Did Jesus Exist? Craig Evans’ Post-Debate Analysis

I debated the historicity of Jesus with the renowned Christian scholar Craig Evans back in 2016, and later analyzed that debate. But I didn’t notice Evans’ own post-debate analysis in the Christian Research Journal, nor its republication online years later as “Mythicism and the Public Jesus of History” published in March of 2018 by the Christian Research Institute, a ministry website of Hank Hanegraaf, which someone recently called my attention to. It definitely warrants discussion.

Is This Creation Science?

The oddest thing is that Craig Evans is a very skilled and expert historian; but as soon as we’re talking about his religion, all his skills and expertise vanish, and he acts like a Creationist defending the Garden of Eden. We see this happen already at the very first sentence of his synopsis:

Arguments for the nonexistence of the Jesus of history stumble over the public nature of much of the primary evidence. Jesus was observed by crowds of people, by friends and foes alike.

He starts by asserting there is very public primary evidence to stumble over. Then as examples he lists conjectures, not evidence. Was Jesus observed by crowds of people, friends and foes alike? We hear literally nothing from any of them. There is no public evidence of this. We only have wild myths written many decades later, in a foreign land and a foreign language, by persons who weren’t there and never mention getting any information from anyone who was. So where is this public evidence we are supposed to be stumbling over? It is precisely the poverty of that evidence that calls the historicity of Jesus into question.

Evans does try to punt to Paul, saying “The strongest evidence for the existence of Jesus is found in Paul’s letters to the Christians of Corinth and Galatia,” wherein, Evans says, “Paul describes his firsthand—and very public—encounters with two of Jesus’ original disciples, Peter and John.” No. Paul never mentions disciples. Not here. Not anywhere. These were the first apostles—the first to receive visions of Jesus. Paul never once ever says they sat at the feet of Jesus or ever met him in life. So Evans is inventing evidence. Not citing evidence. That he has to do that is precisely why we have doubts about the real existence of Jesus.

The same follows for Evans’ claim that Paul “describes his firsthand—and very public—encounters…with James, the brother of Jesus.” Paul never says that. There is no such phrase “brother of Jesus” anywhere in Paul. He says brother of the Lord. And the only Brothers of the Lord Paul tells us he knows about are baptized Christians: adopted by God, making Jesus “the first born of many brethren” (Romans 8:15 and 8:29; Galatians 4:5). Did Paul ever mean he knew biological brothers of Jesus? We don’t know. He never says. He never mentions such a category of brother, the way he does mention the cultic one. So even at best, all we have to go on tells us nothing as to which Paul means; and at worst, indicates Paul knew no other kind of brother. For if he did, he’d have to qualify to explain he meant a different kind of brother of the Lord than the only one he ever elsewhere describes.

Evans attempts another argument, that “critics of early Christianity never doubted the existence of Jesus” and “modern critics should follow their lead,” which is a bizarre thing for a modern historian to say. We should abandon all the knowledge and rational tools of modern history and just “believe” what late, ancient, uninformed authors thought? Only a Creationist would say such a thing. In any other field of history we would admit that critics writing a century after the fact who cite no sources other than sacred myths do not have relevant knowledge whether those myths were true or not. They should be the last people we trust in this matter. (It’s also not quite true that no critics doubted the earthly historicity of Jesus; there were even Christians who doubted it: see On the Historicity of Jesus, Ch. 8.12.)

Note that in every case above, the standard methods and procedures adopted in every other field and subject of history are abandoned, and replaced with Creationist-style apologetic rhetoric. Why? Is it because if we acted like historians, the evidence would not look so reassuringly good?

From Right to Wrong

That’s just the synopsis though. Maybe if we get into the article we’ll find Evans actually has sound arguments that are based on the historical methodologies employed by actual historians in other fields. Or not.

Evans gets right what the central question has to be: to be credible, “the existence of Jesus [must be] the best explanation of [the] evidence and of the rise of the Christian movement.” I find in On the Historicity of Jesus that it actually isn’t the best explanation of the evidence. Too much of the evidence is weird; and none of it what we’d need to be confident. Jesus just isn’t as well or clearly attested as other persons in history.

But you have to be comparing your theory to the best contrary theory, not a straw man. And this is where Evans fails as a historian, acting like an apologist rather than a scholar. He didn’t read my book, then the only peer reviewed challenge to the consensus he’s defending. It’s his moral and professional obligation to engage with the peer reviewed literature of his field. He didn’t. And that’s what tells us he is indeed, despite his protests, defending “an article of faith or a religious dogma,” not doing history.

Evans breaks the debate down into two claims in dispute; one he gets right, the other he doesn’t. The first is whether “the evidence for the existence of Jesus is weak and unimpressive.” The second is whether “there is good reason to believe that the stories of Jesus presented in the New Testament Gospels are constructs inspired by various pagan mythologies, especially those that speak of dying and rising gods.” The first is right: we are indeed saying the evidence is very weak and unimpressive. Especially compared to every other ancient person we are confident existed. And Evans has no real argument to the contrary—none that would survive review in any other field of history. The second, however, is completely wrong.

I did not argue in our debate, and do not argue in my book, that “the stories of Jesus” are pagan constructs or based on previous “dying and rising god” mythologies. To the contrary, in both I argued the stories constructed about Jesus in the Gospels mostly derive from Jewish mythology (principally transvaluing Moses and Elijah), and this is in fact a mainstream view in Jesus scholarship. It’s not some thing “only mythicists” argue. It’s a well and widely established conclusion in the peer reviewed literature. Even the pagan elements that were woven into these constructs (such as documented by Dennis McDonald) are well argued in the peer reviewed literature, but none of my conclusions depend on this.

The only story about Jesus that I argue derives principally from pagan precedents of dying-and-rising saviors is the story of his resurrection—though even there I note the components are nevertheless all built out of Jewish scripture. But no mainstream scholar believes that’s historical anyway. So how can arguing against its derivation from prior precedents help historicity? Evans seems deeply confused here. We are supposed to be debating the historicity of a Jesus who wasn’t miraculously raised from the dead. Not defending the resurrection of Jesus. Only Christian apologists do that.

Evans also is confusing stories with theologies. The idea of Jesus as a dying-and-rising savior did not begin with stories. There are none ever referenced by Paul; he references only creeds, revelations, and peshers, lists of discoveries extracted from scripture (Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Philippians 2:5-10). Rather, Christianity began with ideas: someone—probably Peter—whether deliberately or subconsciously realized Judaism has a dying-and-rising savior to claim, just as all other cultures by then did, and built a theology out of this, drawing its particulars out of Jewish scripture and ideology. This was no different than how the Jews “realized” Judaism has a doctrine of resurrection, an apocalyptic future, a dualist afterlife (of heaven and hell), and a monotheistic god and a divine adversary for him—all just as certain pagans they admired then did. As all those things did not come from Judaism. They came from the Jews’ Persian conquerors (for scholarship see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 90-99).

But when it came time to construct stories conveying these ideas about the Jewish dying-and-rising savior-god, those stories were mostly built out of Jewish mythology (Jewish scriptures) and ideology (Jewish customs and concepts). Not pagan. To the extent pagan models were grafted in at all, they were intended to comment on those pagan parallels being insufficiently Jewish. They coopted those models and ideas, and Judaized them. As anyone who actually read MacDonald’s work on this would understand. But I make no significant use of that fact in OHJ. My argument there extends from the Gospels’ emulation of Jewish ideas and mythologies. Which is no fringe idea, but a mainstream view in the field of Jesus studies.

Evans would know this. If he would ever actually read the peer reviewed literature he claims to be responding to. That we can tell he still hadn’t by the time he published his response to our debate is demonstrated by his still citing Attis as a claimed parallel, though no peer reviewed defense of mythicism ever mentions Attis as a model that anything about Jesus was based on. The only other model he mentions is Osiris, but he shows no signs of even knowing what analogy Osiris is even proposed to be in OHJ.

