Frank Zindler, J.P. Holding and I Debate the Existence of Jesus

Enjoy, and chime in. To my own dismay I'm partially agreeing with the extremely obnoxious and childish J.P. Holding that Jesus was a historical person who founded the Jesus cult (my view can be found below his on the left side). But, I'm also agreeing with Dr. Frank Zindler of American Atheists, that the Jesus figure was made up of many mythical elements. My position is a middle one between theirs that fits the data better.

What I find completely unjustifiable is that Holding accepts all of the elements in the Gospels as historically reliable. And what I find somewhat odd is that Zindler thinks I have the burden of proof (since textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise), and he doesn't present a theory of how such a cultic movement began in the first place.

For a link just to my arguments see here, (then click to the right for the next argument, and so forth).

For a link just to Dr. Zindler's arguments see here, and do likewise.

For a link just to Holding's arguments see here, and do likewise. On this site they won't let Holding speak with his usual ad hominems against people who disagree, or so I was told. That eliminates most of his arguments! ;-)

68 comments:

Steven Carr said...

'And what I find somewhat odd is that Zindler thinks I have the burden of proof (since textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise), and he doesn't present a theory of how such a cultic movement began in the first place.'

The burden of proof is always on somebody who says that something exists.

Don't you think your textual evidence counts as proof?

It is also not technically part of a myth-claim to say how a myth started.

To take an obvious example, I don't need to know where the Jack and the Beanstalk story came from to know it is a myth.

And I would be surprised if somebody asked me to show where the story came from , before acknowledging that I had a right to judge whether or not it was a myth.

So Zindler does not need to present a theory of how a myth started before he can say if it is a myth or not.

John W. Loftus said...

I exist, Carr. All you have is textual evidence.

Where are the churches devoted to Jack's beanstalk?

Presentling a theory for the origin of a movement is an important part of showing that the movement originated without a historical founder who's name is in the book they love, yes. Extremely important.

John W. Loftus said...

Look, if Benny Hinn lived before the rise of TV and newspapers then you would deny his existence too, just because people claimed he did miracles. That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are important distinctions to be made which skeptics do not make.

John W. Loftus said...

And if one wished to deny textual evidence unless independently confirmed then you might as well deny the existence of Paul too, and Peter, and John, and perhaps Papias, and... At some point you lose credibility in your attempt to discredit Christianity.

Jason Long said...

I do agree that the burden of proof is on the one who asserts. The question should be whether the biblical text (and second century historical commentary) is acceptable proof and whether the inclusion of other mythical elements disqualifies the texts as evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason Long, when it comes to textual evidence in the past, which is considered by historians to be precious, then the burden of proof is on the one who denies what that text claims. Independent testimony can confirm or deny an ancient text, as can our own control beliefs about what we think can or cannot happen. And we have to make the proper distinctions, as I just said. But textual evidence serves as prima facie evidence for the existence of a person in the past. One must have good reasons to deny that text. In this case the burden of proof is on the naysayer. This seems to me to be non-controversial among historians.

tinyfrog said...

It seems to me that the burden of proof rests on the person making extra-ordinary claims. So, for example, if someone said, "I planted a garden in my backyard", I don't think there's any need to require them to prove it in order to accept it. On the other hand, if they had said, "I planted a garden in my backyard, and a beanstalk grew mile and miles up into the clouds", well, that's no longer an ordinary claim.

The idea that a preacher named Jesus went around Israel teaching seems relatively ordinary. The idea that he did anything more (miracles, etc) seems extra-ordinary. So, I think it's fair to accept the former based on Biblical texts, but to accept the latter is a problem.

Steven Carr said...

So if the textual evidence says Jesus met Moses and Elijah the burden of proof is on people who deny that those 3 persons walked the earth at some time in the first century?

'Look, if Benny Hinn lived before the rise of TV and newspapers then you would deny his existence too, just because people claimed he did miracles.'

More ad hominems...

Where does Paul claim Jesus did miracles?

Where does Paul claim Jesus preached?

John W. Loftus said...

tinyfrog, what's so extraordinary about the claim that Benny Hinn went around doing miracles given the number of historically existing people that this claim is said about? With the proper distinctions skeptics usually fail to make I think we can excise the miracles and still retain the man. What we have left becomes an ordinary claim, that many people believed Benny Hinn did many miracles. And I see nothing extraordinary about that claim at all.

Brad Haggard said...

John, in this thread I agree with you. Throwing out the textual evidence of Jesus' existence means throwing out the whole of our body of ancient knowledge. If we have to be so skeptical of everything, then I think we are only a half-step away from solipsism.

But I do think that things can be established in the past beyond a reasonable doubt. RD is a legal term which means that someone has to account for all the evidence in a case and still doubt the case. I think you're right in asserting that the Jesus myth theories do not account for all of the evidence (though we disagree on Jesus' actual nature). It seems like these assertions come from a reading in of modern standards of evidence on a wholly different discipline, that of the ancient historian.

Joseph said...

I would compare a historical jesus to a historical king arthur.

Both are argued as either fact or fiction. True man or legend. But the difference is King Arthur has a whole lot more of texts supporting the idea of him being real where jesus just has the epistles, really.

However, most text supporting KA being historical are from between the 8th-10th centuries (really too late). The earliest mentioned on wiki is 6th, within living memory of the battle being told.

So is KA real? Hard to really tell. But a historical Jesus has the same hurdles to overcome.

I think KA and Jesus are based on real people albeit without super powers.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr said...So if the textual evidence says Jesus met Moses and Elijah the burden of proof is on people who deny that those 3 persons walked the earth at some time in the first century?

I suppose it hasn't yet occurred to you that the question is whether the complete textual evidence we have brings us to conclude that a person named Jesus existed.

Where does Paul claim Jesus did miracles? Where does Paul claim Jesus preached

I suppose it hasn't yet occurred to you that Paul was preaching the gospel, or the good news he described as Jesus Christ crucified "the wisdom of God"? Paul also claims that he, Paul, did miracles. I Cor. 1-2.

There would be nothing unusual with a person who was crucified. Nothing. It happened quite a bit under Roman rule. For Paul to preach Jesus as the wisdom of God this crucified person named Jesus had to be known as a religious leader of some sort (a miracle worker, an exorcist a prophet and/or a teacher with a following). And if Paul, who's claiming to be an apostle, is doing miracles, one would naturally think Jesus did them as well.

Again, anyone can deny anything in history if they want to do so by making the kinds of demands that you do. The problem is that in order to do this you must use double standards, one for Jesus and a different one for Paul.

BTW "Q" records early teachings of Jesus which would be dated earlier than Paul anyway.

Steven Carr said...

If I remember correctly, nothing in Q is about a crucified person.

Why did Paul never claim that the Jews had rejected Jesus's preaching, or even his resurrection?

Benjamin Creme claims the Maitreya exists.

There is just nothing out of the ordinary in people founding religions based on mythical people.

It is happening today!

Steven Carr said...

BRAD
Throwing out the textual evidence of Jesus' existence means throwing out the whole of our body of ancient knowledge.

CARR
But mythicists do not throw it out.

They look at Romans 13 where Paul scoffs at the idea of the authorities killing innocent people.

They look at Romans 10, where Paul puts the Jewish rejection of Christianity on them not having heard of this guy.

They look at 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul says there are lots of different Jesus's being preached.

And they see that historicists have not yet addressed these questions.

