Discussing Mythicism

Discussing Mythicism November 11, 2015

My recent posts about mythicism, responding to Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne, has sparked discussion on other blogs. See the posts by Don Burrows, Tim O’Neill at a brand new blog called “History for Atheists,” and Chris Eyre.

I also had a piece by Brent Lyons drawn to my attention, in which he discusses the pitfalls he fell into when he first started skeptically questioning the historicity of Jesus.

Any other posts on this topic that I have missed?

UPDATE: Of related interest, here is an interesting research project about atheist Gospel novels.

Jesus Mythicism Mute Quote



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  • John MacDonald

    The common response to the point that Mark used Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to construct the crucifixion narrative is that after Jesus died, his followers were desperately searching scriptures to explain what happened. But mythicists point out that since the gospel writers seem to be simply inventing material anyway, there is no reason to think this wasn’t done in the case of the crucifixion. Paul says “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3),” so this could either mean Christ’s death fulfilled scripture, or else Paul learned about Christ’s death by reading scripture.

    But is it reasonable to think the crucifixion narrative was invented? To begin an answer, by analogy, it is completely reasonable to think that Matthew simply made up the Nativity account of Jesus:

    On the whole Matthew seems to have borrowed the birth story of Jesus from Josephus’ retelling of the nativity of Moses. Whereas Exodus had Pharaoh institute the systematic murder of Hebrew infants simply to prevent a strong Hebrew fifth column in case of future invasion, Josephus makes the planned pogrom a weapon aimed right at Moses, who in Josephus becomes a promised messiah in his own right. Amram and Jochabed, expecting baby Moses, are alarmed. What should they do? Abort the pregnancy? God speaks in a dream to reassure them. “One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king that about this time there would a child be borne to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through the ages. Which was so feared by the king that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child into the river, and destroy it… A man, whose name was Amram, … was very uneasy at it, his wife being then with child, and he knew not what to do… Accordingly God had mercy on him, and was moved by his supplication. He stood by him in his sleep, and exhorted him not to despair of his future favours… ‘For that child, out of dread for whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelites’ children to destruction, shall be this child of thine… he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous whole the world lasts.’” (Antiquities, II, IX, 2-3)

    It is evident that Matthew has had merely to change a few names. Herod the Great takes the role of the baby-killing Pharaoh, and he is warned by his own scribes (along with the Magi) of the impending birth of a savior, whereupon he resolves to kill every child he has to in order to eliminate the child of promise. Joseph takes the place of Amram, though the precise cause of his unease is different. Mary takes the place of Jochabed. A dream from God steels Joseph, like Amram, in his resolve to go through with things.

    The rest of Matthew’s birth story is woven from a series of formulaic scripture quotations. He makes Isaiah 7:14 LXX refer to the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus. It is likely that he has in this case found a scripture passage to provide a pedigree for a widespread hagiographical mytheme, the divine paternity of the hero, which had already passed into the Christian tradition, unless of course this is the very door through which it passed.

    It is revealing that Matthew’s Magi learn from scribal exegesis of Micah 5:2 that the messiah must be born in Bethlehem. This is the same way Matthew “knew” Jesus was born there–it had to be!

    The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt comes equally from exegesis, this time of Hosea 11:1, which allows Matthew to draw a parallel between his character Joseph and the Genesis patriarch Joseph, who also went to Egypt. Matthew also seems here to want to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus. Note that Isaiah 52:9-10 makes the exodus from Egypt into a historical replay of God’s primordial victory over the sea dragon Rahab, equating Egypt with Rahab. Matthew also knew that Jonah was swallowed by a sea monster at God’s behest, and he saw this as a prefiguration of Jesus’ descent into the tomb (Matthew 12:40). The flight into Egypt has the child Jesus already going down into Rahab, the belly of the sea beast.

    The closest Matthew can come, via punning exegesis, to providing a prooftext for Jesus having become known as “the Nazarene” would seem to be Judges 13:7, “The boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth.” He knew Jesus must be born in Bethlehem yet was called “Jesus of Nazareth,” so he cobbled together a story whereby Jesus was born in Mary and Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, only to relocate in Nazareth (after Egypt) to avoid the wrath of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22-23). Luke, on the other hand, working with the same two assumptions, contrived to have Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but to be in Bethlehem for the census when the time came for Jesus to be born. In both cases, exegesis has produced narrative.

