Jesus, James, and Peter Mythicism

Jesus, James, and Peter Mythicism December 2, 2019

It is worth noting precisely what it is that mythicists do with Paul’s references to Jesus in his letters, and just how easily the same could be done with James, the brother of Jesus, whom most mythicists accept was an actual person, while denying that he was actually Jesus’ brother. They emphasize that he is not called “the brother of Jesus” but “the brother of the Lord” as though the Lord, for Paul, were not clearly Jesus. Some have even tried to claim that he was the brother of Yahweh, showing that mythicists are clutching at straws and have no real understanding of what ancient Jews and early Christians believed.

And so why don’t they go further still? Paul went up to Jerusalem. Surely this could refer to a heavenly journey to the heavenly Jerusalem, during which he met Jacob, Yahweh’s brother. Simple! After all, Paul himself says that he was taken up to the third heaven.

My objection to this (in case you are starting to think maybe I’m onto something) is that it is the same approach religious fundamentalists take to the text, deciding what it is allowed to mean in advance, and then accepting any interpretation that provides that desired meaning, without discussion or consideration of whether the text more likely means what they think it should. Mythicists prooftext rather than exegete.

Of related interest:

History for Atheists on the Nazareth myth

Jesus mythicism and the invisibility of the poor

Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?

Bruce also interacts with Harry McCall, who claims that I “removed from both his blog and Butler University religion faculty description any claim that he debunks claims that the New Testament Jesus never existed.” I have no idea what he is talking about, but I am happy to reiterate here that I do indeed debunk Jesus-mythicist nonsense, when time allows. Bruce writes nicely on this topic, in a way that meshes with points I made above:

Harry McCall…is a mythicist zealot. He’s the kind of “believer” who puts people into two categories: “against” him or “for” him. McCall is convinced that he has overwhelming proved that the historical Jesus is a myth, and anyone who reads his writings will come to the same conclusion. Those who don’t are immediately condemned and summarily executed.

McCall thinks that just because he writes something, that those who disagree with it or mythicism, in general, are obligated to refute him. I see similar behavior from Christian Fundamentalists. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelicals demand that I answer their “irrefutable” arguments for their peculiar brand of Christianity. There was a time when I would do so, but I later came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. Zealots, be they Christian, atheist, or “spiritual,” are closed-minded. Their goal is not discussion, it’s conversion.

Harry McCall Objects to My Rejection of Mythicism, Says I “Hate” Him

See too:

Episode 18: Was Jesus a Real Person?

Memory and the Jesus Tradition

Allan Bevere shared an introduction to the Gospel of Matthew in video form

Bill Heroman blogged about the Gospels as biographies

Bruce Chilton wrote about the logic of Jesus’ resurrection

Apologists aren’t helpful when they appeal to evidence that isn’t conclusive, never mind evidence that may be fabricated or altered:

Did Jesus exist?

Also related to history and Jesus, and the limits of historical study when it comes to certain things many Christians want to say about Jesus:

Mark Goodacre and Chris Keith talked about criteria of authenticity on the NT Pod.

A recent study on the genre of the Gospels:

Re-thinking Gospel Genre After Richard Burridge

A book about the Gospel of John in Jesus research:

Gospel of John in Historical Inquiry – a book note

And more broadly on Jesus and history, there was a preview of Craig Keener’s new book, which I plan to blog about:

The Canonical Gospels as Ancient Biographies

Keener shared a couple of interviews he gave, including one with Sean McDowell in written form, and then this video:

Why are the Gospels the best sources about Jesus historically? (13.42 minutes)

More from Keener:

Reliability of the Gospels article (Influence magazine)

Epistemology and historical arguments—a few thoughts

Historical Jesus interview, part 3 (8.15 minutes)

Historical Jesus interview part 4 (8.15 minutes)

Historical Jesus part 5 (11 minutes)

Historical Jesus part 6 (8.31 minutes)

Historical Jesus interview, part 7 (17.31 minutes)

Historical Jesus interview, part 8 (7.41 minutes)

Historical Jesus interview part 9 (13.16 minutes)

Historical Jesus interview, conclusion (6 minutes)

Reliability of the Gospels (Christianity Today interview)

Panel discussion with Craig, Bart Ehrman, Mike Licona, Rob Bowman (1 hour)

Summary of Christobiography

Christobiography: Within the Frame of Living Memory

Gospels, Biographies, Histories

See also this interview with Keener, and another.


