Did Jesus Die in Outer Space?

Did Jesus Die in Outer Space? October 29, 2014

Over the past several weeks I’ve been reading Richard Carrier’s book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, which The Bible and Interpretation kindly sent me a copy of, asking me to provide them with a review.

It soon became clear to me that a single review with an overview of the book, however useful, would inevitably fail to do justice to the many important details, worthy of detailed discussion in their own right.

To that end, I wrote the first of what I hope will be a series of review articles for The Bible and InterpretationThat article is called “Did Jesus Die in Outer Space? Evaluating a Key Claim in Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus.” Please click through to read it, and then discuss it in comments on The Bible and Interpretation website, or here, or both.

"Implied perhaps, sure, because Paul's point is not whether Jesus belongs to the set of ..."

Does Paul “Split the Shema”?
"Oh, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places in the NT that compare ..."

Does Paul “Split the Shema”?
"Well, if one adds the word 'new' to the text, that certainly changes the meaning ..."

Does Paul “Split the Shema”?
"Perhaps it is worth mentioning that 1 Corinthians 15:27 says that God placed all things ..."

Does Paul “Split the Shema”?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    I think Paul’s Jesus died on earth. First Corinthians says:

    “20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

    Jesus is called a man in the same way that Adam is called a man. In other words, Jesus was a human man, and died on earth where human men die.

    • Bethany

      The whole “first fruits” thing also doesn’t make any sense, otherwise.

      • John MacDonald

        I was thinking that too. In using a term like “first fruits” Paul seems to be categorizing Jesus together with what we might call “the soon to be harvested fruits” (all the other humans that have died).

        I don’t like Carrier because he is very disrespectful to his peers (like calling Maurice Casey insane and saying James Tabor should lose his job). I sometimes call Carrier a “twit,” but that’s just me losing my temper a little. I’ve read “On The Historicity Of Jesus” and Carrier is obviously a very bright scholar. I look forward to reading more of Dr. McGrath’s top notch analysis.

        • Kris Rhodes

          I’m not understanding what the significance of “first fruits” for jesus-historicism is supposed to be. To me the phrase fits equally well on either possibility. On both the mythicist and non-mythicist view, Jesus would have been viewed as the inaugural resurrectee, so to speak.

          • Why would a being who had never been a human being need to be resurrected in the sense that humans expected to be, and how would the resurrection of a non-human be the firstfruits of that resurrection?

          • Kris Rhodes

            On Carrier’s thesis, Jesus was conceived of as a human being from the beginning. A celestial human being is a human being. (Do you not think this is what Carrier thinks?)

            This human being actually died, just like we die, and was resurrected in the same way that the Christians believed everyone else would be. (Similarly to above, I’d ask–do you and I disagree as to what Carrier himself thinks?)

            “First fruits”, I thought, just meant as I called it above something like “the inagural set.” Does it not mean that?

          • I think Carrier identifies the Jesus of Christians with so many different figures – the primordial Adam and Logos of Philo, the Son of Man of 1 Enoch, the Beloved of Asc. Isa. – that we would have to conclude that all Jews, Christians included, essentially believed exactly the same things.

            And so Carrier seems to think a lot of things that appear to me to be distinct, and he seems to think them all simultaneously.

            Be that as it may, my dispute with Carrier on this point is not about whether he thinks it, but about whether anyone who understands what Paul is talking about, and what Jews meant by “resurrection,” ought to find it persuasive. If you find his view persuasive – that the first human being to be raised was a purely celestial human being, who was nonetheless the firstfruits of the dead from among human beings even though he wasn’t a human being in the same sense that they were nor dead in the same sense that they were nor raised in the same sense that they were – then perhaps you could explain to me why?

          • Kris Rhodes

            On this point, it’s not that I find it persuasive so much as I don’t understand what the difficulty with it is that you’re expressing. Why do you say the celestial Jesus wasn’t a human being in the same sense other humans are, and why do you say he didn’t die in the same sense others did?

            Carrier’s position, as far as I know, is diametrically opposed to what you’re ascribing to him here. He thinks the celestial Jesus was supposed to have been a human being in the same sense that we are human beings, and to have died in the same sense that we die.

            Are you saying that’s not the position, or are you saying there’s something wrong with that position such that it’s a non-starter from the top?

          • Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone who says that they are talking about X, but when you ask them questions, you find that X has none of the attributes, and sometimes the opposite attributes, compared with what X normally means, and so you start to wonder why they use the term X at all? That is rather how I feel with Carrier’s claims about Jesus being a celestial human and yet just like the rest of humanity.

            The reason Carrier’s writing has this tension is obvious, of course. The latter is required by the things that New Testament authors actually write about Jesus. The former is Carrier attempting to nullify the impression which all those statements pertaining to Jesus as a human being make. But if one reads Philo rather than merely prooftexting from Philo, one finds that the celestial Adam that is the prototype for terrestrial humans (an idea which is indebted, interestingly enough, to the fact that there are two different creation stories in Genesis 1-2) is not a human being just like terrestrial ones.

            Carrier’s ideas often seem to me to be non-starters, things which he has chosen to try to make the case for, but which simply don’t seem to fit the relevant textual and contextual evidence.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //But if one reads Philo rather than merely prooftexting from Philo, one finds that the celestial Adam that is the prototype for terrestrial humans (an idea which is indebted, interestingly enough, to the fact that there are two different creation stories in Genesis 1-2) is not a human being just like terrestrial ones.//

            I’m interested in that. Can you expand on it? What are the differences between the celestial Adam and earthly human beings that makes it fair to say the celestial adam isn’t a human being, or isn’t one “in the same sense” as earthly human beings? (What a “sense” is might be a difficult question here…)

            In any case, I would have thought (from my uneducated position admittedly) that a celestial Jesus’s being any kind of human being at all, “in the same sense as us” or not, would make sense of the idea of him as “firstfruits” in relation to other human beings. That, fundamentally, is what I’m not quite understanding in the objection that’s being pressed by you and Rachel here.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Maybe this is the idea? That the word or phrase “first-fruit” (I don’t know which it is in the greek) is a reference to sacrificial practices, and the idea with those was that the first-fruit is the first of a mass of plants all springing up from the same source i.e. the ground/earth?

          • Yes, that is certainly part of the issue. Paul (in talking about the resurrection elsewhere) explicitly uses the analogy of a seed planted in the earth being like the body planted in the ground – what rises/sprouts is very different. But for Carrier, Jesus’ body was never planted in the ground.

          • Paul E.

            I am a complete novice on Ascension of Isiah, so this is probably a stupid question. But I’ll risk sounding stupid. Given 7:10’s “as above so also on earth language,” if that kind of theology were applied in the context of the early Jesus movement that knew of a historical Jesus, would that imply a celestial counterpart and concomitant celestial events? I.e., in that kind of theology, would a celestial Jesus have been crucified, have died and been buried in the heavens?

          • That’s precisely the question I raise in my article. It would be interesting to explore this further, perhaps connecting it with Dale Allison’s suggestion that Jesus might have thought of the Son of Man as his own heavenly Doppelgänger.

          • Paul E.

            Ah, I misunderstood that aspect of the article, especially the final paragraph. I see now I have a too-shallow understanding of Docetism, and that almost certainly caused my misunderstanding. Thanks for the clarification, and thanks again for approaching this so respectfully and substantively.

          • Paul E.

            After thinking about this a little more, I can’t resist manifesting my ignorance even further. If there was a “heavenly Doppelganager,” would there have been a concept of two Jesuses co-existing in the heavens after the resurrection? Or am I confusing theologies?

          • That’s when it starts to get confusing! It is difficult to know. One possibility is that, much like one possible interpretation of the Similitudes of Enoch, the human exalted to heaven becomes one with his heavenly Doppelgänger.

          • I don’t understand how you could ever have raised that question. Carrier does indeed address it. How much beyond page 47 did you read?

            I have addressed the details of your review in an Introduction and in the Ascension of Isaiah details.”

          • McGrath raised the same objection to Doherty when attempting to “review” his book. Unfortunately McGrath did not take on board the feedback that was offered him then or he would not have repeated this major oversight a second time. See my discussion at Ascension of Isaiah details.”

          • Here’s a somewhat dated but nonetheless useful and very brief introduction and overview to the notion of the heavenly Adam in Philo, and its roots in Jewish interpretation of Genesis – with some discussion of Paul’s use of the concept thrown in as well:

          • Geoff B

            Paul, 1 Cor 15:45-48:

            “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.”

          • How much of Carrier’s book have you read so far?

          • Philo of Tasmania

            If earth is just a poor copy of what is in the heavens then surely it follows that anything goes. I don’t know why a celestial Jesus would, in your words, “need” to be ressurected but we are playing by Paul’s rules here not some 21st century rational thinker! He seems to be saying that it happened in outer space but it was done for and applied to those of this earthly realm.

          • Avenger

            we are playing by Paul’s rules here

            If Paul believed that Jesus died and was resurrected in outer space, then we may assume that his rules allowed for such things. However, it may be worthwhile to ask whether Paul did actually believe this. Since this idea is unknown to biblical scholars, we can hardly take the matter for granted.

            The problem is that some people seem to be playing by Carrier’s rules, and don’t realise that these are not the rules by which real scholars play.

        • Kainan

          See, Carrier did not merely say he suspected Casey to be insane, he provided arguments as to why he wrote that. Namely, Casey’s complete and utter distortion of Thompson’s arguments.