    So, by means of historical analogy, just as there is no reason to think that Matthew is doing anything else besides simply inventing the Nativity account of Jesus out of whole cloth, mythicists would say it is a least possible that Jesus’ followers weren’t desperately searching for scriptures after his death, but simply that Mark invented the crucifixion narrative out of whole cloth (perhaps inspired by Paul’s comments that I mentioned above in 1 Cor. 15:3) As for the crucifixion itself, the implicit piercing of hands and feet could have simply come in Mark 24 from Psalm 22:16b

    And it should be pointed out that you don’t need to be a mythicist to think much of the narrative about Jesus is lost behind the veil of intertextuality. John Shelby Spong is one historicist who comes to mind.

    I’m not a mythicist, but that’s what I think their argument is. When intertextuality is at play in the New Testament, it may be wise to bracket whether the text in question has an historical core or not, and simply say we don’t know.

    • John MacDonald

      Bishop Timothy Whitaker points out that Form Criticism, of the type I did above about Jesus’ nativity in Matthew (and relating Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 to the crucifixion narrative), puts into question whether the gospels were written to preserve the memory of the historical Jesus. Whitaker writes: “Most kinds of historical Biblical criticism such as source criticism, redaction criticism, and literary criticism do not necessarily challenge the traditional view of the Gospels. The case is different with Formgeschichte or ‘form criticism,’ which is a kind of historical Biblical criticism developed by German New Testament scholars in the early twentieth century, notably Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudolf Bultmann. . . . The form critics proposed that these ‘forms’ were transmitted over a long period of time in anonymous Christian communities in which they were creatively adapted to the needs of the communities. The impression is created by the form critics’ theory of the oral phase of the transmission of the traditions about Jesus that the Gospels tell us more about the early Christian communities than they do about Jesus. Formgeschichte, which literally means ‘form history,’ does indeed challenge the premise that the Gospels were written to preserve the memory of Jesus’ life by eyewitnesses.”

    • We find a lot of very similar accounts of miraculous conceptions and births throughout the ancient world. Information about a person’s childhood was rarely readily available, and ancient Mediterranean peoples do not seem to have been interested in psychological and other matters that make modern English speakers interested in the formative years of famous people.

      I hope you can see, therefore, how this is different from the matter of an individual’s death. And I really can’t imagine how someone who thinks that there likely was a historical Jesus can find it plausible, never mind likely, that the crucifixion accounts were completely fabricated with no historical basis. For one thing, it seems extremely unlikely that Jesus’ followers had no idea how he died. For another, Paul mentions Jesus having been crucified in ways that show that the event itself was known, if not every detail that would eventually become part of the story told in literature in subsequent decades.

      • John MacDonald

        I think the position that the Gospel writers were sometimes writing their stories as interpretive paraphrases of the Old Testament is generally accepted. For example, Bart Ehrman writes “A good example of how this works appears in the story of Jesus and the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11-17, which is similar in many ways to a story told about the prophet Elijah and his encounter with another widow, this one from Zarephath, also in the northern part of the land of Israel (1 Kings 17:17-24) (Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, pg 200).”

        • John MacDonald

          Why Luke did this in this case escapes me (rewriting 1 Kings 17:17-24).

      • John MacDonald

        I believe that Jesus was a historical person who was crucified. I am just skeptical about the details that seem to come from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

    • Mark

      You seem to be under the impression that if we read ‘kata tas graphas, Christ died for our sins’ as ‘we learn from the prophets that Christ died for our sins’, then it must also be true that ‘we learn from the prophets that Christ died’. But that doesn’t actually follow. The idea you want Paul to be hold requires the latter, though, which he simply isn’t saying. To take it seriously requires /two/ bits of special pleading, just for this /one single/ sentence.

      It also of course overlooks the fact that even if the sentence didn’t exist the crucifixion of Jesus would be completely certain just from all the other sentences of Paul.

      • John MacDonald

        Actually, what I said was Paul says “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3),” so this could EITHER mean Christ’s death was in agreement with/fulfilled scriptures, OR ELSE Paul and the first Christians learned about Christ’s death through revelation and reading scripture (Carrier’s position).

        • Mark

          Yes, you keep leaving out the ‘for our sins’ part. There is nothing in the passage to suggest that Paul thinks he only knows that Christ died from deep reading of scripture. It just isn’t there, even given the reading of ‘kata tas graphas’ you prefer. You just have to assert it independently, with no basis in the text. It is indeed consistent with the sentence.

