Valerie Tarico’s Historical Denialism

Valerie Tarico’s Historical Denialism August 30, 2014

In a recent online article, Valerie Tarico suggests that “a growing number of scholars” are concluding that there was no historical Jesus.

It isn’t clear to me that Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Thomas Brodie represent a “growing number” compared to past generations. If one goes back half a century or more, the idea had more credence than it does now, because we had less evidence about ancient Judaism than we do now, not to mention rampant antisemitism that preferred a Jesus borrowed from non-Jewish deities, to a Jesus who was a real Jewish human being.

Some of her claims are unsurprising – which other messianic claimants in the Judaism of this period are mentioned by non-Jewish historians?

And some are bogus – she claims that the story gets more and more detailed as time goes on, but what she points to are mythical additions such as the virgin birth, which indicates (against Carrier) that Jesus appears in the relevant sources to be a historical figure being mythologized, rather than the reverse.

That scholars make very different proposals about aspects of Jesus shows that this is a vibrant field. That’s what scholars do – make different proposals.

Nothing in the article justifies the overall impression Tarico gives. But by jumping on the fringe bandwagon known as Jesus mythicism, she certainly undermines her claim to be a freethinker, if by that she means someone who can see through bogus claims, rather than the sort of people who “think freely” by denying scientific and historical consensus.


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  • She did say “growing number” rather than “growing percentage”.

    I did not take her remark seriously.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Growth from zero to three is, whether looking at number or percentage, a less than statistically significant increase. I think Dr. McGrath’s observation stands: her language is somewhat misleading on this matter.

      • KRS

        But growth from zero to three is a factor of infinity. 😉

      • arcseconds

        It is, however, literally true :-). And while KRS isn’t technically correct (division by zero doesn’t have an answer), Brodie’s a fairly recent addition (at least publically) so the number has grown by 50% in the past couple of years!

        (But yes, quite misleading. It sounds like it’s a reasonable number, not a tiny handful of somewhat fringe figures)

  • Jim

    Beginning of rant:

    Point 1, “No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua … ” constantly pisses me off whenever I hear/see it.

    How many eyewitness reports are there for Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate serving under Emperor Tiberius? So why would one expect secular reports on a nobody of that era from a one camel town in a relatively minor region (Galilee)? At the end of Jesus’ life there were only a small number of hard core followers (~120 followers if the Acts 1.15 report can be trusted).

    People didn’t say, hey look there goes the dude who’s gonna get crucified and then front man a world religion a few centuries from now. We better get the secular paparrazi on it to cover the developing story.

    Claiming point 1 is reading the 4th century status of Christianity back into the time of Jesus. Nothing wrong in going the mythicist route if it is compelling to you, just please drop the ignorant motive behind the line regarding no contemporary secular records for Jesus.

    End of rant.

    • Jeremiah J. Preisser

      As Meier put it, Jesus was a marginal Jew leading a marginal movement in a marginal part of a vast Roman Empire. How surprising he was largely ignored….

    • slave2six

      Your observation does not work in your favor.

      What does it say about this alleged god that he would choose the most obscure people group in one of the most obscure places on Earth (itself an obscure location in the cosmos) among illiterate followers in a time period when superstitions of every variety was at an all-time high as the backdrop for the single most important event of all human history?

      All of this when eternal bliss and eternal damnation hang in the balance? What kind of sick, sadistic being would do that? Certainly not a being whose principal character trait is “love” (let alone marginally “smart”).

      If you want to convince people to believe that this god created everything down to the last sub-particle, that he is all-knowing, and that he simultaneously displays the most egregious lack of understanding of how human beings actually operate or the fundamentals of presenting evidence to support a case, you’re gonna have a difficult time when you’re talking to people who don’t rely on what some other guy says.

      Never mind that the story itself is ridiculous. I mean, neither forgiveness nor reconciliation ever require a human sacrifice (a sacrifice that doesn’t even stay dead), and there is zero evidence of any indwelling Holy Spirit that turns people into “a new creation” (Christians are not any more moral or “sinless” than anyone else).

      • arcseconds

        What are you talking about? Jim didn’t mention God, damnation, eternity, Creation, or anything of a supernatural nature. These are entirely things you’ve bought to the discussion.

        • slave2six

          To talk about Jesus is to talk about God and Christianity. Without the context of the Gospel stories, an historical Jesus is completely irrelevant. Without that context, who freaking cares if there was a dude named Jesus in those days? No one.

          • You seem to have wandered into this discussion without grasping what it is about. We are talking about the historical figure of Jesus, Jesus as studied and reconstructed by historians. You are free to ignore such academic perspectives, but the fact that you think history is irrelevant and do not care about it says something about you, rather than about this academic field of inquiry.

          • slave2six

            Walter L. Crist was born on Apr 22, 1831 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, had 23 slaves and fought for the Confederate army.

            I am claiming this as historical fact.

            If someone was to dispute this, would you care?

            Of course not.

            The reason that an historical Jesus matters is because of the impact that the religion has had on history and society.

            To try to divorce Jesus from the religion that names him as god is to make him meaningless.

          • This is a strange argument. If I had some connection with the individual you mentioned, let’s say as an ancestor or as someone connected with my own state or town, then I might well care, especially if the historical evidence challenged what you claimed, such as that he was a slaveowner.

            No one is trying to “divorce” Jesus from the long-term religious impact he had, except to the extent that sometimes the evidence shows that what that later religion said and did is at odds with the historical evidence.

          • slave2six

            Aaaaaand we get back to the purpose of the article. WHAT historical evidence?

            Even Jim admits there is none: “How many eyewitness reports are there for Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate serving under Emperor Tiberius? So why would one expect secular reports on a nobody of that era from a one camel town in a relatively minor region (Galilee)?”
            You can’t defend Jim’s position and then start talking about historical evidence without completely contradicting yourself.

          • No, I think you must have misunderstood something. I doubt that you would say that our minimal second-hand information related to Pilate means that we have no evidence or that we can say nothing about him. Historical evidence can be of various sorts, and may allow us to draw conclusions with varying degrees of certainty.

          • slave2six

            So, in your estimation and knowing what you know right now about how humans operate, would you expect an omnipotent being who was trying to demonstrate and communicate the most important message that humans would ever receive to do so in a slipshod manner? Or would you have minimum levels of expectation such as someone documenting the events of Jesus’ life at the time that they happened, appearing to the leaders of the community after your resurrection etc, and using your omnipotence to ensure that the documents that related these events were kept intact and made available to everyone?

            This is a hurtle that I cannot get over. VT’s point is that Christianity is strongly mythological. I tend to agree, if for no other reason than that there is no reason to think otherwise.

          • I’m not talking about an omnipotent being doing anything. I’m talking about the historical figure of Jesus. No one other than conservative Christians disputes that there is mythology in the New Testament. This post is about the fringe viewpoint that there was never a historical Jesus of Nazareth, about whom the dogmas and legends and myths developed. It is the view that, when Paul refers to Jesus having been descended from David, crucified, and buried, he supposedly thought this happened in the celestial realm. It is a viewpoint that is at odds with the evidence, and I am addressing it here. It looks like the concerns you have are not about this historical question, but about something else. So once again I ask, have you wandered into this conversation and misunderstood what it is about?

          • arcseconds

            Quite obviously many people are interested in a plausible historical Jesus, just as many people are interested in, say, Socrates, Hypatia, or Enheduanna. To study the historical Jesus, or investigate early Christianity historically, does not involve asserting things about omnipotent beings, any more than studying Socrates means believing that Socrates was divinely inspired and has the superhuman qualities ascribed to him by Plato, or studying Enhenduanna means believing in Innana.

            Perhaps this topic doesn’t interest you, but so what? I’m sure you’re interested in things that I find utterly disinteresting, too.

            If you can’t distinguish between claims about a historic figure and claims about an omnipotent being, then that’s a big confusion you have. You appear to have adopted wholesale the conservative Christian view on the matter, even though you reject it, which seems a bit unfortunate. If you reject their metaphysics and their religion, why continue to accept their framing of Jesus as God?

          • slave2six

            Not believing that Socrates was divinely inspired has absolutely no consequences either in this life or any potential afterlife.

            Failure to “accept Christ” either in the Protestant context or via the mystical practices of the Orthodox is said to have present and eternal consequences.

            OK. Fine. Demonstrate to me that there is reason to believe that this is true. You can’t produce any evidence whatsoever that the Gospel stories are historically true and if you are going to take the position that it contains truth despite the lack of historicity, you fail once more. there is simply no “truth” to the story either as allegory or fact. None.

