Response to Raphael Lataster

Response to Raphael Lataster August 20, 2019

The Bible and Interpretation has published a response I wrote to Raphael Lataster’s article that recently appeared there. His article is called “Questioning Jesus’ Historicity” and my response is called “Exorcising Mythicism’s Sky Demons.” Here is an excerpt from towards the end of the article:

In case it may not be as clear to members of the general public as it is to academics, the mere publication of a book that makes the case for a particular viewpoint in no way suggests that that viewpoint should or will be found persuasive by academics, never mind adopted by the general public. Anyone who reads widely in scholarship in any field will know that academics as a matter of course try out new ideas, float new hypotheses, and explore unconventional approaches to well-worn subjects. This is what we are required to do as part of our jobs. We must “publish or perish” and the only way to get something published is to try to say something new. Most of the new ideas that are proposed will not stand the test of time, nor do they deserve to. Scholarship depends on this constant back-and-forth between innovative proposals and their critical evaluation by other academics. It is because of my great appreciation for the way academic research proceeds that I find mythicism (at least in its present-day form) such a huge disappointment. Every academic knows just how intellectually invigorating (and at times downright delightful) it can be to read a work that argues an unconventional case, especially ones that provide such creative insights and attention to detail that you find yourself thinking time and again as you read it that you might just be persuaded by its argument. Even if you aren’t persuaded in the end, the intellectual exploration that reading such a work fosters is beneficial in its own right. Unfortunately, Lataster offers none of that, as I have hopefully illustrated here. I wish he did, because reading an unconvincing but well-argued case for the non-historicity of Jesus would surely be an enthralling and beneficial experience, even if it didn’t persuade me to change my mind. Mythicism in general, and Lataster’s article more specifically, offers nothing remotely like that.

Please do read the whole thing if you are interested in mythicism and the historical Jesus, or in other similar phenomena. And then, whether here or there, please do let me know your thoughts about it. His article is connected to a book he has coming out soon, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. I will review that book in the not too distant future.


 


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  • Lataster is one of those guys who really depends on attitude rather than scholarship to carry his arguments.

    • John MacDonald

      I liked James’s point that the archons of this aeon quite clearly could mean earth-bound demons, so there is no reason to thing that the referent was sky demons and Christ was crucified in outer space. I have a similar problem with Carrier using that Paul says Jesus was “made” from the seed of David, that this implies the use of a cosmic sperm bank. God “making or forming” in the womb is a theme in at least 2 passages in Hebrew Scripture.

      • There are way more linguistic problems with Carrier’s silly “cosmic sperm bank” argument than that. It is without doubt one of the most contrived, ad hoc arguments I have ever seen in print in a supposedly “peer reviewed” book.

        • John MacDonald

          Carrier:

          My argument completely depends on Paul somehow getting sperm from David and believing in a Cosmic Sperm Bank, none of which Paul mentions, and the existence of such a Sperm Bank is not as much as hinted at anywhere in the Jewish/Christian tradition. Time for a drink!

          lol

      • “Archons” actually doesn’t have to mean demons of any kind. It just means “first somethings.” It just denotes hierarchy. The Eastern Orthodox church bestows “archon” as an honorific, and I’m pretty sure they don’t mean the person is a demon. 🙂

      • Gary

        If you use the Nag Hammadi documents as a guide, archon clearly has a negative connotation, being the “rulers” of the world, with the world being negative. And there are many references to “cosmic sperm bank” in Nag Hammadi. I won’t waste time referencing all of them. So I don’t think “cosmic sperm bank” is all that crazy an idea, at least if you are using Nag Hammadi as a guide. But since they contain a lot of Gnostic ideas, that is understandable. So as you quoted Carrier, “Paul says Jesus was “made” from the seed of David, that this implies the use of a cosmic sperm bank”, reinforces the idea that Paul could be interpreted as having Gnostic leanings!

        • David M

          I would be interested to know what there is in Nag Hammadi that would lend credence to Carrier’s interpretation of Paul. In particular I would like to know if there is anything written by someone who has Paul’s perspective and yet speaks in the way that Carrier thinks Paul is speaking. It seems unlikely. Paul’s perspective is firmly historical. For him, the history of humanity in general and the Jews in particular unfolds according to Yahweh’s plan. Paul believed that that plan had reached its culmination in his own day and its significance was earth-shattering.