So let the *real* debate begin and then amateurs can I can find out where mythicists are going wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr, you asked about whether Paul thought Jesus taught anything and whether Paul believed Jesus did miracles. I think I gave reasonable answers, especially in light of 2 Cor. 12:12. Now you want to change the topic to a discussion of whether Q talks about a crucifed person?

Listen, Paul didn't mention a lot of things that we find in the gospels, okay? Why? Because he was not writing a gospel, and neither was Q. Now, where does that get you? You see, it's not any single text or line of evidence that leads us to think Jesus existed, any one of which might be reasonably doubted. It the convergence of evidence, the cumulative effect of which I think leads me to the reasonable conclusion I and the overwhelming number of scholars have come to. It's only because of freethinkers who largely publish in non-peer-reviewed journals and self-publish their own books that such a viewpoint is propogagted.

David B. Ellis said...

Of all the topics regarding christianity available for debate the question of whether Jesus was a historical figure with mythical embellishments or a purely mythical figure seems one of the least interesting or worthwhile.

First, of course, it makes no difference to the substance of the skeptic's position---that there's no reason to believe christianity true.

And, second, there's so little evidence on this issue that either position, it seems to me from my reading on the topic, is not at all unreasonable. Intuitively, it seems to me more likely that he was a historical figure.....but I wouldn't put a lot of money on it. I wouldn't be surprised at all by either position turning out to be true (assuming we ever found a way to know one way or the other).

The other issue in this debate, at least, should be worthwhile---pointing out the flaws in christians arguments for the historical accuracy of NT accounts of the life of Jesus.

John W. Loftus said...

David Ellis, I agree with you. I really do. So much skeptical energy has been focused on this issue rather than on more important ones that I have hesitated to enter the fray until lately. And I do not wish to spend much more time with it, either. I'm making my statement. This is truly my view of the matter. For me it's about credibility, not among skeptics. Skeptics are not my target audience. It's about credibility among Christians who are my target audience. I want them to know that I think Jesus existed, that's all, and that I will defend my view. I stand with the overwhelming Christian consensus that Jesus was an eschatological prophet, too, a view that skeptics don't even show an awareness about. Skeptics seem to think John Crossan and Marcus Borg's views are the only ones in town who describe Jesus as merely a wise sage. But theirs is a minority view among Christian scholars. That Jesus was an eschatological prophet doesn't go well among evangelicals though, which is fine with me. If they disagree about this picture of Jesus let them debate Dale Allison and even Bart Ehrman.

John W. Loftus said...

I should clarify. When I describe skeptics I mean most of them, not all of them. Usually skeptics say "this" or think "that." I'm never characterizing all skeptics by a long shot. Hey, after all, I'm one of them! ;-)

sconnor said...

'And what I find somewhat odd is that Zindler thinks I have the burden of proof (since textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise),

Logical fallacy.

Using Zindler's loopy logic -- If, textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise -- then, of course, the entire qur'an is completely true. Start crackin' Zindler. Get out your big red marker and start showing me what isn't true in the qur'an.

--S.

John W. Loftus said...

sconner, puhleeeze. Some of you guys just fail to understand. That's all I can figure. When it comes to miraculous claims of any kind, like the divine inspiration of the Koran for instance, the claimant has the burden of proof.

Will some of you guys please try to understand? I feel like I'm dealing with the reasoning skills of many Christians when it comes to this issue all over again. It appears to me that skeptics have no corner on critical thinking skills. I wish it weren't so, but it seems to be so.

Charlie said...

Historically, it's highly likely Jesus existed. Skeptics should stop wasting their time with this issue and start responding to resurrection arguments, since apologists admit that if the resurrection never occurred they wouldn't be Christians.

It appears to me that skeptics have no corner on critical thinking skills.

Precisely. I find that the most irrational skeptics are typically those that proclaim themselves 'rational' the loudest; who hastily go about calling 'fallacy' on bits of text they don't understand; who think that 'skepticism' means having unjustified Cartesian doubts about things that are otherwise quite plausible. These are pseudo-skeptics. They're a dime a dozen.

Evan said...

John I appreciate your viewpoint and I think that you defend it effectively.

I am curious to hear what you would claim to be the facts that we can know about this man, Jesus.

Do you think the Jesus Seminar's methodology was sound and that those statements and acts that they concurred had actually taken place are history?

Are you confident that Nazareth was inhabited in the first half of the 1st century, CE?

If it could be proven to you that Nazareth was not inhabited at that time, would that alter your opinion about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth?

I'm also curious as to how you explain 2 Cor 11:4:

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Here you have Paul explicitly acknowledging there are multiple Jesus characters being taught at his time. Does this prove there is more than one historical Jesus? Using your logic, it must, since the text states so and we have no proof it isn't the case and the claim is in no way supernatural.

Therefore, how can we be sure that the Jesus Paul preached was the same one as the one in the gospels?

I agree with you that certain knowledge in this area is hard to come by.

Charlie said...

"Steven Carr" would be a good example of a pseudo-skeptic.

Jon said...

Of all the topics regarding christianity available for debate the question of whether Jesus was a historical figure with mythical embellishments or a purely mythical figure seems one of the least interesting or worthwhile.

This is a very strange comment, David. This would be like me entering a discussion forum on cooking and saying "You know what, none of this is interesting to me." Well then, why bother commenting? I find this topic to be extremely interesting. I wish it was discussed more often. So, since I find it interesting, I think I'll comment here.

since textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise

John, does this really apply to texts with so much obviously erroneous material? Not just the miracle stories. Many, if not all of the sayings of Jesus, have been shown to have their origin in previous thought. For instance "Do unto others" is nothing but repeating a statement from the OT. The criteria of dissimiliarty would suggest this probably is not original to Jesus. His being a carpenter is a metaphor for him being skilled with the Scriptures. Having a father named Joseph is probably due to the fact that the northern tribes regarded the Messiah as emerging from Manasseh, rather than Judah (David). The Davidic origin is of course intended to satisfy Judah. The two stories merge to satisfy everyone. Being raised in Nazareth is probably a metaphor for being and observor of the law, which then got confused to mean this is the town he was from (even though there is good reason to think that no such town existed in the supposed time of Jesus). Over and over we see even the ordinary stuff shows the signs of being made up.

Sure, when you have some log book of some person from the past (Person X once took a trip to Spain, and worked as a scribe) I suppose you'd assume Person X was historical. But the case of Jesus is much different. Of course you have the material that you'd normally regard as legendary, like the miracles. But as I said, even the material that would normally look ordinary looks made up. So in this case your general rule of accepting ordinary historical claims unless proven otherwise doesn't hold. We've proved that much of the ordinary stuff is made up. This calls even that which cannot be proved false into question. You agree the miracles are made up. You probably recognize that much of the ordinary stuff is made up. This suggests to me that in the case of these texts we're justified in assuming it's all made up. At least when we're only considering the texts.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan: John I appreciate your viewpoint and I think that you defend it effectively.

Thank you very much. At least one skeptic thinks this.

Evan: Do you think the Jesus Seminar's methodology was sound and that those statements and acts that they concurred had actually taken place are history?

The Jesus Seminar’s criteria were far too stringent and rigid in my opinion. Come on now, if the Gospels attribute a saying to Jesus that was similar to other contemporary sources then he didn’t say it. What? That would mean anything I have said could be dismissed as an authentic saying of mine as well because surely I have probably not said anything unique or original! So I think much more of the Gospels are historically reliable than the majority votes in that Seminar allowed for.

