Gaps in Jesus’ Fossil Record?

Gaps in Jesus’ Fossil Record? October 20, 2017

In talking with a mythicist on Facebook who seemed blissfully unaware of how nonsensical his stance comes across, the similarity between creationism and mythicism became apparent yet again. Ironically, however, the mythicist tried to claim that in fact it is mainstream historians who are like creationists.

But the more fundamental similarity is clear. Mythicists are like those creationists who ignore the clear implications of the evidence we do have, and focus instead on things that we do not have.

That there are gaps in the Jesus record, as in the fossil record, is not evidence against mainstream history or science. It is the way the evidence that we do have lines up that is significant, however much we might like to have still more evidence than we do.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    It doesn’t say he was not a raptor, but it DOES say he was a plant.

    • John MacDonald

      Have you ever noticed that every time Dr. McGrath posts on mythicism, invariably a mythicist shows up (always someone different) to defend mythicism? I suspect that Dr. McGrath hires mythicist contractors to show up and debate to increase the drama factor and get everyone excited, resulting in more views for the topic! Dr. McGrath is very crafty, but I’m on to him!

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        That would explain a lot.

        I do know there are… certain segments… of the Internet population who have their news aggregators set to key words primarily so they can parachute in and defend themselves against any critical article. I tend to be more of the camp that, if I think someone’s a nut, I don’t particularly care what their opinion is of my school of thought, but different people are in different places with that.

        • John MacDonald

          I just find it weird that it’s always someone different. I suspect that Neil Godfrey has 500 different avatars that he can use to defend mythicism even though Dr. McGrath banned him repeatedly.

          • I too wonder about mythicist behavior on my blog. If it were me trying to create drama, I would like to think that I could do a much better job than those commenters have done! 🙂 But sometimes their comments are so stereotypical and illustrative of the criticisms I have made here repeatedly, that I have suspected they might be comments from people who oppose mythicism rather than genuine comments by supporters. But of course, that is “Poe’s Law” in a nutshell.

          • arcseconds

            Maybe it’s hard to hire decent help?

            I could be persuaded to cause a ruckus on your blog for a reasonable fee, and I can guarantee it would be at least more novel than the usual mythicist hamster wheel 🙂

    • Jim

      So how does the temple priest sacrifice a Passover yam and does it have to be without blemish?

    • Iain Lovejoy

      I’d be careful about hawking that article around too often, even if it is very funny. Before you know it there will actually be a whole “Jesus vine” movement to contend with.

      • Yes, the Gospel of John is the one place where Jesus said it explicitly – “I am de Vine…” 🙂

  • John MacDonald

    Here is the title Carrier just posted for his new online course on the historicity of Jesus:

    “Debating Jesus: A Course on Mastering the Subject!”

    ’nuff said

    • Neko

      I might sign up if he paid me to do it.

      • John MacDonald

        Just think, you could become a “Master” in religious studies about Jesus by taking a short online course. Carrier is going to put all the religious studies graduate departments out of business.

  • I think that gaps matter for a couple of reasons:

    If a gap is unexpected given a particular hypothesis. Gaps in the fossil record are not surprising given the unique combination of circumstances that it takes to produce a fossil. Gaps in Jesus’ record are not unexpected on the hypothesis that he was an obscure itinerant preacher from the sticks. On the other hand, they might be unexpected on the hypothesis that the gospels accurately reflect the notoriety that Jesus enjoyed.

    Gaps also affect the degree of certainty that scholars can (or should have) about their conclusions. The available evidence seems to support the hypothesis that William Shakespeare was the author of the plays that are attributed to him, but gaps in historical record make it much less certain than the hypothesis that Arthur Miller was the author of the plays that are attributed to him.

    • Hi Vinny.
      If Jesus was a popular preacher, like others in Israel, but no revolutionary leader, king or high priest, where should he have been mentioned? We also don’t have any contemporaneous writings mentioning Pontius Pilate.

      In order to make an argument from silence plausible, you must give us details as to where precisely evidence was expected.

      • To which other popular preachers are you referring?

      • My point is that there must be some historical record of these other popular preachers if we know who they are, and we might expect to find a similar record of Jesus. On the other hand, if we are speaking of hypothetical popular preachers whose identities are unknown to us, then we shouldn’t expect any more evidence of Jesus’ existence than of theirs.

      • Pofarmer

        We also don’t have any contemporaneous writings mentioning Pontius Pilate.

        We at least have the Pilate Stone. We don’t even have anything remotely comparable to that for Jesus. No inscriptions in Church’s or Temples. No nothing.

        • Jerry Arias

          Didn’t Philo of Alexandria mention him?

          • Pofarmer

            Nope. And he’s one who realistically should have.

          • Jerry Arias

            He did in his ‘Gaius 302’ and you may go here and read it;

            “Philo specifically catalogs “his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage ferocity” (Gaium 302), though some claim Philo exaggerated the matter. Nonetheless, Pilate did antagonize the Jews and they hated him (though they would later use him for the implementation of their own evil designs).”

          • Pofarmer

            Oh, Pilate, sorry, I missunderstood.

          • Jerry Arias

            Yes, and he should have mentioned Jesus because he was right there at the time and place but he never heard of him evidently. Very telling.

          • Given that Jesus of Nazareth, as far as we know, never visited Alexandria, and Philo does not discuss messianic claimants in Palestine, your assertion that Philo was “right there at the right olace and time but he never heard of him” seems not merely odd, but quite bizarre. Could you perhaps explain your reasoning?

          • Jerry Arias

            Well Philo visited Jerusalem probably many times, I’ll have to check but I believe he helped pay for the gilding of Jerusalem’s gates – in any case, a very prominent Jew in the community and he would have been 55 years old at the crucifixion, so he would have been a perfect eyewitness. If one is examining historicity you have to read everything in the First Century. BTW Bart Ehrman didn’t know this about Philo.

          • If someone in the Jewish diaspora had links to Jerusalem (as one would expect), therefore they ought to have heard about and mentioned the execution of yet another failed messianic claimant there, especially one from a village in the Galilee?

          • Jerry Arias

            No, if he was an obscure Galilean shaman – but the search for Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels, (Luke 7:17 “This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”) if not the Jesus of the Gospels, what’s the point?

          • The search of historians is for history and for historical figures, who regularly differ from what this or that writer said about them. If your interest is in supernatural miracle workers, then historical inquiry is not going to satisfy you. But the point of history is not diminished by the fact that your interests lie elsewhere.

          • Pofarmer

            Exactly, and his theology is really similar to that of the Gospel of John, from my understanding. He was in the right time and place and should have been running in the right circles.

          • Can you explain your logic here? Since the Gospel of John may have borrowed Philo’s ideas, or at least shared ideas that are similar, therefore Philo ought to have witnessed events that the Gospel of John mentions? Why, exactly?

  • Would you accept a chance to debate Richard Carrier if given the chance?

    • I have no interest in doing so, not least because debates of the public sort you are referring to are not how matters of scholarship are settled. I have debated him in articles, and that is the appropriate venue.

  • MarquisDeMoo

    Sorry but I think the analogy is flawed. You would be better making the analogy about the relationship of abiogenesis to evolution. As I understand it there is a coherent, continuous and independently supported record of Christianity from Paul onwards but there is absolutely no corroboratory evidence to confirm that Jesus existed from his lifetime or indeed the 50 or so years after his death, let alone that he did any of the things attributed to him. Furthermore not only that there is no supporting evidence of the supposedly remarkable happenings during his lifetime, but also the stories that recount them and the life of Jesus contradict the independently established time lines for Herod, Pilot and Cyrenius so are clearly suspect.

    You might posit that to know these events would make you a believer hence the search for impartial evidence would be nugatory but I would suggest that to garner believers was the very reason the gospel writers embellished the story.

    Personally as a sceptic I find the alleged miracles and happenings to be extremely unconvincing, albeit I suspect that someone called Jesus probably did exist and he may have been an enlightened Pharisee or cult leader. I would posit that the cult of Jesus took off after his death and with some embellishment over a generation became the foundation of the Christianity we now know.

    Finally I should add that my perspective is not that of an expert and in the context of my atheism to this as in the countless religions of the world I am really not interested in digging into all their respective nitty grittys, much as I suspect you treat Hinduism, Jainism or Cheondoism. Your god really has got to make a better case.

    • If you accept the evidence from Paul, whose contact with Christianity was within a few years of Jesus’ death and whose earliest letter is probably at most 2 decades after that event, then why posit a 50 year period of silence? Where are you getting that figure from?

      What is it that you think is at odds with other information that we have about Pontius Pilate (note the spelling) and Herod? Are you thinking about the problems with the date of the infancy, intending to refer to Quirinius? If so, that is a well-known issue with the patents non-historical infancy stories in the Gospels.

      You seem not to know your audience here on this blog, and since you think there likely was a historical Jesus who was later mythologized, you’re not a mythicist who claims that there was no historical figure who was later mythologized. So can you kindly explain how you ended up here, what your point is, and how it relates to the discussion of mythicism that was the topic of this blog post?

      • MarquisDeMoo

        I actually wandered into your blog, more by mistake than anything. However my point stands, the analogy is flawed, surely it is the birth of Christianity that is questioned rather than its later progression? As I said I’m not keen on getting into the nitty gritty and wonder why anybody might because the difference between the evidence you and mythicists hang your hats on seems marginal.

        BTW Sorry had Pilots on the brain!

        • The nitty gritty, in the natural sciences as in the study of history, is precisely where the evidence lies in both cases. It is the fact that, examined skeptically, some details in sources are consistently judged very unlikely to have been invented by the early Christians, that in fact makes it so unlikely that there was no historical Jesus about whom messianic expectations circulated and who was then crucified.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            The problem is that the nitty grittys in this case are vague and open to interpretation, which is evident from the fact that the same writings have been used to support multiple divergent versions of Christianity. You earlier questioned why I suggest a 50 year gap whilst accepting Paul. That is because we are talking 2 different things. Recorded Christianity runs unbroken from Paul but the supposed evidence for Jesus’s existence, which is the topic here, essentially runs from the gospels. I am led to believe that Paul’s writings about Jesus the man are non specific. Furthermore how much am I to trust the writings of a man who admits to visions and much of whose collected works are now attributed to others who wrote later? I must stress the interpretation of Paul’s writings is deeper into Christianity than I am comfortable digging, for although this religion impacts on my culture, which is why I have travelled thus far, I find the whole concept of Christianity itself farcically untenable. However to contradict my earlier misgivings as to why anyone might want to dig into it, albeit I was referring to digging for nuggets to support Christian claims, the historical perspective is indeed fascinating and relevant to western culture.

            In the Natural Sciences hypotheses have to be falsifiable. My understanding is that in History, where falsifiability is not possible, corroboratory evidence is needed and this should be in proportion to the magnitude of the claim. In the end like Anthropogenic Climate Change it does come down to trusting the experts; the problem of course, given the lack of concrete corroboratory evidence, is finding experts who do not have their entire world view invested in the existence of Jesus. From my perspective whether Jesus existed or not is, apart from the historical context, irrelevant, if he did I’m sure he would not have been recognisable as the Jesus portrayed by the Christian faith and thus not the Christian Jesus anyway, which does I think make me a mythicist.

