Simon Gathercole gained infamy writing a really atrocious, face-palmingly bad article on the historicity of Jesus for The Guardian some years back. Which I took to task in 2017 (in The Guardian on Jesus). He has now published a proper, peer reviewed article on the subject, focused on the Epistles of Paul:
- Simon Gathercole, “The Historical and Human Existence of Jesus in Paul’s Letters,” in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 16.2-3 (2018): 183-212.
Of course right out of the gate this confuses “historical” with “human.” The only viable mythicist thesis that has passed peer review to date holds that the original belief was indeed that Jesus became a human man, wearing a body of Jewish (indeed Davidic) flesh formed by God, in fulfillment of prophecy, long enough to be crucified in it by demonic powers, all to effect God’s cosmic plan to stymie Satan. The question is not whether the original Christians taught or believed that had happened, but where they believed that had happened. There is evidence some Christians thought it happened in the sky. Not on earth. Just as was thought of a neighboring savior god, Osiris. You can survey all the clues regarding that, and the background it makes sense in, in On the Historicity of Jesus.
Which is odd, considering that this time, finally, Gathercole actually knows my book exists and is attempting to respond to it. He wants to demonstrate that the “undisputed” Epistles of Paul alone are sufficient to establish that the first Christians surely knew a real, walking-around-Galilee Jesus, and not a revelatory being whose passion only played out hidden in the heavens. Indeed, his thesis is even more ambitious than that (emphasis here added):
Attention to the language of the birth, ancestry and coming of Jesus demonstrates the historicity and human bodily existence of Jesus. There is also information about his ministry, disciples, teaching and character in the epistles which has been neglected. Paul’s letters, even taken alone, also show the Herodian timeframe of Jesus’ ministry. The evidence discussed challenges not only mythicist hypotheses, but also the minimalist strand of more mainstream Jesus-Paul research.
In other words, Gathercole is challenging even mainstream historicity scholarship. Not just the mythicist camp.
Let’s examine his case.
We’ll cover these subjects:
- A Brief on Method
- A Man and a Woman: First Up, Woman
- A Man and a Woman: Next Up, Man
- Seed of David, How?
- Strange Digression on Anti-history
- Can Cosmic Saviors Not Be Named Savior?
- What Kind of Brothers?
- Even the Mythic Jesus Had a Body
- Confused Ideas of Paul’s Eucharist Vision
- Wait, What Ministry?
- Jesus Taught, How?
- Where Did Jesus Suffer, Die, and Get Buried?
- Digression on Chronology
A Brief on Method
To examine Gathercole’s case correctly requires that we understand how to reason logically about evidence. I discuss this in several places in OHJ and extensively in Proving History. But most especially with respect to Paul in OHJ, pp. 512-14. I highly recommend reading that carefully. But in sum:
Any item of evidence you wish to examine, you must ask of it: “If Paul believed in the cosmic Jesus theory and not the earthly Jesus theory, is this what he likely would have written or not?” One must also ask the reverse, “If Paul instead believed in the earthly Jesus theory and not the cosmic one, is this what he likely would have written or not?” And in both cases you must account for prior known facts, which affect those probabilities. Such as that the texts we have were all edited and selected by historicists (“earthly theorists”), so, for example, we can expect that even if Paul wrote anything more clearly supportive of the cosmic theory, we would not get to see that evidence today—and therefore its absence is effectively 100% expected on mythicism and thus cannot be evidence against it. Likewise, we know Paul and the earliest Christians certainly believed that, whichever Jesus they followed (the always-cosmic or once-earthly), his narrative must have conformed to and fulfilled scripture, so what they did believe of him will not be limited to historical facts but include things they were sure had to be true, because scripture told them it was—so anything entailed by scripture that can be made compatible with a cosmic narrative is also effectively 100% expected on mythicism, and thus cannot be evidence against it.
To have evidence for historicity in Paul, we need things he said (and didn’t say) that are likely on the earthly theory and unlikely on the cosmic theory. Not things that are equally expected on both theories. (And certainly not things that are unlikely on the earthly theory but likely on the cosmic one.) It is only by having evidence that’s likely on the one theory and unlikely on the other that that evidence will produce a likelihood ratio increasing the probability Jesus existed, and thus make it “evidence Jesus existed.” And these likelihoods must be evaluated in the context of other things we know, like early Christian dependence on scripture and the rigging of the record in favor of a later prevailing sect.
And in case it’s not clear, by “existed” we mean actually, not in local belief. Certainly even on mythicism Paul and the first Christians believed Jesus existed. In just the same way they believed Satan existed, and lived in the sky; they would have believed exactly the same of Jesus. We only now say that means Jesus never existed, because we know sky lords don’t exist. If we conclude the evidence shows that’s what Christians believed, then we would know Jesus no more existed than Satan did. But that’s not a description of what they believed. They felt they were receiving revelations from Jesus. That was all they needed to prove to them he existed. But that is not valid historical evidence that any god or spirit actually exists.
I also have to point out that it is not enough to have “some” evidence for a conclusion. There often is evidence for mutually conflicting theories. To decide between them, there needs to be more evidence for one theory than the other. And “more” means not quantity per se, but perhaps even just quality. Altogether, the degree to which all the evidence is more likely on earth-Jesus than space-Jesus will raise the baseline probability of historicity. If it raises it above 50%, then we have odds favoring the real past existence of Jesus. But if it doesn’t, if our final odds remain below 50%, then the odds do not favor historicity. Although historicity may remain nevertheless plausible; if, for instance, the probability of it is not very much lower than 50%. As I found in OHJ, at the upper bound of my error margin. I concluded the highest odds of that reasonably possible is 1 in 3. Which is low enough to make historicity “improbable,” but not low enough to rule it out.
And importantly, this works both ways. If the odds of Jesus existing come out at above 50% but not by much, then they will be high enough to make historicity the more probable conclusion, but not high enough to be sure. This is why it is crucially important to actually articulate what probabilities you mean when you assert certain things are certain or likely; because it is not even enough to argue the evidence makes the existence of Jesus likely. If reasonable judgment can’t get the probability of that high enough, then mythicism remains a plausible possibility even should it be less probable. This is what I conclude, for example, regarding Ehrman’s theory of historicity: that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet spun out by the cognitive dissonance of his fanatical followers into a divine savior. I think that’s a very plausible theory and may yet be what actually happened. I merely conclude it’s less likely than the “revelation” thesis.
So with that brief on method completed, let’s see how it applies to Gathercole’s case. (Skipping his introductory historical background section, which doesn’t contain his arguments for any particular conclusion: Gathercole, pp. 183-86.)
