The Dying Messiah Redux

The following article has been revised and corrected, with appreciation to the critiques and analyses of Thom Stark. Revisions may continue so as to perfect the content and make this article of greatest utility. Latest revision: June 29 (2012).

Last year I made the case that the idea of a “dying messiah” was not wholly anathema to Jews and even already imagined by some before Christianity made a lot of hay out of the idea. I made small revisions to that article (The Dying Messiah) to make its claims and evidence clearer. This year, Thom Stark (a seminary graduate) wrote a response (The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah) and discussion on his blog has continued since (culminating in It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah). His analysis has changed my opinions and conclusions on several matters, and identified several errors in my original analysis (now corrected or removed), but does not change the overall thesis. Some of his replies also get wrong what I said or quote me out of context or go off on irrelevant digressions, but I won’t waste words on that. I’ll just cut to the chase and deal with the relevant evidence and argument.

The Dying-and-Rising Messiah ben Joseph

The evidence from the Talmud cannot be dismissed so easily. If b.Sanhedrin 98b explicitly says the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah (and it does), and if b.Sanhedrin 93b says the messiah will endure great suffering (and it does), and b.Sukkah 52a-b likewise has a dying-and-rising “Christ son of Joseph” ideology in it (and it does), even saying (quoting Zechariah 12:10) that this messiah will be “pierced” to death (and it does), then my statement “only when Jews had no idea what Christians would do with this connection would they themselves have put it in there” becomes obviously correct: there is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Messiah with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected. They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about the messiah and admit that Isaiah there predicted the messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very chapter Christians were using to prove their case (and which scholars like Bart Ehrman keep insisting only Christians saw as messianic). So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that predates Christian evangelizing, even if the evidence survives only in later sources.

The alternative is to assume an unbelievable coincidence: that Christians and Jews, completely independently of each other, just happened at some point to see Isaiah 53 as messianic and preach an ideology of a messiah with a father named Joseph (regardless of whether literal or symbolic) who endures great suffering, dies and is resurrected (all as the savior in Isaiah 53 does). Amazing coincidences like that are very improbable. Whereas a causal chain is not: if this was a pre-Christian ideology that influenced (and thus caused) both the Christian and the Jewish ideologies, then we have only one element to explain (the rise of this idea once), instead of having to believe the same idea arose twice, purely coincidentally. Two improbable events by definition are many times less likely than one. That means one of these theories is many times more likely than the other. Conversely, if we do fall on this sword and insist, against all probability, that yes, the same ideas arose twice independently of each other, then this entails the idea was very easy for Jews to arrive at, which then entails it was not an improbable development in the first place. And thus neither will it have been for Christians, any more than it was for Talmudic Jews.

The Super-Christ of the Jonathan Targum

I had only cited the Targum as (additional) evidence that some first century Jews saw Isaiah 52-53 as messianic (because Jonathan actually inserted the word “messiah” into it, unless that was done by later redactors, for some unspecified reason). I did not use the Targum as evidence of a belief in a dying messiah. Nevertheless, the Targum, which otherwise downplays the suffering-and-dying element (transforming the figure into a more awesome one, eliminating all the pathos of the original), still says “he delivered up his soul to death” (53:12, as Stark’s own quoted translation reads) and that this somehow effected his victory. When this was pointed out, Stark resorted to special pleading about what the Aramaic might instead mean, exposing the fact that this is really more ambiguous than he let on at first. Now the issue hinges on whether the Aramaic translates as “he delivered up his soul to death” (as expert translators conclude) or as “he was willing to face death” (or “something similar”) as Stark suggests.

I was open to being corrected on this. Until I decided to research the targumim and other background elements and found Stark’s case a great deal weaker than he lets on. He appeals to two arguments, context and linguistic precedent. Regarding context he (now) says:

All the suffering of the original Servant is transmuted to either his enemies or to Israel everywhere else in the targum; he is said quite clearly to have conquered his enemies in the targum; and directly after the phrase, “he delivered up his soul to death,” it is said that he divides up the spoil of his enemies and is given his share (which would be difficult to do if he were dead, and no mention whatsoever is made of any resurrection).

The first point is too weak to credit. The figure’s death would still be a known element from the Hebrew (and even Septuagint) versions of this passage. The Hebrew in fact would often have even been read out loud before turning to the targum. It’s not as if all the Jews reading this Targum would not be aware of that. Jonathan or his redactors might well have been retaining the bare element of the original (the sacrificial death), while transforming the remainder into something more triumphant (“interpreting” as much as possible as being about Israel or its enemies). Any interpretation we make has to take this into account: many readers of the targum would know the original text (even if only through a Greek translation). A targum is not meant to be a literal translation but a paraphrase or explanation of the original Hebrew.

Stark seems to imagine Jews pulling the wool over each other’s eyes by sneakily rewriting the entire passage to say something completely different and hoping no one would notice. Not even the scholars who troubled to continue copying and preserving Jonathan’s Targum? Not even the hearers who knew the Hebrew or the Greek? That’s essentially impossible. The Targum can only be understood as an interpretation of the Hebrew text. Not an attempt to replace it (as if Jonathan knew better than Isaiah what God had really said to him). In that cultural and literary context, we cannot assume Jonathan intended to wholly eclipse the death of the “Servant” (the “Arm of God”) that too many of his readers would already know is clearly declared in the original Word of God. We would need a better argument than that before concluding something so extraordinary.

Of course, it’s entirely possible Jonathan chose an ambiguous phrase precisely so he could have it both ways (concealing the death from ignorant hearers, without contradicting that death in the presence of informed hearers). But above all, Jonathan himself knew full well what the Hebrew said. Yet he chose to declare this chapter to be messianic anyway. Again, a strange coincidence, given that we see the same thing in the Talmud. Jews were thus more than willing to see Isaiah 53 as messianic, and could so easily come upon the idea, that they did so at least three separate times (the Talmudic doctrine, the Jonathan doctrine, and the Christian doctrine). Unless these are not three independent arrivals at the same idea, but all causally derived from a single idea preceding them all. Either way, we must conclude, what Jonathan did, anyone else could do, and may well have done before him.

For example, anyone who read his Targum, and then the Hebrew (or Greek), could put two and two together: “this servant is the messiah” + “this servant dies and is buried and then exalted” = “the messiah dies and is buried and then exalted,” the very doctrine we see in the Talmud (as discussed above), which just happens to be the same doctrine adopted by Christians. Stark wants this to be a total, amazing, incredible coincidence. But coincidences are by definition improbable. That all three instances reflect developments in different directions of the same original thought (that Isaiah 53 is about the messiah) is the more probable hypothesis, because it requires (at most) only one improbable event rather than two, much less three. And in that event, what Jonathan actually meant to say with his Targum is irrelevant to my point that Jews were seeing Isaiah 53 as messianic independently of Christianity, and some would recognize that this meant the messiah’s death and burial had been prophesied.

Accordingly, Stark’s second contextual argument is a non-starter. The original Hebrew also has the dead servant “dividing up the spoil of his enemies and being given his share” (and without explicit mention of a resurrection). And yet the original clearly and unmistakably means to say he did indeed die (and was even buried: 53:8-11) and yet is then rewarded–literally God says “I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death” (NIV 53:12). Since Isaiah had said earlier that “he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (52:13), yet nothing like this occurs until after his death (in the Hebrew text), one must infer that he divides the spoil after being resurrected from the dead (or somehow symbolically, in the success of his progeny). Certainly that is what a first century Jew would most likely make of this passage. And if that’s true in general, it would be true of Jonathan and his (more educated) readers.

At any rate, since the original Hebrew clearly has a dead guy dividing the spoils, we cannot infer the Targum intended anything else when it says the same thing. It does no good to say that the authors of Isaiah meant this death to be a metaphor for Israel’s demise (and restoration), because Jonathan is identifying this person as the messiah, not Israel (transferring only some characteristics from one to the other). Likewise the Talmudic rabbis. And what we are concerned to know is how the passage was being interpreted, not how it was intended.

So much for the argument from context. What about from the language? Stark says:

I originally stated that it is like the Aramaic phrase should be translated, “he was willing to face death,” or something similar. I then looked into it, asked some friends who work in Aramaic, and checked the secondary literature, and as it turns out, my guess is confirmed: whenever that phrase occurs in the Aramaic Targums, it is unambiguously idiomatic for “he risked his life,” or “to put oneself in danger.” (E.g., Tg. Onq. Deut 24:15; Tg. Ps.-J Num 31:5; Tg. Judg. 9:17 and Tg. Ps. 99:6.) So, while I wouldn’t say it’s 100% impossible that the text means “he died,” I would say that almost certainly it just means that he is being rewarded for risking his life.

Stark’s own argument from context would refute his own argument here: since nowhere in the Targum is there any mention of this messiah risking his life or putting himself in danger, either. He is uniformly invincible and triumphant. So “he died” would make just as much sense as “he risked his life,” neither having any precedent in the preceding verses. So why are we to prefer Stark’s interpretation over the one that actually corresponds to the Hebrew this targum is interpreting? I am not an expert in Aramaic, but the passages he cites as precedents aren’t contextually similar (e.g. the Numbers passage refers to future possibility, not past fact, hence “willing to surrender their lives” is how the Liturgical Press translation reads), nor do they all “unambiguously” mean risk and not gave.

The Psalms Targum for example reads (according to a professional translation by Edward Cook, endorsed by the International Organization for Targumic Studies), “Moses and Aaron are among his priests who gave their life for the people of the Lord, and Samuel prayed for them before the Lord, like the fathers of old, who prayed in his name; they would pray in his presence and he would answer them” (9:6). The David Stec translation published by Liturgical Press (The Targum of Psalms, pub. 2004) reads, “Moses and Aaron were among his priests who surrendered their lives for the sake of the people of the Lord; and Samuel prayed for them before the Lord, like the fathers of old who prayed in his name; they were praying before the Lord, and he was answering.” So Stark cannot say the meaning of this phrase is “unambiguously” not what these translators say it is. Clearly it can mean both, and context is determinate. And we just saw where context gets us. (And this point holds even if we conclude that Cook and Stec have both mistranslated the Psalms Targum 9:6, since their translations still entail that more than one expert agrees the phrase can mean that, even if for some reason it doesn’t there.)

Ironically, I had originally assumed this Targum did not preserve the dying-messiah element and only attested the early understanding of this servant as the messiah. Yet after Stark’s argument led me to investigate further, I am actually more doubtful of that conclusion. So in effect, Stark’s attempt to argue against the existence of a dying messiah in this text has actually made the case for the existence of a dying messiah in this text stronger. I do not conclude it is a certainty, since there remains some ambiguity. But on present evidence it looks to me like the odds favor retention of the concept, and just a softening of its pathos. And either way, this Targum (especially in conjunction with the Talmud) proves how easily Jews could conclude Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, and thus there cannot be anything improbable about the Christians having done so.

There is a separate issue of date, and that’s more complex. Stark argues (here and subsequently) that one verse here suggests a post-war date (and some scholars conclude the same, dating it to the late first century) because in this version it is said the messiah “will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities” (53:5; technically “the enemy” is not in the text, but it’s reasonably inferred). Part of the problem with this is that in The Glory of Israel: The Theology and Provenience of the Isaiah Targum, Bruce Chilton finds several places in it where the temple is assumed to still be standing and others where it is assumed to have been destroyed, and he assembles other like evidence to conclude that this targum has been redacted over time.

So it’s entirely possible Jonathan did not write verse 53:5 as we have it (Jonathan ben Uzziel was famously a student of Hillel, d. c. 10 A.D., and a contemporary of Shammai, d. c. 30 A.D., and thus certainly did not compose his original targum after the Jewish War, which began in 66, and resulted in the temple’s destruction in 70). It all becomes a question of which parts of chapters 52-53 were redacted and when. And when it comes to the verses assigning this passage to the messiah and declaring his possible death, Chilton says (emphasis added):

[It] is not that Aramaic phrase unequivocally means the messiah did die, but merely that it is susceptible of the interpretation that he did so, and that therefore the Targumic rendering of Isaiah 53 should not be characterized as univocally anti-Christian (and post-Christian).

This again, entails an ambiguity that can’t be resolved. Some scholars even propose that Jonathan’s treatment of Isaiah 53 was rewritten later to construct an anti-Christian polemic, although that is overly speculative and doesn’t fit all the evidence. But alas, that again introduces uncertainty. In the end, what we can say for certain is that the Targum evinces that some first century Jews did understand Isaiah 53 to be about the messiah (and many of those same Jews would have known that the original Hebrew of the Word of God said that this same figure would die and be buried). Which was all I intended it to prove. At most, I have to concede the possibility that the text post-dates the origin Christianity by a generation or two, and thus does not conclusively prove pre-Christian Jews were thinking along these lines (although neither would a later date prove they weren’t). But since my argument was first for the possibility (and thus against the extreme argument, as we see from Bart Ehrman, that “no Jews would ever think this”) and my case for the actuality was based on a different text entirely (treated below), very little difference is made to my argument overall.

And I think we can be even more certain than that, when we consider how improbable it is that two (much less three) separate sets of Jews (Christians, Jonathan, and the Talmudic rabbis) would all independently conclude that Isaiah 53 is about the messiah. It is more likely this was already a notion developed by pre-Christian Jews, and subsequently developed in three different directions, than that the same thing happened two or three times. And even if we resort to insisting on the latter, we are declaring such a realization to be so likely, such a notion so easily imagined, that we need no other explanation for how Christians would come upon the idea.

A Distinction Between Hypothesis and Evidence

Notably, Stark agrees with me against Ehrman on the matter of possibility, saying:

I have never argued that “no one could think of a suffering messiah before Jesus.” I have consistently said that anything is possible, but what we need is evidence that anyone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity, in order to advance the thesis that, well, someone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity. I’ve never argued that such a thing would be impossible.

Stark still, however, confuses explanation with evidence. I advanced two different theses in my original article: first, that it is possible; second, that we have evidence of it. Stark is right that I need to present specific evidence for a pre-Christian notion of a dying messiah among the Jews to maintain that. But I do not need that to propose it as an explanation of Christianity. “Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” remains a plausible hypothesis even if we can’t prove such a sect existed, because (a) we know there were many diverse sects of Jews with many diverse notions against the leading orthodoxy and we know nothing about most of them, therefore (b) an argument from silence to the conclusion “no such sect existed” is invalid, and (c) the scriptural inspiration and logic for such an idea is easily discerned (and if it’s easy for us, it would have been easy for at least someone to have noticed it during centuries of thousands of Jews scrambling to look for God’s secret messages in scripture; that later Talmudic Jews hit upon many of the same conclusions independently would only verify this point). For (c) I detail the evidence in Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 34-44; although Stark correctly notes I have there misread Isaiah 49, so it should no longer be included in its evidence). For (a) (and therefore (b)) I survey the evidence and scholarship in The Empty Tomb (pp. 107-13).

In logical terms, “Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” is a hypothesis that we can then test against the evidence. If it explains the evidence better than alternatives, then it is more probably true than alternatives (and as a hypothesis it’s already more likely than, for example, “Christians only started believing this because Jesus actually rose from the dead”). It therefore does not require direct evidence of “there was a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah.” Because if all the other evidence is better explained by the proposition that “there was sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah,” then that other evidence is evidence that “there was a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah.” Indirect inference is routine in historical argument, and known in every other field (even subatomic particles are inferred from indirect evidence, never actually seen). For example, that Henry assassinated William II is a hypotheses, which we can argue for from whether it explains the evidence of what happened better, without requiring a confession by Henry or an eyewitness to the deed (Proving History, pp. 273-75).

The fact is, we lack evidence detailing the beliefs of dozens of Jewish sects, and no evidence at all naming (much less describing in detail) which sect Christianity grew out of (e.g. what sect Peter was most enamored with or devoted to before he joined the movement; or, on a historicist thesis, what sect or sects Jesus originally came from or was educated in; or even what sects Paul was influenced by, if any before the Christian sect, that led him to abandon the Pharisee sect). So we know it’s very likely we won’t have evidence of such a thing as that the seminal sect Christianity grew out of was already expecting a dying messiah. Thus, whether it was or not, is either unknowable (in which case it can’t be denied as a possibility), or can be inferred from evidence we do have (such as that the crucifixion of the messiah was always said to have been discovered in scripture: 1 Cor. 15:3-4 and Rom. 16:25-26; or that there was already a firstborn son of God named Jesus in heaven since the beginning of all creation in some pre-Christian Jewish theology, cf. NIF, pp. 250-51).

Again, in principle. Whether the evidence actually is better explained this way remains to be seen (and is what I will explore in my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). Here my point is only that it has enough plausibility to at least ask that question. We must compare this hypotheses with all others before coming to a conclusion.

Thus it’s important to distinguish a case for plausibility from a case for actuality. The Talmud and Targum (and the case made in NIF) are all evidence for plausibility, not actuality (although they do make a cumulative probabilistic case in support of the actuality). And they therefore must be evaluated as such. But I do make a more direct argument for actuality, too. And that I make from the Melchizedek scroll recovered from Qumran, which dates to the first century B.C. and thus definitely predates Christianity. So to that we now turn…

The Dying Christ in 11Q13

In a fragmentary scroll transcribed by Jewish sectarians at least a century before Christianity and recovered last century from the caves of Qumran, we have a particular pesher, which is a document recording an attempt to discover hidden messages in the Scriptures by finding secret links among disparate and previously unrelated verses, which together communicate God’s plan, most commonly his plans for the coming messiah, the defeat of evil, and the end of the world. There are many such pesherim at Qumran, and this one (called the Melchizedek Scroll, because it speaks repeatedly of a cosmic Melchizedek figure) reports that the “messenger” of Isaiah 52-53 who will bring an end to sin (presaging God’s final victory) is the same man as the messiah of Daniel 9 who dies around the same time an end to sin is said to be accomplished (presaging God’s final victory), after which (the pesher says) God will overthrow all demonic forces. Thus, this pesher predicts that a messiah will die, and this will mark the final days in which God’s agent(s) will defeat Belial (Satan) and rescue his elect.

Though fragmentary, every possible reconstruction of this section of the scroll entails that it said the one who “brings the gospel” in Isaiah 52:7 is the “Christ” in Daniel 9:25-26. From Isaiah it is clear the one who “brings the gospel” and “declares salvation” in 52:7 is the “Arm of the Lord” who brings “salvation” in 52:8-12 (cf. 52:10), and in 53:1 this same “Arm of the Lord” is identified as the “servant” in 52:13-53:12 (both verses 52:13 and 53:11, which frame the narrative, identify the same figure as God’s “servant,” and he is said to be God’s “arm” right in between, at 53:1). The RSV translation renders this most clearly (Is. 52:6-10):

Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; “here am I.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of [the messenger] who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah says there will come a special day when people will see God’s presence among them, by realizing it is him speaking. Speaking how? Through the messenger who announces salvation and peace and brings “the good news” (literally “the gospel,” as he will “evangelize,” in the Septuagint) and announces that in his coming God now reigns in Jerusalem. Isaiah then says the guards of the city will thus see in this messenger the return of the Lord, and Isaiah calls on them to break into song at this sight. Because it means God has redeemed them. How has he redeemed them? He has “bared his holy arm” before their eyes, and therefore salvation has come (“God’s salvation,” incidentally, being a cognate of “God’s savior,” which is the name of Jesus). The holy arm is therefore the messenger.

Stark argues that this refers to Cyrus the Great (who liberated Israel and announced that their God can reign in Jerusalem again and thus manifested God’s might), and I agree. But that confuses what the original authors of Isaiah meant, with what the author of 11Q13 understood it to mean. We are here only interested in the latter. Even in its original meaning, Cyrus was the messenger who published salvation and declared to Jerusalem that its God now reigns, and thus the messenger and savior in Isaiah 52 are the same person. But that event was long past, and the author of 11Q13 thinks Isaiah is talking about something that hasn’t yet happened. So he cannot be reading this as about Cyrus anymore. He also thinks this messenger is someone the prophets all spoke of, someone who is Anointed in the Spirit and spoken of in Daniel 9, so obviously he doesn’t think it’s just some random messenger.

We must take all of this into account when deciding how the author of 11Q13 is reading Isaiah. The text of Isaiah as written asks who has believed this message and sees the Arm of Jehovah (53:1), then immediately has this Arm being executed and buried (53:2ff.), then twice calls this same person (the one who is executed and buried) God’s exalted servant (52:13 and 53:11-12). The pronoun/verb of verse 2 should grammatically refer to the last subject named in verse 1, which is the Arm of Jehovah. Stark argues that despite this, the subject has nevertheless changed (without explicit indication), from Cyrus to Israel (in fact that transition will have occurred at verse 52:13, with 53:1 as a mere interjection). Which may indeed be what the authors of Isaiah intended, but we’re only concerned with what the author of 11Q13 thought Isaiah meant.

The key element of this section is that this messenger comes on a special day, the very day that redemption and salvation come. What happens on that special day? The text of Isaiah, read without the change of subject, says that this “arm of God” who brings salvation and redeems Israel will be despised, executed even though innocent, and buried. Then he will be exalted and rewarded (by the time this pesher was written, that would most readily be taken to mean that he was resurrected). As the text of Isaiah says (53:12), God will “divide him a portion with the great” such that this dead savior “shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Thus everyone’s sins are forgiven because of his sacrifice, which is an actual death, that atones for all sins. As Isaiah explains (53:10-11), “it was the will of the LORD to bruise him” and put him to grief (by killing him), and “when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand,” amazing things to accomplish if you’re dead (hence by the first century B.C. a Jew who read this as referring to the messiah would normally infer God will resurrect him, thereby “prolonging his days” and allowing God’s will to prosper “in his hand”), and his death will “make many to be accounted righteous” because “he shall bear their iniquities” and thus Jehovah “will be satisfied.”

Why would the author of this pesher think this was the same guy spoken of in Daniel 9:24-27? Because many of the same things are said there (here using the ASV translation):

Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity [i.e. “atone for sins“], and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one, the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: it shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troublous times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one be cut off, and {shall have} nothing [the Septuagint instead reads:and {i.e. even though} there is no judgment upon him“]: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he [i.e. the prince] shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.

Note the important introduction here of a timetable: seventy periods of seven years will pass between the “word of restoration” (regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem) and a special day when there will be made “an end to sin” by a special “atonement” that produces “everlasting righteousness.” Isaiah 52 also speaks of a special day when there will be made an end to sin by a special atonement: the atoning death of God’s “servant,” which on a grammatically literal reading is the messenger who announces salvation on that very day, and is seen to be the vessel of God coming to reign in Jerusalem. (It doesn’t matter that the authors of Isaiah didn’t say this atonement will be permanent, because it is the author of 11Q13 who is concluding that it is, by connecting it with the “end” of sins in Daniel 9 through the timetable of 9:24, and all the pesher’s own talk about a final Day of Atonement, which is now said to be the day spoken of in Isaiah. Again, 11Q13 is saying this. Not Isaiah. Stark has a hard time grasping these distinctions.)

Both might have another thing in common: according to the second century translation of Theodotion, in both cases the one killed, at the very time this final atonement for sins is accomplished, is killed even though innocent. The extant Hebrew of Daniel reads literally “the anointed one shall be cut down and [there is] nothing for him” which is unclear (it can have many interpretations, only one of which is “shall have nothing”). But Theodotion’s translation shows that at least one Jewish reader (Theodotion) understood it as “nothing was the judgment upon him,” i.e. he will be killed even though in fact innocent. Unfortunately, of all the fragments of Daniel recovered from Qumran, none include this part of the book, so we don’t know what form of the text was being used there. And Stark is right, we cannot establish that anyone before Theodotion thought the same as he. But it is again a remarkable coincidence, that 11Q13 saw the atonement day of Isaiah 52-53 (which atonement day involved the death of an innocent) as involving the Christ of Daniel 9, and that Theodotion (independently?) likewise saw the Christ of Daniel 9 as the death of an innocent.

This is the background. So let’s look at what the Dead Sea pesher says. I will here use the translation and reconstruction of Géza Vermès in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (6th ed., 2011; I have the 7th ed. on kindle, which will be available in print later this year, but there is no significant difference for our purposes), pp. 532-33. The relevant section of this fragmentary scroll reads (interpreting the “Jubilee” of Leviticus 25:13):

[He] will assign them to the Sons of Heaven and to the inheritance of Melchizedek, f[or He will cast] their [lot] amid the po[rtions of Melchize]dek, who will return them there and will proclaim to them liberty, forgiving them [the wrong-doings] of all their iniquities. And this thing will [occur] in the first week of the Jubilee that follows the nine Jubilees. And the Day of Atonement is the e[nd of the] tenth [Ju]bilee, when all the Sons of [Light] and the men of the lot of Mel[chi]zedek will be atoned for.

The text goes on to describe this Melchizedek as a divine figure, an eschatological savior, and celestial judge who will battle and defeat “Belial” and “the spirits of his lot” (Satan and his demons). At which it continues:

This is the Day of [Peace/Salvation] concerning which [God] spoke [through Isa]iah the prophet, who said: “[How] beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion: ‘Your God [reigns]’” [Is. 52:7]. Its interpretation: the “mountains” are the prophets […] and the “messenger” is the Anointed One of the spirit, concerning whom Dan[iel] said, […] [the text is lost at this point but it can only have been Daniel 9:25 or 9:26].

This pesher thus concluded that the “messenger” of Isaiah 52:7 is the same person as the “Christ” described in Daniel 9:24-27, and that this same man has been discussed by all the prophets (he has literally walked upon them, and it was beautiful). This is not only explicit. It is also implicit in the use of the Danielic timetable to interpret the Jubilee. The pesher says that a great “Day of Atonement,” when all sins (of the elect) would be forgiven, will take place at the end of the tenth Jubilee, in other words at the end of 490 years (a Jubilee being 49 years, ten Jubilees makes 490 years). Daniel also says that all sins will be atoned for in seventy periods of seven years, in other words after 490 years (Daniel 9:24). This is not a coincidence. The pesher’s author clearly understands these to be speaking of the same sequence of events (however reinterpreted), and thus is using a lot more from Daniel 9 than the material quoted.