The Evidence Sucks

Evans says we reject the historicity of the Gospels because they were written by biased Christians and “present a miracle-working Jesus who was resurrected after being executed” which is “surely…the stuff of myth, not history.” Wrong. These are not the reasons we discount them as sources. Those are good reasons to question their claims about Jesus, but would not alone be sufficient to doubt their claim to there being a Jesus. To the contrary, we discount the Gospels as at all reliable on standard historical methodologies that would produce the same result in every other field:

  • They’re late, post-dating any evident witness known to still be alive;
  • and written in a foreign land and language;
  • by unknown authors of unknown credentials;
  • who cite no sources, and give no indication they had any sources;
  • and never critically engage with their material but only credulously (e.g. they never discuss conflicting accounts or reasons to believe their information, unlike rational historians of the era);
  • and about whose texts we have no reactions, critical or otherwise—whatever people were saying about these Gospels when they came out, we never get to hear, not for many more decades, by which time we see those reacting have no other information to judge them by;
  • all the earliest of which texts just copy their predecessors verbatim and change and add a few things;
  • and which contain in every pericope patent implausibilities or wholly unbelievable stories (from a random guy splitting the heavens and battling the devil and wandering out of the desert and converting disciples to instantly abandon their livelihoods after but a few sentences, to mystically murdering thousands of pigs, miraculously feeding thousands of itinerants, curing the blind, calming storms, and walking on water; from having a guy arguing against Pharisees with arguments that actually were the arguments of the Pharisees, to depicting a trial and execution that violates every law and custom of the time; and beyond);
  • which stories have obvious and rather convenient pedagogical uses in later missionary work;
  • and often emulate and “change up” the prior myths of other historically dubious heroes, like Moses and Elijah;
  • and often contain details that can only have been written a lifetime later (like the Sermon on the Mount, which was composed in Greek after the Jewish War; or prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, likewise; or Mark’s emulation of the passion of Jesus ben Ananias or Luke’s confused cooption of The Antiquities of Josephus; and so on).
  • and for none which do we have any prior corroboration.

There is no field of history—absolutely none—where such sources as these would be trusted as history at all. So why are we not acting like a historian here? What’s Evans up to? Apologetics. Just as none of the methods fabricated by Christian apologists to try and “extract” history from these dismal sources would be recognized as valid or validly applied in any other field of history. Which even many Jesus scholars now admit (see my survey in Chapter 5 of Proving History).

Evans says we find no evidence for historicity in Paul because “Paul is not to be trusted either, or at least it should not be taken as in reference to a real person of history” but rather “a celestial being, whose birth and death were in the heavens.” To be more precise: nothing Paul says actually tells us he wasn’t talking solely about a celestial being known only through “revelation and scripture” exactly as Paul repeatedly says (again: Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Galatians 1:11-16).

By contrast, Paul never conversely says any of what he talks about took place in earth history, that anyone ever met Jesus before he was risen, that Jesus was executed by anyone on earth, that Jesus was “born” in any normal way. So why should we assume Paul ever means that? We can’t tell. And that’s what the evidence leaves us with. It’s of course even worse than that—that Paul never references Jesus’s earthly life is actually really weird. And thus not well explained by the theory that Jesus had very recently had one. But that you have to see for yourself—and why the excuses invented for it are implausible rationalizations; apologetics, not scholarship (OHJ, Chapter 11).

Evans then says we conclude “all references to Jesus in non-Christian Greek and Latin writings” are “of no real value” because “these writers rely on the Christian stories.” Which is simply true. Not a single source outside the Bible indicates having any source whatever but the Bible—or Christians citing the Bible. This is a basic principle in all other fields of historical study: dependent sources cannot be used as evidence for any person or event. Only independent sources count as evidence. (Derivative sources can at best only help date or check the text of the sources depended on; but only the sources depended on count as sources: OHJ, Ch. 7.1) This is the rule in every other historical field. Why, then, does Evans abandon standard historical methodology when we’re talking about Jesus? Three guesses. None will be “he is doing history.”

It’s moot at this point even to talk about Josephus, as Evans does. Even were every single thing in Josephus authentic, it’s still all derivative and therefore unusable. It just so happens that also no credible case can be made for any Christian material in Josephus being authentic.

Who Are We Talking About?

In his article Evans continues to conflate the peer reviewed defense of mythicism with outdated and amateur work—naming, for example, those cranks Freke and Gandy, and going on about obsolete parallelism. Even though he repeatedly says mine is the most scholarly defense of the thesis, one has to wonder how he even knows that, since he seems to think it’s no different from the crank parallelism he rightly snoots at. And he continues to confuse how the Gospel stories were constructed, with how the first Christians adapted the idea of a dying-and-rising savior into a Jewish model.

Needless to say, everything Evans says about this is irrelevant, because none of it applies to anything I argued in OHJ. So why is Evans saying any of it at all? Isn’t he supposed to be responding to a debate over the content of OHJ? What’s going on here? Right. Apologetics. Fabricating straw men, and confusing his readers into not knowing there’s a difference between the serious, peer reviewed work Evans is supposed to be responding to, and the antiquated and online hackwork he’s actually talking about.

Evans then full-on confuses the historicity of Jesus—with the historicity of his resurrection. Which gives away the game. Only Christian apologists care about defending the historicity of the resurrection. That Evans doesn’t admit to his readers that no mainstream scholarship deems the resurrection stories historical tells us exactly what’s going on here. So why is he talking about the resurrection stories? Since all mainstream scholarship agrees they aren’t historical, how can they be pertinent to historicity? They aren’t.

Other apologetic con work goes on in this article as well, such as when Evans quotes Tryggve Mettinger saying there’s “no prima facie evidence” the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct…evidently hoping his readers don’t know what prima facie means. All Mettinger said was: he superficially considered but didn’t study the question. Literally; he says “that study cannot be undertaken here” (Riddle of Resurrection, p. 221). Evans meanwhile conceals from his readers Mettinger’s actual conclusion, which was that these “dying and rising gods were known in Palestine in New Testament times” (Riddle of Resurrection, p. 220). It was a real trope.

Evans then claims Hans-Josef Klauck also said there was no influence from pagan models on Judaism in forming Christianity…without quoting him ever saying that. The book Evans cites, The Religious Context of Early Christianity, never addresses this specific question. His book simply documents a sample of pagan religions. He never says anything about whether or in what ways Christianity may have been influenced by them, except to contemplate its possibility (pp. 151-52), not its impossibility.

Evans then cherry picks Bart Ehrman’s wildly false claim that:

There is no unambiguous evidence that any pagans prior to Christianity believed in dying and rising gods, let alone that it was a widespread view held by lots of pagans in lots of times and places.

There is in fact a lot of unambiguous evidence of both things. See my survey in Dying and Rising Gods (with scholarship and evidence extensively cited in OHJ, Ch. 5, Element 31). Evans prefers fallacious arguments from authority to actually checking the facts. Is that the behavior of a scholar, or a Christian apologist?

Continuing that strategy of disingenuous and fallacious argumentation, Evans falsely claims:

Mainstream scholarship views the Gospels as essentially reliable, providing sufficient data for the historian interested in knowing what Jesus did and what He taught.

For which assertion he cites a forty-year-old book by E.P. Sanders, a Christian theologian (albeit of liberal bent). Though notably not mentioning Sanders’ subsequent book The Historical Figure of Jesus—which extensively argues for the significant unreliability of the Gospels, such that one must always argue for the specific reliability of any information in them. Meanwhile Sanders says absolutely ridiculous things like that “the sources for Jesus are better…than those that deal with Alexander” the Great (!). This is not a reliable scholar to be quoting as an authority (Ibid., p. 3). That’s someone who doesn’t know jack about historical sources. (In case you didn’t know, the evidence for Alexander is vast—and in every way superior: OHJ, pp. 21-24.) But never mind. We’re to pretend Sanders said the Gospels were essentially reliable, and that this corresponds to the mainstream consensus.

