Where is the 800 pound gorilla?

The formative period of Christianity was a turbulent time, to say the least. For several decades, Jews and gentiles, some Christianized, some not, belonged to the same diaspora synagogues. Many contentious issues show up in the New Testament, especially regarding the rules for the inclusion of gentiles. But there is a glaring omission. A pivotal battle which should have been occured didn't take place. To ignore it is literally like not noticing an 800 pound gorilla standing in the corner of a room. The discussion of the battle that wasn't has huge implications for Christian claims.

The writings of the apostle Paul are the earliest stream of Christian thinking available to us today. He wrote from circa 50 CE to perhaps the early 60's. Only the epistle to the Hebrews competes with Paul for primacy in time. Paul never wrote a fully developed theology, nor did he offer much description of the history of his exploits, but in his letters addressing issues troubling particular congregations, we can look over his shoulder and get a feel for the situations he was addressing. His insistence that gentiles be admitted to full membership in the synagogues set off a host of issues since many of them brought some of their customs with them.

Among the problems which distressed Paul were sexual immorality, eating food offered to idols, losing hope, improper observance of the supper, observance of holy days, inter-congregational relations, charity, and the understanding of the means of salvation. But no issue dominated his conversation more than that of the inclusion of gentile believers into the congregation without becoming fully observant Jews. Paul fancied himself as the man tasked with converting the gentiles and bringing them into the true Israel of God. His letter to the churches of Galatia, generally considered to be his first, is targeted directly to this issue.

In the Epistle to the congregations of Galatia Paul takes issue with Judaizers, emmissaries from Jerusalem, who are insisting that his converts become fully observant Jews. The initiation rite of circumcision was used as the term standing for adherance to the whole Torah including following kosher rules for eating, ceremonial washing, wearing proper clothing, observing holy days, etc. While some of the gentile converts to Paul's preaching were willing to follow some of the laws of the Torah, some were not. And the biggest issue was that of circumcision itself. This rite of entrance into the covenant with the God of Abraham was obviously not something an adult male would wish to undergo, sans anesthesia. Yet the Judaizers contending with Paul were convincing some of his converts to undergo the procedure and to become subject to all the rules of the Torah. Those who were resistant were under pressure to submit. Paul was apoplectic.

Historical context must be appreciated at this point. It must be remembered that the crisis with the Greek king Antiochus IV was fresh in the mind of every Jew. In the 160's BCE, in his conquest of Judea, Antiochus disallowed circumcision under pain of death. He intended to force his subjects to receive the blessings of his superior Greek culture, and destroying the temple-state culture of the Jews was paramount in his mind. Parents who circumcised their sons on the 8th day were routinely killed. Many followed the prohibition out of fear. Others continued to circumcize and rose in rebellion eventually throwing off the rule of Antiochus and brutally re-establishing proper Torah observance and the necessity to circumcize (commemorated in the festival of Channukah). Many of those who refused circumcision were circumcized forcibly. Others were exiled, many to the region of Galilee. To the Jews, these events were like yesterday. The issues were fresh. The necessity to be fully observant was no longer a question. The requirements were clear and final. The religious police were actively enforcing the rules.

To Paul, this was a crisis of ultimate importance. To his rivals, the argument was foundational. One must be a full Jewish convert in order to find inclusion within the covenant community. Paul argued strenuously against that necessity, stating that faith alone was sufficient; that the promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations (gentiles) through his seed was to be enjoyed without submission to the Torah.

Paul indicates that he had gone to Jerusalem to meet with the pillars, specifically Cephas and James, and received their blessing on the inclusion of gentiles based only on their faith and willingness to abstain from various immoralities. Circumcision and adherance to the entire Torah would not be required. From Paul's point of view, his arguments carried the day.

But as important as the issue of Torah observance was, it pales beside the issue which defined Judaism. That issue is the nature and identity of God. This issue is fundamental to Judaism and preceeds observance to the laws in that the laws proceed from God, and he is recognized and defined in the most important prayer of Judaism. This prayer, and the identity of the 800 pound gorilla standing unnoticed in the corner, is known as the SHEMA.

The Shema is the prayer which begins and ends the day of every observant Jew. It is recited at the time of death. It is the recognition that there is one God, transcendent, above all, and requiring of recognition and obedience as he calls his people into covenant with himself. Here is thereading of the Shema:

שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Deut 6:4

Note that the name of God YHWH is rendered "Adonai" (the Lord) so as to avoid accidentally pronouncing the holy name. To observant Jews, the person of God is frequently called "Ha Shem" which in Hebrew means "The Name." The name of God is not to be pronounced, so holy is it. The Shema defines Jews as monotheists. This cannot in any way be minimized. They believe in the one God, the Most High, the Almighty, The Lord, and there is none like him. No image can represent him. Nothing on earth can be worshipped. There is nothing of correspondence between YHWH and his creation.

Now, referring back to the crisis of Greek rule under Antiochus IV, the event which triggered the bloody rebellion of the Maccabean Jews was when Antiochus put his own image in the most holy place in the temple. Antiochus promoted the cult of the living ruler. He proclaimed himself to be the incarnation of Zeus on earth, the supreme God in human flesh. He demanded that the Jews offer worship and sacrifice to his image. The Jews would have none of it. That a man would be proclaimed to be God was the ultimate abomination. The Jews under Judas Maccabee rose up and killed both the Jewish collaborators and the foreign soldiers, reinstituting the worship of the one true God and ejecting the image of the man who claimed to be the incarnation of God.

Why is this an issue, an 800 pound gorilla which no one wants to notice? Because Paul and presumably others were proclaiming that Jesus was God. Next to this claim, the issue of whether or not to circumcize would pale into insignificance. If there was one issue which should have been the ultimate point of contention in the early Christian proclamation, this was it. Where were the Jews ready to take up stones against Paul for blasphemy claiming that a man was God? Where was Paul's argumentation defending the proposition that God had come to earth and lived as a man? Where is the discussion with the Pillars in Jerusalem over this issue? Was the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols really more fundamental than the claim that God had been recently incarnated? A war had recently been fought over that very claim. To claim that anyone or anything in the material realm could have ontological correspondence with the Most High was anathema.

No issue could be expected to come to the fore more than the issue of identifying Jesus as God. Yet, it didn't happen. What are we to make of this conundrum? There are several possibilities:

POSSIBILITY 1. Paul never claimed divinity for Jesus, therefore no battle over monotheism would be expected:

This is not a credible suggestion based upon clear statements from Paul's authentic epistles. Some examples:

"Who (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: he is before all things and by him all things consist." Col 1:15-18. This sounds rather God-like. The Son is being presented as the Creator of Genesis.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Phil 2:5,6. Literally "not something to be held onto." This is in the hymn showing the Son descending and ascending. Again, the claim of divinity for Jesus is clear.

It is apparent that Paul did proclaim the divinity of Jesus. Possibility number 1 is thus null and void.

POSSIBILITY 2. There was a battle over the claim that Jesus was God, however, the record has been lost:

That something so fundamental could have gone unmentioned in the book of Galatians is difficult to believe. Could there have been a battle not mentioned elsewhere in Paul? There are at least two epistles of Paul which are lost to history. His epistle to the Colossians mentions an epistle to the church of Laodicea. We have no information as to its contents. The second epistle to the Corinthians mentions "a letter of tears" which does not seem to be a match with first Corinthians.

Since these have been lost, and since others not mentioned could have been lost, it is possible that a great discussion over the issue of Jesus as God could have ensued, but it cannot be known. If God had been providencially protecting his word, not allowing these letters to be lost might have been a good place to start (this has implications for the doctrine of innerancy). This possibility, however, is difficult to maintain, for it can be safely assumed that such a discussion would have touched all the epistles which were preserved. It is simply too fundamental an issue to have gone unmentioned in the foundational period of Christianity. To claim that a man was God incarnated would have been the ultimate hot button issue and an offense to Judaism. Silence on the question indicates that the battle did not take place.

Therefore we must conclude that possibility 2, while not absolutely falsifiable, is overwhelmingly unlikely.

POSSIBILITY 3. Paul did not assume that Christ Jesus had lived on earth as a Jew just a few years prior to his own conversion. If he did not consider Jesus to have been a man, no battle over monotheism would be expected:

This is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first gasp. Mark's Gospel, the first documented mention of Jesus living in the recent past, would not be written for many years after Paul's epistles. It is nothing more than an inferrance to assume that Paul was envisioning the Jesus of the gospels. He himself is silent on the details of the "Jesus of history."

The questions must be asked, Is it legitimate to read into Paul the beliefs of others from a later time? Since later writers referred to Jesus "of Nazareth" is it a necessary implication that Paul had that personage in mind? Orthodoxy would answer yes to both questions. Those accepting a priori that all writings which were collected into the New Testament were inspired, non-contradictory, and are different aspects of a single truth will feel free to harmonize Paul with the gospels, but if we examine Paul in isolation, his Jesus inhabits a very different universe than did Jesus of Nazareth. Just because Christians of later years would choose to compile a collection of disparate documents together, does not necessarily indicate that they belong together nor that their authors shared a common outlook.

Paul had much to say about Jesus. His Jesus, though, does not share much commonality with the Jesus of the gospels. Imagine for a moment that Mark's gospel had never been written, or like some of Paul's letters, lost. What would we know of Jesus from reading Paul and the other epistle writers? The obvious answer is nothing aside from the activities of a descending and ascending heavenly savior who has created a new Israel through faith.

Where, for instance, does one find in Paul:

A. Any mention of the birth of Jesus
B. The virgin Mary
C. Joseph
D. The family of Jesus
E. The birthplace of Jesus
F. His hometown of Nazareth (a town which may not have existed at the time)
G. His baptism by John in the Jordan river
H. His temptation in the wilderness
I. His healing miracles
J. His exorcisms
K. His preaching ministry in Galilee
L. His cleanshing of the temple
M. His disputes with the Pharisees in the synagogues
N. His disciples
O. His betrayal by Judas
P. His struggle in Gethsemane
Q. His arrest
R. His trial
S. His questioning by Herod
T. His crucifixion in Jerusalem
U. The two thieves
V. His burial in Joseph's tomb
W. The empty tomb
X. The resurrection appearances to the women
Y. The great commission
Z. The ascension before a crowd of witnesses

Many more details of the life of the Jesus of the Gospels are missing from Paul of course, but we've run out of alphabet. That which we are touching on here is The Pauline Problem. The problem is that Paul never locates the activities of Jesus in a particular historical period nor in a particular geographical location. He seems to be completely unaware of the gospel details of Jesus of Nazareth. He specifically says that he received his information about Jesus through direct revelation or interpretation of the Jewish scriptures, not by oral tradition or knowledge via human agency. His Jesus operates in the cosmos.

Is it possible that the reason the issue of Jewish monotheism didn't come to the fore is because Paul wasn't making pronouncements which would be in conflict with it? If that is the case, what would the explanation be?

Judaism in that period was very eclectic, and freely made use of hellenistic philosophy. For instance, God was seen as being so transcendent that some intermediary form was needed to communicate with man. It was not seen as a contradiction of belief in the one God to envision "emanations" or "aspects" of God acting in lower regions of the heavens, even treating them as somewhat separate persons.

Some Jewish writers and poets of the period freely spoke of Wisdom, or Sophia, as an aspect of God, even as the feminized consort of God, or the Spirit of God. She was pictured as being sent forth by God to communicate to man but was rejected and returned to the highest heaven. In some instances she was pictured as being a virgin mother to an anointed (Christ) Son of God who was a savior to those who believe. Philo, a contemporary of Paul and platonic philosopher/theologian and historian, spoke of the logos (word) of God who was God's agent in the creation of the world and cosmos. God Himself was seen as being too transcendent to deal directly with the lower material world; he used an intermediary to create, but still an aspect of Himself. Philo's concepts were the source for the preamble to John's gospel, "in the beginning was the 'logos' (the word) and the logos was with God and the logos was God. Through him were all things made that were made."

The Jewish religious literature of the period is rich with speculation and contemplation of the aspects of God descending through the heavens for the benefit of man. Diaspora Judaism was living in a Greek universe, and was immersed in Platonic thought. The concepts from that literature were the basis for many of the foundational ideas which we find in the NT and other early Christian literature. Many of the Jewish texts eloquently describing the saving aspects of the personified emanations of God sound utterly Christian until one notices that they are not referring to a man named Jesus. Some of the literature makes much of the coming of God's holy spirit and savior and uses the term "the anointed" which in Greek is simply "Christos." Paul's heavenly savior has an apropros name in "Jesus" which literally means Yahweh Saves. To refer to him in Paul's manner as "Christ Jesus" would not be foreign to the Jewish literature of the period, meaning the Anointed One through whom Yahweh Saves. There is no reason in Paul's context that "Christ Jesus" cannot be a title as much as a name. Paul's "Son of God" character did not even receive the name "Jesus" (savior) until he had ascended back to God's side. Phil 2:5-11 (nothing remotely resembling the naming of a baby in Bethlehem)

It is difficult for us moderns to get into the ancient mindset with a seven layered heaven with God in the 7th and highest layer and intermediary levels descending until the first heaven just above us. But Paul believed in it. He even claimed to have known someone who had been to the third level of heaven 2 Cor 12:2, perhaps he was speaking of himself in the third person. The concept of descending and ascending aspects of God was a commonplace to the first century Jewish mind. Aspects of God such as the logos, the spirit, Wisdom, or the son, could easily move through the different levels. The lower the descent, the more they would take on material characteristics and become less spiritual so as to be more understandable to man.

If Paul were referring to Christ Jesus as a descending and ascending Son-of-God savior figure rather than to a man, the problem ceases to exist. We wouldn't expect to find contention over monotheism if Paul were not envisioning a recently living man as God incarnate. Shema, the 800 pound gorilla, would no longer be in the room. Paul would simply be extrapolating the implications of Jewish thought already in vogue in his milieu. He would also be in harmony with the Greek-Egyptian hero/dying and rising sons of God common in the mystery religions of the era; Dionysus, Attis, Osiris, Adonis, Bacchus, et al.

To summarize, the absence of a battle over monotheism vis a vis claims to the divinity of Jesus must be explained. It is too fundamental to first century Jewish though to just gloss over. The need to answer the "WHY?" is overwhelming. The explanation must fall into one of three categories: Early Christians didn't think of Jesus as being divine; The story of the intense battle has been lost; Paul wasn't identifying Jesus as a man who had been his contemporary in Palestine. Only the third theory offers a coherant resolution to the question.

Bart Willruth
March 2, 2008

181 comments:

Tyro said...

I e-mailed Professor Ehrman about this third possibility and he dismissed it out of hand, saying that no reputable scholar accepts this, but also saying that he couldn't think of any reputable scholar has ever articulated their reasons. As far as I can tell from interviews, it is because Paul does mention James, brother of Jesus. There are many other "brother" references which don't connote physical kinship but I never heard any follow-up or elaboration.


I would dearly love to read a book or a paper where a scholar tackles this question head-on and gives not only reasons for rejecting it, but can account for all of these deafening silences.

Does anyone know of any scholar who has attempted this?

bart willruth said...

This problem involves two issues.

1. Paul's silence regarding the historical Jesus
2. Paul's silence regarding the fight over monotheism which would be expected if he had been teaching a human Jesus, rather than a cosmic deity.

Normally those who hold the possibility of a mythical Christ deal only with the first issue. The answer usually offered by orthodoxy was that the gospels told the story of the historical Jesus, whereas Paul explored the meaning of Jesus theologically. As unsatisfying as that glib answer is, it doesn't begin to address Paul's failure to deal with the Jewish understanding of monotheism.

That there was a fight over one of the basic requirements for inclusion as a Jew, circumcision and submission to the Torah is clear. Why was there no fight over the abonimation of a claim that a man was God in Paul's congregations?

Proponents of the view that Paul must have known of the historical Jesus and that there must have been fights over monotheism are using silence as a blank slate on which to write an agenda supporting the orthodox view of Christian history.

Tim said...

Bart,

Paul's failure to rearticulate details found in the gospels would be significant only if there were overwhelming reason for him to do so. We have no evidence that there was such an overwhelming reason. The epistles are occasional pieces, not memoirs. Apparently memoirs were circulating fairly early anyway, so there would be no point in Paul's trying to write them up. He had not been a disciple and had not known the disciples until his conversion.

What we actually find in Paul's epistles is occasional reference to a few salient facts (e.g. burial and resurrection) and a heavy concentration on the more contentious issues. This is exactly what one would expect.

As for a fight over Jesus' divinity, that was pretty much the cut between the Christians and the Jews. There is plenty in Acts and the Pauline epistles about that.

Tim said...

Tyro,

The suggestion that Paul did not think Jesus was a real historical figure who had lived recently is somewhat less plausible than most conspiracy theories. One has to explain away not only Paul's occasional connecting references like the one to James, but also the gospels and the references in Josephus. Of course, there are always some who are willing to do that rather than to admit the obvious. But as Ehrman says, no reputable scholar accepts this -- and no scholar jealous of his reputation wants to waste his time on it.

About the closest you will find to someone's taking up the question is the occasional discussion, in passing of whether Jesus really existed. The comments of Bultmann and Bornkamm on this issue are too well known to be worth repeating here. One recent (and completely dismissive) treatment of Jesus myth theories is Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, pp. 6-16.

Evan said...

Bart,

Wasn't there an early Ebionite heresy that specifically held that Jesus was not divine?

Also, is it possible that 3rd and 4th century scribal changes occured that altered the original Pauline epistles?

bart willruth said...

Evan

Regarding Ebionites

We know of the Ebionites mainly through their adversaries. We have no primary documents from the Ebionites unless we see them as survivors of the DSS community.

Ebion, in Hebrew, means "The Poor" as in "Blessed are the poor," or "Do not forsake the Poor in Jerusalem."

It is known that the DSS community referred to themselves as "The Poor" as well as "The Way."

Some scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls identify James as the "Righteous Teacher" and the leader of the militant and ultra orthodox Messianic party in Jerusalem. This group rose up in rebellion following the murder of James in 62 CE, culminating in the war with Rome and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

The Ebionites may be part of the remnant of survivors of from the war who at some point thereafter made contact with the Markan or more likely the Matthean community, fusing their own messianic beliefs with the stories of Jesus.

It is extremely difficult to date the Ebionite heresy's origin, but it is certainly after the war.

One of the DSS scholars, Robert Eisenmann, identifies Paul as the enemy of the Jamesian DSS community who they referred to as the clown and spouter of lies. Their main point of contention with this "Liar" was over the question of the necessity of circumcision and the Torah. They were very distressed that the Liar was telling diaspora Jews and converts that Torah observance was not necessary. In the DSS, then, we may be seeing the other side of the argument Paul says he prevailed in against James and the Pillars in his letter to the Galatians.

Regarding changes in the Pauline documents in the third and fourth centuries, of course it is possible that there were redactions, additions, and clarifications. We know these kinds of things occurred, but since older copies were then discarded, we will likely never know the extent of the editorial alterations which occurred.

Evan said...

Thanks for the education. I was not aware of a link between the DSS community and the Ebionites.

Is it possible that the understanding of Jesus that exists in Islam is a continuation of the remnants of the Ebionites?

Tyro said...

tim,

There are many, many places where Paul should have cited Jesus or quoted him or something. The silences are not merely about Jesus's time on Earth but his teachings as well. It's plausible that one or two may be missed but they add up quickly.

The suggestion that Paul did not think Jesus was a real historical figure who had lived recently is somewhat less plausible than most conspiracy theories. One has to explain away not only Paul's occasional connecting references like the one to James, but also the gospels and the references in Josephus.

I don't understand why you dismiss this as a conspiracy theory. It is based on evidence and it is refutable. It doesn't rely on some conspiracy, the story of events does not change, and most importantly, it doesn't involve any conspiracy! This just sounds like overly emotive language which strikes me as unhelpful when trying to understand the facts.

As for the gospels and Josephus, I don't see what you think is the smoking gun, nor do they begin to offer an explanation of what appears in the gospels. It just sounds like a way of ignoring it.

Let's say Jesus is historical. Alright, now how can we explain the Epistles? Not just one or two lines, but all of it. Whenever I've seen people try to examine both sides, the historical position requires a huge number of ad hoc rationalizations, far, far more than the mythicist one. I'm not saying this makes it right, but it deserves a fair treatment and not a hand-waving dismissal as you've given.

Harry McCall said...

Anyone wanting to get a sound footing in the area of Antiochus lV / Epiphanes would do well to read the major Jewish historian, Elias Bickerman’s “The God of the Maccabees”. This noted work is now re-release in an updated English version in their series: Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity.

The transformation of the Semitic “El” to “Yahweh” to the Greek “Theos” / “God” is marked with major theological advances and concepts drawn from the Greek language and myths.

The very limited function of Peter the Jew is totally eclipsed by the Hellenistic / Greek Paul (or a school of Pauline thought) which wrote half of the New Testament. By Acts chapter 14, the last apostle (Peter who was to have been taught by the master, Jesus himself) is totally dropped in favor of the Greek Jew; it is Paul who now redefines a limited Jewish Jesus into a universal and gentile "Christ". The rest of Jesus’ Jewish apostles disappear form the stage of early Christianity only to re-appear in spurious non-canonical late pseudepigraphic and apocryphal literature. By this time, the transformation of the anthormophic “El” into the philosophical and eternal “logos” manifested as the “Xpostos” / “Christ” of Jesus; a term which now continues to reconstruct itself in the creeds of the Church.

Lee Randolph said...

Bart,
thoroughly enjoyed the article. I'd like to see more from DC about the history of Judaism and Christianity. I think it may be the best way to Debunk it.

I have been dabbling in the history between 50,000 bce and 1000ce for couple of months now, but have not been able to concentrate on it. This article was very timely for me.

One thing I would like to point out, as amateurish as it may sound is not to underestimate the power of apathy.

As I understand it, there was enough diversity in that region, and conflict, and syncretism going on that it may not have been worth the fight over the 800lb gorilla. The importance that is perceived today about Pauls writings in his time may be overestimated. From what I am hearing, the christians were a bee in the bonnet of the Roman Empire for some time until it gained more legitimacy with constantine and whichever (one and only) emporer it was that was excommunicated and then kneeled to the church asking for forgiveness.

It seems to me that Christianity might have been an attempt to reconcile the Jewish culture with the other cultures in town. Borrowing from the stoics and the Mithrains(?) for example.

One thing is clear to me though, that even with a modern understanding of a Jesus contemporary with Paul, the fundamental disagreements and fighting between the Christian sects is hard to reconcile in my mind if Christianity is the one true religion. I would think if humans could keep the roman empire going for long due to organization, then God on Earth could at least do the same or better. Some of those fundamental differences have not been ironed out to this day. Namely, the trinity.

thoughts?

Tim said...

Tyro,

You write:

There are many, many places where Paul should have cited Jesus or quoted him or something. The silences are not merely about Jesus's time on Earth but his teachings as well. It's plausible that one or two may be missed but they add up quickly.

I have seen attempts to argue for this, but I am deeply skeptical of them. Such arguments from silence are almost always desperately weak.

I don't understand why you dismiss this as a conspiracy theory.

Actually, I said that it is less plausible than most conspiracy theories, not that it is one. But one of the things it has in common with conspiracy theories is that it requires numerous ad hoc explanations or independent improbabilities that mount up. Paul, who was vigorously involved in the persecution of the church from the beginning, could not have been ignorant of whether Jesus was a real person who had recently been crucified. Therefore if he did not believe that Jesus was a real person recently crucified, it is certain that Jesus was not. But then, how to account for the evidence that he was? One has to explain away not only the Testimonium in Josephus, where the evidence now inclines in favor of the Arabic text in Agapius discovered by Shlomo Pines, but also the reference to James. The gospels and Acts have to be explained away as having not even a kernel of historical truth regarding Jesus -- and here, the theories from Strauss onward really get bizarre.

Let's say Jesus is historical. Alright, now how can we explain the Epistles?

How does one "explain" any epistles? This question is unclear; it looks to me as though you are freighting it with the assumption that there is something particularly strange about what Paul does and does not say in the epistles -- an assumption that seems to me to be unfounded.

Whenever I've seen people try to examine both sides, the historical position requires a huge number of ad hoc rationalizations, far, far more than the mythicist one. I'm not saying this makes it right, but it deserves a fair treatment and not a hand-waving dismissal as you've given.

Well, I've read quite a bit of the literature and I think a hand-waving dismissal is just about exactly what it deserves. And apparently scholars from viewpoints as diverse as Van Voorst, Grant, Ehrman, Bornkamm, and Bultmann agree with me.

Thranil said...

"Does anyone know of any scholar who has attempted this?"

Earl Doherty: www.jesuspuzzle.com

Richard Carrier also reviewed the book written by Doherty here

bart willruth said...

To Lee Randolph

Thanks for the comments. I too agree that coming to a fuller understanding of the historical context of Judaism and early Christianity is pivotal in debunking the beliefs which have survived that period to our own day.

A follow-up on your discussion of Paul who either wrote, or was credited with writing, half of the NT.

The epistles of Paul have taken on a far greater importance to Christianity in subsequent centuries than they apparently did in the 80-100 years following their appearance. Their centrality in the canon has guaranteed their place in Christian thought.

There is a big HOWEVER in this discussion though. From the writings of the early church fathers, there is no trace of Pauline Christianity until Marcion came on the scene in the 140's CE. The perspectives of the various early Christians do not reflect Paul's thought at all. They are very philosophical in perspective, but sound very foreign to one steeped in Paul's theology.

Marcion hailed from a region along the coast of the Black Sea, very close to the region Paul calls Galatia. When he came on the scene, he offered the church its first canon made up of 10 epistles ostensibly from Paul and a shorter version of Luke. The very human Jesus of the gospels wasn't there. Marcion's influence spread far and wide, was a direct threat to emerging Catholic Christianity, and lasted in many parts of the empire for over 100 years. It is thought by many scholars that the current version of Luke (expanded) and Acts were composed circa 150 CE in reaction to Marcion, reinterpreting Paul to be more in line with their thought. It is no secret that Paul's sermons in Acts bear little resemblance to his epistles.

While it man never be known one way or the other, it is very possible that we would have never heard of Paul, nor would his thought have shaped orthodox Christianity, had not Marcion presented his writings as authoritative. Until Marcion came on the scene, there is no evidence for Pauline influence on Christian thought. As Price put it, "Pauline Christianity must be inferred from the epistles themselves." This question is highly speculative, but is it possible that Paul's epistles were composed by either Marcion or one of his contemporaries and presented as an innovation in the mid second century?

Regarding your comment that apathy might have precluded the fight over Jewish monotheism: While possible, it is unlikely. It would have to take into account that Jerusalem Jews would be causing turmoil in the Galatian congregations over observances while ignoring the larger issue of corrupting the concept of God. That just doesn't make sense. It would be as though they were saying, "Go ahead and present a man, a part of creation, to have been Yahweh, but don't you dare tell people that it is ok to ignore His laws."

Tyro said...

tim,

Therefore if he did not believe that Jesus was a real person recently crucified, it is certain that Jesus was not.

Which is exactly the point. What did Paul think of Jesus? We have only his writings and we must try to infer his beliefs based on what he says and how he says it.

But then, how to account for the evidence that he was? One has to explain away not only the Testimonium in Josephus, where the evidence now inclines in favor of the Arabic text in Agapius discovered by Shlomo Pines, but also the reference to James.

Yes, any theory must take into account all observations. I'm not sure why you think Josephus should be a linchpin since he was writing two generations after Jesus died and could only have been relaying accounts by others and much of the writing about Jesus is highly questionable to begin with.

And the James comment seems to be typical of the responses I've received. There are many references to "brother" and "son" in the epistles which do not connote kinship and which are expressed in the same fashion, so why do you think that a reference to a single ambiguous line should settle the matter?

But more to the point, all of these have been dealt with extensively by others. I would be much more inclined to respect someone's conclusion about these events if they showed a passing familiarity with all arguments instead of dogmatically defending just one. I don't mean to single you out - even Ehrman doesn't seem to demonstrate that he's aware of the counterarguments or given this question serious consideration.

Richard Carrier is the only (quasi)scholar that I'm aware of who has looked at the question and he was persuaded, so what now? Carrier made the point that Doherty missed many key points which ironically make his case even stronger and now Bart has found other points which further strengthen the argument. Where is the opposing side?

Tim said...

Tyro,

Even G. A. Wells -- the only person with scholarly credentials to have seriously advanced this theory in the past quarter century or so -- has finally given up on the mythic option.

Richard Carrier has endorsed Dennis R. MacDonald's idea that Mark and Acts are Homeric ripoffs. This does not inspire confidence in the soundness of his judgment.

Josephus is writing a generation or more after most of the events he recounts in the Antiquities. No historian doubts on this account that he is a good source for many facts and events. The burden of proof at this point is on the critics. Merely noting that he is writing about 60 years after the crucifixion is not to the point; if that were your criterion, you would be forced to adopt an extreme sort of historical skepticism.

Tyro said...

Tim,

Even G. A. Wells -- the only person with scholarly credentials to have seriously advanced this theory in the past quarter century or so -- has finally given up on the mythic option.

I don't know how many more ways I can say this, but I'll be as blunt and clear as I can: I don't care what they believe, I only care why.

So far, you haven't given me any good reasons. The experts you've advanced haven't seriously considered these questions, so they can't be counted as experts.

If this is such a slam-dunk, then why is it so difficult to get some straight-forward reasons?

Richard Carrier has endorsed Dennis R. MacDonald's idea that Mark and Acts are Homeric ripoffs. This does not inspire confidence in the soundness of his judgment.

I've read his reasons, I've seen no reason to reject them out of hand. I don't understand why you think this conclusion should make Carrier the equivalent of a scholarly pariah.

Josephus is writing a generation or more after most of the events he recounts in the Antiquities. No historian doubts on this account that he is a good source for many facts and events.

On the contrary, all scholars understand the limitations of 3rd hand reporting and will exhibit appropriate levels of scepticism.

I'm not saying that we should reject everything he says out of hand, but neither should we trust everything he writes. Once we understand that anything Josephus writes about Jesus must be reporting what Christians have told him (if Josephus wrote those passages at all), then we treat the accounts appropriately. That doesn't mean we dismiss them, but it does mean that they cannot be taken in isolation.

Am I really being so unreasonable? Doherty has done a good job of going through the epistles looking for examples which support and potentially refute his case. If this is a huge burden for scholars to bear, this makes Doherty's work all the more impressive; if this work is trivial and the mark of an amateur, then why haven't any scholars done it?

The burden of proof at this point is on the critics.

I agree, but that burden has been met by Doherty for a start, and now Bart Willruth. I can understand that not everyone accepts the conclusion, but where's the evidence-based rebuttal?

DonCordiner said...

I would dearly love to read a book or a paper where a scholar tackles this question head-on and gives not only reasons for rejecting it, but can account for all of these deafening silences.

Larry Hurtado's "How on Earth did Jesus Become God?" 2005 answers your question.

You can also find his answers in media form from:
http://www.wesleyministrynetwork.com/djinfo.htm

I'm sure the above resources will resolve your question.

Tim said...

Tyro,

The experts you've advanced haven't seriously considered these questions, so they can't be counted as experts.

Since you cited Richard Carrier as an example of someone who has looked into this and been persuaded, I cited G. A. Wells as an example of someone who used to be persuaded and eventually gave it up. Are you suggesting that Wells, who wrote several books trying to advance this position, did not look into it seriously?

I mentioned Carrier's endorsement of MacDonald only to explain why I am not rushing to find everything he has said on the mythic theory. I try, as I assume you do, to prioritize my research time according to the probability that there is something worth taking seriously.

Bart's case, as he presents it here, relies on an argument from silence that is not compelling unless there is an extraordinarily strong case that Paul would have mentioned the details he lists in the epistles if he were aware of them. But Bart hasn't offered such a case; nor, in what I have seen of Doherty's work (I have not read it all), have I been persuaded that such a case can be found there.

[I]f this work is trivial and the mark of an amateur, then why haven't any scholars done it?

For the same reason that serious Egyptologists have been reluctant to take the time to engage with Bernal's Black Athena: they find it hard to believe that anyone could be so ignorant as to swallow this, and they have better things to do with their time.

Regarding Josephus, you write:

Once we understand that anything Josephus writes about Jesus must be reporting what Christians have told him ...

Why think a thing like that?

Thranil said...

tim,

It's interesting to watch your exchange with the people commenting here. From an Atheist perspective (or at least non-christian), I don't care either way if Jesus was real. It's clear to me that we cannot know for certain with the information we have, but I find it an interesting exercise nonetheless. However, regardless of whether the new testament stories are based off of a real person or not changes nothing for me. Either the man was made up or just the stories. Who cares either way?

Now watching how you're responding to this, I can see that you pretty much have to be dismissive of this issue. From what I can tell, you have waaay too much to lose if this theory gains any ground, so of course you're going to be dismissive of it and simply appeal to authority and go on not thinking about it. I mean just think about if people started taking it seriously, or even if people found that the preponderance of evidence favored the mythicist's case by a large factor? That might be bad for your belief system, and clearly you can't have that happen! So what you're doing is clearly the right thing: don't think about it. Thinking about what you believe would definitely be bad for your beliefs, so my advice to you is to keep on not thinking. Congrats so far!

bart willruth said...

Tim,

Is this truly an argument from silence? It is true that Paul is silent on any details of a human Jesus. But this was not the crux of my point.

I am pointing out that the religious police did come to Paul's congregations to set things straight and to bring them into compliance with Jewish theology. That they didn't address the issue of monotheism which Paul would be contradicting (if he were proclaiming a human Jesus) is indicative that there is a serious problem underlying our understanding of the Galatian controversy. It is evident that their only issue with Paul's teaching was Torah observance.

Try this shoe on and see how it fits. Your argument from silence.

Paul was silent on details of Jesus' life. Since he didn't explicitly deny that Jesus lived as a man, he must have believed it.

You are reading into Paul that which is not there. You need to be aware that no matter what stories about Jesus "must have been circulating" in that time, there is no evidence that there were such. Before the gospel of Mark, there is no extant narrative. After Mark, all narratives of Jesus derive from his work. That means that ALL, EVERYTHING, THE TOTALITY of what we know about a human Jesus come from a SINGLE source, and that written decades after Paul.

It is no more proper to read Mark's beliefs back into the earlier Paul than it would be to read Abraham Lincoln's exposition of the Declaration of Independence back into the intent of Thomas Jefferson who wrote it many years prior.

Tim said...

Bart,

I've been largely interacting with Tyro, who seems to think that an argument from silence is strong.

I addressed your other line of reasoning briefly in my initial comment:

As for a fight over Jesus' divinity, that was pretty much the cut between the Christians and the Jews. There is plenty in Acts and the Pauline epistles about that.

You suggest that I am arguing as follows (your words):

Since he didn't explicitly deny that Jesus lived as a man, he must have believed it.

But I haven't argued in this fashion; this is your invention.

You write:

You need to be aware that no matter what stories about Jesus "must have been circulating" in that time, there is no evidence that there were such.

The opening verses of Luke are evidence that you are wrong.


Before the gospel of Mark, there is no extant narrative.

If you accept Markan priority, then there is not now any narrative extant that pre-dates Mark. Whether there was at the time of Mark's writing is another matter.

After Mark, all narratives of Jesus derive from his work.

This is misleading. Again, accepting Markan priority, the most that one can be said is that the accounts in Luke and Matthew depend at points on the account in Mark. Notoriously, the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection narratives are not part of such material. Neither are many of the sayings found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.

That means that ALL, EVERYTHING, THE TOTALITY of what we know about a human Jesus come from a SINGLE source, and that written decades after Paul.

This is a very serious overstatement based on an insupportably strong conception of Markan priority. It ignores the clear points of independence among the Synoptics, the independent material in the gospel of John, the material referring to the life of Jesus in Acts, the references in Josephus, and the reference in Tacitus (Annals 15.44).

One can, of course, try to explain away all of these things. No doubt you will have your own preferred methods of explaining them away. But such special pleading does not pass what John likes to call "the outsider test." That is why the mythic theory has not, for the past century or so, gained any serious currency among professional historians or NT scholars of any theological stripe, including Ehrman, Bultmann, and Lüdemann.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

You said that the opening verses of Luke state that there were stories circulating.

I was referring to the assumption that stories were circulating about Jesus in the time of Paul, an assumption not in evidence.

That Luke used sources as he clearly states is not in doubt. I affirmed it. Luke got his narrative from the gospel of Mark. He fit speeches into Mark's narrative derived from Q.

Luke as we have it now is a quite late document. In the 140's CE the first 3 chapters had not yet been written as we can see from Marcion's canon. The book of Acts and expanded Luke seem to have come into existence in the mid 2nd century.

The issue of the divinity of a human Jesus die arise between Jews and Christians, but it would be difficult to show evidence that it occurred before the end of the first century after the gospel narratives were written.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

I was referring to the assumption that stories were circulating about Jesus in the time of Paul, an assumption not in evidence.

Since Luke was almost certainly written before Acts, and since the latter half of Acts gives a first-hand account of Luke's travels with Paul, Luke 1 provides strong evidence that written memoirs existed by Paul's time.

You also write:

Luke as we have it now is a quite late document. In the 140's CE the first 3 chapters had not yet been written as we can see from Marcion's canon.

The fact that most of the first four chapters of Luke do not appear in Marcion's Evangelicon is largely irrelevant, as we know that Marcion deliberately left out portions of the gospels that he considered too Jewish or that suggested Jesus was born of a woman -- and got excommunicated for his docetist views in A.D. 144.

Tatian's Diatessaron gives us something corresponding to most of the text of Luke (excepting the genealogy), including details about Jesus' birth. There is no reason to suppose that this was invented within Tatian's lifetime. The suggestion that Luke is a late document runs afoul of the fact that phrases from it crop up in Ignatius, Polycarp, Marcus (the Gnostic, one of the Valentinians), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Clement. I suppose one could, heroically, try to maintain that these authors were imposed upon by a second-century forgery. But the widespread acceptance of Luke's gospel as authoritative imposes a substantial burden of proof on anyone who wants to try to make out this case. Those so inclined should study carefully what happened to Walter Cassels before venturing to follow in his footsteps.

Beyond this, there is the fact that Acts is clearly Part 2 of Luke, and Acts is nailed down to the historical time period before A.D. 70 very tightly. On this, see not only A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, but also Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

We are getting pretty far afield from the basic issue I addressed, and so far it seems that you want to avoid dealing with it head-on.

I don't want to spend a lot of time on the dating and composition of Acts, but as to its historicity, most scholars do not view the enigmatic "we" sections of the narrative to be indicating that the author was actually there. This section could very easily have been inserted clumsily into the third person narrative by a copyist at any time.

If it were to be confirmed as historically accurate, you are then confronted with violating the law of non-contradiction. Paul's chronology is correct, or the chronology of Acts is correct. They both cannot be correct because they are in contradiction and cannot be reconciled. I'll leave it to you to decide which is unreliable.

I would invite you to deal with the problem in Paul which I am addressing in this post dealing with the fundamental challenge to Jewish monotheism which Paul would have had to deal with if he had been proclaiming that Jesus was the incarnation of God on earth.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

If it were to be confirmed as historically accurate, you are then confronted with violating the law of non-contradiction. Paul's chronology is correct, or the chronology of Acts is correct.

I assume you are referring to the North Galatian view. This is, of course, seriously contested (in my opinion, overturned) by the work of Colin Hemer mentioned above and in Rainer Riesner’s Die Frühzeit des Apostels Paulus. The chronological contradiction arises only if one insists on the North Galatian position.

But take a wider view. What if Paul's epistles really do contradict Acts at some point? What rides on this? A certain form of fundamentalism is falsified, but are the documents thereby shown to be historically worthless -- the conclusion you would need to draw in order to get the mythical theory off the ground? Hardly. The documents from which we learn the events of secular history frequently contradict each other in many places. Yet historians do not conclude that the documents are worthless or even generally unreliable. They must be evaluated thoughtfully; that is all.

You write:

I would invite you to deal with the problem in Paul which I am addressing in this post dealing with the fundamental challenge to Jewish monotheism which Paul would have had to deal with if he had been proclaiming that Jesus was the incarnation of God on earth.

Until you make a stronger case that a controversy on this point was to be expected among Christians, I don't think that you have raised a serious problem. There is literally nothing to address. We would not have expected this to be an issue among Christians, and from the account in the Pauline epistles, it wasn't.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

You say,

"Until you make a stronger case that a controversy on this point was to be expected among Christians, I don't think that you have raised a serious problem. There is literally nothing to address. We would not have expected this to be an issue among Christians, and from the account in the Pauline epistles, it wasn't."

Ok. Even though the Jews had fought a war in the 160's BCE over the claim of the incarnation of God in the person of the emperor, and even though a similar event fomented a rebellion in first century Jerusalem with the Roman imperial cult, we would not have any reason to expect the claim that God had been incarnated in the person of a local Jew to have caused a ruckus. I'm convinced. Clearly the issue of circumcision was of far more importance to the religious police than blasphemy. Why would anyone think that would be an issue?

Tim said...

Bart,

That will explain why many Jews did not become Christians and even why they vigorously persecuted the Christians in the decade following the crucifixion.

But nothing else follows.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

You said that (the issue of incarnation of God in Jesus) is why so many Jews didn't become Christians and the reason the Jews persecuted the Christians in the decade following the crucifixion.

Two problems here.

1. You are assuming that the incarnation was being proposed by the Christians and that the Jews considered it blasphemous. Based on Christian theological perspective, this would be expected if it were indeed happening, but there is no evidence of this.

2. You are assuming that there was a full scale persecution of the Christians by the Jews in the decade following the crucifixion. There is no evidence of that either.

Check your premises.

Tyro said...

DonCordiner

Larry Hurtado's "How on Earth did Jesus Become God?" 2005 answers your question.

You can also find his answers in media form from


I started to watch the introductory video and Hurtado starts with him announcing that Jesus undoubtedly lived and died. Since there are people who doubt just this, it doesn't sound like he's about to deal with the issue fairly, or at all. But thank you for the thought.


Tim

I think you imagine that I'm arguing that Jesus definitely didn't exist or that I'm willing to defend this position in the comments section of a blog. I'm not. I'm merely pointing out that others have made a scholarly argument and backed it up with evidence, that this position is consistent with all observations and it deserves attention.

Maybe scholars have examined these claims and rejected them. If so, I would like to see some reasons why but they don't seem to be forthcoming. It seems that you're only interested in smearing this position with emotional-charged epithets like "conspiracy theorists" and not in presenting evidence.

I thank you for your time, but I don't think we're achieving any headway or communicating effectively.

Joe said...

4th Possibility:

Paul was an expert in the OT view of the nature of God. Paul was not a trinitarian, therefore he would agree with the Jews on the nature of GOD. God is One. He simply reveals himself in different forms or "offices". Paul may of asked a Jew "What relation will Messiah be to God." And the Jew would answer, "He will be God!" Correct Pauls theology would say. God is One and NOT 3 Persons.

The issue between Paul and the Jews was the timing of the Messiah's appearance, not the nature of Messiah and his relation to God. The trinity is not biblical and Paul didn't preach it.

Paul would probably ask the common church leader of today: "And who is Jesus's Father?" Well, according to the Gospels, it was the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:20 "....because that which is conceived in her (Mary) is from the Holy Spirit"

The Holy Spirit and God are ONE IN THE SAME, NOT (3) persons. Again, Paul and the Jews have no issue with this doctrine.

#2 - Paul's Silence

In the book of Revelation we read and understand that there are (7) stars or angels sent from God to the (7) church ages. These (7) angels are messengers or prophets. Paul was the 1st messenger to the 1st church age and was not necessarily concerned with re-counting the historical facts of Jesus's life and times. He was put on the scene to set the record straight and oversee the doctrine that was being established by early believers. This is made very clear through his epistles.

In summary:

Paul didn't have a view of God other than Behold oh Israel, the Lord your God is One. The early church was clear on this and therefore it was not a HUGE deal until later when the church began to adopt the Trinitarian view of God at the council of Nicaea 325AD.

The Trinity is NOT Pauls Doctrine.

Consider the following qualifier as well. God delights in hiding simple truths from pridefull men. Sadly the doctrine of the Trinity has been a staple of the Christian faith for far too long. It is too simple for one to see who is jaded by a complex doctrine like (3) persons in one. It was not taught by Paul. Now there is an 800lb Gorilla for me and my fellow Christians. Why didn't Paul expressly detail the doctrine of the Trinity? Answer: He didn't believe it.

But some might say....

Are you telling me the entire church is following an error. It is entirely possible. Who missed the first coming of Jesus. The religious leaders of the day. Why? Blinded by their doctrine and the way they "knew" Messiah would appear.

It isn't that hard to believe. Compare the way the average Pastor baptizes a believer today. "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Yet all accounts in the book of Acts are done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why?

Because that is the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Father = Lord, Jesus = Son, and Christ = Holy Spirit.

Do we really believe that the disciples went out and starting performing babtism's in error no less than 100 days after Jesus gave the great commission. Or is it more likely that the common belief of today's leaders is in error.

Psalm 14:12

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

1. You are assuming that the incarnation was being proposed by the Christians and that the Jews considered it blasphemous. Based on Christian theological perspective, this would be expected if it were indeed happening, but there is no evidence of this.

See Mark 2:7 and John 8:48-59. Even if you think (as I suppose you might) that these were all made up late in the first century, that would still establish the issue of the divinity of Jesus as a focal point of Jewish-Christian controversy.

You also write:

2. You are assuming that there was a full scale persecution of the Christians by the Jews in the decade following the crucifixion. There is no evidence of that either.

I do not know what you mean by "full scale," but both Paul's epistles and the narrative in Acts indicate that there was pretty severe persecution in Jerusalem, enough to cause an initial diaspora. (Acts 8:1-4)

Tim said...

Tyro,

You're probably right that we're not making any headway. I do think you're being unfair to suggest that I have presented nothing more than dismissive language: you are neglecting the fact that I offered you references to a discussion by a contemporary scholar (van Voorst), to a scholar who used to maintain the mythic position but has given it up (Wells), and to pertinent non-Christian literature (Josephus's Antiquities, Tacitus's Annals). As you indicate, a blog thread is a confined space in which to have a full-scale discussion. But it isn't clear what you really want here.

You certainly should not assume that the universal dismissal of the mythical theory in scholarly circles is due to ignorance. The central line of the argument in Wells (and, from what I've seen, in Doherty) has not changed greatly since the work of Drews and Jensen around 1900. In light of this, you might consider the fact that the mythic theory was thoroughly critiqued in the German literature about a century ago. Here are a dozen references:

Klein, Ist Jesus eine historische Personlichkeit? (Tubingen, 1910)

Meffert, Die geschichtliche Existenz Christi (Munich, 1904)

Dunkmann, Der historische Jesus, der mythologische Christus und Jesus der Christ (Lepizig, 1910)

Jeremias, Hat Jesus Christus gelebt? (Leipzig, 1911)

von Soden, Hat Jesus gelebt? Aus den geschichtlichen Urkunden beantwortet (Berlin, 1910)

Julicher, Hat Jesus gelebt? (Marburg, 1910)

Bornemann, Jesus als Problem (Frankfurt, 1909)

Brephol, Die Wahrheit uber Jesus von Nazareth (Berlin, 1911)

Chwolson, Uber die Frage, ob Jesus gelebt hat (Leipzig, 1910)

Dietze, Kritische Bemerkungen zur neusten Auflage von A. Drews, Christusmythe (Bremen, 1910)

Kuhn, Ist Christus eine geschichtliche Person? (Halle, 1910)

See also Weinel's two-part article "Ist unsere Verkundigung von Jesus unhaltbar geworden?" in Zeitscrhift fur Theologie und Kirche 20 (1910): 1-38, 89-129.

These critics range across the theological spectrum: Klein is a Jewish Rabbi, Meffert is Catholic, Dunkmann is a relatively conservative Protestant, Jeremias is a liberal Protestant, etc. The one thing they have in common is that they all agree that the Christ myth theory is bunk.

This is the literature that lies behind the famous comment of Bultmann in Jesus and the Word:

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.

This is the response you will get from nearly any reputable historian, Christian or atheist. The mythic theory has not been unjustly ignored; it has been examined and found hopeless.

Tyro said...

Tim,

you are neglecting the fact that I offered you references to a discussion by a contemporary scholar (van Voorst)

I'm sorry, but I was not able to read this book. If there was something in the 10 pages you gave, it would be nice to see something on the web. But yes, you did give that book citation.

to a scholar who used to maintain the mythic position but has given it up (Wells), and to pertinent non-Christian literature (Josephus's Antiquities, Tacitus's Annals).

None of which deal with the issue, I'm sorry.

But it isn't clear what you really want here.

I've always said that I want to see a decent rebuttal by someone that has read and understood the mythicist position. I would like to see someone lay out a counter-theory and demonstrate that this is a superior explanation for the facts, and present a means for understanding Paul's writing.

The central line of the argument in Wells (and, from what I've seen, in Doherty) has not changed greatly since the work of Drews and Jensen around 1900.

I really can't comment, I haven't had a chance to read up on them. Do you have any English summaries? Have you actually read these books for yourself?

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.

Which contains the sort of unthinking dismissal, poisoning of the well and ad hominem that makes me disinclined to accept their conclusions. It could be a rhetorical device, but I'd expect an exhaustive evidence-based argument to follow, but it never does, instead I just get invectives, attacks and slurs and a "stop asking so many dumb questions" attitude which almost never happens when the question is actually dumb.

So, I've told you before, I don't care what these people believe, I only care why. That's all I'm looking for.

John W. Loftus said...

Looks like we have quite the scholar here in Tim. I'm impressed you've come visit us. Thanks. I learn from you even if I disagree. I'd venture to say from my interations with you and the books you recommend (not just here) that you are an older gentleman on the verge of retiring from a teaching career. Just a guess.

I'm curious about the book or essay (with page numbers) where G.A. Wells changed his mind, if you don't mind. Where is it?

bart willruth said...

Joe,

Of course I don't think Paul was a trinitarian.

No messianic expectations of the period predicted that he would be divine.

Paul clearly believed Jesus was a divine character.

No evidence from Paul or through arguments with his detractors as seen through his epistles indicates that he was proclaiming a human Jesus.

That no contention occured over the issue of equating God with His material creation via incarnation is apparent.

This is a problem for Christians. Recognizing that it is a problem isn't an admission that the problem is insurmountable, but to pretend that it isn't a problem shows an inability to look at one's own preconceptions critically.

Tim said...

John,

I no longer have ready access to most of Wells's works, so I cannot give you an exact citation. Some years ago he accepted Burton Mack's arguments that there was a historical Jesus behind some of the earliest sayings in Q. You can find a reference to this change of mind here.

I should add that Wells remains deeply skeptical of the New Testament as a historical source -- just not so skeptical as to dismiss the existence of Jesus altogether.

Tyro said...

Tim,

Thank you for providing that reference, it does help provide a context for your statements which I appreciate.

I don't think the source corroborates your description, however. Price's review says clearly that, in Well's opinion, the gospels did model themselves on the teaching of a reach preacher, Paul did not.

No, the chastened Wells admitted, there had indeed been a historical wisdom teacher named Jesus, some of whose sayings survive in the Gospels via Q. But this historical Jesus had nothing to do with the legendary savior Jesus whom Paul preached about.


Maybe I misunderstood the point you were trying to make, but this just seems to confirm the point Bart W and Doherty were making, that there are good reasons to believe Jesus of the epistles was not historical. Enough that you do not need to be "insane" to question Jesus's historicity.

Tim said...

Tyro,

You are missing the point. Bultmann, who can hardly be accused of having a fundamentalist apologetic agenda, is not "poisoning the wells" -- he is expressing the conclusion to which the scholarly community had already come. No doubt the "Jesus myth" meme will live on forever on websites and in coffee shops. There will always be some people who find it congenial, and scholarship be damned. But this says nothing about the quality of the evidence.

Your response indicates that you are reluctant to accept as a reference anything not available online. This does make it difficult for you to understand the extent of the existing scholarship on the question at issue, and it imposes an unreasonable burden on the defender of the mainstream position. Most libraries still do interlibrary loan.

However, in this one case, you're in luck: you can find pp. 6-16 of van Voorst's Jesus Outside the New Testament here.

The German sources are hard to get: I have access only to a few of them. I listed them (and there are more) simply to give you a sense of how thoroughly the topic was beaten to death a century ago. For more modern discussions, you could look at van Voorst, or F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (1974), R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (1986), or Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 2nd ed. (2002).

Two important works that have bearing on the subject are Birger Gerhardsson, The Reliability of Gospel Tradition (2001) and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006).

I do not have any special list of online sources, though I assume there is some discussion out there. But you can find the claim that Josepus was dependent on Matthew competently discussed here. The same site has a discussion of non-Christian evidence for Jesus here.