          “Another example of not paying attention is when Casey accuses Thompson of being incompetent because Thompson says Mark 7 is about “hygiene” when in fact it’s about purity laws (7-5869). Except that it’s obvious to anyone who actually reads the passage in question that Thompson meant spiritual hygiene, in other words, purity laws. As one can infer from the fact that in the cited section that is exactly what Thompson goes on to talk about (and never once brings up biological hygiene). Indeed, Casey even boneheadedly says “anyone familiar with the book of Leviticus should have known at least that much,” yet in the very passage Casey is talking about, Thompson cites and discusses Leviticus in exactly that respect. This is either insane or dishonest. It’s hard to tell which. But if we are to suppose Casey is not a shameless liar (and among the dumbest rocks in the box for thinking no one would check and catch out his lie), we must conclude he can’t even read a basic paragraph in English, and consequently cannot be trusted to ever correctly represent what anyone says. Which dooms his book to the dustbin for its hopeless unreliability.”

          If Casey didn’t extend Thompson the courtesy of not lying about his work, I’m not sure why Carrier would extend Casey the courtesy of respect.

          • Avenger

            So Casey’s distortion of Thompson’s argument is evidence of insanity. We must be grateful that Carrier is not a practising psychiatrist, in addition to being a historian, a philosopher, and a statistician.

          • Kainan

            “So Casey’s distortion of Thompson’s argument is evidence of insanity.”

            Not necessarily, but it’s less harsh than calling him a liar. At least in the case of insanity he had an excuse. He has none if he was fully mentally healthy when he wrote what he wrote.

          • You do not need to be an anthropologist to know that treating ritual purity as though it were about hygiene is a popular but mistaken understanding of this component of many cultures, which one ought not to encounter in a scholar’s writings. Carrier’s attempt to defend Thompson by calling it “spiritual hygiene” is no better. I’m not sure why you are now in turn trying to defend both of them, but I assume it is safe to say that you haven’t read Mary Douglas?

          • Kainan

            Mmm, you’re repeating Casey’s distortion, since Thompson, obviously, doesn’t treat ritual purity as though it were about hygiene. Apparently you haven’t read what Thompson wrote. Here’s just the next sentence:

            “It ranges from answering a complaint about the disciples’ unwashed hands to a debate over the difference between ritual and moral uncleanness.”
            And he goes on and on about ritual uncleanness. It is thus clear that Thompson understands very well that it’s about purity laws. That is, Casey’s accusation against Thompson is clearly false.

            I don’t know why you want to defend Casey’s lie.

          • The point is that hygiene is not an appropriate term to use in reference to ritual purity. Hygiene is something different. You can say “Thompson, obviously, doesn’t treat ritual purity as though it were about hygiene.” But he uses the term hygiene, even though you just said that it is obvious that he doesn’t treat ritual purity as though it were about hygiene.

            Thompson has also botched other things – for instance, he attributes to Jesus something that is, according to the Gospel he cites, supposed to have been said by John the Baptist. It may be that he is simply careless when writing on these topics outside his own area, rather than this reflecting misunderstanding on his part. But either way, defending him on it seems at best misguided, and calling people crazy for pointing these things out seems at best inappropriate.


          • Kris Rhodes

            Elsewhere you’ve written

            //Well, I don’t think the suggestion that when Thompson wrote “hygiene” he meant “spiritual hygiene” is plausible.//

            and here it seems you’re still in agreement with that sentiment.

            What do you think Thompson meant when he wrote “hygiene”? For example, do you think he meant physical cleanliness?

          • I would normally assume that, having chosen to use the word “hygiene,” he meant what the word hygiene means. It is entirely possible that he meant something other than what hygiene means, in which case he chose the wrong word.

          • Have you heard of “metaphor”? What does the word “clean” mean? And “washing away one’s sins”? Does spiritually clean and washed away sins mean that spirit and sin must be in the form of literal dirt? Or do you think “clean” and “wash” are used metaphorically? The difference is that these two words have become cliches and we never think about their literal meanings in such context. Thompson who is, after all, a specialist in OT studies, does, we must presume, know something about symbolism of ritual — so not to give him the benefit of the doubt when he breaks the monotony of cliches and uses a creative synonym (which we should try to do ourselves — at least so I have been taught in writing classes) seems to me rather picky and mean-spirited, not to say just a little snobbish.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Why assume in this case? You have the book, or if you don’t, apparently the relevant passage is available on google books. You don’t have to assume anything, you can go read what he actually said, for context. Have you done that? Are you saying that in context, it is quite plausible that Thompson did not have any kind of metaphorical or spiritualized sense of the word in mind when he used it?

          • I am saying that it is an inappropriate term to use. The term kosher is often translated with “clean” in English in reference to foods. But if someone said that Judaism has rules requiring the eating of hygienic food, you would say that they had either chosen the wrong word, or had misunderstood the concept.

          • Kris Rhodes

            When reading what Thompson said in context, it is very obvious to any competent reader of English that he used the term “hygiene” as metaphorical reference to purity. But you are behaving as though that were not so. I use up some friendliness points, I guess, in using that phrase “any competent reader” in the above, but it’s the correct phrase to use to describe the reality. I don’t hereby mean to imply that you’re not a competent reader, you obviously are. But something’s going on.

            I like your Carrier review so far and hope it starts a dialogue.

          • He may well have meant it metaphorically. The point is that, if a scientist made a reference to humans having evolved from monkeys, we would probably complain that this careless statement was inappropriate and unhelpful inasmuch as it fosters a popular misunderstanding. We might complain about the phrase even if elsewhere the author expressed himself more precisely.

            Does that help clarify the point? It is not about whether Thompson might have used “hygiene” in a metaphorical way that it is not normally used. It is about the fact that there are conservative Christians and others who misunderstand the Jewish purity rules as being about hygiene in the modern sense, and so the use of the term is not only inaccurate, but perpetuates a widespread misunderstanding.

          • Doesn’t Mary Douglas say that hygiene is “an excellent route” to understanding purity rituals in the introduction to Purity and Danger? (p. 2)

          • If one actually reads the book (rather than merely mining it for quotes), they’ll see that her point is precisely that some of our notions of “dirt” – which we now associate with hygiene and medical concerns – have deeper roots than that and probably existed even earlier.


            And so one can obviously use hygiene as a way of helping people not familiar with them to begin to understand purity systems. That doesn’t mean that they are the same thing, or that it is appropriate to foster the popular misunderstanding by some conservative Christians that they are the same thing, by using the term “hygiene” in reference to Jewish purity rules.

          • scherben

            It’s a moot point now, anyway. Dr. Casey passed away in May, unfortunately.

            As for this Dr. McGrath / Dr. Carrier debate, it seems to be that both sides are merely shouting at each other, with neither actually intending to listen. Though it is possible I’m merely transferring a trait of my own.

          • If that is your impression of my B&I article, then I am very disappointed, and would very much like to know what about the article gave you the impression that I was not listening carefully to Carrier’s claim, and was not disagreeing on principle because of my understanding of the evidence.

          • scherben

            Actually, you’re right, I’ve been unfair to both you and Dr. Carrier, and careless with my choice of words; so I apologise profusely to both. What I mean is, I doubt that either one of you will change the opinion of the other. Which is no bad thing. I did find your article very useful and fair; and I look forward to the follow ups.

            Understanding of evidence of course, is contingent to a degree upon our cognitive biases; which is how Dr. Carrier and yourself can draw two completely diametric conclusions from the same evidence.

            As to heavenly ‘forms’, was (is?) it believed that we all have a celestial counterpart co-existing with us as individuals? Or is our heavenly ‘counterpart’ either Adam as [hu]man; or as Christ in the form of a new man? I hope that I’ve phrased that with at least some sort of clarity.

          • There seems to have been a widespread view that each individual had an angel that corresponded to them.

          • scherben

            Thanks for that. So that’s our guardian angel? The connection seems obvious now you’ve been kind enough to point it out.

          • The idea of a guardian angel is certainly related to this ancient viewpoint, although the evidence we have does suggest that the modern viewpoint many people have about guardian angels is not precisely identical to the ancient view(s).

          • scherben

            Thanks for your reply. It’s an interesting concept, nonetheless.

          • Geoff B

            “If that is your impression of my B&I article, then I am very disappointed, and would very much like to know what about the article gave you the impression that I was not listening carefully to Carrier’s claim, and was not disagreeing on principle because of my understanding of the evidence.”

            For example, your insistence that “what happens on earth also occurs in heavens” means that a crucifixion of Jesus in heaven entails also an earthly crucifixion of Jesus either ignores or misrepresents Carrier’s position. Carrier holds that what happens on earth is the temple sacrifice system, the mirror in heaven being the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Failing to mention that in your review has led to much misunderstanding of Carrier’s position (because your fans apparently haven’t read the book). So it does appear to me, having read Carrier’s book, that you are not listening carefully to Carrier’s position. This was a key point of your review and it completely evaporates when you understand what Carrier is actually saying. If that is true of your main point, how can we begin to trust what you say on other points.

            Just for the record, while I am intrigued by the mythicist position and believe there is a lot to consider, I have not been convinced of the sublunar hypothesis. I am not disagreeing that the case for that has not been made, I am disagreeing specifically with your incomplete characterization of it. I believe that you as a scholar have a professional responsibility to fairly and accurately represent the arguments that you are critiquing. I think you have failed to do that here and it seems that you have a reputation for that.

          • Avenger

            Geoff, nothing that I said depended on the assumption that a heavenly sacrifice would simply mirror a real crucifixion on Earth. BTW, thanks for getting me banned by bibleinterp.