A Man and a Woman: First Up, Woman
Gathercole starts out with the “born of a mother” passage in Galatians 4 (Gathercole, pp. 186-88). He says “it is hard to imagine a clearer statement of Jesus’ humanity” than to say he was “born of a mother.” Mythicism already entails he was once human though. So Gathercole must mean that “having a mother” entails more than humanity, but a known earthly life. That’s not strictly true. Irenaeus documents sects that believed Jesus had a celestial mother (some form of divine feminine being), and I do note this in OHJ (pp. 580-81). But Paul does link “having a mother” with being born of human flesh, so I don’t think that’s likely what he would mean in Galatians 4. It is rather more obvious that Paul isn’t talking about literal human mothers there, but allegorical ones (“these things are an allegory“).
In OHJ (Ch. 11.9) I show that Paul is just as likely to have said this of a celestially born Jesus as an earthly one, in the context of what he is actually arguing in Galatians 3 and 4. And I’ve just recently written up a more thorough demonstration of that fact (Yes, Galatians 4 Is Allegorical). So I think this is a wash. We can’t tell from this passage whether Paul and the Galatians believed Jesus had a real earthly mother or not. So we can’t use it to prove anything. Nevertheless, in OHJ I argue a fortiori and thus actually count this as evidence for historicity. I estimate that, at the most favorable I can reasonably be given the information known to me, Paul is twice as likely to have written this if he believed in an earth-Jesus than if he only believed in a cosmic one. And my end conclusion, of an only 1 in 3 chance Jesus was historical, is based on factoring that in, in favor of historicity.
Gathercole even inadvertently supports my point by citing a bunch of parallel passages in the Septuagint where the same phrase is used: because every single example he finds, uses the word for “born” (gennêtos) that Paul assiduously avoided using in precisely this place. Paul substitutes instead his own preferred word for divine manufacture, being ‘made’ (genomenos, the participle of gignomai) from a woman (Gal. 4:4), not ‘born’ as he says we are (in Gal. 4:23, 29). He goes out of his way to choose these different words even in this very same argument. This is strange. Unless Paul is speaking indeed of divine manufacture into the realm of flesh, and thus not literally passing through a vagina. Indeed, Gathercole finds another common parallel phrase “born of a womb,” which even more starkly illustrates my point: Paul does not mention a womb.
What is indicative that Gathercole is running a scam here, and not being an honest scholar, is that despite claiming to address my book, which contains the only peer reviewed version of mythicism there is, he concludes that “the only real solution for the mythicist is to regard ‘born from a woman’ as an interpolation.” He never once mentions nor ever addresses what I actually argue in OHJ, which is not that this is an interpolation (I in fact argue against that thesis, concluding it may well have odds of 1000 to 1 against: p. 569, n. 73), but that this is an allegory.
How is it that Gathercole doesn’t know that? How can it be that he can claim “the only” response available is interpolation? He even quotes a mythicist chapter by Thomas Verenna stating “what [Paul] is expressing, is not an earthly figure, but an allegorical one” (Gathercole, p. 185), a chapter in which Verenna articulates an allegory thesis for this very passage. And my entire section on this passage in OHJ is devoted solely to the allegory thesis; and Gathercole reveals he knows this later in his article (when he tries to argue the contrary for Romans 1:3: Gathercole, p. 191, n. 32). So it seems hard to conclude Gathercole is doing anything here other than lying. But even at our most charitable, his paper completely fails to address the peer reviewed literature he claims to be answering. Which should not be able pass peer review. I can only conclude his peer reviewers didn’t check whether he was failing to address the literature; they were duped by his misrepresentation of it.
Gathercole also doesn’t really answer my argument from vocabulary, that Paul conspicuously avoids using his preferred word for human birth exactly here, and uses instead his preferred word for divine manufacture. At most Gathercole implies Paul uses these words too rarely to be sure of a distinction, but that’s false. Paul uses them amply enough to be quite clear.
This is a pattern. Defenders of historicity never tell the whole truth or even mention the actual challenges to their position. Why is that? Why can historicity only be defended dishonestly or avoidantly?
A Man and a Woman: Next Up, Man
Much the same can be said of Gathercole’s attempt to argue for historicity on the basis that Paul calls Jesus a “man,” an anthropos (Gathercole, pp. 188-91). Even though OHJ repeatedly notes this is exactly what the cosmic Jesus thesis also entails; indeed I devote a whole paragraph explicitly to the point (p. 570). It therefore cannot be evidence for either position. I’ve already explained this in detail to James McGrath, who made the same startling mistake, in Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?
Once again, Gathercole completely ignores the peer reviewed literature challenging his conclusion from this very evidence. That should not be able to pass peer review. So why did it?
And ironically, once again, Gathercole inadvertently assembles more evidence for my very position here: he shows how Paul repeatedly equated Jesus to Adam. Adam. Who was never literally born of a woman, but manufactured by God. And indeed Paul uses the exact same word for the formation of both Adam and Jesus. A fact that argues against Gathercole’s thesis. What does he have to say about that? Nothing. (Gathercole also throws in an aside that “Paul appears clearly to think that Adam was also historical,” suggesting Gathercole does not understand the mythicist thesis, which, as I already noted above, is not the thesis that the earliest Christians didn’t think Jesus existed.)
What is especially damning here is that in little asides and footnotes Gathercole reveals he was closely reading OHJ; so it does indeed look like his omissions from it are an act of lying. For example, at one point Gathercole notes I find the wording of Philippians 2:8 peculiar, in that it does not say Jesus came as a man but “was found in appearance” as one. Gathercole misses the point and responds that “being ‘found’ is idiomatic (cf. French se trouver); it is not ‘most curious’, but standard biblical Greek.” I wasn’t saying otherwise. To the contrary, what is peculiar is the choice of this idiom here, when conjoining it with “in appearance as human.” As I actually wrote (OHJ, p. 534), emphasis now added:
Then we’re told he was ‘discovered’ in that form, and apparently in result was thought to be a man (schēma being the outward form, the appearance of a thing). The latter point is most curious. To say Jesus was ‘found’ that way entails someone did the finding, and mistook him for a man (heuretheis meaning ‘being found, discovered’). Who would that be? In the original Ascension of Isaiah, it was Satan and his demons who found him in that form—and then killed him, not knowing who he really was.
In other words, I do not think the idiom is “curious.” I said I think applying that idiom in this way is curious. In other words, that Jesus would be found in this way—and not simply directly “found to be human,” for instance—is peculiar. And indeed it is. Gathercole himself wrings his hands for several pages over the problem and gets nowhere other than a variety of opinions and uncertain conclusions, which is actually demonstration of my point: it’s so peculiar, no one can come to any agreement on what Paul means by it.
But more importantly, I am not arguing Jesus wasn’t human. Gathercole seems to portray this as my position, even though all the text he is referencing makes clear it is not. Rather, what Paul is obviously saying is that Jesus was briefly given a human body-suit to wear (in the manner illustrated in 2 Cor. 5). His outward appearance was human not because it was an illusion (hence I nowhere say the word schêma indicates this), but because it was an actual human body. What they didn’t know is what was inside it: an eternal celestial being (hence Philippians 2:6-7 etc.). There is no way anyone could confuse me for saying anything else in OHJ who had actually read OHJ. Unless they were keen on misrepresenting what OHJ argues. But why would someone need to do that, if the historicity of Jesus is so defensible against what I actually say? Think that one through.
