Other options are indeed possible. That’s where the question of evidence comes in…

          • Surely it is clear that Covington is either being dishonest or deluded, is it not? The Gospels are clear in their depiction of a human Jesus unless one treats them as allegory in a highly implausible fashion. And Paul’s letters may say less than some think they ought to have about the details of Jesus’ life, but once again one needn’t look beyond them to conclude that the figure who is born of a woman, born under the law, with siblings, crucified, died, and was buried was a human being. Covington got homself banned from here precisely because he seemed incapable of being honest and sincere in discussing these matters. It is a shame when someone seems like they are pursuing the truth turns out to be an ideologue who will turn against you if you refuse to turn a blind eye to the evidence in deference ot their preferred ideology. 🙁

          • John MacDonald

            I used to be very much like Covington. I only debated on Secular Humanist sites like Center for Inquiry and Project Reason, where mythicism was the flavor of the day, and we prided ourselves on how smart we were. What I learned from sites like this one is that there was a difference between ranting against religion among a bunch of amateur internet atheists, and actually trying to learn what the evidence points to with the assistance of actual scholars like yourself.

          • Neko

            Some of these mythicists are indistinguishable from some religious conservatives. They both think of “scholars” in quotes.

          • John MacDonald

            I’ve always had a special kind of respect for professors. Even as an undergrad, I always sat in at academic conferences and was fascinated to watch the professors debating and to listen to what they had to say.

          • I have a good friend who used to be a colleague at the university, who took my course on the historical Jesus. His background on the subject was reading American Atheist mythicist publications. He changed his mind as a result of studying the evidence for himself in a serious academic manner and context.

          • John MacDonald

            Yep, sounds like me!

          • arcseconds

            This is just ordinary empirical reasoning, though. Does Convington watch crime dramas?

            The threating email, the fingerprints on the knife, and witnesses confirming the suspect was in the area at the time are not enough taken singly to convict the suspect. The threat could be a bad joke or flying off the handle, the suspect was cooking with the knife earlier, and just being in the area isn’t reason to suspect anyone. But together it’s reasonably convincing.

            Someone could complain that we’re engaging in circular reasoning when we think the threat was genuine because we think the suspect killed the victim, and we think they killed the victim in part because of the threat, but the point is here we look for a single story that explains all the evidence while introducing the least extraneous elements, and if we can get such a story that increases our confidence in the significance we have given each piece of evidence.

            I suppose there is some similarity to the hermeneutic circle. I will have to think about that a bit further. But we don’t have to appeal to such a rarefied concept to explain what’s going on — a crime drama will do 🙂

  • Why does suggesting a non-literal meaning for “brother of the Lord” generate such tension. No one gets worked up over Thomas the Twin.

    The obvious interpretation of Thomas’ nickname would be that he was someone’s biological twin. A late apocryphal tradition makes him Jesus’ biological twin. The idea that he resembled Jesus physically has been floated as well. Neither idea seems to have much traction currently though. Most scholars seem comfortable with the possibility, and even the probability, that “the Twin” had some symbolic or metaphorical meaning even without having much Idea of what it might be.

    The most obvious interpretation of Simon the Zealot’s nickname is that he was a part of a revolutionary group known as Zealots; however, some scholars maintain that the political movement didn’t arise until several decades later and that Simon probably got the name because he was zealous in following the law. I doubt that there is anything controversial about the idea that he got the name for a reason that we may never know.

    “Sons of Thunder” doesn’t seem to have any obvious or literal interpretation, so we can do little but speculate as to why Jesus gave that name to John and James, the sons of Zebedee.
    Absent some way to corroborate a particular meaning, it seems reasonable to be open to the possibility that the real meaning of any of these names is lost to us.

    With James the brother of the Lord, things are much different. Either you are sure that Paul meant “biological brother of Jesus” or you are a radical skeptic with an ideological agenda. This despite the fact that the only New Testament source that might corroborate the biological meaning of Galatians 1:19 doesn’t do so.

    The reason for this seems clear. If the biological interpretation of Galatians is beyond question, that would be a pretty big blow to mythicism. On the other hand, if the possibility of known or unknown alternatives is accepted as it is for “the Twin,” “the Zealot,” and “the Sons of Thunder,” the debate must continue on other fronts.

    I am not a mythicist. I doubt that anything can be known about the historical Jesus, but I don’t think that means that his non-existence is probable. What I do think is that a single uncorroborated data point is not a particularly strong piece of evidence. I think Neil Godfrey lays out the issues regarding “James the brother of the Lord” very ably in the post that Dr. McGrath referenced. http://vridar.org/2017/12/05/thinking-through-the-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-passage-in-galatians-119/

    • arcseconds

      Gee, Vinnie, the way you put it sounds as though historicists are getting all consternated over this little thing, and generate all this heat over something all by themselves, as though mythicists and their allies are somehow not involved in the debate and have nothing riding on it.

      Why not put the boot on the other foot and ask why so many people put so much energy and imagination on giving uncorroborated and speculative meanings to this phrase?

      No-one tries to suggest that ‘son of Zebedee’ was a nickname or ‘sons of Zebedee’ was the name of a group, or that Zebedee was a celestial figure and it’s a spiritual sonship that is being asserted.

      The reason for this seems clear. If the biological interpretation of Galatians is beyond question, that would be pretty big blow to mythicism! So of course it must be bought into question!

      In fact, they have everything riding on it, and historicists do not, as you note. So this is more important to mythicists than it is for historicists: they simply have to problematize a statement which has a simple and obvious reading, and what is more is supported by other early sources.

      Same goes for your own dyed-in-the-wool scepticism on this question.

      You might also consider what reasonable people might think of someone who says the notion that Jesus had a brother called James is uncorroborated, despite knowing full well it is corroborated in Mark and Josephus.

      Note also that in your above post, you are simply assuming without question that it’s a nickname, but even that is a piece of speculation.

      • So I’m an ally of the mythicists now?

        I never said that no one corroborates that Jesus had a brother named James (although you are not the first person to accuse me of that). In fact, I have mentioned that Matthew, Mark, and Josephus all confirm it. What they don’t corroborate is that the James that Paul describes meeting in Galatians 1:19 is the biological brother of Jesus. They don’t give any indication that James the brother of Jesus was ever involved in his brother’s movement. The earliest source other than Paul that talks about a James (other than the son of Zebedee) who was a leader in the early Christian community is Luke/Acts which does not corroborate that he was the biological brother of Jesus or even that Jesus had a biological brother named Jesus.

        I also made no assumption whatsoever that “brother of the Lord” was a nickname. McGrath argued that “brother of the Lord” couldn’t have been used in the sense of “Christian” because it would have been useless in distinguishing one James from any other James to whom the term could have been applied. I pointed out that nicknames can be used to identify individuals as a matter of convention regardless of whether the term being used as a nickname could logically be applied to others. I didn’t assume anything about what “brother of the Lord” meant; I simply pointed out the flaw in McGrath’s argument.

        You are correct that some mythicists contort themselves in an effort to make Galatians 1:19 a point in their favor. I have so far been unimpressed with their efforts.

        • The issue is the contrast between one or more brothes of the Lord and Kephas, not distinguishing one James from another. That is the way the phrase is used in Paul’s letters, as I have pointed out to you repeatedly.

