The Goodacre Debate

One of the many things I did when I was in England was go on a radio show that then aired in London just this last weekend (Saturday, December 15th, 2012), called Unbelievable with Justin Brierley, for Premiere Christian Radio. There, I had a cordial and informal debate with professor Mark Goodacre on the merits of the theory that Jesus didn’t exist (but is instead as mythical as Hercules or King Arthur).

Photo of Justin Brierley Speaking at a Podium.Justin was an excellent host, and we both mused over the irony of the fact that he had an American in England debating an Englishman in America. I had stopped by the studio in person while I was in London; Goodacre was kind enough to phone in from his office at Duke University, North Carolina, where he’s an Associate Professor of the New Testament. So we were both at a disadvantage, he by being on the phone (having been there myself, I can testify to how difficult it is to carry on a conversation that way), and me by having almost literally just landed after a twelve hour flight from Los Angeles, which had immediately followed a six hour drive by car, and after which we had just enough time to get our bags and drive to the city and drop me off at a tube station en route to Premiere. Fortunately, I’m pretty resistant to jet lag. But it definitely felt weird. I had that “wired” feeling one gets after being awake for far too long.

If you want to listen to the show, it’s available online (for just this week it’s the featured show but after that it will be in their archives; and if that link doesn’t work properly try this) and via iTunes. I will comment on the show here. So if you’re keen to hear my thoughts on it, read on.

Goodacre as Goodscholar

Photo of Mark Goodacre.Mark Goodacre is one of my favorite scholars in the field. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the intertextuality of the Gospels, and is most famous for being, like me, an ardent advocate of a “fringe” theory: that there was no Q source behind what the Gospels of Luke and Matthew added to Mark, that Luke just copied and redacted Matthew (and Mark). He is also a strong critic of the same “method of criteria” now used in Jesus studies that I took down in my book Proving History, citing Goodacre’s work several times (especially his critiques of the criteria of embarrassment and multiple attestation).

But on that point, everyone relevant agrees with him (i.e., everyone who has published studies on the validity of those methods). It’s on the other point that he and I share a more pertinent bond: we have both faced astonishing irrationality and stubbornness from our peers, who cling to “consensus” rather than sound argument. Indeed, I really don’t understand why Goodacre’s conclusion about Q is fringe. When I finally did read his Case against Q (given to me by a fan, who wanted me to read it–thank you!) I found his evidence more than sufficient and his argument thoroughly persuasive. Arguments for Q, by contrast, uniformly suck, in respect to both logic and evidence.

I have since read more on the subject (both his work and that of others who agree with him; especially his website on Q which is an excellent resource; and then what critics of his arguments I could find), and I have concluded that the evidence is fairly conclusive from any objective standpoint: Luke very certainly used Matthew as a source. Yet Goodacre’s arguments and evidence are flippantly dismissed, without valid rebuttal, even by such luminaries as Bart Ehrman–who couldn’t even be bothered to present a single valid argument against him in his latest book, where he just casts him aside as “lively” and “spirited” (and buries even that in an endnote), and goes on to base his arguments on the existence of Q, as if it were not even in doubt. I wonder if Ehrman really even knows what Goodacre’s arguments are.

The point here is that this is the same stonewalling I face when I advance the hypothesis that (like Q), Jesus didn’t exist, either. I face the same stubbornness, irrationality, erroneous and distorted treatments of the evidence, and fallacious appeals to the nebulous “consensus” (a consensus of people who actually haven’t examined the case and thus can’t possibly have formed a consensus in any responsible sense). I’ve extensively documented examples of this appalling behavior from Bart Ehrman and James McGrath (see my Ehrman on Historicity Recap). So Goodacre definitely knows how that feels. He’s been there.

This, plus his solid expertise in the field, makes him a good candidate for objectively reviewing the case I have to make. I trust his critique of my book (On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, which will be out next year) will be among the best and most important. I’m looking forward to it.

Forty Minutes on the Air

Just forty minutes of informal conversation on the radio won’t be of much use in that regard (our participation in the show clocked in at about an hour, but that’s after adding commercials and intros and lead-ins and close-outs and such). We were only able to present our respective positions in the shallowest and least explored terms, barely touching the tip of the iceberg. Our actual collective speaking time was probably around twenty minutes each–especially after subtracting the time taken to discuss our respective backstories and thoughts about the role of bias on both sides of the debate and other such topics. Our exchange was also informal and unstructured, and largely led by the host as moderator, who kept the conversation interesting to listeners by changing the subject from time to time. I was also a bit wired (as I noted earlier; perhaps I should have asked Justin for a whiskey instead of tea before the show…and that’s kidding on the square).

But for all those faults, this has been the best debate on the subject I know so far. Goodacre wasn’t flippant or dismissive but took the possibility seriously, and he agreed with me on several things, such as that the only evidence really worth debating are the letters of Paul, which became the main occupation of the show, so we zeroed in on that issue more than usually happens. Yet that is exactly what should happen.

It was refreshing that he got that. We thus bypassed most of the tedium of the usual red herring exchanges on other evidence that is always, in the end, a waste of time (being so conclusively inconclusive). So if you are wondering why my following comments are almost solely about that (with nothing about the more usual nonsense like Josephus or Nazareth or Aramaicisms in the Gospels), it’s because we ended up talking almost solely about that. Which, to my view, is properly cutting right to the heart of the matter.

Itemized Commentary

1. What theory are you defending? Some might prefer I start by suggesting you watch (either before or after listening to the show or finishing this commentary) my thirty minute talk, “So…if Jesus Didn’t Exist, Where Did He Come from Then?” which provides a brief précis of my book’s argument that Jesus didn’t exist. This, too, just touches the tip of the iceberg, but if you want a more coherent picture of what I was defending on the radio, that’s the best way to get up to speed (Goodacre might not have seen that video yet; at least I don’t assume he has–he knows my work, we’ve been exchanging information for over a year, but not as much on this subject).

2. What was the main objection to it? Paul’s epistles. I was actually surprised to find that Goodacre has been so thoroughly indoctrinated by “the consensus” that he actually thinks all sorts of things are in Paul’s Epistles that in fact are not there. In general he argued “Paul is really very good evidence, very good evidence, for the existence of a historical Jesus” because “it’s very clear from his epistles that [Paul is] talking about a real human being,” but as I said in the show, no, that isn’t clear at all. Just read them all through (the authentic ones, not the forgeries), without the assumption that Paul means anything other than a celestial being who underwent an incarnation, death, and resurrection in outer space like some taught Osiris had done. You’ll then find, for example, Goodacre’s claim that “[Paul] refers on several occasions to different things in [Jesus’] ministry” is conspicuously false. Paul does not refer to even a single thing in Jesus’ ministry. Ever.

3. No evidence at all? One can imagine only two possible exceptions, Jesus having sayings and a passion. But even when Paul says he “has a saying” from Jesus, he never links it to a ministry, but only (if anything) to private revelation. Likewise all he knew of Christ’s passion. Paul uses the exact same phrases and vocabulary in Galatians 1:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (a point Goodacre, like many scholars, was not aware of). Even the last supper (the only passage anywhere in Paul that references anything like a narrative for Jesus): Paul says he learned that directly from Jesus, which means, by revelation–and accordingly, Paul does not mention anyone being present at that event, but instead quotes Jesus as speaking (as if from heaven) to future generations of Christians. Accordingly, even Gerd Lüdemann concludes this does not derive from any historical tradition (see his chapter on the evidence of Paul’s epistles in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, which I reviewed last year).

4. What about those two passages about his birth? I didn’t have time to address (beyond generally) two other facts Goodacre mentioned, that Paul does indeed say Jesus’ flesh was “descended from the seed of David” (actually Paul says “born/made,” not “descended”) and “talks about [Jesus] being born of a woman.” I remarked that these claims are also explicable on mythicism, but didn’t elaborate. In the second case (Gal. 4:3-5) Paul is speaking allegorically (Gal. 4:23-26); and in the first, prophetically (the Christ must have been Davidic, so that was simply assumed–hence Paul does not mention how he knows Jesus was Davidic, like mentioning who his father was; yet to effect an incarnation God can make any seed he wants, including a seed from David: 1 Cor. 15:36-38). See Thomas Verenna’s chapter on this (and other evidence in Paul) in Is This Not the Carpenter? (which I reviewed in July). I don’t agree with Verenna’s every point, but he adequately illustrates how ambiguous these references are when understood in context.

5. What about the people Paul knew who knew Jesus? Goodacre said “Paul knows loads of people from that early Christian movement, people like Peter, people like James, the brothers of Jesus, the twelve” and so on, but the question is whether these people knew a living Jesus, or were merely claimed to have generations later in the Gospels–which they did not write. Paul never mentions them knowing Jesus in life. Never. Not once. As far as Paul seems to know, Peter and James learned of Jesus by the same revelatory pathway Paul did (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). And as far as we can tell, “brothers of the Lord” (whether James, Gal. 1:18-19, or generically, 1 Cor. 9:5) was just Paul’s way of saying “Christian” (perhaps of a specific rank), since otherwise all baptized Christians were “brothers of the Lord,” and the status of James or anyone as peculiarly the “biological” brother of “the Lord” is never claimed or implied by Paul (see my previous summary of this point, which answers our host’s worry that having a brother of the Lord “wouldn’t make any sense if you didn’t have a historical person to tie that to,” since, in fact, being a fictive brother of the Lord routinely made sense to Paul). It’s therefore not clear what Paul means in these two passages. It is certainly not “very” clear. And when considered against the backdrop of the complete absence in Paul’s letters of any clear reference placing Jesus in earth history, a “historicist” interpretation of such a grandiose title as “brother of the Lord” starts to look less likely.

6. What was all that about Paul mentioning Judeans? We were briefly talking over each other (a common problem with dial-in conversations; and a big reason why I don’t like dialing in myself), so I misheard Dr. Goodacre’s reference to “the Judeans in 1 Thessalonians 2” and went on assuming we were still talking about Galatians 1-2 (where the Judean churches come up) and we moved on. The audience will be confused because neither of us explained what his remark was about. I am certain on listening back that he meant the famous passage that most experts deem an interpolation: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, where Paul says the Jews have finally been punished once and for all for killing Jesus. As that is plainly a reference to the Jewish War, which hadn’t happened when Paul was alive, it’s plainly an interpolation. He never wrote it. For the arguments and scholarship on this point see my past blog on Pauline Interpolations.

7. Why was Goodacre so convinced? Goodacre’s overall argument was that, for him, “it’s very difficult to see lot’s of this stuff in Paul’s epistles as being/talking about some kind of figure that began life as a sort of cosmic, mythological being,” but it’s not difficult when you read passages like Philippians 2:5-8 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and 1 Corinthians 8:6, where we see clear hallmarks of Paul talking about a cosmological Jesus (this is even clearer in the early pseudo-Paulines: see Hebrews 1:1-4 and 8-9 and Colossians 1:12-20), yet we never get anything comparably clear from Paul talking about an earthly Jesus. Allegories and metaphysical fulfillments of prophecy were normal then, and thus should not be difficult to see for someone who immerses themself in how the ancients saw and thought about the world. And once we realize that, the passages in the Epistles usually touted as evincing an earthly Jesus instead look very strange. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, it’s conspicuously odd that no mention is made of Jesus ever “appearing” to anyone before he died, only after. It’s as if Jesus had no ministry, and the only way he was known to have died is through “scripture.”