          • Perhaps I should have extended the article to interact with Carrier’s view of Hebrews. It is one of the challenges to interacting with mythicists that they deal in problematic ways with lots of pieces of evidence, and so unless one is going to write a book-length treatment, then one must choose details to address and remain focused. Perhaps I should deal with Hebrews next. I don’t find at all persuasive that Hebrews 7:14, like the reference in Romans, deals with descent from Judah via David that occurs in the celestial realm. Reading further, 7:26 has Jesus exalted to the heavens, not descending from or already being in the heavens. I simply don’t find Carrier’s reading of Hebrews remotely plausible. His reading of Ascension of Isaiah, on the other hand, had at least a measure of plausibility to it, and so seemed worth engaging.

        • MattB

          You know, John,

          you make some very good points. I’ve noticed this(and I’m not just saying this as a Christian) but from my point of view, I really am extremely irritated by Carrier’s behavior. You would think that a man with such knowledge would be respectful, polite, and engaged with others, as well as admitting error in some areas. However, I don’t see this with Carrier at all. It seems to me that Carrier cares more about his ego and is quick to point fingers at other scholars who are far more experienced than him, and actually have or have had teaching jobs at excellent Universities. I don’t think I’ve ever once read or heard Carrier admitting that he was wrong on something(unless he commits a spelling or grammatical error). What’s even worse is that he has brainwashed many of his infidels into believing his rubbish book will somehow be persuasive to mainstream scholars.

  • Bethany

    “… And the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son…”

    Is it just me or does it sound like there’s some Gnosticism in there? Or at least the idea of the demiurge.

    • If by Gnosticism one means the view that an inferior malevolent entity created the physical world, then I don’t think that is reflected in Ascension of Isaiah. But in other respects the cosmology is indeed closely related.

      • Bethany

        Any thoughts on what “the god of that world” as opposed to “God” means, then? (I hadn’t even heard of the Ascension of Isaiah before this, so I have no idea.)

        • Adrift

          The “god of that world” (or something like it) is a common NT title for Satan. See for instance 2 Cor 4:4, John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, Eph 2:2, etc.

          • Bethany

            That makes sense, thanks!

  • MattB

    It would be interesting to see what Carrier actually thinks of what the word “crucified” meant to a first-century Jew or Gentile; certainly it couldn’t have been on earth because you know mythicist presuppositions.

    • Kainan

      If it’s interesting to see, read the book.

      • MattB

        I have. Why do mythicists put so much stock in his arguments?

        • Kris Rhodes

          Matt, I rarely address your posts but here I go. You said “it would be interesting to see X.” Someone then told you where to go to see X. And your reply was “oh, I’ve been there, done that.”

          Do you see that you’re practically contradicting yourself here?

          • MattB

            I don’t remember in Carrier’s book where he talks about what the word “crucified” meant to a first century Jew or Gentile. However, his book is close to 700 pages and so I might be wrong. All I am saying is that it would seem to me that the word “crucified” can only mean one thing to someone living in the first century.

          • Kris Rhodes

            If crucified means different things when spoken of as occuring in different locations, then why don’t all other words mean different things when spoken of as occurring in different locations?

          • MattB

            What? I never said that words don’t have different meanings in different time periods. My problem with Carrier is that he tends to read things anachronistically. The word “crucified” was well-known to someone from the first-century. It meant you were put to death by the Romans. Now Carrier wants to re-define terms and use them in other time periods(Like Inanna), and simply use the word “crucified” to mean just being hanged. But this still doesn’t seem to help his case. Don’t you see how he’s stacking the deck by twisting the evidence anachronistically so that he can stack the deck in his favor?

            Nothing in the earliest sources indicates that Jesus didn’t suffer the death penalty by the Romans. It doesn’t indicate that Jesus was executed in outer space or wherever Carrier claims it supposedly happened. All of our sources tell us it happened under the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //I never said that words don’t have different meanings in different time periods. //

            And I didn’t say you said that. Rather, I intimated that you were implying or presupposing that when words denote events occurring at different locations, those words must mean different things, even if they are the same word.

            This is based on the following comment that you made:

            //All I am saying is that it would seem to me that the word “crucified” can only mean one thing to someone living in the first century//

            It only makes sense for you to say this if you think that Carrier et al are claiming “crucified” meant something _different_ when said of Jesus’s crucifixion than when said of others’ crucifixions. But the only difference between Jesus’s and the others (aside from the redemptive significance) is the physical location. So I conclude you must be thinking, for some reason, that to locate crucifixion in the heavens is to mean something by the word “crucifixion” different from what the term usually means.

            And this is false. It means the same thing in both cases. The only difference is a difference in the location of the event, and such a difference does not change the meaning of the term being used.

          • MattB

            You’ve confused me. This drastically changes the structure of the argument. If Jesus was said to have been crucified and killed under Roman authorities in Jerusalem, then that makes the mythicist claim that Jesus was killed in outer space utter non-sense.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I missed the paragraph where you explained that by “one thing” you meant “killed under Roman authority.”

            You’re claiming that the word “crucified,” to people at that time and place, was used in accordance with the definition “killed under Roman authority”?

          • MattB

            Yes. Someone who was crucified meant they were put to death by the Romans. Crucifixion was a capital punishment by Romans.

          • Kris Rhodes

            This is a surprising claim to me, and I want to be double extra sure I’m understanding you correctly.

            What you’ve said literally implies that if the Roman authorities put someone in a sack and drowned them because they killed a family member, then this would have been referred to as “crucifixion.”

            Is that what you mean to be implying? I don’t think it is, but I want to be sure because what you’ve written does imply it.

          • MattB

            Where did you get the part “Roman authorities put someone in a sack and drowned them?”

          • Kris Rhodes

            I am alluding to a method of execution the Romans used which you and I would not typically call “crucifixion.” What you’ve said implies that people _would_ have called it crucifixion at the time, since you’ve affirmed that “crucifixion” was used by them in accordance with the definition “being put to death by Roman authorities.”

            But if you agree they wouldn’t have called this drowning-in-a-sack “crucifixion,” then we can see that you misspoke (as all of us do from time to time) when you affirmed that crucifixion meant to them at the time, by definition, “being put to death by Roman authorities.”

            This invites the question, though–what _did_ they mean by “Crucifixion” if not “being put to death by Roman authorities.”

            Would you suggest it meant by definition “being put to death by Roman authorities by being hung on a cross and left to die of exposure and starvation?”

            But if so, this implies that they would _not_ have called it “crucifixion” if non-Romans did it (for example, when the king of Judaea Alexander Jannaeus crucified 800 people in 88BC). That doesn’t seem right. So we’re left with the following definition: Crucifixion was thought of at the time as by definition being hung on a cross to die of starvation and exposure.

            Which is exactly what is said to have happened to the mythical Jesus on the mythicist hypothesis.

          • MattB

            No. I never once said that the word crucifixion would mean something completely different than what you are proposing. I am simply putting that the term crucifixion was something that was well known to anyone from the first century because it was capital punishment; just like lethal injection is pretty much none to every American in the U.S.

            Now I did misspeak about my objection to Carrier in terms of the use of the word. What I should have said is that he was trying to make an ad-hoc argument by trying to point to Inanna, some Pagan figure deity, who was hanged by a hook as a means of trying to somehow point to this as a parallel between Jesus and his crucifixion. This is extremely problematic in that it is first of all a vague connection and second, Carrier even though knows that Pagan parallels are at best spurious, he still stacks the deck in his favor by pointing to Romulus and Inanna as somehow they make Jesus less probable when in fact it is an illusion to the naive mythicist who knows nothing about history.

            OK. So if you agree that Jesus was crucified on a cross in an actual time and place, then you are no longer a mythicist. However, the mythicist theory says that all of this happened way up there in outer space. You can’t eat your cake and have it too. So which one?

          • GakuseiDon

            Carrier defines “crucifixion” on page 61 of OHJ. He writes:

            “I shall mean by crucifixion (and ‘being crucified’ and all other cognate terms and phrases) as any hanging up of the living or dead as a punishment, regardless of the exact details of how. The shape of the cross or fixture, the position of the body, whether the victim is killed first or hung while alive and left to die, even the manner of hanging, whether nailing or lashing, or whether to a rock or tree or stake or doorway or anything else, all of that can (and certainly did) vary, and yet the act still constitutes crucifixion if (a) a body is hanged by anything other than a noose around the neck and (b) this hanging is a punishment.”

  • Alex Dalton

    James – excellent treatment. Just excellent.

  • Adrift

    Good stuff!

  • GakuseiDon

    “And so Ascension of Isaiah seems not only to fit the
    otherwise-attested Docetic view of Jesus… but
    to do so much better than the mythicist interpretation, otherwise
    unattested in ancient times.”

    That’s an excellent — and key — point. Good article!

  • “The attempt to use later sources, interpreted in ways that are at best open to dispute, in an attempt to argue against what generations of skeptical scholars have concluded to be likely with respect to the early Christian sources, is never going to make mythicism seem more probable than the hard-earned and intensely-researched consensus of historians and scholars, namely that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth.”


  • Tim

    This is like a scholarly review. Good tone, fair treatment. It would be nice to see more of this. It’s almost like you’re taking Carrier seriously.

    • Paul E.


  • “Great is Diana of the Ephesians Jesus of the Preachers and Professors, a “major source of economic livelihood”* for preachers and professors.

    * Paul C. Vitz (1993) Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious. Gracewing Publishing. p. 191.

