When Jesus and Mythicists are Wrong

When Jesus and Mythicists are Wrong August 26, 2019

Here’s what I wrote in a comment responding to some of the further discussion that has been taking place on the website of The Bible and Interpretation, which published an article by Raphael Lataster, my response to him, and his further response to me.

I think my biggest problem with the discussion from mythicist perspectives, here and elsewhere, is the inability or unwillingness to discuss at the level of very minute details and specifics. If one paints with a broad brush, saying that Christians are all incredibly biased and completely untrustworthy (whereas atheists supposedly have no ax to grind and are unbiased), it might just seem plausible to some who’ve had an experience of particular kinds of dogmatic Christian faith. If someone looks at the details and the history, then what one finds is that whenever atheists (scholars and laypeople) are citing classic scholarship about the Bible as part of their arguments against fundamentalist Christians, they are mostly citing Liberal Protestant scholars, who were of course the ones who pioneered the methods of historical criticism of the Bible in the mainstream academy. If one uses William Lane Craig as an example one gets one impression, and understandably so, given the fact that he isn’t even mainly New Testament, teaches at an Evangelical school, and so on. If one asks about Dale Allison, one is still dealing with a Christian, and this time a New Testament scholar, but in this case only the most dishonest individual – or someone who hasn’t read what Allison has published on the subject – could pretend that he is simply someone who follows his biases and imposes them on the evidence.

One of the things that makes mythicism seem particularly implausible to me is precisely the claim that Christians just think there was a historical Jesus because they are biased in favor of his existence. The historical Jesus, a figure who (among other things) was mistaken about the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God that he predicted, who fostered hopes that he would restore the dynasty of David to the throne but was executed by the Romans, is not much of a comfort to the majority of Christians. Mythicists imagine Christians saying “Well, he was mistaken and a first-century figure that we can scarcely relate to, but I take great comfort in the fact that he existed.” That just doesn’t strike me as plausible.

In a recent review, Mike Bird wrote:

I sit on the board of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, and we have quite a diverse group of editors, Christians of every kind, some Jewish colleagues, agnostics, and even atheists. We disagree on just about everything there is to disagree on about the historical Jesus. But we all agree on at least two things. (1) Jesus existed as a historical person; and (2) People who say he didn’t are a curious albeit annoying phenomenon. Litwa’s contention that the Gospels are myths made to look historical will initially prompt gasps of excitement and anticipation by the on-line Jesus mythicist community (presumably in whatever basements in their parent’s house they are living in), and their gasps of joy which will be shattered on the rocks of realizing that Litwa himself is not a Jesus mythicist and believes in a historical Jesus since Litwa believes that the existence of Jesus “is the most plausible hypothesis to explain the gospels as literary products” (p. 33). To his credit, he overviews Bruno Baur, Richard Carrier, and Thomas Brodie as exponents of the mythicist view, but then states why it is ultimately unsatisfying and probably ideologically driven.

Of related interest, Mike Kok kindly drew attention to a relatively new journal focused on the Gospels and Acts, with the title The Journal of Gospels and Acts Research. The journal is based at the Sydney College of Divinity in Australia and associated with their Centre for Gospels and Acts Research. Both launched in 2017, and the center’s director Peter Bolt explains the rationale for doing so in a speech the text of which can be found on the center’s website.

Posts of mine from the past that may be of interest as they relate to the focus of this post:

Was Jesus Wrong on Purpose?

Is It Better To View Jesus’ Prediction as Trite or Mistaken?

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

Review of Dale Allison, Constructing Jesus

Dale Allison, Minimalism and Mythicism

See too some of my other articles related to mythicism in The Bible and Interpretation. And of course, here’s the blog post that started this recent thread:

Response to Raphael Lataster

Also related to the historical Jesus, and Jesus more generally…

Method on the Orient Express

Interview with Craig Keener on Christobiography

Jesus’ Famous Sermon and Christian Violence

Jesus’ Teachings and Violence

Messiah: Jesus and His Contemporaries

What Do Jesus’ Actions Reveal about Violence?

The First Letters in Red

How important was class struggle in the early Jesus movement?

Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? by Sir William Ramsay

Are the Gospels Mythic Historiography?

Super Brief Notes on New Historicism

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  • John MacDonald

    Jesus mythicism is like The DaVinci Code or the Kennedy assassination conspiracy or any of a thousand tantalizing alternative histories that people get uncritically drawn into because they are sensational and would have shocking consequences. There is a reason people spend countless hours trying to defend mythicist pseudoscholarship on internet sites like Vridar, but equal time is not given to whether King Arthur was a myth.

    • Jim Little

      The DaVinci Code is not alternative history, it’s fiction. And, like Kennedy assassination theories, and whether King Arthur is a myth, it’s a red herring fallacy.

      • R. G. Price

        Not to mention that most of the basis of what we now call “mythicism” really comes from 18th and 19th century theologians. We have to understand that what is now labeled “mythicsm” was given that label by opponents of entirely sincere attempts to understand and explain the scriptures. And when we look at the arguments of the opponents of many of those claims today we find the arguments of the opponents quite lacking. But those opponents won out because their postilion were defending the status quo. A lot of this had to do with the Cold War as well. Its very clear that after WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution Western scholarship in general became much more conservative and a lot of the “radical” ideas by people like Bauer, in fields from psychology to anthropology to psychology to economics were all rejected in favor of more conservative views.

        The work of Drews and Gustav Volkmar, etc. were certainly pushed away at this time as well. But most of real academic mythicism can be traced back to 18th and 19th century theologians, it’s not just a bunch of modern atheists. When we look at the history of 19th century mythicsm we see that many of those theologians were treated very unfairly, run out of universities, careers ended, ridiculed, and yet in many cases these were believing Christians dedicated to the seminary.

        And when we look at the counter arguments they fall apart, but those counter arguments became mainstream teachings in seminary schools. And we know that most seminary students don’t know any of this. This isn’t history that is taught in seminary schools. There is no “conspiracy theory”, just the reality that institutions commonly don’t teach inconvenient history. I mean in the South even 30 years ago it would have been extremely uncommon for anyone to know that most Southern states explicitly stated in their articles of secession that they were leaving the union explicitly to preserve slavery. It was common to claim that the Civil War wasn’t really about preserving slavery, though this is obvious bunk and easily debunked by easily accessible documents. The fact, however, was that Southern states didn’t teach the history and as a result many people had no idea. It’s not a mystery how real history gets lost.

        But the idea that mythicsm is based on nothing more than wild claims by a bunch of atheist cranks just isn’t reality and the more that opponents try to label mythicsm in that way, the deeper they dig their own hole.

        • Your comment is a wonderful illustration of what mythicism is. A lot of views that had some plausibility in centuries past but don’t any longer because of discoveries made since then, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls; and specious analogies that are nothing more than an attempt to say “this is like that” without providing evidence, hoping that the audience won’t notice that no actual evidence has been provided that, for instance, the Civil War is like Jesus as far as the history books are concerned. Even so, however, that’s perhaps a helpful analogy inasmuch as it shows that there can be profound misinformation about details about a historical person or event, and that doesn’t imply that the person or event itself is fictitious.

          • R. G. Price

            That’s not the case at all. In fact what we find is that those prior theologians were shouted down, not actually refuted with evidence, and while their case may have been more thin then, they have only gotten stronger. The DSS doesn’t support historicity at all. In need much of the DSS fits exactly into mythicist models. It shows the exact type of scriptural revision and re-interpretation taking place that presages the rise of the Jesus cult. When Hebrews talks about a heavenly Melchizedek and says that Jesus is just like him, we find that heavenly Melchizedek in the DSS. When Paul says that Jesus was revealed through the scriptures by the ;prophets, we see the process of scriptural interpretation that that matches Paul’s description in the DSS. So the idea that “all the new research” has made “these old ideas” obsolete just doesn’t hold up, and in any case, we aren’t talking about conspiracy theories here, we’re talking about legitimate efforts to understand Christian origins, many of which were raised by theologians from top seminaries – not crazy atheist ideas.

          • As I said, the problem in this field as in all others in which there are significant amounts of online denialism is that people will read what you wrote and will not know better than to believe you. Once someone abandons the principle of deferring to the consensus of secular academics in a field in which they do not themselves have expertise, the range of options is alas unlimited.

        • John MacDonald

          Hi RG. I just had someone Email me that You are working on the topic of deception and fraud in the ancient world for your upcoming book. This is also an area of interest/research for me. I was emailed that you wrote on another blog that:

          “The fact clearly is that fraud and deception were ubiquitous in Roman religion and prophecy. And we also know, and Ehrman also points out, that when it was discovered that these prophets engaged in this type of behavior it wasn’t dismissed as “Oh, that’s a funny ritual we do,” no these people were executed. These”prophets” were fooling people. People believed them. And when it was discovered that they were using trickery they were killed for it. This was serious business.”

          I was hoping you could elaborate here a little or maybe Email me?

  • R. G. Price

    For the record this is not at all why myself, or any other mythicist that I know, doubt the existence of Jesus: “precisely the claim that Christians just think there was a historical Jesus because they are biased in favor of his existence”

    That’s not why Drews doubted Jesus’ existence, nor Doherty, nor Carrier, nor myself. No one has ever stated that that’s the reason for concluding that the religion originated with the worship of a heavenly deity.

    What I stated in that thread is that the “consensus” in the field of biblical scholarship isn’t trustworthy because the field is dominated by believing Christians who are biased. But that’s not the reason that I and others come to conclusions that differ from the consensus.

    The errors of consensus biblical scholars can fill a book, indeed many volumes of books. And we are talking about easily demonstrable errors here. They’ve been listed out endless numbers of times, and for the most part they go unaddressed because the most convenient thing to do is just ignore it all. But the facts aren’t going away, and the field of biblical scholarship dominated by Christian theologians is crumbling because of the inability of Christian theologians to address basic issues and answer fundamental questions.

    Christian theologians have no special exclusive domain over analysis of biblical texts and early Christian history. It’s been dominated by those obviously biased authorities for far too long, and people are realizing that Christian theologians aren’t reliable sources of analysis and information on this topic. The ability of Christian theologians to simple dictate the message is ending. This is world history. It is everyone’s history; its not the exclusive domain of the faithful.

    This is why, when Doherty published his works some 20 years ago he was shocked, utterly shocked to the core, because he thought, foolishly in retrospect, that “biblical studies” was a real and legitimate field of academic study, like any other field, such as physics, anthropology, history, etc. So when he published his analysis, which has many sound points, he was utterly shocked at the hostile and irrational reaction he got from the establishment. And that interaction has never changed. But it is changing now because the old guard is fading away and the new scholars coming into the field see that the old positions are untenable.

    Basic facts that the consensus can’t come to grips with:

    Paul had no direct knowledge of Jesus
    Gospel of Mark is an allegory in which the Jesus character is based on Paul
    The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels originate from Paul (not the other way around)
    The Gospel of Mark was written entirely after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, and is not based on any sources about Jesus
    Every narrative about Jesus is derived from the Gospel of Mark

    Paul describes a Jesus that was revealed to himself and others via revelation, and every narrative about Jesus is copied from a single fictional story that was based on the letters of Paul.

    That’s the basic reality that Christian theologians can’t come to grips with, and they continue to put forward embarrassing hypothetical scenarios, grasping and straws, to try to come up with any kind of claim that suggests there is some plausible alternative to what the most straight forward reading of the evidence clearly shows. The past 200 years of “biblical scholarship” has just be trying to conjure up some plausible case for how the Gospels might actually contain some shred of “historical truth”. Once it became obvious that the 4 Gospels weren’t actually what Christians believed them to be, independent eyewitness accounts, the focus of theologians has been fabricating some kind of scenario whereby the Gospels can be claimed to be relevant historical documents. But, the reality is that the facts work against any such claim.

    The Gospels are decipherable. We can see how they were written. We do know the sources. The fact just is that the way the Gospels were written and the sources that were used, don’t support the either the original beliefs about what the Gospels were, held by 2nd-4th century apologists, nor do the facts support the fantasies of modern theologians. The Gospels are fictional stories, and its provable and its been proven.

    • You make a lot of assertions in your comment – that Paul describes a fictional Jesus known to him only through revelation, that the Gospels borrow everything from Paul, etc. None of that is remotely plausible in light of the evidence, never mind probable. Paul provides evidence that he himself joined a messianic movement that he previously opposed, and insists that what he proclaims agrees with what others who were part of that movement before him proclaim. If his message was received through “revelation” and yet matched theirs despite him having no prior knowledge, what you’re proposing is a supernatural occurrence, and history has no room for that sort of thing. There are much simpler explanations, and they actually fit the evidence from this ancient literature better.

      • I think that it is more accurate to say that Paul claims that he joined a messianic movement that he previously opposed. I don’t see that he provides any evidence to corroborate that claim. He does insist at one point that his message agrees with the message of those who came before. On the other hand, he seems to have frequent disagreements with others in the movement, and he insists that he didn’t learn anything from those who preceded him. I can’t see any way to eliminate the possibility that most of Paul’s message was his own creation.

        • One can certainly take a conspiracy theory approach and say that Andronicus and Junia, his relatives who were part of the movement before him, were co-conspirators. But why should one judge that more likely than the conclusion that all the evidence points to?

          • I know how much you love to accuse people of embracing conspiracy theories when they question the mainstream consensus, but unless you have some independent evidence of what Junia and Andronica believed before Paul joined the movement, we’re still only talking about Paul’s claims.

            I’ve never doubted that Paul viewed others as having been in Christ before himself. What I question is whether we are justified in inferring therefrom that that any particular parts of Paul’s message were based on what he learned from his predecessors. The fact that Paul claims that none of it was taught to him by men raises, for me anyway, a fairly obvious possibility: much of Paul’s message was the product of his own imagination.

            As far as Paul’s claim that his message agrees with that of his predecessors, I might be more impressed had I not spent as much time as I have discussing these kinds of questions on the internet. If I had a nickel for everytime I looked up a citation that someone claimed “agreed” with his or her position, only to find that it didn’t, I might not be a wealthy man, but I could afford to drink better whiskey than I do.

            What is easier (or more common) than someone claiming that someone else agrees with him when the other person doesn’t? Have you never noticed such a phenomena in academia? Sometimes the first person does it because he’s a liar, but I doubt that’s the most common reason. Sometimes he doesn’t understand what the other person is really saying and assumes agreement where none exists. Sometimes he believes that the other person should agree or would agree if he understood the issue, so the first person thinks he is justified in claiming agreement. Given how many disagreements Paul appears to have with predecessors in the movement, I find it hard to take his statements about areas of agreement at face value.

            To the extent that some agreement existed, there is also the fairly obvious possibility that Paul had convinced some of his predecessors of the correctness of the revelation he claimed. Junia and Andronica could well have been in Christ before Paul was and nonetheless believe that Paul’s message was the true revelation. If Paul’s predecessors were the illiterate peasants that the Gospels and Acts make them out to be, it’s easy to see how they have found his version of the message convincing.

          • It is relatively uncommon for academics to claim that someone agrees with them when they don’t, precisely because they are likely going to be called out on it and create significant controversy for themselves. Paul talks about agreement of others even when writing to audiences that have been swayed to side with those who disagree with him about some matters. In short, I don’t think the example you provide supports your attempt to explain away the evidence here.

          • I’m afraid that you sound a lot more like an apologist than a historian when you describe Paul’s uncorroborated claim as “providing evidence” and you describe my pointing out that it’s an uncorroborated claim as “explaining away the evidence.”

            As you seem to be acknowledging now, the people from whom Paul is supposed to have learned his message did in fact disagree with him on some matters. Therefore, it seems clear that there are some parts of his message that Paul did not learn from his predecessors. On another occasion Paul asserts that he learned none of his message from his predecessors. Why should I take his claims about being in agreement at face value? Moreover, why should I assume that any points upon which there was agreement originated with Paul’s predecessors rather than with Paul himself.

          • Where does he say that he learned nothing from anyone in the manner you describe?

            Are the claims and passing references that people make in letters not historical evidence? If so, you are defining those words in a way that is not the norm in the discussion of history. Sometimes we do indeed have evidence from the past that is not of what happened, but how people tried to rewrite what happened. Sometimes it is how things were misremembered or misperceived. But it is evidence. What you need to do is explain in detail why you think a particular way of understanding the evidence is more plausible.

          • Had you asserted that Paul’s claims were evidence of how things were misremembered or misperceived things, I don’t think I would have had any quarrel. But that’s not what you said. You asserted that Paul’s claims provided evidence that the things he claimed were true.

          • So you’re happy to simply assume that he misremembered or misperceived whether his relatives were “in Christ” before him, or whether he and other apostles agreed about things that he asserts they did and show no signs of quarreling about? Why? In my opinion, you need to make a case for this as a conclusion just as for any other.

          • I am not assuming anything Dr. MrGrath. Nevertheless, I know that people do frequently misremember and misperceive things. I also know that people often portray their disagreements with others in a self-serving manner. So when I only have one person’s uncorroborated claims about how another person’s position does or doesn’t agree with his own, I think it prudent to take those claims with a grain of salt, particularly when the first person is pretty vague about what the areas of agreement are.