Evan: Are you confident that Nazareth was inhabited in the first half of the 1st century, CE?

Fairly sure. Archaeology supports this claim too .

Evan: I'm also curious as to how you explain 2 Cor 11:4:

Paul’s opponents here were Jews, known as Judaizers (v. 22; Galatians 1:6-9). We don’t have to suppose there were multiple numbers of Jesus’s in Paul’s day. And yes, there is only one historical Jesus (how could there be more than one?). The goal of the historian is to determine which profile best fits the actual man Jesus.

Evan: Therefore, how can we be sure that the Jesus Paul preached was the same one as the one in the gospels?

We can’t. But both Paul and the Gospels and I John and 2 Peter and Revelation all have a common characteristic about Jesus that he was a doomsday prophet and/or that the son of man was coming/returning (the Greek word can mean both).

BTW, I am not agnostic about this question.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Jon said...His being a carpenter is a metaphor for him being skilled with the Scriptures. Having a father named Joseph is probably due to the fact that the northern tribes regarded the Messiah as emerging from Manasseh, rather than Judah (David). The Davidic origin is of course intended to satisfy Judah. The two stories merge to satisfy everyone. Being raised in Nazareth is probably a metaphor for being and observor of the law, which then got confused to mean this is the town he was from (even though there is good reason to think that no such town existed in the supposed time of Jesus). Over and over we see even the ordinary stuff shows the signs of being made up.

I don't deny the NT writers made up stories as "prophecy historicized" or as metaphor. It's the task of the historian to look into these things. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater is being reckless with historical standards in my opinion.

Steven Carr said...

Sorry John, I didn't realise you had answered my questions about Paul believing Jesus had ever preached or done any miracles.

JOHN
For Paul to preach Jesus as the wisdom of God this crucified person named Jesus had to be known as a religious leader of some sort (a miracle worker, an exorcist a prophet and/or a teacher with a following). And if Paul, who's claiming to be an apostle, is doing miracles, one would naturally think Jesus did them as well.

CARR
SO it is all just assumptions.

There is no actual textual evidence.


Canm historicists provide evidence for their assumption that Paul knew about a Jesus of Nazareth?

I know for a fact that people like Benjamin Creme preach the Maitreya.

So does John think this 'Maitreya' has to be known as a religious figure, or else Benjamin Creme would not preach about him?

If I can see religions being formed today where the central figure does not exist, why is it being stupid to ask for historicists to engage in real debate about whether or not Paul thought of Jesus in the way that Benjamin Creme does about the Maitreya - somebody who existed , but was totally anonymous.

After all, Paul claims Jesus emptied himself of divinity when he became human.

And just like Benjamin Creme, Paul knew that his 'Maitreya' did not preach, so Romans 10 explains how others have to preach about the Maitreya.

There is simply no point in hurling abuse at sceptics that they 'lose credibility' when they can see exactly the same sort of thing happening today, which might have happened 2000 years ago.

Steven Carr said...

Here is some textual evidence...

Words of the Lord

'Maitreya calls this a blasphemy -- millions of people starving to death in a world with a huge surplus, some 10% surplus, of food. He says, "Nothing so moves me to grief as this shame."'

How does this differ from the sayings found in Paul of the word of the Lord?

John W. Loftus said...

Carr: SO it is all just assumptions. There is no actual textual evidence.

The textual evidence is that Paul met with Peter and the apostles as stated in Galatians and Acts. Like I said there is no single piece of evidence that supports the view. You would clearly not do this in any other historical study or you could end up denying the Holocaust, for that’s the same method the deniers use to deny it happened. Each single piece of evidence does not bear the weight of the whole story so they doubt each one on its own terms and conclude it never happened. But that’s not how historical studies should be done. It’s the convergence of evidence. YOU, my friend, are not a historian and from the sound of it have never taken any higher level classes on the art of the historian or on the philosophy of history like I have. And I have read somewhat extensively on the issue as well.

Carr: If I can see religions being formed today where the central figure does not exist, why is it being stupid to ask for historicists to engage in real debate about whether or not Paul thought of Jesus in the way that Benjamin Creme does about the Maitreya - somebody who existed , but was totally anonymous.

I haven’t researched into the Maitreya or when the concept originated. It’s an interesting case, leading to some doubt. But I have researched into the existence of Jesus. Can you say that about a central figure that existed in the same era and place the religious movement arose, with non-miraculous leaders who claimed to know him or his disciples like we find in the early church fathers? The line of people is unbroken. And such a character fits well into the Jewish Messianism of that era that is well-documented.

Carr: There is simply no point in hurling abuse at sceptics that they 'lose credibility' when they can see exactly the same sort of thing happening today, which might have happened 2000 years ago.

I maintain you are being reckless with historical standards. Skeptics have accused me of having “blind faith,” and that I might as well believe the Koran (i.e. sconnor above), even though I stand squarely with the overwhelming number of peer-reviewed scholars who say the same things. I object to that. I object to you coming here and asking a few questions without defending them making me spend a great deal of time answering them. Most of the time all you offer is one-liners. I have never seen you argue for anything in depth. You come, you ask a question and I have to spend a half-hour writing a response.

Until you offer something more by way of substance don’t bother.

brian_g said...

Jon said...

John, does this really apply to texts with so much obviously erroneous material? Not just the miracle stories. Many, if not all of the sayings of Jesus, have been shown to have their origin in previous thought. For instance "Do unto others" is nothing but repeating a statement from the OT. The criteria of dissimiliarty would suggest this probably is not original to Jesus.


This is a misuse of the criteria of dissimilarity. First of all the criteria of dissimilarity is a criteria use for proving positive things about Jesus. If something in the gospels is dissimilar from the early Church's teaching or practice, then it probably goes back to the historical Jesus. It does not work as a disproof for the things is Jesus' life which are similar to those of the early Church. Of course we'd expect the early church to have similarities in belief and practice to Jesus, Jesus was the foundation of the Christian movement.

Second, to take this a step further as you do and argue that because Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, that saying was probably made up. This is absurd. We'd expect a Jewish teacher to quote the Old Testament in his ministry. What are we to make of other people who quoted the Old Testament. The apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament. Josephus quoted the Old Testament. It was strain historical credulity to argue that since Josephus quoted the Old Testament, those wittings probably weren't written by him.



"His being a carpenter is a metaphor for him being skilled with the Scriptures. Having a father named Joseph is probably due to the fact that the northern tribes regarded the Messiah as emerging from Manasseh, rather than Judah (David).


The New Testament writers don't say anything about the carpenter being a metaphor. What evidence do you have?

Then you have a theory about Joseph being named the father of Jesus. Do you realize that Joseph was the second most common name in Palestine at the time? The theory that this was just made up based on the idea that the Christ would be the descendant of Manasseh son of Joseph, doesn't better explain the evidence. The early Christian writers understood the messiah as being a descendant of David. The reason Joseph was the name of Jesus' father is probably just because it was a common name.

Evan said...

John you claim that there are non-miraculous leaders who are associated with Jesus of Nazareth. Who are they?

Paul claimed to go to heaven in a vision. Peter is supposed to have performed miracles in Jerusalem.

Are those the ones you're talking about?

John W. Loftus said...

brian_g, yes, you are correct about the criterion of dissimilarity!