  • Carrier writes that his perspective on the Ascension of Isaiah “has been inspired by the analysis in Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God nor Man… pp. 119-126, which is well worth reading even if I don’t always concur with it.” — p. 41 of On the Historicity of Jesus

    Your tone and approach to Carrier’s argument is quite different from what you took towards Doherty’s — even though they are essentially the same arguments. Is it fair to say that you prefer a different tone towards a fellow PhD than to a mere unwashed layman who inspires the PhD with the arguments presented?

    • Kris Rhodes

      I think it’s because McGrath with this piece is writing in a more professionalized context. (That’s me guessing anyway.)

      • If so it is a pity he does not try to set a more professional example for his blog-readers.

        I am thinking it might be an interesting exercise to compare McGrath’s treatment of Doherty’s argument on the AoI with Carrier’s point by point — as an insight into scholarly attitudes towards persons rather than the arguments themselves per se.

  • James, I am open to the likelihood that you are right with respect to the AoI not precluding Jesus descending to earth to be crucified. This is a view a number of “mythicists” have also entertained in opposition to Doherty and Carrier for quite some years now.

    I welcome your serious approach to the discussion and avoidance of all ad hominem. The arguments can stand or fall on their own merits without any need for personal innuendo, ridicule and insult.

    Thank you. It is very much appreciated.

  • Basically, a good article.

    I made my own research on AoI here:
    It is based on R.H. Charles’ study (verse by verse) from the ancient available copies.
    Charles (a Christian) did not want to see what I saw (which is very obvious: Christian interpolations were made on two sets of copies; in such a way when interpolation bits appear in one set they do not show on the other set, and vice versa). Charles, instead, did his reconstruction by including all the Christian interpolations, which is the basis of Carrier’s reconstruction, except that Carrier removed the mini gospel (Jesus on earth).

    My conclusion is as follows:
    It is rather evident the original Greek text was entirely Jewish and then slightly interpolated (at 9:14 & 16) by a Docetic Christian. Then two interpolators (Docetic Christians themselves), separately, on two different copies, added more different additions/insertions, some of them overtly Christian in nature. These two resulting copies may have been furthermore interpolated when new ones were made from them.
    The original Greek text, even after being added on with its two “tentative” Christian-like interpolations (9:14,16), did not have “Son”, “first-begotten”, “Jesus” or “Christ” in it.
    Therefore, the ascent of Isaiah and descent & then ascent of the Beloved were not originally Christian. But later, probably in the 2nd century, when Docetism was adopted among some Gnostic Christians, the original Jewish Greek text got manipulated in order to serve the Christian cause.

    I know that this thinking is very much far removed from Dr. Carrier’s observations in OHJ on ‘the Ascension of Isaiah’:
    **The ‘they’ who will think he is a and not know who he is and kill him are only ever said to be Satan and angels**. No other subject is mentioned for that pronoun, nor is any other implied. **God clearly intends Jesus to do nothing more than go to the firmament, and for no other reason than to be killed by Satan and his sky demons, rise from the dead** and conduct affairs there for over a year (doing what, it’s not said), and then ascend to heaven. In other words, instead of conducting a ministry on earth, **Jesus is commanded to go straight to the end and die, and rise from the dead**, and then remain where he had for a year and a half (9.16; cf. 10.12-14; although the duration is omitted in some versions), and then ascend to the heavens. **The ‘tree’ on which is crucified** (9.14) is thus **implied to be one of the ‘copies’ of trees that we are told are in the firmament** (7.10).
    Of course, even with all its (highly suspected) interpolations, the text of ‘Ascension of Isaiah’ does not say what I put within ** from page 41 of Carrier’s ‘On the Historicity Of Jesus’ (OHJ). This is just pure speculations.
    Furthermore, Paul indicated Jesus’ crucifixion happened in the heartland of the Jews, among Jews ( http://historical-jesus.info/19.html ).

    Also one last remark:
    In the Ascension of Isaiah, it looks the duplication is only about where the angels of Satan are fighting each other: firmament and earth. See the pertinent verses:
    “7:9. And we ascended to the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Sammael and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein and the angels of Satan were envying one another.
    7:10. And as above so on the earth also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on the earth.”
    I do not think it was the author’s intention to indicate that everything on earth had copies in the firmament.

    Cordially, Bernard

  • Kainan

    Congratulations on a nice piece, Dr. McGrath. While I may not agree with some of your arguments, but the general tone and tenor are commendable, as is the readiness to deal with the arguments as such. Much more effective than namecalling etc.

  • There have been several comments on the article on the Bible and Interpretation website. For instance, Thomas Fenton wrote, “In the Twilight Zone of mythicism, that an event is assumed to have happened on Earth unless otherwise stated is not the default position. In the real world it is.”

    • Tim

      Straw Man

      • Not at all. One cannot as easily relocate someone being “of David’s seed according to the flesh” into outer space as mythicists pretend.

    • Kris Rhodes

      Hey Arcseconds, how’s it going. (Assuming you’re aroud.) I was curious to know what you thought of what Thomas Fenton said here, and what James is saying by quoting it. 😉

      • arcseconds

        I’ve only just seen your comment now.

        As far as I can see, James is quoting comments he likes from the Bible and Interpretation site to amuse us here without us having to take the trouble to go there and read all the comments 🙂

  • And then there’s this comment on Twitter by @HankCampbell : “If he died in space fighting vampires that would be the best story ever.”

  • John MacDonald
    • MattB

      LOL…Neil’s got nothing on McGrath.

      • John MacDonald

        I wonder why! LOL

        Dr. McGrath is a distinguished professor of New Testament Studies, and Neil Godfrey is an amateur internet bible enthusiast.

        Here is part 2 of the VRIDAR review:http://vridar.org/2014/11/01/mcgrath-reviews-carrier-part-2-ascension-of-isaiah/#more-54643

        Here’s the spoiler: Godfrey concludes that McGath is incompetent.

        • scherben

          Not the appeal to authority fallacy again?

          • MattB

            That’s not an appeal to authority fallacy.

        • MattB


          McGrath is chair of the NT at Butler. Neil is chair of online blogging. I guess Neal hasn’t realized what constitutes an expert?

          • GakuseiDon

            James McGrath has made a point not to respond to Neil Godfrey for at least the last 3 years. Yet Neil Godfrey believes that James McGrath has personal animosity towards him, and so Godfrey has spent the last few years writing post after post on Vridar blasting McGrath, to show that McGrath is hostile to him.

          • MattB

            Hmm… This kind of reminds me of Nick Covington over at SkepticInk. He has recently made a string of attacks at McGrath for simply pointing out Carriers flaws in his arguments. Why do all these armchair bloggers feel superior over actual experts?

          • Well, there are professors who have idiosyncratic views, and unqualified blogger who get things right. And so it is important not to just take my word for things, but to see what the consensus is, if there is one.

  • I have welcomed and thanked McGrath’s enhanced professional tone in his review and presumably have the editorial policies of Bible and Interpretation for that development.

    However, we still see the same logical and content failings in McGrath’s review of Carrier as we saw in his treatment of Doherty though perhaps not to the same extent.

    We still see the same criticisms that the author fails to address some critical point when all McGrath had to do was read a few more pages in the book he is reviewing to see that his criticism is in fact void.

    We still see the failure of McGrath to explain the argument he is reviewing or even to acknowledge what he surely must be able to see Carrier wrote that would be raised in objection to his review comments.

    We still see the failure to grasp the very point of the topic he is addressing.

    We still see the selective quote mining from other sources when it is self-serving and the supression of any points from the same sources when they support Carrier.

    We still see the methodological failures he thinks he sees in others actually being practiced by himself.

    I have addressed McGrath’s review in depth at
    1. an Introduction
    2. Ascension of Isaiah details.

    • John MacDonald

      Dr. Carrier also makes some help comments regarding the Ascension of Isaiah in chapter 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus. Dr. Carrier quotes the Epistles as saying:

      “Have this mind [of humble love] in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not decide to seize equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and being discovered as a man in outward form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, a death of a cross (Phil. 2.5-11).”

      There is nothing here in this Epistle passage reflecting an unjust crucifixion by Pilate or a betrayal by Judas, but rather that a pre-existent heavenly Jesus took on the form of a man and died in a plan that God had made and that Jesus was obedient to. Carrier suggests, like in the Ascension of Isaiah, Satan and his demons were the ones that Found Jesus in the form of a man and executed him (see OHJ 534)

      But more than this, this passage from the Epistles seems to contradict the miracle worker Jesus of the gospels. Dr. Carrier comments that:

      “Key things to notice here are that again no mention is made of Jesus having a ministry, teaching anything or performing any miracles. To the contrary, having ’emptied’ himself of all he was and ‘humbling’ himself completely to the status of a ‘slave’ imply he would have had no supernatural powers at all (OHJ,535).”

      • John MacDonald

        “helpful comments” lol

      • Yes. For Paul the Christ was unknown until revealed through preaching and revelation — and the spirit — and not unlike the way the Logos and its nature were revealed to Stoics (Engberg-Pedersen). Then we read the first gospel and its familiar tropes explaining why no-one knew or recognized the identity of this figure at the time of his appearance, an appearance that is narrated symbolically and intertextually.

        (I’d add “midrashically” on the strength of Jewish scholars of Jewish literature of the Second Temple era using the term in relation to the gospels as well as several current peers of McGrath who also use it but I fear he will be offended by the use of the term by me. As Goulder pointed out, few of his peers really understood the extent of the different forms of midrashic literature but to avoid offence it is best to avoid it in certain company.)