            Moreover, even if I could have any confidence in the first person’s claims, I don’t see how that would warrant any certainty about the origination of the ideas upon which agreement may have existed, particularly when the person making the claims doesn’t acknowledge that any of his ideas came from any human source.

            As far as Junia and Andronicus go, when you brought them up before, I acknowledged that Paul viewed others as being in Christ before he was. I just don’t see any principled way to establish that what Paul understood to be his revelation of what it meant to be in Christ conformed to or departed from the understanding of those who were in Christ before him.

          • David M

            It might look as if agnosticism about Paul is more reasonable than some of the alternatives but is that really the case? People like Lataster try to defend their interpretation by citing evidence, which usually amounts to what Paul doesn’t say. But those who claim to be agnostic about Paul often cite the same evidence, such as it is. But if those people are not committed to any particular theory about Paul’s letters, what exactly is Paul’s silence evidence for?

            Agnostics seem to be in a curious position. They are effectively saying that certain alleged anomalies in Paul’s letters are evidence for a theory, but they don’t know what that theory is.

          • I’m not sure what you mean by “agnostic about Paul.”

            I’m also not sure what you mean by “anomalies in Paul’s letter.” I don’t know what to consider standard or expected in Paul’s letters, so I don’t know what to consider anomalous.

          • David M

            I don’t know what to consider standard or expected in Paul’s letters, so I don’t know what to consider anomalous.

            I got the impression that you did have an idea of what should and shouldn’t be in Paul’s letters. That, for example, Paul should have given certain details about Jesus’ life that he fails to give. Perhaps I was mistaken.

          • I don’t think that the words “should” and “shouldn’t” make any sense in this context. What’s in’em is what’s in’em. I’m talking about the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from what is in Paul’s letters. I have ideas about what should or shouldn’t be in them.

          • David M

            And the process of drawing conclusions would presumably involve the testing of hypotheses. One might hypothesize that Jesus was a historical figure and then see whether one finds in Paul’s letters what one would expect to find, given that hypothesis. Then one might test alternative hypotheses. So it seems that there would have to be various expectations about what should or shouldn’t be there, given certain assumptions.

          • Yes. It is certainly valid to consider whether the evidence is consistent with what one would expect to find if a particular hypothesis is true. I would expect anyone who is considering a historical hypothesis to do this.

            However, your comment was that had I had “an idea of what should and shouldn’t be in Paul’s letters.” I took this to mean that you thought I was engaged in an approach that was somehow different than the reasonable historical approach that you have described.

          • David M

            OK. So mythicists would say that we don’t really find what we would expect to find in Paul’s letters if Jesus was a historical figure. And the corollary is that we do find what we would expect to find if Jesus was not a historical figure. But that is very general. It could be that Jesus was not a historical figure and Paul considered him to be a purely celestial being. Or it could be that Paul mistakenly believed that Jesus had lived in the distant past, and so on.

            So when I said that you were agnostic about Paul, what I meant was that you were not committed to any particular theory about Paul’s position – correct me if I’m wrong. But ultimately there must be a specific alternative to the hypothesis that Paul was writing about a historical figure. And the evidence of Paul’s letters must be more consistent with that specific alternative, if Jesus never existed. In my view there is a problem if you cannot say what that specific alternative is.

          • Yes. Mythicists would say that we don’t find the kind of evidence we would expect to find if Jesus were a historical figure, but I’m not prepared to go that far. I would only say that we don’t find the kind of evidence we would expect to find if the historical figure were anyone like the itinerant healer and teacher portrayed in the gospels. I think we might have the kind of evidence we would expect to find if Jesus was a historical figure whose activities on earth held no interest for Paul because all that mattered was what God accomplished through supernatural events after the historical figure’s death.

            The specific alternative to Paul writing about a historical figure is that Paul is writing about a supernatural exalted being. Paul has so little to say about the pre-exaltation existence of that being that I’m not sure what he believed. I think that it is perfectly reasonable to maintain that there is insufficient evidence to confirm or any single hypothesis hypothesis. Often we can’t be certain what happened in the past due to the poor quality of the evidence.

            I would suggest that you view my agnosticism as problematic because you think that the historical Jesus hypothesis deserves some sort of head start. I do not.

          • David M

            I was unclear as to what you thought the alternative to a historical Jesus was. So the “agnosticism”, as I saw it, referred to your unwillingness to choose between a range of alternatives to historicity. I didn’t realise that you actually considered the supernatural Jesus theory to be the clear alternative. Thanks for clearing that up. If you are really agnostic regarding the choice between the supernatural Jesus and some form of historical Jesus then that is a different issue.

          • I think you misunderstood what I wrote.

            I think that Paul is solely interested in the risen exalted Christ. I don’t think that he tells us enough about Jesus prior to his crucifixion to determine whether he thought that Jesus had been a historical person known to people like Peter and James, whether he thought that Jesus had once been a man who walked the earth who was nonetheless unknown to any of Paul’s contemporaries, or whether he thought that Jesus had existed solely on some celestial plane.

          • R. G. Price

            It’s not simply that there isn’t enough evidence to support historicity, there is actually a lot of evidence to support the case that Jesus didn’t exist. As I always tell people, it’s actually easier to prove that Jesus didn’t exist than anyone else from ancient history. The case against Jesus is far more solid than the case against Orpheus, Dionysus, Hercules, Romulus, and on and on.

            The reason for this is the fact that we have so much better documentation about early Christianity than we do about those other figures.

            And regardless, it is an absolute fact that the Jesus character in the Gospels is entirely fabricated and not one single thing described in the Gospels really happened. So at best, the only thing one could possibly say about a possible “real” Jesus would be that he was some person that we don’t know anything about other than his name. We don’t even know if he was crucified. But the far more reasonable explanation is that there was no real Jesus at all.

            The case against historicity isn’t just about lack of evidence. What I show in Deciphering the Gospels is that every single detail about Jesus comes from scriptural references. Evangelicals like to talk about how Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies. What I show in DtG is that these “300 prophecies” are really scriptural references that demonstrate that the Jesus character is a scriptural fabrication.

            The clearest example is the crucifixion scene itself. There is only one account of the crucifixion. It is the account we get from Mark, and everyone else copies that account. Even all the non-canonical accounts copy from Mark. The account in Mark is entirely scriptural references. The main theme of the scene in built on Psalm 22. Every account copies elements of the scriptural references first created by Mark, and this is true of most of the Gospel content.

            So what all this shows is that there was no narrative about Jesus prior to the invention of the first narrative by “Mark”. And the crucifixion of Jesus during Passover is entirely unbelievable. Every aspect of how the crucifixion was done in the Gospels violates known practices of the Jews at this time. They never held trials and executions during holy festivals or on their eve. Its clear this is all symbolic and was originally intended to be symbolic, not to look historical.

            The only reason any of this was ever believed is because the Romans didn’t understand Judaism, but the Romans were obsessed with prophecy and the Gospels were filled with what appeared to be a vast set of prophecy fulfillment. Its actually quite straight forward showing that the cult originally developed worshiping a celestial messiah, and that after the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, an allegory was written (what we call the Gospel of Mark), which was the first real narrative about Jesus, and this allegory was copied by multiple other writers and came to be believed by Romans as a real account of real events. There is abundant data showing this to be the case, including tons of material from the 2nd & 3rd century church fathers. It’s all there.

            This isn’t a case of “well we just don’t have reliable info to go on”, actually we have tons of reliable material and it all points to the scenario I just laid out.

          • Mark

            Evangelicals like to talk about how Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies. What I show in DtG is that these “300 prophecies” are really scriptural references that demonstrate that the Jesus character is a scriptural fabrication.

            Yes it is very familiar that mythicizing writers just read Protestant compendia of ‘cross references’ backward. This is why their writings share the same atmosphere of unreality we find in preaching.

          • I always find this objection hilarious, because it uncritically accepts the Evangelical claim without scrutiny, whereas critical scholarship has shown time and again how awkward a fit Jesus is to many of the purported predictions! Mythicists pretend they are “skeptics” when they are in fact extremely gullible about religious claims!

          • R. G. Price

            Not at all. The literary relationships are real. The idea that they are “prophecies” is the error.

            If we take the Crucifixion as an example, it is clear that the Crucifixion in all of the Gospels is derived from Psalm 22. That’s a fact.

            The founders of Christianity (2nd century Romans) believed that this meant that the events of the Crucifixion had been foretold in secret hidden messages in the Jewish scriptures.

            Modern liberal theologians say, “Oh no, Psalm 22 wasn’t actually a prophecy for the Crucifixion, nothing to see here.”

            But what is missed is the fact that while it is true that Psalm 22 wasn’t an actual prophecy for the Crucifixion – Psalm 22 was believed to be a prophecy for the Crucifixion by the writers of the Gospels, and “knowledge of” the Crucifixion comes entirely from Psalm 22, no other source.

            That’s the point that mythicsts make. Knowledge of the Crucifixion didn’t come from people watching a man named Jesus be executed by Romans during Passover. Knowledge of the Crucifixion came from the scriptures.

            And the fact is that there is no account of the Crucifixion in existence that isn’t based directly on Psalm 22.

            And when we talk about “300 prophecies” fulfilled by Jesus. Of course its not true that Jesus fulfilled any prophecies, but the idea that Jesus fulfilled 300 prophecies comes from the fact that essentially every aspect of the Gospel narratives, and Paul’s claims, are built on scriptural references. Now 300 may be an over-count, but in fact what we find in the Gospels is that the narrative is built from hundreds of scriptural references. Those references are real, and it does show that the process of writing the Gospels was a process of literary construction. The Gospel stories are created by cutting and pasting passage from the “OT” and forming a new narrative out of them, a form of midrash.

            The Gospel stories are not products of recording accounts of real events that anyone observed, they are products of constructing a new narrative from the Jewish scriptures. And the primary theme for that narrative, of course, is the story of Elijah and Elisha, where John the Baptist plays the role of Elijah and Jesus plays the role of Elisha.

            The other scriptures that were used in the Gospels are the same sets of scriptures that are heavily discussed in the DSS, with the NT stories being developed out of many of the same passages that we find DSS commentary on, especially Isaiah.

            So you’re right, the idea that Jesus fulfilled a bunch of prophecies is debunked, but the fact that the Jesus narrative is derived from scriptures is indisputable.

          • LOL. I take it you’ve never looked up, for instance, what Hosea 11 says vs what it is made out to say in the Gospel of Matthew. For that matter, it sounds like you don’t know Psalm 22 that well either. And you seem to have bought hook, line, and sinker into the kind of approach I critique in my linked article about Thomas Brodie’s work.

          • R. G. Price

            Sorry, but it’s you that has failed to understand all this. I’ve read all the published material from the DSS, I’m quite familiar with the types of exegesis being practiced by some Jews at this time. Your criticisms of Gospel references can be applied equally to all of the material of the DSS. That doesn’t mean that that those people didn’t believe it and develop their own meaning out of it – meaning that you clearly don’t understand, which is understandable because you aren’t a 1st century Jew living in Palestine participating in a fanatical ecstatic cult.

            The symbolism isn’t relevant to you, that’s fine; its not relevant to me either, but understand the way in which is was relevant to the writers of the material.

            If you’re going to try to argue that scenes like the Crucifixion aren’t derived from Psalm 22, that wouldn’t just be a minority position, you’d probably be the only person in the world on that boat…

          • I notice you avoid discussing specifics, even ones I mention explicitly. I don’t disagree that there is use of Psalm 22 by the author of Mark and Matthew. Matthew also draws on Wisdom of Solomon. That’s the majority view and I do not at all disagree with it. Your view, that the entire scene is constructed solely from earlier texts, is not only a minority view but a fringe one.

          • R. G. Price

            The idea that the Crucifixion scene in Mark is derived from scriptures is fringe? That’s a very interesting claim.

            The Crucifixion scene in Mark goes from Mark 15:23 to Mark 15:39.

            Mark 15:23 = reference to Amos 2
            Mark 15:24 = reference to Psalm 22
            Mark 15:29 = reference to Psalm 22
            Mark 15:31 = reference to Psalm 22
            Mark 15:32 = reference to Psalm 22
            Mark 15:33 = reference to Amos 8
            Mark 15:34 = reference to Psalm 22
            Mark 15:36 is a reference back to the opening of Mark, where John the Baptist is identified as Elijah

            And in truth I’ve probably missed a few references.

            At least 8 out of 16 of the lines of the Crucifixion scene are derived from scriptural references.

            So yeah, you’re right, there are a few lines of material written to pull all this together and turn it into a coherent narrative that aren’t directly sourced from scriptures. I can’t imagine how hard it is to try and write a new coherent story out of quotes of old stories, but I’m pretty sure it requires the use of a few new words that aren’t all just directly copied from the reference material.

            And the thing is, every account of the Crucifixion contains these same scriptural references.

          • Actually there are some differences among them, but that is rather besides the point in relation to your misguided and confusing approach here. You seem to genuinely believe, in a twisted form that nonetheless mirrors conservative evangelicalism, that the Gospel authors are making reference to texts that genuinely correspond to what they are describing, rather than representing awkward stretches and crowbarred fits as they desperately try to make sense of the awkward historical fact that the man they believe to be the heir to David’s throne was executed.

          • John MacDonald

            Could part of the reason for the scriptural references be filling in details because, as Mark records, the disciples all fled when Jesus was arrested, and they might have stayed away from the execution for fear of being arrested too, and so they weren’t there to record the crucifixion events?

          • Indeed!

          • R. G. Price

            That’s amusing. You should read my book, I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

            P.S. It’s not about trying to understand the death of a person, its about trying to understand the destruction of the temple…

          • Mark

            Have you tried applying your method to say Moby Dick — as they did with the so-called ‘Bible Code’? Maybe the whole thing is cut and pasted from the OT and Melville is midrash.

          • R. G. Price

            Melville certainly makes many references to the OT. And one can also argue that the fictionality of Melville’s story is evident through some of his scriptural references, but even Melville didn’t use direct copying from the OT the way the writer of Mark did. So yeah, Moby Dick is a fictional story, it contains many scriptural themes, but Moby Dick is actually less obviously fictional than the Gospels are. It is more apparent that the Gospel narratives are literary inventions than that Moby Dick is.

            There are zero examples… zero, of any historical account being written using the style and methods that were used to write the Gospels.

          • The Gospels seem to be apparently different from any works that have a basis in history because you imagine the authors of the Gospels writing in ways that we have no actual reason to think that they wrote. If one tries to find evidence that any text is constructed by copying from and modifying prototypes, it can easily be done as I illustrated in my article about Brodie’s work. That the Gospel authors wrote this way is your rather implausible assumption, not something demonstrated.

          • Mark

            There are zero examples… zero, of any historical account being written using the style and methods that were used to write the Gospels.

            But what is the method you use, though, to divine the distinctive ‘style and methods’ of Mark’s difficult messianic temple-destruction thriller? Can you test any of these claims? My experience, as I said above, is that you just read crackpot evangelical concordances backwards.

            Whatever Mark is doing isn’t what we understand by history. He basically says in the first sentence that he is doing some kind of prophetic illustration. A lot of it is pretty desperate-seeming given the texts and validation he compares – this is already true in the first sentence. Claiming that John the Baptist was foreseen by Malachi and Isaiah is strange enough. Cooking up a John the Baptist because of a text about a voice crying in the wilderness seems like something no one would ever in a million years do.

          • R. G. Price

            Err, the approach I use has nothing to do with evangelicals. If you want to argue against all of the latest work on intertextuality be my guest, but to claim that intertextual studies is just a bunch of evangelical nonsense is itself far outside the mainstream. Recognizing the relationship between the Gospels and the Jewish scriptures is also an increasing field of interest among Jewish scholars who are increasingly reclaiming the Gospels as important Jewish works.

            The Markan narrative is based on the story of Elijah & Elisha:
            Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code of Mark; Wolfgang Roth, 1988
            Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material 2010

            The writer of Mark (and other Gospels) made us of Paul’s letters:
            Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look At Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel; Tom Dykstra, 2012
            Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels; David Oliver Smith, 2011
            Introduction to the New Testament: Paul and Mark; Paul Tarazi, 1999,

            The Gospels are fiction:
            Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes; John Shelby Spong , 1997
            Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective; Mary Ann Tolbert, 1989

            Midrash and Gospels:

          • Mark

            The Elijah & Elisha theory is familiar to me from Brodie. To read it is to fall into a kind of trance, as if smoking hashish, or a state of quasi religious uncanniness. It’s Astounding Parallels!! mania.

            The ‘intertextual’ character of Mark is obvious and expressed and has nothing to do with Mark’s knowledge that the Romans crucified Jesus. Hebrew scripture and Greek models do not account for Mark’s knowledge that Jesus was an exorcist and faith healer. Hebrew scripture and Greek models do not account for Mark’s knowledge that Jesus disputed legal questions with Pharisees and other would be lawsplainers sneering at Galilean practice, much less the content of the questions disputed e.g. about eating food with ‘impure’ hands and that odd korban bit.