          • This is bizarre. I take it you have not read what any professional historians have to say on this topic? You can view the teaching of the Buddha as nonsense or as the path to enlightenment, and you can say that his historicity is essential to his teaching or doesn’t matter at all. None of that matters to the historian. What matters is whether the critical investigation of the earliest sources leads to the conclusion that some of the information in them is authentic.

          • arcseconds

            Again, it’s you that’s bringing up the eternal consequences. Again, it’s you that thinks that traditional Christian framing of who Jesus is has some kind of bearing on whether he existed or not.

            Actually, there was a philosophical/religious tradition that was quite widespread based on Plato’s work, that held that understanding things aright would allow your soul to re-unite with God. Does the existence of such a movement somehow change the nature of the evidence for Socrates’s existence? Is it even relevant at all? If not, why should the existence of a religion centered on Jesus be relevant to the nature of the evidence for Jesus’s existence?

            No-one can demonstrate anything to someone who has made up their mind, folded their arms, dug their heels in the ground and says “prove it to me” while in the same breath denying it can be proved. As repeated discussions with creationists amply demonstrates.

            Naturally, that shows nothing about the facts of the matter, but only the obstinance of the one who has decided they’ve made up their minds without examining the evidence or interacting with the experts.

          • slave2six

            If you are going to categorize Jesus and any teachings attributed to him as being on the same level with Plato or Buddha then you’ll find no argument with me. Golden rule etc are perfectly fine.

            But to deny that Christianity demands that one accept that Jesus is superior to any other person, that he was in fact the incarnation of the one and only god, is to miss the point of the gospels entirely.

            You again say “examining the evidence” which is the point of this article. The only evidence that can be presented in the case of Christianity is second+-hand hearsay.

            I have had this discussion at length with Jewish and Orthodox theologians. The fact of the matter is that in order to be a Christian (even in the Orthodox sense) one has to accept the premise (e,g, there was a Jesus who was the son of god who died, was buried and resurrected) without any evidence. Even the Orthodox will admit this.

            You are right that I have made up my mind but that was a result of intense research and discussion with people who know far more about these things than I ever will. It was not convenient, not in the least. I had set out to find the evidence that Christianity is true. Instead, I found the truth. It was psychologically brutal and in the end it cost our family almost every relationship we had.

            My current position is not a matter of pigheadedness on my part. I left Christianity in part because of this gaping lack of evidence but mainly because the theology collapses in on itself whether you take the Orthodox or Protestant view.
            In short, there is no point in arguing with someone who is has done his due diligence. You aren’t going to persuade me that there is evidence of a historical Jesus (there isn’t) or that the there is any “truth” in the gospels other than the stuff that all amounts to “treat people well” (which requires no religious adherence anyways).

          • arcseconds

            You appear to continually be unable to distinguish between these two statements:

            1) Christianity is true


            2) Jesus existed

            despite repeated attempts to clarify this to you. You still seem to be thinking that someone is trying to convince you of the truth of Christianity in this discussion. This is not the case.

            You do realise these are two different claims, right? Assume for the moment that (2) is true. Does (1) follow from that? No, of course not.

            Maybe it would help to look at some other examples:

            Thinking that Joseph Smith existed does not mean thinking that Mormonism is true.

            Thinking that Nanak existed does not mean thinking that Sikhism is true.

            Thinking that Agrippa existed does not mean thinking that alchemy is true.

            And thinking that Plato existed does not mean thinking that he was the son of Apollo, which of course could only be true if Apollo existed.

            Presumably if someone was trying to convince you that Plato existed you would not object ‘but there’s no evidence for Apollo! You can’t make me believe in Apollo! To believe Plato was a demigod requires you to accept too much on faith! There’s no truth whatsoever for the existence of this Plato fellow’.

            I would hope you would be able to distinguish between the claim that a human being by the name of Plato exist who did some of the things attributed to him (e.g. founded the Academy), and the claim that Plato was a demigod.

            And (hopefully) you would ask for what the historical evidence is, and evaluate that, and recognise that just by adding a supernatural claim to that evidence doesn’t mean the rest of the evidence somehow evaporates.

            So why are you behaving like this on the subject of the existence of Jesus?

            Until you can distinguish between the claim that Jesus existed and the claim that there’s a three-in-one God that killed itself on a cross to save humanity from itself, there’s really no point in having any further discussion on this matter.

            Would printing it in capitals help?


            (I don’t really like doing that, but something isn’t getting through to you)

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I think you hit the nail on the head here. That’s what seems really to be driving this issue. Mythicists love to point out the biases of “historicists” (blithely indifferent to the fact that they are using the word “historicist” in a completely idiosyncratic fashion). Well, what about their biases? Usually I don’t go there because it’s really just ad hominem genetic fallacy bullcrap, but if they open the door then they can’t complain when I walk through. If they attack my motivation then their’s becomes fair game, and it’s pretty obvious to see what it is. They do not want Jesus to exist because they have some silly notion that this would mean that God exists. Which is just stupid, as you point out, and can only be held if one thinks like a fundamentalist, i.e. the “all is true or none is true” fallacy. The fundie chooses “All,” the mythicist chooses “None.” The problem is that each must then concede that there are exceptions. The fundie must work to “harmonize” the texts, refusing to admit the very fact that the very need for harmonization means that the texts are disharmonious. The mythicist must concede that this or that statement or supposition in the gospels is undoubtedly correct: there was a temple, there was a Galilee, there was a Judaism. Each concession on either side undercuts either the “All” or the “Nothing,” and we are led where we should have begun in the first place: with the recognition that one cannot make sweeping claims about gospel reliability but rather diligently work through each historical question as it arises.

          • slave2six

            The existence of Jesus is completely irrelevant outside the context of Christianity. This person is unlike anyone else in history that you can cite.

            To make any effort of any kind to prove the existence of Jesus can only have meaning in order to support that the claims about this person are true.

            Why should you go to any pains at all to prove the existence of Yeshua bar Yosef if you were not simultaneously making an attempt to prove something ABOUT him?

            If all you are interested in is whether some guy with that name existed, you may as well go about proving that Jim Smith lived at 21 Ostrich Circle, San Jose CA in February of 1962. Who freaking cares about that without any further context?

          • He is not unlike anyone else in history. That claim represents a Christian belief about Jesus, not a deduction from historical evidence.

            You still seem to be blurring what historians care about, and what you apparently care about as a Christian.

          • slave2six

            What do you care about some guy by that name?

          • Are you a troll? This has already been addressed more than once. Is getting history right not important for its own sake?

          • slave2six

            “Getting history right for its own sake” is all well and good and if your only intent in a discussion of Jesus is the tick the box “Yes, he existed” then I wish you well. I personally see no value in that. Without the context of what makes this person important, I don’t know why anyone would waste time thinking about him.


          • This is bizarre. When we look at an ancient teacher like Socrates or Jesus or John the Baptist, or a political leader like Julius Caesar or Charlemagne or George Washington, we are not just ticking off a box that says that they existed. We are interested because they had an impact on history, and we are concerned to study the evidence carefully, not least because there will always be ideological stances that will seek to appeal to famous people as support for their own viewpoint.

            Have you never found the study of history to be important?

          • slave2six

            This rather begs the question, doesn’t it? Was it actually Jesus who had an impact on history? Or was the person largely invented as part of a new superstition?

            Once again, you are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand you are not interested in evidence of Jesus in cooperation with Christianity and how that religious movement affected history yet on the other hand you are interested in Jesus because of his impact on history. That makes no sense to me.

            As I stated previously, to separate the person “Jesus” from the context of the son of god story is to remove any value from him in any historical context.

            Caesar, Charlemagne, Washington, John Adams, these are all people with plenty of historical evidence surrounding them. Jesus, on the other hand, has the same historical evidence surrounding him as King Arthur. How then can you raise him to the level of having an “impact on history” when there is absolutely nothing to give credence to the Christian myth?

            That Christianity has had an impact on history is without question. Whether the superstitions surrounding Christianity have any basis in fact is quite another.

          • You seem to be confused. The first reference to King Arthur comes hundreds of years after he has supposed to have lived. That is not much like the situation with respect to Jesus, whose brother Paul had met, and for whom we have narrative sources within a few decades. Many of the details in those sources are disputed, but not that the figure existed.

            That various figures had an impact on history does not mean that everyone who claimed things about them was doing so accurately or truthfully. Those are precisely the kinds of issues historians address, whether about Jesus or George Washington.

            I realize that for you, apparently as a Christian or perhaps as a Christian-turned-atheist, you may only be able to imagine Jesus as a supernatural figure about whom you were taught. But historians are interested in the actual evidence, which gives a very different impression.