In actual fact the reverse is the case: mainstream scholarship views the Gospels as essentially unreliable and only a few things in them plausibly credible. The list of things even a majority can agree on is extremely few (see OHJ, pp. 31-34). The Jesus Seminar found almost nothing in the Gospels authentic (see The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus) and even Evans’s own preferred source, Bart Ehrman, concurs (see Jesus, Interrupted and Jesus Before the Gospels). As Craig Evans ought to know. So he just isn’t being honest with his readers.

This is Christian apologetics. Not honest scholarship. No one would ever say this of comparable sources in any other historical field.

It’s True Because the Bible Says So

Evans then goes on to list a bunch of things claimed in the anonymous, unsourced, foreign Gospels, sometime near the end of the first century, about absurd events supposedly occurring in the early first century. And declares surely this can’t be false; it was so public! But like a Christian apologist, he carefully doesn’t note all the counter-examples that refute that very reasoning. Jesus must have killed thousands of pigs! It was so public! Jesus must have miraculously fed thousands of people—look how public that is! The sky must actually have torn open at his baptism and the sun must actually have gone out at his death—look how many people were there! Hordes of undead must have descended on Jerusalem—everyone in Jerusalem saw them! Because Matthew says so!

That’s not an argument any honest historian would make in any other field of study. “This hagiography says a bunch of people saw it, so it must have happened” would be laughed out of every journal and publishing house in every other subject. Evans asks “one must wonder how they were not found out,” but he doesn’t seem to realize we have no evidence anyone who would have been there (a) was alive when those stories were invented, (b) could read books circulating in Greek, (c) would even know these books existed (they weren’t written in Palestine), and (d) that we’d ever get to hear what anyone who read them said anyway—after all, where are the texts by these witnesses Evans is talking about? Had they confirmed these stories, how could they not have been preserved for us to read those things? But if they gainsaid them…why would they have been preserved for us to read those things? His argument is inherently illogical, indeed ahistorical, contrary to all sound historical reasoning. (See OHJ, Ch. 8.12.)

This whole “fact-checking” argument is historically defunct in every way: ancient peoples didn’t fact check myths, readily believed things they could have easily debunked had they bothered, and we rarely get to hear what critics said. The Gospels are full of examples. We can be certain no sun went out, no sky tore open, no thousands were miraculously fed, no hordes of pigs mystically killed, no horde of undead descending on Jerusalem, no hundreds of infants slaughtered. If the Gospels could make all that up and get away with it—and they did—I’m sorry, but making the rest up is peanuts (see How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?).

Indeed we have no evidence of any successful churches in Palestine after Paul, until well over a century after the fact (why is that, we might wonder?), and most who could have seen anything the Gospels claim would have been dead, particularly with a massively destructive war and several famines in the interim (OHJ, Ch. 4, Element 22). There is an obvious reason we have no evidence of any witnesses ever discussing any of the contents of the Gospels. There weren’t any witnesses.

To argue the contrary is Christian apologetics. Not doing history.

Making Stuff Up

Evans then tries to defend the obscure and ambiguous passages in Paul he needs to lean on to believe in historicity. But here we devolve into even more obvious apologetics, departing even further from any accepted methods of a historian.

For example, Evans says that Paul had to write the Galatians “because some were questioning Paul’s credentials, in part because he had not been one of the original disciples who followed Jesus.” Note that is nowhere in Galatians, or any letter of Paul. Never, ever, does Paul ever have to deal with the argument that “he had not been one of the original disciples who followed Jesus.” That is a completely made up factoid. It comes from Christian faith doctrines. Not any historical records.

Evans believes this because he needs to believe it. Not because there is any evidence of it. There isn’t. In fact, Galatians 1 affords us evidence against it. For the argument Paul has to spend that whole chapter refuting is the claim that he learned the Gospel from the first apostles—to which the only rebuttal we can see he needed to deploy is: he swears up and down he never learned it from them, but got it direct from Jesus in a revelation. Nowhere in this chapter is there any issue of his needing to justify that mode of becoming an apostle—to the contrary, it’s clear the Galatians would accept no other way of becoming an apostle. That means the first Christians had to have become apostles the same way. And Paul directly confirms this in 1 Corinthians 15, using identical language as in Galatians 1 (see OHJ, p. 536). This is exactly the opposite of the made-up story Evans pushes on us.

Evans keeps “making stuff up” by inventing the factoid that the “James the Pillar” whom Paul mentions in Galatians 2 must be the Brother of Jesus, when in fact that’s nowhere said—Paul never says that is the brother of Jesus, nor says the James he names in Galatians 1 was the Pillar. Evans is simply making all this up. The historical record does not attest any of this. We do not know anything about either James but what Paul tells us. One was not an Apostle (as the grammar in Galatians 1 entails: OHJ, pp. 589-90); the other (in Galatians 2) was one of the top three ranking Apostles. Evans likewise cites Acts as if it were a reliable historical record, when we know for a fact it’s not (OHJ, Ch. 9). It’s particularly unreliable on the chronology of Paul’s travels (as Lüdemann shows in his study of Paul).

So again what Evans is doing here is apologetics, not history.

This happens again when Evans tries to argue that when “Paul says, ‘Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles’ (1 Cor. 15:7), he has distinguished James from the original apostles.” No. He hasn’t. Paul declared an appearance to the original apostles in verse 5 (Peter and “the twelve”). Here we cannot tell if he means new people, or a second appearance to the original group, or to them and more apostles besides. Paul likewise does not say this James was a brother of Jesus, or anything about which James it was. So we cannot make the kind of assertions Evans is making. He is making stuff up. On no data. Indeed James (literally Jacob) was one of the most common Jewish names. There could easily have been several in the apostleship. There is no reason to believe the Gospels or Acts had accurate data on them all; or indeed on any.

Evans does this again when he says “Paul is speaking of James the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Peter’s departure.” There is no evidence that ever happened. The Gospels have no knowledge any brother of Jesus would take over the church. Acts has no knowledge of any brother of Jesus ever taking over the church. The author of 1 Clement has no knowledge of any brother of Jesus having taken over the church. No church writer before Hegesippus either. It only arises as a late unsourced legend near the end of the second century. Historians don’t trust information like this.

And again when Evans asks “why is only James designated ‘the Lord’s brother'” as if one needed to explain why, if you said “I met the Pope and a Christian named James,” you didn’t “also” explain that the Pope was a Christian. Everyone already knows the Pope is a Christian. That’s why you never have to say he is. Likewise for Paul, anytime he wrote “the Apostle X, and the Christian Y,” everyone he is writing to already knows X is a Christian, because all Apostles are Christians. It would never occur to Paul that he had to also say, “Oh, I mean the Christian Apostle.” And back then, Brother of the Lord simply meant (a baptized) Christian. So here we have Evans not even making logical sense; he is flailing around for rationalizations. Which is what apologists do. Not historians.

This also demonstrates Evans did not read the book he claims to be responding to. I extensively discuss and demonstrate why Paul only uses the full pleonastic phrase “Brother of the Lord” twice, in preference for usually abbreviating it to just “brother” everywhere else (OHJ, Ch. 11.10). That’s also something apologists do, but not professional historians. Professional historians actually read the peer reviewed literature they are responding to, and actually respond to what that literature argues; not pretend it didn’t argue anything.

In reality, it is very odd that Paul, who only tells us about cultic brothers of the Lord, as in Romans 8:29, never thinks he has to explain he means a different kind of brother in Galatians 1:19. Particularly when he grammatically indicates the person he is speaking of there is not an Apostle—which creates a conundrum for Evans, who needs James the brother of Jesus to be an Apostle of considerable rank. But Paul is not talking about any Apostle named James in Galatians 1:19. So in fact, if we were not beholden to faith doctrines—if we came at this text as historians, without preconceptions about what “must” be true—the natural reading of this text would be that Paul is referring to a lower ranking Christian here, and not the family of Jesus.