            Mark was not written as a sacred text, nor to provide a model for imitatio Christi, nor as a medium for imparting precepts to believers, but rather to leverage the Jewish war in what we might call Jesus-messianic agitation.

          • R. G. Price

            “The Elijah & Elisha theory is familiar to me from Brodie. To read it is to fall into a kind trance, as if on hashish, or a state of quasi religious uncanniness. It’s the worst imaginable case of Astounding Parallels!!!”

            So that’s something concrete that can be evaluated and discussed. If you really think that knowing the meaning of the Gospels is important, I would recommend that you study this topic further. The two books I listed provide much better analysis of Mark’s use of the Elijah/Elisha narrative.

            Based on what you just said, it appears that your view is that the Gospels still appear historical to you because you haven’t seen evidence that they are actually derived from the narrative of Elijah and Elisha. I assume then, that if you do find that case for derivation from Elijah and Elisha compelling then you would change your mind.

            “Hebrew scripture and Greek models do not account for Mark’s knowledge that Jesus disputed legal questions with Pharisees and other would be lawsplainers sneering at Galilean practice, much less the content of the questions disputed e.g. about eating food with ‘impure’ hands and that funny korban stuff”

            Actually, not only does some of this come from Paul, but it also parallels much of what was being discussed in the Qumran material. The book I’m currently working on lays out the evidence showing that the writer of Mark was familiar with much of the material from the Qumran community. “As it happens”, the Qumran community railed against the Pharisees and engaged in similar teachings. They also held some different teachings as well, such as being much more anti-Gentile, but this issue is addressed. Also, Qumranic writings say that Armageddon would happen 40 years after the death of the teacher of righteousness. Pilate was governor of Judea 40 years prior to the destruction of the temple. That’s just one among a dozen pieces of evidence that suggest the writer of Mark was incorporating Qumranic ideas into his narrative.

          • Mark

            > Actually, not only does some of this come from Paul, but it also parallels much of what was being discussed in the Qumran material.

            To affirm a dependency on DSS too is in any case to reject the direct dependency on Torah and Prophets etc. and to show that your method can find Astounding Parallels!! in anything. The idea that the Qumran writings had a direct influence on the Jesus-resurrection/Jesus-messiah crowd is by now a proposition belonging to crackpots only. Qumran attacks the Pharisees and a lot of other things, and all those things attack each other.

            Paul doesn’t pronounce on Mosaic-legal questions; his audience is gentiles. But Mark represents Jesus inter alia as a halakhic master who has an accompanying account, a ‘deeper understanding’, of a type the rabbis would count as esoteric (and thus for them optional and not to be imposed generally). He didn’t get this from Paul.

            I don’t see how you’re going to get the picture of Jesus as wandering exorcist and faith healer – a dominant feature of Mark – from the Hebrew scriptures. It appears there were such things in the late 2nd T period, – certainly the rabbis have exorcism – and this is where the material comes from, if Mark is so desperate for material.

          • R. G. Price

            I never said anything about dependency on the DSS, merely that it appears the author of Mark was familiar with many of the same ideas that are found in the DSS. It is unclear how widespread such idea were, and how exclusive the material from the DSS was to the Qumran community. But we do know, for example, that the DSS contains the only other example of pre-second century parables outside of the Gospels. The parables from the DSS are in the same style as those in Mark. We also see several teachings from the DSS that are only otherwise found in the works of Paul and later Christian literature. There are also certainly major contradictions between ideas that we find in the DSS and early Christianity. I’m not necessarily suggesting any direct link between Qumran and Christian origins, its just the the DSS contains one of the few examples of actual Jewish religious material directly from the relevant time period, but its very hard to know how broadly many of those ideas and texts were outside of the Qumran community.

            To say that Paul didn’t pronounce on legal issues is quite strange. Paul explicitly talks constantly about the law. Paul talks about how the law is now made obsolete by the Spirit.

            I mean just look: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?qs_version=NIV&quicksearch=law&begin=55&end=55

            Look at Romans and Galatians,it all about how faith transcends the law. The Jesus of Mark is making Paul’s case.

            Who are Jesus’ opponents in Mark? “the teachers of the law”.

            Paul: “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.””

            And furthermore, many of the replies that Jesus has to the teachers of the law come from Paul.

            “I don’t see how you’re going to get the picture of Jesus as wandering exorcist and faith healer”

            From Elijah and Elisha for one. Here’s one random example I just picked from my book: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+kings+5&version=NIV

          • Mark

            > To say that Paul didn’t pronounce on legal issues is quite strange. Paul explicitly talks constantly about the law. Paul talks about how the law is now made obsolete by the Spirit.

            Paul, like every pharisee and every rabbi – and it seems Jesus in controversy with Zadokites – thinks that in the resurrection, in ha olam ha ba, there is no law and no one will act in reliance on such a thing. “Faith” is an anticipation of this and will be quite worthless in a few weeks or months, when the messiah of resurrection makes his imperial adventus or parousia. In ha olam ha ba we meld into christ and agape is all that’s left.

            Meanwhile, Paul in fact imposes on all his gentiles the ‘law that they are unto themselves’, which proscribes e.g. idolatry, porneia and murder. I.e. basically Noahidism. Failure under these and like headings is what hellenistic and indeed pharisaical Jews think is wrong with all these disgusting nations — not that they don’t keep the law of Moses, which is addressed to the Jewish people. However, a gentile’s reliance on this law is as worthless as the Jews’ reliance of the national law.

            Thus Paul teaches that if a gentile becomes a circumcised proselyte he must keep the whole law of Moses – same as the rabbis would teach. If one of Paul’s own gentiles, captured with his special commission and gospel, does this, he will of course piss Paul off since he thereby spoils Paul’s mystical-prophetic campaign to have greeting corps of gentiles as gentiles, not Jews as Jews. That is somebody else’s mystical campaign. They must bury their idols etc., whatever the prophets say, wherewith they chuck porneia and the like. This is in fact law.

            The gentile’s legal situation is thus symmetrical to that of the Jew. But the whole issue is tiresome to him, since with the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of the world has begun, or begun to begin, and for those of us who are in him, a transition has begun from haplessly acting on law – Mosaic or not – to acting from agape and his presence or whatever. In the end, in there resurrection, there is no ‘flesh and blood’ and thus no porneia and God knows no trayf food. And that order is literally weeks away.

            The idea that Mark represents Jesus as doing away with the law of Moses is typical Protestant nonsense. Why the f* do they make their way to Jerusalem except in explicit obedience to it? Jesus opposes pharisaical rendering of Moses law – to which they have shamelessly added a lot of their own sh* – and makes witty halakhic short work of them. Similarly he makes witty scriptural short work of the Zadokite rejection of the resurrection. The purpose of these passages – which touch on few things in Mark – is to exhibit him as a legal and scriptural sage, as touched by God, as ‘speaking with authority’. The episodes are like his exemplary exorcisms.

          • R. G. Price

            Funny you should mention Paul’s list of sins.

            Mark 7:
            20 And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

            Galatians 5:
            19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

            This is one of the many examples of apparent borrowing by “Mark” from Paul.

            As for the rest, you don’t really make any case against Mark’s influence from Paul. Certainly the way Jesus is presented as an opponent of the teachers of the law in Mark is a way that someone crafting a narrative from Paul’s letters could chose to portray a character that would convey Paul’s message. It might not be the way you would write such a story in 2019, but it is certainly a reasonable approach. At this point you are just saying, “If I were going to write an allegory about the destruction of the Temple, using Paul as the inspiration for my Jesus character, I wouldn’t have done it the way the writer of Mark did it.”

            Sorry, that’s not a valid argument.

            “Why the f* do they make their way to Jerusalem”

            I’ll just point out that the First Jewish-Roman War started in Galilee and Vespasian worked his way to Jerusalem where he destroyed the Temple and slaughtered the Jews. Jesus starts in Galilee and works his way to Jerusalem where he prophecies that the Temple will be destroyed and is himself slaughtered.

          • Two lists of immoral actions contain some overlaps. This indicates direct borrowing how, exactly?

            οἱ διαλογισμοὶ οἱ κακοὶ ἐκπορεύονται, πορνεῖαι, κλοπαί, φόνοι, μοιχεῖαι, πλεονεξίαι, πονηρίαι, δόλος, ἀσέλγεια, ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός, βλασφημία, ὑπερηφανία, ἀφροσύνη


            πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθείαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, φθόνοι, μέθαι, κῶμοι

            You really see in this evidence of direct borrowing?

          • Mark

            Darn I just made this point, not having seen this.

          • R. G. Price will say that since your point is not entirely unlike my point, you must have copied it directly…

          • John MacDonald

            The sarcasm is strong with this one. A great Sith you will become!

          • John MacDonald

            RG Price said

            I’ll just point out that the First Jewish-Roman War started in Galilee and Vespasian worked his way to Jerusalem where he destroyed the Temple and slaughtered the Jews. Jesus starts in Galilee and works his way to Jerusalem where he prophecies that the Temple will be destroyed and is himself slaughtered.

            Having read your book, a major flaw I see is that Mark calls his work the Gospel or good new of Jesus. We have discussed this before and your answer is that Mark was using the term “Gospel” sarcastically, but that defense is ad hoc at best.

          • Mark

            > Funny you should mention Paul’s list of sins.

            The two lists only contain (as expected) πορνεία and its ground, ἀσέλγεια, in common.

            On your way of thinking the author of Romans 1:18-32 must also have asked for a copy Galatians back as well. It doesn’t overlap much verbally either, Mark might have stolen πλεονεξία from it – and basically any Greek text whatsover) To this the answer might be: but it’s the same guy. The trouble is Romans 1:18-32 is clearly a standard Jewish count of the order of crimes characterist of the nations and e.g. the ‘generation of the Flood’: first idolatry, then porneia, then murder. And with them, a tide of more obvious vices. See Wisdom 14.

            Mark’s list is qualitatively different by not including idolatry, sorcery and the like. Jesus is represented as talking as a law abiding Jew to law abiding Jews.
            Idolatry isn’t an issue. In the bit you quote he is giving a sort of esoteric reading of the previously mentioned fact that (a certain kind of) ritual impurity ‘comes from inside the body’, e.g. oozing leprosy, menstrual fluid, corpses, whatever. Then he mentions ‘sins’ that unlike e.g. idolatry or sorcery, really do rest on distinctive ‘inner’ motives; the impurity rules are an image of the wider ethical truth. The list is a conventional Jewish one, different from a Greek one by the emphasis on porneia-aselgeia.

            The matter of purity and the washing with the fist is incredibly complex as the paper by Furstenberg and the consequent controversies show. It is is plain, I think, that Jesus is defending the practice of pious Galilean rustics against the novelties of Jerusalem poseurs, and outwitting them with what is basically sound halakha. (The rabbis are aware that ‘they’ invented it, if I understand.) Then comes the ethical mirror of the ritual facts.

            > the First Jewish-Roman War started in Galilee

            You’d think it started when they booted the Roman garrison out of Jerusalem.

            > he prophecies that the Temple will be destroyed and is himself slaughtered.

            Yes, everyone agrees that Mark is attempting to coopt the Jewish war for end-time Jesus messianism.

        • R. G. Price

          Agreed Vinny. And this requires no conspiracy theory. The “confirmation” that Paul learned all his teachings from others comes from reading the Gospels into Paul’s letters.

          But that’s what my entire book is about, showing that the relationships really goes the other way around. And its not just me, this is a growing conclusion.

          Obviously the original idea was that Paul says many things and much of what Paul says is in agreement with ideas we find in the Gospels. Therefore, Paul must have been passing along information from a shared community who was the source for both the Gospel narratives and Paul’s teachings.

          But, on closer inspection what we find is that the Gospels are actually derived from Paul’s letters. The similarities between Paul and the Gospels are due to the fact that the Gospel writers had read Paul’s letters and used them as the source for their narratives. Thus, the Gospels are no longer reflections of a common community, they are now evidence of a single source. What once was imagined to be a vast multi-threaded web of overlapping documentation is now revealed to be a single-threaded chain of copying.

          Furthermore, this is much more in-line with what we find in the letters of Paul, where Paul relays dozens upon dozens of teachings and attributes none of them to Jesus. At best there are two teachings that Paul attributes to “the Lord”, the Eucharist and I believe a teaching on divorce. But aside from that we have well over 50 teachings that appear to originate directly from Paul himself. The only reason anyone ever thought those teachings came from Jesus is because those teachings are also found in the Gospels coming from the mouth of Jesus. But close inspection shows that Paul wasn’t passing on Jesus’ teachings, rather the Gospel writers were passing on Paul’s teachings.

        • John MacDonald

          Yay, Vinny’s back for a guest appearance. It’s time for another “battle of the giants (Plato’s Sophist, 245e6-246e1)” between Vinny and James! I love these!

      • R. G. Price

        Let’s take this a step at a time.

        1) Original view of Nicene Christians is that the Gospels were 4 independently written eyewitness/2nd hand accounts written shortly after Jesus’ death, and that the epistles were all written after the Gospels. Thus, the Gospel were certainly not informed by the epistles.
        2) By the 19th century it had been determined that, actually, many of the epistles were written before the Gospels. Propositions are made that the Gospels were informed by the epistles. These propositions were widely condemned as that would disrupt the essential views of the nature of the Gospels.
        3) 20th century apologetics works at devising scenarios whereby the Gospels are records of pre-epistle sources/traditions, thus re-establishing “Gospelic priority”, the view that the Gospel material pre-dates the epsitle material.

        But let’s be clear. We all know that some set of epistles were written prior to any Gospels. At minimum it would be widely accepted that 6-7 epistles of Paul (and I’d argue the epistles of James, Jude and Hebrews as well) were all written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, and that all of the Gospels, at least in their current forms, were written after the destruction of the temple.

        Thus, any claim that the use of epistles by Gospel writers is “not plausible” has no standing, because by virtue of the fact that the epistles were written before the Gospels, it is plausible.

        But not only is it plausible, it is establishable. See:

        Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look At Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel; Tom Dykstra
        Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels; David Oliver Smith

        It is actually very clear that the Gospels are fundamentally derived from the epistles.

        What theologians have done is postulate a vast web of “lost sources” that trace back to Jesus to explain all of the various relationships that we find among the NT texts, but these lost sources are totally unnecessary. In fact the far better explanation of the evidence is literary borrowing that shows direct linear relationships between the known texts.

        We start with Paul. Hebrews copies directly from Paul. Mark copies directly from Paul. Matthew copies from Mark, Paul and Hebrews. Luke copies from Mark, Matthew, Paul and Hebrews. John borrows from all of them. Thomas copies from all of them. There are no “lost sources”. Everything is accounted for.

        This isn’t mere theory, the textual relationships are all mapped out and shown.

        Claiming that its “not plausible” that Mark copied from Paul makes no sense on the face it given that Mark is written after Paul, but its even worse when we can establish over 20 cases were the evidence is clear showing that Mark did copy from Paul!

      • jh

        I’m just wondering. Could we use the language and technique of Christians to assert that Thor exists as well? Krishna? Wouldn’t it be interesting to use those techniques to assert that yes, the God of Thunder truly existed. Yes, Krishna existed.

        How would Christians feel if those techniques were used to justify other religious people’s claims as well? Would they write them off or would they go “yep, that sounds true too”?

        • Can you provide an example of a comparable scenario, with similar genres, details of information, and distance in time between earliest sources and when the individual is supposed to have lived, and so on? Obviously Thor, a deity, and a human individual like Jesus are inherently very different from a historian’s perspective, and your comment seems to grasp nothing of that, nor anything of how historians proceed with their investigations.

          • R. G. Price

            Actually there are thousands of figures from the classical period that were believed to have been real people, but are now viewed as entirely mythical constructs. Orpheus is the most obvious example. Indeed there were even pseudo-Orphic writings produced from the 3rd century BCE through the 1st of 2nd century that purported to be “authentic writings” of Orpheus. Indeed whole religions were developed around these materials, much the same way that we see the development of Christianity around the Gospels.

            So, Orpheus is one example. Bacchus is another example. Hercules, Romulus… The supposed many prophetic Sibyls are other examples. The Bakis are another group of mythical male prophets that were fabricated. The belief that these figures were real also stemmed largely from written accounts of their deeds and prophecies. I’ll be addressing many of these figures, and the Roman market for anonymous prophetic literature in my next book.

          • There are figures who were once thought historical about whom there is now uncertainty or an inclination to view them as completely unhistorical. There are figures who were once presumed ahistorical who are now judged historical. This is why mythicists saying “look how the consensus changed about Abraham and Moses” reflects a complete failure to understand one of the most basic points of scholarship in general and historical scholarship in particular: analogies can be found for most things, and so one must look at the specific evidence relevant to a specific question and use that as the primary guide to answering the question.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            So are you convinced that Abraham and Moses are nonhistorical?