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, there was the author of Luke, and Mark, you know. Luke claims he investigated his story. Richard Baukham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses should be consulted if you want to see more evidence than I can write out here. And according to early church writings there were people who knew the early disiples like John the Elder, Polycarp, Papias, Ignatius and others.

You know what? Skeptics might as well deny the existence of them all, from Jesus to Paul to all of the early believers until Augustine. Hell, Augustine started the Christian movement!

But then maybe we should even doubt his existence. ;-)

You tell me where it stops, okay?

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, I was being a bit sarcastic, as you know, but the question is a legitimate one. Tell me where such a line of thought should stop. All we have for the existence of Paul is textual evidence. It was reported that he did miracles. Why not doubt his existence by saying such a claim is an extraordinary one demanding the burden of proof by independent corborating evidence too?

My friend Robert M. Price is coming out with a book denying that Paul wrote any of the letters attributed to him. What then becomes of the existence of Paul? And where does it stop?

This is being reckless with the standards of history.

Jon said...

I don't deny the NT writers made up stories as "prophecy historicized" or as metaphor. It's the task of the historian to look into these things. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater is being reckless with historical standards in my opinion.

I don't think the cliche about the baby and bathwater actually applies to my reasoning. I'm not suggesting you throw the baby out. I'm asking about what the default position should be, and if Zindler is justified in saying that the contents of the gospels don't justify the existence of Jesus as a default position. Why is that? Because where the facts can be checked we see invention. If we must start with an assumption wouldn't we assume that the parts we can't check are much like the parts that we can?

Not to mention the fact that Mark, our earliest account of the deeds of Christ, shows clear markers of being intended as a fictional narrative. Mark is the omniscient narrator, telling us about statements Jesus makes when nobody is present. Mark tells stories that make no sense as history, but make perfect sense as allegory (the story of Barabbas, the story of the fig tree). Mark is intended as history, but later writers, mistaking Mark to be history, modified him and improved on his story. Should we, based upon very late gospels that mistake fiction for history assume Christ is a real historical person based upon the later embelished version of the story that mistook their primary source as history when in fact it wasn't?

Evan said...

John again, I appreciate where you're coming from. I do think that we have to be skeptical about Paul's story. I'm sure there was some man called Paul or Saul at some point in history, but I'm also sure he didn't go to the third level of heaven.

So I don't believe there was a "Paul of Tarsus" who is the one described in the Bible, in the same way that I don't believe the Ulysses S. Grant of "Wild Wild West" actually represents the historical Ulysses S. Grant.

However, if you accept that this Paul existed in some sense, and you agree with me that he thought there were multiple Jesus figures and that we can't be sure the one Paul preached was the one of the gospels ... how really do you know about this figure of Jesus that Paul talks about is the same one that is mentioned in the fictive (as you admit) gospels?

It seems to ask more of the historical data than it can hold from my point of view.

Do you believe that the assertion that there was a historical US Soldier John Frum by the cargo cultists should be accepted at face value, even if no other records show the existence of such a person?

After all, from your position, religious cults must be founded by historical persons.

John W. Loftus said...

So Jon, are you suggesting that an author such as Mark wrote a story and passed it off to people who were already believers about what they should believe? That Mark was the charismatic founder of the Jesus cult or that he supplied the details to what Paul was already preaching on his missionary journeys that Paul subsequently embraced?

Picture this scenario, okay? Play it back in your mind. How would it actually work? What was Paul preaching before then? Sermons were long ones in those days and we're told one guy even fell asleep while Paul was preaching. And this took place before Mark wrote his gospel? And the early church accepted both Mark and Paul's writings?

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
Can you say that about a central figure that existed in the same era and place the religious movement arose, with non-miraculous leaders who claimed to know him or his disciples like we find in the early church fathers?

CARR
I see John is moving the goalposts, and continuing to refuse to examine the textual evidence such as Romans 10 and Romans 13, or 2 Cor. where Paul claims there were different Jesus's.

How can we know all these different Jesus's were the same person?

How can I learn why Paul seems to be behaving like Benjamin Creme in Romans 10, if all I get is abuse for even broaching such subjects?


When is there going to be a real debate instead of accusations of acting like Holocaust-deniers?



Where does Paul claim that people had been 'disciples' of Jesus - people who had been with him while he preached?

Where is the evidence?

And what is the point of trying to open a debate with somebody who responds to everything with abuse?

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
Jon, are you suggesting that an author such as Mark wrote a story and passed it off to people who were already believers about what they should believe?

PAUL in 2 Corinthians 11:4

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

CARR
What is the point of debating somebody who does not respect the evidence?

Paul states flat-out that people were happy to accept different Jesus's, yet John scoffs at the idea that somebody would write a story about a Jesus and have Christians believe it, even if it was different from what they had been told before.


But exactly that was happening!

John W. Loftus said...

Evan said...It seems to ask more of the historical data than it can hold from my point of view.

As I've said, almost anything in the past can be rationally denied even if it happened. That something happened doesn't mean we can show that it did. That something did not happen doesn't mean we can show that it didn't. This, by the way is much of my case against Christianity which claims to be a historical religion.

So I agree there is doubt. I don't know about John Frum, although I'll look into it. I don't have to explain everything in order to make my case about Jesus, otherwise if you were to deny the possibility of miracles someone could come up with hard case after hard case after hard case--cases which you have no clue about--and demand that you explain every one of them away. That's not my job or intention here. If John Frum is easily shown not to have existed that doesn't say much about the particular case I'm making with regard to Jesus. I already know people make stuff up. But I do not back off my claim that it is almost always that charismatic leaders are the ones who start religious cult-like groups, especially doomsday prophets. My question is who is the most likely candidate for the Jesus Movement. I don't know who started the John From thing. I don't know for sure who started the Jesus cult. But I think the textual evidence leads us to think it was Jesus himself.

Evan said...

John, here's a good place to start looking up the historical John Frum.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, I don't see anything there that denies a real historical soldier visited that island. And how does this deny any of my claims?

I tire of this discussion. I've got other things to do.

I've made my arguments. I've stated them. That's all I can do for now. If the other side wants me to stay here until I convince you, then that will not happen. Hell, I was never able to convince my teenage daughter of some things that I knew I were right either. So I doubt very much that I can convince thinking educated adults who disagree with me about Jesus, even though I stand with the overwhelming peer-reviewed scholars on the issue.

Jon said...

Second, to take this a step further as you do and argue that because Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, that saying was probably made up. This is absurd.

I may have my terms mistaken with regards to criteria, but the premise is this. There is a propensity amongst ancient writers, and even modern ones, to attribute a person's favorite saying to a favorite sage. According to Robert Price in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man we see the same saying in the Mishnah attributed to different people, depending on who the hero of the story was at the time. The tendency for the writer who is enamored with a person is to also have sayings that they think are just wonderful, so they tend to want to elevate their hero and they persuade themselves that their hero is really the person that said it. Also, unique people that become heros aren't usually remembered for quoting others. They are remembered for what they did that was unique.

Many of Jesus' sayings fit this pattern of error. That's absurd you say? I don't know how you can say it is absurd. I'm not saying it's impossible that Jesus said it. I'm saying it fits a pattern of error we find in ancient writings, and this makes it unlikely to be authentic. That's not absurd.

The New Testament writers don't say anything about the carpenter being a metaphor.

Again Robert Price makes this claim. I can get the citation from his book and if he has a source.