          It isn’t there, but it is an optional thing to insist on if you like. The only difficulty is that it makes everything else unintelligible, most of all calling the thing mashiaḥ which Paul just can’t get enough of doing. You can also optionally insist that by ‘Jesus’ Paul means Hermes and that he doesn’t labor to distinguish them because his readers know that’s who he’s talking about. It’s consistent with the text, just not with reality.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier would simply reverse the argument and say there is nothing in Paul to suggest he knew Jesus was a human person. I don’t know why you say I’m leaving out the “for our sins part,” because I clearly wrote that (definitely an allusion to Isaiah 53). I am beginning to wonder if the crucifixion pericope was just completely invented. It almost seems to be too much of a coincidence that the crucifixion pericope is modelled on Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, AND Psalm 22 discusses the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Psalm 22:16b).

          • Mark

            Even if the text literally forced the reading: IT IS ONLY FROM SCRIPTURE, AND NOTHING ELSE, THAT WE KNOW THAT CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS – which it doesn’t – it wouldn’t entail or presuppose the quite different assertion IT IS ONLY FROM SCRIPTURE, AND NOTHING ELSE, THAT WE KNOW THAT CHRIST DIED. Yet you keep assimilating them, as if bewitched. On the natural reading of /exactly your way of reformulating/ Paul’s sentence, its content could as well be expressed by a bereaved messianic enthusiast for one Menachem Christ /in/ 1st c. Jerusalem /during/ a Roman crucifixion: THIS (pointing to the stauros ====>) IS FOR OUR SINS; IT IS OF COURSE ONLY FROM SCRIPTURE AND NOTHING ELSE THAT WE KNOW THIS. You just have to make a second decision in favor of imputing to Paul the belief that he only knows that Christ is dead from deep reading of the prophets.

          • John MacDonald

            I think 1 Cor. 15:3 is probably a reference to Christ’s death as fulfilling an allegorical reading of Isaiah 53 (since no other Hebrew Scripture talks about “one dying for many” in an “atoning way”) and Psalm 22. Mark’s crucifixion narrative seems to make explicit what is implicit in Paul. We “may” infer that Paul and the first Christians he knew only knew of Christ through an allegorical reading of Hebrew scriptures and revelation, OR we “could” infer Paul and the other first Christians also had other sources. Carrier picks the first option. I’m not a mythicist so I pick the second option. But epistemologically I don’t think we can know any more about the crucifixion beyond the fact that Jesus was killed, because the narrative in Mark is too polluted with intertextual references to Hebrew scripture to reliably determine any particular event in the pericope as history.

          • John MacDonald

            There is also no reason to think Pilate executed Jesus. Just because there is a known historical person in the Gospels, there is no reason to think the historical Jesus ever had anything to do with them. For example, the gospel of Luke says there was a relation between Governor Quirinius of Syria and Jesus’ family: a census. But there is no reason to think this ever happened.

            Luke writes “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.(Luke 2:1–7)”

            This appears to give a precise date, but elsewhere Luke has placed the nativity “in the days of Herod” (Luke 1:5 – “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah…”); as Herod died in 4 BCE and the census was in 6 CE, this means that the gospel is not consistent with the historical evidence. The scenario of Luke 2:1-7 is unrealistic in other ways as well: almost all scholars agree that people would not be required to travel in order to register for tax purposes (it would be the taxation officials who would travel, as they had to link property to its owners), and Joseph, as a resident of Galilee rather than Judaea, would not have been affected by the census in any case. By analogy, there is no reason to think Pilate had anything to do with Jesus.

          • Neko

            Matthew and Luke contrived their nativity narratives for apologetic/theological purposes.

            So who do you think executed Jesus? I think the Talmud (?) preserves a tradition that the execution of Jesus was an intra-Jewish affair.

          • John MacDonald

            It may have been Pilate. There’s just no reason to think so.

          • Neko

            Come again?