          • I’m sorry, but I don’t think that makes much sense. Why would Paul need to draw a distinction between James and Kephas? The obvious reason why Paul provided additional identifying information about James–i.e., brother of the Lord–and not Kephas is that there was more than one James in the early Christian movement and the Galatians wouldn’t have been sure which one Paul was talking about. Paul didn’t have to distinguish Kephas from anyone because there was no one else who went by that name and and the Galatians would have had no cause for confusion.

            As Paul makes clear in the next chapter, the status of the various pillars in Jerusalem meant nothing to him. Paul is just trying to make it clear to the Galatians who it was that he met. He’s not ranking them against each other.

          • Can it be that after all these years, Vinny might be ready to finally notice what 1 Corinthians says and ask relevant questions about it? http://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/9-5.htm

          • Are you ready to admit that the answer to the question you posed in your post is “no, it’s not at all obvious”?

        • Paul Regnier

          Hi Vinny, would you agree that as Mark, Matthew and Josephus are not attempting to construct a history of the early Christian community, we should not attach much significance to their failure to mention Jesus’ brother James as a leader of it? After all they don’t mention Paul or Appollos after, both of whom may have had similar prominence to James.

          Conversely, if you think that Mark, Matthew, and Josephus provide good reason think that Jesus’ brother James was NOT a leader of the early Christianity, then it removes the need to read this James’ status back into Paul’s letters.

          In so, when Paul describes the James he met while staying with with Peter as “James the Lord’s brother “, then the most obvious explanation is that he does this simply to distinguish him from the “needs no introduction” James he met in his second visit.

          If so
          – Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, and Paul agree that Jesus had brothers (as do John and GHebrews)
          – Matthew, Mark, Paul, Josephus agree that one of Jesus brothers was named James (so too GHebrews), while Luke-Acts and John do not directly contradict this.
          – Acts and Paul agree that a James who was not a relative of Jesus was a leader of the early Christian community, sufficiently famous as to need no additional nickname to introduce him to their readers. Matthew, Mark, Josephus, and John do not directly contradict this.
          – Later Christians misread Paul and create a composite James, combing characteristics of the two he was actually referring to.

          If so, the fairly mundane proposition that “Jesus had one or more brothers” seems to be confirmed by at least 3 (and arguably 4 or 5) independent and relatively early sources.

          And likewise, the more specific detail that one of these brothers was called James seems also to be confirmed by at least 3 (and arguably 4) independent and relatively early sources.

          So we can all agree that, as far as we can be sure of anything that happened 2000 years ago, we can say that Jesus had a brother named James, and move on. After all its not like there’s much at stake here right? 🙂

          • I think that “does not directly contradict” still counts as “does not corroborate.”

            I would not agree about Josephus. Assuming that some part of the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic, he was interested in the Christian movement and its activities. His failure to mention James’ role in that movement or how that figured into his death strikes me as a pretty significant non-corroboration.

            I wouldn’t make much of Matthew and Mark not talking about James’ role in the movement as neither of them discuss the relevant time period. On the other hand, I have to allow for the possibility that Mark invented the incident where Jesus’ family thought he was crazy in order to make a theological point about a prophet being rejected by his own people and that he chose names to represent significant figures in Jewish history. Like everywhere in the gospels, it is hard to be certain what represents actual history rather than theological invention.

            Adding the Gospel of the Hebrews into the mix creates some additional problems because it makes James a part of the Christian movement at least as early as the Last Supper. If that is the case, then Matthew and Mark do cover the relevant time period and their failure to corroborate James’ role becomes more significant.
            I can’t count Paul as agreeing that Jesus had biological brothers because the point at issue is what Paul meant by “brother of the Lord.” I am disputing the degree to which the biological reading of Paul is corroborated, and using him to corroborate himself is a problem.

            I agree that Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke-Acts agree that Jesus had brothers; and that Matthew, Mark, Josephus agree Jesus had a brother named James,
            I don’t know whether Paul knew a James sufficiently famous as to need no additional nickname to establish his identity. I infer that Paul knew of some other James because he clarifies which James he met for the Galatians. I don’t know who that James was, and I cannot be sure that Paul wouldn’t have introduced him by a nickname had he had reason to tell the Galatians about him.

            It may be that the author considers the James that appears in Acts 15 to be so famous as to need no additional nickname to establish his identity. It might also be that he is the previously identified James the son of Alphaeus who needs no further identification because he is the only James left in the story after the death of James the son of Zebedee.

            I don’t think that we can be any more sure that Jesus had a brother named James than we can be about anything in the gospels, which I think is considerably less confident than we can be about many things that happened two thousand years. It is certainly more likely to be true than many of the things reported in the gospels, but that still subjects it to considerable uncertainty.

          • Paul Regnier

            Hi Vinny, I think you’re kind of making my point for me.

            If Josephus is right to say that Jesus had a brother named James, but that this James was not a leader of the early Christian community then this becomes a background fact that we have to hear in mind when we read Paul’s letters: i.e. In Galatians, Paul *could not* be asserting that James, Jesus brother, was a leader of the early Christian community, because we would know from Josephus that he was not. It simply makes no sense to say that Josephus was better informed on this point than Paul was.

            If so, then logically Paul *must* be referring to two different James’s in Galatians: the Lord’s brother James and the Christian leader James, as this would be the only way to keep Paul consistent with the historical fact that Josephus is supposedly reflecting.

            If so, then the contradictions you find in the sources largely resolve themselves. Paul, Gospels, Acts, and Josephus agree that Jesus had brothers; Paul, Josephus, Mark and Matthew agree that one of these was named James and that he was not an early Christian leader; Paul and Luke agree that a different James *was* an early Christian leader.

            Can you remind me where in Hebrews it says James was at the last supper? It’s been a while since I’ve given much thought to this stuff and I’m a bit rusty!

          • John MacDonald

            Some might think it odd that Luke doesn’t identify James as being Jesus’ brother, but this overlooks the fact that Luke doesn’t identify any of Jesus’ siblings as such. And can you blame Luke? Mark says pre resurrection sightings, Jesus is without honor among his family (Mark 6:4), and that they thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21). Why would Luke want to connect these people to Jesus? And as Dr. McGrath says, why would Luke want to bolster the credentials of one of Paul’s opponents?

          • Paul Regnier

            Actually, if we follow the “Josephus” line of argument above them Luke not naming them makes perfect sense – Luke doesn’t mention them because he knew they weren’t especially important, and we dont have to image Luke inventing anything or have access to some conflicting source about the status of James. (Though I think the actual reality is as you/McGrath describe it!)

          • John MacDonald

            “Luke doesn’t mention them because he knew they weren’t especially important”

            This is also clearly right. Jesus’ siblings do not play a narrative role in Luke’s account.

          • Two points:

            Luke has already connected these people with Jesus. In Acts 1:14, Luke reports (without naming them) that the brothers of Jesus were present with their mother and the apostles in the upper room. If Luke’s purpose had to write them out of the story based on their earlier attitude towards Jesus, he needn’t have included their presence there.

            Luke would want to do this regardless of his personal feelings because he wants Theophilus to know with certainty the things he has been taught (Luke 1:4). In his prologue, Luke indicates that he is writing to clean up the record. If he knows Mark and declines to follow him on some point, I have to consider the possibility that Luke has reason to think that Mark got things wrong.

          • John MacDonald

            “Luke has already connected these people with Jesus. In Acts 1:14, Luke reports (without naming them) that the brothers of Jesus were present with their mother and the apostles in the upper room. If Luke’s purpose had to write them out of the story based on their earlier attitude towards Jesus, he needn’t have included their presence there.”

