Does Coffee Prevent Temple Tantrums?

Does Coffee Prevent Temple Tantrums? October 8, 2015


Given my longstanding interest in the temple incident, I felt I had to comment on David Hayward’s cartoon above. The action of Jesus in the temple, as depicted both in the Gospel of Mark and in the Gospel of John, seems to be a deliberate, well-planned symbolic action, and not an example of someone losing their cool because of a lack of sufficient caffeination or for some other comparable reason.

Those interested in my own thoughts on the story as it relates to the historical Jesus can take a look at my chapter in John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel.

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  • John MacDonald

    If Jesus would have committed those disruptive acts in the temple, he would have been arrested. There would have been guards there to stop precisely what Jesus is supposed to have done. It is dubious, to say the least, to think this pericope reflects the historical Jesus.

    • Or maybe that was when he was actually arrested, and Mark invented everything from 11:17-14:22.

      • John MacDonald

        Could be. I’d be interested what your thoughts are on the Divine Message post and the comments there:

        I’ve enjoyed your insight in the past.

        • I agree with much of what you have to say over there.

          While I do not credit Paul’s claim that he got everything by divine revelation and studying the scriptures, I think the fact that he refuses to acknowledge any human sources makes any picture we might try to paint of pre-Pauline Christianity little more than conjecture. Other than some people who claimed to have seen a crucified guy who came back from the dead, everything else in his epistles could have been added to the movement by Paul. For example, Paul might have come up with the idea that the crucifixion atoned for sins, and he could even have come up with the idea that Jesus had been the Davidic Messiah.

          I suspect that there were many devout Jews in early first century Palestine who were praying for God to send his anointed one to deliver his people from the Romans. I further suspect that the hopes of many of these devout Jews were raised with each potential challenge only to be dashed as Romans crushed the challenger. I also think it perfectly plausible that at some point it occurred to one of those devout Jews who was searching the scriptures in a desperate attempt to understand why God was not answering his people’s prayers, that maybe it was all part of God’s plan; maybe it was necessary for God’s anointed one to suffer and die before his ultimate vindication. If that devout Jew was Paul and he happened to hear of a group of peasants who claimed that their failed leader was really still alive, you might get Paul’s entire gospel message with virtually no input from his predecessors. I also think it perfectly plausible that the idea arose from one of the followers of a failed messianic claimant, but I don’t think Paul gives us any basis for assessing the latter as any more probable than the former.

          I think the fact that Paul may have claimed that he and his predecessors agreed on the basic message is pretty much worthless as evidence of what the movement might have looked like before he came along. I have two reasons for thinking this:

          (1) People commonly try to boost their positions by claiming to be in agreement with some authoritative person even if they are not, e.g., every Republican who claims that his policies agree with Ronald Reagan’s. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes they mistakenly assume agreement. Sometimes they think that the authoritative person should have agreed.
          (2) Another possibility is that Paul’s predecessors may have conformed their message to his rather than the other way around. It is easy to imagine Jesus’ illiterate peasant followers being impressed with Paul’s explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ death and their subsequent visions and going along with it.

          I think Paul would claim agreement if that suited his purposes, and I think he would claim that he was right and everyone else was wrong if that suited his purposes.

          For all practical purposes, I view Paul as the founder of Christianity simply because he is our earliest source and he doesn’t provide us with enough information to do anything more than speculate about what the movement looked like before he came along.

          Where I disagree with you is on the significance of Galatians 1:19. Assuming it wasn’t added later by some scribe who thought the passage ambiguous as to which James Paul met, I don’t think it establishes anything more than that Paul met someone named James who identified himself as “the brother of the Lord” and that Paul’s audience knew him by that label. I don’t see that it carries a lot of weight when it comes to determining whether he really was Jesus’ biological brother or whether Paul thought that he was. Moreover, my conclusion is independent of whether there was in fact a historical Jesus.

          I think that there might be valid reasons for thinking that there was some historical Jesus, but I don’t think the evidence is a slam dunk. If there was such a person, I am a thorough minimalist when it comes to anything he said or did. I think that trying to identify anything the historical Jesus really said or did is as pointless as trying to figure out what actual people or incidents Margaret Mitchell might have had in mind when she wrote Gone with the Wind. There is nothing in any of the gospels that might not be an invention rather than an actual memory.

          • John MacDonald

            Well said. Insightful as always.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Mythicists are, of course, welcome to offer an alternative interpretation of Gal. 1:19. The fact that they have failed to come up with anything plausible is significant – Carrier’s recent effort being no exception. Indeed, you might have thought that among 700 pages of drivel, there would be room to spare for a mention of Philemon 1:16, but apparently not.

            One may conclude that Gal. 1:19 carries little weight, but in the absence of an alternative explanation, the conclusion itself will, of course, carry very little weight.

          • In a culture that does not use surnames, other means must be used to distinguish people with common names, e.g., Simon the Zealot, James the Just. Such monikers need not identify unique characteristics about the person in order to be useful. Simon the Zealot need not have been any more zealous than Simon Peter in order to acquire his name. By the same token, James the Brother of the Lord need not have been a brother in any different way from any other James who was around any more than he needed to be any more just. I think the fact that the author of Acts declines to identify him as Jesus’ biological brother is sufficient basis for uncertainty.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            If you have just told me that an explanation for Gal. 1:19 is unnecessary, then I commend your audacity. Carrier might just as well have taken the same position. Instead, his strategy seems to have been that if he addressed the subject at sufficient length, it would leave readers with the vague sense that some explanation had been provided.

          • Just because you deem an explanation necessary doesn’t mean that the evidence warrants any certainty.

          • Sorry, but this is inadequate. I will start with the last point. If an early text like Mark is not enough to persuade you that there was a historical Jesus and his family, then a late one should not suddenly become a basis for conclusions in the opposite direction. The blatant hypocrisy is telling – early sources do not eliminate doubt when they say what I dislike, late sources create doubt when they fail to say something and I can spin it in a convenient manner.

            As for the nicknames, you ask us to imagine something like the following:

            “Greetings, Vinny the Stub-Nosed!”

            “Don’t call me that, my nose is normal!”

            “Sorry, everyone needs to have a nickname – it doesn’t matter if it fits!”

          • John MacDonald

            So your theory is that later texts cannot correct historical inaccuracies of earlier texts?

          • Not at all. But that is not what is going on here. We have early sources agreeing, and a later one merely failing to be explicit in its agreement with those earlier sources, and then some trying to make more of that than anyone ought to find persuasive.

          • John MacDonald

            I find it persuasive that Paul met Jesus’ brother James.

          • John MacDonald

            We may only have one source though, because Mark could have simply uncritically used Paul as his source for James being Jesus’ brother.

          • Neither Mark nor Matthew, nor Josephus for that matter, even hint that the biological brother of Jesus named James played any role in the early church. Indeed, Mark’s James thinks his brother is crazy.

            The way I see it, we have only two early sources that describe a man named James who was a leader in the church. The first identifies him as “the brother of the Lord.” The second declines to do so despite using Mark as a source and therefore knowing that Jesus was believed to have a brother named James.

            As James was a very common name, I don’t see how we can be certain that all the sources are referring to the same James.

          • Mark

            > I don’t see how we can be certain that all the sources are referring to the same James.

            We can’t; but the one called ‘brother of the Lord’ was presumably a brother of the Lord. There is no need to re-identify him across sources.

          • Yes. We can always presume things of which we are not certain, but I don’t think that it’s good methodology.

          • Mark

            The presumption is, that the one Paul is calling ‘James the brother of the lord’, could be called ‘brother of the Lord’ in some sense. Of course Paul could at any time be lying, but it seems improbable that he is doing so in applying this epithet to this Ya’akov, since his purpose is just to secure communication with his readers. (If he is lying in what he goes on to say, he wants the hearer to be clear who he is lying about.) The question is just what he thought his readers would understood by ‘brother of the lord’. All other competing Jameses are completely irrelevant distractions.

          • You might want to discuss that with Ehrman and McGrath since they seem to think that the other Jameses corroborate their interpretation of Galatian 1:19.

          • Mark

            They do corroborate the usual interpretation, but are completely dispensable if the question is, did Paul meet anyone who met Jesus? Of course, for that purpose, the ‘brother of the Lord’ passage is dispensable too. Entertaining the suspicion that Paul thinks his supposed master was crucified – but not by the Romans and in the heavens and so on – is no more reasonable than entertaining the doubt that maybe the text was forged in the 13th c.

            Anything in the anonymous Mark and Acts pales in epistemic significance compared to the letters of Paul in any case. I would have thought any ‘corroboration’ tended to go in the other direction.

          • Gary

            Oh oh! That sounds like the life of Brian. “Big Nose” was a good guy.

          • Gary

            I almost feel like I have discovered a new Nag Hammadi set of texts! No wonder they were not included in the Canon of The Life of Brian.


          • I’m asking nothing of the kind. “Brother of the Lord” fits James perfectly well in a spiritual sense, which is how Paul commonly uses the word. The fact that other men named James might also have been brothers in the same sense doesn’t prevent it from identifying a specific James anymore than the fact that other Simons might be zealous hindered the identification of one particular Simon as the Zealot.

            I know you hate it when I repeat myself, but you don’t leave me much choice.

          • You most certainly do have a choice. You could consider the evidence instead of making assertions that do not fit it. “Brother of” is not a way Christians were referred to, and Paul does not give any indication that he was distinguishing this James from one or more others who were not Christians.

            Rather than repeat myself further, I will link to the points you are continuing to ignore.



          • As I commented extensively on both those posts, I don’t know how you can claim that I “ignored” the points you made in them.

            You, on the other hand, either ignored, failed to comprehend, or deliberately misrepresented the point I made in the comment to which you just now responded. I did not say that the other men named James “were not Christians.” Quite the contrary, I said that they “might also have been brothers in the same sense.”

          • Then you are clearly ignoring the points made in the earlier posts on this topic, especially this one:

          • I beg to differ. The point you make in that post is exactly the one that I have addressed here (as well as on multiple other occasions). .

            You wrote, “If all Christians were Jesus’ brothers, then singling out James using this phrase makes no sense.” By that logic, distinguishing Simon the Zealot makes no sense since other Simons were also zealous and singling out that same James as “the Just” makes no sense since other Jameses were also just, and singling out Saint Joseph the Worker makes no sense because other saints named Joseph also did work.