The reason Joseph was the name of Jesus' father is probably just because it was a common name.

Or it was invented for other purposes. I'm not denying that it is possible Jesus' father was genuinely believed to be Joseph. I'm saying, how can you know when it plausibly can be understood as invented in that it clearly fits with an invented agenda, much like other fictional writing does. Again, when we can check the facts we see they are either invented or are reasonably understood as invented. Why start by assuming that the whole thing is not invented.

Jon said...

What then becomes of the existence of Paul? And where does it stop?

Who cares? Let it go as far as it needs to go if that's where the facts lead. People say "Gosh, if we take that method we can hardly believe what we read in the paper." Yeah. That's right. So what? My experience with newspapers when those I know have been quoted in them is that they get things grossly wrong all the time. How often have you read in a publication about something you understand really well and you spot all kinds of errors. Then you read the next article and you assume it's all accurate. Maybe it isn't.

Steven Carr said...

I'm not even a Jesus myther and you haven't convinced me.

As an agnostic on the question, all I see is somebody who is not prepared to debate on the issue.

John W. Loftus said...

And what I see from you Carr is that you never express a belief. Skepticism is easy, isn't it? Stating a position, now that's more difficult isn't it? It's easier to smell a rotten egg than it is to lay a good one. Try it sometime and you'll be less the way you are.

For instance, no one liners, and no sound bites. YOU do some work here. Defend how you think the Jesus Cult movement arose. Give details. Provide evidence. nothing less than, say 750 words, that's three double spaced pages. Come on now. Do some work this time. then it will be I who will sit back and have it easy.

Jon said...

Picture this scenario, okay? Play it back in your mind. How would it actually work?

It is obvious that it does work exactly this way. It is clear that the gospel that Matthew is preaching is absolutely not the gospel that Paul was preaching. Paul says a man is justified by faith, not works of the law. Matthew has Jesus say "Do not thing that I have come to abolish the law. I have come to fulfill it. Not the least stroke of a pen is to be done away with" etc, etc. The fact is the gospel authors have their own agenda, and they have no qualms about altering the previous preaching. And yes, the church thinks they can accept both documents without contradiction.

Steven Carr said...

How did the Christian movement start?

Why ask me?

I'm not a psychiatrist!

I'm here to learn, not sound off my opinions as though anybody cared about them.

Teach me! Educate me!

Is that too much to ask? You're the guy who studied all this stuff for years.

With regards to your article on Jesus being the follower of the movement.

The first Christian writer was Paul.

According to Paul, what did Jesus do to start this movement?

As an aside, why did Paul not persecute the movement while Jesus was leading it?

Did he send out disciples? Did he preach? Did he demonstrate against the Temple? Did he rewrite the Jewish law so that it did not apply? DId he declare himself to be king?

Or did Jesus found the cultic meal,where the founder exists in a symbolic fashion as bread and wine?

What would a mythical founder of a cult do other than found a ceremony highly charged with symbolism, where the believers can be in the prescence of the founder in a mystical way?

sconnor said...

John,

sconner, puhleeeze. Some of you guys just fail to understand. That's all I can figure. When it comes to miraculous claims of any kind, like the divine inspiration of the Koran for instance, the claimant has the burden of proof.

Will some of you guys please try to understand? I feel like I'm dealing with the reasoning skills of many Christians when it comes to this issue all over again. It appears to me that skeptics have no corner on critical thinking skills. I wish it weren't so, but it seems to be so.


Maybe I wasn't making myself clear.

That was my point -- with any religious text the claimant has the onus to prove what was said, is true -- including the qur'an.

When I said, then, of course, the entire qur'an is completely true, I was just being sarcastic.

I said:

Logical fallacy.

Using Zindler's loopy logic -- If, textual evidence is usually considered good evidence until shown otherwise -- then, of course, the entire qur'an is completely true. Start crackin' Zindler. Get out your big red marker and start showing me what isn't true in the qur'an.

--S.

Charlie said...

Haha.

John highlights the absurdity of Steven Carr throwing out one-liners ,asking questions generated from dogmatic skepticism, and never offering a substantive argument. And what does Steven Carr do in response? Same old, same old:

I see John is moving the goalposts, and continuing to refuse to examine the textual evidence...

How can we know all these different Jesus's were the same person?

How can I learn why Paul seems to be behaving like Benjamin Creme in Romans 10, if all I get is abuse for even broaching such subjects?

When is there going to be a real debate instead of accusations of acting like Holocaust-deniers?


Where does Paul claim that people had been 'disciples' of Jesus - people who had been with him while he preached?

Where is the evidence?

And what is the point of trying to open a debate with somebody who responds to everything with abuse?

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Charlie!

Carr said...How did the Christian movement start? Why ask me?

Ohhhh, I dunno, probably because you can't do it. I've never seen you make an argument or express a belief. My theory has more evidence for it than yours will, that's my claim, even if you can poke some holes through my theory. The fact that there are unexplained holes in any theory does not make that theory wrong unless a competing theory has fewer holes in it with more evidence for it.

So I ask you. Make your case. Can't do it? I didn't think so. In my opinion until you do my theory stands.

Evan said...

John I'll take a stab.

There was a movement in ancient Palestine that revered a certain teacher of righteousness whose name may or may not have been Jesus when he was born. This teacher of righteousness founded a sect called Nazarenes. They were a persecuted sect and some of their followers and possibly their leader may have been crucified at some point between 100 BCE and 50 CE.

The Nazarenes were also sometimes called the Ebionim. Over time many legends accrued on to the teacher of righteousness and he was gradually given the title of Jesus Christ, although it is possible that his original name was in fact Jesus.

Confusion over the term Nazarene led to the fictive creation of a town in Galilee named Nazareth -- a town that Josephus never mentions.

Eventually many stories were told about this person and many legends were considered to be true about him, in much the same way as modern cargo cultists believe in John Frum.

Multiple authors penned multiple gospels about this figure all of which contain fictions and legend. Then there was a period of selection in which some gospels began to be favored over other gospels on the basis of the power struggles within the nascent church. The proto-orthodox wing of the church, centered in Rome, where the civil authority was, eventually triumphed in the battles over which sets of fictions and legend would be considered canonical. Since Rome had NO significant Palestinian population, it is unlikely that eyewitnesses were deciding these issues.

The final doctrines of the church were not finalized until about 5 centuries after this person existed and bear no resemblance, in all likelihood to whatever the teacher of righteousness actually believed.

If I show you there was a man named Paul Bonjean who was a lumberjack in Minnesota in 1832, does that mean that the legends of Paul Bunyan are based on history?

If your answer is yes, then I suppose there is a way for you to argue that Jesus of Nazareth is based on a historical person.

If you think the idea of a big lumberjack with boots creating the great lakes with his big ox, Babe is too ludicrous to warrant such a statement, then your answer will be no.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, there are other presing concerns right now. I'll get back to you on this. I never said that YOU couldn't provide a scenario, only that CARR couldn't.

charles said...

John, we seem to agree on at least as much as we disagree – to me your when it comes to textual evidence in the past, which is considered by historians to be precious, then the burden of proof is on the one who denies what that text claims. is obviously sound.

I also agree that the non-occurrence of Christ’s apparently expected return during the life of the apostles is a problem for Christians to address.

It points to a misunderstanding by the apostles which we may share depending on our interpretation of the gospels. You seem to link this to your view of Christ as a failed doomsday prophet.