Vincent Henry Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, is available for free online.

Carlo Ginzburg on the Study of History and the Boundaries of His Commitments

Capturing the surprise of the resurrection

Are there contradictions in the resurrection accounts?

Fear and Resurrection: “The Fear of the Jews” and its Aftermath

The Making of a Messiah: Did Jesus Claim to be the Messiah and Predict His Suffering and Death?

Also related to resurrection accounts:

Was It All A Dream? A Resurrection Story



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  • John MacDonald

    I, and I’m sure many others, was initially drawn to mythicism because of the shock value, like the Da Vinci code. We love shocking, alternative histories, like the Kennedy murder conspiracy, and will often gravitate to the tantalizing at the expense of our critical faculties.

    • I don’t think that my interest in mythicism had anything to do with its shock value. I think I acknowledged the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist when I realized how problematic the sources are. I’ve never moved beyond agnosticism because I don’t see how the sources are any less problematic for mythicism than they are for historicism.

      • John MacDonald

        Vinny said “I don’t think that my interest in mythicism had anything to do with its shock value.”

        Do you expend equal time and effort investigating King Arthur mythicism, or is that topic not tantalizing enough?

        • I’ve never had much reason to consider the quality of the King Arthur sources, probably because there has never been anyone who tried to get books banned at my children’s school based on his or her interpretation of what King Arthur said and did.

          • John MacDonald

            So, you are interested in whether Jesus existed because you don’t like the politics of certain conservative Christians?

          • I’m not exactly sure why I find the topic interesting, any more than i’m sure why I find chess interesting or math interesting or trains interesting.

            I can say that I first looked into the quality of the sources as a result of discussions I had with conservative Christians who challenged me to “look at the evidence.” I’m quite certain that the question of Jesus’ existence never came up in my discussions with the book banners, though.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            “probably because there has never been anyone who tried to get books banned at my children’s school based on his or her interpretation of what King Arthur said and did.”

            So, due to your clash of worldviews with these conservative Christians, would you say you would be interested in something that would discredit them and their point of view?

          • I can tell you that this conversation is quickly losing whatever interest it held for me. Since chess, math, and trains do nothing to discredit the point of view of conservative Christians (well, maybe math does), I would say that the causal connection between things that interest me and things that discredit conservative Christianity is tenuous.

          • John MacDonald

            What do you make of Ehrman’s claim in DJE that mythicist leanings often come out of people having an axe to grind against Christianity – And what better way to attack Christianity than claim a mythical Jesus?

          • I think that it’s a convenient way to avoid the substance of the arguments.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think it’s that. I think that Ehrman finds mythicist arguments so wildly unpersuasive that he can’t understand why an informed reader would fall for them. For instance, regarding Doherty, Ehrman writes:

            “It is an 800 page book that is filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2400 page book to deal with all the problems (Ehrman, DJE, 252).”

          • John MacDonald

            I’ve been downvoted! No way to tell who it was. That never happened before. lol

          • Gary

            John – I certainly did not vote you down. But I find Ehrman’s comment rather amusing (although I believe a historic Jesus did exist!)

            Just compare his comments:
            “It is an 800 page book that is filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2400 page book to deal with all the problems ”…

            With this slight modification:

            “The Gospels and the rest of the NT books are filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2400 page book to deal with all the problems!”

            Of course Ehrman has already written a book of many pages in “Forged”, “Jesus Interrupted”, etc. 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            As an interested non-expert, it’s kind of hard to understand the criteria for judgment. For instance, very few academics support mythicism, and it seems to be treated as pseudoscience. But, at the same time, virtually no one supports Goodacre’s theory regarding Q, or Eisenman’s dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they are still highly respected scholars.