          • John MacDonald

            He might have been crucified by Pilate, or another Roman, or as you say it might have been an intra-Jewish affair. My point was that just because there was a known historical figure in the Gospels, this doesn’t mean the historical Jesus ever met them. John The Baptist is a good example. There is no reason to think Jesus ever met him because everything about the Baptizer in the gospels serve a theological/literary function. Mark comes right out at the beginning of his gospel and says: “The
            beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE PROPHETS.” Mark then 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 wildernes in which Elijah lived. The Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit is arepetition 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.
            Usual scholars allow some core of historical reporting to underlie the story of the Baptizer’s death (though any reading of Mark must be harmonized with some
            difficulty with Josephus), recognizing just a bit of biblical embellishment to the narrative. For instance, it is apparent to all that Herod Antipas’ words to
            his step-daughter, “Whatever you ask of me I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom,” comes from Esther 5:3. Herod’s painting himself into the corner of having to order the execution of his favorite prophet may come from Darius’ bamboozlement in the case of Daniel (Daniel 6:6-15). But it is possible that the whole tale comes from literary sources. Dr. Dennis MacDonald of Claremont university shows how the story of John’s martyrdom matches in all essentials the Odyssey’s story of the murder of Agamemnon (3:254-308:4:512-547; 11:404-434), even to the point that both are told in the form of an analepsis or flashback. Herodias, like Queen Clytemnestra, left her husband, preferring his cousin: Antipas in the one case, Aegisthus in the other. This
            tryst was threatened, in Clytemnestra’s case, by the return of her husband from the Trojan War, in Herodias’, by the denunciations of John. In both cases, the
            wicked adulteress plots the death of the nuisance. Aegisthus hosted a banquet to celebrate Agamemnon’s return, just as Herod hosted a feast. During the
            festivities Agamemnon is slain, sprawling amid the dinner plates, and the Baptizer is beheaded, his head displayed on a serving platter. Homer foreshadows danger awaiting the returning Odysseus with the story of
            Agamemnon’s murder, while Mark anticipates Jesus’ own martyrdom with that of John. The only outstanding difference, of course, is that in Mark’s version, the role of Agamemnon has been split between Herodias’ rightful husband (Philip according to Mark; another Herod according to Josephus) and John the Baptizer. So there is really no reason to think Jesus ever met John The Baptist.

          • Mark

            Tacitus seems to say that it was Pontius Pilate. Of course, since you seem to have an enthusiasm for denying reality, you will find some way to get rid of that passage too.

            Trying to get rid of it is more palpably dishonest and corrupt than anything you have managed to find in Mark in this tired recycling of bible concordance material. Where Mark finds prophetic foreshadowing everywhere, the anti-historicist cult finds priestcraft and ecclesiastical forgery everywhere.

          • Mark

            Your empty bible-concordance recitation technique has you saying we have /no reason/ to think Pilate was involved. In fact Tacitus says he was involved. This shows that Mark /isn’t/ simply making it all up. Where does your method get any control for reality? It goes on and on like this. Take the appearance of Gamaliel in Acts. Gamaliel is not attested in 1st c sources (Josephus mentions what we can see on reflection must be his family.) When the Mishnah comes in the late 2nd c, he’s supposed to have been a big deal in the early 1st c. People – Jews and Christians alike – used to just accept the Mishnah’s personnel, and the Mishnah’s implicit dating. (People used to just declare Mark wrong on this that and the other point, since surely no pharisee would say that; similarly people love to say that Paul was obviously an incompetent, perhaps poseur Jew, he’s all wrong about the Law, as we know from the rabbis. The truth is surely almost the opposite, someone like Paul knew way more about the early tannaim that the rabbis did; they are trying to piece together what he knew from experience. ) But there is all sorts of magical nonsense mixed in with the rabbis’ imagined predecessors. If we had the Mishnah only, we would have grounds to wonder about this “Gamaliel” the rabbis are talking about, as we do about the wonderful Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and all his miracles. (No doubt skepticism on the matter has been carried too far, according the familiar laws of academic movement.) But we know Gamaliel existed … because Acts mentions him. Your present entertainment is easy, since you have the reference bibles to fill your phantasia, but you need to do the opposite exercise and see what in Mark is fitted to the facts as well. We are looking for a total theory which will explain the data; this is a genuine scientific (Wissenschaftlich) task, an immense task, a crucial element of humanity’s self-comprehension. Lists of random parallels with Hebrew scriptures are what Protestant ministers produce. They at least have a theological justification, you have none at all.

          • For King and Country

            No one is arguing that the crucifixion happened because the Gospels mention Pilate, a real Roman procurator/prefect. The argument(s) are based on the background knowledge of first-century Palestine and what Jews though about the Davidic Messiah. It is also based on multiple independent sources for Jesus; whether from the gospels or secular sources. Archaeological evidence that indicates crucifixion was still common in the first century. And many more details.

          • For King and Country

            One can always doubt things systematically and question the evidence and hypothesis in every single way. But you have to ask yourself one thing: When is it going to end?

            I mean, if one can doubt and question everything they are told, then why not doubt even doubt itself? Then you realize you have created a trap that you fall into of endless doubts.

            That’s one of the problems I have with the majority of conspiracy theories. They don’t allow any breathing room for thinking because they always start with x and end with x. But none of them are looking for y.