The same can be shown for the only other passage where Paul uses the full phrase, 1 Corinthians 9:5. These aren’t people who outrank Paul. These are people who don’t outrank Paul (OHJ, pp. 582-87). He’s saying there, of a privilege he believes he is owed, “if even rank and file Christians get to do this, then so should I.” The argument doesn’t work if it’s the family of Jesus who get the privilege; as Paul could never claim such a status. So Paul can’t be saying that there. And this is how historians approach texts: rather than reading them with faith assumptions that blind us to what is even actually going on in the text, we read them as arguments the author surely intended to make sense, using clues to how they use words and arguments as given to us by the author themselves.

This isn’t what the likes of Evans are doing. But it is what I am doing. So if you want to know who is making actual historical arguments for their conclusions, and who isn’t, you have your answer.

Conclusion

Evans thus illustrates he is defending the historicity of Jesus as a Christian apologist, a defender of the faith, rather than as an objective historian using the same methods as historians in any other field. To the contrary, he is abandoning those methods, even arguing contrary to them.

  • Evans makes stuff up that’s not in the text, using it as evidence for reinterpreting the text.
  • Evans depicts sources as “essentially reliable” that possess all the markers of complete unreliability in any other field.
  • Evans uses arguments from authority without checking the facts to confirm anything those authorities are saying is true.
  • Evans quote mines and conceals uncomfortable data.
  • Evans wants us to trust ancient uninformed assertions over modern rational methods.
  • Evans treats late, anonymous, unsourced stories as eyewitness evidence.
  • Evans ignores missing evidence his own theories entail we should have.
  • Evans argues from the silence of sources we don’t have and thus can’t in fact claim any silence of.
  • Evans doesn’t address the best version of the competing thesis but conflates different theories of different quality and then claims to have rebutted them all.
  • Evans ignores the peer reviewed literature of his own field, even when he claims to be responding to it.
  • Evans conflates later stories with the causal origins of Christian beliefs.
  • Evans tries to use dependent evidence as independent evidence.
  • Evans injudiciously trusts obvious forgeries when it suits him (such as the interpolations in Josephus, the evidence for which would be overwhelming to anyone not dead-set against seeing it).
  • Evans then misrepresents his own sources and even pretends widespread disagreements in his own field don’t exist.

These are all things Christian apologists do. They are not things serious historians do. Evans is running an apologetics game. He is not doing history.

46 comments

  1. What surprised me the most is that Evans didn’t have an answer to (by his admission) Richard’s strongest argument against Historicity – the parallels between Jesus and other fictional characters/gods. If you don’t have a response to the strongest argument against your case, you probably lost the debate. And Evans isn’t a nobody. But if one of the most prominent Christians scholars can’t win a debate against an opponent defending the “crazy” Mysticist view, that makes you question the Historicity of Jesus. Come on Bart, man up! And cut the “he’s too mean crap”!

    Reply
    1. I don’t consider that the strongest argument myself. But Evans did get confused between parallelism (“Jesus is just a copy of Horus!”) and syncretism (“Jesus is a Jewish variant of a generic mytheme of a suffering savior lord”), and it was the latter I defended, with slides breaking down what the relevant parallels were, in our debate.

      It’s important to notice this distinction. Because it’s related to his confusing the Gospel stories with the originating conception of the sect’s theology. The latter is more generic (personal savior, Son of God, suffering to obtain victory over death, sharing that victory through communion and baptism, etc.), but more indicative of how Jesus was invented. The stories are later embellishments, flesh on the skeleton.

      Nevertheless, it does matter how the Gospel Jesus emulates so many mythotypes (not only the Rank Raglan class), as figures in history that do that tend not to exist, so we need evidence they existed, other than the myths written about them. This is thus more one of the reasons we can’t use the Gospels to anchor Jesus in history, than evidence Jesus didn’t exist. What makes it evidence Jesus didn’t exist is the absence of the evidence we expect to establish such a mythical person nevertheless did exist.

      Making excuses for why that evidence doesn’t exist (as Evans does) doesn’t rescue the probability of Jesus’s historicity. It rather bolsters the case for agnosticism about his historicity.

      Reply
      1. Thank you for that. I wasn’t aware of the terminology. I’ve heard Christian apologists make the argument that Jesus’ story is different from the rest. I guess that would be parallelism. But I’m surprised that they don’t understand (or pretend they don’t understand) the distinction. No two mythotypes are identical anyway. So by that logic, they all arose independently of each other. Which is ludicrous. It’s sad that the study of such an extremely interesting period of history is marked by such a blatant, lack of scholastic objectivity.

        I believe you consider Paul’s “Brother of the Lord” the best argument against Mythicism? I remember when you asked Evans what is the evidence that Paul was referring to a blood brother, and he said that most scholars accept that interpretation because there’s nothing poetic about the specific text. I see what he’s saying, but I don’t agree with his conclusion. For two reasons. First, a metaphor can be used in a text that’s meant to be taken literary, (as long as the metaphor doesn’t significantly alter the message the author is trying to convey). For example, “I would like to introduce you to my brother Tom, he has always stood by me when I needed him. I love him very much”. In this example, even though “brother” may mean a “good friend”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the text isn’t meant to be taken literary. And second, sometimes metaphors are very often used in a certain way, that eventually their metaphoric meaning is very often used and/or perceived as a second, literal meaning. This is not uncommon in our day and age, at least. But in all honesty, It seems that Paul’s quote is too ambiguous to be used in favor of either case.

        For me the most convincing evidence for Historicity would be if there were independent sources about Jesus. I think even most Christian scholars would agree that Matthew and Luke used Mark as their main source. Maybe there was also a Q source that they used. But I’ve never heard a convincing case why it’s more likely that Q existed versus the idea that the author of Mark fabricated the whole story.

        Reply
        1. No two mythotypes are identical anyway. So by that logic, they all arose independently of each other. Which is ludicrous. It’s sad that the study of such an extremely interesting period of history is marked by such a blatant, lack of scholastic objectivity.

          Correct. I note this fallacy they lean on in OHJ, e.g. my footnote on Metzger.

          But it is also true that fallacious parallelism is a thing, i.e. seeing parallels where we have to stretch even to make them (e.g. Asclepius), or can’t adduce evidence of causal relation (e.g. Attis), or even inventing parallels that don’t exist (e.g. Horus).

          The fact that bad parallelism exists gives apologists cover to deny any exists, through a fallacy of affirming the consequent: “look at all the bad parallelism; ergo all parallelism is bad.”

          I believe you consider Paul’s “Brother of the Lord” the best argument against Mythicism?

          Yes. It’s the one thing that is the hardest to explain why it is actually evidence for mythicism, bias and presumption is so strongly against seeing the evidence as it is; and we wouldn’t trigger all that bias and presumption had the passage not exist. So strictly speaking it’s anti-evidence for historicity; but in the matrix of intense bias in the field, it is the “best argument they have.”

          Next after that would be the references to Jesus’s body being made of Davidic flesh or being “born of a woman,” which objectively do not mean what historicists assume, but it’s hard to get them to see that, owing to this same intense bias and presumption.

          [I]n all honesty, It seems that Paul’s quote is too ambiguous to be used in favor of either case.

          Indeed it’s worse. Because Paul actually tells us all baptized Christians are Brothers of the Lord; and never mentions there being any other kind. So we aren’t adding assumptions to the text; our interpretation rests on the evidence in Paul. They are adding assumptions to the text, which are not attested in Paul.

          But I’ve never heard a convincing case why it’s more likely that Q existed versus the idea that the author of Mark fabricated the whole story.