          • I am sorry to hear that you have been misled about the information Paul provides about a historical Jesus, the date of the Gospels, and other relevant details, and that you have not bothered to take the time to better inform yourself about these matters. You are free to reject the testimony about mundane matters of ancient and/or modern people who are prone to consider their dreams as religiously significant, but I hope that you at least do so consistently, since that is all but universal in antiquity and not uncommon even in our time.

            Rejecting the mythology that grew up around a historical figure of Jesus doesn’t make you a “mythicist.” That is the view of mainstream historical scholarship! Being a mythicist means that you reject the all but universal conclusion of secular historians and scholars in favor of the view that there was no historical Jesus who was subsequently mythologized, but that he began as myth and was later historicized.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            I lifted this quote from Wikipedia talking about Mythicism, which Bart Ehrman simplified as: —”the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity”. I suspect I will never know whether Jesus was an allegorical creation, a real person to which a myth was subsequently appended, or someone who actually set out to form a new sect.

          • That kind of quote mining is precisely the sort of thing that makes mythicism and young-earth creationism similar. Pretending that is the view that Ehrman holds, rather than his summary of the view he has written a whole book arguing against, is despicably dishonest.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Just to be clear here, the quote is about what defines a mythicist, and is not his view per se.

          • Realist1234

            He doesnt say it is Ehrman’s view but rather that is Ehrman’s definition of ‘mythicism’. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Ehrman knows he rejects mythicism regarding Jesus.

          • True, but his comments this far did not indicate a cursory, much less a detailed, knowledge of Ehrman. He said he got the quote from Wikipedia…

        • Realist1234

          The nitty-gritty details are all important. For example, why would a 1st century male Jewish writer, who believed Jesus had been resurrected from death and was writing to convince others, include the detail that the first witness of His resurrection was a woman?! Given the standard view of women in 1st century Judaism, where their testimony wasnt even accepted in a court, it defies explanation that such a writer would include that detail, unless that is what actually happened. It is such details that have convinced me of the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. I hope you look into the nitty-gritty and decide on that basis.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Actually I was drawn in by the analogy in the title, which I felt was not appropriate to my limited knowledge in this topic. I am reluctant to commit further because I don’t see how you can hope to become an expert on interpreting the early Christian writings unless you can pull out the nuances from the original Greek, and languages are not in my skill set. For instance I have seen a Richard Carrier talk where he explains that Paul used different Greek words for ‘Birth’, which he believes had different meanings but which are transposed by Christians. Furthermore, beyond the cultural interest, I fail to see why I should give Christianity any greater credence than the countless other world religions, whose weed beds I am also reluctant to enter. So unless some more evidence emerges I will reconcile myself to knowing that the provenance of the Christian Bible is deeply flawed and the central character may be a myth and even if he existed is extremely unlikely to be as represented.

          • Realist1234

            If you believe the likes of Carrier whom even atheist historians reject as talking nonsense, thats your choice.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Interesting I don’t remember saying I believed Carrier, I simply illustrated the importance of understanding the meaning embedded in the original Greek, after all how is one to refute his assertion if one does not, or is it enough for you to go for an argumentum ad populum?

          • Realist1234

            The distinct impression you gave in your comment by referring to Carrier is that you believe him.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            This is what I said further up the column: “albeit I suspect that someone called Jesus probably did exist and he may have been an enlightened Pharisee or cult leader. I would posit that the cult of Jesus took off after his death and with some embellishment over a generation became the foundation of the Christianity we now know.” – Does that match the Carrier hypothesis?

          • Realist1234

            Read History for Atheists website

          • Pofarmer

            include the detail that the first witness of His resurrection was a woman?!

            Because the original short ending of Mark pretty well explains why those hearing the story for the first time hadn’t ever heard it before. Lol.

          • Realist1234

            So you believe what Mark wrote then. That’s good.

            But that still doesnt explain why a 1st century Jewish male would write that the 1st witness to the resurrection of Jesus was a woman, if he had made it all up but was trying to convince others. Unless of course it happens to be true.

          • Pofarmer

            So you believe what Mark wrote then. That’s good.

            Uhm, no. I believe that Mark is fiction.

            But that still doesnt explain why a 1st century Jewish male would write
            that the 1st witness to the resurrection of Jesus was a woman, if he had
            made it all up but was trying to convince others

            Because he needs a plausible reason why those that the tale is being told to have never heard of it before. “And they went away and told no one.” With the implication “I’m telling you the story now.” Fit’s the bill, and plays on the bias the audience already presumably has.

        • Realist1234

          I should add I do not agree with the conclusion regarding the infancy accounts of Jesus contained in the link that Prof McGrath posted. I dont accept that Matthew and Luke lied or made up ‘stories’ about Jesus. Luke himself says at the beginning of his Gospel, ‘… I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

          Certainty is based on actual truth, not lies or fictional stories.

          • Nick G

            Luke himself says at the beginning of his Gospel, ‘… I myself have
            carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to
            write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you
            may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

            And of course such statements are never made by liars or writers of fiction, are they?

          • Realist1234

            If you want to believe he was a liar or made up stories, thats your choice.

          • John MacDonald

            I agree. Luke is just as trustworthy as Joseph Smith and his golden plates, lol.

          • LeekSoup

            He could have been misinformed. That opening is a clear indication the writer was not an eye-witness and was compiling stories that he had heard. It would be very easy for untrue stories to be included however ‘careful’ he was. He had a bias – presumably he already believed Jesus to be the Messiah/Saviour – and that could have affected his careful selection of stories.

          • Realist1234

            True but that doesnt seem to be what McGrath was saying. Nevertheless, where is the evidence that his writing reflects ‘untrue stories’? As for bias, well we all have biases but that doesnt mean when we write something, particularly in regard to history, it is all or mostly made-up. Years ago historian Sir William Ramsey assumed Luke’s Acts was historically unreliable, but then when he actually looked at it, found his writing to be the opposite. If you are interested read Colin Hemer’s ‘Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History’ . Why would it be any different for the first part of Luke’s writing?

          • LeekSoup

            Um. The opening chapters that contradict another gospel? Are they both true? Pick one.

            Anyway the point was more it’s not a binary problem of either Luke was writing truth or making stuff up. There are other options, like, for example, reporting on stories that he thought were true. A person doesn’t have to be a liar to pass on misinformation.

          • Realist1234

            ‘I myself have
            carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to
            write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you
            may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

            Notice Luke ‘investigates everything from the beginning’ – investigating is hardly accepting ‘stories’ which he doesnt have any reason to believe. ‘Beginning’ implies he may very well have spoken to some of the original witnesses. ‘Orderly account’ again hardly sounds like a collection of made-up stories. ‘Certainty’ implies Luke wanted to be sure himself of the reliability of what he knew, hence his investigation going back to the beginning.

            Differences are not contradictions. Each writer has different emphasis, like anyone who writes just about anything. One will include details that another writer omits, even though he knows about them. One writer will include details that another is not aware of. Pretty normal imo.

            But if you choose not to accept what Luke writes, ok.

          • John MacDonald

            Where did Luke get his narrative details regarding Paul’s conversion in Acts, since the narrative details are not in Paul’s authentic letters?

          • Realist1234

            Are you implying that because the particular details of Paul’s conversion are not in his letters therefore Luke made them up? Why would you assume Paul would include all the details of his conversion in his letters, when he wrote them to particular churches at particular times for particular reasons, such as pastoral issues? It is clear that Jesus’ resurrection appearance to him was the most important aspect of his conversion experience, which is what he refers to in his letters. No surprise there.

            As for Luke’s source, he was a travelling companion to Paul for a time, hence his source. And the other witnesses such as those travelling with him and Ananias.

          • John MacDonald

            The Tübingen critics suggest:

            “The narrative of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus in Acts not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does.”

          • Realist1234

            Have you been reading a little too much of Robert Price et al?

          • John MacDonald

            What about the typology do you disagree with?

          • John MacDonald

            Do you also disagree with the consensus of critical scholars that Matthew’s Jesus birth narrative recapitulates the story of Moses?

          • Realist1234

            In a word, yes. I hardly think there is such a ‘consensus’ as scholars disagree about most things. So there may be some who hold such a view, but there will be many others who dont. If you want to believe that the Gospels and Acts are simply made up from earlier writings, thats your choice.

          • John MacDonald

            If you would like to familiarize yourself further with the scholarly position of whether Matthew’s Jesus infancy material is history or invented story, I would recommend Dr. McGrath’s (the scholar who runs this blog) article here:
            To give you a taste, he says: “Having looked at Matthew’s narrative of the birth and early years of Jesus’ life from a literary and theological perspective, the meaning of the text becomes clear. Yet for a historian, next to nothing in the details of the narrative is subject to confirmation, and so a historian faces the very real possibility that most or all of what Matthew wrote never actually happened. Could Jesus’ life have paralleled that of Moses in a number of respects? Certainly. But it is equally possible that Matthew intentionally portrayed Jesus in this way, not having any actual historical information about Jesus’ birth. Matthew would not have been the first to turn prophecy into history by looking to the Jewish Scriptures or ‘Old Testament’ to fill in the gaps when he did not have any other source of information. Did Jesus’ parents take him to Egypt? From a historian’s perspective, one cannot be certain whether Matthew referred Hosea 11:1 to Jesus because he had heard that Jesus had lived in Egypt as a child, or whether he wrote that Jesus had been taken to Egypt on the basis of Hosea 11:1. And so it is crucial to recognize at this juncture that the historian is not primarily an interpreter of sacred texts. A literary-theological approach looks at the level of the text and seeks to understand what the author of the text is trying to communicate. A historian, on the other hand, looks through the text and behind it. In this case, there is little in Matthew’s Gospel that a historian would safely consider reliable information.”

          • Realist1234

            Well I and many others would disagree. It may be difficult for a historian to determine 2000 years later if Matthew’s Gospel reflects historical reality, but that doesn’t mean his writing does not in fact reflect historical reality. I simply reject the idea that the early church was unconcerned about the truthfulness of the writings about Jesus. It’s patent nonsense, as evidenced by the fact they rejected so many writings claiming to have ‘authority’.

            If you and others reject the reliability of the Gospels then so be it.

          • John MacDonald

            As Bart Ehrman argues:

            Matthew portrays certain key events in the Jewish Bible as foreshadowings of what would happen when the messiah came. The meaning of these ancient events was not complete until that which was foreshadowed came into existence. When it did, the event was “fullfilled,” that is, “filled full of meaning.”

            As an example from the birth narrative, Matthew indicates that Jesus’ family flees to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod “in order to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, `Out of Egypt I have called my son’” (2:15). The quotation is from Hos 11:1, and originally referred to the Exodus of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. For Matthew, Jesus himself “fulfills” that event, that is, he “fills it full of meaning.” The salvation available to the children of Israel was partial, looking forward to a future time when it would be made complete. With Jesus the messiah, that has now taken place.

            Understanding this way in which Jesus fulfills Scripture for Matthew can help explain certain aspects of the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (chaps. 1-5) that have long intrigued scholars. Think about what happens here in rough outline, and ask yourself how it might have resonated with a first-century Jew, intimately familiar with the Jewish Scriptures: a male child is miraculously born to Jewish parents, but a fierce tyrant in the land is set to destroy him. The child is supernaturally protected from harm in Egypt. Then he leaves Egypt and is said to pass through the waters (of baptism). He goes into the wilderness to be tested for a long period. Afterwards he goes up on a mountain, and delivers God’s law to those who have been following him.