            -Would it not serve his purpose equally well to include them in the narrative, but not do them the dignity of naming them?

            “In his prologue, Luke indicates that he is writing to clean up the record. If he knows Mark and declines to follow him on some point, I have to consider the possibility that Luke has reason to think that Mark got things wrong.”

            – Luke chooses to not follow Mark on a number of points. He cites much less of Mark than Matthew does. Are we also to consider this pile of tidbits unhistorical?

          • I don’t see where get Paul referring to two different men named James. He refers to one James (Let’s call him James the Just) who was a leader in Jerusalem. Paul identifies him as “James the brother of the Lord.” I believe he does this because the Galatians otherwise might be confused about which James it was that Paul met on his first trip to Jerusalem. I infer from this the existence of some other James, but Paul never refers to him and I have no way to know who he was. Later in Galatians Paul references a James who I assume is the same James that he earlier calls “brother of the Lord.”

            I’m not sure whether Paul means by “brother of the Lord” that James the Just is the biological brother of Jesus. That is the point which I believe to be uncorroborated. That the various stories can be harmonized doesn’t mean that they corroborate one another.

            I am a little rusty on the Gospel of the Hebrews, too. According to Wikipedia, James goes on some sort of hunger strike at the Last Supper, swearing that he will not eat bread until he sees Jesus risen from the dead. After the resurrection, Jesus appears to James and feeds him. I remember the story, although I have to confess that I thought I remembered it being in some other apocryphal work.

          • John MacDonald

            “That is the point which I believe to be uncorroborated.”

            – Are there any other points in the New Testament that you accept even though they are “uncorroborated”?

          • Paul Regnier

            Paul mentioning two James’s seems to be the logical consequence of attaching weight to Josephus’ failure to mention James as a leader of the early Christian community. If you’re right above that when Josephus fails to mention James as a leader of the Christian church, this means that he *knew* that this James was not a leader of the early Christian community, and we can say that:

            1) Josephus is knew of the existence of a “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”
            2) Josephus knew that this person was not a leader of the early Christian community.
            3) Anyone who was a leader of the early Christian community and called James was not a brother of Jesus (and vice versa)

            I don’t see how you can assert point 2 without asserting point 1 – it is obviously nonsense to say that Josephus knew that the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” was not an early Christian leader, but did not know that this “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” was a brother of Jesus. Likewise, point 3 follows on logically from point 1 and 2.

            However, if Josephus is right that there was no early Christian leader who was Jesus’ brother then when Paul describes someone as a leader of the early community, he *cannot* also think that they were Jesus’ brother. I am happy to accept that Josephus is right about who was and wasn’t a big fish in the early Christian pond, but I can’t accept that he was righter than Paul (who after all was one of these fish and swam with some of the others!)

            That means that the James Paul refers to as meeting in his second visit must logically be a different James to the one he had met 14 years earlier: he would not have viewed a “leader” James as being Jesus’ brother and be describing someone different, so there must be two James’s in the same letter.

            I know you might reply that you don’t know for definite that when describing James as “the Lord’s brother” Paul intends a biological sense. However, it seems to me that one of your grounds for this uncertainty is the conflicting ways this James seems to be described. I’m simply saying that if we assume that you are right about Josephus, then most of apparent conflict disappears, thus one of your grounds for your doubt about Paul’s meaning also disappears – early Christians are describing two different James’ each with a high degree of consistency: there is James the non-leader brother of Jesus and James the leader non-brother of Jesus.

            Or perhaps you could still say that Paul is referring to a single James in Galatians, and that he refers to him as the Lords’ brother in some non-literal sense. However , I don’t see that this much helps your case: if point 1 and 2 above remain true (and again, I don’t see how you can assert 2 without also asserting 1), then we would have to be talking about at least three James: I can’t believe that Paul would describe his James as “the Lord’s brother” to differentiate him from Josephus’ “brother of Jesus, called the Christ”, as that would obviously be a terrible way of clearing up identity confusion (a bit like if your family had “Uncle John” and “John of whom Vincent is a nephew”… not impossible perhaps, but not exactly a model of clarity!). It would also still mean that Paul and Josephus are not disagreeing, they are simply describing different people.

            I will look into Hebrews, long enough comment for now!

          • Paul Regnier

            Paul mentioning two James’s seems to be logical consequence of reading Paul in a way that takes seriously Josephus’ failure to mention James as a leader of the early Christian community (which you seem to be suggesting above we should do). I don’t think it’s about harmonising the sources – arguable the reverse as it’s saying that “James the brother of Jesus, the early Christian leader” is actually the result of harmonising references to two different James’s. Is there an opposite of “harmonise”? Cacophonise? Anyway… If we assume for a second that when Josephus fails to mention James as a leader of the Christian church, this means that he *knew* that James was not a leader of the early Christian community (which again, I think is what you’re suggesting above), then we can say that:

            1) Josephus is knew of the existence of a “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”
            2) Josephus knew that this person was not a leader of the early Christian community.
            3) Anyone who was a leader of the early Christian community and called James was not a brother of Jesus (and vice versa)

            I don’t see how you can assert point 2 without asserting point 1 – it is obviously nonsense to say that Josephus knew that the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” was not an early Christian leader, but did not know that this “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” was a brother of Jesus. Likewise, point 3 follows on logically from point 1 and 2.

            However, if Josephus is right that there was no early Christian leader who was Jesus’ brother then when Paul describes someone as a leader of the early community, he *cannot* also think that they were Jesus’ brother. I am happy to accept that Josephus is right about who was and wasn’t a big fish in the early Christian pond, but I’d struggle to accept that he was better informed on this point than Paul (who after all was one of these fish and swam with some of the others!)

            That means that the James Paul refers to as meeting in his second visit must logically be a different James to the one he had met 14 years earlier: he would not have viewed a “leader” James as being Jesus’ brother, so he must be describing two different James’s in the same letter.

            I know you might say that you don’t know for definite that when describing James as “the Lord’s brother” Paul intends a biological sense. However, it seems to me that one of your grounds for this uncertainty is the conflicting ways this James seems to be described. I’m simply saying that if you are right that we should take Josephus seriously, then most of apparent conflict disappears, thus one of your grounds for doubt about Paul’s meaning also disappears – early sources (both Christian and the non-Christian Josephus) are describing two different James’ each with a high degree of consistency: there is James the non-leader brother of Jesus and James the leader non-brother of Jesus.

          • (apologies for the double post, I thought my comment had vanished but it seems to have miraculously reappeared)

          • OK. I see what you are proposing now.

            Yes. I infer from Josephus that the person he knew as James the brother of Jesus was not a leader of the Christian community. It is of course possible either that he was such a leader and Josephus just didn’t mention it or that he was and Josephus was not aware of it, but that seems less likely to me than that Josephus knew enough about the James whose death he describes to know that he wasn’t.

            I had never thought about the possibility that the James in Galatians 1 is different from the James of Galatians 2 and Acts 15.. That would certainly reduce the inconsistency between Josephus and Galatians 2, but I don’t think that it brings Josephus any closer to corroborating that the James of Galatians 1:19 was the biological brother of Jesus.

