Desperately Searching the Epistles for Anything That Attests a Historical Jesus

In my book On the Historicity of Jesus, I covered pretty much every possible verse in the Epistles that any expert has ever tried to claim proves Jesus really lived. You can check yourself: it has a complete scripture index (pp. 661-71). And Chapter 11 rakes the whole thing over with a fine toothed comb (pp. 510-95). The big ones of course get the most attention (“Paul says Jesus was made of sperm!” “Paul says Jesus had a mom!” “Paul says he met Jesus’s brother!” “Paul says Jesus was buried!” “Paul says the Jews killed him!” “Paul says Jesus broke bread one night!” Etc.). When you look at them without the lens of fundamentalist interpretation, those verses don’t really say what people think. Or at best we honestly can’t tell if they do. And that’s weird.

I’m often asked, if, after years of critics trying desperately to refute OHJ (but failing), there is anything that’s been pointed out to me that I overlooked. Not really. But when all of someone’s toys have been taken away, they will scour through the dust-bunnies under their bed for any bit of whatsit they can make a doll of. Realizing there isn’t a case to be made from the obvious verses, some try as hard as possible to find some verse, any verse, in the Epistles, a verse they’ve never even considered before, that they can possibly prop Jesus back up on. Since I published OHJ, I’ve encountered only two attempts at this so far, two verses I don’t discuss in OHJ: Hebrews 4:15 and Galatians 2:29. And it’s been three years now. So that’s probably literally the bottom of the barrel. So for convenience I’ll survey those two here. (If anything new comes up later, I’ll tack it on in addenda at the bottom. Feel free to submit suggestions. Anyone may do so in comments here—you don’t have to be a patron.)

Hebrews 4:15

This one was brought up a while ago by Nicholas Covington. I’ll summarize our conversation there. Covington made a good point that Hebrews argues even more strongly against historicity than even I realized in OHJ (pp. 538-52). But he also asked about Hebrews 4:15, which says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Covington asks, “If Jesus was tempted in every way, doesn’t that sound like an earthly Jesus?” For instance, wouldn’t this have to include “sexual temptation / temptation to steal / etc., which would only seem plausible on earth?”

That’s a stretch, of course. Because that isn’t actually said (e.g. no description of anything he was actually tempted with is given). But it also doesn’t follow. When you see Jesus being “tempted in every way” by the Devil (and passing that test) even in the historicizing Gospels, sex and stealing don’t even come up (pp. 468-69). Submitting to Satan in exchange for worldly power, preferring material sustenance to the word of God, and testing God, were the three sins that encompassed all other sins (all possible sins being one or more of those very three things), and they were the same sins of the Jews in Exodus that Jesus had to reverse (ibid.).

In like fashion, even in the cosmic reading of Philippians 2, Jesus was tempted to assume and exercise all possible power (p. 547). That by definition included every conceivable sin. If Jesus had seized the powers of God (becoming “his equal”), he could have anything he wanted—including taking (stealing) anything he wanted, and having sex with any woman he wanted, the same temptation other celestial angels had succumbed to (Genesis 6:2, producing the demons, according to the Book of Enoch—regarded as scripture by the first Christians). By thus resisting that temptation, and instead submitting to everything, “even death,” Jesus had been tempted in all things (Phil. 2:6-9).

Literally, Hebrews 4:15 says “we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested according to everything, in the same way, without sin.” His temptation “concerning everything” is most likely what is simply stated in Phillipians 2:6-8: he was tempted to acquire all the power of God and declare himself his equal (much as Satan had done) but voluntarily refused that temptation and allowed himself to become weak and powerless, submitting fully as a slave to the natural order (which, by the way, means he renounced all powers—so Paul’s Jesus can’t ever have performed any miracles in life, nor ever exorcised demons; and indeed, Paul shows no knowledge of anyone ever thinking Jesus ever performed any such feats when he was human: OHJ, p. 535). And this is just like us, because we too face the temptation to put other goals and rewards before God, to prioritize our own gain, to put ourselves before God and His word, the fundamental sin all particular sins are just iterations of.

That’s the way in which the earliest Christians (who crafted the Philippians hymn) imagined Jesus experienced “all temptation”: he resisted all possible offers of power, and he voluntarily suffered for that refusal all the way to the point of dying. That’s already explicitly in the cosmic version of the incarnation stated in Philippians 2. Where no visit to earth is mentioned. Nor required. Jesus could have, like the fallen angels serving Satan, seized power and gone to earth and ravished any woman he wanted. But he didn’t. Thus, he, like us, withstood every temptation (indeed, more even than we ever face, though it’s all still the same fundamental sin that tests us).

I did address Hebrews 2:17 in OHJ, which is similar. As I wrote there (pp. 547-48):

The notion that Jesus had to ‘become like his brothers in all respects’ (Heb. 2.17) is sometimes adduced as evidence a historical Jesus is meant, but this does not follow, nor is it all that plausible. This phrase is very strangely worded if a regular man is meant …. You do not normally describe this as a supernatural preexistent being ‘becoming like’ [homoioô] a human. And ‘in all respects’ translates the phrase kata panta, ‘according to everything’, in other words, everything that matters to being someone’s ‘brother’, a fact known only from scripture. Thus, to make the scripture true, Jesus had to be sufficiently ‘like us’ in all the respects that would establish us as his brothers. Therefore (at least [the Hebrews] theologian is inferring) [Jesus] ‘must’ [opheilô] have put on a body of flesh so he could be tempted and suffer and die like us. Here Jesus is not being ‘born’ as one of us but simply ‘becoming sufficiently like’ us. And it appears we know this happened only because it’s theologically required by scripture and logic. A cosmic supernatural event of donning a human body fits this way of speaking well enough, and arguably better.