8. What did you mean by his objections often being in error? I’ve mentioned some examples already (where he thinks things are said in the Epistles that are not), but there were two very pronounced examples of this. The first of these is when Goodacre said of Paul:

He didn’t meet Jesus himself in the flesh, and that was a cause of great anxiety to Paul. I mean, if Jesus had never appeared in the flesh, then Paul wouldn’t have to have any of that sort of great stress that he has, that he never actually met Jesus, and his big battle in early Christianity is with people who knew Jesus in the flesh, and so Paul has to say, ‘Hey, look, you know, I’m not in the least inferior to you lot, you know, you superapostles, I’m still, you know, important in my own right’.”

Here he gives Paul an argument that I then pointed out is found nowhere in the Epistles. I wish we had Paul saying anything like that! But he doesn’t. This is a modern Christian apologetic interpretation of Paul (which has been internalized even by secular scholars), and is both ad hoc (modern Christians just made it up to explain away oddities in the Epistles) and strains badly against the evidence, where in fact we have Paul declaring the exact opposite attitude throughout Galatians 1-2, as I explained on the show. Goodacre is thus reading into the Epistles what isn’t there, and worse, something that actually comes from modern apologetic attempts to explain away the deeply odd features of the Epistles that mythicists have been pointing out for over a century. He has even internalized that apologetic to the point that he thinks it’s based on evidence (that it is a “fact,” and not a contrived interpretation), and he assumes that that evidence is in the Epistles. As I once did. But when I looked for it, I was shocked not to find it.

9. Why is that important? Because when you realize that, it turns everything upside down, leading to a paradigm shift in how you look at the Epistles. It is precisely because Paul doesn’t ever say anything like “I’m not inferior to you, even though you knew Jesus,” nor even hints at anything like it, that historicity looks dubious. Not the other way around. Paul is therefore good evidence against historicity, not for it. Goodacre’s immense certainly that Paul made such an argument proves my point: he is so sure Paul would have, that the fact that he actually didn’t is very bizarre. This is evident again in the passages where Paul uses the phrase Goodacre uses (“super-apostles,” hyper lian apostoloi, lit. “apostles beyond exceedingly”). Paul never says this relates to their having known Jesus, but only to their being much better speakers than him (2 Cor. 11:1-7 and 12:7-13, which in context I suspect indicates that the “thorn in his side” he is talking about is a stutter or speech impediment; remember that “apostle” means “messenger,” so being a “super great messenger” has a more obvious meaning in the Greek). Paul might also have been concerned about the fact that they were apostles first (as that could be a problem for him even if Jesus didn’t exist), but he never says that, and he doesn’t mean that when he calls them “apostles super exceedingly.” He means they are spectacularly good at selling the gospel, while he is but a poor speaker with a humble heart. So when he asserts that he’s as good as them, he refers to his ability to receive “revelations of the Lord” like they did (2 Cor. 12:1-7) and perform miracles (2 Cor. 12:12) and demonstrate spiritual knowledge (gnôsis: 2 Cor. 11:6); his only failing compared to them, Paul says, is not being a good speaker (cf. 1 Cor. 2:3-4). Conspicuously absent is any argument that his revelations ought to be reckoned as good as their knowing the man personally. To the contrary, he always assumes his access to Jesus was identical to theirs (see 1 Cor. 15:5-8 and 9:1). This is, to put it mildly, weird.

10. What was the second big error? Goodacre actually thought that in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul wrote that he got the gospel he summarizes there “from those who were in Christ before him.” This was even a key part of Goodacre’s argument that Paul knew the people who knew Jesus, and that he got his gospel from them. In fact, Paul insists up and down exactly the opposite (in Galatians 1-2; the extent to which Paul may be lying there is not relevant to the present point). And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul nowhere says the gospel he summarizes there came “from those who were in Christ before him.” But that Goodacre was so certain it said that gave me a surreal experience–I couldn’t believe he could make such a mistake, leading me to doubt my own memory, so I looked the verse up on my iPad during the show (and read it out), just to make sure that phrase really wasn’t there. It’s not. Yet Goodacre was so certain it was. This exemplifies the stranglehold dogma has even on so skilled and experienced a scholar as him, to the point that he again confused apologetic with fact. Goodacre can only have been thinking of either Romans 16:7, where Paul only asks the Romans to salute the apostles Andronicus and Junias who were “in Christ before me,” or Galatians 1:17, where Paul says exactly the opposite of what Goodacre was claiming (Paul there says “I did not go to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me” to learn the gospel).

11. Why is that important? Because historicists have this idea in their head that Paul talks all the time about receiving traditions from the “disciples” of Jesus who traveled with Jesus and to whom Jesus taught the gospel before he died. Why? I don’t know. Paul never mentions disciples (the word never appears in his letters), nor does he ever mention traditions. Goodacre went on to say that Paul is talking about a received “tradition” in 1 Corinthians 15, but that is not there, either–Paul never uses the word “tradition” in this sense (as something he heard from another, except Jewish traditions, Gal. 1:14), and never refers to the gospel as such anywhere. Instead he uses the same words in Galatians 1:11-12 that he uses in 1 Corinthians 15:1,3 to refer to receiving (and transmitting) a revelation, not a tradition. So when Paul assumes everywhere that he saw Jesus the same way Peter and everyone else did (as I noted above), we should sooner conclude they saw Jesus in visions, not in “real life.” There is no evidence of the latter anywhere in Paul’s letters. Which is, again, weird.

12. Are the epistles really that lacking in Jesus tradition? Yes. And this is where perception was trumping reality in our debate. Goodacre kept saying things like “1 Corinthians 15 especially is pretty rich in Jesus tradition,” which is odd, because it’s really not–very conspicuously not. Almost nothing about Jesus is mentioned there, beyond that he died, was buried, and rose (no details being given for any of those points), and then appeared (still no details–and no mention of his appearing or having been known to anyone before any of that). The rest is about a celestial Jesus Lord ruling at the right hand of God. Nothing about a ministry, miracles, biography, family, travels–no historical details whatever. And no sayings or teachings, either. In other words, almost nothing we would call “Jesus tradition,” much less a “rich” one.

13. But surely Paul tells us lots of things about Jesus? Yes, lots…but only the cosmic Jesus, the one he prays to in heaven. Hence when Goodacre said at one point “it’s amazing how much stuff [Paul] tells you about Jesus,” I found that ironic, considering that nothing Paul ever tells us about Jesus places him on earth or relates even a single story about him being on earth or having been personally known to anyone before the resurrection epiphanies. That is what is amazing. Otherwise, it simply isn’t true that Paul tells us loads of stuff about Jesus. Apart from a cosmic Jesus, Paul tells us next to nothing about Jesus. Lüdemann himself was surprised to discover this was true in his survey of references to a historical Jesus in Paul (in Sources of the Jesus Tradition). Even Mogens Müller had to concede the same point when trying to argue Paul attests to a historical Jesus (in Is This Not the Carpenter?).

14. Okay, Paul never uses the word “tradition” like that, but can’t we assume that’s what he means? No. That would be making a circular argument. You can’t assume an explanation is true in order to argue that it’s true. You have to ask what the relative consequent probability is of the same evidence on either explanation, not just the explanation you prefer (as I explain in Proving History). Thus, for example, when Goodacre argued that the “traditions” Paul and Peter shared “only really make sense” if they were about a historical Jesus on earth, his only examples are “that he died” (which Paul certainly says a lot), and that Paul talks about knowing some moral teachings of Jesus (for example, 1 Cor. 7:10), and that Paul “mentions [Jesus’] family on several occasions” and “talks about his other disciples.” But Paul never identifies anyone as a disciple (or as ever having known Jesus in any comparable sense), and never clearly refers to the “family” of Jesus (as I noted above, his few vague references are as easily explained on mythicism–we find no discussion of who his mother or father were, for example, and he does not say anyone was biologically related to him, or that he was from Nazareth or Galilee), and Paul says teachings of Jesus came to him by revelation (so that he would know some of them is no argument against mythicism: Jesus teaches from heaven), and “that he died” (in outer space, like Osiris did, and as the Ascension of Isaiah originally said) is the mythicist theory–it cannot be evidence against it!

15. What about all the other stuff Paul says happened to Jesus? What stuff would that be? I was surprised to find Paul doesn’t say much at all–and what little he does say is entirely compatible with mythicism. For example the notion of Jesus’ suffering and being tempted: the mythicist theory is that Paul believed all that did indeed happen–in outer space. Hence, notably, it’s happening “on earth” is precisely what is never said or implied anywhere in Paul. Similarly, in Philippians 2, Goodacre notes, Jesus “takes the form of a slave” and “that’s the whole point of a crucifixion, it’s a slave’s punishment.” But he cannot mean this literally, as Jesus was not by any account an actual slave (so Philippians is obviously speaking metaphorically, leaving us to debate what the metaphor is), nor is crucifixion specifically a “slave’s” punishment (all subjects who lacked Roman citizenship or a state-recognized status as an honestior were subject to crucifixion for capital offenses). Philippians is only saying Jesus became as obedient as a slave, to the point of allowing himself to be crucified–which, on mythicism, occurred in the sky at the hands of Satan and his demons, exactly as the Ascension of Isaiah once said it did. So there is nothing in Philippians 2 that contradicts the basic mythicist theory. Indeed, any historical details that would rule that interpretation out are conspicuously absent from this passage. Again Goodacre keeps saying this is taking place “on earth,” but that word or concept is again not in this passage. Or anywhere in Paul. And that’s the problem.

16. What about his argument that Christians would never come up with an idea of a crucified messiah unless there really was one? I already answered that well enough on the show. Goodacre argues Paul had a hard time explaining the idea of a crucified savior to people. But that would have been just as true of a crucified celestial messiah as an earthly one. So that argument is a wash. One is as much a stumbling block as the other. Both are equally weird–so anything that would inspire the idea in the one case, would inspire it just as easily in the other. That was my point in mentioning the seductive logic of Hebrews 8-9: that explains the idea behind a crucified messiah and why they needed one (to replace the corrupt temple cult). A celestial crucified messiah would accomplish that goal just as well–and indeed, the author of Hebrews appears to know of no other kind. The host’s claim that it “wouldn’t make any sense” to compare a Christian’s own dying and rising with that of a cosmic Jesus (as Paul often did) is similarly mistaken: that was the whole reason Jesus assumed a body of flesh to die in, so he and his new brethren would share in the same process. That can happen in outer space as easily as on earth.

17. Why did Paul persecute the Christians then? Goodacre argued that Paul persecuted the Christians (before his own conversion) “presumably because of this idea that the messiah was going to be crucified.” I am aware of no actual evidence to support that. It’s a common Christian apologetic today. But it has no basis in any evidence. Jews actually had no demonstrable problem with dying messiahs: the Talmud shows it even became an orthodox notion, and no one there shows any idea that it was ever blasphemous or criminal, and it clearly was not inconceivable, since the Talmudic Jews readily conceived of it. So did the author of Daniel. And possibly the author of 11Q13. (On all these points see my Dying Messiah Redux.) In contrast, there is not only no evidence, but there isn’t even any logical reason why preaching a crucified messiah would be a persecuting offense to the Jewish authorities. Why would they care? It violates no law in Torah or Mishnah. If I had to guess, a more likely reason Paul persecuted the early church is the fact that its gospel replaced the temple cult (and thus Levitical law: Hebrews 8-9), but we don’t really know, because Paul never says. Of course, even apart from the legal question, if the idea of a crucified messiah was preposterous, it would be just as preposterous (in fact more so) for a celestial messiah to be crucified, so again this argument is a wash. One stumbling block is as stumbly as the other.