The pesher then says this great “Day of Atonement” is the same singular “Day” spoken of in Isaiah 52-53 (cf. 52:6-7), the day in which, once again, all sins are atoned for–evidently by the death of God’s servant who “brings salvation” (Is. 52:7, 10; Is. 53:1, 9-10). Since the author of this pesher understood both Daniel 9 and Isaiah 52-53 to be speaking of the same day of atonement, and in both (Daniel and Isaiah) that atonement occurs in conjunction with the death of God’s chosen one (his “messenger/arm/servant” who brings “salvation” in Isaiah; and his “christ/messiah/anointed” in Daniel), it cannot be denied by any reasonable argument that this pesher’s author thought an eschatological Christ-figure would die to atone for the sins of God’s elect, before Satan was defeated and God’s messianic reign would begin. The logic of his analysis entails nothing else. We have two days described, during which a chosen one of God dies (his servant; his anointed), and all sin ends by a singular atonement. And the pesher explicitly says these two days are the same day, which will occur at the end of the same 490 year period.

This scroll therefore says a messiah will die. And not just die, but die to atone for all sins, once and for all, and thereby usher in the end of the world. Does that sound familiar? Stark’s attempt to claim that pesherim never consider the context of the verses they cite and never intend readers to infer that the context matters, does not fit what is going on here. It would be the bizarrest of coincidences that all these parallels just happen to exist between (a) Daniel 9:24-27 and (b) Isaiah 52:6-53:12 and (c) the pesher’s argument as to when the final Day of Atonement would come, and yet the pesher’s author was unaware of it, uninfluenced by it, and never intended it to be understood. He just got incredibly, stupefyingly lucky. And was so incredibly, stupefyingly dense he never noticed it himself, even when reading the text of Isaiah and Daniel. Odds on all that? Low.

Thom Stark’s Reply

Stark argues that it matters whether Daniel 9:25 or 9:26 was quoted in the missing section. I did not believe so, but Stark has more than demonstrated that many early commentators saw the Christs in those two verses as different people, in which case it may indeed matter. However, if both verses were taken by this pesher’s author as the same Christ, and if (as he then says) the “messenger” in Isaiah is this Christ, then the pesher is saying he is the same Christ that dies. The author would not need to quote 9:26 to indicate that. A quotation of 9:25 would do just as well. That’s what follows if verses 25-27 are taken to refer to the same people and events, which occur by the same timetable (the very timetable that the pesher is explicitly concluding applies to Isaiah 52-53). But is that what the pesher’s author understood?

I would say that if we assume not, then it’s 50/50 which it is. Since either verse 25 or 26 has an equal chance of fitting the text. Stark’s attempt to argue otherwise rests on conjectures about what followed the quotation, but we really don’t know, the text is missing, so we don’t know how much of Daniel was quoted (in fact we don’t even know the quotation began immediately after Daniel’s name was written, there could have been more words of preface or explanation). Thus on the textual evidence alone it’s as likely as not that the scroll quoted 9:25 or 9:26. However, Stark produces a very good theoretical interpretation of what the author of 11Q13 is saying, which conforms to a very plausible reconstruction of the text as quoting this much of Daniel 9:25: “until an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks,” which intends the reader to check the text and know, not only the context established by verse 24 (of the entire timetable leading up to the day of “atonement” that the pesher is talking about), but also the rest of verse 25, particularly the preface, that it is “from the word that went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks.” How this makes my case I’ll get to shortly. But first we must get the rest out of the way.

Stark says the “pesher scrolls at Qumran routinely took snippets of verses out of context, with no regard to their original meaning, and made them to say what they wanted them to say for their own agenda” and therefore (we’re supposed to infer) they did not intend the reader to look at the original context. That’s false. What he says is correct (their original meaning was indeed thus disregarded), but what he wants us to infer from it is not (that the literary context of quoted verses was therefore irrelevant). And Stark’s own reconstruction here is a case in point: as he presents the text, it does not quote the whole line, or the surrounding verses, yet still clearly expects the reader to know them and understand their relevance. Thus the pesher quotes one piece of a line and expects the reader to go and look to see what is said about that event or person, knowing now that it is being said about the event or person the pesher identifies (seen now with the pesher’s new reinterpretation). Thus, for example, it quotes one line from Isaiah 52 and says this is about the same man spoken of in Daniel 9. The reader then knows to apply everything said about that man in Daniel to everything said about that man in Isaiah 52 and thus understand what God was really revealing through the prophets.

This is obvious already from the pesher saying “this day” means the day referred to in Isaiah 52, without quoting verse 6 that mentions it being about a special day. It just quotes verse 7, knowing the reader will look it up and see that this section speaks of a special Day of Atonement, the very same thing the pesher has been going on about and says is the day spoken of here (verse 6 saying it is a special day of God’s arrival, and subsequent verses spelling out how the special great atonement will be achieved in that day, by the “savior’s” death, for which he will be exalted). Note that it is the pesher that is saying “that day” is the Day of Atonement (thus what the original authors of Isaiah meant is wholly irrelevant).

Likewise when we are then told in this pesher that the “messenger” spoken of in this section is the same man spoken of in Daniel 9:25-26, we are meant to do the same thing: go check the context and see what is said about that man. And there we see again a special (Day) of Atonement is mentioned (once again in a verse the pesher does not cite but clearly has in mind, verse 24, because it is using its timetable of 490 years and connecting it to a final day of atonement also mentioned in that verse) and this day is then linked closely (even if not exactly) to the day that a Christ dies, just as the savior in Isaiah dies to effect atonement on that day–both their deaths ushering in God’s triumph and “salvation,” and both their deaths (the pesher is now telling us) occur at the end of the same 490 years. The pesher is saying the “day” or event spoken of in both sections is the same day or event (even though that is not what the texts themselves say, it’s what the pesher’s author has concluded they say). Thusly informed, we can read Daniel 9 and Isaiah 52-53 and see that they are speaking about the same day, and the same events that will transpire, involving the same man. That’s the secret the pesher aims to reveal. That’s what it’s saying.

In other words, this pesher’s author is very clearly saying that the suffering-and-dying savior who dies on a special Day of Atonement in Isaiah 52-53 is the same person as the dying messiah whose death also closely corresponds to a special Day of Atonement in Daniel 9, which the pesher says is the same Day of Atonement that occurs at the end of the same 490 years (whether counting up those years sequentially or in some concurrent fashion).

Stark doesn’t grasp how improbable all this is as a coincidence, yet he keeps insisting it’s a coincidence. I prefer the more probable hypothesis: it’s what the author intended. Stark also repeatedly confuses authorial intent and the pesher’s interpretation, as if they are the same thing (ironically, for someone who repeatedly denies pesherim ever do that). Even the fact that most Jews interpreted Daniel differently has nothing to do with my argument, which is that some Jews could and would have seen it differently (as all the other evidence attests, and this scroll confirms). I have always been consistent on this point. For example, in Not the Impossible Faith (p. 35) I say “we have evidence this text was probably understood by some in just this way” (not “by all”).

The forgers of Daniel 9 thought so. They were saying Onias III was a Messiah and his death would presage a universal atonement after which would come the end of the world. That’s already just one or two tweaks away from the Christian gospel. One of those tweaks would be simply equating the messiah who dies with the savior who returns to complete God’s plan: which in Daniel 12 is the archangel Michael, who could be read as being the “prince” of 9:26-27, if the events of 12:11-12 are assumed to follow the event of Michael’s “rising” in 12:1, which in the Septuagint is exactly the same word used of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark 9:31 and 10:34. But even before such a connection is made, the notion that a Christ was expected to die to presage the end of the world is already clearly intended in Daniel and would be understood by all subsequent readers of Daniel.

Once that idea is out there, there is no getting that cat back into the bag. And in Daniel’s originally intended case, the end of the world did not come (in fact everything after that did not occur as the forgers’ prophecy predicted), so later Jews had two options, and two options only: either reject Daniel as a false prophecy (and there is no evidence any Jews did that) or conclude “Daniel” wasn’t talking about Onias III but some other Messiah in the future (necessitating attempts to reinterpret the 490 year timetable to figure out what time in history Daniel was actually talking about). In other words, Daniel was plainly saying, and was continually read as saying, that the last Messiah was to die–shortly before the final end when God’s agent (in Daniel, the archangel Michael) would descend from heaven, defeat the forces of evil once and for all, and resurrect the dead.

The latter is the only option we have evidence the Jews took, and it entails some Jews would transfer the same idea (of a dying messiah presaging the end of the world and a final atonement for all sin) to that future messiah. The author of 11Q13 must necessarily have done so: he sees Daniel’s 490 year period as clearly predicting the end of the world, and Daniel’s timetable clearly says the last messiah dies just before the end of it. Other Jews (I would assume the more militaristic, and the most arrogant) obviously tried to find ways to make it fit their military ambitions against Rome instead. But clearly some Jews saw it the other way around.

The Brilliance of Thom Stark’s Final Proposal

Stark’s new analysis makes all of this even more certain than I had imagined. His reconstruction is so effective at confirming my thesis I’m willing to grant it outright. Let’s indeed say that the original text of 11Q13 (line 18-19) originally read:

And the “messenger” [of Isaiah 52:7] is the Anointed of the Spirit, as Daniel said, “Until an anointed prince, there will be seven weeks” [Daniel 9:25]. And the messenger of good who announces salvation is the one about whom it is written… [then quoting Isaiah 61:2].

Stark argues this would not only perfectly fit the missing space on the scroll, but there would then be verbal similarities in the earlier section of the scroll:

The same word is used there as here–dabar: [Daniel reads] “from the time the word went out…until an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks.” In [the 11Q13] line 6-7 we have, “And this word will be given in the first week of the tenth jubilee. And the Day of Atonement is [the end of] the tenth jubilee.”

That’s just brilliant. Because this means the pesher’s author clearly thought that this “seven weeks” runs at the end and not (as Daniel’s authors originally meant) the beginning of the 490 year period. He is therefore no longer imagining two messiahs, but one messiah who comes at the end of a final 49 year period. Which therefore can only be the same messiah who dies in verse 26 (there being no other: the one in Daniel 9:25 is on this interpretation the one who comes at the end, and the end is then described in 9:26; and no one else is called “messiah”). In other words, this pesher is saying that a “word” of restoration will occur in the first week of the tenth Jubilee, and that this is the “word” of restoration mentioned in Daniel 9:25, and therefore seven weeks later (49 years, the end of the tenth Jubilee) the Messiah will put an end to sin. Which has to be the same Messiah who dies in verse 26.

Why can we be sure the scroll’s author isn’t just skipping over the extra Messiah in verse 26? Because the Messiah it would then be talking about in verse 25 has to be Melchizedek, who it says promises to liberate and atone for Israel’s elect at the start of that 49-year period (11Q13, lines 4-7). And then Melchizedek will at the end of those years ‘make an end of sin’ (11Q13, lines 6-8) on a great Day of Atonement, which corresponds exactly to what Daniel 9:24 says will happen, and the very thing Isaiah 52-53 also says will happen on God’s day of salvation, which 11Q13 says is the very same Day of Atonement it’s talking about. And that atonement is said in Isaiah to be effected by the death of God’s subsequently-exalted “servant.” This makes all these features line up even more perfectly than I had thought, which is even more improbable to imagine as a coincidence.

Given the conjunction of historical context and the most plausible options, the scroll’s author most likely thought the “sixty-two sevens” (434) of years is the period from when the second temple was given a wall (445 B.C. according to Nehemiah 2:1-9, thus interpreting Daniel 9:25), which would entail he expected the world to end in the year 11 B.C. (assuming he had sound chronologies to work from). That also means he expected a messiah who will die after the same “sixty-two sevens” (434) of years, as that is the only way Daniel 9:26 could then be read. Because the “seven weeks” and the “sixty two weeks” on Stark’s reading have to overlap, and terminate at the same time. So the author of 11Q13 is overlapping the 7 and 62 at the end, just as Daniel’s authors originally overlapped the 7 and 62 at the beginning (then to get the timetable to fit Onias III)–all in order to get a date that this scroll’s author wanted (or thought could be made to fit recent events).

In fact it’s even cleverer than that, because he has created a Russian doll out of the seventy sevens, in order to get everything to work out the way he wanted: because 11Q13 doesn’t say the promise is made merely at the start of the 49 years, but through the first week (7 years) of the 49 years. How could Stark and I have overlooked that detail? This author has created an extra 7-year period in his scheme. Why would he do that? To dispense with the last week of years. He has folded the 70th week of years into the beginning of the 7 weeks of years, which he folds again into the end of the 62 weeks of years, for a total of 70 weeks of years (although it’s mystical math, not calendar math: he counts concurrently [62 x 7] + 7 = 441 to get 9 Jubilees, and “after that,” i.e. after we have added all those up and accounted for them, then we have left over the 10th Jubilee to account for, overlapping the rest).

This means the author of 11Q13 is not counting the last week in Daniel 9:27 as part of the 490 year timetable, but as the apocalypse itself, reinterpreted as an additional seven year period that begins at the end of the 490 years. Thus he has eliminated any seven year discrepancy (between a death in year 483 and the end in year 490, as traditionally interpreted), thereby making the death in Dan. 9:26 correspond with the atonement declared in Dan. 9:24 and thus with the atoning death on God’s “day” of salvation in Isaiah 52-53, which this author has concluded all refers to the same Day of Atonement. Odds that all that is a coincidence now? Virtually zero.

The only thing counting against this are the mathematical contortions it requires (including having the first week after the ninth Jubilee also the last week of the ninth Jubilee), although fanatics trying to extract timetables from the bible have always been fond of such contortions, so it has ample precedent. So that lowers this theory’s prior probability significantly, but I don’t think enough. Because it’s the only way to get Stark’s reconstruction to work: we have to account for the one “week” that 11Q13 goes out of its way to mention, and then add the “seven” and “sixty two” weeks in Daniel 9:25 (those same sixty two weeks that appear again in Daniel 9:26) , and 1 + 7 + 62 = 70. Again, not a likely coincidence. Moreover, since the “seven weeks” in verse 25 must now encompass the entire last Jubilee (to fit 11Q13, lines 6-7, and Stark’s reconstruction of 11Q13, line 18), the only other way the author of 11Q13 can be counting the preceding nine Jubilees as already having preceded that tenth Jubilee is by having added the additional one week somewhere in before those final “seven weeks” (to get 62 + 1 = 63 = nine Jubilees). He cannot be imagining it comes after (as Daniel is traditionally interpreted). So even if we reject this Russian doll analysis, we still must conclude the author of 11Q13 has placed that extra week somewhere earlier (perhaps in the preceding sections of the scroll, now lost). And therefore he is certainly not counting the week following the death of the messiah in verse 26 as part of the timetable.

Importantly, this also means the author of 11Q13 is interpreting “the prince who will come” and “make a covenant” in verses 26 & 27 as the very Christ who dies in verse 26 (thus not as as a separate person, but the same person, reading 9:25, “Anointed Prince,” as describing the same “Anointed” and “Prince” in 9:26), which means, again, Melchizedek (obviously, returned from the dead), who will pour out his wrath over those additional seven years. This is corroborated in 11Q13, line 24, where Melchizedek is said to be the one to establish that final covenant. Which is further confirmed by linking this same figure again to the one spoken of in Isaiah 61:2 (11Q13, line 19-20), who is also an “anointed” one who “proclaims liberty to the captives” (61:1), through whom God will exact vengeance and restore the world (61:1-8), and establish an eternal covenant (61:8). This is therefore what happens after the atonement. Which, we know from Daniel 9 and Isaiah 52-53, is effected by the messiah’s death (according to this pesher).

Since 11Q13 clearly is using Daniel 9:24, 9:25, 9:26, and 9:27 as all referring to Melchizedek and what will transpire toward and at the end of the world, and never once brackets out the dying Messiah in verse 26 (so as to explain away why that detail is there, when this author is clearly making use of all the others), we have to conclude that 11Q13 isn’t “skipping over” that dying Messiah, but assuming it will be understood as all part of the same sequence of events, and in particular the events that 11Q13 emphasizes (a Day of Atonement, followed by an apocalypse). There is only one interpretation that makes sense of that. The one I have been proposing. Essentially, 11Q13 is saying Melchizedek will consume the first week of years of the final Jubilee announcing his plans, then will die in the last year of that Jubilee (and even if not him, some messiah will), accomplishing a final Day of Atonement, then will return to wreak havoc and restore God’s reign, enacting a new covenant.

Stark says he doesn’t understand how there can be a death for a celestial being like Melchizedek, but obviously that would be accomplished by his assuming a body and becoming incarnate, as the Jewish theologian Philo describes angels and demons could do in his treatise On the Giants, and as the Jewish text of the Ascension of Isaiah imagines happens to another archangel of God (named, incidentally, Jesus), and as standardly happened to several gods in cultures well known to the Jews, from the Roman national deity Romulus to the Egyptian god Osiris. (Can it really be a coincidence that this is just what Jesus is said to have done in Philippians 2:5-11? That’s rhetorical. I’ll leave that question for another day.)

Which Messiah Would Die?

This is now moot (from the analysis above). But it’s worth repeating. Stark has made a strong case that the Messiah in Daniel 9:25 was originally meant to be (and taken to be by several later interpreters) a different person from the Messiah in Daniel 9:26. As the RSV says “from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.” Or using only punctuation, NRSV reads “from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time,” which implies the same thing. Stark reports this punctuation is in the current Hebrew text (although we can’t confirm that was the case in the pre-Christian era, or in all the copies of Daniel at Qumran).

The thinking behind this is that the “seven weeks” (a 49 year period) marks when the first priest is newly anointed after the exile (in biblical legend, Jesus ben Jehozadak), so this means that guy, while the next anointed is the last priest, Onias III, who is the guy meant in the next verse. To fit Onias, of course, this still requires the 7 and 62 to be overlapping and not sequential periods, and that is in fact why the 7 is there to begin with, to make the math work out, when the “word of rebuilding” means Jeremiah’s prophecy that is being here interpreted, per Daniel 9:2-4 (and that the math then works out perfectly to the year of Onias’ actual death in 171 B.C. is too massively coincidental to be accidental; this is therefore certainly what the authors of Daniel intended, despite Stark’s persistent incredulity on this point–he again confuses what Jeremiah meant, with what the authors of Daniel were taking him to mean, which was that “the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years,” and thus Jerusalem would be rebuilt after seventy years: Dan. 9:2; which they then “reinterpret” to fit known facts: Dan. 9:24-25). This then predicted the world would end in 164 B.C. But once that date had passed and the prophecy didn’t fit, Jews could no longer use that math but had to start counting sequentially to get a later year, one not yet come. They likewise had to start finding other “words of rebuilding” to make the timetable fit future events (like the decree in Nehemiah 2).

This is not necessarily how the Jews always read the text. For example, the Septuagint says the Christ will come after the 62-and-7 weeks as one period, in which scheme there was only one Christ, the same Christ in both verses. Even if that translation comes from a Jewish translator of the 1st or 2nd century A.D., it still demonstrates the verse could be read that way even by a Jew. I still also wonder whether “Anointed Prince” in verse 25 may have originally been “an Anointed and a Prince,” due to the fact that in the next verse there are two men, an Anointed and a Prince (exact same word, in both the Hebrew and the Greek). In other words, verse 25 may have meant two men will come after 69 weeks, a Christ and a Prince. Verse 26 then says the Christ will die and the Prince will destroy the temple. But I will admit this is not something we can conclude with any certainty, as if it is what was intended, it was lost before the manuscript record we have, and the alternative can still be made to fit the historical facts.

Whether that’s the case or not doesn’t matter, however. Because regardless of what the authors of Daniel meant, or other later Jews or Christians read, all that matters is what this pesher assumes. And the author of 11Q13 did exactly the opposite, collapsing both men (the Anointed and the Prince) into one man in verse 26, to match the one man (Anointed Prince) in verse 25. Which means 11Q13 was reading verses 25 and 26 as being about the same man (in line 18 identifying him with the Anointed in verse 25, and in lines 20 and 24 identifying him with the Prince in verse 26). Thus the Melchizedek Scroll is saying that the Christ in Daniel 9 is a future figure, who is to appear (and, so it certainly appears, die) at the special Day of Atonement that the pesher says will take place after all the 490 years prophesied in Daniel are counted up, and not after the first seven years of those 490 years. The pesher therefore cannot possibly mean the first priest after the exile (Jesus ben Jehozadak), who was centuries dead by the time this pesher was composed. It can only mean a figure who will be alive on the last Day of Atonement occurring at or near the end of the tenth Jubilee. That means the pesher can only have been reading Daniel 9:25 the way it is now translated in the ASV. Which entails that this pesher assumes the Christ in 9:25 is the same Christ in 9:26. (Either that or it was quoting Daniel 9:26 all along.)

For this same reason, of course, the pesher’s author has obviously abandoned any notion of this Christ having been Onias III (which is why it is absurd of Bart Ehrman to claim that is what the pesher means). Yes, that is probably what the authors of Daniel meant. But that ship had sailed. Daniel could not be understood anymore as referring to Onias III, as that would entail Daniel was a false prophet. It would also deprive everyone of the timetable for calculating the end of the world. The only way Daniel’s timetable could still be interpreted as predicting when the end would come, is by rejecting the original interpretation and coming up with another, one that imagined the 490 years as working out to some time in the future. Which entailed believing Daniel’s Christ was not Onias, but someone else, someone yet to come. And that is what the pesher assumes: he will be someone present at the end of the world, on the final Day of Atonement. The last of all Christs.


On any sound analysis, which attends to the actual context and construction of the pesher in question, 11Q13 expects a Messiah who will die to atone for the sins of God’s elect, shortly before the end of the world. It argues this by connecting Isaiah 52:6-53:12 with Daniel 9:24-27, telling us the same man is being spoken of in both contexts, and that both prophesies speak of the same final Day of Atonement, and that the man who in both contexts dies will die at the end of the same sum of 490 years, after which will ensue God’s final judgment. The pesher also says this man, the same man spoken of in both contexts, is someone so important he has been beautifully spoken of by all the prophets (the “mountains” on which he has trod). There is simply no other sound way to read this text but as an announcement of a dying messiah, atoning for mankind’s sins, at the end of the world. At least a hundred years before Christianity began.


    1. Thank you. Yes, you are right: “whether the expectation of a Messiah who would die existed prior to Christianity is not determinative of the historicity of Jesus.”

      Indeed, in Not the Impossible Faith I do not actually defend mythicism but throughout assume historicity, and thus was there proposing that this expectation of a dying messiah made it easy for some Jews to receive a gospel about a dying messiah (and, in the case of the first Christians, to apply it to Jesus as an interpretive framework to explain what happened). Which is why usually it’s Christian apologists insisting no Jews would ever possibly develop such an idea in advance, all in order to prove that only a genuine resurrection of Jesus could have convinced any Jew that a dying messiah was a part of God’s plan (even granting their premise, that conclusion is a non sequitur, but that’s another matter).

      And you are right, too, when you say, “I would point out that Christians did not merely expect a Messiah who would die. They believed that the Messiah had died. And that surely has relevance to whether or not there was a historical Jesus.” In the (only plausible) mythicist thesis, it was not a historical Jesus that convinced them that the messiah had finally come and died, but a revelation of a Jesus who told them he had come and died. There are a number of reasons a sect would find this an attractive thing to conclude at that time (including the timetable ensuring it must have happened by then; the evident failure and doomed prospect of militaristic messianism; etc.).

      And that is where testing hypotheses against the evidence comes in: does the revealed Jesus explain all the evidence better than the historically-killed Jesus? For example, the actual contents of Paul’s letters? And so on. That’s where the debate then lies. And it has more than one conclusion: you can conclude that one hypothesis is “certainly” true and the other “certainly” false (so far I reject this conclusion); you can conclude one hypothesis is somewhat more likely than the other, but the other is still a definite possibility and can’t be completely ruled out (this is where I am); or you can conclude either hypothesis fits equally well so we can only be agnostic about historicity, declaring we just don’t know (this is where I think professor Droge currently stands, for example, and possibly other scholars who haven’t gone on record).

    2. James F. McGrath June 15, 2012, 8:56 am

      I would add a point along the spectrum where one thinks that one option is not impossible but another option has significantly more in its favor. But that is just a matter of nuancing. The real question is whether we agree about which of the two options is more likely than the other, by whatever degree! 🙂

      1. James McGrath: Yes, correct. There are many degrees of probability. I did not mean to imply there were only three fixed degrees, but three categories within which is a range of variations. My “certainly true” category would correspond to what you mean as “significantly more probable.”

  1. 7,800 words. Requires freshness and alertness of mind. Cannot be read before going to bed.

    This article makes us keenly aware of the depth of mysticism that impregnated Hebrew religious beliefs. They gave rise to Paul’s ideas of his crucified Christ and to Mark’s innocent Galilean preacher.

    And together these ideas of a dying Messiah and of his rising again were going to haunt the Western imagination ever since, feeding its mythical hopes and its all too real nightmares.

  2. Richard,

    You, like everyone else, just about, make so many erroneous assumptions here, I have to take them a few at a time, because it is late and I need to get some sleep. First off, the “special day” is not one day, it is the day of a person’s death. The “Last Days” are YOUR last days before you DIE. We all die, one at a time. And where does the author of Isaiah 53 say somebody died to forgive sin? The RSV has “knowledge” making “many to be accounted righteous.” Maybe it means what IT SAYS: “he will prolong HIS days”. “He shall see his offspring”. “He makes HIMSELF an offering for sin”, not his death. More tomorrow. G’night, mate.

  3. Daniel and those 70 weeks of years……

    How about considering these years in connection with the last King and High Priest of the Jews, Antigonus? A King and High Priest, who, according to Josephus was beheaded, and who, according to Cassius Dio: “These people Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a stake and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him”.

    Josephus relates how money changed hands. Herod giving money to Marc Antony in order to have Antigonus killed. Josephus also tells how Antigonus bit off the ear of his uncle, the King and High Priest Hyrcanus. (Thus rendering Hyrcanus unfit for the office of High Priest).