Regarding Wells on the cut between the Jesus of Q and the Jesus of Paul, if the question is whether a teacher called (at least later) Jesus ever existed, then Wells's admission is all that I need to make my case that the only prominent myther of the past quarter century has conceded the point. If the question is whether that Jesus bore any significant causal relation to the Jesus discussed in Paul's epistles, then you should recall what you have already conceded in your comment yesterday morning (9:55), where you quoted me and then responded:

Therefore if he did not believe that Jesus was a real person recently crucified, it is certain that Jesus was not.

Which is exactly the point.

Contrapose the conditional: If Jesus was a real person recently crucified, then Paul believed it. So the concession tells against Wells's theory.

Tyro said...

Tim,

Sorry to leave the impression that I'm not interested in doing any research outside of the web. What you're noticing is a certain amount of cynicism which has built up over the years. In my discussions with Christians over other issues, I'm frequently directed to books or people, the harder-to-locate the better. When I've taken the time to track down these sources, they didn't have the information promised, and would frequently contradict what their advocates claimed. When I raise this issue, the books would promptly be dropped and an entirely new set of books would come out. I've come to associate this as a tactic to shut me up or perhaps as a well-intentioned but ill-informed effort by people that had never checked sources themselves.

It has rather given me a bias for Internet sources as I waste much less of my time, and I only check out books after reading reviews.

That you've stuck around does you credit and I admit that I may be doing you a misservice by tarring you with the same brush.


On the book you cited, "Jesus Outside the New Testament" does give a half-answer to my questions but since I've never read Wells, I've no idea if the descriptions of his arguments are accurate; they don't seem to match what book reviews of Wells say, nor do they match Doherty. Instead Van Voorst treats Wells as saying that Paul merely presupposes an historical Jesus but has no evidence, which is nothing like Doherty's argument and I suspect it is nothing like Wells' either.

I do like that VV lists seven flaws in their argument, but I see these as hurdles or minconceptions and from what I can tell, they've all been dealt with. I would love to see these points elaborated upon, rather than quickly rattled off.

The final note seems a good summary: "most New Testament scholars do not address Wells' arguments at all, and those who do address them do not go into much depth." That's exactly my impression - most scholars don't even seem to be aware of them.

But if this book is representative, it at least covers some of the material so I'll try to get a few of those books from my library, thank you.



Incidentally, I freely admit that many of the "mythicists" should be properly called "deniers" since they are making claims as ridiculous as Creationists, demanding "proof", using impossibly high standards for evidence for Jesus but slack standards for everything else, and whose entire argument seems to be "yeah? Sez who?"

bart willruth said...

Tim,

The discussion about Paul's conception of Jesus does not directly impact the discussion of whether or not the Jesus of the gospels was based on an individual or group of individuals. Perhaps it was, or perhaps the gospels were allegory. Even if the gospel Jesus is based on some a real individual of the past, it does not necessarily follow that Paul was thinking of that person. Certainly he never says so.

In all of his epistles he is writing to people who, from your perspective, would have only recently heard of this remarkable person. How would you explain his failure to mention anything of that man? Did they not need reminders? Instead of going throuh convoluted arguments against the Judaizers in Galatians (and these midrashic agruments are none too convincing) why didn't he just quote Jesus to settle the argument. Instead he appeals to his own authority. Couldn't he have just quoted Jesus to show that he had declared the kosher laws null and void? Or couldn't he have just quoted Jesus saying that God gave him up as a sacrifice for the whole world, including gentiles to be received only by faith? Instead he goes off on a tangent trying to prove that Abraham was justified by faith only. Of course this would imply that the whole period of Torah observance from Moses forward was a wrong turn in the desert.

I wonder if you have read the religious literature of the Jews of that period. Is it so difficult to admit that if Paul's Jesus was not a man, but instead a "descent" of God, his teachings would fit in very well with contemporary Jewish concepts of descending and ascending "aspects" of God? Only his inclusion of gentiles without full Torah compliance would be at issue, which is in fact what we see in Galatians.

If Mark hadn't written his gospel and if it and its derivatives were not eventually compiled alongside Paul's writings, what exactly in Paul would lead you to conclude that Paul was speaking of the person described in the Gospels?

Set aside your premise that Paul must be speaking about a person known as Jesus of Nazareth and try alternate hypotheses to see how they fit.

Will you even admit that the Pauline Problem actually is a problem?

Spontaneous Order said...

Bart, not sure what I think of your thesis yet. Just an observation the 'he, Paul, didn't have to write anything about Jesus' defenders are the same Christians who would scream bloody murder if their minister ever preached a sermon that didn't mention Jesus. Can't you just hear the cries of apostasy or watering down the gospel. Odd how quickly they go to Paul's defense. I think it is pretty unusual at a minimum.

Barry

Tim said...

Bart,

I really don't see a problem here; you do, so to have a conversation we need to find a way forward. I think you've tried to provide that with this question:

If Mark hadn't written his gospel and if it and its derivatives were not eventually compiled alongside Paul's writings, what exactly in Paul would lead you to conclude that Paul was speaking of the person described in the Gospels?

But I find the question difficult to understand. First, you're assuming that the other gospels are entirely derivative from Mark. Virtually no one believes this; there is simply too much extra material in the other Synoptics for this thesis to hold up, and John is apparently wholly independent of Mark.

Second, the way you're phrasing this suggests that the question has been constructed so as to be unanswerable. If the gospels did not exist, what would make me think that Paul's epistles referred to the person mentioned gospels? What gospels? If they didn't exist, there would be no standard for comparison.

If, on the other hand, you are merely suggesting that we pick up the gospels in one binding (so to speak) and Paul's epistles in another and ask what coordination there is between them, then the question is answerable and I'm willing to give it a go. Is that what you meant?

One more question, just for clarification: do you acknowledge that Luke and Acts are from the same author and the same time period (whenever you place that)?

bart willruth said...

Tim,

I do think the the form of Luke-Acts we have today was finalized at the same time. Exactly how many redactions they went throug over an unknown number of years to get to their present form is unknown.

Robert Eisenman believes that Acts and the Pseudo Clementines derive from the same common source, and that of the two, the Clementines are the most accurate. Also that Acts is dependent, to some significant degree, on Josephus. Have you examined this hypothesis?

In the attempt to parellel the gospels and the Paulines, there is no obvious correspondence between the two and their conception of Jesus.

In approaching a body of literature such as the Paulines, it is important to examine the literary context of the religious culture in which it arose. Paul's theology and terminology is very consistent with non Christian Jewish literature of the period with the exception that he extrapolated the implications of God's activities as allowing inclusion of the gentile without submitting to the Torah. If he had been going beyond the "descent of the aspects of God" motifs and actually proclaiming that God had become man, we would expect the fight over Jewish monotheism that I have posited. However, if his only difference was to say that the cosmic descent of God's aspects allowed Gentiles to convert without circumcision et al, then we would have exactly the kind of struggle we see in Galatians.

Bart

Evan said...

Bart,

Paul was a common name in 1st century so the NT refers to the Paul we describe as Paul of Tarsus.

What was the frequency of Joshua as a name of males in Palestine at the time?

If it was a rare name, this would suggest that Paul may have been speaking of a singular individual whose name was identified completely with him (a modern example would be Bono), if his name was common (a modern example would be Steve), should there not be identifiers to localize him geographically in Paul to avoid ambiguity?

Trou said...

Bart,
I would like to remind you of the conversion of Paul on his way to Damascus and get your take on it. If you recall he saw a great light and had this awakening. I read somewhere that this could be a somewhat veiled reference to mystery religion initiation. As I recall these initiation rites were great spectacles with lights and drama and were meant to be dramatic.
After the conversion he is reported to have gone to Egypt (I’m working from a poor memory) for 3 years (this may refer to a training period in which the truths were revealed) which was a hotbed of Gnosticism.
Finally, to complete my association of Paul with Gnosticism, I have a copy of Elaine Pagel's book called Gnostic Paul in which she writes a commentary of the Epistles from a Gnostic viewpoint which the Valentinians were accustomed to do.
There are many references in Paul that can be taken to refer to a mystery religion complete with initiation and levels of advancement. Paul refers to initiates, babes, and then speaks deeper truth to the more mature who can understand it. He speaks of levels of heaven which is Gnostic. He speaks of things in the spirit realm as affecting the earthly sphere also.
I tend to agree with you and this Gnostic Paul slant would be right in line with what you propose. It would be a Jewish Gnosticism that would be an attempt to reconcile Jewish belief with a Gnostic world view and Jesus would be spiritual and not a physical person.
Sorry this is poorly written but your post jogged some thoughts and I don’t have the time to look this up but I thought that you may have already considered this and I wanted to read your comments on the subject.

bart willruth said...

Evan,

Jesus, Yeshua, was one of the most common names among the Jews during the period.

Some of the more interesting Jesus characters of the period are Jesus the priest in the 160's BCE who led a rebellion in the temple to cleanse it from pollution. Another Jesus is the son of Ananas the high priest who in the years leading up to the war of 66-70 CE went around the temple lamenting the destruction that would soon come upon the place. He was killed outside the walls of the city after which the city fell to the Romans.

Of course, we also know the name Jesus as Joshua, the man who led the people into the promised land. Using the technique of midrashic interpretation, Jesus was presented as the new Joshua (or from the Platonic perspective, the real or heavenly Joshua). The epistle to the Hebrews is a fully Platonic exposition of this concept showing how the earthly temple cult is but a shadow of the heavenly reality with Jesus as the true and heavenly priest. This split between the material and the spiritual, shadow and ultimate reality, is reflective of Plato's influenced as mediated through Philo.

That Paul doesn't identify Jesus specifically, but treats him as a heavenly savior (Jesus) could indicate that he is speaking in the terms of Platonism, in vogue in that period. He certainly never identifies him as Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth who had recently done amazing things in Palestine.

bart willruth said...

Trou,

The epistles of Paul were favorites of the gnostics for several reasons: He wrote in terms and categories familiar to them, his epistles can easily be interpreted as referring to the activities of a "demiurge" in the descending levels of the spiritual realm, and nothing in Paul requires the Jesus he is proclaiming to have been corrupted by presence in the earthly realm.

I don't think it is profitable to go to the conversion story in Acts as he traveled on the Damascus road. Even if it does have similarities with the mystery religion experiences, or partial complex seizure for that matter, the Acts narrative cannot be reconciled with Paul's own accounts. Both accounts cannot be correct. If the account in Acts is accepted as historically accurate, then Paul's own accounts must be discounted. I believe it is better method to start with a person's own account rather than a third party hearsay account written much later.

On this note, look at the Pauline biography in Acts and be cognizant of the dissimilarity of his Jesus presentation from that of the epistles. In Acts, he is repeatedly shown as preaching Jesus the man. The mysticism of the epistles is absent. This is not an accident. The writer of Acts was writing to rehabilitate Paul the Platonist as Paul the preacher of an amazing and very literal man.

Robert said...

Bart,

I very much enjoyed your essay, but it did raise a couple questions. Given that the Gospels (excepting possibly Mark), DO make the case that Jesus was the Messiah as foretold by the Jewish scriptures, do there exist any Jewish refutations of such an assertion after the Gospels were written?

If we assume that Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish community, it would seem that he would address this "shema issue", but he does not. Why not?

N.B. Robert M. Price is definitely a reputable scholar who does not believe in the existence of an historical Jesus.

bart willruth said...

Robert

Your question about the synoptics excepting perhaps Mark presenting Jesus as the expected Messiah and the reaction of the Jews vis a vis the Shema is interesting.

I am speaking off the cuff a bit here, but I'll make some points the best I can without references. I am not near my library at the moment.

1. Mark makes Jesus out to be the expected one, perhaps Moses or Elijah come back. Even John the Baptist resurrected, an oddity since they were supposed to be contemporaties. But Mark's messiah figure is hidden. Like Wisdom and the suffering servant, Jesus was unrecognized and the temple was destroyed because of that rejection. Mark nowhere to my recollection explicitly states Jesus is the Messiah.

2. Matthew and Luke, deriving their narrative from Matthew, no longer present the hiddenness of Jesus, and they make much of him fulfilling the messianic prophecies. The problem is, none of the prophecies they show to have been fulfilled predict a future messiah.

3. When one examines both the OT "predictions" of a messiah and the intertestamental litarature, there really is a dearth of clear expectation. That a leader could rise up and lead his people to freedom from foreign oppression would indicate that God's blessing was upon him; he would be seen as being anointed. But the messiah concept is much weaker in Judaism than it is in Christian fulfillment theology.

4. Nothing in the messianic expectation that does exist indicates that the messiah would be God himself in human skin. That would violate the Shema concept and would have brought it to the fore. The synoptics don't make such a clear claim and there was no reaction to it since it didn't happen.

5. The Christology of the synoptics is considerably lower than the earlier Pauline epistles. For Paul, Jesus was divine, and no evidence exists that he thought of Jesus as being a man walking around Palestine for 30 odd years. Jesus of the synoptics walked the dust of the land and taught with great authority, but it does not follow that he was being presented as more than the greatest prophet.

6. Christians were already being ejected from the synagogues by the end of the first century, but there is no evidence that it was because they were making a man into God. The issues were over observance.

7. In the gospel of John, written later and in a different area, we may get a hint of the Shema issue arising. In all the gospels, we are seeing the situation of the community producing and hearing the particular gospel being anachronistically read back into a previous time. In John's presentation, at one point Jesus is made to claim, "Before Abraham was, I Am," a clear reference to the name of God, Yahweh. The reaction of the pharisees was to take up stones to execute him for blasphemy as a man who claimed to be God. This would indicate to me that the Johannine community was actually being assaulted by the Jews over the Shema issue.

Finally, in John, we have a marriage of Jesus the man and Jesus the divine agent. I know of no place in the NT that synthesizes the two images earlier.

When do we date John. Fundamentalists, as always, attempt to date John as early as possible so as to preserve some hope of direct connection with the apostles. But there is no reason to consider John a first century product.

We do know that sometime around the beginning of the second century, emergent rabbinnical Judaism, the descendents of the Pharisees, were pronouncing a curse on the heretics who wouldn't follow their interpretations of the Torah and the oral law. This was the Minim curse which remains a part of the Talmud.

There are no contemporary records of Jews taking issue with the Christians over the issue of the Shema. Jewish polemics don't start to be seen in the record for well over 100 years. This doesn't mean that no polemics existed earlier, but we do not have record of them.

As we look at the "biography" of Jesus, it appears that he began his career as a fully divine being, and only later was brought down to the earthly material level.

I have some theories to suggest how the Pauline divine Jesus evolved into the man from Nazareth, but that is for a different post.

Thanks for your comments,

Bart Willruth

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Tim~ First of all I want to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. The Lord bless you!

Bart has long concluded that he DOES NOT believe in the Biblical narrative, and as such does not hold it to be even historically accurate. He has said that he DOES NOT believe in the historical Jesus, and only believes that the Bible was a recreation of mystery religions of the preceding era.

Tim, you have put down EVERY argument that he has posed skillfully and with reason, and respect. I appreciate you and your thoughtfulness. I don't know of your relationship to CRI but THANK YOU for availing yourself to this task.

Bart, as I said before, your whole argument of Markaian Priori is unfounded and ONLY speculative and mythical at best. Because of that essential flaw, you fail to truly examine the life and historical narrative of Paul and the Pauline epistles, which more than adequately describe and convey the aspects of Jesus as found in the Gospels.

No matter what you choose to believe, true scholarship has again turned down your argument and has demonstrated that your presuppositions on the entire issue are old hat.

Secondly, Tim has provided resources far beyond adequate to both demonstrate the weakness of your current argument and shed TRUE light on parallel arguments associated with your assertions.

For me, I don't mind watching a scholar, of who’s sorts have more than confirmed the Bible through diligent research, and ultimately helped shape the core of my Christian beliefs for over 20 years.

I would only hope that people who claim to be reasonable and in search of well reasoned, historical and verifiable truth, would be as inclined to spend as much energy actually seeking truth as in denying truth.

Tim thank you very much.

bart willruth said...

Harvery Dist Super,

Did I miss something. I see you waving the flag and declaring victory. I don't remember Tim dealing directly with the problem I posed, nor even admitting that there might be even the appearance of a problem. Faith can certainly provide amazing blinders.

You said that my position on Markan priority is "mythical." It is not just my position. Scholars have provided more than adequate evidence for Markan priority for over 2 centuries. I remember you suggesting to me in one of your comments that I should read "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Richard Bauckham, a book sitting on my desk right now. Are you aware that even Bauckham accepts Markan priority? It is too obvious that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a template; to argue against it is a lost cause.

You also say that I believe Jesus to be a construct of the mystery religions. There is an element of truth in that. The similarities are too obvious to not see some dependency, but I think the non-canonical literature of the Jews from that period, obviously influenced by hellenism, are a more direct antecedent for the NT Jesus figure.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Harvey Burnett wrote: Bart, as I said before, your whole argument of Markaian Priori is unfounded and ONLY speculative and mythical at best. Because of that essential flaw, you fail to truly examine the life and historical narrative of Paul and the Pauline epistles, which more than adequately describe and convey the aspects of Jesus as found in the Gospels.

What "aspects of Jesus as found in the Gospels" do you have in mind here? In his blog entry, Bart presented an A-Z list of significant elements found in the gospel narratives that are completely absent from the Pauline epistles. I have presented an even longer list of Pauline silences on gospel details in one of my blog entries. (I didn't restrict my list to an alphabet...;)

That the gospel of Mark predates the other three canonical gospels is quite difficult to deny. Also, that the epistles of Paul were written before the gospel of Mark is widely accepted, and for many good reasons. Paul's letters clearly antedate the canonical gospels. But what "aspects of Jesus as found in the Gospels" do those letters give us?

Take for example the aspect of Jesus' miraculous birth. According to Christianity, Jesus' virgin birth is a very important aspect of Jesus. But where does Paul even hint at it? According to the gospels, Jesus amassed to himself a group of 12 disciples who traveled around with him in his missionary work. Where does Paul even hint at this? According to the gospels, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot. Where does Paul "adequately describe and convey" this? How about Jesus' miracles, his sermon on the mount, his parables, his temptation in the wilderness, his exorcisms, his hesitation at Gethsemane, Peter's denials, the two malefactors who were crucified next to Jesus, his words from the cross, the spear thrust into his side, the earthquake, the unnumbered and unamed saints who came crawling out of their graves upon Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathaea, the female witnesses, an empty tomb, etc.? Where do these "aspects of Jesus as found in the Gospels" show up in any of Paul's letters?

These details are legendary developments which most likely post-date Paul's letters and were finally accepted by the Christian community at large well after he was on the scene. What Bart has called the Pauline Problem is in fact a smoking gun. The problem is easily missed by Christians because the ready Paul's letters through gospel-colored goggles, as Doherty puts it. Entire congregations assume that the order of the books of the New Testament is the order in which they were written, when in fact that is simply not the case.

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

Bart,

In your blog, you wrote:

Was the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols really more fundamental than the claim that God had been recently incarnated? A war had recently been fought over that very claim. To claim that anyone or anything in the material realm could have ontological correspondence with the Most High was anathema.

Your points here, in the context of the Maccabean rebellion, are very significant. In the Acts of the Apostles, we find Peter converting thousands of Jerusalem Jews to Christianity through a series of speeches (which, incidentally, quote the Septuagint's misrendering of the OT). Of this, Wells writes:

"Peter's speeches in the early chapters of Acts go down extraordinarily well. He declares that "God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ should suffer" (3:18). One might expect Jews to regard this as stretching their scriptures more than a bit. But no, Peter's audience accepted it in their thousands (4:4). This speech, and his previous one at Pentecost, have sufficed to Christianize what has been calculated as one fifth of the then population of Jerusalem." (Can We Trust the New Testament?, pp. 90-91)

This scenario all seems so wholly unlikely, given the issues prompting the rebellion of the Maccabean Jews. If equating a man with God constituted such a violent flash point among the Jews, how could they be so easily persuaded by the speeches which the book of Acts put into Peter's mouth? And what independent testimony corroborates that such mass conversions of Jerusalem's Jewish population were taking place at this time? The stories we find in Acts seem at the very least quite exaggerated, if not wholly fictitious.

Regards,
Dawson

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~

You refuse to hear alternate arguments because you need to make Mark After 70 AD and the original source in order to make your theories plausable.

FACTS are clear and I'll give a little more info to clear up your obvious persistance in drugging through muddy waters.

Let's start with linguistics for a minute which is the backbone of your argument:

~Consider the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10.21-22 and Luke 18.22-23. These two verses there are more than a score of differences, although the meaning is obviously close. This is hardly evidence for literary borrowing which is essential to your argument.

~Between Mark and Luke- passages the two gospels differ in wording five thousand times, but not in sense.

~Let us suppose, as virtually all supporters of Q do, that much of Matthew is an adaptation of Mark. The number of additions, subtractions, alterations and changes of order in the parallel passages amounts to well over eight thousand...Yet is spite of this, differences in sense are strikingly few. As we would EXPECT from a true account.

~ In the cross section examined, just 22.19 percent of the words in parallel passages are completely identical; on the average, given 100 words in Mark, Matthew will have 95.68 differences and Luke 100.43. This means that the verbal similarities are comparatively small and extend chiefly to identical accounts of Jesus' words and to specific and unalterable vocabulary that is required by the nature of what is being related

~Luke lacks, therefor, more than one-fifth of the content of Mark's Gospel. Insisting that Mark was s source for Luke, then, forces one to assume that Luke arbitrarily suppressed almost a fourth of the pericopes he read in Mark

~in 180 cases the linguistic form of verses in Mark extends beyond the compass of the verses in both parallels. That would not be possible if Matthew and Luke, independently of each other, had used Mark as a source. For it strains credulity beyond the breaking point to suppose that 180 times they both-independently of each other-left out a formulation found in Mark's Gospel, formulations ranging in length form three words to three sentences.

~More than a fifth of Mark's material, therefore, can be found in neither Matthew nor in Luke. This is the heavy burden that every theory of literary dependence must bear.

~If Matthew used Mark as a source, the statistics show that he must have altered, by adding to or deleting from the Marcan exemplar in the pericopes from which he borrowed, by a word content equal to 49.83 percent of the book of Mark

~If Luke used Mark as a source, the statistics show that he must have altered by addition or deletion the Marcan exemplar in the pericopes from which he borrowed a word content equal to 53.54 percent."

~It should, therefore, astonish every proponent of the two-source theory (or other theories of literary dependence) that no fewer than 187 words of Mark's vocabulary appear in neither Matthew nor Luke. That means dependent Matthew and Luke obliterated 13.5 percent of Mark's vocabulary-and did so in full mutual agreement, but totally independent of each other! Anyone wishing to hold to the two-source theory (Such as you Bart and Mr. Burner) must swallow this unpalatable fact, whose unsavory presence must be faced by proponents of other literary dependence theories as well...Matthew, Mark, and Luke have in common just 830 words or 61.71 percent of the vocabulary of Mark's Gospel.

~ From the earliest patristic times Matthew's gospel was held in the very highest esteem; indeed it seems to have been regarded as the premier document of the Christian church, quoted far more than any other gospel. If Matthew is indeed following mark, his many departures from his text are cleverly disguised, and it is surprising that he has obliterated so much of Mark's vivid narrative. Whether he assembled recollections and testimonies of his own or whether his word was based on Mark and other sources, all must admit that it was a careful and brilliantly successful operation. It is difficult to see it as the result of making eight thousand alterations to someone else's work.

~The assumption of literary dependence among the three Synoptics, therefore, leads, in view of the data established above, to unacceptable implausibilities, indeed to absurdities. Such divergences in the common material of the three Synoptics, if they are literally dependent, would make the evangelists into insufferable faultfinders to whom hardly a word of their source was acceptable. No evidence supports such a view, however. The great extent of similarity in content, and particularly the roughly 80 percent agreement in recording the words of Jesus, most readily shows that the writers strove for precise reporting. Also, the sort of critical excessiveness that would have to be assumed with the acceptance of literary dependence could never have resulted in the harmonious and self-consistent entities that one finds Matthew and Luke to be.

YOUR WHOLE ARGUMENT IS UNPLAUSABLE.

Look Bart and Burner...I could go on and on, but it's worthless. Your THEORY IS NOT based on good detail or accurate assessment of the texts temselves. It's rediculous for you to persist in this LIE of Markan Priority. It's been put down MANY years ago and neither you or your contemporaries offer anything new or worth noting.

Further I agree with Tim...you have no original premise to offer and it is a wast of time to explain your phantom or made up problem.

Yes! I waive the flag of VICTORY it's been firmly planted here!

Thanks.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Harvey,

Thanks for the number counts. However, you should realize that the case for Markan priority does not rest on statistical percentages of verbatim linquistic recurrences. But feel free to wave your flags; in fact, that's precisely what I would expect from someone who has a most insecure confessional investment to protect. So you're right on schedule.

Regards,
Dawson

bart willruth said...

Harvey,

I want to pull you back toward the subject of my article. That is, the lack of contention over the Shema issue (Jewish monotheism) in Paul's epistles is a serious problem which must be answered. The proper way to discuss this issue is to first look at the context and thrust of a particular epistle eg. Galatians. Next is to examine the wider context of the Pauline corpus. Lastly one looks toward the broader context of the milieu of Jewish religious writing CONTEMPORARY WITH PAUL. You don't seem to want to follow normal scholarly procedure.

I really don't want to keep dealing with Markan priority here. It has been studied to death by specialists who are there for you to read if you want to do further study. However, you should be aware that no one considered the early Christian writings to be scripture until well into the second century. It is likely that no two copies of Mark, or any other NT writing for that matter, were identical. Hand copying is subject to error, omissions being more likely than additions.

Dawson is correct though. Word count is not the issue in sourcing. The general narrative of Mark is used by both Luke and Matthew. They each had their own theological thrust, sometimes at odds with each other. For this reason, ommissions are of particular interest. Luke went out of his way to omit atonement language from his narrative. It was done purposefully.

Tell me if I am using a source below, even though I have changed words:

Eighty seven years have passed since our forebears brought this country into being. It was founded on the principle that each person is equal.

Compare with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address:

Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth a new nation, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Did I use Lincoln as a source? Did I plagiarize? Only a moron would fail to recognize source similarity, even though words were changed, and even though I omitted the concept of creation.

Now please, if we are to continue the discussion on the subject of this post, lets stick to the subject.

Bart Willruth

Insanezenmistress said...

ok, let me see if i am following this.

Because the words of some stories shared by the gosples is dissimular, in syantax but not sence or meaning...it shows that such a story was witnessed?


ok......Harvey, you seem to be saying that because of this story being the same shows that it had to be witness and thus writen long before ad 70. And that all "their" debunking stuff is nill?


thats how i am getting it, if so i wanna interject.

The stories of cinderella, and Nasty monsters in the dark woods, and the boy who cried wolf, i am willing to wager, also meet that criteria.

Are their nast beasties in my forest? hum

IF you interpret the forest a maze of the mind, then yes.........many nasty beasties, so in one sence; a philosphophical one; yes, their are beasts in my woods, but in a literal sence, that is nonsence superstition to believe in beasties.

A story that is true or can have some meaning of truth expressed, would be witnessable. The truth of the stories above have been iterated and retold and used by most cultures. Some truth within it brought out.

i think why Banshen doesn't bye your argument as valid is because it doesnt matter, that fact does not validate the Bible as the word of god because that little truthy nugget is dime a dozen in myth-stories.

hope i am not misunderstanding.

Jessy

Bahnsen Burner said...

Jessy wrote: i think why Banshen doesn't bye your argument as valid is because it doesnt matter, that fact does not validate the Bible as the word of god because that little truthy nugget is dime a dozen in myth-stories.

Whether or not the gospel of Mark holds priority over the other synoptics is ultimately of little value to my overall view. Where Doherty may be regarded as a "mythicist," I can be regarded as a "legendist" - I think it's clearly the case that the stories we read in the gospels and the book of Acts are the product of legendary developments, regardless of whether or not Mark came first, regardless of whether or not there was ultimately a human being named Jesus which initially inspired sacred stories messianic heroism. So Harvey's claim to victory is in vain if he think he's making a major dent in my view.

Regards,
Dawson

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Burner & Willruth~ Whatever your views are they are both wrong. Because I know you won't read the material I'll post it here for you and your other avid anti-Christ followers.

Since Willruth insists on staying with the argument it goes a little like this:

Remember, your argument centered around the theory that Paul didn't even sound like he knew Jesus...His teachings were devoid of the understanding of the historical Jesus in any way and was by virtue different than Jesus teachings. This idea is the linchpin of your complete argument.

Alfred Resch, the German author who early last century found 1,158 Pauline allusions to Jesus this is in slightly over 2,000 verses of Pauline writings!. This shows how close in teaching content Paul and Jesus are.

A Few Topical Examples Include:

(JESUS) Luke 6.27-28: "Love your enemies...bless those who curse you"
(JESUS) Matt 5.24: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"
(PAUL) Romans 12.14: "Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse"

(JESUS) Mark 7:15: "there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
(PAUL) Romans 14:14: " I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is profane in itself"

(JESUS) Matt 17:20: "if you have faith...you will say to this mountain, 'Move'..."
(PAUL) I Cor 13.2: "if I have all faith so as to move mountains..."

(JESUS) Matt 19.21: "If you would be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor..."
(PAUL) I Cor 13.3: "if I give away all my possessions..." (contra Rabbinical advice! Cf. b. Ketubot 50a and Mishnah Arakin 8.4)

(JESUS) Matt 24.43: "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 "For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
(PAUL) I Thess 5:2,4: "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night...But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief;

(JESUS) Mark 9.50: "live at peace with one another" (verb forms are absolutely identical)
(PAUL) I Thess 5.13: "live at peace among yourselves"

(JESUS) Mark 4.22: "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light.
(PAUL) I Cor 4.5: "who will bring to light the secrets of darkness and will make public the purposes of the heart"
(PAUL) Rom 2.16: "God judges the secrets of people, according to my gospel through Jesus Christ"
(PAUL) I Cor 14.25: "The secrets of his heart are made public"

(JESUS) Mark 14:36: "And He was saying, "Abba! Father" (very uncommon usage)
(PAUL) Gal 4.6: "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!""
(PAUL) Rom 8.15: "you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

(JESUS) Luke 10.21f: ""I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.
(PAUL) I Cor 1-2 (various verses): "hidden things" (2.7), "the wise" (1.19), "the understanding" (1.19), "God has revealed" (2.10), "to infants" (3.1), "God was pleased" (1.21)

(JESUS) ark 14:22-23: "And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23 And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
(PAUL) I Cor 11:23: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." [the whole thing!]

(JESUS) Luke 10.7: "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages.
(PAUL) I Cor 9.14: "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. "
(PAUL) I Tim 5.18: "For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."

Overall, there are significant amounts of allusion material in Paul to this synoptic mission discourse, some of which are as follows:

The sending of the apostles on itinerant mission (Matt 10:2, 5/Mark 6:7/Luke 9:2/10:1; so 1 Cor 9:1, 5, etc.),

Their authority (Matt 10:1/Mark 6:7/Luke 9:1; so 1 Cor 9:4, etc.),
to preach the gospel (Matt 10:7/Luke 9:2; 10:9; so 1 Cor 9:14-16, etc.)

And to cast out devils and heal (Matt 10:1/Mark 6:7/Luke 9:1/Luke 10:9; so 2 Cor 12:12),

Their mission to Israel (Matt 10:5; so Gal 2:8, 9),

"you received without payment; give without payment" (Matt 10:8; so 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Cor 9:18, etc.),

"eating and drinking . . ." (Luke 10:7; so 1 Cor 9:4, etc.),

"the laborer deserves to be paid" (Matt 10:10/Luke 10:7; so 1 Cor 9:14, etc.),

"eat what is set before you" (Luke 10:8; so 1 Cor 10:27),

"be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16; so Rom 16:19),

"whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16; so 1 Thes 4:8).

(JESUS) Matt 16.16-20: "And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
(PAUL) Gal 1.15,16: "But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,

(JESUS) Mark 10.9f: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 10 And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He *said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."
(PAUL) I Cor 7.10-11: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away

(JESUS) Matt 22.21: "Then He *said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." (reference to taxes and tribute)
(PAUL) Romans 13.7: "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" [linguistic forms are identical]

(JESUS) Matt 20.26: "It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
(PAUL) Romans 15.7: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision

(JESUS) Mark 10.44: "and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
(PAUL) I Cor 9.19: "I have made myself a slave to all..."
(PAUL) I Cor 10.33: "just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

(JESUS) Matt 5.33f: "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' 34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil."
(PAUL) 2 Cor 1.17-18: "Or that which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no."

But not only did Paul know (and repeat) Jesus' teaching--often almost verbatim!--he constantly pointed his readers to the life of Christ as an example to follow.

Rom 15.1ff: "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me."

Philp 2.5: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,"

I Cor 11.1: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Eph 5.1f: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us"

Where did Paul get this from, by his own account by revelation Jesus Christ HIMSELF AND that was confirmed in the Gospel accounts THAT WERE ALREADY IN EXISTENCE when he met the Apostles in 40A.D. IN NO POINT does Paul's message conflict, superceed or overide the word of Jesus or his mission on earth.

Paul CLEARLY related events of the HISTORICAL JESUS within full context and gave his life through continued teaching that Jesus was both a REAL PERSON, Was God, and Was risen from The Dead as the SCRIPTURES foretold.

Both of your arguments of PAULINE SILENCE are BUNK!

Paul's writings are CLEARLY in line with other authors in the Bible during and after Jesus time and are fully consistent with Jesus teachings WITHOUT DOUBT.

To suggest otherwise is not based on factual information but is based on fantasy...The same type of fantasy that you persist with while claiming to be rational and reasonable human beings.

I have taken this time so that your readers will know that your theories are not mainstream, are not anything new and have been turned down previously as well thinking and trained individuals have also examined these facts and found your position to be without merit.

Whatever you tried to do YOU DIDN'T DO IT HERE OR WITH THIS ARGUMENT.

Thank you and I LOOK FORWARD to debunking more of your anti-Christ arguments in the very near future.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I'm not certain, but exactly what sort of battle would you expect Paul to spearhead, given that he was an apostle - whose priority is spiritual enlightenment over physical emancipation - a proactive pacifist - what sort of battle are you imagining should have occurred?????

Evan said...

Harvey,

I read through your whole post. It was a long slog.

Please explain to me how Paul differentiates Jesus of Nazareth from any other man named Jesus who was alive 20 years before Paul was converted.

If 2000 years from now there was a gospel about someone named Steve, how would we know which Steve currently alive was being referred to?

Given that we know Jesus was a common name in Judea at the time of the writing of the NT -- we should expect Paul of Tarsus to identify Jesus with some specific language to avoid ambiguity.

For example, during the Bar Kochba revolt there was a Joshua ben Chananya who was leader of the Sanhedrin. How do we know Paul wasn't referring to any living Joshua?

More importantly, how do we know from Paul's writing he wasn't referring to one of the Joshuas of the OT? Either the famous heir to the prophetic position of Moses, or Joshua ben Jehozadak, who was high priest from 515-490 BCE?

The ancient records typically deal with common names by recording a location they are from to narrow the ambiguities. That Paul does not do this once -- not even in all your laboriously copied quotations really does answer the fundamental question Bart has raised here.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Harvey,

Thanks again, this time for the long list of quotes. In fact, they help seal the case for legendary development. You quote statements attributed to Jesus in the gospels and similar statements found in Paul's letters side by side. But don't you see what's missing? When Paul gives his teachings, he does not indicate that Jesus had ever taught them - particularly in the situations in which the gospels cast Jesus teaching them. What happened is that later writers took these teachings from Paul's letters and put them in Jesus' mouth in narrative form, which we know today as the gospels.

You yourself quoted Romans 15.7: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision"

Paul tells us explicitly that it is his own teaching that he gives here.

The gospel writers borrowed from other sources, such as Paul's letters, to inform the theology they put into Jesus' mouth.

Again observe Wells on this very topic:

Paul gives it as his own view (Rom. 13:8-10) that the law can be summed up in the one Old Testament injunction "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." According to Lk. 10:25-8, Jesus himself taught that love of neighbor (together with love of God) ensures salvation; but one could never gather from Paul that Jesus had expressed himself on the matter. In 1 Thess. 4:9 it is not Jesus but God who is said to have taught Christians to love one another. And in the injunction not to repay evil for evil but always to do good to all is given in the same epistle (5:15) without any suggestion that Jesus had taught it (as according to the gospels he did in the Sermon on the Mount). In his letter to Christians at Rome Paul says "bless those that persecute you" (12:14 and 17) and "judge not" (14:13). Surely in such instances he might reasonably be expected to have invoked the authority of Jesus, had he known that Jesus had taught the very same doctrines. (The former doctrine is ascribed to him at Mt. 5:44 and Lk. 6:28, and the latter at Mt. 7:1 and Lk. 6:37.) In the same epistle he urges Christians to "pay taxes" (13:6), but does not suggest that Jesus had given such a ruling (Mk. 12:17). It is much more likely that certain precepts concerning forgiveness and civil obedience were originally were originally urged independently of Jesus, and only later put into his mouth and thereby stamped with supreme authority, than that he gave such rulings and was not credited with having done so by Paul and… by other early Christian writers. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 33.)

You wrote: But not only did Paul know (and repeat) Jesus' teaching--often almost verbatim!--he constantly pointed his readers to the life of Christ as an example to follow.

Where does Paul attribute the teachings he gives to Jesus? He either quotes the OT, attributes the teachings to heavenly God (not to an earthly incarnated Jesus) or states the teaching as his own.

So, Harvey, unwittingly, you've pointed to yet another smoking gun here.

I'm glad these aren't my problems.

Regards,
Dawson

Spontaneous Order said...

dhsb, that actually is an interesting argument, I will have to give that some thought.

Barry

Tim said...

Harvey,

I was waiting for Bart to clarify his position before I jumped in. But you beat me to it, and at this point you've done it so thoroughly that it would be superfluous to add further details. Thanks for that as well as for your kind words. It's nice to see someone else who is familiar with Alfred Resch's work.

Evan asks:

Please explain to me how Paul differentiates Jesus of Nazareth from any other man named Jesus who was alive 20 years before Paul was converted.

Simple answer: he doesn't have to, since everyone he is writing to already knows who he's talking about. Incidentally, the reference to 20 years is irrelevant: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Dawson writes:

When Paul gives his teachings, he does not indicate that Jesus had ever taught them - particularly in the situations in which the gospels cast Jesus teaching them.

Looks like he missed the part about Mark 14 and 1 Cor 11. It is a piece of luck for us that the Corinthian church was so screwed up on this point that Paul decided to remind them of the historical origin of the Lord's Supper, thereby demonstrating his familiarity with the details of the life of Jesus.

Evan said...

Simple answer: he doesn't have to, since everyone he is writing to already knows who he's talking about. Incidentally, the reference to 20 years is irrelevant: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Funny, I had always been led to believe that the earliest epistle is dated to 50 CE. Is it your position Tim, that Paul wrote the epistles earlier than that?

Tim said...

Evan,

Your phrase was "20 years before Paul was converted," not "20 years before Paul wrote his first epistle."

Evan said...

Good catch. I misspoke. Should have been 5 years before he was converted and 20 years before he put pen to page.

Thanks for catching that.

Doesn't really change much.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim wrote: Simple answer: he doesn't have to, since everyone he is writing to already knows who he's talking about.

How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus? Are we to just assume that they knew Paul’s Jesus to hail from Nazareth, for instance, or that his Jesus was born of a virgin? What would justify such assumptions when Paul himself nowhere refers to either Nazareth or a virgin birth?

Keep in mind that Paul warned his churches of competing views of Jesus. In II Cor. 11:4 Paul wrote:

For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

Similarly, in Gal. 1:6 he wrote:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel

These passages indicate that there were different gospels and different theologies circulating at the time. It is clear from Paul’s letters that he was weary of these competing traditions and that he wanted his congregations to be weary of them too. So today’s Christians should resist the reckless expedience of simply assuming his congregants knew certain details about the Jesus Paul was preaching, especially when those details are completely absent from Paul’s own letters. It is entirely possible that the Jesus traditions which later found their way into the gospels we find in our bibles today numbered among those traditions which Paul rejected.


Tim wrote: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Does Paul say this? Or, are you simply reading Paul with gospel-colored glasses – thus begging the question? Show us where Paul – in his letters – puts a date or place to Jesus’ crucifixion and to his own conversion.


Tim wrote: Looks like he missed the part about Mark 14 and 1 Cor 11. It is a piece of luck for us that the Corinthian church was so screwed up on this point that Paul decided to remind them of the historical origin of the Lord's Supper, thereby demonstrating his familiarity with the details of the life of Jesus.

Is this the only parallel that you can find which suggests that the Jesus tradition which Paul preached was the same Jesus tradition we find in the gospels? Christians are so ready to assume that Paul was reciting from the same gospel tradition we find in Mark, when in fact it is more likely the case that the author of Mark cribbed his Lord’s Supper idea from Paul’s letters.

Doherty points to I Cor. 11:23-26 as

the sole Gospel-like scene to be found in all of Paul’s letters.... Here Paul attributes words to Jesus at what he calls “the Lord’s Supper,” words identifying the bread and wine of the thanksgiving meal with Jesus’ body and blood. But is Paul recounting an historical event here? There are several arguments to be made that this is not the case, that Paul is instead describing something which lay in the realm of myth, just as the cult of the savior god Mithras had a myth about the establishment of its own sacred meal. In fact, the opening phrase of the passage points to Paul’s reception of this information through revelation, not through an account of others who were supposedly participants at such an event. (The Jesus Puzzle, p. 15)

Look at the opening statement of the passage again. I Cor 11:23 states: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;”

Paul is telling us that he did not get his story of a supper from other human beings, such as the disciples which the gospels seat around Jesus in their version of the supper scene. So we would be entirely mistaken to assume that Paul is quoting from a tradition of men here. What would keep a later writer from using Paul’s description of a supper scene involving Jesus from inserting such a scene into the context of his fictional narrative of Jesus? What would keep a later writer from using the very words which Paul attributes to Jesus in his description of such a supper scene in his own invented version of the same? Paul provided the raw material which later writers interpolated into their narratives. Nothing in either I Cor. or the gospels necessitates that we suppose Paul was quoting from Mark (the gospel of Mark hadn't even been written yet!), and nothing in Paul’s rendition of the supper scene necessitates that we suppose he had “familiarity with the details of the life of Jesus” as found in the canonical gospel narratives (again, they hadn't been written yet!). To suggest that the supper scene in Paul’s letter demonstrates that Paul has familiarity with, say, the gospel of Mark, is as naïve as it is tenuous, and borders on apologetic desperation.

Now, Tim, you may still want to believe that Paul had “familiarity with the details of the life of Jesus” as we find it described in the gospel narratives. That’s fine and dandy. But here’s a friendly little challenge for you. Below is a list of details taken from the portrait of Jesus’ life as it is described in the gospels:

- Bethlehem (Jesus' supposed birthplace)
- a place called 'Nazareth' (as in "Jesus of Nazareth")
- a Roman census
- parents named Mary and Joseph
- angelic visitations to both Mary and Joseph
- the Virgin Birth
- the Slaughter of the Innocents
- the Magi (they were magically summoned to meet the baby Jesus)
- John the Baptist
- Jesus' baptism
- Jesus' career as a carpenter
- Galilee
- Jesus' itinerant preaching ministry in Judea (didn't the apostle know about this?!)
- that Jesus was a teacher of morals
- that Jesus taught in parables
- Jesus' prayers
- Jesus' many miracles (Paul nowhere has his Jesus turn water into wine, stilling storms, feeding 5,000 or walking on lakes)
- Jesus' healings and cures (no mention of the blind receiving their sight, for example, after Jesus spits into dysfunctional eyes)
- Jesus' exorcisms
- Jesus' temptation in the wilderness
- Mary Magdalene
- Nicodemus (mentioned only in the gospel of John)
- Judas Iscariot (a key player in the lead-up to the passion story)
- Gethsemane (and Jesus' hesitation there)
- a trial before Pilate
- Peter's repeated denials
- Jesus' flogging
- Jesus' crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem
- a place called "Calvary" (mentioned only in Luke 23:33)
- the two malefactors condemned with Jesus
- Jesus' words from the cross
- the spear thrust in Jesus' side
- the darkness over the earth
- the earthquake
- the rising of the saints mentioned only in Matthew 27:52-53
- Joseph of Arimathaea
- Golgotha
- female witnesses
- an empty tomb (Paul never even mentions an empty tomb!)
- Doubting Thomas

Clearly many of these details were thought by the gospel writers to be significant, for they appear in more than one gospel. But can you find any of these details in any of Paul’s letters? The gospels are very clear in putting a time and place setting to Jesus’ crucifixion, for instance. But can you find where Paul even hints at a time and place for his Jesus’ crucifixion? Many Christians are prone to respond that Paul would not have needed to “repeat” any of these details in his letters. But this retort implies that the gospel stories were written and circulating before Paul wrote his letters, which is certainly not the case. Had Paul mentioned that Jesus’ crucifixion took place outside the walls of Jerusalem, for instance, he would not have been “repeating” something that had already been written! And the argument that Paul would not have needed to "repeat" something already widely known also indicates a lack of familiarity with the texts in question: scripture is chock full of repetitions.

Paul warned in his letters that different gospels and different Jesus traditions were circulating in his day. He says quite little about what informed those competing gospels and Jesus traditions. When Paul characterizes his Jesus as having “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), are we to suppose that he thought his Jesus was going around performing miracles, as the gospels portray him? For Paul, Jesus’ life from incarnation to crucifixion represented base humiliation. But the gospel portraits characterize him as this powerful miracle-worker who earned a reputation as a teacher, a healer, a leader of a movement who amassed followers, etc. There’s no doubt that the Jesus we find in Paul’s letters is markedly different from the Jesus we find in the gospel stories. But just as this does not keep today’s believers from assuming they were one and the same, it did not keep the gospel writers from using Paul’s letters as a source for their portraits of Jesus.

Regards,
Dawson

John W. Loftus said...

I have no dog in this fight. It doesn't matter to me if Jesus existed or not, although I think he did. But I'm listening. I told Bart it's a tactical blunder to even discuss this subject, since many Christians will conclude we’re not truly as skeptical as we claim if we’re willing to believe just about anything that denies Christianity. I told him this is a question only skeptics themselves are interested in as a possible alternative theory on the origins of Christianity. But it’s been interesting to me.

To me it doesn’t matter whether Wells changed his mind, or whether this issue was dealt with and put away in the past. I’ve heard Christians tell me that all of our arguments are as old as Hume and Kant, and sufficiently trashed soon afterward. I don’t think so at all. What matters to me are the arguments.

The arguments are indeed interesting. Particularly insightful are Bart’s original argument about the lack of a debate over Jesus’ divinity in Paul’s writing, and why he never mentioned anything about the life of Jesus.

To put this into perspective, Paul didn’t say anything about the tomb being empty either. The silences seem to be telling. All one has to do is listen to any sermon today about Jesus and notice how many times something in life of Jesus is mentioned. All one has to do is to hear a sermon on the resurrection and notice the stress that is put on the empty tomb. I understand the gospels weren’t yet written for Paul, but if he knew much of anything about the life of Jesus he would use it just like preachers do today, since this information is important to know.

Once these things are truly considered you will see the problem. Why didn’t Paul mention anything from the life of Jesus in all of his writings?

Give me some probable reasons why Paul didn't in the light of the stress that preachers today place on these things.

Tim said...

Dawson,

So you concede that there is an event from Jesus' life recounted in one of the unquestioned Pauline epistles that corresponds in meticulous detail with the account in the gospels. That's a good start.

Note also that this event, with details both great and small, makes nonsense out of the idea that Jesus was a mythic person -- and would do so even if we did not have the gospel accounts to corroborate it. Of course, that will not stop the mythers. But this is the point at which they really do have to go down the rabbit hole and wind up in conspiracy theory territory in order to maintain their position.

You ask:

How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus?

One good way is by looking at all of places where he makes allusions that they could not have understood unless they already knew the outlines of the story of the life of Jesus. Harvey has begun to list some of these; you can consult Resch for more.

You also write:

Look at the opening statement of the passage again. I Cor 11:23 states: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;”

Paul is telling us that he did not get his story of a supper from other human beings, such as the disciples which the gospels seat around Jesus in their version of the supper scene.


This is completely unpersuasive. It is also characteristic of the sort of exegetical bullying in which the mythers routinely engage. Paul is pointing out that the solemnity of the Lord's Supper, which the Corinthians were abusing, has warrant from Jesus himself and is not Paul's own invention. There is nothing more here, certainly no grist for the mythers' mill.

Are we to just assume that they knew Paul’s Jesus to hail from Nazareth, for instance, ...

Probably, since the coordination between the epistles and Acts leaves no doubt that both are substantially authentic records, and Paul refers to Nazareth in Acts 26:9.

... or that his Jesus was born of a virgin?

That is uncertain. However, Paul refers to him as having been born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) and made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), which again forces the mythers to play exegetical Twister to evade the obvious fact that Paul considers him to have been an historic personage.

Nothing in either I Cor. or the gospels necessitates that we suppose Paul was quoting from Mark ...

And I never said he was. In fact, this was the very point I was waiting for Bart to clarify, when I pointed out to him that on one possible reading his "challenge" was unreasonable.

Tim wrote: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Does Paul say this? Or, are you simply reading Paul with gospel-colored glasses – thus begging the question? Show us where Paul – in his letters – puts a date or place to Jesus’ crucifixion and to his own conversion.


He doesn't, but that is (a) irrelevant, since he is not writing memoirs of Jesus but rather epistles occasioned by doctrinal and behavioral problems in the various churches, and (b) unnecessary, as the coordination between the epistles, Acts, and Luke suffices to fix the dates within a few years -- and that is all the precision necessary to support my statement. This is not controversial.

Now, Tim, you may still want to believe that Paul had “familiarity with the details of the life of Jesus” as we find it described in the gospel narratives. That’s fine and dandy. But here’s a friendly little challenge for you. Below is a list of details taken from the portrait of Jesus’ life as it is described in the gospels:

[grocery list omitted here]

Clearly many of these details were thought by the gospel writers to be significant, for they appear in more than one gospel. But can you find any of these details in any of Paul’s letters?


Paul repeatedly refers to the crucifixion, of course. He also refers to the burial and the resurrection -- two items you cleverly left off of your list. As for the empty tomb, this is clearly implied (though not expressly stated) in 1 Cor 15. And he repeatedly uses language that parallel's Jesus' own sayings; some of that is documented in Harvey's list, above.

Why should we expect anything more from an author of occasional letters to different people prompted by concrete situations? Do we find this, or require it, in the letters of Pliny?

Honestly, Dawson, you need to do some reading in secular history in order to get a better grip on the way that documents written independently and for different purposes coordinate with each other.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

I told Bart it's a tactical blunder to even discuss this subject, since many Christians will conclude we’re not truly as skeptical as we claim if we’re willing to believe just about anything that denies Christianity.

I think this is a shrewd observation. Certainly there are few things more entertaining to educated Christians than seeing the lengths to which some skeptics will go. As I said to Bart in this thread, I do not think that the mythic theory passes what you like to call "the outsider test" -- and the "outsiders" here are not just evangelical Christians but just about every historian of every persuasion who has ever lived.

I'm less persuaded of the wisdom of your following comment:

Paul didn’t say anything about the tomb being empty either. The silences seem to be telling.

As your old mentor Bill Craig has pointed out, this detail is implied by the language of 1 Cor 15.

Why didn’t Paul mention anything from the life of Jesus in all of his writings?

The first and simplest answer is that he did: the night dinner, the bread, the cup, the words of institution, the betrayal, death by crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and appearances.

As for your analogy to contemporary preaching, it is important to keep two things in mind. (1) We have the gospels as texts today with nearly two millennia of commentary and theology built on them. It is only to be expected that the events they record will loom larg in contemporary preaching, which is often expository (going through a passage or sometimes a whole book over months at a time) than in Paul's preaching, where the expository option was unavailable. (2) Paul's letters are not sermons. They are occasional pieces prompted by circumstances he did not choose and directed to the resolution of specific issues. It is absurd to suggest that if they do not recapitulate a more substantial subset of the details of the evangelical narratives, then Paul is not referring to the same Jesus. Such a methodology would break down immediately in the assessment of the documents of secular history.

bart willruth said...

John,

I appredciated your comments. One correction though. I didn't argue that there was no debate over the divinity of Jesus; Paul clearly considered Jesus to be divine. Rather, there was no debate over the Shema and Jewish monotheism in claiming divinity for a human. The absence of this debate, especiallly in light of the debate over the secondary issue of Jewish observance, puts the onus of explanation upon those who would claim that Paul was referring to Jesus as a human being. This is more than the argument from silence frequently used by those questioning the existence of a human Jesus. The debate which did occur and which clearly did not include the Shema issue is positive evidence that Paul was not proclaiming a human Jesus. Through Paul's perspective, we can see exactly what the issues were, and the Shema simply wasn't touched, even by implication.