18. But why come up with a stumbling block at all? All religions do. There are bizarre, shocking, counter-cultural doctrines at the heart of Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology–and for antiquity, I mentioned Attis cult on the show as a prime example. Why invent a castrated Attis? They had some reason. So did Christians. I could have said more on that point–in particular, that this is how you separate insiders from outsiders: you invent a shocking doctrine, to be the Kool-Aid that prospective members must drink to prove their loyalty, and their separation from the “orthodoxy” they are abandoning. Only people who “buy it” can be trusted to have shifted their loyalty from one system to the other. This is why the church later committed mass murder and went to war over bizarrely trivial differences in arcane creedal statements. Who cares whether God is a trinity or a unity? Those who want a test of loyalty care. Who wants a crucified messiah? The same people. We can add to that the fact that the whole notion was already widely popular: every other national cult had adopted a suffering cosmic savior son of god, many even a dying-and-rising one; we should actually have expected the Jews to jump on the same bandwagon eventually. And on top of all that, the whole notion of a crucified messiah was a brilliant way to eliminate dependence on the temple cult, exactly as Hebrews explains (and as I explained on the show).

19. So the first Christians just made it all up? A couple times it was suggested that the mythicist theory I am defending entails that the first Christians (Peter, Paul, etc.) were “colluding together” to invent a mythical Jesus (as our host said around timestamp 18:50; later Goodacre similarly objects that the crucifixion “is not something they were manufacturing”). Though that’s possible (see chapter ten of Not the Impossible Faith), it’s not necessary. When Paul says he and others “saw” Jesus in revelations (and thereby “learned,” from that or scripture or both, that this Jesus had recently undergone an atoning sacrifice), he could well have been telling the truth as he knew it. That does not require a historical Jesus. Nor does it require them to have “manufactured” anything (beyond subconsciously).

20. However, the Gospels are another story. Our host said he was “having trouble buying [the idea] that” the authors of the Gospels are making it all up, but that’s more a sentiment one expects from a layman or a Christian apologist. Because objectively, you won’t have as much trouble buying it once you see that the authors of the Gospels are making things up. Once you admit that they have done that at least a few times, it no longer becomes so hard to imagine they did the same thing in every other part of their narrative. And the fact is, most mainstream scholars admit every Gospel author has made stories up at least a few times (and many agree they made up almost everything: see my review of the latest books by Crossan and MacDonald). The construction of the nativity accounts is a prime example–Goodacre himself agrees (though he didn’t have time to mention it on the show) that Luke invented his version of the Nativity by changing-up the version he inherited from Matthew. If Luke felt free to do that, what would stop him doing the same in every other chapter of his Gospel? Look at what we’re learning about how fabricated his book of Acts is, for example (see Pervo’s The Mystery of Acts for starters).

21. Did Goodacre also cite the Gospels as evidence? Sort of. He made no specific argument from the Gospels to historicity, other than the fact that they tried to explain the theological point behind a crucified messiah (which, contrary to his assumed logic, is not any less expected on mythicism, as I noted above), and the argument that the Gospel authors “are thoroughly persuaded that Jesus is a figure in history.” That may be true (and is not a problem for mythicism: Plutarch was thoroughly persuaded Romulus was a figure in history, and so wrote a whole biography about him, a man who in fact never existed; and if Plutarch could do that, so could the authors of the Gospels). But I think he may be confusing what they were selling with what they believed…

22. Why does that distinction matter? It is demonstrable (and I will prove this in my next book) that all the Gospel authors are extensively fabricating the stories they tell. Which means they cannot have believed those stories were true–they were the ones making them up. If they were “thoroughly persuaded that Jesus is a figure in history,” why did they make up stories about him, instead of tell the stories that “thoroughly persuaded” them? It’s hard (not impossible, but hard) to maintain that they really believed what they were saying. They almost certainly did not believe most of it actually happened. And if they were comfortable selling things as having happened that they knew didn’t, it’s not far to go to conclude they were comfortable selling the whole thing as having happened when they knew it didn’t (or had no idea whether it did). We cannot get into the mind of the Gospel authors so as to know why they made up so much and felt free to do so, and even to shamelessly pass it off as known history. But that is what they did. Whatever their motives. So a case for historicity cannot be made on the premise that the Gospel authors were “thoroughly persuaded that Jesus is a figure in history.” We actually don’t know that they were, and even if they were, we have no idea what persuaded them of that. Because it certainly wasn’t the stories they tell–those they were making up themselves.

23. Was there really a pre-Christian idea of a celestial Jesus? Yes, Philo does write about a Jewish belief in a pre-existent celestial firstborn son of God named Jesus, which Christians appear to have simply converted into a dying-and-rising demigod, as we see in Philippians 2:6-11. Philo was writing from Egypt between the 20s and 40s A.D. It’s very unlikely he would “coincidentally” invent the exact same celestial figure as Christians imagined Jesus to be; this therefore is far more likely to have been an earlier belief that Philo is describing.Philo of Alexandria Tells Us...There was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named 'Jesus' who was...The firstborn son of God (Romans 8:29)...The celestial 'image of God' (2 Corinthians 4:4)...God's agent of creation (1 Corinthians 8:6)...And God's celestial high priest (Hebrews 2:17, 4:14, etc.). For sources see Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-51. I discuss this evidence in Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 150-51). But in short, Philo quotes Zechariah 6:11-12, which speaks of a man named Jesus [which is simply Greek for “Joshua,” hence the actual name is “Jesus” in the Greek of Philo and the Septuagint] being crowned in heaven and given the name “Rises” (anatolê in Philo’s Greek, as also in the Septuagint), which Philo says is not an earthly man but God’s celestial high priest and “firstborn son,” a preexistent being, God’s agent of creation, and his Logos (“Word” or “Reason”), all the same things the Christians believed of Jesus (see image to the right; click to enlarge). Zechariah, of course, meant the first high priest of the second temple, a historical (or at least legendary) man, Jesus ben Jehozadak, though that, when translated, means “Jesus son of Jehovah the Righteous,” so anyone reading this text like a pesher (as many Jews were then doing with the scriptures) could easily take this as a veiled reference to something else. And that is exactly what Philo does, and most likely others had before him. Christianity almost certainly derived from a cult that did so.

24. And that’s why things are very much the other way around. Goodacre says “the evidence we would expect to find is exactly what we do find, which is Jesus surviving in the memories of those who were closest to him.” That is indeed the kind of evidence we should expect to find. Yet it is precisely the evidence we don’t find. Not a single document from anyone who knew a living Jesus exists, nor a single document that we can demonstrate derived anything from any such person (no Gospels even claim to do so, except John, and his claim, that he had an anonymous witness absent from all other accounts, is demonstrably bogus, as many scholars have pointed out before, as I’ll show in my next book). All we have from Paul are references to people like Peter and James who had revelations of Jesus after his passion–no references to anyone knowing him before that, much less to their memories of it.

25. Thus what Goodacre ultimately said of mythicism is actually the case for historicity. As I see it, it is defending historicity that “becomes tortuous after a while” because “there are so many difficult moments in the argument it just becomes terribly strained,” whereas instead we should go “for the simplest hypothesis.” Quite so. I have found that, indeed, the simplest hypothesis, the one that requires the fewest ad hoc assumptions to explain all the oddities in the evidence (and none against the grain of demonstrable background evidence), is mythicism, not historicity. One step toward realizing that will be realizing that everything Dr. Goodacre thinks is in the Epistles isn’t there at all. Step two will be grasping the relevance of the background evidence I drew attention to (such as, but not only, my points in the show about the Ascension of Isaiah and the celestial Jesus in Philo). But my next book is needed to frame that all up in the proper way. I do not believe this debate or my Madison video are at all sufficient to convince anyone. For that, you’ll have to await my book. It’s first complete draft is just ten or twenty pages from being finished, after which I have a load of double checking and revising to do, peer review, contract negotiation, and production pipeline. I estimate six months from now to publication.

P.S. Dr. Goodacre also posted the show on his blog and a lot of discussion ensued in the comments there. I unfortunately didn’t have time to read all of it. But it looked mostly constructive, even when critical (except I saw one instance of me being called dishonest by a commentator, a claim Steven Carr quickly refuted, which I appreciate).


  1. G.Shelley December 20, 2012, 10:42 am

    It seems much (perhaps even the majority) of the arguments for Jesus’ existence start from the assumption he was real and work from there. The most famous of course, is the Testimonium Flavianum, for which all the arguments in favour of it being based on an original passage seem to boil down to “Well, Josephus would certainly have at least said something about Jesus, so this must be what is left of his words”, but it also comes through clearly in the discussion you write about. Goodacre examines all the Pauline Epistles through the lens of Paul writing about a man who physically lived and died 20-40 years earlier, rather than judging them on what they actually say.

  2. I found it very interesting that Goodacre read “from those who were in Christ before me” into 1 Cor. 15:3. It reminds of how Ehrman cites Acts as corroborating that James was Jesus’ brother.

    Nevertheless, I think Goodacre makes a valid point about reading Galatians and 1 Corinthians separately (even though he doesn’t quite do so). Without knowing of Paul’s insistence in Galatians that he received nothing from man, I think the most natural reading of 1 Corinthians 15 would be that Paul received the gospel from the predecessors that he mentions in the same way that the Corinthians received it from him. Even though this might seem inconsistent with what he writes in Galatians, we cannot assume that he spoke with complete consistency on the issue on all occasions. I don’t think we have enough examples of his use of “received” to categorically state that he always meant “received by revelation.”

    One thing that occurs to me is that geography might have something to do with it. The Galatians were much more likely to be influenced by the pillars in Jerusalem than the Corinthians because they were much closer. Paul could afford to give his predecessors more credit when writing to the Corinthians because they were less likely to encounter anyone from Jerusalem who would contradict Paul’s message.

    1. The Galatians were not appreciably closer to Judea than the Corinthians in the sense you must have in mind. Galatia is in central Turkey on the other side of a mountain range (500 miles from Jerusalem); Corinth is on the Greek coast (North Peloponnesus, but accessible from the south by the famous Isthmus of Corinth). And sea travel was faster than land travel (especially over mountains). Just FYI.

      On the methodological point, contrafactuals are idle here. Because we have Galatians. And it uses the exact same words as 1 Corinthians 15 of received and transmitted revelation. We therefore have no evidence of Paul using those words in any other way with respect to the Gospel, and Paul’s argument in Galatians 1 entails he could not have (the whole point of it is that oral transmission was apparently not trusted by Christian congregations–contrary to the attitude a century later; one had to receive the gospel by revelation or one wasn’t an apostle, that’s the argument Paul is clearly faced with there, and if there, everywhere).

    2. vinnyjh57 December 21, 2012, 10:11 am

      I am not familiar with the relative merits of the various theories about the recipients of Galatians, although I have seen Antioch mentioned as one possibility. In any case, we know that whoever the recipients were, they were vulnerable (at least in Paul’s mind) to false teachings that seemed to have their root in Jerusalem. I think we have to at least consider the possibility that he might take a different attitude when writing a community that he did not view as similarly threatened.