          • arcseconds

            You seem very sure that you know what must interest people and what people’s motivations must be to study something.

            But hopefully a little thought will show you that there are actually quite a lot of possible motivations to study something or someone, and that these don’t necessarily have to be proving-all-the-miraculous-claims-about-them-and-converting-everyone-to-a-religion.

            I mean, there are some people who are chiefly interested in biography. They don’t really care that much about what the people actually achieved. There are lots of people who are very interested in the lives of Einstein, Wittgenstein or Turing, and study their biography very closely, and can give you all sorts of details about their character, but know very little about physics, philosophy, logic or computer science, and don’t really understand the contributions those figures made to those subjects.

            Those people might be a little frustrated with the historical study of Jesus, of course, because little enough can be proven about him with any degree of certainty, but if they’re satisfied with plausible stories, why, there’s dozens of such!

            Perhaps a more obvious motivation is historical influence. You may be aware that Christianity is a major world religion, in fact, it’s the single largest, and has dominated world history like no other. Wouldn’t a historian be interested in how this global phenomenon came about? I mean, they’re very interested in things that are not nearly as important historically, such as the Third Reich and how it got started, or the Empire of Ashoka, or exactly what contribution early indigenous Indian religion made to Hinduism.

            Frankly, I think it would be very odd for all historians to avoid looking at this question. That would be far more telling about some special attitude towards Jesus and Christianity than studying it. So I think your suspicions are misplaced.

            Anyway, we’re telling you that’s not where our interest lies. Normally if someone says “well, actually, that’s not where I’m going with this conversation, and that’s not what I’m trying to convince you of” I believe them, don’t you? So why are you continuing to harp on about it?

            Are you trying to suggest we’re lying to you and this conversation is all a big trick?

            Would it help you to know that many people who study the historic Jesus, and several of the regulars on this blog are committed atheists?

          • arcseconds

            Also, if you’re talking to theologians, you’ve been talking to the wrong people.

            At the very best, that’s like talking to physicists about evolution: they might be expected to know something about it, but they don’t spend their life dealing with the subject: it’s not their area of expertise.

            At worse, it is like talking to new agers who are convinced of the existence of Atlantis about Plato. Of course they’re going to say Plato existed because they need Plato exist for some of their evidence for Atlantis to exist, but they’re really not going to be able to talk intelligently about what we know about Plato and how we know it.

            Plus, of course, as you apparently can’t distinguish between Jesus existing and Christianity being true, you probably couldn’t ask the right questions or take the right information away even if you did speak to someone who’s competent on the topic.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I like this characterization of theology’s relationship to history. If I might phrase it a little less analogically, though, I would say that, like any discipline, there are some theologians who are quite competent and some who are not so much. The competent ones recognize that what they want to be true cannot trump what is true. They’re the ones who have said, over the course of several generations, “Okay, if evolution is true then we must deal with it intelligently and reasonably, puzzling out its implications for our discipline.” The not-so-competent ones have thought that they could use their work as theologians to determine the truth of a question answerable not by theological but rather by biological method. Same would be the case with Jesus’ existence. If there was actually a strong case for thinking that Jesus did not exist a competent theologian would take it seriously. The reason that the most competent theologians do not take it seriously is not because they don’t want to accept it as true but rather because they know enough to know that it is clearly false.

          • arcseconds

            Let’s just look at this claim of yours that there isn’t any truth in the Gospels.

            The Gospels affirm the following:

            *) the existence of the Second Temple
            *) the existence of Pharisees and Sadducees
            *) the practice of crucifixion as a means of execution

            Do you suppose that none of these things exist because they are mentioned in the Gospels?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            The existence of the Pharisees is a great example. We actually don’t have a lot of evidence for their existence, not by the mythicists’ standards. If I were to approach that evidence as mythicists’ approach the evidence relative to Jesus I would probably have to conclude that they were a myth. Yet that would be stupid.

  • spinkham

    And this right here is why I prefer the skeptic to the freethinker label.

    “Freethinkers” tend to eschew authority and assume they are smart enough to figure out all fields in a small number of minutes or hours of effort, skeptics tend to prefer to practice more humility in their own assessment of legitimate expertise of others.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Me, I prefer the label “thinker.” Just think, and think well. The rest will follow.

      • spinkham

        Unfortunately there’s too many definitions of “think well” for that to be a useful label, and all narrative communities think they are doing so.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          Wow…people disagree about what it means to “think well”? I never knew that! This changes everything. In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. But in point of fact it’s not hard to figure out what it means to think well. Observe yourself thinking, and then do it better. What will you observe? You will observe a basic pattern: you observe, you think about which judgments are warranted by what you have observed, you make those judgments. Done.

          • spinkham

            Not done: They possibility space and important variables are almost always larger than you have taken into account, and our thinking isn’t as good as we want to believe, even if we go all the way to crystalizing it in syllogism form.

            Before you can consider yourself done, you must check carefully how closely your judgements match what comes to pass in the world. Honing your thinking works best when it is making falsifiable models of the future with clear ways of checking if we are wrong. Otherwise we’re just far too good at convincing ourselves that our thinking is good when it’s not really.

            When you’re honed your rational abilities through such practice, then you can be confident the methods you are using work better than when you started, and can apply them to non-falsifiable questions with more confidence.

            If you actually want to learn how to think well, your dojo needs potential failure to alert you when you are failing to do so.

          • arcseconds

            Unfortunately, your statements assume that there’s a shared understanding of what counts as ‘better’, and what counts as ‘warranted’.

            And there’s not.

            Sean doesn’t think anything that concludes in a ‘higgedly piggeldy’, que sera sera universe is warranted, so he refuses to countenance any reasoning that would support ‘Darwinism’.

            Vinny thinks it’s better to never commit to any claims at all about Jesus, so ‘thinking better’ for him means constantly finding reasons to doubt any historicist case (and sometimes mythicist ones), and judgements that are warranted are sceptical ones. He may have even done what you suggest: he certainly seems quite practiced at doubting things!

            James thinks that it’s warranted to be a liberal Christian panentheist with mystical inclinations. Obviously plenty of atheists (and, for that matter, Christians) think that he can only have got there by entirely unwarranted judgements.


      • arcseconds

        “The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.”

  • redpill99

    There is one thing that makes me think mythicism is correct.
    The last book of the bible speaks of 666, which has been suggested to be Nero Caesar. He spoke of savage persecution, quite possibly the persecution of Christians in Rome 64 CE.

    That would make Revelation one of the earliest written books in the NT. The author “John” would be roughly the same generation as Paul Peter and James.

    Did the author of the Book of Revelation “John” see Jesus as a historical Jesus or as a purely celestial being? Are the events he narrates, such as the dragon and the pregnant woman, events that occurred on earth or in the celestial realm? Did that author have views that align well with mythicism?

    Did John of Patmos see Jesus and his events as a purely celestial revelation? Did he know of a historic Jesus who was crucified under Pilate?

    If John of Patmos writing 64CE saw Jesus as a purely celestial being, never have lived on earth, and the events of his crucifixition as occuring in the purely heavenly sphere, that in my mind would be very wrong evidence Jesus myth is correct. Esp if John of Patmos was born and raised in Galilee 20-40 CE.

    • You seem very willing to uncritically accept church tradition on authorship, when it seems to you to help mythicism.

      But what exactly in Revelation, understood as apocalyptic literature, gives you the impression that it views Jesus as someone who had only been active in the celestial sphere? Was the city where the Lord was crucified in the heavenly sphere?

      • redpill99

        I’m not saying John of Patmos was one of the original 12 disciples and author of GJohn/letters. I am suggesting he may have written his work as early as 64CE under Nero.

        the new Jerusalem described in the final 2 chapters are clearly in heavenly sphere.

        • The new Jerusalem is depicted as coming down from heaven to earth, where God then dwells with humans.

          • redpill99

            Did John of Patmos think of Jesus as a real figure who died recently under Pontius or did he see Jesus as a celestial figure, and his ministry and death in the heavenly realm?

          • The former. What impression does Revelation 11:8 give you, for instance, considered in context?

          • redpill99

            that particular verse sounds like events on earth. it’s everything else in Revelations.

            The impression is that the events that occurred in the celestial sphere will eventually be manifested on planet earth.

            the very first chapter could be made consonant with a mythical Jesus and that John saw Jesus as a purely celestial being where events in the heavens will eventually have an impact on events on the human sphere.

            The first chapter of Revelations esp if it is dated 64 CE under Nero, or even earlier, could be evidence that the early Christians were receiving mystical revelations of a Son of Man-Christ.