          • For a figure like Abraham, we have no way of knowing. In the case of Moses, there are details that suggest some basis in history. His name, an Egyptian name with the theophoric element cut off, is unlikely to have been invented later in Israel’s history. And so there’s a reasonable chance that there was some historical figure around whom the legends and other things grew up. That’s not to claim that anything said about him, any law attributed to him, can be viewed as genuinely associated with that figure with any degree of confience. That is the distinction so many mythicists seem unable to make, i.e. that a figure may be likely to have some basis in history, even when we feel that we can say very little about the details of their life or person with confidence.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            That is the distinction so many mythicists seem unable to make, i.e.
            that a figure may be likely to have some basis in history, even when we
            feel that we can say very little about the details of their life or
            person with confidence.

            Wrong. A mythicist can believe Jesus may have a historical basis and still be convinced that Jesus is mythical in the same way I believe that dragons and giants have a historical basis (misinterpreted prehistorical animal fossils) and be convinced that dragons and giants are mythical.

          • If you think that Jesus was a historical figure who became shrouded in myth, you accept the conclusions of mainstream secular historians and aren’t a “Jesus mythicist.”

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            If you believe the Jesus as shown in the Gospels is a myth, then you are a sort of “mythicist”.

          • I agree, but you will only exhaust yourself arguing the point. In the context of these discussions, “mythicist” refers only to someone who believes that no one who could reasonably be identified as the historical Jesus ever existed.

          • If you are going to call people who study history and laypeople who accept the conclusions of mainstream scholarship “sort of mythicists” then you need to coin a new term for people like Richard Carrier who think that Paul viewed Jesus as a purely celestial being created from a heavenly stockpile of king David’s sperm and crucified and buried in the heavens. Because lumping such views and the mainstream majority under a single label is confusing.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            You and Carrier both agree that the Gospel Jesus didn’t exist. You’re both mythicists regarding the Jesus of the Gospels. Where you two part is that you think an actual man is at the center of the myth, Carrier of course says differently.

    • David M

      The idea that the teachings attributed to Jesus derive from Paul’s revelations is simply nonsense. Jesus’ teachings clearly reflect a particular cultural/historical setting. There are parables about sowing and reaping, shepherds, day labourers, absentee landlords, etc. – just what you would expect of someone living in rural Galilee. Jesus debates life after death with the Sadducees, who take the position you would expect them to take. The parable of the Good Samaritan is shocking because Jesus has made someone the hero of the tale who would have been despised by his audience, which, according to you, never existed. And yet the impact of the story was probably not grasped by Luke’s readers.

      This is not the sort of material that would come from revelations.

      • R. G. Price

        This is a bunch a rationalization and wishful thinking, trying to imagine that you know what someone would or wouldn’t say in 1st century Palestine, never-mind the fact that someone writing a story in 1st century Palestine might also have a good idea of what someone would or wouldn’t say as well. You’re also making assumptions without evidence about the motivations of the Gospel writers.

        What I’m talking about is data, hard data, which shows the intertextual relationships. This isn’t postulation, its hard evidence. The field of intertextual studies has made leaps and bounds over the past 15 years due to computers, and the old theologians aren’t keeping up.

        The literary relationship between the texts of the NT are being mapped out and evidence is mounting, indeed overwhelming, showing that how the texts were written is nothing like the models postulated by theologians. It’s like when biologists started being able to do gene sequencing, showing inheritance relationships that overturned much of what paleontologists had tried to piece together from the fossil record.

      • David M

        A crucial issue to consider is the ad hocness of a theory. On the one hand, we may explain the evidence by postulating a single individual: Jesus. So what do we have on the other hand? The idea that the teachings attributed to Jesus ultimately derive from Paul. Now, if it was the case that nearly everything in the Gospels could be found in Paul’s letters, this might be plausible. Instead, we have a vast amount of material in the Gospels that can’t be found in Paul’s letters. But the theory might still be in with a chance if there was nothing extra in the Gospels that was particularly interesting. But that is not the case at all.

        The parables of Jesus, none of which appear in Paul’s letters, are widely regarded as works of genius. If Jesus was not the originator of them then we must assume that they were created by the Synoptic writers. But that means that we must postulate the existence of three exceptional individuals. So the evidence is “explained” by eliminating Jesus, attributing a key role to Paul, and then appealing to the efforts of three people whose genius is known only through their success in making Jesus look so impressive. The ad hocness is now off the scale.

        • R. G. Price

          Not true actually. For one thing we do find parables very similar to those found in Mark in the DSS. Prior to the discovery of parables in the DSS it was thought that the parables were unique to the Gospels, and thus “an innovation of Jesus”, but clearly that’s not the case.

          Secondly, since the Gospels aren’t independent, but rather they are all copied from Mark, all we are really talking about is Mark making use of the parables and then the others copying, and there is ample evidence of just that.

          Follow that with the fact that we don’t find parables in the epistles and thus it looks even more like a Markan invention rather than some broadly shared “tradition”.

          And consider your own explanation. If parables aren’t in the epistles, but they are found in the Gospels and you don’t think that the existence of parables in all the Gospels is due to copying and invention by the evangelists, then you’re claiming that the Gospel writers alone somehow acquired these authentic teachings that had been handed down from Jesus, despite the fact that none of the epistle writers noted any such teachings.

          So here are the scenarios:

          1) Jesus comes along and uses parables as a method of teaching.
          2) Some of his parables are remembered or recorded by his followers.
          3) No parables are recorded by the first writers about Jesus, i.e. the epistle writers.
          4) Mark obtains sources for his parables from followers of Jesus.
          5) Matthew and Luke also obtain independent sources for other parables of Jesus and record those.

          1) Parables are a form of teaching present in some Jewish communities, as examples that we find in the DSS show.
          2) The author of Mark uses parables in his story.
          3) The writers of Matthew and Luke, who copy from Mark, copy Mark’s parables and also invent a few of their own, copying Mark’s style.

          Yeah, that’s “totally implausible”.

          But furthermore, several of the parables are derived from scriptural references to the LXX, and have themes that are relevant to the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in 70 CE!

          So given that the parables are about the Temple, the more reasonable conclusion is that the parables were constructed by the author of Mark who was writing after the destruction of the Temple!

          And again, when we look at the Gospels what we find is that Mark is clearly about the destruction of the Temple, but then Matthew and Luke, both later copyists, lost this focus because they are now making the story about Jesus himself. The original writer, Mark, was writing about the war. The later writers who are copying from Mark shift the focus from the war to Jesus himself because they have failed to recognize some of the symbolism. For them the story is all about the main character, its not about the underlying allegory that Mark was writing about.

          The perfect example here is the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, clearly invented by the writer of Mark to explain the events of the First Jewish-Roman War. The idea that the Parable of the Wicked Tenants would make any sense coming from Jesus is nonsense. It is a summary of the events of the war. It is only relevant to an audience who knows what just happened in the war. And this was a very common writing technique in Rome at this time, found in many stories, not just Christian stories. By that I mean stories written after wars that are set before the war and in which characters in the story predict outcomes of the war, give riddles about the war, etc. This is not just something found in the Gospels, this was a common feature of Hellenistic writing.

          So that’s the deal. The parables make the most sense in the light of the war, especially those found in the Gospel of Mark. Matthew and Luke were clearly copying from Mark, and also, in multiple cases, exhibit attempts as mimicking writing techniques used by Mark. We see this in Matthew’s birth story that mimics the use of Mark’s “prophetic” scriptural references.

          So, no, there is nothing unlikely about this at all.

          • David M

            The fact that parables existed as a genre does nothing to detract from Jesus’ uniquely creative use of the genre, which is widely acknowledged by scholars. And the suggestion that if one person used the genre in a uniquely creative way, then others could easily copy it is just desperate. There was clearly a unique outpouring of genius in the first century, which then disappeared.

            Another desperate move, so common among mythicists, is to try to exploit the argument from silence. Paul doesn’t mention Jesus’ parables, so they couldn’t have been known about at the time he was writing. It’s the kind of thinking which leads to the absurd conclusion that Jesus never lived on earth.

            The attempt to characterize the parable of the wicked tenants as a kind of ex eventu prophecy placed on Jesus’ lips is again typical of the paranoid hermeneutic of suspicion. Given the apocalyptic thinking of the time, a parable about the destruction of Israel is the sort of that could certainly have been said in AD 30.

          • R. G. Price

            It is impossible to claim that any aspect of any Gospel comes “from Jesus” as opposed to having been invented by the writer. But the opposite is not true. We can prove what elements of the Gospels were invented by the writers and don’t come from Jesus. That’s because we can identify what elements of the narrative are derived from other sources, such as the letters of Paul or the Septuagint, etc.

            Now note that apologists want to claim simultaneously that Jesus was illiterate to explain why he left no writings himself, and also that he was a literary genius who had a mastery of the scriptures. You should see the problem with this. But here is what we do know for sure: The writers of the Gospels did have significant literary skills and were masters of the scriptures. Thus, when it comes to understanding where these elements of literary genius come from, the first suspect should always be the writers.

            What’s more, when we look at Mark what we find are multiple intricately crafted layers of meaning with lots of symbolism and foreshadowing that indicate the story is a finely turned work developed by a literary genius. Claiming that this all comes from Jesus himself is a very difficult proposition. One has to make the case not only that this illiterate homeless man was a genius of the scriptures, and also that he acted out a series of events that followed a bunch of scriptural symbolism and foreshadowed the First Jewish-Roman War, but also that some community of people picked up on all this and transmitted it to the writer of Mark. And furthermore, we have the fact that the in the Gospel of Mark all of the only people who presumably would have been able to pass on this information are portrayed as fooled who never understood Jesus.

            Alternatively, we have the explanation that the writer of Mark is the one who invented all this, working off of Paul’s letters, which which there is abundant evidence. There is nothing complicated about one guy writing a story, there is a lot complicated about the supposed processes of transmission.

            I have a nice example discussing this on my books website: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/examples.html

            See the section on Sayings of Paul. The Jesus Seminar folks claim that the reply to “paying taxes” in Mark is “genius”, therefore it must have come from Jesus, despite the fact that a similar teaching is found in Paul. They make no consideration that the writer of Mark was the genius. Yet, we know for sure that the writer of Mark is the one who put the words on the paper.

            This is a major issue. Consensus scholars basically ignore the literary ability of the writers themselves. They treat the writers as people incapable of any literary ability at all. For them the writers are just scribes who integrate various sources, adding little or nothing of their own. But the reality is that this doesn’t match anything we know about how writing was done in this setting. Everything we know from Hellenistic literature is that writers were very inventive and used a lot of personal creativity to shape narratives, and this was true even of so-called “historians”.

            But the Gospel of Mark is a coherent story with a sophisticated plot. That doesn’t happen in real life, that happens in fictional narratives.

          • David M

            Well, I can think of one way of testing that theory. Paul is the hero of Acts. So was the author of Acts able to use his literary skills to portray Paul as a brilliant figure? No, there is nothing particularly impressive about Paul in Acts.

          • R. G. Price

            Acts was written by a different person. It’s like saying that Jaws was a masterpiece, but Jaws 3 (written and directly by entirely different people) was garbage so there couldn’t have been any sophisticated plot development in the original Jaws either.

            The Gospel of Mark is a literary masterpiece. Everyone else was just copying from it, rather poorly actually. I’m sure that questions about the grammar in Mark are coming, I’ll deal with those if need be.

          • David M

            I never said that Jesus appears as a genius in Mark but not in Matthew or Luke. Now you are just being silly.

          • R. G. Price

            I;’m not being silly. You are trying to compare Mark to Acts and claim that because something isn’t true in Acts it must not be true in Mark either. That doesn’t make any sense.

          • Umm, that’s not at all what he said.

          • Mark

            The perfect example here is the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, clearly invented by the writer of Mark to explain the events of the First Jewish-Roman War. The idea that the Parable of the Wicked Tenants would make any sense coming from Jesus is nonsense. It is a summary of the events of the war.

            Nothing is more commonplace than to suggest that Mark is attempting to marshall the Jewish War for the advantage of Jesus messianism. This is why it is generally assigned a date in the 70s — but this is not long after Paul was still writing what you consider cult documents of a merely heavenly being.

    • Mark

      > The past 200 years of “biblical scholarship” has just be trying to conjure up some plausible case for how the Gospels might actually contain some shred of “historical truth”.

      The last 200 years of scholarship are an unrelenting learned and scientific attack on the traditional Christian understanding of the gospels and letters, and one of the greatest operations of human rationality ever.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Religion is boring.

  • R. G. Price

    You can assess the literary references I’ve identified for yourself. Many are outlined on page 3 of the preview. Do you doubt that text mining techniques that are used to find relationships between texts for personal identification or plagiarism can be used to identify relationships between texts of the Bible? If you doubt the value of such a background I’d like to hear your explanation for why I identified relationships in Mark that are previously un-published by other “biblical scholars”. The irony is people thinking that a degree in theology is more of a qualification for understanding relationships and patterns among biblical texts than a background in data science. Quite honestly a background in quantitative analysis, cryptography and other such fields is a much better qualification for biblical studies than divinity and theology.

    I’d love you hear your assessment of the comparison I provide regarding the temple cleansing scene : http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/examples.html

    • John MacDonald

      Your complete lack of sound hermeneutic technique is disturbing. And how many times have you name-dropped your website and book?

      Your methodology fails for the same reason it failed for RM Price. If there is scriptural allusion in a particular pericope, there are two poles from complete invention to mild addition as to how much of the pericope is or isn’t historical, with a world of room in between. For you to commit the paralogistic leap from scriptural allusion to plotting the entire pericope on the complete invention pole of the historicity continuum every time is unwarranted and amateurish. Scriptural allusion is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed, because the move you are trying to make is a leap of faith..

  • Jim Little

    Did Strobel or David Limbaugh consider the relationships of the NT books -especially passages therein- to the Jewish and other texts, particularly the LXX?

  • R. G. Price

    To reset the discussion: The main point here is that the claim that doubting the existence of Jesus is “absurd nonsense” or “conspiracy theorist” is itself nonsense, that’s the main point.

    “We disagree on just about everything there is to disagree on about the historical Jesus. But we all agree on at least two things. (1) Jesus existed as a historical person”

    This is amusing. When Darwin published his theory of evolution by natural selection, one of his main points was that though “all naturalists” agreed that evolution wasn’t true and that all life on earth was the product of “God’s design”, none of them could agree on what that design was, how to classify it, when or how it happened. In other words, no one could agree on how their evidence fit together, but they all agreed on the ultimate conclusion, which was that “God did it”.

    Sound familiar?

    The idea that the experts can’t agree on anything about who Jesus was or how Christianity began, but that their view that Jesus was real is something to be trusted doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The lack of agreement among “the experts” means that there is no agreed upon model for historicity. It’s a bunch of “I can’t explain it, but its true,” claims.

    What people like Carrier, Lataster and myself are saying is: We can clearly identify dozens of claims made by mainstream biblical scholars, such as Ehrman, Meier, Bauckham, and countless others (not to name too many names), that are demonstrably and provably false, and many other claims that are clear failures of logic. Now when you see a field that is filled with experts, all saying the same thing, but none of them can agree on how they got there, and all of them make a multitude of false and illogical claims, there is reason for doubt.

    Furthermore, when you put forward objectively plausible (even if not provable) hypotheses and are told that such hypotheses are “impossible” or “totally implausible”, but being a scientist (as opposed to a theologian) you know that they aren’t, that’s also a major problem.

    A few (not exhaustive) major nonsensical claims of apologetic biblical scholars, in no particular order:

    > The Gospel writers can’t possibly have been borrowing from Paul. Totally not true. Paul’s letters were written prior to the Gospels, therefore of course the use of Paul’s letters by Gospel writers is plausible. To claim that this isn’t plausible reflects major bias and breakdown in analytical thinking. Not only is it plausible, but any objective analyst of these materials should consider this a prime possibility to address. The fact that the Gospel writers’ use of Paul hasn’t been the focus of analysis for the past 200 years itself reveals a major flaw in the models and mindset used in the field of theological biblical study.

    > Narratives that follow scriptural templates are explained as Jesus acting out scriptural themes. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this claim. Oh, here is a sequence of events that parallels a story from the OT, gee that must mean that (the illiterate) Jesus had read the story and decided to quote from it and act out the scene, which was noticed by observers, dutifully recorded in collective memory, and then relayed to a later scribe who recorded the scene as “it really happened”. I mean, real “experts” really say this type of stuff. It’s obvious nonsense. Clearly this indicates that the scene is fabricated by the writer of the story who is using the scriptures as a template to craft a narrative. These types of scenes are indications that the narrative isn’t historical and is not based on the life of a real person. Anyone in any field of study other than theology knows this.

    > Multiple accounts of the same thing mean it really happened. This is another laughable joke. Simply saying things like, “the same scene is relayed in Matthew, Mark and Luke, thus indicating that this was a widely reported account and thus likely to have really happened. I mean is this a joke? Yet, this is seen all over biblical scholarship. Multiple people copying the same story doesn’t count as “multiple attestations”.