          Indeed. Though to be fair, we have to mean all of them, not just Mark, since if there was no Q, Matthew necessarily made up all the stuff he added to Mark, which Luke them copied (since Luke copied not just Mark, but material shared with Matthew but not Mark, which is what inspired the Q theory). And Luke made up yet more stuff. And then so did John. (And then so did every other Gospel we know outside the canon, which greatly outnumber those within it: making stuff up was the norm for Gospel writing.)

        2. I never understood why Q was so damned important for them to preserve? Is it simply that Mark is pretty hard to date to prior to the fall of the Temple and so they want a gospel that is principally similar to the synoptics but can be dated to some super close to the time frame Jesus was supposed to have been crucified?

          Additionally, you say that the Jesus Character represents a transvaluation of Moses and Elijah – what does this mean? I’d thought it meant an inversion of value as Nietzsche observed was the case with Christianity and the natural valuation of things like…life lol. I’ve heard you talk about how Jesus does what Adam should’ve done and also inverts what Satan does (rejecting worldly power and submitting to God). I’ve heard others, like Price, talk about Jesus being a new Elisha, Elijah etc. but I’m unfamiliar with how the term “transvaluation” would apply with respect to Moses and Elijah.

        3. Transvaluation of one hero into another essentially means: taking a hero whose values are obsolete, and updating those values to what you think are more correct, then rewriting the stories of the old hero, using the new hero, and changing things to reflect the change in values you want to represent. Thus Jesus is better than Moses or Elijah. That’s the entire point of emulating, while changing up, the latter stories onto the former.

          I give examples from pagan mythology in Chapter 10.4 of OHJ, where I explain what myth is and why and how it was constructed in antiquity.

          As to Q, it can’t always be that they “need” a pre-war source to have existed to cling to, as many Q advocates admit now most of what we call Q was post-war (including the most prominent features, like the Sermon on the Mount). Christian apologists need a pre-war Q—and thus need a Q. But secular or liberal scholars don’t need a pre-war Q anymore, yet are still averse to abandoning Q.

          Instead, the going theory is that it’s a “juggernaut,” as explained by Goulder. People’s careers and entire perception of their field are built on it, so it becomes a religion unto itself: people are extremely averse to updating their belief systems or admitting they and their admired authorities have been wrong about something so fundamental. The lack of any real defined method in the field (its mostly driven by “gut feelings” as to what is logical or true, not any actual demonstration of logic or truth; a problem pervading all historical fields, as illustrated and argued by David Hackett Fischer) causes cognitive biases to dominate people’s decision-making, not reason or evidence.

          I also suspect a lot has to do though with the shocking consequences of Q not existing. Because that requires admitting that the Gospel authors are basically wanton and shameless liars. And that’s too horrifying even for secular historians to admit (even to themselves, much less to their Christian peers who control all their funding and levers of prestige). At least “if there is a Q” they can claim the Gospel authors were faithfully, if naively, “using sources,” and thus not “lying” per se, nor making anything up. This allows the inference that maybe Mark and Q also used sources, and so on. Thus the entire edifice of the historical study of Jesus depends on insisting there was a Q. The whole house of cards falls if that pillar is abandoned—for then the opposite trend is established: Gospel authors usually lie.

          This explains why the likes of Bart Ehrman keep insisting nothing is made up in Matthew and Luke, that even what’s in them that wasn’t in Q or Mark comes from “other” hypothetical sources, “M” and “L” (never mind they have no way of knowing any of this, not even that M and L aren’t just material selectively chosen from Q, much less that it’s not just stuff they made up). To admit otherwise is to admit the Gospel authors are liars. And once they are convicted of mass lying, nothing they say can be trusted ever again. And the historical study of Jesus collapses into a joke.

          And a lot of scholars just can’t accept that fate. It terrifies them. And since fear isn’t manly but anger is, for some their fear they express as outrage, at anyone who would suggest this. It’s exactly the same psychology behind opposition to Jesus mythicism altogether; which was exactly the same psychology behind opposition to Moses mythicism back in the 70s.

  2. Richard,

    An apologist would say the reason why James is referred to as “brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19 is because James is a very common name in 1st century Palestine. The writer needed to distinguish this James from other people named James so he refers to him as the “brother of the Lord.” This would be similar to calling James in Acts 1:13 “son of Alphaeus.” They’re used as identifiers because there are so many people named James.

    If you’re correct that “brother of the Lord” should be interpreted spiritually and not literally, then how do we know which James is being referred to (there are a number of Jameses in the NT)? How would the congregation of Galatia know who was being referred to given the ambiguity of James’ identity? Why even mention the name of James at all if no one in the writer’s intended audience will be able to identify him?

    For 1 Corinthians 9:5, if the writer wanted us to understand that he was referring to spiritual and not literal brothers, shouldn’t he have written: “as do Cephas, the apostles, and the other brothers of the Lord” instead of what we have in the text?

    Reply
    1. Since all baptized Christians were Brothers of the Lord, Paul cannot have used that phrase to distinguish this James from any of the necessarily dozens or scores of others in the Christian movement at that time. All Jameses in Christianity were Brothers of the Lord. So if Paul felt he needed to distinguish him, he’d have had to use some other distinguisher.

      IMO, Paul had no interest in explaining who this James was. He is just making sure he can’t get caught in a lie, so he is admitting he met some other guy, a Christian but not an Apostle. His name is actually incidental, and Paul does not expect anyone to know who he means. He’s just saying “Hey, honest, even then I only met one Apostle, Cephas; and if you want to be a stickler about it, yes, he was with one other Christian of lower rank, a certain James, but those are the only Christians I met with.”

      Since Paul’s grammar establishes this James is not an Apostle, there is no way to expect the Galatians could know who he meant, and no way Paul would have thought they would—even had he named this guy’s father or something, they’d still have no idea who that was. Who he is isn’t relevant. Paul is just trying to report thoroughly that he met only two people, and only one of them important.

      Note this is why it’s important to read texts in context: this is part of an argument Paul has been framing since verse 1 of chapter 1. You have to read the entire thing to understand what he is doing and what he is trying to say in verse 19 and why.

      [S]houldn’t he have written: “as do Cephas, the apostles, and the other brothers of the Lord” instead of what we have in the text?

      There is no particular reason to. In Greek rhetoric chiastic structure is common, so one didn’t always list things in ascending or descending order (this is a common feature of languages that lack strict word order, which feels alien to us because English depends on strict word order); for emphasis one would wrap higher order things around lower order things and vice versa (the thing in the middle is thus being emphasized for rhetorical effect). That “even low ranking Christians get the privilege entails Paul should” is Paul’s argument. And thus why he is emphasizing that group by placing it in the middle of the three mentioned examples. He cannot, by contrast, have attempted to claim he had the same status, and thus deserved the same privileges, as the very family of Jesus, which is how we know he cannot mean that here.

      Once again, when one looks at this in context, of the argument Paul is making, starting from verse 1 and running all the way to the conclusion of his argument, and thus what he is actually attempting to argue and accomplish here, only then can you understand what he is doing in verse 5. (See OHJ, pp. 585-87.)

      Reply
      1. IIRC, Couchoud argues (twice) that “Brother of the Lord” might be an interpolation because Tertullian(?) quotes Marcion while not including that phrase. (re)Reading and trying to find the source.

        Reply
        1. Couchoud: “The Creation of Christ” (1939) pg 37 footnote 49:
          “Gal. i. 19. “James, the Lord’s brother.”These words are missing in the Marcionite version. The name of “brothers of the Lord” was given to a group who had probably received the same grace as James (see I Cor. ix. 5: “other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Kephas,” who apparently took their wives with them on missions). ”

          Also: pg: 400 note 109:
          “Apelles, disciple of Marcion, said, “It is to tempt Jesus that they announce the presence of a mother and brothers which he cannot have” (T. De Carne, 7). “They tempted Jesus with these words in order to know whether he was born or not” (Ephrem,Evang. Conc. Expos.; Moesinger, p. 122).”