            On the contrary, a term that might logically be applied to any number of people can serve to single out a specific individual if it is understood by the people who use it to refer to a that individual. It is simply a matter of convention.

            You also wrote that “if all Christians were Jesus’ brothers, then using the same term to denote a special category of leader makes no sense,” but “sister,” “brother,” and “saint” are all used in precisely that way despite their general applicability to all Christians.

          • The terms you refer to are not used as titles in the same streams of the Christian tradition which apply them to everyone. The point you seem to be trying hard to resist is that there must be a context in which an individual stands out from others for a nickname to work. If I call you “Vinny the Deliberately Obscurantist” I would presumably be distinguishing you from others in a twofold manner. There are presumably both other Vinnies and others who are deliberately obscurantist, and I am trying to distinguish you by narrowing the focus onto the point of overlap between the two. The fact remains that “James the brother of the Lord” does not in any way seem to be referring to Christians in general, nor to a special category thereof. In works from not much later than Paul’s letters, as well as other texts that are much later, the meaning of his reference is confirmed. Obviously one can doubt anything but one’s own existence if one is determined to, but the evidence points clearly in one direction unless one is committed in advance to the route of denialism.

          • Catholics apply apply the terms “sister” and “brother” generally to apply to all Christians as well as using them to apply to specicific categories of Catholics. You are correct that they do not generally use “saint” in a general sense, even though the Church would acknowledge that meaning.

            What work “not much later” than Paul confirms the reference? Mark, Matthew, and Josephus refer to a “brother of Jesus” who does not appear to have any role in the movement. Acts is the only work that identifies a James who was a leader of the church and it appears to deliberately avoid identifying him as Jesus’ brother.

          • How much is said about what those appointed as apostles do in the movement in the Synoptic Gospels? And how do you distinguish someone deliberately avoiding saying something from someone neglecting to state the obvious?

            Can we talk about why you are determined to put this much effort into avoiding the implications of the evidence? I still can’t figure out what it is you feel like you gain from rejecting not only what scholars say, but the primary evidence itself.

          • The Synoptics don’t say much at all which is why I have a problem with claims that they “confirm” things about the later movement, particularly when one of the Synoptics portrays its James as thinking Jesus was crazy.On the other hand, Josephus does supposedly have something to say about the later movement, but he does not describe James as having anything to do with it.

            It appears to me that Luke-Acts is avoiding saying something because its prologue speaks of earlier writings that were somehow inadequate. Therefore, when its author departs from one of his sources, my default assumption has to be that the change was intentional.

          • Mark

            That Mark has Jesus’ family making like he’s crazy fits perfectly with Mark’s general scheme of having everyone around him misunderstand him, including or especially the people who are supposed to know better, or who end up knowing better.

          • It also fits perfectly with him being a different person than the James that Acts describes as holding a leadership role in the early church, as does the fact that Mark has Jesus expressly denigrating the significance of biological relationships.

          • Mark

            On the assumption that X was a leader in the early church, we have reason to infer that Mark would have been inclined to represent him as bumbling and uncomprehending. You are thinking, reasonably enough, that if at some time t, X was busily representing a real Jesus as a fool, then it would stand to reason that at later times X still represented this Jesus that way, and that typical real such people are unlikely to end up leaders in the Jesus-messiah crowd later on. But it seems that for Mark, if X properly grasps what’s up with his Jesus in the end, then surely X has to be represented as totally uncomprehending even despite special privileges, transfiguration scenes, etc.

            But in fact none of this has anything to do with ‘James the brother of the Lord’. The text would have the same force as ‘Meredith the sister of the Lord’ where we nowhere else had any references to any Merediths. Acts and the gospels are irrelevant.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            You say that Paul often uses the term “brother of the Lord” in a spiritual sense. I must say that I can’t recall his doing so. Perhaps you can give me an example. Something like the following would be ideal:

            We are all brothers of the Lord
            When I became a brother of the Lord
            When he became a brother of the Lord
            I look forward to meeting more brothers of the Lord in Rome
            Only brothers of the Lord will have eternal life

            If it turns out that you can’t find anything like that, then perhaps you could at least point to another example of a group whose members called each other “brother of X”, where X is a celestial being.

            If it turns out that even that is not possible, then perhaps you could assure me that Paul never used a term like “brother in the Lord”, which would obviously cut the legs from any argument that “brothers” in general are actually brothers of the Lord.

          • No Cecil. I didn’t say “term”; I was very careful to say “word.”

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Thanks for the clarification. Can we agree that the term “brother of the Lord” is never used in a sense which would clearly indicate that it has a spiritual meaning? Can we also agree that there is no known use of a term which might be analogous, i.e., “brother of X”, where X is a celestial being? And can we also agree that Paul does use the term “brother in the Lord”, thereby undercutting the attempt to extrapolate from “brother” used in a spiritual sense to “brother of the Lord”?

          • I can agree that Paul never uses “brother of the Lord” in a way that unambiguously indicates either a spiritual sense or a biological sense. I can also agree that Paul consistently uses “brother” in a spiritual sense and that he consistently uses “Lord” in the sense of an exalted heavenly being who manifests himself through visions and revelations. I have a hard time seeing how “of the” rather than “in the” unambiguously points to a different sense of either word.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            This is muddying the waters. An example may help to clear them. If I tell you that yesterday I met James, the gaffer’s brother, you may have no idea what a “gaffer” is but you now know that this particular “gaffer” is the biological brother of James. The meaning of the term is clarified by the context.

            When we encounter the term “brother of X”, we are not in a state of complete ignorance as to whether “X” is a human being or a celestial being.

            The fact that Christians called each other “brother” is no
            more help to mythicists than a straw is to a drowning man. If you want to extrapolate from “brother” to “brother of the Lord”, then you must show either that your interpretation of the term is initially plausible – by finding an analogy,
            for example – or that the evidence supports your interpretation.

            If we already knew for certain that Paul thought of Jesus as a heavenly being who had never lived on Earth, then we would have to accept the mythicist interpretation of the term. But that is the very thing in question.

            And the attempt to make such an argument is obviously demolished by the fact that Paul regards Jesus as being from the “seed of David”.

          • I’m sorry Cecil, but I cannot help but feel that you are being unnecessarily restrictive in the context you choose to consider.

            In fact, I know quite a bit about what a gaffer is. A gaffer is an exalted being who dwells in heaven and manifests himself to his followers through supernatural appearances and revelation. And while it appears that a gaffer may once have been a man who walked the earth, nothing about what such a man may have said or done has any particular significance for a gaffer’s followers. Moreover, there is even some indication that a gaffer only becomes a gaffer upon being exalted after his death.

            So when a particular man is referred to as a “brother of a gaffer,” nothing leads me to think that the overwhelmingly most likely meaning must be that he is the biological brother of a man that a gaffer had been prior to his death. It may certainly be that “brother of a gaffer” indicates something different than “brother in a gaffer,” but I can’t see why I am compelled to conclude that the difference is one of biology rather than spirituality

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            That is the problem. Because you think you already know what a gaffer is, you are unable to allow the evidence in question to have the weight which it deserves.

            That is the wrong way of looking at it. If you think you have other evidence which tilts the scales towards mythicism,then place it on the scales. But that doesn’t alter the fact that “brother of the Lord” should be placed very heavily on the side of historicism.

          • What I know is how the guy who claims to have met a gaffer commonly uses the word. I know that he shows no interest in the men that gaffers were prior to their deaths. I also know that he deems spiritual brotherhood to be very important.

            So if you want to tell me that in this one particular instance he is talking about a biological relationship with an earthly man, I am happy to entertain the possibility, but it’s simply not anything about which I think any great degree of certainty is warranted.

            I also know from the work of that great mythicist basher Bart Ehrman that the text of Galatians is necessarily subject to uncertainty because it was subject to 150 years of uncertain transmission prior to our earliest manuscripts.

            I further know from the laws of probability that when you take a conclusion that is subject to considerable uncertainty and use it as a premise in another argument, any conclusion that you draw from the latter argument is even more uncertain.

            So even if I thought that the arguments for the biological interpretation were much stronger than they appear to me to be, I still wouldn’t think that Galatians 1:19 could bear anywhere near the weight that some historicists (or mythicists for that matter) want to put on it.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            As I said, if you want to consider other evidence, which might favour mythicism, you are welcome to do so. You think that Paul speaks in general about Jesus as if he were not a historical figure. However, the fact that Jesus is an exalted figure does not mean that he is not also a historical figure.

            In the transfiguration scene in the Gospels, Moses and Elijah “appear” as heavenly figures. But they were obviously believed to have once been men who lived normal lives on Earth. The fact that the risen Jesus is believed to have appeared to people is not incompatible with his also having been a man who had lived recently.

            On the other hand, there is clearly evidence which is incompatible with a purely celestial Jesus – the fact that he is of the seed of David, for example.

          • You think that Paul speaks in general about Jesus as if he were not a historical figure

            No I don’t think that. I don’t think that Paul cared about Jesus enough to speak about him at all. I think the only thing that mattered to Paul was that Jesus had been exalted as the risen Christ after his death. Who and what Jesus might have been before his crucifixion and what he might have said or done didn’t have any significance to Paul.

            I don’t think that Paul thought that anyone he knew had known Jesus personally or been his follower during his earthly ministry. Indeed, I don’t think that Paul thought Jesus had an earthly ministry. However, I don’t think Paul gives me enough evidence to determine whether he thought he knew who the risen Christ had been when he walked the earth or whether Jesus had lived at an undetermined time and place.

          • John MacDonald

            Hence, Paul said “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)”

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I don’t think that Paul thought that anyone he knew had known Jesus personally

            You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. Certainly, nothing that has been said has altered my opinion on Gal. 1:19.

          • That’s fine with me. I was merely trying to correct your mistaken impression of what I think.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I must say that I am not at all clear as to what it is you do think. You are keen to point out that Paul regards Jesus as an exalted figure. I hesitate to credit you with an opinion that you will later disavow, but perhaps you think that Paul’s exalted view of Jesus is incompatible with Jesus having been the biological brother of James? If that is your view, you have presented no argument in support of it.