      We may have no evidence of Paul using the words in any other way with respect to how he himself received the gospel, but in 1 Corinthians 15:1, he describes the Corinthians as receiving the gospel other than by revelation. Also with respect to the words Paul used in describing how he himself received the gospel, our sample size seems to be pretty small.

      1. We do have another example: he uses the same words in 1 Cor. 11:23, and there for revelation (he received “from the Lord” what he “delivered” to them; indeed, this appears to be a ritual phrase in Paul, nearly identically formed every time).

        And we can’t argue from evidence we don’t have. So, even if it’s possible that Paul changed tack and meant “oral tradition” in 1 Cor. 15, we have no way to know that, and thus cannot argue from the premise of assuming he did. In other words, “Paul meant oral tradition there, therefore Jesus existed” is an unsound argument, because the premise cannot be established. All the evidence we have in the matter argues for a different meaning.

        There are other points to make along the same lines reinforcing all this, but that’s getting into duplicating my book.

    3. vinnyjh57 December 21, 2012, 11:42 am

      I agree that we cannot argue from evidence we don’t have, but I still think we have to allow for reasonable possibilities that are not precluded by the evidence we do have. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to a number of appearances, some of which at least I am guessing he heard about from other people. He may have viewed them all as part of the revelation he received from God, but my first assumption wouldn’t be that his knowledge of these appearances all came to him in some vision. I think we must allow for the possibility that Peter and James told him about their experiences.

      I don’t think that this makes the case for a historical Jesus any stronger. I just don’t think that we can take Paul’s claim that he learned nothing from men at face value. I think we must allow for the possibility that some of it was just bluster.

      1. Logically, “allowing for reasonable possibilities” doesn’t get you anywhere. If your premise is just a “reasonable possibility” then so must your conclusion be. So “it’s a reasonable possibility that Paul meant oral tradition” can only get you to “it’s a reasonable possibility that Jesus existed.” That’s a long yawning chasm away from “Jesus existed.”

        That’s why you have to take a real risk and start talking about what probability you think it has. That you would then have to defend the probability you pick is precisely why you have to pick one. Because if you can’t defend the probability you picked…

    4. vinnyjh57 December 21, 2012, 8:10 pm

      I don’t think that it’s a matter of getting anywhere as much as not expressing any greater certainty than the evidence warrants. There are many questions for which the best a historian can do is lay out a range of possibilities that the evidence allows. I don’t actually think “it’s a reasonable possibility that Paul meant oral tradition” has all that much impact on the probability that Jesus existed since the oral tradition could have originated with visions of a celestial being just as well as with an actual person.

      Just to be clear on you position, do you think Paul is saying that he came to know of all the appearances described in 1 Cor. 15:5-8t through some sort of supernatural revelation? If so, do you actually think that he came to know of them through some sort of subjective visionary experience or do you think he may have been told about some of them?

      1. Paul is claiming it all came by revelation, yes.

        Whether that “revelation” was affected by things he already knew (and whether he was aware of that, and thus lying, or not aware of that, and thus a victim of common cognitive errors of memory contamination) is another question.

        I would say that given the information available of Paul’s history from Paul himself and what we know from cognitive science, Paul had picked up a lot of the gospel already, and thus his “vision” of Jesus contained that and more.

        Paul’s argument with the Galatians shows they would have rejected him as an apostle if he was passing off oral tradition to them. An apostle had to have “seen the Lord” directly. Human tradition was not trusted by the Galatians–and thus, evidently, by anyone in the church then (that’s the whole point throughout Galatians 1, and the argument Paul is struggling to rescue himself from), so the Corinthians would also have rejected him as a fraud if he had tried to pass off oral tradition to them while still claiming to be an apostle. It simply seems that hearsay was not deemed reliable, unless you heard it directly from God. For an apocalyptic cult expecting the world to end in a matter of years, that made sense. It could no longer make sense once all the apostles were dead, so a new idea of authority had to be invented later.

        Accordingly, one can be cynical and say Paul is protesting too much in Gal. 1 and thus is trying to hide the fact that his revelation repeated things he actually had already learned indirectly; or be charitable and say Paul is unaware of how much that was the case. For the question of historicity, however, it doesn’t matter which.

    5. I think vinnyjh57 makes a good and relevant point, worth considering in full at least, and in Bayesian terms it amounts to selecting a non-informative prior probability distribution, which is perhaps a bit more into advanced Bayesian reasoning than you’re shooting for (I think you have good reasons for using simpler forms of Bayesian reasoning; to make it more accessible to historians and lay people).

      If we try to begin with a non-informative prior, we should base it on what was common in that time and place, without any reference to our beliefs about what Paul intended to mean. Then, based on evidence from Paul’s writings, the non-informative prior would adapt to the evidence, to point more towards Paul’s actual intentions, but with significant room (i.e. statistical ‘variance’ in the posterior distribution; in other words, a significant ‘spread’) for the possibility that despite Paul’s *apparent* emphasis on revelation, there also remains some not insignificant possibility that this apparent emphasis is just some statistical fluke. Vinny’s point about small sample sizes seems apt to me. I’m basing this on my reading of Jaynes’ Probability Theory: The Logic of Science, particularly Chapters 4 and 6.

      To resolve this kind of specific question about word usage, it would be good, IMHO, to survey all specific references to a word, use as uninformative of a prior as is reasonable, and then try to estimate the parameter ‘which meaning so-and-so meant in this particular context’ based on Jaynes’ examples. Sounds like it would be pretty complex to do, though, and I imagine overkill for something like this historical hypothesis. Still, it seems to me to explain where objections/cautions like vinny’s are intuitively coming from. I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of ‘intermediate level’ analyses you’ll be making in your upcoming book, as I’m very interested in the trade-off between over-simplified inaccuracy vs. overly-complex models.

    6. vinnyjh57 December 29, 2012, 9:03 am

      BTW, it seems to me that it is incorrect to say “[w]e therefore have no evidence of Paul using those words in any other way with respect to the Gospel.” We have the example two verses earlier where Paul uses “received” to mean “received by oral tradition” in describing how the Corinthians learned the gospel from him. On the other hand, in the examples where it is indisputable that Paul intends “received by revelation,” it is indisputable because he uses language that makes that intention clear, e.g., “received from the Lord.”

      Once again, the fact that Paul may have received oral tradition doesn’t mean that any of that oral tradition included a historical Jesus. Nevertheless, I question whether we can take Galatians 1:11-12 at face value.

    7. vinnyjh57 January 1, 2013, 11:50 am

      How do we know it was the case that the Galatians didn’t trust human tradition rather than it merely being the case that Paul didn’t want them to trust human tradition? My understanding is that Galatians was written to communities that Paul had founded based on his revelation. Sometime later false brothers came along with contrary teachings that the Galatians accepted. Did the false brothers base their teachings on human tradition or on their own revelation (or is it even clear which)? If the former, then it would seem that Paul is disabusing the Galatians of their acceptance of human tradition rather than appealing to their established preference for revelation.

      1. How do we know it was the case that the Galatians didn’t trust human tradition rather than it merely being the case that Paul didn’t want them to trust human tradition?

        Because he swears to his account and labors mightily to prove he didn’t rely on human tradition. That entails he was accused of doing so, hence his defense is to prove he didn’t, and swear to it.

        If he wanted to persuade the Galatians to discount human tradition, the argument of Gal. 1 would be entirely different.

        Indeed, I would expect it to have been, had Jesus existed. As then Paul would have to make the very argument you suggest: that his revelations can trump the men who lived and walked with Jesus (or that they at least were as good as). He would have to make that argument constantly and repeatedly, not just to the Galatians. Yet he never makes that argument. Anywhere. Not in Galatians, nor in any other letter.

        (As to where the false teachers got their gospels, Paul says some got it from angels, others from humans or their own contrivance.)

  3. G.Shelley December 20, 2012, 11:14 am

    Also, “Goodacre argues Paul had a hard time explaining the idea of a crucified savior to people. But that would have been just as true of a crucified celestial messiah as an earthly one. So that argument is a wash. ”

    I think you talk about this in one of your other books (Probably Not the Impossible Faith, but I have a couple on my Nook), but Paul would have had a much harder time explaining the idea of a saviour who was a great military leader who defeated the Roman Empire and led Israel to glory.

  4. coelsblog December 20, 2012, 12:26 pm

    If I had to guess, a more likely reason Paul persecuted the early church is the fact that its gospel replaced the temple cult … but we don’t really know, because Paul never says.

    Is it established that Paul *did* persecute the early church? We only have his later testimony for that claim, don’t we? And, today, it is a common apologetic ploy for Christians to claim “I to was an atheist until …”. Paul’s claim could be similarly rhetorical.

    1. Though possible, I consider that to be unlikely.

      In Galatians 1 he clearly claims he persecuted the church and was widely known to have persecuted the church by both the Galatians and the Judean Christians–who widely knew it even just by report, it was that well known. It’s very unlikely that he could get away with making that up.

      What isn’t true is that he persecuted anyone in Judea (so Acts is bullshit). Paul says there that he was never known “by face” to the churches in Judea until fourteen years after his conversion; he was known only by reputation there. Which means he must have been persecuting the church elsewhere (most likely in or around Damascus).

      1. I struggle to find it.

        I think just about all there is to trust (and even that not as much as we might like) is the color commentary, i.e. the cultural and social and economic details of ancient society that the author of Acts assumes–as with almost any historical fiction.

        I did not use to think this. It’s just the more I studied the scholarship on Acts the more I had to face the fact that it’s fiction. And not always good fiction.

        (I summarize the evidence of this in my next book.)

  5. Richard, I thought you did a splendid job on the show, given its format, time constraints, etc. I too was amazed at a few of the things that came out of Goodacre’s mouth. He is a solid scholar, I told him as much, on another blog, where I also informed him that I almost came to Duke to study under him. But he, like the scholars I did study with and countless others, will just blithely assert that Paul thought/believed/said X, when X is exactly the opposite of what Paul does in fact say. After Ehrman weighed in with his disappointing book, I’ve been on the lookout for scholars that will defend the indefensible – and much to my chagrin, they seem to be coming out of the woodwork. And in the moderate-liberal circles I’m in, it’s not even to defend a position of faith or a particular theology. And in the absence of such motives, I can’t figure out why they consider mythicist arguments such a threat to quality NT scholarship, especially when many of them have argued vehemently for other “fringe” views in the past – not because they want to be controversial, but because they want to be thorough, honest with the evidence, and unafraid to ask startling questions if that’s where the evidence leads.

    Anyway, wanted to applaud you for championing real intellectual honesty, and for your intrepid work in establishing a consistent method for historical research. Proving History is a gem that I’ve recommended to many, and I look forward to its counterpart. Six months of eager anticipation ahead!

  6. “Paul does indeed say Jesus’ flesh was ‘descended from the seed of David’ ”

    What do you think about the idea that this part of Romans (1.2-6) is an interpolation, and the real Paul didn’t think of Jesus as a Davidic messiah? I remember reading an argument from a scholar (R. Price?) that seemed compelling, but it still seems like a fringe idea… mainly critiqued these days to claim that mythicists like to posit interpolations everywhere.

    1. I’m not convinced that’s an interpolation (the arguments for it being so are too weak to credit). And it’s essentially corroborated in Hebrews (a classic mythicist prooftext, so if the author of Hebrews thought it, surely Paul would have).