            1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed
            is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are
            those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

            9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

            12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

            17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

          • Why would you copy and paste all of that? I think your time would be better spent learning about the characteristics of apocalyptic literature. Then read Revelation (no “s” at the end) again.

          • redpill99

            I’ve read Bart Ehrman’s NT and Early Christian as well as Doherty. I’ve compared Ehrman’s treatment of Revelation with Doherty’s.

            Revelation may well have all the characteristics of apocalyptic literature as described by Ehrman, but it’s not at all clear John had a HJ in mind when he wrote it. I copied and pasted the first chapter as it also aligns well with Jesus myth theory.

          • Some passages in the New Testament can have the Jesus myth view read into them. But some evidence is incompatible with that viewpoint. I’m not sure why anyone would prefer a viewpoint that is incompatible with some of the evidence to one that fits it.

          • redpill99

            would you agree that GJohn is not evidence for HJ? GJohn has been regarded as the author’s fiction.

          • I think that way of putting it is too simplistic. Plato’s dialogues may be fictionalized dialogues, but they may still provide some evidence for there having been a historical Socrates.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Right. A hypothesis that can account for 100% of the data is preferable to one that can only account for, say, 50%. Kinda goes without saying, really.

          • redpill99

            i am sympathetic with Doherty/Carrier/Price et al that HJ doesn’t really account for 100% of the data for reasons they detailed.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I have no idea what the phrase “HJ doesn’t really account for 100% of the data” could possibly mean. How the heck are you using “HJ” in this sentence?

          • redpill99

            A hypothesis that can account for 100% of the data is preferable to one
            that can only account for, say, 50%. Kinda goes without saying, really.

            are you saying the historic jesus hypothesis accounts for 100% of the data? the “data” includes “silences” as Carrier Doherty Price et al point out.

            the rival hypothesis of a mythic Jesus accounts for those “silences”

          • Jonathan Bernier

            “HJ” does not stand for “historic Jesus.” It stands for “historical Jesus.” Using it as a “rival” to mythicism is completely at variance with how the acronym is used in the field of NT studies. Really, if you want to talk about NT studies then you should learn the basic lingo.

          • redpill99

            im coming from the atheist websites like freeratio and secular freethought. they use hj/mj

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Well, then, they use the acronym “HJ” in a way at complete variance to the way it is in used in the field of NT studies. Yet they are talking about the field of NT studies. This tells me that they do not know much about the field of which they speak.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            The term “apocalyptic” is coined from the title of Revelation (which is the “Apocalypsis Iesou Christou” in Greek). To call something “apocalyptic” thus really just means to say “Looks a lot like Revelation.” As few things look more like Revelation than Revelation itself we can be fairly confident that it is apocalyptic.

          • Kris Rhodes

            What are the characteristics of apocalyptic literature you’d highlight in this context?

          • Most apocalyptic depicts celestial visions in order to offer a message for the audience in the author’s time. When Daniel sees a series of beasts in a celestial vision, it would be silly to assume that therefore the author thought that the kingdoms those beasts represented were purely celestial. And so I’d rather see redpill99 discuss the actual details of what he thinks Revelation means. There’s no need to copy and paste it. If the text he copied and pasted seemed to most well-informed interpreters to depict Jesus as a purely celestial figure, mythicism would not be viewed the way it is. Any indication that he realized that he needs to offer an interpretation of the text and provide justification for it would have been appreciated.

          • redpill99

            from the context of mythicism, what if Revelations is a very early document say from 30-40CE? it starts

            1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his
            servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his
            angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is,
            the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,

            this author’s knowledge of Jesus is, like Paul, a direct personal revelation, sent by angels. The events described occurred in heaven. The final part of Revelations “Behold I am coming soon!” seems to suggest that this vision has a proclamation that this heavenly Jesus will come to earth for the first time, and this is what the early Christians believed.

            It’s not at all clear John of Patmos was familiar with any of the NT. He doesn’t seem to know Paul or Gospel traditions.
            There is no evidence John knew of Gospels or Paul. So the work must stand alone.

            If the entire new testament was lost in time, and this was our only source for Jesus, there would be nothing to support a HJ from Revelations alone. John might have well been a Jesus myther himself.

            Maybe there was a HJ, but it seems John of Patmos was an MJ. it’s worth noting that according to epistle of John, an antichrist is one who denies Jesus came in the flesh. While this historically meant the heresy of docetisim, John of Patmos doesn’t seem to think Jesus has come in the flesh.

            My initial re-reading of Revelations in light of Jesus myth theory, is that John describes a revelation of a lamb of god who was slain in heaven, with the promise that this figure will come into earth and bring judgment. John may have well had both an angelic vision and was reading the book of Daniel when creating this document.

            If John of Patmos did not believe Jesus existed and died under Pilate, that is to say, he had not yet come to planet earth, but will at some future time, and he wrote around 40 CE, that would be strong evidence for Jesus myth.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Given the strong Neronian imagery (especially around the 666/616) I have a hard time imagining that Revelation (note that there is no text called “RevelationS”) could be pre-Neronian. Given what seem to be clear references to the idea of Nero redivivus, I don’t think we could be looking any earlier than the end of his reign. And note that I am given to dating things quite early; given my inclinations, if I could date John any earlier, I would at least entertain the possibility. But I cannot see how it can be much earlier than c. 68, and I am unaware of any scholar who has done so.

          • redpill99

            easy. 666/616 was a later interpolation.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I see absolutely no evidence for that. Where are the textual variants to support this hypothesis? Where are the manuscripts in which this passage does not occur. And if you can simply say that anything inconvenient to your hypothesis is an interpolation then I’ll just say that the cosmic imagery at the beginning is an interpolation and it’s a wash.

          • redpill99

            it’s still speculation that the imagery is Neronian and that 666 refers to Nero when it could be just some crazy number he came up with due to his own idiosyncratic reasons. Maybe the original number was something like 777, but an copyist changed it to 666 to match Nero Caesar.

            regardless, if we take Revelation on its own and independent of Gospels, it appears John of Patmos was a Jesus myther.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And maybe originally the text read “Hey, guys, there was a guy named Jesus who lived at 124 Fisherman’s Street, Capernaum. He was a prophet by trade, and put to death under Pontius Pilate. Then he rose from the dead. Oh, and he was great at checkers.” Again: if we can make up anything we want then it’s all a wash.

          • redpill99

            if we take Revelation on its own as it currently stands, and independent of Gospels, and date it 54 CE when Nero became emperor it appears John of Patmos was a Jesus myther.

          • Wow, so you think that John was a genuine prophet and foresaw the Nero redivivus rumors?

            But however early or late you date it, you will still have to posit the reference to Jesus being the lion of the tribe of Judah, a messianic image, and the reference to the city where their lord was crucified, as interpolations. Not very persuasive.

          • redpill99

            he got those ideas from Book of Daniel, and possibly other material long lost as well as his own craziness. Jude speaks of archangel Michael rebuking Satan, which is present in Enoch

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Again, I tend to date the majority of the New Testament texts earlier than most scholars. I am generally persuaded by the arguments that would see all three Synoptic Gospels and Acts written by c. 65, for instance, with Mark perhaps as early as the early 40s. Yet I cannot imagine a world in which Revelation makes any sense any earlier than 68.

          • redpill99

            im only a half-convinced jesus myther. but other jesus mythers would date Gospels and even Acts and in the case of Robert Price, Pauline epistles in the second century.

            If the gospels/Acts/Epistles were written in the second century, and Revelations was written 68 CE, it would be evidence the earliest Christians like John of Patmos knew of Jesus only through mystical revelations. Then Mark came along in the second century and wrote a fictional history which Luke John Matthew expanded.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            If, if, if. All you’re doing is revising the dates to fit your theory. “Okay,” you’re saying, “Revelation must be no earlier than 68. Well, then, I’ll push the other texts later, in order to maintain the development that I want to see.” If it suits your purpose you’ll put Revelation as early as possible, and if it suits your purpose Mark as late as possible. That’s bad historiography. The only way to do dating is to look at each text on its own account, and when you do that you will find that pushing the entirety of the written gospel tradition into the second century is going to create far more problems than it will solve.

          • redpill99

            robert m price carrier et al do date the gospel traditions/acts well into the second century. acts/luke/timothy seems to be familiar with the second century marcionite heresy.

            did John of Patmos and the author of Hebrews describe a purely celestial Jesus known only through revelation and OT scripture? I think they do.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Absolutely incredible, in the most precise sense: in-credible. Marcion *had* the Gospel of Luke. He is known to have produced an edited version of the text. How in the heck could it then post-date Marcion? Regardless, I see nothing in any of those texts that suggests any knowledge of Marcion or his teaching. What in these texts suggest that they must post-date Marcion?