            You are also keen to point out that spiritual brotherhood is important to Paul, but again, there is no argument to show what this might imply. Spiritual brotherhood is based on fellowship. Once we take that into account, we can speculate about a possible alternative to the traditional interpretation of Gal. 1:19. Let’s say that James was actually the beloved disciple. He wasn’t the biological brother of Jesus but he was so close to Jesus that Jesus called him his brother.

            This is pure speculation, of course, and there is no reason to think that it is true, but it is still far more plausible than the theory that James was known as the “brother” of a purely mythical being.

          • I don’t think Paul regarded Jesus at all. Paul knew the risen Christ through revelation, appearances, and scripture. I don’t think he gives us any evidence that he knew anything about the man Jesus. From what Paul gives us, Jesus could have been anybody who had been crucified almost anywhere. I think it logical to think that Paul thought of the crucifixion as a relatively recent event, but he is far from explicit on the point.

            I think there may be reasons to think there was a real person behind some of the crucifixion stories, but I don’t think that Paul gives us much more evidence for a historical Jesus than he gives us for a historical Adam.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I’m not sure what you mean when you say that Paul didn’t regard Jesus at all. Perhaps you mean that Paul had little or no interest in any life that Jesus might have lived before the crucifixion. That may be true. It is interesting that when Paul became a believer he didn’t join any existing group. He tells us that he only paid a brief visit to the Jerusalem crowd. But what does that imply? Is it that there was no earthly life of Jesus to learn about? I see no reason to prefer that explanation over the alternatives.

            Paul seems to be a maverick. He couldn’t be an authority on the earthly life of Jesus, since he hadn’t been a follower of Jesus while he was alive. So Paul’s only chance of claiming authority was to base it on revelation.

            But none of that really matters if Paul met Jesus’ brother. And Paul’s apparent indifference to the details of Jesus’ life are no reason to doubt that he did meet Jesus’ brother. It is all very well for mythicists to claim that they are unconvinced by this evidence but I see no remotely plausible alternative explanation.

            Some people who are not biologically related may consider themselves to be so close that they call each other “brother”. On this basis one might speculate (fruitlessly, in my opinion) that James and Jesus were not biological brothers, but it would hardly be grounds for thinking that James and Jesus had never actually known each other.

          • I think one alternative is that there was no earthly life to learn about, and that Jesus was only known through visions and revelations of the risen Christ. I think that another alternative is that there was nothing relevant to learn about his life because Jesus’ wasn’t a religious leader, e.g., Jesus led an armed insurrection that was suppressed by the Romans and it was only after the post-mortem visions that anyone attached any theological significance to him. I tend to think that the latter has more explanatory power, but I don’t think that the evidence is sufficient to completely dismiss the former.

            While it might be perfectly reasonable for Paul to focus on revelation rather than the sayings and doings of the earthly Jesus, there would have been lots of people who would have preferred the latter if there was any general belief that they were relevant. I think that Paul would have been forced to address the meaning of things Jesus said and did simply because his rivals would have been citing them. That neither Paul nor any of the other early epistle writers felt the need to discuss Jesus’ earthly life suggests to me that there wasn’t much there to cite. Naturally there would have been stories invented about Jesus, but it would have taken some time before they became generally accepted as authentic or authoritative.

            I think the fact that early Christians used “brother” so frequently to designate a spiritual relationship makes it inherently plausible that Paul was applying it that way to James even if you think that another meaning is most likely.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Once again the central point has been missed. The brotherhood between Paul and his fellow believers does not provide an analogy for a relationship between James and someone who never existed.

            I must conclude that this has never been a serious discussion.

          • Well that argument’s just as clever as can be Cecil, but it has a pretty big hole in it. Paul thought that the risen Christ did exist, and he thought that the spiritual relationship he had with his followers was every bit as real as the one his followers had with one anther. The fact that I don’t think the risen Christ exists has no impact on the probability that Paul would have described that relationship with the word brother.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Yet again the point has been missed. The early Christians were a community. They addressed each other as “brother”, just as, say, communists do. That communal sense of brotherhood has nothing to do with specific brotherly relationships. If someone is known specifically as the brother of X, we want to know why. The brotherhood between Paul and his fellow believers has nothing to do with the specific brotherly relationship between James and Jesus. Again, the attempt to extrapolate from one kind of brotherhood to another is completely bogus.

          • So the point is that early Christians’ demonstrated ability to extrapolate from one kind of brotherhood to another is somehow proof positive that any other extrapolation is “completely bogus”?

            Please forgive my suspicion that it is you who is not interested in a serious discussion.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Now you’re flailing.

          • When it comes to figuring out what argument is, I really am flailing. I know that you think you have made some really compelling point, but I’ve never encountered anyone who claimed that spiritual brotherhood is an unthinkable interpretation of Galatians 1:19, and I have no idea where you are coming from.

          • Mark

            Carrier certainly thinks that the brotherhood of believers is unthinkable as an interpretation of Galatians 1:19. Thus he adds an epicycle about a special group of ‘brothers of the Lord’ in Jerusalem, evidently excluding Cephas.

          • Mark

            If there is an analogy between the ‘brotherhood’ of all believers and the ‘brotherhood’ of ‘James the brother of the Lord’ and ‘the Lord’, then it would suggest that James was also a celestial character, and – I guess – that Paul met him a celestial Jerusalem. Calling someone a ‘brother’ is calling him a ‘brother of’ *yourself*; it has nothing in common with calling someone a brother of someone else.

          • arcseconds

            I further know from the laws of probability that when you take a conclusion that is subject to considerable uncertainty and use it as a premise in another argument, any conclusion that you draw from the latter argument is even more uncertain.

            What exactly do you mean by this?

            If you mean that no conclusion which relies on a historical Jesus can be more probable than the existence of the historical Jesus, then fine, but this is hardly worth saying.

            What it seems as though you’re saying though is that the existence of Jesus can’t be more probable than the chances of ‘the brother of the Lord’ indicating a biological relationship.

            Which is false, and obviously so, and not provable from the axioms of probability.

          • Actually, I was thinking about Ehrman’s claim in Did Jesus Exist that Galatians 1:19 makes scholars certain of Jesus’ historicity “beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt.” Obviously we cannot be more certain of historicity based on Paul having met Jesus’ brother than we can be that Paul meant biological brother. Moreover, we cannot be more certain than we can be of the text of Galatians, which Ehrman says is subject to considerable uncertainty due to the fact that our earliest manuscript dates from 150 years after its composition.

            Now I don’t think that probability estimates are particularly meaningful for things like this, but I think that they can be helpful for illustrating what happens when premises and conclusions are strung together in the way that New Testament scholars are wont to do. Let’s suppose that there is a 20% chance that “brother of the Lord” is an interpolation, i.e., some scribe wrote it in the margin in 125 A.D. to clarify which James Paul met and another scribe inserted it in the text in 175 A.D. Let’s further suppose that there is a 20% chance that Paul didn’t mean biological brother. Now the chances are only 64% that Paul met Jesus’ biological brother because you have to multiply the probability of he proposed meaning by the probability of authenticity to determine the probability that both are true. If the two probabilities are 30%, the final probability is less than 50%.

            In my experience, New Testament scholars routinely ignore these effects in the way that Ehrman does. Once a conclusion is deemed more likely than not, it is treated as undeniable fact when it is used as a premise in subsequent arguments. This leads them to express irrational degrees of certainty about the things they think they know.

            On the other hand, if we had three verses with an 80% chance of authenticity in which Paul referred to James as the brother of the Lord, the probability that all three are interpolations is less than 1%. That’s why I find arguments that rest on a single verse problematic. Since it is impossible to say anything meaningful about the probability that the text was corrupted, the only way we can increase our confidence level is with corroboration.

          • Let’s suppose that there is a 20% chance that “brother of the Lord” is an interpolation, i.e., some scribe wrote it in the margin in 125 A.D. to clarify which James Paul met and another scribe inserted it in the text in 175 A.D.

            Isn’t this quite a big “suppose” though? Is there anything specific to the textual history of Galatians that would justify the view that there is a one in five chance that this specific phrase is an interpolation? I know you’ll say that you just picked the number to illustrate a point, but if the probabilities are 99.9% each that the passage is genuine and that Paul meant a flesh and blood brother (a no less arbitrary figure), then the argument is still pretty solid.

            Incidentally, if there is a chance that this passage has been altered to look more historicist, is there not an equal chance that this passage has been inadvertently altered to look more mythicist? For example, perhaps some scribe redacted a phrase such as “The Lord’s elder brother James”, “Jesus half-brother James”, “the Lord’s brother James, who used to wipe his bottom when he was a nipper”, etc to something more in keeping with second century piety?

            What I mean is, even if we agree that there is a background chance that a particular passage in our text is not as Paul wrote it (as of course there is), the chance that the passage has been altered in a way that undermines any particular theory is actually lower.

            Paul also mentions “the Lord’s brothers” in 1 Corinthians, in a context where an interpolation for the sake of clarification makes little sense, so presumably the chance of this passage being authentic is higher (and the chance of neither being authentic seems pretty slim).

          • Unless you genuinely believe that we can be virtually certain about authenticity and interpretation, then 99.9% is indeed a more arbitrary estimate that almost any other.

          • As someone more informed than me put it

            I do think that there really needs to be some *reason* to doubt something for it no longer to be beyond a shadow of a doubt. I’ve never been in favor of doubting something just because we can. When it comes to the words of the New Testament, if all the evidence points in one direction (as it does with respect to the words you’re challenging: they are in every surviving manuscript of the book), then there needs at least to be some *reason* to doubt that they were originally part of the text.

          • Otherwise (the same man said) we’re not doing the work of the historian but are just inventing views that fit our agendas.

          • Here is what someone who is more informed than me on the topic of textual criticism (but not on the topic of probability) had to say:

            Can we trust that the copies of Galatians we have are the original copies. No. We don’t know. How could we possibly know? Our earliest copy of Galatians is p46 which dates from the year 200. Paul wrote this letter in the 50’s. The first copy that we have is 150 years later. Changes were made all along the line before this first copy was made. How can we possibly know that in fact it is exactly as Paul wrote it. Is it possible that somebody along the line inserted a verse? Yes. Is it possible that someone took out a verse? Yes. Is it possible that somebody changed a lot of the words? Yes. Is it possible that the later copies were made from one of the worst of the early copies? Yes. It’s possible. We don’t know.

            . . . .