            Sound familiar? It would to most of Matthew’s Jewish readers. Matthew has shaped these opening stories of Jesus in order to show that Jesus’ life is a fulfillment of the stories of Moses (read Exodus 1-20). The parallels are too obvious to ignore: Herod is like the Egyptian Pharaoh, Jesus’ baptism is like the crossing of the Red Sea, the forty days of testing are like the forty years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, the Sermon on the Mount is like the Law of Moses delivered on Mount Sinai. These parallels tell us something significant about Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus. Certainly he agrees with Mark that Jesus is the suffering Son of God, the messiah. But here Jesus is also the new Moses, come to set his people free from their bondage (to sin 1:21), come to give them the new law, his teachings.

          • Realist1234

            – there is a big difference between saying that Matthew made up some aspects of Jesus’ birth so that Jewish readers would see in Him some sort of new Moses, and Matthew seeing some aspects of Moses and the history of Israel in the realities of Jesus’ birth and life. That is where we fundamentally disagree.

          • John MacDonald

            It is very frustrating debating with you, lol. You refuse to point out what is wrong with the typology argument regarding Matthew’s birth story of Jesus, just as you fail to give evidence to support your interpretation. SHEESH ! Let me try again. Here is one common presentation of the typology argument regarding Matthew’s birth story of Jesus. Please explain what is not persuasive about this typology argument:

            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.

          • Realist1234

            So now youre using Josephus, as well as the OT. And so it goes on.

            Josephus wrote his Antiquities in the AD 90s. In my view, both Matthew and Luke were completed long before then. Your whole argument therefore seems to depend on those Gospels being written after the AD 90s. Oh dear. And it is clear that Josephus’ account of Moses is quite different from the Biblical account. He likes to emphasize his ‘handsomeness’, as Louis Feldman says,

            ‘Thus,in the Bible (Exod 2:6) Pharaoh’s daughter saves the baby in the
            floating ark because it is crying, but in Josephus (2.224) her motive
            is that she is enchanted by his size (icy7c9ouq) and beauty (icakkoi)q).’

            Sorry but I would believe the Biblical account, which is matter of fact, long before Josephus’ nonsense.

          • John MacDonald

            Let’s just focus on the account of Moses in the Hebrew scriptures, then. So, you think the events in the birth narrative in Matthew simply recapitulate the story of Moses by accident or fortuitous coincidence?

          • Pofarmer

            Josephus wrote his Antiquities in the AD 90s. In my view, both Matthew and Luke were completed long before then.

            Yep, in your view. And, I know, I know, it’s one arrived at by textual analysis. The problem is, if we look at other measures, the ones that were mainly before apologists got hold of the field in the 20th century, it becomes pretty clear that the Gospels were relatively unknown until sometime at least towards the middle of the Second Century. Especially Acts, which may have well been written to “Theophilus of Antioch” which makes sense, which puts Acts at late 2nd Century. The physcial evidence that we do have, actually pulls us a different way from apologists wishful thinking.

          • Pofarmer

            I simply reject the idea that the early church was unconcerned about the truthfulness of the writings about Jesus.

            The Early Church, especially after 70 A.D., and most certainly after the Bar Kochba revolt, didn’t really have much way to tell what the “truthfullness” of any particular writing about Jesus was. We see this in contradictory writings by folks like Origen and Eusebius, et. al. The early converts among the Gentiles, likewise, counldn’t really be concerned with the “truthfullness” of any claims they might be subject to. There simply wasn’t much, if any, way to check. I would guess that the writings about Jesus were as truthful as the writings about Dionysus or Asclepious or Mithras, et. al.

          • John MacDonald

            Regarding Luke knowing Paul, Bart Ehrman says ” I want to advance the argument by saying that I don’t think the we-passages indicate that a companion of Paul wrote Acts (or, by inference, Luke) because I think there is good counter-evidence to indicate that Acts (and Luke) were decidedly NOT written by someone who was familiar, personally with Paul.” See Ehrman’s blog post here:

          • Realist1234

            Sorry but I no longer pay much attention to Ehrman given his apparent sole agenda of casting doubt on Jesus and Christianity. Other scholars have picked up on the fact that his ‘popular’ books for the masses dont always agree with his more scholarly works, but then the average reader wouldnt know that. He spouts unsubstantiated nonsense for the sake of casting doubt. Some of his former students, such as Brant Pitre, have come to realise this. You should too.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not really sure what you’re arguing here? When someone offers a counter argument/analogy/example to something you claim, your only response is “so be it,” or “that is your choice.” Claiming I should abandon Ehrman’s argument because one of his students disagrees with him on some point or other doesn’t help me understand what you find wanting in Ehrman’s argument that the author of Luke/Acts didn’t personally know Paul. I linked to Ehrman’s argument, so please respond to that.

          • Experience indicates that fantastic stories written decades after the fact by fanatic believers should be taken with a large grain of salt.

          • Realist1234

            Well 2 1/2 decades. That’s an extremely short timescale compared to most ancient writings. But if you choose to dismiss the miraculous, ok.

          • Imagine trying to figure out the truth about Joseph Smith if your only sources were written by devout Mormons decades after the fact. You wouldn’t know about the Kirtland bank fraud or Smith’s other shady activities. You might even think that Smith was a faithful husband given that the Mormons didn’t openly adopt polygamy until after they reached Salt Lake City.

            Fortunately, in the case of Smith, we have contemporaneous sources from outside the movement: non-Mormons who dealt with Latter Day Saints and ex-Mormons who left the fold. This is precisely the kind of source material that is lacking for early Christianity.

            It’s not a matter of dismissing the miraculous. I simply recognize that the most probable explanation for any particular supernatural story is some combination of the usual human shortcomings of ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication.

          • John MacDonald
          • John MacDonald

            It’s amazing that we are just starting to reach what the Early Greeks had already noticed:

            (1) Protagoras, in his lost work, “On the Gods,” wrote: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.”

            (2) Xenophanes is quoted, memorably, in Clement of Alexandria, arguing that if the divine do exist, we simply paint them with a fundamentally anthropomorphic brush:

            “But if cattle and horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do, horses like horses and cattle like cattle also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have. Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black, Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.”

            (3) Socrates observed that humans simply don’t know what death is like. After all, Socrates reasons, death is either annihilation–a complete and final sleep–or death is a transmigration, where his soul would live on somewhere else. If death is annihilation, it is to be looked forward to as we would look forward to a deep, restful sleep. On the other hand, if death is a transmigration to some sort of afterlife, that afterlife will be populated by all the great figures of the past, from Homer to Odysseus. Socrates remarks how delightful it would be to pass amongst these great figures, questioning them regarding their wisdom. We simply don’t know what death brings.

          • John MacDonald

            Thanks Vinny, I learned the word “prevarication” from your post! This reminds me of how one of the great esoteric truths of Scientology is learning about the galactic dictator Xenu. Within the Church of Scientology, the Xenu story is part of the church’s secret “Advanced Technology”, considered a sacred and esoteric teaching, which is normally only revealed to members who have completed a lengthy sequence of courses costing large amounts of money. In 1988, the cost of learning these secrets from the Church of Scientology was £3,830, or US$6,500. This is in addition to the cost of the prior courses which are necessary to be eligible for OT III, which is often well over US$100,000 (roughly £60,000). Belief in Xenu and body thetans is a requirement for a Scientologist to progress further along the Bridge to Total Freedom. Those who do not experience the benefits of the OT III course are expected to take it and pay for it again. – not exactly lying, but …

          • You are welcome. It sounds so much more refined than “lying.” “Mendacity” is good, too.

          • jekylldoc

            Vinny – it’s quite possible that many or most miracle stories should be read as “decoration” rather than exaggeration or superstition. Stories about the supernatural were often used to signify which things were important for the values of the community (hospitality, revenge for murder, loyalty, deference to the aged, etc.) and so it could easily have become accepted literary convention that matters important to values got a special treatment, with comets, earthquakes or other supernatural attendants.

            This is not to deny that ignorance and gullibility played a role as well. But if we neglect the side of stories that is meant to signify, seeing only an issue of literal factuality, we miss much of what is going on.

          • John MacDonald

            Miracle stories also serve the purpose of amazing and astounding people, and hence winning converts and creating belief. For example, Price has a useful quote regarding the wine miracle in the Gospel of John creating belief (This one seems to be reasonable, not just the result of parallelomania):

            “Though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX . The widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: ‘What have I to do with you, O man of God?’ (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (‘I know that you are a man of God,’ v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).”

          • jekylldoc

            Makes sense. But in putting it at the beginning of his Jesus stories (“the first miracle”) John is also signifying something. From later sayings it is pretty clear that “wine” is the new life of the spirit (no doubt there was glossolalia in the Johannine community, just as in Corinth and other Pauline churches), a celebration rather than a sacrifice, Abundance, in John’s gospel, is not about having plenty of physical sustenance, but about meaning and community.

            I have no way of parsing whether the original hearers would have heard the story primarily in terms of amazement or primarily in terms of metaphor, but I have little doubt that the people who exposited its meaning were in touch with the metaphorical side, and probably able to compare it to the Elijah story as a method of reading this side.

          • John MacDonald

            I think miracle/magic stories are sometimes meant to excite and lure in potential converts, only for them to see once they have become fully initiated that the miracle stories were noble lies, and that the miracles actually held a deeper theological truth beyond “apparent miracles.” This is sometimes the case even with shamanism, where the neophyte is taken in with ‘magic’ to attract their attention and then is taken to the Truth, and the understanding that what they initially through was magic was simply deception, and the recognition of how early they were deceived.

          • jekylldoc

            Maybe. There seems to have been some of that around, and the gospels complain about people being shallow and uninterested in challenging truth.

            Or the metaphorical side could have been the main one. Aesop’s Fables were familiar long before Jesus spoke in parables.

          • John MacDonald

            I think it was pretty well established in the ancient world that “the miraculous” was effective in persuading/duping people, such as when the miraculous report was just a noble lie.

            For example, regarding Numa Pompilius, Livy wrote

            “And fearing lest relief from anxiety on the score of foreign perils might lead men who had hitherto been held back by fear of their enemies and by military discipline into extravagance and idleness, he (Numa) thought the very first thing to do, as being the most efficacious with a populace which was ignorant and, in those early days, uncivilized, was to imbue them with the fear of Heaven. As he could not instill this into their hearts without inventing some marvelous story, he pretended to have nocturnal meetings with the goddess Egeria, and that hers was the advice which guided him in the establishment of rites most approved by the gods, and in the appointment of special priests for the service of each.” (Livy 1 19).

            – Plutarch also suggests that Numa played on superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in order to cultivate more gentle behaviours among the warlike early Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives. (Plutarch, “The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII”)

          • jekylldoc

            But it sounds like that was well established among the type who would read Plutarch. That could mean that manipulation was the whole point of inventing “marvelous stories” or it could mean that something deeper is going on (for example, in people’s feelings about extravagance and idleness) and those who tap into it with feelings of reverence are themselves part of a system.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said, it was reported not only by Plutarch, but by Livy as well.

            Anyway, I think that the ancients were very concerned about building good and just societies, and so did whatever was needed to be done to secure those ends (including noble lies).