The discussion of the historicity of the Jesus of the gospels is different than the Pauline problem, and in this article, I have made no claims that there was no Jesus of history. That is another issue, and I would like to deal with the question of the reality of the gospel Jesus in another blog. I have attempted to show, with some appreciated input from others in the above comments, that Paul himself cannot be shown to be referring to a man named Jesus who had lived in Palestine a few years prior to the writing of his epistles. The negative evidence of silence by Paul regarding anything of the life of the man from Galilee is itself almost overwhelming and requires a better explanation than apologists have offered. The positive evidence over the nature of the debate which did occur between Paul and the Judaizers which included only questions of observance but not questions concerning the fundamental nature of God which would have arisen had Paul been preaching incarnation is, in my opinion, almost insurmountable. To my knowledge this question has not been raised before, nor have any scholars or apologists dealt with it.

Bart Willruth

Bart Willruth

John W. Loftus said...

Sorry Bart if I haven't been paying that close of attention. I've been selectively reading some of these comments, skimming through others.

bart willruth said...

To all,

There have been quite a few detours in this discussion, mostly dealing with Paul's omissions of details of the life of a human Jesus.

I would like to focus the discussion to the precise issue at hand. The Shema and its monotheistic outlook is the central and defining premise of Judaism. Paul was faced with attacks from Jewish emissaries and we know the precise nature of those attacks. Under the banner of circumcision which was the initiation sacrament for the covenant standing for submission to the Torah, Paul was being condemned for allowing the inclusion of gentiles who hadn't been circumcised and who were not in harmony with all the rules of Torah observance.

Exegetes have long dealt with the issues at hand and the meaning thereof. But the Judaizers were NOT attacking Paul for making a man to be God. That issue is more fundamental than Torah observance. That Paul was not attacked for violating the Shema by those same Judaizers at the same time and more loudly than complaining about the circumcision issue is prima facae evidence that he was not proclaiming a human Jesus to be divine. The arguments based on his silence regarding the details of time and place on earth of a human Jesus which have been so well laid out by Doherty, Price, Wells, Freke, and others, bolster this conclusion. But I think the Shema issue, or lack thereof, is logically prior to the argument from silence.

I would like to hear rebuttals to this position staying on point.

Bart Willruth

Tim said...

Bart,

You already know my position: I do not think we have strong reason to expect a problem of that sort among Christians. So I do not see that there is anything here requiring special explanation.

Attempts to show otherwise have a tendency to move over to the question of the evidence for or against the mythic theory. You mentioned this as your third option in the original post. I think that is one of the reasons why this thread has a tendency to veer in that direction.

Speedwell said...

Wow, I'm thrilled by the high level of comments on this really interesting topic. My fellow and I are trying to follow along at the level of informed non-academics.

One thing he had trouble with was this: "There is no reason in Paul's context that "Christ Jesus" cannot be a title as much as a name." He could not understand how "a common name can be used as a title." I had a hard time explaining this because there is, to the best of my knowledge, only one comparable analogy in English. Say you overheard someone saying something about "the noble Earl." Would you assume they were referring to some man by his rank, or would you assume they were praising a virtuous man named Earl? Of course you couldn't absolutely conclude one thing or another, but that's partly the point; given the context we have to admit it is possible or even likely Paul didn't necessarily mean a given person actually named Jesus.

Another thing we wrestled with was the contemporary Jewish idea of levels of heaven and relative proportions of God-ness and material-ness and how Paul might have seen such a thing, as opposed to how Christians understand it these days. Again I needed to compare it to something my guy understood, and I'm not sure I'm terribly off base with this slightly sci-fi analogy:

Say you were a scientist who developed a deep vat of nanoparticles in your lab that spontaneously formed and dissolved machines that continually interacted with each other in a sort of ecosystem down at the bottom of the container. Your time was too valuable to devote to the actual construction, so you had one of your grad students follow your blueprints. After a while, you determined your minor tweaks weren't curing the glitches in the ecosystem, so you decided to reach your own arm into the nanoparticulate "mud" and with your own hand sculpt a machine that would act as you would if you could literally enter the vat yourself as a machine.

Now when you brought your hand out of the vat, it would be covered in the "mud." When you wiggled your fingers, the "mud" on them would also wiggle. You could argue that in some sense your hand was part you and part "mud."

However, your grad student could say, "Bring your arm over here to the cleanser and we'll rinse off the "mud." Your arm would not be the less yours for being "partly mud." And likewise the machine you sculpted would not BE you. For someone to suggest that your actions supposedly brought about a situation in which your construct was "wholly nanoparticulate yet wholly you" would be more than ridiculous, it would me meaningless. If your undergrad students, who look up to you as a genius, felt that you were grossly insulted by the assertion, they might even get angry and start fights.

Ok, that's a bit out there too, but he understood. Maybe a few more of us who are following along will be helped also.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

John wrote: "To put this into perspective, Paul didn’t say anything about the tomb being empty either. The silences seem to be telling."

Why would anyone, such as Saul/Paul, who has been personally enlightened by the resurrected Y'shua be fascinated with an empty tomb??

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~

The reason that this argument can't stay on track is because it's ridiculous!

It makes no sense unless you begin with the wrong presuppositions. Yours are clear...You believe that The gospel narrative was misplaced and created to appeal to it's later audience and Jesus was a mythical person as you've claimed in other blogs CLEARLY.

Let me just take one of your anti-Christ heroes~ Doherty for example...you and Burnner seem to love his garbage and his dirty draws sooo much...you use his unfounded, unbalanced, hypocritical assesments from one or both of his books as your support. (You guys are too smart for that clown...you don't need him) but since you do I see that's indicitive of why you approach things the way you do...example:

Doherty claims the gap between the events of the New Testament and our earliest complete copies contains such a discontinuity that the texts of the New Testament documents are hopelessly unreliable.

FACT:First, we have an unbroken line from the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, through Paul and the other apostles, into the early second century with Papias, Polycarp, Ignatius, and the Didache (an early apostolic teaching document). Even Doherty agreeS that some of Pauls letters were written well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to Christ, including his testimony of the bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

FACT: The apostle Peter, himself an eyewitness, commended Pauls letters and includes them with other Scripture (the Old Testament) as Gods Word:

"our Lords patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15-16)

FACT: In his Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist Luke affirmed that the teachings of Paul agree with the teachings of the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of Christs ministry, miracles, and resurrection.

FACT: Paul himself acknowledged in his letter to the Romans that there were Christians whose conversions predated his. He pointed out that they agreed that the Gospel he preached is the same Gospel they believed from the same Christ they saw resurrected. There is a continuity of teaching and testimony from the eyewitnesses through Paul and the other apostles.

FACT: Papias, Polycarp, and the other earliest church fathers claimed either to have known the apostles themselves or to have known those who knew the apostles

FACT: To discount the testimony of the earliest fathers, who affirmed the apostles, who affirmed Paul, who themselves are affirmed by the liberal critics, is to discount the very critics to whom Doherty appeals!

QUESTION: Should we believe the eyewitnesses who affirmed Paul, HIS MESSAGE AND WHO HE WAS SPEAKING ABOUT AND who was affirmed by the other apostles, who were affirmed by their immediate successors, whose words are preserved in our earliest church writings; or should we believe "DOODLE DUMB WRITE A STUPID BOOK SO HE CAN GET RICH" Doherty, the NUT who undercuts HIS OWN ARGUMENT?

THIS IS JUST HOW STUPID DOHERTY AND HIS ARGUMENT (WHICH YOU BUY HOOK LINE AND SINKER) IS~ Doherty assumes when an early writer uses a particular passage from the New Testament, one can infer only that the isolated passage was known to the writer, not the book in which the passage occurs, much less the New Testament in which the book containing the passage is found. With this standard, he could not affirm most of classical literature, including the teachings of Socrates, whose work is known to us only by references and quotations by others (e.g., Socratess Apology written by Plato). The standard approach is that when an ancient author quotes or refers to a distinctive teaching or saying of a predecessor, and we have the larger context of the quoted material in later copies, we assume that the larger context existed as the ancient writers source.
~ Courtesy of Bob & Gretchin Passintino

This is more to the heart of what Tim was saying:

The comparatively infinitesimal time gap between the New Testament events and our first copies and the overwhelming volume of manuscript evidence we possess far outweigh any similar evidence we have for other classics. Geisler and Nix list in their A General Introduction to the Bible (408), for example, that we have only 643 copies of Homers Iliad, 8 of Herodotuss History, 8 of Thucydidess History, 7 of Platos works, 10 of Julius Caesars The Gallic Wars, and 20 of Livys History of Rome.3 Compare those numbers to 5,366 copies of fragments, portions, and complete books of the New Testaments, the majority later than the seventh century but with some significant copies from very early.

IT IS UNREASONABLE TO HOLD THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE TO A HIGHER STANDARD THAN ANY other work in history. IT IS UNREASONABLE to place an undue burden on Paul suggesting that each letter must give a full account of Jesus from Birth to resurrection to be valid...

THAT IS Doherty's Stupidity...Only he could help lead you to those conclusions...

This is my final posyt in this thread...I'll be looking for the next and ready to blow that one up too...but look at this as an example of how ridiculous your assumptions actually are:

This a variation on the great-grandfather paradox.

Lets say were discussing the existence of BART WILLRUTH, skeptic extraordinair. We cant find any biographical material about him other than his stint as president of the DEBUNKING CHRISTIANITY, his contributions to the Web site attacking Christianity. We might suspect he is a figment of some skeptic groups collective imagination, an editorial ghost they have conjured to plague Christianity.

Then we meet BART WILLRUTH. He shows us his drivers license, birth certificate, and pay stubs where he works. We are confronted with the real BART WILLRUTH. We cannot explain his existence away without a story about identity fabrication more incredible than believing there really is somebody named BART WILLRUTH who thinks he can overthrow the truth claims of Christianity. It would be ridiculous to argue that BART WILLRUTH doesnt exist merely because we dont possess his genealogical history back for umpteen generations. We would be STUPID if we were to argue that because we can't verify the identity of BART WILLRUTH'S great-grandfather, he must not have had one. The very fact of the existence of BART WILLRUTH is proof that he must have had a great-grandfather even though no evidence may exist today for that great-grandfather.

In conclusion:

The existence of the Christianity of the second or third century that has as its foundation a belief in the historical verification of its founders miracle-working power, death-defeating resurrection, and thus His divine identity, could not have come into being from a source that ignores historical verification, conjures up a founder of mythic proportions, and uses miracle and resurrection fantasies as a mere motif of spiritual enlightenment. Todays history-based Christianity exists as the progeny of a history-based event.

If the founders never claimed a historical base, they could not have produced a history-based religion. Myth-propagating founders can produce only a myth-perpetuating religion. There is no need for a myth religion to package itself as a history religion. The apostle Peter, in fact, declared, We did not follow cleverly invented stories [Greek muthois or myths] when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet. 1:16). PAUL PREACHED THE JESUS OF THE GOSPELS AND HIM CRUCIFIED.

Please don't think I call any of you dumb...DOHERTY is Dumb and his books were a wast of paper and ink.

So Bart, that's why we don't bite or have confidence in your original premise...it just doesn't hold water.

Thanks...I'll look for your next post!

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: So you concede that there is an event from Jesus' life recounted in one of the unquestioned Pauline epistles that corresponds in meticulous detail with the account in the gospels.

You’re overstating things here quite a bit, Tim. I do not “concede” that Jesus had a life to begin with. There's simply too many problems that Christians cannot successfully untangle. My position on the supper scene as it is described in Paul’s letter is wholly compatible with the *possibility* that Paul’s Jesus was in fact mythical, or at the very least that the supper scene he describes is legendary. It could easily be a motif that Paul borrowed from mystery religions of the day which featured sacred meals representing communion with a savior-deity. There were plenty around, and Paul was very probably greatly influenced by a wide range of different traditions.

Tim: That's a good start.

Good start? Toward what?

Tim: Note also that this event, with details both great and small, makes nonsense out of the idea that Jesus was a mythic person

How so? If a Harry Potter book describes Harry Potter eating a meal with his friends, does that mean Harry Potter is a genuinely historical personality?

Tim: -- and would do so even if we did not have the gospel accounts to corroborate it.

Please explain.

Tim: Of course, that will not stop the mythers.

So far, I’ve seen nothing from you, Tim, or from Harvey, or from the professional apologists I've read, which calls the mythicist theory into grave question. I know you want to believe Jesus was real, and as I said before, that’s fine and dandy with me. But what you believe is not necessarily an indication of actual history.

Tim: But this is the point at which they really do have to go down the rabbit hole and wind up in conspiracy theory territory in order to maintain their position.

I've never thought of this to be – nor have I asserted it as – a product of a concerted conspiracy. It may have been, but I think it was largely more innocent than what such characterizations implicate.

I asked: How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus?

Tim: One good way is by looking at all of places where he makes allusions that they could not have understood unless they already knew the outlines of the story of the life of Jesus.

So, in other words, by inference from what Paul writes. That’s fine. Indeed, you’re essentially saying this is all we have to go on here. I agree – it is all we have to go on, and it’s not much at all. Were the congregants of the Corinthian church taught that Jesus was born of a virgin? How could we infer this from anything Paul writes? Were they taught that Jesus was crucified right outside Jerusalem? What in Paul’s letters suggests that they were taught this? Were they taught that Jesus traveled about Palestine performing miracles and healing the blind, lame and sick? What in Paul’s letters would substantiate the inference that they were?

What’s interesting is that you think there are things (“allusions”) in Paul’s letters that his immediately intended audience could not have fully understood if they did not know more about “the story of the life of Jesus.” That’s quite an admission, Tim. It makes me wonder why Paul didn’t include those details in his letters if in fact they were so important to his “allusions,” as you call them. You say below that he was not “writing memoirs of Jesus,” and yet you admit here that there were points in Paul’s letters that could not have been fully understood without knowledge of details which he fails to include in his own letters! Yikes, Tim! You’re all over the place.

I wrote: Look at the opening statement of the passage again. I Cor 11:23 states: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;” Paul is telling us that he did not get his story of a supper from other human beings, such as the disciples which the gospels seat around Jesus in their version of the supper scene.

Tim: This is completely unpersuasive.

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Are you supposing, contrary to what Paul himself writes in I Cor. 11:23, that he got his supper scene from Jesus’ disciples? That would make Paul a liar.

Tim: It is also characteristic of the sort of exegetical bullying in which the mythers routinely engage.

“...bullying...”?

Tim: Paul is pointing out that the solemnity of the Lord's Supper, which the Corinthians were abusing, has warrant from Jesus himself and is not Paul's own invention. There is nothing more here, certainly no grist for the mythers' mill.

The way I read it, Paul is explicitly claiming that he got his supper scene from “the Lord” – that is, from the risen Jesus – not from other human beings. It does not rule out the possibility that Paul invented it, or that he revised a tradition he borrowed from non-Christian religions to fit his own theology.

I asked: Are we to just assume that they knew Paul’s Jesus to hail from Nazareth, for instance, ...

Tim: Probably, since the coordination between the epistles and Acts leaves no doubt that both are substantially authentic records, and Paul refers to Nazareth in Acts 26:9.

For one thing, Acts was not written by Paul. It is, at the very best, a secondhand source insofar as Paul’s views are concerned, and at several points it contradicts what Paul himself writes in his letters. (See for instance Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, pp. 145-165.) So bringing Acts into the mix will only amplify the problems here. Acts is clearly a late document, one that a later writer wrote in an obvious effort to show a harmony between the Pauline camp and the Jerusalem elders which, according to Paul’s own letters, did not exist. Its stories of mass conversions of Jerusalem Jews upon hearing speeches attributed to Peter which quote from the Septuagint’s mistranslations of Hebrew texts is enough to call it into question. Acts’ story of Jesus’ ascension does not even agree with the finale in the gospel of Luke: the gospel of Luke has its Jesus ascend on the day of his resurrection, while Acts has Jesus linger around for some 40 days before ascending up in a cloud. But if “coordination between [Paul’s] epistles and Acts” is the strongest you have to go on, you must have a lot of faith to compensate for the damning shortcomings here.

I asked: ... or that his Jesus was born of a virgin?

Tim: That is uncertain.

Ah, is that because Acts – the only thing that could bail you out on the last point – is of no help here, and you’ve run out of reserves?

Tim: However, Paul refers to him as having been born of a woman (Galatians 4:4)

Indeed, which means: had Paul believed that his Jesus had a virgin birth, he had ample opportunity to affirm it in his letters. Indeed, while you maintain that Paul was “not writing memoirs of Jesus,” he still included scant details here and there that pertained to his incarnated life, whenever and wherever that may have taken place. See? Paul didn’t need to be “writing memoirs” to include the kinds of details I listed in my challenge to you.

Tim: and made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), which again forces the mythers to play exegetical Twister to evade the obvious fact that Paul considers him to have been an historic personage.

Paul does affirm Jesus as having come from “the seed of David according to the flesh,” but what’s remarkable here is that Paul himself indicates that he gets this view from the “prophets in the holy scriptures,” not from any contemporary tradition or narrative about Jesus’ life. There’s no game of “exegetical Twister” being played here – it’s quite plainly stated in the very book and chapter you cite. And as I understand the mythicist case, its proponents do not deny the view that Paul considered Jesus “to have been an historic personage,” rather they see Paul placing his Jesus in a non-earthly realm, contrary to the gospels.

I wrote: Nothing in either I Cor. or the gospels necessitates that we suppose Paul was quoting from Mark ...

Tim: And I never said he was.

That’s a good start! ;)

Tim: In fact, this was the very point I was waiting for Bart to clarify, when I pointed out to him that on one possible reading his "challenge" was unreasonable.

“...on one possibly reading his ‘challenge’ was unreasonable”? That doesn’t say very much. It allows for the possibility that on other readings his challenge is not unreasonable.

Tim wrote: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

I asked: Does Paul say this? Or, are you simply reading Paul with gospel-colored glasses – thus begging the question? Show us where Paul – in his letters – puts a date or place to Jesus’ crucifixion and to his own conversion.

Tim: He doesn't,

Right, he doesn’t.

Tim: but

I knew this was coming...

Tim: that is (a) irrelevant, since he is not writing memoirs of Jesus but rather epistles occasioned by doctrinal and behavioral problems in the various churches,

Paul did not need to be “writing memoirs of Jesus” to mention his crucifixion, did he? By your own acknowledgement, obviously not. As you say below, “Paul repeatedly refers to the crucifixion,” but nowhere once even hints at where it took place, when it took place, or any of the circumstances that we find in the gospel narratives. You want to dismiss this by saying Paul was “not writing memoirs of Jesus,” but one does not need to be writing memoirs to include such details.

Tim: and (b) unnecessary, as the coordination between the epistles, Acts, and Luke suffices to fix the dates within a few years

Where do Paul’s epistles do this? Where? You yourself have gone on record saying that Paul was not “writing memoirs.”

Tim: and that is all the precision necessary to support my statement.

What “precision” do you have in mind here? Can you fix a single date to any event described anywhere in the New Testament with any certainty at all?

Tim: This is not controversial.

Whether or not it’s controversial is hardly the point. If I were a Christian and I realized the breadth of Paul’s silences vis-à-vis the gospel narratives, I’d be pretty concerned about this. But then again, I’m not a Christian. To me, it’s a fascinating curiosity how Christians are so eager to ignore the problem. But even you cannot explain it away.

I wrote: Clearly many of these details were thought by the gospel writers to be significant, for they appear in more than one gospel. But can you find any of these details in any of Paul’s letters?

Tim: Paul repeatedly refers to the crucifixion, of course.

No one is contesting this, Tim. What is curious is that, unlike the gospels, Paul nowhere puts a setting to his Jesus’ crucifixion. He nowhere states where or when it happened. If we read Paul alone (as his initially intended audiences probably did), one could easily suppose that Paul’s Jesus lived centuries earlier in a completely different region of the earth – if in fact Paul thought he lived on earth.

Tim: He also refers to the burial and the resurrection -- two items you cleverly left off of your list.

I gather that you didn’t understand my list very well. My list itemizes elements found in the gospels which are *absent* in Paul’s letters. I grant that Paul mentions the resurrection and a burial. So there would be no reason for to have included them on my list.

Tim: As for the empty tomb, this is clearly implied (though not expressly stated) in 1 Cor 15.

How is an empty tomb “clearly imply” in I Cor. 15? Please, if nothing else, explain this one. If one were reading I Cor. 15 and had no knowledge of what the gospels say, how does one get any suggestion that a tomb was left empty from what Paul writes there? One does not need to be entombed in order to be buried. I suspect you’re reading details into Paul’s letters that are simply not there. This kind of carelessness is typical among the converted.

Tim: And he repeatedly uses language that parallel's Jesus' own sayings; some of that is documented in Harvey's list, above.

And I responded to this. If you read what I had stated, you would have seen my following statement: Paul provided the raw material which later writers interpolated into their narratives. Parallel expressions between Paul’s letters and the statements which the gospels put into Jesus’ mouth in no way seals the case for gospel authenticity. Remember that when Paul was writing his letters, the gospels were not written yet. So Paul could not have been quoting from them. Since the gospels were written well after the time of Paul, his letters may have been available for later writers to draw from. Statements in Paul’s letters thus inspired certain teachings we find in the gospels, which would explain the similarities. What’s telling, however, is that when Paul gives those teachings – as I showed above – he did not attribute them to an incarnated Jesus. So there are several factors here which come together quite nicely to buttress my position, none of which you’ve been able to explain.

Tim: Why should we expect anything more from an author of occasional letters to different people prompted by concrete situations? Do we find this, or require it, in the letters of Pliny?

I’m not an expert on Pliny, nor do I really care what Pliny’s habits were. Christians certainly do not hold Pliny to be divinely inspired. But they do hold Paul to be divinely inspired. Paul claimed this for himself. If that’s the case, why does his Jesus differ so markedly from the Jesus we find in the gospels? What did the competing traditions which Paul rejected teach about Jesus? We know from his letters (cf. II Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6) that rival views about Jesus were circulating at the time. If Paul taught the truth, how do we know that certain traditions which wound up in the gospel narratives weren’t among these traditions which Paul rejected? I marvel, Tim, that you are so willingly removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.

Tim: Honestly, Dawson, you need to do some reading in secular history in order to get a better grip on the way that documents written independently and for different purposes coordinate with each other.

I’m not sure what this statement is supposed to accomplish. It does nothing to overcome the gaping silences in Paul’s letters. And I see that you have not taken up my challenge. Should I consider this a closed matter, then, that you concede my point?

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

Harvey: FACT:First, we have an unbroken line from the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, through Paul and the other apostles, into the early second century with Papias, Polycarp, Ignatius, and the Didache (an early apostolic teaching document). Even Doherty agreeS that some of Pauls letters were written well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to Christ, including his testimony of the bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

Can you give us a quote from Doherty? What specifically does Doherty say, and where does he say it? Where does Doherty characterize the risen Jesus mentioned in I Cor. 15 as a “bodily resurrection”? Is this a “bodily resurrection” here on earth, according to Doherty? Please, quote and cite your sources.

Harvey: FACT: The apostle Peter, himself an eyewitness, commended Pauls letters and includes them with other Scripture (the Old Testament) as Gods Word:

"our Lords patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15-16)


II Peter is largely acknowledged to be both late and pseudonymous. That it was written by an unlearned Jewish fisherman is more than a stretch. Of the passage you quote, Wells writes:

The writer... places himself on a level with Paul, whom he designates as his “beloved brother” (3:15) [“dear brother” in the version which Harvey quotes]. This indicates a time when Peter and Paul were regarded, from a later date, as the chief apostles of the church – as in Acts or the letters of Ignatius – a time when the church had become aware of its distance from the first Christian generation and had no idea of how sharp the conflicts between the leading personalities of that generation had been. That the author of 2 Peter was in fact no contemporary of Paul is revealed from his knowledge of a collection of Pauline epistles which he designates as “scriptures” (3:15-16), a word writers of the first century had reserved for the Old Testament and its Apocrypha, and which they never used for the books of the New Testament. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 86)

Harvey: FACT: In his Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist Luke affirmed that the teachings of Paul agree with the teachings of the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of Christs ministry, miracles, and resurrection.

And this conflicts with what Paul himself writes in his letters, where he documents deep-ranging conflicts with the Jerusalem leadership (particularly with Peter). Acts is a late document attempting to portray the earliest generation of Christians in a kind of “golden age” retrospective. It doesn’t work.

Harvey: FACT: Paul himself acknowledged in his letter to the Romans that there were Christians whose conversions predated his. He pointed out that they agreed that the Gospel he preached is the same Gospel they believed from the same Christ they saw resurrected. There is a continuity of teaching and testimony from the eyewitnesses through Paul and the other apostles.

Who saw Christ resurrected? Even the gospels do not put an eyewitness to Jesus being resurrected. According to the gospel narratives, Jesus was resurrected in a sealed tomb.

As for eyewitnesses, who were those eyewitnesses, what specifically did they see, where did they see it, and when did they see it? If you’re going to claim eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus, we need to look at these details. If you’re going by what Paul wrote (such as in I Cor. 15), you won’t find any details; he mentions these things in passing, and most of his claimed eyewitnesses are left anonymous (cf. the 500 unnamed brethren).

Harvey: FACT: Papias, Polycarp, and the other earliest church fathers claimed either to have known the apostles themselves or to have known those who knew the apostles

Okay, so what? People can claim a lot of things. Oral Roberts claimed to have seen a 900-foot-tall Jesus. Should we believe everything people claim?

Harvey: FACT: To discount the testimony of the earliest fathers, who affirmed the apostles, who affirmed Paul, who themselves are affirmed by the liberal critics, is to discount the very critics to whom Doherty appeals!

Can you cite some specific instances of this?

You mentioned that we “buy hook line and sinker” all of “stupid Doherty and his argument,” but you’ve not established either that either Doherty or his argument is stupid, or that we “buy” his argument “hook line and sinker.” One can be skeptical of Doherty’s grand conclusion and yet recognize that he uncovers many damning facts in the process. As for buying a position hook, line and sinker, that seems to be what Christians themselves do, and what they want us to do. So, you’re a fine one to charge others with hypocrisy.

Harvey: QUESTION: Should we believe the eyewitnesses who affirmed Paul, HIS MESSAGE AND WHO HE WAS SPEAKING ABOUT AND who was affirmed by the other apostles, who were affirmed by their immediate successors, whose words are preserved in our earliest church writings;

What eyewitnesses do you have in mind here? Who were they, what are their writings, how do you document that the writings you cite are actually from the hands of contemporaries of Paul, and what specifically were they claiming?

Harvey: or should we believe "DOODLE DUMB WRITE A STUPID BOOK SO HE CAN GET RICH" Doherty, the NUT who undercuts HIS OWN ARGUMENT?

Doherty is just one man. It is amazing how much venom believers generate against him. He has only two books. Look at how many Christians are pumping out books by the dozens. Are they doing it just so they can get rich? This is amazing!

Anyway, Harvey, you’ve provided enough entertainment for now. I really find very little substance to vouch for your wild castigations.

Regards,
Dawson

bart willruth said...

John,

No apologies necessary. You were not incorrect in what you wrote regarding my argument; I just wanted to clarify so there would be no misunderstanding. There was indeed no controversy in Paul's congregations over the divinity of Jesus. My contention is that this is in itself a kind of positive evidence that Paul was not envisioning a human Jesus. The best explanation in my estimation for the lack of a controversy over the Jewish conception of God is that Paul's Jesus, knowledge of whom came solely through visions and interpretation of OT scripture, was of the nature of the descending Sophia (Wisdom) of God, or the Logos stand in for God, not someone who had lived on earth.

The gospel Jesus is so radically different from the Pauline Jesus that it could be concluded that there was no direct relation between the two. If the epistles and the gospels had not been joined inside one leather bound cover and called the New Testament, is there any reason why we would conclude that they represented the thought of the same movement?

I would be interested in getting comments on a related issue. The gospel of John marries the pre-existent divine Logos under the name of Jesus with the exploits of a Gallilean preacher named Jesus, though with docetic or gnostic undertones. This combination doesn't occur in the Pauline epistles, and I can't think of any other place in the NT which unequivocally makes this connection. Can anyone offer an unequivocal statement from the first century, canonical or non-canonical which marries the human and the divine Jesus as does the Johannine literature?

Bart Willruth

Tyro said...

Harvey & Dawson,

Harvey: or should we believe "DOODLE DUMB WRITE A STUPID BOOK SO HE CAN GET RICH" Doherty, the NUT who undercuts HIS OWN ARGUMENT?

Doherty is just one man. It is amazing how much venom believers generate against him. He has only two books. Look at how many Christians are pumping out books by the dozens. Are they doing it just so they can get rich? This is amazing!

This sort of character assassination seems hardly worth commenting on. Doherty could eat kittens for tea but it wouldn't change the factual content of his arguments, and since he cites his sources, it's easy to verify his claims.

But this one is off the deep end. Doherty is so interested in getting rich that he maintains a website with much supporting material and now has released an e-book version of his book for free.

This speaks to a lot of things in his character, but a desire to get RICH certainly isn't one of them.

richdurrant said...

Hi MMM,
Why would anyone, such as Saul/Paul, who has been personally enlightened by the resurrected Y'shua be fascinated with an empty tomb??

Agreed and I would add that since Paul is constantly speaking of the resurrected Christ, which is why the tomb is empty in the first place, is sufficient to account for the silence on the empty tomb.

Also, Paul is not writing the epistles to talk about the life of Jesus, but to discuss doctrine issues with the church in different locations. I see that Paul is speaking of 2 different people, God the Father, and Jesus Christ. Not God incarnate but the literal son of God the father in the flesh. he understands that there are two different beings and that Christ is his son, which is that what begotten means? His linage being Mary as his mother and God the father as his father.

bart willruth said...

Rich,

Off topic, but I noticed that you stated that Mary is the mother of Jesus and God is the father. Why then do both of the geneologies of Jesus lead down through the generations and end with Joseph? If Joseph isn't dear old dad by blood, why is he listed in the geneology? After all, he was cuckolded by God and had nothing to do with this out of wedlock birth as I understand the tale.

Tim said...

Dawson,

You write:

[Dawson:] You’re overstating things here quite a bit, Tim. I do not “concede” that Jesus had a life to begin with.

Okay.

[Dawson:] There's simply too many problems that Christians cannot successfully untangle.

I haven’t seen any yet that would cause an educated Christian – or an educated non-Christian – to break a sweat.

[Dawson:] My position on the supper scene as it is described in Paul’s letter is wholly compatible with the *possibility* that Paul’s Jesus was in fact mythical, or at the very least that the supper scene he describes is legendary.

It’s also compatible with the *possibility* that Tinky-Winky invented time travel to go back and plant the story in 1st century documents. Bare possibilities are non-starters in this sort of discussion.

[Dawson:] It could easily be a motif that Paul borrowed from mystery religions of the day which featured sacred meals representing communion with a savior-deity. There were plenty around, and Paul was very probably greatly influenced by a wide range of different traditions.

This is nonsense on stilts. There are so many problems with the suggestion that Paul borrowed that scene from the mystery religions that it is a complete non-starter.

[Dawson:] If a Harry Potter book describes Harry Potter eating a meal with his friends, does that mean Harry Potter is a genuinely historical personality?

Of course not. But the fact that you think this is pertinent to the actual recounting of the story of the institution of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians shows that you do not have the faintest idea what it takes to do history.

Tim: -- and would do so even if we did not have the gospel accounts to corroborate it.

[Dawson:] Please explain.


Mythical people do not have real suppers. Paul is obviously recounting a real event that served to institute a ritual being practiced in Corinth in the 50s.

[Dawson:] So far, I’ve seen nothing from you, Tim, or from Harvey, or from the professional apologists I've read, which calls the mythicist theory into grave question.

From what I’ve seen, Dawson, you do not have the equipment that would be necessary to tell whether the mythicist theory is viable.

[Dawson:] I know you want to believe Jesus was real, and as I said before, that’s fine and dandy with me. But what you believe is not necessarily an indication of actual history.

What I want has nothing to do with it: it’s a matter of the overwhelming evidence in its favor.

[Dawson:] I asked: How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus?

Tim: One good way is by looking at all of places where he makes allusions that they could not have understood unless they already knew the outlines of the story of the life of Jesus.

[Dawson:] So, in other words, by inference from what Paul writes. That’s fine.


A rare moment where we agree – broken immediately by this non sequitur:

[Dawson:] Indeed, you’re essentially saying this is all we have to go on here.

Not at all; there are many more lines of evidence. We have the gospels, which encapsulate the story as it was likely told at the time; we have the book of Acts, which gives us more information that ties together the sources behind some of the gospels with the founding of the church; we have the history of the heretics, who by their very deviations from the traditional position help to show us what that position was.

[Dawson:] I agree – it is all we have to go on, and it’s not much at all. Were the congregants of the Corinthian church taught that Jesus was born of a virgin? How could we infer this from anything Paul writes?

As I said, this is uncertain, though on the whole I think it is likely that at some point before A.D. 70 the virgin birth was known at least among the Jewish Christians. But what of it?

[Dawson:] Were they taught that Jesus was crucified right outside Jerusalem?

They wouldn’t have needed to be: this was the event at the founding of Christianity. It was common knowledge.

[Dawson:] What in Paul’s letters suggests that they were taught this?

Misdirection: there is no need for Paul to discuss it.

[Dawson:] Were they taught that Jesus traveled about Palestine performing miracles and healing the blind, lame and sick?

Very likely, as these are themes in early sermons from Pentecost onwards.

[Dawson:] What in Paul’s letters would substantiate the inference that they were?

Allusions.

[Dawson:] What’s interesting is that you think there are things (“allusions”) in Paul’s letters that his immediately intended audience could not have fully understood if they did not know more about “the story of the life of Jesus.”

Yup.

[Dawson:] That’s quite an admission, Tim.

Not really: it’s a commonplace among those who have studied the epistles.

[Dawson:] It makes me wonder why Paul didn’t include those details in his letters if in fact they were so important to his “allusions,” as you call them.

If Paul was trying to communicate with his audiences, he would not allude to things that he did not expect them to understand. He did allude to them; he was trying to communicate; therefore he expected them to understand them.

[Dawson:] You say below that he was not “writing memoirs of Jesus,” and yet you admit here that there were points in Paul’s letters that could not have been fully understood without knowledge of details which he fails to include in his own letters!

Right. You think there is a problem with this?

[Dawson:] Yikes, Tim! You’re all over the place.

Actually, the problem here is entirely inside your own head, Dawson. People do write letters to other people and, in the course of those letters, mention events that are common knowledge without also writing out histories.

[Dawson:] I wrote: Look at the opening statement of the passage again. I Cor 11:23 states: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;” Paul is telling us that he did not get his story of a supper from other human beings, such as the disciples which the gospels seat around Jesus in their version of the supper scene.

Tim: This is completely unpersuasive.

[Dawson:] I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Are you supposing, contrary to what Paul himself writes in I Cor. 11:23, that he got his supper scene from Jesus’ disciples? That would make Paul a liar.


No. I am supposing, contrary to what you wrote, that Paul is not saying that the entire supper scene in its details was directly revealed to him by Jesus, since this reading of εγω γαρ παρελαβον απο του κυριου, though possible, does not seem to me to be the most plausible way to understand the expression in this context. But I would not insist on this point; nothing important rides on it in any event.

[Dawson:] I asked: Are we to just assume that they knew Paul’s Jesus to hail from Nazareth, for instance, ...

Tim: Probably, since the coordination between the epistles and Acts leaves no doubt that both are substantially authentic records, and Paul refers to Nazareth in Acts 26:9.

[Dawson:] For one thing, Acts was not written by Paul.


No kidding.

[Dawson:] It is, at the very best, a secondhand source insofar as Paul’s views are concerned, ...

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

[Dawson:] ... and at several points it contradicts what Paul himself writes in his letters. (See for instance Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, pp. 145-165.)

I don’t think this would matter much as far as its general reliability, but having read Wells’s books quite closely years ago I am inclined to think that Wells is probably wrong about most of his claims of conflict between Paul’s epistles and the rest of the NT. However, I do not have access to that one right now.

[Dawson:] So bringing Acts into the mix will only amplify the problems here.

So you claim.

[Dawson:] Acts is clearly a late document,

Sorry, I think this claim is insupportable.

[Dawson:] ... one that a later writer wrote in an obvious effort to show a harmony between the Pauline camp and the Jerusalem elders which, according to Paul’s own letters, did not exist.

I’ve heard that one too; not impressed with the arguments that this was the purpose of Acts.

[Dawson:] Its stories of mass conversions of Jerusalem Jews upon hearing speeches attributed to Peter which quote from the Septuagint’s mistranslations of Hebrew texts is enough to call it into question.

This is nonsense. The Septuagint was the translation accepted by Hellenized Jews at the time. It was only later, and partly as a result of the rise of Christianity, that the Jews switched focus to the Masoretic text.

[Dawson:] Acts’ story of Jesus’ ascension does not even agree with the finale in the gospel of Luke: the gospel of Luke has its Jesus ascend on the day of his resurrection,

No, it doesn’t; it is simply very vague on the time frame.

[Dawson:]... while Acts has Jesus linger around for some 40 days before ascending up in a cloud.

Finally something you got right.

[Dawson:] But if “coordination between [Paul’s] epistles and Acts” is the strongest you have to go on, you must have a lot of faith to compensate for the damning shortcomings here.

Produce some actual shortcomings, as opposed to recycling unpersuasive drivel, and we can talk about them. Meanwhile, how are you coming on Resch’s list of over 1,000 parallels?

[Dawson:] I asked: ... or that his Jesus was born of a virgin?

Tim: That is uncertain.

[Dawson:] Ah, is that because Acts – the only thing that could bail you out on the last point – is of no help here, and you’ve run out of reserves?


You say that like it’s a bad thing. But actually we have more evidence, as I have explained above. However, it is indirect, and I see no point in being more certain about the matter under the circumstances.

Tim: However, Paul refers to him as having been born of a woman (Galatians 4:4)

[Dawson:] Indeed, which means: had Paul believed that his Jesus had a virgin birth, he had ample opportunity to affirm it in his letters.


1. There is no overwhelming reason for him to do so.

2. The point still tells against your mythic theory.

[Dawson:] Indeed, while you maintain that Paul was “not writing memoirs of Jesus,” he still included scant details here and there that pertained to his incarnated life, whenever and wherever that may have taken place. See? Paul didn’t need to be “writing memoirs” to include the kinds of details I listed in my challenge to you.

But you have not made a case that the details you list would be expected if Paul were really writing letters to people about Jesus of Nazareth.

Tim: and made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), which again forces the mythers to play exegetical Twister to evade the obvious fact that Paul considers him to have been an historic personage.

[Dawson:] Paul does affirm Jesus as having come from “the seed of David according to the flesh,” but what’s remarkable here is that Paul himself indicates that he gets this view from the “prophets in the holy scriptures,” not from any contemporary tradition or narrative about Jesus’ life. There’s no game of “exegetical Twister” being played here – it’s quite plainly stated in the very book and chapter you cite.


Nonsense. Paul is pointing out that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. He nowhere states that he has learned that Jesus was in fact the seed of David from prophecy.

[Dawson:] And as I understand the mythicist case, its proponents do not deny the view that Paul considered Jesus “to have been an historic personage,” rather they see Paul placing his Jesus in a non-earthly realm, contrary to the gospels.

Not a dime’s worth of difference here.

Tim wrote: Paul was converted within just a few years of Jesus' crucifixion.

[Dawson:] I asked: Does Paul say this? Or, are you simply reading Paul with gospel-colored glasses – thus begging the question? Show us where Paul – in his letters – puts a date or place to Jesus’ crucifixion and to his own conversion.

Tim: He doesn't,

[Dawson:] Right, he doesn’t.

Tim: but

[Dawson:] I knew this was coming...


Clever lad.

Tim: that is (a) irrelevant, since he is not writing memoirs of Jesus but rather epistles occasioned by doctrinal and behavioral problems in the various churches,

[Dawson:] Paul did not need to be “writing memoirs of Jesus” to mention his crucifixion, did he? By your own acknowledgement, obviously not.


You’re missing, or underestimating, the significance of the asymmetry between positive and negative evidence. When an author mentions something, particularly something surprising or unexpected, we can reasonably ask for and sometimes obtain an explanation of his mentioning it. When he fails to mention something, on the other hand, there are generally many reasons that might have been operating, and we are only rarely in a strong position to infer anything of interest from the omission. Numerous examples from secular history confirm this methodological point.

[Dawson:] As you say below, “Paul repeatedly refers to the crucifixion,” but nowhere once even hints at where it took place, when it took place, or any of the circumstances that we find in the gospel narratives.

Which is perfectly consistent with his not having to, since everyone to whom he was writing already knew it. I realize that you’re desperate to avoid this conclusion, but your citing the fact gives you absolutely no argumentative traction since it is at least as strongly to be expected on the mainstream understanding as on anything you’ve proposed.

[Dawson:] You want to dismiss this by saying Paul was “not writing memoirs of Jesus,” but one does not need to be writing memoirs to include such details.

And one does not need to be writing fantasy to omit them.

Tim: and (b) unnecessary, as the coordination between the epistles, Acts, and Luke suffices to fix the dates within a few years

[Dawson:] Where do Paul’s epistles do this? Where? You yourself have gone on record saying that Paul was not “writing memoirs.”


There are numerous undesigned coincidences throughout the epistles. If you want to see what they are, read William Paley’s Horae Paulinae and follow it up with Colin Hemer’s Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.

Tim: and that is all the precision necessary to support my statement.

[Dawson:] What “precision” do you have in mind here?


I did just say “to within a few years.”

[Dawson:] Can you fix a single date to any event described anywhere in the New Testament with any certainty at all?

Yes, several. But if you’re insinuating that in general our inability to give a precise year for something means that its historicity is in serious doubt, then once again you are revealing your unfamiliarity with the events and evidence of secular history.

Tim: This is not controversial.

[Dawson:] Whether or not it’s controversial is hardly the point. If I were a Christian and I realized the breadth of Paul’s silences vis-à-vis the gospel narratives, I’d be pretty concerned about this.


I believe you. But you would be irrational to be concerned about it.

[Dawson:] But then again, I’m not a Christian. To me, it’s a fascinating curiosity how Christians are so eager to ignore the problem. But even you cannot explain it away.

It is amusing to see you keep painting this as a Christians-vs.-mythers dispute. Virtually all historians, including non-Christian historians, think the mythic theory is risible and the “evidence” of the sort you’re presenting is evidence only of how ignorant the mythers are of the nature of historical reasoning.

[Dawson:] I wrote: Clearly many of these details were thought by the gospel writers to be significant, for they appear in more than one gospel. But can you find any of these details in any of Paul’s letters?

Tim: Paul repeatedly refers to the crucifixion, of course.

[Dawson:] No one is contesting this, Tim. What is curious is that, unlike the gospels, Paul nowhere puts a setting to his Jesus’ crucifixion. He nowhere states where or when it happened.


If he had done so in a letter, we would have to conclude that he was writing to someone who was virtually completely ignorant of the matter or who was denying it in the face of what he should have known. But why assume that Paul’s audience didn’t know what he was talking about?

[Dawson:] If we read Paul alone (as his initially intended audiences probably did), one could easily suppose that Paul’s Jesus lived centuries earlier in a completely different region of the earth – if in fact Paul thought he lived on earth.

Well, obviously a myther can suppose this. No one else seems able to.

Tim: He also refers to the burial and the resurrection -- two items you cleverly left off of your list.

[Dawson:] I gather that you didn’t understand my list very well. My list itemizes elements found in the gospels which are *absent* in Paul’s letters. I grant that Paul mentions the resurrection and a burial. So there would be no reason for to have included them on my list.


But then your list is worthless, since for anyone’s letters about any public figure of any significance it is always possible to make a list of things the author didn’t mention. So what?

Tim: As for the empty tomb, this is clearly implied (though not expressly stated) in 1 Cor 15.

[Dawson:] How is an empty tomb “clearly imply” in I Cor. 15? Please, if nothing else, explain this one. If one were reading I Cor. 15 and had no knowledge of what the gospels say, how does one get any suggestion that a tomb was left empty from what Paul writes there? One does not need to be entombed in order to be buried. I suspect you’re reading details into Paul’s letters that are simply not there.


If you are simply carping over the distinction between “tomb” and “grave,” I don’t see that the semantic point is worth bothering about. He was buried – he rose. It follows that the place where he was buried no longer contained a body.

[Dawson:] This kind of carelessness is typical among the converted.

Yawn ...

Tim: And he repeatedly uses language that parallel's Jesus' own sayings; some of that is documented in Harvey's list, above.

[Dawson:] And I responded to this. If you read what I had stated, you would have seen my following statement: Paul provided the raw material which later writers interpolated into their narratives.


I think you need to make up your mind whether there are so few parallels between Paul’s epistles and the gospels that they aren’t even referring to the same person or whether there are so many that the gospels were built up around the letters. It doesn’t make much sense to try to have it both ways.

[Dawson:] Parallel expressions between Paul’s letters and the statements which the gospels put into Jesus’ mouth in no way seals the case for gospel authenticity.

Sure helps, though.

[Dawson:] Remember that when Paul was writing his letters, the gospels were not written yet. So Paul could not have been quoting from them.

Plausibly so, though there is some evidence to suggest that the Aramaic version of Matthew was already published. Some of the places where Paul's language corresponds more closely to Luke's gospel than to Matthew's or Mark's also suggests that Paul may have seen portions of what Luke was writing. But I would not insist on this.

[Dawson:] Since the gospels were written well after the time of Paul, his letters may have been available for later writers to draw from. Statements in Paul’s letters thus ...

Whoa. Some of us have higher standards for the use of “thus” than you are meeting here.

[Dawson:]... inspired certain teachings we find in the gospels, which would explain the similarities.

This suggestion is really far out, and it reinforces my earlier comparison between mythers and conspiracy theorists. Why should anyone think this?

[Dawson:] What’s telling, however, is that when Paul gives those teachings – as I showed above – he did not attribute them to an incarnated Jesus.

This is ambiguous. If all you mean is that Paul doesn’t stop and say, “Oh, and by the way, this Jesus – he was corporeal,” then sure. If he had said something like that, we’d really have something weird to think about. Why would anyone stop and say that? Can you find any newspaper stories from the 1980s that stop in mid-column to remind readers that Ronald Reagan was corporeal?

[Dawson:] So there are several factors here which come together quite nicely to buttress my position, none of which you’ve been able to explain.

Nothing you’ve raised so far strikes me as significant enough to cause an atheist non-myther historian even to raise an eyebrow.

Tim: Why should we expect anything more from an author of occasional letters to different people prompted by concrete situations? Do we find this, or require it, in the letters of Pliny?

[Dawson:] I’m not an expert on Pliny, nor do I really care what Pliny’s habits were.


You should. The letters of Pliny provide an unproblematic test case for theories about the way that unquestioned historical events are handled in correspondence. Many of the arguments you are trying to make in this discussion depend on principles that will not stand up to a comparison with the evidence.

[Dawson:] Christians certainly do not hold Pliny to be divinely inspired. But they do hold Paul to be divinely inspired.

This is a double red herring: first because the theological category of inspiration is not the issue here, and second because not all Christians claim that Paul was divinely inspired. Maybe it’s a triple red herring, since if he were inspired, it isn’t clear what would follow from this that would be pertinent to our discussion.

[Dawson:] Paul claimed this for himself.

He claims to have had a few revelations. This would not be sufficient to underwrite the inspiration of all of his writings even on a very conservative evangelical theory of inspiration.

[Dawson:] If that’s the case, ...

Which I am uninterested in discussing.

[Dawson:] ... why does his Jesus differ so markedly from the Jesus we find in the gospels?

As I’ve pointed out, you’re simply wrong about this. Repeating your claim won’t make it so, and it won’t persuade anyone who is unmoved by your previous arguments.

[Dawson:] What did the competing traditions which Paul rejected teach about Jesus? We know from his letters (cf. II Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6) that rival views about Jesus were circulating at the time. If Paul taught the truth, how do we know that certain traditions which wound up in the gospel narratives weren’t among these traditions which Paul rejected?

In that case, it would be pretty funny for those same gospel forgers to work so hard to incorporate material that dovetails so well with the material in Paul’s epistles. Make up your mind, Dawson: are the gospels too Pauline or not Pauline enough?

Tim: Honestly, Dawson, you need to do some reading in secular history in order to get a better grip on the way that documents written independently and for different purposes coordinate with each other.

[Dawson:] I’m not sure what this statement is supposed to accomplish.


It points out that you’re unaware of, or unwilling to face up to the implications of, the normal nature of epistolary communication in that age.

[Dawson:] It does nothing to overcome the gaping silences in Paul’s letters.

The fact that you think that there are gaping silences in these letters is the best evidence that you need to go read some secular history. It will prevent you from making a fool of yourself in this fashion.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote (regarding the historicity of Jesus): There's simply too many problems that Christians cannot successfully untangle.

Tim: I haven’t seen any yet that would cause an educated Christian – or an educated non-Christian – to break a sweat.

This is a personal admission, Tim. Try opening your eyes and broadening your horizons. What do you take as proof that the Jesus of the New Testament actually existed?

I wrote: My position on the supper scene as it is described in Paul’s letter is wholly compatible with the *possibility* that Paul’s Jesus was in fact mythical, or at the very least that the supper scene he describes is legendary.

Tim responded: It’s also compatible with the *possibility* that Tinky-Winky invented time travel to go back and plant the story in 1st century documents. Bare possibilities are non-starters in this sort of discussion.

Not in my book. There is plenty of evidence throughout human history for invention of myth, legend and fiction. There is no evidence that Tinky-Winky built a time machine.

I wrote: It could easily be a motif that Paul borrowed from mystery religions of the day which featured sacred meals representing communion with a savior-deity. There were plenty around, and Paul was very probably greatly influenced by a wide range of different traditions.

Tim responded: This is nonsense on stilts. There are so many problems with the suggestion that Paul borrowed that scene from the mystery religions that it is a complete non-starter.

Care to name a few of those problems for us, Tim? How is it so outlandish to suppose that Paul could have taken ideas from other religious traditions? People do this all the time. There’s much evidence to suggest that the early Christians were influenced by other religious ideas. Rash dismissals will not make that evidence go away.

I wrote: If a Harry Potter book describes Harry Potter eating a meal with his friends, does that mean Harry Potter is a genuinely historical personality?

Tim responded: Of course not. But the fact that you think this is pertinent to the actual recounting of the story of the institution of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians shows that you do not have the faintest idea what it takes to do history.

Then go back to your own statement on this point. Recall what you had stated:

Note also that this event, with details both great and small, makes nonsense out of the idea that Jesus was a mythic person

You seem to have been saying that the mere presence of “details both great and small” somehow substantiates the claim that the supper scene we find in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was a real event.

As for having “the faintest idea what it takes to do history,” an important step in securing a historical claim is to distinguish it from a fictional account. I’m asking you to do this in the case of the supper scene we find in Paul’s letter. If you are so adept at “doing history” yourself, this should be easy for you to do. Paul doesn’t even give a time or place for his supper scene. He does indicate that it took place at night, but this would be expected if the scene was intended to have allegorical value. But Paul doesn’t give any indication of a setting beyond this. So if it was a real event, where and when did it take place? Later Christians would try to give it a setting by incorporating it into their gospel narratives. But once we get to the gospels, there is so much evidence of invention and legend-building that they are pretty much worthless as history.

Tim: -- and would do so even if we did not have the gospel accounts to corroborate it.

[Dawson:] Please explain.

Tim responded: Mythical people do not have real suppers. Paul is obviously recounting a real event that served to institute a ritual being practiced in Corinth in the 50s.

You assume precisely that which you’ve been called to substantiate. It’s true that mythical persons do not have real suppers. But how do you show that the supper scene that Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthian church actually took place? Was Paul there? Remember that Paul says he got his gospel directly from the Lord. He writes in Gal. 1:11-12:

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

And as I pointed out, Paul repeats this very point when he introduces the supper scene in I Cor. 11.

So if Paul wasn’t there (he doesn’t even claim that he was), and he didn’t get this tradition from other Christians (such as the disciples that the gospels seat around Jesus in their versions of the supper scene), it could have been a vision for Paul, one which was actually influenced by other religious traditions which were common at the time. It would have been very easy for Paul to attribute such a vision to a revelation from his Jesus. How would Paul be able to distinguish between what he called a revelation of Jesus and what he might have merely been imagining, for instance? I’ve seen many believers do this in church. They swear that Jesus is standing right there next to them as they pray and tarry. How do I know they’re not imagining?