            What I have said to my colleagues is that we are as close as we can hope to be to what we might imagine as the earliest text. What I have said in popular audiences is we don’t know if we can get back to the original text. And I stand by both statements. We don’t know what Paul originally wrote to the Galatians, and we no hope of getting any closer in the future than we are already now. We have no evidence that can get us any further back than we have already gotten and our earliest evidence is from the year 200, 150 years later. So can we know for certain? No. We can’t know for certain that the text is reliable. You might want to think it is. You might want to hope it is. You might want to say there are intelligent people who say it is so probably it is. But think about it. There are people copying these texts year after year, decade after decade.

            Of course he subsequently went on to claim that we can be certain “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” of historicity based on Galatians 1:19. New Testament scholars have a remarkable capacity for compartmentalizing their doubts when it suits them.

          • I think you are missing that, in the one case he is addressing fundamentalist claims to “know” in the sense of absolute certainty, and in the other he is talking about the confidence scholars can reasonably have based on evidence and deduction. Ehrman certainly ought to be clearer about this, but it is also arguable that one won’t reach a popular audience that way. But either way, it is clear from what Ehrman has written that he does not think that, just because it is possible that there were interpolations which have become universal in the manuscript tradition, we ought to assume that everything is likely to have been an interpolation when engaging in historical reconstruction. Quote mining him in a way that makes mythicism seem plausible does not indicate that he compartmentalizes his doubt, but that you are misunderstanding or deliberately misconstruing what his point was in context.

          • I have not suggested that any scholar should assume interpolation either. I would just like to see the risk that the texts were altered honestly acknowledged and degrees of certainty appropriately qualified.

          • Mark

            The question isn’t about quantified probabilities, which don’t have any clear meaning anyway, but whether propositions that presuppose that Jesus existed can legitimately be affirmed, e.g. by teachers in secular schools. If you are allowing that crucifixion by the Romans can legitimately be taken for granted by e.g. high school history teachers lecturing on the ancient world, then there is really no issue in dispute. This question has nothing to do with whatever you think you mean by 87.4 and 99.9% of … whatever.

          • That may be the issue you wish to discuss, but it wasn’t the issue that I was addressing Mark.

          • Mark

            What are addressing?

          • arcseconds

            Obviously we cannot be more certain of historicity based on Paul having met Jesus’ brother than we can be that Paul meant biological brother.

            It’s not obvious to me. In fact, I think it’s false. Even on the assumption that it’s not biological brotherhood that Paul meant, the most likely explanation is that Jesus existed. One possibility is that James is Jesus’s adopted brother. Or possibly a close cousin raised in the same household.

            Or maybe James was just extremely close to Jesus, so that they were ‘like brothers’. That’s a far more plausible explanation for a nickname than anything possible under mythicism. On mythicist assumptions there has to be some special relationship that James has (at least over other Jameses) to warrant the description ‘the brother of the Lord’. It’s difficult to work out what that could possibly be under mythicism and it’s much easier under historicity, even assuming that biological brotherhood or adopted brotherhood are false.

            Basically, even if we assume that it doesn’t mean biological brotherhood, it still supports historicity more than it does mythicism.

            (You are also assuming in your calculations that the interpolation must be unreliable, but this is also not the case. It could be an early interpolator knew that James was the brother of Jesus and put that in by way of clarification. I concede this is relatively unlikely, but it’s still a possibility. )

            And what’s with this 20% chance of interpolation? Do you think this applies to every verse in Galatians? So that probably 1/5th of it is written by someone else? That’s a massive rate of alteration from the original, far in excess of what is supported from what we know of ancient manuscripts. Or is it just for this verse that you are supposing this large doubt?

            And if so, what justifies the doubt in this case?

          • All I said was that a conclusion based on the premise of Galatians 1:19 cannot be more certain than the interpretation and authenticity of Galatians 1:19. I never said that you couldn’t introduce other premises to change the probability calculation.

            I also said that my 20% figure was chosen for illustration purposes.

          • arcseconds

            A conclusion based solely on that premise, yes, but if there are several pieces of evidence all pointing the same way, the conclusion can be stronger than that suggested by any one piece of evidence.

            As anyone who’s ever read a mystery novel knows.

          • arcseconds

            And why not choose more defensible probabilities? You could make the same point with 5%, which is still a pretty high error rate, implying that 1 in 20 verses in Galatians is significantly different from the original. More believable than 1 in 5, but still pretty high.

            A probability of 0.05 for both the circumstances you describe gives an overall probability of 0.9 for this verse being written by Paul intending to denote the biological brother of Jesus. And the possibility space of the 0.1 probability does not exclude Jesus existing, so the probability of Jesus existing on this evidence alone, with pretty high probabilities chosen for both interpolation and ‘brother’ meaning something other than biological brotherhood, is greater than 0.9.

            Maybe it’s an exaggeration to call this ‘beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt’, but it’s surely at least ‘highly likely’

          • On what grounds would you deem 95% to be “more defensible”? What evidence do you take into account?

            For example, Paul is not believed to have written many of the letters attributed to him in the New Testament. When you figure in apochryphal works, the odds that Paul wrote something that was attributed to him aren’t particularly good. Although I doubt that the odds of interpolation are as high as the odds of forgery, I’m not really sure what the relationship would be. At the very least, I don’t believe that someone who would forge a letter in Paul’s name would have all that many qualms about altering a text that Paul actually wrote.

          • John MacDonald

            Some argue that the lines in Paul that seem to lean toward historicity were interpolated just for that purpose. For instance, Paul says Jesus was a “born of a woman.” Why would Paul feel the need to point out that Jesus was born of a woman, if the people he was writing to already knew Jesus was a regular human being?

          • That seems like a fair point to me. If you want to argue that Paul didn’t need to talk about things that everybody knew, doesn’t that imply that the things he did talk about were points of controversy?

          • Nope – your reasoning has this structure: if X, then Y. Not X, therefore not Y. This is an example of the inverse fallacy.

          • No, this is the structure:

            If P then Q,

            Not Q, therefore not P.

            If everybody knows, then Paul doesn’t mention

            Paul mentions (i.e., not Paul doesn’t mention), therefore not everybody knows.

          • The simple fact is that humans do not follow this sort of logic equation when writing letters. Humans sometimes mention things that others know, and sometimes neglect to mention things that others do not know.

          • So…

            If a shape is a square, then all its sides are all of equal length.
            If a shape is not a square, then all its sides are not of equal length.

            I know some regular hexagons that would take issue with this.

            Edit: misread your comment, bear with….

          • If everybody knows, then Paul doesn’t mention

            Well put like that, this is simply false and not what anyone is claiming, except maybe you and John. Presumably, you would agree that “everyone” knew the name of the being that they were worshipping? Yet Paul mentions this name over and over again. And presumably you would agree that everyone in Corinth knew the name of the city they lived in? Yet Paul mentions the name of the place.

            Unless you think that because Paul mentions “Corinth”, there must therefore have been people in the church too dim to know where they lived? How about the people Paul greets by name? Since he mentions their name, they must have been unaware of their name until Paul pointed it out to them…

          • John MacDonald

            As I said above, I’m not a mythicist. Paul met Jesus’ brother James, which is good enough for me on the historicity question. Mythicists often hijack form-critical reductionist interpretations (such as Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus being “The New Moses,”) but virtually all of these have their genesis from mainstream scholars who have no mythicist leanings. I would be a “critical” historicist, in Immanuel Kant’s sense of “critique,” whereby ascribing things to the historical Jesus runs into limits given the nature of biblical hermeneutics. The only universally agreed upon facts about Jesus is that he was baptised by John and was crucified by Pilate. The less facts we allow into the hermeneutic circle of interpretation, the more difficult it becomes to reliably extrapolate the big picture of who the historical Jesus was. Hence, we get an embarrassment of mutually exclusive portraits of Jesus as, for instance, Jesus the apocalyptic prophet; charismatic healer; Cynic philosopher; Jewish Messiah; and prophet of social change. Each of these portraits explain the agreed upon evidence, and try to explain away the evidence that is apparently recalcitrant to their particular portrait. The “mythic” portrait of Jesus is just another one of these. The problem is that the agreed upon evidence is so scant that we are basically guessing when we try to extrapolate “the big picture” from the agreed upon evidence.

          • Mark

            The contrapositive of ‘if everybody knows that p, then Paul doesn’t need to mention it’ is ‘if Paul needs to mention it, then not everybody knows it.’ To get close to the judgment that ‘if he actually mentions it, it is a point of controversy’, you would need ‘if he actually mentions it, then he needs to mention it’, and ‘if not everybody knows it, it is a point of controversy’.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            The suggestion that Paul was addressing a controversial issue would make no sense on Carrier’s theory. Carrier thinks that Paul represents the original Christianity, according to which Christ was a purely celestial being. Therefore, Paul would not have been trying to convince sceptics that Christ was born of a woman. If anything, it should have been the other way round. It might have been that some people were starting to believe Christ had lived on Earth and Paul had to correct them. In that case, Paul might have said that Christ was born of no woman.

            In reality, the statement that Christ was born of a woman seems like a rhetorical flourish. As always, Paul is trying to explain how the divine plan works. And the divine plan is executed in a historical setting. In the fullness of time a man is born who will change everything.

          • Some scholars have viewed it as a creedal statement, the kind of thing designed to be simple and memorable. And in particular if it was something already familiar to the Galatians, and/or shared by Paul’s opponents, it might have reinforced his emphasis that God was redeeming all human beings (those born of a woman, which is another way of saying that) and not just those born under the Law (i.e. Jews).

          • I haven’t argued for Carrier’s theory.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It was worthwhile to address the point because Carrier does try to exploit the supposed oddness of the statement that Jesus was born of a woman. What Carrier seems not to realise is that in order to do this, he would need to change his theory radically. Paul would now have to be a very early opponent of the celestial Christ theory.

            This is why I recommend that you should read his book. As Carrier himself has said, this is the very best that mythicists have to offer.

          • John MacDonald

            I think Carrier says in his book that “woman” in “born of a woman” was meant in a metaphorical sense. (OHJ 577-582)

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Yes, his policy seems to be that if there is a metaphor in the vicinity, then any inconvenient passage can be interpreted as a metaphor. Paul talks about Gentiles as children of Abraham; so if that is metaphorical, why not “born of a woman” as well?