          • Gary

            “For instance, very few academics support mythicism…”
            Of course it has nothing to do with facts one way or the other. But academics are pre-disposed to lean toward the historic Jesus. Simple reason – you spend about 8 years in college getting a PhD in theology/ancient Christianity/religious studies. Then you are faced with a “possibility”, that you spent 8 years studying mythology. Nothing wrong with that, with the exception that you might have thought you were studying something that actually happened. So perhaps like cigarettes, there should be a warning label for religious studies programs in college for the incoming freshmen. “Warning – this Academic Major program may, or may not, be fact or fiction – please take appropriate action!”

          • This is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, those who study religion in general or ancient religion in particular at secular universities are often already aware that religions are a mixture of history, myth, legend, parable, and much else. And that it is a mixture is a conclusion that mainstream academic study leads to. It is only the religious fundamentalists who claim that their religion is entirely true, and mythicists who insist that handwaving can remove every tidbit of history from ancient Christianity.

            But more importantly, what you wrote sounds just like what young-earth creationists say about those who study biology. Do you think they are right that the real reason evolution is all but universally accepted by biologists is because they don’t want to admit that they dedicated so many years to studying something that isn’t true? Or might it in fact be that those years of study are precisely what has persuaded them to hold the views that they do?

          • Gary

            Must of touched a sensitive nerve.

          • Gary

            Just view it as a warning to fundamentalist students. Which, I think, you once were.

          • Yes, those with academic expertise are often sensitive when it comes to denialisms of various sorts.

          • Gary

            Actually, just a personal question, which obviously you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to…
            If you hadn’t been a Fundamentalist when you entered college, would you still have majored in religious studies? Instead, maybe literature, language, philosophy, or something related to internet technology? AI probably didn’t exist then, but something related to it at the time?

          • Mark

            Any academic would love to come across decisive proof of something as remarkable as that e.g. Jesus never existed.

          • Gary

            Most would. That’s what PhD’s do, they publish. Proof of “Jesus never existed”, or proof of “Jesus existed”, ought to be worth much in both prestige and money from book publishing. But lacking proof, that is a different story. Assuming someone found proof that Jesus didn’t exist, we might find all the conservative PhD’s making “calls for papers”, relating Jesus to SciFi characters like Superman and Batman, just like the progressive PhD’s do (as evidenced by the many “calls for papers” here). I think even Bart Ehrman might find it disappointing that he might be relegated to writing papers comparing Jesus to comic book characters, instead of analyzing the potential text of ancient SciFi authors 🙂

          • Mark

            The Jesus figure has nothing in common with Batman, even on a ‘mythicist’ account.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s interesting that Neil Godfrey just made a comment that contends similar bias in religious studies. He writes:

            – “Scholarly consensus is fine with most studies. But we are talking here about a field populated primarily by Christian believers whose studies and whose professors are to a large extent funded by religious believers — and one does not have to look very far to find what scholars who are real scientists, in areas of naturalistic disciplines and humanities, to know that there is a lot of bemused snickering going on about many of these “religious studies” efforts.” (Neil Godfrey).” see

          • John MacDonald

            And this is interesting that just came to my attention: Carrier’s trade book edition of his OHJ, “Jesus From Outer Space,” is due out in April. Carrier’s bringing his message to the people, lol. See:

          • Gary

            Title is meant to sensationalize the subject, I assume to sell more books. Personally, I think it just makes him more marginalized. I think the title would be more appropriate if the book was a parody. But maybe it is, I don’t know. I certainly won’t bother reading it.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier’s blurb for the book is ambitious. It says:

            “The earliest Christians believed Jesus was a celestial being who put on a bodysuit of flesh, died at the hands of dark forces, and then rose from the dead and ascended back into the heavens. The idea that Jesus toured Galilee and visited Jerusalem arose a lifetime later, in legends written in a foreign land and language. Many sources repeat those legends, but none corroborate them. Why? What exactly was the original belief about Jesus, and how did this belief change over time? Noted historian Richard Carrier summarizes for a popular audience the scholarly research on these and related questions, revealing in turn how modern attempts to conceal, misrepresent, or avoid the actual evidence call into question the entire field of Jesus studies.”

          • Gary

            “Noted historian”…”how modern attempts to conceal, misrepresent, or avoid the actual evidence…”
            Evidence? “There’s no stinking evidence!” Me thinks he doth protest too much! Misquote but apt.