          • Jim

            As you already know I’m kissing Paul’s butt, mainly because anyone who had visions was probably doing mushrooms and that’s totally cool with me. Still I think that if Paul was a Pharisee, he may have derived his “Jesus died according to scripture” ideas mainly from the Pentateuch (as scripture). It’ has not yet been established what else was considered to be “sacred scripture” in 30s-50s CE Tarsus synagogues (the Jews didn’t officially canonize all of the OT until later, even though they had much of the OT plus extras in the LXX}.

            Along with Paul’s reference to the Jewish festivals (see 1 Cor 5:7), see also the relevant Gal 3:11-14 and Deut 21:23 as a key link.

            I have no clue who Mark was and where this first gospel was written from geographically (the author could have used Isa 53/Ps 22 to develop this gospel), but this gospel doesn’t display any clear link to Paul, at least anywhere near equivalent to Matt & Luke’s use of Mark. You’re gonna have to send me a $100 bribe to convince me that Pharisee Paul considered Isa 53/Ps 22-23 on par with the first five Moses books.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, here is Dr. Daniel Boyarim’s claim:

            [W]e now know that many Jewish authorities, maybe even most, until nearly the modern period have read Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah; until the last few centuries, the allegorical reading was a minority one.
            Aside from one very important — but absolutely unique — notice in Origen’s Contra Celsum, there is no evidence at all that any late ancient Jews read Isaiah 52-53 as referring to anyone but the Messiah. There are, on the other hand, several attestations of ancient rabbinic readings of the song as concerning the Messiah and his tribulations.

            In the Palestinian Talmud there is an amoraic [i.e. from between 200 and 500 CE] passage (Sukkah 5:2 55b) discussing the meaning of a verse in Zechariah:

            And the land shall mourn (Zechariah 12:12)

            One opinion expressed is that this refers to the Messiah — that is, that the land will mourn over the Messiah. (The other view is that it refers to the death of sexual desire in the messianic age.)

            Other traditions appear in the Babylonian Talmud from a later period (300 to 600 CE) “but very likely earlier”. One of these is from Sanhedrin 98. The question is there asked “What is the Messiah’s name?” Different rabbis offer various answers.

            After several views, we find: “And the Rabbis say, ‘the leper’ of the House of Rabbi is his name, for it says, ‘Behold he has borne our disease [the word here means ‘leprosy’], and suffered our pains, and we thought him smitten, beaten by God and tortured’ [Isa. 53:4].”

            So here we find Jews interpreting Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah.

            Boyarin then mentions that on the previous page in the Talmud is a scene of the Messiah sitting among the diseased and poor at the gates of Rome, and understanding that he has a saving role to perform for these wretched sufferers by identifying with them.

            One more passage is brought forth as a witness although Boyarin advances it with some caution. It is known only from “a polemic Testimonia (of a thirteenth-century Dominican friar)”. If genuine, it would be evidence that from the third century that rabbis interpreted the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as the Messiah who must suffer to atone for sins. This is the passage:

            Rabbi Yose Hagelili said: Go forth and learn the praise of the King Messiah and the reward of the righteous from the First Adam. For he was only commanded one thou-shalt-not commandment and he violated it. Behold how many deaths he and his descendants and the descendants of his descendants were fined until the end of all the generations. Now which of God’s qualities is greater than the other, the quality of mercy or the quality of retribution? Proclaim that the quality of goodness is the greater and the quality of retribution the lesser! And the King Messiah fasts and suffers for the sinners, as it says, “and he is made sick for our sins, etc.” ever more so and more will he be triumphant for all of the generations, as it says, “And the Lord visited upon him the sin of all.”

            If you find any of this persuasive you owe me the $100.00 lol

          • Jim

            Well John, it’s good to know we’re both in it mainly for the money 🙂 – but I’ll give your comment some more thought.

          • Jim

            The way I’d weasel my way out of this one is that Origin’s polemic, Palestinian & Babylonian Talmuds, etc were all much later than the temple destruction and later than Bar
            Kochba in the 130s CE. The Mishnah wasn’t published until around 200 CE. This later focus on Isa 53 as being
            messianic might not necessarily reflect that this is how the Isaiah prophecy was commonly viewed pre-70 CE.

            Although … on my quick and lazy search for Paul’s references to the OT, this one came up:


            This wordcloud-style tabulation by Richard Goode includes the seven accepted Pauline letters, Ephesians and Colossians. Interestingly, Isaiah and Psalms do come up as number 1 and 2 respectively. I haven’t checked if there are any other surveys for comparison though – so I’m holding on to my $100 for now.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          Paul says “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3),” so this could EITHER mean Christ’s death was in agreement with/fulfilled scriptures, OR ELSE Paul and the first Christians learned about Christ’s death through revelation and reading scripture.