Seed of David, How?
Gathercole then moves to the next most typical passage in dispute, where Paul says Jesus was “made of the seed of David” (Romans 1:3; Gathercole, pp. 191-92). Which I discuss in OHJ in the very same section as the previous passage about his being “made of a mother.” And which I again score a fortiori as twice as likely on historicity and thus as evidence for historicity; even though I personally find it too ambiguous to argue for either.
Gathercole’s argument here is:
Beyond his humanity in general, Jesus came from Israelite stock (Rom. 9.5), and was therefore a descendant of Abraham (Gal. 3.16). He was a Jew in ethnic terms (Gal. 4.4), and ‘born under the Law’ here might suggest not just Jewish ethnicity but perhaps being born into a culture of religious Law-observance.
But Paul never says Jesus descended from anyone. Least of all Abraham. In Galatians 3:16 Paul only says Jesus came from Abrahamic seed. Not how. Likewise in Romans 1:3, Paul only says Jesus came from Davidic seed. Not how. The word “descended” simply isn’t in the Greek, despite many modern translations wanting to put it there. Likewise Romans 9:5: just compare how speciously that verse gets translated in some Bibles, compared to Bibles that stick to the actual Greek. And so too Romans 15:12 and 15:8. As I explicitly point out in OHJ (cf. p. 575); in fact this is a point I illustrate repeatedly in OHJ. Gathercole says virtually nothing about it. Why?
Gathercole not only conspicuously avoids my actual analysis of this, but he avoids even explaining what my argument is. He merely puts in a footnote about my treatment of Romans 1:3 that “this is very hard to take in an allegorical sense” (Gathercole, p. 191, n. 32). How much argument do I spend on this possibly being allegorical in OHJ? A single sentence (and footnote thereto). What do I actually argue in OHJ? That it is literally meant: God manufactured a body-suit for Jesus directly from David’s semen—exactly as prophecy required (OHJ, pp. 575-77). As I actually wrote, “An allegorical meaning is possible. But so is a literal one—even on minimal mythicism” (OHJ, p. 575). Which is the only thesis I then go on to defend, for two whole pages. Does Gathercole address that thesis? Nope. He barely even mentions it. You should be asking why. You should also be asking why his peer reviewers did not ask him why.
Gathercole well knows the truth here. He briefly refers to my thesis at the end of that same footnote—though never explains what the thesis is or what my arguments for it are, never mentions it is literal and not allegorical, and gives no arguments against my case for it. He simply insists there “are” arguments against my case for it…but apparently only crickets ensue when anyone asks what those arguments are. (How does that survive peer review?) Since I argue in OHJ that all the evidence points to God manufacturing a body for Jesus out of Jewish (indeed specifically Davidic, and thus Jessean and Abrahamic) flesh—there is no evidence in Paul that this ever involved a father or mother in any earthly sense—how can Gathercole just ignore my entire case for this? Why does he ignore my entire case for this?
For example, I argued:
Philippians 2.6-11 portrays this fact as an act of divine construction, not human procreation (as [I already] noted in [section] 4): Jesus ‘took’ human form, was ‘made’ to look like a man and then ‘found’ to be resembling one (see also Heb. 2.17). No mention of birth, childhood or parents.(OHJ, p. 575)
I also show that the prophecy this all derived from, 2 Samuel 7.12-14, could not be literally fulfilled except by direct manufacture from David’s sperm (p. 576). Because it says there would be an unbroken line of kings sitting on the throne from David to the Messiah; which historically did not happen. The prophecy was thus false. Unless someone could think of a way to rescue it. The easiest way to? Take it literally. It says God would make a Son of God for himself by directly extracting semen from the belly of David (the same in Greek as in the Hebrew). The original Christians would need no more evidence that that had happened than that. And as it was such a crucial prophecy about the messiah, they had to believe it happened; so we need no further explanation for why they did. And that’s just some of the evidence I adduce. Gathercole mentions none of it, and responds to none of it.
By contrast, Gathercole devotes a whole lengthy footnote on my proposal that Philo regarded a prophecy in Zechariah as referring to an angelic Jesus figure (Gathercole, pp. 192-93, n. 35), where he actually lays out a bunch of arguments for his own preferred reading, and though he largely ignores all my arguments for the contrary (which already rebut his case here, and which I already summarized and expanded on in my expose of Larry Hurtado’s attempt to argue against me in The Difference Between a Historian and an Apologist), Gathercole at least develops a lengthy case for his position. And yet I never use this fact as evidence against the historicity of Jesus. So it’s largely moot. And yet the section that actually matters, where I address the meaning of Romans 1:3, evidence that isn’t moot, Gathercole ignores every argument I make, and makes no arguments against any of them. Why is that?
Strange Digression on Anti-history
In his conclusion—which mostly just repeats, as a summary, the rest of the paper (Gathercole, pp. 210-12)—Gathercole even makes an inexplicable argument that we should not interpret Paul’s statements in light of common knowledge in antiquity, nor allow any possibility of other teachings outside what Paul says in his letters. This is an extremely bizarre thing to say. And it’s exactly 100% the opposite of valid historical reasoning.
Gathercole is worried about “appeals to very particular passages” in the body of texts Christians regarded then as scriptures “which neither Paul nor his readers can be presumed to have known,” but on what basis can he know they “didn’t know” particular passages? Obviously there was an extensive amount of scriptural exegesis, study, and teaching Paul and other Apostles disseminated to all his congregations that isn’t mentioned in Paul’s letters. He repeatedly reveals this when he cites obscure passages in scripture making his points, all in ways that clearly indicate his audience well knew what he was talking about. I should hardly have to cite examples. They exist in nearly every chapter of every letter.
So why is Gathercole now insisting no such knowledge existed? That we should even assume it did not, in order to correctly interpret things Paul said? The exact opposite is the case. We can only correctly understand Paul by acknowledging that he and his audience are riffing on a large body of peculiar scriptural knowledge they share in common. And the messianic status—and obvious literal meaning required by universally known historical facts—of 2 Samuel 7 is not even obscure. It would be absurd to think that wasn’t a very well known and widely discussed proof text in Christian congregations long before Paul even wrote a single letter. It almost certainly had to have been a component of the pesher forming even the very first Christian teaching.
It makes even less sense for Gathercole to make this same backwards argument about “generalizations about what ‘the ancients’ believed.” Gathercole is bothered by the fact that accounting for commonplace knowledge and beliefs in antiquity that differ substantially from today, changes how we understand things Paul was saying and what his audience would have understood him to have been saying. But that’s correct historical reasoning: Paul would not have been writing for modern 21st century audiences, nor assuming or even knowing facts in the common database now of 21st century readers (such as about the structure and contents of the universe). To the contrary, we can only correctly understand Paul by abandoning exactly such constructs and replacing them with the constructs that would have been operating then.