            I don’t know whether a precise definition of “harmonizing” exists, but I have always thought of it as an attempt to reconcile accounts from different sources that might otherwise be interpreted as contradicting each other. I don’t think that assuming that the James in one chapter of an epistle is the same as the James in the next chapter of an epistle would really qualify. Positing a conflict from one chapter to the next one source in order to resolve a conflict with an independent source seems much more like harmonizing to me.

          • Mark

            It seems plain he knew it. James is accused along with others – τινας ἑτέρους – and they are all tried together under the same heading and given the same sentence: stoning. There is a pretty straightforward argument in Bauckham “For what Offence was James put to Death?” that there are few options for what the stated charges could have been. The things that get stoning as punishment are enumerated, after all. Some sex crimes get stoning – but they don’t seem likely for a class crime like this. It must be either blasphemy or ‘maddiah’ – publicly leading many into idolatry. (One data point is that the crime must be one we can imagine engendering a dispute among Sadducees and Pharisees – so, for example, Pharisees would reject a blasphemy charge if it didn’t involve overtly voicing the Tetragrammaton.) https://books.google.com/books?id=5SHbjAKaBy0C&lpg=PA247&ots=Rdtwks5b1Z&dq=bauckham%20for%20what%20offence&pg=PA229#v=onepage&q&f=false

            So James is represented as the only one worth mentioning of a group tried together for a common religious crime — either blasphemy or idolatrous instruction. In other words James the brother of Jesus called ‘Christ’ is a ringleader of a bad religious sect. It’s not clear Josephus would think ‘Christian’ was the appropriate name for these people or anyone in Jerusalem. It’s not clear this name was ever applied to Jewish Christians – as opposed to say ‘Nazarenes’. Supposing there’s anything of value in the TF, it might not include his use of ‘the tribe of Christians’; so it’s not clear he knew the word. But maybe I’m forgetting another passage.

            Similarly, the Pharisees are not mentioned in the James passage, so you could argue: “Maybe he isn’t talking about them” – when he speaks of the more ‘accurate’ and ‘lenient’ contingent in Jerusalem. But obviously he is talking about the school of Pharisees; that they are precise or accurate is a leading epithet wherever he discusses them, and it has just been mentioned that Ananos is a Sadducee.

          • I have no reason to think that Josephus would have used the term “Christian” either, but I do think that he might have mentioned the fact that the charges against James had something to do with his involvement in the movement that his just mentioned brother had founded. Although I generally find Bauckham far too much of an apologist to take seriously as a scholar, I don’t doubt that stoning was reserved for specific offenses. It is far from<i.plain, however, that the charges had anything to do with his brother’s movement. In any case, the implication of the story seems to be that the charges were trumped up, so I don’t see how they could be much evidence of anything, even if we knew what they were.

            I would also wonder why, if the Christian movement were a disfavored minor sect, why the leading citizens would have risked sticking their neck out for its leader.

            In any case, we cannot claim corroboration based on what we think Josephus knew, no matter how obvious we may think it is.

          • Mark

            No, the implication of the text is that charges /weren’t/ trumped up. That would means that facts were fabricated. But the dispute is represented as halakhic. The stonable offenses are fixed, it’s just a question how the rubrics are to be articulated. Josephus sides with the ‘precise’ party of the Pharisees who are here represented as opposing the Sadducean interpretation – so of course he thinks what Ananos is doing is wrong.

            Bauckham is irrelevant. Variants of the argument are all over the literature, before and after. He’s just really good. Obviously, his apologetic tendency is about to break at any moment. A grown up knows how to handle this.

            > if the Christian movement were a disfavored minor sect, why the leading citizens would have risked sticking their neck out for its leader.

            This is explained in the text. James & co. were killed in accordance with a false interpretation of one or more of the stonable offenses of Torah. Unjust punishments are no joke. No one needs to have thought that James was anything but an idiot or an Elmer Gantry.

          • John MacDonald

            I was wondering what your thoughts were on Carrier’s argument that the reference to Jesus in the James passage in Josephus is not to the Jesus of the New Testament (see Carrier, On The Historicity Of Jesus, 337-342)?

          • Mark

            It’s one of about 300 epicycles he needs to add to keep his ptolemaic mythicist system coherent.

            If a Christian editor had introduced the epithet to signpost the passage for Christian readers, why would he have written ‘called Christ’ not ‘Christ’? The “editor” of the TF is not so sophisticated! If the epithet was introduced by a Christian editor there wouldn’t be any reason to fake coherence with Josephus’ mindset. (Add mythicist epicycle here)

            Carrier cites Mt. 1.16, Mt.27.17 and 27.22 & Jn 4.25 as standard normal uses of ‘called Christ’ by Christians. In fact these all prove the opposite except the genealogical passage Mt 1:16. Pilate, for example, is represented as speaking of “Jesus called ‘Christ'” //because he’s not a Christian//. Similarly with the passages from Justin Martyr and the one from the Clementine Homilies. Trypho and Simon Magus aren’t exactly Christians. Apart from the Matthew genealogy it is never a Christian speaking or thinking. (Add mythicist epicycle here).

            Without the interpolated epithet the text just introduces a guy by the name of Yakov and some friends, with nothing to identify them, and nothing (like ‘a guy by the name of Yakov’) that would make this irrelevant. Something would have to have been removed, and this would entail that the Yakov in question is not the one discussed in Paul, so that in fact we have a forcible alteration of the identity of a character, an outright falsification like the one contained in the TF, and not an editorial clarification (Add epicycle here)

          • John MacDonald

            Interesting thoughts. I tend to agree with Dr. Bart Ehrman the Josephus’ writing is more or less irrelevant when coming to the question of whether Jesus existed. For instance, regarding the Testimonium, supposing it actually was original to Josephus, Ehrman writes:

            “And where would Josephus have derived this information? He would have heard stories about Jesus that were in circulation [by 93CE]. There is nothing to suggest Josephus had actually read the Gospels (he almost certainly had not) or that he did any kind of primary research into the life of Jesus by examining Roman records of some kind (there weren’t any) … As a result, even though both the mythicists and their opponents like to fight long and hard over the Testimonium of Josephus, in fact it is only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed (Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, 65-66).”

          • I don’t see anything in the text about any complaints about false interpretations of the Torah. What I see is the leading citizens complaining that it was unlawful for Ananus to convene the sanhedrin without the consent of Albinus.

            What I gather from Josephus is that this was a pretty dangerous and tempestuous time among the priests. Taking on a high priest with a penchant for having people stoned for the sake of an idiot or an Elmer Gantry doesn’t seem like a prudent move.

          • Mark

            Ananos is doing two things for Josephus: he’s making an end run around Roman authority in its absence, and he’s doing bad Jewish law. Ananos has already been introduced as a Sadducee and thus ‘rigid’ or maybe ‘crude’ in judgment, ‘more so than other Jews’ . This defect must pertain to nomos in the sense of Torah.

            Now enter those most precise about what pertains to the law -the περὶ τοὺς νόμους ἀκριβεῖς , a standard Josephan epithet for the Pharisees. Here again it is nomos as torah that is in question. (These are also said to be the most ‘equitable’ or ‘reasonable’ or ‘moderate’ – epieikia is standardly translated ‘equity’, which corrects crude application of the letter of the law; the opposition is the source of our own law vs. equity distinction.)

            Once the περὶ τοὺς νόμους ἀκριβεῖς are on the page we seem to get three thoughts in succession

            1) They are shocked at this breach.

            2) They send to Herod Agrippa II the Jewish king – a principal informant of Josephus – asking him to tell Ananos not to do this any more.