          • Gary

            Just for the record. I read over at vridar that Carrier’s “Jesus from Outer Space” is due out on 1 April 2020, April Fool’s day. Purposeful? Accidental? Or telling?

          • Mark

            I don’t know what ‘field’ he’s talking about. I’m not sure most of the writers I read on this topic are Christians in the sense he means. Many are Jews and standard issue secular people. He probably thinks Gager or Gaston is an apologist or something. The whole conceit is nonsense..

            Of course within a particular Christian sect one needs experts who come to terms with the historical data. (It depends on the sect.) I don’t read such writers mostly, but I have nothing against them; they’re just doing something alien to me. I don’t see why Godfrey objects to them either. It’s just other peoples’ religion. Some writers who might be brought under that heading like Bauckham are so brilliant it ends up not mattering anyway – or in another period, e.g. Raymond Brown. Similarly there are people who write about the rabbinical tradition from deep within the rabbinical tradition – and others like, say, Seth Schwartz or Hayim Lapin who are just amazing historians.

          • I haven’t read Doherty’s book, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of its statements and claims. I have, however, read Ehrman’s affirmative case for Jesus’ existence, which I found to be riddled with illogical and unpersuasive arguments. Knowing how poorly Ehrman thought through his own arguments, it’s hard for me to put much weight on his evaluation of mythicism.

          • Mark

            This is a very characteristic Vinnie move. He is losing interest. He’s bored. Sophists use this on Socrates.

          • What are you trolling about now, Marco?

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not saying you’re using it like this, but have you noticed the label “troll” seems to be used these days as a label for practically anything someone says that the labler doesn’t like? lol

          • It is no doubt a convenient way to sidestep the substance of another person’s comment: after all, trolls don’t deserve substantive responses.

          • John MacDonald

            How would you define a “troll?”

          • Why do you ask, John?

          • John MacDonald

            Just curious about your interpretation of what “troll” means?

          • That does not strike me as a very interesting topic of conversation.

          • John MacDonald

            In the Sophists’s defense, Socrates was actively going around annoying people (gadfly). lol

      • Chris H

        The sources for Jesus are no more problematic than for most other figures of his same social class.

        Ultimately, even if there were no extra-biblical references to Jesus, it would not affect the probability of his existence whatsoever. It would make him just as consistent with any other figure of his social status. That being said, the mention by Tacitus is authentic and Willem Blom has recently shown that Carrier’s argumentation is entirely flawed in disregarding it.

        • Neither are the sources for Jesus any less problematic than for other figures of his class.

          Most figures from the ancient world who are known to us were prominent or literate people or people who came to the attention of prominent or literate people. A first-century itinerant peasant preacher who was unknown beyond a small group of illiterate peasant followers isn’t someone who is likely to have left a footprint in the historical record that would be discernible after 2000 years.

          In addition, most figure from the ancient world who are known to us made their mark in the historical record by virtue of things they did during their lives. If not for a belief that arose in supernatural events that took place after his death, there is no reason to think that any stories about Jesus’ life would have been preserved.

          Historians reason by analogy, and the lack of analogous figures and analgous evidence is what makes things problematic.

          • Chris H

            So… we are discounting the Egyptian and Theudas then? You know, first century peasant preachers that left a mark so as to be mentioned in Josephus and Acts?

            Also… just gonna ignore the fact that multiple preachers and figures were remembered not for acts but their spiritual claims. Cough, Apollonius of Tyana.

          • I am not discounting either the Egyptian or Theudas. Leading a revolt is definitely one of the ways that a person of Jesus’ social class might come to the attention of the prominent or literate people of his day, resulting in a discernible historical foot print. That doesn’t seem to be what happened with Jesus, though.

            Apollonius of Tyana was from a very different social class than Jesus, so I don’t think that he provides a very good analogy, Regardless, I’m not sure that we have much reason to think that Jesus was remembered for his spiritual claims. Our earliest sources say next to nothing about anything that Jesus taught or claimed during his earthly life. Their primary (if not sole) concern is with the supernatural events that took place after his death. Based on the available evidence, I think it’s as likely as not that the spiritual claims were attributed to Jesus after the belief in his resurrection arose.