          • John MacDonald

            There are so many different “portraits” of Jesus (Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah and prophet of social change). – just add “The Mythic Jesus” to the pile. lol

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I saw a programme on television a while ago about the execution of Anne Boleyn. Various experts were brought on to explain why it happened and they gave largely conflicting accounts. I suppose you could add to the mix the theory that the execution hadn’t actually taken place.

            Another thought that comes to mind is that if a similar programme is made in ten years, it could be done somewhat differently. After the various theories are presented, someone walks up to a blackboard and starts scribbling a lot of equations. This person then announces what really happened.

          • John MacDonald

            You think it inherently improbable that 2000 years ago a God started out as a myth, but later became historicized?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            “Inherently improbable” is a good description. In his book, Carrier lays out a series of “elements” or background facts which one must take into account when addressing the question at hand. One of them is that Jesus is a “dying and rising god”.

            Suppose you were reading a book that addressed a particular issue in cosmology and the author adopted the same approach of laying out all the background information which would have to be taken into account. You would be alarmed if you saw that one of the key elements was the “fact” that the Earth is at the centre of the solar system.

          • John MacDonald

            Ehrman says that in our oldest sources Jesus didn’t even start out as a God.

          • Mark

            Similarly, all the lines in Paul that suggest that Jesus is not Osiris were introduced in the de-Egyptianizing phase, which preceded the euhemerization phase. In other words, carte blanche. Scholars should be frank and admit that they /just don’t know/ that Paul wasn’t talking about Osiris. I mean, all this never-ending resurrection stuff certainly /looks/ Osiris-ish.

          • arcseconds

            Vinny, you must realise that it’s silly appealing to the base probability of any arbitrary verse in the Pauline literature as being spurious on the basis of the presence of known forgeries, when we’re looking at a text that’s accepted as being genuine.

            This is like having someone take out all the red cards out of a deck of cards and then still insisting that the resulting pile has something like a 50% incidence of red cards, because decks typically have 50% red cards!

            I really need to make that mythicist bingo card, because this is an example of something we often see with mythicists and their sympathizers: a refusal to update probabilities beyond some initial base rate.

            It’s also yet another example of amateur debunkers accepting the results of scholarship when it suits them (the identification of forgeries) and using it as an argument to reject the results of scholarship when it suits them (suggesting Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation, whereas as far as I know no mainstream scholar thinks this).

            And moreover it’s really just meaningless mud-slinging, isn’t it? We need as much doubt as possible about the epistles, so lets bring up the forgeries, and insinuate that the forgers are also doctoring the manuscripts. No evidence for this, no argument as to why we should accept forgers also have an opportunity to alter Paul’s manuscript, just a possibility, but that’s all we need to manufacture doubt.

            I think it’s more defensible because the rate of interpolations is thought to be low. The Text of the Living Gospels reports that manuscripts of the Gospels agree on the wording of around 62% of the verses in the New Testament. 48% variants might sound a lot, but almost all of them are trivial: changes in word order, spelling variations, etc.

            Carrier, who might be expected to err on the side of generosity in estimating the number of interpolations, argues for just 2 interpolations, and suggests there are at least 3 more (a handwaving argument on the basis that we don’t know about most interpolations).

            In a comment someone called Bernard lists 12 interpolations, for a total of about 40 verses. I have no idea whether those are accepted by scholars or not (I have tried searching, but so far I haven’t found a decent list by a mainstream scholar). But let’s say it’s 40. And let’s accept Carriers’ argument that we don’t see most interpolations, so let’s say the real number is 80. The 7 accepted letters have about 1600 verses in them. That’s an interpolation rate of about 5%, which rather nicely corresponds to my initial guess!

            It would of course be possible to do a much better job of this, and I’m sure someone has.

            Can anyone point me to a definitive list of interpolations and possible interpolations accepted by the scholastic community?

          • I agree that it would be silly to use the percentage of forgeries as an estimator of the probability of interpolation, but I don’t think it’s silly to consider the phenomenon of forgeries in trying to get a grip on the problem of interpolations. In either case, you have some literate person putting his own ideas into Paul’s mouth. I don’t think the factors you consider are unreasonable, but I don’t think they are sufficient.

            The big problem with using the rate of variants in the extant manuscripts is that they were overwhelming produced by trained scribes in a state sanctioned church with a defined theology and an established hierarchy. Moreover, the scribes understood themselves to be copying the very words inspired by the Holy Spirit.

            The period for which we lack manuscript evidence was a time of competing sects, occasional persecution, unsupervised copying, no established hierarchy, and theology in flux. Moreover, the writings that were being copied were not yet viewed as holy scripture.

            The manuscript evidence indicates that the rate of variants increases as we get earlier in the manuscript tradition, pointing to an even higher rate in the period for which we lack evidence. There is also evidence in the early church fathers of greater variation. Origen specifically complained about the liberties that copyists were taking with the texts and the variations in quotations by early fathers also points to fluidity in the texts.

            Your calculation also assumes that each interpolation is a single verse; however, they can be as long as twelve verses like the longer ending of Mark. If the average interpolation is just two verses long rather than one, your 95% becomes 90%. Moreover, the possibility of verses being interpolated my not adequately account for the possibility that individual words were altered to change the meaning of passages that were otherwise original. That would be harder to detect and perhaps more frequent.

            I’m not sure that there is any way to come up with a credible estimate of the probability of corruption in the first century of transmission. I can certainly appreciate why New Testament scholars prefer to ignore the problem.

          • arcseconds

            I agree that it would be silly to use the percentage of forgeries as an estimator of the probability of interpolation

            Ah, good, so you you agree you were being silly here:

            When you figure in apochryphal works, the odds that Paul wrote something that was attributed to him aren’t particularly good.

            Of course, I’m sure you’ll say you weren’t trying to assert that we need to put the pseudepigraphical works into the mix to consider the probability of forgery, but in the context of looking at a verse from a work which is considered by nobody to be pseudepigraphical it certainly sounds as though you are. Just as you weren’t trying to assert that the interpolation rate was really 20%. It’s a cunning rhetorical strategy, isn’t it? You get to stir up all sorts of doubt while protecting yourself from being called on it by saying it’s all for the purpose of illustration, or just introducing something to consider.

            Your calculation also assumes that each interpolation is a single verse;

            No, it doesn’t!

            In a comment someone called Bernard lists 12 interpolations, for a total of about 40 verses.

            40 is the number I use for the calculation: I’m dealing with the number of verses, not the number of interpolations. The average length here is 3⅓. So the length of interpolations has already been taken into account.

            This is all rather seat of the pants, of course, but it is an attempt to base it on some actual data. That is what you need to do in order to argue for a high rate of interpolation, not “Oh we can’t tell and all this stuff was happening and FORGERS! So it’s OK to through the figure 20% out there. Just for the purposes of illustration.”

            If it’s genuinely of a concern to take into account the increasing rate of interpolation, then that could certainly be estimated. I’d like to see a proper attempt to do this, rather than armchair sceptical handwaving.

            In the meantime, I’m sticking with my 5%. That’s already a generous estimate, having gone with the longest list of interpolations I could find (by someone I have no particular reason to trust, actually) and doubling it. If we still feel like this is underestimating the number of interpolations we could double it again (although I can’t see any particular reason to do so). This gets to 90% as you say, but that’s still a very high chance that the phrase is genuinely Paul, with very generous estimates as to the number of interpolation.

            There are single word changes that we know exist from the extant manuscripts. But before I agree that this needs to affect my estimate, I would want an analysis of how often these single word changes radically change the meaning of the phrase, and how likely it is that this would move the original version away from mythicism, rather than away from historicity. As Paul Regnier points out, a single word change might be the elimination of ‘elder’, which would support historicity more.

            Also, a full consideration of interpolations would take into account where the interpolations are likely to be. There are standard criteria for identifying them, and the application of these criteria would draw attention away from Galatians 1:19 unless one is inclined to think that there’s a significant probability that Jesus did not have brothers that could be met by Paul (because, maybe, you’re convinced that Jesus was a celestial being. Or perhaps in the eternal virginity of Mary!).

            Which of course is part of the point here: thinking that this is an interpolation requires an assumption. No-one’s going to put such an interpolation in unless there’s a reason for doing so. So proposing there’s a significant probability of interpolation entails there’s a significant probability of a reason for interpolation, and the possible reasons seem unlikely at best. There was a brief fad for Jesus having brothers for a bit, leading to a few scattered verses here and there, before the fad went the other way?

            One of the reasons why scepticism seems plausible to the likes of you and Kris Rhodes is that you refuse to actually work up any possibilities, preferring to leave it as a mushy mess of vague hypotheses and even vaguer mutterings about ignorance. By refusing to actually detail the possibilities you can protect yourself from realising how unlikely they actually are: a vague shadowy detailess handwave is always going to seem more probable than an account that actually commits itself to anything.

            And this is part of the problem: you feel you’re being appropriately cautious, but in fact by refusing to commit yourself to anything at all you’re doing something rather like proposing an unfalsifiable theory, except for the part where you’re not actually even proposing a theory. The way science progresses isn’t by super-cautious, crabbed scepticism where all possible doubt is amplified as much as possible, it actually proceeds by optimistic assumptions that the data is sound and assumptions that can be demonstrated to the extent we can reach are true everywhere (Newton being an excellent case in point). That way you have a chance of finding out the truth or discovering there’s a problem with your assumptions. By staying firmly in your armchair with your arms crossed refusing to be impressed by anything you keep yourself safe, but you rule out the possibility of ever coming to know anything.

          • I apologize for my oversight. Your calculation wasn’t premised on interpolations being a single verse long, and I erred in saying it was. That’s what comes from writing comments in the middle of the night when I am having trouble sleeping.

            There is a very simple and obvious motivation for an interpolation in Galatians 1:19. Suppose that Paul did not originally include the phrase “brother of the Lord” because there was only one man named James who was known to be part of the Jerusalem community at the time of Paul’s first visit. Just as Paul didn’t need to identify which Peter he met for his Galatian readers, he would not have needed to identify which James he met. A later copyist, however, might not have been sure how many men named James had been in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s first visit. He might think it a good idea to add the phrase “brother of the Lord” so that readers would not be confused about which James it was. You can rightly claim that we have no manuscript evidence that this is what happened, but I cannot see how anyone could claim that it is not completely plausible.