            3) /Some/ of them send off to Albinos saying that the sanhedrin was illegitimately constituted.

            Only the last of these has anything to do with Roman law and authority. Up to that point we have an inner-Jewish dispute and halakhic carping. There is no suggestion that anyone would have complained about anything if someone who had, for example, indisputably sacrificed a child to Moloch (Lev 20:2) was brought before the sanhedrin and stoned. There isn’t even a suggestion that Albinos would have been particularly worried about that. Obviously Ananos got a bunch of learned judges to judge and stoners to stone, during the absence – and none of them were worried about miffing the Roman authority.

            The only thing an argument like Bauckham’s needs that’s not on the page is that Ananos and his judges wouldn’t have been so stupid as to stone someone for anything but an enumerated stoning crime. Only a few of these even make sense as applied to several people at once.

          • Apologists like Bauckham rarely need anything more than exactly what they find on the page in order to express a high level of confidence in their conclusions. Historians, on the other hand, might find it helpful if Josephus had noted James’ involvement with the movement his brother started as well as stating that the charges were connected to James’ position in that movement.

          • Mark

            Sorry, if you can’t argue without blather about apologists, you admit you can’t argue.

          • “[Y}ou admit you can’t argue” is pretty standard apologetic claptrap as well.

          • Mark

            Sorry, I’m not an apologist and have no experience of apologetic literature. Your claim was plain: the only objection to Ananos was the irregularity (from a Roman point of view) in the constitution of a sanhedrin; this is provably false, and you haven’t said anything to defend it, except desperately expand accusations of apologetic.

          • I did not say that the only objection to Ananus was the irregularity of convening the sanhedrin, but that is the only legal irregularity that Josephus cites. Ananus is described as rigid in judging offenders, but rigid judgment is not the same thing as false interpretation. I am familiar with the distinction between courts of law and courts of equity. Courts of equity exist for cases where the remedy at law is deemed insufficient; it has nothing to do with false interpretations.

            The simple fact is that Josephus does not say that James was a leader of his brother’s movement, nor does he say that the charges against James had anything to do with that movement. Therefore, Josephus does not corroborate that the James described in Galatians or the later chapters of Acts is the biological brother of Jesus. What you and Bauckham think he must have known doesn’t count as corroboration.

          • Mark

            P “I did not say that the only objection to Ananus was the irregularity of convening the sanhedrin”

            ¬ P “I don’t see anything in the text about any complaints about false interpretations of the Torah. What I see is the leading citizens complaining that it was unlawful for Ananus to convene the sanhedrin without the consent of Albinus.”
            ———–

            It was given that Josephus doesn’t say that James was the leader of ‘his brother’s movement’, whatever that would be – it isn’t clear he has a suitable word for such a thing – nor is it said that the charges had to do with ‘that movement’. He is however depicted as tried with a group on what we can infer (from the fact that they are sentenced by a Jewish judiciary to be stoned together) are religious charges. They are thus, to put it crudely, a religious group.

            It is of course consistent with the text that the crime of this group had nothing to do with Jesus. It is also consistent with the text that James is not the leader of whatever group he belongs to, but just one among this non-Jesus-related group whom Josephus can readily identify. But the event (~62, if I understand) is less than ten years after the supposed date of Paul’s mentioning him in Galatians and I Corinthians (~53-54)

            I was aware that you would familiar with the distinction between law and equity (which for us are both law by the way), which is why I mentioned that epieikia is used.

          • The term “religious group” is pretty vague. One possibility is that the rigid Anunus rounded up a bunch of less strict Jews who offended his way of thinking. Given the machinations that seem to have been common, I don’t think that we can ignore the possibility of motivations that were political more than religious. I don’t see where Josephus gives us sufficient information to conclude that these men were organized in any specific way or that they had any defined leadership.

          • Mark

            He needs a sanhedrin to convict. There must thus be definite offenses. He had motivations to be sure. The question is, what were the /offenses/? … And in particular which of the very few /stoning offenses/ were they? Even a kangaroo sanhedrin needs a predefined charge. Again, Ananos’ motives are irrelevant.

            Josephus indeed gives no information about the organization of the people, nor does he say James is their leader or a leader. But they are guilty en bloc of some religious crime. This is less than 10 years after Paul is whining about ‘men from James’ and so-called pillars etc.

          • John MacDonald

            One of the reasons I tend to think there was an historical Jesus who had a brother James is that otherwise we have something of a “comedy of coincidences.” There is a “James, the brother of the Lord” or equivalent reference in Paul, Mark, Matthew, and Josephus. The reference showing up in “all” these instances seem unlikely to be mere coincidence, even if we dutifully try to explain away each individual instance in favor of agnosticism on the matter.

          • As I mentioned before, our gut instincts when it comes to matters of coincidence tend to be pretty poor. The human mind seems to be naturally wired to see improbable coincidences in phenomena that are statistically quite normal.

          • John MacDonald

            I think there are times, such as when we are interpreting texts, that coincidences can be meaningful. For instance, if we are reading Moby Dick and keep coming across issues regarding revenge, we may be warranted in inferring that “the tragic nature of revenge” is a “theme” in the book.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said: “I often wonder how the crucifixion can be considered such a secure fact. We have reports that people saw Jesus alive after he was supposed to have been put to death. That would seem to raise the question of how we know that he had been put to death in the first place. As far as we can tell, the reports of his death originated with people who had every reason to have been in hiding at the time the crucifixion took place. That doesn’t seem terribly reliable to me.”

            I think your approach is a little hyper skeptical. Even the most dyed in the wool mythicists concede Jesus was crucified (albeit in a heavenly realm). It goes back to my “coincidence criteria.” It would “seem odd to me” that we would “merely coincidentally” have crucifixion attributions to Jesus in as many sources as Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, but that they had no kernel of truth behind them. Everyone seems to agree Jesus was crucified based on the implausibility of it being “mere coincidence” that this is attested to in so many sources, as well as the discomfort it must have caused preaching a crucified messiah. The fact that Jesus’ disciples fled when he was arrested (a point you seem to agree has a ring of truth, as do most scholars), certainly doesn’t rule out that some sympathetic to the movement stayed behind to witness the crucifixion.

            Of course we can be hyper skeptical about anything, even doubting that the ground will be solid on our next step (even though it has been in the past).

          • I suspect that I could find lots of Mormon sources from decades after the fact that would agree that the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him where to look for the Golden Plates. Am I hyper skeptical for doubting that there is any kernel of truth to the stories?

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, but what do you make of Paul’s claim that he is preaching a crucified messiah despite the absurdity of it? Paul says ” but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).”

          • I make out that he believed that Christ had been crucified based on the revelation he thought he had received or stories he had heard. That doesn’t constitute any better evidence of what really happened than the Mormons who believed Joseph Smith’s stories.

          • John MacDonald

            And what about the fact that Christians were willing to be persecuted in order to claim a crucified Christ? Ehrman says regarding the Christian’s claims about the crucified Christ that “for the zealous Pharisee Paul, it was utter nonsense. It was worse than nonsense. It was a horrific and dangerous blasphemy against God, his scriptures, and the law itself. This scandalous preaching had to be stopped. And Paul did his best to stop it.” See https://ehrmanblog.org/why-paul-persecuted-the-christians/ .

          • Mormons were willing to suffer for their beliefs, too.

            I know what Ehrman says about why Paul persecuted the Christians, but I also know that it is little more than conjecture since Paul never tells us why.