    > The criterion of embarrassment. This is an embarrassment. The criterion of embarrassment is a total failure of logic, and on top of that is almost never even applied correctly to begin with. We have people like Ehrman claiming that the Jews wouldn’t have invented a suffering messiah if it “wasn’t true”, which is ludicrous because the Jewish scriptures and the DSS are filled with discussions of suffering and rejected prophets and heroes and the apocalyptic literature of the period is filled with suffering saviors. But beyond that, the criterion of embarrassment doesn’t work anyway. First of all it makes major assumptions about the motives of the writers without evidence. For example, claiming that the poor portrayal of Peter in the Gospel of Mark must mean that the account is true because a Christian writer wouldn’t have recorded such a thing unless he “really had to because everyone knew it was true,” is utter nonsense. It assumes that the perspective of the writer matches the perspective of the 4th century church. In fact it is clear that the Gospel of Mark was written as an polemic against the Jerusalem leaders, that’s why it portrays them poorly. The story was intended to undermine Peter, and James and John. But even if you don’t believe that, you must acknowledge that one can’t assume that the intention of the writer of any given work was to support the development of what Christianity became decades or centuries later. What is “embarrassing” from one perspective may not be from another perspective, and one cannot assume perspectives.

    > Claiming things that aren’t there. This happens all the time. I’m not going to bother digging up cited examples, but one off the top of my head is Ehrman claiming that we know James really was the brother of Jesus because the book of Acts confirms this. LOL, what a joke! In fact the opposite is true. The book of Acts never identifies a brother of Jesus named James at all. The idea that the James in Acts that becomes the leader after James Zebedee is killed is “Jesus’ brother” is a “tradition”, it is not actually stated in the work. That a “real scholar” would not know something this important is quite a head-scratcher. In fact Acts is one of the major pieces of evidence showing that James the leader wasn’t a brother of Jesus, because the author of Acts never identified James the leader as a brother of Jesus, and indeed never even says that Jesus has a brother named James at all – even in the Gospel of Luke. But biblical scholarship is filled with such blunders.

    And then we have the major disagreements talked about in the beginning. Here we have Prof McGrath saying that he bases is confidence that Jesus was a real person on the letters of Paul, while other major historicists say the exact opposite, that Paul is unreliable and we have to look to the Gospels for evidence of Jesus’ personage.

    “Accordingly, the gospels may be understood as corrections of this creedal imbalance, which was undoubtedly derived from the view espoused by the apostle Paul, who did not know the historical Jesus. For Paul, the Christ was to be understood as a dying/rising lord, symbolized in baptism (buried with him, raised with him), of the type he knew from the hellenistic mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.”
    – The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus really Say; Funk, Hoover, The Jesus Seminar (pp 7)

    So which is it? Other established “historicists” claim that Paul was a confused man talking about Hellenistic mystery cults – to ignore him and find Jesus in the Gospels. How can this “credible field” be at such odds with itself? When we look at the field of biology we don’t find scientists making entirely contradictory claims in support of evolution.

    So the point is that the claim that there is no rational basis for doubting that the worship of Jesus began with the worship of a literal human being is clearly without merit. There are many logical, rational reasons to doubt historicity based on solid evidence. And the fact of the matter is that when you look at all of the cases for historicity its very easy to poke a multitude of holes in all of them. When I see “experts” stating with confidence that “we’re certain that Jesus really engaged in an altercation at the temple” based only on a scene from the Gospels that is clearly derived from literary references, that foreshadows events of the First Jewish-Roman War, and that serves as a foil in the plot, and that everyone clearly copied from a single source, I can only be left aghast at the state of “biblical scholarship”.

    We aren’t asking for “agreement that Jesus never existed”, we’re just asking that the question of whether Jesus existed or not be treated as a legitimate question to ask.

    • Questions are always worth revisiting when new evidence or arguments merit doing so. The issue is that the only people who think this is worth doing in the case of mythicism are people who will read your comment above and think your claims are factual and confuse your statements that things are jokes and laughable for substantive arguments.

  • David M

    I notice that there is a new comment from Lataster at the B&I site. He says that the reference to David’s seed is metaphorical, an interpretation that is supposedly made plausible because Paul elsewhere talks (metaphorically) about Gentile Christians becoming children of Abraham. This shows that Lataster just doesn’t get to the heart of Paul’s thinking. There is a particular reason why Paul uses the children of Abraham metaphor. It had been God’s plan all along that Gentiles would one day share in God’s blessing. And that was intended to happen through the Jews (Abraham’s seed).

    The blessing bestowed on the Gentiles comes through the Jews: that is central to Paul’s thinking. Because of that, the children of Abraham metaphor is applicable. But if you take the Jewish involvement out of the picture, the metaphor becomes meaningless. If the blessing happens through an entirely supernatural event, which has nothing to do with an actual Jewish man, it would hardly be something that could make Gentiles part of Abraham’s family.

    • R. G. Price

      But here is what so many historicist theologians do’t seem to understand. Statements like, “he was of David’s seed”, #1 are single points of evidence among a vast set of evidence, #2 are theological statements, not observations. #3 are not normal ways to talk about real people, #4 are potential interpolations.

      When you look at the introduction to Romans in particular, the whole intro looks like an interpolation. It looks like a heading that was slapped onto the document at a later time. But that aside, even if it is an original statement, its clearly not a description of a real person, its a statement of belief. And where does this statement of belief come from? The scriptures.

      And as I said, this is one point among many, as I discuss on my book’s website here: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/beyond.html

      “Many Jesus historicist seem to think that a few sentences from Paul’s letters, taken in isolation, are enough to affirm that Jesus was a real person, but this is not the case. It isn’t merely the task of “mythicists” to explain the Pauline passages that seem to support the idea that Jesus was real, Jesus historicists also need to explain the passages that clearly indicate that Jesus was not real. “

      It’s not just about saying, “look Paul said Jesus was flesh, so he was real!” Paul provides no observations of a real person. The only discussions of Jesus that suggests he was a person is all theological. They are statements of faith, derived from scriptures. And Paul tells us where these ideas come from:

      Romans 16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

      And this understand of Paul isn’t just some “mythicist” claim, this is a view that has been well established among Christian theologians for hundreds of years. Every ounce of “knowledge” that Paul displays of Jesus is theological in nature. Its all ideas that come from prophecies, scriptures and revelations.

      • What a bizarre comment. Paul’s statement about Jesus being a descendant of David doesn’t look like an interpolation to most scholars, and it is implicit in his repeated referrences to him as the anointed one.

        You also seem to think that, because Paul held a view of Jesus as being a human figure that was expected as part of the Jewish religion, that theological framework makes Jesus non-historical. That’s basically the equivalent of saying that Jews cannot possibly really avoid food that isn’t kosher, because distinctions between kosher and non-kosher food are scriptural and theological in character…

        • R. G. Price

          Actually I don’t think that any definitive conclusion about the nature of Jesus can be made from Paul’s letters. At best Paul’s letters are ambiguous. I certainly don’t think one can prove that Jesus wasn’t a real person with Paul’s letters. Paul simply isn’t a good enough witness to anything and its clear that these letters have endured a multitude of editing and revisions anyway.

          But certainly there are passages in the Pauline corpus that raise major questions, such as:

          Ephesians 3:3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:

          The issue is here is not acknowledging that statements like this need to give us pause and indicate that what Paul was talking about is perhaps not to clear.

          But its also amusing that you can’t distinguish between real-world observations and theological statements. Saying that Jesus was “of the seed of David” is not a real world observation. That’s an idea that comes from scriptures. In other words, scripture is the source of that claim.

          There is one and only one statement in the letters of Paul that looks like a real-world observation about Jesus, and that is the Galatians passage about meeting “James, the lord’s brother”. So in all of the content of the “authentic” Pauline letters that is the one and only statement that has the potential to be interpreted as real-world claim about Jesus the person, and its not even directly about Jesus. But really, that’s the one and only statement in the letters of Paul that has any potential to support the proposition that Jesus was in fact a real person and not just an imagined deity derived from scriptural interpretation. An “Anointed One of the seed of David” is still an imagined being derived from the scriptures, not a real person.

          So any reasonable discussion has to acknowledge that, at best, the letters of Paul are inconclusive, and we have to look elsewhere to get enough data to draw any conclusions.

          • You’re treating Ephesians as though one can assume it is an authentic letter of Paul’s…and reading the authentic letters through what may be later pseudonymous ones in precisely the manner you complain is inappropriate with the Gospels…

          • R. G. Price

            Ephesians may or may not be an “authentic” letter of Paul, but even if it isn’t, this passage is little different from the passage from Romans 16.

            And even if it isn’t, it’s still Christian literature produced by someone likely in the 1st century. How could whoever wrote it take such a view if Jesus were known to have recently been on earth revealing himself? Regardless of who wrote it, it is a work that appears to reflect a pre-Gospel view of Jesus, meaning it doesn’t relay material from the Gospels.

          • I think you’re misinterpreting Ephesians. Presumably deliberately.

          • Mark

            There is one and only one statement in the letters of Paul that looks like a real-world observation about Jesus

            He says he was crucified, died and was buried. This only happens to flesh and blood.

            Saying that Jesus was “of the seed of David” is not a real world observation. That’s an idea that comes from scriptures. In other words, scripture is the source of that claim.

            It’s quite true that the only ground Paul could possibly have for thinking Jesus is descended from David is scripture – and ‘messianic’ renderings. How could he be ‘christ’ and not be? It is a ‘theological’, or theologically mediated, conclusion — as ‘he had two feet’ or ‘he had a liver’ are physiological conclusions. But it is a conclusion that only makes sense for what Paul conceives as a flesh and blood mortal.

          • R. G. Price

            Look at Paul’s statements on crucifixion. Virtually all are metaphorical. There is only one that really provides and substance and that’s the one that talk about “rulers of this age” around which there is so much debate (and always has been) as to whether Paul mean heavenly demons or real people. The crucifixion is also associated with being “raised from the dead”, which doesn’t happen in real life.

          • Resurrection is certainly something eschatological (from Paul’s perspective) and non-historical (from a historian’s perspective). But being dead does happen in real life, whereas it is not common for entities that dwell exclusively in the celestial realm. And saying that virtually all Paul’s references to crucifixion are “metaphorical” is mere assertion, as well as seeming to acknowledge that not all his statements on this subject fit your Procrustean paradigm

          • John MacDonald

            What about 1 Corinthians 15:23? Paul also calls the resurrected Jesus the “First-fruits,” presumably of the general harvest of souls at the end of the age, which suggests a significant likeness in kind between the Christ who died and was raised and the other ones soon to come (since it is all one harvest). If I present you with the first-fruits of my harvest, there is no substantial difference in kind between what I am presenting you and the rest of the harvest.

            Also, Romans 8:29 says Jesus was born, just like any other person, and he was so like the rest of the followers that he was the first one of many brothers: πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς

          • John MacDonald

            I think the overwhelming majority of the evidence points to an historical Jesus

          • John MacDonald

            In other words, Jesus would have been “Brother Jesus.”

          • John MacDonald

            Like brother Cephas and brother Thomas

          • David M

            Yes, the resurrection of Jesus is the model for our future resurrection, which would make no sense if Jesus was not fully human. Furthermore, Paul also assures his readers that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again, which means that our own resurrection will be permanent (Rom. 6:9). Again that would only make sense if Jesus was known to have lived a truly human life.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said too,it seems to be a significant problem for mythicism that Paul calls Jesus the firstborn of many brethren, “Brother Jesus,” like “Brother Peter” and “Brother Thomas.” It would seem kinda weird worshipping and referring to a fantastical celestial deity who’d never been on earth as “Brother Jesus!” lol

          • What criteria do you use to determine what would be too weird for early Christians to have believed? How does one objectively establish that a cosmic sperm bank would be too weird while Matthew’s zombie saints fall with acceptable limits of weirdness?

          • John MacDonald

            Don’t you think that with Paul calling Christ the “first fruits” of the general harvest of resurrected souls, and one among many brothers, that he is trying to emphasize that Christ , for all his glory, is like us?

            Isn’t that also Mark’s point, that Jesus was one of us, supernaturally chosen at his baptism, who lived a righteous life and suffered as we all do (such as with Jesus’s family rejecting him and thinking he was crazy), and was vindicated by God raising him? If Jesus had never lived a righteous human life and death, would God have raised and exalted him?

            Why would Paul think a celestial angel being killed in the sky by demons would break evil’s stranglehold on the world?

          • Is it really that much more sensible that evil’s stranglehold on the world should be broken by a man being killed on the earth by other men? Once again, by what objective criteria do you establish that one idea is too weird for Paul to believe and the other isn’t? I doubt that there is really anything other than familiarity that makes one of the ideas seem more logical to you than the other. It seems to me that Paul was thinking in terms of a cosmic battle between good and evil, so it doesn’t seem implausible to me that Paul might think that the death of a celestial being might be required.

            I do think that Mark’s point was to make Jesus like one of us, but maybe that was simply his genius. Maybe he saw that people had a tough time relating to the heavenly Christ and so decided to bring him down to earth.

            I don’t really know how to determine who God would or wouldn’t raise from the dead and exalt. I cannot imagine considering such an issue in assessing the likely historicity of any other figure. In any case, the God of the Old Testament didn’t seem to shy away from working His will through flawed human beings.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said

            Is it really that much more sensible that evil’s stranglehold on the world should be broken by a man being killed on the earth by other men?

            I think the atoning business assumes the one being executed is a paradigmatically righteous person.

            The idea of the atoning death seems to be a fusion of Jewish and Hellenistic thought that sees the impact the execution of a righteous man by society can have. Some point to Isaiah 53 as a source for atonement theology, but this is problematic because II Isaiah is clearly not talking about atonement. However, if we fuse together Psalm 22 (which all agree is a thematic source for Mark) and Isaiah 53 with Hellenistic thought, an interesting theme emerges.

            Thematically, similar to Isaiah, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which may have influenced Mark with the story of the scourging of Jesus. But how do you get from this to atonement?

            Plato’s Republic was the most famous book in the ancient world, and if any noble death was well- known, it was that of the wrongful death of noble Socrates. In book two of The Republic, we find the story of the impaled, just man. The theme in both is that the death of a righteous person can be transformative for society, because it brings to life the hidden vileness of the society putting a just man to death – hence Socrates telling Crito they should give thanks for the poison. The Jesus story is in part a social critique, such as with the temple tantrum. I talk about the possible influence of Plato on the crucifixion story in a brief blog post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/04/jesus-and-just-executed-criminal.html

            One of the key themes of the gospels and epistles is agape or love. Commentator Stephen Davey suggests that, for Paul, Paul effectively says, “It doesn’t matter who you are, who you think you are, or who others think you are; if you sacrificially act toward others with agape love, your life will be meaningful.” The Jesus story seems to have this odd combination of eschatology and emphasis on social justice. This seems to me to be best explained if Jesus was known to have lived a righteous life, and was believed to have been a paradigmatic example of the impaled, just man, and so brought to the surface the hidden vice of society killing him, and so was worthy of being the judge of humans. Mark records that Jesus’s group put up a fight when the soldiers came to arrest him, which would be weird if they thought he was supposed to die.

            The atoning point seems to be that Jesus lived and died righteously, and so proved himself worthy of being judge at the eschaton.

          • Yes. That is how the gospels come at the idea of Jesus’ atoning death, but I don’t see that in Paul. I don’t think Paul thought that much of anything about Jesus’ earthly life mattered.

          • John MacDonald

            Then why does Paul have the same emphasis on agape that the gospels have, if not that Jesus’s life and death and teaching were an exemplary testament to agape?

          • According to Price, it’s because Paul was a source for the gospels.

          • John MacDonald

            It was a common Greek thought that the being or nature of something was often hidden and needed to be disclosed out of hiddenness. So, for instance, Heraclitus said “physis kryptesthai philei,” being loves to hide, the counter-concept of truth or “a-letheia,” coaxing or dis-closing from hiddenness.

            So, for instance, the category of Unity that belongs to the sock is not simply abstracted to, but is dis-closed or re-vealed when the sock is torn, precisely as a lost-unity.

            So, if part of the point of the Jesus story is the replacement of the corrupt temple cult (eg., the temple tantrum, the tearing of the veil, etc.), the reason seems to be that God had been able to justly pass judgment on the temple cult (just as it is no longer the season for figs, it is no longer the season for the temple) and the Roman rulers (Pilate executes Jesus without obtaining a confession, to please the crowd), because, as I said in a previous comment, Jesus exemplifying the just, executed criminal type (like Plato’s Socrates, and the just impaled man of book 2 of Plato’s Republic) has, with his execution, coaxed from hiddenness (a-letheia) the unjust nature of a society that would execute the just, holy man like Jesus without just cause.

            All of this only makes sense if the Jewish elite and Roman leaders were responsible for Jesus’s unjust death. God bringing about the end of the age with Jesus demonstrating himself worthy as the judge of humans doesn’t make sense if Jesus was a celestial angel crucified by demons in outer space. Why would such a celestial death result in the replacement of the temple cult?

          • Because God told Paul that it would. Paul believed what he believed because he thought that it was revealed to him by God. I don’t see any reason that it had to make sense.

          • John MacDonald

            So, you are saying your interpretation doesn’t make sense?

          • No. I’m saying that what doesn’t make sense is trying to determine the historicity of Jesus based on what would have made the most sense theologically to Paul.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, on the one hand, we have your celestial Jesus theory, which doesn’t explain why, like the fig tree, it is no longer the season for the temple – in your words:

            I don’t see any reason that it had to make sense.