          The question is whether that fulfilment of history could be regarded as having happened entirely in a supernatural realm. That question can’t be answered by looking at people who have a penchant for cosmological speculation but no interest in Jewish history. For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus is an absolutely concrete event and the culminating event in Jewish history.

        • Mark

          And there are many references to “cosmic sperm bank” in Nag Hammadi.

          It is King David’s deposit we are looking for, and we aren’t going to find it at Nag Hammadi.

          • Gary

            Oh, really –
            I had to take my time responding, because I had to provide you with specific references!

          • Gary

            I see my comment disappeared. So I’ll have to wait till it gets approved, I guess.

          • It’s there, just further down rather than in this comment thread. See below.

  • Leigh Sutherland

    The way I read it is that Lataster makes the point that being a secular scholar rules out any hypothesis involving the Christ of faith, it has nothing to do with historical method, I feel you wasted a whole bunch of rhetoric on a point that is not confusing.

    • Ehrman is an atheist, as was Casey. Both are convinced that mythicism is bunk and that there was a historical Jesus. If you felt that my addressing this point was irrelevant perhaps you were unaware of these points?

      • Leigh Sutherland

        Thank you for the reply Dr McGrath, I am very much aware, and have read widely works from Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey and numerous other scholars in the field of Christian Origins and Biblical studies. I read with interest the Foreword by James Crossley for Latester’s book where he did’nt just dismiss the thoughts of the author concerning a purerly mythical Jesus (but neither offering support), James Crossley also lists Maurice Casey as one of his inspirations. I think Philip Davies observations are very apt for the current conversations on the Jesus Myth theory, the words from a piece by Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies (sadly deceased)
        “I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability” .

        • Mark

          Leigh, Where did you find this foreward by Crossley?

          This seems to be becoming a vogue. I noticed the mind-numbing Vridar crowd discussing a quasi mythicist or somehow non-historicist French work — Nanine Charbonnel, Jesus Christ, sublime figure de papier — and the foreward is by Thomas Römer, of all people. Of course, such things are outside his expertise, if I grasp its range. As far as I can tell, the book treats ‘the gospels’ as a single unified entity — “Le livre de Nanine Charbonnel confirme l'”Hypothèse midrashique” exposée par Bernard Dubourg, selon laquelle les Évangiles sont entièrement issues, par élaborations midrashiques, des textes hébraïques de l’Ancien Testament.” The poet Dubourg, her hero, tried to ‘retrovert’ the NT to the underlying Hebrew. It’s like the ‘Aramaic Lord’s Prayer’ only much worse. She seems to be attempting to treat the hypothesized Hebrew absurdly anachronistically with rabbinic techniques and the slowly developing cultus of the Hebrew language. I can only believe that someone could believe this if he belonged to some esoteric Christian sect. Of course it’s like that with Carrier’s interpretation – he cannot credibly be affirmed to believe it either.

          Lataster suggests his book ($199 – taking orders now!) will follow Carrier in affirming the Christ Myth interpretation of Paul – I guess with the Davidic sperm bank and the death and resurrection of heavenly things that Paul says cannot die, etc etc.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            Mark, please see below for a link to the James Crossley piece.
            https://brill.com/view/book/9789004408784/front-7.xml

            I have no time for Ad hominem blanket comments on the “mind numbing Vridar Crowd”, your words “if I grasp its range” and “As far as I can tell” informs others of the lack of in depth understanding of a particular argument prior to your comments.

          • “I have no time for Ad hominem blanket comments on the “mind numbing Vridar Crowd””

            I can assure you that Mark is far from the only one who finds that weird and smug little online contrarian clique mind numbing.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            Unfortunately reading/listening to “mind numbing” articles,papers or lectures is the price you have to pay for being well informed of the opposite view.

          • I disagree. Nothing that is a worthy opposing viewpoint should be mind-numbing. When we read young-earth creationist materials and they are mind-numbing, it tells us something about the nature of that viewpoint. One can read a range of diverse views from serious biologists, paleontologists, geneticists, and others and not find them mind-numbing even if one disagrees.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            You have to read it to discover if it is eventually mind numbing, young-earth creationism does not parallel across to the points being made by the likes of James Crossley, Hector Avalos and Philip Davies, and to suggest otherwise is missing the point that being agnostic to the existence of Jesus is becoming an increasingly acceptable position amongst academics in the field.