This likewise explains why they imagined that their calling to join this new religion (their homologia, ‘agreed-upon creed’) came ‘from heaven’ and not from an earthly ministry (Heb. 3:1). After that we again get quotations of scripture and still not a single quotation from a historical Jesus.

…nor any presentation of any witnessed evidence that he had ever been a man—always the only sources they have for knowing this even happened, is revelation or scripture. That’s it. Jesus was tempted in all ways not because he was here and someone saw it or heard him say so, but because scripture says so. Just in the same way everyone knew Satan was tempted and failed—without Satan ever being a real historical person any more than Jesus was. And like Jesus, Satan wasn’t tempted on earth. He was tempted in heaven. He was cast down only after succumbing to temptation. And even then set up residence in the sky, not on earth.

(The notion of Satan residing below the earth in hell did not exist until the Middle Ages. Such an idea evolved out of the very different promise in Enoch and Revelation that after the apocalypse that’s where Satan would be cast. Similarly, ancient Christians believed the loyal angels of God would govern hell and torture sinners there; whereas the notion that it would be Satan and his demons who would do so, is again a Medieval invention.)

Galatians 4:29

This verse says, “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” Someone recently suggested this means that the women people are born to in Galatians 4 can’t be allegorical as Paul says they are (in Gal. 4:24; see OHJ, pp. 577-82), because being “born according to the flesh” means being born to (the allegorical) Hagar, as Paul says, so if that’s what Paul meant when he said Jesus was also born of the same mother, then Paul would be saying that Jesus is now persecuting the children of the celestial mother (the allegorical Sarah), and surely that can’t be. Paul wouldn’t have said that. Therefore, he can’t have meant that about Jesus.

But this is confused. Paul says Jesus was only born of the ‘flesh woman’ (Hagar, the world of flesh) to die. But when Paul wrote Galatians, Jesus was long dead; he had already become born of the heavenly woman (Sarah). Just as we wish to do. That’s Paul’s entire argument in Galatians 4. When Paul says the one born of flesh “then” (meaning Ishmael in the Old Testament story, the disinherited son of Abraham, and thus not an heir to the kingdom of God) was a persecutor then, “just as now,” he cannot be referring to Jesus. Because Jesus is no longer flesh. Jesus was reborn of the celestial woman, just as Paul says we will be (and in the meantime can now be, by “promise,” through our “inner man”: see The Empty Tomb, pp. 139-40).

In talking about persecutors, Paul is referring to anyone who clings to this world, who remains born to the flesh rather than to the spirit. And he means just what he says in the next line, Galatians 5:1: that anyone who remains in their heart a son of the flesh remains in bondage to the old law and will be tormented by it and doomed to sin and to persecuting others (see Romans 8 for a full explication of his metaphysics on this). Therefore we should become (as one can through baptism) a reborn son of the celestial mother, so that we can be free and saved. In short, the system Paul is talking about allegorically is not which literal woman you were born to, but which world you are submitting to, and what the consequences are of that. Jesus, exceptionally, submitted briefly to the world of flesh so he could defeat it (again, as Philippians 2 explains). And having defeated it, be escaped it (he got to be reborn to the celestial mother: 1 Corinthians 15:35-54). Thus demonstrating we can do the same. Thus we should emulate Jesus in this.

Thus in the allegory Paul is building (and explicitly says he is using), Jesus is not a persecutor like Ishmael “because they were born to the same mother, the same world.” Rather, they are alike for that reason only in that they both submitted to the world of flesh and its burdens and temptations. But unlike Ishmael (and all others today who are enslaved to the world of flesh), Jesus resisted that temptation and overcame it, and thus got to be reborn—as a son of Sarah, like we will be, if we do the same. And as Jesus is thus a son of Sarah now, when Paul speaks of those born to Hagar now, he certainly wouldn’t be including Jesus in that remark. Because when he wrote that, Jesus was no longer born to Hagar. He was born to Sarah.

There is nothing in this that makes Jesus historical. To the contrary, this verifies that Paul is not talking about a literal human mother here at all. And therefore there is nothing in Galatians 4 that supports historicity. In just the same way, Paul calling Jesus a “man” (anthrôpos) affords no evidence of historicity, either. Nor references to his mortal body, when he was briefly given one, being made out of Davidic semen and thus Jewish (OHJ, pp. 575-77). That’s all consistent with the Doherty Thesis, that this incarnation, which was required by scripture, took place in the sky. Which is why the only way Paul says anyone knew it had ever happened, was by hidden messages in scripture and divine revelation (e.g. Romans 16:25-26).

Conclusion

Always the problem is that people who want the Epistles to attest a historical Jesus have to import meanings to it from the Gospels. But the Gospels were written decades later and wholly unknown to Paul—indeed, the Gospels say many things that were clearly not even being preached in Paul’s day. And this is the wrong way to read evidence. If you want to test two competing theories against each other, you have to do it in a logically valid way, which means first assuming each theory is true and then asking if the evidence makes sense, if it matches what we expect (or not), on that theory—and how much it does (see OHJ, pp. 513-14). And when we do that, we have to take into account how background facts affect our expectations in both cases (e.g. pretty much all evidence against historicity was destroyed: OHJ, pp. 275-77, 279-80, 349-56; so we can’t expect explicit evidence to survive—for instance, if Paul ever outright said Jesus died in the sky, that verse certainly would have been expunged, as we know whole letters of his were: OHJ, pp. 280, 511, 582, etc.).