That Gathercole wants to abandon the entire cognitive and informational context of ancient texts does not bode well for his reliability as an interpreter of historical facts. But back to the analysis…
Can Cosmic Saviors Not Be Named Savior?
Gathercole then leans on the arguments of Daniel Gullotta on the possibility of an angel being named Jesus (Gathercole, pp. 192-93), which I’ve already rebutted. And Gathercole never mentions or responds to what I actually argue about this name in OHJ (pp. 239-42). In particular:
Jesus is an English derivation from the Greek spelling of the Hebrew name Joshua (Yeshua), which means ‘Yahweh saves’. … That should make us suspicious from the start. Isn’t his name abnormally convenient? … [W]hat are the odds that his birth name would be ‘Savior’, and then he would be hailed as the Savior? Are historical men who are worshiped as savior gods usually so conveniently named? No, not usually.
Indeed, as I conclude, when considering “the probability of any savior god being named Savior (among that god’s many names, and Jesus also had many names, from Christ to Lord to Emmanuel)” we have to face the fact that “probably most savior gods were called Savior.” So we cannot get evidence for his actual existence from this name. Gathercole’s response? Silence.
Remember sound method? If the probability is the same that a cosmic savior would be named God’s Savior is the same as the probability an earthly savior would, then it is not evidence for either. One should sooner wonder how a savior came to be accidentally so conveniently named. Isn’t that more unlikely than that a cosmic savior would be named savior? Why does Gathercole never address this point? It is literally the only relevant point to discuss in respect to the name of Jesus as evidence.
What Kind of Brothers?
Gathercole certainly gets around to arguing that Paul’s two references to “brothers of the Lord” must mean biological brothers and therefore Jesus must have been an earthly man (Gathercole, pp. 193-94). As well he should. I’ve long noted it looks like the only good evidence for historicity. And indeed I do count it a fortiori as evidence for historicity, marking these references as together twice as likely if Jesus existed than if he didn’t (OHJ, pp. 592-94). Although I personally find these passages to be evidence against historicity, for reasons I explain across numerous pages in OHJ (pp. 582-92), and yet which Gathercole never mentions nor responds to.
Gathercole writes that “we gather from 1 Cor. 9.5 that [Jesus] had brothers who went on to missionize in his name” and we “hear from Galatians that James was one of these brothers (Gal. 1.19)” (Gathercole, p. 193). I argue, of course, that these passages are at best ambiguous as to whether Paul means biological or cultic brothers; and at worst, evince the fact that Paul had no knowledge of there being a distinction he had to make between those and therefore had no knowledge of biological brothers. Because we have clear and unambiguous evidence Paul believed all baptized Christians were brothers of the Lord (e.g. Romans 8:29; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; etc.). He thus definitely knew “brothers of the Lord” existed cultically. But that means he would have needed to specify biological brothers when referring to them and not just baptized Christians. It is weird that he doesn’t; and weird means unlikely. These passages are therefore unlikely on historicity. (Unless Jesus existed and had no brothers.)
What does Gathercole argue against my case for this? Literally just a single sentence in the main text of his article:
The view that ‘the brothers of the Lord’ just means ‘any baptized Christian whatever’ does not work for 1 Cor. 9.5, since if Paul were talking about the right of every Christian he could simply have used that general category without adding apostles and Cephas; it would be especially odd if the most general category of the three were sandwiched between ‘apostles’ and ‘Cephas’.(Gathercole, p. 194)
And a single footnote thereto:
Similarly, in Galatians 1, James is clearly being disambiguated from other people called James, and referring to him simply as a Christian would not do this. Carrier takes the phrase to mean … “Christians below apostolic rank” but this qualification makes the background in Romans 6 and 8 very difficult to maintain.(Gathercole, p. 194, n. 40)
None of these arguments make sense. But worse, none actually respond to or even mention what my arguments for the contrary are in OHJ.
Gathercole’s argument that “if Paul were talking about the right of every Christian he could simply have used that general category without adding apostles and Cephas” completely ignores my argument to the contrary in OHJ (p. 586):
Paul must mean by ‘brothers of the Lord’ here simply Christians—and in particular, Christians below apostolic rank. That finally makes the point of his argument clear: if even regular Christians were being given this privilege (of being supported by the communities they traveled to on church business), then surely Paul should be, being an actual apostle. He is thus arguing a fortiori. Likewise, by mentioning Cephas, Paul clearly assumes the Corinthians understood Cephas (i.e. Peter) and himself to be equals and deserving of equal rights. Paul assumes this elsewhere, too (1 Cor. 1.12 and 3.22). …
And the same entails that Paul cannot mean the biological brothers of Jesus: for how could Paul expect the Corinthians to assume he was the equal of even the Lord’s own family? Unless the Corinthians would already have agreed that their being his family gained them no special privileges—but then, if that were the case, why would Paul single them out as an example?
Gathercole never mentions this argument. Nor ever responds to it. Paul has to mention Cephas and Apostles, because his argument is that he is their equal and thus deserves the same privileges as them. And for rhetorical effect he also had to mention the lower ranking Christians traveling on church business getting the same privilege, because if even they did, surely he should. Hence in the very next line Paul says, “Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?” Thus he has to mention that lower ranking personnel were given this privilege to shame the Corinthians into admitting they were treating him worse than even his inferiors. The rest of his argument is that he is an Apostle, and therefore should get the privileges of an Apostle; which requires him to cite examples of Apostles getting that privilege. And thus he does.
By contrast, there is no reason for Paul to mention the kin of Jesus here. As he was not the kin of Jesus, he could not have been arguing he deserved the same privileges as them. And he certainly can’t be mentioning them because they are below him in rank and therefore the Corinthians should be ashamed they are treating Paul and Barnabas even lower than the lowest of ranks. So what argument could he possibly have intended here? There isn’t any. If the family of Jesus were being given special privileges, there is no way mentioning that fact helps Paul argue that he and Barnabas should too. So Gathercole’s argument not only makes no sense, it is already refuted by the argument I already made in OHJ. So why did he deploy an argument my book already refutes, rather than attempt a response to that refutation? Why does he act like I made no argument against his claim at all?
Indeed, that Gathercole isn’t paying attention to the actual context of 1 Cor. 9:5 is shown by his eventual aside that Paul’s not mentioning Jesus being married in this verse is evidence Jesus wasn’t married (Gahercole, p. 194). But Paul is only citing examples of personnel the diaspora churches were extending a privilege to; citing the fact of Jesus being married would have absolutely no relevance to that. Jesus wasn’t a missionary claiming these privileges. So there is no way this passage could indicate anything about the marital status of Jesus. That Gathercole confuses himself into thinking it can shows he doesn’t even understand what argument Paul is making or why Paul is naming anyone at all in his argument.