          • I think you are getting a wrong impression of the field, and perhaps are unaware that even some of the academic supporters not of mythicism’s conclusions but its worthiness of being taken seriously, such as Hector Avalos, are from outside of the directly related fields of New Testament, early Christianity, Greco-Roman/Jewish history, etc.

            But to be fair, Intelligent Design is probably the more apt comparison, rather than young-earth creationism. Intellectually respectable in some circles, but almost not at all among those who actually work directly on the subject matter.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            James Crossley is not outside the field and is not so easily dismissed , and may I note, the vast majority of Biblical Scholars are not trained professional historians so theoretically “they are outside their area of expertise.”
            Intelligent Design can be dismissed, as it is challenging the science, being a science it can be testable and therefore shown to be an incorrect hypothesis. History is not testable so is not a comparison.

          • I never suggested otherwise about James Crossley, and of course, if you’ve read the foreword you yourself linked to, he doesn’t argue in support of mythicism. The majority of secular scholars working in biblical studies have been trained in the methods for studying ancient history, just as most Classicists have. Biblical Studies, like Classics, is a field in which a number of methods are employed. The majority who work with literary approaches don’t write about history. And so you’ll be hard pressed to find significant numbers of scholars who work on historical questions related to the Bible but who have no training in the methods. On ID the matter is more complex, and the evidence is no less strong against mythicism than against ID. Historical conclusions are testable in the sense relevant to that discipline. Sometimes the evidence needed to test a proposal may be lacking, but that happens in physics and others of the natural sciences on occasion and not only history or the humanities.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            I have not implied or stated that James Crossley supports mythicism, the point being made is that a stance of agnosticism is increasingly intellectually permissible.
            I have used the below statement from a qualified historian.
            “History does not have any testable hypotheses, it just has opinions based on certain sources. Historians argue about which sources are more reliable, and why other sources are more biased or untrustworthy, and why our version of the story makes more sense. That’s not science”.
            The evidence against ID is plentiful and testable,
            http://www.nas.edu/evolution/IntelligentDesign.html
            If the evidence needed to test a proposal is lacking then a position of we don’t know for sure (agnostic) is the preference.
            https://io9.gizmodo.com/why-agnosticism-probably-doesnt-mean-what-you-think-it-1583312952

          • If the evidence needed to test a proposal is lacking then a position of we don’t know for sure (agnostic) is the preference.”

            Oh please. If we consistently applied that principle to ancient/pre-modern history generally we’d end up being “agnostic” on most things and the whole enterprise would be completely paralysed. Historical analysis is a process of establishing and arguing to the best explanation, based on a (yes) subjective but structured and rational assessment of what is most likely. There are some things so uncertain that a form of agnosticism is about as far as we can go. Most other questions, however, are accessible to an assessment of what is most parsimonious.

            So I am more or less agnostic on whether a historical Arthur existed in sixth century sub-Roman Britain. But that’s because our sources are so remote in time, so fragmentary and so legendary that an assessment one way or the other is too difficult to make. In the case of the historical Jesus, however, we have sources (for all their difficulties and faults) within just a few decades of the events – not centuries. And we have a letter dated to about 20 years later referring in passing to meeting Jesus’ brother. In addition, we have a Jewish historian who was a younger contemporary of that brother and lived in the same small city as he did telling us about the brother’s execution in that city when the historian was 25. And he identifies him by reference to “that Jesus who was called Messiah”. It takes some serious acrobatics to pretend this material is not enough to establish this Jesus most likely existed and to thus remain steadfastly “agnostic” on whether he existed.

            For all his pretensions to objective neutrality, Lataster just rehearses the tired old Mythicist arguments, overstates the uncertainty, understates the solidity of the evidence we have and gets hopelessly confused with some nonsense about the case for a historical Jesus resting on “hypothetical sources”. Which is why, like his mentor Carrier, he will be a footnoted oddity in the field and nothing more.