            As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the perpetrators of religious persecutions often have little real understanding of their victims beliefs and practices. The Romans who persecuted Christians accused them of cannibalism and incest. Pogroms were premised on the claim that Jews practiced ritual infanticide. I see no reason to assume that Paul’s persecutions were founded on the actual beliefs of his victims.

            I also think that Paul should be taken with a much bigger grain of salt than New Testament scholars are wont to do. He might have been sincere in his beliefs, but I cannot rule out the possibility that he was a lunatic or a charlatan. Did he really persecute Christians or did he just stumble on the same shtick that has worked so well for countless preachers, i.e,, “I hated Christianity until Jesus revealed himself to me.”

          • John MacDonald

            I agree with the point about Paul.

            It’s interesting, as you (Vinny) write somewhere (on your blog, I think), how people can be so skeptical and critical about some things, and so trusting and naive about others.

            Even if we encounter something in ancient writing that seems mundane, the ancient writer still may have been making it up. I like this quote from E.L.Bowie:

            “Brief consideration is also needed of Hesiod’s other poem to survive intact, Works and Days. Didactic epic of a different sort, it offers much biographical information about Hesiod himself, about his brother Perses, and about their quarrel over their father’s land. Much of this may be straightforwardly true or simply a tendentious account. But the apparently conflicting information about Perses and the author’s relations with him have raised the question of whether a brother (whether called Perses or not) really existed … To my mind the evidence points strongly to the conclusion Perses is invented … In a poem communicating apparently sincere views on gods, justice and society, as well as practical, if traditional, information on methods of farming, the didactic poet did not think he would weaken the authority he so clearly arrogates by incorporating biographical detail about his addressee which members of his audience would detect as fictitious.”

            – E.L.Bowie, “Lies, Fiction and Slander in Early Greek Poetry.”

            If we managed to catch this “invention” by Hesiod simply by luck, imagine all the falsehoods we must miss!

            It’s interesting that fake news such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem is present in the gospels, while a Jew from around that time, Josephus, ranted against the excesses and inventions of historians. On this issue, T. P. Wiseman writes:

            “Lucian (Hist. conscr. 7) had no inhibitions about describing panegyric in history as a lie (pseudos). Nor, conversely, had Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 20.154-5), in his criticism of historians’ malice:

            Many have written the history of Nero. Some have been favorable to him, careless of the truth because he benefited them. Others, out of hatred and hostility towards him, have behaved like shameless drunkards in their lies, and deserve condemnation for it. I am not surprised at those who have lied about Nero, since even in their accounts of events before his time they have not preserved the truth of history. – Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 20.154-5)

            Naturally, Josephus distances himself from such authors. ‘Let them write as they like, since that is what gives them pleasure. As for me, I am aiming at the truth’ (20.156) – by which he means impartiality. Lucian specified only two things that the truthful historian had to avoid – panegyric and muthoi. The latter category … for Roman authors, it provided evident proof that the Greeks were liars.”

            – T. P. Wiseman “Lying Historians: Seven Types of Mendacity”

          • John MacDonald

            Thank goodness for the edit button! My first draft made the opposite point to what I was trying to make.

          • Gary

            And just as a note on Josephus, supposedly his Antiquities were written around 93AD. Well after Nero or James. And living a cushy life in Rome, totally dependent upon the whims of Roman politicians. Much like DNC supporters of Clinton, and RNC supporters of Trump. So grain of salt is required for “As for me, I am aiming at the truth”

          • Gary

            Can’t help myself.

            From Vinny,
            “I suspect that I could find lots of Mormon sources from decades after the fact that would agree that the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him where to look for the Golden Plates.”

            As I remember, Joseph Smith was alone when he saw Moroni in the woods. So no witnesses, other than Smith. But more striking, there was a group that claimed they actually saw the Golden Plates, and signed a document claiming they saw the Plates. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe anyone actually saw any Golden Plates. Perhaps Smith pulled off a scam, and faked a gold colored set of lead sheets. But I highly doubt it. I suspect fraud, either with Smith or the witnesses, or both.

            Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself Christian. But from a factual point of view, why should Paul be considered a better witness than Joseph Smith in presenting facts? Or any witnesses associated with Paul or Smith. Especially considering the vast number of oral stories floating around between 33AD and 200AD, as evidenced by a variety of later ancient texts.

            Concerning John’s comment, “And what about the fact that Christians were willing to be persecuted in order to claim a crucified Christ?”

            Consider Hale–Bopp comet and Heaven’s Gate cult. Not only did the followers commit suicide, but maybe more unbelievable, some had castrated themselves to be more “holy”. Sound familiar? Origen was said to have castrated himself, to avoid temptation. So, the conclusion? I draw no conclusions from any of this. Open questions. Everyone – believe what you want!

            Merry Christmas 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            “Concerning John’s comment, ‘And what about the fact that Christians were willing to be persecuted in order to claim a crucified Christ?'”

            – so like Vinny, you don’t think there is good reason to think Jesus was killed by crucifixion?

          • I think what he was saying John is that willingness to endure suffering for religious beliefs is no evidence that those beliefs have a factual basis.

          • Gary

            As Ehrman says in his current blog post,
            https://ehrmanblog.org/is-the-christmas-story-a-myth/

            “OK, fair enough.  But he used the term to talk about things like “the myth of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.”  My students were not as a rule devout conservative Christians (this was New Jersey! We’re not talkin’ Bible Belt here…).  But still it was jarring to them.  And to me.  I knew what he meant: the accounts of Jesus’ death are principally concerned to convey the deep theological significance of the event.”

            So, pretty much irrelevant (fact or myth). I’d like to know why you think Paul is such a reliable witness of facts? His theology was based upon a single “vision”, which in itself, is rather unbelievable. But irrelevant since “the deep theological significance of the event” is what counts; not the fact that the “event” was fact or myth.
            No offense, but I think I’ll check out for now. Christmas Eve is no time to be obsessed with blogging. Too much prepping to do. Need to do ham and beef.

          • John MacDonald

            Hi Gary. There are definitely questions that can be raised about the whole credibility issue of Paul and his conversion. What people don’t realize is that, if true, it would undermine the whole point of Jesus’ mission. If all it took was a vision, why waste time with a 3-yr mentoring process?

        • arcseconds

          You share the goal of problematizing the mainstream census view, you give the same or similar arguments, and you cite mythicist blogs with approval. If you shared every goal and attitude with them you’d be a mythicist yourself, so how much similarity of goals and approaches is needed before ‘ally’ is appropriate?

          Perhaps however I’m overreaching here, and I’ll ammend it to ‘fellow traveller’, noting that fellow travellers do not always agree or even like one another.

          You are treating ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ on par with ‘Simon the Zealot’ and ‘Thomas the Twin’ in the post above, that is what I mean by assuming it is a nickname. We are told explicitly by Luke and John respectively that ‘Simon the Zealot’ and ‘Thomas the Twin’ are nicknames. We have no real evidence, just speculation, that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ is a nickname, so the parallel you wish to draw fails.

          Are you now enjoining us to consider a case where Jesus had a brother called James, yet the ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ Paul meets is a different James?

          • I find the the mainstream consensus view problematic. I have no goal of problematizing it.

            I was a contented agnostic who accepted that Jesus was a historical person for many years before my reading persuaded me that the evidence was not nearly as impressive as the consensus claimed. I’ve looked at mythicism, but I think that it faces the same obstacles as historicism: the sources suck.