Accordingly, you have to ask, “if Paul was really writing about a cosmically crucified and buried archangel, and all his explicit statements to that effect were expunged, what would we expect to find his Epistles saying today?” Rather than just assuming the Gospels are all accurate histories or even have any real sources whatever. You have to assume they don’t. And then ask how well the evidence of the Epistles fits expectation. And you’ll find the answer is: pretty much exactly (I allow some exceptions on the a fortiori side, but it turns out they aren’t strong enough to carry the case the other way: OHJ, pp. 592-95). Then you compare that result with the other: How well does that same evidence fit the expectation if there was a Jesus, and Paul wasn’t talking about a celestial one all that time? Not really all that well. And indeed, the more you assume in the Gospels is true, the less probable the contents of the Epistles become (e.g. see OHJ, pp. 354-55; p. 557 nn. 55 and 56; pp. 574-75, n. 82). Which is why only a theory of historicity that assumes the Gospels are almost entirely mythical has any chance of being true (OHJ, Ch. 2).

These two verses now exemplify the point: they barely even make sense on the fundamentalist assumption that the authors are referring to an earthly Jesus with them. They hardly are what we’d expect Paul or the Hebrews theologian to say if there was already a lore about Jesus having an actual mother named Mary or being tempted by Satan in the Jordanian desert. We wouldn’t expect this talk of Sarah and Hagar as allegorical mothers, or even a mention of Jesus being born of a mother at all—that’s not something you ever think to say of a human, any more than you’d take the trouble to mention they had skin.

We likewise wouldn’t expect such abstract talk of his being tempted to seize the powers of God and showing he resisted sin by not doing that. We’d sooner hear stories of actual earthly sins he was tempted by and resisted, verifying the fact being asserted (contrast, for instance, the method of argument in Hebrews 11 and 12: OHJ, pp. 550-52)—rather than being told what we know of all this comes from an analysis of scripture, instead of reminding us of things he told his disciples, or what the disciples saw. There aren’t even any disciples. In Hebrews and all the letters of Paul, “disciples” never appear. The word is unknown to them. The concept is likewise unknown to them—neither of whom mention anyone ever knowing Jesus before he died, much less having been hand-picked by him or witnessing his life or being the principal source of relaying his words.

By contrast, given the Doherty Thesis, and the conjoint fact of the suppression of all evidence too explicitly worded, these two verses are exactly the sort of thing we expect to find in Paul and Hebrews. Abstract references to Jesus’s cosmic temptation (reversing and thus undoing the myth of Satan), and speaking of mothers metaphorically rather than literally, meaning simply which world one is linked to (the earthly or the heavenly), using words for Jesus that mean manufacture rather than natural birth, and words for ourselves that mean natural birth rather than manufacture (compare Philippians 2:7 and Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 with Galatians 4:23, 24, 29, etc.; see OHJ, pp. 575-76, 580-81). This is all just what we expect on minimal mythicism (OHJ, Ch. 3). Though not impossible, it’s still hardly what we expect on historicity.

And it’s the ratio between those two probabilities—the probability this is what we’d see in the Epistles today if minimal mythicism is true, compared to the probability this is what we’d see in them today if any form of historicity were true—that determines the effect this evidence (the surviving content of the Epistles) on the final probability that Jesus existed (see If You Learn Nothing Else). And here, the evidence remains the same as I found it in OHJ: either the evidence supports both equally (and thus supports neither), or it’s all leaning against historicity, not for it. Regardless of what the Gospels say.

53 comments

  1. Giuseppe Ferri March 20, 2017, 4:16 pm

    What about Romans 5:6-8?

    6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Is Paul putting the death of Jesus in a specific chronological time during his past life? Is this more expected under historicity insofar mythicism would require to add the hypothesis that the death of the angel Jesus happened, for the earliest Christians and for Paul, precisely in the recent past? (I say so because I have listened the prof. Robert Price argue that the death of Jesus happened before the creation of the world according to the original Christian myth).

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. In OHJ it’s made clear I only defend minimal mythicism (Ch. 3), which makes no elaborate claims like that.

      Although minimal mythicism is compatible with any timeline, in OHJ I assume that the “revealed death” occurred in the 30’s AD (in accordance with the “eons” logic we find in later documents like Hermas). Not at the dawn of time. Though minimal mythicism predicts nothing as to when the death occurred, except “in the past.” But I can’t see the logic of the death occurring before even creation. It had to reverse the sin of Adam and Satan, so it had to occur not only after Adam’s sin in Eden, but even after the fall of Satan. And thus certainly, post creation. There is no sound way to get the Pauline epistles or the early Christian logic to fit any other scenario.

      That still allows a possible ancient death (and hence Paul could be saying “we” in Romans 5 as in “humanity,” not “we” as in his current generation; likewise, he does not explicitly say the visions of Jesus occurred the third day after his death in 1 Cor. 15, only that he rose the third day after; Paul doesn’t actually say how long after that it was before Jesus revealed this). But I don’t see any need to argue for that. And I don’t anywhere in OHJ.

      So Romans 5 poses no issue for OHJ.

      Reply
    2. Peter March 21, 2017, 6:25 pm

      Wouldn’t a date of death of 30’s AD make sense in light of some mathematical calculations of the Daniel 9 prophecy about the messiah being cut down? I’ve seen Christian apologetics trying to prove the prophecy fits Jesus, so on the myth hypothesis, similar calculations might have inspired the earliest Christians to come up with that date for his crucifixion, a date which Mark then historicized in his gospel

      Reply
      1. Correct, Peter. I discuss that possibility (that Christianity was sparked by prophetic timetable calculations regarding when the messiah would be killed in Daniel 9, beginning the end times) and the evidence and scholarship on it, in OHJ, Element 7 (pp. 83-87). Also see Ch. 8.1 there for more on mythically dating the origins of Christianity (one sect placed the death of Jesus a hundred years earlier; others placed it twenty years later).

