Doherty Mythicism?

Doherty Mythicism? October 14, 2011

Commenter Dave Burke has shared some thoughts on the hurdles that would confront any attempt to quest for a historical Earl Doherty. Would it not be simpler to conclude that he is a myth? I quote three comments here, but I encourage you to click through and read them in their original context.

Doherty claims he is ‘generally considered to currently be the world’s leading Jesus mythicist’ and that ‘my books and website have had a huge impact on this controversial issue and are known around the globe’ (source: This suggests he is a well know historical figure of great repute. But does the evidence confirm it?

When you start to scratch the surface, it’s amazing just how little is known about Doherty. Surely a world leader in any field would require relevant qualifications, academic recognition, and peer reviewed publications. Yet Doherty fails to meet any of these criteria.

Doherty is not mentioned by any recognised professional historian, and does not appear in any historical work of the 20th Century. How do we explain this omission in light of his alleged fame and historical significance?

Where did he acquire his alleged bachelor degree? Nobody knows and Doherty refuses to say.

Has anyone met him in person? This is unclear. Neil Godrey has posted an alleged ‘interview’ with Doherty (the so-called Testimonium Godfrianum) but there is no evidence it was a face to face meeting, and in the absence of independent witnesses Godfrey remains the only source. Since he supports Doherty’s viewpoint, his account cannot be trusted.

Has the TG been interpolated? Undoubtedly. But since none of it can be independently verified, how could we tell where the truth ends and the interpolation begins? It seems more likely the entire document is a pious fraud!

The content of the TG is also highly problematic. It is not what we would expect from someone who knows Doherty or has actually met him.

Godfrey tells us nothing about Doherty’s birth or early life; he sheds no light on Doherty’s education or nationality; there are no details to Doherty’s work, hobbies, family, or friends. Godfrey doesn’t even know where Doherty lives, and has no idea of his age.

Random dates are sprinkled in to give a semblance of reality (1982, 1984, 1996, 2000-2001 and a passing nod to ‘the 1960s’ & ‘the 1980s’) but Godfrey offers nothing to suggest familiarity with the events of these years, and even the words he puts in Doherty’s mouth are devoid of any contemporary references.

Is Godfrey suggesting his ‘interview’ with Doherty took place outside the mundane world; perhaps in the ‘sub-lunar realm’? It’s a compelling interpretation and corresponds neatly with the details provided.

Towards the end of the TG, Godfrey blurts out a frank admission:

I don’t think anyone in “internet land” has any idea of what you look like, your educational background, what you do or have done for a living. Why is this?

(Testimonium Godfrianum, XVI, i).

In reply, Doherty is made to say that he has ‘kept a relatively low personal profile perhaps partly out of caution but also because I don’t want to intrude my personality or background into the debate’ (Testimonium Godfrianum, XVI, ii). It’s an obvious interpolation, clumsily aping gMark’s ‘Messianic secret’ motif. The suggestion is that Doherty – like Jesus – conceals his identity from the faithless, only revealing it to fellow Mythicist believers.

But astute readers will notice this vague response does not answer the question posed. Historical Doherty scholars therefore conclude the entire section is the work of a later editor (‘NG2’) attempting to resolve the contradiction between Doherty’s alleged historical fame and the fact that his existence is not admitted by any contemporary historian (the so-called ‘Dohertian secret’).

Doherty’s disciples have argued the passage is genuine, citing the criterion of embarrassment. ‘Why would an interpolator invent an exchange that undermines Doherty’s historicity and why insert it awkwardly between XV and XVII, requiring two passages to be renumbered?’, they ask.

But Historical Doherty scholars point out that the TG ends more naturally if we read straight from XV to XVII, skipping XVI altogether. Since the original manuscript was not numbered, the ‘problem’ of renumbering does not arise. XVI was fabricated for the sole purpose of raising a question which should have been presented at the beginning of the ‘interview’, boldly confronting the elephant in the room.

So why drop it into the second-last paragraph? Precisely because we would expect to find such an interpolation at the start. By squeezing it awkwardly between XVI and XVII, NG2 has tried to give the impression that this was a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment question. A daring ploy, but just a little too clever to sneak under the radar!

The biggest problem is that we simply don’t have any writings from Doherty himself. All we have is a constant stream of forgeries in his name, every single one of which is either posted on the internet, or conveniently ‘self-published.’ It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction because Mythicists are notorious for historical inaccuracy, literary embellishment, opportunistic interpolation, and downright lying. Gandy & Freke typify this behaviour (source: but it is endemic throughout Mythicist literature.

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