            And on the other, we have my model whereby a corrupt temple (hence the temple tantrum; the tearing of the veil) is traced back to a corrupt Roman/Jewish ruling class, the vileness of which is made explicit by them killing a holy, just Jesus. Such corruption demands justice, hence the inception of the eschaton with Jesus as the judge.

            I don’t know if there is anything to my model, but it seems to fit. I like that it connects Jesus’s crucifixion/resurrection with the corruption of the temple, since the original Christians seemed to be an anti-temple sect, like the Qumran sect.

          • I have no investment in he celestial Jesus hypothesis. I presently lean towards a historical Jesus who bears no resemblance to the character in the gospels. I just don’t think that Paul gives me much basis to choose any particular hypothesis about the pre-exaltation Jesus, mostly because Paul has no interest in him.

            Your hypothesis does seem to fit but I think it may fall short in terms of parsimony. I think that mine is much simpler: Paul may have been half-whacky and may have believed some things that didn’t make any sense.

          • Mark

            It’s seems true that Paul has no interest, or thinks his gentiles need have no interest, in e.g. the teaching of Jesus – if there was any it was presumably inner-Jewish in character. But he is very interested in Jesus’ supposed ‘obedience’, crucifixion, death, burial and supposed Davidic descent (the latter being contained in the ‘christ’ epithet). All these presuppose his historicity and a definite hypothesis about Paul’s convictions about the ‘pre-exaltation’ Jesus.

            The question isn’t whether Paul’s views make sense in the abstract – I think the idea of resurrection is literal nonsense and that nothing that comes to be in any form could intelligbly be affirmed to be my late father – but whether they made sense within the thought-world of contemporary Jewry, and of course they fit quite perfectly – with the pharisaical resurrectionist tendency in particular. It is a typical mythicist maneuver, characteristic of Carrier, to think that since religions are all nonsense devoid of inner coherence, wherever we see a ‘religious’ thought, all bets are off, we can say of whatever we please that he might be thinking it. This teaching, which you also presuppose, is simply false.

          • John MacDonald

            Mark said

            It’s seems true that Paul has no interest, or thinks his gentiles need have no interest, in e.g. the teaching of Jesus, if there was any.

            Agape that goes beyond hesed seems to be central to both Paul and the Gospels. You don’t think that goes back to Jesus?

          • John MacDonald

            To refresh my mind on parsimony that you mentioned, I looked up Occam in plain English Wikipedia, and it said:

            Occam’s razor only applies when the simple explanation and complex explanation both work equally well. If a more complex explanation does a better job than a simpler one, then you should use the complex explanation.

            I don’t know if it’s really fair to call Paul crazy and ground an interpretation on that. Explanations are often terribly convoluted and complex (math proofs, for instance).

          • John MacDonald

            I think an important question is why Jesus’s crucifixion is part of God’s plan, which we see in 1 Cor 2:8, and in the Gethsemane pericope. I think a good answer is because the elite crucifying a paradigmatically good and just man would bring to light the hidden vice of the society, and justify Jesus’s resurrection so he could be judge. As Paul said, the rulers would not have crucified Jesus if they knew God’s plan. I think any interpretation has to answer the question of why Jesus’s death/resurrection is tied up with the eschaton.

          • Pofarmer

            It’s a lot easier for someone who’s imaginary to have lived a just and righteous life(whatever that is) than an actual person.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said in the blog post I linked to earlier, as was the case of the unjust execution of noble Socrates, and the impaled, just man from book 2 of the Republic, the point isn’t that Socrates never did anything wrong, but that he was a good man who was put to death for st*pid reasons, such a death coaxing to the surface the corrupt nature of the society which would act against noble Socrates in such a way. See my brief post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/04/jesus-and-just-executed-criminal.html . Similarly, Jesus had flaws (eg., he lost his temper at the temple; he lied about not going up to the party, but then went in secret in G John; etc), but generally he was a good and holy man favored by God whose death brought to light the hidden, corrupt nature of the Roman and Jewish elite ruling class, and ushered in the replacement of the temple cult. None of this makes any sense if Jesus was merely a celestial angel who was never on earth.

          • Pofarmer

            None of that has anything to do with Paul.

          • R. G. Price

            Not only this, but accounting for why people would think that Jesus was raised from the dead is much more complex with historicity.

            The argument from believing Christians has always been that the devout belief that Jesus had risen from the dead only make sense if it really happened, because why else would Paul and other actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead if he actually didn’t? How could people be fooled into thinking someone rose from the dead?

            This is actually a very valid point. But this is why it also makes more sense that the Jesus of Paul and other early Christians was a Jesus known from scriptures and revelation. It’s easy to understand how a Jesus of revelation is raised from the dead, its just declared by prophets that it happened and its taken on faith.

            The idea that Jesus was a real person around whom legends developed has the difficulty of accounting for the fact that the clearest and earliest claims about Jesus are that he rose from the dead. Paul is very clear that this is the reason that he worships Jesus. His rising from the dead is the core of the faith.

            Given that real people don’t rise from the dead, why would it be that a religion centered around someone rising from the dead would originate from the worship of a real person, who, presumably, wouldn’t actually have risen from the dead? It makes far more sense that the worship of someone who rose from the dead originated from visions and prophecies and scriptural derivations.

            Actually, a mundane real person who was killed and didn’t really rise from the dead is the least sensible explanation for the origin of the cult.

          • That makes no sense whatsoever, because (1) belief that humans die is universal, belief that celestial beings die is, shall we say, rare; (2) resurrection was a belief about what happens to humans in general, not just one individual; and (3) Paul emphasizes that last point so much and it would be undermined completely if Jesus’ resurrection were not thought of as the firstfruits of the general resurrection of the dead, but a unique celestial event.

          • Pofarmer

            (1) really?

            Examples of gods who die and later return to life are most often cited from the religions of the Ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them include Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and by extension Christianity. The concept of a dying-and-rising god was first proposed in comparative mythology by James Frazer’s seminal The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer associated the motif with fertility rites surrounding the yearly cycle of vegetation. Frazer cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and Jesus Christ.[6]

            Frazer’s interpretation of the category has been critically discussed in 20th-century scholarship,[7] to the conclusion that many examples from the world’s mythologies included under “dying and rising” should only be considered “dying” but not “rising”, and that the genuine dying-and-rising god is a characteristic feature of Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and the derived mystery cults of Late Antiquity.[8]


          • David M

            There are stories of dying gods but a few points need to be made. Firstly, in Judaism there are celestial beings such as angels but they are not really like the gods of paganism. We don’t see the same elaborate personification of angels in Judaism that we see in paganism. Secondly, Luke has Jesus saying that angels do not die (20:36). Even if you think Luke is fiction, it can still be used as a reflection of the culture in which it was produced.

            But the main issue is what the death of Jesus means in Paul. Does it look as if Paul is talking about the kind of thing that you might find in pagan mythology? I consider that to be a completely implausible reading of Paul.

          • Pofarmer

            Does it look as if Paul is talking about the kind of thing that you
            might find in pagan mythology? I consider that to be a completely
            implausible reading of Paul.

            Paul is synthesizing Hellenistic and Jewish thought. He was probably exposed to many different cults in ideas in the time and place where he was. Most of them are lost to us. Paul was doing something novel.

          • David M

            Given Paul’s contempt for idolatry (1 Cor. 8), it is unlikely that he would be incorporating pagan ideas into his thinking. But the real issue is not whether the crucifixion of a supernatural being would have been conceivable; it is whether that is what Paul is actually talking about. I submit that he isn’t. The idea just doesn’t make sense in the overall context of Paul’s thinking. You can get some idea of that by reading the comments of John MacDonald on this thread.

          • Mark

            Evidence that Paul was exposed to any ‘cult’ other than that, or those, of the Jewish people, is nil. I don’t think someone of pharisaical upbringing would be inclined even to listen to any details of pagan cult.

          • Pofarmer

            Paul supposedly in Tarsus, which was home to a very large Mithras cult. He was apparently “persecuting” an early version of a Christian cult, which we don’t know exactly what they were about. It seems that they were preaching some celestial Messiah, and then, at some point, Paul came to the “revelation” that I’ll be danged they just might have something. It appears that he may have added the crucified part, or there were some groups who weren’t preaching the crucifixion. Also, if he wrote Greek, he would have been exposed to Greek Mythology in due course.

          • David M

            Assuming there was a Mithras cult in Tarsus, what would it prove? Paul would also have encountered pagan practices when he visited Thessalonica. Was he tempted to incorporate those ideas into his own thinking? No. Instead, he praised the Thessalonians for turning from idols to the true God (1 Thess. 1:9). There is no reason to think that Paul was ever receptive to pagan ideas.

          • Mark

            Talk to a Jew or Muslim or Christian you know and discover how little they tend to know about the actual practices of each other. In the case of a 1st c Pharisee the phobia about pagan rites will be unusually extreme.

          • Pofarmer

            So you’re saying rhe idea of a messiah wasn’r a Jewish idea?

          • ?!?!?!?!?!

          • Mark

            I think it might have been characteristic of other places, but as we know, “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king” or so folks though. https://youtu.be/lW9Uudkx42g?t=108

            Paul isn’t doing a ‘dying and rising god’ story. The only ‘rising’ Paul believes in the the general resurrection of the dead, the most distinctive pharisaical belief, one he had affirmed from childhood on.

          • Mark

            Paul has believed in the pharisaical general resurrection since his childhood, and that it was coming for him, and he thinks that, with Jesus, it has begun. It isn’t resuscitation or a regluing of pottery. It isn’t a movement within a stratum of being, but a movement from one to another. It is immortalization, which cannot happen in the heavens.

          • Mark

            It isn’t a question of what’s more or less wierd in the abstract, but of what fits with the pharisaical eschatological framework Paul has always operated in, which is of course strange and alien and wierd.

          • I’m skeptical that we really have sufficient evidence to know how Paul always operated. The handful of letters that we have would lead me to believe that he had a marked capacity to reimagine and reinterpret existing frameworks.

          • Mark

            I don’t see this at all. He had always believed in the pharisaic resurrection and some kind of messianic possibility. He links them closely, as was always an option and still is today. This gives him a conception of the point of the crucifixion. The messianic age is one in which gentiles bury their idols and turn to the god Israel. It is all fairly straightforward pharisaism, even proto-rabbinism.

          • Is the idea of a crucified messiah straightforward pharisaism? How about eating flesh and drinking blood? How do those ideas fit into the pharisaical framework?

          • Mark

            No, it isn’t. But linking messianic arrival and resurrection – ie a sort of cosmic transformation in evil is sorted out and we’re all together- isn’t unusual – nor standard. Crucifixion is of course the big surprise, but as a sacrifice through which the transformation is triggered made sense of it for him. I don’t know if he originated this conception of the supposed resurrection, but I don’t think anyone would think standard ideas had gone too far awry if Jesus had indeed ‘risen’ and battled evil as the dead arose and the living were transformed. It is the delay of the proper messianic parousia that makes it seem absurd. Weekly blessing of bread and wine are still characteristic of domestic ritual; the blessings in standard kiddush and are not so unlike those in Didache; in Paul’s version they are linked the flesh and blood that are passing away. It isn’t any stranger than any randomly chosen mystical interpretation of kiddush https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/380396/jewish/A-Rose-Overflowing-with-Wine.htm https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.myjewishlearning.com/article/kiddush-holding-the-divine-presence-in-our-hands/amp/ and seems natural in the momentary eschatological crisis period Paul imagines his crowd is in. They will be nowhere in the life of the resurrected.

          • It doesn’t sound like the evidence we have is sufficient to determine what Paul always believed or what framework he always operated in.

          • Mark

            The belief in the resurrection of the dead and a Davidic christ mark him as a very specific type of Jew. Where does he give any of the inherited teaching up?

            Nothing has changed about his ‘framework’, only the historical epoch has changed, and the two changes are ones he has always been cool with. Note that it is that resurrection begins in Jesus that operates as his ground for affirming his Davidic kingship.

            Resurrection into a transformed life – a world to come, olam ha ba, one without the Mosaic law – he has in particular always literally anticipated from childhood on. Now it is coming by phases in a sort of revolutionary transition period. Jesus has completed the transition in himself, and we are already starting (Rom 8) as is the whole of creation, which is giving birth and under explosive torsion etc. (Rom 8) awaiting the apokalypsis of the sons of God and the world beyond flesh, blood, mortality, sin and law.

            There’s really nothing new here – only the determination or clarification of things always believed. as is inevitable when the Moment of something anticipated (resurrection) arrives. That it can seem otherwise arises from insufficient awareness of pharisaical (= resurrectionist) views about the resurrection world, partly due to a paucity of texts; we see an example though in e.g. 2 Baruch.

          • People keep looking for some Rosetta Stone with which to decipher Paul. Some claim that Middle Platonism is the key to understanding Paul. You claim that viewing Paul letters through the lens of Pharisaism provides the answers.

            I’m doubtful that we sufficiently understand the range of first century Jewish thought to allow us to mark anyone as “very specific type of Jew” and I’m sure that we don’t know Paul well enough to know what all of his influences were. You penchant for using the word “always” strikes me as mildly ridiculous. Based on a small set of letters Paul wrote at particular times, we cannot know what framework he always operated in, what he always believed, and what he was always cool with.

            It may not be wise to think that all bets are off whenever we are dealing with religious thoughts. On the other hand, when we are dealing with someone who is claiming visions and revelations, I doubt that it is wise to assume that he is too tightly constrained by existing frameworks.

          • Mark

            > People keep looking for some Rosetta Stone with which to decipher Paul.

            Only because they were Christians bent on finding ‘Christianity’ as distinct from ‘Judaism’ in Paul — Lutherans, not to put too fine a point on it. Once this stops, everything starts falling into place.

            > Based on a small set of letters Paul wrote at particular times, we cannot know what framework he always operated in, what he always believed, and what he was always cool with.

            He affirms his pharisaical upbringing, sorry. The foundation of everything in Paul is belief in the general resurrection of the dead by the miraculous operation of the power of the God of Israel. He had always believed in it. Middle Platonists laugh at such revolting nonsense.

            > On the other hand, when we are dealing with someone who is claiming visions and revelations, I doubt that it is wise to assume that he is too tightly constrained by existing frameworks.

            Paul usually adverts to apokalypseis when some other Jesus-messianists have been messing with his gentiles. It isn’t because these others believe different things about Jesus but because they don’t get that he and his gentiles are up to something specific and are under orders from the messianic-imperial figure himself. His approach to his pagans would in fact be unintelligible without some such conception of authorization – for which he uses assorted diplomatic, imperial and military language. Even if he had been authorized by ‘Jerusalem’, as he is anxious to affirm he isn’t, they would themselves need such messianic authorization for a specific approach to pagans.

            Your game of appealing to Paul’s apokalypseis to argue that for all we know Paul is … dunno, a Buddhist? a Christ Myth guy? … is frankly transparently dishonest.

          • Did you ever hear of the Coherence Fallacy?

          • Mark

            scholar.google.com returns 5 results for the expression “coherence fallacy”; google in general returns 40. But I’m sure you mean something by it.

          • I was thinking of the way that we can overestimate the probability that a fact is true based on its coherence with facts that we already think we know know. I’ve also seen it called the Conjunction Fallacy or the Narrative Fallacy. It seems to be particularly common in biblical studies.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m trying to follow this. Can you give an example of why you think Mark is guilty of the fallacy. I know James mentions somewhere on this thread that historians can’t just reason by analogy because you can find analogies for pretty much anything.

          • Mark keeps talking about what Paul always believed and how he always operated (and he seems certain that he knows why everyone else in the movement did what they did as well). Unfortunately, we have don’t have evidence of what Paul always did or always believed. We have a handful of letters reflecting Paul’s thinking at the time he wrote them. Only a fool or a New Testament scholar would express that degree of certainty based on the available evidence.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            Only a fool or a New Testament scholar would express that degree of certainty based on the available evidence.

            So, you think New Testament scholars are fools?

          • You need to work on you English comprehension skills John. The use of the word “or” indicates two different categories of people, not equivalency. I do think that New Testament scholars are wont to express foolish degrees of certainty about their conclusions, although that it a common human shortcoming.

          • John MacDonald

            I think my English is pretty good. You seemed to be saying that New Testament scholars are on the same level as fools when expressing certainty given the available evidence.

          • “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” doesn’t mean that Englishmen are mad dogs. It is directed at the irrationality of a specific action.

            You seem to have understood what I was saying, but nonetheless construed it in a way that you knew was not intended.

          • John MacDonald

            Crossan famously said the reason we have so many different portraits of the historical Jesus is because scholars have been way over-ambitious about what can be distilled from the evidence.

          • I absolutely agree, and I think it’s what happens when too many scholars spend too much time sifting through the same data with ever finer combs. I think that this just creates the illusion of knowledge.

            I liken it to studying the Zapruder film. No matter how much you slow it down or blow it up, you can’t turn it into a high definition video. If the pixels aren’t there, they aren’t there.