Not realizing things like this trips Gathercole up a lot. For instance, it isn’t “especially odd if the most general category of the three were sandwiched between ‘apostles’ and ‘Cephas’,” because the canons of ancient rhetoric taught such uses of chiastic structure.
For example, in a footnote Gathercole argues something that isn’t all that relevant but that illustrates his ignorance of chiastic ordering:
There is no hint, pace Carrier, Historicity of Jesus, p. 588, that [the Pillars] James and John were brothers. Indeed, the word order [in Galatians 2:9] with Cephas intervening (Ἰάκωβος καὶ Kηφᾶς καὶ Ἰωάννης) virtually excludes this, unless all three were brothers!(Gathercole, p. 193, n. 38)
Gathercole is thus trying to argue the Pillars were not the three right-hand men to Jesus characterized in the Gospels (Peter, and the brothers James and John), but included instead his own brother James—contrary to this not being in evidence anywhere else in Christian literature, and contrary to the Gospels clearly stating the contrary. Be that as it may, Gathercole’s argument is not sound. “James and Cephas and John” is a chiastic ordering, placing Cephas (Peter) as the central pillar of the three (as the first Apostle: 1 Cor. 15:5). This is what the Gospels portray: Peter stood between the two next-most-ranking leaders of the gospel, the brothers James and John. We therefore cannot infer from this order that Paul did not know they were brothers (although their being so could still have been a later Gospel invention). Paul repeatedly illustrates how family connections were not relevant within the church. We were all one in Christ now, all brothers now. So Paul’s ordering of names here is not likely to signify any ulterior messages about family relations. And he cannot mean the list is in order of rank; because even he knew Peter was the first Apostle, not James. Thus the most central member he wants to call attention to he puts in the center.
So when we go back and look at 1 Corinthians 9:5 we see a similar structure. Just as Paul puts Peter between his subordinates James and John in his listing of the Pillars to illustrate Peter was the most important of the three, Paul puts everyday missionaries in between “Apostles” and the supreme Apostle to call attention to their central importance to his argument: “Apostles get this privilege on one side, Peter gets it on the other, and in between even regular Christian staff do—so why don’t I?” is Paul’s argument. By contrast, he can’t mean his list is in order of ascending rank, “otherwise he could easily be rebutted by pointing out to him that he doesn’t get the privileges of ranks he has not attained” (OHJ, pp. 186).
The rest of Gathercole’s arguments make even less sense. That in “Galatians 1, James is clearly being disambiguated from other people called James” is indeed exactly what Paul is doing. I concur with other experts I cite in OHJ that the grammar of the pertinent sentence entails Paul is saying this James is not an Apostle; he is merely a rank-and-file Christian, a common “brother of the Lord” (p. 590). He is thus being disambiguated from the Apostle James. Just as if I were to say that yesterday “I met the Pope and a Christian named James,” thus clearly indicating James was not a ranking officer of the Church but just an everyday Christian—and still in no way implying the Pope was not also a Christian. So Gathercole has no relevant argument here. Worse, his argument ignores my argument to the contrary in OHJ. Why?
As to what Gathercole means by any of this making “the background in Romans 6 and 8 very difficult to maintain” is beyond me. He does not explain. And I see no difficulty. I don’t even see any relevance of these chapters to any of the points I make in OHJ. Other than that they establish Paul well knew all baptized Christians were brothers of the Lord. Which actually argues for my conclusion, not Gathercole’s.
Even the Mythic Jesus Had a Body
Gathercole then goes on to explain that there are many references in Paul to Jesus having a body, and a body of flesh and blood at that (Gathercole, pp. 194-96). Since that does not argue at all against any credible form of mythicism (as I already explained from the start), it is hard to fathom why he thinks it does. Certainly he should know it does not bear any relevance against the thesis of OHJ, which argues the original belief was as Philippians 2 describes: Jesus was briefly given a mortal body of flesh to die in; it does not say this happened on earth. So once again Gathercole conceals the actual thesis he is arguing against, and offers no arguments against it. Why?
Confused Ideas of Paul’s Eucharist Vision
Gathercole does this several times. In the course of that irrelevant argument that Jesus was believed to have had a body, Gathercole mentions an argument regarding the Eucharist scene Paul conveys in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (which I thoroughly cover in OHJ, Ch. 11.7), saying that, “If Paul received this knowledge by revelation, he viewed that revelation as depicting a historical episode” (Gathercole, p. 195). Since that’s indeed what I also argue in OHJ—it is, just as Paul says, a revealed vision of something Jesus did in his final night before submitting to the demonic powers that killed him—why then is Gathercole posing this as an argument for historicity? Beats me.
Gathercole also says “it is hard … to imagine” a dinner scene “taking place in the firmament,” but I extensively demonstrate in OHJ that that’s not even unusual, as everything on earth had its counterparts in heaven—and in the firmament (OHJ, pp. 40-41, 45, 194-99, 541-43). Is Gathercole suffering the same cognitive defect as Maurice Casey? Or did he not read my quotations and citations of examples of other like things and events in the skies and heavens? It is no harder to imagine a dinner in the sky, where we are told are copies of everything on earth, than to imagine, as many Jews did, that Adam and Eve ate meals (e.g. of fruit from trees) even as far up as the third heaven (as the Revelation of Moses says; and as Paul must have agreed, since he believed Eden is, indeed, in the third heaven). The bottom line is, Paul never says where this event took place. So we can’t use it as evidence.
Gathercole objects that Paul “draws such a direct line of continuity between Jesus’ institution of the ritual and the Corinthians’ celebration of it,” but I do not see any logical argument here. That direct line is from revelation above to emulation below. There is no way to extract from the revelation directly inspiring the earthly ritual that its inauguration occurred on earth. And, again, Paul never says it did. That’s why this can’t be used as evidence he thought it did. Gathercole also keeps calling this “the ‘last supper’ passage,” but never points out, as I do in OHJ, that Paul never calls it that; so Gathercole appears to be sneaking in invented evidence that Paul understood this to be the “last” of a series of meals, rather than a single cosmic event. There is no evidence Paul thought that.
Gathercole also asserts Paul’s description of his Eucharist revelation involved people present with Jesus. But that’s false. And Gathercole gives no reason for reaching that conclusion. He only says Paul imagines Jesus “breaking bread in people’s presence” because of four uses of the Greek pronoun “this” (τοῦτο; Gathercole, p. 195). I cannot fathom how he derives such a conclusion from that fact. The word “this” is never used by Jesus or Paul in that passage to refer to other people being present. The audience is always future Christians, not present persons. Indeed, the absence of anyone present is a peculiar feature of Paul’s account of this event, that conspicuously distinguishes it from later Gospel versions.