            I also think that you are failing to come to grips with the problems with using the extant manuscripts to assess the probability of interpolation in the period for which we have no manuscripts. The circumstances under which the texts were being transmitted were completely different. You may choose to be optimistic, but I think that there are serious problems with your assumptions.

          • arcseconds

            Well, it’s plausible enough. We can imagine such a copyist without inventing anything too strange, and understand why they’d make this alteration by proposing only quite boring and ordinary motivations.

            It’s certainly considerably less of a stretch than supposing ‘X the brother of the Lord’ could indicate a brotherly relationship between a historical human being and an imaginary celestial being, a relationship which, as far as I know, would be unique in human history.

            But the question to ask how probable is it?

            As there’s no evidence for this occurring, there’s no reason to think that the chances of an interpolation happening here are much above the base probability of an interpolation. Maybe one could go through and adjust it slightly upwards by looking at all the versus we’re pretty sure aren’t interpolations, and note that we’ve not quite the same level of certainty about this verse, and we’ve got a plausible story about why it might be (I’m trying to be generous here, I don’t really think a plausible story without any evidence for it needs strong consideration).

            Plus it requires the existence of a copyist prepared to make clarifying interpolations, who thinks this clarification is needed, who actually made this interpolation, at a point where they could influence the manuscript tradition, and who managed to influence it so much it wound up in all extant manuscripts. That’s a figure with really quite specific properties we have to propose to explain this one verse.

            Why is the existence of this hypothetical copyist less problematic than the existence of the historical Jesus? The historical Jesus can explain a lot more than a single verse in Paul, so is vastly more explanatory and parsimonious than a copyist with very specific properties the existence of whom is only proposed to problematize the existence of said historical Jesus, by calling into doubt a verse which probably isn’t even an interpolation.

            It’s all very well saying “there are serious problems with your assumptions” but what are they, exactly? I accept that the early manuscript may have a higher rate of interpolations, but I have already been very generous with my multipliers. If it could be anywhere between 0 – 49% interpolations, it’s better to go with something that’s closer with what is actually observed, because that’s what is actually observed and therefore the only thing we really have warrant for believing. Also, if it was very high, I think people would have noticed by now. It would not be possible to separate out genuine epistles on the basis of unity of style and thematic material etc, because there would not be unity of style and thematic material if over half of every epistle was put in there by persons unknown. Plus, surely by now Paul has been subjected to thorough forensic linguistic analysis.

            And if it’s low, but we don’t know where the errors actually are, we’re better off just putting in the usual caveat that it’s a probabilistic enterprise and not worrying too much about exactly which verses are interpolations. Forging ahead with likely hypotheses is the best way of finding out where the problems are. If everyone were as determined to sit safe in their armchair and be unimpressed as you are, we’d never have figured out anything at all: there’s an awful lot of plausible doubt that could have been raised (and some of it was raised!) about Newton’s work, but he didn’t let it bother him. He was wrong about plenty of stuff, too, but that’s the risk you have to take if you’re trying to advance knowledge.

            (We probably shouldn’t be too utterly convinced of arguments that hinge on a single verse. But fortunately the existence of Jesus isn’t one of these! )

          • arcseconds

            Also, assuming the hypothesis for the sake of the argument, it’s still being asserted (by the copyist rather than Paul) that James is Jesus’s brother. But why would they do that? Well, most likely because they thought they were brothers, of course!

            And why would they think that? Surely them actually being brothers is the most likely explanation. Normally when people are asserted as being brothers it’s because they actually are.

            Other explanations are possible, but they require further assumptions for things that aren’t attested to, and are therefore less likely.

          • Mark

            > Obviously we cannot be more certain of historicity based on Paul having met Jesus’ brother than we can be that Paul meant biological brother.

            Even an argument for historicity that depends on this passage does not depend on interpreting ‘brother’ biologically, just … ‘fraternally’, that is, as expressing some kind of equality in reference to something superordinate. But in fact, as far as I can tell, no one is arguing for historicity from this passage, but at most against a specific non-historicist theory, one that posits a Celestial Christ. A conception of brotherhood doesn’t have to be “biological” to be incompatible with making a god or quasi-god into a ‘brother’ of someone in Jerusalem. It only needs to be a conception of brotherhood or fraternity. It can mean, “fellow Teamster”, and we will still have trouble seeing a Celestial Christ on the other end of the fraternal relation.

          • I guess you haven’t read Ehrman.

          • John MacDonald

            Ehrman identifies the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage as what he calls “One of the Two Key Data” supporting the historicity argument (Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?” , Ch. 5)

          • It is his claim that these two things make scholars certain beyond a “shadow of a reasonable doubt” that bothers me. I had always been impressed with Ehrman’s care in discussing the degree of certainty that the evidence warrants on any particular issue, but he doesn’t seem to have thought this through very well.

          • John MacDonald

            One of the problems that I have with Ehrman’s book is that he claims Hebrew scriptures like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 would not have inspired the crucifixion narrative because these passages, traditionally, were not interpreted to refer to the Messiah. I would disagree with this by pointing out that the original Christian writers were taking Hebrew scriptures out of context and applying them to Jesus, such as Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”)

          • Mark

            Wait, are you considering a theory of all the data, a) that posits a historical Jesus but b) says that a crucifixion was made up in order to ‘validate’ Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 because c) fellow Jews were citing those texts as evidence that (uncrucified) Jesus couldn’t be the messiah? … Rather as the principal contemporary Jewish objection to the messiahship of Menachem Schneerson is not that he died without ruling, which is of course a crucial feature of a davidic ruler … but that he wasn’t crucified, which is a /really/ crucial attribute of a davidic messiah.

            You are suggesting that it is a ‘problem with Ehrman’s book’ that he doesn’t credit this hallucination?

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean. Could you restate that in other words?

          • Mark

            I’m trying to figure out what account of the data would include the hypothesis that the crucifixion was made up to validate Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 taken as expressing attributes of King Messiah.

          • John MacDonald

            I think the mythicist argument is that Jesus’ suffering could have its genesis in psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. As I posted elsewhere:
            Likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

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

            Then, as Dr. Robert Price says

            The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize,
            Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the
            implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the
            dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm
            22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you
            forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew
            7:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the
            son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the
            whole story anyway (Miller), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man
            because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his
            words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life:
            for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver
            him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and
            torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his
            forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to
            what he says, he will be protected.”

            As for other details, Crossan points out that the darkness at noon comes
            from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is
            remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural
            basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture
            being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’
            execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story.
            This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture
            citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten
            his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm
            34:19-20 (Crossan). Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the
            Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of
            Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been
            destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to
            be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I wonder whether the Romans themselves were influenced by Hebrew Scripture. It is interesting that they chose both to scourge and to pierce their victims – flogging and crucifixion being actual Roman punishments. It was also their practice to crucify more than one person at a time; so each victim would be numbered among several transgressors.

          • John MacDonald

            We know the Romans had a great deal of respect for the Jewish religion because of its great antiquity.

          • John MacDonald

            I suspect that some of the Jews of that time probably became convinced that a traditional military messiah who would emerge to overthrow the Romans was never going to come, so they began to search their scriptures for a different way to see how the messiah might come. And this is what Paul did. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul said Christ died for our sins “according to scripture.” What scripture would Paul have had in mind if not Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22? Paul clearly thought Christ’s atoning death was part of what it meant for Christ to be the messiah.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            That is Carrier’s theory. The Jews of that time “discovered”, through reading Scripture, that the messiah would have to die. But then what? Presumably, they went in search of some event that would correspond to this prophecy. But because there were so few messianic figures being killed by the Romans, it was necessary to invent a fictional death. And what better setting for the death than Outer Space?

          • John MacDonald

            Another possibility is that the historical Jesus, who his disciples thought would be the messiah, was killed without freeing the Jewish people from the Romans. Then, in their grief, some of them started having hallucinatory experiences about Jesus. So they thought he escaped death somehow. So the went searching scriptures for answers about what was going on, and came upon Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Then, in the 40 year oral period before the first gospel was written, they retrodicted the framework of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 onto the historical Jesus’ crucifixion story.

          • Mark

            Yes, but isn’t that pretty much what everyone (secular) thinks happened? It doesn’t involve rejecting the customary secular fixed points, viz a real Jesus and a real Roman crucifixion. The necessity of ransacking of the prophets for more information starts from the use of the ‘suffering servant’ or some other suchlike material. That is a condition of existence of any further movement. But once that step has been take, of course a flood follows, and soon enough the prophets have prefigured his birthplace, hair-color, etc. etc.

          • John MacDonald

            A mythicist might say it’s an interesting “coincidence” that Jesus is said to have been crucified, and that the
            implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24) can be found in Psalm 22:16b.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            According to Carrier, the Ascension of Isaiah represents something close to the original Christian belief. In this document Christ is shown descending through various layers of the heavens on his way to… somewhere.

            It seems pretty clear that the destination is Earth, but Carrier would like it to be a lower level of the heavens. Be that as it may, the description of the heavens and of various angelic beings is the sort of thing that you would expect from apocalyptic literature.

            Carrier is very excited about this because he thinks that the first Christians “discovered” Christ in this sort of imaginary landscape and only later transferred him to a historical setting. However, we know that Jews of that time often used apocalyptic imagery to represent actual historical events. So there is nothing in the Ascension of Isaiah which is incompatible with a historical Jesus. The text is simply a (rather fanciful) way of representing history.

            On the other hand, we have to ask how often apocalyptic scenes have been mistaken for actual historical events. That is what Carrier is suggesting in this case. And what a mistake it is! All knowledge of the original understanding has been completely lost to history – with the exception of a few clues which enable someone of sufficient genius to conclude that this is indeed what happened.

          • Jim

            I wonder how practical it would have been for the disciples to have searched the scriptures? One gets the impression that none of them had any scribal training nor any indication that any of them could read Hebrew. Maybe one of the very early eyewitnesses was scribally literate, but there is no record to verify this.

            Also regarding scrolls, other than the Torah, I don’t know how complete of a scroll library a given synagogue would have on hand (presumably the temple housed a complete library). I’m also not sure that just anyone could walk in and be allowed free access to very expensive scrolls without having been formally trained.