There seems to be considerable interleaving of talk of the destruction of Jerusalem in the passages I read as relevant. I would be interested to know which passage(s) you feel most strongly support your position.

Sala kahle - peace

Steven Carr said...

Charlie cleverly points out the absurdity of a child pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes, when the child is unable to make any clothes himself.

It is the same old 'The Emperor is naked', when the child can't even sew.

Eric said...

We should take the text seriously as evidence if it refers to undeniably historical figures, places, customs, etc. and coherently ties all of these elements together into a narrative that itself is representative of its time. When you add to all this the fact that the texts were written within thirty to sixty years of the events (and which themselves contain numerous pericopes that can, by definition, be dated even earlier), you have very solid reasons to take the 'ordinary' claims of the text (e.g. there was a man named Jesus [Yeshua], an itinerant preacher who was crucified by Pilate, etc.) seriously, and thus legitimately to shift the burden of proof onto one who would dismiss the core elements of the text. For these reasons, it's not remotely analogous to 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' When you add the explanatory power of such a story, i.e. its role in explaining the rise of the early Christian movement, you further distinguish it from, say, stories like Sherlock Holmes, which are set in a specific time, place and culture, but which don't explain any historical phenomena that would otherwise be rendered more difficult to account for (that is, the notion that Christianity began with a charismatic leader like the one described in the gospels is much simpler than any conspiratorial and/or parallelistic approach).

Steven Carr said...

The Jack and the Beanstalk was to show that myths can be recognised even when you have no clue how a myth appeared.

You claim it is not analogous because the story of Jesus is not a myth.

That is a valid point, but not one that detracts from the point I was making.

ERIC
For these reasons, it's not remotely analogous to 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' When you add the explanatory power of such a story, i.e. its role in explaining the rise of the early Christian movement, you further distinguish it from, say, stories like Sherlock Holmes, which are set in a specific time, place and culture, but which don't explain any historical phenomena that would otherwise be rendered more difficult to account for (that is, the notion that Christianity began with a charismatic leader like the one described in the gospels is much simpler than any conspiratorial and/or parallelistic approach).

CARR
I keep asking for explanations of Romans 10 and Romans 13, but the silence is defeaning.

How does the idea that there was an intinerant preacher named Jesus best explain Paul's complaint that Christians were following all sorts of different Jesus's?

Historicists keep saying that their theory best explains the texts.

Please explain why Paul thinks the faith of Christians is by hearing the message about Christ when some of them are supposed to have *met* Jesus.

'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.'

This is pretty clear.

If it wasn't for Christian preachers, nobody would have heard of Jesus.

Faith does not come from meeting Jesus in real life. Paul did not expect any Jews to have met Jesus and believed.

Or to have heard Jesus preach and believe.

Faith comes from hearing people talk about Jesus.

Of course, this passage is best explained by saying that there was a preacher called Jesus whose preaching was rejected.

SO explain away.

To me it looks just like Benjamin Creme and the Maitreya.

But I am wrong, so educate me.

zilch said...

I'm no Bible scholar, but it seems to me that Evan is on the right track about the necessary framing of the question. Given the fact that there was almost certainly more than one person named "Jesus" in the first century, and the fact that the Bible is demonstrably incorrect about a lot of things, and very likely adduces to "Jesus" stories that are made up or are about other people, we should perhaps rephrase the question. Instead of asking, "did Jesus exist?" we should rather be asking, "how much of what the Bible says is reasonable to ascribe to one particular person named Jesus?"

Given the uncertainties, which don't seem likely to be resolved at this late date, I don't see how the question "did Jesus exist" can be meaningfully answered "yes" or "no".

Jon said...

John, you wrote above:

For me it's about credibility, not among skeptics. Skeptics are not my target audience. It's about credibility among Christians who are my target audience.

You said something similar here. You had said:

you should greatly appreciate that Christians will be much more apt to listen to me because I share these beliefs with them.

So once again, it kind of sounds like you would prefer to believe Jesus was historical. Otherwise you'll be regarded as a kook. Christians won't listen to you. You'll lose credibility. Of course I felt the same way. I didn't want to find myself leaning towards mythicism. I know that this meant getting laughed off the stage rather than being replied to. Robert Price indicates he went through a similar mental process. So did Richard Carrier, who found himself agreeing with Doherty against his initial bias. I already told you my brother is in the same boat. Many people that come to accept the mythicist hypothesis do so against their desires, because they know they'll be ridiculed. Maybe marginalized. And we don't want that.

But of course, that's not a good reason to regard Jesus as historical. You say that this plays no role in your beliefs. Are you sure? Because if you're right then you are a better man about this than me, Carrier, Price, etc.

Anthony said...

CARR
I keep asking for explanations of Romans 10 and Romans 13, but the silence is defeaning.


Steven, I guess I missed it but how do these two passages and the reference to 2 Cor. come into play in this discussion? Also, which specific verses in these three passages are you directly referring to?

Sam said...

Charlie said..."These are pseudo-skeptics."

This was new to me. I knew we Christians often like to point to other Christians we disagree with or who we don't like to represent us and say they aren't real Christians, but this is the first time I've seen skeptics do the same thing.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan said…John I'll take a stab.

There was a movement in ancient Palestine that revered a certain teacher of righteousness whose name may or may not have been Jesus when he was born.


So there was a historical figure behind the movement, eh? That’s what I’m arguing for! Except I also think the textual evidence is strong that he was a doomsday prophet. The early church did not make that stuff up because they had to continually explain away why the Eschaton did not happen. Can you explain why they made that up about Jesus if it was embarrassing to them? You have to, you know. He was an apocalyptic doomsday prophet. No teacher of righteous or wise sage would be able to start the Jesus cult. That his name was Jesus isn’t problematic, since it was a popular name.

Evan said…This teacher of righteousness founded a sect called Nazarenes. They were a persecuted sect and some of their followers and possibly their leader may have been crucified at some point between 100 BCE and 50 CE.

Where is the evidence for this assertion? The dates are surely wrong here as well. I have textual evidence and you have conjecture. Shouldn’t we go with the evidence? If not, why not? Why would they be persecuted? Who persecuted them? And why does the textual evidence single out Jesus for crucifixion over the others who are left holding the bag, so to speak?

Evan said…The Nazarenes were also sometimes called the Ebionim.

Is there any evidence for this assertion?

Evan said… Over time many legends accrued on to the teacher of righteousness and he was gradually given the title of Jesus Christ, although it is possible that his original name was in fact Jesus.

Sure, legends accrued about him. I don’t deny this. But he was emphatically not just a teacher of righteousness. That would not have gotten him crucified.

Evan said…Confusion over the term Nazarene led to the fictive creation of a town in Galilee named Nazareth -- a town that Josephus never mentions.

Archaeological evidence in peer-reviewed articles and books say otherwise about Nazareth. What have you been reading?

Evan said…Eventually many stories were told about this person and many legends were considered to be true about him, in much the same way as modern cargo cultists believe in John Frum.

Nope, I emphatically deny this. The evidence suggests he was a doomsday prophet, and that this eventually became embarrassing to the very movement he founded.

Evan said…Multiple authors penned multiple gospels about this figure all of which contain fictions and legend. Then there was a period of selection in which some gospels began to be favored over other gospels on the basis of the power struggles within the nascent church. The proto-orthodox wing of the church, centered in Rome, where the civil authority was, eventually triumphed in the battles over which sets of fictions and legend would be considered canonical. Since Rome had NO significant Palestinian population, it is unlikely that eyewitnesses were deciding these issues.