I wrote: So far, I’ve seen nothing from you, Tim, or from Harvey, or from the professional apologists I've read, which calls the mythicist theory into grave question.

Tim responded: From what I’ve seen, Dawson, you do not have the equipment that would be necessary to tell whether the mythicist theory is viable.

Empty statements like this are plentiful in your comments, Tim. What kind of “equipment” would I have to possess and demonstrate to you in order to show that I have what is required “to tell whether the mythicist theory is viable”? And how do you know what kind of “equipment” I have? You’ve not been able to answer any of the points I’ve presented so far. You do realize that, don’t you?

I wrote: I know you want to believe Jesus was real, and as I said before, that’s fine and dandy with me. But what you believe is not necessarily an indication of actual history.

Tim responded: What I want has nothing to do with it: it’s a matter of the overwhelming evidence in its favor.

Okay, then let’s see what you consider to constitute overwhelming evidence. Don’t just assert that overwhelming evidence is out there. Identify it. Show some confidence in your position.

I had asked Tim how we can know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters, such as the Corinthian church, knew about Jesus. He suggested that “one good way is by looking at all of the places where he makes allusions of the story of the life of Jesus,” which I take to mean that we can infer what the church congregations knew from clues from Paul’s own writing. Tim insists that there’s more than just mere inference of this nature, however. When I suggested that such inference is essentially all we have to go on, he retorts:

Not at all; there are many more lines of evidence. We have the gospels, which encapsulate the story as it was likely told at the time; we have the book of Acts, which gives us more information that ties together the sources behind some of the gospels with the founding of the church; we have the history of the heretics, who by their very deviations from the traditional position help to show us what that position was.

Over and over again, Tim demonstrates that he can’t keep up with the issues that have been brought forward. The gospels and the book of Acts were not around in Paul’s day. Paul nowhere cites them, nor does his portrait of Jesus at all resemble the Jesus described in the gospels. If Tim thinks there’s something in addition to inference from Paul’s letters to determine what his church congregations may have known about Jesus, he needs to find something contemporary with Paul to point to. Curiously, Tim mentions heretics. But how do we know what constituted heresy at the time in question? Paul repeatedly warned his churches of rival traditions of Jesus, of competing gospels that threatened to rob them of their salvation. Tim seems quite selective about which allusions in Paul’s letters he’s willing to take seriously. If we take his allusions about “another Jesus” and “another gospel” (cf. II Cor. 11:4) seriously, then we should be more careful about the issues in question than simply assuming that Paul’s churches had been nursed on narratives like the gospels and the book of Acts. The gospels say nothing about churches outside of Palestine, and the book of Acts is literary invention. So neither of these sources help Tim’s case.

I wrote: I agree – it is all we have to go on, and it’s not much at all. Were the congregants of the Corinthian church taught that Jesus was born of a virgin? How could we infer this from anything Paul writes?

Tim responded: As I said, this is uncertain, though on the whole I think it is likely that at some point before A.D. 70 the virgin birth was known at least among the Jewish Christians. But what of it?

To say that it is “uncertain” whether or not the members of Paul’s church missions were taught that Jesus was born of a virgin, suggests that you might think they had been taught this, but simply cannot substantiate it with anything explicit. Is that the case? If so, what do you think suggests that Paul’s churches were taught that Jesus was born of a virgin? Also, why do you suppose that “it is likely that at some point before A.D. 70 the virgin birth was known at least among the Jewish Christians”?

You ask “what of it?” If the detail about Jesus being born of a virgin were a later Christological development, it can safely be classed as an element of legend. And the gospel record supports this: the gospel of Mark makes no mention of Jesus’ birth, whether virginal or otherwise. If he believed Jesus was born of a virgin, it would be very hard to explain why he deliberately left this detail out of his gospel. The gospels of Matthew and Luke wanted to give their Jesus a miraculous beginning, so they gave him a virgin birth. Curiously their accounts differ greatly with each other at this point. The gospel of John completely ignores the virgin birth, and puts its Jesus’ beginning in the heavenly realm. You can trace the development of the portrait of Jesus through the texts of the New Testament: the legend of Jesus grows with each retelling.

I wrote: Were they taught that Jesus was crucified right outside Jerusalem?

Tim: They wouldn’t have needed to be: this was the event at the founding of Christianity. It was common knowledge.

How do you substantiate this? What indicates to you that it was “common knowledge” that Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem during the time of Paul’s missionary work? Again, you fail to grasp the nature of the challenge that has been proposed: you continue to look at Paul’s letters through gospel-colored glasses.

I asked: What in Paul’s letters suggests that they were taught this?

Tim: Misdirection: there is no need for Paul to discuss it.

This card can be played both ways: there was no need for Paul to tell us in his letters that his Jesus was crucified in a supernatural realm – everyone was already taught this. That would explain why Paul never puts the crucifixion in the locale of Jerusalem’s environs.

I asked: Were they taught that Jesus traveled about Palestine performing miracles and healing the blind, lame and sick?

Tim responded: Very likely, as these are themes in early sermons from Pentecost onwards.

Again, you’re appealing to traditions that post-date Paul by decades. This only tells me that your explanation of how we can determine what Paul’s churches knew of Jesus – namely inference from what Paul wrote in his letters – is insufficient to support your own position. That’s a big give-away, Tim.

I asked: What in Paul’s letters would substantiate the inference that they were?

Tim: Allusions.

Please list some. What allusions in Paul’s letters substantiates that Paul’s churches were taught that Jesus was born of a virgin and that he was crucified outside Jerusalem? Come on, Tim, stop pretending.

I wrote: What’s interesting is that you think there are things (“allusions”) in Paul’s letters that his immediately intended audience could not have fully understood if they did not know more about “the story of the life of Jesus.”

Tim agreed: Yup.

I wrote: That’s quite an admission, Tim.

Tim responded: Not really: it’s a commonplace among those who have studied the epistles.

Specifically what is “commonplace among those who have studied the epistles”? Admissions like the one you just tried to downplay? At one point you try to explain away Paul’s deafening silences by saying he wasn’t “writing memoirs,” while on the other hand you suggest that his letters are full of “allusions” (none of which you specify) that substantiate the assumption that his churches were taught things such as the virgin birth, a crucifixion outside Jerusalem, etc.

I remarked: It makes me wonder why Paul didn’t include those details in his letters if in fact they were so important to his “allusions,” as you call them.

Tim responded: If Paul was trying to communicate with his audiences, he would not allude to things that he did not expect them to understand. He did allude to them; he was trying to communicate; therefore he expected them to understand them.

This doesn’t speak to the issue before us at hand. You say that “allusions” to Jesus’ life as the gospels portray it were necessary for Paul’s immediately intended readers to understand certain things he was trying to communicate, and yet you specify no examples of this. Why is that?

I wrote: You say below that he was not “writing memoirs of Jesus,” and yet you admit here that there were points in Paul’s letters that could not have been fully understood without knowledge of details which he fails to include in his own letters!

Tim: Right. You think there is a problem with this?

So far, the problem is that you don’t come through with any examples to help buttress your point.

I wrote: Yikes, Tim! You’re all over the place.

Tim responded: Actually, the problem here is entirely inside your own head, Dawson. People do write letters to other people and, in the course of those letters, mention events that are common knowledge without also writing out histories.

Exactly, Tim! Paul didn’t need to be “writing out histories” in order to include details like those which I included in my list. So the “he wasn’t writing memoirs” line is insufficient to explain these silences. Preachers and pastors do this all the time today: they will pepper their sermons with details pulled from the gospels when speaking to Christian audiences to make their points concrete and thus easier for the congregant to remember so that they can be applied in their daily lives in the world outside the church. Your pop flies aren’t even reaching the outfield, Tim. You’re out before you even make it halfway to base!

I had written: Look at the opening statement of the passage again. I Cor 11:23 states: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;” Paul is telling us that he did not get his story of a supper from other human beings, such as the disciples which the gospels seat around Jesus in their version of the supper scene.

Tim responded: This is completely unpersuasive.

I then asked: I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Are you supposing, contrary to what Paul himself writes in I Cor. 11:23, that he got his supper scene from Jesus’ disciples? That would make Paul a liar.

Tim now writes: No. I am supposing, contrary to what you wrote, that Paul is not saying that the entire supper scene in its details was directly revealed to him by Jesus, since this reading of εγω γαρ παρελαβον απο του κυριου, though possible, does not seem to me to be the most plausible way to understand the expression in this context. But I would not insist on this point; nothing important rides on it in any event.

What is the alternative reading that you find “most plausible” here, and why? You don’t even suggest what that alternative reading might be. You simply say that the plain reading of the text isn’t the most plausible way to understand it. Do you think that Paul got his supper scene from other human beings? If so, why? If not, then what’s the fuss with the way I’m understanding what Paul writes here?

I had asked: Are we to just assume that they knew Paul’s Jesus to hail from Nazareth, for instance, ...

Tim responded: Probably, since the coordination between the epistles and Acts leaves no doubt that both are substantially authentic records, and Paul refers to Nazareth in Acts 26:9.

I then wrote: For one thing, Acts was not written by Paul. It is, at the very best, a secondhand source insofar as Paul’s views are concerned, ...

Tim now writes: You say that like it’s a bad thing.

“Bad”? It depends on your goal. If your goal is to point to Acts as documentation of the assumption that Paul believed Jesus to hail from Nazareth, I’d say it’s pretty bad. Obviously you cannot point to anything in Paul’s own letters to support such an assumption. Pointing to Acts, with all its problems, is admittedly the best you have for your position, which wouldn’t give me much comfort.

I wrote: ... and at several points it contradicts what Paul himself writes in his letters. (See for instance Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, pp. 145-165.)

Tim responded: I don’t think this would matter much as far as its general reliability, but having read Wells’s books quite closely years ago I am inclined to think that Wells is probably wrong about most of his claims of conflict between Paul’s epistles and the rest of the NT. However, I do not have access to that one right now.

So contradictions between the record of Acts and Paul’s letters wouldn’t “matter much as far as [Acts’] general reliability”? Your faith serves very well as a pair of blinders, Tim. You say you’ve read Wells’ books “years ago,” which I have no reason to dispute. But you now say he “is probably wrong about most of his claims of conflict between Paul’s epistles and the rest of the NT.” Can you give us some specific examples of where Wells is wrong on this matter? Can it be that you would simply prefer to *believe* Wells is wrong here? By the way, Tim, Wells is not the only one to point out major discrepancies between Acts’ record and the Pauline epistles. Wells is very careful to cite numerous authorities not only to support his case, but to inform many of his points of contention.

I wrote: So bringing Acts into the mix will only amplify the problems here. Acts is clearly a late document,

Tim responded: Sorry, I think this claim is insupportable.

Can you give some reasons why? It is generally agreed to have been written after Luke’s gospel, and Luke’s gospel is certainly no early document. Have you really studied these things, Tim?

I wrote: ] ... one that a later writer wrote in an obvious effort to show a harmony between the Pauline camp and the Jerusalem elders which, according to Paul’s own letters, did not exist.

Tim responded: I’ve heard that one too; not impressed with the arguments that this was the purpose of Acts.

The purpose of Acts was to paint the story of the spread of Christianity after the point where Luke’s gospel ends. By this point in time, Paul’s theology had already become widespread – even Acts agrees with this. Paul’s own letters document several points of doctrinal contention with the Jerusalem church. Acts glosses over these disputes in order to paint a picture where all the early Christians were “with one accord,” happily professing and preaching the same thing everywhere they went. It is obvious literary invention.

I wrote: Its stories of mass conversions of Jerusalem Jews upon hearing speeches attributed to Peter which quote from the Septuagint’s mistranslations of Hebrew texts is enough to call it into question.

Tim protested: This is nonsense. The Septuagint was the translation accepted by Hellenized Jews at the time.

This explains why Greek-speaking Christians would have used it as a source instead of the Hebrew scriptures. It does not undo the fact that the Septuagint contains mistranslations of the latter.

Tim continued: It was only later, and partly as a result of the rise of Christianity, that the Jews switched focus to the Masoretic text.

This is irrelevant, and fails to address my point about Acts’ Peter (and James, too) wowing thousands of Jerusalem Jews with mistranslations of their holy scriptures.

I wrote: Acts’ story of Jesus’ ascension does not even agree with the finale in the gospel of Luke: the gospel of Luke has its Jesus ascend on the day of his resurrection,

Tim responded: No, it doesn’t; it is simply very vague on the time frame.

Luke nowhere indicates that even a single day had passed between his resurrection and his ascension. The entire context is that of one day’s events. It is not “simply very vague on the time frame,” such that it allows for the 40 day stretch that Acts inserts between these events. Inserting such an interval in Luke’s version would completely break the flow of the final movements and sayings of Jesus.

I wrote: ... while Acts has Jesus linger around for some 40 days before ascending up in a cloud.

Tim quips: Finally something you got right.

So far, you’ve not shown me wrong on any point, Tim. At points when you charge me of being wrong, you offer no details. Rather, you just assert that I’m wrong, or that you’re unpersuaded, or that there’s some alternative reading, etc. But you give no specifics to support these charges. You offer empty dismissals.

I wrote: But if “coordination between [Paul’s] epistles and Acts” is the strongest you have to go on, you must have a lot of faith to compensate for the damning shortcomings here.

Tim: Produce some actual shortcomings, as opposed to recycling unpersuasive drivel, and we can talk about them.

See above. But what good will my efforts be if you simply dismiss them as “unpersuasive drivel”? This kind of talk is what I would expect from an untutored novice who is afraid to deal with the issues because of their impact on his confessional investment. It’s not the kind of talk one expects from someone who is seriously determined to get to the truth on these matters.

Tim asks: Meanwhile, how are you coming on Resch’s list of over 1,000 parallels?

I’ve seen dozens of lists of purported parallels between the early epistolary record and the later narrative record. Whether Resch’s or someone else’s, I cannot recall specifically. But mere citation of parallels between these layers is irrelevant, and the fact that you seem to think parallels are significant only suggests to me that you haven’t really grasped the issue here. I don’t dispute the incidence of parallels between these layers. Parallels are to be expected if the later narratives drew on the earlier sources to inform literary invention. So you can cite 10,000 parallels if you like. But that will not undo the fact that we observe increasing level of details as the portraits of Jesus develop over time. For Paul, Jesus is an otherworldly figure who existed in some unspecified past. The gospels put him explicitly in first century Palestine, something Paul nowhere does.

As I read through the rest of Tim’s comment, it’s more of the same: he continues to miss numerous points, begs the question by assuming what he has been challenged to substantiate, and retreats behind unsubstantiated dismissals. I can only suppose that he is not very serious about this kind of discussion, but rather is deeply anxious to protect something he’s afraid to have exposed.

It seems that the more we look at this 800 pound gorilla, the more we find that we've underestimated its weight.

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

I wanted to make a few more points to show that Tim has apparently misunderstood much of what I have been arguing.

Tim had written: And he repeatedly uses language that parallel's Jesus' own sayings; some of that is documented in Harvey's list, above.

I responded: And I responded to this. If you read what I had stated, you would have seen my following statement: Paul provided the raw material which later writers interpolated into their narratives.

Tim now writes: I think you need to make up your mind whether there are so few parallels between Paul’s epistles and the gospels that they aren’t even referring to the same person or whether there are so many that the gospels were built up around the letters. It doesn’t make much sense to try to have it both ways.

Statements like this only confirm all the more that you have not understood my points, but this is not due to my lack of explanation. I’ve been very careful and patient with you, Tim. The parallels between the early epistolary layers, represented chiefly by Paul’s letters, and the later narratives like the gospels, are not in the details that I put in my list. Rather, they are in various teachings, mostly moral and theological teachings, which Paul tried desperately to expound, but which the later writers sought to concretize in their narratives of an earthly Jesus by putting them into his mouth in the context of events they invented for allegorical and didactic purposes. I give an example of this below.

I wrote: Parallel expressions between Paul’s letters and the statements which the gospels put into Jesus’ mouth in no way seals the case for gospel authenticity.

Tim responded: Sure helps, though.

Not if the gospels were taking statements Paul makes on his own behalf and inserting them into their Jesus’ mouth.

I wrote: Remember that when Paul was writing his letters, the gospels were not written yet. So Paul could not have been quoting from them.

Tim responded: Plausibly so, though there is some evidence to suggest that the Aramaic version of Matthew was already published.

What is that evidence? Is there any evidence that Paul had access to it when he was far away on his journeys? Do you think Paul was quoting teachings from Jesus as found in this Aramaic version of Matthew, and yet failed to attribute those teachings to Jesus?

Tim continued: Some of the places where Paul's language corresponds more closely to Luke's gospel than to Matthew's or Mark's also suggests that Paul may have seen portions of what Luke was writing. But I would not insist on this.

Couldn’t it be the case that Luke had possession of copies of Paul’s letters, and took various passages from those letters to inform speeches he invented and placed in Jesus’ mouth? I see this vastly more plausible than the supernaturalism required on the literalist Christian reading of the texsts. The historical record is just as it would need to be if this is what happened, showing a consistent pattern of development, both in detail as well as in theology and also in the portrait of Jesus, with the passing of the Pauline generation and the emergence of the gospel and later generations. We already know that the author of Luke was pro-Pauline. It would not have been at all difficult for him to take elements from Paul’s letters, such as Rom. 13:9’s injunction “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” and stick them in Jesus’ mouth (as he does in Luke 10:27). Paul nowhere indicates that he got this teaching from an earthly incarnated Jesus; he nowhere attributes the teaching to Jesus at all. But in the later strata we find Paul's teachings put in Jesus' mouth. These are siezed upon by apologists as "corroborating parallels" when in fact they are a smoking gun. Examples of this kind of cribbing are found all over in the gospels. Moral teachings found in the earliest strata of the NT are later attributed to Jesus, whereas in the earliest strata where they are originally found, one could never learn from those sources that Jesus had ever spoken on the matters they touch. Do these produce “parallels” between the strata? Of course. But notice that they do not place the details that I listed in the earliest strata; those details came later, as the result of literary invention.

I wrote: Since the gospels were written well after the time of Paul, his letters may have been available for later writers to draw from. Statements in Paul’s letters thus inspired certain teachings we find in the gospels, which would explain the similarities.

Tim responded: This suggestion is really far out, and it reinforces my earlier comparison between mythers and conspiracy theorists. Why should anyone think this?

How is it “really far out” to entertain the possibility that later writers used earlier writings as a source of content and inspiration for their own writings? We find evidence of expansion on themes throughout much of the New Testament. New Testament authors are constantly using Old Testament themes and quotes in their own writings. 2 Peter enlarges on portions of Jude. Etc. This is hardly controversial.

I wrote: What’s telling, however, is that when Paul gives those teachings – as I showed above – he did not attribute them to an incarnated Jesus.

Tim responded: This is ambiguous. If all you mean is that Paul doesn’t stop and say, “Oh, and by the way, this Jesus – he was corporeal,” then sure.

I’m talking about parallel moral teachings, Tim, like the ones Wells cites in the passage I quote from page 33 of his book The Historical Evidence for Jesus. Neither you nor Harvey have addressed that statement. The parallels are not in details like miracles, healings, travels in Galilee, a temptation in the wilderness, the virgin birth, crucifixion outside Jerusalem, John the Baptist, Joseph of Arimathaea, etc., etc., etc. These details are exclusive to the gospels and later strata. They are not paralleled in Paul’s letters.

Tim wrote: Many of the arguments you are trying to make in this discussion depend on principles that will not stand up to a comparison with the evidence.

What are these offending principles that you have in mind, where do my arguments depend on them, and how do they not stand up to a comparison with the evidence? Specifically, what do you consider ‘evidence’ here? We have texts. To call them evidence, we need to be clear what we mean by ‘evidence’ here. Evidence specifically for what?

Regards,
Dawson

Evan said...

What I find fascinating about this debate is the fact that Bart's original contention really is standing unopposed. Dawson is ably arguing about Paul's other silences and how compelling a case they make for Paul's Christology being much more like the Gnostics than that of the proto-orthodox Roman church. But this ignores Bart's original point.

So I'm curious if there is any sustained apologetic explanation for the absence of a defense in Paul for the existence of a literal human deity.

Paul defends against many controversial positions, yet he ignores this. It really is an amazing argument and it's one I have never seen brought up before.

Perhaps there's a book in this for ya Bart. It seems to be catching the standard apologetic defenses with their trousers at sock level.

bart willruth said...

Evan,

I agree. It has been interesting to watch the apologists attempting to discredit the basic Christ-myth arguments, but not addressing the issue I raised. I believe the Jesus literalists have a major problem here, one which I have never seen raised nor answered. Perhaps you are right. A book may be called for.

Bart

richdurrant said...

I wasn't meaning to steer us off topic Bart. But we are trying determine if Paul talked about the historical Jesus as a man. Your POSSIBILITY 3 claims that it is Possible that Paul never assumed, or believed, that Jesus was a man that lived a few years prior to his writings. As you have stated, it is apparent from his writings that Jesus is divine, but not so apparent that he actually was a man on the earth.

Lets start then with Romans 1 where Paul announces that he is an Apostle of Christ. He then say he is going to speak concerning Jesus Christ our Lord, which was born the seed of David, verse 3. There is a mention of both the Lord Christ and the man Jesus Christ to be one and the same. In Gal 1:19 He says he visited 2 Apostles, Peter and the Lords brother James. How could James be the Lords brother if he was never a man? He also refers to Mary as the Mother of the Lord. So it does appear that he knows that they are one and the same. Is Mary a descendant of David? If so that would explain how he could be of the seed of David even though His literal father was God the Father and not Joseph. I have heard that one of those genealogies you mentioned is actually Marys.
Certainly Joseph was said to be his father. When they found the boy Jesus in the temple speaking with the priests, Mary says that she and his father had been looking for him. Jesus says that they should expect him to be about his father's business. That wouldn't be Joseph's, he was a carpenter. So who's business is he speaking of?
While it seemed that I was off topic a little, I was working on connecting the dots from Paul's writings between the historical Jesus and the resurrected Lord/God Jesus as one and the same. I doubt, since I am no scholar, that I did a real superb job with that, but I am trying. A for effort?:)

bart willruth said...

Rich,

Ok, A for effort. As you mentioned, you are taking us a bit off topic again. I really want to keep this focused and don't want to expand the discussion into related areas too much, but I will briefly respond to your comments, easy ones first.

Paul doesn't mention Mary as the mother of Jesus. Sorry.

When Paul went to Jerusalem he met with Cephas and James. While tradition equates Cephas with Peter, Paul does not. He is simply one of the uppity ups that Paul denegrates in Gal 2. James, the brother of Jerus is another of those of inflated repute according to Paul. The reason for their perceived self importance isn't given and it does no good to speculate as to the reason. The term "brother" is used throughout the epistles as a synonym for a believer. Nothing in this context requires an understanding different from the rest of the epistolary usage. No familial relationship is apparent.

Whether or not Mary was descended from David is not relevant. To begin with, the Davidic line had been destroyed during the Greek occupation, and there were no known descendents of David. Secondly, the stylistic and contradictory geneologies of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke trace the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, not Mary. Anything more is strictly conjecture.

The "seed of David" statement is enigmatic. It should be noted that Paul learned of the anointed one being of the seed of David from the Old Testament, not from other men, witnesses or otherwise. It is interpretive rather than biographical. This subject requires a lot of expansion which I don't want to do here. It should be noted that if it were to be understood as a biographical tidbit, it would be the only such place where Paul offers one.

Now, to the crux of the matter and the point of my blog. If Paul were indeed claiming that a recent man was God himself, where is the debate with the Judaizers?

Tim said...

Dawson,

Sorry: you're the one who wants to overturn the straightforward hypothesis that this person Paul represents as eating, speaking, being betrayed, being crucified, being buried, and so forth is doing all of these things here on earth. You're the one who insists that instead Paul is locating all of this "in a non-earthly realm." You have the burden of proof.

Like virtually every Christian, Jewish, agnostic and atheist historian of the past two hundred years who has heard the arguments of the mythers, I think you have no case. Certainly nothing you've said here has persuaded me otherwise.

You ask what principles you're flouting. For one thing, you think raising bare possibilities -- like the incredibly implausible suggestion that Paul, the self-described "Pharisee of Pharisees," writing to Jews, proclaiming their Messiah to have come, "borrowed from mystery religions of the day which featured sacred meals representing communion with a savior-deity" -- suffices to shift the burden of proof in an argument over a matter of fact. It doesn't. This sort of reasoning would be laughed out of court in a discussion of any matter of secular history.

You think that Paul's failure to time-stamp his references to the crucifixion provides evidence that he did not think of it as taking place where and when the gospels place it. But this is obviously false. There is no reason to expect Paul to do so if the event was already known to his readers -- which clearly it was, as otherwise Paul's references would have been unintelligible to them.

Crucifixion was not some Mithra-cult secret: it was a common, brutal, public fact of life under Roman rule. For you to turn Paul's matter-of-fact references to the crucifixion of Jesus into some kind of code for a spiritual death displays a disconnect with historical reality that literally defies belief.

You think that simply listing facts about Jesus' biography not mentioned in the Pauline epistles suffices to cast doubt on whether Paul was writing about the same guy. It doesn't. You cannot name a single letter in antiquity that mentions a public figure known from other extensive sources where it would not be just as easy to construct such a list.

And you are unwilling to put this to the test. You don't want to check to see whether other people, in their letters, typically talk about people or events without mentioning everything about those people or events.

All of these factors persuade me that you are not interested in having a serious discussion. That is certainly your prerogative; it is not my mission in life to take your myther faith away from you. But equally, there is no point in trying to have a serious historical discussion with someone who holds -- and will not reexamine -- untenable methodological canons of the sort you are defending.

Paul said...

Judaizers - In the early Church a section of Jewish Christians who regard the OT Levitical laws as still binding on all Christians. They tried to enforce on the faithful such practices as circumcision and the distinction between clean and unclean meats. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church)

Why should we expect two groups of Christians to argue about the divinity of Jesus?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Tim~

I totally agree. 'Burner' and some of the die hard anti-Christ advocates here are unwilling to do what they say they do...follow the evidence and view it with reason and rationality.

This is why I called them early on persons of EXTREME faith...proven from this blog...FANATICAL.

Bart's whole argument is bogus and he doesn't even see it. Save a tree Bart...Jesus was crucified for saying and demonstrating that he was God and that He would sit on the Throne of God as God. This parallel caused his very rejection among the faithful that DID NOT ACCEPT that he was the Messiah.

They (The Jewish Leadership)clearly understood who Jesus said he was, and please note It didn't start another war... but it did however motivate the Jewish faithful to not accept him or his small band of followers.

IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME AFTER THE EVENTS, Paul being licensed to kill and put down as many people as he could find that believed in this Jesus of HISTORICAL FACT, MET that same Jesus and became a follower of his.

He preached the SAME message that was given to the disciples, shared and received the same truths and further moved in signs and wonders, credited to the name of Jesus who demonstrated the same power during his lifetime.

The believers who spoke here, gave you anti-Christ followers access to over ONE THOUSAND congruent references from Paul concerning Jesus or his teachings ACCURATELY RELAYED, in context with all the historical criteria necessary for a REASONABLE and RATIONAL person to come to come to a "reasonable" position (even if you remain unconverted)...We have demonstrated how Paul and the Gospels were:

1- Multiply attested
2- Coherent within what we know of the TIME FRAME which they were written and further corroborated by independent sources
And finally we've proved that Paul's record and dating of the narratives themselves were
3-within a SHORT period of time of the actual events themselves.

This is the process, Dawson...not some PRESUPPOSED ---Probably, could've been, would've been, should've been GARBAGE that you and Bart are peddling on this site and the rest of your blogs...YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE UNREASONABLE AND ARE ONLY GIVEN TO THE SENSATIONAL, EMOTIONAL AND UNREASONABLE. THEY ARE FANTASIES AND FAIRY TALES THAT OFFER NO BASIS IN EVEN REMOTE PLAUSIBILITY.

So there is no 800lb. Gorilla here, just a TON of wishful thinking and unreasonable arguments.

Evan said...

Why should we expect two groups of Christians to argue about the divinity of Jesus?

I just have to laugh.

Dude. Do you know ANYTHING about early Christian history? The type and nature of the divinity of Christ was THE topic of argument among early Christians.

Please look up:

1. Adoptionists
2. Docetists
3. Gnostics
4. Marcionites
5. Ebionites
6. Nestorians
7. Arians
8. Pelagians
9. Monophysites

That should get you started.

Evan said...

DSHB

You say, "Jesus was crucified for saying and demonstrating that he was God and that He would sit on the Throne of God as God."

Where on earth is that in the Bible?

I have always read the Gospel passion narrative to say that Jesus was crucified for proclaiming himself the King of the Jews. Are you seriously equating the position of King of the Jews with God?

bart willruth said...

Tim

Allow me to correct one of your assertions. Paul nowhere says that the Messiah or Jesus has come.

Paul has no concept of a "second coming." Rather, his perspective of the coming, or more accurately the appearing, of Jesus is future. There is no place in Paul's epistles where he indicates that Jesus the messiah has come (to earth) and is coming again.

You are reading Paul through the lens of the later gospel stories which present (either actually or allegorically) Jesus as having come and planning to shortly return; an expectation which failed.

Paul said...

Let me try this one more time. Since the Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians what evidence is there that they did not believe the same thing about Paul about the divinity of Jesus?

Sure is interesting that the Judaizers didn't make the list that Evan so graciously provided.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: Sorry: you're the one who wants to overturn the straightforward hypothesis that this person Paul represents as eating, speaking, being betrayed, being crucified, being buried, and so forth is doing all of these things here on earth.

Where does Paul say that Jesus did these things *on earth*? Specifically *where and when* does Paul have his Jesus doing these things?

Tim: You're the one who insists that instead Paul is locating all of this "in a non-earthly realm." You have the burden of proof.

Actually, I am not the originator of this view, Tim. Many have argued for it, and have done so far better than I ever could. Check out the literature. Examine what they say. Unfortunately, it appears that, now anyway, you are not of a mind to do so. You’ve invested yourself in the confession that literalist Christianity is true, and this will only cloud your judgment on critical matters of this nature. You have a faith to protect, and this motivates the kind of reaction we've seen from you over and over again.

Tim: Like virtually every Christian, Jewish, agnostic and atheist historian of the past two hundred years who has heard the arguments of the mythers, I think you have no case. Certainly nothing you've said here has persuaded me otherwise.

I really don’t expect to persuade you, Tim. For you, it’s a matter of religious faith. So you stubbornly refuse to allow anything to influence you away from your confessional investment. But as I showed in my last responses, you fail to produce any examples of the “allusions” you maintain exist in Paul’s letters to the details I included on my list. Those are not “allusions” but are in fact “illusions” which perpetuate in your mind precisely because you are unwilling to look at the Pauline corpus apart from the portraits of Jesus found in the gospels.

Tim: You ask what principles you're flouting. For one thing, you think raising bare possibilities -- like the incredibly implausible suggestion that Paul, the self-described "Pharisee of Pharisees," writing to Jews, proclaiming their Messiah to have come, "borrowed from mystery religions of the day which featured sacred meals representing communion with a savior-deity" -- suffices to shift the burden of proof in an argument over a matter of fact. It doesn't. This sort of reasoning would be laughed out of court in a discussion of any matter of secular history.

Can you find where the orthodox Judaism of the day taught that their Messiah was to be communed with through a sacred meal in which bread and wine are represented as the Messiah’s flesh and blood? Doherty himself points out that Judaism at the time in question was not monolithic, that those especially in the Diaspora were likely influenced by local traditions, just as we find today. Citing Koester’s Introduction to the New Testament, he points out to Gregory Boyd that “we have evidence of Jews involved in bizarre cults in places like Asia Minor, and absorbing much hellenistic influence in many locations, such as Alexandria in Egypt.” Boyd sought to interpret Doherty’s thesis in the most uncharitable manner possible, suggesting that Christianity got its sacred meal idea directly from the taurobolium of Mithras. Doherty responds,

You claim that Jews would have been horrified by the bull’s blood ritual, and no doubt they were. But would they have been any more enamored with the Christian Eucharist, a rite which represented itself as eating and drinking the flesh and blood of their god? This was something fully in keeping with the mystery religion sacramentalism, especially the ancient cult of Dionysos which also ate and drank the god’s flesh and blood. But did this have anything to do with being Jewish? I hardly think so. The traditional Jewish thanksgiving meal had nothing like it, and the idea would have been blasphemy to most Jews, certainly those of the ‘mainstream type [Boyd] allude[s] to. To represent a man’s body and blood as being divine and the source of salvation would have constituted idolatry. (Challenging the Verdict, pp. 88-89)

You want to dismiss all this with laughter, Tim. That’s fine. But laughter is not a counter-argument, and meanwhile you are left without a reasonable alternative explanation.

Tim: You think that Paul's failure to time-stamp his references to the crucifixion provides evidence that he did not think of it as taking place where and when the gospels place it.

First of all, are you conceding that Paul did in fact “fail... to time-stamp his references to the crucifixion”? Can you find any evidence in Paul’s epistles where he did characterize Jesus’ crucifixion “as taking place where and when the gospels place it”?

Also, if you think such failure is the only evidence that the mythicist case produces on its own behalf, then it’s clear you haven’t done your homework here, Tim. As I pointed out several times already, Paul gave numerous moral and theological teachings in his letters, teachings that he did not credit to Jesus but which were later put in Jesus' mouth in the gospels. And there's a whole lot more than what I have presented in my comments on this thread.

Tim: But this is obviously false. There is no reason to expect Paul to do so if the event was already known to his readers -- which clearly it was, as otherwise Paul's references would have been unintelligible to them.

I have asked you repeatedly, Tim, to explain what specifically you think Paul’s readers knew independently of his letters, and to document why you think they knew it. You have not even attempted this. You simply assume that they knew stories such as those found in the gospels. What evidence can you produce to support this assumption?

Tim: Crucifixion was not some Mithra-cult secret: it was a common, brutal, public fact of life under Roman rule.

That’s irrelevant; no one is saying that crucifixion was a secret ritual. But clearly Paul thought that Jesus was an obscure figure who had to be “revealed” (Paul’s own word) precisely because he was not a public fact of life. Paul thought that Jesus had been revealed to him, and that it was upon his shoulders to make that revelation as public as possible through his missionary work.

Tim: For you to turn Paul's matter-of-fact references to the crucifixion of Jesus into some kind of code for a spiritual death displays a disconnect with historical reality that literally defies belief.

Don’t just assert this, Tim: put some support to it. As for defying belief, this is not a worry to me. Look at what Christians are expected to believe! You’re approaching this from a standpoint that your beliefs must remain unchallenged at all costs. That only underscores their weak basis.

Tim: You think that simply listing facts about Jesus' biography not mentioned in the Pauline epistles suffices to cast doubt on whether Paul was writing about the same guy. It doesn't. You cannot name a single letter in antiquity that mentions a public figure known from other extensive sources where it would not be just as easy to construct such a list.

We have many letters from Paul, and throughout his letters he is preaching Jesus crucified and resurrected. How he could know any details about his crucifixion (like those found in the gospels) and yet fail to mention any of them at any point, is – to put it mildly – perplexing.

Tim: And you are unwilling to put this to the test. You don't want to check to see whether other people, in their letters, typically talk about people or events without mentioning everything about those people or events.

Can you find a comparable set of letters to Paul’s where this kind of silence is commonplace? What other set of letters is focused on preaching about a savior-deity which exhibits the kind of pervasive silences that Paul’s letters do in relation to the gospels? I'm happy to test this, but let's test apples to apples. Surely you wouldn't object to this, would you?

Tim: All of these factors persuade me that you are not interested in having a serious discussion. That is certainly your prerogative; it is not my mission in life to take your myther faith away from you. But equally, there is no point in trying to have a serious historical discussion with someone who holds -- and will not reexamine -- untenable methodological canons of the sort you are defending.

Tim, I have been abundantly patient with you, I have answered your objections point by point, and have produced numerous quotations from the primary and secondary sources involved to support my points, and you have not interacted with hardly any of it. Now you say that I am not interested in having a serious discussion.

What’s clear is that you cannot challenge my list – you cannot find in any of Paul’s letters where he breathes one word about any of the items on that list. At least here you should acknowledge your concession. Where we seem to disagree is the evidential value of such silences. That’s fine. You have not persuaded me at all to suppose that we should expect such silences on such important points about the gospel portrait of Jesus in Paul's letters – points that were obviously important enough for the gospel writers to repeat as they rewrote the story of Jesus’ life, points which the early letter writers nowhere mentioned. This you have not been able to challenge.

Regards,
Dawson

Evan said...

Paul, when you are digging a hole, the first rule (if you want to get out) is to stop digging.

Please -- look up the ebionites.

Then come back.

Did you even look up one reference?

Here's Wikipedia's entry:

In contrast to mainstream Christianity, the Ebionites insisted on a universal necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites,[12] which they interpreted in light of Jesus' expounding of the Law.[13] They regarded Jesus as a mortal human messianic prophet but not as divine, revered his brother James as the head of the Jerusalem Church and rejected Paul of Tarsus as an "apostate of the Law". Their name suggests that they placed a special value on religious poverty.

Took me 12 seconds to find that.

You are a piece of work, Paul.

bart willruth said...

Paul said...
Let me try this one more time. Since the Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians what evidence is there that they did not believe the same thing about Paul about the divinity of Jesus?


Paul, for your argument to even begin to work, you must assume that at the time of the letter to the Galatians, that the setting was not that of the Diaspora synagogues. Are you really arguing that Christianity had already separated from Judaism and the synagogue system by 50 CE?

I think you will be very hard pressed to find many, if any, scholars who would argue that Christianity in 50 CE as not a sect within Judaism.

Bart

Paul said...

I wasn't arguing anything I wanted to clarify what was being said because it seemed like people are talking past each other on this thread and not really comprehending what was being said.

Thanks Bart because now I understanding better what you are saying.

bart willruth said...

DIST SUPER HARVEY WROTE

YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE UNREASONABLE AND ARE ONLY GIVEN TO THE SENSATIONAL, EMOTIONAL AND UNREASONABLE. THEY ARE FANTASIES AND FAIRY TALES THAT OFFER NO BASIS IN EVEN REMOTE PLAUSIBILITY.

So there is no 800lb. Gorilla here, just a TON of wishful thinking and unreasonable arguments.

Bart says,
Harvey, it looks like you got a bit emotional with the caps lock above.

Just come back to point. If Paul was proclaiming that a recent man was God, where is the debate over the Jewish conception of God? Keep in mind, we know with precision the arguments Paul was having with his detractors, and this fundamental, defining premise of Judaism wasn't even touched. Why?

Tim said...

Dawson,

You write:

I really don’t expect to persuade you, Tim.

I'd say you're on safe ground there.

For you, it’s a matter of religious faith. So you stubbornly refuse to allow anything to influence you away from your confessional investment.

You’re killing me, Dawson. You will, I assume, be kind enough to extend this explanation to such noted fundamentalists as Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, Gerd Lüdemann, and Bart Ehrman, since we are all united in the belief, based on the public evidence, that Jesus was a real person.

I have asked you repeatedly, Tim, to explain what specifically you think Paul’s readers knew independently of his letters, and to document why you think they knew it.

And I’ve offered references to the work of Paley and Resch that would allow you to follow up on it if you wanted to. If you insist on being spoon-fed instead, you’ll have to find someone else to do it for you. Harvey tried. (He’s apparently a nicer person than I am.)

Tim: For you to turn Paul's matter-of-fact references to the crucifixion of Jesus into some kind of code for a spiritual death displays a disconnect with historical reality that literally defies belief.

[Dawson:] Don’t just assert this, Tim: put some support to it.


You sound uncannily like some YECs and 9/11 truthers I’ve known. Believe it or not, Dawson, some things really are so obvious that virtually all atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Christians recognize their truth. If I thought your only problem were ignorance but that you were still capable of following reason and evidence and willing to try, it might be worth while as an act of charity to have a more extended discussion of the subject with you. To such a person, I might recommend Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer’s Jesus und das Judentum.

But wilful ignorance is another matter entirely.

[Dawson:] We have many letters from Paul, and throughout his letters he is preaching Jesus crucified and resurrected. How he could know any details about his crucifixion (like those found in the gospels) and yet fail to mention any of them at any point, is – to put it mildly – perplexing.

Why? Something parallel happens all the time in collections of letters both ancient and modern.

[Dawson] Can you find a comparable set of letters to Paul’s where this kind of silence is commonplace?

It would be easier to find a set where it is not. For a moment, when I read this line, I hoped that you were actually considering abandoning your previous refusal to test your assumptions against the writings of secular history to see whether they would hold up there. Alas! you continue:

What other set of letters is focused on preaching about a savior-deity which exhibits the kind of pervasive silences that Paul’s letters do in relation to the gospels? I'm happy to test this, but let's test apples to apples. Surely you wouldn't object to this, would you?

I’m all for comparing apples with apples, but you’re trying to compare apples with aardvarks here. The sort of test that would be most directly pertinent to your theory would be to take letters in which there are unquestionable references to a real person about whom we are informed from several other extensive sources and see whether the author feels compelled to write a comprehensive biography. If repeatedly we find that the author does not do this, then the “evidence” you’ve brought forward will be shown to be worthless, since it is of the same sort we find in cases where the author is unquestionably referring to a real person – the very thing you’re trying to use the “evidence” to deny in this case.

We can also obtain evidence pertinent to your thesis by considering references (or absence of references) to prominent objects or events in individual letters, diaries, travelogues, and other documents to see how much or how little can generally be inferred from silence.

[Dawson:] I have been abundantly patient with you, I have answered your objections point by point, and have produced numerous quotations from the primary and secondary sources involved to support my points, and you have not interacted with hardly any of it.

Since what is in question is whether you have provided anything that amounts to evidence, this windup is pretty much useless except as a profession of faith on your part. As I see it, you have largely repeated your original argument even after I have shown you why it is worthless.

The quotation from Doherty in response to Boyd is one new piece, and I’m beholden to you for it not because there is anything new in the argument but because it gives me afurther reference to give to people like Tyro.

[Hey Tyro, Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend (2007) should be near the top of your list. It looks like it has extensive coverage of the work of Price and Doherty. I find it surprising that they would even bother, but it should make for interesting reading.]

[Dawson:] You want to dismiss all this with laughter, Tim.

Damn! You're onto me!

[Dawson:] That’s fine.

I’m so relieved!

[Dawson:] But laughter is not a counter-argument, ...

In order for there to be counter-argument, there has to be something worth calling an argument in the first place, n’est ce pas?

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

Allow me to correct one of your assertions. Paul nowhere says that the Messiah or Jesus has come.

I appreciate the offer, but we’ll have to agree to disagree. There are many evidences in the epistles that Paul is proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah. See, for example, his use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8; the reference to Jesus as the seed of David in 2 Timothy 2:8 (though pehaps you reject the pastorals as non-Pauline?); and above all, his constant use of χριστος, the term used in the Septuagint to translate mashiyach. In this last connection, see in particular the use of του χριστου in Colossians 1:7, which Westcott and Hort argue persuasively is not a proper name but rather appellative, i.e. “the Messiah.” On this point see, e.g., F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, pp. 111 ff.

Tim said...

Bart,

Quick follow-up, in case I misunderstood you: if your claim is that Paul says nothing of Jesus as having come -- i.e. that Paul treats Jesus as not having been located on earth -- then I would naturally point to 1 Cor 11:23 ff, 1 Cor 15:3 ff, Gal 4:4, etc.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

Where in Paul do you find the concept that Jesus will "come AGAIN"? The future appearing in Paul's thought is never cast as a "return."

Tim said...

Bart,

I'm not sure why you're asking me that question, since I haven't been discussing it; my claim, in response to something Dawson had written, was that Paul was "writing to Jews, proclaiming their Messiah to have come, ..." Perhaps you have mistaken my comments for someone else's?

Of course, in answer to your question, one would point to the end of 1 Thess. 4. But that isn't really relevant to anything I have said in this thread.

Tyro said...

Tim,

[Hey Tyro, Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend (2007) should be near the top of your list. It looks like it has extensive coverage of the work of Price and Doherty. I find it surprising that they would even bother, but it should make for interesting reading.]


Thank you for the book recommendation. Based on the Amazon page, it is almost exactly what I'm looking for - scholarly, modern, and focused directly on the works of Price and Doherty.

I've been disappointed that, even after over 100 comments in this thread, the mythicists use evidence while historicists use Arguments from Authority or personal attacks. I hope that this is just an accident of the circumstances or perception and I hope that this book can balance the books a little.

Evan said...

Tyro, you should also read David Friedrich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu which you can download as a .pdf from Google as "The Life of Jesus". I believe the translation from German was done by George Eliot.

Tyro said...

Evan,

From what I can gather, a lot has changed in the 140 years since that book was written. I'd like to get something which can deal with Wells, Doherty and Price directly and which has access to all of the evidence.

bart willruth said...

Tim,

1 Thes 4 does not address the question I mentioned. The missing concept is the AGAIN, as in Jesus is returning, coming AGAIN. For Paul, the parousia is future.

Secondly, the concept of descent and ascent is clearly there. Have you considered that Paul may have read the "Ascension of Isaiah" before Christian redaction?

Tim said...

Bart,

Thanks for the clarification; I had not understood what you were trying to say.

I don't think this consideration will do any work for you, though. In order to mount an argument for your position, you would have to present evidence that, if Paul believed that Jesus had recently lived on earth, he would (in the epistles) have used επιστρεψω or some similar verb to describe the second coming. I don't see any hope of building a strong case for the imperative of Paul's making that linguistic mark. Even today, we say things like "My mother in law is coming next week" without the slightest intention of communicating that she has never visited before. Parallel cases in the literature of antiquity will not, I think, be difficult to find.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~ In addition to the tangents that we've gone off into here, I noticed that you've also suggested a few other things that I haven't adequately touched on but I will at this point if even but briefly:

You and some of your readers, take the road that somehow that Paul should have gained teaching about Jesus apart from any other source except the apostles, even to the exclusion of the OT. The problem is that you know as well as I do that the OT taught thoroughly about the Messiah and the Christ of Israel through clear predictive prophecy and messianic teaching. In fact the OT defined what the Messiah would do and how he would do it.

Jesus knew this, lived in it and summarized it like this:

John 5:39 - " Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" {The OT was to be searched as all of the observant Jews did and would have done their entire life}

It seems that you continue to belittle the fact that the OT record that was the ‘schoolmaster’ that brought the NT believer to a more full understanding of Jesus, and that the OT was the top document of authentication in Semitic thought:

Gal. 3:24-27~ "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

This whole discussion has been approached with a superimposition of Greco-Roman thought and behavior on the characters involved. That’s one of the greatest flaws of anti-Christ advocate dogma. Your assertions are not relevant to the time and actions of the individuals you examine…I mean you almost “westernize” the people and situations in order to make your points. You certainly deculturalize them and devoid them of their Jewish roots and behaviors common to the time. That’s incredulous.

So I reject the notion that somehow the record of the OT is insufficient to explain or reveal who Christ was or would be. Paul because of his training in the Law was immersed in and thoroughly understood the relationship of Christ in the OT and further demonstrated his understanding through his writing. One instance was in his teaching to the Corinthian church where he spells it out clearly:

1 Cor. 15:1-8: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; {The OT Scriptures} And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: {The OT Scriptures} And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: {Confirmation of the relationship and sharing of the GOSPEL message with the Apostles} After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present,{People who were alive, known within their communities and who could attest and witness to the resurrection of Jesus at that time} but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles."

Paul used a thorough understanding of the OT as a foundation for understanding and teaching the New Covenant that God established through Jesus Christ.

The primary thing that you suggest is that there was no conflict between the Jews and Christians therefore the whole Gospel story is unauthentic. The reason we laugh that off is simply because it doesn't even hold up to the record. That assertion is not based in the facts contained within scripture.

To answer your assertion and a question from another reader, Jesus was crucified for his declaration that he was God:

John 8:58~ “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”

Jesus declaration incited anger, WHY? Because the Jews heard the Messianic declaration that Jesus clearly announced that HE WAS GOD. Further, terms such as ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son Of God’, ‘Begotten’ which are common to the gospel narratives, CANNOT be interpreted with the Greco-Roman interpretives that you use. They are Semitic terms and titles and can ONLY be understood in light of Semitic interpretives. These sayings and expressions pin down the thought of not only Jesus’ divinity but also his claim to be God on Earth. Any jew of the day understood clearly that "son of Man" was not an earthly title for a mere person. That title was reserved for God WITH US or the MESSIAH.

Paul was rooted in those same historical teachings because he was excellently trained in the Law and zealous for it and licensed to be a fighter against those who opposed the law. He WAS A Pharisee, according to his own words:

Gal. 1:13-14- "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers."

Bart from what we know about what was occurring at the time it was a war against Christians without the state declaring war, why? Because the Jews COULD NOT declare war themselves and you know the Romans were content as long as THEY weren’t threatened.

Paul further confirms this in his own testimony and intents towards the early WAY followers to the apostles and early church:

Acts 22:3-5: "I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished."

After his conversion, Paul met the Jews and went into their synagogues teaching and preaching Jesus BASED on the OT scriptural foundation…That’s why he was heard and that’s why he was questioned afterward THEN threatened. Look at Acts 17:17-21, Acts 18:4-6 threatened so much so here that the Jews under Sosthenes made “insurrection against Paul” and then killed Sosthenes for letting Paul speak (Acts 18:12) In other words they (The Jews) wanted to KILL Paul for his teaching. Just as expected and in harmony with your original question that you somehow say is MISSING.

Finally, Acts 21: 27-40 led to Paul’s captivity amid people who wanted to KILL him for his teaching REGARDING JESUS which led to Acts 22 which further clearly explained that Paul Preached Jesus Christ. There is NO WAY anyone can say with a clear conscience that Paul either didn’t preach the Jesus Christ of the gospels or that he was ambiguous in his teaching…That’s a FANTASY. The evidence and reactions are EXACTLY what we’d expect from the characters involved. This meets the criteria of historical COHERENCE which is a strong evidence that the actual event occurred. Further, Paul’s actions and the Pharisee’s actions were DISSIMILAR which further authenticates the narratives because that's EXACTLY what we'd expect.

Finally, you ask Tim about where did Paul teach about Jesus return. Although he’s answered I though maybe I should go into detail because you seem to need a little direction in this.

1 Thess. 4:16-17- "For the Lord (Kurios-title is given to: God, the Messiah)himself {He's talking about JESUS} shall descend from heaven {In Order to DESCEND ONE WOULD HAVE TO BE COMING DOWN OR COMING BACK} with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ (Another Messianic title and Office) shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord"(Kurios- title is given to: God, the Messiah)

Secondly, of course Paul read and knew Isaiah like every other disciple and Jewish teacher of the day. That would have only affirmed his belief just like all the other scriptures concerning Messiah would have.

This is pretty CONCLUSIVE and definitive that Paul not only taught the life of Jesus, but he also taught the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus and the return of Jesus to this time space dimension to gather his people. I mean there are all kinds of other things that I could add but you get the point.

Tyro- there was NO EVIDENCE given to sustain the original argument, therefore NO EVIDENCE was necessary to be given in response. The whole argument was based on a faulty premise and speculation. The reason I was so hard on Doherty, is because he did the SAME thing, he only used distorted speculations, postulations and inferences and sold that garbage as factual. It wasn’t even worth the recycled paper it was printed on. No evidence and certainly nothing SOUND. But ooh boy, it sure sounded good…PLEASE.

Anyone can say anything, but one cannot discount the historicity of the biblical record and then take other documents out of time and context to prove a point. As I stated the entire argument about a 800 lb. gorilla was fallacious from the beginning.

Thanks.

Evan said...

DSHB,

It's interesting that in your attempt to use the OT as proof for Paul's understanding of Jesus of Nazareth as a literal human-God ... you quote no OT texts.

Which OT texts do you see as specifically describing Jesus of Nazareth?

bart willruth said...

Harvey,

Paul, and the other NT writers used a method of interpretation of the OT scriptures known as midrash. This was, and is, a Jewish method of interpreting the OT in an allegorical manner. In using the method of midrash, one excises a text in the OT, wrenches it entirely from its context and original meaning, and creatively applies it to current needs. In this way, a story of the heavenly messiah could be cobbled together by finding a stray sentence in the Psalms saying "they gambled for my garments" and another one saying "a mob has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet" Ps 22.16, and on and on constructing a bio of Jesus the messiah out of texts which did not have any predictive intent at all in their original context. The texts the NT writers use are not related to each other, they are not used in context or in original intent, most have no messianic connection at all, and many such usages simply borrow phrases within sentences which cannot be construed in the manner used by the NT writers. They are using the OT allegorically, through midrash. The NT writers can claim that they are properly interpreting the OT, but if you examine the OT texts directly without the "inspired" interpretation of the NT user, there is no way one could get messianic predictions out of them.