            As for thinking that John of Patmos and the author of Hebrews only knew a “celestial Jesus,” you have some problems. The mere fact that it could be the case would be insufficient to demonstrate that it is the case, and in any case I can demonstrate that cannot be the case (again, cf. Rev. 11:8). But then again, I suppose that your ignorance (again, an hour ago you didn’t even know what Revelation was called!) trumps our doctoral-level knowledge. And hubris is apparently a virtue.

          • redpill99

            timothy warned against antithesis which is the name of marcion’s work and luke had the new wine skin/old wine skinned messed up. some marcionite scholars have suggested that marcion had access to an earlier edition of luke. acts may have been written as a response to marcion’s claims.

            i regard revelations as pure nonsense and craziness but revelation 11

            1I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers.
            exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given
            to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
            3And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
            4They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.”a

            anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours
            their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.
            have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the
            time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into
            blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they
            they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the
            abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8And
            their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which
            mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was
            crucified. 9Those
            from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their
            dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead
            bodies to be laid in a tomb.…

            as nonsensical as this nonsense is, it says of a Lord was crucified in Sodom and Egypt “mystically” doesn’t sound like Jesus who was crucified near Jerusalem. I am not convinced this is describing an HJ who was crucified under Pilate 33AD.

            this is so much nonsense it can mean anything.

            these two witnesses don’t seem to be describing anything in actual history. there are no 2 witness and no beast out of the abyss as described here on planet earth. it seems it might be events in some celestial fairytale.

            btw if u visit atheist freethought skeptic sites they dont regard mainstream scholars with much respect. steven carr regards ehrman’s claims to be ridiculous, that that Q special M and L represent multiple independent sources.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I would be more persuaded by your argument if you could get basic facts right. “Timothy” did not write either 1 or 2 Timothy (and you don’t even both to specify to which you are referring here!). The letters are written *to* Timothy. So “Timothy” warns us about nothing. Now, if you care to mention an actual passage that I can look up and address, please do so. As it stands, given your remarkable paucity of accurate knowledge, I have no reason to think that you have even read either of these letters.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Also, “might” is not an argument. I might have had ham for dinner last night, but it doesn’t mean that I did. “Might” is just that: “might.” Show me why I should prefer your “might” over any other.

          • Herro

            >Absolutely incredible, in the most precise sense: in-credible. Marcion *had* the Gospel of Luke. He is known to have produced an edited version of the text. How in the heck could it then post-date Marcion?

            Jonathan Bernier, it’s not clear at all that Marcion’s gospel was based on Luke. Sure, his opponents accused him of “gnawing the gospel” , but I’m pretty sure the Marcionites would’ve returned the favour.

            Luke might be based on Marcion’s gospel or they might even have a common source.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            So you would now push Luke’s Gospel into the latter half of the second century? That’s beyond improbable. And that’s the problem you have here: “might” is not the same as “likely.” It *might* be the case that Father Hardouin was right when in the 18th century he argued that almost all of the classical writers (Plato and Aristotle included) were 13th-century forgeries. But that doesn’t make it likely. Quite the opposite. You create far more problems than you solve with such dating, which is to say that there are no problems with a first-century dating but many with a late second-century one.

          • Herro

            No I would not push Luke into the latter half of the second century.

            >And that’s the problem you have here: “might” is not the same as “likely.

            Well, let’s say that it’s not significantly more unlikely than the alternative. I.e. it’s wrong to just consider it a fact that Marcion used Luke as his source.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Also, if Jesus didn’t exist, if Paul didn’t exist (cf. Price’s argument), what makes you so confident that Marcion existed? Couldn’t he be a product of the late 2nd-century church, who needed an bête noire against which to define its theology? Actually, for that matter, how do we know that the Fathers who refer to Marcion existed?

          • Herro

            Jonathan, I’m not sure why you’re asking me that, I was just commenting on the relationship between the gospel of Luke and the Marcionite gospel.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And I’m asking how you know anything about this Marcionite Gospel.

          • Neko

            I thought Hoffmann was the go-to guy on Marcion, and he maintains that Marcion “had” the Gospel of Luke.


          • Jim

            Everything seems fine in your autograph above, except for the “124” part of Jesus’ address because the street number isn’t in Aramaic. Due to the poor style of Greek used in Revelation, Johnny Patmos would have naturally defaulted to Aramaic gematria. 🙂

          • Jonathan Bernier

            LOL. Fair point. I was trying to get the sense of the text, not its literal wording.

          • Perhaps you should read a commentary on Revelation. Many details, from the enumeration of emperors to the persecution of Christians to the mention of the feast representing the emperor burning the woman representing the city with fire, the imagery related to Nero is woven through the book and not easily discarded.

            If it appears to you that John was a myther, I would encourage you to read the book carefully, with a commentary that will help clarify the relevant literary and historical context. You have learned today what the name of the book is. Why not move on now to learning about its contents and context?

          • Kris Rhodes

            A watchphrase of the more careful mythicists is “Possibly does not imply probably.” I think you’re running afoul of that principle here.

          • So basically if you are willing to posit things that are unlikely to be the case, and ignore evidence to the contrary, you can persuade yourself that this book, the name of which you cannot get right, says what you want it to.

            Not impressed.

          • redpill99

            is there any evidence John was familiar with Gospel traditions?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Which “John” are you referring to here?

          • redpill99

            john of patmos

          • Jonathan Bernier

            It’s hard to know who knew what traditions in the apostolic period. And that’s part of the problem with mythicism: it assumes a much greater capacity on our part to know who should know what when than in fact we actually have. At the very least he knew that Jesus was thought to be the Christ, that he was crucified in Jerusalem, that he was thought to have risen from the dead. Those are certainly evangelical traditions, although exactly how he learned of them will probably have to remain an open question. You are in something of a quandary though: if he got them from one of the canonical gospels then Revelation post-dates at least one of them; if he got the ideas independent of the gospels then they were sufficiently common as to come to both the gospels and the Revelation independently. Either way, they ain’t looking quite so marginal as you might like.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        Also remarkably willing to accept scholarly consensus on the dates of the NT texts but not the far firmer consensus advanced by the same scholars regarding Jesus’ existence. Yet if one is willing to date Revelation up to thirty years earlier than most scholars then actually one is not that willing to accept the consensus on that matter either. In truth, aside from a few of the Pauline texts (i.e. those typically deemed authentic) our dates for the NT texts are far from certain, such that one should probably be reluctant to build too much on a particular dating scheme. For instance, if James Crossley and John Robinson are right to date Mark to the early 40s then all the arguments from “Paul came first and he didn’t know much about Jesus” suddenly lose whatever very little strength they had.

      • Andrew Dowling

        The funny thing is “Church tradition” actually placed Revelation as being written in the 90s . .

  • Benjamin Martin

    Scientific consensus for Jesus?

    “…none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny.”

    • Jonathan Bernier

      When, to the best of my knowledge, only two persons with doctoral-level qualifications in New Testament scholarship think that Jesus did not exist, yes I think that counts as consensus. If it does not, then neither could we say that there is consensus among biologists regarding evolution. But of course there is. So unless you are prepared to become bedfellows with Ken Ham…

      Also, most of the issues cited in that article are irrelevant to academic discussion. What NT scholar is saying that wood chips purportedly from the cross prove Jesus’ existence? Specialist: “Those wood chips are irrelevant.” Non-specialist: “No, those wood chips are irrelevant!” Solid counter-argument.

      • Benjamin Martin

        New Testament scholarship as Science? Talk about pulling a Ken Ham, that’s you.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          I have no idea of what you are talking, as I never said that New Testament scholarship is a science.

          • Benjamin Martin

            McGrath’s original article ends with the phrase “…denying scientific and historical consensus.”

            I replied. “Scientific consensus for Jesus?”

            Then you showed up.

            rock on, bro

          • That sentence was (I thought obviously) talking about the broader category of people who claim that they “think freely” to such an extent that they can see through the “lies” that most people believe about the Holocaust, 9/11, vaccines, climate change, evolution, etc.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Trying to paint a “freethought” as Holocaust denial, 9-11 truther, etc? Now that’s trippy.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            No question, Jesus-deniers (i.e. mythicists) operate exactly the same way as Holocaust deniers, 9/11 “truthers,” etc. They all operate with an extreme form of what is known as a “hermeneutic of suspicion.”

          • Kris Rhodes

            Very curious to know just exactly which mythicist works you’ve had time to read.