    Antigonus, the last of the Hasmonean Kings and High Priests, was killed, at Antioch, by Marc Antony, in 37 b.c. That is 483 years (69 weeks) from the second year of Darius in 521/520 b.c. when work on the Jerusalem temple was re-started. (Ezra 4.24)

    The writer of the gospel of Luke has set his Jesus story in the 15th year of Tiberius. Referencing Lysanias of Abilene who ruled around 40 b.c. The year in which Antigonus became King and High Priest. 70 years from that date and the writer of the gospel of Luke has placed his Jesus story. Antigonus ruled for around 3 or so years. 40 b.c. to 37 b.c.

    History, it is often said, repeats itself. Prophetic history is able to move with the times. It is recyclable. Prophetic history allows the historical tape to be re-run at a later time slot. Picking up, as it goes, relevant subsequent history. Allowing, for the gospel writers, the historical material from which to create their JC composite figure and his prophetic storyboard.

    (Antigonus was the grandson of Alexander Jannaeus – during whose reign is set the Toledot Yeshu story)

    1. That may be one possible interpretation someone might have came up with, who knows. But it wouldn’t be relevant here. Since that doesn’t explain Christianity’s origin very well.

    2. Explaining Christian origins requires that it’s story about a dying Messiah figure be relevant to Jewish history. Antigonus was the last Jewish King and High Priest. A King and High Priest executed by Rome. Yes, the gospel story, via Luke, places its JC story in the 15th year of Tiberius. 70 years after Antigonus became King and High Priest. However, since that gospel JC story cannot be verified historically, other options need to be considered. Historical options. Historical options that could have provided the context in which a dying Messiah interpretation of Daniel and Isaiah could be applied.

      OT prophecy, for all its ambiguity, cannot simply be turned into some cosmic/spiritual type fulfilment. That approach would only end up as a battle of competing visions. Interpretation piled upon interpretation. However arbitrary a prophetic interpretation could be when applied to a historical context – it does provide a link between reality and meaning. History can provide the grounding from which theological and philosophical ideas can develop.

      There is no future for the gospel JC historicists (of whatever variant) – that position holds out no forward potential. For the mythicist position to move forward it is first going to have to go backwards. That very wide jump that it wants to make – from an interpretation of Daniel and Isaiah regarding a dying Messiah figure – to a cosmic/heavenly, spiritual or intellectual Messiah figure – cannot be made without a stepping stone in history. Prophecy has no meaning, no relevance, outside of a historical context.

      1. Mary Helena:

        OT prophecy, for all its ambiguity, cannot simply be turned into some cosmic/spiritual type fulfilment. That approach would only end up as a battle of competing visions. Interpretation piled upon interpretation.

        And that’s exactly what happened (the Melchizedek Scroll itself is an example of this). Likewise the Enochic literature, the so-called “Gnostic” literature, and so on.

        Thus, when we have evidence in the matter (like here we do), we have to attend to what they actually did. Not what we now think would have made more sense.

    3. Josephus also tells how Antigonus bit off the ear of his uncle, the King and High Priest Hyrcanus. (Thus rendering Hyrcanus unfit for the office of High Priest).

      Cute coïncidental parallel with that servant of the high priest who gets his ear cut off in one of the gospels.

    4. Sili says:
      June 16, 2012 at 10:28 am
      Josephus also tells how Antigonus bit off the ear of his uncle, the King and High Priest Hyrcanus. (Thus rendering Hyrcanus unfit for the office of High Priest).

      Cute coïncidental parallel with that servant of the high priest who gets his ear cut off in one of the gospels.

      Check out a few more parallels between Jewish history and the composite gospel JC figure – in this chart I put up on FRDB.

  4. Richard,

    Just because the passage says the servant is going to die doesn’t mean that that is the offering. The “offering” is his COMING here. Masters are perfectly happy within in the spirit worlds. They come here without karma of their own for the sole purpose of redeeming the ready — WITH THEIR ‘LIFE’ (“Psuchen” in Greek, Mark 10:45, “give his Life a ransom for many” means his Soul Force, Breath, or life. He didn’t ‘give’ his DEATH. Know how to tell the difference? Because a ransom for “MANY” can only mean Life, not death. If he ransomed with his death it would be for “ALL” — whether accepted OR NOT. You are ASSUMING the things you think are in front of you. I have a Master, Maharaj Charan Singh, and this is what he says about this dynamic. The Masters do assume some of the disciples’ karmas — and suffer somewhat (they have no karma of their own to bring them back into the body, they are sent by the Father). But it is not the death of the Master that saves, only his ‘Shabd’ or Soul Force. Verse 10 says that he makes “HIMSELF” an ‘offering’, and 11 says it is his “knowledge” that accounts many as justified. This is a perfect description of JAMES, who was “bruised” by stoning. If it is about any master in particular, it is James. The “cut off” language is also in Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eisenman has shown the connections there to James at Qumran in his works, “James the Brother of Jesus” and “The New Testament Code”. Jesus “opened his mouth” — a lot — but James was condemned in a hurry by a kangaroo court under the Wicked Priest, Ananus, with nothing to say in his own defense.

    John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, shows quite clearly that the “given” are specific to a particular Master, and only those alive when the master is can be granted salvation (17:11: “they [the given] are in the world”). John 13:1 has John the author saying the same thing. John 6:40 is explicit: one needs to “SEE” the Master to be saved by him. Also orthodox corruptions to scripture are rampant throughout: John 9:4 should read as the Codex Sinaiticus says, “sent US”, not “sent me” — including Jesus in being limited to his lifetime to “work” his ministry. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, Richard. I know you are an atheist. Just because Jesus was probably fictional doesn’t mean that there are not real saviors. The world, they say, is NEVER without at least one. Someone who WAS a Master, or savior, was behind the powerful teachings quoted in the New Testament. It was most likely James, whom Eisenman has masterfully demonstrated to be the character overwritten time and again in the gospels and Acts under Paul’s everpresent influence. Real Masters teach God-conciousness through meditation on what ‘Jesus’ called the Word. It is detailed in John 3:8 and Matt. 6:22 as the sound of the Pneuma or ‘wind’ and in the body filling with Light at the single eye. It is evident in many other traditions throughout history. Today it is called ‘Surat Shabd Yoga’ or ‘hearing the Sound’. At last count there were 45 titles either by or about real masters at

    1. Sorry, that just sounds like a lot of crazy to me. I’m not going to address it. Except the one thing actually relevant to what I argue: the scripture does say that the servant’s death is the atonement sacrifice (the offering). Indeed it says this more than once. He is a substitutionary sacrifice (Is. 53:8), his “soul [i.e. life] is an offering for sin” (Is. 53:10), God is “satisfied” by this death and it is this death that “justifies” many because the killed servant “bears their sins” (Is. 53:11) even though himself innocent (Is. 53:9) and thus by his death he “made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:12).

      1. Richard,

        No, what’s “crazy” is the Isaiah you are reading. My Bible says it was his “KNOWLEDGE” that accounted many as justified”. 53:11. Where is “death”? He poured out his “soul” to death (53:12) doesn’t mean he died. You need to know a lot of mystic things as background to appreciate the thrust of these passages. Nearly no one has the experience who reads the Bible, so that’s why we have such confusion. Only the Masters can interpret these things correctly and completely (or their disciples, like me!). It’s very easy to show that it is not DEATH that is meant, in the understanding of the gospel writers, at least. Matthew 26:38 says, “Then he said unto them, ‘My SOUL is very sorrowful, EVEN TO DEATH; remain here, and watch with me.” This is TAKEN from Isaiah 53:12. If that is not convincing enough, the next part is also in Matthew: 26:45: “the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” = Isaiah’s “and was numbered with the transgressors”. Follow me: the translation of “paradidomai” IS WRONG. It is “delivered”. ‘Jesus’, whoever this is, is telling the disciples (probably James’) that the Spirit (the Son of man) is delivered into the hands of THE DISCIPLES, who are “weak” — sleepy, when they should be meditating (“watching”). This is all made-up in Matthew, of course. But you can see the traces of where it comes from. The entire Betrayal sequence is the installation of James as successor to ‘Jesus’ – probably a fictional Jesus, at that — to overwrite him out of existence.

        Robert Eisenman started this — I’m just finishing it! He taught me how to read between the lines. (He’s a dear friend, now.) I can show every single detail of the Betrayal in all four canonicals supports my contention, and also the two other “gospels” concerning it (Thomas and Judas). I can send it to you if you have an email address, or I can post it here if you give me your permission. I tell you, I’m not joking. This is WHY the gospels/Acts were written.

        1. Bob Wahler:

          Isaiah says he was buried (53:9). That’s dead.

          Plus all the other verses I cited.

          Your attempts to reinterpret everything and propose off-the-wall theories just looks like more of the crazy to me.

        2. Isaiah 53:10 says, like Mark 10:45, that it was his “Life” (“Psuchen” in Greek Mark, “soul” in all received versions of Isaiah) that was given, not his death. I didn’t say 53:8 didn’t say he did not die. I said 53:11 said it was KNOWLEDGE that made “many to be accounted righteous”, not his death. He was made to suffer by the Lord, but THERE IS NO CONNECTION between that and redemption. It was KNOWLEDGE (‘gnosis’ or Word) that saved, not atoning sacrifice.

          You are making the orthodox Christian mistake of equating the death of the master with a sacrificial death. There is no connection. Masters do not die to save. They give the Holy Spirit to save. He gave his LIFE, his soul, his ‘breath’, his ‘psuchen’ to others, not his death. And it was James, who is the one mentioned, if anyone in particular, because the one mentioned was STONED to death, and he was silent in his defense at trial, unlike “Jesus” who spoke quite a lot. Other associated language like “cut off” and “righteous” pertain to the person of James at Qumran (see Eisenman — and Daniel’s prophecy which pertains to James, not Jesus). James is said to have been buried where he fell in historical accounts, at the foot of the Temple wall, and I believe that is where there are rich men’s graves (Kedron valley?).

          Young’s Literal is entirely different from most received versions, and has nothing about “stricken” for transgressions of my people at 53:8. There is much liberty taken in these translations. Zechariah 13:7, quoted in the synoptics at “the Betrayal” (Matt. 26:31), is terrible: it is “Strike *O* Shepherd”, not “Strike THE Shepherd” — it is a good thing — that the companions are ‘troubled’ (not ‘scattered’, except maybe in mind) and the Lord ‘replaces’ his hand ‘upon’, not ‘against’ the little ones. I made my own version after reading the Hebrew lexicon. Many translations in the NT are just as terrible. John 9:4, for example, should be “We must do the work of him who sent US …” not “sent me” — to *include* Jesus in being limited to work during his lifetime (night/day = death/life). These are orthodox corruptions of scripture (which Ehrman IS an expert on).

          53:10 doesn’t say anything about being “satisfied with his death”. The Hebrew says, right after, that he makes his “soul” an offering for sin. That’s just what Masters do. They “atone” for their disciples karma with their “Shabd” or “Word” or their soul. The death atonement comes from pagan traditions, or somewhere, not any Master. 53:12 DOES NOT SAY that his death made “intercession for the transgressors”. He poured out his soul to death, or “gave himself to the last”, not as sacrifice, but as selfless service to others. YOU make the connection of death as sacrifice, not the author.

          The Betrayal scenario is a cover for the installation of James (“Judas”) as Master, following ‘Jesus’, whoever that is. Jesus, I think is fictional, just like Judas and Lazarus, who are both covers for James. Stephen, Matthias, Joseph barsabbas JUSTus, the naked young man, John Mark, and the beloved disciple are all James. Eisenman covers a lot of this. The betrayal is “the Deliverance” of Jesus (not the disciples). In the Gospel of Judas, the “sacrifice the man that bears me” climax is Jesus telling Judas that HE will be the sacrifice, not Jesus. In the canon, “betray”: “paradidomai” — means to deliver. Jesus is urging them one last time to “Rise up [within]. Lets’ go [UP]!, my Deliverer [James] is at hand!” In walks “Judas”. Mark and the others wanted to HIDE James behind a fictional Judas. The naked man follows Jesus, not like a puppy, but as successor, and is wearing the Nazirite LINEN clothing, which he drops and escapes (UP) as they try to “seize” him (“lay hands on”, spiritually). He is not ready for the onerous duties of mastership just yet. Peter denies his master THREE times, this after ‘Jesus’ COMES to them all THREE times. The Greek is ‘strong denial’, or ‘utter rejection’ — in their meditation. He exhorts them to “watch AND pray — FOR AN HOUR” — that is meditation. They are “weak”: “the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak”, or sleepy, not ‘depraved’. This is all allegory. The servant of the High Priest has his RIGHT ear cut off when Peter draws on it, the sword is analogous to the Word (Revelation has the sword “out of his mouth”) and it is a parable of his initiating the servant into the Word, which, we are taught even today, to listen to on THE RIGHT SIDE! That’s right, that is where ‘the Word’ is heard. The Greek is ‘haptomai’ = ‘to influence strongly by touch’. The ‘Word’ is a Sound Current, it is not the Bible. Many allusions to sound are associated with the Father. It is the first inkling of the Holy Spirit in our experience. That is Sant Mat — modern teachings of the Masters of the Word. Every detail in the Betrayal scenario has a part in this analogy. For another coming to mastership, go to Acts 12 to see PETER become a Master as he “escapes prison” to “come to himself” as others see him come within in their meditations. He is asking them to deliver a message to JAMES — the new Master — that he is now a master in spirit. Every detail is part of his overcoming desire and realizing his Godhood. I tell about it all in my book. I can email this chapter to any who ask.

          I don’t just dream this stuff up. There are masters in India, with 3-4 million followers now, who are seen as (never claim they are) living Masters, equal in every way to the saviors of the Bible. My master, Charan Singh (1918-1990) initiated 1,281,690. THEY teach this, not little old me. Saviors come in a never ending procession, that’s part of the teaching. Seth, Enoch, Melchizedek, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Samuel, Honi, John, James, Simeon, Judas Thomas, many more. Nanak, and the ten Sikh gurus, Paltu, Kabir, Mira Bai (woman), many others as well have been masters of the Word, or Shabd. Don’t ask me to fully explain, as it is not subject to intellectualizing. It is there for those interested as seekers of a FINER, higher, reality. See if you want to look at the photo of the current Master or see 45 or so titles on this teaching, many by the masters themselves. It shows up in the Bible, the gnostic gospels, the Apocrypha, the DS Scrolls, Mandaeans, Manichaeans, all over the place. ALL questions are answered — at least that is my experience. And I had lots of questions.

  5. I guess the reason that Dr. Carrier is interested in establishing that the Jews anticipated a dying Messiah, is to counter the Criterion of Embarrassment. Which often cites the lack of expectation of a Messiah, to “prove” or suggest that the event must be true and real; since the death was included, even over and against any lack of anticipation of any such event. In attempting to establish that Jewish tradition DID include some anticipation of a dying Messiah, Carrier is probably interested in establishing that there WAS such an expectation; in order to defeat the Embarrassment arguement for the genuineness of the crucifixion.

    But I suggest here that Carrier needn’t have bothered to even address the so-called Criterion of Embarrassment.

    1) In part because after all, the Criterion is rather silly and flawed. Since in effect it argues that if something that seems really stupid or inconsistent, appears in a tradition? It must be true; since, as they say, “no one would make that kind of thing up.” But here the “Criterion of Embarrasment” ends up … deifying stupidity and inconsistency itself. The dumber something is, the more true it must be? I suggest we can safely ignore the Criterion of Embarrassment. And its alleged argument for the genuiness of the crucifixion.

    2) Personally moreover? I feel that there really wasn’t much JEWISH anticipation of a Messiah, or a dying MESSIAH properly speaking. There was a) much anticipation of a “lord” or “king” that would save Israel, and punish its enemies, like David; and there was b) anticipation of God himself returning to do this too, on the Day of the Lord. But there was in fact very little to indicate a Messiah – or even less, God – showing up and … dying. At least, in Old Testament/Torah Jewish thought.

    3) Though however? Carrier is partially right – but is looking in the wrong places to establish what he wants to say. In fact, there was lots and lots of thinking, advocacy, of Jewish HEROES, dying as MARTYRS. In say 2 Mac. 7. Jewish leaders, heroes, dying for their country; but by dying, somehow achieving a moral victory.

    4) Finally moreover? In spite of the Maccabean revolt against Hellenistic influence, the anticipation of a dying messiah, I suggest here and elsewhere (on Neil’s blog), probably came from – or in any case is best found in – not classic Old Testament/Torah Judaism … but ironically, from GRECO-ROMAN thought. Where the martyr, dying for his country and god, was a major part of Greek legend (Thermopylae, Socrates). And of course, the ideal of a hero, dying to save his country and god, was projected by Roman rulers/gods, as the ideal for Romans and Roman soldiers especially.

    So Carrier is partially right: around the time of Jesus, there WERE many key traditions in place that would contribute to expectations of, legends of, a dying savior. Specifically I suggest: of one who would die to save his country. This though was not such a popular Idea in mainstream Torah culture; though key elements of it are found in Maccabean ideas about heroic martyrs. But especially it was a popular idea, being spread around the Middle East, by the Mediterranean conquests of Greece, and Rome, from about 300 BC.

    How widespread were Greek and Roman ideas becoming? Alexander the Great spread Greek culture widely, from about 300 BC. While Greco-Roman ideas would have been even more prevalent, when Jerusalem came under direct Roman control, with Pompey c. 64 BC. Especially for a c. 30 AD Jerusalem that was governed by a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

    Under such pressures, a Jewish culture whose conservative elements normally rejected alien and Hellenistic influences adamantly … would have been under considerable cultural pressure to increasingly adopt many Greco-Roman mandates, and cultural ideas. Including? Partially Jewish but also quite Hellenistic ideas, of heroic martyrs, dying to save their country.

    The heric martry, dying to save his country, i suggest, is one of the main contributing legends, myths, cultural stereotypes, that eventually fed into – and began to create? – the Jesus legend. It was not so much jusst the Dying Messiah specifically, but the general idea of a hero, dying in the name of his god, to save his country, that forms the immediate cultural background for the idea of a crucified Lord.

    1. Thanks. But I already prove the Criterion of Embarrassment logically fallacious and repeatedly abused in a detailed treatment in my book Proving History. It gets the most extensive treatment of all, over forty pages (pp. 124-69). There are, however, logically valid deployments of it (like most fallacies, there is a version of the argument that is not fallacious), as I explain there as well. It’s just that here there aren’t any to be made (contrary to what many like Ehrman claim), and that’s all prior to anything I have argued about the plausibility or actuality of dying-messiah expectations in pre-Christian Judaism. Hence my interest in the latter is explanatory, not refutatory.

      As to the backstory of martyrdom and substitutionary sacrifice in both paganism and Judaism (including the Maccabee narrative, where the martyrs are explicitly called substitutionary sacrifices atoning for national sins), I have discussed this in the past (and will in more specific detail in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ next year). You are in outline correct. But there is even more to be said in favor of the conclusion. For now see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 25-26, and chapter 8 (pp. 220ff.). See also, for example, this dissertation by Jarvis Williams, which he recently published as Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement (2010).

    2. 1) The whole concentration on the word “Messiah” has always been a sort of red herring. The a) word is mentioned exactly twice in the entire Bible (John 1.41, 4.25). In b) a non-snyoptic gospel. Where it is mentioned as c) mere heresay or interpolation of casual onlookers and (then-considered) unreliable women (John 4.25). d) Scholars have long fixated on it, probably precisely because it is so vague and undefined, that they can use it as a “Table rasa” or Rorschach Blot, on which to project their own hobbyhorses or obsessions.

      2) Moving past this endlessly problematic term, and the countless misuses to which it has been put therefore? I suggested that much, much clearer predecessors for a crucified Christ, can be found outside the literature on “Messiah”s; particularly in countless cultural references to dying HEROES.

      And more specifically?

      3) Dr. Carrier has rightly mentioned 2 Mac. 7. Which contains a dramatic account, of a young Jewish man dying for his god and country. And for that matter? It is important to note that … his death is quite Christlike, in that his death is even taken, as a possible salvation for this country.

      In simple language? Here in 2 Mac., as is typical of heroes, the hero’s death is taken to essentially, dramatise an ideal. And by dramatising it, publicising, popularlizing a good idea? It is typically hoped that the death will “save” his countrymen. When they hear about this ideal, and take it into themselves as their own:

      “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God. Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Mac. 7.37-9, NAB).

      Clearly, here is a clear precedent, in Jewish literature, from (it is said) c. 167 BC. Of a Jewish hero, dying under torture. Who hopes to save/be savior to this country, in part by 1) presenting a strong moral message, that will save those who follow it.

      For that matter, in another parallel with Christ? This dying man hopes to save us also by 2) by his death, for that matter, by substitutionary attonement. By taking on the wrath of God against any sins of the Jewish people; and paying for their sins.

      Obviously, there were countless very, very clear precedents in Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, to the core ideas now associated too-strictly with just Jesus. And these ideas would have been available, to feed into – and even create? – the legend of Jesus. Savior to his people … by dying for the sins of all. And saving them … by presenting, dramatising, publicizing, a moral ideal.

      It is better to look past the endless controvrsies on “Messiahs.” The whole idea of a dying hero saving his people can far more clearly be found in Jewish literature. Indeed, your normal hero or “martyr,” generally, is obviously Christlike. But particularly in say(Hellenized) Jewish literature. Like 2 Mac. 7. 37. The young Jewish man, who is tortured to death; but whose death is alleged to be a triumph. In that he dies in order to dramatize, publicise, a salvational moral ideal.

      I guess the present intense discussion of “Messiah” has some use in exhausting this subject; but I think Dr. Carrier and the mythicist argument, is on firmer or more fruitful grounds, when discussing say, 2 Mac. 7..

  6. And that is where testing hypotheses against the evidence comes in: does the revealed Jesus explain all the evidence better than the historically-killed Jesus? For example, the actual contents of Paul’s letters? And so on. That’s where the debate then lies. And it has more than one conclusion: you can conclude that one hypothesis is “certainly” true and the other “certainly” false (so far I reject this conclusion); you can conclude one hypothesis is somewhat more likely than the other, but the other is still a definite possibility and can’t be completely ruled out (this is where I am)

    What I’m seeing in many of these debates about mythicism/historicism on blogs is that people are refusing to admit that some piece of evidence better fits the alternative hypothesis more than their own and fight tooth and nail against that interpretation. As though conceding that the opposition’s argument better fits one instance of the evidence means that this validates the entire theory. In Bayesian terms this would be confusing P(E | H) with P(H | E), which is a fallacy that at least scholars should know about. Realizing that would probably make these debates much less heated.

    1. That post covers all material except 11Q13.

      On where he rightly corrects me:

      He’s right that b.Sanhedrin 93b (and not 93a) does not (as I said) explicitly identify Isaiah 53, it rather supports it by saying the messiah will suffer. I have corrected my article above to reflect that. It is 98b that is explicit.

      I have to defer to Stark when he claims that the Aramaic word used for “build/rebuild” the temple cannot possibly mean improve (in the same fashion as, for example, Herod’s “rebuilding” of the temple, which did not rebuild a destroyed temple but one already standing). From the way he evades the question of the ambiguity of “venture his life” though, I am not certain I can trust him when he says this is “not a possible translation” here (not at all possible?). But I emended the article to take his expert claim here into account (it wasn’t anything I was certain of).

      In Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 34-44) I wrongly misstook the ASV’s “Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One” as here referring to a messiah, when these are certainly (as Stark points out) the titles of God, and the remainder can only be inferred about the messiah if one infers personifications of Israel, in which Israel is an individual person (e.g. who is born from the womb, and can despise his own life and be bowed to), are messianic (which only some Jews did, and only some of the time).

      On where he doesn’t:

      He doesn’t challenge the fact that b.Sanhedrin 98b shows first century rabbis agreeing Isaiah 53 is about a messiah (quoting verse 53:4), and we all know Isaiah 53 says the man spoken of there dies (and dies to atone for Israel’s sins). It’s not as if the Rabbis quoting the text didn’t know that.

      I did not cite Chilton as dating the text pre-70 or as saying that Is. 53:5 was redacted. I cited Chilton as confirming that redaction had occurred in the Targum as a whole, and from this I concluded “it’s entirely possible Jonathan did not write verse 53:5 as we have it.” Note that this is very clear in not attributing such a claim to Chilton. This kind of treatment of what I say (turning it into something I didn’t say, and then making hay of it) is typical of a lot of what Stark does when addressing my arguments.

      His entire treatment of my distinction between evidence and explanation is a paradigmatic case of the latter, where he spends a lot of words arguing against what he thinks I said, yet actually just reaffirms what I actually said (and doesn’t even seem aware of it), or he confuses what I said as having said something else. For example, that entire section reiterates the general principle “if this is a better explanation, then it is more probable,” which he then reads as saying “this is a better explanation, therefore it is more probable,” and then he argues against the latter at length, even though it is not what I have here argued. Stark is not a good reader. The question of whether a “pre-Christian dying-messiah sect existed” is a better explanation for the development of Christianity (than an actual crucified man) is a wholly separate question, and one that I do not address in this article, or in my original article about the dying messiah. It is a question I will only be examining in any relevant detail in my next book. And answering it concerns a great deal more evidence than just this one tiny little issue.

      On where he is still wrong:

      He tries to claim that b.Sanhedrin 98b doesn’t speak of a specific or special messiah (whether it speaks of a final messiah is irrelevant to my argument). This is just plain false. The text begins by describing a debate about what will happen “in the days of the Messiah” and then moves to a debate about what that messiah’s name will be, and then cites Isaiah 53:4 as providing one of the answers to that question. Meaning: some of them believed the messiah who would come “in the days of the messiah” is indeed spoken of in Isaiah 53 (not just some random dude who will be anointed for some trivial reason). That’s, again, the same Isaiah 53 where the man spoken of is the “Arm of God” who will bring “salvation” and do so by “dying” and thereby “atoning” for Israel’s sins. Stark at this point is kicking against the goad of the obvious and I just can’t fathom why he is still denying this.

      Stark claims “nowhere does the text [of the Targum Jonathan] imply that [the messiah’s] ‘delivering up his soul to death’ ‘somehow effected his victory’.” If you grant that it says he died and not risked his life, then yes, it does. And those are two separate issues. It says he will divide the spoils (i.e enjoy his victory) “because he delivered up his soul to death.” Thus his death (or his risked life, as Stark would have it) was somehow causally efficacious in his victory.