In any synagogue today, you could observe the rabbis using the OT in a similar manner. Are they inspired too?

J. Johnson said...

Harvey, you posted:

1 Cor. 15:1-8: ... For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; {The OT Scriptures} And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: {The OT Scriptures}... And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.

He rose again on the third day according to the OT Scriptures...

In which book, chapter, and passage does it say the messiah would die and then rise again in three days?

Thanks,

Jay

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~

Concerning Midrash~ Please note the following:

Midrash comes from the Hebrew word darash, meaning "search" or even "commentary". It "entails searching the text for clarification beyond the obvious. In other words, midrash is a method which involves commentary on a specific passage. "In 'searching' the sacred text, the rabbis attempted to update scriptural teaching to make it relevant to new circumstances and issues. This was approach was felt to be legitimate because Scripture was understood as divine in character and therefore could yield many meanings and applications..."--- Evans, "Jewish Exegesis", p. 381.

One of the best examples in the NT is John 6:25-59 which comments on Exodus 16:4, Psalm 78:24 (cf. Jn 6:31). Jesus' words are considered by some scholars as a running "commentary" on this passage found in the book of Exodus.

"Research into ancient Jewish methods of exegesis, however, shows that the New Testament writers did not use the Old Testament any differently than their contemporaries" --- Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

You DECEITFULLY mention ONE of the LEAST USED methods of Midrash, called Allegory. But yet you know that the most common methods are ‘Light and heavy’ as found in Matt 6:26; cf. Luke 12:24 and Matt 7:11; Rom 5:10; Equivalence, as found in 1 Peter 2:4-8 which quotes Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. Here, the term "stone" is used in equivalent regulation. Another example is Jesus' use of 1 Samuel 21:6 in Mark 2:23-28; and Pesher, which was the explanation of the mystery", usually involved in prophecies.- Evans, "The Old Testament in the New", p. 132.
Examples of Pesher not only included Qumran but also include Acts 2:17-21where Peter cited Joel 2:28-32, and Mark 12:10-11 citing Psalms 118:22-23 (cf. Eph 3:4-6).

Midrash is an acceptable technique of exegesis of scriptural truth, although your boy, Thomas Paine doesn't like it, he fails to show proof that it was 1- Un-historic and 2- Wrong. He just doesn't like it. Why should he? Correct exegesis DEBUNKS his fallacious arguments, he certainly doesn't want that to happen.

Romans 15:4- “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Please note that the NT writers, and Jesus himself, believed the OT to be the Word of God. An often quoted passages to affirm such. Jesus, while dealing with the topic of divorce, quotes Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5. Other general examples of the OT as the Word of God include Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16, Acts 28:25, and Hebrews 1:5-8.

Once again, the only persons that have a problem with the technique are those that use a Greco-Roman interpretive.

Midrash was the technique used thoroughly throughout Semitic times and was the appropriate way to apply and interpret scripture. The Greco-Roman interpretive that you and most critics use, continues to strip the people of the uniqueness of the time in which they lived and the value of scriptural interpretation. It’s plain ole western ARROGANCE to tell them that they interpreted their very own scriptures wrong. The Apostles interpreted scriptures the same way…because that’s the correct way it’s done.

FYI- Although I know you asked about the interpreter, Yes I believe in the inspiration of the scriptures. Why wouldn’t I? 2 Tim. 3:16~ “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”

Evan ~ So far as which scriptures describe Jesus...it's all too easy to just about open the Bible and pick any one, but you can always start with Isaiah 9:6-7~ “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Or further Isaiah 53 in it’s entirety, Daniel 7…a host of psalms, and a BUNCH of illusions and descriptions in the Prophets …etc.

Thank you.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

j. johnson~ "In which book, chapter, and passage does it say the messiah would die and then rise again in three days?"

Correct interpretations can be laid on top of Jesus very own understanding. Mt. 12:39-40 ~ "But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The whole narrative came from the OT story of Jonah which Jesus used as his proof text.

Further Jesus own narrative indicates his very own death and Resurrection, IN 3 DAYS.Also (Mt. 16:4, Mk. 8:12, Lk. 11:29)

Additional refrences to the resurrection that the Pharisees, Essenes and others held as foundational to their belief are as follows:Ps. 16:9-11, Ps. 49:15, Ps. 86:13 NT ref. Acts 2:31-32... Heb. 13:20...Ps. 68:18 NT ref. Ephes. 4:8...Ps. 110:1 NT ref. Heb 1:13. 5:6, 7:17 & 21

I'll close by restating what I said in my previous post: "Midrash was the technique used thoroughly throughout Semitic times and was the appropriate way to apply and interpret scripture. The Greco-Roman interpretive that you and most critics use, continues to strip the people of the uniqueness of the time in which they lived and the value of scriptural interpretation. It’s plain ole western ARROGANCE to tell them that they interpreted their very own scriptures wrong. The Apostles interpreted scriptures the same way…because that’s the correct way it’s done."

To assert otherwise places the burden on proof on you to explain why.

Thanks.

Evan said...

DSHB:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

In what conceivable way could this describe Jesus of Nazareth? When was he ever part of any government?

When was he ever called "The Prince of Peace"? What throne did he sit on? How could he POSSIBLY have been named "The everlasting Father" since he is the SON?

Does Jesus himself not say that he is not come to bring peace but a sword?

Also -- where was Jesus ever called Immanuel?

Evan said...

DSHB: Further Jesus own narrative indicates his very own death and Resurrection, IN 3 DAYS.Also (Mt. 16:4, Mk. 8:12, Lk. 11:29)

Jesus was put in the tomb on Friday afternoon.

He was resurrected and gone by Sunday Morning.

How's that 3 days?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan, Evan, Evan~ My friend...Thou dost continue to interpret Semitic narratives with a Greco-Roman understanding, which doth not allow you to fully understand da pharases.

FYI- names in Semetic thought REPRESENT nature and essence of being...the scriptures talking about what HIS name should be called DID NOT mean a name given at birth. Although that's not precluded that's not the case.

The Refrence would be Is. 7:14 & Is. 9:7 to Luke 1:26-33

Additionally, if you looked up the scriptures posted, the dilemma of the Pharisees in dealing with Jesus was that he claimed to be preexistant and a son at the same time.

Further, read Heb. 1:8-12(as it pertained to the Messiah and specifically Jesus)..."but unto the SON he saith, THY THRONE O GOD... DIRECT refrence from Ps. 45:6-7 and Ps. 102:25-27.

By the way, 32% of the NT are direct verse quotes from the OT. Out of 7,964 verses in the NT, 2,559 of them are OT verses.

So it's the HEIGHT of scriptural misrepresentation to say that the OT is irrevelavent in the NT narrative or that the OT offers no relevence in understanding the NT or that the OT DOES NOT describe accurately the work, mission, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

That type of argument is not based on interpretive facts or history in dealing with the texts.

So far as the 3 day scenario...Underderstand the EASTERN and Semitic thoughts on day and day portions...Any part was considered COMPLETE. And the day began at night. Now there is some debate over WHAT day actually started the clock, some say Thursday as opposed to Friday however there is enough time to fulfill the Jewish concept and dogmatism on that DOES NOT change the matrial fact or account in any way.

Hopefully Tim is still viewing and I would defer to a seasoned professional such as him for a more definitive answer.

Thanks.

Evan said...

DSHB,

It's good to see you acknowledging that the Bible is to be taken figuratively and can't be expected to be literally true.

Thanks.

bart willruth said...

Harvey Dist Superman

Midrash is not an illegitimate method of interpretation. If someone wants to "interpret" the story of Moses'climb up Mt. Sinai as an endorsement of our need to take nature walks in the mountains, that isn't illegitimate. However, you must also recognize that there was no original intent for that meaning in the Moses story. The interpreter is using a kind of midrash.

To determine the meaning of a particular OT text, one must look for original intent. Fanciful and meaningful interpretations looking back do not do this.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Mr. Bart you said this: "To determine the meaning of a particular OT text, one must look for original intent. Fanciful and meaningful interpretations looking back do not do this."

I agree Bart we have come a long way...I only offer the historic facts that the Jews viewed the scriptures and prophecies in the following manner:
1- to treveal that God is God(Is. 46:9-10)
2 to reveal that God is faithful (Num. 23:19)
3- to distinguish HIS work from counterfeits (Is.48:3-5)
4- to reveal the IDENTITY of God's Son aka The Coming Messiah( (rom. 1:2-4) and a HOST of other OT scriptures)

Jesus HIMSELF appealed to the same source to verify his identity to the people: Mt. 5:7, Lk. 24:27, Lk. 24:44, Mt. 13:14, Mt. 11:10, Mt. 21:42, Mt. 26:56, Mk. 13:26-Dan. 7:13-14, Lk. 4:20-21, Jn. 15:25 and Lk. 22:37.

I've got 61 other points that outline Jesus fulfillment of Prophecy but I'm too tired to list them here but I will say this,

HJ. Schonfield IN 'the passover Plot'sought to argue as you Bart against Jesus historically fulfilling any prophecy. But that assertion flies and dies in the face of a few things:

1- Jesus good nature and character. If he was the greatest deceiver of all time why does it suppose that all records are to the contrary concerning him. This is highly implausable.

2- There is absolutely NO WAY that he could have controlled all of the circumstance around each and every event THAT PREDATED HIMSELF (Unless HE WAS GOD) because even events BEFORE his arrival into the world would have to correspond to prophecy.

3-Similarly, there is no way he could have controlled or manipulated the way that people would respond to him thereby fulfilling prophecy (Again UNLESS HE WAS GOD)

It's like this, Peter Stoner in his book 'Science Speaks' says that the likelihood of anyone fulfilling 48 biblical prophecies and reports are 1 in 10 to the 157th Power. (Stoner SS, 109,110) That's all but too mindboggling and I'll go no further with it here.

Also Evan~ I'll say that the Bible is to be taken in the sense in which it is intended. There are times and places there is a literal interpretive, there are times and places it is a symbolic interpretive, but it is always to be taken in context.

Bart I don't consider myself "superman" but I LOVE TO STUDY and quite frankly, you guys help me do just that...I love it, because, The Bible is Right!

Thanks.

bart willruth said...

Harvey,

None of the OT texts Christians use clearly point to Jesus. These are impositions of Christian believers put back on those texts.

As to the marvelous correspondence between the use of those texts and the "events" of the life of Jesus, I would expect no less when his biography was invented using those texts.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~ now we're back to your original premise...IN SPITE of the evidence, you still say the narratives were created to fith the story...You R a REAL piece of work...(LOL)

That's why I really look forward to your fallacious arguments based on your misinterpretations of the bible. It's so much fun to put them down.

Anyway, Thanks with this one. As was noted about 80 posts ago, you don't care about evidence, you only like sensationalism. I guess it sells...so I ain't mad atchya!

Thanks Bart.

Spontaneous Order said...

I actually looked into the Peter Stoner study of OT prophesies fulfilled in life of Jesus. It can be found online. This study is cited Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ, though the specifics are not related there. Besides the 40 prophecy study there is also a study of 8 prophecies. This smaller study uses Bayesian logic to argue that using just these eight prophecies the strength of the argument is that all eight being true of any one individual is 1 in 10 ^ 17th power. That is an overwhelming statistic. In fact the study concludes by stating, “Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolute than any other fact in the world.”

I was told this is something that should even be convincing to an atheist/non-believer, which I am. Instead what I found was an argument that should not even be convincing to a Christian. Unless you come to this study already accepting that NT is in fact factual, there is nothing of substance in this study. Christians should be embarrassed for making the historical claims they do – at least based on this study.

The eight prophecies are:

1) Birth in Bethlehem – arguable whether this is actually prophesied. Further, the Biblical Archeological Institute, hardly a liberal theology organization, has published articles calling the possibility of a Bethlehem birth into question.

2) Forerunner – the only one of the eight that has any independent credibility and the prophecy reference does seem testable as a prophecy. There are independent records of a John the Baptist, does appear to have been executed by a foreign power, and there are sites associated with his ministry.

3) Colt, foal of an ass – already had a lot said here, but this is an abject failure. The Mark account even has Jesus conspiring to make this ‘prophecy’ come true. Odds one over one.

4, 5, & 6) Betrayal by a friend, 30 pieces of silver, purchase of potters’ field – the OT verses sited is dug out of the middle of another prophecy. Ironically that larger prophecy did not come true. Some have argued with me, not true YET, but that would leave it in a context totally meaningless to those who received it.

7) Silence at trial – again can be fulfilled by the one prophesied about. Also, Jesus is not silent in all accounts.

8) Hands pierced – Ps. 22:16 is so clearly not about Jesus, in fact it sounds in surrounding verses as if God is being cried unto. This is like pulling a line out of a blues song and saying Jesus’s resurrection is the fulfillment of that line of lyric.

I believe Christians do themselves a real disservice when weak arguments are put forward with much banging of drums about their irrefutability. As Lewis noted we must decide in the here and now with imperfect information. You lose credibility, we question your grasp of logic and method, and our willingness to pursue research you recommend is weakened.

J. Johnson said...

Harvey said -- Correct interpretations can be laid on top of Jesus very own understanding. Mt. 12:39-40 ~ "But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The whole narrative came from the OT story of Jonah which Jesus used as his proof text.

Further Jesus own narrative indicates his very own death and Resurrection, IN 3 DAYS.Also (Mt. 16:4, Mk. 8:12, Lk. 11:29)


Harvey -- Using passages from the NT to support the 3 days claim of rising from the dead prophecy indicates that you could not find such support in the Hebrew scriptures as I had asked.

I asked where in the Hebrew scriptures does it say he would die and rise from the dead in 3 days and you give me words from Jesus' mouth in the NT when he pointed to Jonah's tale. And the only reason I asked was because you posted passages from Paul where he said "According to the Scriptures (OT Scriptures)"...

Again, which OT scriptures was Paul talking about?

Incidently, this whole dialog would be null and void if Paul had said "According to Jesus himself" instead of according to the scriptures. This is one of the points Bart is making here. There were no NT scriptures when Paul wrote his letters.

You also have said, repeatedly, that it is old fashioned western ARROGANCE to tell the apostles that they interpreted their very own scriptures wrong.

Do you not see the irony of this statement?

You say it is arrogant to say the disciples interpreted scripture wrong... but how arrogant is it to tell all the multitudes of Jews, especially the learned Jews of the first few centuries, that they interpreted their ancient scriptures wrong?

Now that is arrogance. Educated Pharisees got the scriptures wrong but a handful of back-water fishermen knew better and reinterpreted them correctly. ok.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Spontaneous~ I reverberate the same sentiments to you that I left with Bart. Just because the EVIDENCE and the narrative isn't what you want to make it DOESN'T make it non-essential.

Why would you like it? You're not objective...If you had read through the discourse you would have seen the liklihood in common terms like this:

The chances are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. Which is equivalent to taking as many silver dollars as it would take, and cover the state of Texas with them until it was 2 FEET deep. Then mark ONE Silver Dollar, stir the coins up thoroughly all over the state, put a blindfold on a man, tell him he can travel as far as he wishes wihin the state but he MUST pick out the ONE marked coin...

In other words There's NO CHANCE one man could have fulfilled all of these 8 prophecies yet alone the ADDITIONAL 40 in his lifetime with the percision that was done unless HE IS GOD.

Man- Get outta here with your no strength, afraid there is a God self. He is REAL. the record verifies it, history verifies it, predictive prophecy verifies it in light of the actual events and more...

Further read back a few posts. Just like you don't want a foriegn nationality of individual imposing their value system on you, DON'T impose your western views and interpretives on the text. That's the problem. You like all other anti-Christ advocates impose your value system on ancient and HISTORICALLY VERIFIABLE people and have the ARROGANCE to tell them that were there how they should have interpreted the events.

Nope, the story wasn't concocted to fit and we've already shown it's authenticity. Accept it or not, don't place the blame on the evidence you place that on you and your choice.

Personally, I'd respect you better if you just simply said, I don't believe it or I don't want to believe it, but don't dare say the evidence is weak, there's WEAKER evidence all the way around for Alexander the great and Julius Ceasar who's historical narratives weren't written until HUNDREDS of years after they died.

I'm out...More and more, since you anti-Christ advocates realize you don't have an argument, the comments get silly. PEACE!

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ As I leave I didn't want to leave the 3 day thing out there:

Now, the real problem is that most of us are unfamiliar with ancient, and especially Jewish, idiomatic ways of speaking. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, besides the expression “Three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40, (WHICH COMES FROM OT JONAH- THIS WASN'T AN INVENTION OF THE NT- I PLACED THIS HERE) we also find the expressions “after three days” and “on the third day” [16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:63,64; cf. 26:61; 27:40]. The Jews understood all three of these expressions synonymously. In their terminology part of a day was counted as an entire day. In addition, the Bible does not always speak in the same way we would. We need to learn the idioms and figures of speech which are used in the Bible if we are to avoid misunderstanding what it really says. ~ Hank Hanegraaff

Spontaneous Order said...

DSHB--

Let me find those directions for building my house on sand again, they have to be around here somewhere.

To be clear, I did read the Stoner analysis. The silver dollars are a brilliant picture metaphor that has no credible basis in reality. This is a clear example of the defenders of the faith being recklessly irresponsible with the facts. This calculation is not what it purports to be, a responsible analysis of fulfilled NT prophecies demonstrating that Jesus is the Savior.

Just because one puts a number to something doesn't mean the resulting odds are valid.

If I apply the reasonable skeptical man test, the Stoner’s analysis fails 7 out of 8 prophecies:

1) Prophecies are twisted out of unrelated OT verses. (hands pierced, betrayal by a friend)

2) Assigning odds to events well within the control of the party prophesied about (colt into Jerusalem, silent at trial)

3) Picking your fulfilled prophecies, out of the midst of unfulfilled prophesies (30 pieces of silver, potters’ field)

4) Claiming fulfillment that cannot be tested anywhere but in the NT and where in fact current archeology suggests the Biblical account is not possible. (birth in Bethlehem)

Finally, I am not asked to believe that my thoughts on Julius Caesar will decide where I spend eternity or that Julius Caesar is an all powerful/all loving God but somehow this is the best evidence He can provide.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Spontaneous~ You're like the Scarecrow, "IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN!"

You weak observations have already been argued abd PUT DOWN in this tread.

You're twisted ALL the way around and ABSOLUTELY no facts or insight. I won't talk to you...it'a another wast of my time.

Peace My friend.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I had written a response to Tim’s 11 March comment directed to me, but at the time I decided not to post it because dialoguing with him has become so worthless. So I did not post it. It’s clear that he doesn’t grasp the essence of my points.

In this comment, I wanted to respond to Harvey’s point that the (alleged) fulfillment of OT prophecies by the gospel Jesus is simply too improbable to he a coincidence (that seems to be the brunt of the case he’s trying to make). Harvey wrote:

The chances are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. Which is equivalent to taking as many silver dollars as it would take, and cover the state of Texas with them until it was 2 FEET deep. Then mark ONE Silver Dollar, stir the coins up thoroughly all over the state, put a blindfold on a man, tell him he can travel as far as he wishes wihin the state but he MUST pick out the ONE marked coin... In other words There's NO CHANCE one man could have fulfilled all of these 8 prophecies yet alone the ADDITIONAL 40 in his lifetime with the percision that was done unless HE IS GOD.

By making the matter an issue of probability, Harvey undercuts his own position quite severely. Consider the scenario he uses to illustrate the sheer remoteness of the probability he ascribes to Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophecy. If I told Harvey that, under the conditions he describes, I know someone who found the one marked silver dollar in the 100,000,000,000,000,000 coins that buried the state of Texas on the very first draw, would Harvey believe me? According to Harvey’s own statement, apparently not, for he insists that “There’s NO CHANCE one man could have” done this – either find that one coin, or that “one man could have fulfilled all of these 8 prophecies.” It seems that Harvey himself is telling us that this is not to be believed, given the proportions of the stated improbability. It is just a made up story that the guy I know found the coin on the first try. If we grant the astronomical improbability of this happening that Harvey insists we accept, then other explanations become more probable, such as that the story of the guy finding the one marked coin out of 100,000,000,000,000,000 is either mistaken, false, or simply fabricated.

With respect to the so-called fulfilled prophecies found in the gospel portrait of Jesus, Harvey says this is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. What is the probability that a writer or group of writers pulled phrases and statements from the OT and assembled them into a literary narrative which is at the end of the mere fiction, but which on some interpretations appear to be a portrait distinguished by the fulfillment prophecy? I’d say a whole lot better than the probability that Harvey wants to ascribe to one man the fulfillment of the 8 so-called prophecies that he has in mind. And if midrash were a developed technique of re-interpreting sacred texts, as Bart has rightly pointed out, then the probability that the so-called “fulfilled prophecies” that we find in the gospel portraits of Jesus are at the end of the day a literary invention, significantly eclipses the excessively remote possibility that Harvey has claimed for his interpretation of the same.

So on Harvey’s own premises, we should be quite skeptical of his position to say the least.

Regards,
Dawson

Tim said...

Dawson,

I certainly agree that anyone who wants to can look at our exchange and make up his own mind. I'm content to leave it there if you are.

bart willruth said...

One more call back to the premise of this post.

That is, Paul taught a divine Jesus, but in all argumentation with the Judaizers, there is no hint of an argument over the Jewish concept of God which would have been central if he had been proclaiming a human Jesus being an incarnation of God.

No one has yet given a cogent explanation for this fact. We aren't discussing the perspective of the gospel writers here, nor that of the later church theologians. We are discussing why a movement within Judaism in the mid first century could co-mingle the transcendent God with a human (a clear position of idolatry) without generating a furor.

Why? Why? Why?

Using the principe of Occam's razor, the direct answer is that Paul could not have proclaimed a divine and human Jesus without all hell breaking loose. Therefore, he either wasn't proclaiming Jesus as a divine being, or he wasn't prclaiming Jesus as a human. Since his own writings are so clear that his Jesus was divine, and statements which can be construed as human indicative are so equivocal, the weight of the argument must come down on the side that he wasn't indicating a human Jesus.

If anyone has an alternate explanation for why there was no controversy in Paul's congregations, please address them.

Bahnsen Burner said...

That's fine, Tim. I agree that the following remarks made by Tyro to you on 12 March indicate what impartial readers of our exchange are more likely to conclude:

I've been disappointed that, even after over 100 comments in this thread, the mythicists use evidence while historicists use Arguments from Authority or personal attacks.

Regards,
Dawson

Tim said...

Dawson,

The comment would be just if the defenders of the traditional position had not already occupied the historical high ground. As the case actually stands, however, the mythers must try desperately to explain away the historical evidence found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal -- not to mention the Gospels, Acts, the epistles, the non-canonical early Christian writings, the early heretics like Cerinthus and Marcion and the attacks of heathen critics like Celsus and Porphyry.

I'm sure that Tyro, who actually seems to want to learn more about this, will have plenty of opportunity to reconsider his initial judgment as he reads Boyd and Eddy. I'm equally sure that there are other mythers who never will.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

Paul taught a divine Jesus, but in all argumentation with the Judaizers, there is no hint of an argument over the Jewish concept of God ...

If anyone has an alternate explanation for why there was no controversy in Paul's congregations, please address them.


Because, on this point, they agreed with him.

Evan said...

Tim it is bizarre to say the least that you would include the early heretics like Cerinthus and Marcion as part of your parade.

BOTH of these people did not believe that Jesus was a divine human. Cerinthus believed he was all human. Marcion believed he was all divine.

So if you are using them as your examples of what Paul must have thought -- you fail. Bart wins.

Here's something about Marcion:

Marcion taught that Christ assumed absolutely nothing from the creation of the Demiurge, but came down from heaven in the I5th year of the Emperor Tiberius, and after the assumption of an apparent body, began his preaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. This pronounced docetism which denies that Jesus was born, or subjected to any human process of development, is the strongest expression of Marcion's abhorrence of the world.

Isn't it interesting that Marcion believed Paul was the finest Christian and included only the Gospel of Luke and the writings of Paul in his canon, yet believed this about Christ?

I think you have opened a can of worms you might wish closed.

Tim said...

Evan,

Your comment reveals that you have not even begun to understand my point. You write:

So if you are using them as your examples of what Paul must have thought --

And of course that ridiculous suggestion forms no part of what I am saying.

I was replying to Dawson's quotation from Tyro. The question in that sub-discussion is whether Jesus existed as a real physical person perambulating about Palestine in the early part of the first century A.D.

With respect to that point, every bit of evidence regarding early Christianity, including its heretical forms, is of historical interest and significance.

I notice that you're quoting from Harnack's History of Dogma. It might interest you to look up what Harnack had to say about the mythic theory, which caused a bit of a flurry in his day. (For references, see an early response to Tyro in this thread, above.)

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim,

You wrote: The comment would be just if the defenders of the traditional position had not already occupied the historical high ground.

I believe Tyro’s comment was specifically in regard to the performance of “historicists” in the present comments thread. I took this to include Harvey as well as you, since you seem so anxious to protect the view that the portrait of Jesus found in the gospels is historically accurate. Over and over again in your responses, you demonstrate that you don’t really grasp the major points that have been raised in this thread. I have explained this repeatedly, and in none of your follow-up comments have you overcome the habit of reading the early epistolary strata through gospel-colored glasses. You want to claim “the historical high ground,” but your own performance in this thread indicates that such a claim buckles readily under the pressure of the questions Bart, I and others have raised.

You also wrote: As the case actually stands, however, the mythers must try desperately to explain away the historical evidence found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal --

What evidential value do you think can be found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal in regards to the claim that the portraits of Jesus in the NT gospels are historically accurate? Let’s deal with specifics, I’d be happy to examine it with you.

As for “mythers” having to “try desperately to explain away the historical evidence” found in these authors, I’ve examined for instance Doherty, Wells and other skeptics on these sources, and I see no indication of desperation in their treatment of these issues. On the contrary, they seem more than willing to explore them and interact with literalist defenses of their alleged value as evidence for the Christian view. In fact, Doherty devotes an entire chapter to Josephus in his book The Jesus Puzzle (see pp. 205-222). Wells dedicates a chapter of his book The Jesus Myth (see pp. 196-223) to “The Earliest Non-Christian Testimony,” and deals specifically with Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus. Josephus is a topic that has been raked over so thoroughly in the literature that it seems silly to rehash it. But it seems to impress you for some reason; why it does is not clear to me. Suetonius references a “Chrestus” in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), and many take this to mean the Jesus of the gospels. However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,” and even if “Chrestus” is taken to mean “Christ” or “Messiah,” that this passing reference somehow confirms the portraits of Jesus found in the gospels seems more than a stretch (perhaps desperation?). The relevant writings of Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus all date from after the beginning of the second century, and it is already granted that by this time stories about a Jesus had been circulating. So when Tacitus mentions a “Christ who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate,” he may very well have been reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, thus reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe. All these points have been considered and debated over and over again, they certainly pose no threat to the mythicist or other critical positions, and I find no evidence of the desperation you affirm to exist in the critical literature.

Indeed, Tim, it seems that if Christians had something stronger than appealing to these relatively late and non-contemporary sources to corroborate the gospel stories, they would. But they don’t because there is no independent contemporary witness to the gospel stories. What’s interesting is that writers who would have been contemporaries of the gospel Jesus, like Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and Philo Judaeus (20 BC – 50 AD), never mention Jesus. And yet, it seems that if Jesus had indeed garnered the international reputation at the time that the gospels ascribe to him, we might well expect such contemporary authors to take notice.

Tim continued: not to mention the Gospels, Acts, the epistles

These have already been dealt with above and in the sources that have been cited.

Now, earlier you had stated that there are “allusions” in Paul’s letters to details on the list that I gave from which we can infer that Paul’s audiences knew of those details. I’m still waiting for you to present some examples of this, and to defend this claim. So far, it seems you have abandoned this position. Is that true?

Regards,
Dawson

Evan said...

I was replying to Dawson's quotation from Tyro. The question in that sub-discussion is whether Jesus existed as a real physical person perambulating about Palestine in the early part of the first century A.D.

Close but no cigar. The purpose of this thread as Bart has repeatedly tried to show -- is that there was no argument in the proto-Christian community about the human nature of Jesus.

You bring up two heretics, one who solved that problem by claiming that Jesus was wholly human. The other who solved that problem by claiming Jesus was wholly God.

That BOTH supported Paul should suggest that followers of Paul could be converted by EITHER preacher and thus -- PAUL did not preach a Jesus who was fully man and fully God as later Proto-orthodox teaching was to teach.

The fact that both of these heretics had no problem with Paul should be a sign of great weakness to you. That you don't see it as a weakness speaks to a lack of understanding about what is being asserted here.

bart willruth said...

Tim responded

Bart,

You write:

Paul taught a divine Jesus, but in all argumentation with the Judaizers, there is no hint of an argument over the Jewish concept of God ...

If anyone has an alternate explanation for why there was no controversy in Paul's congregations, please address them.


Because, on this point, they agreed with him.

Tim,

Pardon me if I am underwhelmed. "On this point, they agreed with him." I see you dealt with the implications to the point of getting blisters.

Ok, let's go with your suggestion. Paul went from synagogue to synagogue in the region of Galatia, convincing the Jews and partially Judaized gentiles of the truth of his doctrine of Christ Jesus. He tells them that this person named Jesus had lived a few years before in the province of Gallilee, he had been crucified, and he subsequently rose up to heaven. In fact, he had actually been the God of Israel, the creater of all, existing incognito as a man. His true nature wasn't known until he arrived back to heaven, but now through the proper interpretation of the OT, it can be determined that he was God Himself.

Naturally, his audience of Jews and gentiles bought this story They were especially pleased when he told them that if they believed this doctrine, they could ignore all the dictates of the Torah.

Now comes a delegation of Jews from Jerusalem all up in arms about some of Paul's converts eating food offered to idols and refusing to be circumcized which would be the act of initiation into the covenant with God. Anathema! How dare Paul teach people that they could be in covenant relationship with God while ifnoring his laws. They corrected the heresy and brought many in the congregation back into compliance with Jewish law.

But while these religious policemen were completely scandalized by lapses in proper observance in obedience to God, on the issue of corrupting the very idea of God and His complete transcendence and wholly otherness from his material creation, "THEY AGREED WITH PAUL THAT A RECENTLY LIVING MAN WAS GOD HIMSELF." (paraphrase of Tim's quote above).

How does this make any sense? The very definition of God would have been under assault, and all the Judaizers were worried about was clipping off a bit of foreskin?

Once again, I will ask for anyone with a cogent argument which better explains the phenomenon of the lack of contention between Paul and the Judaizers over the concept of God than the possibility that Paul wasn't teaching a human Christ Jesus.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

Naturally, his audience of Jews and gentiles bought this story

You're simply conflating two groups of Jews: those who became Christians, and those who tried to silence, imprision, or kill those who became Christians. My contention is not, naturally, that the latter group found Paul's teaching congenial, but rather that the rift you think should be located within early Christianity was in fact one of the defining divisions between early Christianity and the surrounding Judaism.

Tim said...

Evan,

Actually, I wasn't asking you for a cigar. If I ever reach the point of craving your approval in the evaluation of an historical argument, it will be after you've demonstrated your historical chops beyond the level of a 12 second Google search.

I have dealt with Bart's argument in my responses to Bart.

With respect to Dawson's "Christ myth" position, the principal issue is not the reliability of the New Testament in general -- that's a related point, but it is not central. This explains why liberal Protestant theologians in Germany in the 19th and early 20th century, people like Harnack and Troeltsch and Schweitzer, came down so hard on the Christ myth theory despite the fact that they were themselves using literary criteria and philosophical presuppositions to sift through the gospel narratives in search of the "historical Jesus."

When the question is whether Jesus ever existed, pointing to the existence of early heretics is perfectly legitimate.

Yes, of course Christological heresies arose in the first century; this does not come as news to anyone who has studied church history. Yes, of course these early heretics tried to co-opt Paul -- good grief, have you seen what some people are still doing with him today?! -- and if we had lost all of Paul's epistles and the book of Acts, this lacuna might provide space for interminable speculation regarding what Paul actually wrote or said. But as we do have these documents, we need not speculate in vacuo. In the presence of well-authenticated texts of the epistles, the wackiness of some early heretics is irrelevant for the matter of understanding Paul as he understood himself.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you've described yourself as an evidentialist. Let's say you are right that Jesus really existed. What do you say the probabilities are that he did? Let's say you'd say it's 90% sure he existed. Have you ever tried picking out a number between 1-100 and been wrong based on those odds?

So where does that leave you? You're whole faith is based upon 90% odds. But that's not all. For next you'd have to defend that we actually have Jesus' words and that they weren't misrepresented by his disciples. Can you tell me the odds of them faithfully representing his words when there are clear instances of them putting words in his mouth based upon the sitz in leben? Thise odds are well below 50% even on your best count. And on it goes. What is the probability Jesus arose? What's the probability that you have the correct view of Christianity when there were early factions and factions today? The odds just keep getting smaller and smaller, don't they? Do a Baysian analysis of this, okay?

Then ask yourself why God would consign people to hell who truly see it differently and you'll see what I see, a barbaric thought policeman type God.

History and historical documents are a very poor medium for God to have chosen to reveal himself to us. If he did so, this makes him look stupid.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention – could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth? – But perhaps he is a god of goodness notwithstanding – and merely could not express himself more clearly! Did he perhaps lack intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? So much the worse!...Must he not then…be able to help and counsel [his creatures], except in the manner of a deaf man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or dog?"

Evan said...

Tim, by what standard do you consider Marcion and Cerinthus heretics?

By the standards that you feel are critically important, they knew FAR more about Christ than you do. They were closer to the original sources, had likely met "eyewitnesses" if there were any, they were more widely read in the primary sources and were likely contemporaries of people who knew Paul himself.

Yet they disagree with you.

How do you know that the authors of the synoptic Gospels held to a Christology you would consider to be orthodox? There is strong evidence that Luke held to a Docetic Christology.

You seem to brush aside the challenge of the spread of Docetism in the first century -- but it is a huge challenge. If a large numbers of readers of Paul converted to Docetism, it is most definitely an argument in favor of Bart's view.

Tim said...

Dawson,

You write:

[Dawson:] Over and over again in your responses, you demonstrate that you don’t really grasp the major points that have been raised in this thread.

Either that, or I do and they’re lousy.

[Dawson:] I have explained this repeatedly, and in none of your follow-up comments have you overcome the habit of reading the early epistolary strata through gospel-colored glasses.

Assertion without argument alert!

[Tim:] As the case actually stands, however, the mythers must try desperately to explain away the historical evidence found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal --

[Dawson:] What evidential value do you think can be found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal in regards to the claim that the portraits of Jesus in the NT gospels are historically accurate?


You’re changing the subject, which is whether Jesus existed.

[Dawson:] Let’s deal with specifics, I’d be happy to examine it with you.

You’re under the illusion that I’m engaging in this discussion because I need your help.

[Dawson:] As for “mythers” having to “try desperately to explain away the historical evidence” found in these authors, I’ve examined for instance Doherty, Wells and other skeptics on these sources, and I see no indication of desperation in their treatment of these issues. On the contrary, they seem more than willing to explore them and interact with literalist defenses of their alleged value as evidence for the Christian view. In fact, Doherty devotes an entire chapter to Josephus in his book The Jesus Puzzle (see pp. 205-222). Wells dedicates a chapter of his book The Jesus Myth (see pp. 196-223) to “The Earliest Non-Christian Testimony,” and deals specifically with Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus. Josephus is a topic that has been raked over so thoroughly in the literature that it seems silly to rehash it.

My point was not that the tone of the attempts is desperate but rather that the arguments exhibit the sort of overreaching that indicates an inability to argue the case within the ordinary canons of historical investigation. I’ve read Wells’s discussions carefully, and I’m completely unimpressed. The Josephus denials are particularly weak in view of the discovery of the uninterpolated Arabic text of the Testimonium.

Does it bother you just a little bit that the attempts by the mythers to “deal with” these sources have been dismissed by every serious historian to have looked at the issue, including conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, liberal Catholic, agnostic, and atheist historians?

[Dawson:] Suetonius references a “Chrestus” in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), and many take this to mean the Jesus of the gospels.

And rightly so.

[Dawson:] However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,”

Why would you expect him to do so?

[Dawson:] ... and even if “Chrestus” is taken to mean “Christ” or “Messiah,” ...

“Chrestus” is a known variant on “Christus,” which is the Greek term used to translate mashiyach in the Septuagint, so there is little room for doubt here.

[Dawson:] ... that this passing reference somehow confirms the portraits of Jesus found in the gospels seems more than a stretch (perhaps desperation?).

Here again you are misrepresenting my position and trying to shift the subject from the existence of Jesus to the accuracy of the gospels. If you are giving up on the mythic theory, we can move on. Otherwise, you are going to have to make your case, and that will have to include, inter alia, giving a historically credible explanation of the non-Christian references. Such attempts have been made since the days of Volney, and they have never impressed professional historians of the period. You are free, of course, to say that the entire guild of professional historians is prejudiced against your pet theory. But you do bear the burden of proof.

[Dawson:] The relevant writings of Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus all date from after the beginning of the second century, and it is already granted that by this time stories about a Jesus had been circulating. So when Tacitus mentions a “Christ who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate,” he may very well have been reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, thus reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe.

I have been unable to find anyone outside of the myther community who accepts this claim regarding Tacitus. His description in Annals 15.44 is hostile, even contemptuous. It bears no sign of having been obtained from interviews of Christians. Contrast this with Pliny’s letter to Trajan (Epistulae 10.96), which does contain information that Pliny obtained by interviewing (and torturing) Christians.

[Dawson:] All these points have been considered and debated over and over again, ...

They certainly have.

[Dawson:] ... they certainly pose no threat to the mythicist or other critical positions, ...

In the judgment of virtually every historian who has ever looked into the question, they are fatal to the mythicist position.

[Dawson:] and I find no evidence of the desperation you affirm to exist in the critical literature.

This admission leads me to conclude that you are not competent to evaluate historical arguments.

Indeed, Tim, it seems that if Christians had something stronger than appealing to these relatively late and non-contemporary sources to corroborate the gospel stories, they would. But they don’t because there is no independent contemporary witness to the gospel stories.

This statement sounds impressive to those who know nothing of the documentary remains of the first century A.D. It would be more telling if not for the fact that a printed copy of all of the writings of the first half of the first century would fill only about one linear foot on a bookshelf, and precious little of that deals with Palestine. (Thank the Romans for this: had Jerusalem not been destroyed, we would doubtless have more material.) It would also be more impressive if there were a strong reason to think that non-Christian contemporaries of Jesus would take enough interest in him to leave literary remains on the subject. But why should they?

[Dawson:] What’s interesting is that writers who would have been contemporaries of the gospel Jesus, like Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and Philo Judaeus (20 BC – 50 AD), never mention Jesus.

Here we have another common move of the mythers, the argument from silence. Again, this will impress those with no firsthand knowledge of history, since they are likely to assume that a writer could not fail to mention such a person as Jesus had he really existed. But the assumption is exploded by examples from secular history. Thucydides, for example, never mentions Socrates, though from our point of view Socrates was the principal character in Athens during the twenty years embraced in the History. No historian concludes from this silence either that Socrates did not exist or that Thucydides was inventing his history. Pliny, who in a pair of letters written to Tacitus gives a meticulous eyewitness description of the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, never mentions the fact that the eruption buried two very populous cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii. No historian doubts the authenticity and substantial accuracy of Pliny’s letters on this account. Examples like this can be multiplied at will by anyone who has bothered to do work in the primary sources of history. Ignorance of these examples is, perhaps, one of the major factors separating the mythers from the historians.

[Dawson:] And yet, it seems that if Jesus had indeed garnered the international reputation at the time that the gospels ascribe to him, ...

The gospels ascribe an international reputation to Jesus within his lifetime? Dawson, have you ever read the gospels?

[Dawson:] Now, earlier you had stated that there are “allusions” in Paul’s letters to details on the list that I gave from which we can infer that Paul’s audiences knew of those details. I’m still waiting for you to present some examples of this, and to defend this claim. So far, it seems you have abandoned this position. Is that true?

Yet again you are misrepresenting my position, a habit that you indulge sufficiently often that it is no wonder if sane people eventually abandon the attempt to have a discussion with you. I never said that Paul alludes to the details on your list. By your own admission, you constructed the list to include details that were left out of the gospels. As I pointed out to you above, this renders your list worthless (unless you have been inadvertent) since it is very easy to construct a similar list for any letter or set of letters dealing with a real figure from history about whom we have extensive independent documentation. This variation on the argument from silence provides no evidence that the figure was not real: all that it establishes is the tautology that Paul did not mention the things in the gospels that he did not mention.

The only interesting question is whether there are sufficient reasons to identify the person of whom Paul speaks with the person of whom the gospels speak. For that, Harvey’s list of allusions to features of the life of Jesus that are also depicted in the gospels gives you a good place to start.

bart willruth said...

Tim said,

You're simply conflating two groups of Jews: those who became Christians, and those who tried to silence, imprision, or kill those who became Christians. My contention is not, naturally, that the latter group found Paul's teaching congenial, but rather that the rift you think should be located within early Christianity was in fact one of the defining divisions between early Christianity and the surrounding Judaism.

Tim,

Are you suggesting that Paul's preaching was not done in the context of Diaspora synagogues?

Are you suggesting that the Jews among Paul's followers no longer thought of themselves as part of Israel?

Are you suggesting that Christianized Jews would have huge issues with matters of proper observance to the God of Israel, but would have had no issues whatsoever with the altered understanding of the Jewish concept and definition of the God who ordered those observances?

Regarding the discussion you are having with Evan concerning Marcion, Please get out a map of Asia Minor in the ancient world. Please note that Marcion hailed from Sinope on the shore of the Black Sea, just a short distance from the border of Galatia. His proximity to Paul's earliest congregations make it quite likely that his belief system grew out of that of Paul's actual teachings. His rejection of the humanity of Jesus in a Docetic conceptualization of a descent of the divine Jesus may have been a very close approximation to Paul's thinking and could explain why there was no controversy over the nature of Jesus in the Pauline congregations.

Tim said...

John,

I see you're trying to use Plantinga-style dwindling probabilities argument. As I've mentioned before, this will fail.

I'd say that the probability that Jesus existed, given the public evidence, is better than the probability that you will not be killed by an asteroid today.

It is not necessary to maintain that we have all and only the exact words of Jesus in order to maintain that we have a substantially accurate picture of his life and sayings in the gospels. I am, however, unimpressed by most of Ehrman's examples in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I discussed this issue at some length with the late lamented Bruce Metzger, Bart's dissertation director, about a decade ago. Metzger was also unpersuaded.

For the math part, your propositions are not plausibly probabilistically independent or even approximately so.

Tim said...

Bart,

You ask:

Are you suggesting that Paul's preaching was not done in the context of Diaspora synagogues?

No. But you'll note from the book of Acts how well Paul's message was received by those who remained Jews in those synagogues.

Are you suggesting that the Jews among Paul's followers no longer thought of themselves as part of Israel?

No. But this will do no work for you unless you add the assumption that no one could consider himself to be part of Israel unless he rejected a high christology.

Are you suggesting that Christianized Jews would have huge issues with matters of proper observance to the God of Israel, but would have had no issues whatsoever with the altered understanding of the Jewish concept and definition of the God who ordered those observances?

Yes, this seems most likely. That is one of the key things that distinguished them from non-Christianized Jews.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

Please get out a map of Asia Minor in the ancient world. Please note that Marcion hailed from Sinope on the shore of the Black Sea, just a short distance from the border of Galatia. His proximity to Paul's earliest congregations make it quite likely that his belief system grew out of that of Paul's actual teachings.

You and I clearly have different standards for what it means for one thing to make another quite likely.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, I'm dealing not with a philosophical argument about dwindling probabilities, but an argument having to do with historical probabilites, which is what an evidentialist like you depends upon for his faith, and placing it in the context of the supposed final damnation of people who sincerely get it wrong.

Any historian will tell you the problems he faces when researching into the past. The historian attempts to write an accurate report of what happened in the past given the hindsight implications of that past for his day and age. That’s the goal. Writing this historical record cannot be divorced from the hindsight implications for his era, for some events in the past may not have been viewed by the people of the past as importantly as they are viewed in his own day. Conversely, the people of the past may have viewed other events more importantly than they are considered at the time of the historian. That’s why historians have to continue re-examining the past to see how it needs to be re-written. History is written from the perspective of the historian, and it’s unavoidable to do otherwise. The question here is whether or not the perspective of the people in the past is preferable to the perspective of the present day historian. This is where the historian’s values unavoidably enter into the picture.

Consider the claim that Columbus “discovered” America. Certainly that was big news to the European people of the past, and likewise to present people today, for it did change the world to a very large degree, but depending on your perspective the change may not have been good. Columbus called the inhabitants of the Americas, “Indians,” because he thought he had reached the coasts of India. This on hindsight we know to be false. But it took a hindsight perspective to see this, so history has a way of correcting how we view the past. Another claim is that he “discovered” the Americas. Did he? Well it depends upon your perspective, doesn’t it? If Native Americans were writing that history they would say he didn’t discover America. They did! Europeans wrote about that great “discovery” and what it gained for them by bridging the two worlds, but Native Americans would have described how it destroyed their civilization with diseases, land grabbing, massive Buffalo slaughter, and the subsequent westward expansion of these foreigners.

D.W. Bebbington (Ph.D., Cambridge) describes the problem of the historian: “The historian’s history is molded by his values, his outlook, and his world-view. It is never the evidence alone that dictates what is written. The attitudes that a historian brings to the evidence form an equally important element in the creation of history. The bias of a historian enters his history. The historian himself is part of the historical process, powerfully influenced by his time and place. The problem of the historian himself nevertheless dictates that two historians presented with the same evidence are likely to reach different conclusions. This is true of people living in the same period; it is more true of people living in different periods. That is why each age writes history that reflects its own concerns.”[i]

According to E. Schillebeeckx, “Historical objectivity is not a reconstruction of the past in its unrepeatable factuality, it is the truth of the past in the light of the present.”[ii] Albert Nolan has argued this point with regard to Jesus: “To imagine that one can have historical objectivity without a perspective is an illusion. One perspective, however, can be better than another, [but] the only perspective open to us is the one given to us by the historical situation in which we find ourselves. If we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of Jesus from the vantage point of our present circumstances, then we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of him at all.”[iii]

Of course, this historical problem is compounded further when we understand that the evidence the historian considers is the stuff of the past, and the past is not immediately available for investigation. Time separates the historian from his subject matter. The historian “cannot conduct opinion polls on the dead.” And there is a “paucity of evidence” for a great part of the past. According to Bebbington, “Our knowledge of the earlier middle ages depends on a tiny number of written sources that can be eked out by such supplementary material as place-names and coinage.” Furthermore, the evidence is not always reliable. According to Bebbington, “forgeries and misrepresentations, whether from good or bad motives, litter the world’s archives. The historian, therefore, develops a skeptical turn of mind. Original documents may themselves mislead; and what books about the past claim is much more likely to be wrong. History demands a critical frame of mind.” Because of these problems Bebbington states the obvious: “Written history cannot correspond precisely with the actual past.” “To write a value-free account of the past is beyond the historian’s power.[iv]

One school of thought headed up by Leopold Von Ranke actually sought to do this. Their goal was to write history “free from prejudices,” and in so doing write the events of the past “as they actually happened.” But most all modern historians think this is impossible to do. Harry Elmer Barnes argues against this possibility. In the first place, modern psychology has completely undermined total historical objectivity by showing that “no truly excellent piece of intellectual work can be executed without real interest and firm convictions.” In other words, total objectivity in a subject is impossible. Secondly, Barnes reminds us that each historical event is essentially unique never to be repeated in its entirety. Hence, “no one can ever entirely recreate this historical entity…it is manifestly impossible to create the past ‘as it actually happened.’”[v]

Karl Popper has argued that verifying the assassination of Caesar is impossible because verification would require an “infinite regress” of documentation. For example, to verify it we would have to verify the source leading us to that conclusion. But then we’d also need to verify the source that verifies that Caesar was assassinated, which would need to be verified and so on, and so on. Maybe Popper seeks too strict of a verification process. Nonetheless with each independent source used to verify the previous source, the probability diminishes for the original event we seek to verify.[vi] Some thinkers like Carl Becker have gone so far as to deny that we can know the past with any objectivity at all—that historical facts only exist in the mind, and they advocate a historical relativism with regard to the events of the past.[vii]


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] D. W. Bebbington, Patterns of History: A Christian View (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), pp. 5-8.

[ii] God, the Future of Man (Sheed and Ward LTD, 1968), p. 24.

[iii] Jesus Before Christianity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1978), p. 4.

[iv] Bebbington, Patterns of History: A Christian View, p. 12.

[v] A History of Historical Writing (Dover Books, 1962), pp. 266-271.

[vi] Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (New York: Routledge) p. 29-31.

[vii] “What are Historical Facts?” in The Philosophy of History in Our Time, ed. H. Meyerhoff (New York: Doubleday, 1959), pp. 120-39.

John W. Loftus said...

Since you had mentioned Plantinga, he agrees with me.

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga seems to concurs with Lessing and Kierkegaard when he argues against historical knowledge being the basis for his faith, by saying, “our background knowledge, historical and otherwise (excluding what we know by way of faith or revelation), isn’t anywhere nearly sufficient to support serious belief in the great truths of the gospel. If [our background knowledge] were all we had to go on, the only sensible course would be agnosticism: “I don’t know whether [the great truths of the Gospel are] true or not: all I can say for sure is that it is not terribly unlikely.”[i] In response to someone who asks whether we can discover that the Bible is divinely inspired in the same way as we learn that Herodotus and Xenophon were reliable writers of what they heard and saw, he wrote, “I don’t think so. Even discounting the effects of sin on our apprehension of the historical case, that case isn’t strong enough to produce warranted belief that the main lines of Christian teaching are true—at most, it could produce the warranted belief that the main lines of Christian teaching aren’t particularly improbable.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford university Press, 2000), p. 280.

Tim said...

John,

On historical objectivity and its detractors, it is of course easy to list quotations from historians saying things like this. That is Dilthey's legacy. Yet not all facts are equally theory laden. It is one thing to quibble about the various senses in which one might claim or deny that Columbus "discovered" the new world; it is quite another to quibble about whether Columbus ever existed, where no similar question of semantics intrudes.

The reference to Popper is a bit misleading. Popper believed that scientific theories, as well, could not be verified, not because of a deficiency in the evidence but because he denied the possibility of empirical verification altogether. As it happens, I think his position on the epistemological issue is wrong. But setting that aside, it is hardly helpful to the non-Christian's case to put the resurrection of Jesus and the assassination of Caesar into the same evidential category.

As far as Plantinga is concerned, he has subsequently acknowledged that he had misunderstood Swinburne and that "there is a significantly different way to construe such arguments, one that
isn’t, directly, anyway, subject to the Principle of Dwindling Probabilities."

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you are indefatigable!

You want examples? Did Adam and Eve exist? Cain and Abel? Abraham, Israel, Joseph, or King David himself? How about Judas Iscariot, or Joseph of Arimathea?

Then too, what about King Arthur? Or the many figures in the Mormon Bible, including Moroni?

You want more examples about the lack of assurance in history?

How were the Egyptian pyramids made? Who made them? Why? Was Shakespeare a fictitious name for Francis Bacon? Exactly how was the Gettysburg battle fought and won? What was the true motivation for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves? What happened at Custer's last stand? Who killed President John F. Kennedy? Why? Who knew what and when during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to President Nixon resigning? Why did America lose the “war” in Vietnam? Did George W. Bush legitimately win the 2000 election? Did President Bush knowingly lead us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses? What about some high profile criminal cases? Is O.J. Simpson a murderer? Who killed Jon Bene Ramsey? Is Michael Jackson a pedophile?

History is a slender reed to hang one's hat on when it comes to metaphysical beliefs in general, especially one that reports the miraculous, which we do not experience in today's world.

Tim said...

John,

My claim was not that there are no doubtful existence claims in history, but that there are some that are so clear that no amount of vaporing about "perspectives" puts them in serious doubt.

But you're scaring me with this one:

Who killed President John F. Kennedy?

If you are prepared to defend a JFK conspiracy theory in order to bolster historical skepticism about Christianity, I think that's my exit cue on this discussion.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, when it comes to who killed Kennedy I agree with the report produced by his brother who was US Attorney General at the time. But, am I required to know this such that if I'm wrong I'll be sent to hell? Hell no! I might be wrong on almost every historical question.

I don't suppose you're a black man either, for nearly 80% of black people in America think O.J. Simpson was framed by racist cops, since that has been their experience. As white people we don't have that experience so we tend to trust cops. And as white people who think the government does mostly right by us, we trust it when it tells us who killed Kennedy. But we haven't experienced some of the things that the conspiracists have with regard to what they consider oppressive policies and haphazard enforcement.