          • Not always, but in the case of the Vridar Treehouse Club, yes. There are plenty of places where I can read “opposite views” to mine that are not malignant cliques that harbour a cluster of bitter, festering vendettas and support ridiculous crackpot theories while referring to anything in the scholarly mainstream as belonging to “the Guild” and scorn accepting mainstream scholarship as being “a consensus junkie”. That site is a very, very weird place.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            I have never once suggested people should read Vridar to access their opposite viewpoints, if you study something long enough whether as a layman or a Scholar you will find good arguments that will test your own bias.

          • “I have never once suggested people should read Vridar to access their opposite viewpoints”

            Read my response again.

            “if you study something long enough whether as a layman or a Scholar you will find good arguments that will test your own bias.”

            Are you always this pompous and condescending? I’m in my 50s, have a postgraduate degree and have been studying this stuff and other historical matters for a few decades. So I don’t think I need your sage advice on looking at opposing views, thanks all the same, wise Grandpa.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            Not worth a reply.

          • Yet reply you did. Again, tone down the snooty condescension. There are plenty of people here who are far more learned than you and have been studying this stuff for longer. Stop pretending you have some vast insight we don’t and perhaps people will be able to take you a touch more seriously.

          • Roy Wolfe

            I’m not sure its a good idea for one to throw rocks at purported treehouse clubs when one presides over one.

            Go to HFA. Go to Vridar. Randomly sample the comments section of each and see what you find. Where do you find the “insult and denigration in place of argument” and where do you find a group of well-informed individuals politely discussing their views on the origin of Christianity?

          • Mark

            Thanks for the Crossley.

            “I have no time for Ad hominem blanket comments on the “mind numbing Vridar Crowd”, your words “if I grasp its range” and “As far as I can tell” informs others of the lack of in depth understanding of a particular argument prior to your comments.”

            All of these epithets were quite reasonable. I’m not sure how far I should take an interest in your ‘time’. I have read and translated Römer’s foreward and read several parts of Charbonnel accessible to me.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            Mark, all I am trying to convey is the propensity for persons to disparage and dismiss certain hypothesis before reading and fully understanding the argument made. And I don’t mean examples of young-earth creationism or some of the more crackpot mythisist literature, my focus would be on those alternate possibilities that have some traction amongst well respected academics within that field under discussion.

          • “ll I am trying to convey is the propensity for persons to disparage and dismiss certain hypothesis before reading and fully understanding the argument made.”

            I think you’ll find that plenty here have “read and fully understood the arguments made” when it comes to Mythicism. I have a large collection of Mythicist books and have carefully analysed all of their claims, thanks very much. Again, dial down the lofty condecesion – we aren’t your frigging pupils.

            “my focus would be on those alternate possibilities that have some traction amongst well respected academics within that field under discussion.”

            Mythicism doesn’t.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            For Goodness sake the issue is not whether mythicism is true or false, it’s about whether being agnostic on the issue due to the week evidence, is a reasonable stance.

          • Yes. We know. I’m beginning to wonder if you are even reading what is being said to you. The “Mythicist books” and other material I refer to include those by the contrarians who claim this “agnostic” position while simply using the same arguments as Mythicists.

            My point stands. Stop lecturing us on how we need to consider other positions. We have. At length. And, in my case and the case of others here, we have responded to them many times, addressing them in great detail. Here is my article on this so-called “agnosticism”, including my critique of Lataster’s attempted use of it as a rhetorical tactic:

            History for Atheists – PZ Myers and “Jesus Agnosticism”

          • Agnosticism and mythicism are different. While I find the dogmatically agnostic stance of a commenter here named Vinny frustrating at times, I respect it in a way I cannot respect mythicism. Saying “I cannot make up my mind based on the evidence” is one thing, epistemologically speaking, and saying “I think this convoluted alternative is actually superior to the consensus of historians” is another entirely.

          • ?? I’m well aware they are different; at least in principle. In practice, however, the difference is minor. The “agnostics” use exactly the same arguments as the Mythicists, they simply stop just short of the Mythicists’ conclusion.

            And in many cases – e.g. Lataster and ol’ Godfrey – this seems more a gambit than honesty. If they were real agnostics they would be as evenly critical of the Mythicists as they are of the mainstream position. But they never are – look at Lataster’s bizarrely gushing and uncritical assessment of Carrier, for example.