          • As I have said before, the fact that I don’t think that I can know anything with certainty about an obscure itinerant preacher in the ancient world who went unnoticed outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers doesn’t in any way impair my ability to have a reasonable degree of certainty about generals and emperors and politicians whose impact was wide enough that their activities were chronicled by their contemporaries.

            I would also note that the fact that I am reluctant to embrace the consensus in a field where highly respected scholars insist that supernatural events can be historically established doesn’t in any way diminish my respect for the consensus in fields where the methodology weeds out that kind of silliness.

          • Are you reluctant to embrace the consensus of mainstream astronomy, simply because religious believers in that field believe that what they see through their telescopes is the handiwork of God?

          • Not at all, because that doesn’t imply that they are applying the scientific method any differently than any other astronomer A historian who thinks he can establish the occurrence of the resurrection empirically is operating under a different set of rules. He is more like an astronomer who thinks that science can establish that the moon is made of green cheese.

          • Which historian, whose employer is not a religious institution of some sort, says that? Because we know that there are all kinds of wacky things said about history, science, and other subjects in particular sectarian institutions, but apparently you don’t let that bother you except in the field of history.

          • I am bothered by ideologically funded research in any field. In the field of economics, there are many conservative think tanks that pay scholars to produce research that supports laissez faire policies. As a result, I am very wary of people who claim the consensus of economists as support for their position.

            When it comes to vaccine scare mongers, I am persuaded that science is on the side of efficacy, however, I still would be wary of an appeal to consensus because the pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of money funding research.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Wow! You’ve gone full Ken Ham on creation-deniers, Flood-deniers, Bible-deniers. Congratulations.

            Next a Jesus Museum in Kentucky? Wait, we’ve got half a million of those spread across the nation already.

          • arcseconds

            What are you talking about? Nothing Bernier said looks anything like Ken Ham. And talk of ‘flood deniers’ seems to be original with you.

            Are you actually reading the same conversation as the rest of us?

      • arcseconds

        who are the two mythcists with relevant doctorates?

  • redpill99

    The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul by Robert M. Price is also claiming Paul did not exist and his letters forgeries

  • Benjamin Martin

    It isn’t clear to me that Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Thomas
    Brodie represent a “growing number” compared to past generations.

    It isn’t clear that “comparing to past generations” is even how she meant it. Putting words in her mouth?

    The way I read the article is that there is new and significant scholarship in the Christ Myth Theory camp, and these writers have added to the total number of scholars noted in that camp.

    If they’re “fringe,” so what? What is this, a high school popularity contest? I’d expect a religiously unpopular opinion to be “fringe,” because the opinion does not hinge on rational scholarship for most adherents.

    If you could counter any of her five points, instead of straining at a strawman, I’d start to take your critique of her article seriously.

    • If my brief response to her points here is not enough, and what I have written over the past decade about this topic in more detail won’t do either for some reason, Jonathan Bernier has responded at greater length to the online article here:

    • Jonathan Bernier

      “If they’re ‘fringe,’ so what?” The “so what” is that her headline suggests that they are not. “A growing number of scholars” makes it sound as if the position is gaining traction in the discipline, when in fact that is simply not the case. She opened the door. But regardless, if a hypothesis is on the fringe of a discipline it’s fair to ask “Why is that?” It could be because, although it is true and good, there are powerful political reasons that prevent its acceptance. I personally tend to think that is the case with several of the very early dates for the NT texts proposed by Bishop John Robinson a generation ago. Or it could be because the hypothesis is simply false and the majority of people knowledgeable on the matter recognize that to be the case and thus reject the hypothesis.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “there are powerful political reasons that prevent its acceptance. I
        personally tend to think that is the case with several of the very early
        dates for the NT texts proposed by Bishop John Robinson a generation

        Here’s where I’ll disagree Jonathan . . “powerful political reasons?” . .so someone like Raymond Brown rejected Robinson’s dates because of the iron fist of the moderate-liberal Academy? Give me a break.

  • Some of her claims are unsurprising – which other messianic claimants in the Judaism of this period are mentioned by non-Jewish historians?

    -Godfrey has answered this at

  • What percentage of the sayings and doings of Jesus in the Gospels do you think were really said and done by an historical Jesus? Over 50% or less than 50%? Just give us an average. I wonder what a lot of other scholars think when the question is put that way. I know the Jesus Seminar already voted on their averages. But if one’s guess is less than 50% then you might have a bit more in common with mythicists than fundamentalists, especially when it comes to an appreciation of mainstream methods of critically studying history. I learned interesting things concerning the synoptic question from reading G. A. Wells books. I learned nothing but how to proof-text from reading fundie lit.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      “What percentage of the sayings and doings of Jesus in the Gospels do you think were really said and done by an historical Jesus?” Absolutely zero, as the gospels do not contain sayings and doings of Jesus. There are no “events” in the gospels. They constitute accounts of Jesus, no less, no more. These accounts furnish data for the historical investigation of Jesus’ life and related matters. Put otherwise, phrasing the question in the way you do above constitutes a question mal posée. That the Jesus Seminar, among others, posed the question as such does not make it any less mal.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Isn’t it part of normal English usage that to say a text “contains” something can be intended as a reference to an account contained in the text (namely, the account that is of the thing said to be “contained” in the text)? If so, then since you’re objecting to that normal English usage, are you making use of a technical terminology here?

      • I agree, such sayings and doing are attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The Gospels acknowledge that Jesus did not write them but that they are about him, or, allegedly about a fellow named Jesus. *smile* .

  • You are shooting the messenger here. Tarico isn’t denying the existence of a historical Jesus (or not in this article anyway). She is only reporting the discussion.

    You write that she “suggests that ‘a growing number of scholars’ are concluding that there was no historical Jesus.” However, what she wrote was “[I]f anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity.” (emphasis added) She isn’t making comparisons to past generations, and given Is this Not the Carpenter?, Did Jesus Exist?, and Jesus: Evidence and Arguments or Mythicist Myths?, I think that it is perfectly fair to say that the current trend is towards more attention to the question from mainstream scholars rather than less.

    I think you are just wrong when you write that “she claims that the story gets more and more detailed as time goes on.” What she said was “The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.” What she is saying is that Paul’s silence about the historical Jesus is one of the “key points that keep the doubts alive,” which is undoubtedly true. That the supernatural elements in the story increase as time goes on does seem to me to favor a historical Jesus, but it has little to do with the point Tarico was making.

    Your claim “[t]hat scholars mak[ing] very different proposals about aspects of Jesus shows that this is a vibrant field,” strikes me as pretty lame. While it may be perfectly true that making different proposals is what scholars do, it is the fact that the field’s methodology is insufficient to decide between wildly different proposals that keeps us doubters doubting.

    I don’t think that you do your side any favors by lashing out at someone who has done little more than acknowledge that the case for historicity isn’t any where near the slam dunk that some historical Jesus scholars make it out to be.

    • The two responses by scholars in our time are not more than the two responses from a century ago.

      If I encounter a mythicist case which, even if I still do not find it persuasive, at least engages in no misrepresentation of primary source material, I may feel differently. But when one has to resort to the tactics mythicists currently use, it suggests that the mainstream scholarly case is as solid as one could expect it to be for a historical question of this particular type.

      • What tactic is it Tarico employing? All I see her doing is providing an overview of the debate.

    • arcseconds

      I think it’s getting more attention largely because scholars are becoming aware that mythicism is quite popular and seems to be gaining ground in certain audiences outside of the specialty, especially in movement atheist quarters.

      Noting that there’s a widespread understanding that this is up in the air or even resolved completely on the mythicist side as some seem to think and wishing to address that does not mean the writer or their academic community really thinks that it requires addressing in the sense that the case is actually perceived to be weak by the experts.

      This is a familiar dilemma posed to experts in fields when there’s a popular denialist movement. Do you engage with them, and thus make it appear that there is a genuine controversy because the general public sees people arguing and people spending time defending their positions, and that doesn’t happen (so they suppose) if the matter is settled? Or do you ignore them, and leave the fringe to gain popularity without redress, and look like you’re not engaging with them because you can’t answer their objections?

      • Jonathan Bernier

        And it’s this dilemma that makes it exactly parallel to creationism and Holocaust denial. That I spend time trying to explain to non-specialists what specialists actually think does not imply that specialists are in doubt on the matter. Quite the opposite, in fact.

        • arcseconds

          I have a lot of concerns about what the best approach is, particularly as there’s evidence that giving people committed to a certain position evidence that they are wrong just makes them more certain that they are right.