I don't think you really appreciate the fact that how we see history depends on where we are in history and what we experience, which is my point. Have you ever taken a class in the philosophy of history? As smart as you are I would think you should before you continue arguing that your faith is built on the evidence of history. You have a strangely simplistic naïveté about this.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim: My claim was not that there are no doubtful existence claims in history, but that there are some that are so clear that no amount of vaporing about "perspectives" puts them in serious doubt.

Yes, I agree with you. There was no Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Israel, Joseph, King David, Judas Iscariot, nor Joseph of Arimathea.

In the cases of the first seven people mentioned above it is "so clear that no amount of vaporing about 'perspectives' puts them in serious doubt."

Do you disagree? Many people do.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, now add to this discussion the claims of the miraculous in the historical past and your whole case vanishes.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote: What evidential value do you think can be found in Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Juvenal in regards to the claim that the portraits of Jesus in the NT gospels are historically accurate?

Tim: You’re changing the subject, which is whether Jesus existed.

I see now where you’ve gotten yourself confused in this thread. If you review what I’ve been stating, I’ve been quite consistent in defending the position that the gospels are legends, not the view that Jesus never existed. I have nowhere presented an argument with the purpose of concluding that Jesus never existed. I made this clear early on in my comments in this thread when I wrote in response to a comment by Jessy:

Where Doherty may be regarded as a "mythicist," I can be regarded as a "legendist" - I think it's clearly the case that the stories we read in the gospels and the book of Acts are the product of legendary developments, regardless of whether or not Mark came first, regardless of whether or not there was ultimately a human being named Jesus which initially inspired sacred stories messianic heroism.

I think Doherty makes a lot of good points, even if one rejects his mythicist conclusions. And as I pointed out to Harvey, One can be skeptical of Doherty’s grand conclusion and yet recognize that he uncovers many damning facts in the process.

So if you’re going to dialogue with me, Tim, you might want at least to get my position straight.

Tim: My point was not that the tone of the attempts is desperate but rather that the arguments exhibit the sort of overreaching that indicates an inability to argue the case within the ordinary canons of historical investigation.

Thanks for clarifying your statement. But still, you give no example of what you’ve charged against Doherty, Wells and others in the mythicist camp. As for “ordinary canons of historical investigation,” can you show us what you have in mind here, and where and how Doherty, Wells and other mythicists defy or flout these?

Tim: I’ve read Wells’s discussions carefully, and I’m completely unimpressed.

If you’ve read Wells, then you should know that he bases many (if not most) of his points on conclusions and admissions made by many authorities in history and apologetics. One can hardly read a paragraph in one of Wells’ books without encountering a damning statement from highly respected sources.

Tim: The Josephus denials are particularly weak in view of the discovery of the uninterpolated Arabic text of the Testimonium.

I’m not sure what you mean by “Josephus denials” here, but even if we suppose that the Testimonium is authentic, specifically what value is it?

Tim: Does it bother you just a little bit that the attempts by the mythers to “deal with” these sources have been dismissed by every serious historian to have looked at the issue, including conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, liberal Catholic, agnostic, and atheist historians?

This is a common tactic on the part of apologists: assume that all “serious historians” are monolithic in their views and also in their condemnation of “the attempts by the mythers to ‘deal with’ these sources.” You say that Doherty’s attempts “have been dismissed by every serious historian” who has looked into these issues, which is more than just a general statement. Where’s your support for this? Is the mark of a “serious historian” his dismissal of Doherty’s attempts? If so, then you offer a mere tautology. Is there something more substantial that you have to support your statement? I don’t know, for you don’t give anything to support it here.

I wrote: Suetonius references a “Chrestus” in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), and many take this to mean the Jesus of the gospels.

Tim: And rightly so.

How is that “rightly so”? How does a passing reference to “Chrestus” serve to indicate specifically the Jesus of the gospels? How does a passing reference to “Chrestus” mean specifically someone who was born of a virgin, who was baptized by John the Baptist, who performed miracles and healed congenital blindness, who was the Son of God, etc.? These elements are part of the identity of the Jesus of the gospels. How can we take Suetonius’ reference to “Chrestus” as confirmation of the truth of the gospels’ portraits?

I wrote: However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,”

Tim: Why would you expect him to do so?

It’s not about what I expect of Suetonius, it’s about what he says and also about what he fails to say. “Christ” was a title indicating a station, “Jesus” is a name of a person.

I wrote: ... and even if “Chrestus” is taken to mean “Christ” or “Messiah,” ...

Tim: “Chrestus” is a known variant on “Christus,” which is the Greek term used to translate mashiyach in the Septuagint, so there is little room for doubt here.

That’s fine. But again, what value is it as evidence? Evidence specifically for what?

I wrote: ... that this passing reference somehow confirms the portraits of Jesus found in the gospels seems more than a stretch (perhaps desperation?).

Tim: Here again you are misrepresenting my position and trying to shift the subject from the existence of Jesus to the accuracy of the gospels.

My point has always been the vast discrepancy between the early epistolary strata and the portraits we find in the gospels, Tim. So I’m not really shifting anything. In fact, I’m trying to bring the discussion back to my point.

Tim: If you are giving up on the mythic theory, we can move on.

Can you find any statement of mine where I affirm the mythic theory? Again, you seem to have missed some of my own comments, and thus are not fully aware of my position. It really makes no difference to me whether Jesus was a myth or originally a real person.

Tim: Otherwise, you are going to have to make your case, and that will have to include, inter alia, giving a historically credible explanation of the non-Christian references.

Why do I specifically have to do this? What is so historically incredible about Doherty’s, Wells’ and others’ treatments of these references? You’ve asserted that they are overreaching, that “every serious historian” rejects them, that they are untenable or what have you, over and over again. But I’ve not seen anything specific here to suggest that Doherty and Wells in particular have gotten these things wrong. It’s not enough to claim that “every serious historian” rejects them. Such claims need ample substantiation, given their universality, and you’ve not even begun to take up this task.

I wrote: The relevant writings of Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus all date from after the beginning of the second century, and it is already granted that by this time stories about a Jesus had been circulating. So when Tacitus mentions a “Christ who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate,” he may very well have been reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, thus reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe.

Tim: I have been unable to find anyone outside of the myther community who accepts this claim regarding Tacitus.

RT France, a respected NT scholar who is no friend of the mythicist position, calls Wells’ case for Tacitus’ reference to “Chrestus” as coming either form interviews with Christians or from hearsay about what they believed “entirely convincing” (The Evidence for Jesus, p. 23). In his The Historical Figure of Jesus, EP Sanders – another NT scholar – admits that “Roman sources that mention Jesus are all dependent on Christian reports” (p. 49), where Suetonius’ mention of “Chrestus” is taken to mean Jesus.

Now what is the alternative that you prefer, and what evidence do you have for that alternative? Many apologists take the unsupported position that Tacitus looked it up in Roman records. But why then would he refer to Jesus as “Chrestus”? Would the Roman records have stated that ‘the Christ’ or ‘the Messiah’ was crucified? Would the Roman records have inaccurately given Pilate the title “procurator”?

Tim: His description in Annals 15.44 is hostile, even contemptuous. It bears no sign of having been obtained from interviews of Christians.

Either way, the very use of “Chrestus” – if this is supposed to refer to the Christian messiah – strongly suggests that Roman records were not the source of Tacitus’ information about a person being crucified under Pilate. Also, giving Pilate the title “procurator” also speaks against this. So, if not from interviews with Christians, or hearsay that he gathered from conversations with persons acquainted with what Christians believed by this time, what do you take as Tacitus’ source of information here, and why?

I wrote: All these points have been considered and debated over and over again,
they certainly pose no threat to the mythicist or other critical positions, ...


Tim: In the judgment of virtually every historian who has ever looked into the question, they are fatal to the mythicist position.

Well, until you present “the judgment of virtually every historian who has” not only “looked into the question,” but who has reviewed Doherty’s, Wells’ and other mythicists’ points on these non-Christian references, we only have your judgment that these references are “fatal to the mythicist position.” These references are relatively late, well into the time when at least one or two of the gospels were in circulation, well into the time when the legend of Jesus had grown to the point of setting his crucifixion under Pilate. So they certainly are not damaging to the legendist case that I would defend, so I don’t see how they would be damaging to the mythicist case either. When Wells backed away from the mythicist case, it surely was not because of a passing reference to “Chrestus” in Suetonius.

I wrote: What’s interesting is that writers who would have been contemporaries of the gospel Jesus, like Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and Philo Judaeus (20 BC – 50 AD), never mention Jesus.

Tim: Here we have another common move of the mythers, the argument from silence.

As corroborative evidence, argument from silence is not necessarily fallacious or invalid. In the proper context, it can be quite damning.

Tim: Again, this will impress those with no firsthand knowledge of history, since they are likely to assume that a writer could not fail to mention such a person as Jesus had he really existed.

It’s not only that they fail to mention Jesus, who’s fame (according to the gospels) had spread quite far during his own lifetime, but also the slaughter of the innocents or “a night of the living-righteous-undead” (as one commentator puts it), both of which only Matthew reports.

Tim: But the assumption is exploded by examples from secular history. Thucydides, for example, never mentions Socrates, though from our point of view Socrates was the principal character in Athens during the twenty years embraced in the History. No historian concludes from this silence either that Socrates did not exist or that Thucydides was inventing his history.

I would be more impressed by this as an attempt to bolster your effort to downplay deafening Pauline silences if Thucydides had written volumes about Socrates but failed to mention that he was a teacher, a philosopher, a thinker, etc. That would be closer to what we find in Paul vis-à-vis the gospels: here we have numerous letters achingly preaching about Jesus, but nowhere do they speak of Jesus as a teacher, a miracle-worker, a healer, an exorcist, etc., etc., etc. As the Jesus cult grew, so did the stories about who he was and what he did. That’s very characteristic of legend-building, and the pattern we find in the NT is precisely what we would expect to find if the gospels and later writings were the product of legend-building.


I wrote: And yet, it seems that if Jesus had indeed garnered the international reputation at the time that the gospels ascribe to him, ...

Tim: The gospels ascribe an international reputation to Jesus within his lifetime?

Are you faulting me specifically for using of the word “international” here? The gospels speak of Jesus’ fame spreading throughout the region, from Palestine and Galilee and into Syria and other places (see Mt. 4:24; 9:26, 31; 14:1; Mk. 1:28; Lk. 4:14; 4:37; 5:15, et al.) My point is that Jesus’ reputation as a healer and miracle-worker, according to the gospels, reached far and wide during the lifetime the gospels give to him. Gospel passages which speak of Jesus’ fame in this manner are most likely the product of evangelistic exaggeration. Paul's Jesus, on the other hand, was "emptied" and lived in obscurity.

Tim: Dawson, have you ever read the gospels?

Yes, both as a believer (in my misguided youth), and now as a non-believer. Glancing back at my 20’s, I now wonder, “What was I thinking?” whenever I look at the gospels. I know many others who have asked themselves the same question.

Tim: Yet again you are misrepresenting my position, a habit that you indulge sufficiently often that it is no wonder if sane people eventually abandon the attempt to have a discussion with you. I never said that Paul alludes to the details on your list.

You are welcome to clarify what you meant by ‘allusions’ then. Recall that I had asked:

How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus?

And you responded:

One good way is by looking at all of places where he makes allusions that they could not have understood unless they already knew the outlines of the story of the life of Jesus.

I was hoping you could give examples of what you mean here.

Tim: By your own admission, you constructed the list to include details that were left out of the gospels.

Huh? The details on my list (e.g., virgin birth, born in Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocents, Jesus’ baptism, female witnesses, etc.) are taken from the gospels, not “left out of the gospels.” I think you meant to say “left out of Paul’s letters,” no?

Tim: As I pointed out to you above, this renders your list worthless (unless you have been inadvertent) since it is very easy to construct a similar list for any letter or set of letters dealing with a real figure from history about whom we have extensive independent documentation.

You’ve claimed this before, but I can think of no parallel situation to Paul’s letters preaching about Jesus. For Paul, Jesus was not just some person who existed in the past that he mentions in passing in a letter or two. Paul is preaching, and he’s preaching Jesus crucified and resurrected, and the portrait he paints of Jesus is nondescript by comparison to what we find in the gospels. The silences we have in Paul are much harder to explain than supposing this is a common practice in secular writings. Paul repeatedly issues moral teachings, and while he nowhere attributes those teachings to the earthly Jesus, we find in the gospels that evangelists have taken those teachings and thrust them into Jesus’ mouth, in order to give those teachings authority (apparently those teachings were not thought to be good enough on their own).

Tim: This variation on the argument from silence provides no evidence that the figure was not real: all that it establishes is the tautology that Paul did not mention the things in the gospels that he did not mention.

As I have stated before, and apparently need to state again, whether or not there was a real man named Jesus at some point in history prior to Paul’s writings who originally inspired a cult of religious hero-worship, is really of no concern to me. I’ve gone on record more than once in this thread declaring that my position is that the gospel stories are the product of legend-building, not that Jesus never existed.

And Paul’s variant portrait of Jesus as compared to the gospels has much greater value than the mere tautology you grant here. But the fact that you grant that Paul is silent on numerous details that are central to the portrait of Jesus given in the gospels, is sufficient admission for my purposes to confirm that my position has a valid basis.

Tim: The only interesting question is whether there are sufficient reasons to identify the person of whom Paul speaks with the person of whom the gospels speak.

And this is essentially the question I’ve been raising, Tim. If you go back and review the themes that I have been developing in my comments here and in my writings elsewhere, you’ll see that the question you mention here is quite topical.

Tim: For that, Harvey’s list of allusions to features of the life of Jesus that are also depicted in the gospels gives you a good place to start.

And I’ve interacted with Harvey already above. Harvey seemed unaware of my point that later evangelists were in the position to lift elements from Paul’s letters – such as the moral teachings I mentioned above – and incorporate them into their portrait of Jesus in the gospels. Over and over, the historicists seem unable to grasp this point, which I don’t think is that difficult to grasp.

Regards,
Dawson

Tim said...

Dawson,

When you wrote:

Where Doherty may be regarded as a "mythicist," I can be regarded as a "legendist" - I think it's clearly the case that the stories we read in the gospels and the book of Acts are the product of legendary developments, regardless of whether or not Mark came first, regardless of whether or not there was ultimately a human being named Jesus which initially inspired sacred stories messianic heroism.

I took you, I think naturally enough, to be siding with the mythers to this extent: that you disbelieve that there is abundant evidence that a real messianic teacher named Jesus, who stands behind the gospel accounts (whether they are legends or memoirs), existed in Palestine in the first quarter of the first century.

This statement seems to reinforce that interpretation:

It really makes no difference to me whether Jesus was a myth or originally a real person.

Presumably if you thought there were strong evidence for it, you wouldn’t say this. Compare: “It really makes no difference to me whether Abraham Lincoln was a myth or originally a real person.” If someone said this, what should we infer about what he thinks of the evidence for the existence of Lincoln?

But now you’re telling me (aren’t you?) that you do not disbelieve this. That’s great! My mistake, then. Let’s move on.

You wrote to Harvey:

One can be skeptical of Doherty’s grand conclusion and yet recognize that he uncovers many damning facts in the process.

Like what?

Tim: My point was not that the tone of the attempts is desperate but rather that the arguments exhibit the sort of overreaching that indicates an inability to argue the case within the ordinary canons of historical investigation.

[Dawson:] Thanks for clarifying your statement. But still, you give no example of what you’ve charged against Doherty, Wells and others in the mythicist camp. As for “ordinary canons of historical investigation,” can you show us what you have in mind here, and where and how Doherty, Wells and other mythicists defy or flout these?


Canon #1: Arguments from silence are virtually always worthless in history. Examples have been given above. Did you need more? Why?

Tim: I’ve read Wells’s discussions carefully, and I’m completely unimpressed.

If you’ve read Wells, then you should know that he bases many (if not most) of his points on conclusions and admissions made by many authorities in history and apologetics. One can hardly read a paragraph in one of Wells’ books without encountering a damning statement from highly respected sources.


Not on Josephus, as I recall.

Tim: The Josephus denials are particularly weak in view of the discovery of the uninterpolated Arabic text of the Testimonium.

[Dawson:] I’m not sure what you mean by “Josephus denials” here, but even if we suppose that the Testimonium is authentic, specifically what value is it?


In the uninterpolated version of Agapius? Let’s see. It tells us that Jesus was a real Jewish teacher around the time of John the Baptist. It characterizes him as wise, says that his conduct was good, and indicates that he was known for his virtue. It tells us that many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. It tells us that he was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, that his disciples did not abandon their discipleship after his crucifixion, and that he was reported by his disciples to have appeared to them alive three days after his crucifixion.

Not bad, eh?

Tim: Does it bother you just a little bit that the attempts by the mythers to “deal with” these sources have been dismissed by every serious historian to have looked at the issue, including conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, liberal Catholic, agnostic, and atheist historians?

This is a common tactic on the part of apologists: assume that all “serious historians” are monolithic in their views and also in their condemnation of “the attempts by the mythers to ‘deal with’ these sources.” You say that Doherty’s attempts ...


I did not say Doherty’s attempts: I said the attempts by the mythers, of whom there have been many. Doherty’s attempt seems to have attracted almost no notice; what little it has received has come only within the past year or so.

... “have been dismissed by every serious historian” who has looked into these issues, which is more than just a general statement. Where’s your support for this?

I did name a dozen sources early in this thread when I was interacting with Tyro on the subject. How many did you need?

Is the mark of a “serious historian” his dismissal of Doherty’s attempts?

It is not a definition, though it might be a good criterion.

If so, then you offer a mere tautology. Is there something more substantial that you have to support your statement? I don’t know, for you don’t give anything to support it here.

Check out the list above. Maybe that wasn’t enough for you, so I’ll double it: Ernst Troeltsch, Adolf von Harnack, B. B. Warfield, Shirley Jackson Case, Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, F. F. Bruce, Robert van Voorst, I. Howard Marshall, James D. G. Dunn, R. T. France (on whom more below), and Martin Hengel. Now you have the names of two dozen professional historical scholars, past and present, conservative and liberal, who think that the “Christ myth” theory is ridiculous. Several of them have written books or articles or book chapters about it.

If you feel moved, you might want to compile a matching list of the scholars with earned doctorates in history or New Testament studies or Classics and a tenured or tenure-track position at an accredited academic institution in any western nation who have endorsed the Christ Myth position. If you reach two dozen, please do publish it here: I would be most interested to know.

[Dawson:] I wrote: Suetonius references a “Chrestus” in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), and many take this to mean the Jesus of the gospels.

Tim: And rightly so.

[Dawson:] How is that “rightly so”? How does a passing reference to “Chrestus” serve to indicate specifically the Jesus of the gospels?


It is evidence, Dawson, not a proof. The identification explains several things well: the name, the disturbance, and Claudius’s action. It also dovetails rather well with the Nazareth Inscription, which is plausibly dated to Claudius’s reign.

How does a passing reference to “Chrestus” mean specifically someone who was born of a virgin, who was baptized by John the Baptist, who performed miracles and healed congenital blindness, who was the Son of God, etc.? These elements are part of the identity of the Jesus of the gospels.

Here you are simply misrepresenting the claim of those who see in Suetonius’s remark a reference to Jesus. Two people may use names to refer to the same third individual without sharing all of the information about that third individual. The subject of how names refer is a vexed one in the philosophy of language, but no one that I know of would accept your suggestion that a description theory requires that one intend all of the descriptive information meant by any other user; it is sufficient if the definite descriptions pick out the same individual.

How can we take Suetonius’ reference to “Chrestus” as confirmation of the truth of the gospels’ portraits?

Indirectly: it places Jesus on the ground within a specified window of time, roughly 5 B.C. to 35 A.D., and within Judaism. This means that documents written about him within the next generation or two are less likely to be complete forgeries, as there were people who would have known the actual facts and been able to correct the misstatements.

Such evidence is quite valuable in historical work. If we found evidence like that for William Tell, the entire nation of Switzerland would rejoice, even if it said nothing about the apple episode.

I wrote: However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,”

Tim: Why would you expect him to do so?

[Dawson:] It’s not about what I expect of Suetonius, it’s about what he says and also about what he fails to say. “Christ” was a title indicating a station, “Jesus” is a name of a person.


Why should this observation have weight? For what it is worth, Suetonius probably thought “Chrestus” was a proper name: Χρηστος (“good, excellent, kind”) was a common name among Graeco-Roman slaves and freedmen. See TDNT 9: 484-85. The phonological confusion of eta for iota in this word is well documented, even among Christians. Tertullian even makes an allusion to the common mistake and a play on the meaning of “Chrestus” (Ad Nat. 1.3.9). This helps to explain why Suetonius got the spelling wrong.

[Dawson:] I wrote: ... and even if “Chrestus” is taken to mean “Christ” or “Messiah,” ...

Tim: “Chrestus” is a known variant on “Christus,” which is the Greek term used to translate mashiyach in the Septuagint, so there is little room for doubt here.

[Dawson:] That’s fine. But again, what value is it as evidence? Evidence specifically for what?


For the existence, in the first quarter of the first century A.D., of the person about whom Paul was writing and about whom the gospel stories, whether true or false, were written.

[Dawson:] My point has always been the vast discrepancy between the early epistolary strata and the portraits we find in the gospels, Tim. So I’m not really shifting anything. In fact, I’m trying to bring the discussion back to my point.

Tim: Otherwise, you are going to have to make your case, and that will have to include, inter alia, giving a historically credible explanation of the non-Christian references.

[Dawson:] Why do I specifically have to do this?


You don’t. Just agree that the mythers are going beyond the bounds of reasonableness, and you’re off the hook on this point as far as I’m concerned. But it looks like you don’t want to do that, as you continue:

[Dawson:] What is so historically incredible about Doherty’s, Wells’ and others’ treatments of these references?

Aside from the intrinsic weakness of some of their arguments, particularly the arguments from silence, the problem is that they need to explain all of the secular data away. If any one of them is a genuine independent reference to the same person to whom the gospels refer, then the mythic theory is shot. Now, one or two might be explained away, particularly if they were both from one source and an argument could be made that this source was unreliable or derived information entirely from Christian writings. But every additional reference from another non-Christian source adds to the implausibility of the attempt to explain them away.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as they also have to explain away the gospels, Acts, and the epistles.

You’ve asserted that they are overreaching, that “every serious historian” rejects them, that they are untenable or what have you, over and over again. But I’ve not seen anything specific here to suggest that Doherty and Wells in particular have gotten these things wrong. It’s not enough to claim that “every serious historian” rejects them. Such claims need ample substantiation, given their universality, and you’ve not even begun to take up this task.

Let’s start with the fact that the argument from silence, which is their stock in trade, is worthless. I have given you examples. If you know any history, you’ll be able to think of more for yourself. If you don’t, there’s no time like the present to start learning!

Now we come to a place where you present some evidence that really does have bearing on the scholarly consensus issue:

[Dawson:] I wrote: The relevant writings of Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus all date from after the beginning of the second century, and it is already granted that by this time stories about a Jesus had been circulating. So when Tacitus mentions a “Christ who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate,” he may very well have been reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, thus reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe.

Tim: I have been unable to find anyone outside of the myther community who accepts this claim regarding Tacitus.

[Dawson:] RT France, a respected NT scholar who is no friend of the mythicist position, calls Wells’ case for Tacitus’ reference to “Chrestus” as coming either form interviews with Christians or from hearsay about what they believed “entirely convincing” (The Evidence for Jesus, p. 23). In his The Historical Figure of Jesus, EP Sanders – another NT scholar – admits that “Roman sources that mention Jesus are all dependent on Christian reports” (p. 49), where Suetonius’ mention of “Chrestus” is taken to mean Jesus.


First, a point of fact: Tacitus uses “Christus,” not “Chrestus.” Second, a point of interpretation: I said that I couldn’t think of anyone who accepts the claim that Tacitus was reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, which is what you said in the statement to which I was responding. France doesn’t quite say this: what he says instead is that it came either from interviews with Christians or from hearsay.

The Sanders quotation strikes me as an overstatement (how could he know this?), but on the Tacitus question, both Sanders and France come down more on your side of this question than I had thought anyone responsible did. Let me add Schweitzer to the list, just to strengthen your case – though mythers will get no aid and comfort from him (or from Sanders).

Now what is the alternative that you prefer, and what evidence do you have for that alternative?

If Tacitus’s information came from interviews with Christians, it would be evidence only of what Christians believed when they were interviewed. If it came from hearsay, it would be evidence for what was believed about Christians, which is wider in scope; if there were any dissent over whether “Christus” had been crucified under Pontius Pilate, this would lessen the probability that Tacitus would refer to it in so matter of fact a fashion. If it came from Roman records, then that closes the case on the mythic theory. So there are several options here.

(1) There is no hint in the passage that Tacitus has personally conducted interviews to gain this information; that is, I think, by far the least plausible hypothesis. (2) It could be that the information came from someone else’s interviews and/or torturings of Christians. This cannot be ruled out. But in that case, it matters a great deal for our discussion when this information was wrung from them. If it was after the gospels had achieved currency, then it likely reflects what they had read and believed; if it was earlier, it would reflect at least oral traditions; if it was much earlier, it would reflect teaching in a community where eyewitnesses were still living. Of these three sub-possibilities under (2), the first two are of independent significance; the third shades off into (4), below, as the information would have had to be recorded. (3) It could be that it was a matter of common knowledge. This cannot be ruled out, and it would give stronger but not decisive evidence for the veracity of the facts Tacitus relates. (4) It could be that Tacitus looked it up in Roman records or some other non-Christian source. This cannot be ruled out, and for this reason the Sanders quotation seems to me to be an overstatement. We know that Tacitus used official sources constantly in his work: the Acta Diurna (see Annals 13.31, 16.22, etc.), the speeches of Tiberius and Claudius, various collections of letters, the work of Pliny the Elder, etc. Significantly, Tacitus had access to Josephus’s works and mentions nothing about Jesus that could not have been found in Josephus. If his information came from such an early non-Christian source, the mythic theory is effectively eliminated.

How much weight should we give to each of these alternatives? (1) is quite implausible since it is not represented in the passage. (Contrast Pliny.) I do not think that there is a vastly stronger case for one of the options (2), (3), or (4) over the others. Therefore, we have to try to take account of what would be the case under each. Under (2), it tells us either nothing not in the gospels or else something about oral tradition prior to the gospels; this option makes the testimony of Tacitus either no independent evidence against the mythic theory or rather weak independent evidence against it – weak, since many of those oral traditions were probably incorporated into the gospels as we have them. Under (3), Tacitus’s report tells us what was believed in the Roman world at large. Since it is improbable that this story would have undisputed currency among Romans if it were not substantially true, this option makes the testimony of Tacitus rather strong evidence against the mythic theory. But one fact that tells against (3) is that there does not seem to have been much common knowledge about Christians in the Roman world; witness Suetonius’s probable botch of Christ’s name and Pliny’s resorting to torture to satisfy his curiosity.Under (4), the mythic theory is essentially ruled out. If I had to pick just one specific hypothesis as the most plausible of the lot, I’d go with Harnack and say Tacitus was using Josephus, on the basis of close parallels between them in the recounting of information. But since this cannot be proved, only shown to be plausible, the best we can do in the absence of further evidence is to say that this passage of Tacitus offers some evidence against the mythic theory but that it is not decisive.

Many apologists take the unsupported position that Tacitus looked it up in Roman records. But why then would he refer to Jesus as “Chrestus”?

He doesn’t: he refers to him as “Christus.”

Would the Roman records have stated that ‘the Christ’ or ‘the Messiah’ was crucified?

The term would not have had this significance for the Romans.

Would the Roman records have inaccurately given Pilate the title “procurator”?

Perhaps. “Procurator” and “prefect” were titles that applied to governors in essentially the same capacities, so the distinction was a fine one. Tacitus makes small errors in these sorts of details of titles elsewhere. Philo uses the same term for Pilate (Leg. ad Gaium 299), as does Josephus (Antiquities 18.3.1). So it is by no means necessary that Tacitus have obtained the title “procurator” from a Christian source; and if he got it from a non-Christian source, it needn’t have been an official Roman source.

Tim: His description in Annals 15.44 is hostile, even contemptuous. It bears no sign of having been obtained from interviews of Christians.

[Dawson:] Either way, the very use of “Chrestus” – if this is supposed to refer to the Christian messiah – strongly suggests that Roman records were not the source of Tacitus’ information about a person being crucified under Pilate.


Not really: as I pointed out above, the word is “Christus” in Tacitus, and this title would have had no significance for the Romans.

[Dawson:] Also, giving Pilate the title “procurator” also speaks against this.

Not really: as I pointed out above, Tacitus is not typically microscopically accurate in this, and we have no independent evidence that I am aware of to think that the Acta were moreso. But this is moot since several other writers, including Josephus, use .

[Dawson:] So, if not from interviews with Christians, or hearsay that he gathered from conversations with persons acquainted with what Christians believed by this time, what do you take as Tacitus’ source of information here, and why?

I’ve given you a breakdown of the alternatives as I see them.

[Dawson:] [U]ntil you present “the judgment of virtually every historian who has” not only “looked into the question,” but who has reviewed Doherty’s, Wells’ and other mythicists’ points on these non-Christian references, we only have your judgment that these references are “fatal to the mythicist position.”

Since Doherty’s work is not likely ever to attract the attention of more than a handful of people with actual doctorates and academic affiliations in relevant fields, we will probably never have very many data points here. Eddy and Boyd are the only ones I know of. My comment referred, not to that vanishingly small fraction of the population of professional historians who have read Doherty, but to the somewhat larger set of professional historians who have read works of the “Christ myth” school and pronounced a judgment on them. I’ve listed two dozen of these already. This doesn’t reduce simply to my own judgment.

[Dawson:] These references are relatively late, well into the time when at least one or two of the gospels were in circulation, well into the time when the legend of Jesus had grown to the point of setting his crucifixion under Pilate.

Your manner of phrasing this is question begging. Beyond that, the references are from people who lived a substantial part of their lives in the first century. Pliny was born around 62; Tacitus was a slightly older contemporary of his. Josephus was born around 37.

[Dawson:] So they certainly are not damaging to the legendist case that I would defend, ...

I would have to see a canonical statement of your position before I could say how damaging they are.

[Dawson:]... so I don’t see how they would be damaging to the mythicist case either.

Well, that’s a non sequitur!

[Dawson:] When Wells backed away from the mythicist case, it surely was not because of a passing reference to “Chrestus” in Suetonius.

My point has never been that that reference, or the Tacitus reference, or the Pliny reference, or the letter of Mara bar Serapion, or the reference in Toledoth Jesu, or the reference in the Talmud, or Lucian’s reference, is by itself strong independent evidence for the existence of a real Jesus. It is the fact that there are so many of them, each requiring to be explained away, that makes the case so strong.

The Josephus references, on the other hand, are very strong; the only hope for the mythers is to explain them away altogether as Christian interpolations. And if Tacitus was relying on Josephus for his information, then that seals the fate of the mythic theory.

When that is all done, we have still the gospels, Acts, and the epistles as evidence.

[Dawson:] I wrote: What’s interesting is that writers who would have been contemporaries of the gospel Jesus, like Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and Philo Judaeus (20 BC – 50 AD), never mention Jesus.

Tim: Here we have another common move of the mythers, the argument from silence.

[Dawson:] As corroborative evidence, argument from silence is not necessarily fallacious or invalid. In the proper context, it can be quite damning.


If there is a lesson to be learned about arguments from silence from a study of history, it is that such a context is almost never present.

Tim: Again, this will impress those with no firsthand knowledge of history, since they are likely to assume that a writer could not fail to mention such a person as Jesus had he really existed.

[Dawson:] It’s not only that they fail to mention Jesus, who’s fame (according to the gospels) had spread quite far during his own lifetime, ...


I see we’re down from “an international reputation” to “quite far.” Actually, in his own lifetime Jesus was essentially a nobody from the standpoint of the Roman world.

[Dawson:] ... but also the slaughter of the innocents

Yes, assuming that the account in Macrobius is derivative from Christian sources – but again, as this amounted probably to only a small number of children, there is no particular reason to think it would be recorded in Roman sources; and as for Josephus, he has greater crimes in the same vein to lay to Herod’s account.

[Dawson:] or “a night of the living-righteous-undead” (as one commentator puts it), both of which only Matthew reports.

A baffling passage, I admit. But aren’t we slipping over here from a discussion of whether the gospels give a substantially accurate portrayal of Jesus to a discussion of inerrancy?

Tim: But the assumption is exploded by examples from secular history. Thucydides, for example, never mentions Socrates, though from our point of view Socrates was the principal character in Athens during the twenty years embraced in the History. No historian concludes from this silence either that Socrates did not exist or that Thucydides was inventing his history.

[Dawson:] I would be more impressed by this as an attempt to bolster your effort to downplay deafening Pauline silences if Thucydides had written volumes about Socrates but failed to mention that he was a teacher, a philosopher, a thinker, etc. That would be closer to what we find in Paul vis-à-vis the gospels: here we have numerous letters achingly preaching about Jesus, but nowhere do they speak of Jesus as a teacher, a miracle-worker, a healer, an exorcist, etc., etc., etc.


Paul isn’t writing volumes about Jesus: he is writing letters to churches. We get what one might expect if the stories were known and the main purposes of the letters were practical and doctrinal rather than historical. In passing, he alludes to Jesus’ teaching on the sorts of issues that one might expect to come up in churches, including divorce (1 Cor 7:10; note the special stress he lays on this and cf. Matt 5:32; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18) and the support of ministers of the gospel (1 Cor 9:14). 1 Cor 4:12 is probably an echo of the words of Christ recorded in Luke 6:28; 1 Cor 7:35 of the scene recorded in Luke 10:39-40; 1 Cor 13:2 a reference to the saying preserved in Matt 17:20.

[Dawson:] As the Jesus cult grew, ...

We’ve slipped over from evidence to a bit of preaching now. Which is fine – just noting it for the record.

[Dawson:]... so did the stories about who he was and what he did. That’s very characteristic of legend-building, and the pattern we find in the NT is precisely what we would expect to find if the gospels and later writings were the product of legend-building.

The pattern would be more impressive if the chronological ordering of the gospels could be established independently of the level of detail of the accounts. It would also be more impressive if it weren’t wrecked by the early creed embedded in 1 Cor 15, which puts the big miracle, front and center, right back in the first decade after the crucifixion, with names of witnesses no less, and those people named in the gospel accounts too.

[Dawson:] I wrote: And yet, it seems that if Jesus had indeed garnered the international reputation at the time that the gospels ascribe to him, ...

Tim: The gospels ascribe an international reputation to Jesus within his lifetime?

[Dawson:] Are you faulting me specifically for using of the word “international” here?


Yes – I think it’s quite misleading.

[Dawson:] The gospels speak of Jesus’ fame spreading throughout the region, from Palestine and Galilee and into Syria and other places (see Mt. 4:24; 9:26, 31; 14:1; Mk. 1:28; Lk. 4:14; 4:37; 5:15, et al.) My point is that Jesus’ reputation as a healer and miracle-worker, according to the gospels, reached far and wide during the lifetime the gospels give to him. Gospel passages which speak of Jesus’ fame in this manner are most likely the product of evangelistic exaggeration. Paul's Jesus, on the other hand, was "emptied" and lived in obscurity.

I’m sorry, but putting this together with your earlier use of the phrase “international reputation,” you seem to me to be misreading such expressions in a very serious way. Taken at face value, they indicate that he was a local phenomenon. Yet you invoked this “international reputation” to argue that Seneca and Philo should have taken notice of him – which wouldn’t follow even if he were known in Rome. (See the reference to Thucydides and Socrates, above) This stunner prompted my next question:

Tim: Dawson, have you ever read the gospels?

[Dawson:] Yes, both as a believer (in my misguided youth), and now as a non-believer. Glancing back at my 20’s, I now wonder, “What was I thinking?” whenever I look at the gospels. I know many others who have asked themselves the same question.


I’m very sorry to hear it; I hope you come to a better understanding of them, if nothing else, as you continue to read.

Tim: Yet again you are misrepresenting my position, a habit that you indulge sufficiently often that it is no wonder if sane people eventually abandon the attempt to have a discussion with you. I never said that Paul alludes to the details on your list.

[Dawson:] You are welcome to clarify what you meant by ‘allusions’ then. Recall that I had asked:

How can we know what details the immediately intended audiences of Paul’s letters (e.g., the congregation at the Corinthian church, etc.) knew about Jesus?

And you responded:

[Tim:] One good way is by looking at all of places where he makes allusions that they could not have understood unless they already knew the outlines of the story of the life of Jesus.

[Dawson:] I was hoping you could give examples of what you mean here.


The comments above indicate this sufficiently, I think.

Tim: By your own admission, you constructed the list to include details that were left out of the gospels.

[Dawson:] Huh? The details on my list (e.g., virgin birth, born in Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocents, Jesus’ baptism, female witnesses, etc.) are taken from the gospels, not “left out of the gospels.” I think you meant to say “left out of Paul’s letters,” no?


Yes: my slip.

Tim: As I pointed out to you above, this renders your list worthless (unless you have been inadvertent) since it is very easy to construct a similar list for any letter or set of letters dealing with a real figure from history about whom we have extensive independent documentation.

[Dawson:] You’ve claimed this before, but I can think of no parallel situation to Paul’s letters preaching about Jesus.


The point is a methodological one and applies generally; there is no need to find a set of letters preaching about a savior in order to run a test. You don’t seem to be getting my point here, so I’ll try again to explain it. You claim that the Christ of the epistles is someone other than the Jesus of the gospels; I don’t see it. Your argument is that there are many, many details left out of the epistles that are found in the gospels. Well, what was the purpose of the epistles? Are they memoirs? Not at all. What, then, should we expect? That depends on whether the recipients knew who Paul was talking about. If not, he would have had to give at least a thumbnail sketch; if so, there would be no need for it.

[Dawson:] For Paul, Jesus was not just some person who existed in the past that he mentions in passing in a letter or two. Paul is preaching, and he’s preaching Jesus crucified and resurrected, ...

No disagreement so far, except that Paul is doing more than preaching, and his preaching is chiefly doctrinal.

[Dawson:] ... and the portrait he paints of Jesus is nondescript by comparison to what we find in the gospels.

Just as we should expect them to be if he were referring to someone whose life and actions were already known to his audience.

[Dawson:] The silences we have in Paul are much harder to explain than supposing this is a common practice in secular writings. Paul repeatedly issues moral teachings, and while he nowhere attributes those teachings to the earthly Jesus, ...

Actually, he sometimes does, e.g. on divorce.

[Dawson:] ... we find in the gospels that evangelists have taken those teachings and thrust them into Jesus’ mouth, in order to give those teachings authority (apparently those teachings were not thought to be good enough on their own).

This is simply conjecture on your part. It runs afoul of the close correspondences between Acts and the epistles, on the one hand, and the undoubted sequence of Luke-Acts, on the other. Here the best sources are Paley and Hemer, references to which I have given above.

Tim: This variation on the argument from silence provides no evidence that the figure was not real: all that it establishes is the tautology that Paul did not mention the things in the gospels that he did not mention.

[Dawson:] As I have stated before, and apparently need to state again, whether or not there was a real man named Jesus at some point in history prior to Paul’s writings who originally inspired a cult of religious hero-worship, is really of no concern to me. I’ve gone on record more than once in this thread declaring that my position is that the gospel stories are the product of legend-building, not that Jesus never existed.

And Paul’s variant portrait of Jesus as compared to the gospels has much greater value than the mere tautology you grant here.


If so, I have not seen the argument that convinces me of it.

[Dawson:] But the fact that you grant that Paul is silent on numerous details that are central to the portrait of Jesus given in the gospels, is sufficient admission for my purposes to confirm that my position has a valid basis.

It shouldn’t, since this is what we would expect if your position were false and the traditional one were true.

Tim: The only interesting question is whether there are sufficient reasons to identify the person of whom Paul speaks with the person of whom the gospels speak.

[Dawson:] And this is essentially the question I’ve been raising, Tim. If you go back and review the themes that I have been developing in my comments here and in my writings elsewhere, you’ll see that the question you mention here is quite topical.


But the problem, Dawson, is that you have been trying to argue for a negative answer to that question using a tool that cannot, in the nature of the case, do the job.

Tim: For that, Harvey’s list of allusions to features of the life of Jesus that are also depicted in the gospels gives you a good place to start.

[Dawson:] And I’ve interacted with Harvey already above. Harvey seemed unaware of my point that later evangelists were in the position to lift elements from Paul’s letters – such as the moral teachings I mentioned above – and incorporate them into their portrait of Jesus in the gospels. Over and over, the historicists seem unable to grasp this point, which I don’t think is that difficult to grasp.


It isn’t difficult to grasp, it’s just implausible to the point of absurdity. The whole problem of the transformation of “myth” into history of the sort we get in the evangelists is almost indescribably tangled. The gospels differ from each other in numerous ways. Were they all supposed to be filling out the epistles, just doing it on their own and in different ways? The gospels differ from the epistles on details where Paul is explicit, such as the list of witnesses in 1 Cor 15, which is not replicated in its entirety in any gospel. How did they miss that? Paul refers explicitly to numerous other people then alive, some of them personally known to the people to whom he addresses his epistles, who were in a very strong position to know the details of the life of Jesus: Cephas, James, John, Silas, Barnabas – what need, with a large cohort of people on the ground in a position to know, to flesh out the epistles in a legendary way? Or is the claim that they were all just figments of Paul’s imagination? The gospels contain abundant overlapping material not mentioned in the epistles. Where did it come from? Lucky coincidence is a non-starter: there is a real teacher back of that material, whatever else one says about it. But if so, then there is no need to suppose that the evangelists were lifting anything from the epistles. The traditional explanation is infinitely simpler and more natural.

Tim said...

Dawson,

I see that I left a word out in that last post. Where I wrote:

But this is moot since several other writers, including Josephus, use . ...

the sentence should be completed "... procurator."

Sorry

Evan said...

The traditional explanation is infinitely simpler and more natural.

Yes. It's infinitely simpler and more natural to think that a man who was God died and was resurrected and went up into the stratosphere by himself than to think it was a made up story.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

I don't think you really appreciate the fact that how we see history depends on where we are in history and what we experience, which is my point. Have you ever taken a class in the philosophy of history? As smart as you are I would think you should before you continue arguing that your faith is built on the evidence of history. You have a strangely simplistic naïveté about this.

Thanks for the advice. I've actually taught such a course, even using some of the texts from Meyerhoff's little pale green volume. We'll have to agree to disagree as to where the naïveté lies.

Since we're into dispensing friendly advice, I'd caution you to be wary of employing this move; it could undermine the case for your faith. If you want to claim that the historical views of Christians are less rational than your own, you need to hold open the possibility of evaluating historical claims objectively. Relativism is truly a universal acid.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, it leads to a skeptical attitude, and that's what I have. Why you don't have that same attitude surprises me, unless you're a teacher for a Bible College or Seminary, for then you won't allow yourself to do so.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim,

I've been busy all day with doctor appointments both for myself and for my daughter, so you'll have to forgive me for not responding to everything you wrote to me in your comment above. Had I the luxury of unbounded time, I would be happy to devote more to considering your points. For now, this is all I'll be posting at this time.

Tim: I took you, I think naturally enough, to be siding with the mythers to this extent: that you disbelieve that there is abundant evidence that a real messianic teacher named Jesus, who stands behind the gospel accounts (whether they are legends or memoirs), existed in Palestine in the first quarter of the first century.

I’m not sure how I could have been clearer than when I said the following of my position:

the stories we read in the gospels and the book of Acts are the product of legendary developments, regardless of whether or not Mark came first, regardless of whether or not there was ultimately a human being named Jesus which initially inspired sacred stories [of] messianic heroism.


Tim wrote: I’ve read Wells’s discussions carefully, and I’m completely unimpressed.

I responded: If you’ve read Wells, then you should know that he bases many (if not most) of his points on conclusions and admissions made by many authorities in history and apologetics. One can hardly read a paragraph in one of Wells’ books without encountering a damning statement from highly respected sources.

Tim: Not on Josephus, as I recall.

I’m sure your memory is a fine one, Tim, and that you do a lot of reading. One problem with reading a lot (I suffer from this myself) is that after a while it is sometimes hard to remember where you’ve read something that you remember reading. But I’ll give a for instance here. In his interaction with JP Meier’s criticisms, Wells, in his The Jesus Legend, quotes among others S. Mason (Josephus) several times (at length on p. 50, again on following pages), paraphrases a position maintained by JN Birdsall (p. 51), and RE Brown (p. 54). That’s just one of Wells’ books. The statements by these scholars which Wells cites are all favorable to his points in response to Meier.

Tim wrote: The Josephus denials are particularly weak in view of the discovery of the uninterpolated Arabic text of the Testimonium.

I responded: I’m not sure what you mean by “Josephus denials” here, but even if we suppose that the Testimonium is authentic, specifically what value is it?

Tim: In the uninterpolated version of Agapius? Let’s see. It tells us that Jesus was a real Jewish teacher around the time of John the Baptist. It characterizes him as wise, says that his conduct was good, and indicates that he was known for his virtue. It tells us that many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. It tells us that he was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, that his disciples did not abandon their discipleship after his crucifixion, and that he was reported by his disciples to have appeared to them alive three days after his crucifixion. Not bad, eh?

This is just a recap of what the Testimonium states. But I take this to mean that you think not only that the Testimonium is authentic, at least Agapius’ version, but also that what it states is true. Is that correct? This puts a two-fold burden on you. Although it dates from the tenth century, the version you specify is often taken to be authentic because it is supposedly less complimentary to Christians, and therefore less likely to be a Christian insert. That’s a pretty weak argument, so hopefully you have something better than this. Needless to say, the existence of Agapius’ version of the Testimonium or its downplayed tone does not undo the fact that the first Christian to quote it is Eusebius, in the fourth century. The Jewish biblical scholar S. Sandmel points out that “although Church Fathers quoted Josephus frequently, and this paragraph would have suited their purposes admirably, yet they never quoted it” (We Jews, p. 18). Feldman notes that several Fathers from the second and third centuries used Josephus’ works, but they “do not refer to this passage [the Testimonium], though one would imagine it would be the first passage that a Christian apologist would cite” (Josephus, p. 695). For these and many other reasons, the Testimonium is considered to be a Christian interpolation.


Tim wrote: Does it bother you just a little bit that the attempts by the mythers to “deal with” these sources have been dismissed by every serious historian to have looked at the issue, including conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, liberal Catholic, agnostic, and atheist historians?

I responded: This is a common tactic on the part of apologists: assume that all “serious historians” are monolithic in their views and also in their condemnation of “the attempts by the mythers to ‘deal with’ these sources.” You say that [mythicists’] attempts “have been dismissed by every serious historian” who has looked into these issues, which is more than just a general statement. Where’s your support for this?

Tim: I did name a dozen sources early in this thread when I was interacting with Tyro on the subject. How many did you need?

You said “every.” How many are there? Only a dozen?


I asked: How can we take Suetonius’ reference to “Chrestus” as confirmation of the truth of the gospels’ portraits?

Tim: Indirectly: it places Jesus on the ground within a specified window of time, roughly 5 B.C. to 35 A.D.,

Suetonius does not even name Jesus, but mentions a “Chrestus” in a passing comment, and his doing so does so much more than anything in all of Paul’s writings. Paul writes many letters preaching Jesus, and yet nowhere fits him in such a time range. This is dismissed by saying that Paul wasn’t writing memoirs about Jesus. Was Suetonius writing memoirs about Jesus? I’m inclined to agree with Wells when he writes: The historian Suetonius may fairly be represented as saying that under the Emperor Claudius (who died A.D. 54) there were disturbances in Rome between Jews and Christians concerning the claim being pressed by Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. But no more about the ‘historical’ Jesus need have been included in this Christianity of Claudius’s day than what extant Christian writers (Paul and others) were saying before the gospels became established later in the first century; and this much does not confirm their portrait of Jesus as a preacher and wonder-worker in Pilate’s Palestine. (The Jesus Legend, pp. 40-41) Naturally I expect you to class this explanation into the group of “desperate” attempts to “explain away” what Christian apologists like to take as “evidence” for truth of the NT. And yet, I see it as stemming from a concern for, among other things, avoiding anachronism.

Consider: The statement refers to Jews (not “Christians”) in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), to a “Chrestus” (not to Jesus) who had influence over these Jews. Were these early Christians in Rome? Perhaps. What were they taught? Who knows. How long were they there? Who knows. Who missionized them? Were they worshippers of a recently crucified Jesus? If one wanted to believe the gospels’ portrait of Jesus, it would be easy to fill in these blanks with gospel-inspired answers. But is that warranted by what Suetonius actually writes? I’m not persuaded that it is.

Tim: This means that documents written about him within the next generation or two are less likely to be complete forgeries, as there were people who would have known the actual facts and been able to correct the misstatements.

Isn’t this itself an argument from silence, Tim? It seems you’re arguing to the effect that, since we don’t have anyone coming forward and challenging the statement, we can rest assured that no one did, no one could have, or no one would have disagreed? Statements that a person writes are not suddenly broadcast – especially back in the second century – to everyone who might be interested as soon as they’re penned.

I observed: However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,”

Tim asked: Why would you expect him to do so?

I then responded: It’s not about what I expect of Suetonius, it’s about what he says and also about what he fails to say. “Christ” was a title indicating a station, “Jesus” is a name of a person.

Tim now asks: Why should this observation have weight?

If “Chrestus” is supposed to mean “Christ” (and for all I know, it very well could have), it still only references a title, not a specific individual named Jesus. Paul himself, in his letters as I have pointed out, warned his congregations about rival gospels, rival Jesuses, rival Christs. Whether Suetonius thought “Chrestus” or “Christ” was a proper name seems irrelevant, for he was reporting what he had learned, and a misunderstanding – whether Suetonius’ own or one he inherited from his own sources – won’t help us here.


Tim wrote: “Chrestus” is a known variant on “Christus,” which is the Greek term used to translate mashiyach in the Septuagint, so there is little room for doubt here.

I asked: That’s fine. But again, what value is it as evidence? Evidence specifically for what?

Tim responded: For the existence, in the first quarter of the first century A.D., of the person about whom Paul was writing and about whom the gospel stories, whether true or false, were written.

The way I read the passage in Suetonius, it could easily be taken to mean that the “Chrestus” under whose influence the Jews of Rome were causing unrest, was still alive, even present with them. Am I being outlandish here?

Here’s the Latin: “Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit.”

Here’s the English translation: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”


I asked: What is so historically incredible about Doherty’s, Wells’ and others’ treatments of these references?

Tim: Aside from the intrinsic weakness of some of their arguments, particularly the arguments from silence, the problem is that they need to explain all of the secular data away. If any one of them is a genuine independent reference to the same person to whom the gospels refer, then the mythic theory is shot. Now, one or two might be explained away, particularly if they were both from one source and an argument could be made that this source was unreliable or derived information entirely from Christian writings. But every additional reference from another non-Christian source adds to the implausibility of the attempt to explain them away.

I disagree. None of the non-Christian references are early. In fact, most are from the second century and later. The best of them only testifies that Christians existed, not that the miracle-working Jesus of the gospels was a real person. Also, I have reviewed Doherty’s and Wells’ interactions not only with the references in question, but also with apologetic treatments hoisting them up as evidence for a historical Jesus, and I do not find their explanations at all “desperate,” as you had indicated earlier. It could simply be that we have different contexts of judging the material in question, but from what you’ve provided, I’m unpersuaded that anything I’ve read in either of these two authors is really such a stretch.

I wrote: RT France, a respected NT scholar who is no friend of the mythicist position, calls Wells’ case for Tacitus’ reference to “Chrestus” as coming either form interviews with Christians or from hearsay about what they believed “entirely convincing” (The Evidence for Jesus, p. 23). In his The Historical Figure of Jesus, EP Sanders – another NT scholar – admits that “Roman sources that mention Jesus are all dependent on Christian reports” (p. 49), where Suetonius’ mention of “Chrestus” is taken to mean Jesus.

Tim: First, a point of fact: Tacitus uses “Christus,” not “Chrestus.”

Thanks for the correction – you can tell I’m multitasking like crazy to try to participate here.

Tim: Second, a point of interpretation: I said that I couldn’t think of anyone who accepts the claim that Tacitus was reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, which is what you said in the statement to which I was responding. France doesn’t quite say this: what he says instead is that it came either from interviews with Christians or from hearsay.