            For example, The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy provides a helpful brief explanation of the Noble Lie in Plato. We read:

            “For Plato we should live according to what reason is able to deduce from what we regard as reliable evidence. This is what real philosophers, like Socrates, do. But the non-philosophers are reluctant to ground their lives on logic and arguments. They have to be persuaded. One means of persuasion is myth. Myth inculcates beliefs. It is efficient in making the less philosophically inclined, as well as children (cf. Republic 377a ff.), believe noble things. In the Republic the Noble Lie is supposed to make the citizens of Callipolis care more for their city. Schofield (2009) argues that, for instance, the guards, having to do philosophy from their youth, may eventually find philosophizing ‘more attractive than doing their patriotic duty’ (115). Philosophy, claims Schofield, provides the guards with knowledge, not with love and devotion for their city. The Noble Lie is supposed to engender in them devotion for their city and instill in them the belief that they should ‘invest their best energies into promoting what they judge to be the city’s best interests’ (113). The preambles to a number of laws in the “Laws” that are meant to be taken as exhortations to the laws in question and that contain elements of traditional mythology (see 790c3, 812a2, 841c6) may also be taken as ‘noble lies’.”

            Similarly, in Euripides’ “Bacchae,” Cadmus says “Even if this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you think, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.” Dr. Dennis MacDonald in his new book “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides (2017)” argues for literary dependance of the Gospel of John on Euripides’ “Bacchae,” and that the author of the gospel of John expected his audience to be familiar with Euripides’ “Bacchae.”

            The ancients probably thought the survival and prosperity of their people were at stake, and so would do whatever was necessary to preserve what was most dear to them (including Noble Lies).”

          • John MacDonald

            The ancients, like we today, believed the future is too important to be left up to chance. The ancients had their noble lies, we have our myths, like the myth of the American Dream (you toil your whole life to achieve it, then toil the rest of your life to protect it); the cult of celebrity worship (the North American equivalent of Royal Worship); the fairy tales of advertisements (you’ll live happily ever after if you buy the product); and our core myth-belief: Love (The great opiate of the masses, our highest aspiration). Regarding Love, by analogy, imagine if you had a friend who insisted on staying over at your house EVERY night. You’d get tired and annoyed with them pretty quickly. But somehow if that friend is a girlfriend or wife, suddenly being burdened with them all the time is very desirable? Culture is saturated with the myths we live by, ones that keep us like well fed cattle.

          • jekylldoc

            Burdened? If your friend was staying over every night because the two of you always had cool projects to work on together, it wouldn’t be annoying, would it?

            The thing to do with myths is to bring them to life.

          • John MacDonald

            The reality is that favorite new songs become boring after enough repeated listening. About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s a little like the Hellenistic mystery religions where the inner circle has the true wisdom, while the outsiders are dazzled and drawn in by miracles and esoteric, mysterious parables: “And He told them, ‘The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables,’ (Mark 4:11).”

          • I don’t doubt that some of the stories originated that way, but I think that human foibles are mostly what leads to the stories being accepted literally.

          • John MacDonald

            “The sense of history revealed by fakes is sometimes remarkable. As John Taylor notes, the ancient Egyptian forgers of the Shabaka Stone, which located the creation of the world in their home town of Memphis, not only claimed that they were copying an ancient, worm eaten document, but also actually reproduced the layout of just such a document, and introduced archaic spelling and grammatical forms to give it credibility. There could be no better demonstration of the existence of a sophisticated sense of anachronism among the educated elite of Pharaonic Egypt… Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most. For the priests of ancient Memphis this was, as we have seen, the promotion of their cult and their city.” (“Fake?: The Art of Deception,” pp 12-13, ed. Mark Jones, Paul T. Craddock, Nicolas Barker)

          • jekylldoc

            Yes, and I take that a bit further to argue that human fear insists on literal interpretation of stories of the supernatural. After all, many believe that is their ticket into eternal bliss – believing stories of the supernatural.

          • John MacDonald

            It is well known that at a mosque, Muhammad led other prophets in prayer. He then ascended to the heavens in the Mi‘raj, speaking to God afterwards. The remembrance of this journey is one of the most significant events in the Islamic calendar.

          • LeekSoup

            When we don’t know whether Theophilus was a person or a literary construct, it’s hard to know what to make of the promises the author makes to him.

            Differences aren’t always contradictions, except when they contradict each other, which Luke and Matthew do on occasion.

            Whoever wrote Luke has carefully sifted his sources – Mark, some shared source with Matthew, and some original stuff. But the ‘different emphasis’ line is pretty flaky for anyone who claims the stories are completely true because it implies an editorial selection process that biases the material.

            But that’s all irrelevant to my main point. Whoever wrote Luke may have believed he lived up to his authorial claims but that has no bearing on whether what he reported was actually true. He may have been sincere, but wrong.

          • Nick G

            I was simply pointing out that “X himself says” he is recounting facts does not establish that they are doing so, whoever X is.

            But since you raise the issue, either the writer of gLuke, or the writer of gMatthew (or of course both) was certainly either making up a story, or retelling one others made up, because the two birth narratives are obviously incompatible. gMatthew has Jesus born during the reign of Herod, and his parents flee with him to Egypt. After Herod’s death they return to Judaea, but then turn aside into Galilee and “came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth” – nothing at all indicates they had lived there before. In gLuke, they start out from Galilee, and this happens when Cyrenius is governor of Syria – which was not until some years after Herod’s death. A few days after Jesus’s birth they go to Jesrusalem, and thence back to Galilee – no reference to Egypt, or the “massacre of the innocents” at all.

            And in case you were going to start on them, I’ve come across the absurd attempts to pretend the two accounts are reconcilable. They are not, and those who pretend otherwise simply show that they are willing to indulge in any amount of dishonest twisting.

          • Realist1234

            Ok I wont ‘start on them’ as you dismiss any reconciliation.

  • ColdFusion8

    Whether an historical Jesus actually existed is irrelevant. He’s lost to us in time and more importantly in the myths and legends and what have you that surround him in the NT and the 2000 since.

    • Historical questions are not irrelevant to historians. If a historical Jesus is irrelevant to you theologically or from some other perspective, that is your business, but not germane to the matter under discussion here.

    • Realist1234

      That depends if He is the Son of God, don’t you think? If He is, His existence on earth is hardly ‘irrelevant’.

    • Tiny J

      Yeah, no.

  • John MacDonald

    Hey everyone! I just (October 31) posted a Version 2 of my March blog post on “The Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins.” I’ve been getting a lot of helpful feedback. I am curious to what you might think of the possible connection between the death of Jesus and the last words of Socrates (“Let us give a rooster to Asclepius”), suggesting Socrates might have wanted to die for his ethical cause. If you get a moment, check out the post I posted on October 31 and give me some feedback. Thanks! Here it is:

    • Thanks for sharing this, and apologies for not having been able to get you feedback before this.

      • John MacDonald

        I’m always scared of getting feedback from you because you know so much more about biblical studies and the historical Jesus than I do, but I think we have to be brave and put our ideas out there, because you never know when somewhere, in the mountain of your writing, someone might find a golden nugget that may inspire them on their own path.

    • John MacDonald

      I just wanted to share an interesting book that I ordered for myself for Christmas. It’s “Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World Hardcover” – 1993
      by Christopher Gill (Editor),‎ T.P. Wiseman (Editor) – see . Hopefully it will have lots of juicy ideas for my topic of interest: The Noble Lie in the ancient world. It better be a good one. It cost over $100.00, lol.

  • Michael

    Who cares if an itinerant preacher or rabbi named Jesus existed in the 1st century? That is not the Jesus of scripture and Christianity.
    That Jesus never existed so the Jesus of the New Testament is entirely mythical. Since the biblical Jesus is presented as believing in
    the 6 day Creation Story, Adam & Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Exodus, Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and his own divinity and
    that he was living in ‘the day of the Lord’ and that the ‘End of Days’ was upon us and he would be resurrected to reign as Lord for 1000 yrs.,
    strongly suggest that he was merely a literary construct, a vehicle to carry the new theology and was, in all counts, just as in-
    correct in his knowledge of history and facts as the anonymous authors which created him.

    The majority of biblical scholars, theologians, and even the Vatican (2006) have admitted that the fable of Adam & Eve is allegorical,
    not an historical event, That one admission alone destroys the underlying foundation of all three (3) monotheistic faiths, Judaism. Christianity,
    and Islam.

    No Adam & Eve = No Original Sin.
    No original sin = Man & Nature are not fallen.
    Man & Nature not fallen = What need of a savior?

    God is unnecessary and Jesus is irrelevant.

    • Historians care about historical questions. If you are uninterested in history and prefer to focus on matters of theology, that is your prerogative, but is not an argument against historians focusing on the study of historical matters.

      • Michael

        Dr. Richard Carrier has a doctorate in ancient history so I suppose your concern about history and historians is addressed.
        He has done extensive research on the historicity of Jesus and has come to the conclusion that there is no there there.

        • Dr. Michael Behe has a PhD in biochemistry and is persuaded that one needs intelligent design to account for structures in microbiology. You can find someone with a doctorate that holds just about any viewpoint. That is why one ought to look at the consensus of experts in a field, and not use an argument from authority of the sort that you attempted in your comment.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            I think the problem you have is that the only documents you have that support the existence of Jesus are not truly contemporary and so full of copying errors, fraud, invention and superstitious nonsense, that it is obvious they cannot be trusted. I appreciate an historian would attempt to whittle all that away to try and find the historical truth underneath it. However I would posit that the foundation of these historical investigations is the Christian Church, and the preponderance of historians, you would call the consensus, are either Christian or have built on the work of Christians. Thus their foundation is an assumption that Jesus existed and they then set out to bolster this belief much as creationists assume creation and set out to bolster that. Hence for your consensus of experts to be valid, it has to be of truly non-aligned historians. However how you would find enough historians without an axe to grind and who would interested enough to dig into this from scratch to build a reliable consensus I really do not know.

            The other issue Michael raises is the historical relevance based on current evidence as to whether a man named Jesus, who may have been the unwitting seed of Christianity, actually existed, especially if he bears absolutely no resemblance to the Christian Christ. It would of course be explosive if we could prove he was a total invention, which of course is impossible, but if we find it likely he did exist it actually adds very little.

          • There is no greater degree lf copying errors, nor a greater problem of lateness, than we have to deal with in the case of any ancient texts. Ultimately I could understand someone choosing to be agnostic about the ancient world in general because of this, but clearly the choice to (1) single out only one set of texts, and (2) to not merely be agnostic, but to claim that non-historicity is more likely, are stances adopted solely because of ideological biases. You seem to recognize that this is an apologetic tactic in your comment, since the evidence cannot point at the same time to there having been no historical Jesus, and there having been a figure who differed in important ways from what the movement around him claimed about him subsequently.

            How is a Jesus who did not exist worse for a Christian than one who existed and was mistaken in his prediction that the kingdom of God would dawn during the lifetime of his hearers? The historical Jesus is a problem for traditional religious views of him, and so it seems very unlikely that it is some sort of dogmatism that is the reason historians draw those awkward conclusions, and yet insist that he is likely to have existed.

          • arcseconds

            The accepted view of the historical Jesus (in terms of what can be proven about him using the methods of historical scholarship, at the very least) already bears little resemblance to the Jesus of traditional Christianity. Yet this has not proven explosive: the view is largely ignored or swept under the carpet by most practicing Christians, and many whom accept that view of the historical Jesus have found some way to rationalize or harmonize it with continuing as a practicing Christian.