            My point above is that we don’t need scolding lectures on how we should pay attention to either of these two fringe positions. We are well aware both of them.

          • John MacDonald

            The Greeks have an answer for everything, lol

            Socrates: “I know that I know nothing: not wise with their wisdom, not foolish with their foolishness.”

  • Leigh Sutherland

    David, I would like to state upfront that I still think that a deluded, failed apocalyptic Jewish prophet (a la Bart Ehrman) is still the most probable, and it is not the solely the mythicists that deserve a “fair crack” but more importantly those of us laymen out there who have read widely for many years on the subject and are very much aware that the historical information we have for Jesus is very poor (and expectedly so), as I mentioned above well respected scholars in the field of Biblical Studies (although still few in number) are increasingly open to the option of at least being agnostic to the Man behind the Myth.

    • Why should historians consistently conclude, as you do, that the historical evidence points in a particular direction, and do more than qualify their conclusions with appropriate historical nuance and remain open to revising their conclusions should new evidence and arguments warrant them doing so?

      • Leigh Sutherland

        Historians only conclude that evidence points in a certain direction when said evidence is of the highest quality that is recoverable about an individual or event. If new evidence is uncovered then conclusions can be altered concerning the person/event in question. Every person can make a judgement on the available information (if they wish to do the appropriate research), if the evidence for a certain position is of questionable provenance then agnosticism is an acceptable stance.

        • Your first claim is simply not true. Historians regularly acknowledge that evidence points in a particular direction, but not strongly. They may also conclude, as many do in the case of Jesus, that the evidence is strong that he existed but less strong when it comes to many or most details of his life.

          Non-historians are free in most countries to reject the consensus of historians, as some do in relation to the Holocaust for instance. In general, I advise against it, since an investigation of the consensus usually shows that it is nuanced in the way that I indicate, and while sometimes the majority of experts is wrong, it is less likely that a few fringe figures and significantly larger numbers of armchair participants will be right. It does sometimes happen. But it is a poor bet given the odds and the frequency with which it turns out not only that the majority was wrong, but that some fringe alternative happens to be right. And just happening to have been right when you jumped to a conclusion before evidence was available to support it is nothing to be proud of.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            I agree with you that the first claim should have been better presented, my point is when we have good solid evidence for a person or event then the probability will increase enough that we can accept the historicity of the person and or event. The argument from the agnostic side of the existence of Jesus is the evidence is demonstrably week (whether you believe he existed or not).
            Please can you avoid the example of the Holocaust, we still have eye witness testimony and actual footage of the horrific aftermath of the Shoah.
            The eventual consensus that the historicity of Moses and the Patriarchs are extremely doubtful were originally held by very few academics and they were lambasted for their opinion only later were they accepted as leaders in the field.

          • It is irrelevant that Moses and the Patriarchs are now figures about which there is significant disagreement about whether there is any smidgeon of history behind them. Many would still say there is something to Moses because of the remnant of an Egyptian name minus the theophoric element. The point is that there is no correspondence between the narratives about them and what a historical figure that eventually gave rise to the narratives might plausibly have looked like. There too, there is no celestial Patriarchal sperm bank trying to convolutedly explain away the evidence. And when it comes to those figures, we have no letter from someone who met one of their brothers. And so the cases, evidence, and most importantly distance in time between purported events and earliest written account are very different between Abraham and Jesus.

    • David M

      Has Lataster presented a case which, if not completely convincing, should nudge us towards agnosticism regarding Jesus’ existence? That wasn’t the feeling I had after reading Jesus Did Not Exist. Ultimately, I could never be persuaded by Lataster’s interpretation of Paul, and not just because of a few passages that seem particularly inconvenient for Lataster’s theory. Even with those passages I got the impression that Lataster’s only concern was to explain them away. For example, he first suggests that Gal. 1:19 is an interpolation and then (as a backup argument) cites R. Joseph Hoffmann who doesn’t think it is a reference to Jesus’ biological brother. But elsewhere in the book Lataster says that Hoffmann is amateurish and unconvincing.