      Stark resorts to the “they were trying to fool poor Aramaic audiences who didn’t know the original Hebrew” argument, which I find implausible. They are, wherever they can, interpreting (for example) pronouns as referring to different entities, in order to transfer as much as possible away from the messiah and onto Israel (whom he symbolically represents and thus can be claimed as a stand-in for) or his enemies (where one can read the Hebrew that way, if at a stretch), but here when they refer to his death (or risked life), they don’t. They keep it. I agree that’s ambiguous (and said so), but I see no good case for concluding they meant to erase the death by choosing an ambiguous phrase (a phrase that means both) and still attributing it to him (instead of transferring it like they did everything else). If they wanted to reverse that, they would have. They chose not to. This says they didn’t want to.

      Thus their design can’t have been to fool the public on this point (even if you buy the “rabbis are liars” argument). More importantly, all rabbis (knowing Hebrew) would have known the atoning death of the servant is what God said to Isaiah–so they can’t have been fooled. Which brings us back to the problem of fringe sects: since many Jews would be aware of this (that the Hebrew speaks of an atoning death, and the Targum finds this passages to be messianic), we are back to my plausibility argument: some Jews could easily have put 2 and 2 together here. Atoning death + messianic = messianic atoning death. Not all Jews need have made this connection. But that both elements were already in the air is all we need for a plausible connection to have been made between them. And that is precisely what I have been arguing from the beginning. Stark simply doesn’t address my actual argument from the Targum. Still. After all this time.

      I also don’t see any risking of life in the passages Stark adduces as indicating such. The messiah is uniformly triumphant and unstoppable. That leaves the ambiguity intact. It all depends on what you assume. Which depends on whether you were someone who knew the Hebrew text. Which gets us back to the point above. And around we go.

      On dating, the matter remains unclear. Was a version of this Targum attributing Isaiah 53 to the “messiah” before the Jewish war? Possibly. And that’s the point. Why would they have suddenly seen this as messianic only after the war? We can’t say that it was because in it the messiah dies–without granting my point that he does; and if he doesn’t, then why was this passage chosen to be so elaborately re-interpreted to be about the messiah?

      Judges 9:17 is not “the closest parallel to Isa 53:12” (or close at all). It says someone’s father saved someone, and risked his life to do it. And as Stark himself admits, the context makes clear that he didn’t die in that process. That is precisely the kind of context that is ambiguous in the Isaiah case, particularly when we are speaking about readers who know the Hebrew (or even Septuagint, as many a Diaspora Jew would; Paul, for example, was conversant with both).

      Stark insists that any major expert translator (I cite two of them, one of them even endorsed by the International Organization for Targumic Studies) who translates the phrase differently than he does must be wrong. That looks like special pleading to me, as I said. There are only two possibilities here. Stark is either agreeing with me that the phrase is ambiguous and these experts just chose the wrong connotation (because Moses and Aaron didn’t give their lives for Israel–unless we interpret they did, their deaths allowing God to finally let the Israelites cross into the Holy Land, since the bible says both had to die before that happened, to atone for their sins against God), which then just gets us back to what the context of the Jonathan Targum is. Or Stark is saying these experts are incompetent in Aramaic and thus did not even give us a potentially correct translation. Which seems wholly implausible to me. You can decide for yourself how much to buy into that.

      If you instead read Stark as saying the former, then he is making an irrelevant argument: I am saying the phrase apparently can mean both, and I cite these translators as evidence of that. Saying they got the context wrong is not a rebuttal to what I actually argued. What I argued is that even these experts agreed the phrase can have that meaning. Stark even quotes Chilton making my own argument: “Our point is not that Aramaic phrase unequivocally means the messiah did die, but merely that it is susceptible of the interpretation that he did so, and that therefore the Targumic rendering of Isaiah 53 should not be characterized as univocally anti-Christian (and post-Christian).” Exactly. So why are we still arguing over this?

      Everything else Stark says is irrelevant to my argument (e.g. whether the rabbis envisioned multiple messiahs or not; the fact that they debated whether Bar Kochba was the one spoken of; the fact that rabbis debated what sort of messianism was true; etc.). Some of his comments don’t even get right what I said (e.g. I never claimed b.Sanhedrin 98b mentioned a resurrected messiah, only that it shows Jews acknowledging Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, which we know is a passage about a dying man–whose death atones for sins). Or he ignores what I said (e.g. in my original article I specifically acknowledged and described the Sukkah passage as discussing two messiahs, one who dies and one who resurrects him; Stark now seems to assume I was unaware of this).

      At points this even starts to look like a game is being played on me: I say b.Sukkah 52a-b shows a dying-and-rising messiah son of Joseph, which no Jew would invent after dealing with Christianity; instead of admitting that, Stark moves the goal posts by saying this messiah isn’t here being merged with the Davidic messiah who comes after him (I never said the Jews made that step; obviously, the Christians did, having the second messiah be instead the return of the first messiah). That’s irrelevant.

      No Jews would invent a dying-and-rising messiah ben Joseph after Christians had been preaching that very thing. Stark thinks otherwise, as if the fact that the Jews changed other trivial details would make this not a vindication of Christians. Sorry, that’s not logical. If you are going to invent a dying-and-rising messiah at all (and why would you, BTW? That’s already skirting pretty close to vindicating the core premise of Christianity: that there will be a dying and rising messiah at all and that God had predicted this all along), why would you confirm that he would be a son of Joseph? The response that “Well, we mean the patriarch” would not work; Christians could use any scriptural matrix confirming any messiah ben Joseph as their messiah ben Joseph. Conversely, Christians already aware of a messiah ben Joseph tradition could symbolize that in their myths by introducing a literal Joseph as father, who is also literally a Davidid heir (thus merging both the Davidic and Josephine messiahs). Indeed, the coincidence is otherwise hard to fathom. Stark banks on luck, and explains everything away as just a coincidence. That’s called special pleading.

      He also argues (this time even against McGrath) that Jews didn’t care what Christians were preaching and thus had no concerns about inadvertently handing them a juicy support to their entire gospel. But the rabbis were always concerned about heresies and were the one group who would be intimately familiar with Christian preaching from very early on, and keen to suppress it, and certainly not to aid it. Moreover, the thesis that Jews didn’t know or care about Christian preaching, but went on, completely independently, to later “also” invent a dying-and-rising messiah-ben-Joseph ideology as if by shear coincidence, begs credulity even granting its premise.

    2. Moreover, the thesis that Jews didn’t know or care about Christian preaching, but went on, completely independently, to later “also” invent a dying-and-rising messiah-ben-Joseph ideology as if by shear coincidence, begs credulity even granting its premise.

      And again, granting the premise, it shows that it’s entirely possible to invent a dying and rising Messiah – independently – thus improving the odds that someone did indeed do that previously, and thus spawned Christianity.

      I’m not a good reader, either, but it seems to me that this guys keeps making arugments that support your hypothesis even when engaging in logical fallacies.

  7. I think it would be best not to emphasize a problematic, exact precursor to the dying Messiah. But? We can find many other, better, approximate percursors. Specifically? Both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture often lionized the ideal, of the Martyred Hero. The hero who dies for his country. (As in 2 Maccabees 7).

    Historicists like to claim – implausibly – that the crucifixion of Jesus must be historically real; because no one would invent such an implausible thing as a messiah that dies. And yet however there were plenty of similar motiffs in circulation in ANE culture, well before Jesus. Including especially – countless tales of martyred heroes. Tales of a herotic man who dies for his god and country.

    The hero who dies to save his country, was a a very, very common cultural stereotype in most cultures. And one that remains popular to this very day. And such legends were clearly were available, to feed into and help create, the legend of Jesus, the crucified savior.

    1. I think it would be best not to emphasize a problematic, exact precursor to the dying Messiah.

      Carrier didn’t do that. He has repeatedly given examples of how the notion was available before Christianity. It is others who zero in and argue against specific examples, acting as if there is only one example, and that it is Carrier’s main point, while misrepresenting what he suggested by the examples. This particular example is one brought forward because those arguing against the notion said that there may have been this sort of messiah, or that sort, but not one which has all features x, y, z…

      So, when Carrier notes that the objections are largely irrelevant, but, funny thing: There is a messiah combining these features which had currency at least among some Jews, he isn’t trying to provide an exact precursor to the Christian version of the messiah. (The nature of which is, of course, has been of much debate among Christians since inception.)

  8. the “pesher scrolls at Qumran routinely took snippets of verses out of context, with no regard to their original meaning, and made them to say what they wanted them to say for their own agenda”

    Even if that were true, wouldn’t it then mean that the Qumranians had as an agenda to push the idea of a dying and rising Messiah?

    1. If we conclude that Daniel 9:26 was referenced.

      Stark is claiming that if Daniel 9:25 was referenced, since v. 25 does not mention the Christ dying, then neither does the pesher, since (by his argument) the pesher’s author did not care what was then said in v. 26 about the Christ in v. 25.

      That makes very little sense. Not only for the reasons I articulate in the article. But also for the more obvious reading that it makes no sense of what the pesher’s author is even attempting to say. That some random messenger in Isaiah 52:7 is the same guy as a Christ in Daniel 9:25 about whom we are told nothing whatever? That makes no sense. It doesn’t communicate anything to the reader. And it doesn’t explain why the pesher’s author saw any connection between them, or why he thought that connection was even worth the bother of mentioning.

      Stark also confusingly wants this to be a guy who died centuries before the pesher was written, even though the pesher is talking about a future eschatological Day of Atonement, and not some event in the distant past. Why would the pesher’s author care about some long dead guy, who wrote nothing, and about whom almost nothing is recorded? What has that to do with the coming “Day of Atonement” that heralds the end of the world?

      Stark’s approach just makes no sense of the text at all, and makes no sense of the author’s motives or aims. My approach makes such complete sense of all of these, that Stark can only respond by claiming a massively unbelievable coincidence has occurred.

  9. Having now reread the original Dying Messiah post (it’s worrying how much I forget so easily – but at least I bought the LaCocque book immediately), I’m left with a question:

    We have from Josephus clear reports of at least three messianic pretenders, but there’s no mention of ‘our’ Jesus Christ.

    Why is none of these three identified as ‘the historical’ Jesus? They fit the description – why don’t we take Simon Peter to be a follower of one of these three?

    1. They don’t actually fit very well. They come from different dates and did different things and died different ways (and we have no sources, not even in the NT, that connect Christianity to them). Certainly one could attempt to construct a hypothesis about any one of them such that it explains the origins of Christianity, but those hypotheses don’t have much to commend them (evidentially or in any inherent plausibility or simplicity).

      It is also said that none of them was named Jesus (and none explicitly were). But that’s not as strong an argument against a connection. They may have all had that appellation at some time (being in fact the name Joshua, the original conquistador of the Holy Land, and thus an attractive name for a messianic pretender to borrow). It isn’t exclusive of other names, especially if “Jesus” was (on this theory) a messianic name and thus the one most likely to be used by devout followers but of no use to outsiders who needed to tell them apart. At any rate, none of them are explicitly called “Jesus” in Josephus (who otherwise talks about many men named Jesus).

  10. Richard, do you think there is enough evidence to show that early Christianity was a later evolution of Essene messianism? This has always seemed plausible to me but I don’t know how much of a direct influence can be shown. Or should we just conclude that the ingredients for such messianic innovation was in the air in the post-temple period when Jews were groping for different ways of religious self-redefinition? It seems to me that after the Jewish war and destruction of Jerusalem in post 70 palestine, there was a cultural vacuum for new ideas to take hold in. Ideas that would incorporate the destruction of the temple as part of God’s plan (like in the Gospels) would be a natural adaptation for some Jews to make. My sense of the Christianity portrayed in the Gospels is of a group that is trying to trump all alternative forms of Judaism and replace them with a fictional idealized messiah that is functioning to replace the other forms (temple, pharasaic, zealot, etc.)while coming to terms with Roman control (“give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, etc). To me this seems completely natural in such a peiod of national upheaval and the ancillary confusion about cultural identity. I’m not so well versed on the history here but would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

    1. Jewish sectarianism was so complex it might not be possible to answer this question. We know of at least nine sects of Essenes with slightly different beliefs, and we know that Essenes were ideologically descended from Samaritans, who were likewise divided into many different sects; and there were many other sects besides whom we know little about, like the Galileean sect, who may have shared a little or a lot in common with the Essenes. Etc.

      The most we can say is that Christianity has so many similarities to known features distinctive of the Essenes that Christianity must be an offshoot of Essenism or a sect that itself was such an offshoot, and it could be either of those by direct evolution (the first Christians were Essenes or of a sect that descended from Essenism), or by syncretism (someone exploring multiple sects and developing a new one by combining the several). That already leaves too many possibilities to make much headway.

      For example, to what extent are the first Christians actually Baptists who struck out on their own, inspired by John’s revelations of a coming messiah to have revelations of their own? And to what extend is the Baptist cult an offshoot of or influenced by Essenism? Or did Christians start out as Baptists, then join the Essenes, or vice versa, and then merge ideas from both to create their own sect? Could they have similarly been influenced by other sects besides? And so on.

      You get the idea.

      Your overall notion is sound (that Christianity was constructing a new sectarian view probably out of several ideas from several places plus some ideas of their own, and that this is what dozens of sects were doing at the time, well before the War). But the Devil is in the details.

    2. Given that Mark has a demon named Legion being routed and then humiliated by Jesus (the Gerasene demoniac, where Legion begs not to be sent “out of the land”) and that the same text is the source of the “render unto Caesar” line, I’m not sure it’s so simple to see it as a concession to Roman hegemony. I read the saying quite differently, and ultimately as not especially concerned with exhorting followers to a particular stance regarding Roman taxes, but more with showing that Jesus can’t be trapped by sophistic interrogation.

      It may be that the authors of Matthew and Luke were concerned to make some kind of peace with the fact of Roman rule, but I don’t think the author of Mark had come to terms with it at all.

    3. CJO: That’s an interesting point. IMO the name “Legion” in the Gerasene Demoniac pericope is not a reference to legions of the Roman military.. although that’s an intriguing interpretation that i hadn’t considered. but I think it’s just a way of saying a “multitude of demons” by using the analogue of an army. I don’t think the Roman forces are an intended symbolic referent here. I agree w/ MacDonald that this is kind of a hero episode that is riffing on Homer to make a point about the power of Jesus.
      As to the “render unto Caesar” stuff in Mk 12.13-17, i agree with you that it is “showing that Jesus can’t be trapped by sophistic interrogation.” But i think it is also a story of great irony since we have a messiah (who was usually predicted to be militaristic and xenophobic) outsmarting his sectarian jewish opponents by inverting the standard rebelliousness and ENCOURAGING the payment of taxes.
      Consider Mk 15.1-15 in which we have the historically improbable scenario of Pilate defering to a jewish crowd in a decision to release a violent rebel Barabbas over Jesus Christ. It even says that Pilate “realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him [Jesus Christ] over.” So you have here a pericope that strains credulity while making the Roman authorities blameless in the execution of Jesus. To me there is enough here to make the case that Jesus Christ, even in Mark, is a kind of parabolic transvaluation of the traditionally expected militant messiah into one that accomodates Roman power and excuses Roman domination. Although, I should mention that I think Richard is right in showing the other symbolic level of Mark 15. But i don’t think that level negates the significance of the favorable portrayal of Roman authority.
      One more point on this… as far as the “render unto Caesar” dispute over taxation.. we should remember that protest against Roman taxation was a major factor in fomenting the Roman jewish conflict that most scholars consider to be contemporary or prior to the writing of Mark’s Gospel. So it is extremely interesting that Jesus Christ addresses the issue the way he does considering the likely dating of the text. It seems very probable, to me anyway, that Jesus Christ of the Gospels is largely an adaptation of messianic prophesy to a world in which Roman power is something that has to be accepted. It could be an example of historical realities forcing religious reinterpretation. But, again, I do acknowldege some deeper symbolic things happening in the narrative as well.

  11. What evidence is there that the essene groups were ideologically descended from Samaritans? I thought they were a Judaean sect (and yes I know the Samaritans had a mixed ancestry) with perhaps (Zadok) a connection to the sadducees.

    1. Epiphanius, Panarion 10. See also Thordson’s Qumran and the Samaritans (1996) and Judith Sanderson’s An Exodus Scroll from Qumran: 4QpaleoExod and the Samaritan Tradition (esp. her introduction).

      (Don’t confuse ideology with geography, though. Samaritans did not only live in Samaria, and the influence of their teachers and ideas did not stop at their borders.)

  12. Richard,

    There is a reason there are so many “sects” in Essenism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, Googooism, Jingoism, Younameitism, whatever. They don’t have a living Master. “For this is the will of my Father, that every one WHO SEES the Son … [will be saved]”. -John 6:40.

    “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” – Bob Dylan

    I can show that Sant Mat teachings are the mystic basis of all the first century teachings of Palestine, and for most of Asia, for that matter. It’s really pretty simple — just not acceptable to everybody!

  13. I hope you don’t mind addressing this question as it’s a bit off topic for this thread but it’s something i’ve wanted to pick your brain about. I guess it’s tangentially related.. Anyway, do you think that the trial scenarios in the canonical gospels could be drawn from the memory of Jesus Ben Ananius? There seem to be some interesting overlapping themes between him and Jesus Christ.
    1.) Josephus says that this Jesus was a “plebeian and a husbandman” which could imply a lower class rural origin. Which is similar to how Jesus Christ is portrayed as coming from outside the major urban centers.
    2.) Jesus Ben Ananius causes a disruption in Jerusalem during a religious festival and presaged the destruciotn of the city… similar to Jesus Christ’s predictions.
    3.) He infuriates his fellow Jews and is beaten, like Jesus Christ.
    4.) Also like Jesus Christ, he is cagey when interogated by the Roman procurator.
    5.) Jesus ben Ananias is ultimately dismissed by the Roman authorities… (although in the Gospels the Romans defer to the Jews’ desire for capital punishment) But the commonality is that in both cases the Roman’s didn’t find him deserving of further action.

    Anyway, do you agree that these are valid and significant parallels? If so do you think they are strong enough to infer a causal connection? I have often thought that the Jesus Ben Ananias story would be the closest thing to a historical memory beneath the gospel accounts. But even if this is true it doesn’t detract from the mythicist thesis since the other major elements of the Jesus Christ story are so different from that of Ben Ananias. It seems to me that we could think of Jesus Christ as something like Robin Hood or King Arthur… literary composites of perhaps multiple historical figures. Although Christ would also be heavily mythical with mimetic scriptural derivations as a major formative factor. What are your thoughts on this Richard?

    1. Several mainstream scholars (e.g. Evans, Weeden, etc.) have suggested the possibility that elements of Jesus ben Ananias’ story were coopted and used to color the story of Jesus in the Gospels. But it’s unlikely he is the Jesus spoken of in Paul’s letters, because he wasn’t crucified, and lived after Paul wrote his letters. Therefore he cannot have been the founder of Christianity. But yes, it is possible a later myth of Jesus was built around the core story of ben Ananias, just re-set back in earlier times (under Pilate), and retooled in various other ways. There are even mainstream scholars who would allow that possibility, they would just say that this myth was layered on top of a historical man (the original Jesus under Pilate).

    2. I see.. yah that makes sense. That’s kinda my sense of it. i should have qualified what i said before. I also think the Jesus of Paul had nothing to do with Ben Ananias. But i meant to merely suggest the possibility that as that cosmic mystical Jesus of the epistles became historicized, there was a natural fit of the Jesus Ben Ananias story into the larger narrative that HAD TO lead to the execution of the suffering messiah figure. And so it was merely a kind of building block in constructing the fictive hagiography of Jesus Christ…which to my mind was a later evolution to the Pauline Christ… and the Pauline Christ was a later ceative synthesis of other preextant elements in the first century Jewish thought world (Essene messianism, Philo, Therepeutae, Baptist, whatever)- as we discussed before.. that’s the way it looks to me.. anyway thanks for the reply.

    3. Will wrote: “I have often thought that the Jesus Ben Ananias story would be the closest thing to a historical memory beneath the gospel accounts”.

      Consider this: The Josephan story re Jesus Ben Ananias is placed 7 years prior to the war of 70 c.e. (JbA doing his thing for 7 years and 5 months.) Is this story historical? Hardly. Once one sees that number 7 anywhere in connection with a prophetic type storyline, then the red flag should go up! Josephus even breaks up these 7 years and 5 months, mentioning that 4 years prior to the war being marked in some way. Josephus, as recent scholarship is demonstrating, was not simply a historian. Josephus was a prophetic historian – with all the uncertainty and questions that surrounds that designation.

      (check out these two books – either amazon or google view.

      Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis: Robert Karl Gnuse

      Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus: Rebecca Gray.)

      So, it’s 63 c.e. in which Josephus wants to place JbA. What is significant about that year is that it is 100 years since 37 b.c. – the year in which the last Jewish King and High Priest, Antigonus, was executed by Rome. The siege of Jerusalem in that year, by Herod the Great, causing great distress; neither the old or the young children spared. Woe, indeed to Jerusalem. It is this historical event that is being symbolized, played out in a prophetic drama re JbA. History repeats itself. Josephus likes to re-run the historical tape.

      Also, of course, 63 c.e. is where Josephus has placed his James, the brother of Jesus, called Christ,story. Again, a story that has parallels with the events of 37 b.c. I just put a small chart re this parallel on FRDB – where a very heated discussion on the James passage is going on…..

      Jesus ben Ananias is not a historical figure. We can’t take anything Josephus says as historical without collaboration from historical sources. No, I’m not knocking Josephus here – I’m endeavouring to view him as being much more than simply a historian.

      Preface to the War of the Jews, ch.1.par.6

      “….many Jews before me have composed the histories of our ancestors very exactly;……… But then, where the writers of these affairs and our prophets leave off, thence shall I take my rise, and begin my history.”

      Methinks, that if the ahistoricial/mythicist position is going to make headway – it has to embrace Josephus rather than seek to discredit him…

    4. maryhelena: That sure is interesting but i don’t know if your case for the ahistoricity of the Jesus ben Ananius account in Josephus is decisive. I wouldn’t say it is impossible but to me the significance of the numerical coincidences involved could be the result of chance just as easily as they could be the result of the model you have offered. Or they could be the causal factor for the actual historical Jesus Ben Ananius to act in such a prophetically significant way at the place and time that he did. Even if what you say is true, then it still doesn’t really diminish my point that the Ben Ananius story could very easily be a narrative building block used to create elements of the Jesus Christ story. And I don’t understand why you think that mythicists in general are trying to “discredit” Josephus by just taking his histories at face value AS HISTORIES…imperfect as they may be. To me that is not to discredit him anymore than your interpretation of his fictionalizing of history is.

      I would like to know what you think about all this Richard.. To most experts in the field, is Josephus’ historical work understood to be basically honest recollections of the actual events of the period? or do alot of scholars agree that he is heavily fictionalizing his accounts for esoteric symbolic reasons as maryhelena suggests? I have no axe to grind here but am very curious.

      1. Will:

        I would like to know what you think about all this Richard.. To most experts in the field, is Josephus’ historical work understood to be basically honest recollections of the actual events of the period? or do alot of scholars agree that he is heavily fictionalizing his accounts for esoteric symbolic reasons as maryhelena suggests? I have no axe to grind here but am very curious.

        The latest historiography on Josephus from field professionals has not been kind to him. He is more often distrusted than trusted. And their arguments, I must confess, are generally convincing.

        This does not mean they assume anything he says is false unless proven otherwise. But it means they apply a set of (admittedly unstated) criteria on any given claim before believing it, and then they might believe only some of it. For example, his Masada account is now regarded by many experts as probably 90% fiction. His tale of the woman named Mary who ate her own baby during the Jerusalem siege is likewise an example of obvious mythmaking (the story is so well constructed with allusions to the tale of Mary the sister of Moses, and is so intrinsically unbelievable, that it is improbable Josephus didn’t compose the story himself, and even more improbable the story has any truth to it at all–at most it might reflect baseless hyperbolic “rumors” that people were resorting to cannibalism in the city, which Josephus took as a cue to compose a symbolic tale about how the Jews had turned on themselves and lowered themselves to the basest moral standards). There are elements of his “pretender” (messiah) narratives that likewise suggest the possibility that something has become invented (if not the whole phenomenon), but that may be legendary or literary license taken by his source (most likely Justus of Tiberias) that Josephus just credulously repeats. Or it could be all true (the case here is not at all clear either way, illustrating that the problem is greater than just deciding “true or false”). And so on.

        As to the Jesus ben Ananias case, I haven’t surveyed the recent literature on that (since it doesn’t matter to my present work whether it’s true or not). But I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some skepticism of it. I can’t speak to the specific claims and theories being voiced here, however.

        I should note that this is the actual mainstream view of ancient historians in actual academic history departments generally: ancient historians are always to be treated with suspicion. Full stop. The idea that they are to be implicitly trusted until discredited on a specific point is a notion only held by apologists and biblical studies people, who don’t communicate with the history department across the hall. Read Michael Grant’s Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation for an example of the actual consensus trend. Biography, BTW, has come in for even worse (most ancient biography having been exploded as rampant with fabrication). Examples of the consensus trend there are Ava Chitwood’s Death by Philosophy and Mary Lefkowitz, The Lives of the Greek Poets.

        That does not, however, justify any and every claim as to what Josephus made up, or how or why.

    5. Will, Josephus is where it’s at……..

      One must not take anything in Josephus at face value. Why? Because we are not simply dealing with a historian who sometimes gets his facts mixed up – we are dealing, as modern scholarship is now indicating, with a prophetic historian. What that means is that Josephus is viewing past Jewish history through a prophetic lens – and re-telling , re-writing, that Jewish history within a prophetic frame, or time slot.

      I don’t have the two books I mentioned in an earlier post. I have been able to get quite a bit of information through google book view. Here is a bit of that:
      Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis Robert Karl Gnuse

      Josephus’ prophetic role as historian merits special attention…..In War 1.18-19 he declares that he will begin writing his history where the prophets ended theirs, so he is continuing this part of their prophetic function. According to Ap.1.29 the priests were custodians of the nation’s historical records, and in Ap.1.37 inspired prophets wrote that history. As a priest Josephus is a custodian of his people’s traditions, and by continuing that history in the Jewish War and subsequently by rewriting it in his Antiquities, he is a prophet. For Josephus prophets and historians preserve the past and predict the future, and he has picked up the mantle of creating prophetic writings. Perhaps, in his own mind he is the first since the canonical prophets to generate inspired historiography….