          This dichotomy would only obtain in the context of a very particular myth theory. Suppose that Peter (or whoever) reflected on Isaiah 53 and suddenly realised that it was a cryptic account of an event. In other words, the crucifixion of Christ had happened sometime before Isaiah was writing, and he was making a record of it. Therefore, to say that Christ died according to Scripture is to say that Scripture contains a record of Christ’s death. The death would not be in fulfilment of Scripture; it would simply be mentioned in Scripture.

          This is fantastically implausible. Another possibility is that Peter reflected on Isaiah and realised that it was actually a prophecy of something that was going to happen. Peter then decided that this event must have happened recently. Since Peter wasn’t aware of any earthly event corresponding to this prophecy, he decided that it must have happened in outer space. Peter LEARNED about Christ’s death from Scripture. But though Peter had learned about Christ’s death from Scripture it was ALSO the case that Christ’s death FULFILLED Scripture, because it corresponded to a prophecy.

          In the context of this myth theory, the dichotomy would not obtain. Christ’s death would be both learned from and in fulfilment of Scripture. This is Carrier’s theory, and it is also fantastically implausible.

      • John MacDonald

        Just as a curiosity, what scriptures do you think Paul was referring to when he says “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES (1 Cor. 15:3).”

    • jjramsey

      But is it reasonable to think the crucifixion narrative was invented? To
      begin an answer, by analogy, it is completely reasonable to think that
      Matthew simply made up the Nativity account of Jesus

      I don’t think the situations are quite analogous.

      In the scenario where mythicists claim that the crucifixion narrative is outright derived from scriptures, proto-Christians (or whatever you want to call them) are somehow reading the scriptures cold yet deriving things that are hardly hinted at in the scriptures at all. It’s one thing to start with a cross in mind and the pierced hands that go with it, and then find a scripture with hands that are in some sense pierced. It’s another thing to start with a pierced hand in scripture and infer that it was due to a nail from crucifixion, especially when (1) there’s no mention of a cross in that scripture involving a pierced hand, and (2) the scripture in question looks more like it refers to a hand that are scratched up or lacerated rather than a hand that has a wound that goes all the way through it. There’s also the matter of what motivates such a search through the scriptures in the first place.

      In the scenario that historicists have where Matthew uses scripture to invent a nativity story, Matthew isn’t going into scripture entirely cold. Rather, he’s faced with a conundrum: Jesus’ hometown is Nazareth, but scripture would appear to say that he should have been born in Bethlehem. So when Matthew is searching the scriptures, he’s looking for something, anything that would help fill the gap, so to speak, between Bethlehem and Nazareth. Here, there’s no really mystery as to what motivates Matthew to search the scriptures, unlike with the case of the proto-Christians.

      • John MacDonald

        If you don’t like Matthew’s Nativity as an analogy, what about Ehrman’s example that I cite above where Ehrman argues Luke 7:11-17 is a rewrite of 1 Kings 17:17-24?

        • jjramsey

          But this has a relevant disanalogy, too, in that Luke 7:11-17 and 1 Kings 17:17-24 have far more resemblance to each other than the mauling of hands in Psalm 22 and a full-on crucifixion. That’s the biggest problem with the notion that the crucifixion was derived from the Hebrew scriptures. There’s so much of a leap from the scriptures that are the supposed sources of Jesus’ Passion to the actual Passion itself.

          • John MacDonald

            I’ll try one more analogy to persuade you lol. Most scholars agree Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) had to be taken completely out of context to provide a model for Jesus’ childhood sojourn in Egypt. Just because Old Testament parallels aren’t obvious and multifaceted, doesn’t mean they weren’t used and important to the gospel writers. I hope that helps. I’m out of ideas. lol

          • jjramsey

            “Just because Old Testament parallels aren’t obvious and multifaceted,
            doesn’t mean they weren’t used and important to the gospel writers.”

            Oh, of course. No one disputes that the Old Testament has a huge impact on the Gospels. It’s just that some proposals for how various pieces of Old Testament content relate to various parts of the New Testament make more sense than others. As a rule of thumb, I’d say that the more an Old Testament prophecy has to be shoehorned or read tendentiously to fit some purported event, the more likely it is that the supposed “prophecy” was used as an after-the-fact justification for the purported event, rather than the event being manufactured to fit the “prophecy.”