Gathercole later says people must have been present (Gathercole, p. 202) because Paul says that in his vision Jesus “took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it,” but what is missing from that sentence is precisely the presence of other people! Citing the absence of people as evidence of people is not sound reasoning. He also confusingly asks “how could” the people receiving this vision “remember what he had done before his death if he had never visited earth?” Um. It’s a vision. That’s how. Exactly how Paul knows this happened without having been there. As for him, so for everyone else claiming to have received the same revelation. Remember, in Paul’s account of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, he never mentions anyone ever seeing him until after he died (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; cf. OHJ, pp. 516-17). At which point they would have experienced him communicating everything he wanted of them. Including this. Just as happened to Paul (hence 1 Cor. 15:8). So there is nothing to explain here.
Gathercole also ignores the evidence establishing that Paul certainly does not mean “betrayed” here but “handed over,” meaning by God. As Paul says, “God delivered him up” (Romans 8.32) and Jesus “delivered himself up” (Galatians 2:20) and so on (all the same word). So there is no evidence of a Judas event here either. Paul never heard of any Judas narrative: for him all twelve were present to receive the revelation of Christ (1 Cor. 15:5). Gathercole shows no signs of having read, and certainly poses no response to, my demonstration of both facts in OHJ (p. 560-61; and p. 453, n. 132, in ref. to Proving History, pp. 151-55 and associated endnotes on pp. 317-19; cf. OHJ, pp. 312-14, on the absence of a Judas narrative in 1 Clement). Yes, Paul is receiving a vision of what he believed to be a historical event that occurred on a special night. But he does not say nor ever indicates that that event occurred on earth. So we can’t use this as evidence he thought it did.
Wait, What Ministry?
There are no references to Jesus having a ministry in Paul. Nevertheless, Gathercole struggles to invent some (Gathercole, pp. 196-97). But he again here shows no sign of having read the theses he claims to be responding to. For example, he leads with Paul’s reference to Christ as a “deacon to the Jews,” and yet as I wrote in OHJ (pp. 571-72):
Sometimes it’s claimed Paul referred to Jesus having had a ministry among the Jews when he said, ‘Christ has been made a deacon of circumcision for the sake of God’s honesty, in order to confirm [his] promises to the patriarchs’ (Rom. 15.8). But all Paul is saying here is that Jesus had to be given a Jewish body…and appear first to Jews…to fulfill scripture. That does not entail an earthly ministry. The word ‘deacon’ (diakonos), which is sometimes translated ‘minister’, as in preacher, actually means ‘servant, attendant’, someone who does another’s will. As such it can mean someone’s messenger or a temple attendant. But it does not refer to ‘having a ministry’ in the sense historicists require. It means (in this context) doing God’s will. It can mean doing God’s will by relaying God’s will, and as such it can refer to ‘having a ministry’ in an indirect sense, but as such it would equally apply to revealing God’s will from heaven. This passage is therefore, once again, ambiguous. It cannot be confidently anchored to an earthly event.
To the contrary, as I then point out, in Romans 10.14-17 Paul appears to say Jesus had no historical ministry of the kind historicists want, that in fact no Jew could ever have heard him preach, unless Apostles (who were Jewish) relayed to them what he said (OHJ, p. 554). Which means Jesus only preached through revelations to Apostles. Gathercole never mentions either point and has no response to either. Yet it’s the most central point here.
So Gathercole has no argument. Again. Just assertions already refuted. He next argues weirdly, again, that “presumably” Jesus “appeared after the resurrection to people whom he already knew,” because “otherwise, they would not have known that the same person who died had also risen.” Um. No. When a divine being appears to you and tells you he just died and rose again and that the Holy Scriptures of God confirm this, you don’t need to have known this divine being personally before that encounter to draw conclusions. If you believe the vision is real, the vision is itself all the information you need. Why Gathercole thinks you have to have been dinner buddies with a celestial being before you’d believe what they tell you in a vision is beyond me. Again, Paul’s recounting of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 includes no one learning of the death of Jesus except by scripture, and has no one seeing him until after his death. Hence as Romans 16:25-26 says, the “gospel” and “kerygma” of Jesus were only learned by (a) revelation and (b) scripture. Not a pre-mortem ministry.
Just as no one today needs to have personally met the Virgin Mary “in order to be able to recognize” her in visions—hence mass visions of the Virgin Mary abound—so also no such argument holds water for Jesus, either (see Then He Appeared to Over Five Hundred Brethren at Once!). Once Cephas received what he believed to be a communication from the divine Jesus, who simply told Cephas who he was and how to confirm it, he told the twelve what to expect; and they told the brethren what to expect; and Paul had been pursuing Christians long enough to likewise know what to expect. So no prior acquaintance with Jesus was ever required. Mohammed and the author of the Gabriel stone did not need to have previously hung out with the angel Gabriel to know it was Gabriel talking to them either. Gabriel just told them who he was. Paul never hung out with Jesus in life, yet confidently recognizes his voice. Why? Because the voice told him who was speaking and he believed it. Just as all revelators of antiquity, pagan and Jewish, “believed” who the gods and angels visiting them told them they were. So there is nothing here to explain.
So Gathercole again has no argument. Nor does he have an argument from there having been “a twelve” to receive an early vision of the celestial Jesus. Because this does not require any previous ministry of Jesus. Not only could Cephas have assembled a twelve precisely because the vision of Jesus told him to, but Cephas may have already been a ranking member of a revelation cult that already had a leadership council of twelve, just as we know had already been the case at Qumran, where at least one sect resided run by a “council of twelve,” and a sect so resembling Christianity as to already be a likely candidate for where Christianity came from. Particularly as the literature found there shows they were for centuries having and expecting visions and searching scriptures for hidden messages about the messiah and end of the world. So that one innovative leader of such a sect—hence, Cephas—would spawn a devoted outcome of that expectation is no less probable than any other assumption one could propose.
All of these points fall on the same sword of logic. As I explained from the start regarding method: when multiple explanations of the same fact are equally likely, that fact is evidence for none of them. So Gathercole has here presented no evidence for his conclusion that Paul knew of an earthly ministry for Jesus. All this evidence is just as likely on the contrary.
Jesus Taught, How?
Gathercole does try to resurrect evidence for an earthly ministry from the fact that Paul references teachings coming from Jesus (Gathercole, pp. 197-99), but here he’s at least honest enough to admit “it is not necessarily straightforward to distinguish in the epistles between what is the teaching of the earthly Jesus and what is revelation from the exalted Christ” (p. 197). And indeed that’s the case. As I show from the examples of both Paul and Clement, teachings “from Jesus” were received by not just revelation, but by reading scripture and crediting it as the voice of Jesus (e.g. OHJ, pp. 311-13 & 553-57). They also came from outright celestial conversations with him. Revelations were not one-offs, either, but a commonplace occurrence in early Christian ministries (OHJ, pp. 124-41).