            If there were evidence that Jesus was a complete fabrication that professional historians found convincing, why wouldn’t this be treated in exactly the same way as current scholarship on the matter is treated by most of the world, i.e. pretty much just ignored entirely?

            I think the idea that evidence of non-existence is a silver bullet for Christianity despite the fact that evidence of a apocalyptic Jewish street-preacher who wrongly predicted the end of the world being nigh, who was thought to be the Jewish Messiah but got disappointingly executed resulting in a crisis of faith for his followers has not been, ends up being a bit of a honey-pot for motivated atheists.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            I fear you have found my Achilles heel when arguing with Christians; from my rational atheist perspective I would assume that a Jesus that did not exist or bore no resemblance to that portrayed would be a killer argument for a faith based almost entirely on that entity. However as you point out contrary facts are no impediment to faith! I would posit that this lack of understanding is much as the religious who cannot understand a lack of a belief in a god or gods and assume it is just denial. The irony is that the Richard Carrier view that Jesus is a myth is a get out of jail free card for it allows Christianity to discard the inconvenient physical Jesus and continue with him as a virtual character.

          • The irony is rather that the Richard Carrier and other mythicist views allow self-proclaimed “freethinkers” to get out of jail free when it comes to needing to pay attention to or familiarize themselves with what mainstream historians and scholars have to say about this topic.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Apart from it being the crocodile nearest the canoe, why might ‘freethinkers’ even bother to familiarise themselves with what mainstream historians and scholars have to say about the historicity of the bible anymore than they might about the historicity of the Rigveda? Until our discussions here I had avoided Carrier’s talks because they were no more to me than how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. To me a god is a possibility but the tenets of the Abrahamic religions are too absurd to be taken seriously. However I since have listened to Carrier and he talks well and comes across as knowledgeable. I can therefore see why those seeking to undermine Christianity like what he has to say, albeit I acknowledge that his hypothesis is not the killer blow I imagined it might be and could even reinvent Christianity much as Carrier thinks Paul intended. However not being an expert I do not automatically subscribe to Carrier’s hypothesis but rather note that the historical evidence is tenuous and that he has made an interesting case. So rather than expecting “self-proclaimed freethinkers” to familiarise themselves with the mainstream, maybe, if its not beneath them, the mainstream should up their game?

          • I expect anyone who says they think “freely” ought to understand the need to have their thinking informed by relevant evidence and expertise, at least prior to forming strongly-held views and pontificating about them. Fringe cranks and crackpots regularly seem knowledgeable and even persuasive to the insufficiently well-informed.

            In all academic fields, our arguments and conclusions are constantly subjected to criticism and challenges from our peers. Nothing can go unquestioned and unexamined for very long. How exactly ought we to up our game?

          • MarquisDeMoo

            That is the hard part but publically facing off to Carrier would be a good start. Those that I have seen him in discussion with have been particularly poor, he needs some real opposition.

          • Debates are about showmanship and tactics. They rarely change the minds of precisely the kind of people who need them changed, namely those who find showmanship more persuasive than scholarship.

          • arcseconds

            Obviously someone might not care at all about such a question and not bother to inform themselves about it, in which case the most responsible thing to do is to not have an opinion about it.

            It’s a bit difficult to put absolutely all one’s opinions under scrutiny, so it’s a high bar to demand a universal absence of opinion where one is under-informed, but hopefully it isn’t too much to ask for people to realise that they are not well-informed once it comes up in a serious discussion about the matter. Perhaps we can still accept that they won’t be perfectly agnostic on all such questions, but it seems to me that we could expect the claim to be reduced from a statement of fact to a statement of opinion, e.g. “Jesus is just a fiction!” should be reduced to “well, actually, I haven’t really looked into this, but I’m inclined to think he probably was a fiction because the Bible seems like a bunch of tall tales, but that’s just my under-informed opinion” on consideration of the matter (if we can’t get as far as “OK, I don’t actually know”).

            At that point, if one wants to be informed the only responsible thing to do is to find out what the experts say, and one should be wary of relying on a single self-proclaimed expert working outside of academic structures. In fact, one should be wary of relying on a single voice at all, particularly as academia is partly about academics advancing hetrodox views, and they are incentivized to do so (and any group of people, however good on average, probably has a few bad apples in it).

            (And if one knows little about an area, it is easy for someone to appear knowledgeable, and only a little harder for them to seem as though they have cogent arguments, so one should be hesitant to rely on one’s own judgments on such matters.)

            This goes for the Rg Veda as much as anything else. Certainly you should not be asserting that it’s entirely make-believe without looking at what mainstream historians have to say about it. In fact they do draw historical conclusions from it — it’s regarded as immensely historically valuable, especially given the age of the text and the time, place and culture from which it arose.

            I think it’s a good idea to insist on these sorts of norms both with oneself and others. Being a freethinker with one’s own opinions on many topics was a more responsible thing to do in the age of Enlightenment, where it was still possible for a single individual to be familiar with the body of work in several disciplines. These days that is impossible, so freethinking, in the sense of having one’s own opinions, is epistemically irresponsible.

            Perhaps we should be insisting on accepting experts as authority, as a corrective to the green light our culture gives to having one’s own opinions.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            The problem of course is that the scholars and experts in this case mostly come with an axe to grind. Historically speaking the entire history of the Christian Church has been written by Christians kept in check by other Christians. Thus the whole foundation of this topic is warped and you will have to excuse me if I distrust the consensus, especially if they argue from authority as seems to be happening here. It is only in recent times that non partisan historians have looked into it and one might even question their motivation for and against. What conclusions I wonder would Indian, Chinese and Japanese historians draw but I imagine they are too busy studying their own cultural roots to dig deep enough into the vagaries of this obscure topic. Apart from the fact that Carrier’s shaky hypothesis is based on much less intuitively obvious facts than the Theory of Natural Selection, he is in exactly the same position as Darwin with the ‘mainstream’ establishment, who are reacting in the same way. Methinks they doth scorn too much.

          • This is a widely-used rhetorical tactic, but the world is full of cranks who think they are the next Darwin or Galileo or Einstein. But anyone who knows anything about the history of human inquiry will know that (1) merely having one’s ideas resisted by academics does not in any way make it more likely that one is correct than they are, and (2) in the present day science and history are more robust fields with better-honed methods, making the likelihood of well-established knowledge will be completely overturned.

            TL;DR merely mentioning Carrier and Darwin in the same sentence doesn’t demonstrate any fundamental similarity between the two, any more than merely mentioning Jesus and Dionysius in the same sentence does.

          • arcseconds

            Historians are frequently partisan, as people tend to be interested in their own history. American history is mainly written by Americans, and of course they are not neutral on the subject. There are revisionists, of course, but they have an axe to grind, too. In fact, one could say this about any academic discipline. It is more obvious in the humanities, but even natural scientists have their own pet theories and received wisdom. They can often tell you a tale or two about biased journal editors.

            None of this means amateurs are more likely to be correct.

            As we have already discussed, biblical scholarship (in the academic mainstream) has been robust enough to reduce the historically-provable Jesus down to a figure that is utterly unlike the Christ of traditional faith, to the point where a fictional Jesus could be seen to be more convenient. If they can do that, it’s hard to see what is preventing them from acknowledging the evidence does not support even that much, or at least some of them saying another theory is possible (in fact Harpur and Brodie have done exactly that, despite being Christian, so this is not psychologically impossible, although of course scholars haven’t found their arguments convincing).

            This is by no means recent, as I have already indicated. Scholars have acknowledged the difficulty with the history recoverable from the New Testament pretty readily for over a hundred years, with significant doubts about it going back another hundred.

            Also, there are several atheist biblical scholars, and many Jewish ones, whose axes-to-grind might be thought to run against a historical Jesus, but they virtually all support the consensus. Robert Price is the sole exception of a bona fide academic in an appropriate area defending mythicism. Hector Avalos apparently has his doubts, but hasn’t defended this opinion in print.

            Moreover, biblical studies is not somehow hermetically sealed from the rest of academia. There are plenty of people working in ‘next door’ fields, such as Classics or Ancient Near East history. There is some crossover of journals read and published in, and if there was some kind of scandal of universally horribly biased or otherwise poor scholarship in biblical studies, surely someone would have noticed by now and blown a whistle. If a mythical Jesus was scholastically defensible, then there are plenty of academics with the necessary background and skills working in quite appropriate fields who have plenty of incentive to publish such an argument, and forums in which they could be published outside of biblical studies. You could make quite a nice career for yourself being the only or one of a very few people to be defending such a view within mainstream academia. Conference invites! Public debates! Popular books! Endless citations! Yet no-one has done so.

            (It’s also not exactly a new idea, so one can’t very well appeal to its extreme novelty or obscurity to explain why no suitable academic has ever thought of it before)

          • As we have already discussed, biblical scholarship (in the academic
            mainstream) has been robust enough to reduce the historically-provable
            Jesus down to a figure that is utterly unlike the Christ of traditional
            faith, to the point where a fictional Jesus could be seen to be more

            I don’t think that this is true at all. Many respected scholars still defend traditional views of the historical Jesus, I am skeptical of New Testament scholarship precisely because it is not robust enough to marginalize scholars who engage in blatant apologetics. For example, N.T. Wright, who is considered a leading authority on Paul, writes books defending the historicity of miracles.

            I don’t think that an academic field can be considered robust when ideologically driven scholarship is as prevalent as it is in New Testament studies. I can’t imagine a Holocaust denier achieving prominence in European history or a moon landing denier achieving prominence in astronomy. Yet somehow, resurrection defenders can be considered credible historians by mainstream New Testament scholars.

          • Again, I wasn’t referring to the kind of academic work that is produced in seminaries that does not conform to secular methods, nor to work by bishops who may also work as academics but even then are writing with a view to serving churches. I was referring to mainstream historical scholarship, as I have said before and yet apparently always need to repeat over and over again. You seem to have no sense whatsoever of how mainstream academics view N. T. Wright, which I find both odd and frustrating. Just as Richard Carrier can be incredibly popular in certain atheist circles and yet have no real impact on academia, someone like N. T. Wright (although he does more mainstream work and publishing that Carrier does) can be incredibly popular in religious circles, and yet much much less so in others. And to the extent that some of his work is influential in the mainstream, it is only that work which conforms to secular methods of argumentation. Is that really so difficult to understand?

          • I understand; I am simply less sanguine than you about the ability of mainstream scholarship to separate the wheat from the chaff. Once a scholar has engaged in unabashed apologetics, I can’t help wondering whether his other work is actually conforming to secular principles of scholarship or just mimicking them.

          • Those are precisely the points that mainstream scholars make about Wright, hence my feeling puzzled by your stance, which seems to make the same points mainstream scholars make about Wright, and yet to complain about Wright as though he were himself part of that mainstream.

          • On the other hand, I have seen Wright cited as a leading authority on Paul by Casey.

            I have seen you cite Craig Evans as a mainstreams scholar despite the amount of apologetic writing he has done.

            It seems to me that the borders separating legitimate scholarship and apologetics are quite porous.