            There were many different men named James in the New Testament. What would be at all surprising about them becoming confused in the traditions.

          • arcseconds

            I think it’s pretty clear that you do have a goal of problematizing it, as this is what you do with whatever material you can, imagining improbable alternative scenarios in order to avoid following the mainstream, even to the point of making up stuff like a source that Luke has that denies that James was Jesus’s brother.

            And this speculation only ever goes one way: towards mythicism and away from historicity. It’s just as easy to imagine Luke having corroborating evidence for the historical Jesus that he fails to mention as it is to imaging him having sources that contradict extant sources that he fails to mention.

            I don’t think it’s accurate to say you ‘find’ a view problematic when you’re clearly spending a lot of time and energy generating all these imaginative but unevidence alternatives.

            And you give the same kind of biographical note that mythicists sometimes give. In fact, I’m pretty sure Fitzgerald says something of the sort. I don’t really know what to make of this, as there are plenty of agnostics and atheists who start off sceptical about the historical Jesus, and are then convinced immediately by the evidence (Galatians 1:19 often suffices on its own). So someone isn’t treating the evidence appropriately (or, I suppose, has radically different priors, but it’s difficult to see what they could be).

            I don’t think there is any doubt there is confusion about what James is which, but in terms of Galatians 1:19 and the historicity of Jesus, all that matters is whether Paul is confused or not. Perhaps you’re trying to enjoin us to imagine a scenario where he’s met a different James, but thinks this one is the brother of Jesus, now?

          • It’s pretty clear, is it? You know my mind? You know my heart?

            I think I try for the most part to direct my comments towards arguments and not people’s motivations. I don’t always succeed as well as I would like, but I’m comfortable with the job I am doing.

          • arcseconds

            What an odd thing to say. You do problematize the notion of the historical Jesus, and presumably this is intentional behaviour — isn’t it? So it seems reasonable to say it’s something you aim to do, just as it seems reasonable to say people crossing the road aim to get to the other side. They’re not just stumbling around randomly or under radio control.

            I’m not speculating as to why you’ve adopted this aim, any more than saying “they want to get to the other side” is speculation as to why they want to be on the other side of the road.

            Would it strike you as problematic to say McGrath has the goal of defending the mainstream consensus view? Again, it’s what he does, and it’s intentional. He could choose not to, as, I think, could you.

            And likewise, saying that’s his goal doesn’t say why it’s his goal.

            I mean, I suppose I don’t know for sure that in either case it’s not some kind of compulsive behaviour, or maybe you or he is being coerced into doing so somehow. But normally we don’t consider such interpretations.

          • It strikes me as problematic for you to pretend that accusing me of “imagining improbable alternative scenarios in order to avoid following the mainstream, even to the point of making up stuff” is the rhetorical equivalent of saying that McGrath defends the mainstream consensus.

      • John MacDonald

        It is clear that Vinny is engaged in apologetics for mythicism. He knows perfectly well mythicism collapses under a straightforward biological interpretation of Galations’ “James, The Brother of the Lord” passage, so he argues with all his might against it. Here he is using the “nickname” defence, but on other occasions he simply switches tactics and argues the passage in Galatians is an interpolation. On Vinny’s use of the interpolation possibility, see Vinny’s blog here: http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/2017/04/on-possibility-of-interpolation.html . This is hardly disinterested hermeneutics on Vinny’s part, but rather “any means necessary” mythicist apologetics.

        • I have not said a single word in favor of mythicism.

          I freely admit that the biological interpretation of brother of the Lord is bad for mythicism.

          I have not argued with all my might for anything. I offered the nickname possibility for the limited purpose of countering McGrath’s claim that a spiritual interpretation of brother was precluded by the fact that there were other men named James who were brothers in the same sense. I am still waiting for McGrath to concede the weakness of that argument.

          One of the commenters on that blog post of mine suggested that “howls of protest” was “a little hyperbolic.” The fact that you should dig it up to use it here when I haven’t said a single word about interpolation makes me think that my word choice was appropriate.

          • John MacDonald

            So do you or don’t you think “interpolation” is a good a explanation as any for the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Galations, as you hint at with your blog post?

          • Herro

            Is there something wrong with thinking that the passage about the first visit to Jerusalem in Galatians is an interpolation? :S

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny’s goal is to attack the “James, the Brother of the Lord” passage. Sometimes he does so arguing it is a nickname, sometimes as an interpolation.

          • Herro

            Is there something wrong with not being married to one possible theory? What’s the problem? :S

          • John MacDonald

            The Galatians interpolation theory has some adherents on the internet. Vinny adheres to it sometimes, as does Neil Godfrey. No contemporary academic scholar of The New Testament thinks it’s an interpolation. I guess if you’d like to hear more about it you can ask Vinny, or Neil over at Vridar. No one would even bother to assert interpolation here except that the Galatians passage is so devastating to mythicism, which is a popular way on the internet to try to undermine Christianity.

          • Herro

            Well, it probably wasn’t in an early version of Galatians. So I don’t see why it’s absurd to think that it’s an interpolation, especially since there are good reasons for why someone would want to add it.

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe the resurrection appearances described in Paul’s letters are interpolations?

          • Herro

            Sure.

          • arcseconds

            Isn’t this basically saying it’s OK to believe something happened if you can imagine someone doing it?

          • Mark

            Why would anyone want to add ‘brother of the Lord’? If it is a sort of clarification, it still presupposes a crowd for whom “James – the one who was the brother of the Lord” is somehow clarifying.

          • Herro

            I was talking about the idea that the whole first trip to Jerusalem (“brother of the Lord” is a part of that) being an interpolation, not just “brother of the Lord”.

          • Mark

            Yes, but then someone still has to think there’s a ‘James, the brother of the Lord’.

          • arcseconds

            There is something wrong with thinking a passage that indicates something you’re determined to resist is an interpolation, yes.

            (absent any convincing argument for it being an interpolation, of course)

          • Herro

            Right. But there are good reasons for suspecting this passage, whatever one thinks about the mythicism-question.

            And why do you think that Vinny is doing this because of his determined will to resist it?

          • arcseconds

            What good reasons are these? I have asked mythicists this and never had a useful response, but maybe there are such reasons and I’m unware of them.

            Do any mainstream biblical scholars suspect it’s an interpolation? I was under the impression that they do not (which suggests to me that there aren’t good reasons for suspecting it) but again maybe I’m wrong.

            I was not just meaning Vinny here, but mythicists and mythicist-adjacents. You put your question in general terms, after all.

            But Vinny seems quite determined in his sitting on the fence and being unmoved by evidence here. He is quite good at constructing plausible-sounding but unevidenced and speculative scenarios that point in one direction: undermining anything that looks like evidence for the historical Jesus. He has his position, and he is not constrained by evidence in how he defends it, or at least not strongly so.

          • Neko

            Vinny’s a devll’s advocate, and what’s so bad about the devil? 🙂

          • Herro

            Vinny seems to be suggesting that just the “brother of the lord” could be an interpolation (I haven’t seen any evidence for that), but what I’m talking about is that the whole passage about the first trip to Jerusalem is an interpolation.

            I don’t know of any “mainstream” discussion of this idea. I don’t recall where I read about it (maybe “Interpolations in the Pauline Epistles” by William O’Walker, or maybe Hermann Detering). Basically we have an ancient version of Galatians that didn’t have the trip, the section makes more sense without it and the passage sounds like something you would see in Acts (Paul being a team player and all that).