      The messiah of course was always known to have to be Davidic. Thus any ancient mythic Jesus proponents had to find a way to make their messiah conform to that expectation. So it’s not at all unlikely that they would have.

  7. I was so pleased to see you were having a discussion with Mark Goodacre. He’s great!

    I mean no disrespect for the moderator, but I felt his presence was a distraction–often interrupting good discussion before it was able to get into the meat of it.

    I hope he reads your book when it comes out, as I think his evaluation of it will be valuable. I got the impression throughout that he was frequently making critiques of mythicism generally, and not your own specific claims, so it will be good to see his reaction once your position has been laid out clearly, and the evidence for it made, well, evident.

    1. To be fair, Justin did a great job of preventing the discussion from getting too arcane for the audience or going too long on the same point. One has to realize not everything can get discussed, much less thoroughly, in a time budget of an hour. He’s clearly very experienced at that, realizing that he has to scatter the conversation across as many points as possible before the clock runs out, and keep at a level a broad audience can follow. When you look at it from that perspective, he was actually a model to follow.

      On Goodacre, to be fair, it wouldn’t be easy for him to know how I differ from other mythicists, so I can’t fault him for that. Indeed, a show like this is exactly the kind of opportunity we all need to make distinctions regarding what is or isn’t plausible in defense of mythicism.

  8. I thought this was one of the best episodes of Unbelievable I’ve heard in a long time, and I’ve barely missed one in the last three years. (I’m on one myself, I believe to be aired in a few weeks.)

    It’s the first time I’ve heard your argument, and I found it absolutely riveting and I look forward to your book coming out. I thought you were clear and eloquent on the radio, which isn’t easy, so I’m keen to check your case out in writing. (rushing through breakfast right now, yet to finish reading this post…!)

    I hope I have the opportunity at some stage to do some post-grad work on this stuff. I’ve only recently been turned on to the whole thing of biblical scholarship and it’s blowing my mind all over the place.

    Justin B is cool, right? But man oh man, I don’t know HOW he manages to keep his faith, with the guests he has on such as yourself, who raise so many questions that he can’t possibly have even a shred of an answer for!


  9. coelsblog December 20, 2012, 1:48 pm

    Richard, I know you’ve written about Paul’s phrase “brother of the Lord” and what it implies; have you ever commented on Origen’s quote in Contra Celsum (Ch XLVII) which says: “Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine”?

    1. That’s 1.47.

      That has some use, but not as much as you might hope, since he was writing in the early 3rd century, so a historicist could ask, “How would he know that?”

      Origen doctrinally insisted that Jesus had brothers by a different mother (so, all sons of Joseph) prior to his betrothal to Mary. He didn’t have evidence for this. He just needed it to be true. But that still means Origen was not thinking that Jesus had no brothers. What motivates his remark in CC 1.47 is therefore unclear.

  10. Paul talks about knowing some moral teachings of Jesus (for example, 1 Cor. 7:10)

    First of all, this apologetic has always struck me as giving off a whiff of desperation to find any of the wisdom material from the gospels in the epistles. That’s what made the cut? A teaching on divorce that wouldn’t be out of place in Akiva’s or Yohanan ben Zakai’s mouth, against all of the striking and distinctive stuff in the major parables, the Olivet discourse, the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain, etc.?

    Second, it’s from scripture, and so, if it’s evidence for anything, it’s just more evidence for the whole of early Christian revelation being from scripture, “according to the scriptures.” I think it’s much more likely that Paul is referring to Malachi 2:16. Malachi as a whole was certainly instrumental in formulating a number of early Christian revelations. Which, by the way…

    When Paul says he and others “saw” Jesus in revelations (and thereby “learned,” from that or scripture or both, that this Jesus had recently undergone an atoning sacrifice)

    I think “both”. It seems to me that the Christ was found in scripture, and to be “in Christ” was to be blessed with the “eyes to see” this. Paul contrasts prophesying and speaking in tongues, and he much favors the former. Ecstatic experiential revelation not based clearly on scripture was not the path he favored. As in Galatians 1, where the crucifixion is “forewritten” and the historicist games of rehetorical hopscotch to not construe that as a clear indication that Paul is thinking of something other than a workaday Roman execution, distant in time and place, that he is nevertheless able to “publicly demonstrate”.

    Overall, like you, I was surprised at Dr. Goodacre’s conventional “mainstream NT scholar” answers. They really do have a domesticated Paul who says all the right things even when he doesn’t, and it’s just staggering to me how unable they are to step back and see him in his natural (mystic) habitat.

  11. I notice that you often reference Romulus as being a clear example of someone who certainly did not exist, and shows how a fictitious person could be historicized. Are you aware that at least one scholar has argued that Romulus was historical- Andrea Carandini’s “Rome: Day One?”

    Also there is a journal article that might support a part of your argument:

    1. Romulus and Remus are based on Greek heroes of a different name (thus not Roman), and Romulus cult originates in the 4th century BC. So to argue there really was a Romulus in the 8th century is like arguing there really was a Moses or an Abraham: it’s special pleading. Indeed, Carandini’s book is very much like a fundamentalist talking about the magnificent glories of OT Jerusalem (“It’s all true! All true!”). See this review. He has indeed established a walled city was built where Rome is in the 8th century. But there was also an Egypt and a Canaan, too. That doesn’t make Moses real.

      The article you reference is interesting (“The Two Angels in John 20.12: An Egyptian Icon of Resurrection”), but the two angels in John most likely come from Luke. Though mimicking Egyptian iconography is not impossible (especially for John) it can’t inform Christian origins, since John is the latest and least reliable account, and is inventing material freely. We cannot tie his imagery to the time of Paul, for example. It therefore won’t be useful for defending Jesus mythicism. However, it can be useful for his bibliography on the resurrection of Osiris, which for some strange reason historicists still keep trying to deny was a thing. In an anthology being prepared by Zindler I am forced to cite the Pyramid Texts in further proof, as evidently they just won’t be bothered to look at ancient Egyptian religious texts themselves.

  12. I think you first put me on to Goodacre, and I have to thank you for that. He’s an excellent, succinct (no Oxford comma) and entertaining author.

    If anyone can present a coherent case for historicity, it’s him. I sorta hope he does it, but I have to admit that there are plenty of stuff I’m more interested in seeing him spend his limited time on (did Matthew have any sources, now that Q is off the table, and we can group that material with ‘special’ M? Ditto for Luke. Based on a throwaway remark by Ellegård, I’d rather like to know if Ignatius is quoting Matthew or Matthew is quoting Ignatius. And then there’s the whole Luke/Marcion thing.)

    Incidentally, I’d love to see a Bayesian analysis applied to his Q work. His book on Thomas seems eminently suited for that treatment as well.

  13. Sorry to hog the comments like this, but I think it’s a bit sad that Christians are so resistant to mythicism. They seem to forget that if mythicism is correct, then that is what Paul himself believed. Whatever accretions the concept “Christianity” has acquired, I think most would agree that Paul was a Christian and what he preached was Christianity. So in that respect mythicism is no less true than historicism from a theological point of view. In many way a cosmic, sublunar Jesus is far easier to defend as a faith exactly because it doesn’t rely on demonstrably false empirical claims.

    The only one who could really have a problem with a celestial Jesus is the Pope, since he was stupid enough not to stick with the title Vicar or St. Peter, but tried to go whole hog Vicar of Christ.

    1. The same thing has occurred to me as well. Christians should be eager to embrace the mythical Christ if it can be demonstrated that’s what the early NT writers believed in. Brodie seems to have no trouble doing this.

    2. Ah. Of course.

      I’d made the mistake of buying into the whole Reasonable, Real Christians shpiel of the sophisticated theologians.

  14. On Philo, I recently discovered that his Wikipedia article was almost completely copying and paraphrasing of the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 (thus not copyright). I’m looking for editors to help me improve the article. Thanks.

  15. Richard, also related to Philo, but on topic, you often hear that Platonism was a major influence on early Christianity, but I don’t recall reading about it on this blog or in other writings or videos. You’re a philosopher too, right? Can you write up a post on this sometime or am I missing something? Been reading for a bit less than a year.

    1. It’s too wishy washy a topic, IMO. Ancient thought was not so neatly divided into schools of thought like that. Ideas one could call “Platonist” not only often predate Plato (and thus can have sources other than Platonism yet look just like Platonism), but even ideas from Platonists were also picked up and used by philosophers of other schools. So thinkers who did that were not necessarily “Platonists.” Thus, that there are Platonist ideas in Paul (there are also Stoic and Aristotelian ideas in Paul) does not mean Paul was a Platonist or embraced any other Platonist ideas than the ones he uses. And as for Paul, so for all the first Christians. Philo, by comparison, was certainly very “Platonist,” but it’s very much a Jewish Platonism, and thus not point-for-point equivalent to the Platonism of Plato. And so on.

      In short, this is generally not a very fruitful or simple subject to tackle. Yes, Platonism was an influence on early Judaism and Christianity, but it could have been so in many ways–Judeo-Platonic ideas inherited by Christians from Judaism, unaware of their Platonist pedigree; Platonist ideas inherited indirectly by emulating mystery cults, without being aware that those ideas originated in Platonist thought; Platonist ideas inherited from general cultural notions that pervaded the population and not actually from Platonist schools or books, and possibly not even identified anymore as “Platonist”; and Platonist ideas inherited from actual schools and books (whether Platonist, or Platonist-influenced, or talking about Platonism); etc. We simply don’t have the kind of documentation anymore for the dawn of Christianity or early Palestine to allow us to tease out these options.

      The most we can say is that such ideas were out there, and some did get into Paul’s thought, and thus probably all early Christian thought, just as they had done all Jewish thought (claims now that the Jews were culturally isolationist and thus absorbed nothing from surrounding and infiltrating cultures is just so much apologetic nonsense lacking in any evidence). We can’t really get much more specific than that.

  16. “I am certain on listening back that he meant the famous passage that most experts deem an interpolation: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, where Paul says the Jews have finally been punished once and for all for killing Jesus. As that is plainly a reference to the Jewish War, which hadn’t happened when Paul was alive, it’s plainly an interpolation. He never wrote it. For the arguments and scholarship on this point see my past blog on Pauline Interpolations.”

    So you’re quick to pull out the “scholarly consensus” argument as well when it’s convenient to you.

    The only reason we have to think that “Paul” was dead before 70 is based on the same lazy historicizing-of-a-myth that informs the historicist view of Jesus. It is also uncertain that this passage is “plainly” a reference to the Jewish War, but it’s a good guess — and therefore reasonable to conclude that the letter was written after 70. Assuming that a historical “Paul” couldn’t have written it because some other mythical church document says that Paul died in the early 60s is simply begging the question, something I expect from Ehrman but not yourself.

    Like Doherty, you are placing way too much faith in the historicity of both “Paul” and the authenticity of the epistles. I believe they are part of the same myth cycle that informed the gospels — neither were historic.

    1. My blog post (that I linked to) explains why it is more than a “good guess” that the Jewish War was meant. As to the possibility that Paul was alive after 70 and wrote to Thessaly then, that’s another possibiliter fallacy (Proving History, pp. 26-29. That it’s possible doesn’t make it probable. It therefore can’t be a premise in any argument for historicity.