          • I interact with anyone who follows appropriate methods, and criticize them if they fail to do so, whether their motivation for doing so be religious faith or antagonism to it. It is a spectrum, and there is no way to prohibit people from becoming scientists or hisgorians because they have ideological commitments. All we can do is call them out if they fail to follow our shared methods of inquiry. Again, this is a point I have explained and emphasized here repeatedly.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not quite sure what you’re claiming here.

            Are you saying the consensus of mainstream historians is not that of failed apocalyptic prophet and itinerant preacher, but rather that there’s a substantial number of mainstream historians arguing in mainstream forums that the historical evidence supports a miracle-working Jesus who rose from the dead?

            Yet biblical scholars like McGrath and Ehrman say the consensus is roughly how I’ve depicted it, so this means they are lying, or at least massively misrepresenting their own discpline.

            That’s a pretty serious claim, and if that’s your position I think you had better do something to prove it.

            Or do you agree that the consensus is as I’ve depicted it, but they didn’t get there by any kind of robustness, but somehow blundered there despite their incompetence and biases?

            I’m also wondering what you think the academy ought to do with the occasional person who publishes both respectable scholarship in mainstream forums, and also promotes fringe ideas elsewhere. This hardly just affects biblical scholarship, as there are e.g. physicsts who believe in ESP.

          • My comment was not directed at anything that either McGrath or Ehrman have said, so please spare me the indignation on their behalf. My comment was solely a response to your claim that “biblical scholarship (in the academic mainstream) has been robust enough to reduce the historically-provable Jesus down to a figure that is utterly unlike the Christ of traditional faith.”

            In the first place, I don’t think that there is any such thing as a “historically-provable Jesus.” Our sources are simply too problematic to allow any claim beyond “more or less plausible” for any specific reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Depending on how you wish to define “academic mainstream,” it may indeed be the consensus that “failed apocalyptic prophet and itinerant preacher” is most likely, but I think it still falls far short of historically provable.

            As far as the things that can be known with confidence about the historical Jesus, I suspect that E.P. Sanders list represents the mainstream consensus reasonably well: Jesus was born around 4 B.C.E. He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth; He was baptized by John the Baptist; He called disciples; He taught in the town and villages and countryside of Galilee; He preached “the kingdom of God”; Around the year 30 C.E. he went to Jerusalem for Passover; He created a disturbance in the temple area; He had a final meal with his disciples; He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities; He was executed on the orders of Pontius Pilate.

            Everything in that list is consistent with “the Christ of traditional faith.” I would suggest that it is that very consistency that keeps line between apologetics and
            mainstream scholarship so elastic. There is so much of the traditional Jesus in the mainstream view that conservative scholars can engage with the mainstream academy on all sorts of “natural” issues—e.g., Christology, dating, authorship, oral tradition, or textual criticism—while avoiding issues like the historicity of the resurrection and other miracles.

          • arcseconds

            Obviously I’m trying to represent the views of mainstream scholarship, and you recognise this. Mainstream scholars do think that the Jesus you outline is established to a high degree of probability. The fact that you don’t is not an objection to anything I have said: I wasn’t trying to represent your views.

            Moreover, ‘provable’ doesn’t mean ‘proven’. The distinction I was trying to draw was what inferences would be reasonable for historians to draw using normal historical approaches, as opposed to miracles and resurrections. Whether or not you agree that there’s enough evidence to establish Sanders’s biographical sketch, it’s the sort of thing there could be evidence for — ordinary documents would be enough to establish this.

            As for the rest of your comment, OK, sure, the historical Jesus of mainstream scholarship is consistent on a few things with the Christ of faith. Surely you’re not objecting to my phrase ‘utterly unlike’ on these grounds?

            These points of commonality are of course the points that least interest a traditional believer. Everything important to traditional faith is excluded, and on some matters its outright contradictory.

            Having made these clarifications, is there anything you continue to object to in my statement?

          • I don’t think that I have outlined a Jesus. I think that E.P. Sanders’ facts are consistent with a failed apocalyptic prophet, a cynic, a sage, a zealot, and any number of other historical Jesuses.

            Because these facts are fungible, almost nothing important to the historical faith is excluded as long as the conservative scholar employs the useful expedient when interacting with his liberal colleagues of speaking in terms of the belief that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead, which will not be disputed by mainstream scholars. The conservative is then free to defend his belief in the reality of the the miracles and the resurrection when targeting a like-minded audience, while being considered part of the mainstream on a variety of other topics..

          • arcseconds

            Let me repeat my question: are you still disagreeing with my statement? Because your reply does not seem to contradict anything I’ve said.

            If you do think it contradicts what I said, you will need to explain how, because I don’t think I did anything to suggest that conservative biblical scholars don’t exist any more.

            You agree that mainstream biblical scholarship only discusses a rather mundane Jesus. The only thing left to discuss is whether they got to this figure through honest scholarship or whether it was some kind of accident — do you agree that it’s a sign of at least some intellectual honesty? I’m not sure what else to call overturning cherished beliefs because they don’t measure up to the evidence…

          • Since you think that everything important to conservatives is excluded and I think that little that is important is excluded, I would say that I still disagree with you. I confess, however, the meaning you are attaching to terms like “reduced,” “historically provable,” and “utterly unlike” is not entirely clear to me.
            I did not interpret you as saying that conservative scholars don’t exist. What I am questioning is your claim that their views have been excluded or reduced in any way that can be described as robust.

            Take for example Craig Evans: He writes books like Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel and contributes to apologetic claptrap like Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus. Nonetheless, he seems to be accepted as a mainstream scholar on a variety of issues. I don’t think that the field is bereft of intellectual honesty, but I still find it problematic that apologists can have seat at the table as scholars. Rather than a physicist who believes in ESP, I think that a better analogy would be a lobbyist for the petroleum industry being taken seriously as a mainstream climate scientist.

            I don’t think that cherished beliefs have been overturned because they fail to measure up to the evidence; rather, they have been quarantined as questions beyond historiography. A conservative scholar may not be able to argue for the resurrection as a historical fact without placing himself outside the academic mainstream, but he can make all sorts of historical arguments that are motivated by that belief. It’s like a Tobacco Institute scientist who privately argues for the health benefits of smoking while limiting his public arguments to general questions about addictions.

          • arcseconds

            You agree that the resurrection has been excluded from mainstream scholarship, yet you maintain that nothing important to conservatives has been excluded. Am I to take it you think the resurrection is unimportant to conservatives?

            I really think my statement is clear enough, and is uncontentious. You cannot publish statements like “and then as attested in highly reliable sources (the four Gospels) he rose from the dead three days later” in mainstream publications. Any claim of that sort has been excluded, it is ‘beyond histoigraphy’ as you put it (I find it puzzling you find this so hard to understand, given that you seem to describe it perfectly well when you’ve got a mind to).

            This isn’t about personal beliefs, and I retract my statement about cherished beliefs as being unhelpful and misleading and not part of my initial contention that sparked this discussion. I think it is the case that various cherished beliefs have indeed been overturned, not least that the Bible is an unproblematic and thoroughly reliable source, but this is of at best secondary importance.

            To remove perfectly ordinary English that you for some reason find confusing and to put it a bit more precisely, here is what I am claiming again:

            In mainstream scholarship there is consensus or very near consensus on a few matters concerning Jesus (E. P Sanders’s list will do). There are various more worked-up views that are considered defensible (some are majority opinions, even). Then there are views that are not considered defensible at all, including that Jesus was a fourth-centry invention by the Roman Empire. The Second Person of the Trinity, miracle-working, coming-back-from-the-dead Jesus is in this later category.

            You agree with this claim, as far as I can see.

            My other claim is that this came about through intellectual rigour.

            You seem to be reluctant to agree to this, but what is the alternative? Intellectual fashion, maybe? Dumb luck?

            Note that “robust enough” only means there was sufficient robustness to do this, it doesn’t mean the field is somehow perfectly robust or possessing of every intellectual virtue or that no individual in it believes anything silly.

            By comparison, the supernatural has been excluded from physics. This does not mean that no individual physicist believes in God or ESP. Plenty of physicists believe in God, and at least some in ESP. In fact, they could all believe in God and ESP, all that’s necessary for the supernatural to be excluded from physics (as a discipline) is that enough physicists agree that they can’t be used as explanations in physics papers.

          • You don’t see very far then.

            I don’t agree that the resurrection is excluded from mainstream scholarship just because believing scholars avoid arguing for its historicity directly any more than I agree that racism is excluded from mainstream politics just because racist politicians avoid appealing to it directly. I believe that racism is alive and well in mainstream politics just as I believe that supernaturalism is alive and well in mainstream New Testament studies.

            In both cases, I believe that the avoidance is much more a product of intellectual fashion than intellectual rigor.

          • What does what “believing scholars avoid” have to do with the question? On the one hand, academics down towards the apologist end of the spectrum most certainly do not avoid making such arguments, and so it sounds like you have never read N. T. Wright, despite liking to use him as an example. On the other hand, given the desire that apologists have to argue for the resurrection, where does the impetus to say that cannot be done with historical tools come from, if not from a scholarly mainstream concerned not with apologetics but with the use of accepted academic principles of historical inquiry?

          • arcseconds

            I do not see how you can say

            You don’t see very far then.

            Indicating that you disagree with this:

            In mainstream scholarship there is consensus or very near consensus on a few matters concerning Jesus (E. P Sanders’s list will do). There are various more worked-up views that are considered defensible (some are majority opinions, even). Then there are views that are not considered defensible at all, including that Jesus was a fourth-centry invention by the Roman Empire. The Second Person of the Trinity, miracle-working, coming-back-from-the-dead Jesus is in this later category.

            Yet also say things like:

            [traditional beliefs] have been quarantined as questions beyond historiography.

            A conservative scholar may not be able to argue for the resurrection as a historical fact without placing himself outside the academic mainstream.

            conservative scholars can engage with the mainstream academy on all sorts of “natural” issues—e.g., Christology, dating, authorship, oral tradition, or textual criticism—while avoiding issues like the historicity of the resurrection and other miracles

            (why do they avoid these issues? Because mainstream scholarship excludes them! They’re not practicing a mystery religion where you only talk about the esoterica with the initiated.)

            Which indicate that you do agree.

            At this point this just looks like you’re being obstinate to the point of contradicting yourself. How can discussing the resurrection as a historical fact be something that conservative scholars need to avoid or else place themselves outside the academic mainstream on the one hand, yet also be considered a defensible proposition by the academic mainstream?

            I’ve been quite clear now that I’m not discussing the private beliefs of individual scholars, which can and often do differ from scholastic norms in any discipline. On the other hand, private beliefs seems to be all you want to discuss or think about, and you are not making any effort whatsoever to understand what I am asserting. I am discussing what can and cannot be published, and what conclusions are asserted in the literature. You agree that miracles and resurrections can’t be published, so maintaining you disagree with me is at this point is either just willful misinterpretation or absurd self-contradiction.

            If it helps, it clearly is the case that openly racist discourse has been excluded from the political sphere in most western countries, and this also represents an achievement, even if it falls short of the ideal. I do not think the cases are necessarily that analogous, especially as what maintains the exclusion in both cases seems quite different, but just because there are still racists in politics does not mean that openly racist discourse is acceptable. The fact that they have to hide their racism and dress it up as something else doesn’t demonstrate that somehow openly racist discourse is acceptable, it’s part of what shows it isn’t!