        Reply
    3. Justin Legault March 23, 2017, 7:03 am

      Wow, the Doubting Thomas story is not even in the Gospel of Thomas, that is hilarious to say the least. You’d figure such a pivotal story would be in his own Gospel (forged or not) and in the previous Gospels.

      What I don’t understand is why do people see documentaries on TV and assume that it’s all historical without any biases? Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance plays part in this. But for crying out loud, with all these forgeries, interpolations, contradictions, historical errors (Trial of Jesus on the Passover explained in OHJ), false claims on nature, biology, our existence etc…You’d think people would be more skeptical..

      We could have been so much farther ahead if it wasn’t for religion and superstition. Which is a big reason why I can’t wait to read your new book coming out this summer.

      Thanks Richard!

      Reply
      1. Bill Ramsey April 7, 2017, 10:13 am

        What book is this? I try to follow rather closely as RC is my favorite scholar/skeptic. Or are you meaning the book on ancient science education?

        Reply
  2. Denis Gaudreau March 20, 2017, 4:58 pm

    Hello !
    Great topic ! What about the apostle Thomas that went in India, which Roman Catholic Church had burned down every evidence of his teaching about Jesus ? And what about the Ebionites which were using only Matthew’s Gospel as the true teaching of Jesus and not Paul ?

    Reply
    1. Justin Legault March 21, 2017, 12:15 pm

      Good question! I was also curious when the story of Thomas was written? Because I feel alot of Christians like to use that as ‘evidence’. “Thomas had doubt but Jesus proved him wrong”.

      Reply
      1. Denis Gaudreau March 21, 2017, 12:20 pm

        Yep in fact not much evidence. Not much on him exepted that short video on YouTube. Which doesn’t give much to wonder about. Unfortunately Roman Catholic Church came down there I think in the 16th century according to that video, if I’m not wrong. Cheers !

        Reply
      2. On the Doubting Thomas apologetic:

        They’d be closer to having an argument if Thomas existed. No such person in the Synoptics. Never heard of before. Not even by Luke, who supposedly researched everything, and actually discusses a physical appearance from Jesus among the disciples that involved touching him (also fake, but still). But moreover, we don’t have anything from Thomas himself, or from anyone who ever met or spoke with him. So we have no idea what he actually experienced, even if he existed.

        But ultimately, John is the biggest liar of the entire lot. His whole Gospel is deliberately manipulative lie. He fabricates everything, and even admits his motive is to persuade you, by inventing stories that support what he wants you to believe. And never names any source. And the only source he comes anywhere near to claiming (someone he never met, but only read, supposedly, something from), is someone he completely made up. See my discussion and evidence in OHJ, Ch. 10.7.

        Anyway, the Thomas myth was invented probably in the early first century. It never exists up to the time of Luke, who wrote in the late 90s A.D. at the earliest (and may have written 10-30 years after even that), and John post-dates Luke (e.g. John is arguing against Luke, with his invention of Lazarus, etc., cf. OHJ, ibid.). So John dates to after the year 100, and may be as late as 140-150 A.D. (no one ever seems to have heard of the Gospel of John until after then).

        Reply
        1. Denis Gaudreau March 21, 2017, 5:51 pm

          Where can I get your book OHJ ? Amazon ? For me it is not close case for Jesus in respect of your position. Still I’m critical thinker and I do believe into having all views from such an important topic. I do like your material !

    2. Justin Legault March 22, 2017, 7:14 am

      This is gold thank you! So basically John likely invented the Thomas character (This whole time I thought there was a gospel of Thomas — Unless it’s a forgery added centuries later) to add validity to Jesus’ story? Same like lazarus like you mentioned and probably when Jesus got stabbed with the spear or what not, while crucified was only in his gospel too I believe?

      I remember someone bringing up the tomb of Lazarus as evidence in a recent documentary (CNN I think?) He asserts that his tomb is found therefore he existed (Non-sequitur perhaps?) But the documentary says “This tomb is ‘believed’ to be Lazarus’ tomb by ‘tradition’ as if that hold any water. It is simply conjectures yet their confirmation biases claims it as fact. Yes and the Temple of Zeus in Acropolis means Zeus existed…(Face palm).

      Reply
      1. Yes, the Gospel of Thomas is a forgery. And nowhere mentions the Doubting Thomas episode anyway. (In fact some scholars suspect John invented that episode as an argument against the mysticism of the Gospel of Thomas.)

        And yes, there is no Lazarus tomb. That’s a made up story for conning tourists (these cons started in the 4th century; a whole industry grew up around inventing places where things happened in the Gospels to draw pilgrims and their cash).

        Reply
    3. Peter March 23, 2017, 9:31 am

      Speaking of Lazarus and his tomb, is anyone watching the new Finding Jesus series on CNN? If Trump was right on one thing, it’s that CNN is peddling in fake news. Christian apologetics at its finest.

      Reply
    4. Justin Legault March 23, 2017, 9:50 am

      Peter,

      That’s exactly what I brought up (3-4 comments up), it’s actually ridiculous. Plus Jesus is super white in that ‘documentary’ too haha.

      I’m not watching the whole thing, all the flaws and historically inaccurate information given will just grind my gears.

      Reply
    5. Justin Legault March 23, 2017, 9:53 am

      Richard,

      I forgot to add this on my previous comment. If you have time, could you do a full review of the CNN series, I’m actually curious at how many flaws there are. If it actually interests you to find out as well. Just the trailer I was shaking my head.