      I am sympathetic to your more general point that the chronology for Paul is as much a modern fabrication as each scholar’s reconstructed “historical Jesus” is, but the fact is that Paul’s own letters firmly establish him as writing in the 50s, after a conversion some 15 or so years earlier. Average life expectancy for an adult was 48. If Paul was converted at age 20 in the year 40, the odds of his having been alive in 70 are less than half; if Paul was converted nearer to age 40 (more likely), those odds plummet.

      As to the more skeptical point that the epistles are a fabrication altogether, that is simply not a tenable premise to use in this debate–even if it could be argued, any argument depending on it becomes less probable than the same conclusion reached without it. Rhetorically, therefore, you need to prove Jesus didn’t exist without relying on that premise. If you then want to argue that even Paul didn’t exist, that’s a whole other challenge. One I have no interest in. See my remarks previously.

  17. I thought Paul thought himself lesser than the other apostles, because of his shame of having been a persecutor of Christians before converting. I suppose a speech impediment might help, too, but that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the phrase “abnormally born.”

    1. That’s in 1 Cor. 15:8-10, where he does not call the other apostles “apostles super exceedingly.” It’s therefore a different context.

      He does there say he is the “least” of the apostles and “not fit” to be called an apostle because he was a persecutor. But this is preacher stuff. His point is that God should not have made him an apostle, yet God was so gracious he did. He is not saying his authority is less than the other apostles because of it. At most there might be evidence of his concern at not having been first (and having resisted God): elachistos tôn apostolôn (least of the apostles) is a play on eschaton de pantôn (but last of all) of the previous verse.

      His reference to being “an aborted fetus” (the actual meaning of ektrôma) is also not a reference to the thorn in his side (which I only infer from its own context is a speech impediment), but to his being a monster which the Lord nevertheless singled out for apostleship.

      Paul refers again to God having chosen him “from the womb” to receive a revelation of Christ in Galatians 1:15-16, where he also refers to his being a persecutor (vv. 13-14, he “ravaged” the church as a “zealot”). The pairing of a birth metaphor with his past as a persecutor in both places suggests he may have been thinking the same thing in each. Scholars debate what exactly he meant, though (monster? his being reborn at the wrong time? his having been rejected?).

      Finally, in Galatians 1:22-24 Paul says his having been a persecutor (and then an apostle) was seen by Christians as cause of rejoicing, not of doubting his merits as an apostle (if anything, as you can imagine, this switcheroo gave him more credibility, which I’m sure he used to the hilt in his evangelism).

  18. One passage I’m surprised doesn’t come up much in such debates is the Philippians hymn, which clearly presents the crucified Christ as receiving the name of Jesus after his death and ascension. That seems like a devastating argument against historical Jesus.

    1. It does look bad for them. But they can “interpret” it their way; and some resort to insisting it must be an interpolation (with a circular argument: Paul can’t have written it, because he doesn’t write it anywhere else, therefore he didn’t write it here; with such logic, half of everything Paul wrote is an interpolation…huzzah!).

      Larry Hurtado blogged on a really good recent article about this (rather, more generally, on the whole notion of early “high” Christology): see “Early High Christology”: A Recent Assessment of Scholarly Debate. In the comments there Geza Vermes gets into a snippy debate with Hurtado, insisting the Philippians hymn is surely an interpolation, and Hurtado keeps asking him what evidence he bases that on, and Vermes keeps avoiding the question. Pretty much a typical debate in Jesus studies these days.

  19. Roger Parvus December 21, 2012, 10:17 pm

    [Corrected version of previously submitted comment]


    In the debate you said that, as you see it, “there is only one defensible, plausible theory that Jesus did not exist.” And you summarize the theory this way:

    “This is the view that Christianity actually began with revelations, actual or purported, of a divine being named Jesus who underwent a death and resurrection in the lower heavens and preached through revelations. If you look at the letters of Paul, Paul never refers to Jesus having a ministry, he never refers to anyone seeing or meeting him while he was alive. He only talks about people receiving revelations of Jesus. That’s what made someone an apostle. It was having a revelation of the Christ.”

    I’m on board with everything in that statement except the phrase “in the lower heavens.” I grant that a lower heavens location for the death and resurrection of the divine being is defensible and plausible, but so is an “on earth” location. In the religious literature of the relevant time are there not many examples of gods taking on the guise of men to perform some task on earth? And even the Old Testament contains several episodes of angels appearing to men in human disguise. In Genesis angels disguised as men visit Abraham and Lot. And, closer to intertestamental times, the book of Tobit describes the archangel Raphael as disguising himself as a man (Azarias), not to live for some protracted time on earth, but for a limited specific task. And then there is the early Christian belief attributed to Basilides that some kind of disguise and switching of places occurred between Simon of Cyrene and the original cross-bearer. So I think it also defensible that the original Christian belief was that a divine Son of God descended to earth for a few hours disguised as a man in order to undergo an incognito crucifixion. (No birth, no public ministry, no prolonged stay). And after having returned to heaven, he appeared to certain chosen individuals, revealed to them the redemptive trick he had played, and commissioned them to tell others.

    Is there something you see in Paul’s letters that makes such a scenario implausible and indefensible?

    1. In the religious literature of the relevant time are there not many examples of gods taking on the guise of men to perform some task on earth?

      Yes, but those would be deemed historical events on earth. That corresponds to Docetism. Docetism is not mythicism; it’s historicity: a historical Jesus who is “interpreted” to have been an illusion of some form. (It’s possible the original Docetists were other-worlders and thus mythicists, since we only have writings of their later enemies, and not what the original Docetists actually wrote or claimed, but here I am referring to the Docetism described by its opponents in the second century.)

      Although the more extreme scenario you envision, of a Jesus who comes all the way to earth only for a few hours and is crucified where no one is around to see it, is mythically possible, but it would require more ad hoc reasoning than the sublunar theory. It has no precedent (unlike sublunar deaths and burials) and does not correspond to the earlier redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah (which clearly places the crucifixion in space) and is theologically unnecessary (a sublunar death accomplishes everything one needs, including an explanation of why only apostles could see it: it could only be witnessed by revelation) and not supported by anything Paul says (and though neither is it explicitly ruled out, lacking evidence for a theory is generally a good reason not to adopt it–to avoid the possibiliter fallacy: Proving History, pp. 25-29).

      I would subsume such a notion as a subset of “minimal mythicism” and thus not trouble myself over whether it’s truer than standard sublunar theory (since the probability of A or B is always higher than the probability of just B, we don’t need to decide between A and B to prove that “probably A or B,” so defining mythicism by the latter is the sounder approach, and when there is a lot of background evidence to support A, adding B as a possibility would only increase the probability of mythicism–then arguing only for A becomes arguing a fortiori, which is most desirable when that argument is successful on its own: Proving History, pp. 85-88).

    2. Roger Parvus January 1, 2013, 1:12 pm

      All the extant versions of the Vision of Isaiah (i.e., chapters 6 – 11 of the Ascension of Isaiah) show signs of tampering, so it is difficult to know or prove whether in the original version its Son descended for crucifixion to earth, or only to the sublunar heaven.

      One often overlooked piece of information that may be pertinent for determining the Son’s destination is what the early record says about Simon of Samaria. For Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son and—-from the few fragments regarding his claim that have survived—-the Son he had in view may very well be the one in the Ascension of Isaiah:

      “He (Simon), therefore, was glorified by many as a god; and he taught that it was he himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son… For as the angels were misgoverning the world, since each of them desired the sovereignty, he (Simon) had come to set matters right; and that he had descended, transforming himself and being made like to the Powers and Principalities and Angels; so that he appeared to men as a man although he was not really a man, and was thought to have suffered in Judaea, although he did not really suffer.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 23, 1 and 3)

      “And in each heaven I changed my form,” he (Simon) says, “in order that I might not be perceived by my Angelic Powers…” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 2,2).

      Now if (and I realize that is still an “if) Simon was claiming to be a new manifestation of the Ascension of Isaiah’s Son, it becomes clear that the Son was believed to have descended to earth, for: (1) He “APPEARED AMONG THE JEWS;” (2) He “APPEARED TO MEN AS A MAN” and (3) “was thought to have suffered IN JUDAEA… ” (my emphases).

      But note that there is nothing in the early record about Simon claiming to be the Son who had a public ministry. As far as can be determined, he did not claim to be the Son who had preached the Good News in Galilee; or the Son who had wandered around healing people and working miracles; or the Son who had gathered together a band of disciples and founded his church on them. This again makes me suspect that in Simon’s day (the same time as the Pauline letters) there was as yet no public ministry for the Son. He was believed to have descended to earth incognito only for a few hours in order to switch places with a failed messiah that the Romans were leading out for crucifixion. It was only later that someone (the Simonian author of gMark) came up with the idea of a public ministry. And that public ministry of the Son is just an allegorical portrayal of the ministry of Simon/”Paul.”

    3. RParvus July 1, 2013, 1:09 pm

      You wrote:

      Although the more extreme scenario you envision, of a Jesus who comes all the way to earth only for a few hours and is crucified where no one is around to see it, is mythically possible, but it would require more ad hoc reasoning than the sublunar theory. It has no precedent (unlike sublunar deaths and burials) and does not correspond to the earlier redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah (which clearly places the crucifixion in space) and is theologically unnecessary (a sublunar death accomplishes everything one needs, including an explanation of why only apostles could see it: it could only be witnessed by revelation) and not supported by anything Paul says (and though neither is it explicitly ruled out, lacking evidence for a theory is generally a good reason not to adopt it–to avoid the possibiliter fallacy: Proving History, pp. 25-29).

      I agree that my more extreme scenario requires more ad hoc reasoning. But I wouldn’ t say that it has no precedent. As I pointed out in my first comment, in the religious literature of the time, including the Old Testament and intertestamental literature, there are examples of gods and angels taking on the mere guise of men to perform some limited, particular task on earth. And, as I explained in my second comment, I don’t think it can be shown that the original version of the Ascension of Isaiah clearly placed the crucifixion in space. However, I am writing this follow-up comment to clarify a few other points.

      First, you wrote:

      Although the more extreme scenario you envision, of a Jesus who comes all the way to earth only for a few hours and is crucified where no one is around to see it…

      No, in the scenario I propose the crucifixion occurred in Judaea and there would have been people around to see it. It is just that they would not have realized that they were seeing the crucifixion of the Son of God. To all appearances the one being crucified looked like a man. Just as, in the Ascension of Isaiah, the Son who descends through the heavens attracts no attention because he had changed his appearance, so when he descended for a few hours into the world to change places with a man being crucified he would not have attracted any special attention either. The way that designated individuals (apostles) learned that the Son of God had in fact been crucified was by way of a subsequent revelation to them. The Son, having risen back to heaven, appeared to them and told them that Isaiah’s prophecy had been accomplished.

      And, in line with this, I think it may be incorrect to say:

      a sublunar death accomplishes everything one needs, including an explanation of why only apostles could see it: it could only be witnessed by revelation.

      Paul nowhere says that he witnessed the crucifixion—-even by way of revelation—-does he? Paul knows that the Son’s crucifixion and return to heaven have occurred, but for that to be true wouldn’t it be enough that those *facts* were revealed to him? If the Son revealed to the apostles and Paul that those events had been accomplished, wouldn’t that have been sufficient, without giving them some kind of private viewing of the events? And one indication that they were given no private viewing is that they apparently had recourse to the Scriptures for further details, not to their memory.