            (In the case of Matthew’s use of Hosea, I’d say that rule, if it applied at all, applied in a bit more of a complicated fashion than usual. I suspect that Matthew already had in mind that Jesus’ family would go into Egypt and then back out in order to parallel the accounts described at the end of Genesis and much of Exodus. Once he had that in mind, he probably searched for a proof text, and given that Hosea 11.1 was already based on the accounts in Exodus, it would be a relatively easy fit to what Matthew already had in mind. This is conjecture, of course.)

          • John MacDonald

            That’s fair. I think the most parsimonious answer is that Hosea 11:1 simply inspired the sojourn story in Matthew, but we can agree to disagree.

  • John MacDonald

    It’s nice to see that when Carrier is not busy pointing out that the work of the entire academic field of historical Jesus studies is garbage, he is busy pointing out that the entire body of work of Philosophers discussing ethics is garbage: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/8903
    To throw in my two cents, I think that if we don’t take a “holier than thou judgmental attitude” but simply allow the phenomena of behavior to appear, it would seem that “Moral Relativism” is a useful descriptor for the foundation of ethics, because it best describes why things like (a) cultural-based cannibalism, and (b) The Romans feeding the Christians to the lions in the arena for the exciting sport of the crowd, and (c) child sacrifice, etc., could occur. From the point of view of our time and culture, these practices are “judged wrong.” But who are we to judge? From the point of view of the people who were committing these acts, they were acting in a perfectly socially acceptable manner. So they are “wrong” from our point of view, but not from theirs. Relativism.

    • TheologianThinker

      Moral Relativism can’t be the foundation of morality because Moral Relativism does not even hold that morality exists objectively. Ethics would fall apart if we thought that morality did not exist objectively.

  • John MacDonald

    You can see how Carrier’s “On The Historicity Of Jesus” makes some interesting points. For example, (1) he argues that Jesus was meant to replace the Temple system. Mark is probably dated after the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army in 70 CE. There are hints of this. In chapter 13, “the little apocalypse,” the words seem to describe the pain endured by the residents of that holy city during that catastrophe. The people are urged to flee into the hills of Judea and even to Galilee. In the story of the transfiguration of Jesus in chapter 9, Jesus is, as Carrier argues, portrayed as having replaced the Temple as the meeting place between God and human life, for the shekinah, the light of God that once was thought to have enveloped the Temple, now is made to shine on Jesus. That story makes no sense unless the temple is no more. (2) I don’t have any problem with Carrier interpreting the “James, the brother (adelphos) of the Lord (Gal 1:19)” passage as referring to James as a non-apostle baptized Christian, instead of being a blood brother of Jesus. Mark, for instance, though he thought Jesus had blood brothers, still preserves an early tradition whereby non family members of Jesus were still identified as Jesus’ family if they had sufficient faith: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:33-35).” The followers of Jesus were also known as “the Brethren (eg. Luke 22:32),” another way of saying “Brotherhood,” so all Paul might have meant in Gal 1:19 is “Brother James.” Anyway, lots of interesting stuff to discuss in Carrier’s “On The Historicity Of Jesus.”

    • No, it really isn’t interesting. Most of it is trite, and what isn’t is often laughable. The whole point in the Mark passage you refer to is contrasting Jesus’ followers with his biological relatives, and skipping that is an unpersuasive attempt at deception.

      • Andrew Schefe

        If Richard’s book is as bad as you portray, how did it get past peer review? It would seem to me your either exaggerating or experts in the field don’t know what their talking about, hence the argument from consensus carries no weight.

        • On the contrary, this is precisely why one looks to the consensus on evolution, climate change, the historical Jesus, and any other topic. Peer review is at its best an attempt to ensure the publication not of things which are correct, but are worthy of consideration. Peer review in the sciences as well as the humanities has let things through that the majority of experts felt probably did not deserve publication in the first place. Peer review is not where the defining characteristics of the scholarly enterprise can be found, or secure knowledge obtained. That is what the consensus represents.

        • Mark

          You seem not to realize that the Sheffield Phoenix procedure has the author choose the ‘peer reviewers’ himself – as Carrier himself has explicitly stated. This is not necessarily an irrational procedure – ordinary ‘merely editorial’ review is also a rational procedure. That Carrier was able to find two people to convince he editors of the merits of his book, doesn’t tell us much about the field, really. It is clear enough from the tide of grammar and spelling errors that the amount of thought Sheffield Phoenix put into the publication was basically nil ….

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          The book is very bad indeed. Carrier’s theory is that Jesus was originally regarded as a celestial being. But there is more to it than that. According to Carrier, although Jesus was a celestial being, he did temporarily take on human form. He assumed a mortal body of flesh and blood. And where did this temporary incarnation take place? Answer: it supposedly happened in HEAVEN. Yes, that’s right: Jesus became a flesh-and-blood man in heaven.