        2. Those aren’t quotations or even references to Galatians or Epistles. The second is to the Gospel stories only, and the second quote there is even a late response to later heresies. The first is a claim that the words were missing there, but no source is given to base that declaration on. I need an actual source to evaluate. (This is why I don’t trust these authors. The methodology was bad. Nearly everything before 1950 is unusable.)

        3. The first quote is a speculation based on no evidence. The second quote is a misquotation of Tertullian. He means the Marcionites claimed the Gospel passage about his brothers was there, but meant something else, that “it was with the view of tempting Him, that they [the people depicted as questioning Jesus in the Gospel] had mentioned to Him a mother and brethren which He did not possess.” In other words, that is not about Galatians, but Luke; and it does not say the passage wasn’t there, but was there, but Marcion only claimed for it a different meaning. This gets us nowhere to arguing Gal. 1:19 wasn’t in Marcion’s copy. Ditto Ephraim.

        4. Carrier: Do let me know if you find it; but beware, Marcion’s text was likely heavily doctored…by Marcion. So that’s not worth very much as evidence.

          Me: At least this is post 1950…

          Price, Robert M. The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (2012) (Kindle Locations 9327-9328). Signature Books. Kindle Edition.

          “In Tertullian’s treatise Against Marcion, he does not mention the visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1: 18-20), which implies that probably Marcion had not mentioned it either, again marking it as an interpolation.[ foot note 7] Someone must have inserted the passage precisely to abet the notion rejected here, that Paul went to Jerusalem to submit himself to the twelve as soon as he was able to go. Had these verses been available to Tertullian, who was arguing against Pauline independence, there is no way he would have skipped an opportunity to appeal to them; they cannot yet have formed part of the Galatians text.”

          [7]. Frank McGuire, “The Posthumous Clash between Peter and Paul,” Journal of Higher Criticism 9 (Fall 2002): 164.

          “…. What reads in Tertullian’s On the Prescription of Heretics, 23, like an incomplete quotation of Gal 1:18 — “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter” without either the phrase “after three years” or the further statement that Paul remained with him fifteen days— appears, in context18 and in the light of Against Marcion,19 to be a distortion of Gal 2: 1. Both Marcion and Tertullian were evidently aware of only one occasion, in the fourteenth year of his apostleship, on which Paul visited Jerusalem in order to see Peter. Gal 1:18-24 amounts to a rewrite of the first ten verses of the second chapter.20”

        5. I find neither argument convincing. This is speculation, not evidence. I have a problem with scholars using speculations as if it were a fact we can now cite as an established premise. This is how circular arguments are born.

          For example, Tertullian in Prescription 23 is talking about Galatians 2, not Galatians 1, and none of Tertullian’s argument there would 1:19 have any relevance to. Add if if did, Tertullian would have mentioned the doctored text, as he would be in possession of a text he regarded canonical that refuted or challenged what Marcion was claiming and would not hesitate to expose Marcion as having doctored the letter to advance his purpose. So honestly, even at best, this passage is evidence against the thesis Price and McGuire are pushing here. And at worst, argues nothing. (Not least, whether such an omission, even if we had evidence of it, wasn’t Marcion’s doing just as Tertullian would have alleged.)

        6. By what right do you, Marcion, cut my wood ?

          Having only a couple years of study and interest in the origins of Christianity and as a neophyte in BT (I’ve read PH & OHJ two times now) on how to use logical arguments; my question is in regards to what can the “possibility” of interpolation have on arguments of “brother of the Lord” being evidence for history and not history. Would the omission of Paul’s first journey in Tertullian be neutral for history (no valid expectation for or against the omission if Gal 1:19 was originally present), but support for non history if it was omitted in the copy Tertullian had. That is, would it be a plausible argument raising the consequent of ~H even in conjunction with the probability that definition of “brother” used was not as a sibling?

          A couple more cites:
          Doherty, Earl. “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus” (2009) (Kindle Location 2209). After arguments concurring generally with Carrier’s on the meaning of “brother” also says (no attestations to support): “ ..this being said, we cannot rule out an even simpler explanation, despite the lack of manuscript evidence to support it. The phrase may have begun as an interpolation or marginal gloss. ..”
          Detering, Hermann. ”The Fabricated Paul. Early Christianity In The Twilight”. (2012). (Kindle Edition. locations 2370-2445) Argues for all(?) or parts of Gal 1:15-22 to be an interpolation, based on his reading of Tertullian’s (AM 4:4) omission of Paul’s first journey to Jerusalem and argues Gal 2:1 was actually his first.

        7. Marcion’s alterations are detailed in N.Lardner, “The Historie of the Heretics”, (1780 – downloadable from Google Books). Starting in Chapter X he addresses Marcion. Section XLIII page 265 lists “Alterations and Omissions of Marcon in the Epistle to Galatians” In the section and even whole chapter, nowhere is there any reference to omissions in Gal 1 or 2. Following his pointer to the 5th book of Tertullian; “ADVERSUS MARCIONEM”, book 5 3:3; it does indeed begin with “after fourteen years…”. without any mention the 1st meeting after 3 years. But Tertullian’s argument seems to be focused on circumcising Timothy and as such, to me there is little to suggest any omission or interpolation to Gal 1.

      2. The phrase “brothers of the Lord” is only used twice in the NT. Is there clear and unambiguous evidence that it was used as a spiritual designation for Christians in early Christian literature, outside the NT? Or is it just a Pauline idiosyncrasy?

        If the two passages in Paul refer to spiritual brothers of Jesus, then why did the early Church always interpret the passage as referring to literal brothers or relatives? Or did they?

        Hegesippus, a 2nd century writer, refers to “James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just.” This is the earliest reference to James as the Lord’s brother outside the NT. Is this not a reference to a literal brother? If it was just a redundancy, why would Hegesippus use it and in a historical work? Wouldn’t calling James “the Just” be enough?

        Reply
        1. By “The Church” you mean the sect of Christianity that won out which happened to peddle the Jesus who had a ministry on Earth and was crucified on Earth and had a Last Supper (vs. Lord’s supper) and all that.

          So it fits right in line that this sect would use “brother” to indicate a biological and/or a spiritual relation.

          We don’t really know a lot about what other first century sects thought do we? I mean we have rebuttals from Paul and others but it’s hard to trust that what an opponent says is your view is, in fact, your view…

        2. “Clear and unambiguous evidence,” no. All the evidence whether for or against historicity is ambiguous. All of it. Which is the very thing that’s weird. It would not be so ambiguous if historicity were so certain.

          When you ask “why did the early Church” you mean a single sect a hundred years later which had demonstrably changed a great many beliefs from the original sect, and never cites any sources for knowing anything about that original sect or its first century of history, other than its own edited collection of texts we now call The New Testament (much of which was actually written or forged after the 1st century). So the answer is simply “because the only sect we have anything from is the very historicizing sect that erased all the literature of every competing sect.” So we can determine nothing from that. “Historicizers historicized everything” is a tautology. We can discern nothing as to whether they were ever correct in doing so.

          Thus all the indirect evidence becomes relevant: how, for example, the legend of a brother of Jesus running the church evolved after the entire NT (it is nowhere in the NT; not even in Acts, the world’s first history of the church!); how Paul only ever describes knowing about cultic brothers of the Lord (through baptism being adoption as a son of God and thus brother of the son of God, a fact Paul does “clearly and unambiguously” say, multiple times) and never shows awareness of any other kind; and so on. See Chapter 11.10 of On the Historicity of Jesus (with Element 12 in Chapter 4; and Chapter 9.3, on the lack of such a man in Acts).

          At worst, the balance of evidence is against the traditional reading. And at best, is equal. Ergo, no one can affirm confidently that Paul ever knew biological brothers of the Lord. The evidence is insufficiently clear to make that the more probable reading.