Understood. My point in my above statement was that Tacitus was essentially reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe. How specifically Tacitus learned it – whether through firsthand interviews with Christians, or from hearsay, etc. – is ultimately immaterial to the point I was trying to make. But keep in mind that Tacitus was governor of the province of Asia ca. AD 112-113 and, as Wells surmises, "may well have had the same kind of trouble with Christianity that Pliny experienced as governor of nearby Bithynia at that very time.” He notes Hengel’s statement that “Tacitus’ precise knowledge of Christians and his contempt for them are probably to be derived from the trials of Christians which he carried out when he was governor in the province of Asia,” and concludes: “To decide from his ‘hostile tone’ that his information does not derive from Christians, is entirely unwarranted.” (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 17; Wells quotes Hengel’s Crucifixion, p. 3).

Tim: The Sanders quotation strikes me as an overstatement (how could he know this?),

I think that’s a fair question, but as a respected source, don’t you suppose he has his reasons for making such a statement? Or, is it the case that even scholars are capable of overstating their case?

Tim: but on the Tacitus question, both Sanders and France come down more on your side of this question than I had thought anyone responsible did.

So there you have your answer.


I wrote: It’s not only that they fail to mention Jesus, who’s fame (according to the gospels) had spread quite far during his own lifetime, ...

Tim: I see we’re down from “an international reputation” to “quite far.” Actually, in his own lifetime Jesus was essentially a nobody from the standpoint of the Roman world.

“International” does not by definition denote all nations; rather, it means involving two or more nations. And that is the impression I get from the NT passages I cited.

I wrote: ... but also the slaughter of the innocents

Tim: Yes, assuming that the account in Macrobius is derivative from Christian sources – but again, as this amounted probably to only a small number of children, there is no particular reason to think it would be recorded in Roman sources; and as for Josephus, he has greater crimes in the same vein to lay to Herod’s account.

So, there is admittedly no corroboration of the slaughter of the innocents – even in the NT (Matthew being the only one who mentions it) – but we can be sure it happened all the same, because Matthew includes it in his gospel. Got it.

I wrote: or “a night of the living-righteous-undead” (as one commentator puts it), both of which only Matthew reports.

Tim: A baffling passage, I admit. But aren’t we slipping over here from a discussion of whether the gospels give a substantially accurate portrayal of Jesus to a discussion of inerrancy?

No, inerrancy is not where I was going with this. The point is that the gospel of Matthew is an excellent example of the kind of legend-building I’m talking about. There are numerous details in Matthew’s gospel that are so “baffling” (as you yourself put it) that they embarrass many believers. In my experience, Christian apologists don’t want to touch these points with a ten-foot pole.

Tim: Paul isn’t writing volumes about Jesus: he is writing letters to churches.

Paul is by far the most prolific writer of the New Testament. In terms of volume (i.e., quantity, as I intended the use of the term in my statement above), he produced the largest portion of writings concerning Jesus that the church saw fit to canonize. In that corpus of epistles, we do not find Paul ever characterizing Jesus as a teacher, a miracle-worker, a healer, an exorcist, as born of a virgin, etc. Imagine someone writing 10 letters heaping admiration for Mozart, and never once mentioning that Mozart wrote music or that he lived in the 1700s.

Tim: We get what one might expect if the stories were known and the main purposes of the letters were practical and doctrinal rather than historical.

Not if Paul had known of the teachings which the gospels attribute to Jesus. Had Paul known of these teachings, why didn’t he credit Jesus with them when he (Paul) pens them into his letters? Indeed, Christians are always trying to put the stamp of Jesus’ approval on the things they say. It is conspicuous by its very absence that he doesn’t do this.

Tim: In passing, he alludes to Jesus’ teaching on the sorts of issues that one might expect to come up in churches, including divorce (1 Cor 7:10; note the special stress he lays on this and cf. Matt 5:32; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18)

I Cor. 7:10 is probably the strongest citation you’ll be able to produce on behalf of your point. In it Paul attributes his charge to those who are married to “the Lord,” which for Paul is the risen, heavenly Jesus, not a pre-crucifixion Jesus. So he doesn’t have the earthly Jesus we encounter in the gospels in mind here. Also, Mark’s use of this teaching is troublesome. Wells points out:

Jesus could not, as Mark alleges, have told a Palestinian audience that a wife should not seek divorce, since in Palestine only men were allowed to do so. But Paul could appropriately urge such a ruling on the Gentile Christian communities to which he appealed; and if he told them it was Jesus’ teaching, he would have meant (as many commentators admit) not a teaching of a Palestinian Jesus but a directive given by some Christian prophet speaking in the name of the risen one.... This would have been the obvious way of supporting a ruling on divorce which the Christians of Paul’s day were anxious to inculcate. At a later stage it would naturally have been supposed that Jesus must have said during his lifetime what it was believed the risen one had said through Christian prophets; and so the doctrine was, however inappropriately, put into his mouth as an address to a Palestinian audience by Mark. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 23)

So that Paul got this teaching from traditions about an earthly Jesus is problematic.

Well, Tim, I wish I had more time to respond to your many other points. Unfortunately I do not, so I’ll have to let things lie unless somehow I am afforded more opportunity to delve into these matters further.

Regards,
Dawson

bart willruth said...

Tim,

I said,

Please get out a map of Asia Minor in the ancient world. Please note that Marcion hailed from Sinope on the shore of the Black Sea, just a short distance from the border of Galatia. His proximity to Paul's earliest congregations make it quite likely that his belief system grew out of that of Paul's actual teachings.

Then you responded,

You and I clearly have different standards for what it means for one thing to make another quite likely.

I now write,

Am I saying that Marcion perfectly reflected Pauline thought? No, but I'm not saying it didn't either. We simply don't know.

However, the region of Galatia borders on Marcion's home. His thinking didn't fall out of the air. And he used Paul as his theological source, believing that he alone understood the gospel. And Marcion didn't accept the idea that Jesus was a real man. It is more likely that Marcion grew out of authentic Pauline roots than that he came up with an independent Christology and gospel and just tried to impose it on Paul.

You must keep in mind that no example of Pauline Christianity can be found in any first century document, nor from the writings of the early second century fathers. In fact, Pauline Christianity emerged first through Marcion. Marcion claimed to be faithfully representing Pauline thought.

On what basis would you counter Marcion's claim? Prior to Marcion, where do you find any Christian clearly following the Pauline tradition?

Tim said...

Dawson,

Not to worry about breaking off the discussion: I won’t assume that you’ve been convinced or that you’ve run out of things to say just because you no longer have time to pour into it. I’ve spent more time on it than I should myself.

Tim: I took you, I think naturally enough, to be siding with the mythers to this extent: that you disbelieve that there is abundant evidence that a real messianic teacher named Jesus, who stands behind the gospel accounts (whether they are legends or memoirs), existed in Palestine in the first quarter of the first century.

[Dawson:] I’m not sure how I could have been clearer than when I said the following of my position:

the stories we read in the gospels and the book of Acts are the product of legendary developments, regardless of whether or not Mark came first, regardless of whether or not there was ultimately a human being named Jesus which initially inspired sacred stories [of] messianic heroism.


My confusion arose because you repeatedly defended Wells's and Doherty’s positions and arguments.

Tim wrote: I’ve read Wells’s discussions carefully, and I’m completely unimpressed.

[Dawson:] I responded: If you’ve read Wells, then you should know that he bases many (if not most) of his points on conclusions and admissions made by many authorities in history and apologetics. One can hardly read a paragraph in one of Wells’ books without encountering a damning statement from highly respected sources.

Tim: Not on Josephus, as I recall.

[Dawson:] I’m sure your memory is a fine one, Tim, and that you do a lot of reading. One problem with reading a lot (I suffer from this myself) is that after a while it is sometimes hard to remember where you’ve read something that you remember reading. But I’ll give a for instance here. In his interaction with JP Meier’s criticisms, Wells, in his The Jesus Legend, quotes among others S. Mason (Josephus) several times (at length on p. 50, again on following pages), paraphrases a position maintained by JN Birdsall (p. 51), and RE Brown (p. 54). That’s just one of Wells’ books. The statements by these scholars which Wells cites are all favorable to his points in response to Meier.


My point was not that Wells lacks references but rather that they are not, taken collectively and in the context of wider Josephan scholarship, "damning" (your term). Mason, for example, contends (in keeping with the vast majority of modern scholarship on this issue) that the core of the Testimonium was present in the original but suffered later Christian interpolations which, however, we can identify, partly thanks to the uninterpolated text of Agapius. Birdsall’s critique depends on lexical arguments that the majority of scholars have not found persuasive; he represents the minority position, and there is a reason that it is in the minority.

Tim wrote: The Josephus denials are particularly weak in view of the discovery of the uninterpolated Arabic text of the Testimonium.

[Dawson:] I responded: I’m not sure what you mean by “Josephus denials” here, but even if we suppose that the Testimonium is authentic, specifically what value is it?

Tim: In the uninterpolated version of Agapius? Let’s see. It tells us that Jesus was a real Jewish teacher around the time of John the Baptist. It characterizes him as wise, says that his conduct was good, and indicates that he was known for his virtue. It tells us that many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. It tells us that he was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, that his disciples did not abandon their discipleship after his crucifixion, and that he was reported by his disciples to have appeared to them alive three days after his crucifixion. Not bad, eh?

[Dawson:] This is just a recap of what the Testimonium states. But I take this to mean that you think not only that the Testimonium is authentic, at least Agapius’ version, but also that what it states is true. Is that correct?


I think we are just using terminology differently here. By “authentic” I took it that you meant veridical. From this comment, however, it appears that you meant what I would mean by “genuine” – really the work of Josephus. However, we can go on, as it is my position that the Testimonium (in something like Agapius’s version) is both genuine and authentic: Josephus really wrote it, and he was not confused.

[Dawson:] This puts a two-fold burden on you. Although it dates from the tenth century, the version you specify is often taken to be authentic because it is supposedly less complimentary to Christians, and therefore less likely to be a Christian insert.

The case in favor of the Agapian text is more detailed than this. Your flattening it out this way may explain your next comment:

[Dawson:] That’s a pretty weak argument, so hopefully you have something better than this.

For a fuller, but still compact, statement of the argument, I recommend the discussion in van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, pp. 81-104, and particularly the seven reasons adduced on pp. 95-99 for favoring a neutral reconstruction.

[Dawson:] Needless to say, the existence of Agapius’ version of the Testimonium or its downplayed tone does not undo the fact that the first Christian to quote it is Eusebius, in the fourth century. The Jewish biblical scholar S. Sandmel points out that “although Church Fathers quoted Josephus frequently, and this paragraph would have suited their purposes admirably, yet they never quoted it” (We Jews, p. 18). Feldman notes that several Fathers from the second and third centuries used Josephus’ works, but they “do not refer to this passage [the Testimonium], though one would imagine it would be the first passage that a Christian apologist would cite” (Josephus, p. 695). For these and many other reasons, the Testimonium is considered to be a Christian interpolation.

Again an argument from silence. This is mildly interesting but carries (as usual) little weight. Feldman himself does not consider the passage to be a wholesale Christian interpolation, so he obviously isn't as impressed with the argument as Wells is. The passive construction "is considered to be" should certainly not be construed to include Feldman.

Tim wrote: Does it bother you just a little bit that the attempts by the mythers to “deal with” these sources have been dismissed by every serious historian to have looked at the issue, including conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, liberal Catholic, agnostic, and atheist historians?

[Dawson:] I responded: This is a common tactic on the part of apologists: assume that all “serious historians” are monolithic in their views and also in their condemnation of “the attempts by the mythers to ‘deal with’ these sources.” You say that [mythicists’] attempts “have been dismissed by every serious historian” who has looked into these issues, which is more than just a general statement. Where’s your support for this?

Tim: I did name a dozen sources early in this thread when I was interacting with Tyro on the subject. How many did you need?

[Dawson:] You said “every.” How many are there? Only a dozen?


I listed another dozen for you above. (The thread is getting abominably long, so I can understand how you might have missed them.) Yes, we’re going to run out of people eventually, simply because the mythic theory isn’t exactly the sort of thing to occupy the majority of serious scholars. I've given you two dozen; how many people can you find who meet the criteria I listed (earned doctorate in history, NT studies, or classics, academic affiliation) who hold the mythic theory?

[Dawson:] I asked: How can we take Suetonius’ reference to “Chrestus” as confirmation of the truth of the gospels’ portraits?

Tim: Indirectly: it places Jesus on the ground within a specified window of time, roughly 5 B.C. to 35 A.D.,

[Dawson:] Suetonius does not even name Jesus, but mentions a “Chrestus” in a passing comment, and his doing so does so much more than anything in all of Paul’s writings. Paul writes many letters preaching Jesus, and yet nowhere fits him in such a time range. This is dismissed by saying that Paul wasn’t writing memoirs about Jesus. Was Suetonius writing memoirs about Jesus?


Whoa. The context for this exchange was your prior comment:

[Dawson:] Suetonius references a “Chrestus” in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), and many take this to mean the Jesus of the gospels.

I answered your question in the light of this prior comment: if Suetonius’s reference ot “Chrestus” does, in fact, pick out Jesus, then what I said follows. It forms no part of this contention that Suetonius knew much of anything about the details of Jesus’ life.

[Dawson:] I’m inclined to agree with Wells when he writes: The historian Suetonius may fairly be represented as saying that under the Emperor Claudius (who died A.D. 54) there were disturbances in Rome between Jews and Christians concerning the claim being pressed by Christians that Jesus was the Messiah.

Here, for once, I agree with Wells.

[Continuing quotation from Wells:] But no more about the ‘historical’ Jesus need have been included in this Christianity of Claudius’s day than what extant Christian writers (Paul and others) were saying before the gospels became established later in the first century; and this much does not confirm their portrait of Jesus as a preacher and wonder-worker in Pilate’s Palestine. (The Jesus Legend, pp. 40-41)

Between “need have been” and “probably was” there is a serious gap. Wells needs the reader to infer the latter from the former, more cautious statement. But he presents no evidence that would justify this further step.

[Dawson:] Naturally I expect you to class this explanation into the group of “desperate” attempts to “explain away” what Christian apologists like to take as “evidence” for truth of the NT. And yet, I see it as stemming from a concern for, among other things, avoiding anachronism.

Consider: The statement refers to Jews (not “Christians”) in Rome during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54), to a “Chrestus” (not to Jesus) who had influence over these Jews. Were these early Christians in Rome? Perhaps. What were they taught? Who knows. How long were they there? Who knows. Who missionized them? Were they worshippers of a recently crucified Jesus? If one wanted to believe the gospels’ portrait of Jesus, it would be easy to fill in these blanks with gospel-inspired answers. But is that warranted by what Suetonius actually writes? I’m not persuaded that it is.


I agree with you that by itself the Suetonius reference does not speak to most of these questions – nor did I say that it does. However, that reference fits together well with the account of the growth of the early church and the clashes with Judaism as recounted in Acts and the epistles.

Tim: This means that documents written about him within the next generation or two are less likely to be complete forgeries, as there were people who would have known the actual facts and been able to correct the misstatements.

[Dawson:] Isn’t this itself an argument from silence, Tim? It seems you’re arguing to the effect that, since we don’t have anyone coming forward and challenging the statement, we can rest assured that no one did, no one could have, or no one would have disagreed? Statements that a person writes are not suddenly broadcast – especially back in the second century – to everyone who might be interested as soon as they’re penned.


No. I am not arguing that the records must be true because they are uncontradicted: I am pointing out that large-scale fabrications are more difficult to pass off as genuine when the events they report are supposed to have taken place within living memory than when they are not.

[Dawson:] I observed: However, he nowhere mentions a “Jesus,”

Tim asked: Why would you expect him to do so?

[Dawson:] I then responded: It’s not about what I expect of Suetonius, it’s about what he says and also about what he fails to say. “Christ” was a title indicating a station, “Jesus” is a name of a person.

Tim now asks: Why should this observation have weight?

[Dawson:] If “Chrestus” is supposed to mean “Christ” (and for all I know, it very well could have), it still only references a title, not a specific individual named Jesus. Paul himself, in his letters as I have pointed out, warned his congregations about rival gospels, rival Jesuses, rival Christs. Whether Suetonius thought “Chrestus” or “Christ” was a proper name seems irrelevant, for he was reporting what he had learned, and a misunderstanding – whether Suetonius’ own or one he inherited from his own sources – won’t help us here.


If I had claimed that we can infer a lot about Jesus from the Suetonius reference alone, then I would see your point. But I haven’t. So it seems that you’re attacking a straw man here.

Tim wrote: “Chrestus” is a known variant on “Christus,” which is the Greek term used to translate mashiyach in the Septuagint, so there is little room for doubt here.

[Dawson:] I asked: That’s fine. But again, what value is it as evidence? Evidence specifically for what?

Tim responded: For the existence, in the first quarter of the first century A.D., of the person about whom Paul was writing and about whom the gospel stories, whether true or false, were written.

[Dawson:] The way I read the passage in Suetonius, it could easily be taken to mean that the “Chrestus” under whose influence the Jews of Rome were causing unrest, was still alive, even present with them. Am I being outlandish here?


No, but you are changing the subject, perhaps because you have forgotten the context of our exchange. Just before the bit you’ve quoted came this bit:

[Dawson:] I wrote: ... and even if “Chrestus” is taken to mean “Christ” or “Messiah,” ...

So the question is not (as you are now making it out) whether Suetonius thought “Chrestus” was the Jewish messiah or whether he thought “Chrestus” was alive, but rather whether, if the guy whose name Suetonius got wrong was, in fact, “Christus,” the messiah, this reflects on the historicity of Jesus.

[Dawson:] I asked: What is so historically incredible about Doherty’s, Wells’ and others’ treatments of these references?

Tim: Aside from the intrinsic weakness of some of their arguments, particularly the arguments from silence, the problem is that they need to explain all of the secular data away. If any one of them is a genuine independent reference to the same person to whom the gospels refer, then the mythic theory is shot. Now, one or two might be explained away, particularly if they were both from one source and an argument could be made that this source was unreliable or derived information entirely from Christian writings. But every additional reference from another non-Christian source adds to the implausibility of the attempt to explain them away.

[Dawson:] I disagree.


No surprise there.

None of the non-Christian references are early. In fact, most are from the second century and later.

In the context of ancient history, Dawson, that’s awfully early. And the Josephus references are from the first century.

[Dawson:] The best of them only testifies that Christians existed, not that the miracle-working Jesus of the gospels was a real person.

The Tacitus reference goes further than the existence of Christians to the existence and crucifixion of Christus under Pontius Pilate, as does the Josephus reference (in uninterpolated form), which Tacitus may be following.

[Dawson:] Also, I have reviewed Doherty’s and Wells’ interactions not only with the references in question, but also with apologetic treatments hoisting them up as evidence for a historical Jesus, and I do not find their explanations at all “desperate,” as you had indicated earlier.

I never indicated that you would find them desperate; rather, my point is that professional historians who have bothered to look at myther works almost invariably find them so, as do I.

It could simply be that we have different contexts of judging the material in question, but from what you’ve provided, I’m unpersuaded that anything I’ve read in either of these two authors is really such a stretch.


Okay.

[Dawson:] I wrote: RT France, a respected NT scholar who is no friend of the mythicist position, calls Wells’ case for Tacitus’ reference to “Chrestus” as coming either form interviews with Christians or from hearsay about what they believed “entirely convincing” (The Evidence for Jesus, p. 23). In his The Historical Figure of Jesus, EP Sanders – another NT scholar – admits that “Roman sources that mention Jesus are all dependent on Christian reports” (p. 49), where Suetonius’ mention of “Chrestus” is taken to mean Jesus.

...

Tim: Second, a point of interpretation: I said that I couldn’t think of anyone who accepts the claim that Tacitus was reporting what he learned from Christians he had interviewed, which is what you said in the statement to which I was responding. France doesn’t quite say this: what he says instead is that it came either from interviews with Christians or from hearsay.

[Dawson:] Understood. My point in my above statement was that Tacitus was essentially reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe. How specifically Tacitus learned it – whether through firsthand interviews with Christians, or from hearsay, etc. – is ultimately immaterial to the point I was trying to make.


I do not understand why you say this. If Tacitus learned it from Josephys, then Josephus contained a clear reference to Jesus centuries before Eusebius is supposed to have inserted it. That closes the loophole that both Wells and Doherty have tried to use to get rid of the Testimonium.

[Dawson:] But keep in mind that Tacitus was governor of the province of Asia ca. AD 112-113 and, as Wells surmises, “may well have had the same kind of trouble with Christianity that Pliny experienced as governor of nearby Bithynia at that very time.”

Note the use of “may well have” here. That is acceptable if one is merely trying to establish possibility. But Wells needs much more than this: he needs to establish a high probability not only that Tacitus had trouble but that he derived his information regarding Christians at first hand from the Christians or, failing that in some other manner that does not allow for a non-Christian, first century source. For that purpose, he needs to cite strong evidence. But such evidence is not available; indeed, as I have suggested above, the most plausible explanation for Tacitus’s reference – and the only proferred explanation that directly explains his use of “procurator” as Pilate’s title – is that he was making use of the Testimonium in Josephus’s Antiquities

[Dawson:] He notes Hengel’s statement that “Tacitus’ precise knowledge of Christians and his contempt for them are probably to be derived from the trials of Christians which he carried out when he was governor in the province of Asia,” ...

I have very great respect for Martin Hengel, but in this instance I think he is mistaken.

... and concludes: “To decide from his ‘hostile tone’ that his information does not derive from Christians, is entirely unwarranted.” (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 17; Wells quotes Hengel’s Crucifixion, p. 3).

The conclusion of this is from Wells, of course, not from Hengel. If Wells were right that this is unwarranted it would not follow that the information does derive from Christians, of course.

Tim: The Sanders quotation strikes me as an overstatement (how could he know this?),

[Dawson:] I think that’s a fair question, but as a respected source, don’t you suppose he has his reasons for making such a statement?


Yes; in this case, however, I have a sneaking suspicion that he is simply following Schweitzer, who says almost exactly the same thing. Since Schweitzer’s analysis is somewhat dated, I am not inclined to place great weight on this point. But if Sanders has other evidence that he simply didn’t bother to state in his book, I would be interested to hear it.

Tim: but on the Tacitus question, both Sanders and France come down more on your side of this question than I had thought anyone responsible did.

[Dawson:] So there you have your answer.


I’m not sure what it’s an answer to, but I do try to acknowledge when you’ve brought forward some relevant evidence, even if I still disagree; hence my statement.

[Dawson:] I wrote: It’s not only that they fail to mention Jesus, who’s fame (according to the gospels) had spread quite far during his own lifetime, ...

Tim: I see we’re down from “an international reputation” to “quite far.” Actually, in his own lifetime Jesus was essentially a nobody from the standpoint of the Roman world.

[Dawson:] “International” does not by definition denote all nations; rather, it means involving two or more nations. And that is the impression I get from the NT passages I cited.


But that will not come anywhere near to underwriting your claim that because of that “international reputation,” Seneca and Philo should have taken notice of Jesus.

[Dawson:] I wrote: ... but also the slaughter of the innocents

Tim: Yes, assuming that the account in Macrobius is derivative from Christian sources – but again, as this amounted probably to only a small number of children, there is no particular reason to think it would be recorded in Roman sources; and as for Josephus, he has greater crimes in the same vein to lay to Herod’s account.

[Dawson:] So, there is admittedly no corroboration of the slaughter of the innocents – even in the NT (Matthew being the only one who mentions it) – but we can be sure it happened all the same, because Matthew includes it in his gospel. Got it.


No need to be snarky. Singly-attested facts are common in historical work; they are none the worse for that. Only the baleful influence of the argument from silence magnifies the fact of single attestation into a problem. As for “being sure,” did I say this? You’ve disavowed trying to bring this back to a discussion of inerrancy, but it seems that you can’t resist slipping back into the assumption that I am trying to defend every detail of every narrative.

[Dawson:] I wrote: or “a night of the living-righteous-undead” (as one commentator puts it), both of which only Matthew reports.

Tim: A baffling passage, I admit. But aren’t we slipping over here from a discussion of whether the gospels give a substantially accurate portrayal of Jesus to a discussion of inerrancy?

No, inerrancy is not where I was going with this. The point is that the gospel of Matthew is an excellent example of the kind of legend-building I’m talking about. There are numerous details in Matthew’s gospel that are so “baffling” (as you yourself put it) that they embarrass many believers. In my experience, Christian apologists don’t want to touch these points with a ten-foot pole.


The slaughter of the innocents doesn’t fit a “legend-building” agenda in any way that I can see. Matthew 27:51b-53 could fit that pattern, but it is quite an extrapolation from this to “numerous details.” The stories in the first two chapters of Matthew, whether they are authentic and veridical or not, do not stand disconnected from the rest of the narrative like Matthew 27:51b-53 does.

Tim: Paul isn’t writing volumes about Jesus: he is writing letters to churches.

[Dawson:] Paul is by far the most prolific writer of the New Testament. In terms of volume (i.e., quantity, as I intended the use of the term in my statement above), he produced the largest portion of writings concerning Jesus that the church saw fit to canonize.


Yep.

[Dawson:] In that corpus of epistles, we do not find Paul ever characterizing Jesus as a teacher, ...

But we do find him citing Jesus’ teaching as authoritative.

[Dawson:]... a miracle-worker, a healer, ...

But we do find him emphasizing the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.

[Dawson:]... an exorcist, as born of a virgin, etc.

So: some things mentioned, others not.

[Dawson:] Imagine someone writing 10 letters heaping admiration for Mozart, and never once mentioning that Mozart wrote music or that he lived in the 1700s.

Bad analogy. It would be a little better (but still not very good) to say that Mozart is to music what Jesus is to salvation; and there is plenty of soteriology in the epistles. But there would be nothing surprising about someone’s writing letters in praise of Mozart’s music who doesn’t mention the circumstances of his birth, or his sayings (even about music), or his habits of composing.

Tim: We get what one might expect if the stories were known and the main purposes of the letters were practical and doctrinal rather than historical.

[Dawson:] Not if Paul had known of the teachings which the gospels attribute to Jesus. Had Paul known of these teachings, why didn’t he credit Jesus with them when he (Paul) pens them into his letters? Indeed, Christians are always trying to put the stamp of Jesus’ approval on the things they say. It is conspicuous by its very absence that he doesn’t do this.


As I’ve pointed out above, had Paul done so, we would have grounds for believing that he was writing to people who did not know the story.

Tim: In passing, he alludes to Jesus’ teaching on the sorts of issues that one might expect to come up in churches, including divorce (1 Cor 7:10; note the special stress he lays on this and cf. Matt 5:32; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18)

[Dawson:] I Cor. 7:10 is probably the strongest citation you’ll be able to produce on behalf of your point. In it Paul attributes his charge to those who are married to “the Lord,”...


So far so good, but our agreement terminates abruptly:

[Dawson:] ... which for Paul is the risen, heavenly Jesus, not a pre-crucifixion Jesus.

This attempt to make ο κυριος refer strictly to the risen Jesus seems to me to be a real stretch. Why (over)read the phrase like that? Simply because Paul uses ο κυριος frequently in greetings, exhortations, etc.? I do not see a persuasive argument here against the allusion.

[Dawson:] So he doesn’t have the earthly Jesus we encounter in the gospels in mind here.

I’m sorry; this argument strikes me as a very serious stretch. This just isn’t compelling.

[Dawson:] Also, Mark’s use of this teaching is troublesome. Wells points out:

Jesus could not, as Mark alleges, have told a Palestinian audience that a wife should not seek divorce, since in Palestine only men were allowed to do so. But Paul could appropriately urge such a ruling on the Gentile Christian communities to which he appealed; and if he told them it was Jesus’ teaching, he would have meant (as many commentators admit) not a teaching of a Palestinian Jesus but a directive given by some Christian prophet speaking in the name of the risen one.... This would have been the obvious way of supporting a ruling on divorce which the Christians of Paul’s day were anxious to inculcate. At a later stage it would naturally have been supposed that Jesus must have said during his lifetime what it was believed the risen one had said through Christian prophets; and so the doctrine was, however inappropriately, put into his mouth as an address to a Palestinian audience by Mark. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 23)

So that Paul got this teaching from traditions about an earthly Jesus is problematic.


There are several holes in this argument. In some respects the simplest solution is that Mark, who is writing for a Roman audience, has added an explanatory sentence in verse 12 to cover the case. (Cf. Matt 19:9) This need not even have been an attempt to put words in Jesus’ mouth; the focus shifts after verse 12, so it could well be a gloss. Another possibility is that there were Greeks as well as Jews in the audience in Judaea and that Jesus elaborated the point for their benefit. In neither case does Wells’s attempt to cast doubt upon the obvious source of 1 Cor 7:10 succeed.

Best,
Tim

Evan said...

Tim,

I'm not capable of barn-burners like you and Dawson are going through but I do have a single question when you say:

The slaughter of the innocents doesn’t fit a “legend-building” agenda in any way that I can see.

Do you not agree that the prophecy that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem is legend-building, and that the fact that he recreated the circuit of the house of Israel by going to Egypt and then returning also helps create a mythopoetic narrative? Especially since the flight to Egypt is set up by the slaughter of the innocents and is singly attested?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: My confusion arose because you repeatedly defended Wells's and Doherty’s positions and arguments.

I have defended points which Wells and Doherty have incorporated into substantiating their larger conclusions, yes. But I explained this when I pointed out that one can dispute their grand conclusion (e.g., that there never was a man named Jesus) while recognizing that they make solid points along the way. You asked for examples of this, which is a fair question. But given my time constraints and your own confession to have read Wells (and perhaps Doherty?) in the past, I would point you to their writings. If you do not have their books, both Wells and Doherty have published some of their material online and it is available free of charge. You should also note that both authors have interacted extensively with their critics.

I had quoted Wells: But no more about the ‘historical’ Jesus need have been included in this Christianity of Claudius’s day than what extant Christian writers (Paul and others) were saying before the gospels became established later in the first century; and this much does not confirm their portrait of Jesus as a preacher and wonder-worker in Pilate’s Palestine. (The Jesus Legend, pp. 40-41)

Tim: Between “need have been” and “probably was” there is a serious gap. Wells needs the reader to infer the latter from the former, more cautious statement. But he presents no evidence that would justify this further step.

I think Wells puts greater weight on his assessment of the situation because of the timeframe involved (Claudius' reign between 41 and 54 AD) in relation to the body of Christian literature extant at that time, and also the scant detail included in Suetonius' statement (for instance, Suetonius tells us nothing that isn't already present in Paul's letters). Again, I would agree with this move because the narrative details found in the gospels (such as the ones I included in my list) are not attested to during this timeframe. This is what Wells means by "the 'historical' Jesus" - i.e., a Jesus which was born of a virgin, who was an itinerant preacher, a moral teacher, a miracle-performer, a curer of diseases, etc. The Suetonius passage recommends none of this, and I have seen no good reason put forth to suppose that anything more than what Wells suggests could be read into Suetonius here. As “evidence” for the “historical Jesus,” it is as flimsy as it gets. But I realize that Christians have historically tried to make the most with at best flimsy evidence (it is better than nothing, I suppose), so I am not surprised by the persistence.

Tim: However, that reference fits together well with the account of the growth of the early church and the clashes with Judaism as recounted in Acts and the epistles.

Since Paul's letters already indicate that early Christianity experienced conflicts with Judaism, this "fit" that you mention is of no value in confirming the content of later narratives.

Tim: I am not arguing that the records must be true because they are uncontradicted: I am pointing out that large-scale fabrications are more difficult to pass off as genuine when the events they report are supposed to have taken place within living memory than when they are not.

I'm not sure how difficult you suppose this to be, nor is it clear how one determines whether or not a fabrication is "large-scale." If someone came up to me and said that some event happened 10 years ago, a time well within my memory, and I had never heard of it, on what basis would I dispute it? Indeed, I am not the owner of the claim that it happened, so as a hearer of the claim I have no onus to prove or disprove it. Nor am I obligated to accept it as knowledge, especially if the content of the claim contradicts knowledge that I have already validated. But still, how would it be "difficult" for a person "to pass off as genuine" a fabricated claim? Of course, the chances of him successfully passing off such claims would depend in part on the nature of what's being claimed as well as on the judgment or credulity of those who happened to learn of those claims. Some people are readily willing to believe claims about allegedly supernatural personalities, even if they have no good reason for doing so. I've met persons like this myself. A recent visitor to my website recounted anecdotally his encounter with a Christian believer who declared, "I don't care whether Jesus existed or not, all I know is that He is always by my side, and no one can be happy without His love." Others will simply find claims about allegedly supernatural personalities to be absurd, and many of them are not going to launch into research trying to refute such claims. Thus they go unchallenged, and this very fact can easily be recruited by the faithful as a corroborating point recommending them. And yet, they’re untrue all the same.

I wrote: None of the non-Christian references are early. In fact, most are from the second century and later.

Tim responded: In the context of ancient history, Dawson, that’s awfully early. And the Josephus references are from the first century.

I don’t see where you’ve established that the Josephus references (e.g., the Testimonium) are genuinely Josephan (thus allowing you to put them into the first century). At any rate, your objection seems trivially semantic, and I’ve come to expect better from you. But to give you the benefit of the doubt, I'll rephrase my point for you: none of the non-Christian references antedate the gospel narratives, the only earlier source that we know these details are found in written form. Even if we accept the Testimonium (in whatever form) as genuinely Josephus, it still would date from the last decade of the first century, at a time when at least a couple of the gospel narratives would have been in circulation and thus available to Josephus. The Testimonium, even at its best, tells us nothing that we do not already find reported in the gospels. Tacitus dates from ca. 112, give or take, and again tells us nothing we don’t already find in the gospels. I find it quite unlikely that Tacitus was drawing from Roman records, for it is hard to believe that he would see Pilate registered in those records as a prefect and then mistakenly call him a procurator in his own writings (and even more difficult to believe that the Roman records would record him as procurator instead of prefect in the first place). Similarly I find it very unlikely - and statements you’ve made yourself support this – that Roman records would have referred to Jesus as “Christ.” Etc., etc., etc. The potential that these sources are merely relating what Christians at the time had already come to believe and were claiming is very real.

Tim: The Tacitus reference goes further than the existence of Christians to the existence and crucifixion of Christus under Pontius Pilate, as does the Josephus reference (in uninterpolated form), which Tacitus may be following.

They do not attest to these things if they are simply repeating in one form or another what Christians of the time had been claiming; in that case, they're just repeating what Christians are already on record as believing. In other words, it needs to be established that these sources are in fact independent of Christian reports. Otherwise, they carry very little if any weight. If, for instance, Tacitus was simply reporting what he learned about what the Christians of his day believed - either through interviews he conducted with various of Christianity's representatives, from hearsay, from some written source that was itself based on such reports - then he's not an independent witness of a historical Jesus.

I wrote: My point in my above statement was that Tacitus was essentially reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe. How specifically Tacitus learned it – whether through firsthand interviews with Christians, or from hearsay, etc. – is ultimately immaterial to the point I was trying to make.

Tim: I do not understand why you say this.

I say this because, if Tacitus is merely repeating something he learned either directly or indirectly from Christian sources (i.e., is simply repeating what Christians were already on record as believing), then specifically how Tacitus learned this - whether through interviews he conducted with Christians, from hearsay, from trials of Christians that he knew of, etc. - is essentially irrelevant.


Tim: If Tacitus learned it from Josephys, then Josephus contained a clear reference to Jesus centuries before Eusebius is supposed to have inserted it. That closes the loophole that both Wells and Doherty have tried to use to get rid of the Testimonium.

I know of no compelling reason to suppose that Tacitus got his information from Josephus. The Testimonium names Jesus, and yet Tacitus refers to “Christ,” as if that were his name. Of course, if we are to believe that Tacitus got his information from Josephus, are we also to believe that got his information from Roman records as well? As for Josephus, I simply find it very much a stretch to suppose that Josephus affirmed that Jesus was "the Christ" and yet remained a committed orthodox Jew.


I wrote: Imagine someone writing 10 letters heaping admiration for Mozart, and never once mentioning that Mozart wrote music or that he lived in the 1700s.

Tim scoffs: Bad analogy.

The analogy I gave is actually quite strong, given the vast differences between the Jesus of the Pauline epistles and the Jesus of the gospel narratives. The analogues here are, in the case of Mozart, the fact that he wrote music and lived in the 1700s, and, in the case of the gospel Jesus, the crucial elements that he was widely known throughout Palestine and neighboring regions as a miracle-performer and lived in the 1st century. Someone writing letters expounding on the greatness of Jesus while failing to ever mention that he performed miracles or lived in the 1st century is like someone writing letters expounding on the greatness of Mozart while failing to ever mention that he wrote music or lived in the 1700s. That Paul would write so much recommending Jesus, and yet nowhere credit his handiwork as miracle-worker, for instance, is comparable – in my mind, anyway – to someone writing a similar quantity recommending Mozart, but never mentioning that he wrote music.

Tim: There are several holes in this argument. In some respects the simplest solution is that Mark, who is writing for a Roman audience, has added an explanatory sentence in verse 12 to cover the case. (Cf. Matt 19:9) This need not even have been an attempt to put words in Jesus’ mouth; the focus shifts after verse 12, so it could well be a gloss. Another possibility is that there were Greeks as well as Jews in the audience in Judaea and that Jesus elaborated the point for their benefit. In neither case does Wells’s attempt to cast doubt upon the obvious source of 1 Cor 7:10 succeed.

The passage in Mark (cf. 10:2) makes it clear that Jesus is addressing Pharisees. If the evangelist added his own explanatory note, how is this not putting words into Jesus’ mouth? This seems only to confirm Wells’ point, at least by degrees, which is significant concession enough. The passage does not indicate that there were Greeks in the audience; in fact, Mark specifies that Pharisees are his audience. Perhaps a good point to research is whether or not the law prohibiting a woman to divorce her husband was strictly a Jewish law (and thus meant only for Jews), or a secular law (and thus applicable to all inhabitants, including any Greeks that we want to put in the audience). I haven’t checked this out. Do you have any sources on this? However, as it stands, the “holes” that, according to you, plague Wells’ take on this issue either take the “it could be” stance (which isn’t entirely weak, but it doesn’t have the strength you seem to give to it), consist of adding an explanation that most likely wouldn’t have made sense to the immediate audience (which seems to confirm Wells' point), or posit something that isn't stated in the text itself (such as the presence of Greeks, which smacks of ad hoc defensiveness). Besides, if Paul were getting his “words of the Lord” from a prior source, what was his source? Paul tells us in Galatians and elsewhere that he got his gospel directly from the Lord, not from other men, which suggests he didn’t get it from traditions that were already circulating. Mark and the other gospels weren't written yet. So where did he get this teaching of the earthly Jesus if that’s the position you want to maintain? This remains unanswered. Meanwhile, that the evangelist was taking a teaching that had already acquired currency among early Christians (such as in the early epistolary strata, as I have suggested) and putting it into Jesus’ mouth in the development of a narrative of an earthly Jesus, does not rely on these tactics, and fits (a word you found appropriate earlier) best with the legend case. It's not a stretch by any means.

Regards,
Dawson

bart willruth said...

I recently had a discussion with that went as follows:

Bart,

You ask:

Are you suggesting that Paul's preaching was not done in the context of Diaspora synagogues?

No. But you'll note from the book of Acts how well Paul's message was received by those who remained Jews in those synagogues.

Are you suggesting that the Jews among Paul's followers no longer thought of themselves as part of Israel?

No. But this will do no work for you unless you add the assumption that no one could consider himself to be part of Israel unless he rejected a high christology.

Are you suggesting that Christianized Jews would have huge issues with matters of proper observance to the God of Israel, but would have had no issues whatsoever with the altered understanding of the Jewish concept and definition of the God who ordered those observances?

Yes, this seems most likely. That is one of the key things that distinguished them from non-Christianized Jews.

Below is my response to this conversation:

Let us not hide behind a term like a "high Christology." In fact Paul's Christology was much higher than that of the synoptic gospels. His Jesus was divine. The Jesus of the synoptics was thought of as a prophet, perhaps Elijah or John the Baptist come back. When we speak of Paul's high Christology, we are talking about Jesus being God. When you assert that a Jew with a high Christology could remain a part of Israel, you are assuming that he could believe Jesus the man is God, clearly at odds with the Shema and the Jewish conception of monotheism. I will once again maintain that the lack of conflict between Paul and his detractors over this issue indicates that he was not equating a man with God.

When you suggest that believing that Jesus the man is God was one of the things which distinguished Christians from Jews, you again have to account for the lack of that conflict in Paul's congregations.

One of the problems we are having in communication over this issue is that I am working within the Pauline corpus, and you are allowing the book of Acts to set its context. That is a larger subject that perhaps can be dealt with as a separate blog, but I will clearly state my position that Acts is a second century document written with the express purpose of establishing the concept of apostolic succession, apostolic authority, suppressing the freewheeling prophetic cacophony, and creating a "history" of the early years of Christianity. I see Acts as a hodgepodge of stories cobbled together from multiple sources such as the internal Pauline travel outline (but with contradictions), Josephus, OT stories applied typologically, and other unknown sources. In Acts studies, I find myself allied with scholars such as Crossan, Eisenman, and many others from previous generations which see it as legendary rewrites of the period. Most critical scholars openly denigrate Acts as history, but then many go on as though it were accurate. But without Acts, the entirity of the period of Paul's ministry and the alleged Jerusalem origins of Christianity would be unknown aside from Paul's epistles. That is, the book of Acts is a single source for the entirity of the story of Christian origins, and it is deeply flawed.

From Paul, it is not possible to infer a separate Christian identity from that of diaspora Judaism. The context of the Pauline teaching and conflict would be seen as an intramural debate, not the birth pangs of a separate religion. If we deal with the Pauline epistles on their own terms and identify the context as he describes it, it is simply not possible to find a book of Acts storyline underlying it. That is an imposition from a later time.

So yes, I am conflating Paul's detractors with the Jewish fundamentalists sent out to police heresy within the synagogues. Paul's only sin, and from their point of view it was a bit one, was to allow gentiles to join the synagogues as Jews without submitting to the Torah. That's it. His enemies would have been happy if his converts were not being told that they didn't have to be circumcized and brought within the way of the law. That is quite evident from the epistles. If he had actually been teaching that a recently living Jew was God, the uproar over circumcision would have seemed like a firecracker compared to an atom bomb.

Bart

Tim said...

Evan,

You ask:

Do you not agree that the prophecy that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem is legend-building, and that the fact that he recreated the circuit of the house of Israel by going to Egypt and then returning also helps create a mythopoetic narrative? Especially since the flight to Egypt is set up by the slaughter of the innocents and is singly attested?

No. For legend-building you'd need something like you get in the Gospel of Peter.

Tim said...

Dawson,

You write:

I have defended points which Wells and Doherty have incorporated into substantiating their larger conclusions, yes. But I explained this when I pointed out that one can dispute their grand conclusion (e.g., that there never was a man named Jesus) while recognizing that they make solid points along the way. You asked for examples of this, which is a fair question. But given my time constraints and your own confession to have read Wells (and perhaps Doherty?) in the past, I would point you to their writings. If you do not have their books, both Wells and Doherty have published some of their material online and it is available free of charge. You should also note that both authors have interacted extensively with their critics.

I have read much of Wells’s earlier work, but less of Doherty’s. I have seen some of Wells’s responses to his critics online.

[Dawson:] I had quoted Wells: But no more about the ‘historical’ Jesus need have been included in this Christianity of Claudius’s day than what extant Christian writers (Paul and others) were saying before the gospels became established later in the first century; and this much does not confirm their portrait of Jesus as a preacher and wonder-worker in Pilate’s Palestine. (The Jesus Legend, pp. 40-41)

Tim: Between “need have been” and “probably was” there is a serious gap. Wells needs the reader to infer the latter from the former, more cautious statement. But he presents no evidence that would justify this further step.

[Dawson:] I think Wells puts greater weight on his assessment of the situation because of the timeframe involved (Claudius' reign between 41 and 54 AD) in relation to the body of Christian literature extant at that time, and also the scant detail included in Suetonius' statement (for instance, Suetonius tells us nothing that isn't already present in Paul's letters).


Actually, the very oddness of Suetonius’s reference is excellent evidence that he isn’t getting his information from Paul’s letters. So it does provide independent evidence for the physical existence of Christ, though of course I would maintain that the gospels, Acts, and the epistles are far stronger evidence on this point.

[Dawson:] Again, I would agree with this move because the narrative details found in the gospels (such as the ones I included in my list) are not attested to during this timeframe. This is what Wells means by "the 'historical' Jesus" - i.e., a Jesus which was born of a virgin, who was an itinerant preacher, a moral teacher, a miracle-performer, a curer of diseases, etc.

Here we have a semantic juggle on Wells’s part. If there was a real itinerant Jewish teacher named Jesus, hailing from Nazareth, who delivered even many of the sayings and sermons reported in the gospels, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, whose disciples declared him to have risen from the dead and founded the Christian church on account of their professed belief, then there was a historical Jesus even if the virgin birth never happened and the miracle stories were all late additions. It is for this more minimal claim that the evidence of Suetonius, Tacitus, et al. is pertinent. Demanding that the secular evidence present him as a miracle worker if it is to count for his mere existence is demanding the unreasonable. Someone fully persuaded that Jesus worked miracles would in all probability have become a Christian, at which point his testimony would no longer be considered non-Christian evidence.

From this, my answer to the rest of your paragraph should be clear:

[Dawson:] The Suetonius passage recommends none of this, and I have seen no good reason put forth to suppose that anything more than what Wells suggests could be read into Suetonius here. As “evidence” for the “historical Jesus,” it is as flimsy as it gets.

This is at best a confusion about what Christians who cite the Suetonius and Tacitus passages mean by “the historical Jesus.”

[Dawson:] But I realize that Christians have historically tried to make the most with at best flimsy evidence (it is better than nothing, I suppose), so I am not surprised by the persistence.

For my part, I realize that treating the Christian argument fairly would make it more difficult to answer, so I am not surprised by Wells’s misrepresentation of it. I am, however, disappointed to see that you follow him in this.

Tim: However, that reference fits together well with the account of the growth of the early church and the clashes with Judaism as recounted in Acts and the epistles.

[Dawson:] Since Paul's letters already indicate that early Christianity experienced conflicts with Judaism, this "fit" that you mention is of no value in confirming the content of later narratives.


I agree that the confirmation afforded by the Suetonius reference is marginal given the Pauline epistles. But as mythers usually have to put a strange spin on Paul’s epistles, the value of a reference that cannot plausibly be spun as derivative from Paul’s epistles increases.

Tim: I am not arguing that the records must be true because they are uncontradicted: I am pointing out that large-scale fabrications are more difficult to pass off as genuine when the events they report are supposed to have taken place within living memory than when they are not.

[Dawson:] I'm not sure how difficult you suppose this to be, nor is it clear how one determines whether or not a fabrication is "large-scale."


Under hostile circumstances, I’d say that it would be almost impossible within living memory to do more than insert a few isolated passages and twiddle with a few more. The manuscript evidence for the gospels is extensive and indicates that this, plus the numerous but insignificant scribal errors one would expect, is about all that happened.

If someone came up to me and said that some event happened 10 years ago, a time well within my memory, and I had never heard of it, on what basis would I dispute it? Indeed, I am not the owner of the claim that it happened, so as a hearer of the claim I have no onus to prove or disprove it. Nor am I obligated to accept it as knowledge, especially if the content of the claim contradicts knowledge that I have already validated. But still, how would it be "difficult" for a person "to pass off as genuine" a fabricated claim? Of course, the chances of him successfully passing off such claims would depend in part on the nature of what's being claimed as well as on the judgment or credulity of those who happened to learn of those claims.

If he claimed that the event was done in public and that there were living eyewitnesses of it, that would help his case. If he told you that you should break with the religious group with which you have identified since birth, change your way of life, submit to new rules of conduct, and endure fierce persecution because this event took place, you would have to be crazy to accept it without strong evidence.

Some people are readily willing to believe claims about allegedly supernatural personalities, even if they have no good reason for doing so. I've met persons like this myself. A recent visitor to my website recounted anecdotally his encounter with a Christian believer who declared, "I don't care whether Jesus existed or not, all I know is that He is always by my side, and no one can be happy without His love."

Let’s set a howling mob on his trail and burn a few of his fellow-parishoners in shirts dipped in wax for a garden party and then see how firm his convictions are.

Others will simply find claims about allegedly supernatural personalities to be absurd, and many of them are not going to launch into research trying to refute such claims. Thus they go unchallenged, and this very fact can easily be recruited by the faithful as a corroborating point recommending them. And yet, they’re untrue all the same.

No doubt about this one: every such claim stands or falls with the evidence provided in its favor.

[Dawson:] I wrote: None of the non-Christian references are early. In fact, most are from the second century and later.

Tim responded: In the context of ancient history, Dawson, that’s awfully early. And the Josephus references are from the first century.

[Dawson:] I don’t see where you’ve established that the Josephus references (e.g., the Testimonium) are genuinely Josephan (thus allowing you to put them into the first century).


We haven’t gotten into this discussion in detail, but I am persuaded by the same evidence that has persuaded the overwhelming majority of Josephus scholars that, although the Testimonium as it stands in most manuscripts has suffered interpolation, it was originally a brief and fairly neutral passage. The Agapius text confirms this – in fact, Maier uses the (uninterpolated) Agapius text as the basis for the translation he gives in his translation of Josephus, relegating the interpolated text to a footnote.

[Dawson:] At any rate, your objection seems trivially semantic, and I’ve come to expect better from you.

Certainly not trying to be trivial.

[Dawson:] But to give you the benefit of the doubt, I'll rephrase my point for you: none of the non-Christian references antedate the gospel narratives, the only earlier source that we know these details are found in written form.

No disagreement so far, but I can see one looming ...

[Dawson:] Even if we accept the Testimonium (in whatever form) as genuinely Josephus, it still would date from the last decade of the first century, at a time when at least a couple of the gospel narratives would have been in circulation and thus available to Josephus.

This will help you, in the sense that it will take away the value of the Testimonium as an independent non-Christian source of evidence for the existence of Jesus, only if you assume that Josephus is making use of the gospels.

[Dawson:] The Testimonium, even at its best, tells us nothing that we do not already find reported in the gospels.

Right: but if it is an independent witness, then what it tells us corroborates the gospels, particularly when it comes to the historicity of Jesus. For that reason, it is necessary for mythers to explain it away as an interpolation en toto: nothing less will do.

[Dawson:] Tacitus dates from ca. 112, give or take, and again tells us nothing we don’t already find in the gospels. I find it quite unlikely that Tacitus was drawing from Roman records, for it is hard to believe that he would see Pilate registered in those records as a prefect and then mistakenly call him a procurator in his own writings (and even more difficult to believe that the Roman records would record him as procurator instead of prefect in the first place).

As I have pointed out, this mistake is found in Philo and Josephus as well; nor is Tacitus normally particularly accurate about titles in other contexts.

[Dawson:] Similarly I find it very unlikely - and statements you’ve made yourself support this – that Roman records would have referred to Jesus as “Christ.”

I think you must have misunderstood what I have said about the Roman records. It is entirely plausible – in the case of Suetonius it seems actually to have been the case – that the Romans at some remove from Palestine thought that “Chrestus” was Jesus’s name, as “Chrestus” was a fairly common Roman name.

[Dawson:] The potential that these sources are merely relating what Christians at the time had already come to believe and were claiming is very real.

In the Josephus case I believe this is very unlikely, since the language of the passage (in the uninterpolated form) is not what a Christian would have written, does not use the phrases a Christian would have used, etc. You can find a good discussion of this in van Voorst.

Tim: The Tacitus reference goes further than the existence of Christians to the existence and crucifixion of Christus under Pontius Pilate, as does the Josephus reference (in uninterpolated form), which Tacitus may be following.

[Dawson:] They do not attest to these things if they are simply repeating in one form or another what Christians of the time had been claiming; in that case, they're just repeating what Christians are already on record as believing. In other words, it needs to be established that these sources are in fact independent of Christian reports. Otherwise, they carry very little if any weight.


I agree. That is why Josephus scholars have looked into the question closely.

[Dawson:] If, for instance, Tacitus was simply reporting what he learned about what the Christians of his day believed - either through interviews he conducted with various of Christianity's representatives, from hearsay, from some written source that was itself based on such reports - then he's not an independent witness of a historical Jesus.

As I acknowledged above. However, though this cannot be ruled out directly, the evidence does not seem to point that way.

[Dawson:] I wrote: My point in my above statement was that Tacitus was essentially reporting what Christians at that time had come to believe. How specifically Tacitus learned it – whether through firsthand interviews with Christians, or from hearsay, etc. – is ultimately immaterial to the point I was trying to make.

Tim: I do not understand why you say this.

[Dawson:] I say this because, if Tacitus is merely repeating something he learned either directly or indirectly from Christian sources (i.e., is simply repeating what Christians were already on record as believing), then specifically how Tacitus learned this - whether through interviews he conducted with Christians, from hearsay, from trials of Christians that he knew of, etc. - is essentially irrelevant.