        • I’m also rather puzzled by the notion that extra-biblical references wouldn’t affect the probability that Jesus existed. How could more evidence not make the case for Jesus’ existence stronger?

          • For instance, the fact that you write certain things about Jesus has no bearing on his historicity, literally. The earliest evidence is what it is. And so depending on how much one thinks the earliest references to Jesus outside the New Testament depend on the New Testament sources, they might or might not add anything that makes the case stronger. And of course, conversely, however much lots of people write in later times, including today’s mythicists, doesn’t necessarily change what the earliest evidence points to.

          • I agree that the evidence is what it is, but what Chris wrote was “even if there were no extra-biblical references,” which seems to be proposing a hypothetical situation in which the evidence is something different than what it is.

          • Chris H

            I’m rather puzzled by the fact that you didn’t read my comment correctly. I said “no extra-biblical sources”.

            What I was saying was that a lack of extrabiblical sources does not negatively affect the probability of Jesus’ life. To put it in Probability terminology (because we all “love” Carrier so much lol): if we have a Reference Class “First Century Jewish preachers” we look at what we would expect the evidence to be for such a figure in this Reference Class. Since we do not expect much evidence to be left at all of these preachers, a lack of extrabiblical evidence does not negatively affect the probability of Jesus existing. It just makes him consistent with most other preachers.

          • I am aware that you said “no extra-biblical references.” That is what I quoted you as saying in my response to Dr. McGrath. You are correct that we shouldn’t expect to find much evidence of Jesus’ existence, so lack of evidence is never going to be enough to push us to the affirmative conclusion that he likely didn’t exist. Nevertheless, our assessment of the probability that Jesus existed is going to be higher with evidence than without evidence, so taking evidence away is going to affect our assessment.

          • Chris H

            Incorrect. What we will have is the following:

            We will develop a prior probability based on the reference class of Jesus existing. The lack of evidence will have no affect on the probability of him existing. The presence of evidence will increase it. The lack of evidence never decreases the likelihood of one existing. If we were to say that a lack of evidence negatively affects probability, then we are saying that absence of evidence is evidence of absence which is fallacious.

            Taking evidence away just pushes us closer to what we would expect from the reference class, which still gives us a high prior probability that he existed.

            If these extrabiblical sources for Jesus did not exist, then, logically, the lack of them cannot affect the probability of his existence… because they don’t exist (can something that does not exist affect your probability?)

            If these sources are lacking, then they do not affect Jesus’ probability of existing one way or the other. If they do exist, they push it forward. The only way out of this is to attempt some kind of argument from silence, however, since silence is expected on first century Jewish preachers, no argument from silence negatively affects the probability of Jesus but merely plays into his reference class.

          • John MacDonald

            The reference class Carrier chooses is “Figures Who Have Been As Heavily Mythologized As Jesus,” and his argument (which you can certainly disagree with) is if you were to put the names of all such figures in a hat, the likelihood of pulling the name of an historical figure out of that hat is no better than 1/3.

          • Chris H

            Actually, Carrier uses the Rank-Raglan Hero Archetype as his Reference Class. That being said there are a lot of things that the Rank-Raglan is completely incompetent at doing.

            Firstly, not all of the beings that Carrier lists in that archetype are of the same individual class. Attis, Osiris, Zeus, etc are not of the same class as Jesus (nor of each other). So basically, Carrier’s results are already skewed because he is not categorizing the same types of people into this archetype. He is simply throwing in whatever gives him the best results.

            Secondly, Carrier completely alters the Rank-Raglan on around fourteen of its points, specifically to make them more generic or to add things so that he can forcefit Jesus into more of them.

            Thirdly, the Rank-Raglan archetype can actually be shown to likely indicate Jesus’ historicity if one actually takes chronology into account.

            As you can see below in that graph (courtesy of Kamil Gregor), when you group the figures based on timeframe, you will find that almost all of the mythical figures are set in unknown timeframes and primordial pasts, or pasts entirely removed from the authors. Whereas, Jesus, Apollonius, Julius, etc., are all set in concrete pasts that are of a known and recent timeframe, usually within the same or just one or two generations later for their earliest sources. Thus, the chronological timeframe actually pushes the probability (regardless of the Rank-Raglan ranking) closer to Jesus being historical.