        • John MacDonald

          Midrash has certainly come into the discussion ever since the publication of “The Jewish Annotated New Testament”: http://www.amazon.com/The-Jewish-Annotated-New-Testament/dp/0195297709/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414960687&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=jewish+annptated+new+testament

          Dr. Alan Avery Peck says that the midrash discussion really hit the mainstream with Dr. Robert M. Price’s encyclopedia article “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash:” http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm , and that The Jewish Annotated New Testament carries the discussion forward in a fruitful manner
          I also like Thomas Brodie’s and John Shelby Spong’s work on midrash.

        • Michael

          That there was a perceptible thing, someone you could treat as a king or political leader is entailed by the title ‘Christ’, still more by the epithets ‘Christ Jesus’, ‘Jesus Christ’ etc. Where we speak of an ‘anointed one’ we speak of one of many, not all of whom are anointed — one who, in being called anointed is put into special relation to God. Similarly the prophetic future that permeates the statements of Isaiah in the ‘Ascension’ make zero sense where the events are conceived as a movement in the divine realm. It will be rare that a bona fide myth will be a projection into the future.

          • I think if you were more familiar with ancient literature and the use of words like “anointed” you would see the larger picture differently. Names and titles apply equally to angelic beings as to humans and angels and spirit beings are just as real and substantial (even more so) than humans in the eyes of many ancient thought systems.

            Rather than being rare, most myths have indeed been projected into future generations. What carries them forward is not any particular quality at the very origin of the myth — the origins of myths are lost in time very quickly — but the fact that their contents can be interpreted to meet the needs of each new generation and cultural context.

            Are you suggesting that there was something unique about the power of Christianity at its foundations that has ensured its survival through to today? If so, you are essentially arguing that Christianity is continuing today by the power of spirit — a theological argument that cannot sway rationalists.

            But even with mythicism if you read Brodie or even Couchoud you will see that even a mythical Christ is not incompatible with a spiritually empowered view of Christianity right through to today.

          • Michael

            Do you have any example of a purely angelic messiah or a purely angelic messianic expectation or a purely angelic prophet in the Jewish tradition?

            The point about myth that you are making, is one I was taking into account. Even where a myth has an historical basis, this tends to vanish into an atemporal past that is at the same time ever-present. Hebrew-style prophecy and apocalyptic have nothing in common with myth, even if they can be just as crazy or wild, and indeed more so, and can contain mythical elements. (I’m no doubt using a somewhat out of date theory of myth, but it seems reasonable.) That is just why the articulation of a myth will not contain a prophecy or prediction, since there would be a sell-by date attached to it.

          • Enoch was a pre-existent heavenly messiah and there is considerable evidence of NT authors drawing upon the Book of Enoch. The Son of Man in Daniel was the figure from whom such a figure evolved. Hebrews speaks of a heavenly anointed (christ). The Second Temple era was replete with heavenly pre-existent figures of whom earthly counterparts were merely temporary apparitions or transient stays.

            The idea of heavenly messiah (one made a messiah on his exaltation in heaven — after his time on earth) is even found in the NT epistles. Some scholars see the same motif lurking behind the Gospel of Mark.

            Novenson (who is by no means a mythicist at all) shows us that Paul’s use of “Christ” for a spiritual heavenly figure whose victory was entirely in the spiritual realm (and not on earth over physical armies or kingdoms) is entirely consistent with Jewish understandings of the messiah concept of the day.

            Our stereotypical image of the messiah necessarily meaning a human conquerer actually dates from the second century (though there may be some traces of it among some Jews earlier). I know this goes counter to the popular assumptions but I am drawing upon the scholarship of specialists like Green and Thompson for my views.

            As for “sell-by” dates for myths, we know that groups regularly reinterpret prophecies that don’t meet expected deadlines in the way they originally expected. But myths are also filled with prophecies. And part of the myth is their fulfilment in the world of myth. e.g. Achilles, Dionysus, . . . And that’s exactly what Carrier’s scenario postulates — although I tend to think the prophecies are actually only discovered to be prophecies by the prophet who announces their fulfilment. They were unknown as such before then, very often.

            We need also to distinguish between what a few scribes may have debated among themselves and what was the popular understanding.

          • Michael

            The expression christ/messiah/anointed one seems to appear twice 1 Enoch, only in the Similitudes, which may postdate the first century even. (48:10, 52:4) The figure is apparently ye olde Davidic messiah and is otherwise undeveloped, but certainly isn’t Enoch. I don’t see that you have answered the complaint that a myth doesn’t have a sell by date. That a prophecy needs to be ‘re-interpreted’ when things turn out thus and so, just shows how completely unlike mythical constructions they are.

          • I think you’ll find the scholarly literature does indeed accept Enoch as a messiah figure. Boyarin for a start, and if you follow his citations you will see a raft of other scholarship among specialists in Jewish literature of the era saying the same thing. I am not arguing the case in full here of course, but I do believe this is what you will find if you do study the question. Unless the reading I have done on the question is unrepresentative and contradicted by every other scholar I haven’t read on the topic.

            I’m not sure I really follow your distinction between myths and prophecies. Many myths contain prophecies so I am not clear on your distinction of if it is one that would have been recognized in the ancient world.

          • Michael

            Enoch is not called a messiah in the text of 1 Enoch — the word just doesn’t figure in any but the Ethiopic additions. Even the Similitudes only use the word twice. If writers think (sensibly) that the Similitudes are organized around what might be called a messianic figure, it is of course because they think the work is characterized by messianic expectation. A story that has the type of ‘myth’ cannot articulate messianic hopes. You cannot use the Similitudes in the way you propose to do unless you also advance a theory of it as advancing a myth as well, which certainly your ‘scholars’ aren’t proposing to do.

            Even if my experience of the arrival of Spring is bound up with thoughts of Persephone and special cultic acts, Persephone has forever already done everything; thus we do it all again next year, not anticipating any change. The story never clocks out, it is forever already validated. We do not expect Spring as we expect redemption; the arrival of winter is not an annual eschaton, that would seem to be a contradiction in terms.

          • On Enoch being a messiah you might consider my notes from reading some of the literature: Christ Before Christianity: Dating Parables of Enoch and Born of a Woman: Cosmic Origin of the Messiah.

            I don’t dispute your reference to the Persephone myth, but that is only one of thousands.

          • Michael

            My remark was about the word “Messiah” as it appears in the various languages at stake. It is not used outside the Similitudes and there only twice, and there, as is frequently pointed out, not thematized. This is just a fact.

            This, if a scholar characterizes the text as ‘messianic’ this will be because he or she accepts a ‘messianic’ interpretation of it — *where ‘messianic’ is understood in the usual sense*, since a) the scholar is attempting to communicate. The two uses of the word ‘messiah’ in the text, are in fact not the ground for calling the text messianic. It is the anticipation of fulfillment that is that ground.

            By contrast, the Ascensions uses the literal expression ‘messiah’ for every reference to the central figure. On Carrier’s mythicist reading this use of the word is not associated with an anticipation of historical fulfillment. This is the whole content of ‘mythicism’ and even given as its definition.

          • I think we are talking past each other. I am not sure what you see as the parameters or point of our conversation.

          • Michael

            I think the difficulty is that you don’t see the meaning of ‘myth’ as Carrier (and Doherty etc.) do. The comparison with Ishtar / Persephone and suchlike myths is essential to his minimal mythicism. (Note that mythicism about Persephone, which is true, is consistent with the claim that e.g. an ur-Persephone ‘really existed’. ) The category of myth and mythical consciousness is essential to the whole argument.

          • I don’t think you have read Carrier’s (or Doherty’s) books. Can you quote me some justification from their works for your claim here?

            Page 53 of OHJ sets out what Carrier sees as the minimal mythicist view he will be testing; and when he does address comparisons with mystery religions he is very clear that such comparisons (as also observed in the literature) would be true regardless whether Jesus were historical or mythical.

            As for “mythical consciousness” there is nothing incompatible with that and a historical Jesus, by the way. The Christ of the gospels and of many people’s faith is clearly mythical. But that is quite irrelevant to the question of historicity of Jesus and Christian origins.

          • Michael

            Here are some typical passages easily cut-and-pasted from Doherty, whose use of ‘mythical’ is fairly conventional, but I think completely misunderstood by you.

            “One of them is Clement’s quote (chapter 16) of the entire Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 53. My presentation here sought to make the reader aware that passages in scripture could be regarded by these writers as the ‘voice’ of the Son speaking in a ‘timeless’ present, in other words in a mythological sense.”

            “In Hebrews 10:5, Christ is spoken of as “coming into the world,” but this is the world of scripture that Christ is entering, in its timeless, mythical present—or rather, the higher mythical world onto which scripture provided a window.”

            “Sallustius, writing in the 4th century, speaks of the story of Attis as “an eternal cosmic process, not an isolated event of the past” (On Gods and the World, 9). Paul … would have been quite capable of placing such redeeming activity in this upper, spiritual realm, and indeed his language shows every sign of such an interpretation.”

            “… as it was possible for the devotees of the mysteries to base their faith and salvation hopes on the ‘myths’ of their savior gods—who were not regarded as having performed those acts in identifiable historical time—it would seem to be the case that the earliest cultic Christians, like Paul, envisioned the myth of Christ Jesus in the same way”

            Carrier and Doherty don’t maintain the distinction between mythicism and non-historicalism (so to say) since the former is their argument for the latter. Mythicism is an interpretation of the grammar of Paul’s ‘gospel’ or of the epistle to the Hebrews (or the Ascensions): it is the claim that the logical syntax in which these teachings are framed is that of the description of an “an eternal cosmic process” like the story of Attis or Ishtar or Persephone. On such a reading, it would be a category mistake to identify an ordinary historical appearance at a definite fixed time as what is under discussion — like insisting that the number 15, which is divisible by 3 and by 5, is in a warehouse in Cleveland.