            One factor that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 was the limitations in the data upon which risk-models were formulated. Comprehensive economic data had only existed for about a half a century, and even that was only from part of the world. That is a tiny fraction of world economic history, and it is a fraction in which there had been no broad, sustained decline in housing prices. The pixels weren’t there to justify the risks that were taken.

          • Mark

            We don’t know what can be ‘distilled from the evidence’, just that no one has come up with a completely compelling theory. Even with Paul fairly simple prejudices have impeded interpretation until the recent past.

          • Mark

            I suppose the critical study of the authentic letters of Paul could be called ‘biblical studies’, but it could also be called ‘Jewish studies’ or history simpliciter. Grounds for thinking any particular fallacies are more common in these fields than others are surely nil.

          • Pofarmer

            Heck. There’s even an apologetic for that.


            How can we be brothers with the celestial Jesus today? By believing in him. “God the Father”. The creator of all things. Why wouldn’t we consider ourseelves brothers of Jesus in that case?

          • The relevant point in this context is what you do with the fact that James being “the brother of the Lord” is a way of distinguishing him among Christians, and so that designation cannot mean “brother in the sense that all Christians are brothers” in that context. See further:



          • Pofarmer

            I think it’s a bit much calling it a “fact” considering it’s long been disputed. It would be a “fact” if we had any independent attestation of Jesus, which we don’t. It might be a “fact” if we had some claim of parentage, which we don’t. All we have is a claim, from a guy nobody else really knows anything about independently either. For all we know Paul was making shit up. Or a word was changed by a later scribe either accidentally or on purpose. Or that this was a term the Jerusalem cult used internally to refer to certain of it’s members in sort of a gnostic way. This simply doesn’t rise to the level of “fact”, there isn’t enough evidence or information. . And, isn’t it odd to refer to someone as “x’s brother? “. The normal way would have been “x been y”. Where x is son of y. This isn’t a conventionl naming scheme. The normal way would have been ,” James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. Wouldn’t it?

          • As long as you are willing to accept the mere possibility that things could be otherwise than the evidence leads us to believe, you are no better than young-earth creationists. Could a deity have created the world so that it looks old and looks like evolutions occurred? Sure. Should there not the onus be on the one who says, “OK, the evidence suggests X, but Y is not impossible”?

            What makes you think that “X brother of Y” is an unusual way of saying that X is the brother of Y? I take it you haven’t looked into this in any way. How often do you doubt references to individuals being references to real human beings unless the source mentions who their parents were?

          • Pofarmer

            Historically, Jews did not have permanent family surnames at all. Within the
            Jewish community, we used patronymics, such as David ben (son of) Joseph or
            Miriam bat (daughter of) Aaron. Names in that form are still used in

            and in Jewish legal documents such
            as the

            (marriage contract), but are rare
            outside of the religious context. See the discussion of



            This is also the way Josephus names people.

          • Right, thank you for highlighting these details that are common knowledge to those who work with ancient sources regularly. This doesn’t seem germane to your point, which I thought was that people would never say x brother of y but only x son of z, which is clearly not true. People often simply used a given name, especially when context made clear whom they were referring to. It sounded you were imagining a time in which people went around saying “hello, x son of y, how are you today?” Was that not your meaning – that supposedly people never mentioned someone’s sibling, and never failed to mention their father, when referring to another human being?

            If you were actually familiar with ancient sources in anything more than a superficial, let me see what I can find to prooftext sort of way, you probably wouldn’t have gone down this route….

          • Pofarmer

            Is it really necessary to strawman like this? Does it break the common naming convention? Yes. Were other people ever referred to in other ways? Probably. Did Paul refer to People as Brothers and sisters? Yes, literally dozens and dozens of times. This would be the ONLY instance where it would refer to an actual biological brother or sister. That’s why it’s overly extravagant to call this a “fact”. That was my main point.

          • Where is the strawmanning? Common naming convention in any society is contextual. What you use in legal documents may not be the norm in other contexts, then as now. And for goodness sake, how many times will it need to be pointed out that it is precisely because Paul refers to all Christians as brothers, that his reference to a very select few as brother(s) of the Lord is what makes it clear that he is not using it in some generic sense in those instances?!

          • Pofarmer

            Yes, but in context what is Paul doing? He’s going to Jerusalem, to meet with an Early Christian group led by Cephas. He tells us that he’s going because God “revealed his son to him” not because God revealed that “Jesus was his son”. And he met Cephas, and James, “The Lords Brother.” Given what else Paul tells and the fact that he uses Brothers and Sisters to describe other believers then this sounds very much like an honorific in this group. And this isn’t just my opinion, which I’m sure you know. That’s why it’s really unfair to attempt to call what you want a “fact”.

          • So brothers denotes everyone, and “brothers of the Lord” is an honorific among the brothers?

            What is your evidence for that?

          • Pofarmer

            Unless the allusion is interpolated, Paul
            had an interview with a brother of Jesus, who was one of the three
            “pillars” of the Church of Jerusalem (Gal. i, 19). There is a critical case of some slight cogency against the authenticity of Gal. i, 18, 19, which was absent from Marcion’s Apostolicon;
            the word “again” in Gal. ii, 1, which presupposes the earlier passage,
            seems to have been interpolated as it is absent from Irenaeus’s full and
            accurate citation of this section of the Epistle to the Galatians in
            his treatise against Heretics. Robertson maintains that the
            “Brothers of the Lord” were originally a religious group. Perhaps there
            was such a group, the members of which claimed to belong to the Davidic
            clan and so could regard themselves as kinsmen (“brothers” in the loose
            Oriental sense) of the coming Messianic king of David’s line. But
            Robertson admits, as one would expect all persons of common sense to do,
            that the designation “brother of the Lord,” as applied to James in Gal.
            i, 19, cannot be a group name. Drews, however, finds no difficulty in
            supposing this, and even equates the name with Christians generally. On
            the strength of 1 Co. ix, 5, where Paul insists on his right to “a wife
            that is a believer, even as the rest of the Apostles, and the Brethren
            of the Lord, and Cephas,” Draws concludes: “There it is evident that the
            expression by no means necessarily refers to bodily relationship, but
            that ‘Brother’ serves only to designate the followers of the religion of


          • Pofarmer

            So the point of that is that Marcion is said to have altered scriptures to fit his theology. Um. Ok? Are you saying them other guys didn’t?

          • “Them other guys”? Do you mean the scribes whose copying faithfulness or otherwise we can trace across the centuries by comparing the manuscripts?

          • Pofarmer

            Not talking about scribes. Talking about folks like Eusebius, who certainly appears to have interpolated Josephus. Marcion and Valentinius, for instance, modified scriptures to fit their narratives. What makes you think that others would not have, as well? Especially since we don’t have any evidence of what an original would have been, or even any extra-biblical verification of Paul.

            Once again, you’re arguing for Rhett Butler. You’re arguing that the story is true because it must be true.

          • David M

            There is a big difference between the works of Josephus and the works which eventually became the New Testament. The latter works were widely circulated and copied, which is why we have so much early manuscript evidence. Someone who wants to corrupt a text has a much easier job if there are very few competing manuscript traditions. But if there are numerous competing manuscript traditions, all of those other copies must either disappear or be brought into line with the corrupted version. Otherwise the corrupted version will be exposed for what it is by comparing it with differing versions.

          • I am doing no such thing. You, on the other hand, are ignoring the fact that we can discern what changes Marcion, Eusebius, and others made or may have made because of the ample manuscript evidence we have that is sufficiently early and/or widely attested to allow us to do so. You’re basically saying “some people did x in cases we know about, and so I will assume that they all did it in ways that allow my bizarre preferred scenario to seem more plausible to me, no matter what the evidence actually suggests.”

          • John MacDonald

            Neil Godfrey is my unquestioned source for biblical studies analysis and taco recipes. His degree as a librarian makes him deeply qualified to pontificate on Mexican Cuisine.

          • Pofarmer

            Then I guess it’s a good thing that “has nothing to do with him

          • John MacDonald

            Sure it does. Godfrey finds some idiosyncratic interpretation that doesn’t blatantly contradict mythicism, immediately and uncritically accepts it as gospel truth, and his acolytes such as yourself show up trying to sell it because Godfrey can’t do it himself, having been banned for being a nuisance who is not interested in objectively addressing the arguments.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m certainly no expert in the celestial angelology of 2nd temple Judaism (or anything to do with religion, for that matter) that Carrier wants to categorize Jesus under. Is there historical analogy for calling one of them, for instance, “Brother Gabriel?”

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Which can be interpreted as statements of faith and not observations of historical reality.

          • Pofarmer

            It happened to Horus.

          • Mark

            No and not to Inanna either. It is a transformation of flesh and blood, of what is mortal and very undivine, into what is intrinsically immortal, deathless, a littler closer to the divine. Pharisaical resurrection can only happen to what is flesh and blood. It isn’t like falling down and getting up, breaking into pieces and coming together again.

          • Pofarmer

            Where does Paul say Jesus was crucified?

          • Mark

            I recommend looking at the text.

          • Pofarmer

            Why don’t you answer the question?

          • I will guess because when you ask a question like “where does Paul say Jesus was crucified” when Paul said it was his aim to focus on nothing else but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), it suggests that you have been making confident assertions about material you are not even superficially familiar with, and it is frustrating. Although it does explain how you can hold the views that you do.

          • David M

            Pofarmer, I don’t believe the argument from silence can do what you are trying to make it do. What you need to remember is that there is often an enormous imbalance between the amount of evidence that we could find and the amount of evidence that we actually do find. Consider the search for fingerprints at a crime scene. There may be enough space at the scene for 100 000 fingerprints. But we are satisfied if we find just a few fingerprints. And if planting fingerprints was considered a viable alternative explanation, it wouldn’t matter if we found a few fingerprints or a hundred.

            If the things that Paul does say are clearly incompatible with the celestial Jesus theory, then it can’t be rescued by an argument from silence.

          • Pofarmer

            It’s not so much an argument from silence as an argument from “This is indistinguishable from fiction.”

          • John MacDonald

            What would you have added/taken away from GMark to make it distinguishable from fiction?

          • Pofarmer

            This doesn’t have anything to do with the Gospel of Mark.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul’s conversion story in Acts may be patterned after 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. But this is an important point that RG Price needs to answer, because the presence of scriptural allusion has nothing to do with whether there is a kernel of historicity behind the story, which in this case we know there is because of Paul’s letters.

            The scriptural allusions may be pointing to pure invention at some points, like Matthew recapitulating the story of Moses, but there are times when history probably just fused with scriptural color because of the ways the memories of Jesus would have been transmitted.

            So as it says in Acts, they would read from the Torah, then from the former prophets (Joshua through Kings), and finally from the latter prohets (Isaiah through Malachi). At that point the synagogue leader would ask if anyone would like to bring any message or experience that might illumine the readings. So followers of Jesus may have then recalled their memories of him which that Sabbath elicited. This could be where all the scriptural allusion is coming from. This is what Paul does in Acts (13:16b-41). They went through this process for about forty years before the gospels were written.

          • Mark

            It’s bizarre someone would think something like the Heliodorus story is needed to provide a pattern for shaking, falling, fainting, collapsing, going temporarily blind etc. in the face of a theophany.

          • John MacDonald

            Here is the patterning RM Price proposes:

            – As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus 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.

            Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi (Portefaix, pp. 170), Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). –

          • Mark

            Yes, I know — but it’s perfectly insane. The methodology under employment could prove that any novel is cribbed from OT and Greek drama.

          • John MacDonald

            You don’t think the NT writers use scriptural allusions and models at times, such as Matthew recapitulating the story of Moses? As for the Greeks, wouldn’t you say Dr. Dennis MacDonald has found a few interesting parallels?

          • Mark

            The gospels quote scripture. For the rest it is the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy (absurdly so called) which bedevils medical DNA research. There’s way too much OT and Greek literature to hunt through.

          • John MacDonald

            There’s way too much OT and Greek literature to hunt through.

            Well, you better get started because that’s one of the problems if we are hunting for historical nuggets. Part of the problem is being reasonably sure something happened when the material is so highly fictionalized – how to sort the fiction from the non-fiction. The criteria of authenticity are nice, but the most we seem to get with universal assent among scholars is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate

          • Mark

            That Mark or his sources are making things up, supposing they are, doesn’t mean they’re copying and transmuting fragments of Hebrew scripture, Greek drama and poety, etc. It is just as hard to transmute Homer as it is to make things up entirely. I have to make up the projection or mapping -which is, if anything, harder. An allusion in Mark that is not obvious to the 1st c reader familiar with Septuagint is not likely to be real.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, no. The popular limited TV series Good Omens was created for a popular audience, but still has allusions to Kierkegaard’s Philosophy that virtually no one in the main target audience would recognize.

          • Mark

            Is this because they are at a loss for material? This is the account of Mark’s motive you give above. “What miracle or exorcism should I make up next? I know, I’ll do a riff on Odysseus evading the Cyclops!”

          • John MacDonald

            There seems to be an exoteric level to Mark, along with a more esoteric one, which thematically would follow along with Jesus’s remarks in Mark 4:11.

          • Mark

            I think the only esoteric-exoteric distinction in Mark is in Jesus’ actions as they develop, thus his caginess about messiahship, the disciples’ perpetual failure to ‘get it’, the passage you cite etc etc — but both the manifest and hidden aspects are made manifest by Mark. Thus the work is not composed with an esoteric reading of itself in mind.

          • Mark

            That so few things are agreed on by scholars just means that no one has reached a really compelling explanation of the data. The revolutions in the interpretation of Paul starting with Sanders only started a few decades ago. Mostly the changes arose from new 2nd T material and new ways of thinking about it. There is no reason to think that similar things won’t happen with Mark, John and Revelations. The increasing interest of Jewish scholars and Jewish studies types hasn’t borne too much fruit yet, but is one of the things that makes me optimistic.

          • Pofarmer

            This is “Affirming the consequent. “

          • John MacDonald

            Explain how?

          • Pofarmer

            Apologies. It’s just circular.

            And imaginary.

          • John MacDonald

            My point is that when mythicists try to argue scriptural allusion always implies non-historicity of a pericope, this is a leap of faith, and factually incorrect with the case of the conversion of Paul in Acts. The point stands.

          • Pofarmer

            We. Are. Not. Talking. About. Paul.

            The problem is that you are making an argument that assumes Jesus existed and that therefore there was oral tradition. There is no evidence of this. And there is certainly no evidence in the writings of Paul. For this.

          • John MacDonald

            You’re not understanding, presumably because you are too busy name dropping logical fallacies. Is that what analytic philosophy has been reduced to in our time? Glad I’m a continentalist!

            In any case, the point is about methodology. As others have said on this thread, the fact that we have a highly fictionalized account is irrelevant as to whether there is a historical nugget that underlies the account. RG Price’s approach is a fool’s errand. Historicity has to be decided on other terms.

            What RM Price calls Haggadic Midrash is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed, as even Carrier concedes. Scriptural allusion indicates a hermeneutic being plotted between poles of a continuum between complete fabrication on one end, and and mild addition on the other.

            So, for instance, it is an open question as to whether Matthew is completely inventing when he recapitulates the story of Moses, or whether he is simply shaping information about Jesus he has in a “Moses-light.”

          • David M

            That isn’t necessarily a reliable criterion. Consider the following story. Once upon a time there was a man who was persecuting a group of people. He despised everything they believed in and was determined to eradicate their movement. Then one day while he was on a journey a light appeared from heaven and he heard a voice challenging him. From that moment on, the man not only stopped his persecution; he also became an indefatigable champion of the movement. In fact, his efforts were instrumental in helping the movement to achieve worldwide success.

            That sounds like just the sort of thing that someone would invent. Surely it couldn’t have any basis in fact? And if it does, I wonder whether there is a prequel.

          • It also illustrates the point historians keep making and mythicists keep rejecting, that there may be a historical reality behind a particular narrative that does not match it in every detail, but is not completely made up. Acts depicts Paul’s Damascus Road, seeing a light and hearing a voice experience. Paul does not do so in his letters. One can decide that Luke’s account is pure dramatization, and it doesn’t mean that Paul did not nonetheless change from diehard opponent to avid proponent.

          • Pofarmer

            Actually it appears that most of that story WAS invented by the writer of Acts. But that’s not what we’re talking about, is it?

          • John MacDonald

            most, not all

          • Pofarmer

            Is there a prequel to “The Sackets?”

            Realizing that “The sackets” are fiction, doesn’t bring in to question the existence of Louis Lamour.

          • David M

            The story of Christian origins is deeply embedded in a real historical setting. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, Gallio, Felix, Festus and Herod Agrippa were all real people. Now, it could be the case that the whole saga is elaborate historical fiction. However, that kind of elaborate historical fiction would have been unusual if not unique in the ancient world. Still, you could argue that it just looks like fiction. But what if it turns out that Part 2 of the story is based on fact? On what grounds can you say that Part 1 of the story is not based on fact as well?

            Assuming that there is a mixture of fact and fiction, the simplest hypothesis is that the mixture is evenly distributed. In other words, Parts 1&2 are embellished history. The hypothesis that Part 1 of the story is complete fiction whereas Part 2 is embellished history is not simple at all.