      Another significant person with whom Josephus identifies is Daniel, who more than any other prophet was a visionary and dream interpreter. Josephus probably assumes that he functions like Daniel, especially in regard to the skills of prophetic prediction and dream interpretation. The similarities are as follows. 1) Both were distinguished from their youth as prodigies (Daniel.1.4, Ant 10.186-189, Life 8). 2) Both were of royal descent (Daniel 1.3, Ant 10.186, Life 1-4) 3) AQ foreign ruler changed the names of both men (Daniel 1.7). 4) Both functioned as prophets for a defeated people. 5)They experienced prison at some time in their lives for their convictions or actions. 6) They were released from prison at the command of a foreign king. 7) Both men subsequently advised these kings and were rewarded for that service. (Daniel. 5:11, 29, Ant.10.237). Their manner of speaking was always bold. 8) Their enemies accused them of treason. Josephus stresses the charges against Daniel, for this increases the similarity with his own experience. (Daniel 6:4, Ant.10.212-24, 250-251, 256-261). Both were thrown into a ‘pit’. ………for Josephus it was the cave at Jotapata, for Daniel it was the lions’ den in Daniel 6……False accusations were brought against both men, who survived and were honoured by the foreign king. 11) ……


      1. I haven’t read them so I cannot comment on them further [although they are now on my reading list…my very long reading list 🙁 ], but I can vouch for the fact that Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus is a peer reviewed Brill publication by a bona fide expert, and Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine is from Oxford University Press, so definitely serious scholarship. (Though as you’ll see from the links, neither is affordable.)

        And I’ll just emphasize one distinction to make here: Josephus may have seen himself as a continuation of the Ketuvim (like Daniel and the Chronicles/Kings literature), but he was well influenced by the standards of rational historiography of his time and thus, unlike them, he used, mentions, and discusses actual sources, and distinguishes supernatural from natural causation (and never fails to provide a natural explanation for significant events, even when he also offers a supernatural one), and other things that distinguish rational historiography of the period.

        So his is more like a blend of rational and sacred history, and IMO when he fabricates, he does so more in the mimetic literary tradition of the classics, and of haggadic midrashim, rather than composing the way OT texts were, or hagiographies generally.

        This makes him more reliable than the OT; but it doesn’t make him as reliable as the best historians of his own day, much less today.

    6. Will – a few quotes re Josephus from the Rebecca Gray book.

      Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus: Rebecca Gray

      Josephus presents himself in two different, but overlapping, prophetic roles. He appears , first, as a Jeremiah-like figure, a priest who denounces sin and preaches repentance, whose message is the submission to foreign rule is God’s will, who stands fast against the delusions of false prophets and rebels, and who is concerned, above all, with preserving God’s holy temple. He claims to have been called to perform this role in a dramatic moment of revelation he which in appears, secondly, as a Daniel-type figure, an esoteric wise man who can interpret the meaning of even the most difficult dreams and omens, who understands the prophecies of the sacred books, and who knows God’s plans for kings and kingdoms’ in this portrait, too, I noted a certain priestly element. Like Daniel, Josephus was to rise to a position of prominence under a foreign ruler as a result of his prophetic gifts and would be subject to accusations from envious opponents and rivals.

      One question remains: how much of this self-portrait is true? That is, how much of Josephus’ portrayal of himself as a prophet reflects what he actually said and did and thought at the time of the events he is depicting, and how much of it is a result of later reflection and literary elaboration?

      This is, of course, an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. There is no denying that the picture we now possess of Josephus as a prophet has been refined and developed in various ways. For example, the ideas that he claims first came to him in a moment of prophetic revelation at Jotapata – that God was punishing the Jews for their sins and that fortune had gone over to the Romans – have become major interpretive themes in the War as a whole. Josephus also sometimes reinforces the prophetic claims that he makes for himself by subtle changes in his presentation of the ancient prophets. And it is probable that, with the passage of time, Josephus’ image of himself as a prophet became clearer in his own mind.

    7. ah, I see.. well maybe what maryhelena claims about Ben Ananius is right. It still seems a big question mark to me whether JbA existed or not, but i guess there is more room for doubt than i had initially assumed. I had always thought that Josephus’ histories were basically thought to be accounts of actual events along a more or less reliable time-line. At least that was the impression I had from how some scholars used him to date events of the period. But i guess it is more complicated than that. Also being a court historian for the Flavians could be the source of a strong bias in his historical renderings of the Jewish/Roman relationship. Thanks fo the info Richard and maryhelena.

      1. Just to be clear, I agree one needs to ask the question about JbA’s historicity, but what the answer will be depends on how a thorough analysis concludes. I think in general, in Josephus, any person’s historicity is prima facie more likely than not for the Roman period, thus it comes down to whether there are indications against it in any specific case. And mere literary or legendary embellishment does not negate historicity, just accuracy. So it’s not a simple matter. To save time and labor I avoid such questions when the answer doesn’t matter. But as soon as we are basing a significant conclusion on the necessity of historicity, closer examination is warranted.

  14. We know of at least nine sects of Essenes with slightly different beliefs, and we know that Essenes were ideologically descended from Samaritans

    Could you elaborate on this more, or point me in the direction of sources? I know nothing of these nine distinct groups.

    I’m perplexed, also, by the assertion of a connection to Samaritans. I read the sectarian texts from the DSS as overwhelmingly concerned with the Chosen people’s righteous remnant (the sectarians) being resident in the land chosen for them by God. This would seem to rule out an origin in Samaria, unless by exiles.

    But, further on that tangent, and in regards to

    For example, to what extent are the first Christians actually Baptists who struck out on their own, inspired by John’s revelations of a coming messiah to have revelations of their own? And to what extend is the Baptist cult an offshoot of or influenced by Essenism? Or did Christians start out as Baptists, then join the Essenes, or vice versa, and then merge ideas from both to create their own sect?

    I’ve been tinkering with an idea along these lines. We have Onias III, the last legitimate High Priest according to texts in the DSS, fleeing to Daphne by Antioch on the Orontes, which I’ve always found puzzling (was he welcomed as a supplicant and fellow priest by local elites serving as pagan priests in the richly endowed temples there?), and the Damascus document, which is not using code for “Qumran” when it says “the land of Damascus” (an idea I’ve always found tendentious in the extreme) and the later overwhelming concern with the Chosen people (remnant thereof) living righteously in the Promised Land.

    The upshot of these is the possibility that baptism in the Jordan is specifically a baptism of return to the land. I can imagine an early split in what we could call proto-Essenism, between those who stayed in Judah through the Hasmonean period and those who fled to Damascus or other parts of Syria. Returnees may have become convinced, as were the resident Essenes of Qumran et al, that to be proper heralds of the messianic age they needed to be living righteously in separatist communities in Judah proper, and that baptism in the Jordan may have been seen as a prerequisite for the successful completion of such a holy migration.

    1. For the sources on Essenes, see references above and a great deal else (several primary sources and several modern reference manuals) that I collect in The Empty Tomb, note 27, p. 201, and note 23, p. 200 (the most important of which is Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 9.18-28, which seems to have used the same source book on the Essenes as Josephus–Hipplytus explicitly describes five subsects, says these are offshoots of the usual sect, making six, and then he says there were “many” other offshoots, which entails at least three others, which makes for a minimum of nine, about most of whom we know little to nothing).

    2. Regarding hypotheses about sectarian developments, the Baptist cult, and so on, all worth exploring, but probably not provable. Most things about antiquity we just will never know for sure. But we do have to consider the range of possibilities we can’t rule out.

      That the Essenes are offshoots of Samaritans via exile, that is the view promoted by scholars, and it’s certainly possible, but I don’t think it’s necessary to assume. It’s not like exile is the only reason Samaritans left Samaria. Likewise, what mainstream Samaritans thought and taught is not necessarily going to be in every particular identical to what dissenting Samarians sects concur with, especially once they had distanced themselves from Samaria (geographically and ideologically). For example, several ancient sources identify the Zealots as an offshoot of the Essenes. For all we know they had changed their mind about the Samaritan notion that the true temple was on mount Gerizim and concluded the non-Samaritan Jews were holding the real temple in thrall, which then had to be retaken by force to reunify Palestine. Or an Essene sect still entertaining Samaritan notions was influenced by an influx of Judean converts, who then spun out their own offshoots with a hybrid Essene-Judean ideology, which in turn spawned the Zealots, who by that point could trace an ideological lineage to Samaria but would not have identified as Samaritans or with Samaritan causes. And so on.

      Hence the importance of not confusing ideology with geography.

  15. Is it just me or is it incredibly weird to have arguments in favor of a historical Jesus hinging on the apparent insistence that his life and death (and supposed return to life) were *not* accurately foretold by the Hebrew scriptures?

    1. I think the word you are looking for is “ironic.”

      Yes, amusingly, admitting that the scriptures can easily be read as predicting a dying-and-rising messiah is seen by many scholars (especially Jewish, secular, and apostate scholars) as throwing too big of a bone to modern Christians, as if it concedes that their entire religion is true and God really did arrange for Jesus to die and really did abandon the Jews for having rejected their messiah (yadayada). The conclusion is a non sequitur (even if the scriptures can easily be read as predicting a dying-and-rising messiah, that in no way even implies that Christianity is true, any more than the fact that the scriptures predict that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem confirms that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem). Nevertheless, scholars are so scared of this non sequitur that they will drown their own grandmothers to avoid admitting the premise. Even though the premise actually makes the truth of Christianity less probable, by providing a very obvious secular explanation of how it arose.

    2. Interesting. This almost makes it seem as if maybe there’s an attitude amongst the secular pro-historicity folks that a historical but non-supernatural Jesus is a stronger (or at least easier to argue) refutation of Christianity than a non-existent Jesus, therefore the latter argument shouldn’t be made at all.

      Also, am I misunderstanding something, or is it true that the guy you’re arguing with in the main post above is a Christian of some sort? It makes me wonder how he squares his theology with his historicity argument.

    3. This almost makes it seem as if maybe there’s an attitude amongst the secular pro-historicity folks that a historical but non-supernatural Jesus is a stronger (or at least easier to argue) refutation of Christianity than a non-existent Jesus, therefore the latter argument shouldn’t be made at all.

      That’s some of it, yes (although I think just as much or more is institutional inertia, and status and ego defense).

      And it’s true: an argument that concedes as much as possible to one’s opponent and yet still succeeds is an argument a fortiori and thus rhetorically stronger. But there is a difference between rhetoric and truth.

      Ironically, Ehrman thinks mythicists argue for mythicism because it is a stronger argument against Christianity (no Jesus, no Christianity), when in fact it’s the other way around (it’s harder to establish there was no Jesus, and impossible to establish it with any considerable certainty; therefore, weaker premise, weaker conclusion).

      Whereas I can establish with more than considerable certainty that even if Jesus existed he was neither divine nor miraculous nor risen from the dead (e.g. as I do in chapter 2 of The End of Christianity). Thus the non-existence of Jesus is wholly unnecessary and because of its relative uncertainty adds little to any argument against Christianity.

      Logically, then, it shouldn’t matter. Having a strong argument against x, and adding a weak argument against x, should not lower the probability that x is false. To the contrary, it should even raise it by a small amount (since even a weak argument, unless it is a wholly ineffectual argument, adds some small probability to the conclusion). But human brains are built illogically. They intuitively treat the adding of weak arguments to strong arguments as reducing the strength of the strong argument. This is a scientifically proven standard cognitive error (discussed by Tarico and Long in their two chapters in The Christian Delusion).

      Also, am I misunderstanding something, or is it true that the guy you’re arguing with in the main post above is a Christian of some sort? It makes me wonder how he squares his theology with his historicity argument.

      I make no assumptions about Thom Stark’s current religious beliefs. They shouldn’t matter. He hasn’t relied on any religious faith claims in this debate, so he is arguing from a secular position in any case.

      1. Richard,

        Here’s the deal, whether you believe it or not: There ARE Masters, but whoever taught the teachings attributed to “Jesus” in the Bible, although he definitely WAS a Master (he taught Yoga in Matt. 6:22 and John 3:8 — Surat Shabd Yoga, to be precise) it doesn’t matter to us NOW. This person correctly taught those of his time in John 6:40 and 9:4 (with the correct Codex Sinaiticus reading “sent US” not “sent me”) that only living Masters can save: “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who SEES the Son and believes [will be saved]”. Masters do exist, and they do “save” to eternal life, but they need to be living at the time of the saved.
        God realization is why we were ‘born’. The world is never without a Master. You can meet one.

    4. I make no assumptions about Thom Stark’s current religious beliefs. They shouldn’t matter. He hasn’t relied on any religious faith claims in this debate, so he is arguing from a secular position in any case.

      Oh, I agree absolutely that it shouldn’t matter in the sense of who’s right. It’s just very… peculiar. I am very much not a historian, so I can’t always follow or evaluate all of the details of these arguments. So perhaps I’m too easily entertained by these little oddities in the overall structure of the discussion.

    5. (Also, I forgot to mention, your point about the cognitive error that arises in these kind of situations is very interesting. I hadn’t heard that one mentioned specifically before, so thanks for the info.)

  16. You’ve written before that you think the most likely scenario is that the early Christians thought that Jesus was crucified in outer space.

    Reading through what Ehrman calls the undisputed letters of Paul, I’m persuaded that the mythicist case seems more likely. But I’m not sure about the outer space bit. Some of the things that Paul says about Jesus seem at least prima facie to imply Jesus was on earth: descendant of David according to the flesh, born of a woman, breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper, crucified, buried.

    So my questions are:

    1. How much more likely do you think it that the early Christians thought Jesus was crucified in outer space than on earth; and why?

    2. Don’t you think that mythicism is still stronger than historicism even if the early Christians thought Jesus lived and was crucified on earth?


    1. Some of the things that Paul says about Jesus seem at least prima facie to imply Jesus was on earth: descendant of David according to the flesh, born of a woman, breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper, crucified, buried.

      Prima facie, yes. Secunda facie, not so much. Jesus could be created out of the seed of David in heaven by God (or rather, his body of flesh is so formed), be crucified and buried in heaven by demons, and be born of a woman spiritually/allegorically, not literally (as Paul pretty much implies in Galatians 4). Note that Paul never says Jesus is a descendant of David; never names his father or mother or explains how he knows Jesus’ ancestry or why he needs to actually say a man was born of a woman (how else would Jesus have been born?); and never says who crucified and buried him or where. Also, Paul only knows of the “last supper” by revelation. Just as an outer-space Jesus and his angelic minions can walk on roads, handle books and tools, and write things down in heaven, so they can break bread and drink wine there. So we’re left with ambiguity in all these cases. We need other evidence to tip the scales in favor of one interpretation over another.

      1. How much more likely do you think it that the early Christians thought Jesus was crucified in outer space than on earth; and why?

      My preliminary guess was 4:1 odds (meaning a 1 in 5 chance it was “on earth”), but that may change. I am trying to develop as accurate an a fortiori estimate as possible, and won’t have settled on a figure until I write the last chapter of On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. I can confirm that the evidence (altogether, as a whole) does weigh in favor of “outer space,” the only question is how much in favor.

      2. Don’t you think that mythicism is still stronger than historicism even if the early Christians thought Jesus lived and was crucified on earth?

      No. If by “early Christians” you mean “first Christians” (e.g. from Peter to Paul). If Peter and Paul thought Jesus lived and was crucified on earth, there are no mythicist theories that have sufficient probability to be considered (which is not to say they are all impossible, only that even the best of them are less likely to be true than some minimal historicist theory).

  17. He is a substitutionary sacrifice (Is. 53:8), his “soul [i.e. life] is an offering for sin” (Is. 53:10), God is “satisfied” by this death and it is this death that “justifies” many because the killed servant “bears their sins” (Is. 53:11) even though himself innocent (Is. 53:9) and thus by his death he “made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:12).



    You’re wrong on all four of these, and Isaiah 52 also. Verse 53:8 says his generation considered him cut off and stricken for the transgressions of “my” people. Nothing about atonement thereby. 9 says he died. So what? 10 says he made HIMSELF — his SOUL — an offering. 11 says his KNOWLEDGE saved, and 12 says he “YET” bore the sins of many, AFTER it says he poured out his soul to death.

    Are you sure you aren’t CHRISTIAN? You make the same sweeping ASSUMPTIONS that they make!

    There is NOTHING in Isaiah ANYWHERE or in Christ’s words, either, that ties his DEATH to atonement. NOTHING. His KNOWLEDGE atones, not his sacrifice. He may be stricken for the transgressions, but it does NOT atone, Richard. That’s the Pauline LIE. Qumran’s community called him the Liar for “building a Worthless City ON BLOOD.” (Hab. Pesher)

    1. Isaiah 53 repeatedly says his death atones for sins. You are just crazy, Bob. Please stop selling the crazy.

      53:5 He was wounded for our sins, he was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are cured.

      53:10 It satisfied Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.

      53:11 God shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge the righteous one, my servant, shall make many to be accounted righteous; he shall bear their sins.

      53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the sinners.

  18. Dear Dr Carrier,
    I will be brief. I have read a number of your books have have just purchased PH.

    The simple question which I would love a writer/scholar as yourself to address to an educated lay reader is why the silence? By this I mean the silence with the apostles of Jesus not writing a word about their “resurrected saviour” – that alone would have them shaken enough to write – but nothing – the gospels as we know them have their origin not in Jerusalem but elsewhere written by unknowns – and this silence continued when Paul the first person to put something to paper – from Paul’s letters and Acts we know that there were significant conflicts between Paul and the Jesus-dynasty (led oddly not by Peter but Jesus’ brother James) – and again the silence – nothing – no correspondence – no gospel – a great silence – further Paul himself – the silence within his epistles – a silence about Jesus – he never quotes him – even when he is defending a position against the hatred “circumcision group” – in fact through Paul we don’t have a Jesus but a reified abstract of his own making (he declares more than once that he received his gospel from his visionary Christ and not from any earthly person)

    Now it’s not as if Jesus’ earthly missionary was only with “12” introverts – the number is much greater – we know this internally from within the gospels and we have from Paul that Jesus now Christ famously appeared to as many as “500” – and yet nobody from what would be a significant sample group bothered to pen something – the great silence – I have read many books on the development of early Christianity but they seem to not address/tackle this question in depth – at least for me – for example – Ehrman or Dale Allison in his latest book “Constructing Jesus”

    1. This is a complex issue that I will deal with in my next book, but in general you are right. It’s very strange. We can explain why a revealed Jesus would be written very little about (it was a missionary “secret,” or public announcement about a secret, that was communicated orally in public and in private). But when an actual man existed about whom one would have so many memories to explore and record and debate, among hundreds of people (since followers would not be the only ones engaged in that “what actually happened” debate), it becomes a lot harder to explain why no one wrote anything like that (or, if they did, why no one referred to or preserved any of it). The excuses offered are classic fallacies of special pleading. But that’s just where the debate begins, not where it ends. And it’s not as if such silence is impossible on historicity. It thus becomes a debate over relative probabilities.

    2. Why do you resort to ridicule, Richard, just because what I say is at odds with what you say? Why don’t you try addressing the issue instead? It says nothing in Isaiah or anywhere else in the Bible (except Pauline corruptions) about any savior dying for somebody’s salvation! But Isaiah 53:11 DOES clearly say that KNOWLEDGE saves (justifies, atones, same thing).

      James was “wounded for our sin” because he wouldn’t disavow his master to the crowd (Hegesippus, via Eusebius). That was their “sin”. But they weren’t atoned by his wounding!!! I do my homework. You don’t do your point of view justice by ad hominem attacks.

      1. Bob Wahler: Why don’t you try addressing the issue instead? It says nothing in Isaiah or anywhere else in the Bible (except Pauline corruptions) about any savior dying for somebody’s salvation!

        Isaiah 53 says someone will die to atone for the sins of the people. That is the issue. I did address it. Insofar as you deny the evidence exists, you are just selling crazy.

        The rest is just wild speculation built on premises constructed out of guesswork and fantasy. Holding a belief with irrational certainty, out of all proportion to the evidence, is delusional behavior. We’re not interested in any of that here.

        1. Richard,

          “Isaiah 53 says someone will die to atone for the sins of the people. That is the issue. I did address it.”

          53:10 It satisfied Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.

          If this is it, I’m not the delusional one. This is the best you can provide, isn’t it? Well it does NOT say “someone will die to atone”. Sorry, that’s not how Masters work. Like I told you, I have one.

          It says his SOUL is the offering, not the death of it, just like Mark 10:45 says his ‘Life’ is given. He gives his soul to the disciple to appease — to “atone” — Yaldabaoth, or Lord God, the Demiurge. There’s a BIG difference between injuring, and death. How is he going to prolong his days if he’s DEAD? See his seed? Pleasure Jehovah? One is lightening the disciples’ karmic load by assuming it from the disciple, the other is the “offering” as atonement of the Spirit of God, or the Word, which is the Master, Richard. THERE IS NO DEATH HERE in Isaiah 53:10.

          Only by studying the teachings of a Master will one understand other Master’s teachings. You just speculate and put others down because you don’t understand them. You can do that for eternity and never understand the Masters.

  19. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 9.18-28, which seems to have used the same source book on the Essenes as Josephus

    I’d say rather that he appears to have used Josephus as a source book, and had probably also read Pliny on the Essenes. It seems confused to me. The DSS do not call for asceticism, for instance, or the holding of property in common (in the manner that Hippolytus describes), and there is nowhere an exhortation to celibacy or a prohibition of normal marriage and procreation. In fact I believe such would have been utterly blasphemous to practically any devout Jew in the 2nd Temple period. “Be fruitful and multiply” wasn’t a friendly suggestion, it was a solemn duty, a responsibility inherent in being God’s chosen stewards of his holy land.

    Certainly there in Book 9 (I just gave it a quick read on the Early Christian Writings site), he doesn’t say anything about the Pharisees and the Sadducees that didn’t apparently come from Josephus.

    And the problems I have with Pliny and Josephus on these matters are: Pliny had no interest in the intricacies of Jewish religious practice, but was concerned to reveal the curiosities and wonders found among the diverse peoples of the world and their strange customs; and Josephus had no interest in accurately portraying the intricacies of Jewish religious practice or the real parameters of disagreement between the sects to his Roman audience. The business about the dispute between Pharisees and Saduccees on fate and predestination, in particular, looks like classic misdirection to me, a Jew framing an at best secondary debate in terms that a Greek would understand, without even touching on the real issues that separarted the two groups, a long history that Josephus must have known. (The reason he doesn’t want to get into it being that he’s at least partly writing an apologia for Judaism, and the real internal conflicts all had to do in some way with the proper or acceptable negotiated terms with Hellenization historically and Roman military hegemony as its present manifestation. That sort of thing would just read as “fractious rebels” to an educated Roman, already predisposed to such a view by recent events, and that’s the opposite of how J wants to portray his people.)

    Short version: how much trust do you think we should put in Hippolytus here?

    1. No, Hippolytus has way more information, and more precise information, about the Essenes than is in either Pliny or Josephus, so he must have been using a third source. Whether Pliny used that same source can’t be determined, because what he says is so little and so basic, but Josephus says some things that are peculiarly similar to what’s in Hippolytus, too much so to be a coincidence, and since Josephus can’t have been using Hippolytus, and Hippolytus clearly was using some more extensive source than Josephus, the only remaining conclusion is that there was some other book they both used that went into considerable detail on Jewish sects (or at least the Essene sect, but I suspect it was a more extensive work on Jewish sects generally, since there would be less reason for an objective, analytical treatment of just Essene sectarianism), and that source predated Josephus (and probably the Jewish War). It’s possible this lost text is actually a lost work of Josephus on Jewish sects, but that would be pure speculation.

      As to the rest, if you read Hippolytus and Josephus you’d know not all Essene sects prohibited marriage, and that many Essene sects disagreed with each other on many other points, so we cannot conclude the Dead Sea sect was non-Essene simply because it disagreed with, or its scrolls do not confirm, specific “mainstream” Essene beliefs. This is one of the vexing problems with figuring out these sorts of facts to begin with (hence my original skepticism on the point of which sects influenced whom–we often simply can’t know for sure). Likewise, we must reject all arguments of the form “sectarian view x would have been blasphemous to Jews and thus never entertained,” because we have too many counter-instances (e.g. Jewish angel worship, Jewish sorcery, etc.). One man’s blasphemy was another man’s holy truth, even within Judaism. Jewish sectarian thinking was wildly diverse and contentious. See The Empty Tomb, pp. 107-110 and sources and scholarship cited there for a run-down.

  20. Isaiah 53 repeatedly says his death atones for sins. You are just crazy, Bob. Please stop selling the crazy.

    53:5 He was wounded for our sins, he was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are cured.

    53:10 It satisfied Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.

    53:11 God shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge the righteous one, my servant, shall make many to be accounted righteous; he shall bear their sins.

    53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the sinners.


    Please read what you posted again. There is not a single word in any of the cites you gave about anyone dying to atone for sin. Maybe someone being abused or wounded, as masters do sometimes assume some of their karmas upon themselves physically, but no one is here DYING to save people. It is “KNOWLEDGE” in 53:11 saving people. The closest you get to dying is “he poured out his soul to death”, but neither is this about atoning for sin by dying. All this says is that ‘he’ devoted his life to others without reservation. It can, and should, be read other than as dying to save people. YOU read it as death atonement, just like I’m sure read Mark 10:45 (“gives his Life as ransom for many [not ‘all’]” as death atonement, which it ISN’T. It is KNOWLEDGE or ‘Life’ that saves, or atones — not anyone’s dying. That knowledge is ‘Word’, or ‘Gnosis’.

    I HAVE a Master so I don’t need to guess about this stuff. You do need to speculate, unfortunately. Stop calling people crazy who happen to know better than you do about these matters.