            Seeing and interpreting ‘sub-lunary’ events in the light past prophetic utterances and seeing and interpreting them in the light of mythos are as different from each other as each is from seeing an event in the light of a law of nature. (Myth is closer to laws of nature in its relation to time.)

          • It sounds like you have defined mythicism in such a way to render their arguments irrelevant and meaningless. So there’s no need to address their arguments. Well you’ve beaten me. I cannot argue with you either. I guess Jesus was historical after all — the true definition of myth and mythical as you explain it means Jesus could not have been mythical at all according to any of the extant evidence and is therefore historical. Is that correct?

          • Michael

            It is hard to see how sentences cut and pasted from Doherty “render [his] arguments irrelevant and meaningless.” I was quoting them to help you see what the meaning of his claims is.

            Doherty and Carrier are indeed arguing that ‘Christ’ was a mythical character like Persephone / Ishtar. Paul is a devotee of a celestial Christ, who is apprehended through a myth of eternal self-sacrifice etc etc. You don’t seem to comprehend this claim. It is quite different from the claim that Jesus never existed; it is rather one of the premises these writers use to argue for the latter claim.

            There is a popular use of ‘myth’, as in ‘urban myth’, where ‘Jesus is a myth” = “Jesus never existed”. But that is not the sense at issue in Carrier, Doherty or ordinary academic usage of “myth”. It is frankly amazing that you pose as a defender of them, but don’t see this elementary feature of what they are saying. To deny that a story is a myth is not to say it is a record of what happened at a time (= “is historical”, as you seem to mean it). The mistake of thinking so is completely elementary. The sentences of a false newspaper report do not articulate a myth. The reader does not enter into a mythical element in accepting them, though she does end up wrong. The claim that a text does articulate a myth goes as much beyond the text as the claim that it is a record of fact. A false news report is neither.

          • scherben

            So how can a text be comprehended if it can never be classified as ‘myth’ nor ‘fact’?

            I think I can see how you’re saying that Christ exists for Paul whether he believed in a ‘historical Rabbi’ or a celestial angel, but, so can Richard Carrier and Neil Godfrey. Their argument (as I understand it) is to show that nascent Christianity was based entirely around this figure of an angel, and not an actual man who walked around the Sea of Galilee. The use of AoI is to help to demonstrate that this argument has evidence to support it. I’m not actually convinced by it, but it does interest me; and that’s as far as I’ll go, because I haven’t read the book.

          • Michael

            scherben Again, are you thinking I wasn’t just cutting and pasting from Doherty?

            If ‘not myth’ = ‘true’ and ‘myth’ = ‘not true’ then sure, every proposition either expresses a fact or a ‘myth’. But that isn’t what myth means in the theory of religion or in Doherty and Carrier. As it is used in the theory of religion there are other things that can be said about a propoistion besides: true / false.

            Angelomorphic ‘christologies’ are a dime a dozen. You can posit angels without making predications about them that bear the temporality of myth. Indeed, this is the standard Jewish use of angel ideas: they are understood as occupying ordinary time. Indeed the name ‘angel’ = ‘messenger’ bears this out; they are named after their intervention with human beings. They are on a level with human beings and involved in the same history; a narration involving them will take the form of history, true or false — or epic, or the like. It will not be like Persephone / Inanna who is, for example, remembered each fall and greeted each spring.

            On the other hand, the standard Jewish understanding of pagan gods was as (‘fallen’) angels: on some date a ‘demon’/angel took possession of a tribe, and secretes a myth of itself for the people, etc. etc. This doesn’t mean ‘a false story’ simply, but a specific mode of thought, as the quotations from Doherty bring out.

            Calling the Christ figure in Ascension an ‘angel’ fits well with the text. It is defending an angelomorphic Christology; similarly it is trying to put a Jesus-only-can-match-this-job-description prophecy in the mouth of Isaiah. But this is not compatible with a mythicizing reading, any more than calling the figure ‘messiah’ is; but Doherty and Carrier are generally insensitive to the specifically Jewish aspect of the material, as is frequently pointed out.

            (People love to say that Paul is somehow a ‘hellenistic’ writer who thinks in ‘Greek’ categories. This is a groundless meme. If we discount Acts – as these writers emphatically do – there would be no reason to think he had been outside of Jerusalem at all before he started ‘persecuting the Church’. On his own account, his first missionary ventures were in Aramaic speaking venues in ‘Arabia’ . The only evidence that he was born outside Judea is a couple of remarks in Acts.)

          • What you have done is to take a certain theory of myth “from the theory of religion” studies and attribute this to same technical meaning and (mis-)usage to Doherty and Carrier.

            Because in the theory of religion a certain belief about that pagan deity has a particular meaning expressed in the word “myth”, you have transferred that meaning into Carrier’s and Doherty’s use of the word.

            By so doing, you have rendered all their arguments and explanations of their point irrelevant and invalid. Their arguments are indeed using the word myth in a way that is consistent with the popular usage of the word and that is indeed consistent with the meaning you yourself grant to Jewish beliefs about various archangels etc — and even with core aspects of other nonJewish myths such as that of Persephone.

          • Well I have read the arguments to which those quoted passages refer so I do understand the meaning of their comparisons and the thought systems of their wider world, both Jewish and pagan. It seems to me that you have selected Doherty’s summary and imposed your own meaning to the words instead of accepting the meaning of his preceding argument.

            You have selected a particular meaning of “myth’ and replaced Doherty’s argument and explanation with that meaning of yours.

            It logically follows then that his argument, in your view, is irrelevant to his conclusion — and irrelevant, period. All that is important is the meaning of the term and comparison you see in the summary of his argument.

            Do you think Doherty would have been more consistent to have reworded the conclusion of his argument to conform with your understanding and preferred definition of terms — and in your view?

            Can you explain one more thing for me? Why do you say I am “defending” their arguments when I have made it clear several times that I find myself in disagreement with them on a number of issues (some of them relatively major)? What I have done is point out the false claims of McGrath’s reviews of both their works and his false claims about certain cited supporting references. It seems to follow for you not that McGrath has been quite careless but that I am suddenly “defending” Carrier and Doherty. Again, the logic of this position escapes me.

            How is it possible for anyone to point out errors in anybody’s review while at the same time not agreeing with the positions of those being misrepresented?

          • Michael

            You repeatedly claim that the writers in question are being handled unjustly by McGrath and kin; this is all that is meant by defense here. But it is plain that you haven’t a clue what they are saying. When someone points out that they are using the word ‘myth’ so that ‘Jesus/Christ was not a myth’ doesn’t entail that ‘Jesus/Christ was historical, i.e. really existed’ — and you repeatedly and emphatically insist on the entailment — you say ‘Oh I don’t see this in the text’. When they cut and paste explicit claims that contradict the sense you attach to the word ‘myth’ — i.e. the sense of ‘false’ — you say ‘Oh but in the context it is different’. This distraction and refusal to focus is so much entrenched in your habits that it doesn’t occur to you to show that the sentences are being misread; they are before us. Your maneouver is ‘But some scholars think the opposite’; ‘But in the context, …’ etc. Anything to avoid actually attending to the content, and to the meaning of individual sentences. This is what is called thought.

            What is being imputed e.g. to Paul is a form of thought that is completely alien to the Jewish religion he was brought up in; they do not attempt mythicist readings of Isaiah, but at points explictly forswear them. Someone like Paul is subject merely to certain Jewish ‘influences’; there is a so-to-say Semitic coloration to his quasi-Mithraism; this reasserted its influence later in the Gospels when the myth of the self-sacrifice of the cosmic Christ needed to be ‘euhemerized’ or ‘de-euhemerized’. This is the plain sense of the text, and the meaning of ‘mythicism’. It is related to Jesus-never-existed-ism only indirectly as part of an argument for it; other arguments are possible. It is essential to the argument that someone like Paul is not read as an heir to Hebrew prophecy, either as carrying it forward or declaring its fulfillment. A different sort of thought must be found in his text. ‘Christ’ must be understood in such a way as neither to be anticipated nor found. Such an understanding is not possible when the text is read as a typically Jewish phenomenon of the period. The role of the (real, not popular) category of myth in the discussion is central. It is incredible that you have not noticed this.

          • Can we please keep the tone friendly, Michael? That would be appreciated. There is no need to write as if I am being wilfully obtuse or defending the indefensible because I disagree with your point and am trying to explain why I believe it is a logical fallacy.

            There is no more possibility of discussion when you accuse me of “refusing” to understand your point of view when I do not agree with it, or that “it does not occur to me” to see things your way. Nor does it commend your civility when you imply I am incapable of “thought” because I am attempting to explain why I believe your point is a fallacy.

            I am not talking about what D and C have “cut and paste” but what you yourself cut and paste from D and are interpreting without reference to his actual argument. They do not impute to Paul the meaning of myth that you appear here to be saying they do. They simply don’t.

            Firstly, you are mistaken when you say I am “defending” D and C by means of saying that they are treated unjustly by McG. No, I am not saying that although that is certainly a conclusion to be drawn from what I am saying. I am doing something much more explicit and specific. I am demonstrating that McG’s criticisms are factually baseless. His citation of Hall for the date of the section of the AoI under discussion is false. Hall makes no such claim as McG cites him for. That is the sort of thing I am addressing.

            You, on the other hand, are arguing against D and C quite differently from the way McG does. You are not making factually false– demonstrably factually false — claims about what D and C and others actually say.