Have you read Eusebius’s account of this? These were people who had suffered a great deal for their faith, even martyrdom, and you’re claiming they bought whatever Rome said? Not very likely that people with such resolve, even if misguided, could be bought, or forced into believing something they didn’t.

Evan said…The final doctrines of the church were not finalized until about 5 centuries after this person existed and bear no resemblance, in all likelihood to whatever the teacher of righteousness actually believed.

No resemblance? Where is the evidence for this assertion? And how can you claim what you do when you don’t accept the textual evidence of the original founder of the Jesus cult? How can you say it was different if you don’t know what the original founder said in the first place? All you have is a conjecture that he was a teacher of righteousness. Where do you get even that notion?

Philip R Kreyche said...

Sam,

It's not uncommon. There's a lot of "skeptics" out there that I'd rather keep a distance from, because they honestly espouse just as many unreasonable assertions as most Christians do.

The skeptics who claim that Christianity and Judaism are directly descended from ancient Egyptian religion, for example, I have little respect for. The same for the Jesus mythers, too, honestly. I'd like to be convinced, but I find it more probable that Jesus did exist than that he didnt, and it's confusing to me that so many skeptics seem to think that Jesus HAD to be completely made up or else the nonChristian position holds no water.

Honestly, I think there are more pertinent issues to debate than the existence of Jesus, especially when an inordinate amount of time has been wasted going back and forth on the issue that could have been used on logical inconsistencies in Christianity or the archaeological evidence for and against what is claimed in the Bible.

eheffa said...

John,

Have you read Earl Doherty's stuff?

If not, I think that it would be worth some consideration as a reasonable & coherent case for the Mythicist position.

see: http://www.humanists.net/jesuspuzzle/

I'm not sure we'll ever answer this question with surety, but I do not think the Historical Jesus assumption is as secure as one might have been inclined to think 20 years ago.

Sometimes thinking outside the box can reap some interesting rewards.

-evan

Evan said...

John,

Thanks for the reply. I would appreciate hearing whether you think the existence of a man Paul Bonjean who was a lumberjack would mean there was a historical Paul Bunyan. Much of these arguments probably hinge on semantics. However I'm happy to answer the things you state.

First you say:

So there was a historical figure behind the movement, eh? That’s what I’m arguing for!

All movements have a historical figure behind them. Someone does something to start a movement. I doubt anyone is arguing against that, except perhaps Christians who believe Jesus was God and could walk on water.

Except I also think the textual evidence is strong that he was a doomsday prophet. The early church did not make that stuff up because they had to continually explain away why the Eschaton did not happen. Can you explain why they made that up about Jesus if it was embarrassing to them? You have to, you know. He was an apocalyptic doomsday prophet. No teacher of righteous or wise sage would be able to start the Jesus cult. That his name was Jesus isn’t problematic, since it was a popular name.

Yes, I can explain why they made up stuff about Jesus. If my beliefs are correct, the Jesus cult came to be an important branch of Jewish thought that tried to explain the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Rome.

Therefore, it was important for these stories to show Jesus prophesying just this thing. It may very well have been an important doctrine to the church in 80 CE that the earth was going to end soon. So they put such statements into the mouth of the legendary founder of the movement.

Does the failure of a prophecy in the book of Daniel prove there was a real Daniel? I'm curious why you would think that failed Biblical prophecies establish historicity.

The Millerite movement was based on a failed prophecy. As such, after it was over, Miller's personal standing collapsed and he is not associated personally with any of the surviving movements (SDA, JW etc.) that exist today. If your argument is compelling, shouldn't there be people who revere William Miller to this day?

I said:

This teacher of righteousness founded a sect called Nazarenes. They were a persecuted sect and some of their followers and possibly their leader may have been crucified at some point between 100 BCE and 50 CE.

You said:

Where is the evidence for this assertion? The dates are surely wrong here as well. I have textual evidence and you have conjecture. Shouldn’t we go with the evidence? If not, why not? Why would they be persecuted? Who persecuted them? And why does the textual evidence single out Jesus for crucifixion over the others who are left holding the bag, so to speak?

I don't think you can so blithely ignore other evidence. I suggest you look here and try to evaluate the book reviewed on this page.

Here's some key evidence from the review:

To anticipate the thrust of the book as a whole, let it be said that Eisenman first draws a portrait of the early community of James as a nationalistic, messianic, priestly, and xenophobic sect of ultra-legal pietism, something most of us would deem fanaticism. Eisenman shows how "Jewish Christianity" was part and parcel of the sectarian milieu which included Essenes, Zealots, Nazoreans, Nazirites, Ebionites, Elchasites, Sabeans, Mandaeans, etc., and that these categories were no more than ideal types, by no means actually segregated one from the other like exotic beasts in adjacent, well-marked cages in the theological zoo. Over against this sort of "Lubavitcher Christianity," Eisenman depicts Pauline Christianity (plus its Hellenistic cousins Johannine, Markan, Lukan, etc., Christianities) as being root and branch a compromising, assimilating, Herodianizing apostasy from Judaism. Greek Christianity gives the Torah, and Jewish identity, the bum's rush. The Pauline Christ, a spiritual redeemer with an invisible kingdom, is of a piece with the christening of Vespasian as the messiah by Josephus.

Of course, these ideas are by no means new. Eisenman is simply filling out the picture in an exhaustive manner undreamt of by S.G.F. Brandon, Robert Eisler, and his successors. The picture of Jesus in the Greek gospels, eating with tax-collectors, lampooning the traditions of his people, welcoming sinners and ridiculing Torah piety are all expressions of Gentile anti-Judaism. Only Gentiles utterly without sympathy to Judaism could profess to see such a Jesus as a noble pioneer of a "higher righteousness." In the same way, the New Testament notion that Jerusalem fell because her people had rejected the messiah, when in fact they were fighting a messianic war against the Roman antichrist, must be judged a piece of cynical Hellenistic Jew-bashing. Christianity as it emerges in the Gentile mission is a product of cultural accomodationism, pro-Roman Quislingism, and intentional assimilation. It is a kind of paganized, syncretic, diluted Judaism not unlike the Sabazius cult.


You have textual evidence John, but that textual evidence cannot be accurate, because it contradicts itself at virtually every turn, as you freely admit. When a source is as unreliable as the Greek gospels, of what value can it be for history, when every fact that is checkable within it turns out to be wrong?

I said:

The Nazarenes were also sometimes called the Ebionim.

Is there any evidence for this assertion?

Yes.

I said:

Over time many legends accrued on to the teacher of righteousness and he was gradually given the title of Jesus Christ, although it is possible that his original name was in fact Jesus.

Sure, legends accrued about him. I don’t deny this. But he was emphatically not just a teacher of righteousness. That would not have gotten him crucified.

So I ask you, what did get him crucified? We have all your textual evidence ... what was he charged with that makes sense of your understanding of the political situation of Palestine at that time? What authority crucified him? The gospels can't agree?

Your textual evidence contradicts itself here and quite plainly does not make plain what charges were brought, nor is it clear just what Judas could have told the authorities that led to the arrest. That is why it is suspect as history.

I said:

Confusion over the term Nazarene led to the fictive creation of a town in Galilee named Nazareth -- a town that Josephus never mentions.