Gathercole says often Paul does not say whether he is quoting revelation or scripture, or some form of handed-down tradition, but that’s precisely why we can’t use this as evidence for historicity. If you can’t establish Paul thought any of this came from a pre-mortem earthly Jesus, then it isn’t evidence that he did. It’s also not evidence he didn’t. But that leaves us at a wash: no evidence, either way. And yet many times Paul says the teachings of Jesus only came by revelation and scripture (e.g. Romans 10:14-17 and 16:25-26, even 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and Galatians 1:11-12); while never mentioning any coming from any pre-mortem ministry. That actually weighs against there ever having been any.
Do Archangels Lack Character Traits?
Gathercole wants to try and argue that references to moral qualities in Jesus entail his earthly existence (Gathercole, pp. 199-200), but he fails to make any sense here.
First he says “Carrier’s Historicity of Jesus makes reference to the idea that ‘no personal quality’ of Jesus is noted by Paul,” though only in a footnote clarifies that he means, rather, that I present a quote from another scholar saying this. What Gathercole does not mention is what I actually conclude from that other scholar’s observation, which is not that no personal qualities were believed of Jesus, but that “not one of those facts connects Jesus with an earthly life” (p. 515). I myself go on in OHJ to record several instances of character traits attributed to Jesus—just as they were to many non-existent beings Christians merely believed existed, from Satan to God. That divine beings were believed to have character traits is never evidence they existed. So Gathercole has no intelligible argument here.
As I wrote in my section on 1 Clement:
Clement cannot even adduce any story of Jesus’ humility and submission to include among his examples admonishing the Corinthians to be humble and submissive (1 Clement 14–15); he can only assure them that the OT says Jesus was humble and submissive (1 Clement 16).(OHJ, p. 313)
Thus, we have character traits being adduced for Jesus from scripture. Not from anyone ever having hung out with him. I show the same for Paul (e.g. OHJ, pp. 570-71). Even Gathercole shows Paul learning the personal traits of Jesus directly from scripture and not anyone’s personal experience with him (e.g. Gathercole, p. 200). And this is the salient point. Nothing Paul ever says about the character of Jesus comes from any story or narrative about any earthly life of Jesus. It always comes from theological assumptions, scriptural declarations, or revelations. Which is precisely what is weird about the epistles of Paul that I was quoting that other author remarking on. What response does Gathercole have to our actual argument? Nothing.
Where Did Jesus Suffer, Die, and Get Buried?
Gathercole wants the suffering of Jesus to somehow be evidence of his historicity, but I find no sense in his argument here (Gathercole, pp. 201-06). All other savior gods had narratives of their suffering essential to their salvific theology. And none of them existed. So clearly this is not evidence of historicity. There is honestly nothing more to say on the subject.
But Gathercole here again gins up evidence by concealing the truth about it. For example, he claims Romans 15:3-4 says people had verbally abused Jesus; therefore (we are to suppose) he must have existed. This is wrong twice. The only mythicist thesis published under peer review holds that Christians thought demons abused and killed Jesus. So again, who delivered this verbal abuse and where? Gathercole has no evidence Paul thought it was humans or on earth. And that’s precisely the problem. This evidence cannot adjudicate between historicity and mythicism. It’s a wash. Worse, that very passage shows Paul only knows of this from scripture. Which rather argues against any real historical event behind it.
Gathercole also tries to claim mentions of Jesus’s poverty must refer to an earthly life, but here he is really dropping the ball as an honest Biblical interpreter—and once again pretending I never included the following in OHJ (pp. 570-71):
Christ’s ‘obedience’ (and his ‘love’ for us) is similarly represented in Paul not by a biography full of examples but by [the] single instance of allowing himself to be clothed in a body, abused and killed (Rom. 5.19; Phil. 2.6-8; likewise Rom. 15.3 and Gal. 2.20). This is also what is referred to when Paul says, ‘you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: though he was rich, yet for you he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor. 8.9). Obviously Paul is not saying Jesus was a wealthy man and gave all his money and property away (any more than he is saying that Christians now would all get rich). Rather, he is referring to the fact that Jesus was a supreme being; yet rather than claim that power, he lowered himself, temporarily divesting himself of all his potency (his supernatural riches), exactly as Phil. 2.6-8 says.
Obviously in no way does Paul mean Jesus was “once rich and became poor” as in he had a bunch of money and then didn’t, any more than Paul meant Jesus was an actual “slave” in the sense of being the legal property of a resident of Judea. It’s dishonest of Gathercole to imply otherwise.
In the same fashion, nothing Gathercole says about the death of Jesus amounts to evidence for historicity either (Gathercole, pp. 202-05). Because none of it establishes or even implies Paul believed that death occurred on earth. Gathercole claims “the language of proof or demonstration” in connection with his death entails human witnesses thereto, “unless the proof is to angels and demons,” but Gathercole complains these “are nowhere to be found in the surrounding context.” But of course they would not be. If Paul spelled that out in any of his letters, we can be sure those letters would not have been preserved. And he would rarely see need to spell out what his audience already knew. So that extant Pauline texts do not say “that the death was an event taking place in outer space” cannot be evidence against Paul having believed that. What we need is evidence he thought it was on earth. Without which, it’s at best 50/50. A wash. No evidence either way. And that’s simply where we are.
Likewise Gathercole’s attempt to claim Paul’s reference to the “archons of this eon” killing Jesus could mean earthly authorities: could be does not get you to probably does; it is, in fact, simply a wash. So we have no evidence. See my discussion of Daniel Gullotta’s similar logic fail on this same point (since Gathercole already leans on it). Similarly, Gathercole’s claim that “there is evidence for Jews themselves carrying out crucifixions in the Hellenistic period, but not in the Herodian era” is false; an error that demonstrates he completely ignored my discussion of the latest scholarship on this point, which shows that there was no word distinctive of Roman crucifixion that didn’t also describe standard forms of Jewish executions and executions by other nations and societies (OHJ, pp. 61-62). One can be “nailed up” by anyone, anywhere; demon or man, celestial garden or earthly hill. The words Paul uses simply do not permit identifying the culprits, even between Jews and Romans, much less between earthlings and demons. And as all things on earth are copied in the heavens and firmament, even a Roman-style crucifixion can be expected there.
It’s a bit of an aside, but at this point Gathercole devotes a lengthy incoherent footnote complaining about my interpretation and use of the Ascension of Isaiah as attesting an early belief in a celestial crucifixion (Gathercole, pp. 203-04, n. 68). Never mind that that isn’t the only evidence I use, and that I count it very weak. Nothing Gathercole’s note argues even responds to my case [cf. OHJ, Ch. 3.1 and pp. 320-23]. And it makes false assertions, such as that my analysis contains “hardly any reference to the Ethiopic, Latin and Slavonic versions.” It is entirely based on and frequently references all those versions. So is he lying?