            Then there is the “how do you find what you are looking for”. There weren’t chapter and verse numbers, so I suspect one would have had to have been quite well trained to find something in the middle of say the Isaiah scroll. The only one on record with possibly some level of capability/training to handle writings was Paul.

            IIRC, I think Harry Gamble in Books & Readers in the Early Church proposed something along the lines that within the first half century of Jesus’ death there may have been a codex or more in circulation in the churches that had some key OT texts that were relevant, but of course without copies it’s hard to verify these did exist.

            So, I don’t know if any of the disciples (or first round eyewitnesses for that matter) were in any position to search through scriptures for answers. I just wish there was some documentation available from the earliest Jerusalem group of Jesus followers.

          • John MacDonald

            Our earliest witness, Paul, seemed to be very concerned about the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament scriptures. Paul wrote “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,…(1 Corinthians 15:3-4).” Presumably the “scriptures” Paul was reading “atonement” allegorically out of was Isaiah 53. There are many passages, but Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” We also see a similar concern for the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament in our first gospel of Mark. Mark writes “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet (Mark 1).”

          • Jim

            Basically agree with what you have said with the following caveats: i) Paul wasn’t an eyewitness and appears to have been scribally literate and ii) Mark writing nearly a half century after the events, wasn’t an eyewitness and again appears to be somewhat scribally literate, at least in Greek.

            So I’m still not sure how we could know if any of the “first round Aramaic speaking eyewitnesses” were capable of searching the scriptures. Paul (very early on) and the gospel writers a half century later were capable of searching the LXX and it would have been nice to know what all they considered scripture in their individual locals. Isaiah and some of the Psalms along with the Torah were apparently were considered scripture and thus fair game by these evangelists.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            The phrase “according to Scripture” can mean either that something happened in fulfilment of Scripture or that something is recounted in Scripture. I think we can rule out the latter interpretation. If Paul believes that Isaiah 53 is (cryptically) recounting something that happened, then from Paul’s point of view, the crucifixion happened before Isaiah 53 was written. In other words, the crucifixion happened centuries before Paul’s time. If Paul had really believed that, then it would be impossible to make sense of the way that he spoke about the crucifixion.

            We must assume that Paul regarded Jesus’ death as the fulfilment of Scripture. You could still argue that the story of the crucifixion was invented. You might say that Paul looked at Isaiah 53 and saw it as a prophecy of something that had to happen. Paul then decided that it must have happened recently, perhaps in Outer Space. This scenario also seems completely implausible.

            The only explanation which makes sense is that an actual event was interpreted as the fulfilment of Scripture.

          • John MacDonald

            I think a mythicist would say Christ’s atoning death happened in fulfillment of scripture in a celestial realm, not that it happened a really long time ago. Paul says Christ was killed by the rulers of THIS age.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Thanks for pointing that out. The fact that Christ was killed by the rulers of that time is one of several indications that the death was perceived to be a recent event.

            It may be a minority view, but some mythicists have tried to suggest that the death was seen as an event of the remote past.

          • John MacDonald

            Getting back to your other point, you said “We must assume that Paul regarded Jesus’ death as the fulfilment of Scripture. You could still argue that the story of the crucifixion was invented. You might say that Paul looked at Isaiah 53 and saw it as a prophecy of something that had to happen. Paul then decided that it must have happened recently, perhaps in Outer Space. This scenario also seems completely implausible.” Why do you think this scenario is completely implausible?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It is interesting to ask why anyone would suggest an outer space setting for the crucifixion. The answer seems to be that transferring the crucifixion to outer space is what you have to do if you want to argue that it never happened.

            If Paul was convinced that the crucifixion had happened and that it had happened recently, then it seems reasonable to assume that we are dealing with a real event. There is really nothing to be gained by supposing that Paul was mistaken. However, if Paul is thinking of something that supposedly happened in outer space, then we know automatically that it never happened.

            Why don’t I think that Paul believed in a celestial crucifixion? If someone can write a 700-page book which tries to argue for this but is unable to produce one piece of real evidence, then I think I can reject the theory.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, the Jews of that time believed there was a separate place where God, the angels, and other such divine beings lived. I suppose it’s possible that some drama happened in that divine realm that paid for humanity’s sin debt.

          • Jim

            I suppose what I’m wondering about is whether it’s all that clear that Paul had the book of Isaiah in mind. Could Paul have been thinking more in terms of the Jewish festivals like Passover and Day of Atonement written about in the Torah – especially if his background was Pharisee training (albeit diaspora pharisee)? I don’t know. If he was a Pharisee, his training would have clearly pointed him to Israel as being the suffering servant. On the other hand, the writer of gMark more clearly parallels Isa 53.

            Another thing I wonder about is whether or not the writer of gMark was familiar with the Pauline literature? The fact that Luke and Mark copied from gMark is quite evident, but I don’t know much about the status of Mark clearly replicating anything Pauline.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul said Jesus died for our sins according to scriptures, and that he was buried and raised according to scripture. Presumably Paul had some Hebrew scripture in mind that Jesus was fulfilling. My guess is Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. As for the resurrection, Matthew says that the scripture that the resurrection fulfills is the one about Jonah and the giant fish (see Matthew 12:40).

          • Jim

            For me I would guess that Paul might go for a Torah reference, as might be implied in 1 Cor 5:7. And I’m wondering a bit if Matt 12:40 might be saying “just like when Jonah …” rather than claiming a distinct prophecy. Bottom line is I really don’t know poop all as to what these authors really meant in these instances (like which scriptures did Luke refer to in Luke 24:27). To me, the NT writers seem to be ambiguous at times in their use of LXX (which they are apparently familiar with). This makes me even less certain of any of their views that things could have occurred in outer space. But then again, I’m even uncertain about my uncertainty of how uncertain things appear. 🙂

          • John MacDonald


          • John MacDonald

            At the end of the day, trying to ground a particular New Testament text in this or that passage from the Septuagint is a fairly meaningless speculative hermeneutic process. It’s fun to do, but it can never carry the weight needed to ground an entire hermeneutic framework, like mythicism, in.

          • Mark

            Yes, I’m familiar with this kind of thing. What surprised me, though, what that you seemed to be suggesting that it would fit with a historical Jesus: the real Jesus died, say, of old age, but they invented a crucifixion to validate older texts.

            When Price calls this stuff “haggadic midrash”, he means “Methodist preaching”, which is basically what his “advanced” degrees are degrees in. Price’s use of this word involves the pious illusion that the methods the rabbis invented in a different epoch, after two catastrophic rebellions, and what on some accounts, like Schwartz’, a nearly total apostasy of whatever survived of the Palestinian Jewish population, were /of course/ the methods that have always prevailed among the Jews … and thus of course the methods that Mark, whatever his origin, would have used, writing in Greek…

            You don’t need, as you say, to ‘dig’ for the references you are getting from Price, you can just copy them out of the margins of Scofield and suchlike “reference bibles”. It is hilarious that people take this plagiarism of the reference bibles as ‘scholarship’ on the part of Price. Who would have thought this decadent religious practice would someday turn out to be a part of scientific history…?

            In Paul, we don’t have this kind of Methodist preaching, or, if you prefer, ‘haggadic midrash’. So you need an account of his crucifixion that doesn’t rely on the later emergence of Mark, and the still later emergence of the kind of education “Dr.” Price got at the Drew seminary.

            Since it is a priori that any messianic claimant will be taken out by the authorities, we don’t need additional scripture to explain the idea that he was crucified; we just need the Romans themselves and well attested expectation that one of the Jews would arise and ‘rule the world,’ as Josephus puts it.

          • Mark

            The distinction Ehrman is drawing is clearly something like between ‘P is contained in the best theory of the data’ and ‘P is contained in all reasonable theories of the data’. Each ‘shadow of reasonable doubt’ is a reasonably theory of all the data that doesn’t contain a ‘historical Jesus’. The claim is that there aren’t any such reasonable theories. Just as some accounts of the data that include the resurrection are coherent and make sense in the context of Christian belief, so some accounts of the data that exclude a historical Jesus are coherent, and make sense in the light of … a Jesus detox problem.

          • Mark

            I was referring to the present line of discussion, or are you thinking Ehrman is one of the people discussing the passage here? Are you thinking that Ehrman’s titanic raft of considerations would differ much if this text had read ‘James the Just’ rather than ‘James the brother of the Lord’? Or that it would differ /at all/ if the text had read, ‘James the Teamsters-brother of the Lord’?

          • John MacDonald

            “Little John”

    • Michael Wilson

      I think there is a logic to the view expressed in the gospels that the authorities did not arrest him because of the fear it would escalate the danger. We see exacty this when police, who are supposed to arrest people that burn and loot property stand back in Baltimore stood back so as not to escalate the situation.

      • John MacDonald

        Miller argues Jesus’ overthrow of the Temple service (not only does he scatter the livestock for offerings but somehow bans anyone carrying sacrificial vessels) is historically impossible as it reads here. The envisioned area is huge, and for Jesus to commandeer it like this would have required a military raid, something of which Mark’s text seems oblivious. Though it is not unlikely that the story preserves some faded memory of the entry of Simon bar-Gioras into the Temple to clean out the robbers of John of Giscala on the eve of the Temple’s destruction, the story may simply conflate various scripture passages, which it seems to do in any case. The “cleansing” must have in view that of Malachi’s messenger of the covenant who will purify the sons of Levi (3:1-3, as hinted by Mark 1:2 and 9:3), as well as the oracle of Zechariah 14:21b, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” The saying of Jesus on that occasion is merely a conflation of Isaiah 56:7 (“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”) and Jeremiah 7:11 (“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”). The priests and scribes react to this disturbance by plotting to destroy Jesus, just as the priests, prophets, and people lay hold of Jeremiah and cry out, “You shall die!” when he likewise predicts the destruction of the city and the Temple (26:8).

        • Michael Wilson

          I don’t think the text says he commandeered the area or banned anyone from carrying any thing. It says he would not allow anyone to carry any thing. His ability to stop this from happening would be dependent on the reach of he and his followers. If I went to Macy’s and would not allow people to buy products their, what I would be doing in actuality is harassing people at a check out counter or being other wise disruptive, but buying could still go one where I’m not.
          From the description, it seems that Jesus and a number of followers, an intimidating number, went to the Temple, caused a ruckus, made some statements, and moved on. For the authorities, there worry is that confronting Jesus here would lead to a fight with his followers and that might escalate to a riot that would attract the Romans and a possible blood bath. Better to let him make his statement and move on.
          I don’t think Jesus was intending to hold the Temple, He seems to have predicted its destruction and directed some angry words, taken from the biblical traditions at the Temple institution. He had no intention of holding it, just delivering a message, that I suspect he understood could be a death sentence. Personally I think it was a risky move, it could have escalated to blood bath and one has to ponder the ethics of making a statement to authority that could cause a lot of deaths. But that’s a different story.