            Once you stop prevaricating on this and agree once and for all that assertions about miracles occurring and second-persons-of-the-trinity existing is not acceptable in mainstream biblical scholarship, perhaps we can move on to this notion of yours that a predominantly Christian group with traditional backgrounds would make this unacceptable simply because it’s a fad.

          • Since I specified that with which I disagreed, there is no need for your feigned confusion on the subject.

            Perhaps I could try coming at this from another angle:

            It is good that arguments for the historicity of supernatural events are outside the mainstream of New Testament scholarship. It’s not impressive though..Maybe it wouldhave been several centuries ago, but in 2017 C.E., not appealing to the supernatural in a field of historical studies should be so mundane as to be unworthy of mention.

            It’s as if the medical profession was citing as proof of its intellectual rigor the fact that bleedings are no longer prescribed. It’s actually worse than that. It’s as if many doctors still thought that bleeding was a good idea, but the medical profession was citing as proof of its
            intellectual rigor the fact that the practice is no longer taught in medical schools.

          • arcseconds

            When you keep saying you disagree, but keep saying things that indicate you agree, that is actually a confusing and frustrating circumstance, as it seems you do not understand what I am saying. My confusion isn’t a trick: I really do not know what you think I’m saying. I explain and rexplain myself, and you keep peppering your responses with statements that suggest you agree with me, but tell me explicitly that you don’t agree.

            And the confusion continues, because you still apparently think you’re disagreeing with me. What you ‘disagree’ with me about — the fact that conservative scholars exist, that mainstream biblical scholarship hasn’t managed to expunge supernatural beliefs from all its participants heads, that their religious positions is a bias that may cause them to believe things they wouldn’t otherwise — was never in dispute in the first place.

            (There are things we do disagree about, but the point that the norms of mainstream scholarship exclude asserting the supernatural in the literature is what I’ve been at pains to try to get clarity from you on)

            I’m not saying it’s impressive. I was responding to this:

            The problem of course is that the scholars and experts in this case mostly come with an axe to grind. Historically speaking the entire history of the Christian Church has been written by Christians kept in check by other Christians. Thus the whole foundation of this topic is warped and you will have to excuse me if I distrust the consensus, especially if they argue from authority as seems to be happening here.

            This is written by someone who seems to not have any idea of what biblical scholarship is like, and seems to be supposing that it is just a whole heap of apologetics, an opinion founded on pure supposition and prejudice.

            It surely has its biases — all scholarship does — but it is still a genuine attempt to uncover actual history and not just a continued effort to shore up traditional Christian doctrine.

          • John MacDonald

            I checked out the always useful Wikipedia page on the historical Jesus, and it said, regarding Jesus being a failed apocalyptic prophet, that:

            The main disagreement in contemporary research is whether Jesus was apocalyptic. Most scholars conclude that he was an apocalyptic preacher, like John the Baptist and the apostle Paul. In contrast, certain prominent North American scholars, such as Burton Mack and Crossan, advocate for a non-eschatological Jesus, one who is more of a Cynic sage than an apocalyptic preacher … The evidence for this apocalyptic thesis comes from several verses, including the following:

            In Mark 8:38-9:1, Jesus says that the Son of Man will come “in the glory of the Father with the holy angels” during “this adulterous generation.” Indeed, he says, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.”

            In Luke 21:35-36, Jesus urges constant, unremitting preparedness on the part of his followers in light of the imminence of the end of history and the final intervention of God. “Be alert at all times, praying to have strength to flee from all these things that are about to take place and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.”

            In Mark 13:24-27, 30, Jesus describes what will happen when the end comes, saying that “the sun will grow dark and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and … they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.” He gives a timeline for this event: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”

            The Apostle Paul also seems to have shared this expectation. Toward the end of 1 Corinthians 7, he counsels Christians to avoid getting married if they can since the end of history was imminent. Speaking to the unmarried, he writes, “I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are.” “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short … For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:26, 29, 31) In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Paul also seems to believe that he will live to witness the return of Jesus and the end of history.

            According to Vermes, Jesus’ announcement of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God “was patently not fulfilled” and “created a serious embarrassment for the primitive church.” According to Sanders, these eschatological sayings of Jesus are “passages that many Christian scholars would like to see vanish” as “the events they predict did not come to pass, which means that Jesus was wrong.”

            Robert W. Funk and colleagues, on the other hand, wrote that beginning in the 1970s, some scholars have come to reject the view of Jesus as eschatological, pointing out that he rejected the asceticism of John the Baptist and his eschatological message. In this view, the Kingdom of God is not a future state, but rather a contemporary, mysterious presence. Crossan describes Jesus’ eschatology as based on establishing a new, holy way of life rather than on God’s redeeming intervention in history.

            Evidence for the Kingdom of God as already present derives from these verses:

            In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus says that one will not be able to observe God’s Kingdom arriving, and that it “is right there in your presence.”

            In Thomas 113, Jesus says that God’s Kingdom “is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

            In Luke 11:20, Jesus says that if he drives out demons by God’s finger then “for you” the Kingdom of God has arrived.

            Furthermore, the major parables of Jesus do not reflect an apocalyptic view of history.

            **************** I would add that Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the first fruits of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days (1 Cor 15:23), and Matthew seems to view the end of days as beginning with his mass Zombie resurrection pericope at Jesus’ resurrection when the saints rose from their graves and were seen by many (Matthew 27:52).

          • arcseconds

            Yes, the apocalypticism is debated, and I did try to couch my descriptions with ‘something like this’ etc. I don’t think anything I’ve said in this discussion (with the most honorable Maquis, who is inclined to doubt the competence of biblical scholars, despite knowing virtually nothing about the subject) really rides on the exact nature of Jesus’s teaching.

            Perhaps Jesus himself wasn’t apocalyptic. But apocalyptism is clearly present in the early Jesus movement, so someone was making apocalyptic claims on his behalf.

            Similarly with messianism. If he didn’t portray himself as the messiah, someone else did, and someone pretty early, what’s more.

            Either way, there was an early expectation that something awesome was about to happen because of Jesus, which never came about. I think this is pretty much uncontested among mainstream scholars, and it contradicts the traditional interpretation of the New Testament, which has preferred to paper over this (because it’s an embarassment).

            (Frankly, I struggle to see how Jesus could have beeen neither apocalyptic nor messianic in his preaching, and yet apparently understood that way by his earliest followers, whereas I can see why a liberal Christian could prefer the view that he was a non-apocalyptic, non-messianic teacher of wisdom. And I seem to recall the likes of Crossan (and the Jesus Seminar?) have been criticised along exactly these lines… )

          • arcseconds

            So Jesus’s personal apocalyptism is debated, but I don’t think it’s debated that he was understood very early on to be preaching an apocalpyse. Plus my impression is that the view this goes back to Jesus is the majority view, and the wikipedia article backs me up on this.

            I suppose it’s possible that he was inclined to use apocalyptic or messianic imagery but didn’t mean it literally, although I doubt the extant evidence gives us enough to tell this. It’s certainly possible he didn’t identify himself with the messiah (the whole ‘Son of Man’ thing).

            On the other hand, I’m not really sure as to what extent we should understand these authors to be writing literally. As Phil pointed out in his recent discussion with Beau, the Isaiah authors use apocalpytic imagery quite a bit to describe earthly places and events. Did they really think that Edom was going to be a sulphorous burning wasteland forever? This seems unlikely, but it also seems unlikely that every piece of otherworldly imagery was just a metaphor, so how is one supposed to understand any of this?

          • John MacDonald

            Unlike Crossan and Funk, I don’t think passages such as those in Luke that can be taken to suggest the Kingdom is somehow “at hand” right now trumps an overall apocalyptic message of Jesus. The end of the age could be underway, while the fully passing over to an earthly Kingdom of God was yet to occur. Signs may still abound. Or, passages about the being-at-hand (in some way) of the Kingdom may simply be an attempt by later writers to whitewash over a failed apocalyptic message that they found embarrassing. Paul was clearly apocalyptic (Jesus as first fruits), and he never seemed to be in dispute with Cephas or James about it. And John the Baptist was apocalyptic, so we would seem to have a nice apocalyptic continuity from the beginning to the end of the ministry, and beyond. Maybe Dr. McGrath will do a post on this some time?

          • arcseconds

            I second the motion 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            “For example, N.T. Wright, who is considered a leading authority on Paul, writes books defending the historicity of miracles.”

            I’m not exactly sure of your point here. Philosophy of Religion, a sub discipline of Philosophy, regularly inquires into the existence of the divine (e.g., The Ontological Argument; The Cosmological Argument; The Teleological Argument; etc), or arguments against its existence (e.g., The Problem of Human Suffering; The Problem of Animal Suffering, etc). I’m not sure how inquiring into these things is pseudoscience? Is Philosophy of Religion pseudoscience? Is Ehrman being pseudo scientific when he puts forth arguments about human suffering as evidence against there being an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent God?

          • My point has nothing to do with philosophy or any of its sub-disciplines (other perhaps than the philosophy of history). My point concerns scholars who purport to be historians and claim to use valid historical methodology in order to assert that supernatural phenomena provide the best historical explanation for the evidence.

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe the historical evidence is best explained by the miraculous explanation that, for instance, Cephas actually experienced the risen Jesus. Or, Maybe the naturalistic explanations are better, such as that Cephas was just hallucinating, or lying. Maybe God cast a “science spell” billions of years ago that created gravity. On who’s authority do we base our choice of a naturalistic explanation over a miraculous one? Who knows? I’m lucky if I can get my controller to work, lol. Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.

          • I don’t think that is how evidence works.

            Evidence is the effect from which a cause is inferred. If we see a body lying on the floor with a knife sticking out of its back and the knife has little swirly patterns on it that match those on a particular person’s fingers, it constitutes evidence of who put the knife their. The reason it constitutes evidence is because we understand the natural processes of cause and effect that lead to such pattern appearing on objects other than fingers. Moreover, we understand those processes to act consistently, if not invariably.

            If we thought that those little swirly patterns appeared on objects randomly or by divine fiat, they would not constitute evidence of anything. We could not infer from their presence that it was Professor Plum in the billiard room with the knife.

            The intellectual tools that we use to infer causes from effects depend on natural processes that are dependable and regular. Miracles are by definition supernatural processes. We have way have no way to know what rules govern supernatural causes and effects and we have, therefore, no basis to infer a supernatural cause for any effect.

          • John MacDonald

            If we imagine reality to be a closed system of causes and effects, we can posit a percentile-like continuum to explain the relative presence of divine causes.

            (1) So, at one end of the continuum, we can posit virtually everything as the result of divine influence. The evil demon, also known as malicious demon and evil genius, is a concept in Cartesian philosophy. In his 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes imagines that an evil demon, of “utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me.” This evil demon is imagined to present a complete illusion of an external world, so that Descartes can say, “I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things.” In this case, virtually all effects are related to divine causes.

            (2) In the middle of the continuum, we can see the ordinary religious point of view, where things like the creation of the Universe and the resurrection of Jesus are effects that can be traced back to divine causes.

            (3) At the end of the continuum, we would find the normal atheist position, where reality is considered to be a completely naturalistic system of causes and effects, excluding the positing of a God.

            I don’t think that any one of these modes of explanation are better than the other, just that they are different approaches to framing and conceptualizing reality.