      Lataster thinks that revelations which Paul claims to have received from the exalted Jesus are the basis for the teachings that are attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. It seems strange that revelations from a celestial being should turn out to be so useful to the Gospel writers, given how they reflect a rural Galilean setting. We have parables about sowing and reaping, shepherds, day labourers, absentee landlords, inheritance disputes etc.

      When Lataster tries to show how a figure from mythology/folklore can be placed in a recognisable historical setting, the best example he can come up with is Sawney Bean. In fact, I regard Sawney Bean as a poor analogy for Jesus, and not just because Sawney Bean is a mass-murdering cannibal. As far as I can tell, we have no detailed narratives about Sawney Bean which have him interacting with other characters in a way that allow us to test the author’s ability to depict a particular cultural/political setting.

      So all in all I don’t find Lataster convincing. Perhaps he has done a better job in his latest book.

      • Leigh Sutherland

        David, Lataster’s case does not have to be completely convincing to pique the interest of the reader, if it can be shown that some well respected academics within the field are seriously questioning aspects of the consensus then a move to agnosticism is surely warranted.

  • So what you were thinking of was the idea that celestial beings have sperm, which one could have already taken to be implicit in Genesis when the sons of El and daughters of men produced offspring. What mythicism requires is a storehouse of king David’s sperm, since that is what Richard Carrier appeals to in order to explain how Paul could have thought of Jesus as “of the seed of David according to the flesh” and yet a purely celestial figure.

  • “I wasted my time doing this, so I hope people will check my facts, and verify them”

    Those passages refer to nothing like what Carrier claims. So we won’t “verify” them – you are wrong. As we suspected.

    • Gary

      I didn’t say they supported Carrier’s claim. But I did indeed imply that “Cosmic Sperm Bank” is not such an outlandish claim as was presented by the original person I commented to – Not you, but John. And your comments clearly show you know nothing about Nag Hammadi texts. As I remember, you asked me to provide YOU with references in Nag Hammadi. Which I did. I clearly wasted my time answering you. And btw, a Cosmic Sperm Bank containing any Sperm, whether David’s, who was dead at the time of Jesus birth, or an archon, is pretty much irrelevant. Next time, I won’t go out of my way answering you.

      • The issue is not angelic sperm, but davidic sperm being used to create a non-terrestrial human being. You offered no parallel to that mythicist scenario.

        • Gary

          You seem to not understand. I am not arguing for or against mythicism. I am saying “Cosmic Sperm Bank” is NOT a LOL term, especially considering Gnostic documents.

          • Where did you come across a cosmic sperm bank with a historical human being’s sperm used to create a celestial human being? And even if you had, why would it still not be laughable to read that view into Paul’s letters which make no explicit reference to anything remotely similar?

          • Gary

            Dense!?!

          • Gary

            Just hypothetically, considering:
            pg 191, “The Nature of the Rulers”, also translated, “The Hypostatis of the Archons”, Note 2, “Apparently the authorities are the same as the rulers or archons.”
            Is not David, a dead person, at Jesus’ birth, also a “ruler”? And didn’t Valentinus followers believe Paul was a Gnostic? So, laugh, but a community around 200AD called Valentinian, woudn’t find it funny. David represents a archon, and archons maintained “Cosmic Sperm Banks”.

            Elaine Pagels, “The Gnostic Paul”,
            Page 14,
            “The initiated reader learns from secret tradition that here again Paul is speaking symbolically. “David” signifies the demiurge himself – an appropriate metaphor, first in that he dominates his creatures like any petty king, and second, in that as demiurge, he has formed and “fathered” mankind “according to the flesh”. Paul characterizes in 1:3, then, the psychic preaching of the savior “according to the flesh,” as son of the demiurge (“David”); But in 1:4 the pneumatic proclamation of Christ “according to the spirit” as “one designated son of God” – of the Father.

            The initiate, trained to read the deeper structure of the text, then, could see from 1:1 how Paul identifies himself both as a psychic and as a member of the pneumatic elect, and from 1:3-4 how he demonstrates two different modes of his preaching.”

          • Thanks – now that is indeed interesting! The obvious question, of course, is whether one thinks the Valentinian reading of Romans is what Paul intended. If not, then this doesn’t really provide anything that would support mythicism. Indeed, even if one thinks that Valentinus preserved precisely what Paul meant and taught, that still wouldn’t help mythicism, since Valentinus thought Jesus had appeared in history. But I clearly have things to learn about Valentinianism, and am really grateful you shared this!