          Apart from just the fact that a debate looks like there’s something worth debating, there’s an additional worry that the debates can get very involved if your interlocutor knows a bit about what they’re talking about: just look at the ongoing thing between McGrath and ncovington.

          Not only does this make people’s eyes glaze over (which, assuming they didn’t start off from the position of complete trust in mainstream scholarship, will leave the matter unresolved in their minds) but the difference between someone who knows their stuff presenting unproblematic facts to answer sceptical challenges, and someone engaging in ad hoc storytelling and special pleading really isn’t obvious. After all, both can end up offering spectacularly detailed accounts, and when a detailed account is given to answer a simple question which seems to the non-expert counter-intuitive, that doesn’t do anything to make it feel intuitive.

          And that’s even in cases where there are pretty clear facts to be had, like evolution and the moon landing! It’s even worse when the subject is interpretation of texts, where, while there are definitely better and worse interpretations, it can’t exactly be clearly demonstrated by logical deduction what interpretation is best.

          I mean, I’m no biblical scholar. I really can’t tell who’s doing better in the discussion between nconvington and McGrath. I’m just left trusting McGrath over nconvington because he’s the expert, and nconvington did spectacularly badly at interpreting Plato, an area where at least I have some familiarity (plus he didn’t really seem to be open to correction, which isn’t a good sign).

          If I had walked in to a discussion like this about some texts I had absolutely no familiarity with between people I didn’t know, they would both sound like they know what they’re talking about and I’d assume that there’s room for contention here.

          On the other hand, silence seems to be a bad strategy. I don’t have any fixed ideas about the best way of answering the critics, but that the criticism needs to be addressed seems clear. There are plenty of accounts of at least some people eventually being persuaded by the mainstream position. James himself partially attributes the fact he’s no longer a YECist to being exposed to the evidence, and IIRC feels indebted to people patiently explaining it to him (I’m sure it wasn’t always patiently). I was leaning towards Jesus scepticism myself before encountering this blog, and I didn’t really know where to turn to get good information on the subject.

          (I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but if you search for practically anything bible related it’s really hard to find anything that seems even vaguely scholarly informed, and even if it is somewhat scholarly, it’s usually written by people one might expected to be quite biased in one direction or another. It is quite frustrating. Searching for things on the binomial theorem is much more pleasant! )

          • Andrew Dowling

            I do wonder how much good James’s posts on this topic are doing.
            It’s the same 4-5 people debating with him under most posts regarding
            mythicism/Carrier, and it’s clear they simply refuse to look at his
            issue objectively . . it’s like being on a frikkin’ mary-go-around. And they feed off it no matter how ridiculous James or someone else will make them look. They view themselves as righteous warriors battling the consensus . . logic exited the building long ago.

          • Neko

            But think of the lurkers!

          • arcseconds

            That is an important point.

            However, detailed arguments can look like special pleading, as I mentioned.

            I definitely think it’s better to engage in some way, FWIW. Firstly, I think it’s the moral thing to do. Having a global strategy of ignoring or repressing finge-view-you-don’t-like in order to protect the general public from their insidious influence is treating both the fringeists and the general public as things that you’re somehow in charge of. On a personal level, It’s a very inauthentic way of interacting with people. If someone asks you questions about your view on a matter, you should be prepared to answer, especially if you’re a scholar (who are often publically funded, less so in the USA than in other countries though).

            So I’d say that it’d be better to engage even if it wasn’t effective at getting people to have the right views, because interacting with people isn’t about making them have the right views.

            I also happen to think that it’s more effective than ignoring them and silencing them, too. If we consider on-the-fence lurkers, what are they to think if e.g. James says “sorry, I don’t discuss this with mythicists”? They then can read the mythicist argument but don’t see a response. A detailed tooing and froing runs the risk of having such people think the matter is actually contentious, but that’s surely better than them coming away thinking that there’s no answer to mythicists. Banning them because they’re mythicists would be even worse, of course.

            Having said that, I’ve said very little about what the strategy should be, though, just that it should be slanted towards some kind of interaction rather than complete disengagement.

          • Neko

            Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think it’s a great public service for scholars to interact with and educate the public. On the other hand, I certainly understand if they decide to hell with it. How many times can you explain to some hair-on-fire know-it-all why the lack of contemporary references to Jesus doesn’t “prove” that he’s a myth. I don’t know jack about the NT and these types drive me nuts. How exasperating then must it be for professional thinkers who know the languages, studied this stuff for years and years, written books, etc. to have to deal with the same crap over and over.

            But I think it does make a difference to bystanders. When I first became aware of this controversy I was pretty neutral. After all whether Jesus was myth or man wouldn’t make any difference to my life. I was open to mythicism, and in fact I’m still interested enough to probably buy Carrier’s book even though I think he’s an insufferable blowhard. Still, in addition to being underwhelmed by the overwhelming, prolix productions of mythicists and their acolytes, the pros hacking away at mythicism certainly had an effect. So if the scholars are willing to suffer fools (such as I) and continue making their case, hey, thank you very much!

          • Out of interest, was there a particular point or argument that persuaded you that mythicism is unconvincing, or just a gradual drip drip drip?

          • Neko

            To be honest, I’ve experienced a real obstacle to assimilating mythicism: In various ways I’ve found mythicists to be unreadable. I have no expertise in NT studies, but I am a reader who tends to quickly assess the credibility of a narrator. I found Doherty dubious, though I’m interested to consider his theory more in depth via Carrier. Carrier represents another problem: the melodrama, arrogance and sheer aggression of some mythicists and their acolytes. It’s alienating. Life is short, and mythicism is a pretty marginal concern. I switch off.

            On the other hand, the pros tend to be good writers and credible actors, so I read them more and consequently have been more influenced by them. Still I like the idea of considering alternative theories of the Christ story, if just for the stimulation.

          • arcseconds

            You don’t need to keep thanking me for responding to you 🙂

            I would certainly have sympathy with someone deciding that they, personally, have better things to do with their time than deal with denialists, especially one on one.

            What I don’t think is a good idea is encouraging all of one’s peers to also ignore denialists completely. I’ve never heard anyone suggest mythicists should be dealt with like that, but this kind of suggestion does come up with creationism and holocaust denialism.

            (Holocaust denial is a bit more difficult to know how to deal with in my opinion, as it’s very directly linked to antisemitism and ‘national socialism wasn’t that bad’ kind of attitudes. Someone believing in no gods or many might not pick my pocket or break my leg, but Nazis and their sympathizers sure might, and their very presence is an affront to and a threat towards Jews. And humanity generally, but Jews are a bit more personally involved…)

            But the question still remains how they personally are going to deal with the denialists. If they don’t run a blog, or do but don’t allow comments, or do allow comments but never participate in discussion (like Fred Clark, interesting strategy, works better than I thought it might, but certainly makes him into a distant figure), then the question might not arise. If, however, they do run a blog where they participate with their readers, then they have a situation they need to manage somehow.

          • Neko

            McGrath’s combination of links and interaction seems to work, although for all I know he may be getting weary. Several NT scholars mediate comments, which is frustrating but effective. And some blogs, like the Jesus Blog, just don’t seem to attract mythobots. Who are a separate breed from mythicists and skeptics with something to contribute (VinnyJH).

            Your remarks about Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism triggered a train of associations that I will later try to put in coherent form. That is a different story!

  • redpill99

    Is Josepheus and Philo the only 2 historians who left behind written records that satisfy the criteria Jesus mythers left behind? i.e contemporary to Jesus, left written records in Galilee

    • What sources written by contemporaries of Jesus in Galilee did you have in mind?

      • redpill99

        Jesus mythers are fond of claiming there are no contemporary written records about Jesus outside the NT. Are Philo and Josephus the only 2 who would have written about Jesus? Josephus isn’t contemporary and Philo wrote in Alexandria.

        • There’s nothing extant of that sort. And unless someone has an enormous impact in their own time, and their significance is already clear then, it is not uncommon for it to be people writing later who first mention someone.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            We’re not talking about a world with CNN here. There isn’t 24/7 news coverage.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          Well, that’s exactly the problem. They tell us that no contemporary “secular” writers note Jesus’ existence, but do not tell us whom these writers might be.

          • redpill99

            they have provided lists like Josepheus Philo Pliny the elder


          • Jonathan Bernier

            Of which only Philo is contemporary. And if we’re going to include Suetonius then we must include Tacitus, who *does* refer to Jesus. As does Josephus, actually, and whilst most scholars would agree that there is some interpolation in his references to Jesus few I think hold that they are complete fabrication.