That depends on whether he learned it from an independent source.

Tim: If Tacitus learned it from Josephys, then Josephus contained a clear reference to Jesus centuries before Eusebius is supposed to have inserted it. That closes the loophole that both Wells and Doherty have tried to use to get rid of the Testimonium.

[Dawson:] I know of no compelling reason to suppose that Tacitus got his information from Josephus. The Testimonium names Jesus, and yet Tacitus refers to “Christ,” as if that were his name.


In Antiquities 20.200, just a few pages on from the Testimonium, Josephus refers to “Jesus who was called the Christ.”

[Dawson:] Of course, if we are to believe that Tacitus got his information from Josephus, are we also to believe that got his information from Roman records as well?

Either hypothesis would render the other superfluous, though it would not necessarily show that the supposition is false.

[Dawson:] As for Josephus, I simply find it very much a stretch to suppose that Josephus affirmed that Jesus was "the Christ" and yet remained a committed orthodox Jew.

In the uninterpolated Testimonium this phrase does not occur; in 20.200, Josephus says, not that he was the Christ, but that he was called the Christ – a designation he apparently expects his readers to recognize. Some distinguishing feature was necessary in any event in view of the twenty other Jesuses whom Josephus mentions in his works.

[Dawson:] I wrote: Imagine someone writing 10 letters heaping admiration for Mozart, and never once mentioning that Mozart wrote music or that he lived in the 1700s.

Tim scoffs: Bad analogy.

[Dawson:] The analogy I gave is actually quite strong, ...


I have already addressed this; what you say subsequently simply reiterates your analogy and takes no account of what I said, so there is nothing new here requiring response.

Tim: There are several holes in this argument. In some respects the simplest solution is that Mark, who is writing for a Roman audience, has added an explanatory sentence in verse 12 to cover the case. (Cf. Matt 19:9) This need not even have been an attempt to put words in Jesus’ mouth; the focus shifts after verse 12, so it could well be a gloss. Another possibility is that there were Greeks as well as Jews in the audience in Judaea and that Jesus elaborated the point for their benefit. In neither case does Wells’s attempt to cast doubt upon the obvious source of 1 Cor 7:10 succeed.

[Dawson:] The passage in Mark (cf. 10:2) makes it clear that Jesus is addressing Pharisees. If the evangelist added his own explanatory note, how is this not putting words into Jesus’ mouth?


Because verse 12 doesn’t start with ιησους ειπεν ...?

[Dawson:] This seems only to confirm Wells’ point, at least by degrees, which is significant concession enough.

Sorry: I just don’t see this as a significant concession at all.

[Dawson:] The passage does not indicate that there were Greeks in the audience;

It simply doesn’t tell us much about the audience.

[Dawson:] ... in fact, Mark specifies that Pharisees are his audience.

No: it specifies that the Pharisees are his target.

[Dawson:] Perhaps a good point to research is whether or not the law prohibiting a woman to divorce her husband was strictly a Jewish law (and thus meant only for Jews), or a secular law (and thus applicable to all inhabitants, including any Greeks that we want to put in the audience). I haven’t checked this out. Do you have any sources on this?

No, I haven’t.

[Dawson:] However, as it stands, the “holes” that, according to you, plague Wells’ take on this issue either take the “it could be” stance (which isn’t entirely weak, but it doesn’t have the strength you seem to give to it), ...

If Wells is going to make a “could not” claim, he’s taking on a significant burden and is going to have to close those holes.

[Dawson:] ... consist of adding an explanation that most likely wouldn’t have made sense to the immediate audience (which seems to confirm Wells' point), ...

If the explanation were added for Mark’s audience, that would not really help Wells’s case that the event never took place (because Jesus never existed).

[Dawson:] ...or posit something that isn't stated in the text itself (such as the presence of Greeks, which smacks of ad hoc defensiveness).

Again, Wells is making an extremely strong claim. All that is necessary to undermine it is that one or another of these suppositions be true. None of them is wildly implausible, and any one of them would suffice to undermine his claim.

[Dawson:] Besides, if Paul were getting his “words of the Lord” from a prior source, what was his source?

Most likely from the apostles, either directly or indirectly. Traveling with Luke would be a great way to find out a lot of information.

[Dawson:] Paul tells us in Galatians and elsewhere that he got his gospel directly from the Lord, not from other men, which suggests he didn’t get it from traditions that were already circulating.

I think these passages are being overread. Paul, by his own account, was commissioned directly by the Lord, but nothing he says in Galatians or 1 Corinthians conflicts with the account in Acts that he spent time with the disciples at Damascus immediately after his conversion and baptism (9:19) and subsequently was with the disciples in Jerusalem (9:27-28).

Mark and the other gospels weren't written yet. So where did he get this teaching of the earthly Jesus if that’s the position you want to maintain? This remains unanswered.

I have answered it for you now.

[Dawson:] Meanwhile, that the evangelist was taking a teaching that had already acquired currency among early Christians (such as in the early epistolary strata, as I have suggested) and putting it into Jesus’ mouth in the development of a narrative of an earthly Jesus, does not rely on these tactics, and fits (a word you found appropriate earlier) best with the legend case. It's not a stretch by any means.

There are so many problems with this hypothesis that I cannot even begin to enumerate them all in a blog post. Where did Paul get all these ideas? (The mystery religions “explanation” is beyond hopeless.) What did Peter, James, and John have to say about his teaching? How did the actual beliefs of those pillars of the early church – to whom Paul himself refers in Galatians 2 – manage to disappear without a ripple? Whence the materials in the gospels that could not have come from the Pauline epistles? How did the clever forgers manage so thoroughly to cover their tracks that there is no hint now of their existence? How on earth did the undesigned coincidences get built in, so that things in one gospel that make no sense taken on their own are explained by passing references in others? How does one account for the undesigned coincidences between the epistles and Acts – things that could not plausibly have been written up on the basis of Paul’s epistles?

We have forgeries in history, and we know what they look like. This isn’t it. If the mythic theory requires this sort of retrojection of Paul’s epistles into the gospels and Acts, that simply puts more nails into its coffin.

Tim said...

Bart,

You write:

Let us not hide behind a term like a "high Christology." In fact Paul's Christology was much higher than that of the synoptic gospels. His Jesus was divine. The Jesus of the synoptics was thought of as a prophet, perhaps Elijah or John the Baptist come back.

If the suggestion that in the synoptics Jesus is definitely not God, then I think this is just false. We could start the argument with Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:10, and Luke 5:24. All I would concede here is that the case for a divine Jesus is easier to make from the fourth gospel and Paul’s epistles.

When we speak of Paul's high Christology, we are talking about Jesus being God. When you assert that a Jew with a high Christology could remain a part of Israel, you are assuming that he could believe Jesus the man is God, clearly at odds with the Shema and the Jewish conception of monotheism. I will once again maintain that the lack of conflict between Paul and his detractors over this issue indicates that he was not equating a man with God.

We’ll just have to agree to disagree, then.

When you suggest that believing that Jesus the man is God was one of the things which distinguished Christians from Jews, you again have to account for the lack of that conflict in Paul's congregations.

As I’ve pointed out several times, this would be the case only if you were right on the key point where we disagree.

One of the problems we are having in communication over this issue is that I am working within the Pauline corpus, and you are allowing the book of Acts to set its context.

Although I am persuaded by the evidence in Paley, Smith, Hemer, and Kettenbach that Acts is basically a historical narrative and that it dovetails as well with the epistles as we can expect any narratives of secular history to dovetail with each other, I do not see that I am using this as an assumption in our discussion.

That is a larger subject that perhaps can be dealt with as a separate blog, but I will clearly state my position that Acts is a second century document written with the express purpose of establishing the concept of apostolic succession, apostolic authority, suppressing the freewheeling prophetic cacophony, and creating a "history" of the early years of Christianity. I see Acts as a hodgepodge of stories cobbled together from multiple sources such as the internal Pauline travel outline (but with contradictions), Josephus, OT stories applied typologically, and other unknown sources. In Acts studies, I find myself allied with scholars such as Crossan, Eisenman, and many others from previous generations which see it as legendary rewrites of the period.

In this respect, Crossan and Eisenman are at odds with the best scholarship of the past century.

Most critical scholars openly denigrate Acts as history, but then many go on as though it were accurate.

There is actually quite a lively fight on regarding the historicity of Acts, as you should know if you have read Martin Hengel’s works on the subject.

But without Acts, the entirity of the period of Paul's ministry and the alleged Jerusalem origins of Christianity would be unknown aside from Paul's epistles.

We have ten or a dozen epistles that give us a window on the origins of Christianity. We also have a narrative in Acts that gives us a different point of view but can be reconciled remarkably well with the picture we get from the epistles. Your claim is that if we didn’t have these things, why, we wouldn’t know much from the first century about the origins of Christianity. Well, yes ... but what can you hope to derive from this?

That is, the book of Acts is a single source for the entirity of the story of Christian origins, ...

I thought you just said that the epistles are also a source. Wasn’t that the point of your saying, “... aside from Paul’s epistles”? We could also get a bit of information from the Petrine and Johannine epistles, which I suppose you must also take to be forgeries.

... and it is deeply flawed.

The narrative of Acts is minutely circumstantial, and in the second part in particular it ranges quite widely in space and is therefore subject to cross checks from various sorts of evidence (archaeological, nautical, etc.). The result of these cross checks is that the narrative appears to be astonishingly accurate in dozens of details that we can verify. This provides a very strong case that it is an authentic travelogue.

From Paul, it is not possible to infer a separate Christian identity from that of diaspora Judaism.

You cannot mean this literally. Diaspora Judaism practiced the Last Supper, talked about the messiah as come, proclaimed the availability of the Abrahamic promises to the gentiles, declared the law to be ended, maintained that circumcision was now optional, and referred to the resurrection of Jesus as authenticated by numerous witnesses?

The context of the Pauline teaching and conflict would be seen as an intramural debate, not the birth pangs of a separate religion.

This is not credible, for the sorts of reasons I have outlined above.

If we deal with the Pauline epistles on their own terms and identify the context as he describes it, it is simply not possible to find a book of Acts storyline underlying it. That is an imposition from a later time.

I couldn’t disagree more heartily. If the book of Acts did not exist, the many details in Paul’s epistles would force us to postulate something like it in outline.

So yes, I am conflating Paul's detractors with the Jewish fundamentalists sent out to police heresy within the synagogues. Paul's only sin, and from their point of view it was a bit one, was to allow gentiles to join the synagogues as Jews without submitting to the Torah. That's it. His enemies would have been happy if his converts were not being told that they didn't have to be circumcized and brought within the way of the law. That is quite evident from the epistles. If he had actually been teaching that a recently living Jew was God, the uproar over circumcision would have seemed like a firecracker compared to an atom bomb.

It was an atom bomb, and no one knew that better than Paul; see passages like 2 Cor 11: 24-26. But the explosion, just as we would expect, was the utterly understandable one of orthodox Judaism against nascent Christianity.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote: I think Wells puts greater weight on his assessment of the situation because of the timeframe involved (Claudius' reign between 41 and 54 AD) in relation to the body of Christian literature extant at that time, and also the scant detail included in Suetonius' statement (for instance, Suetonius tells us nothing that isn't already present in Paul's letters).

Tim: Actually, the very oddness of Suetonius’s reference is excellent evidence that he isn’t getting his information from Paul’s letters. So it does provide independent evidence for the physical existence of Christ...

That Suetonius did not get his information from Paul’s letters (something I wasn’t suggesting anyway), does not make it independent testimony. Indeed, Suetonius refers to a “Chrestus” which you admit was a common name, so how can we be sure it was a reference to someone named Jesus? As I mentioned earlier, the Suetonius reference can be taken to mean that the individual who was prompting the offending disturbances was not only present (in Rome!), but also still alive. But I think you’ve missed the point that I was making above, which is: we already know from Paul’s letters that there were conflicts in Claudius’ day, and Suetonius’ passing reference to unspecified Jews making disturbances under the instigation of someone named “Chrestus” gives us no new information. As such, it may – in your mind – pose a threat to the mythic case (though even here I’m unpersuaded), it poses no threat to the legend case whatsoever. Why? Because the legend case is compatible with conflicts such as those to which Suetonius refers.

I wrote: Again, I would agree with this move because the narrative details found in the gospels (such as the ones I included in my list) are not attested to during this timeframe. This is what Wells means by "the 'historical' Jesus" - i.e., a Jesus which was born of a virgin, who was an itinerant preacher, a moral teacher, a miracle-performer, a curer of diseases, etc.

Tim: Here we have a semantic juggle on Wells’s part. If there was a real itinerant Jewish teacher named Jesus, hailing from Nazareth, who delivered even many of the sayings and sermons reported in the gospels, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, whose disciples declared him to have risen from the dead and founded the Christian church on account of their professed belief, then there was a historical Jesus even if the virgin birth never happened and the miracle stories were all late additions.

Wells puts “historical” in scare quotes to distinguish what Christians take as the historical Jesus from what he would consider an actually historical Jesus. Christians want to take the supernaturalism of the gospels and other NT texts seriously, as if they were truly historical. Wells does not consider these elements truly historical, hence the use of scare quotes. There’s no juggling going on here.

Tim: Demanding that the secular evidence present him as a miracle worker if it is to count for his mere existence is demanding the unreasonable.

I’m not sure about this. Jesus is said to have entertained many large audiences, not all of whom became his follower. Someone could have observed Jesus engaged in some miraculous stuntwork, but assumed that he was like many magicians of the day. He could have easily attributed some supernatural gift to the fellow and thought his performances were indeed otherworldly, but he may have scoffed at the idea that he was “the son of God.” Indeed, as I imagine what I read in the gospels (they give the imagination quite a bit to play with), I could easily imagine such a situation. On the other hand, one could reasonably fathom that a non-Christian individual witnessed some miraculous event and never came to attribute its cause to a Christian religious hero. For instance, he could have seen a group of formerly dead people emerging from their graves and walking among the streets of the city, something that would seem truly miraculous. However, this same fellow may not have realized that the cause for these resuscitations was the death of some guy named Jesus outside the city walls. Indeed, why would he make such a correlation?

Tim: Someone fully persuaded that Jesus worked miracles would in all probability have become a Christian, at which point his testimony would no longer be considered non-Christian evidence.

If he were familiar with the Christian teachings surrounding his identity, I would think so. This is one reason why I think the Josephus passage is simply unbelievable: I don’t think Josephus would surmise that Jesus was in fact the Messiah and yet remain a committed, non-Christian Jew.

I wrote: Since Paul's letters already indicate that early Christianity experienced conflicts with Judaism, this "fit" that you mention is of no value in confirming the content of later narratives.

Tim: I agree that the confirmation afforded by the Suetonius reference is marginal given the Pauline epistles. But as mythers usually have to put a strange spin on Paul’s epistles, the value of a reference that cannot plausibly be spun as derivative from Paul’s epistles increases.

I don’t think “the mythers” need Suetonius’ reference to derive from Paul’s epistles. My point about this above, which I explained, is that – at best – Suetonius’ reference points to something that we already know from the epistles, namely disputes among Jews. The Suetonius reference loses even more value as evidence if “Chrestus” is a common name that could refer to just about anyone (indeed, someone who has otherwise been forgotten by history) and that this someone was still alive and present in Rome, someone who was personally responsible for the instigating to which the Suetonius passage refers. I certainly don’t see anything in the Suetonius passage which suggests that the individual instigating the disturbances it mentions was crucified and later resurrected, for instance.

Tim wrote: I am not arguing that the records must be true because they are uncontradicted: I am pointing out that large-scale fabrications are more difficult to pass off as genuine when the events they report are supposed to have taken place within living memory than when they are not.

I responded: I'm not sure how difficult you suppose this to be, nor is it clear how one determines whether or not a fabrication is "large-scale."

Tim: Under hostile circumstances, I’d say that it would be almost impossible within living memory to do more than insert a few isolated passages and twiddle with a few more.

I guess I’m just not persuaded here at all. It seems that anyone could write whatever they want, and if he tried to pass it off as history, it’s quite possible that someone out there is going to buy into it, especially if he were philosophically predisposed to believing in the supernatural. Many would just laugh, assuming they caught wind of it, which is what I expect many did. But there will be some who are either gullible or desperate, anxious for something to make them feel better, and these individuals will be susceptible to believing a lie, a fiction, a legend, a tale, even if it purported to take place within living memory.


I wrote: If someone came up to me and said that some event happened 10 years ago, a time well within my memory, and I had never heard of it, on what basis would I dispute it? Indeed, I am not the owner of the claim that it happened, so as a hearer of the claim I have no onus to prove or disprove it. Nor am I obligated to accept it as knowledge, especially if the content of the claim contradicts knowledge that I have already validated. But still, how would it be "difficult" for a person "to pass off as genuine" a fabricated claim? Of course, the chances of him successfully passing off such claims would depend in part on the nature of what's being claimed as well as on the judgment or credulity of those who happened to learn of those claims.

Tim: If he claimed that the event was done in public and that there were living eyewitnesses of it, that would help his case.

It would be easy to claim that there were living eyewitnesses to the event in question, even if this were a complete fabrication. He doesn’t even need to name the alleged eyewitnesses, or say where the alleged event took place, or when it took place. He could, for instance, say “above five hundred brothers” saw this, and to make it seem real, he could say that some are now “asleep” (meaning apparently that they’re now dead), but never mentioning who these people were, where they could be found for purposes of inquiry, etc.

Tim: If he told you that you should break with the religious group with which you have identified since birth, change your way of life, submit to new rules of conduct, and endure fierce persecution because this event took place, you would have to be crazy to accept it without strong evidence.

Tim, I have known a lot crazy people then. They’re called Christians. They have broken from their families, burned bridges with past friendships, and become almost unrecognizable, both in appearance and in character (some sprinkle their conversation with phrases like “the Lord willing” or “Praise Jesus!”, while others seem to have this feigned euphoric disposition going on). They go through all kinds of troubles in the world, like everyone else, and call them “trials and tribulations.” When they encounter differences of opinion, such as in the workplace or in some public venue, they call this “persecution.” I have seen pastors claim to have raised persons from the dead (such as at the scene of an accident in one case, another at a hospital, and yet another in an elderly home), and the entire congregation just believes it, because they have determined to put their trust in everything he says. After all, he’s the “man of God,” so they would rather undergo additional hardship themselves rather than be caught questioning the pastor.

I wrote: Some people are readily willing to believe claims about allegedly supernatural personalities, even if they have no good reason for doing so. I've met persons like this myself. A recent visitor to my website recounted anecdotally his encounter with a Christian believer who declared, "I don't care whether Jesus existed or not, all I know is that He is always by my side, and no one can be happy without His love."

Tim: Let’s set a howling mob on his trail and burn a few of his fellow-parishoners in shirts dipped in wax for a garden party and then see how firm his convictions are.

Indeed. I wonder what a lot of internet apologists would do if faced with such threats to their persons. It’s easy to say “I would never disavow Jesus!” But until you’re faced with such a situation, how do you know? There have been some throughout history – in the past century we’ve seen Muslim suicide bombers, kamikaze pilots, Heaven’s Gaters, Jonestown, etc. – volunteer their lives for all kinds of baffling causes. They believed, and then they acted on it. They didn’t even wait for some howling mob as you describe to come chasing after them. On the contrary, they took the initiative toward their own demise. Then again, we have no idea what St. Paul did if he was tortured in Rome. Christians prefer to think he remained faithful until the end, as his torturers flogged him for the last time. The Christians of the day, of course, had they heard that Paul recanted, probably would not have recorded it, settling it in their minds as a lapse into weakness, or that he was a vessel which the Christian god used and discarded for whatever reason a god would do so.

I wrote: I don’t see where you’ve established that the Josephus references (e.g., the Testimonium) are genuinely Josephan (thus allowing you to put them into the first century).

Tim: We haven’t gotten into this discussion in detail, but I am persuaded by the same evidence that has persuaded the overwhelming majority of Josephus scholars that, although the Testimonium as it stands in most manuscripts has suffered interpolation, it was originally a brief and fairly neutral passage. The Agapius text confirms this – in fact, Maier uses the (uninterpolated) Agapius text as the basis for the translation he gives in his translation of Josephus, relegating the interpolated text to a footnote.

I see, you rest your position on an appeal to authority. That’s fine.

I wrote: Even if we accept the Testimonium (in whatever form) as genuinely Josephus, it still would date from the last decade of the first century, at a time when at least a couple of the gospel narratives would have been in circulation and thus available to Josephus.

Tim: This will help you, in the sense that it will take away the value of the Testimonium as an independent non-Christian source of evidence for the existence of Jesus, only if you assume that Josephus is making use of the gospels.

If I make the stretch needed to allow the Testimonium to be genuinely Josephan, I see no stretch needed at that point to suppose that he could have made use of literature that was available in his day. Of course, he could have heard reports about what the gospels were claiming, and based his passage on this. Either way, if we grant that the Testimonium is genuinely Josephan, he had to get his information from somewhere, did he not? If he didn’t get it from gospel traditions, some of which by the last decade of the first century were already written, where did he get it?

I wrote: The Testimonium, even at its best, tells us nothing that we do not already find reported in the gospels.

Tim: Right: but if it is an independent witness, then what it tells us corroborates the gospels, particularly when it comes to the historicity of Jesus. For that reason, it is necessary for mythers to explain it away as an interpolation en toto: nothing less will do.

I see no good reason whatsoever to suppose that the Testimonium is an independent witness. Scholars already have agreed – pretty much in consensus from what I’ve seen – that Josephus’ writings were tampered with by Christians, no one before Eusebius (4th cent.) makes use of the passage in question (even though many earlier apologists relied heavily on Josephus to argue for the truth of the gospels), and it tells us nothing that the gospels don’t already themselves tell us.

I wrote: Tacitus dates from ca. 112, give or take, and again tells us nothing we don’t already find in the gospels. I find it quite unlikely that Tacitus was drawing from Roman records, for it is hard to believe that he would see Pilate registered in those records as a prefect and then mistakenly call him a procurator in his own writings (and even more difficult to believe that the Roman records would record him as procurator instead of prefect in the first place).

Tim: As I have pointed out, this mistake is found in Philo and Josephus as well; nor is Tacitus normally particularly accurate about titles in other contexts.

For the position that Tacitus got his information from Roman records, you need either that those records incorrectly recorded Pilate’s title, or you need Tacitus reading the correct title in those records and then making the mistake when he incorporates what he read in those records in his own writings. Both are possible (so is bowling a 300 game), but I don’t find it very likely. And again, there’s nothing in the passage in question to suggest that this is what happened. So in the final analysis, as “evidence,” the Tacitus passage is just not helpful.

I wrote: Similarly I find it very unlikely - and statements you’ve made yourself support this – that Roman records would have referred to Jesus as “Christ.”

Tim: I think you must have misunderstood what I have said about the Roman records.

That’s possible. I went back to find what I thought I recalled you saying on this point. Here’s what I think it was:

I had asked: Would the Roman records have stated that ‘the Christ’ or ‘the Messiah’ was crucified?

You had responded: The term would not have had this significance for the Romans.

I took this to mean – as I myself would think – that Romans would not record Jesus’ name as “Christ” in a record of his crucifixion. Perhaps you think they would record his name as “Christ” instead of Jesus, even though “Christ” is a religious title that, as you had stated, would not have the significance for Romans that it did for the early Christians.

Tim: It is entirely plausible – in the case of Suetonius it seems actually to have been the case – that the Romans at some remove from Palestine thought that “Chrestus” was Jesus’s name, as “Chrestus” was a fairly common Roman name.

The appeal to Suetonius here is question-begging at best (see my points above). Indeed, if “Chrestus” was a fairly common Roman name, the Chrestus that Suetonius refers to need not be the Jesus of the Christians. I already gave reasons to suppose it could easily have meant someone else.

But the point in question here was in reference to Tacitus, not Suetonius. Without coming out and affirming it explicitly, it seems that you are suggesting that Roman records have “Christ” where I would think they’d have “Jesus,” even though “Jesus” was his name, and “Christ” was a religious title that the Romans would not have recognized. You say this by supposing they might have thought it really was his name. Do you suppose they might have thought “Lord” might have been his name as well? At any rate, it seems you need the Romans to have mistakenly recorded Jesus’ name as “Christ” in order for Tacitus to be an independent source. Meanwhile, I see no reason why Tacitus could not have gotten his information from someone like Pliny, from Christians themselves, from trials that he attended or learned about, from discussions with other officials who had field knowledge of Christians in their jurisdictions, etc., all of which would point to repeating what Christians believed and were preaching at the time.

I wrote: The potential that these sources are merely relating what Christians at the time had already come to believe and were claiming is very real.

Tim: In the Josephus case I believe this is very unlikely, since the language of the passage (in the uninterpolated form) is not what a Christian would have written, does not use the phrases a Christian would have used, etc. You can find a good discussion of this in van Voorst.

This seems to confuse what Josephus would have written with what a Christian would have written. If we grant that the Testimonium is genuinely Josephan (even the version that you prefer), we would still be saying that Josephus wrote it, not a Christian. Then again, it wouldn’t be too difficult for a Christian interpolator to attempt to approximate Josephus’ voice in order to make the passage seem all the more authentic. In fact, I would expect as much (I’ve come across some exquisitely crafty Christians in my day).

I wrote: If, for instance, Tacitus was simply reporting what he learned about what the Christians of his day believed - either through interviews he conducted with various of Christianity's representatives, from hearsay, from some written source that was itself based on such reports - then he's not an independent witness of a historical Jesus.

Tim: As I acknowledged above. However, though this cannot be ruled out directly, the evidence does not seem to point that way.

I suppose we just see the evidence pointing in opposite directions. I believe I’ve given your viewpoint a fair hearing and have interacted with it as much as I can, given my limited time and resources. At best, it seems, there is nothing that conclusively recommends Tacitus or any other non-Christian source as firm evidence for the truth of the gospels. There are just too many holes here, too much potential implausibility (such as supposing that Tacitus got his facts mistaken or that the Roman records he consulted were, or that Josephus thought Jesus was the Messiah and yet remained a committed non-Christian Jew, etc.) to take these sources down the Christian path, a path that leads to supernaturalism which, as an adult thinker, I find absolutely unbelievable to begin with. In fact, it seems that, if there were a Jesus and the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus were at all historical, I’d wonder why that same Jesus doesn’t just appear to everyone else he wants to convince, just as he did for Saul. I remember asking a Mormon missionary this question once, and his response was, “Jesus wants us to have faith.” I then asked, “Didn’t Paul have faith?” He was stupefied in silence, and insisted on changing the subject.

I wrote: I know of no compelling reason to suppose that Tacitus got his information from Josephus. The Testimonium names Jesus, and yet Tacitus refers to “Christ,” as if that were his name.

Tim: In Antiquities 20.200, just a few pages on from the Testimonium, Josephus refers to “Jesus who was called the Christ.”

Which is another passage which some scholars consider to be an interpolation. Some scholars have pointed out that Josephus is careful to avoid messianic language in his writings. As Wells points out,

Feldman has noted that Josephus mentions about ten Messianic figures in the last three books of the Antiquities without using the term ‘Christ’ or Messiah of them. That he avoided it is intelligible, since at that time it “had definite political overtones of revolution and independence,” and he was “a lackey of the Roman royal house.” (The Jesus Myth, p. 218; Wells quotes Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship, pp. 689-690)

So, although perhaps not conclusive, there is good reason to suppose the use of “Christ” or “Messiah” is out of character for Josephus. In fact, the use of the participle ‘legomenos’ (“to be named” or “called”) in the shorter Josephan passage is quite consistent with its use in several places in the gospels. France wants to suppose that Josephus was using the participle with negative implications (as “alleged” instead of “called”), and yet there are many places in the NT and even in Josephus’ own writings where it does not imply such negativity.

Interestingly, Josephus does reference John the Baptist, but he nowhere connects him with the Christian movement (see Ant. 18:116).

I wrote: The analogy I gave is actually quite strong, ...

Tim: I have already addressed this; what you say subsequently simply reiterates your analogy and takes no account of what I said, so there is nothing new here requiring response.

You offered what you considered to be a stronger analogy, but gave no indication why the analogy I gave for my point was bad. It appeared to me that you didn’t grasp its strength, which is why I stopped to point out the relevant points of comparison. You still apparently think it is a bad analogy, and yet you do not show why. The analogy that I gave (involving someone writing a bunch of letters praising Mozart and yet never mentioning that he wrote music or lived in the 1700s) encapsulates what the Christian position expects us to accept about Paul’s silences vis-à-vis the gospels’ portraits of Jesus. The gospels make it clear that Jesus was known for his marvelous works, his healings, etc., and yet it is of these things for which the gospels have him famous which Paul seems completely ignorant.

I wrote: The passage does not indicate that there were Greeks in the audience;

Tim: It simply doesn’t tell us much about the audience.

On the contrary, at Mark 10:2 it specifies the Pharisees and at 10:10 it specifies Jesus’ disciples.

I wrote: ... in fact, Mark specifies that Pharisees are his audience.

Tim: No: it specifies that the Pharisees are his target.

What’s interesting is Mark 10:10, which narrows Jesus’ audience, at the point where he issues his teaching about divorce that Paul is said to have “echoed,” to just his disciples: “And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter.” Were any of Jesus’ disciples Greek?

I asked: Besides, if Paul were getting his “words of the Lord” from a prior source, what was his source?

Tim: Most likely from the apostles, either directly or indirectly. Traveling with Luke would be a great way to find out a lot of information.

This would go against what Paul himself tells us. He tells us explicitly that he did not receive his knowledge of the gospel from other men, nor was he taught it, but that he got it “by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). He also tells us that his time with the Jerusalem apostles was quite short and limited primarily to Peter and James (cf. Gal. 1:17-19). So if we take Paul’s word for it, he didn’t get these teachings from the apostles.

But you think otherwise:

Tim: I think these passages are being overread. Paul, by his own account, was commissioned directly by the Lord, but nothing he says in Galatians or 1 Corinthians conflicts with the account in Acts that he spent time with the disciples at Damascus immediately after his conversion and baptism (9:19) and subsequently was with the disciples in Jerusalem (9:27-28).

Here’s what I read in Gal. 1:11-12:

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Here’s what he says a few verses later (vss. 17-19):

“Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me: but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”

Paul explicitly states that he was not “taught” the gospel that he took to the gentile mission, that he did not get it from other men, that it was given to him directly “by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

But you would still prefer that we believe Paul got a teaching “of the Lord” from apostles, even though his own words strongly suggest otherwise. Okay.

I wrote: Meanwhile, that the evangelist was taking a teaching that had already acquired currency among early Christians (such as in the early epistolary strata, as I have suggested) and putting it into Jesus’ mouth in the development of a narrative of an earthly Jesus, does not rely on these tactics, and fits (a word you found appropriate earlier) best with the legend case. It's not a stretch by any means.

Tim: There are so many problems with this hypothesis that I cannot even begin to enumerate them all in a blog post.

I can appreciate this. At this point, instead of arguments supporting your contention here, you chose to list a number of questions. And while I am fascinated by all this, I am by no means an expert, so all I can do in my limited time is give it my best shot.

Tim: Where did Paul get all these ideas?

For many of Paul’s teachings, he refers to the OT (and curiously not to an earthly Jesus). He apparently saw himself as opening the scriptures in a new light, having received a “revelation of Jesus Christ” which empowered him to impart a new message to the gentile world.

Again, Wells makes an interesting point here:

Any reader of Paul can see that all his important doctrines are buttressed by an appeal to the OT. But he very strikingly does not do what Matthew repeatedly does, namely cite it as foreshadowing incidents in Jesus’s incarnate life, such as his virgin birth, his settling at Capernaum, his teaching in parables, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his disciples’ desertion of him at his arrest. Paul shows no knowledge of such incidents, nor of John the Baptist, whose preaching was, according to all three synoptics, foretold in the OT, and whom both Matthew (11:11) and Luke represent as Jesus’s forerunner and hence as greater than any ordinary mortal. Paul makes no mention of him because John the Baptist’s preaching had in fact nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity [Wells references Josephus here]... (The Jesus Myth, p 77)

Wells also points out that “The influence of Jewish Wisdom literature on Paul is undeniable: statements made about Wisdom in this literature are made of Jesus in the Pauline letters.” (The Jesus Myth, p. 97)

Tim: (The mystery religions “explanation” is beyond hopeless.)

I don’t think I’ve made this appeal, however I would note that Paul was no unlearned man, and he hailed from Tarsus where mystery religions had been thriving at the time. Paul himself even appeals to “mystery” on numerous occasions (see for instance here). Again Wells: The pagan environment of earliest Christianity cannot have been unimportant. (The Jesus Myth, p. 99)

Tim: What did Peter, James, and John have to say about his teaching?

I don’t think we have anything authentic from their hand.

Tim: How did the actual beliefs of those pillars of the early church – to whom Paul himself refers in Galatians 2 – manage to disappear without a ripple?

Perhaps I’m just daft or tired, but I’m not sure what you’re asking here.

Tim: Whence the materials in the gospels that could not have come from the Pauline epistles?

You mean like the virgin birth, the association with John the Baptist, a crucifixion under Pilate, the sayings attributed to Jesus? It is good that you admit that these elements are not present in the earliest strata of the NT. There are many plausible explanations for these. Some are the result of attempts to reinterpret the OT. Some are attempts to put Jesus into a historical context by associating him with genuinely historical places and people. There were collections of wise sayings (e.g., the Quelle) which were incorporated into certain Christian circles and put into Jesus’ mouth.

Tim: How did the clever forgers manage so thoroughly to cover their tracks that there is no hint now of their existence?

Who says “there is no hint now of their existence”? And were they really “forgers”? Perhaps not in today’s understanding of the term. At any rate, there were many things in existence in those says the evidence for which did not survive unto today.

Tim: How on earth did the undesigned coincidences get built in, so that things in one gospel that make no sense taken on their own are explained by passing references in others?

Unless you give me an example of what you mean, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to weigh in on here.

Tim: How does one account for the undesigned coincidences between the epistles and Acts – things that could not plausibly have been written up on the basis of Paul’s epistles?

Again, I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind here.

Tim: We have forgeries in history, and we know what they look like. This isn’t it. If the mythic theory requires this sort of retrojection of Paul’s epistles into the gospels and Acts, that simply puts more nails into its coffin.

I see. Well, I guess this is your vote in favor of the NT’s supernaturalism then.

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

Regarding the source of Tacitus’ information, I had asked:

Now what is the alternative that you prefer, and what evidence do you have for that alternative?

Tim: If Tacitus’s information came from interviews with Christians, it would be evidence only of what Christians believed when they were interviewed.

I would say this is correct. If Tacitus' information came from interviews with Christians, it would only confirm that the Christians he interviewed believed what is being reported in his statement. This does no damage to either the mythic theory or the legend theory.

Tim: If it came from hearsay, it would be evidence for what was believed about Christians, which is wider in scope; if there were any dissent over whether “Christus” had been crucified under Pontius Pilate, this would lessen the probability that Tacitus would refer to it in so matter of fact a fashion. If it came from Roman records, then that closes the case on the mythic theory.

If it could be established that Tacitus' information in fact came from Roman records (something that no one, to my knowledge, has been able to do), I would tend to agree that it would put a capper on the mythic theory. But it would not put a capper on the legend theory. Recall that the legend theory allows that a real human being named Jesus existed and may even have been crucified at some point, and that the narratives we find in the NT about a man so-named are legendary tales that grew over time since his death on a cross under Roman rule.



Tim: So there are several options here. (1) There is no hint in the passage that Tacitus has personally conducted interviews to gain this information; that is, I think, by far the least plausible hypothesis.

You are correct, Tacitus does not state that he gathered the information he is reporting from interviews that he personally conducted. In fact, he doesn’t make any statement identifying the source of his information at all. So far as what Tacitus does state, it is an open question. It’s not clear how we can conclude that the possibility that Tacitus did get his information from interviews with Christians is “by far the least plausible hypothesis.” But I do agree that you are free to think this. I had already pointed out that Tacitus was governor of Asia ca. AD 112-113 – around the time that the passage in question was written in fact. I quoted Wells pointing out that Tacitus could very well have had problems with Christians in his province similar to those that Pliny experienced as governor in neighboring Bithynia at the same time. Pliny tells us that he interviewed Christians. If he actually did do this, I don’t see why the possibility that Tacitus did the same is “by far the least plausible hypothesis.” No, that Pliny did confer directly with Christians does not mean that Tacitus did, but if it wasn’t beneath Pliny to have done so, why suppose it was in Tacitus’ case? No argument has been given to conclude as strongly as you indicate here that Tacitus would not have done this.

Tim: (2) It could be that the information came from someone else’s interviews and/or torturings of Christians. This cannot be ruled out. But in that case, it matters a great deal for our discussion when this information was wrung from them. If it was after the gospels had achieved currency, then it likely reflects what they had read and believed; if it was earlier, it would reflect at least oral traditions; if it was much earlier, it would reflect teaching in a community where eyewitnesses were still living.

I don’t know how one would go about determining when the information – supposing it was gathered through interviews or torturings of Christians – was “wrung from them.” We do know that Tacitus was writing in the early part of the second century, and we also know that the Christian movement had been in existence for several decades before this. There is certainly nothing in the record to suggest that the information Tacitus was relating in the passage in question had been lying in wait, as it were, for 60 or 70 years.

Tim: (3) It could be that it was a matter of common knowledge. This cannot be ruled out, and it would give stronger but not decisive evidence for the veracity of the facts Tacitus relates.

We have to be a little more specific here: what exactly is being proposed as “a matter of common knowledge” at this time (ca. 112-115)? That Christians lived in Rome? That Christians worshipped someone “called Christ”? That this Christ had been condemned some 85 years earlier by a “procurator” named Pilate in Judea? That the crucifixion of this Christ initially dampened the movement, but it proved resilient and sprang back with renewed vigor and spread from Judea “to Rome itself”? As we borrow into the elements contained in the Tacitus reference, we find an increase in specificity, and “common knowledge” is usually not very specific as this gets. That Tacitus was reporting common knowledge here seems to become more unlikely as each element he reports is introduced. But let’s say that much of this was, ca. 115, already common knowledge at least for Tacitus and his cronies. Tacitus was a learned and well traveled man, a historian who was penning histories. Was this common knowledge for such a person by this time? Perhaps, but this would need to be shown. And even then, it is not necessarily the case that this “would give stronger… evidence for the veracity of [what] Tacitus relates.”

Tim: (4) It could be that Tacitus looked it up in Roman records or some other non-Christian source. This cannot be ruled out, and for this reason the Sanders quotation seems to me to be an overstatement. We know that Tacitus used official sources constantly in his work: the Acta Diurna (see Annals 13.31, 16.22, etc.), the speeches of Tiberius and Claudius, various collections of letters, the work of Pliny the Elder, etc. Significantly, Tacitus had access to Josephus’s works and mentions nothing about Jesus that could not have been found in Josephus.

I have already addressed the proposal that Tacitus got his information about “Christ” from Roman records. It seems quite implausible to me. I’ll run through some of the reasons why: (a) Tacitus refers to the individual in question as “Christ,” not as Jesus. “Christ” is a religious title which I highly doubt would have been recorded in a Roman record; (b) Tacitus refers to Pilate as ‘procurator’ which was the title of Pilate’s position in Tacitus’ day, but not during Pilate’s day, suggesting that, if he was consulting any kind of record, it was a contemporary record, not a record from the time in question; that Tacitus would consult Roman records and see Pilate’s title as ‘prefect’ and then call him ‘procurator’ in his own writing seems unlikely to me; (c) that Tacitus would take the time for a passing mention of Christ to consult Roman records from Judea aged some 80 plus years to add a brief explanatory note in his mention of Christians as Nero’s scapegoat for the fire which destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD seems quite fantastic to me; (d) that Romans in the remote province of Judea would have kept such meticulous records about condemned criminals at the time the gospels put Jesus’ crucifixion seems a bit of a stretch; the Romans crucified thousand upon thousands of condemned prisoners, and even if they did record Jesus’ crucifixion, it seems quite a stretch that they would have recorded his name as “Christ” (if it were recorded as “Jesus,” how would Tacitus have found it if he were looking for someone named “Christ”?), and if they did record it (even as “Christ” instead of, say, “King of the Jews” as the gospels indicate), the likelihood that they survived and made their way to Rome so that some 80 plus years later Tacitus could go into some great hall of records and spend perhaps days looking for such a reference, borders on wishful thinking at this point. So for these reasons, I would say that your (4) is the least plausible. As for Josephus, I have already discussed him as a source at length in previous comments.

Tim: If his information came from such an early non-Christian source, the mythic theory is effectively eliminated.

But not the legend theory. The legend theory is compatible with the possibility that a cultic preacher named Jesus was condemned under a Roman official in Judea. That a man named Jesus was crucified in Judea is nothing remarkable. That legends sprang up in the memory of such a person is not at all impossible, especially if he was considered a martyr for a cause.


You gave your assessment of plausibility for each of these proposals:

Tim: (1) is quite implausible since it is not represented in the passage. (Contrast Pliny.)

If the test of a proposal’s plausibility is whether or not “it is… represented in the passage” in question, then all four of your proposals are equally implausible, for none of them is represented in the passage in question. Apparently, but not clearly, you seem to agree, for you say:

Tim: I do not think that there is a vastly stronger case for one of the options (2), (3), or (4) over the others.

Of all the proposals, (2) seems closest to having any staying power, though I would expand it to include conversations and discussions that Tacitus could have had with clerks and officials, such as Pliny, who had field experience with Christians, and perhaps even written reports about Christians and conflicts involving them in various provinces that may have found their way into his possession. Also, since Tacitus was himself governor of Asia (neighboring Pliny’s Bithynia at the same time he was having problems with Christians), the possibility that Tacitus learned about the Christ cult during his service in such a role seems quite strong to me. (2) seems more likely than (1) since it is broader; (1) requires that Tacitus himself interviewed Christian representatives; (2) allows that he learned about Christians through his colleagues. (2) may be stronger than (3) depending on what is taken as “common knowledge” (see my points above). And below you make a strong point against (3) yourself, which lessens its likelihood. I certainly think that (2) as I would characterize it is several times more plausible and more likely than (4), for reasons already stated.

Regarding proposal (2), you stated:

Tim: Under (2), it tells us either nothing not in the gospels or else something about oral tradition prior to the gospels; this option makes the testimony of Tacitus either no independent evidence against the mythic theory or rather weak independent evidence against it – weak, since many of those oral traditions were probably incorporated into the gospels as we have them.

I agree: (2) would pose no threat against the mythic theory (and even less against the legend theory), but note that it is not because of this that I find (2) more plausible. You should see that this is where I think the evidence points after considering it.

Tim: Under (3), Tacitus’s report tells us what was believed in the Roman world at large. Since it is improbable that this story would have undisputed currency among Romans if it were not substantially true, this option makes the testimony of Tacitus rather strong evidence against the mythic theory.

Your assessment here depends on specifically which element in Tacitus’ report is thought to be “substantially true.” Is it the part that Christians were already hated by Nero’s time? I don’t see how this speaks against the mythic theory (it certainly doesn’t speak against the legend theory). Is it the part that Nero scapegoated Rome’s Christians for the fire? Again, I don’t see how this vies against either the mythic or legend theory. So far both theories are in agreement that the Christian movement existed at the time in question. Is it the part about someone “called Christ” being the “founder” of the cult bearing his name at the time in question? Again, both the mythic and the legend theories are compatible with this. And so far, I don’t see how these parts being “common knowledge” would at all recommend the truth of the gospel portrait of Jesus. Is it the part about Christ being crucified under a Roman official named Pilate? I see no reason why the mythic theory would be incompatible with the possibility that Jesus’ crucifixion had taken place under Pilate could (I’ll be as charitable as possible here) by Nero’s time have been incorporated into oral traditions that were circulating about Jesus. And it certainly is not incompatible with the legend theory which grants that a cultic preacher was condemned to die by crucifixion under a Roman official. Would this part have been “common knowledge” in Nero’s day? I strongly doubt it, if by “common knowledge” we mean common to non-Christians as well as Christians. I suspect that most non-Christians of Nero’s day took little notice of Christians or their beliefs, unless of course they were in their midst and encountered conflicts with them. Most people were probably doing their best just to survive. Then again, Christians would have been just one of many different belief systems of the day. In the very passage under review, Tacitus characterizes Rome as “the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth.”

Tim: But one fact that tells against (3) is that there does not seem to have been much common knowledge about Christians in the Roman world; witness Suetonius’s probable botch of Christ’s name and Pliny’s resorting to torture to satisfy his curiosity.

I think this is a strong, but less than conclusive point against (3). So far I think (2) (as I have nuanced it) is the strongest of the three options so far considered. But we have one more to consider:

Tim: Under (4), the mythic theory is essentially ruled out.

I would tend to agree, so long as (4) could be established as it is herein conceived. But, significantly, it would not rule out the legend theory. As I have pointed out, the legend theory is compatible with an actual cultic figure, wholly mortal in his nature, being martyred under the Romans by means of crucifixion. So even if we could establish (4), the gains here for Christianity aren’t even meager in my view.

Tim: If I had to pick just one specific hypothesis as the most plausible of the lot, I’d go with Harnack and say Tacitus was using Josephus, on the basis of close parallels between them in the recounting of information.

Then again, if close parallels are the deciding factor, it would be just as easy to suppose that Tacitus had reviewed reports from various Asian provinces about Christians and what they believed. I would put this under (2) as I enlarged it above. And again, even if we grant that the Testimonium, for instance, is authentically Josephan (I’ve already indicated that I don’t think it is), and also that Tacitus relied on it for his information about Christ (which even you admit is unprovable), this would not pose a threat to the legend theory, as I have indicated.

Tim: But since this cannot be proved, only shown to be plausible, the best we can do in the absence of further evidence is to say that this passage of Tacitus offers some evidence against the mythic theory but that it is not decisive.

I can also say that it offers no evidence against the legend theory.

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim had stated: The slaughter of the innocents doesn’t fit a “legend-building” agenda in any way that I can see.

In fact it does. In Matthew we see various kinds of legend-building going on. In some cases (such as the earthquake and resurrection of an untold number of saints upon Jesus’ death on the cross), embellishments are intended to make the attending event seem more impressive to the reader. Episodes of miracles are especially well suited for this (they seem to come into full flower in Matthew's passion sequences). In other cases, Matthew’s concern is to erect parallels between his Jesus narrative and OT themes. The slaughter of the innocents is an old legend which Matthew incorporates into his narrative for precisely this purpose. As Wells points out:

The story of this massacre is a typical tyrant legend, posthumously blackening the memory of a hated despot. It is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT (not, for instance, in Luke’s birth and infancy narrative), nor by any ancient historian – not even by Josephus, who recorded the history of Herod and his family and stressed its horrors. It is also typical of the stories of miraculous escapes from danger with which the infancy of a great man is credited (Oedipus, Moses). Matthew is here modeling Jesus, the second deliverer, on Moses, the first: in both cases, the birth of the child occasions uneasiness in the powers that be, followed by a consultation with wise men, a massacre of children and a miraculous rescue, with Egypt as the land of rescue. (The Jesus Myth, p. 155)

Tim: Matthew 27:51b-53 could fit that pattern, but it is quite an extrapolation from this to “numerous details.”

The numerous details which fit this pattern are not extrapolated from Matthew 27:51b-53; rather, Matthew 27:51b-53 is merely one of those many details.

Tim: The stories in the first two chapters of Matthew, whether they are authentic and veridical or not, do not stand disconnected from the rest of the narrative like Matthew 27:51b-53 does.

That’s because the kind of legend-building Matthew uses in the first two chapters are intended to show a relationship between his portrait of Jesus and OT themes (see above).

Regards,
Dawson

bart willruth said...

Tim said,

If the suggestion that in the synoptics Jesus is definitely not God, then I think this is just false. We could start the argument with Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:10, and Luke 5:24. All I would concede here is that the case for a divine Jesus is easier to make from the fourth gospel and Paul’s epistles.

Yes, it certainly is easier to make the case for Jesus' divinity from John and Paul. Let's look at your synoptic proof texts above:

Mark 2:10 All this says is that the son of man has authority to forgive sins. You can make the case that forgiving sins is a godlike characteristic, but then again, letting a goat carry away sins into the desert didn't make the goat into a god. This can be understood as delegated power. The use of the "son of man" title (one of those curious omissions in Paul) is a synonym for "man" not to be understood as a divinity.

Matt 9:6 See above. Matthew simply copies Mark's son of man forgiving sins.

Luke 5:24 What a coincidence! Luke is copying Mark just like Matthew did. Nothing new here.

This isn't much of a case. I will continue to maintain that only the Johannine literature unequivocally marries the concept of Jesus the man and Jesus the divinity.

Tim wrote,
Although I am persuaded by the evidence in Paley, Smith, Hemer, and Kettenbach that Acts is basically a historical narrative and that it dovetails as well with the epistles as we can expect any narratives of secular history to dovetail with each other, I do not see that I am using this as an assumption in our discussion.

You are viewing the Paulines through the template of Acts, taking for granted such reports as

1. A protracted ministry of Jesus following the resurrection.

2. A miraculous infusion of the holy spirit to the dispirited disciples giving them clarity of thought in theology, resulting in mass conversions of a quarter of the population of Jerusalem.

3. The identification with the disciples with the apostles.

4. The murderous actions of the Jews in reaction to the claim that Jesus was the Messiah.

5. The identification of Paul with a Saul of Tarsus.

6. The miraculous conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus.

7. The violent reaction of the Jews against Paul's preaching.

8. The Jerusalem conference.

9. Christians being put out of the synagogues.

10. Opposition to Paul coming from Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.

None of these things are discernable in the Pauline epistles unless one is looking for them, first looking through the lens of Acts. The entirity of the story of the origin of the church as seen in Acts just isn't there in Paul. Conversely, Acts makes no mention of any Pauline letters and creates a Pauline theology at odds with those letters, but more in line with proto catholic orthodoxy.

Tim wrote:
The narrative of Acts is minutely circumstantial, and in the second part in particular it ranges quite widely in space and is therefore subject to cross checks from various sorts of evidence (archaeological, nautical, etc.). The result of these cross checks is that the narrative appears to be astonishingly accurate in dozens of details that we can verify. This provides a very strong case that it is an authentic travelogue.

I will take no issue with the details of geography. There is no reason to suspect that the writer of Acts wouldn't have had some knowledge of the location of Cyprus, Jerusalem, Antioch, Athens, Corinth, Rome, et al. The movie "Gladiator" put Russel Crowe's character into a historical and geographical context, but it didn't actually happen.

I had stated:
From Paul, it is not possible to infer a separate Christian identity from that of diaspora Judaism.

Tim wrote,
You cannot mean this literally. Diaspora Judaism practiced the Last Supper, talked about the messiah as come, proclaimed the availability of the Abrahamic promises to the gentiles, declared the law to be ended, maintained that circumcision was now optional, and referred to the resurrection of Jesus as authenticated by numerous witnesses?

Paul never suggests a sharp break between his followers and the synagogues. Judaism of the period was "evangelistic" in that they actively recruited gentile converts. Yes, these converts were accepted as those of the nations who were to be blessed "in Abraham" according to the promise. Obviously, these gentile God-fearers who converted were expected to be circumcized and follow the Torah (part of the point of my post). Paul's message claimed that they could be grafted into Israel without being circumcized and following the minutae of Jewish regulations. That was the point of contention between Paul and the Jews.

Judaism could and did have enough diversity in the first century to accommodate some eerily Christian sounding parallels. The DSS community, for instance, were ruled by a council of 12, called themselves "The Way" and "The Poor (ebion), proclaimed a new covenant, baptized, and celebrated a community ritualized mean of bread and wine.

Paul's use of "Christos" may only mean God's anointed. The concept of an anointed heavenly son, a savior, and the offspring of the Father and Sophia (the spirit, Wisdom) were certainly concepts extant in the first century within Diaspora Judaism.

Paul's few mentions of others having visions of the risen anointed savior are not substantively different from his own visions, nor at odds with the "heavenly son" concept within Judaism.

Evan said...

Bart says:

Paul's use of "Christos" may only mean God's anointed. The concept of an anointed heavenly son, a savior, and the offspring of the Father and Sophia (the spirit, Wisdom) were certainly concepts extant in the first century within Diaspora Judaism.

Indeed we have textual evidence to support just this reading from Theophilus of Antioch, writing as late as 180 CE.

Here's Theophilus:

And about your laughing at me and calling me "Christian," you know not what you are saying. First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible. For what ship can be serviceable and seaworthy, unless it be first caulked [anointed]? Or what castle or house is beautiful and serviceable when it has not been anointed? And what man, when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? And what work has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed and burnished? Then the air and all that is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit; and are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God.

Where's Jesus?