      So while I agree that a sublunar death could explain why only the apostles knew of it, in my extreme scenario of the Son’s death on earth a revelation to the apostles would be required too. The Son’s transformation of himself so as to escape detection would have made the subsequent revelation of his crucifixion necessary.

      1. I wouldn’ t say that it has no precedent. As I pointed out in my first comment, in the religious literature of the time, including the Old Testament and intertestamental literature, there are examples of gods and angels taking on the mere guise of men to perform some limited, particular task on earth.

        That’s a valid point. Satan visiting Jesus in the desert and flying him around is a case of that. Jacob wresting with God is another. So, there are indeed precedents of a sort, although not as apposite as the Osiris/Ascension of Isaiah/Life of Adam parallels.

        No, in the scenario I propose the crucifixion occurred in Judaea and there would have been people around to see it. It is just that they would not have realized that they were seeing the crucifixion of the Son of God. To all appearances the one being crucified looked like a man.

        I’m not sure I understand. How would this not be a historical Jesus? If there was an actual man seen crucified outside Jerusalem in the ordinary way, that’s a historical person, not a mythical one. And why would the apostles confuse a man they didn’t know as being the messiah after the fact? It doesn’t make sense that they’d see some random stranger crucified and then “dream” later that he was the Jesus Lord. And if that’s not what you are proposing, why would we need anyone to have seen some random stranger crucified to explain Christianity? That seems to violate Occham’s Razor, when the revelation alone would suffice; whereas a revelation that it occurred recently on earth would be verifiable (so why wouldn’t the apostles have verified it?). And so on. I realize there must be something about your theory I’m not understanding. I’m just trying to pose the possibilities I don’t get, in the hopes you can clarify the theory I must be overlooking. So far, your theory appears to fall under historicity, not myth.

    4. RParvus July 2, 2013, 6:12 am

      It would be mythical in the sense that it didn’t really happen. You and I both know that the Son of God didn’t descend to earth for a few hours, transform his appearance and surreptitiously change places with a man being led out for crucifixion by the Romans. But I think the first Christians did believe this. They believed it was historical. But because the Son had transformed himself, the only way they had to “prove” it was by way of Scriptural prophecy and their personal testimony that the Son, once he had risen back to heaven, appeared to them and confirmed it.

      For illustration purposes only:

      Suppose that a few years ago (say, around 2010) some nut composed a phony prophecy in which he has Nostradamus foretell that in the last days the Son of God will descend to earth, transform his appearance so as to change places with some homeless man who is in the process of being beaten to death in New York City, and then rise back to his Father in heaven. The nut manages to convince some people that the prophecy is authentic and that, indeed, when it comes to pass the generation that is alive will be the last.

      Next suppose that I am one of those who believes in that prophecy. And as I’m sitting in my living room watching TV the Son of God appears to me and says: “The great event has come to pass. I was beaten to death and have risen back to my Father. I need you to go out and preach this good news to the world. Only those who believe it will be saved from the coming cataclysm.” I go out and describe my experience to some of the others who believe in the phony prophecy. Soon some of them claim the same thing: “The Son appeared to me too! Yes, he said he was killed and has arisen! The end is near!”

      Now it seems to me that in this kind of scenario the believers would not necessarily go to New York City and search among the dead bodies of recently killed homeless people. There would be no point to that. The Son’s choice of homeless man was random. And even if the dead body of a homeless man could be found, it would not really constitute any kind of proof that the Son of God had switched places with him. No, the purported “proof” would consist in connecting the prophecy with the testimony of the people who claim to have seen the risen Son. And that is what we see in the earliest Christian literature: they appeal to Scripture and to their visions of the risen Christ.

      So, as I see it, the phony prophecy would correspond to the Ascension of Isaiah where it foretells in curt fashion that the Son of God will descend (transforming himself as he goes) and trick the princes of this world into crucifying him. True, in the text of the Ascension as it currently stands there is no switching of places between the condemned cross-bearer and Simon coming in from the field. (That dual transformation is present in Irenaeus’ garbled account of the teaching of Basilides on the passion.) But the short “Et cum hominibus habitare et in mundo” that currently stands at the critical spot in the Latin version of the Ascension (11:2) looks too compressed. And it looks Johannine (Jn. 1:14). If Johannine-inspired, it could be a late replacement for something unorthodox that stood there previously. The Greek version has a more extensive and Synoptic-inspired interpolation at that point in the Ascension. Thus we appear to have two types of correction to the passage: one longer and Synoptic, the other short and Johannine.

      So, yes, I think the first Christians believed the Son descended to earth for a few hours and succeeded, according to plan, to get himself crucified. They believed it because they had a prophecy foretelling it and because the Son, after the alleged event, appeared to them to confirm its fulfillment: “God foretold it, God confirmed it, I believe it.” And I maintain that is why we do not find a switchover from mythical to historical in what those early Christians wrote. In their eyes it was historical from the beginning. What they eventually did was add a public ministry for the Son and suppressed the transformations and surreptitious switching of places on the road to Calvary. (I know that Earl Doherty holds that the switchover from mythical to historical is discernible in the Ignatian Letters. I disagree. I have laid out my position regarding the Ignatians on Neil Godfrey’s Vridar blog in a series of posts entitled: “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch.”)

    5. RParvus July 8, 2013, 12:27 pm

      One more afterthought about seeing the Ascension of Isaiah as Scripture—-or, even more, as the original gospel message:

      Paul, as part of his 1 Cor. 2 passage about the wisdom that was hidden from the princes of this world who crucified the Son of God, quotes a Scripture whose provenance has never been definitively identified:

      But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and neither has it entered the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

      The citation formula “as it is written” almost certainly means that Paul believed he was quoting from some divinely authoritative Scripture. But there is no good fit among the canonical ones. Some scholars have argued that Paul was trying to quote Isaiah 64:3 from memory and that he badly mangled it. But others recognize that 64:3 is just too different to plausibly support that claim. These acknowledge that we just don’t know what Scripture he had in mind. It has been a problem passage for the proto-orthodox from the beginning. Origen, for example, suggested that maybe Paul was quoting from the apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah.

      But as I see it, the context of the quote fits best with another non-canonical writing: The Ascension of Isaiah. The quote in question is present in both the Latin and Slavonic versions at 11:34. And, as you know, the Ascension speaks about the princes of this world. And about how the Son of God deceived them. And the Ascension does present itself as a hidden prophecy/wisdom that will not be revealed until the last times:

      Consummatio saeculi hujus et omnis haec visio implebitur in novissima generatione. Et prohibuit eos, ne annunciarent filiis Israel, nec verba haec darent ad scribendum omni homini. (11:38-39)

      Thus the context of the Ascension of Isaiah is a good fit for the quote that Paul quotes as Scripture. Here in 1 Cor. 2:9 we may have the first indication of the existence of that writing. Probably around 30 CE some nut composed the prophecy and managed to pass it off to a few others as an authentic but long-hidden prophecy of Isaiah. Paul believed it and ran with it. If so, here we have a plausible origin for Paul’s “gospel… according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed.” (Rom. 16: 25-26)

      An objection: But the quote “What no eye has seen etc” is absent from the Greek version of the Ascension</em?. Why would anyone have cut out such a harmless quote?

      Response: Perhaps because some considered it too identifiable a feature of the Ascension. If I am right about its original content and its status as the original gospel message, it would be understandable that the later proto-orthodox would not only interpolate passages like 11: 2-19 into it, but also suppress any verses too recognizably associated with it. This may explain why Hegesippus (according to Stephen Gobarus) repudiated the quote and said that those who used it were liars:

      “The good things prepared for the righteous neither eye saw, nor ear heard, nor entered they into the heart of man”. Hegesippus, however, an ancient and apostolic man, how moved I know not, says in the fifth book of his Memoirs that these words are vainly spoken, and that those who say these things give the lie to the Holy Scripture and to the Lord who said: “Blessed are your eyes that see, and your ears that hear.” (Stephen Gobarus on Hegesippus)

      A final observation: The early church believed that Scripture foretold the resurrection of the Son “on the third day.” But, again, there is no clear indication of that to be found in the canonical Old Testament. Perhaps scholars have been looking in the wrong place. If in fact the earliest gospel was the message of the Ascension of Isaiah the mystery would be solved, for in that writing we find this prophecy: “et surget tertia die” (9:16).

  20. Richard, you say,

    “As to the more skeptical point that the epistles are a fabrication altogether, that is simply not a tenable premise to use in this debate–even if it could be argued, any argument depending on it becomes less probable than the same conclusion reached without it. Rhetorically, therefore, you need to prove Jesus didn’t exist without relying on that premise.”

    Isn’t it a problem that by considering the Pauline epistles to be one
    of the earliest Christian writings, your argument needs the Pauline
    epistles to be early?

    For arguments sake, if the Pauline epistles are from the 2nd century,
    can’t the cosmic Christ that is seen in it be one of the many variants
    of Christ that people believed in, in the 2nd century and can not be
    used to argue the Christ myth theory?

    “the fact is that Paul’s own letters firmly establish him as writing
    in the 50s”

    Could you explain this dating?

    1. Isn’t it a problem that by considering the Pauline epistles to be one of the earliest Christian writings, your argument needs the Pauline epistles to be early?

      This question was specifically answered by Robert Price in Is This Not the Carpenter?. If you are really curious, you should read that.

      But mathematically, P(myth|e.b) = [P(myth|e.b.letters late) x P(letters late)] + [P(myth|e.b.letters early) x P(letters early)]. So if P(letters late) is low, it doesn’t matter whether I rely on the letters being early. Not only can I get a high enough probability on that (the tiny probability of the evidence being radically different than we think, like all Cartesian Demon arguments, becomes moot), but the probability of “A or B” is always higher than the probability of A or the probability of B. Therefore, at worst, “letters late” can shrink P(myth|e.b.letters late), but it’s still always above zero, and thus still always adds to P(myth|e.b.letters early) and thus always increases P(myth|e.b), no matter how low P(myth|e.b.letters late) is.

      A problem for me only arises if P(letters late) is high. But there is no way to argue that it is on present evidence. I could be wrong about that, but it’s someone else’s job to prove it (the burden is always on the claimant; and an effective consensus constitutes meeting a prima facie burden: Proving History, pp. 29-30).

      For arguments sake, if the Pauline epistles are from the 2nd century, can’t the cosmic Christ that is seen in it be one of the many variants of Christ that people believed in, in the 2nd century and can not be used to argue the Christ myth theory?

      One would then be burdened with explaining how or why Christ would become de-historicized that way. It is actually historically easier to see a mythical person historicized than a historical person removed from history and placed in outer space (in fact I cannot think of a single precedent for that, although if anyone knows one I’m interested in seeing it). But more problematic is the fact that Paul’s letters show no awareness of the alternative, e.g. they never once struggle to argue against a prevailing historicizing view, contain no reference to anyone believing or preaching such a thing, and so on (and indeed no knowledge of the Gospels or anything in them, with the possible exception of the eucharist, which one could argue reverse causation for), which is always improbable unless there was none. Thus even late letters would not entail a low P(myth).

      This is all academic, however, since I have yet to see any sound argument that P(letters late) is anywhere high enough to matter.

      “the fact is that Paul’s own letters firmly establish him as writing
      in the 50s”

      Could you explain this dating?