          The Hegesippus passage is late 2nd century and quotes an apocryphal Acts of James which contains nothing but implausible fiction; it’s therefore useless as a source. Late and bogus. But even worse than that, it’s not clear the actual identification of the James in it as the brother of Jesus was in the quoted Acts or comes from Hegesippus himself, by his merely assuming it was the same James (the grammar does not clarify, and the description of James in the apocyophal Acts quoted, as a famous and revered priest of the temple in Jerusalem—e.g. he was allowed to enter the holy of holies regularly, as only priests could—seems to contradict any possibility of his being the illiterate son of a carpenter from Galilee). See Chapter 8.8, “Hegesippus,” in On the Historicity of Jesus.

  3. Bogumił Wysmoliński October 1, 2019, 9:38 pm

    Hello, greetings from Poland.

    I have a question I wanted to ask you for quite a long time, since I’m a bit confused (not related to post above). I’ve listened to ‘Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ’ as well as some other works of yours and there is one thing I can’t find answer for…

    As I understand according to Suetonius and Tacitus not Christians but Chrestians were persecuted by Nero, and first mention of Christian persecution by Nero appears to be 4th century forgery. How it is then that Revelation calls Kaiser Nero the beast and for what reason?

    What am I missing?

    Please try to make it simple for my english is not as good as I’d wish it was. Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Okay. There’s a lot of confusion here so I have to unpack the many different things you are confusing with other things.

      (1) Suetonius mentions Christians as persecuted by Nero but does not know of any connection between that and the fire at Rome. This may be an interpolated line, but the evidence to confirm that is too weak to be confident.

      (2) Suetonius separately mentions riots in Rome instigated by a certain Jewish leader named Chrestus under Claudius (not Nero) in the 50s A.D. Many have attempted to connect this to Christianity somehow but there is no credible reason to.

      (3) Tacitus’s text as we have it speaks clearly of a Christ executed by Pilate under Tiberius who inspired the “Chrestians” which a later copyist “fixed” into “Christians” (the e was erased and replaced with an i), who were blamed for the fire at Rome under Nero.

      (4) This text might be authentic up to the Chrestians being blamed, but yet have one interpolated line linking the Chrestians to Christ. In a peer reviewed journal (which article is what is reproduced in Hitler Homer) I presented abundant evidence that this indeed is what happened. No one knew of any connection between the fire at Rome and Nero’s persecution of Christians until we start seeing it reflected in legendary and forged material in the 4th century, despite many prior authors, including Christian authors, knowing the text of Tacitus and writing about the persecution of Christians under Nero, which is just one of many evidences that’s very improbable unless Tacutus’s text about Chrestians never connected them to Christ (until the text was “fixed” to say that sometime in the 4th century).

      Once you sort all that out, the issue is not that no one knew of a legendary persecution of Christians under Nero until the 4th century; rather, no one had any idea it had any connection to the fire at Rome, the unique contribution of the text of Tacitus. So there is no difficulty explaining the demonization of Nero in Revelation. Even if we were to assume that was due to his persecuting Christians; but as we know Christians often fabricated or exaggerated their claims of persecution (see Moss, The Myth of Persecution), even that might not have been meaningfully true but just believed by the end of the first century (in the same way later legends grew of Domitian persecuting Christians, out of reports that originally said those he persecuted were Jews, with no connection to Christianity).

      Reply
      1. Bogumil Wysmolinski October 2, 2019, 4:50 pm

        Thanks for clearing things up for me, as I was indeed confused. I guess I started with bad assumptions that Revelation is proof of severe Christian persecution… Just a final check if I have it right now (in terms of what is most probable):

        1 Nero persecuted Jews AND Christians (and possibly many other groups).

        2 Claims about Nero blaiming Christians for fires are most likely based on 4th century forgery (and exagerated tradition).

        3 Demonisation of Nero in Revelation is not proof for Christians being persecuted but only a reflection of what society in general thought of him and his deeds (various persecutions included), as it made him perfect target for apocalipticists who wanted to show whole world (SPQR as they saw it) being ran by forces of evil?

        Reply
          1. I don’t know if there are any references to Nero persecuting Jews. Are you now confusing Nero with Domitian? Or maybe Caligula or Claudius? Whether Nero persecuted Christians is questionable but a balance of probability says he did.

          2. IMO.

          3. Maybe. It’s unclear what is meant, and also unclear what is true (vs. what was believed).

  4. Diodorus Siculus, 2.44.2
    For instance, when Cyrus the king of the Persians, the mightiest ruler of his day, made a campaign with a vast army into Scythia, the queen of the Scythians not only cut the army of the Persians to pieces but she even took Cyrus prisoner and crucified him; and the nation of the Amazons, after it was once organized, was so distinguished for its manly prowess that it not only overran much of the neighbouring territory but even subdued a large part of Europe and Asia

    What is the probability of having two historical people both crucified and both called Christ?

    Reply
    1. The word “Christ” isn’t in that passage; Cyrus is a different word. And Christ is not a name, it is a description, it merely means “Anointed,” which applied to all priests and kings of all nations, so it is too generic a word to be significant even were it in this passage. And numerous crucifixions are reported in antiquity; it was extremely common, so nothing remarkable. I don’t know who has been telling you otherwise, but you might want to stop trusting them.

      Reply
      1. But wait, wasn’t Cyrus believed by many (most?) Hebrews of the time as being their messiah? He was an anointed king who returned them to their homeland from exile.
        Then the question above makes sense – certainly as a potential source for the crucifixion element of the later gospel stories. (Among others, of course.)

        Reply
        1. You said “What is the probability of having two historical people both crucified and both called Christ?” There is no passage in the Bible that says Cyrus was crucified.

          He did not return from exile either. You must be confused. Cyrus was not a Jew. He was the Emperor of Persia. He was hailed a messiah because he freed the Jews, who were in exile in his empire when he ascended the throne. He allowed them all to return from exile, and funded the restoration of their temple. This was part of an imperial Persian policy to gain support from local satrapies by bestowing religious freedom and a measure of local government on them, so they’d support the imperial seat and rebel less.

          I assume you are referring to Isaiah 52-53, which was originally written about this event, and is hailing Cyrus as the messiah of that moment; the material about a dying and rising man does not mention crucifixion, and is not about Cyrus, but a metaphor for Israel, a fact some Rabbis still knew when they composed the Talmud a thousand years later. But other Jews started reinterpreting the passage as referring to some future messiah (as also mentioned in that same Talmud). And a sect of those Jews originated what we know as Christianity.

        2. Yes, I am aware of who he was. I did not know (nor do I still) whether he was crucified or not. It would seem doubtful. He was the king of Persia, as you said. But even though he was not a MOT, he was, as you acknowledge, celebrated as a messiah within the tribe nonetheless for releasing them from exile and, if I remember correctly, helping them build the “second temple”.

          If what the OP said about Cyrus being crucified is true, I was hypothesizing that that circumstance could be part of a menu of real events or then-existent legends that were part of the lore that the later gospel writers drew upon in formulating the Jesus character. Similar to the stories about Pantera, and the Talmudic notions about there having been a prototype Jesus who lived 100 or so years B.C.E., etc.
          At least that way the question would not be a non sequitur.

        3. If what the OP said about Cyrus being crucified is true…

          What is the “OP”? No source anywhere says Cyrus was crucified.

          And there were many messiahs in the OT, e.g. the Jewish high priest Onias III is the messiah originally meant in Daniel 7 (and he actually does get killed in that text, and actually did). Which later, like Isaiah 52-53, some Jews started reinterpreting as a prophecy of the future rather than a forged description of the past. Including the Christians. Thus they were awaiting some other anointed to be killed and declare the prophesied messiah. They chose Jesus. Whether historically or mystically.

  5. Justin Michael Veazey October 4, 2019, 12:49 am

    “but as soon as we’re talking about his religion, all his skills and expertise vanish, and he acts like a Creationist defending the Garden of Eden.”

    Bam. Bingo.

    This is the exact behavior of my own father when our talks of religion go a bit too deep. When I ask a question I know is unexplainable and will make him uncomfortable.