  21. Richard,

    Maybe this will help you understand this. You’re right in one sense about Masters giving themselves unto death to save. But it isn’t their dying that saves, it is their making themselves SUBJECT to death. Their Life or “Psuchen” saves, but to GIVE IT to others they have to incarnate, making themselves subject to physical death. But for them, death is pure liberation, not sacrifice. It is only a sacrifice for us, because we are ATTACHED to physical life. The ‘real’ world is beyond the physical world. That is home for the masters (Zaddiks, Saints, Holy Ones, whatever). They want to “die” like we want to live.

  22. Thanks for the reply above.

    You wrote: “Just as an outer-space Jesus and his angelic minions can walk on roads, handle books and tools, and write things down in heaven, so they can break bread and drink wine there.”

    Are you referring here to the action and imagery in the Revelations of John? Or to something else? If you could point me to evidence of a general belief in such things in the heavens as roads, books, tools, bread (and wheat growing? and ovens baking?), and wine (and grapes growing?), and trees (since Paul says Jesus was hung on a tree, or a cross made from a tree), and nails (since Paul says Jesus was crucified) and some kind of dirt you can bury someone in or under, then that would answer my doubts about the deeds of Jesus being thought by the first Christians to have occurred in outer space.

    You also wrote:
    “If Peter and Paul thought Jesus lived and was crucified on earth, there are no mythicist theories that have sufficient probability to be considered (which is not to say they are all impossible, only that even the best of them are less likely to be true than some minimal historicist theory).”

    I don’t see why this is true. Why isn’t it still more likely that Peter and Paul, through scriptural interpretation and revelation alone, came to believe that Christ was crucified on earth? Than that Jesus was an actual historical person? Analogy: that Greeks thought Hercules did his miraculous deeds on earth (and not in outer space) doesn’t thereby make historicism about Hercules more likely than mythicism about Hercules. Right? Likewise with Jesus.

    Keep in mind that from a mere belief that Jesus was crucified on earth it would not follow that Peter or Paul or any other of the first Christians thought that they had met or seen Jesus while he was on earth.

    1. There are loads of “heavenly tour” stories in antiquity that document what people thought was up there, not just Revelation. And the book of Hebrews is explicit about there being lots of stuff up there (9:22-24), and Paul visits a garden in heaven (Paradise, i.e. Eden, was located in the third heaven: 2 Cor. 12:2-4). The Jewish Life of Adam reports that Adam’s body was taken up and buried there (in the Paradise located in the third heaven, hence obviously there is dirt there, as well as plants, etc.). Other texts report that there are all kinds of castles and thrones and roads in the various levels of heaven (the Talmud describes various examples, as does the Ascension of Isaiah, and so on).

      Why isn’t it still more likely that Peter and Paul, through scriptural interpretation and revelation alone, came to believe that Christ was crucified on earth? Than that Jesus was an actual historical person? Analogy: that Greeks thought Hercules did his miraculous deeds on earth (and not in outer space) doesn’t thereby make historicism about Hercules more likely than mythicism about Hercules. Right? Likewise with Jesus. Keep in mind that from a mere belief that Jesus was crucified on earth it would not follow that Peter or Paul or any other of the first Christians thought that they had met or seen Jesus while he was on earth.

      This would require adopting the view that they (Peter and Paul) believed Jesus had lived in some generation before theirs (otherwise they, and everyone they tried to evangelize locally, would know there was no actual Jesus around). That is possible (we have evidence that some Christians did indeed believe that), but then maybe there was an actual historical Jesus who lived and died in some generation before theirs. It gets increasingly difficult to maintain mythicism over its then-corresponding historicity counterpart. For example, it seems unlikely that Peter and Paul were having revelations from a guy they thought had died dozens of years before their time. The delay would beg explanation and be a component of their theology. We see no signs of that. Instead, Jesus “appears” to them without significant delay after his believed death (1 Cor. 15:3-8…notice how Paul acknowledges a delay between the last visions and his, but not any other delay in the sequence). And so on.

      Now, maybe in future someone can marshal the evidence and come up with a strong case for mythicism on some such theory. I just see no likely prospect of that right now. As the evidence looks to me now, historicity would always be more probable than that.

  23. we must reject all arguments of the form “sectarian view x would have been blasphemous to Jews and thus never entertained,” because we have too many counter-instances (e.g. Jewish angel worship, Jewish sorcery, etc.). One man’s blasphemy was another man’s holy truth, even within Judaism.

    Yeah, I dig it. But it seems to me we can say something about whether this group or that group would be more or less likely to hold certain beliefs based on their other, better understood or more certain beliefs. So Essenes, hyper-observant Jews with a belief system founded on maintaining a separatist presence in the holy land, strike me as unlikely to have forbidden traditional marriage for the purposes of procreation. Keeping the holy land populated with those who, for them, were the only true party to the covenant would seem to be an ineluctable obligation. So I’m not trying to say celibacy couldn’t have been practiced by any sect claiming Jewishness, just that it would be especially unlikely for certain sects to be celibate.

    But I’m pretty far off topic by now. Thanks for pointing me to Hippolytus; I had forgotten that he had so much to say about the Essenes.

    1. The first problem with “it’s unlikely that” arguments is the fallacy of multiple comparisons. If there is a 1 in 20 chance that a sect would adopt weird belief x, and there are 20 sects, then the odds are actually around 2 in 3 that there will be a sect that adopted x.

      The second problem with “it’s unlikely that” arguments is that they tend too often to rely on the fallacious inference “a fringe sect will have believed x because a mainstream sect believed x,” when by definition a fringe sect rejects mainstream sectarian views.

      The third roblem with “it’s unlikely that” arguments is that they tend to overstate what can actually be known or draw faulty inferences from what is known. For example, you say “Essenes” were “hyper-observant Jews with a belief system founded on maintaining a separatist presence in the holy land,” but that is not established. You cannot say this is true of all nine+ sects of Essenes. And even establishing that it is wholly true of even one of them is not as easy as you think: e.g., a cult that thinks God is going to melt the earth any moment now is not going to care very much about procreation.

      I’m reminded of Thunderf00t’s rebuttal to William Lane Craig style “deductive arguments,” showing that they don’t work if the premises are applied where we don’t know they are true, e.g. “anything pushed goes faster, therefore an object traveling at the speed of light that is pushed will go faster,” looks sound, except that it’s false. Likewise, “hyper-observant Jews with a belief system founded on maintaining a separatist presence in the holy land will want to procreate” is false if they expect to “maintain a separatist presence in the holy land” in immortal bodies soon to be provided them by God.

      Conversely, a sect that deemed sex so sinful and abominable that it would be abolished in the future world, and believed in remaining as absolutely pure from sin as possible so as to ensure they will live in that future world, would (it seems to me) lean toward promoting celibacy (hence Jesus himself is depicted as even recommending full on castration). That doesn’t follow necessarily (since we don’t know for sure if both premises held true for any given sect, or that the connection between them was made), but the point is that it’s as sensible, if not more so, than the converse argument you propose (especially after one of the premises of the converse argument is shown to be false, as just done above).

      This isn’t just a specific point, but a general lesson in the dangers of hasty logic. Many a historian is guilty of this.

    1. As he is doing to me from time to time. But this time he makes some good and clear points. I will be making some well-warranted revisions to my article, and produce a specific reply, here next week.

  24. BTW, Stark also negated your comments on his first post that you posted above in reply to me. He replied in the comment section of Part 1.

  25. Richard, in your reply above to Neunder, you say that if Peter or Paul really believed in a historical Jesus, this weighs heavily against mythicism. I can see two difficulties with this claim. The first and minor objection is that, obviously, it’s possible for people to believe things that are wrong, but the second and I think more telling objection is that we don’t have what Peter and Paul believed, we only have what they wrote to other people, and people do often lie, especially where religion is involved. Otherwise we’re left with the Joseph Smith problem – the documents we have from him certainly have him saying a bunch of stuff about angels and tablets, but do we really believe he was being honest about that?

    1. That’s all true, but “possible” is not “probable” (see Proving History, pp. 26-29). I was asked about probability, and answered in kind. What’s possible is irrelevant to that. The evidence as a whole does not lend itself well to a “great lie” hypothesis. The analogy is also not wholly apt (a crucified and buried Jesus is not at all like a gold tablet that could be hidden in a hat). And insofar as it can be stretched, we’re back to advocating for the improbable. Over which the probable will always prevail.

  26. Thanks for the references to the “heavenly tours.” I’ll take a look.

    Against Peter and Paul believing Jesus was crucified on earth, you wrote:

    “This would require adopting the view that they (Peter and Paul) believed Jesus had lived in some generation before theirs (otherwise they, and everyone they tried to evangelize locally, would know there was no actual Jesus around)….it seems unlikely that Peter and Paul were having revelations from a guy they thought had died dozens of years before their time. The delay would beg explanation and be a component of their theology. We see no signs of that.”

    Your objection here seems to assume that if Peter and Paul believed Christ was crucified on earth, then they had to believe it happened locally. But that doesn’t follow. They could have believed it happened on earth, but not know specifically where it happened. Just as, I presume, on the outer space view, they could have believed it happened somewhere in outer space, yet not be able to specify precisely where in outer space it occurred.

    Your objection also seems to assume that they could not have believed Christ was crucified locally (somewhere in Palestine?), because then they and the locals would have known there had been no such person as Jesus. But this doesn’t seem to necessarily follow either. They could have believed that Christ on earth was incarnated as some no account slave or dreg that no one noticed in life or in death. And isn’t there some basis for that idea in Isaiah 53:2-3, and also Philippians 2:7-8?

    You also wrote:

    “It gets increasingly difficult to maintain mythicism over its then-corresponding historicity counterpart….As the evidence looks to me now, historicity would always be more probable than that.”

    But if I recall correctly, in another thread, you cited Stephen Law’s article on the (non)existence of Jesus with approval. But if Law is right in what he says there, then the miraculous elements (e.g. rising from the dead) of the Jesus story make mythicism more probable than historicism, even if the first Christians believed Jesus had been on earth.

    By the way, I thank you for your time and replies. They’re truly appreciated!

    1. Neunder:

      Your objection here seems to assume that if Peter and Paul believed Christ was crucified on earth, then they had to believe it happened locally. But that doesn’t follow. They could have believed it happened on earth, but not know specifically where it happened.

      And so the theory gets more elaborate and bizarre–and thus more improbable. Imagine these guys going around saying a man named Jesus was descended from royalty and crucified recently but they don’t know where, or that they know but it’s some obscure place that they’d never been to and have never talked to anyone who was there and saw any of this and have never met anyone who saw this or even knew the man, and it never occurred to them to check into it. The improbabilities stack on top of improbabilities the more you try to get this theory to make even an ounce of sense. So, no, I don’t think there is any plausibility to be had down that route.

      you cited Stephen Law’s article on the (non)existence of Jesus with approval.

      Law doesn’t argue for the non-existence of Jesus, he only argues against one common argument for the historicity of Jesus. In fact he only argues for the validity of a single principle, the principle of contamination, which rules out the Gospels (and the Gospels alone) as reliable evidence for historicity. If indeed all we had were the Gospels, then the principle he develops there would indeed make mythicism (of some form–not necessarily the form you are talking about) more probable than historicity. But we don’t just have the Gospels. We have the Epistles and the extra-Biblical evidence (which Law does not address, and he is clear on this point). The latter can be dismissed by a separate argument (that they are not independent of the Gospels, even if by intermediaries), which leaves the former, and that is where the debate centers. A debate that Law’s contamination principle doesn’t apply to.

      It seems perhaps you are confusing a coupld of things here. Logically, consider M as representing “some” mythicist theory, MOS for “outerspace” mythicism and MOE for “contemporary earth” mythicism, and H for “the most probable” theory of historicity: any argument x that makes M more likely than H does not thereby make MOE more likely than H. It might only succeed in making MOS more likely than H. In other words, arguing that M is more likely than H simply doesn’t transitively entail MOE is more likely than H. Thus, Law’s contamination principle couldn’t do that, even in principle. Moreover, Law’s argument from the Gospels only applies if the Gospels are the lone evidence, and indeed were that the case, the Gospels would be compatible with MOE, since they are long removed from the “when and where” of the Jesus figure’s death. But we have the Epistles, which tell us things that are very incompatible with MOE (they are not long removed), so the only M that remains plausibly more probable than H is MOS. And Law is aware of the fact that maybe there are other arguments not dependent on the Gospels. This is one of them. Law also makes no assertions about which M is most likely.

  27. and his death will “make many to be accounted righteous” because “he shall bear their iniquities” and thus Jehovah “will be satisfied.”

    You, Richard, are a liar. It does NOT say this in Isaiah. It says “KNOWLEDGE” made many accounted righteous. His “grief” was his dying.

    1. Knowledge of his death. The prophecy is explicit: God “makes his life an offering for sin” (53:10). And so on (the many verses together only amplify the point, as I listed above).

  28. To: Richard Carrier

    Here is a suggestion that may seem to be somewhat off-topic, but which is in fact directly related to the substance of your discussion of the Messiah in this post.

    You could consider some time to give us your comprehensive review about the differences between the theories of G. A. Wells (Jesus as a personified version of the Jewish Wisdom come to earth and crucified in a distant past) versus Earl Doherty (the whole Jesus story presented by Paul as taking place in a supernatural heaven, where the required aspects of the natural material world are strangely duplicated).
    With the side mention of Well’s variation in Ellegard’s own theory.

    Invoking “Platonism” as a justification of this heavenly world duplicating the natural world may be an unjustified violence made to the original Plato.

    “Ideas” were initially presented as models the mind conceives to make abstractions of objective things and objects, best evidenced in names of objects, and geometrical and mathematical concepts. There may be ideas for the body and body parts, but were there “ideas” of subjective perceptions or impressions, such as colors, sounds, pains?

    Plato’s original theory did not imply that the physical world as a whole was “copied” and duplicated in a mystical, heavenly world. This was a stretch of the initial theory that became a piece of mental legerdemain used by theologians to project images of a natural world into an imaginary heavenly world.

    The duality and tension between “in the flesh” and “spiritual” pervades all the aspects of the arguments concocted by the early Christian writers.

    G. A. Wells was strongly influenced by Arthur Drews, and it would be worth including references to Drews’s “The Witness of Paul” ( especially 1.—The Proofs of the Historicity of Jesus in Paul; 2.—Paul no Witness to the Historicity of Jesus; 3.—The Question of Genuineness (of the Epistles). And similar ideas in “The Witness of the Gospels”.
    Those passages are to be found in “The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus (1912)” by Arthur Drews, translated by Joseph McCabe.
    They are available online at,

    This text has the advantages of laying out, in clear and direct language, the key topics of the debate between “historicists” and “deniers of Jesus historicity”.

    A theme Arthur Drews came back to later with “The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present” (1926), which was a parallel, on the mythicist side, to Albert Schweitzer’s “Quest for the Historical Jesus” (1906) for the historicist side

    1. I cannot waste time comparing different theories by different theorists. That’s doing historiography, not history. I am only interested in the most defensible theory. That will be neither the precise theory of Doherty nor Wells, although Doherty’s theory is closer. The work it takes to develop and vet and describe and test the most defensible theory is more than enough. I am not going to add to it the useless venture of comparing theories I don’t think are the most defensible. Others can undertake that task if they wish. I have bigger fish to fry.

      As to the “Plato didn’t say that” point, that is moot. It doesn’t matter what Plato said. What matters is what his Hellenistic interpreters thought he said, or how they adapted what he said to what they themselves believed. And that requires examining Hellenistic texts, not Plato’s texts, especially religious texts, not philosophical ones, since the arena of ideas that is relevant is not ancient academic philosophy, but “pop science,” i.e. how ordinary people and religious fanatics used and adapted the ideas promulgated by academic philosophy. They will have transformed those ideas into forms the philosophers themselves might find unrecognizable, but alas, that is the fate of every good idea in the hands of the pious.

  29. To: Richard Carrier

    Your post, and its many comments, which essentially concern the debate about the historicity of the Messiah Jesus, illustrate the huge problem encountered by any newcomer interested in biblical studies and the origins of Christianity.
    Most students are not experts, and they try to develop a framework of the debate on which to hang the various concepts and points developed in the modern literature.

    From the very onset, the neophyte is going to be confronted with an army of names of scholars and would-be scholars — all engaged in a gigantic debate of a multitude of points —and swamped by the avalanche of argumentation on extremely fine aspects of the subject. And this complexity is not clarified by the various blogs focusing on the same topics. On the contrary, the forest seems to dissolve, not because of the trees, but because of the blades of grass each thoroughly examined in the process.

    The key topics of the overall debate have become so immensely detailed and belabored by the succeeding waves of biblical scholars (all supported by the multiplicity of universities, religious denominations, commercial media) and their commenters that a modern reader may totally lose his way in the complexity of the controversy.
    With arguments finely polished by a growing army of scholars, — and here comes a simple list at random of a few key modern names, without going too far back, just to illuminate the dense jungle awaiting the interested reader — including, besides yourself, the likes of:

    Robert Price, Bart Ehrmann, Earl Doherty, Hermann Detering, Rudolf Bultmann, key apologists of our time (such as James Dunn, John P. Meier, John Spong, E. P. Sanders, Bruce Metzger, Helmut Koester, Robert van Voorst, etc…), Herbert Cutner, Gerd Ludemann, Geza Vermes, Joseph Klausner, Samuel Brandon, Hyam Maccoby, Randel Helms, Dennis MacDonald, Joseph Hoffmann, Robert Eisenman, Georg Brandes, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Hellen Ellerbe, April Deconick, Daphne Hampson, John Allegro, Mark Goodacre, Michael Martin, Thomas Thompson, Rene Salm, etc…etc..

    How to make sense of the heated and acrimonious discussions between all these scholars, how to combat the anxiety about losing one’s way and falling into a rabbit hole, how to develop a sense of sanity and the outline of the overall landscape of the field — that is extraordinarily difficult when we are confronted with the legions of biblical studies in our modern times. How can we go back to the picture of the forest beyond the infinity of trees and grass blades?

    Which is why there’s a huge advantage in returning to the classics of the early 20th century, especially for the newcomer to this debate who is not yet an expert. Because the main lines of the major topics and problems were more clearly and more directly described, inventoried, and analyzed.
    These classics of biblical studies do provide a framework and an overall outline to students, allowing them to come back to the foray of contemporary hagglings and disputations without losing the overall thread of the discussions.

    And concerning the debate about historicity of Jesus versus non-historicity, nothing more refreshing than reviewing the original debaters like Arthur Drews, Frederick Conybeare, Shirley Jackson Case, Maurice Goguel, Archibald Robertson, for instance.

    1. The problem with that approach is that every one of the scholars you name in that last paragraph got a lot of things wrong. Yet a layperson won’t know which things those are. Thus, it just puts you right back in the same conundrum.

      There just needs to be a better expert consensus, or more professional debate among the experts, on the most defensible cases for and against a historical Jesus. Until that happens (and it never has, not in the whole of human history, IMO), laypersons are just not going to have any way to figure out where to stand on this issue. You have to wait for the battle to be properly engaged, and then wait for the dust to settle. Until then, you can’t call the win any more than you could at the race track.

      As I have said many times before, the most you can do is bet on the expert consensus, which is that Jesus existed, but little else can be agreed upon as to the details. Whether I can give you a better reason to conclude against that consensus is a question that can’t be answered until my next book comes out. But in the meantime, the clouds are on the horizon: Proving History does prove that the current consensus on this point has not been established by any logically valid method. It is therefore an ill-founded consensus, which makes “citing the consensus” (and thus betting on the consensus) also logically invalid. Therefore, IMO, laymen who understand why this is a correct assessment should be agnostics about the historicity of Jesus, until the historicists stop being illogical and start building a logically valid case with well-confirmed premises. Assuming the latter can be done. It remains to be seen.

  30. @Richard: Thanks for the response, and also for the more detailed responses to Neunder and other above which give more detail. I was intrigued by your line “a crucified and buried Jesus is not at all like a gold tablet that could be hidden in a hat”, as it immediately makes me think that Peter and Paul are preaching, not a buried Jesus, but rather a buried-briefly-and-then-vanished Jesus, which doesn’t even need to be hidden under a hat 🙂 But yes, I take your point that Peter and Paul seem to be true believers rather than deliberate liars.

    1. Not that the “liars” hypothesis is impossible–indeed, the “lie about revelations” variant is itself more probable than “lie about recent historical events” variant because the former can’t be falsified (converts don’t have access to what Peter and Paul see in “revelations”; they do have access to living witnesses and scuttlebutt about what has recently happened somewhere). That Peter and Paul could be “liars for Christ” in that first sense is something I have repeatedly noted is not too implausible to dismiss; it’s just not something we can be sure of (see my remarks on this point in The Christian Delusion, pp. 306-08, and Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 10).

  31. Richard,

    Re: “Knowledge of his death”: The best translation of 53:10, the RSV, says “when he makes himself an offering for sin” — still not the original Hebrew, “makest his soul”. You are doing what Christians routinely do. You are inserting what isn’t there, to make it read as your assumption of what you THINK is there. “BY HIS Knowledge shall the Righteous One [James], my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” — 53:11 says no such thing about any DEATH atonement. The inclusion of the suffering to death is NOT atonement. It is an ode to a master’s obedience unto death, that is ALL. James was stoned to death because he did not disown his master when told to do so (read Hegesippus and Clement’s Recognitions). This is GNOSIS, the Word, that makes many (not “all” as a death offering would be!) accounted righteous. Like I say, you don’t have to believe there are Masters like mine, it still doesn’t mean that what they say about this is untrue! They don’t DIE to save, they give their “souls” or their “lives” as Word to save others. The death atonement is Pauline fiction. How can a dead man “prolong his days” or “see his offspring [disciples]”?

    I think Roger Parvus (on Doherty’s Vridar #20) is right about ‘Jesus’ being Paul and the ‘disciples’ being the Pillars that Paul is contesting with. Sounds like a perfect fit as an overwrite. The Judas/Lazarus thing with raising and death order, and “the Betrayal”, is James overwritten as successor Master to “Jesus”. “Jesus” is “betrayed” by ‘James’. Lazarus *was to die* in John (12:10) because he was responsible for bringing many to belief on Jesus *just like James was to die* in Hegesippus. I have a long treatment of this I can email. All details present in ALL FOUR gospels fit, as well as the First Apocalypse of James, and the Gospels of Judas and Thomas.

    1. The word for “soul” is the same word for “life.” And like all words, context decides. And a guy who is buried is a guy who dies. Context established.

      The rest of your remarks are just way out in the twilight zone. Not interested.

  32. Maybe the “twilight zone” is real and this isn’t. 🙂 I never SAID the servant doesn’t die. It just isn’t for purpose of atonement. The
    context” is 53:11: “Knowledge” that makes many righteous, not “knowledge of death”. That’s what YOU put in there. ‘Knowledge’ is ‘gnosis’, dummy. (smile, I’m just being familiar.)

    You’re missing the whole beautiful mystic teaching of the masters in the Bible. It’s really a shame. You have no idea what you’re missing. Ask any Bible-savy Satsangi.

    1. I think that is really straining the text to read into it that kind of perennialist pop mysticism… the content of which may have value.. but I think that interpreting the data that way is pretty ad hoc.. It reminds me of the way Freke and Gandy read into ancient Gnosticism very eastern nondualist mystical ideas.. My impression is that there is a tendancy for many people to want to find their favorite philosophical and spiritual paradigms at the root of all the great traditions, as if they need that kind of vindication. It seems very romantic and fanciful to me.

  33. Also,
    In your answer to Roo, above, the scholarly consensus is that not only did “Jesus” exist, but that he was a one-and-only ‘Son’. This is also ‘unproven’. Why not take THAT on? It is even easier to show them wrong there! Eisenman, after all, going counter to them, concludes: “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus” in “James the Brother of Jesus”.

    Listen, you don’t see the obvious parables in the “Exodus” or “Noah” stories? These are stories, but based on mystic masters, leading their faithful across deserts of sense indulgence and storm-tossed flooding seas of passions. Jonah and “the great fish” that swallowed Jonah in his meditation (every detail has a Yogic counterpart). Abraham “tithed” a tenth of his time (where does it say ‘goods’?) to Melchizedek, his master. Masters have no need of anything from a disciple. Samuel “did a thing in Israel” that “made the ears of everyone who hears it ring” in 1 Sam. 3:11 — the “Word” that “blows like the sound of the wind” in John 3:8. That’s why he “lay” (or sat meditating) “until morning” to hear it. “The Word of Samuel came to all Israel” (1 Sam. 4:1 is not a preaching, it is a mystic initiation). Over and over this is everywhere in evidence. I wrote a book on it. I can show that Judas and Lazarus are hidden stereotypes for a fellow master, James. Also Matthias, Joseph barsabbas (son of father Joseph) JUSTus, Stephen, beloved disciple, John Mark, the naked young man in Mark, and perhaps Jesus, too, cover for James. John the Baptist has a ton of textually altered and easily recovered mystic attributes of being a master. “Jesus” was probably a creation of Paul’s to hide James, and there are lots of reasons to think so. He DOES have a history.

  34. “Now we are in the twilight zone”

    Why do you ridicule? How will you learn anything that way? I’m not here to disprove or derail you! I just happen to know some things you DON’T about these teachings. It’s no big deal to me. I’m not the competitive type. I wouldn’t bother telling you if it weren’t true. There are whole BOOKS (not just mine) written on this. At last count, there were 45 titles at on interpreting the mystic teachings of the Bible and other religious texts. Don’t be so smug. You don’t know the half of it (and neither do I – yet!!).

  35. Will,

    Nothing ‘pop’ about it. Although I am a 60’s child with pot and rock and roll in my Bay Area veins, I am very circumspect when it comes to spiritual stuff. I rejected TM back in the 60’s because they charged for it.

    You can choose to look at traditions as you wish. Why is it not most probable that there actually IS a root teaching beneath ALL the major spiritual traditions, especially when they all have the same recurrent themes and elements? All the biggies have a sound to hear, a light to see, and a master that initiates into the practice of hearing it and seeing it. The gnostics were the most plain spoken of the ancients, and it is quite clearly a dead-ringer for modern Sant Mat, what I follow. The Nag Hammadi book, Thomas the Contender, even has the withdrawal from the limbs experienced by the practitioner of mystic meditation. (Marvin Meyer has the translation as “leave their limbs BEHIND, not with fortitude [patiently, as in meditation], but with despair [death]”, which is a little awkward. The whole body is ‘left behind’.)