          • redpill99

            they do think Philo’s failure to mention Jesus to be significant. obv they regard both references in Josephus to be forgeries.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            An argument from Philo’s silence and an argument from Paul’s non-silence (as in fact Paul is not silent on Jesus) is really not a whole lot to build a positive case upon.

          • redpill99

            the issue is whether Philo should have written about Jesus if he had existed. Philo does mention Pilate and Herod. Should Josepheus spent more time writing about both Jesus and early Christians?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            The truth is that we know next to nothing about Philo’s life. We know that he spent most of his life in Alexandria. We know that he was part of a delegation to Rome in 40. We think that he died around 50. Other than that, we really have no clue. We also have very little idea about how or when Christianity came to Egypt, or how prominent it was in that region. In fact, there is no clear evidence of Christianity in Egypt before the second century. That means we really do not know whether he was in a position to learn about Jesus of Nazareth. There is a very conceivable world in which Philo did not hear about Jesus because Jesus had not yet registered in the circles in which he moved. We didn’t have John the Evangelist tweeting at the base of the cross, after all.

            That said, how do you even know that Philo existed? I mean, if Price wants to suggest that his younger contemporary, Paul, never existed, that the letters attributed to him are a forgery, that Acts is thus a complete fabrication, then why couldn’t the same be the case for Philo? In that case, his silence is absolutely meaningless. That is the problem with such lines of thinking: they can quite easily be turned upon oneself.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Their expectations are designed to be unachievable. Christians were themselves a fringe group in the 1st century . . it’s like someone complaining that Allen Thomas’s “Elementary History of the United States” doesn’t mention the Mormons!

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Absolutely. That’s why I find it useful to turn their logic loose on other areas of historical study. If they do not demand the same level of expectations in other areas then they are engaged in special pleading; if they do then they will be left with little to no historical knowledge. And they find themselves hoist on their own petard.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Don’t have it handy but On the Historicity devotes at least a page or two to talking exactly about this, naming names and everything.

  • Kris Rhodes

    //Nothing in the article justifies the overall impression Tarico gives.//

    TBH I agree with this. I think she fails to convey just how fringe the idea is, and I think some of the considerations she names as pro-mythicism for the most part don’t work (and aren’t on offer as such by the strongest mythicist arguments). Of course Pauline silence is there, and the silence about Jesus overall in the first century (outside Christian writings) is sometimes discussed (but acknowledged by the strongest mythicist arguments as not particularly damning). But the strongest mythicist arguments–the ones that have even a blip of a hope of being taken seriously by NT scholars (as evidenced by the fact that, at least, a few actually do)–give no significance at all to the mere presence of contradictions in gospel accounts, and the fact that the gospels are not eyewitness accounts is, again, not something any serious mythicist thinks has any significance.

    The article popularizes in a bad way–not just presenting a brief overview but skewing the picture by focusing on ideas that are easily soundbiteable, even if those ideas are not actually accurate reflections of the issue being presented.

    • Kris Rhodes

      Also, it does a bad job of making sure the reader knows which cited names are and aren’t mythicists. Leading to comments like this one from a reader of the article: //I like how “growing number of scholars” turns up the same old names like Borg, Crossan, and Ehrman. They’re not exactly new to the scene. What a misleading title, no matter what your perspective.//

    • She doesn’t claim that any of the points are pro-mythicism. She says that they keep the doubts alive which I think is a very fair statement. The fact that we don’t have and wouldn’t expect to have any primary sources for Jesus is one of the reasons that I don’t think we can have any certainty. Paul’s silence doesn’t prove mythicism, but is undoubtedly one of the points that causes people to wonder.

    • Neko

      I agree with you. Furthermore Tarico’s article should be retitled “What Robert Fitzgerald Whose New Book Will be Out Soon and some other guys think about the existence of Jesus.”

    • Andrew Dowling

      “The article popularizes in a bad way–not just presenting a brief
      overview but skewing the picture by focusing on ideas that are easily

      Welcome to modern “journalism.” I love the Internet, but man it’s one area in which the “DIY” ethos of the online medium has really done more harm than good. Yes, the news prior wasn’t always objective and multifaceted, but now most things are either essentially op-eds or just designed to be click bait.
      It gets worse because everyone can essentially stay in their online fringe bubbles . . so the climate change deniers can get their “news” from climate change sites . . ditto with anti-vaxers . . .ditto with Jesus-mythicists.

  • ncovington89

    “she claims that the story gets more and more detailed as time goes on, but what she points to are mythical additions
    such as the virgin birth, which indicates (against Carrier) that
    Jesus appears in the relevant sources to be a historical figure being
    mythologized, rather than the reverse.”

    The logos was made by wisdom without sexual reproduction (according to popular myths of the time) so I’d say the virgin birth thing represents a theological doctrine symbolized within the gospels.

  • I happen to agree with James on this–that the overall impression is misleading. While the term “growing number” may be technically accurate, it suggests a shift in consensus that simply doesn’t exist. I winced when I saw that sentence had become the subtitle and then the title at places that replicated the article.

    • Mark Erickson

      For anyone writing on the internet, it should be required to know that authors don’t choose their headlines on news sites. An online news editor’s job is to create click bait heds.

      Thanks for commenting. Here are two other posts you might be interested in: “Putting the ‘Myth’ in Mythicism” a negative review of your article from a recent PhD and “Fear in the Heart of a Bible Scholar” a rejoinder to this post and a subsequent one claiming James is over-reacting from a very well read amateur.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Valerie! I hope that my approach to interacting with your piece didn’t end up being colored significantly by a title which framed it in ways that you yourself did not intend.

  • To me, and I think to most people, the game-changing question isn’t whether the Jesus stories derive from a historical kernel but whether and to what extent the stories in the Bible are mythology. I care about moving toward a world in which our shared priorities are not driven by the worship of Iron Age texts, a world in which individuals can embrace reason and compassion, unshackled by viral ideas we know to be false and harmful, including many that have been written in stone by the Abrahamic religions. Given my goals, I have little emotional investment in the question of whether most Jesus stories are historicized mythology or mythologized history.

    Most scholars who approach the gospels from an academic perspective rather than an apologetic perspective (ie. as defenders of faith), agree that the biblical stories are highly mythologized. In a world where almost half of Americans say the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, this is what lay people need to know. The debate between mythologists and historicists is interesting in part because it opens up to lay people the arguments and methods relevant to this question.

    If I had been more privy to the these methods and arguments before writing this article, for example, if I had spoken with Bart Ehrman in addition to David, or had read some of Ehrman’s frustrated rants on the topic, I would have worded some things differently. But while I assume that the consensus position is probably correct, I don’t dismiss the mythicists or their position, for several reasons. 1. The mythicists I know may or may not be right, but in contrast to the accusations hurled against them, they are serious and rigorous in their approach. 2. I come at this as a psychologist, not a classics scholar, and one lens that psychology brings to this debate is the knowledge that humans are highly prone to historicizing otherwise vague stories. Psychological processes in which this happens include confabulation (when alcohol addled brains invent histories to fill gaps) and false memory syndrome, in which an expert asking leading questions actuallyprompts a person to create memories which become more detailed and solid over time. In split brain research a message can be sent to the right side of the brain, for example, go get a diet coke. When the person stands up and the left
    side of the brain is asked why, it provides a perfectly coherent story. To my
    mind, in other words, psychological and social mechanism exist that would make
    historicized mythology feasible.

    • Neko

      You wrote:

      1. The mythicists I know may or may not be right, but in contrast to the accusations hurled against them, they are serious and rigorous in their approach.

      Who are these mythicists who you know, and do you not think informed persons are able to determine for themselves whether they are serious and rigorous?

      2. I come at this as a psychologist, not a classics scholar, and one lens that psychology brings to this debate is the knowledge that humans are highly prone to historicizing otherwise vague stories.

      Somehow NT scholars are aware of this very insight without being psychologists. Divine intervention?

      Why didn’t you contact Bart Ehrman, by the way? After all, unlike David Fitzgerald, Ehrman is a distinguished scholar who has had orders of magnitude more impact than any mythicist on “opening up to lay people” the history and character of the New Testament texts. He is also quite accessible. De gustibus, but as far as I’m concerned Fitzgerald is a tasteless amateur. Yet he got an interesting amount of attention in your piece. Is he one of these serious and rigorous mythicists who you know (unless you mean, who you’ve read, in which case I’ve misread you)?

      I care about moving toward a world in which our shared priorities are not driven by the worship of Iron Age texts…

      Ah. What does this have to do with the scholarly consensus that Jesus existed?

  • Neko

    Tarico’s story is running again this week at Salon as “one of our favorite and most popular stories from our archives.”