    The way Christians protect what I believe to be a lie, is absolutely disturbingly fascinating.

    Reply
  6. Have you read his book Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence. ? Maybe there he lists all the supposed verisimilitude that he claims the gospels show.

    Reply
    1. It wouldn’t help. Any archaeological evidence will only support incidental features and locations in the Gospels. Verisimilitude is a terrible criteria. He tries to resurrect it by saying, well if it doesn’t have verisimilitude then we know there’s no need to go one.

      Reply
    2. What Pete said.

      That fiction authors get facts right about their world and culture and history (and they almost always do, when writing near to the place and time they are depicting) is never a valid argument that they aren’t writing fiction.

      Reply
  7. His book is of no use in establishing the truth if any central claim of Christianity. It only finds things that just support that many locations and local color described I. The Gospels are accurate. If any archaeological evidence were discovered that clearly supported Jesus or any part of his gospel (tickets to hear Jesus of Nazareth! No need to B.Y.O.W/F), we’d be hearing it shouted from every belfry from here to the darkest Congo. But it’s all just the same kind of stuff that would support a Michael Crichton novel. It’s ridiculous that he cherry picks which things to apply the verisimilitude test. Why is it worse that someone gets a local custom wrong than claim the laws of physics were suspended so some people could get their fish on? One being accurate does nothing for the other. The reverse isn’t equal though, if you lie about things…like Lazarus being the source for Revelation…then what won’t you lie about and furthermore, who cares if you’re getting your geography right when the rest is made up? It’s the rest that’s the interesting part.

    Reply
    1. Worse, all the Gospels do get local customs and color wrong, more than once. And also get wrong almost everything else about human nature. There isn’t a single pericope in Mark, for example, that proceeds the way any real-world situation would. Not a single one is realistic. People in every scene simply don’t behave the way humans would actually behave in such situations, even given ancient culture and assumptions and so on (and in some cases, especially given such).

      Reply
      1. Oh Richard,

        Don’t you realize that ancient people … especially from the ,whisper Middle East, were dumber than a box of rocks? I mean not Jesus because the God DNA helps him out. Truly, how can they be expected to remember what happened just the other day, act human, faithfully execute their own recorded customs or know where anything is with even broadside accuracy? Exactly…in fact, it is because they get this stuff wrong more often than not that we can be sure it’s a factual reporting from eyewitnesses and / or ancient court reporters who followed all the soon-to-be-important people around jotting down everything they could which were delivered to the author(s) of these particular 4 Gospels in the form we now know as Q! See, makes perfect sense.

        Reply
        1. It’s so-so. It is wrong on some points and right on others. I don’t consider the Markan geography errors argument a strong one anyway—I think they can all be explained as scribal errors. Though note the purported errors are more numerous than the single one that web page addresses, which I consider the weakest of them all. And it’s a red herring: the conclusion that Mark was not an eye-witness is not based on his geography errors; those would only support a conclusion already obvious from other evidence, both internal and external.

  8. Just a tiny remark: your link to Galatians 1:11-16 points to Phillipines.

    Great article, thanks so much for this. Again.

    Reply
  9. Dr Carrier
    Hav u discust Gary Habermas’
    The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ – book at all somehere?
    Or is it apologetics?

    Reply
  10. Comment by Dr Sarah—3 January 2020—per “‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One”. Geeky Humanist. 3 December 2019.

    [from Carrier] ‘There is no field of history—absolutely none—where such sources as these would be trusted as history at all.’

    I recognise that Carrier has a PhD in history whereas the sum total of my qualifications in the subject is… one O-level, grade B. So I could be wrong about this. However, from my distant memories of my history classes (and, to be fair, we had a dreadful teacher and I was singularly bored by the subject at the time and paying it minimal attention, so I’m not the best source here…), I recall that in fact historians do use propaganda pieces from a time period as part of their evidence about it. Not because they tell us anything reliable at all about the events they describe… but because they tell us something about what at least some people were claiming, and believing, at the time. And that can actually be a valuable contribution to what we know about that time period. (So, to pick an example I do happen to know something about, in the time of Mary Queen of Scots a propaganda picture was produced of which the message was that she was behaving in a way considered, at the time, sexually inappropriate. This tells us nothing about whether she actually was acting in such a way, but it does tell us that public opinion was being stirred up against her; and that’s useful information for our understanding of the political climate at the time and for why Mary ultimately lost her throne and had to flee into exile.)

    With that in mind… is there anything we can learn from the gospels if we read them from the point of view of ‘these are sources of information about what members of this cult believed in its early decades’? Well, one important thing we learn is that, within less than a century of Jesus’s supposed life and death, his supporters certainly seemed to believe that he had lived on earth and had been sentenced to death by a named person. Now, it’s notable that even Carrier (who is, of course, one of the leading proponents of the Jesus mythicism theory) seemed unable to come up with any examples of situations where people had reached this sort of belief about a mythical person within this sort of time frame. (On the Historicity of Jesus, chapter 6, section 7.) So, while the gospels are fairly hopeless at giving us reliable details about this Jesus’s life, their existence does provide a useful piece of evidence in favour of Jesus’s existence.

    Reply
    1. Lots of mythical heroes were “killed” by named persons.

      But more importantly, this is simply an attempt to create a new reference class. But doing so cannot ignore other reference classes Jesus belongs to. I have a whole section on this in OHJ (Ch. 6.5). Thus, even if, say, the reference class of “persons claimed a lifetime later to have been killed by a historical person” had a rate of historicity of 99%, Jesus still belongs to a reference class (highly mythologized persons) with a rate of historicity of roughly 33%, so after iteration the prior probability still ends up at 33% (as explained and shown in that section in OHJ).

      This is the problem with trying to turn an uncorroborated claim into a mere frequency argument, that ignores data pertaining to frequency (argument by arbitrary selection of frequency characteristics). That’s simply not a logically valid maneuver.

      If one could adduce actual evidence (not speculations or assumptions) that ancient mythographers wouldn’t do such a thing, then one could get the likelihood of that evidence to be lower on ahistoricity than historicity and then use this as evidence for historicity. But we have no such evidence in this case. Ancient mythographers appeared completely comfortable incorporating historical persons in their myths.

      Indeed, Christians were especially fond of doing this (Herod killing the Nazarene babies; the Acts of Peter having Nero watch Simon fly magically through the sky; the Tertullianic Acts of Pilate having Tiberius convert to Christianity), and there are obvious and clear political reasons to choose the persons they did (Caiaphas and Pilate, representatives of the two world orders the Christians wanted to represent as the “archons of this eon” coming to an end). So it’s simply not improbable at all. Similarly, Eastern Christianity had Jesus killed by completely different historical persons, a hundred years prior to Pilate (OHJ, Ch. 8.1).

      I should add, BTW, that the timeframe argument is also refuted by the fact that so many myths were piled onto Jesus in that same timeframe. I have a whole section on that point, too (OHJ, Ch. 6.7). Proving the opposite conclusion: Christians were not at all dissuaded from inventing all sorts of fabulous things about Jesus in a mere lifetime, including his magically killing thousands of pigs, Herod murdering hundreds of babies, the sun going out for three hours over the whole earth, hordes of undead saints wandering into Jerusalem, Jesus appearing after death not in visions but as a walking, talking reanimated corpse hanging around for a month and having regular dinners with the Disciples and then flying into outer space before a dozen or more witnesses.

      We have many other precedents for just this kind of rapid invention, in the Cargo Cults and Luddite examples I analyze in OHJ, in the early history of Mormonism, in the Salem witch trial documents, in the Roswell myth, and so on. So it simply isn’t true that rapid development like this is improbable. And our estimates of probability expectations have to be based on the actual data, not things we make up in our heads; and on the actual context (e.g. an era lacking universal literacy etc.), not contexts wholly alien (e.g. an era with photography, newspaper archives, etc.).

      Reply

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