    I have experienced this withdrawal personally. I have not seen ‘the Light’, at least not clearly, yet. I have no doubt it is coming someday. The ‘Sound’, however, is easy for anyone to hear with only a little instruction.

    Carrier “criticizes what he can’t understand” (Dylan). I have studied mysticism for 40 years under two different masters, Charan Singh, and Gurinder Singh Dhillon. The Bible will only be understood, with all its many alterations and corruptions, with an understanding of its mystic message. Jesus (whoever it was who said the quotes, anyway) said the will of the Father is that “every one who SEES the Son and believes” (John 6:40) will be raised up (hear the Word, and go within). That was him telling the crowd that only living Masters save. John 6:36 said they DID see him and didn’t believe, so it is physical seeing that was meant (and it is continuous as well, the present participle in the Greek is a meditational, continuous, ‘seeing’). John 9:4 should have “send US” like the Codex Sinaiticus has it, showing his time-limited ministry, not just that the rest of us have to do our “work” (meditation) while living. The Pauline letters and gospels are clever disinformation in exquisite literary form. No con job will ever again come close in scale and audacity, with the internet available now. Three billion people have been fooled, maybe another three if we don’t help the unschooled. After all is said and done, Christians follow an admitted mass-murderer, and an unrepentant one at that (Paul killed James after twice attacking him in the Temple — AFTER his Damascus Rd. ‘conversion’).

    There is a a mystic Reality, it just isn’t a Christian one. I believe somewhat like Roger Parvus does that John the Baptist was likely the model for Jesus, or perhaps James was. Paul and the ‘Pillars’ were “Jesus” and the disciples. I don’t think there ever was a Jesus. Roger’s Vridar post last week on Earl Doherty’s blog was right on.

    The Bible is the most fascinating composition of all time. It just needs to be brought to light for what it is: a two-parter: the most beautiful spiritual poetry of them all — the Tanak, and the most exquisite fraud of the grandest kind — the NT.

    1. Bob, I am largely sympathetic to your philosophical and spiritual leanings. But we will have to agree to disagree on their (cryptic) presence in the Biblical texts. I actually think that the Biblical tales are intended on a more superficial level than what your interpretation posits. I really don’t think one would find yogic mystical concepts in the minds of the Biblical authors, if one had a way to check. That’s my take anyway.

  36. Stark has composed an enormous analysis of the 11Q13 debate (here), much of which is again irrelevant, but much of which is very valuable and interesting. I have in light of it completely revised the main article above in light of it. The revision answers all his concerns (by correcting or removing my errors, rewording sentences, or adding material). My choice of wording in every sentence is crucial, so anyone following this should pay close attention to that. If any more errors are identified in my article I will continue to correct them, to keep it as accurate and logical as possible.

    Only one point didn’t make it in, because it didn’t fit anywhere in the line of argument, being rather an unnecessary digression:

    Stark says the pesher’s atonement model “is not the Christian gospel” but “covenantal nomism” because “one remains within the covenant through obedience to the law.” I would remind him that that is exactly what the Christian gospel was. Until Paul changed it. Stark is confusing original Christianity, with later modified Christianity. And since we are interested in the origins of the Christian gospel, Paul’s changes to it are irrelevant.

    The original Christians also kept covenantal nomism. They just changed the covenant (and the DSS mention that at Qumran there was an expectation that God will indeed produce a new covenant). One key change is that the temple sacrifice system was rendered obsolete by Christ’s death: now one’s sins were permanently atoned for by one single sacrifice. But you still had to observe the law to benefit from this (as the original Christians argued, per Galatians 2).

    However, I am not saying that 11Q13 is Christian or anticipates every single feature of original Christianity. But if there are precedents in it, we must not deny their existence just because this makes us uncomfortable.

    1. Sorry, Richard. That’s B.S. “Christ’s death” was not the atonement of original Christianity. The Damascus Document clearly states it was the Righteous Teacher’s Holy Name that atoned. In case you have lost your copy, I’ll quote it for you: “And God will make atonement for them, and they will see his Salvation, because they took refuge in His Holy Name.” –CD XX:34. No dead bodies on crosses, no nails in hands, no bloody redemption, just “Holy Name”, or Word, that redeems. Always been that way, always will be. There’s an R.T. here today ready with his Word. His name is Gurinder Singh Dhillon. But, oh yeah, you don’t ‘believe’ in fairey tales do you?

      1. First, that the DD is “original Christianity” is a speculative hypothesis well outside the mainstream.

        Second, the quoted line does not contradict the conclusion that an atoning death is what empowered the holy name.

        Third, the ideology inherent in the quoted line can easily be made compatible with an atoning death ideology, as for example by a later offshoot sect–like, perhaps, Christianity.

  37. Richard,

    I anticipated you’d say that about Qumran being nascent Christianity. Being “outside the mainstream” can be, and is here, desirable. Robert Eisenman is almost universally marginalized when he crosses swords with Geza Vermes on dating the DSS Pesherim, or sectarian scrolls. Vermes is wrO-Ong. I can’t believe serious scholars reject Eisenman. It is downright embarrassing. He runs circles around Vermes on dating with internal evidence that Vermes has never addressed, much less refuted. The Kittim leaders in the Habakkuk Pesher, for example, come “one after the other” and decimate the land, as they did in IMPERIAL Roman times under Titus’ command in the 60’s CE, not in Republican BCE times of the TRIumverates, like under Pompey’s downright polite invasion (by comparison) in first century BCE (67 BCE). How can we make any progress on what’s what with ego clashes all over the place? There are serious matters at stake about the veracity of Pauline Christianity, and these people are arguing 50-year time stamps of handwriting styles, and wildly variable carbon and coin dating? The Habakkuk Pesher and DD are clearly a polemic AGAINST PAUL — who “built a worthless City founded on BLOOD” and “removed the boundary markers” of the Law. He KILLS the Righteous Teacher (62 CE), and H.P. Ananus is the body upon whose corpse they inflicted horrible punishment and threw over the walls, in historical accounts, for killing James, their R.T. This stuff is SETTLED. Get USED to it! I don’t care what the consensus scholars say! They got The Gospel of Judas wrong, TOO > (it’s JUDAS that is sacrificed, not Jesus).

    I don’t have to prove a negative. You have to prove there is any bonafide sacrificial atonement ANYWHERE in biblical (non-Pauline) or sectarian scroll documents. There ISN’T. Orthodox scribal interference is rampant: Zechariah 13:7 should be “Awake, O sword of my Shepherd, in the man who is my *friend*, Strike *O* Shepherd, that the sheep may be *troubled*, and I will *replace* my hand *upon* the little ones” — it is a GOOD thing that the Shepherd/Savior does FOR his flock in 13:7. This is quoted to support “the Betrayal”, which is bogus. The dynamic here in all four gospels is the successorship of James and a final exhortation to the disciples to “Rise up [within!]” and be “delivered”. “Jesus”, too, is “delivered” (“paradidomai” means “to deliver”, not “to betray”) by James (“Judas”) who is hidden from us because he interfered with the Pauline church leaders’ plot to control the masses with false teaching about a dying Messiah. The “Betrayal” is a take-off on the misapplication of “paradidomai”. The ‘sword’ there is the Master’s Word that atones, and it is also found in Matthew 26:51 Luke 22:50, Mark 14:47, and John 18:10 in the servant’s ‘ear’ being cut by Peter’s “sword” (the *RIGHT* ear in Luke and John — spiritually significant in yogic meditation). Jesus “touches” it (“haptomai” — means “touching for influence”) and heals “HIM”, spiritually, through his disciple, Peter. You never studied mysticism, Richard, so you don’t realize that this is WHY these stories were written. They are cryptic messages of what the masters taught their intimate disciples (“I speak in parables to them, but to you I give the good stuff”). The “five smooth stones” in 1 Samuel 17:40 that David puts in his sling arsenal is perhaps the deepest spiritual parable *in the WHOLE Bible*. They are the “five holy names” David repeats in his devotions by “throwing” them at his ‘third’ eye (Matt. 6:22), or, “GOLIATH’S” FOREHEAD. This is the same dynamic as at “fourth watch”: early morning, 3-6 am, “walking on water” (water = spirit) in Matthew 14:25. That was a lesson in faith during meditation. Meditation is to still the wayward mind. This is NOT laying Yogic interpretation on biblical storytelling!!!~ This is WHY they were written in the FIRST place! I use those “five smooth stones” in MY OWN meditations every morning. I know what I am talking about, RICHARD.

    Don’t you ever wonder why all these symbols of sound, light, water, dying and rebirth crop up over and over in the Bible? It’s Mystic Transcendent Practice (think “Transfiguration” — it was real). It’s hardly new, hardly proprietary. YOU can experience it yourself.

    Every single story in both Old AND New Testaments is a mystic parable. I cover at least thirty in my book alone. Name one, I’ll dissect it, mystically.

  38. Will,

    Well, once you learn mysticism, it isn’t hard to get “in the minds” of the biblical authors. You can see not only the mystic concepts in question, but how they are being SUPPRESSED from public view by creative writing. I recommend highly the whole Robert Eisenman corpus. He is the world authority on Dead Sea Scrolls, and what they say about the NT. Forget his critics. They are clueless. I’ve studied them side-by-side, and Vermes, for example, is clueless. I have a Master and I don’t guess, because HE doesn’t guess. He evidently experienced these things, and then he wrote about it.

    I’m happy to send a ‘final galley’ copy of my book on this for free. Email me at sahansdal at yahoo dot com

    1. Bob, I don’t think the inferences you are drawing from the texts are well enough evidenced. I think you are intelligent but I don’t think your interpretation has enough evidence against the standard interpretations. Just because a text can be read a certain way doesn’t mean they were intended that way… other evidence must be adduced for that i think… especially when the texts have other plausible interpretations. I used to read into the Gospels mystical subtexts until I realized that I was projecting into them out of a desire to see it. I strongly suspect that is what you are doing too. Obviously i can’t prove that but i feel strongly enough about it that i don’t want to invest any energy into investigating that line of thought.. consider me myopic if you wish. But what you are doing reminds me alot of Freke and Gandy to be pefectly candid. Thanks for the offer of sending me your book.. I’m sure it’s fascinating but I honestly don’t have time to devote to it. best wishes.

  39. If the very early Christans (Nazarines) were indeed an offshoot of an Essene group, do you think the author of Acts has access to an early text for any of his early Christian history. I think he makes up the Ascension, probably the Pentecost, perhaps the protomartyr Stephen, but I wonder where he got some of the vocabulary and description of the early sharing of goods from.

    1. I personally suspect that Acts was written from earlier materials of greater (but still not sterling) reliability, dressing them up with his own embellishments and literary crafting. There is evidence our Acts is an edit of earlier redactions of Acts as well. But I’m talking about source materials. What those may have been, I don’t know.

      But for example, chapter 1 is probably pure fabrication (it just recaps the Gospel and connects it to Acts 2, using devices any fiction author requires, like replacing Judas in the cast; it also contains many patent improbabilities, etc.), while Acts 2 is a mix. I think the Pentecost story is true in outline (and is where the church’s public history actually began), but Luke has made it sound more amazing, while Peter’s street sermon immediately after is probably a creation of Luke’s, or a very liberal redaction of earlier material at best (Luke wants Peter to have said certain things, so he will have made him say them, regardless of what Luke’s source materials said). By contrast, I believe Stephen’s speech in Acts 6-7 is more faithful to some original source (and likewise I see signs of this in all the trial speeches, which suggests an earlier record of the trials was available, which Luke just adapted and interspersed into his narrative). [But that doesn’t mean Stephen’s speech is authentic, as opposed to something fanciful invented for him by an earlier Christian author than Luke.]

      These are my suspicions. But I don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to prove them. So we can’t assert them with a very high probability. But neither is their probability very low. Welcome to the uncertainties of ancient history.

      BTW, it’s well worth reading Richard Pervo’s The Mystery of Acts on why we don’t trust it so much. And if you want a more detailed examination, see Pervo’s Acts: A Commentary (in the Hermeneia series).

    2. The Acts 7 speech of Stephen’s came from Joshua’s farewell speech in Joshua 24, complete with a mistake (check 7:15-16 with Genesis 23:11 for the burial of the bones).

      1. The Acts 7 speech of Stephen’s came from Joshua’s farewell speech in Joshua 24, complete with a mistake (check 7:15-16 with Genesis 23:11 for the burial of the bones).

        You do realize that a real Stephen could have made the same mistake in a real speech?

        And that a real Stephen could have relied on and thus summarized the Joshua account in a real speech?

        And that it was standard practice, in fact taught in schools, to model one’s orations on famous literary orations that the audience would recognize? (Like, say, that of a famous national hero.)

        Of course this was all just as true of authors creating orations (like Luke may have been). But it’s a non sequitur to use these facts as arguments against the authenticity of the speech. A source can make all the same errors as Luke could. And so could an actual orator.

  40. At some point, is our friend Bob going to realise that his constant “I have a Master” schtick makes him sound insane? It’s weird to see someone constantly emphasising that they are a Beta ape.

    1. This is what Indian spirituality does to a devotee’s mind. It makes him/her captive of the guru’s indoctrination.
      Although Bob Wahler (he also posts comments under another name, “Samanthal” or similar) is articulate and nimble, he is possessed by his Indian mysticism, that he insists in injecting in his dissection of the NT writings, to a point there’s no way to communicate with him on a Western plane.

      Ironically enough, we find this kind of attitude, in a lighter version, (and in now way at the level of sophistication shown by Bob Wahler) among the students, devotees and followers of another “Sanskrit” guru, the lady who calls herself “Acharya S”. In reality D.M. Murdock, a former American office secretary who discovered that there was an immense public for sensational popularizations about religion and Christianity.

      She promoted a new discipline called “astro-theology”, even going as far as posing as “High Reverend Acharya – Int’l Church of Astrotheology”.

      Her followers exhibit the same symptoms of adoration and mental possession by their would-be “Teacher”, taking all her pronouncements as irrefutable dogmas, and, inspired by a new evangelical fervor, show a militant determination to broadcast her “teaching” over the Internet.

      They occasionally come to Carrier’s blog to pester and goad him, but he’s wisely declared they were a waste of time, and that he would no longer bother to respond to their comments.

      I suspect that Bob Wahler, with his far-out mystical digressions, could find himself soon relegated to the same category.

  41. I want to dispel a myth, not related to Jesus this time. Since SAWells intimated that he thinks only people who are weak willed (BETA types) take Masters, I need to explain that no one I know of in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas I belong to ever came to the Path as a result of any need to be pampered like a baby, or something similarly subservient. It was only after a great deal of reading and experience that I became convinced that there are living Masters. The experience is deeply personal, but the convincing is not at all dependent on it, merely confirmitory. Anyone reading books that the Masters have written should be impressed by the lucidity and eloquence they exhibit in explaining the nearly impossible to explain concepts and experiences of things that literally transcend the mind’s ability to relate. I am always amazed at how much people seem to know about Masters they have never even heard of, much less seen or met! Do a little more research before your are so quick to judge something you know nothing about. It’s not like we hide the Masters or their teachings:

    1. Sounds familiar. What was that line from Medawar? Oh yes: “…nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.”

      I’m glad you’re happy, Bob, but you’re not giving anyone grounds to believe any of your actual fact claims.

  42. I admit when I’m wrong. A Jewish Rabbi has informed me that Zechariah 13:7 has “Strike the shepherd”, direct object ‘shepherd’. It cannot, therefore, read “Strike, O shepherd”, as I once thought. It’s a shame, because that would be a beautiful expression of a Master’s love for his disciples, ‘striking’ their minds to release them from bondage. But it is evidently just a warning against false leaders. It would have fit well in the gospel betrayal story. Oh, well.

  43. SAWells,

    Didn’t I give you the RSSB link? Check it out FOR YOURSELF! What makes what is presented there any less valid than what’s in the Bible, at the Jesus Seminar, in Divinity School, at MIT, in a Carrier blog, in your own head? I can back up my ‘facts”. It’s a FACT that the Bible says “Saviors” for example, not “Savior” (Obadiah 21). It’s the title of my book. It’s a good place to start if you want to understand what’s discussed here.

    1. From your link, “Philosophy”, first para: “At the core of the RSSB philosophy is a belief that there is a spiritual purpose to human life – to experience the divinity of God who resides in all of us. It is through this experience that we will realize the truth of the concept that there is only one God and we are all expressions of his love.”

      In this paragraph, you people assert (i) that there is something called a “spiritual purpose to human life”; (ii) that everyone _has_ a spiritual purpose; (iii) that everyone has _the same_ spiritual purpose; (iv) that there is something called a “God”; (v) that this entity “resides in all of us”; (vi) that this entity has a property called “divinity”; (vii) that we can experience this “divinity”; (viii) that experiencing this divinity is our spiritual purpose; (ix) that there is only one “God”; (x) that we are all “expressions of his love”.

      None of these claims is a fact in evidence.

      I have no reason to believe that a single one of these assertions is true. The majority of them are simply nonsensical. It’s all standard issue mysticism; people have been selling this to gullible, needy persons such as yourself for thousands of years.

      I’m sure you’ll assure me that if only I studied at the feet of your Perfect Master and learned to regurgitate his incomprehensible mystic wisdom, I too could convince myself that I was getting deep and wonderful insights into the mystic oneness of the universe. Yawn.

      You also seemed really proud that you can “analyse mystically” any Bible story. Thing is, you can find mystical meanings in Litte Red Riding Hood and the instructions for your washing machine if you want to. It’s a game with no rules where you just assert your claims and declare victory. Boring.

      The thing your “spiritual teachers” aren’t telling you is that feeling all transcendental and one with the universe is actually really, really easy. Maintaining a sense of your individual identity as a being distinct from the rest of the universe is a pretty specific brain function, and it’s quite easily suppressed in a number of situations including meditation, boredom, absorbed concentration on a task (“flow”), really good sex, and single combat.

      Unfortunately, people are far too willing to turn off their critical faculties and believe that their little neurological experiences are somehow objectively true. Hence your beliefs about God and spiritual purpose and the like.

      It’s rather like believing in “chi”. To generate a totally convincing _sensation_ of a field of energy flowing through your body is dead easy; a bit of deep breathing and a few hand movements are quite sufficient. It’s just that, objectively, there’s no such field; the sensation is internally generated and doesn’t correspond to anything in the outside world. Lots of people fail to distinguish the two.

      I’m sorry that you’ve been giving money, time and respect to “spiritual teachers” who have sold you a scam and stroked your ego by telling you how wonderfully enlightened and deep and wise you’re becoming.

    2. Pretty good answer by SAWells.
      Any relation to G. A. Wells, or even C. A. Wells (who writes Amazon reviews and has his own book on the subject) ?

      It feels a bit boring to read the stuff spouted by Wahler, because one gets the impression of learning nothing.
      His sect sounds very much like another mystery cult where you’re indoctrinated, brainwashed and become a student, a follower or a devotee, repeating the high-sounding phrases.
      If you’re not in the sect, the whole thing seems nothing more than nonsense and superstition.

      When you read Paul or the Gospel writers, you also get that feeling that these early Christian writers were promoting a cult based on mystery and following a leader. But there at least we have full texts in front of us, even if their language is not really clear.

      And I am not surprised that ordinary Christian believers are not even aware of this mystery-cult aspect of Christianity. They’ve absorbed the rudiments and a cartoonish outline of the Gospels stories, but without ever having the time or the opportunity to read and learn the full preaching of the great NT writers, and study the connections to the key passages in the OT. How many have ever read Hebrews? or the Didache? Or even Paul, for that matter, and become aware of what he is debating about and why? It must feel very hermetic to an ordinary believer who has to worry about job and family.
      The feeling of mystery is even more intense when reading the old prophets of the Old Testament, like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, or the Book of Wisdom.
      I don’t see why we should waste time in trying to learn the mottos and propaganda of an Indian sect, when we have barely enough time for our Western products.

  44. SAWells,
    No need to fret over what I have been giving to RSSB. It isn’t much, I assure you. You are, like most, thinking “Guru Maharaji”, “Rajneesh” and “Love Guru”. What is given to me is another story. I understand what you are saying about “incomprehensible”. That’s really the crux. The mind is what “comprehends”. The idea is to TRANSCEND the mind. “Satan”, “Devil”, “Yaldabaoth”, “Creator god” are mind. There may be no “evidence in fact”, at least from where you are presently. In that sense, we all need “faith”, until we can experience results through the meditation. Then there is deeper understanding of what the Master teaches than what was available before. I think I have experienced a little bit of that. It is not of ordinary testable evidence, such as can be externally demonstrated . It is however, testable personally. It is by nature SUBJECTIVE, totally personal, and of no use to, or credible to, another. It isn’t “suppression” of individuality. It is acknowledging that there is no individual. Jesus tells Judas in the Judas Gospel that, “you will sacrifice the man that bears me”, and by that means Judas, not Jesus! (Jesus and Judas were fictional, both of them, I think. I think “Jesus” was John the B, “Judas”, James the Just, for a variety of reasons. The money exchange was midrash, and was perhaps as Slavonic Josephus has it, made to PILATE at some point if anyone, which makes more sense than to a disciple. Maybe the priests were after James, who knows?)

    You yourself simply have to experience first hand for yourself what it is like — for example to sit in Satsang with a real Master. I do NOT expect you to believe by my telling you that it is divine in nature. I trust what I’m told by the Master, because I see no reason to suspect his motives and a lot of reasons to accept him! The teachings alone on the New Testament, his exegesis, is alone enough to win my acceptance of what he says. He wrote two full books on Matthew and John. They would blow anyone’s mind who is familiar with the New Testament! His demeanor, and his behavior are equally impressive, what to say of his actions, and selflessness. His composure, and I have seen it tested, is impressive, his kindness constant. “Regal” and “Majestic”, are the terms that come to mind. The Masters all work tirelessly for the benefit of others, and for NO compensation whatsoever — NONE. He is driven where he has to go, and has a place to stay where he needs it, but he supports himself. All Masters have. Most have had families like you and I. They work their butts off, and none wanted the job. There have been hundreds to come here, as the world — they say — is never without one. No reason I can see to doubt that! There were Masters around the Mediterranean thousands of years ago, evidently.

    Again, I don’t force my views, they are presented in the spirit that I received them, which is freely and with hope that you will find them of benefit. There is NOTHING to be suspicious or skeptical about, since there is nothing whatsoever to lose by investigating or joining the Society. What is to lose? What is to possibly gain? Yo0u need not give up anything except meat and recreational drugs. You should make an investigation of your own. My book makes quick work of what to look for in a Master. It is very brief and sensible. No asceticism, no miracles for show, no pay, vegetarian diet, no judgmentalism, and most importantly, Surat Shabd Yoga (Matt. 6:22 and John 3:8: the gist of the method). All the Bible is variations on this theme (except Liar Paul). I can show several dozen parables interpreted in light of Sant Mat teachings. And no, washing machine instructions would not be a candidate. They were not WRITTEN as mysticism. The Bible stories — ALL of the them — were. It is fascinating to study them with mystic exegesis. Even more so, to experience the joy to be had by doing them daily.

    Don’t be negative because your ego is in the way of someone being “superior”. That is is merely part of the illusion created by mind, SA. No one is “above” or “better” or more “spiritual”, including the Master. He says often, “call me ‘brother'”. We all are simply where we are: at our unique point in a journey of enlightenment. No good/bad, yes/no, up/down, accept or be condemned. All is One.

    And, ‘chi’, I’d say, is powerful. It is the force that is harnessed in, among other things, Pranayama, Kundalini (Moses’ “snake”), and Polarity (I had a guy do my elbow once. It was more than a massage.)

    1. ” It is by nature SUBJECTIVE, totally personal, and of no use to, or credible to, another.”

      So stop talking about it to other people. Did that not occur to you? Stop making assertions that cannot possibly be convincing.

      “I trust what I’m told by the Master…”

      And that right there is your problem.

  45. “Regurgitate”, “brainwash”, “indoctrinate”. What’s with all that? You guys are describing my CHRISTIAN experience as a teenager, following my girlfriend into the Local Church in the 70’s. You are trying to protect yourself by “criticizing what you can’t understand”, as Dylan says. The proof is in the material. Try looking at it before you expose your ignorance any further. There are dozens of books available on Sant Mat, which is not merely “Indian”. There have been Jewish and Muslim mystics, and Masters of other persuasions also. I’m amazed, frankly, how Sant Mat escapes the notice of the Western mind. It answers ALL questions. But go your own way.

    1. We don’t know who you are even arguing with at this point. But it is amusing. Maybe you should figure by now that this is all falling on deaf ears here. Surely you can more usefully deploy your time and resources somewhere else by now?

  46. SAWells,

    ” It is by nature SUBJECTIVE, totally personal, and of no use to, or credible to, another.”

    So stop talking about it to other people. Did that not occur to you? Stop making assertions that cannot possibly be convincing.

    “I trust what I’m told by the Master…”

    And that right there is your problem.

    I don’t recall accepting that I had a ‘problem’. You are quoting out of context. I said, regarding the Masters’ teachings, “It is not of ordinary testable evidence, such as can be externally demonstrated . It is however, testable personally.” That’s the point. It cannot be related, only experienced. That’s why all the blogs in the world will never yield anything of real value (sorry, Richard). Only FIRST HAND experienced is of any use. I trust the Master because I know his teachings and see no reason whatsoever to doubt his veracity. I’ll continue practicing Yoga. You do whatever it is you want to do.

    If my posts are troublesome for you, ignore them. They’ll stop. I don’t talk to a void.

  47. Answering Roo:

    You said, “When you read Paul or the Gospel writers, you also get that feeling that these early Christian writers were promoting a cult based on mystery and following a leader. But there at least we have full texts in front of us, even if their language is not really clear.”

    That is just simply untrue, as you should well know with all the ripping of Ehrman here. Even he admits “we have NONE of the originals of any books in the NT — only copies, and at that, only copies of copies of copies.” No one knows what the originals said. They ALL are corrupted, including Paul.