Archaeological evidence in peer-reviewed articles and books say otherwise about Nazareth. What have you been reading?

Matthew for one:

"...And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23)

Matthew places him there specifically so that the midrash can work. Additionally -- I eagerly await discovery of any inscription of any sort describing Nazareth as existing before 70 AD. The silence about this city from Josephus, who is chronicling war in Galilee should make you suspect there is a problem, but the fact that the town that exists today has no nearby cliff at all should make you realize the text as we have it is not historical.

I said

Eventually many stories were told about this person and many legends were considered to be true about him, in much the same way as modern cargo cultists believe in John Frum.

Nope, I emphatically deny this. The evidence suggests he was a doomsday prophet, and that this eventually became embarrassing to the very movement he founded.

And John Frum isn't embarrassing to the cargo cultists? Yet you don't believe he existed as a historical figure -- or do you? You never answered me. On what grounds do you deny that legends and stories were created about Jesus? Do you accept the gospels as plain history? Of course you don't. Therefore this statement is really irrefutable unless you are an inerrantist, which I know you not to be.

Things I am sure you believe are legends:

1. The miracle at Cana.
2. The raising of Lazarus.
3. The Gadarene swine.
4. The resurrection of Jesus.

So again, if those are all legends, and all you have to hang your hat on is that he got some stuff about the eschaton wrong ... well John Frum got stuff wrong about stuff going to Micronesia. Does that prove he was real?

I said:

Multiple authors penned multiple gospels about this figure all of which contain fictions and legend. Then there was a period of selection in which some gospels began to be favored over other gospels on the basis of the power struggles within the nascent church. The proto-orthodox wing of the church, centered in Rome, where the civil authority was, eventually triumphed in the battles over which sets of fictions and legend would be considered canonical. Since Rome had NO significant Palestinian population, it is unlikely that eyewitnesses were deciding these issues.

Have you read Eusebius’s account of this? These were people who had suffered a great deal for their faith, even martyrdom, and you’re claiming they bought whatever Rome said? Not very likely that people with such resolve, even if misguided, could be bought, or forced into believing something they didn’t.

Have you read Bart Ehrman's account of this in "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture"? He believes Jesus was real but he accepts this broad outline of what took place in the development of the canon. I'd argue this is the least controversial part of what I'm saying. Eusebius is much less reliable, especially when he talks of martyrdom.

The real martyrs were the non-orthodox Christians who were killed or forced to convert to orthodoxy after the conversion of the empire.

I said:

The final doctrines of the church were not finalized until about 5 centuries after this person existed and bear no resemblance, in all likelihood to whatever the teacher of righteousness actually believed.

No resemblance? Where is the evidence for this assertion? And how can you claim what you do when you don’t accept the textual evidence of the original founder of the Jesus cult? How can you say it was different if you don’t know what the original founder said in the first place? All you have is a conjecture that he was a teacher of righteousness. Where do you get even that notion?

John, I have no firm idea what the original Jewish founders of the Christian movement may have believed, but I am almost certain they believed strongly in Jewish dietary laws, ritual purity, circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

Do you doubt this?

Do you believe that the councils of the 5th century believed in those things? If not, then my point is made.

Abraham Musto said...

well my good friend I would have to oppose the views that are present on this site and that are present in your information. If you read the book a case for Christ you will see that josh Mcdowell writess with logistisical evidence along with statistical evidence that Jesus our lord and savior did do all of what the Bible says. It is undeniable that any atheist or agnostic wakes up every morning and has a yearning inside of them that just isn't satisfied by any worldly or earthly items. I would have to say that for anyone to claim that it is just something to hide behind is a hypocrite, for the mere fact that people say they are an atheist or an agnostic to hide behind the fact that they are so afraid of anything that brings them to thier knees.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, although I initiated these types of discussions they are truly uninteresting issues to me. I will not waste too much time researching into them. I hope you and everyone else understands. I’ll attempt to answer some of your questions though. Don’t assume I couldn’t attempt to answer them all. I think I’ve both stated and argued for my position.

Evan said…If my beliefs are correct, the Jesus cult came to be an important branch of Jewish thought that tried to explain the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Rome.

I have my doubts about this you see. All I see is conjectures.

Evan said…You have textual evidence John, but that textual evidence cannot be accurate, because it contradicts itself at virtually every turn, as you freely admit. When a source is as unreliable as the Greek gospels, of what value can it be for history, when every fact that is checkable within it turns out to be wrong?

Not so. This is a wildly improbable highly exaggerated claim.

Evan said…So I ask you, what did get him crucified? We have all your textual evidence ... what was he charged with that makes sense of your understanding of the political situation of Palestine at that time? What authority crucified him? The gospels can't agree?

The Romans crucified him simply because that’s what they did to Jewish people who stood out and denounced them by saying the Messiah is coming who will reign over them in a new world order. This is consistent with his message. There was no Judas Iscariot. He is a fiction. Do the hard work here, okay? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Evan said…Matthew for one:

"...And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23)

Matthew places him there specifically so that the midrash can work. Additionally -- I eagerly await discovery of any inscription of any sort describing Nazareth as existing before 70 AD. The silence about this city from Josephus, who is chronicling war in Galilee should make you suspect there is a problem, but the fact that the town that exists today has no nearby cliff at all should make you realize the text as we have it is not historical.


So because Matthew invents stuff then when he speaks of Nazareth he invented that too? Sorry, that’s a non-sequitur.

Evan said…And John Frum isn't embarrassing to the cargo cultists? Yet you don't believe he existed as a historical figure -- or do you? You never answered me.

Yes I did.

Evan said…On what grounds do you deny that legends and stories were created about Jesus? Do you accept the gospels as plain history? Of course you don't. Therefore this statement is really irrefutable unless you are an inerrantist, which I know you not to be.

This is an either/or informal fallacy. Either this or that but nothing inbetween.

Evan said…Things I am sure you believe are legends:

1. The miracle at Cana.
2. The raising of Lazarus.
3. The Gadarene swine.
4. The resurrection of Jesus.

So again, if those are all legends, and all you have to hang your hat on is that he got some stuff about the eschaton wrong ... well John Frum got stuff wrong about stuff going to Micronesia. Does that prove he was real?


No single line of evidence “proves” Jesus was real because no single line of evidence ever did so in the first place. It’s the convergence of evidence that you must explain away. Next you’ll deny Paul and Peter and John and Papias existed too. Its easy being a skeptic, isn’t it? The nature of the evidence of the past is that almost anything can be denied. So deny it if you want to. But then you could never be a historian who attempted to write a history of, say, ancient Rome.

Evan said…Have you read Bart Ehrman's account of this in "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture"? He believes Jesus was real but he accepts this broad outline of what took place in the development of the canon. I'd argue this is the least controversial part of what I'm saying. Eusebius is much less reliable, especially when he talks of martyrdom.

I’ll look into this, thanks. Where can I find him discussing this? I have looked at his book.

Evan said…John, I have no firm idea what the original Jewish founders of the Christian movement may have believed, but I am almost certain they believed strongly in Jewish dietary laws, ritual purity, circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

You actually cannot be “almost certain” of anything in the past. What textual evidence do you accept for this conclusion? Most all of it is found in the NT itself. Yes, I believe this and more, as I've argued.

John W. Loftus said...

BTW to get to Nazareth from Galilee one must travel between two towering mountain cliffs. I personally saw them when in Israel.