            Fourth, the Rank-Raglan can’t tell the difference between what is myth and what is real, or what has been exaggerated from real events and what is myth.

            Thus, there is no reason to even consider it a viable reference class. Especially not after Carrier has to forcefit Jesus into it.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, no. In OHJ Carrier picks Rank/Raglan, but explains what he means by this with the example of pulling the names of heavily mythologized figures out of a hat in Carrier’s various online lectures. Anyway, even if Carrier is right about the 1/3, choosing one particular reference class over another can be somewhat arbitrary. For instance, if we picked the class of known “Messiahs in the Time of Jesus,” Josephus mentions a dozen or more “messiah” figures beginning with Hezekiah/Ezekias c. 45 BCE

          • John MacDonald

            All these figures existed.

          • Chris H

            The problem is that he has no reference class which can actually determine the difference between history and myth. Thus his calculations make no sense.

          • Wow, thanks for sharing the graph. Please do say more about where it can be found in its original context, in case I can cite it in something I write in the future.

          • Chris H

            Kamil Gregor is mostly just disseminating it around a little bit but he is planning an entire post on Vridar for it. Once he has his post finished on it, I will make sure to send it your way.

          • If we assess the likelihood that Jesus existed at 75% based on the evidence, and then conclude subsequently that our evidence isn’t valid, would we lower our assessment from 75% or would we leave it there on the grounds that absence of evidence doesn’t affect probability?

          • Chris H

            1) depends on how much you weighed that evidence to begin with
            2) depends on how much it was valued against the prior probability
            3) as long as there is one source for Jesus’ life (Bible or not, the average for most of those first century preachers), then the likelihood of his existence is equal to any of those figures, based on our reference class and expectations of evidence.

            It is logically invalid to make an argument that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence and likewise, in this case, an argument from silence fails since it is expected in this reference class. As such, the lack of extra-biblical sources does not mitigate the chances of his existence.

            If you think it does, then please illuminate what fallacy you think is now not a fallacy?

          • I have not made any argument that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If there is no evidence–and we have no reason to expect there to be evidence–the scale is evenly balanced and we have to assess the probability of his existence as no more likely or unlikely than the probability of his nonexistence.

          • Chris H

            Only if you decide to ignore prior probability… but you know let’s just not use probability theory correctly just for you.

          • If you think that Jesus’ existence is just as probable without evidence as it is with evidence, your understanding of probability theory leaves a lot to be desired.

          • Chris H

            And if you think that is what I said, then you quite clearly do not know how to read. Because I never said anything of a sort. In fact, I explicitly said that the addition of evidence increases probability.

            I’m done. I’ve got other things to expend my limited time on.

          • The problem is that you don’t seem to think that the subtraction of evidence decreases probability.

  • Mark

    It surprises me no one has tried this, but it’s easy to miss. ἀναβαίνω is used for heavenly ascent, as in Revelation 8:4 (smoke and prayers go up to God.)

    Even today one ‘goes up’ to Jerusalem, speaking modern Hebrew, it’s like code enforced in all Jewish languages. That Paul uses the expression is one of the arguments – not that any is needed – that he has actual experience in 2nd T Palestinian Jewry. It appears in several gospels as well, e.g. the good Samaritan story “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho”. It is characteristic of the complexity of John while the writer distances himself from ‘the Jews’ he lets this echt Jewish syntax slip “When the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus anebē eis Jerusalem.” If the examples were all collated, they might be useful against some forms of skepticism, e.g. that second century Anatolian or Roman gentiles wrote this stuff.

    • Gary

      I’m curious. Does the Greek work only apply to heavenly ascent? Or is it context determined?

      Regarding “The rule that one goes up to or comes down from Jerusalem, rather than going to it or coming from it, would not be readily internalized, or probably even noticed, by a complete foreigner…”

      I’m a foreigner, and when I was in Israel in ‘99, I would refer to “going up to” or “coming down from” Jerusalem, every time I drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s pretty obvious on the highway that you are going up or down. Plus, the facility I was visiting had a huge mural on their wall showing Jerusalem covered in snow. You quickly realize it is up, somewhere. So I guess I’m missing the point you’re trying to make. It seems like what Paul said (or the author wrote), is pretty much irrelevant to whether anything is fact or fiction.