    What are you talking about? You think Sant Mat presents no “full texts in front of us”? There are at least 45 titles, at last count, discussing the Sant Mat teachings at the Pubs. link, many written IN ENGLISH, by the Masters THEMSELVES. They are published in house and made available to all at cost, shipped anywhere in the world for free. That’s about as free and open as it can get.

    Within these books lie the answers to every single question anyone can come up with about what religion is, what the Bible really teaches, what a Master is, and why one is necessary to realize our full potential. Sorry if you disagree, but that is just the way it is!

  48. I’m always “on topic”. The Bible and all other scriptures are about mystic teaching, and it seems EVERYBODY concerned is clueless to that, in case you wonder why I persist. “Beta male” to the Master — how clueless can one be?

    1. I meant on the topic of this thread: which is about the evidence regarding the possibility or actuality of pre-Christian belief in a dying messiah and the likelihood of its independent development within Judaism.

  49. Dear Richard

    Can I point out the intended verse in Daniel Ch 9:25 – 27 is that the High Priest Onias III is Anointed One as Prince. In the Dead Sea Scrolls it also mentioned the title Prince of the Covenant this title was being used by Daniel in Ch 11:21 – 23. The Chapter 11 of Daniel is the longest Prophecy in the Bible the dating was 500BCE to 100 AD. The Profile for Onias III he was the last Zadokite High Priest in 200BCE after Simon II. If the original writers of Daniel mentioned the text Prince of the Covenant in Ch 9:25 – 27?

    Many thanks

    John Stuart

    1. The Onias link is already mentioned in my article. It’s irrelevant to the issue here, since everyone up to the dawn of the common era was treating Daniel as a prophecy not yet fulfilled; thus Onias could no longer be the candidate, authorial intention be damned.

  50. To Richard

    In your article about the High Priest Onias III was Teacher of Righteousness coming from Dead Sea Sect Qumran scriptures within Daniel Ch 9 however the calendar referred to Daniel 9 is the unique version in Essene Scriptures, Enoch, Jubilees, and the Melchizedek fragements.

    There are no other candidates for this issue because if this Onias III is a son of a lineage who is recognised as the Messiah in Daniel.

    Many thanks

    John Stuart

    1. I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying. But it sounds like you have some sort of theory you want to defend that I am not personally interested in. It doesn’t matter to me who the authors of Daniel were talking about (though all mainstream scholarship has soundly argued it was Onias III); I’m only interested in what later readers thought he was talking about.

  51. To Richard

    Who was the Anointed Prince?

    Who was the Anointed One?

    If the Anointed One was one of the High Priests was of coarse Onias III in response from Tom Verenna to James McGrath.

    In your response to James McGrath about the point you are making is that the word ‘cut off’ means exiled or murder of Onias III it was your key idea.

    In the Dead Sea Scrolls the High Priests who were the Anointed One. I want to have Thom Stark revised the cryptic Chapter 11 in Daniel because it may be what the original context was.

    Can I point that the special of Day of Atonement was of coarse a special day for Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls.


    John Stuart

  52. Dear Richard Carrier

    Can Onias III be labelled ” the Prince of Princes”, “Prince of Host”?

    Prince of the Covenant, the Prince of Princes and the “Leader of the Host” of Daniel Ch 8,9,11 to Jesus Christ.

    The title of Christ have been apply to a mere human being, the High Priest Onias III in your article.

    This is a flat denying of the Christo-centric feature of the prophecies of Daniel.

    It is a Book of the Prince.

    My theory is this

    1. Anointed Prince is Joshua ben Jehozadak after the Exile

    2. Anointed One is referred to an Anointed High Priest Onias III

    However if the Anointed Prince and Anointed are both the same Person as Onias III

    Apparently you missed a previous chapter before 9 was Ch 8 verse 10 – 11 it said

    casting down some of the host and stars…the prince of the host.

    In Ch 9 verse 26

    shall Anointed One be cut off, but not for Himself.

    In Ch 11 verse 22

    …and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant.

    These chapters are referred to Onias III murder by King Antiochus IV.


    John Stuart

  53. Dear Richard Carrier

    Can I make the following points.

    1. Was Onias III a High Priest?

    2. On the Day of Atonement was it a Zadokite Day of Atonement according to Book of Isaiah 52 – 53?

    3. Where was Onias III from 175BC to his murder?

    4. Did the High Priest officiate on the Day of Atonement?

    5. If the Messanger from Isaiah 52 – 53 about mere human being this was the title of Christ?

    6. Who was the mere human being was it Onias III?


    John Stuart

  54. To Richard Carrier

    May I ask few questions.

    Did the Teacher of Righteousness officiate the Day of Atonement according to the Qumran texts?

    Can you tell me please who was the Master of Justice of the Essenes?

    The other for Master of Justice is “Teacher of Righteousness”.


    John Stuarts

  55. Hey, I just read you book Not the Impossible Faith. Couple things about Jewish messianic expectations:

    1) Isaiah. 53–54. Was it messianic prophecy, or did Christians later made it a prophecy? Is there evidence that anybody would have seen it as messianic prophecy? What would point to that this text was about Messiah or savior? Old Testament is full of people that were “servants of the Lord” and this is not just a title for Messiah. No Jewish writing that I know interprets Isaiah 53-54 in messianic context. It is true that suffering of the chosen is big thing in Isaiah, but “chosen one of God” is in many places in OT. This does not mean that it is pointing to any Messianic figure

    2) Psalm. 22:1-8: What tells us that this is about Savior? In the text there is nothing that would point that it would be somekind of Messianic text and spoke about Savior of the nation.

    3) Wisdom of Salomon 2:12-22. If we read the text from 1:15 to 3:5, we could see that this talks about righteous man that is not so pleasant company to somebody. And what are the “secret purposes of God”? Third chapter tells the answer, that “souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” (3:1). Connecting the text with messianic interpretation is not what it should be taken. Fifth chapter is about same thing that the second. Whole thing is one big story or preaching. The “son of god” (5:5) does not mean THE Son of God, but like children of God (those who are with God’s side). Second, where is the resurrection? There is nothing about the resurrection. And nowhere it says the righteous will come back and “avenge his death”, like you say in NIF p. 34.

    4) Isaiah 49:7. The “Holy one of God” and “Redeemer of Israel” is Israel (49:3). This is imaginary conversation between God and Israel. It would be against the text to think that there would be any third person that it would point to.

    5) Daniel 9:26 Even the 9:25 says Χριστος, it does not mean anything. Same word is found in many places in OT. If you search the word from LXX, there would 40 instances where it occurs (including words “khritoton”, “khristoo”, “khritou”). The word was used very widely. It could mean anybody that was chosen by God (like Isaiah 45:1). Obscure passages should be interpret in the light of more clear passages. If there is chance for interpretation, we should look what the earlier text said or what it meant in that cultural enviroment. This means that just because the word “khristos” is in the text, it does not mean that this passage was interpret as messianic. If you look at the big picture, there is no reason to think this passage was meant to be messianic.

    What about Daniel 9:25-26? The context is obscure. There is a lot of symbolic and numerologic things here. Here we have a ruler that will come, but who is destroyed. Then another ruler comes but he dies. There is no messianic context here. This may be about Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This is more plausable interpretation than messianic prophecy. If this was about Messiah figure, it should be strongly argued. Like we have seen, the word annointed means lot of things, so just because the word is there it does no mean anything. For the claim that Daniel 9:26 would be messianic interpretation about Isaiah 52-53, we would need to argue in detail. With those two sections the only common is that there is some figure that dies. In any rabbinic or Jewish text this is not interpret as messianic.

    And finally, I haven’t found a passage that says servant will be cut off though “there is no legal judgment against him”. You say it is in Dan. 9:26, but no Bible makes that translation. I thought that the book was mostly good, but this particular section seems to be just too sloppy. It sounds like you are arguing that because Holding can not prove you wrong you win. I think the burden of proof is on you when you are claiming that these passages could be interpret as Messianic. I think you are just shifting the burden of proof.

    1. Isaiah. 53–54. Was it messianic prophecy, or did Christians later made it a prophecy?

      As the article you are commenting on here shows, non-Christian Jews consistently identify it as messianic.

      Psalm. 22:1-8… Wisdom of Salomon 2:12-22.

      Not relevant to the article you are commenting on. Read this article first. Once any pre-Christian Jews thought there were secret messages about a dying-and-atoning messiah in the Scriptures (as Talmudic Jews did, and as Dead Sea Jews appear to have done), then any passage in the Scriptures about a dying figure would be game.

      Isaiah 49:7. The “Holy one of God” and “Redeemer of Israel” is Israel (49:3). This is imaginary conversation between God and Israel. It would be against the text to think that there would be any third person that it would point to.

      Your interpretation is anachronistic. What the original authors meant is irrelevant. By the first century BC, Jews were reinterpreting everything. Look at the Dead Sea Scrolls: the passages they were finding to be messianic were even less obviously messianic than this one.

      Daniel 9:26 Even the 9:25 says Χριστος, it does not mean anything.

      False. It means messiah (anointed one). This is even in the Hebrew.

      It could mean anybody that was chosen by God (like Isaiah 45:1).

      Anyone anointed by God, not merely chosen by him. There were ordinary messiahs (e.g. kings and high priests) and eschatological messiahs (e.g. messiahs connected with the end times). The latter is what is meant by “the” messiah, but many Jews believed there would be more than one such messiah (read the article you are commenting on here). Thus every passage in the bible that could be connected, in any way, with an apocalypse (as in Daniel, explicitly; elsewhere, implicitly, through connections with Daniel) that mentions a messiah, would be regarded as apocalyptically messianic. And in the case of Daniel 9, we know this for a fact, as the Dead Sea Jews regarded it as messianic. Again, read the article you are commenting on.

      And finally, I haven’t found a passage that says servant will be cut off though “there is no legal judgment against him”. You say it is in Dan. 9:26, but no Bible makes that translation.

      That’s in the actual Greek.

      Read the article you are commenting on here.

    2. “False. It means messiah (anointed one). This is even in the Hebrew.”

      Yes I knew that. What I meant was that “anointed one” in Jewish culture has much more wider meaning that it has for us. Anointed can be a character that has been anointed to his position. This is a ritual to person who is receiving a position in important job and got oil poured on top of his head. This was a ritual sign for that God had placed this person to this particular job and that God was with him.

      The article is interesting. Indeed, I did not read it before I commented. I just tried to find a relevant place to write, so anybody could find it later. So basically you are saying that Jews interpret everything and where ever they found writings about anointed one could be interpret as messianic. That sound incredible!

      And yes, I was most likely confusing what you “said about our not knowing how widely they were published or used in public–before the late second century”. Thanks for correcting.

      I have to read the article more carefully later, since I can’t do it now. But what I’m reading sounds really interesting. Is the article (or the idea of it) in the forthcoming book?

      Are we seeing you debating somebody in the near future about the historicity of Jesus? It seems that you have gained a lot more information after WLC debate.

      1. Are we seeing you debating somebody in the near future about the historicity of Jesus?

        Many attempts have been made to arrange one, but no one wants to do it. Ehrman, because I’m “too mean.” Others, because as soon as they read an advance draft of my book, they bow out, claiming they need to study it more (even though they were given months to do so).

        Possibly only fundies will be willing to engage in a debate (but such a debate would be a waste of time because they would just give fallacious and ridiculous apologetic arguments and not sound and balanced scholarly ones), while those most able to defend historicity competently (e.g. secular bible scholars) don’t like the idea of debates generally, or are “too busy” for a debate like this one.

        But the book isn’t even out yet. So possibly worthwhile debates will crop up in the years after its release. I’ve already had an informal radio debate on the matter with Mark Goodacre, and I think that was pretty worthwhile (albeit too brief and informal to get very far).

  56. Another thing. You say, that Gospels were probably only for private use and not for public. You said this in the Not the Impossible Faith, and somewhere here at the comment section. I have to disagree with you. We know that there were oral knowledge about Jesus. This is shown by Papias who knew Apostle John and his student, Polycarp. He said he likes more oral stories that written stories:

    ”But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,– what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.”
    (Fragments of Papias I).

    Paul knew the Gospel of Mark because he refers to place (1. Kor 7:12, 25 ”12) where Jesus says that it is forbidden to divorce (Mark. 10:1-12).

    Apostolic Fathers had references to Gospels (Didakhe, Letters of Ignatius, Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, Polycarp’s letters, letter of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas and so on). They are relativly early writings and they have references to the texts of the Gospels.

    Eusebius refers to Papias and his five books, which explain the Lords speeches (λογίων κυριακῶν ἐξηγήσεως συγγράμματα πέντε, Logiōn kyriakōn eksēgēseōs syngrammata pente). This work does not exist for us, but it was existing when Eusebius wrote about it in the fifth century.

    So it should be noted that the Gospels were wide spread. Manuscript evidence and findings in multiple locations prove that texts were everywhere. Lot of people knew about the text.

    1. You say, that Gospels were probably only for private use and not for public.

      No, I don’t.

      You must be confusing what I said about the data that went into them with the Gospels themselves. See, for example, p. 208.

      Or else you are confusing what I said about our not knowing how widely they were published or used in public–before the late second century.

      Or else you are confusing what I said about our having no evidence of their being used for evangelism (as we have no evidence of that…they were used for teaching or persuading those who had already converted, but we have no evidence of their being used to convert anyone–until the later second century).

      Or else you are confusing what I said about the Gospels possibly being designed to conceal the truth from the public (and Christians of lower rank).

      This is shown by Papias who knew Apostle John and his student, Polycarp.

      Papias is wrong about almost everything and the most gullible of buffoons. Even Eusebius condemned him as unintelligent and unreliable.

      Paul knew the Gospel of Mark because he refers to place (1. Kor 7:12, 25 ”12) where Jesus says that it is forbidden to divorce (Mark. 10:1-12).

      Non sequitur. That Christians believed Jesus taught that does not mean they learned it from Mark.

      At most Mark is the one who would have learned it from Paul (via Paul’s letters).

      Apostolic Fathers had references to Gospels

      All too late. This is late second century and on. NIF points out that once we’re in the second century, myth and legend and propaganda eclipsed all access to the actual truth. Holding admits his argument only works for the first century.

      (Didakhe, Letters of Ignatius, Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, Polycarp’s letters, letter of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas and so on). They are relativly early writings and they have references to the texts of the Gospels.

      None of the texts you name reference any of the canonical Gospels. Ignatius is the only one who comes close, but is so bizarre it’s hard to connect what he says to any Gospel we have (see Ignatian Vexation). Barnabas and Hermas and Polycarp probably knew some Gospels but don’t quote or name any Gospel we have. 1 Clement contains nothing from the Gospels nor any mention of them. Likewise the Didakhe.

    2. I still want to talk about the things you talked in NIF. I think it is important, and I think you still might be wrong on some occasions. Jewish view on resurrection is something that happens to everybody at once.

      There is a difference between “waking up from death” and resurrection. I think Dr. Carrier has misunderstood what happened to characters like Lazarus. Jesus woke many people up from death. This is not unclear for anybody. But this is not resurrection that we see in intertestamental literature. Resurrection and waking up from death are two different things. Daniel says (12:2-3):
      “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” This includes concept of change, which is something else that walking out of the grave.

      Resurrection was the moment in Jewish thinking when God interfers with the direction of the world. Yahweh comes to Zion and His followers will be raised. It’s not only returning from the dead: it’s whole new state of being. The person has a new body, where he can have a new body parts if we have lost them in battle. It’s a state where there is no longer death, and the whole body changes. This is radically different with the concept of returning from the death for temporary time. Even when Jesus “resurrected” Lazarus, he still dies later in time.

      Book of Baruch (30:2-5), shows pretty well this kind of a Jewish thinking about resurrection:
      “Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous, and they shall come forth, and a multitude of souls shall be seen together in one assemblage of one thought, and the first shall rejoice and the last shall not be grieved. For they know that the time has come of which it is said, that it is the consummation of the times. But the souls of the wicked, when they behold all these things, shall then waste away the more. For they shall know that their torment has come and their perdition has arrived.”

      In Judaism there was a debate about resurrection if the person had done something wrong (like murder). Will he be resurrected? And what happens to the Gentiles at the last day (they ether get destroyed or they turn to worship Yahweh. Hellenistic thinking were little bit different. There was no bodily resurrection, but the resurrection happened in spirit. Spirit or soul went to God and stayed there forever. This does not give an idea that resurrection would happen in different stages to different people. It was event connected with end of days.

      Elijah and John the Baptist. These has to be separated. (a) In Judaism there was an understanding that Elijah would return in the way or another before last day. This is based on the Book of Malachi 4:5-6:
      “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”.

      It has to be noted, that this does not talk about resurrection. More important factor is that Elijah is not dead but his body was taken up to heaven (2. Kings 2:11). So technically, he was not dead. Waiting for him was not about resurrection. Justin Martyr did not imply that Elijah would be resurrected. He implied that Elijah would just return in somehow. Like when Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus, it was not implied that they were resurrected. This would not fit to the understanding how Jews saw the resurrection.

      You took an example of Herod Antipas: That he thought that Jesus was resurrected John the Baptist. We have to notice that comment that Herod made does not reflect how Jews thought. Herod was raised in Rome, so if would not be correct to say that he would be typical Jew and his views would not be Jewish. The comment can not be held as an example of a Jewish thinking.

      Paul said that resurrection of Jesus was the firstfruit of the general resurrection. Paul was former rabbi, and he would know cases where people came back to life in OT. But still he said that Jesus was the first. It is important to notice that Paul’s understanding of resurrection is Jewish.

      1. I still want to talk about the things you talked in NIF. I think it is important, and I think you still might be wrong on some occasions.

        Indeed, I have changed views on some points since writing NIF. That will be clear in my next book (due out this Feb.).

        Jewish view on resurrection is something that happens to everybody at once.

        There are resurrections in the OT. So obviously not.

        Moreover, rabbinical literature explored various forms of staged resurrection even at the end times. I discuss this and cite the literature in The Empty Tomb, p. 107.

        There is a difference between “waking up from death” and resurrection.

        Only a modern one. In antiquity no general distinction was made (the same word referred to either).

        I discuss this, too, in The Empty Tomb (passim).

        This includes concept of change, which is something else that walking out of the grave.

        Yet either was referred to with the same words. That the last resurrections would be eternal was simply an eschatological point, not a definition of resurrection. Rabbis debated why–some held that God would change our bodies so they didn’t age etc., others held that God would change the laws of physics to prevent our same bodies from aging etc.

        All this was a borrow from Zoroastrian resurrection belief. (As I show in NIF.)

        Hellenistic thinking were little bit different. There was no bodily resurrection, but the resurrection happened in spirit.

        This is false on both counts. The word resurrection was almost never used of souls; it was always used of bodies, and Gentiles had lots of bodily resurrection beliefs, which I document extensively in NIF, even for eternal resurrected bodies, e.g. demigods, as well as non, e.g. plain resurrections (the pagan Zoroastrians even had a belief identical to the Jews’ own eschatological resurrection concept…but then, that’s because the Jews got the idea from them).

        So “there was no bodily resurrection” among pagans is false (Hercules, Asclepius, Osiris, Romulus, etc., just to list the eternal resurrected bodies; there was also non-eternal bodily resurrection among the pagans just like the resurrections performed by Jesus, Elijah, etc.). And that pagans only believed in eternal life “in spirit” is false (Zoroastrians refute it; Thracian Zalmoxians refute it; but among Hellenes, again, Hercules, Asclepius, Osiris, Romulus, etc. refute it).

        So I don’t know what you are trying to argue against.

  57. Reading about your difficulty in finding a worthwhile debater, I was thinking “Why not try Mark Goodacre?” …when I scrolled down to find his very name mentioned at the end.

    I was not able to access the radio podcast on the Premier Christian Radio site, but there’s a YouTube debate on “Did Jesus Exist?” with Goodacre of Dec. 17, 2012. Which could be the same radio debate.

    Mark Goodacre is intelligent, knowledgeable, and presents his ideas in a very clear manner, which does not even come across anywhere as dogmatic and peremptory as so many others tend to do.

    Reading his blog and thoughts is a pure pleasure to be dealing with a sophisticated and informed scholar.

    My feeling is that Goodacre would be your best bet, and would permit a very interesting debate.
    It might be worth cultivating him, for instance, sending him a complimentary copy of your new book when out.

    1. Absolutely. I blogged about my experience on that show and my appreciation for Goodacre generally (see here). He and I had already been in communication over this for more than a year. That’s how we ended up on that radio show. He has already read drafts of my book and is not convinced by my thesis, but he takes it seriously, and avoids most of the errors defenders of historicity fall into. He acknowledges the unreliability of almost all the evidence, and agrees it pretty much comes down to the Epistles and how we should read them. He would be an ideal debate opponent on this issue. And that may happen. There just aren’t any plans at present.

  58. Hey,

    You wrote in Empty Tomb, p.108, that “The Pharisees held adamantly to a belief in the literal resurrection of the body, but also incorporated a Hellenic-Babylonian astrology into their belief-system”.

    What does ‘Hellenic-Babylonian astrology’ mean? How did they practice that? Where I can read more about this?

    1. Some sources and discussion are in Adair’s new Star of Bethlehem book, coming out very soon (I will be blogging that). But if you want to dive right in, see Tamsyn Barton’s Ancient Astrology. Adair explains some of the differences. But generally, astrology as an “art” originated in a Babylonian system, and the Greeks simply borrowed that and altered it over time, hence the Greek system is more rightly called Hellenic-Babylonian. How exactly the Jews used it is hard to say because we have few texts on Jewish astrology from the period (I can think of only one, the Treatise of Shem, although there may be a few others; astrology also became a major feature of late antique Jewish synagogue art). There is an informative Wikipedia article on the subject.

  59. Dear Richard

    Can you please date the Day of Atonement and when did it happen?

    Have you heard of Simon the Righteous (Simon Ha Tzaddik) in the Talmud and Qumran?

    How many years did Simon the Righteous officiated as High Priest?

    I have summarize your article on Onias III he is the son of Simon the Righteous according to the Talmud.


    John Stuart

    1. I don’t see the relevance of any of these questions.

      I assume by “Day of Atonement” you don’t mean the annual Jewish holiday but the special eschatological day the Qumran text is talking about. But that text is fragmentary, so we can’t tell if they had identified it with a specific calendar day or year, only that they clearly believed it was some years in the future (I give one possible suggestion, but it’s only a possibility).

      I don’t fathom the relevance of Simon’s tenure to 11Q13 or Daniel.

  60. Hi Richard

    I have some information on Simon’s background.

    Who was Simon’s grandfather?

    There was 2 Kohanim priests serving as Kohen Gadol. One of them was the Leader and the other priests was taking care of service (Avodah)

    Simon grandfather was Jaddua when he was High Priest at the same time with Simon Ha Tzadik Jaddua’s grandson making Day of Atonement 11Q13.


    John Stuart

  61. Hi Richard

    There are 3 sub periods 7 weeks (49 years)

    62 weeks (434 years)

    1 week (7 years)

    There are two messiah in Daniel 9: 25 is Cyrus and in 9:26 is Messiah the Prince Onias III High Priest.

    In 9:26 prince is Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

    Destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC and the Decree of Liberation under Cyrus in 538 BC.

    The last week for Onias III “High Priest” is 171 to 164 BC.

    538 – 367 = 171 and 605 – 441 = 164.

    Cyrus is mentioned in Isaiah Ch 45;1


    John Stuart

  62. Hi Richard

    Have you read the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks Daniel Ch9?

    Can I refer to my earlier comment about Onias III.

    Can I remind all of your comments are not well referenced to Daniel Ch 9.

    (the Anointed Prince and the Prince of the Covenant) both offices is attributed to Onias III High Priest
    9:25; 11:22

    My point about the 490 years in your article is Sabbath and Jubilee is 7 years and 490.

    The authors of Daniel is the reductor of Men of the Great Assembly.


    John Stuart

  63. Hi Mary Helena

    In your comment about who was the last King and High Priest.

    There is a mistake you made in relating to who is the current King was at that time. Can I draw to your attention is that the Onias III was the last High Priest and King of the Jews according to both sources one in the Talmud and other one in the Gospel.

    The JC was the “Prince of the Covenant” in the Gospel and Onias III (199 – 171)


    John Stuart

  64. Hi Richard Carrier

    What does the text confirm the covenant means? Daniel 11:22; 9:25

    I assume that Onias III is holding both offices of High Priest and King of the Jews is a dual role according to the Order of Melchizedek.

    There is a wikipedia on Prophecy of Seventy Weeks. There is a striking resemblance to the Sabbath and Jubilee the Sabbath is the 7 years and the Jubilee is 490 years.

    The authors of Daniel were the Men of Great Assembly.

    The High Priest who bore the title “Prince of the Covenant” he was the defacto the head of the theocracy.


    John Stuart

  65. Hopefully this message will get through to you. I can’t find a contact email.

    I recently ran across a scholar, David C. Mitchell, who has been publishing for years about a Messiah ben Joseph who suffers and dies. I searched your site and your books that I own and didn’t find him.

    He’s been arguing that the ‘legend’ of ben Joseph, which current scholarship mostly says arose after the Bar Kochba revolt, actually goes back to 2-1 BC to 1AD. He uses some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jonathan Targum, and other sources to make his arguments that there was a pre-xtian belief in a dying, rising and/or redeeming messiah. I can’t give an educated eval, but his work looks good to me.

    Here’s link to his pub list.

  66. Dr. Carrier,
    Do mainstream Bible scholars interpret “seventy weeks” (Dan. 9:24) to mean 490 years? If so, why? Why doesn’t Dan. use the word “years” in Dan. 9:24 as in Dan. 9:2? What interpretations and calculations “predicted the world would end in 164 B.C.?”
    Barry Rucker

    1. Daniel 9 has Daniel trying to understand why a prophecy in Jeremiah failed, and the angel tells him it didn’t fail, that Jeremiah meant by weeks, weeks of years (7 year periods). Daniel then follows the angel’s instructions and reinterprets the Jeremiah prophecy by always replacing weeks with weeks of years. As to how modern scholars figure out the method is designed to match 164 B.C., any standard bible commentary will tell you.


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