      Thanks 🙂

      Justin

      Reply
      1. As to the CNN series, sorry, but I just see no value in even watching it. Unless someone sees something in it otherwise (in which case point me to exactly where: episode and timestamp), it’s just a rehashing of a random assortment of undefended assumptions and dogmas, no different than any of the hundreds of “Jesus was a [insert theory here]” books, none of which ever actually even establish Jesus existed, but just assumes he did, and then works from there. It’s all just iterations of the same exact argument: “I think Jesus was a [zealot/magician/activist/Cynic/Rabbi/apocalyptic prophet/whatever] because [insert arbitrary rationalizations for ignoring all the evidence against that thesis] and [insert litany of arbitrary gut feelings about the implications of the remaining evidence based on no actual evidence or literature review].” Completely useless. A waste of anyone’s time.

        Reply
  3. Davit March 21, 2017, 2:16 am

    I agree with your interpretations of both verses. Though I have two general questions about Paul’s epistles.

    1. When I first read Paul’s letters (being a Christian kid), I naturally assumed that the he was mostly interested in conveying concepts of theological importance to the Churches rather than historical events which Christians must have generally been familiar with. After I read your arguments against this, I am no longer convinced by this idea. However, if we extend this hypothesis by interpreting these letters in Apocalyptic context (and I assume you agree, Paul was an apocalipticist.), then it makes a bit more sense why he speaks very little (and vaguely) of the historical Jesus.

    Paul and early Christians believed that Jesus was going to return in (approximately) their life time. God’s soon going to intervene in history. In this mindset, all one really worries about is to get things theologically right in the remaining years of life and meet the end times spiritually prepared. So in letters, limited in space and time, Paul focused mostly on how Christians should understand Christ and the meaning of his death & resurrection in the face his imminent return. What do you think of this explanation?

    2. If the earliest Christians perceived Jesus only through visions, where did they get the idea that he died in the first place? I mean, I understand why they came to believe in resurrection, but why did they assume, “oh, since we had visions of this being, he must have died for our sins and then rose from the death”?

    You might have addressed these questions in OHJ, but I haven’t read yet it.

    Reply
    1. 1. I don’t agree with that conclusion. The urgency of an impending doom would make it even more important to cite recent examples of his life and teachings to persuade people by and win his many arguments with. And it would make it more urgent for recent converts to ask questions about these things, because so much was at stake.

      There wouldn’t perhaps be a need to draw up a coherent Gospel. But after twenty years (when Paul is writing), even that would have become necessary, were there remembered lore that people depended on. Paul himself says the first generation was already dying off in 1 Cor. 15; which would make capturing and preserving their experiences of Jesus a pressing matter if they had to evangelize as many as possible before the impending doom—unless that was already established as secret oral lore forbidden to be written, which would not make sense for a public earthly ministry witnessed and already being discussed by thousands of nonbelievers already, a phone game the believers would see even more urgent need to combat with an “official” and thus “accurate” version of what they want to believe happened, and was done, and was said.

      In the end, the things Paul argues in the Epistles is way more trivial than what would have been far more crucial and important matters to discuss about the life and teachings of Jesus, if indeed the end were nigh (and if indeed he needed to convince everyone of that).

      Anyway, one can peruse the examples of things that are oddly missing and weirdly vagued up in the Epistles in Ch. 11 of OHJ, and ask of each one, would this have been less, or indeed even more urgent a matter for Paul and his opponents and congregations, if they thought the end was coming any year now? (Given that it has already been twenty years since Jesus died…a crucial element to factor in.)

      This also leaves the weird problems of Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 Clement (OHJ, Chs. 11.5, 11.3, and 8.5), all of which actually discuss the gospel in more detail than even Paul, yet none of which ever cite any eyewitness of anything Jesus ever said or did on earth (which is strangest of all coming from 1 Peter). Instead, all they have as evidence to cite is scripture (and occasionally, revelation). “The end was nigh” can’t really explain that.

      2. Paul answers that question himself: “according to the scriptures, Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3); which “hidden mystery” (1 Cor. 2:7, Rom. 16:25) “now is manifested, by the scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:26). And this was known “according to the revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25), in which Paul and the Apostles experienced Christ “by revelation” (Gal. 1:11-12; 1 Cor. 9:1; 1 Cor. 15:5-8) in which Christ himself told them all that had happened (1 Cor. 11:23; 2 Cor. 12). See Element 16 (pp. 137-41) and Element 17 (pp. 141-45). And of course Ch. 11.4, 11.6, 11.7, and 11.8.

      Reply
  4. Denis Gaudreau March 21, 2017, 10:43 am

    One more question and that one is probably way out of scope. Just to say I’m agnostic with a more deist view, not religious at all. That one is mind boggling to me.

    My question is what are your view concerning the Shroud of Turin about being maybe the real burial cloth of Jesus. First I was so surprised in watching documentaries on You Tube to get video about the Shroud back in 2013. I though first it was “fringe” catholic fundamentalists trying to push a revival on a topic which was quite close case since the 1988 Carbon 14 dating.

    But to my biggest surprise and amazement, there was video from the original STURP studies from 1978: Barrie Schwortz and especially another of his colleague Ray Rogers which said that the sample that was used for Carbon 14 datation had linen and cotton mixted altogether meaning that the piece used for the sampling were repieced parts probably done around 14th and 15th century. Here’s one of those many video now available on You Tube:



    That Barrie Schwortz also appeared on the History show Treasures decoded on which there was people trying to duplicate the Shroud but none totally succeded to perform the deed. And one last link to what is on National Geographic about the Shroud dating from 2015:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150417-shroud-turin-relics-jesus-catholic-church-religion-science/

    It says there still scientifics and physicists that are trying to explain how the image got on the Shroud, genuine or not…

    So what is your view and could that mean that the man was at all real and died that infamous death after all ???

    Thanks !