          • I think that the possibility of interpolation is another source of uncertainty about the phrase “brother of the Lord” which warrants withholding confidence absent corroboration.

            I think that the motivation for interpolation is both obvious and plausible. Any scribe copying the text without the phrase “brother of the Lord” might be concerned that readers would be confused about which James was meant and could have added the phrase with the best of intentions.

            As Bart Ehrman has noted, our earliest manuscript of Galatians dates to 150 years after its composition, and we cannot be certain what changes were made during that period.
            ]
            Please note that I did not raise this issue, and I have only addressed it at your request.

          • arcseconds

            You were quite prepared to argue at some length in defending the notion of it being an interpolation two years ago.

            Yes, I know what you’re going to say, that you don’t actually support the notion that it’s an interpolation, you just think this ‘needs to be considered’. Just as you don’t really think that ‘Jesus, the brother of the Lord’ is a nickname, nor do you really think that it’s likely there’s an inner group called ‘brothers of the lord’, and nor do you really think that Luke not mentioning a James related to Jesus is evidence there wasn’t one.

            You can’t possibly commit to any of these being more or less probable than any other statement on the matter, either.

            In this way, you can continue to throw out whatever sceptical argument appeals to you at the moment, and never actually commit yourself to any particular thesis in any way.

            It’s a very convenient role to define for yourself: it allows you to criticise everyone else, while protecting yourself from all forms of criticism, as you never actually assert anything!

          • John MacDonald

            “You can’t possibly commit to any of these being more or less probable than any other statement on the matter, either.”

            – In a Hegelian sense, Vinny’s is a night where all cows are black.

          • What I was criticizing in that comment was Ehrman’s problems with probability. In Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman said that Galatians 1:19 makes scholars certain of Jesus’ historicity “beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt.” On the other hand, when debating conservative scholars, Ehrman has said that we cannot be sure what changes were made in Galatians during the 150 years between its composition and the earliest extant manuscripts.

            I submit that it is ridiculous to suppose that we can be certain “beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt” about a conclusion that is premised on a text about which we cannot be sure.

            I asked Ehrman about this once and he said that all the extant manuscripts contain the phrase “brother of the Lord” and that other sources confirmed it. When asked which sources he said. “In the NT, just Acts.” When it was pointed out, he admitted that Acts never did identity James as Jesus’ brother.

            Now mind you, this is the scholar who just written a book claiming that Jesus’ historicity was certain “beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt” based on Galatians 1:19, and he wasn’t really sure what Acts had to say about it.

            I was not problematizing Ehrman’s claims. I was simply recognizing the problems.

          • arcseconds

            That is not a fair summary of that earlier discussion, as anyone who takes the time to follow the link can see.

            You did not just stop at saying “Ehrman is too certain”. I suggested 5% is a more reasonable probability to have in mind as the chance of any given verse being an interpolation than the 20% you suggested ‘just for the purposes of illustration’, and you remonstrated with me at some length about that. Including suggesting that the existance of pseudepigraphica make the chances of anything attributed to Paul being quite low, and speculatively conjuring up a scribe with a very particular set of attributes to ‘explain’ why Galatians 1:19 could be an interpolation.

            Imagining such detailed characters and shuffling pseudepigraphica in with genuine Pauline works to heighten the chance of a random verse being inauthentic like this is not ‘simply recognizing the problems’, it is going out of your way to create them.

          • What should I think when you criticize me for failing to fairly summarize a discussion from two years ago that you are trying to resurrect? Might I not be justified in thinking that you are just throwing mud at the wall and hoping something will stick.

          • arcseconds

            How is insisting on an accurate summary of a past conversation ‘mudslinging’? I really do not understand where you are coming from here, at all.

            You also seem to suppose that referring to past discussions on the same topic is somehow out of bounds, another attitude I do not understand. What is the problem here? Are you really expecting everyone to act as though this is a fresh conversation with people we’ve never interacted before?

            Do you perhaps find the earlier discussion somehow embarrassing? That would explain why you seem so opposed to it being ‘resurrected’, but it doesn’t seem very likely as you’re still defending the notion that it’s an interpolation in this thread. On the other hand, if you still stand by what you said in the earlier conversation, why would it be a problem for me to summarize it?

            The only thing I can think of that you might be reacting to is that saying it’s ‘not a fair summary’ might suggest that you deliberately chose to misrepresent it, and perhaps I should have gone with a more neutral ‘not an accurate summary’.

            On the other hand, this is somewhat consistent with how you normally present your own behaviour. It’s all just a rational reaction against the excesses of mainstream scholars, entirely free of dogma and commitment or any kind of bias or persistently arguing in one direction but not in others.

            For what it’s worth, I acknowledge it’s not contradictory at all to defend both ideas, and if there were high-ish probablities of both then you’d have a very good point: if there were 20% chance of it being an interpolation (by someone who was not in a position to know about Jesus’s brothers) , and 20% chance of Paul using a nickname unrelated to some form of brotherhood between two people, then (as these possibilities are mutually exclusive) there would be a 40% chance that it in no way supports historicity.

            (Of course, I think 20% for either probability is absurdly high)

          • I was not using the phrase “throwing mud at the wall and hoping something will stick” in the sense of mudslinging, I was using it in the sense that you are raising as many different issues as you can in the hopes of finding something to justify your characterization of me as a mythicist ally or fellow traveler.

            Let’s review the situation:

            I’ve been trying to focus on the response I made to an argument that McGrath made in his post, which I found unpersuasive. I don’t think that I have gotten a direct response to my point, but I may have missed it in all the static.

            For questioning the claim that all the early sources agree and pointing out that Acts does not identify James the Just as the biological brother of Jesus, I have been repeatedly accused of “inventing sources.”

            I have been falsely accused of claiming that no one corroborated that Jesus had a brother named James.

            When I offered an explanation for a two-year-old comment to which you provided a link, you complained that it was not a fair summary of the earlierdiscussion “as anyone who takes the time to follow the link can see.”

            I have been accused of “ignoring,” “inventing,” “misrepresenting,” “back pedaling,” “botching,” doing a song and dance, and giving the God of Logic an aneurysm.

            It does make it very tempting for me to think of my position as a “rational reaction against the excesses of mainstream scholars” and their supporters.

          • John MacDonald

            “I have been accused of ‘ignoring,’ ‘inventing,’ ‘misrepresenting,’ ‘back pedaling,’ ‘botching,’ doing a song and dance,’ and giving the God of Logic an aneurysm.”

            I do sincerely apologize if my joking hyperbole and excesses offended you in any way. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a complete amateur here when it comes to New Testament Studies. I never took a course on it or History in university – I studied Philosophy and Psychology. And, as such, I am in no position to judge the relative strengths of these highly technical arguments. I can only go with what my gut tells me. I don’t even know how to format my comments to put letters in bold or italics!

          • arcseconds

            I owe you an apology: I was quite convinced you had proposed quite explicitly a source Luke had that denied James was Jesus’s brother.

            When I went back to find it, I can only find John saying that’s what you did.

            I don’t know how I came to make this mistake. My best guess is that I mistook one of John’s posts for yours.

            I am sorry about that, and retract my comments about you making up sources.

          • Mark

            A ‘spiritual’ interpretation of ‘brother’ is just as bad for mythicism.