          • Pofarmer

            Y’all can’t help yourselves, can you?

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            That sounds like just the sort of thing that someone would invent.
            Surely it couldn’t have any basis in fact? And if it does, I wonder
            whether there is a prequel.

            Please see the Old Testament.

          • Pofarmer

            The point is that the idea certainly wasn’t unknown. To my knowledge it was Jewish belief that the Heavens were mirrored on Earth, so if Jesus was sacrificed in Heaven, then he must have been sacrificed on Earth too. Paul just doesn’t know anything about that. And certainly, the time and place he was in was rife with mythology and lore.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            He says he was crucified, died and was buried. This only happens to flesh and blood.

            Many Old Testament figures like Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Sarah, Moses were said to have died and buried. This only happens to flesh and blood, therefore, they were actually historical figures and not mythical and legendary, right?

            …’he had two feet’ or ‘he had a liver’ are physiological conclusions. But it is a conclusion that only makes sense for what Paul conceives as a flesh and blood mortal.

            ‘Eve was made from Adam’s rib’. ‘Abel’s corpse bled’. ‘Sarah gave birth’. ‘Abraham and Jacob fathered children’. ‘Moses took off his sandles’ are all physiological conclusions. But these conclusions only make sense if these figures were conceived as flesh and blood mortals? So does this mean they actually were?

          • It means they were believed to be by those who wrote about them. Mythicists, on the other hand, claim that Paul didn’t think of Jesus as a human being who lived and died in history.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Paul seemed to think of Adam and Abraham as human beings who lived and died in history. So were they?

          • Mark

            Yes he does believe that Abraham lived and died in history, almost a couple thousand years earlier; and that Adam had lived and died a couple thousand years before that. It’s not too surprising that he could be wrong about them. As for Jesus, it is not unusual to suppose Paul came over to the Jesus crowd within two, three, four years of the crucifixion, had chatted with his brother, etc.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Paul himself betrays no knowledge of the date of the crucifixion. Without Acts of the Apostles and other apocryphal works, one would not get the impression that ‘Paul came over to the Jesus crowd within two, three, four years of the crucifixion.’

          • Paul’s references to Jesus appearing posthumously, to meeting Jesus’ brother, and other details, combined with his sense that this is the end of the age with those currently alive destined to see it dawn, all converge to indicate that he is talking about a figure of the recent and not the distant past.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Not necessarily. It is not confirmed that Paul referring to a ‘James brother of the Lord’ is indeed a biological sibling reference and not a spiritual one any more than Jesus being ‘son of God’ is a biological reference and not a spiritual one.

          • Mark

            I didn’t commit myself to those numbers, nor directly to a view about what Paul knows. Paul has met a number of people who think Jesus ‘appeared’ to them in the way he later ‘appeared’ to Paul himself. Most of these people are still alive – in what seem to be the mid 50s. These appearances seem to begin immediately after the third day after the crucifixion in 1 Cor 15.

            In any event Paul was a believer before Aretas died in 40. And Pilate – mentioned by Tacitus as procutor at the time of Jesus’s death – governed ~27-37 when Tiberius died. We are thus down to 13 years maximum for the period from crucifixion to Paul’s ‘conversion’.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Paul has met a number of people who think Jesus ‘appeared’ to them in
            the way he later ‘appeared’ to Paul himself. Most of these people are
            still alive – in what seem to be the mid 50s.

            This tells us nothing when the crucifixion occured. Paul betrays no knowledge of the date of the crucifixion – only that Jesus came back from dead three days after. Paul also doesn’t specify how much time passed between the resurrection and the ‘appearances’ – it could just as easily be that Paul believed the death and resurrection of Jesus happened in the distant past and only in Paul’s time have the ‘appearances’ occur.

            In any event Paul was a believer before Aretas died in 40.

            This also tells us nothing about the date of the crucifixion.

            nd Pilate – mentioned by Tacitus as procutor at the time of Jesus’s death – governed ~27-37 when Tiberius died.

            That’s only assuming the Gospels timeline is true. One wouldn’t assume this going by the epistles.

          • Mark

            No, I only used Paul and Tacitus to show that Paul was a believer within 13 years of the crucifixion. Tacitus only affirms that Jesus was executed (at the time of Pilate); Paul knows additionally that he was crucified.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            I wouldn’t lean too much on Tacitus, it is unknown who or what his sources are. No contemporary author corroborate his claims of the Nero persecution and the passage was unknown for many centuries. He could have easily got his info from Christians or the Gospels (only the Gospels, Acts, and apocryphal writings mention Pontius Pilate. Paul’s letters and other epistles betray no knowledge of Pontius Pilate.) The passage being an interpolation is also not out of the question.

          • Mark


          • There definitely wasn’t a first human along the lines that ancient people assumed, prior to our modern understanding of biological evolution. That the Israelites had ancestors is certain, but we cannot have as much confidence about their names or other details because of the extent of time that passed between when they would have lived and our first recorded stories about them. Adam and Abraham are cases that are different from one another, just as both are different from the case of Jesus, in which we have letters from someone who had met his brother.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            By your logic, Jesus three day old corpse did not come back to life along the lines that ancient people assumed, prior to our modern understanding of biology and the processes of death and decomposition.

            A “Historical” Jesus that was not divine and did not come back to life is not the same Jesus depicted in the New Testament writings. If you are convinced of a non-divine non-resurrecting Jesus being historical then you are in fact also a mythicist – because the Jesus as depicted in the New Testamant did not actually exist.

          • No, you cannot just play with words and decide unilaterally what they mean. The “historical Jesus” is the way academics and people in general refer to the human being studied by historians and his life as historians reconstruct it. If you’re interested in myths, dogmas, legends, or claims of miracles, then you’re interested in someone and something else.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            The “historical Jesus” is the way academics and people in general refer to the human being studied by historians and his life as historians reconstruct it.


            If you’re interested in myths, dogmas, legends, or claims of miracles, then you’re interested in someone and something else.

            A Jesus without the myths, dogmas, legends, or claims of miracles is someone and something else.

          • The historical Jesus is not identical to the way Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels, yes. Glad you agree with this longstanding conclusion of secular historical scholarship on this subject.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Considering that ‘secular historical scholarship’ is relatively recent compared to Christian scholarship. I wouldn’t call it ‘longstanding’.

          • Mark

            The enlightment happened a few centuries ago, however surprising this may be to ‘new atheists’. Critical scientific study of Hebrew scripture has been around, and widely known, since Hobbes and Spinoza. Learned skeptical and critical treatment of Christian sources has been in existence and widely known for almost as long: the explosion around Lessing’s publication of Reimarus is a decent choice of a watershed moment. The isolation of the authentic letters of Paul is a pure work of learning and scholarship and happened in the mid nineteenth century.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Along with Christ mythicism.

          • Mark

            The theory that Jesus was not a historical figure is also first seriously advanced in the 19th c., yes. The difference is that scholarship still affirms the distinction between authentic and inauthentic letters of Paul, but the Christ Myth theory collapsed on scholarly historical grounds. Outside the Soviet bloc, no one but cranks has held it since the forties; it was abandoned by Soviet scholarship in the late fifties to early sixties.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            but the Christ Myth theory collapsed on scholarly historical grounds.

            It has not.

            Outside the Soviet bloc, no one but cranks has held it since the forties;

            Says you.

            it was abandoned by Soviet scholarship in the late fifties to early sixties.

            Irrelevant. Could not care less about Commies.

          • Mark

            It collapsed on scholarly grounds. It belongs principally to the period of comparative religion, theories of myth and the like. The increasing grasp of 2nd Temple materials especially after the second world war made it hopeless. The Soviet case is sytematically overlooked by the internet revivers of ‘mythicism’, but is a perfect illustration of the concept ‘failed research program’. Material about the topic is mostly in Russian, but here’s a recent overview, mechanically translated. https://gist.github.com/I-I-Rubin/d8b96b255836697606cd28b21dcbc612

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            More Soviet red herring.

          • Mark

            Irrelevant. Could not care less about Commies.

            More Soviet red herring.

            Whether you care about it or not it completely falsifies your claim that research into mythicism has been impeded by ecclesiastical chicanery, and that genuine scholars who grew up with mythicism came to reject it on scholarly grounds.

          • John MacDonald

            James said

            No, you cannot just play with words and decide unilaterally what they mean

            What? That’s my entire approach to life!

          • David M

            A thought experiment may shed some light on that. Suppose that you could send a team of investigators back in time to find the man behind the Gospels. If the team believe that they have found that person it would be significant. But what if the Jesus they discover is not exactly like the character portrayed in the Gospels? In what sense could we say that Jesus existed?

            Well, now suppose that you send a second team back in time (who don’t know the result of the first investigation) to repeat the exercise, and they identify the same “Jesus”? That agreement would definitely be significant. It would be difficult in those circumstances to deny that the name “Jesus” had a clear reference.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            So by your thought experiment one would conclude that the Jesus of the Gospels is mythical.

          • David M

            People like Lataster believe that if my thought experiment was carried out then the investors wouldn’t find any man behind the Gospels. It would be better to reserve the term “mythical” for their characterisation of Jesus – if only to avoid confusion.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Then again it’s only a thought experiment. I have a similar one:

            “Suppose that you could send a team of investigators to find
            the creatures behind the medieval tales of giants. If the team believe that they have found
            those creatures it would be significant. But what if the giants they discover are fossilized skulls of woolly mammoths that cultures have misinterpreted. In what sense can we say that giants existed?

            Suppose you send a second time (who don’t know the result of the first investigation) to repeat the exercise, and they identify the same “giants”? That agreement would be significant. It would be difficult in those circumstances to deny that “giants” had a clear reference don’t you agree?

          • David M

            Can you narrow it down to one giant in particular, then say what its name was, when it lived and whom it interacted with?

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            I could but that’s not my thought experiment. Based on the thought experiment I gave you, would you agree or disagree that “giants” are mythical?

          • David M

            The two cases are obviously not analogous. It is clear that you are not interested in a serious discussion.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            They are of the same logic. I have answered your thought experiment while you dodged mine and attempted to move the goal posts. So the one who’s not interested in a serious discussion is you.

          • Mark

            A lot of people think that, and they’re wrong. About the question whether their parents existed, and whether they are dead or not, the very same people are pretty much always right.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Are you saying that Adam and Abraham are historical persons?

          • Mark

            Maybe read the first sentence I wrote.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            I did. I’m asking you to clarify what you wrote. Will you?

          • Mark

            The question is about what Paul believes and is affirming.

          • I Came To Bring The Paine

            Paul seems to believe and affirm Adam and Abraham – what does that tell us?

      • David M

        I have a problem with amateurs who have a lot to say but no capacity for listening. Especially when those amateurs are openly contemptuous of genuine scholars. So I won’t be bothering with any further interaction.

  • John MacDonald

    RG Price said

    The issue is not “what Paul said”, the issue is Paul’s sources. What are the sources of these claims? The sources are scriptures and revelation … The issue is not whether or not Paul or anyone else described Jesus as “being flesh”, the issue is whether those descriptions come from reasonable sources, i.e. from sources that trace back to real world observations.

    This kind of historical reasoning/inference is bizarre. Paul knew two of the leaders in the early Jesus movement, Cephas and James, so if Paul thought Jesus was human, the reasonable inference would be that it was a widespread belief. The death/resurrection was believed to be recent (the resurrected Jesus as the firstfruits), so all of this points to Cephas/James/Paul having good information Jesus lived as an historical human.

    RG Price appears to have an extreme fringe position, because the vast majority of mythicists acknowledge that if Paul thought Jesus was historical, this is pretty compelling evidence for Jesus’s historicity – which is exactly what we get from Paul.

    • On the other hand, if Paul’s only knowledge of a human Jesus came from encountering the risen Christ through scripture, appearances, and revelation, wouldn’t it be reasonable to infer that James and Cephas had a similar source of knowledge? Something can be a widespread belief without being true.

      • John MacDonald

        In the general framework of Paul’s eschatology, the death/burial/resurrection took place over a 3 day period (1 Cor 15:4) that was recent (1 Cor 15:23.). You want to argue Paul/Peter/James believed in a human Jesus, but that none of this belief supports the thesis that their belief had ground? Presumably such a recent death event and cult-grouping would have involved the input of those who saw Christ crucified – or where do you suppose the belief of the human crucified Christ had come from?

        • I think that Paul’s belief in the human crucified Jesus may have come from the same place that Joseph’s Smith’s belief in the human Moroni came from: divine revelations that he believed he had received.

          Since I have no direct evidence of what Peter and James believed about the human Jesus and why they believed it, I don’t see how I can bootstrap my way to the conclusion that their belief had any more factual basis than Paul’s had.

  • Mark

    The crucifixion is also associated with being “raised from the dead”, which doesn’t happen in real life.

    You miss the point in just the way you do with Davidic descent. Being “raised from the dead” happens in pharisaical belief. It is a fixed a priori Paul has always accepted; and it happens only to what existed as flesh and blood, to what is mortal and earthly. On Paul’s account – as also on later rabbinical accounts – it even happens to those still living on the great day: it is a transmutation from fleshly existence to some higher form, as we see also in 2 Baruch.

    This doesn’t happen on the astral plane. What happens to Jesus is nothing but what Paul always thought to would happen to himself. It is the ‘first fruits’ of the general resurrection, the general transmutation.

    The claim that Jesus is resurrected, like the opposing claim that he someday will be, is the claim that he existed as flesh and blood.

    • I Came To Bring The Paine

      This doesn’t happen on the astral plane.

      You claim to know what can and cannot happen on ‘the astral plane’?

      The claim that Jesus is resurrected, like the opposing claim that he
      someday will be, is the claim that he existed as flesh and blood.

      The claim that Eve was made out of Adam’s rib is a claim that they existed as flesh and blood. So did they actually exist? The claim that Sarah gave birth to Isaac is a claim that they existed as flesh and blood. So did they actually exist?

  • I Came To Bring The Paine

    Jesus Mythicism should really be called Jesus Spiritualism because although I and many others regard Jesus Christ as a “myth”, it’s not really about how we today regard Jesus Christ, it’s about how the first Christians regarded Jesus. When you say Jesus existed, what do you mean by “exist”? How did the first Christians believe Jesus “existed”? Was he believed to exist in the same way any other human being existed? Or was he believed to exist in the same way gods, angels, demons existed?

  • John MacDonald

    If anyone would like a copy of RG Price’s book DtG to study his argument first hand, I can send you my copy. I read it last year.

  • That people make things up all the time is why we have historical, criminal, and other sorts of investigations to weigh evidence. It is not a justification for choosing one particular subtopic and choosing to reject the expert evaluation of evidence in that area because of personal preference. Certainly criminal and historical investigations get things wrong. But it is not the case that they are wrong most of the time, much less that they tend to be wrong while armchair online pundits accurately assess the situation.

    • Pofarmer

      I’m just gonna point our, for grins and giggles. That a criminal investigation isn’t the end of the story. The evidence is supposed to be weighed by our “peers.” Just sayin.

      • John MacDonald

        The evidence is supposed to be weighed by our “peers.”

        Ah yes, the jury system. Let’s randomly pick 12 people who know nothing about cars to makes a technical assessment and decision about fixing my car. It’s actually a good analogy for what goes on with the assessment of information on the internet. Let’s randomly pick 12 people who know nothing about the law to make a highly technical legal decision about a person’s freedom. I wonder if mythicism would have arisen on the internet if it wasn’t a cultural assumption that everyone’s opinion was equally valid? Of course, such a line of argument is a slippery slope, because should we question whether every person, however uninformed, should have equal say in the sophisticated political decision of who should be elected?

        • John MacDonald

          I would much rather have the “evidence” of my broken car weighed, assessed and evaluated by experts, not my “peers,” who presumably know as much about fixing cars as I do.

      • John MacDonald

        Democracy: My wife has a lump in her breast. Let’s take her to twelve random people on the street for diagnosis and treatment

        Meritocracy: My wife has a lump in her breast. Let’s get the opinions of three qualified phycisians.

  • David M

    That is a rather cynical view. At the beginning there were competing forms of Christianity, and we have no reason to think that the winning side had any particular claim to the truth. Or do we? As Craig Evans has said, when archaeologists go to Israel on digs, they don’t take copies of the Gnostic gospels with them. Geographical and other background details are largely absent from the Gnostic gospels. The Sophia of Jesus Christ is a typical example. The only place it mentions is the Mount of Olives, which it wrongly puts in Galilee.

    So there were undoubtedly groups who had views about Jesus that were considered heretical by what turned out to be the winning side. But did those groups actually know what they were talking about? The mere existence of disagreement in the early days proves nothing. What needs to be established is that the proto-orthodox side had no reason to think that they were in the right.

  • Triggerman1976

    Interesting that you attribute error to the Incarnate One rather than assuming that YOU may be the one who is mistaken.

    But hey…that’s how heresy and unbelief works.

    • Interesting that you allow your dogma to tell the Bible what it can and cannot mean, rather than assuming that your dogma might itself be the problem. But hey…