    Reply
    1. STURP is a propaganda mill. They claimed there were no artificial pigments on it. It is covered in them (the apologists now even use the fact that its covered in artificial pigments as an excuse to juke the carbon dating results). STURP has a problem telling the truth. The carbon dating cannot by any possible way be juked to get a 2000 year old date, even by every apologetic excuse devised. That’s clearly pointed out even in the NatGeo article you cite. And they always leave stuff out (like that we have the confession of the forger; that the image was reproduced in a lab using medieval materials, refuting the claim that it can’t be; etc.). Joe Nickel’s work is still one of the only honest treatments of this artifact in print; similarly Walter McCrone’s; and anyone who sides with them. Everyone else is a liar or running a pious con. See CFI’s summary. See also the McCrone and the critical Shroud sites. And a baseline reference is the SkepDic entry.

      Reply
  5. Justin Legault March 21, 2017, 1:54 pm

    Richard,
    Great article, I had a question unrelated to it though.
    What is the best arguments against ‘doubting Thomas’?

    Reply
  6. Andrew March 26, 2017, 5:28 pm

    I wonder if the author(s) of the Pauline epistles were not already thinking like Origen did later, in that they had to phrase the epistles in such a vague, mystical, allusive fashion so that the inner circle of converts (“apostles”) would understand the allegorical nature of the entire Christian ritual and liturgy, but the listening (and possibly reading) outer circle needed something more tangible and simple. It’s remarkable that someone could write thousands of words about the crucifixion of Christ and yet not make clear exactly when that happened. I’m not convinced that the authors even thought of it as a recent death (AD 30s). One of the potentially biggest differences between the epistles and the gospels is that “Paul” had no access to Josephus’s works, since they were not written yet, but the gospel writers have both Josephus AND the epistles as “sources.” And through these sources and the LXX they determine that Jesus died under Pilate, and the whole historicity project becomes urgent.

    Reply
    1. That’s a theory worth exploring. Paul definitely is wording his letters carefully as you suspect (likewise Hebrews and 1 Peter). He’s almost explicit about that. And that does allow a window of possibility for “deep past atonement,” but for Paul a deep past atonement can’t have predated Adam and Eve or Satan’s fall. And Daniel 9 entails it had to post-date even the second temple’s founding (by quite a lot). A more viable prospect would be that it was calculated to have happened circa 75 BC; and then Paul may actually in fact himself (and his letters) date to the 50s BC, not AD (that would actually make more sense of his comment about Aretas’ men in Damascus, for example; and nothing else in his letters as we have them rules out that time period). In which case not just Jesus, but also Paul, got re-dated a hundred years later to suit the program of the Evangelists.

      That this is possible, and consistent with the evidence, however, does not make it more likely. Because it requires more unproven assumptions, it actually has a lower probability than the one I stick with in OHJ. Until we get evidence that is more likely on the alternative than on the standard theory, that’s where the relative probabilities will stay. Regardless of what actually happened. Because our epistemic access is hugely limited.

      Reply
      1. Andrew March 27, 2017, 6:05 pm

        Yes, I agree, though the dating of the crucifixion is made deliberately vague in the Pauline epistles, it does not follow that the writer(s) meant it happened before the beginning of time. That view may be more in line with the Revelation author — “the lamb that’s been slain since the beginning of time” and so forth. Back-dating the Pauline epistles to the first century BCE is very intriguing. I guess the main objection is that the writer(s) seems so influenced by Philo that we would also have to back-date Philo.

        Reply
        1. Hm. I don’t think Revelation deep time’s the crucifixion. Did you have passages in mind? Because if it’s Rev. 12:8 [correction, 13:8], for example, that doesn’t say the lamb was slain at the foundation of the world, but that the names of those he would save were written in a celestial book at that time (theistic determinism, a la Calvinism). Just as Paul says in Galatians that scripture forewrote the crucifixion (meaning the scriptures were written before the atonement sacrifice happened). The idea of a crucifixion before time is something Robert Price has proposed; I don’t know where he gets the idea. It’s not in the NT.

          But as for the Epistles possibly coming from a century earlier, we don’t have to back date Philo. No one I know thinks Philo influenced Paul. Rather, the common view (and it’s more than reasonable) is that Paul and Philo are both influenced by earlier, now lost, source material. Thus their similarities are the result of common sources between them, not the result of either one influencing the other. So, for example, the Jesus archangel Logos in Philo (the “double Adam” theory and all) is almost certainly not an invention of Philo. Philo is simply repeating common esoteric views in Jewish angelology in general. And Jewish angelology dates back centuries. We just don’t have any of the writings on it that there were (and much of it may have been orally transmitted in Rabbinical schools rather than written; just like the Mishnah and Talmud).

        2. Andrew March 28, 2017, 8:03 am

          I was referencing Revelation 13: 8 (NIV): “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” If Jesus = Lamb, then this implies, to me, that the author thinks of the crucifixion as happening thousands of years earlier, but not necesarily before the creation of the two Adams. It’s unclear to me if the Revelation author has read the Pauline epistles, or is influenced by them.

          And Rev 11:8 says that “our Lord” was crucified in Egypt. What to make of that?

          I’m aware of the “lost source material” theories but I don’t find them helpful. Of course a lot more was written and thought than the tiny fraction that survives, but such theories are so frequently used to “solve” textual problems (Q for example) that I find them untenable.

        3. Oh, sorry, I meant Rev. 13:8, yes, not 12:8.

          You are being victimized by a shitty translation. The ASV is correct: “And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.”

          That statement doesn’t say the lamb was slain when the book was written, only that it’s the book of the lamb that would be slain. It thus doesn’t say anything about when the slaying occurs relative to the (celestial) book being written. There is no “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” That’s not in the text. So, the NIV translators misled you. I think not because they meant to, but simply because they sucked at detecting the amphibole. They meant the “from the foundation of the world” to go with the book, not the verb “slain,” but stuck with the Greek word order in the English, which creates the confusion you are noticing (a confusion that mostly exists in the English, not the Greek). They just didn’t think of reading their own sentence the way you are reading it, even though you are reading it quite plainly. Welcome to the cognitive error of translators who forgot that Greek word order works differently than English.