          Now, I would be very grateful if you could tell me where anyone says that Jesus took on human form in heaven. I hope you agree that we would need actual evidence to show that anyone believed this. However, even if you wade through 700 pages of pseudoscientific drivel, you won’t find any such evidence.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      John, you don’t have to pretend not to be a mythicist. The fact that you keep presenting mythicist arguments shows that you are as close to being a mythicist as makes no difference. I disagree with you, of course, but you are entitled to your opinion.

      I see no reason whatsoever to think that Peter or Paul “learned” of Jesus’ death by reflecting on Isaiah 53. You can only see a crucifixion in this passage if you know exactly what you are looking for. There is a vague mention of piercing, but this no more indicates death by crucifixion than it indicates death by lethal injection.

      You say you have no problem with Carrier’s interpretation of Gal. 1:19, but it seems odd to me that a human being is the brother of non-human being.

  • John MacDonald

    Carrier is an interesting fellow. For a long time I wondered if Christianity started out as some sort of Conspiracy to lie about a God-man to people in order to make the world a better place. I have expressed this in four or five comments in the comment section here: http://vridar.org/2015/09/21/comments-open/#comment-73290
    Carrier has also raised the issue that Christianity might have started out as a noble lie (cf. Plato in the Republic). In his essay “Why The Resurrection Is Unbelievable” in the anthology “The Christian Delusion,” Carrier writes: “It’s also possible the first Christians ‘claimed’ to have had these visions [of Jesus] even when they didn’t. They could have done so simply to join, lead, or support a movement whose moral goals they approved and believed should be implemented and preached to society for the good of their fellow man (Carrier, The Christian Delusion, pg 306).” Carrier also anticipated the current debate about whether the Jews anticipated a killed messiah. Carrier writes “Some Jews even suspected the end would shortly follow the death of the messiah (Daniel 9:25-27), (Carrier, the Christian Delusion, pg. 306; also cf Carrier, The End Of Christianity, 56, 372n9)

    • jjramsey

      “Carrier also anticipated the current debate about whether the Jews anticipated a killed messiah.”

      Both McGrath and I have seen Carrier’s take on the matter, and so has Thom Stark, for example, here: http://religionatthemargins.com/2012/05/the-torturous-death-of-richard-carriers-dying-messiah/

      In short, it’s a mess. One thing I find interesting is how he kept reading Daniel 9:25-27 as evangelicals would, rather than following the critical scholarly reading, and even claimed that a scholar, Lacocque, agreed with him when he clearly didn’t. It’s not even clear if Carrier even read Lacocque. Carrier has this way of talking confidently while being utterly wrong.

    • Mark

      How is the mythicist cause supposed to be helped by ‘anticipation’ of a ‘killed messiah’? Paul is not anticipating a ‘killed messiah’, he already has one. Plenty of people were killed in 1st c Palestine, why not think he’s talking about one of them? The natural secular theory is that whatever remained of the Jesus crowd after the crucifixion found ‘anticipations’ of what you are calling a ‘killed messiah’ in scripture. If these ‘anticipations’ had already been ‘discovered’, and were current, then the ‘historicity of Jesus’ is obvious, same as it is on the other hypothesis.

      What is amazing is how far Carrier, Price and the like have bought into the Amazing Bible Parallels™ uncovered by a few centuries of Protestant ministers’ feverish cross-referencing à la Scofield. The whole discussion has the same atmosphere of free-association and hashish; when adherents like you repeat this stuff you look just as credulous and uncritical as the typical fundamentalist bible college student does discovering the very same Amazing Bible Parallels™

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      According to Carrier, the theory that Jesus was a “political fiction” has such a low prior probability that it can be discounted. For once, Carrier is right. A myth theory that postulates very deliberate lying about everything can be discounted from the outset.

      For the myth theory to stand a chance, it has to assume that the originators of the myth had a genuine, albeit mistaken, belief in Jesus. The trouble starts when you try to work out what that belief was. It seems that the belief can only be genuine and mistaken, if it refers to a realm about which claims cannot be tested. Supposedly, this realm is in outer space.

      But attributing a belief in an outer-space Jesus to Paul and the others requires so much twisting of the texts that the attempt fails completely. You have to argue that Rom. 1:3 refers to a cosmic sperm bank, that “born of a woman” doesn’t actually mean what it says, that brothers aren’t really brothers, etc.