            You do, I believe, misinterpret D and C. Both D and C make the same argument here. You disagree with it because, as far as I think I understand, they are not presenting the “typical Jewish” belief or are not using a word in the way it is used in a specific technical sense in a particular study.

            If I am mistaken then please do not attack me personally but do respond civilly.

            Carrier in fact sums up both his and D’s particular relating to the meaning of the word in the conceptual context you are addressing with this:

            Plutarch has this event only annually . . . , but that’s not a relevant difference, since syncretism with Jewish apocalypticism fully explains the replacement of a cyclical with a one-time resurrection (in fact, the peculiarly Jewish logic of that modification is fully explained in Hebrews 9. . . . (p. 172)

            When you dispute D and C by reference to what is “typically Jewish” I believe you are missing the very point of syncretism. It seems you are simply sidestepping so much of the argument and evidence advanced by both D and C — especially among the many different esoteric interpretations of scriptures found among Jewish sects.

            If you can explain what you mean by “typically Jewish” readings — especially given what we know of pesher and midrash and the wide variety of interpretations of Daniel and Isaiah in the Second Temple era, and given the evidence we have of syncretistic history of Jewish belief systems — then maybe I will see why you believe C and D are wrong.

            Again, a point you have not yet addressed though I have raised it more than once now: It is the logic of your argument that the mere text of the AoI as we have it — or even Christianity itself — is proof that Jesus was historical. Is that correct?

            This little series began with attacks on me for my supposed rudeness after I posted a comment that no-one here has faulted for being rude — despite my pleas for someone to do so. Now you have added your voice to those who have resorted to personal insult in argument with me because I don’t see the validity of your point.

          • Not sure what happened to my earlier comment replying to this. So will try again.

            I am disappointed that you see fit to characterize my response to your argument as some sort of avoidance of your point — and that you do so in most uncivil terms.

            Yes, I do believe I am justified in saying that the paragraph you quoted should be interpreted in the light of the longer argument it is summarizing. I don’t think it is playing games of avoidance to counter your view by saying that you are implying the who preceding argument is in fact a non sequitur because you believe the meaning of the word “myth” in the summary should be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with their preceding argument.

            You accuse me of being ignorant of what Doherty and Carrier argue yet you consistently avoid addressing my specific responses that refer to what they do in fact argue — and resort at last here to personal insult because i do not agree with you.

            Again, a point you have avoided till now: is not the implication of your argument this — that the AoI must mean that Jesus was historical?

            In my earlier post that seems to have gone awol I quoted a passage from Carrier that addressed your point about circular time in myth and Jewish syncretism, and Jewish thought as known to us from the Book of Hebrews.

            You now seem to be not only personally attacking me instead of responding logically and factually to my criticisms of your view but introducing a concept of apparently uniquely or discrete “typical Jewish thought”. This concept would also appear to mean any argument for the emergence of a Jewish sect that embraced influences that ultimately originated from a variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds (including Hellenistic ones) must be invalid — despite the evidently syncretistic history of Judaism (e.g. Zoroastrianism).

            I find it disappointing that McGrath’s supporters do not seem to be interested in attempting to do him credit by setting an example of civil exchange in argument.

            As for your reference to my “defence” of C and D, no, you have sidestepped the point I have made in relation to that. Yes, you can draw the conclusion from what I do say that I believe McG is unfair to D and C, but what I actually say is that McG has made quite false statements about the writings of D and C and even about those whom he cites in support of his attacks on mythicism.

            That is quite different from your own disagreement here: you are engaged with a disagreement over interpretation, not blatantly false assertions of fact.

          • Michael

            You keep belaboring alleged errors of McGrath about the dating of parts of the Ascension, but yourself write “the Martyrdom’s text indicates at several points that it does not know of the Vision” as the reason for different dates, suggesting you have … no control whatever on the material. All your complaints against McGrath are founded on accepting certain recent writers over older ones on a matter that is clearly speculative. Note that the recent discussions really only pertain to the terminus post quem; there is very little (e.g. the allusion to Nero redivivus) that would keep the text out of the third century.

            Your complaints about being mistreated are tiresome and wrong. You haven’t responded to a single point made. Now you are distracting yourself with the devices you use elsewhere on the page. It is frankly incredible that you blather on about ‘tone’ when you keep mindlessly repeating claims about McGrath’s “quite false statements” as if once were not enough, especially if you possessed a decent argument.

            You did with this last remark show the minimal respect needed to find the bits of text I labored to isolate for you … in order to say they are a mere “summary” with … I guess no meaning. Is the thought that Doherty doesn’t know what he is arguing either? (They are in fact from different sources, I had about 20 the other day.)

            Your argument is that Doherty and Carrier don’t mean that, that they are arguing that Jesus was a myth in the popular sense, and that you know this from reading the rest of the argument.

            The authors are indeed attempting to argue that there was no historical Jesus. (“Jesus is a myth”). They are doing this ***by arguing that in ‘early Christianity’ the Christ figure was a mythological construction in the other, wissenschäftliche sense.*** One proposition is a conclusion, the other is a premise used in its defense. It is no good to say that someone isn’t arguing that P on the ground that ultimately he is arguing for Q. If the proof of Q goes by way of P he is arguing for both. Your technique of unrelenting distraction is to keep pointing to the fact that they are arguing that Q – which was never in dispute or under discussion. It is incredible that you cannot pause to reflect on aspect of evasion that permeates everything you say here.

            Mythicism is basically a view about what Paul, and perhaps Hebrews, meant. (Its account of the meaning of the Gospels is basically conventional.) It is the theory that Paul’s ‘Christ’ talk is neither _more prophecy and anticipation_ (as of course it can’t be since he speaks of death and resurrection as past), nor _recognition of a claimant_ (on the ground, to put it crudely, that he doesn’t bother including a pocket bio in his letters.) But _more prophecy and anticipation_ OR _recognition of a claimant_ are basically the only things you can do with a properly messianic discourse. Isaiah, the Gospels, the followers of bar Kokhba and so on, all restricted themselves to those two possibilities.

            There is thus the problem of assigning any meaning to Paul’s seemingly messianic discourse. For this, a surprisingly indirect detour is taken via Persephone / Ishtar / Inanna and Mithras and so on. In Persephone- and Mithras- talk we don’t pretend to bump into spatial appearances that meet the descriptions we are giving, whether in the past or future. The purpose of the appeal to mythos is to assign a (non-messianic!) content to Paul’s sentences.

            Once _this_ is done it is indeed fairly straightforward to argue that the idea that ‘Jesus existed’ is a falsification or misunderstanding of his sentences. But _it_ must be done. It is no proof that it isn’t done in the course of the argument, to say that it isn’t the conclusion.

          • I’m still waiting for you to address the points i raised in response to your critique. When you do so — and with civility — let me know. We may then be able to return to the conversation.

            Alternatively you might like to respond to my critique of McGrath’s reviews by actually checking and testing each one of my claims.

          • Michael

            I am responding to each remark directly; it is a characteristic obfuscation to declare otherwise. Your idea is that when someone actually makes an argument, they are being uncivil to you. To make it clearer (I guess): the text from Carrier above is totally characteristic and the best imaginable proof of my point. Did Mithras kill the bull annually? No, he killed it once, but not on earth and not during the course of history. Paul for example is supposed to think that the sacrifice of the cosmic Christ takes place ‘once’, but not on earth and not during the course of history. In history there is only the _revelation_ of this Truth. You refuse to register the actual ‘mythicist’ proposition — which has to do with the ‘Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus’ figure, and, in itself, nothing to do with any might-be historical ‘Jesus’. You keep denying that our writers are saying what they are saying – which makes perfect sense, whether or not it’s true. Above you repeatedly made the demonstrably wrong, demagogical inference: ‘x is not a myth (in the sense of Carrier and Doherty) :. x was a real historical entity’ and repeatedly accused me of error in imputing this completely obvious sense to them, and somehow think I’m the one who’s ‘uncivil’ or ‘unprofessional’.

          • Jim

            Michael, I for one would like to say a big thanks to you for the comments you contributed to this OP. You have provided a lot of information, and I’ll be going over it again over the next few days – my brain is too small to take it all in, especially in one pass).

          • Ah, I have just done a web search on the quotations you use here and I can see now why you were unable to address my critiques of your argument. You have not read either Doherty’s or Carrier’s books but have snipped extracts from summaries and comments on summary and review webpages.

            So this explains why you were able to do nothing more than simply repeat over and over your original point with each of your comments (and with mounting personal hostility) and simply fail each time to address the criticisms I originally or previously offered each time.

          • Michael

            Not at all. Its simpler than that, I just couldn’t cut and paste from Carrier’s Historicity. I basically said that. A paranoid theory isn’t necessary. But of course it is characteristic that, rather than address the issue, which is ABC of mythicism, you prefer the technique of distraction and fog over actual discussion of the text and topic. You haven’t dealt with the basic fact that, as far as one can tell, you impute to these writers the validity of the inference rule: x didn’t exist in history, ergo x is a myth. Or equivalently: that they think ‘…is mythical” / “…really existed in history’ are the only options. They don’t. When you figure this out you will be just as impatient with people who don’t. All of the interesting questions came before this bit of discussion, and concerned the cogency of characterizing Ascensions as a myth, given its content – my thought was that this resists a mythicizing reading – and with the interpretation of Paul, I Enoch etc. Then it emerged that you didn’t know what that meant to say to characterize a text as articulating myth. Here I emphasized the aspect of the form of temporality. Then it became increasingly clear that no amount of whatever you call ‘reading’ would help.

          • I have made no such inference as you attribute to me in anything I have ever written, here or elsewhere. In fact I have argued against those who do make such inferences.