        4. P.S. Rev. 11:8 says “the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt.” Sodom is not in Egypt. So they obviously don’t mean actually Egypt. Any more than they mean actually Sodom. The city in question is Jerusalem (11:2). Which by the time the author wrote, was a trampled ruin exactly as the prophecy is made to say. The assumption was that it would be resettled with pagans (as eventually it was half a century after this author wrote).

  7. Davit March 29, 2017, 6:47 am

    Richard, if I may ask a second quick question.

    Are you familiar with the conservative Christian scholar, James White? Have you considered debating him? He had a debate with Price in 2010.

    Yea, most of what he says is motivated by his beliefs, but he’s a fairly intelligent guy and it would be interesting to see you you two debate Historicity or any other subject.

    Reply
    1. I don’t organize debates (I don’t have the time or resources). But if someone else does, I’ll debate him. My requirements are covered here and here. So if you want that debate to happen, you’d have to lobby some group(s) or organizations(s) to fund and sponsor it.

      Reply
  8. Andrew March 30, 2017, 7:01 pm

    Thanks for the correction on Revelation. Do you generally support the ASV translation as superior?

    Considering that the Pauline author refers to Jesus as “our Paschal lamb,” I’d like to think that, perhaps, he and the Revelation author are somewhat in the same mental zone, i.e. Jesus = the paschal lamb that is “crucified” during Passover. I have no doubt that Paul’s “according to the scriptures” means that the LXX supposedly describes this one time event, and in the Pauline imagination, it happened a long time prior to the first century (but not before or during creation). Wouldn’t “according to the scriptures” also mean that Paul thinks Jesus was a historical figure or manifestation, just not recently, or for very long? “The scriptures” he cites as his source apparently provide no details about the earthly life of this figure.

    Reply
    1. No translation of the Bible is generally superior than the others. They all suck. They all deceive. And they’ll all mislead you. They differ only as to where and on what points. Sadly, that means the only way to really access what the Bible says, is to read it in the original language (and sometimes not even that; as the texts are corrupted).

      As to the theology, we can’t tell. Just because ancient scriptures predicted the crucifixion doesn’t mean Paul believed the crucifixion was ancient (we can tell from the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, that that wasn’t the assumption being made; they all held that the anciently-predicted messianic events were in the future and only secretly predicted in the ancient scriptures; and they were trying to work out the timetable from Daniel to know how soon in the future). For example, I’m pretty sure Paul must have believed the crucifixion post-dated the second temple’s founding (as Daniel says so). So the window is pretty narrow as to when he (and the first Christians generally) could have imagined it having happened.

      And yes, Paul believed Jesus was historical in the same sense he believed Satan was historical. That’s just not in the same sense we mean, of course. No non-fundamentalist today believes Satan was a historical person; but only imagined to be a celestial person. Jesus was invented to reverse the role of Satan. He was thus as historical as Satan was (which is to say, just as unhistorical in reality, but just as historical in the believer’s imagination).

      Reply
      1. Justin Legault April 3, 2017, 2:15 pm

        All good points! I like to use this argument when believers threaten me with eternal damnation.

        “Let’s play devil’s advocate (no pun intended). Assuming Satan exists for sake of conversation. Why would Satan punish me? Doesn’t he want me to sin? Thus, he would reward me for doing what he wants, no? This is the flawed logic of Hell.”

        Is this a good argument? They never seem to know what to say after that. Also, I am talking to laypeople like myself. Not sure of any counter arguments to it from a believers POV.

        Thoughts?

        Reply
        1. It is definitely illogical. But most theology and afterlife cosmology is.

          It used to be the angels of God did the torturing, at God’s command. But when the doctrine of the fall of Satan, and the Book of Revelation fate-of-Satan prediction (which updates a similar thing in the Book of Enoch), and the angels of God torturing victims in hell from the Apocalypse of Peter, were all conflated into a confused “Satan already lives in hell and he and his demons will torture you” doctrine in the Middle Ages, it doesn’t leave us with a coherent notion. I assume the assumption is that Satan tortures people in hell because he’s evil and that’s what evil people do (the Cartoon Villain theory of Satan). But that makes little actual sense of any of his motivations, in any account of him ever written. Cartoon Villains just aren’t a thing. That’s why we call them Cartoon Villains.

          A more coherent account would say that it’s a total party in Hell for everyone who goes there, just as Satan wanted, until God burns it up for good in the end. But that would make hell too attractive for its purpose. You could maybe gerrymander something coherent about how Satan wants to play God and thus doesn’t torture people in hell per se but runs it like his own little fiefdom and thus gains whatever pleasure he wants from it, i.e. he’s just a narcissistic vainglorious leader with “all the best ideas, just the best, tremendous ideas, you won’t believe how wonderful the ideas are,” and the net effect of that is that it’s an awful place to live. But that starts to sound pretty much like Earth.

        2. Justin Legault April 4, 2017, 7:09 am

          Thanks for your great feedback as always.

          When people say, God is good, the evil is because of Original Sin nonsense. I usually refer to the wonderful verse from Isaiah 45:7 when ‘god’ is talking in quotations out loud that he created all that is good and all that is evil, point blank!. I usually get the “Youre taking it out of context” excuse.

          Your last quote reminded me of Trump “The best ideas, tremendous ideas…” Not sure if it was intentional or not, if so, well done sir, well done :).

          One of your quotes always stuck to me. You had an interview with Seth Andrews I believe and you said “Most of them (Christians) never even read the Bible, they just need it to be credibly true if not its chaos, what is true…”

          People think their ‘personal truths’ are actual truths.