            (To answer your question, no, dead people were not thought to become celestial rulers in ancient Gnosticism or other religions in this region that I am aware of.)

          • Gary

            “dead people were not thought to become celestial rulers“

            Not even Jesus? 🙂

          • Touché! Let me rephrase what I wrote. “Dead people were not generally thought to become celestial rulers.”

      • John MacDonald

        Gary:

        I didn’t say they supported Carrier’s claim. But I did indeed imply that “Cosmic Sperm Bank” is not such an outlandish claim as was presented by the original person I commented to – Not you, but John.

        Well, good debating form says I should be able to argue both sides of the issue…

        So, in defense of my friend Gary who was nice enough to comment on my blog that I used to run a number of times, I offer a blog post of the always feisty Humean Nicholas Covington and the historical analogy of preserved sperm in Zoroastrianism! https://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2017/10/17/seed-david-take-two/

        • John MacDonald

          and miraculously preserved sperm at that, lol

        • Gary

          John, I appreciate it. But sometimes it is better to play low profile.

      • “I didn’t say they supported Carrier’s claim.”

        You said (and have repeated) that they somehow imply “a ‘Cosmic Sperm Bank’ is not such an outlandish claim”. None of those quotes have anything to do with anything like a “cosmic sperm bank”, let alone anything close to what Carrier claims. Some references to sperm in the heavens are not enough to support the claim you made.

        “And your comments clearly show you know nothing about Nag Hammadi texts.”

        That’s an absurd comment, given that nothing I have said here could lead you to that silly conclusion. As it happens, I was already well aware of exactly the texts you were going to refer to when I challenged you to back up your claim (hint: this ain’t my first rodeo on this topic ;> ) but your texts don’t support your claim.

        “I clearly wasted my time answering you.”

        Given your answer didn’t support your claim, yes.

        “a Cosmic Sperm Bank containing any Sperm, whether David’s, who was dead at the time of Jesus birth, or an archon, is pretty much irrelevant. “

        How the hell can it be “irrelevant” to the question of whether Carrier’s idea of such a thing is outlandish or not? That makes no sense.

        • Gary

          You said,
          “I was already well aware of exactly the texts you were going to refer to when I challenged you to back up your claim”…

          All the more reason I should ignore you in the future. Why did you waste both mine and your time? Ridiculous! Adios amigo!

          • “All the more reason I should ignore you in the future”

            That makes no sense at all.

            “Why did you waste both mine and your time?”

            I didn’t. By making you try to use those texts to support your claim that “a ‘Cosmic Sperm Bank’ is not such an outlandish claim” I showed that your claim was baseless. No time was “wasted”.

            “Ridiculous! Adios amigo!”

            You’ve leaving … again? You certainly seem keen to wriggle away, though keep coming back to get in another weak jab that doesn’t address the failure of your claim. But run away, by all means.

          • Gary

            Sorry to make you sad in my leaving you.

  • David M

    If supernatural beings can impregnate women, it is a short step to a cosmic sperm bank. Actually it seems like a pretty big step. But even if we grant it, I don’t think it will be much help to mythicists. Their theory is that Jesus temporarily assumed human form in a celestial realm. So how does that work? Did the Davidic seed gestate in a cosmic incubator? Did the celestial Jesus have to wait for the body to grow to adulthood before he temporarily took possession of it. I think the mythicists should just admit that it’s interpolation or bust as far as Rom. 1:3 is concerned.

    • Gary

      I think if you want to attack mythicists argument about “Cosmic Sperm Bank”, you can argue that they are going back to old Gnostic thinking to help their case. Call them new age Gnostics! But I don’t think it is appropriate to laugh at Gnostics, same as it’s not good to laugh at Christians that believe in a resurrection. Both believe what they believe. However, mythicists don’t believe in anything.

      What you said, “Their theory is that Jesus temporarily assumed human form in a celestial realm.”