            I responded to your argument and you have avoided at every step of the way from addressing the logical and factual points of my critique. You have lowered yourself to personal attacks and accusing me of all sorts of mind-sets and motives while I have attempted to keep the discussion on point. (My own personal views of mythicism and the AoI have not raised once since I consider them quite irrelevant to the point I have been attempting to address here.)

            But you are a very rude fellow who cannot argue civilly so good day to you, sir.

          • Michael

            You say “I have made no such inference as you attribute to me in anything I have ever written, here or elsewhere.”

            On the remark that a myth doesn’t have a sell by date:

            “I’m not sure I really follow your distinction between myths and prophecies. Many myths contain prophecies so I am not clear on your distinction of if it is one that would have been recognized in the ancient world.”

            After I throw in a few quotes from Doherty:

            “Again, a point you have avoided till now: is not the implication of your argument this — that the AoI must mean that Jesus was historical?” (sc. because I expressed doubt that it can be a myth)

            And just before that:

            “I don’t think it is playing games of avoidance to counter your view by saying that you are implying the who preceding argument is in fact a non sequitur because you believe the meaning of the word “myth” in the summary should be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with their preceding argument.” –The only feature I was using was that a myth doesn’t have a sell by date and that ‘not myth’ doesn’t entail ‘true’

            And on and on about twenty times. Whenever I reject the inferences, “not myth ergo true”; “false ergo myth”; etc. and point out that mythicism everywhere depends on a meaning of ‘myth’ on which these inferences fail, you have affirmed that I am inserting a private meaning of ‘myth’ and am deliberately falsifying these writers. You take umbrage when _someone whom you accuse of deliberate falsification_ becomes irritated with and proves his point, declaring _him_ to be uncivil, unprofessional etc. Then later you make the same accusations against him for affirming what you now you suggest you have always affirmed (of course without showing any text since it is provably a new conviction), saying “I have argued against those who do make such inferences” etc.

            You would do well to adopt an exact and explicit definition of ‘myth’ and never to depart from it. Then it will at least be possible to argue with you.

          • Michael, you wrote

            This, if a scholar characterizes the text as ‘messianic’ this will be because he or she accepts a ‘messianic’ interpretation of it — *where ‘messianic’ is understood in the usual sense*, since a) the scholar is attempting to communicate. The two uses of the word ‘messiah’ in the text, are in fact not the ground for calling the text messianic. It is the anticipation of fulfillment that is that ground.

            By contrast, the Ascensions uses the literal expression ‘messiah’ for every reference to the central figure. On Carrier’s mythicist reading this use of the word is not associated with an anticipation of historical fulfillment.

            Have you read any of Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus” yet? I ask because virtually every use the word “messiah” in Carrier’s argument is indeed in the context of anticipation of historical fulfilment.

            How many exceptions can you find in Carrier’s book in which he seeks to test the mythicist and historicist hypotheses?

          • Michael

            Yes, of course he does, that’s what “messiah”/Christ means, i.e. something that either comes to be ‘historical’ or was falsely prophesied. The discussion above was about the interpretation of the messiah language of the Ascensions, and Carrier’s construction of it – not the messiah language of Carrier speaking in his own person. The Ascensions repeatedly refers to the Beloved as Christ and Jesus Christ, and Carrier gives it a non-messianic reading.

          • Michael

            That is, Carrier’s interpretation of the Vision would be fine *if* the text didn’t call him Christ and the one who ‘will be called’ Jesus. But it does him Christ, which decides the matter completely. Similarly the ‘will be called’ forces the text to have the syntax everyone else assigned to it anyway: it is an attempt to put into the mouth of the prophet Isaiah additional *prophetic* material that is arranged to validate Jesus-messianism.

          • I cannot see how this has anything to do with the question of historicity of Jesus.

            Does it follow from your argument that the AoI proves Jesus was a historical figure? That’s what it sounds like but I am sure you don’t mean that – so if you could explain it would be appreciated.

          • You’ve lost me. A non-messianic reading? I have read quite a few books and articles about the messiah and one thing is clear to me — messiahs can also be historical past and not all are conquerors in the sense you seem to be suggesting if I understand you correctly.

            Why “Carrier’s reading” of the AoI is so wrong or “non-messianic” is a point you will have to explain further. I simply don’t follow you, sorry.

  • John MacDoanld

    Nicholas Covington has posted a review of Dr. McGrath’s post. Here it is: http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2014/11/01/did-jesus-die-in-outer-space-james-mcgraths-new-review-article/

    Here is one of the more interesting of Covington’s comments:

    McGrath: “As Carrier notes, ‘[Ascension] goes out of its way to explain that the firmament contains copies of everything on earth.’ …Carrier does not discuss the natural implication of this: that even if the celestial Beloved only descended as far as the firmament, and was crucified there by demons, this would mirror some
    corresponding occurrence on earth.”

    Covington: “McGrath believes that the ‘corresponding occurrence on Earth’ means an earthly Jesus’ sacrifice, and a belief in an earthly Jesus’ sacrifice
    points towards an historical Jesus (I’m interpreting McGrath here).
    However, the earthly counterpart to the heavenly Jesus’ sacrifice is, as
    the book of Hebrews says, the animal sacrifices dictated by the Old
    Testament, not an earthly Jesus. I find this to be one of the most
    telling points in favor of mythicism.”.

    • I do wish that mythicists would focus first on understanding early Christian literature, instead of clutching at any interpretation that seems to offer the possibility of denying a historical Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews is a rather fringe text in the New Testament, in terms of its Platonic outlook, and like conservative Christians, mythicists tend to read everything else in the NT in light of this one text, albeit for different reasons. The letter actually compares different high priests, with the earthly tabernacle being the terrestrial equivalent to the heavens themselves, and Jesus as high priest purifying the latter serves as forerunner into the celestial equivalent of the earthly Holy of Holies. His role as priest and as forerunner makes little sense if Jesus is a purely celestial being – the letter says as much explicitly, and so if mythicists were paying attention to the details, they could have made a more plausible case (albeit still not, in my opinion, a convincing one) by having Hebrews be a response to mythicism, or something like it, rather than being itself a mythicist text, which faces insurmountable difficulties because of what the text actually says.

      • John MacDonald

        Mythicism is silly to the point of absurdity.

        For instance, one thing that strikes me is that if mythicism is true, why do we have no record in church history of the monumental moment when belief in a celestial Jesus switched over to belief in the historical Jesus?

        Mythicists say the early church started with a belief in a celestial Jesus, and then switched over to a belief in a historical Jesus.
        You would think there would have been something like a record of disputes in the early church where some people still believed in the old celestial Jesus, while others believed in the new historical Jesus. And yet there is no mention of this in the period when the early Christian church supposedly switched from belief in a celestial Jesus to belief in a historical Jesus. In fact, all the early church fathers and historians completely fail to mention anything about a celestial Jesus, let alone that a belief in a celestial Jesus was replaced by belief in an historical Jesus.

        I would imagine that if mythicism were true, there would have been some mention of the church switching from a belief in a celestial Jesus to belief in an historical Jesus. Mythicist make the highly improbable argument that early Christians believed in a celestial Jesus, and then for some reason everyone decided they were wrong and started believing in an historical Jesus.

        But more than this, you would think the early opponents of Christianity would have attacked the early Christians for arbitrarily switching sides from a celestial Jesus to an historical Jesus.

        I find the mythicist position to be so improbable on so many different levels that it is a wonder why anyone would bother defending it.

  • Jim

    What is the date of the oldest actual surviving copy of AoI (or fragment thereof), and in which language (Latin, greek, Slavonic, Coptic?) – not that this will impact my life significantly. TY in advance.

    • John MacDonald

      Hi Jim. I found this info about the date for the AoI. I hope it helps.

      It is mainly believed that the text is composed of three different sections written at different times, by different authors. The earliest section, regarding chapters 3:13-4:22, was composed at about the end of the first century A.D. or perhaps early second century and is believed to be a text of Jewish origins and later on redacted by Christian scribes. The date of the Vision of Isaiah is rather more difficult to determine, but it is no older than the third century, since Saint Jerome (c. 347-420 AD) cites a fragment of the work in some of his writings, but from internal evidence it seems that the text is to be placed before the end of the second century AD. The whole work was on a later date assembled as M.A. Knibb writes:

      “It is not known when exactly the three sections of the Ascension were
      combined. The Greek fragment (from the 5th-6th cent.), the palimpsest
      giving the text of the fragments of the first Latin translation
      (likewise from the 5th-6th cent.), and the Ethiopic translation (which
      was made some time during the 4th-6th cent.) all presuppose the
      existence of the complete work. But the character of the mistakes in the
      Greek fragment and the Latin palimpsest suggests that the complete work had already been in existence for some time when these manuscripts were copied. It thus seems likely that the three sections of the Ascension were brought together in the third or fourth century A.D., and this is confirmed by the fact that Jerome seems to have known the complete book. It is possible that there were two stages in the process, first the combination of 3:13-4:22 with the Martyrdom, and second the combination of the enlarged Martyrdom with the Vision.”

      Knibb, thus, dates the whole texts as been written between 150 and 200 AD but assebled at a later time.

      • Jim

        Thanks for the information John

  • Brazilian

    Great and fair review. Now I expect the “Carrier pentalemma” as Richard Carrier’s responde to your review: liar, insane, dishonest, illogical or ignorant (usually comes as “doesn’t understand math”).

  • Avenger

    C. Anderson at bibleinterp seems to think that he is being clever. I wonder whether they will publish my reply.