          Anyway, that is something I notice all the time.

          “Im a Christian, I’ve never read the Bible though but I know god and Jesus is real and all the stories are true’. That grinds my gears the most.

  9. Bruce Grubb March 31, 2017, 8:32 am

    Of late when presenting your book I have been getting the response ‘oh he choose his readers and it is not really peer reviewed’. Perhaps a FAQ to nip this nonsense in the bud would be a good idea.

    Reply
    1. They will just tell more lies. It’s never ending. They just make shit up. So there is no point in addressing it further.

      I did have it peer reviewed by select critics before I submitted it to SP, which resulted in a much improved draft for submission. Then it was peer reviewed by experts chosen by the publisher. And Sheffield-Phoenix already assured naysayers who questioned them that it was independently peer reviewed. It’s defamatory against Sheffield-Phoenix even to suggest they wouldn’t have their own trusted peer reviewers check a manuscript that they accept for publication. And the editor also did so, at the time a full professor in the field. With all those eyes together, it’s been peer reviewed by over half a dozen professors in the field. That’s more than any other monograph in this field I know of. It’s ridiculous to claim it doesn’t meet the same peer review standards like every other academic monograph from a professional academic press, especially one run on the Sheffield University campus by Sheffield University faculty.

      Critics just don’t want that to be true. So they lie instead.

      Reply
  10. Denis Gaudreau April 11, 2017, 11:03 am

    Hello Richard, one last question before getting your book OHJ. Like I said I’m agnostic and not religious.

    Prior to my question here’s my view: I do think the man was real but more a rebel to his culture and Gospels shows that up. It was good deal done for both parties to have him dead by crucifixion in order to calm down others.

    So my question is in two parts and maybe your book do already answer those :

    Why anyone would believe and get converted to what Paul was saying about Christ which was a Jewish concept ?? Especially when anyone could go to Jerusalem and knows that his speeches were about a real person, not a divine being of some sort ? Why would Gentiles wanted to converted toward a Jewish Godly being, angel whatever ???

    And why would these greek autors of the four Gospels, after Paul’s death and moreover with the Jewish revolt from 66 to 70, with Jerusalem destruction by Romans, why would these people risk their life as well as those of their familly and relatives toward Roman retaliation and persecution to elaborate stories about a real Jewish person knowing how Romans were acting toward public enemy of Rome ???

    That’s the part of it, that is still make me thiking that people get along with Paul’s stories because there was a real person behind it. And because that person was a rebel against authorities like Rome and Jewish Power.

    I’m watching again on History Channel: Barbarians Rising and there was so much hatred for Rome. So to have that figure of someone resisting either Rome or his pupets: the Jewish authorities in Palestine could have convinced people that Paul was right that Jesus was either a divine being or Christ or else…

    That would also explained why those writers in the Gospels have tried to tune down Pilate reaction to Jesus’ condemnation, which make no sense when knowing how Romans were ruthless.

    Reply
    1. Why anyone would believe and get converted to what Paul was saying about Christ which was a Jewish concept? Especially when anyone could go to Jerusalem and knows that his speeches were about a real person, not a divine being of some sort?

      Because Paul was not preaching “a man who was in Jerusalem.” That idea was invented a lifetime later, even after Paul was dead. Paul was preaching a revelatory archangel. That agreed with all pagan religion (wherein revelation of celestial deities was the only way one knew of gods and what they wanted at all), and with Jewish (which often featured reverence for revelatory angels and deities). Thus, it was exactly the kind of thing people commonly believed and followed. Documentation, extensive on this point, is in OHJ.

      Why would Gentiles wanted to converted toward a Jewish Godly being, angel whatever???

      Actually, Gentiles converting to Judaism was common already even before Christianity; so whatever the reason, pagans liked the idea. Paul actually made it easier, by removing the things that were actually hard about that (circumcision; dietary laws; etc.). Thus, he made a form of Judaism even more popular to pagans than Judaism already was. Which is why his version of Christianity grew and won out over the original version: his church could tap a market ten times the size.

      The rest looked exactly like the religions pagans were already flocking to: a revelatory celestial dying-and-rising savior demigod, the baptism into which and communal meals celebrating which would procure you eternal life in paradise.

      That’s actually why it was successful at all. The apostles did their market research.

      And why would these greek autors of the four Gospels, after Paul’s death and moreover with the Jewish revolt from 66 to 70, with Jerusalem destruction by Romans, why would these people risk their life as well as those of their familly and relatives toward Roman retaliation and persecution to elaborate stories about a real Jewish person knowing how Romans were acting toward public enemy of Rome ???

      How were they risking their lives? The Gospels were anonymous. No one knew who wrote them or where. Nor is anything in the Gospels illegal—even if someone fully copped to writing them, there was no crime in doing so.

      After that, anyone risking their life for the Gospels being true, didn’t know they weren’t; and anyone who knew they weren’t, were not risking their lives for the literal reading of them but the allegorical (exactly in accordance with Mark 4:9-13).

      This is explicitly discussed by Church fathers like Origen. I cite them extensively on this in OHJ.

      That’s the part of it, that is still make me thiking that people get along with Paul’s stories because there was a real person behind it. And because that person was a rebel against authorities like Rome and Jewish Power.

      No such person is evident at all in anything Paul writes. Even 1 Corinthians 15 fails to mention there being any ministry or anyone ever having seen Jesus before he died; only after, in revelations; the only source listed for his death, is scripture. See Chapter 11 of OHJ.

      Reply
      1. Denis Gaudreau April 14, 2017, 1:57 pm

        Thank you very much for your time and your patience to answer my question. I will be looking for your book with expectation to get more answer !

        Reply

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