  • Michael Wilson

    Uhh 🙁 How did this get turned into a discussion of Mythicism and James the brother if Jesus?

    • John MacDonald

      The James issue seems to be the decisive point in favor of historicity, so it’s always a contentious point for both sides – laying just below the surface.

      • It is not the decisive point, but if anything it is the earliest and an extremely clear piece of evidence, and so denialists are bound to focus their attention there in an attempt to neutralize this inconvenient data point to try to spin it some other way.

        • John MacDonald

          What about this: maybe “brother of the Lord” was a sarcastic/joking nickname, like “Little John,” chosen because James was an outspoken critic of the first Christians who believed in a celestial Jesus. There is a tradition that James was decidedly not a convert until much later in life. That’s a thought. It’s very hard to come up with an argument that would make mythicism at least “fit” with the evidence. I find Carrier’s analysis in “On The Historicity Of Jesus” to be anything but parsimonious.

          • I would want to see a properly developed argument for why that scenario is more likely than the way scholars and historians have consistently understood the meaning. Barring that, I would say it is an interesting idea, definitely worth considering, but would not base a historical reconstruction on something that has so little in its favor.

      • Michael Wilson

        I get tired of the same arguments, I would be nice to see some discussion with more substantial theories than mythicism.

      • I wouldn’t agree with that. For me at least, the clues about the relationship to John the Baptist provide at least equally strong evidence.

    • My bad.

      John MacDonald asked my opinion of a discussion on another post, and I didn’t want to jump into a conversation that I hadn’t been following, so I answered him here. I suppose I should have known better than to express an opinion on Galatians 1:19, even if I wasn’t making an argument for mythicism.

      • John MacDonald

        I really liked your discussion about how it is little more than conjecture to try and describe the Jesus movement before Paul. This sort of goes along with my point that Paul influence the gospel writers, so it is problematic to try to extrapolate characteristics of the Jesus movement before Paul because where the description of the early Jesus movement overlaps with Pauline Christianity, we have no reason to say these characteristics were part of the pre-Pauline Jesus movement. The gospel writers may just have been projecting Pauline Christianity back into the pre-Pauline Jesus movement.

        • Thanks . . . I probably should have left it at that, but sometimes I just can’t resist the temptation to poke a stick in the hornet’s nest of Galatians 1:19.

          • Galatians 1:19 is not a hornet’s nest, your deliberate misconstrual of it and unwillingness to follow the evidence where it leads is what creates unnecessary and unhelful strife, not the passage itself.

          • John MacDonald

            It must be hard to be a bible scholar: “We know virtually nothing about the historical Jesus, but here’s book full of speculation.”

          • My analogy is a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that’s missing four thousand nine hundred and twenty-five pieces. You may be to make some little clumps out the pieces you have, but there is no way to know what goes in the spaces in between. New Testament scholars continue to go over and over those same seventy-five pieces with ever finer combs, but it doesn’t get them past the basic problem. It just creates the illusion that they know a lot more than they really do.

            Another analogy is the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. You can slow it down all you want and blow it up all you like, but it is never going to have any more pixels than it already does. What you need, but don’t have, is more information. More experts looking at the same information doesn’t help.

          • John MacDonald

            The only 2 universally accepted “facts” are that (1) Jesus was crucified by Pilate and (2) Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist. (1) Paul doesn’t mention Pilate, so that might be a Markan invention. (2) The relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist seems to serve a theological function, and so can’t be traced back to the historical Jesus: Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.). He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on). And it would make sense Mark would model John the Baptist on Elijah because Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” And, as Price argues:

            “Jesus’ Baptism ( Mark 1:9-11)

            The scene has received vivid midrashic coloring. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son.
            Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.” And as William R. Stegner points out, Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice. In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and

            Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is generally considered to be historical fact because it meets the criterion of embarrassment. However, historical minimalists point out that just because Jesus’ baptism was embarrassing for later gospel writers, we have no reason to think it was embarrassing to Mark. In fact, Miller has argued the Markan baptism pericope may be making a theological point, relating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the endowment with the spirit to a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

          • Michael Wilson

            But yet you follow mythisit bible scholars that are also offering nothing but speculation with the distinction of there being less evidence to support their view. Cute

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not a mythicist, but I appreciate that you think I’m cute.

          • John MacDonald

            But what you say is correct. Form-critical hermeneutic exercises that engage in typological reductionism (mythicists aren’t the only ones that do this) are “MERELY SPECULATIVE,” and are in no means historically meaningful. They are just flights of hermeneutic-literary fantasy. So, for instance, when John Dominic Crossan (The Cross That Spoke: Origins Of The Passion Narrative p. 198, 1988) points out that the darkness at noon in the crucufixion pericope comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21, this is just “mere supposition” on Crossan’s part, because, for instance, the vinegar and gall could be a historical fact of the crucifixion event, and it is just COINCIDENCE that it is also in Psalm 69:21. Or someone at the crucifixion could have brought the vinegar and gall because they wanted to fulfil Pslam 69:21. And maybe there was a miracle so there actually was darkness at noon on that day. Or maybe the gospel writer simply included the “darkness episode” for a metaphorical reason that has nothing to do with fulfilling Old Testament Scripture.

            But conversely, as I said, if the only two events biblical scholars can universally agree upon as “facts” are the crucifixion by Pilate and the Baptism of Jesus by John (in a previous post here I explained why the 2 are also dubious), the fact that we get book-length reconstructions of the historical Jesus means that we have much rampant meaningless speculation going on. Constructions of the historical Jesus should proceed by drawing “big picture” conclusions from a wealth of facts, but since there are hardly any facts to begin the procedure , we are left with Vinny’s analogy of the scholar trying to create the “big picture” with a thousand piece Jigsaw puzzle, where 925 pieces of the puzzle are missing. Since we don’t have the picture on the front of the puzzle box to go by, scholars reconstruct a massively inadequate portrait of the historical Jesus using the few available “puzzle piece facts,” and then speculatively guess what the big picture of the historical Jesus on the front of the puzzle box is supposed to look like. The result is an embarrassment of riches of different big pictures of the historical Jesus, each mutually exclusive and yet fitting what little evidence we have, so that historical Jesus reconstruction becomes meaningless speculative pseudo-science.

          • I couldn’t agree more. If it were any other person, scholars would have admitted long ago that we know as much as we are ever likely to know, but because there is so much confessionally driven and confessionally funded interest, there is an endless supply of PhD’s desperately picking over the pieces in an effort to find some new angle.

          • Jim

            So then are you in agreement with Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson:

            “[T]he most remarkable evidence for Christianity’s confusion … is the fact that since the time of the Enlightenment, the
            longest-running of all Christologies heresies has deeply infiltrated the church with scarcely any protest or controversy … I mean the replacement of the Christ of faith with the so-called historical Jesus.”

            – excerpt from The Creed as quoted at


          • Michael Wilson

            So you would say Carrier is a fool who because of his confessional bias cranked out a worthless book on a subject we can really say nothing new about?

          • I would not go that far, but I do think that he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does.

          • Michael Wilson

            Nobody knows as much as they think they do. But the fact you wouldn’t go that far about a guy who is bible scholar writing on the historical Jesus, who he thinks did not exist historically, that’s his theory on that subject, kinda undercuts your statement above right? It’s silly to use the arguments of biblical scholars on the historical Jesus to make the point that their is nothing new to meaningly say on the subject.

          • I’m sure there are many things that undercut my statement as it was quite general and somewhat hyperbolic, but I’m not sure my failure to criticize individual scholars is necessarily one of those things.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s really quite remarkable: We at most (and this is questionable) only have two puzzle pieces (the two universally agreed upon facts – the crucifixion by Pilate and the baptism by John) of a thousand piece puzzle, and we have an entire academic discipline trying to “guess” what the picture is on the front of the box. The quest for the historical Jesus is dead:

          • arcseconds

            It might be larger in scale, but I don’t think it’s different in kind to any figure that captures people’s imaginations.

            There’s a whole lot of Socrateses out there, and even recent, well documented figures spur endless interpretations and reinterpretations.

          • Michael Wilson

            And yet here we are discussing it. However speculative, I don’t think meaningless is quite the right way to put it. Maybe meaningless to you, then don’t follow the debate. Robert Price and Richard Carrier and others don’t find it meaningless, unless they find that just enjoy doing lots of meaningless work. And as Bible scholars, they don’t agree that Jesus existed so the crucifixion and baptism aren’t universally accepted facts, that their is a book written in antiquity called Mark that purports to tell the story of a guy named Jesus is a universally recognized fact. We can discus what prompted this work and others even if a universally persuasive conclusion can’t be reached. Crossan has theories, Price has theories, all sorts of people have theories. Not all are equal. Price’s theories have more credibility than one suggesting Jesus was an alien or wandering Tibetan monk. Theories that Jesus was an actual individual in Palestine have more credibility than his.

          • John MacDonald

            If making guesses about the historical Jesus based on nothing isn’t meaningless, then what is?

          • John MacDonald

            still fun, though – lol

          • Michael Wilson

            The thing is when you discuss what Paul meant by James brother of Jesus, you are engaging in what you call guesses about the historical Jesus based on nothing. I don’t agree. It is not concrete, but it is evidence about which intelligent inferences can be made. We can ask if James was a real person, was he the head of the Christian movement, if he really had a brother that started it and so on.

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe Jesus had a brother (Protestant), maybe he didn’t (Catholic; Mythicist)

          • arcseconds

            Maybe the pyramids were built by a bronze age human society (Birch, Brested), maybe they were built by aliens (Tsuokalos).

            Maybe the world is over 6000 years old (mainstream science, Hindu cosmology) or maybe it isn’t (young earth creationism).

            Maybe differences of opinion are relevant to whether we can determine the most likely scenario, or maybe they aren’t!

          • John MacDonald