Gathercole also shows deep confusion here. For instance, he complains that I take the phrase “‘to the firmament and to that world’ as simply one event, whereas in all the versions the ‘heavens’ and the ‘world’ are distinct,” he evidently does not know the firmament is not “the heavens” in Asc.Is. The heavens in that text begin at “the first heaven,” which is above the firmament. And redundant expressions are not only common in scripture, which this text is emulating the style of, they are likewise in Asc.Is. Indeed, such occurs in the very line Gathercole should have paid attention to: the angel brings Isaiah “above the firmament, into the first heaven,” a redundant expression, where both parts mean the same thing, just like “to the firmament and to that world”; and this, an expression that likewise makes clear the firmament is here not being identified as a heaven.
Gathercole makes similar logical mistakes when he says a burial in space is unlikely despite Adam’s burial in space in The Life of Adam and Eve, owing to the uncertain dating of that text and the fact that it depicts Adam’s burial as a divine honor and not an insult (pp. 205-06, with n. 85). Gathercole again ignores everything I argue about this in OHJ, even though it crucially undermines his case here (e.g., OHJ, pp. 196-97). So why is he concealing this fact from his readers?
Of course, Paul appears to allude to this very legend in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (where he recounts a man having visited Eden in the third heaven, a fact central to the Revelation of Moses). But the relevance of the Adam text is not to argue that Jesus was buried in the third heaven; he would have been, of course, buried several levels below that, in the firmament—where also there are “copies of all the things on earth” (as is essentially declared in Ascension of Isaiah 7.10), just as there are in every heaven (OHJ, pp. 194-97), hence including gardens, graves, and every other thing. The text therefore demonstrates “burials in space” were a going belief at the time and not peculiar. After all, if one could be buried even in the third heaven, one can certainly be buried in the firmament. Neither of Gathercole’s points rebut this conclusion. Leaving us not knowing where Paul thought Jesus’s burial was. Because Paul never says. And that eliminates this as evidence for either conclusion. It’s 50/50. A wash.
I should also point out that, just as Gathercole did by “sneaking in” invented evidence by calling Paul’s Eucharist account a “last supper” account, he again sneaks in invented evidence when he says “all the other νεκροί [i.e. corpses] from whose midst [Jesus] was said to rise” must therefore have been buried in space if he was (Gathercole, p. 206). Paul never says anything about Jesus rising “in the midst” of other corpses. No other corpses or graves are ever linked to Jesus’s burial in Paul. Gathercole seems to be fabricating such a notion from the abstraction of one rising “from the dead,” but that never otherwise means “the dead” are buried near you when that happens; it’s not a literal reference to location, but a figurative reference to state of being. Obviously. Otherwise, we could conclude Jesus must have been buried in China. Because there are graves there. You can see the poor logic here.
Meanwhile, as an aside, I should help with Gathercole’s stated confusion, when he says “I am unclear about Carrier’s position on the burial” since sometimes “he talks of the burial taking place in heaven” while “on the other hand,” elsewhere, “he states that ‘the first Christians…thought that Christ’s “soul” was taken up to heaven and clothed in a new body, after leaving his old body in the grave forever’ … [and] ‘the body of Jesus remained in the grave’” (Gathercole, pp. 206-07, n. 82). This is a weird thing for him to be confused about, when he himself spent a paragraph earlier explaining Jesus rose in a new, superior body (Gathercole, p. 195)—thus not requiring his grave to be empty. How does this conflict with that grave being in space? Beats me. Perhaps Gathercole is confused by my inconsistent use of “heavens” to be inclusive of the firmament, while some ancient texts distinguished the technical term “the heavens” from “the firmament.” But since I explain this in OHJ (pp. 178-80; cf. 194, 196, etc.), confusion is inexplicable…for anyone who honestly actually read my book.
At last, of course, Gathercole wants 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 to be authentic and not an interpolation, because it says Jews killed Jesus, which would require Paul to believe Jesus did indeed live and die on earth (Gathercole, pp. 201-02 & 205). But it is a commonplace conclusion that those verses were not written by Paul—and with good reason: I lay out abundant evidence that Paul’s writing them is impossible, evidence repeatedly published by mainstream scholars for decades (OHJ, pp. 566-69).
What does Gathercole say in response to that case? Nothing. He ignores every item of evidence I present. And he makes no argument for it, other than to insist believing in its authenticity is a new “trend” in scholarship today (or rather, nearly twenty years ago), but that does not relate to consensus. That there are scholars who have argued for it, is not evidence of a shift in mainstream consensus about it. And unless someone can rebut the evidence I present for the conclusion, citing cherry-picked opinions against an abundance of exactly the contrary opinions, is worse than a circular argument from authority. Conclusions are decided by evidence. Not opinions. And in any event, Gathercole does not present any argument that the passage is authentic, much less rebut all the arguments it’s not, so it’s another wash. Tainted evidence. We can’t use it.
Digression on Chronology
Gathercole closes with an interesting but largely irrelevant section on how we might date events and letters in Paul (Gathercole, pp. 206-010). He starts though by calling 1 Timothy an “undisputed” epistle, which is wildly false. It is in fact one of the most widely agreed to be a forgery. And indeed among the latest of them, usually dated to the second century. So its reference to Pilate cannot be used to date Paul as Gathercole insists. The rest of his discussion may contain some questionable assertions and inferences, but none relate to the historicity of Jesus so I set them aside as of no further interest here. But if anyone wishes to contend with the mainstream dating of Paul’s letters and Christ’s death, they will need to contend with the arguments and evidence he presents in this section.
As I already noted in Desperately Searching the Epistles for Anything That Attests a Historical Jesus, there just aren’t any passages in the authentic Epistles of Paul that unambiguously attest to a historical Jesus. Everything Gathercole finds is hopelessly unclear as to whether Paul is speaking of an earthly or a cosmic man. In context, none of it is unlikely of him to say on minimal mythicism. And that fact is itself evidence against historicity. A recently lived messianic hero should be a major and central and repeated subject of discussion and description and debate in Paul’s letters. And yet we nowhere find it. Just things known by revelations and scripture.
And yet even arguing a fortiori, taking the best passages as more likely of Paul to write of an earthly than a cosmic savior—as in fact I did in OHJ, something it’s weird that Gathercole never mentions, since surely he should have seen that as bolstering his own case!—I still did not find them strong enough to make the former likely; though I did find them strong enough to keep historicity plausible. What likelihoods does Gathercole deem credible for these passages on either theory? And what arguments does he have to defend those estimates of probability? We’ll never know. Because he is clearly more intent on apologetics than honest argument. That’s why he ignored—and sometimes even appears to lie about—nearly every argument actually made in the only peer reviewed case for mythicism yet published.
And that that is what has to be done to defend historicity even in peer reviewed journals is strong evidence there is no honest case for historicity left to be made.