            ** Note that the form of Descartes’ evil demon illusion thought experiment can also be put as secular position as is done in Gilbert Harman’s “Brain In A Vat” thought experiment. Common to many science fiction stories, it outlines a scenario in which a mad scientist, machine, or other entity might remove a person’s brain from the body, suspend it in a vat of life-sustaining liquid, and connect its neurons by wires to a supercomputer which would provide it with electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives. According to such stories, the computer would then be simulating reality (including appropriate responses to the brain’s own output) and the “disembodied” brain would continue to have perfectly normal conscious experiences, such as those of a person with an embodied brain, without these being related to objects or events in the real world. Such a individual as a brain in a vat would have no knowledge of it’s true circumstances, and would think it was just a normal person living a normal life.

          • arcseconds

            Also, as far as the Carrier ≡ Darwin point goes, there are lots of things that make it a poor parallel, which I might detail in a bit.

            However, what I’d like to know is how do you know that Darwin on Evolution is the appropriate comparison, and not Linus Pauling on Vitamin C, or Einstein’s unified field theory and anti-QM attitude? These are very kind comparisons as Pauling was a great theoretical chemist and biochemist and Einstein of course one of the greatest physicists who ever lived, and the theories perhaps aren’t completely silly. We could also ask why he is not Brian Josephson, a physicist who believes in the paranormal; or Michael Behe on intelligent design, or David Irving on the Holocaust.

            There are a lot of people who go against the consensus. On rare occasions they are right. Far more often they are wrong. Picking on one of the few successful consensus-challengers as an analogy and ignoring all the thousands of unsuccessful ones is a form of confirmation bias, isn’t it?

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Oh I’m sure there are plenty of parallels. The point of course is that it happens, not that it is happening or is particularly appropriate to this case. As I have said more than once I don’t necessarily buy into Carriers ‘shaky’ hypothesis, so how could this be confirmation bias? However I also do not trust the consensus/mainstream in part because of its scornful failure to engage with Carrier but I am beginning to repeat myself so it is clearly time to move on. Thank you for the conversation, I have at least learnt that whether Jesus actually existed or not and if he did whether he bore any resemblance to the Christian Christ is like Creationism a critical component of their belief for some but not others. Damn this Hydra it has so many heads.

          • arcseconds

            The confirmation bias is seeing a lone voice with a novel hypothesis as being like Darwin and not like the vastly larger number of lone voices who were just plain wrong or outright cranks.

            It is a bit strange that you are inclined to make this comparison despite not necessarily buying into the hypothesis. But does that stop it being the confirmation bias? You are still looking at the successful lone voices and not the far more prevalent ones that just fail.

            I mean, someone saying “Astrology predicted my friends’ breakup and my great-aunt’s death and my win on the races last week! But of course I don’t really believe in it” still seems to me to be committing the confirmation bias, in the sense they are pulling out a bunch of successes and ignoring the presumably much larger pool of failures, even if they stop short of drawing the conclusion one might expect given their focus on successes.

            You still apparently think the academy should engage with Carrier. But why? Should they engage everyone with a crank hypothesis? That will make them awfully busy. Or is Carrier somehow different? Because he strikes you as sounding plausible? But you don’t have any expertise in this area, as far as I can see, so I’m not sure this gives him any special status. Should they engage everyone that some guy on the internet thinks sounds plausible? Then we’re back to dealing with every crank again…

          • arcseconds

            This card was already played quite some time ago: the ‘Jesus of history’ has been separated from the ‘Christ of faith’ (‘historich’ and ‘gesichtlich’ are also used to mark this kind of distinction) for over a hundred years, and arguably since the later half of the 18th century when Gotthold Lessing argued that the Gospels as historical documents leave a lot to be desired in terms of their empirical claims, and even if it could be shown that Jesus rose from the dead it’s still a leap to suppose he is the second person of the Trinity. Nevertheless, he accepted the ‘inner truth’ of the Christian religion through something like an existential decision.

            Some (e.g. Bultmann) hold that the Jesus of history is irrelevant to the Christian faith.

            If the Jesus of history is irrelevant, then probably his non-existence would also be irrelevant, and in fact as you say may even be a convenience. I have an idea that there have been theologians who have explored this territory already. I suppose Father Brodie, but I don’t believe he was the first by a long shot, but I can’t remember who the others were.

            (Whereas a historically-informed Christianity cannot so easily say “there is only the Christ of Faith”. The historical Jesus ends up being a stumbling block for this, so might be seen as a nice circumstance for those wishing to make trouble for traditional Christianity — plenty of Christians want to do exactly this, mind)

            ((I really know very little about these matters, and there are experts or at least very well informed people with expertise in a related area that read this blog, by whom I’m more than happy to be schooled))

            Probably you’ve encountered people who follow (in the sense of “a follower of”) fictional characters like Doctor Who or Superman or something. Jedi (the modern religious movement) are a somewhat extreme example of this (it’s not just a joke, there are actually practicing Jedi), but presumably most or all of them are aware that the source material are summer blockbuster films which don’t represent reality. Would you regard such people as irrational? It’s odd behaviour to be sure, but that’s presumably just a matter of what is culturally normal. One could imagine a society where most people devoted themselves to a particular fictional character, in which case to not do so would be odd.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Interesting and not surprising that Christians have already covered that ground given the multiplicity of Christian factions past and present. What would be surprising is if they avoided persecution for heresy.

            Yes I was aware there are those who claim to be followers of Jedi. I’ve always assumed this was a tongue in cheek thing and I certainly would question their rationality if they took it seriously. However I also acknowledge we are not entirely rational beings so whatever gets you through the night is OK by me as long as I’m not expected to respect or dance to these delusions.

          • arcseconds

            Oh, they definitely seem quite serious about it:



            There are certainly some things there that look a bit irrational, but is there anything fundamentally irrational about finding wisdom in the words of Yoda, and finding merit of living a life of meditation, martial arts, and discipline like the Jedi are depicted as doing?

            (And if it is irrational, are martial arts also irrational when they promote something similar?)

            Someone in the first article talks about the Jedi being the only place she could find consistent, dependable, and non-judgemental help. That seems worth putting up with quite a lot of nonsense for.

          • MarquisDeMoo

            Sorry but there is a bit of equivocation here, religion to me is about the supernatural. I do not consider a philosophy based on the Jedi ideals as expressed in the films to be in any way irrational and that they might dress it up in the trappings and rituals that come from the films to encourage partisanship is very human. As somebody once said of the Germans “a hat and a badge and their off”, but that is unfair British football supporters all have their colours too. However I see no attempt here to appeal to the supernatural, albeit I’m sure some kook will go that way and if it takes off we will have another religion. Now that is when it gets irrational.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think it’s that equivocal, as the comparison is with ‘demythologized’ Christians such as Bultmann.

            (There are lots of these people, your host James McGrath is one of them.)

            I.e. the comparison is between these two things:

            1) agreeing that Jesus was probably an itinerant preacher who was wrong about the approaching apocalypse, yet nevertheless finding some kind of ineffable ‘inner truth’ to the Gospel story and therefore finding it makes sense to turn up to church on Sundays

            2) agreeing that the Star Wars movies are fiction (not some kind of documentary) and nevertheless finding some kind of ineffable ‘inner truth’ to the way of the Jedi and talk about the Force, and therefore finding it makes sense to dress up in robes and waive lightsabers around

            If religion is just about the supernatural, that divides things in unexpected ways. Plenty of people go to church who don’t, or barely, believe in the supernatural, so two people in the same pew singing the same hymn, both say they are Christians (that’s e.g. what they would put down on a survey), yet one is engaging in religion and the other not, and only a frank discussion with them (or a very probing survey) would tell you this. Likewise there are buddhists that believe in the supernatural, and ones that don’t. And there are atheists that believe in the supernatural, and ones that don’t.

            The ‘believes in the supernatural’ and ‘doesn’t believe in the supernatural’ line cuts through what we would normally think of religious and non-religious people.

          • Pofarmer

            “the Jesus of history is irrelevant, then probably his non-existence would also be irrelevant, and in fact as you say may even be a convenience. I have an idea that there have been theologians who have explored this territory already. I “

            Tom Harpur is currently plumbing this well.

          • arcseconds

            Thanks. I recognise the name from discussions about mythicism, and I vaguely understood him to be a mythicist, but I did not realise he was also a Christian.

            His arguments seem to be pretty much parellelomania, and Price doesn’t seem all that impressed by him. Pirce, of course, is fond of trend-bucking arguments, mythicism, and seems at least somewhat overly keen on parallels himself, so if he’s not receptive…

            Apparently he died earlier this year (Harpur, that is, not Price).

          • Pofarmer

            I’ve been reading “The Pagan Christ” by Harpur. Yes, he does get into parallelomanis, but I think he also has some cogent points. Need to finish the book, but I’m into the part where he’s trying to sell how a mythical Jesus makes Christianity so much better and it’s kind of a hard sell on a n atheist, but I do kind of see his points.

          • John MacDonald

            I think one interpretive problem for mythicism is that Paul calls Christ crucified a “stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23)” for the Jews. This makes sense if Jesus was just a crucified human messiah, since this is contrary to what the Jews expected from their messiah. But if Jesus was just a mythical angel that was known through visions, why would the crucifixion of this mythical being by Sky Demons/Satan be a “stumbling block?” A “stumbling block” for what reason? Carrier tries to explain away this problem in the following way:

            —— Richard Carrier: So when Ehrman says, “You can’t explain the crucified messiah as something that was made up,” he’s flat out, demonstrably wrong. It’s also not a logically valid rebuttal to mythicism. On mythicism, that the crucifixion was a stumbling block for (only some) Jews was because they couldn’t understand how anyone would know an archangel had been crucified in outer space, without a “sign” confirming it (OHJ, pp. 613-15; compare pp. 610-13). Likewise, the only kind of messiah you can invent is one who isn’t a conquering warrior. Thus it would always entail some cryptic stumbling block the inventors had to overcome with scripture and traveling miracle acts. So would an actually crucified man have entailed. Therefore, the existence of a stumbling block is entailed by both theories, and therefore argues against neither.

            I find Carrier’s explanation lacking on this point.

          • Pofarmer

            1st Corinthins 2 6-9

            6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:“What no eye has seen,
            what no ear has heard,
            and what no human mind has conceived”[a]—
            the things God has prepared for those who love him—

            When you read the surrounding chapters though, it’s all metaphorical language talking about God and Spirit and heavenly knowledge. I don’t think any of us know exactly what a first century Paul was teaching. But I think trying to link the very spiritual, out there, learned by revelation and not by man, things back, to a living breathing Jesus figure is tenuous at best, and probably both question begging and circular.

          • John MacDonald

            1 Corinthians 1:23 Also calls “Christ crucified” a foolishness to the Greeks, which would make sense if Christ was a crucified human “supposed” messiah, but not really if Christ was a crucified mythical being. Since the Greeks didn’t seem to have a problem with Jewish angelology, why would “Christ crucified” be a foolishness for the Greeks?

          • Pofarmer

            Who knows? Paul was supposedly from Tarsus, right, which was kind of the center of the Mithras cult, right? So maybe this statement is directed to whatever a specific group of “Greeks” was preaching. Face it, we really don’t know the depth or breadth or practices of religion at that time. This has always been looked at through the lens of pretty much Orthodox Christian beliefs when there was an awful lot of teaching around that would have been anything but.