      • The word means “to go up” or “to ascend” and just like in English it can refer to a staircase, a mountain, or going up into the sky.

        • Gary


      • Mark

        Yes, note that you were in Jerusalem. On some theories, the letters of Paul were composed in the second century in Rome or Anatolia, even after Bar Kochba, when Jerusalem is no more.

      • Mark

        My impression is that you would say you are ‘going up to Jerusalem’ rather than ‘going to Jerusalem’ even if you were descending from the moon.

        • Gary

          Sorry, don’t quite follow your point. I hope that’s not the best you can come with.

        • Gary

          Actually, after thinking about it, I realized you gave me a compliment. Paul was/is being accused of the same thing by mythicists! Instead of realizing that it is a simple fact that Jerusalem is several thousand feet higher in altitude than Tel Aviv/Jaffa.

          • Mark

            Right, I think the standard usage is of course based on the fact that Jerusalem is higher in elevation than most places in Palestine. You were saying, I guess, that that is all it means, since it would be natural to say you are driving /down/ to Tel Aviv — the initial descent and the flatness of the rest being so obvious.

            But I think this obvious point took on a life of its own, a religious quality and expresses the honor of Jerusalem. Similarly one speaks of going up to to the bimah to read Torah as ‘aliyah’, and emigrating to Israel as ‘aliyah’. In emigration case says the person makes Aliyah or ascent – one is thinking of Jerusalem, עלייה לירושלים, not to the holy land in general – you say it even if you are leaving Switzerland or Colorado. Someone might make aliyah by balloon slowly descending from Everest to Jerusalem. (I assume ‘make Aliyah’ predates Zionism, but don’t know. People speak of pre-Zionist Aliyahs when a lot of people emigrated, but maybe in retrospect.)

            It is true that Paul is speaking quasi-religiously when he says he went up to Jerusalem. It’s small help for mythicism, I’d think, since the pious will say they ‘go up’ to Jerusalem quasi-religiously even when taking the bus to real world Jerusalem.

          • Gary

            That is interesting. “Similarly one speaks of going up to to the bimah to read Torah as ‘aliyah’”
            So that opens up another possibility for Paul. Was he saying “going up” because Jerusalem is higher altitude, because Jerusalem is higher theologically than anywhere else, or
            (Maybe more interestingly), to read the Torah Law to Peter and James? If so, Paul had a pretty good sense of humor.
            Conjecture but fun.

          • Mark

            There were very few ‘synagogues’ in Paul’s day and they don’t seem to have had much of a liturgical function. They are basically a diaspora thing taken over by the rabbis circa 200.

          • Gary

            If so, then the Aliyah/ascent connection doesn’t work, and I would then default to the simple explanation of “going up” to simply mean higher altitude. I think I remember reading someplace that in Genesis, there is a reference to “going up”, bringing Joseph’s bones from Egypt to Israel. Maybe there is a connection. But that would be Shechem, not Jerusalem. But at best, it would be a very weak connection. I think this all started with “going up” referring to outer space. Guess the conclusion is outer space is nonsense.

  • Chris H

    I saw this title and then was immediately reminded that there are, in fact, some people who legitimately think that Paul, James, Peter, and Jesus all never existed.

    If you are sadistic enough to want to read this material, here are some starters:

    -Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga, Radical Views About the New Testament, translated by S. B. Black (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1912)
    -Robert M. Price, The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2012)
    -Arthur Drews, The Legend of Saint Peter, translated by Frank Zindler (Austin: American Atheist Press, 1997)
    -Peter Jensen, Moses Jesus Paulus: Drei Sagenvarianten des babylonischen Gottmenschen Gilgamesch (Frankfurt: Neuer Frankfurter Verlag, 1909)
    -Hermann Detering, The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight, translated by Darrell Doughty (Dusseldorf: Patmos Press, 2003)

    • Indeed! None are particularly active or influential in the academic mainstream and some are really beyond the fringe at least as far as relevant fields are concerned, but they exist and I’m not sorry at all, since no academic consensus benefits from complacency!