      Talking about mythicists. Here again, I think you are confusing mythicist argument with Gnostics. Some Gnostics believed what you said – but I think mythicists simple believe that Jesus didn’t exist at all. And they try to use Gnostic beliefs as there talking point – which doesn’t make sense. What Gnostics believed, and what Christians believe, doesn’t have much to do with whether a historical Jesus existed. Just my opinion.

      • David M

        Mythicists sometimes seem to be trying to resurrect a Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic interpretation of Paul, although I’m not aware of any Gnostics who denied that Jesus had lived on earth. But they often seem confused about the nature of Jesus. Lataster says that references to the flesh and blood of Jesus are consistent with his theory, which supposedly allows for the celestial Jesus to assume human form. But it is not clear what this assumption of human form was supposed to entail.

        Lataster uses the term “platonic lower heaven” in his book. This illustrates his confusion. “Platonic” suggests that the crucifixion “happened” in some timeless, static realm. As an interpretation of Paul, this could not be more implausible. Elsewhere Lataster seems to think of events in the heavenly realm as being more like events on earth.

        Yes, mythicism is just the denial of Jesus’ existence, so it doesn’t have to entail any theories about a celestial Jesus. But that seems to be the most popular view.

        • Gary

          What you said, “although I’m not aware of any Gnostics who denied that Jesus had lived on earth”.

          Exactly! The difference between Gnostics and mythicists.

        • Gary

          “platonic lower heaven”
          Seems to be trying to create the Gnostic psychic and the pneumatic. Next thing you know, mythicists will be claiming they have “secret knowledge”! Area 51 and aliens from outer space may have provided mythicists with their secret knowledge arguments 🙂

          • David M

            I think “secret knowledge” is exactly what they claim to have. Lataster thinks he can detect cryptic messages in Mark’s Gospel telling him that Jesus never existed. If anyone was in a position to know Mark’s intentions it should have been the authors of Matthew and Luke. But they were apparently unaware of the “truth”, since Lataster concedes that they did think Jesus existed. Secret knowledge indeed!

          • I think the claim that the Gospels are allegories, which allows mythicists to read whatever they want into them, is telling in my mind, since that same approach is used by fundamentalist Christians as well. I wrote about that here: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/08/mcg398026.shtml

          • David M

            Thanks for the link. It find it amazing when mythicists claim to know why every scene in the Gospels was invented. A simple reason for believing something is always preferable to a very complex reason for believing something. If a story has a hundred scenes and someone claims to have worked out why each scene was invented, that person is offering you a fantastically complex explanation for the story. In reality, if the authors don’t tell you themselves how they thought up their stories, it is usually fruitless to speculate.

          • See my article, “Did Jesus Die in Outer Space?” http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/10/mcg388028.shtml

  • Leigh Sutherland

    Can I thank you Dr McGrath along with Mark and Gary for your insights and knowledge, it is always valuable to hear the thoughts and insights of others who you may not necessarily agree with the position one holds at the present time, hope to converse in the not to distant future.

    • It has been a pleasure talking with you over these past few days. I have strong feelings about this topic (as you can tell) mainly because of the forms that mythicism takes very often on the internet, which consists of a lot of denigrating and insulting of mainstream scholars, never mind frequent misrepresentation of what biblical texts and academics writing about them say. I’m always happy to talk about the topic, and find it very easy to do when someone approaches it in a spirit of genuine dialogue and respectful conversation!

  • Roy Wolfe

    Thank you for the reply Mr. O’Neill.

    The quote is from the McGrath article, “Exorcising Mythicism’s Sky-Demons: A Response to Raphael Lataster’s “Questioning Jesus’ Historicity” ” Aug 2019 from The Bible and Interpretation: “Lataster resembles other prominent mythicists in his use of ‘insult and denigration in place of argument.’ ” Just couldn’t pass up the irony of that, as evidenced by your response it appears there’s plenty of insult and denigration to go around for both camps.

    I’ll look into the Godfrey spat, I’m honestly not familiar with it, maybe before I became a regular visitor. The AFA thing, not familiar with, will take you at your word.

    I do enjoy the articles you post on HFA because they do represent mainstream, consensus positions, and, they are well researched and written. I may not agree with them but I consider it my obligation to be familiar with the mainstream, consensus positions. I doubt you’ll find many in the mythicist camp who don’t have at the least a shelf full of Ehrman and the like.