      Paul wrote before the Jewish War, which began in 66, and probably before the Neronian persecution of 64 (if such there was), as neither are ever mentioned in his letters (yet both, and their consequences, would have been too huge not to affect anything he said, esp. in Romans); and he wrote well after Aretas assumed control of Damascus (which he mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:32), which was between the years of 37 and 40; and most (if not all) of his literary activity came 14 to 17 years after his conversion (Galatians 1:15-18, 2:1; possibly also 2 Corinthians 12:2); all of which argues for his letters being written in the 50s.

      For a detailed analysis: Gerd Lüdemann, Paul, The Founder of Christianity (2002), which also details why we should trust a chronology derived only from Paul’s letters and not from Acts.

      One can avoid this conclusion only by assuming these are all lies and the letters are fabricated to look like they were written in the 50s. That’s an enormous ad hoc assumption, which has no inherent probability (even out of the gate, much less after considering how little the forgers even bothered to polemicize against the Gospel version of Jesus etc., or do or say anything distinctive of the second century or even intelligible in that context–as opposed to, for example, the Pastorals).

  21. David Hillman December 23, 2012, 6:22 am

    The story of Paul’s persecution of the early church is a puzzle, since it is difficult to see how he would have had any authority to literally ravage the early church. Luke’s reckless elaboration of the story is clearly fabricated, but the references in the epistles need some explanation.
    The Greek word translated as persecuted means to go after someone and in its negative sense may mean no more than bad mouthing people to mutual acquaintances. I do not know the nuances of the word translated as ravage, but I suggest that Paul is exaggerating the extent of his zeal for persecuting.
    Philip Harland in his podcast on 1 peter convincingly argues that early descriptions of persecuting meant being subject to verbal abuse or criticism- here (nicely argued, though slow and didactic ).
    The reason for this exaggeration of Paul’s zeal is ideological – rewriting Paul as the new Elijah with a difference, as is well argued by NT wright here: .
    The alternative, as argued by Robert Price, is that the story of Paul as persecuter is a later fabrication or interpolation based on a distortion of Ebionite criticism of Paul as enemy of the torah, but when a follower of Christ Jesus.

    1. Price’s theory requires interpolations in both Galatians and 1 Corinthians, without any actual evidence beyond the desire that it be so. That’s a non-starter if you want to use it to argue for mythicism. The prior probability of two interpolations convenient to a scholar in two separate letters is around one in a million (the rate of undiscovered interpolations can be calculated to be in the vicinity of 1 in 1000; and 1000 x 1000 = 1,000,000). So, you need very damn good evidence to defend such a thesis. The mere possibility of it is useless.

      The Harland hypothesis is more defensible. Because Paul never says anything about killing anyone, for example. Even beyond just polemical oratory, or persuading converts to apostasize, there are all manner of ways he could harass the Christians–such as in civil courts or with extralegal devices like intrigues and corruption, e.g. Acts depicts Paul being railroaded on false charges, a tactic we know was all too common between enemies in those days; likewise assassination, which was illegal but common, as Acts also depicts was planned for Paul, and as Lucian says was attempted even on him when he tried “harassing” the Glycon cult himself by exposing its trickery.

      Since Paul doesn’t explain, and clearly assumes his readers were well familiar with the details, we are in the dark on specifics. But for that same reason we also can’t assume he didn’t get people convicted of capital crimes under Jewish laws (which were honored in many places outside Judea, though only Jews were subject to them, and only if they could not play a citizenship card somewhere). These executions just won’t have been for things like claiming the messiah was crucified (which was not illegal in Torah or Mishnah law).

      A combination is possible, too: if the Jewish elite found Christians troubling to their authority and had the ear of King Aretas, for example, they could convince him to have Christians killed on spurious charges or his own laws or royal whim, and then task ranking Jews like Paul with hunting them down in places he controlled like Damascus (Paul says he was never in Judea at the time, so he didn’t “persecute” any churches there, contrary to modern myth). That would explain why, when Paul was flipped and became an agent of the Christians, Aretas would try to have him killed (as Paul says he did: 2 Cor. 11:32). Thus, it need not have been Jewish laws Paul was using to arrange executions; just Jewish interests, using secular authority as their weapon.

    2. vinnyjh57 December 31, 2012, 11:22 am

      One thing I think we can say in general about religious persecutions is that the perpetrators often lack a particularly clear picture of what it is that their victims actually believe, e.g., the Romans thought the Christians practiced cannibalism and incest and Christians later accused Jews of ritual infanticide. This is often true because the victims are being scapegoated for problems that have little if anything to do with what they actually believe. Moreover, the reasons that are given to motivate those who carry out the persecution are often very different from the purposes of those who instigate them.

      If Paul was carrying out the persecution at the behest of some greater political power, is it more likely than not that Christians were being scapegoated for some problem that had little to do with their beliefs in much the same way that Nero blamed the later for the fire in Rome? Before his conversion, Paul’s knowledge of the Christians’ beliefs might not have gone beyond whatever baseless allegations had been used to whip up the persecution.

  22. Hullo Richard

    Q meaning ‘source’: people like nehemiah gordon point out the hebraisms, aramaisms, calques present in the greek gospels intail a hebrew primacy. Hebrew manuscripts (shem tov) that offer ‘new’ understandings. e.g. the pun about peter = petros, being the petra also works in hebrew ‘even’ (a stone) and I shall build ‘evneh’…

    Any Q implications there ?


    1. No. On the fallacies inherent in the “argument from Aramaic” see Proving History, pp. 185-86.

      (But as to the question of Peter’s name, which indeed may translate the Aramaic “Cephas,” see Markus Bockmuehl, “Simon Peter’s Names in Jewish Sources,” Journal of Jewish Studies 55, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 58-80.)

  23. Richard, one aspect of the Pauline material that i find especially interesting is the “born of a woman” statement and the “from the seed of David” statement. I think this is one area that will require the more extensive exposition to fully make sense of on the mythicist theory. Because the whole cosmological system that would make such statements compatible with secular nonhistoricity is probably not widely understood.

    One thing I was wondering is whether or not there is evidence that ancient Jewish peasant families actually tracked their geneological lineage back that far. Was this a common practice? because if we have no other case of this happening among lower class 1st century Jews, then it would seem like the prior probability of Jesus actually being from the seed of David would shrink significantly, thus favoring the understanding that such an attribution was not based on actual knowledge… therefore being just as likely on the mythicist paradigm as on the historicist.

    Also the “born of a woman” statement seems very odd. It seems to me like a step towards euhemerizing an originally very high Christology (ala the Philipian hymn). I noticed that Ehrman posits that the original christians had a very low Christology that steadily climbed until you hit John and the later gnostic material. But it would seem like the Pauline “born of a woman” statement fits better with a very early high christology instead… which seems more amenable to mythicism than Ehrman’s proposed historicist reconstruction. Or it is another case of something that works out in the lower heavens rather than on Earth. I know that this is an area that will probably require a lengthy explanation in your next book, but I wonder if you could comment a bit more on these two areas. thanks.

    1. To be fair, I don’t think most historicists mean to say that Paul was talking about or knew anything about an actual genealogy (there is some evidence some people kept such things; the elite certainly did, although IMO a lot of those were likely fictional, “convenient fictions” we would say; poor families might have had oral traditions of the same sort).

      They mean to say it was claimed Jesus had Davidic lineage (regardless of whether that claim was based on anything). Because that alone would be enough to entail historicity, unless such a claim could be made of a celestial being. Personally I would say not, if what Paul meant was a long line of descent; but in fact Paul does not mention descent or lineage, he only says “made from the sperm of David,” as if directly (this would then entail membership in the seed of Abraham and the tribe of Judah, without any lineage or ancestry required).

      As to the oddness of saying Jesus was “born of a woman,” you are right. That’s particularly odd when you stop to ask what possible purpose that point could serve in Paul’s argument in Galatians 4. Why on earth does he mention it there? The answer becomes obvious when you read the whole chapter and understand what his argument is. But that doesn’t end up supporting the historicists (IMO).

  24. Dr. Carrier, what do you think of the “failed apocalyptic prophet” portrait of Jesus as an argument for his existence? It seems that this portrait was mined from the most primitive Jesus traditions and such a person would fit well in that era.

    1. A revealed being can be as failed an apocayptic prophet as a historical one. For example, the angel Gabriel delivers apocalyptic prophecy to Daniel (in Daniel 9) which also ends up being false. So the angel Gabriel is also a failed apocalyptic prophet. That doesn’t make him historical.

      This is an example of evidence that is simply non-determinative. That the apostles “saw” a being telling them the end was nigh is as expected on both historicity and myth. It therefore argues for (or against) neither.

    2. Greg G December 31, 2012, 5:12 pm

      The “failed apocalyptic prophet” that was exaggerated in to the Messiah is just backward of what we see. The Messiah was invented because of the failed prophecy that David’s seed would continue on the throne of Israel. To argue that the exaggeration preceded the kernel of truth seems very backward. There may have been many failed apocalyptic prophets named Jesus but the New Testament isn’t about any of them.

  25. “One would then be burdened with explaining how or why Christ would become de-historicized that way. It is actually historically easier to see a mythical person historicized than a historical person removed from history and placed in outer space (in fact I cannot think of a single precedent for that, although if anyone knows one I’m interested in seeing it).”

    In a sense, isn’t that what happened to say, Jeshua son of Jehozadak
    in Philo’s hands? Or is a cultic interpretation significantly
    different from Philo’s that it can’t be considered a precedent?

    Given that some early Christians could think of Jesus in many
    different ways – as a phantasm, as fully human being, as fully divine
    and as simultaniously fully human and divine – I fail to wrap my head
    around why mystery cultists could not just as easily have stepped in
    to claim an interpretation at some time in the middle of the march
    towards 4th century Catholicism. Which is why I think there is a need
    to argue that the cultist expression is early.

    Thank you for the note on the dating of Pauline epistles. It is far
    more informative than any of the bits and pieces I have read about it
    so far!

    1. In a sense, isn’t that what happened to say, Jeshua son of Jehozadak in Philo’s hands?

      Philo didn’t say that guy didn’t exist except in outer space. He said that passage wasn’t about that guy, but someone else (the one in outer space).

      By analogy, this is like someone saying they weren’t worshipping Jesus of Nazareth but the outer-space Jesus of Philo; rather than saying there was no Jesus of Nazareth, but only the outer-space Jesus of Philo.

      But this does remind me of a near example: Philo denies the historicity of Adam and Eve, and partly allegorizes and partly celestializes them (in Philo’s view there is an outer-space Adam, of whom the terrestrial Adam was a copy, by which Philo meant the first human, whose actual name and story Philo would have regarded as lost to history).

      This is only a near example, of course, since Adam and Eve were actually mythical. But the relevant point here is that Philo acknowledges the popular view and argues against it. He doesn’t just assume there was no Adam and Eve. The letters of Paul would have to do the same if they were composed in the second century. Instead their author shows no awareness that Jesus had ever been historicized at all, much less popularly so. Even a forger who wanted to pretend no such historicization had occurred would have Paul more clearly and explicitly declare facts contrary to it so as to refute it covertly.

      By comparison, Paul’s two-body resurrection theory in 1 Corinthians 15 was dogmatically unacceptable to many second century Christians so they forged another letter from him, 3 Corinthians, in which he explicitly and unambiguously argues for a one-body resurrection. The forger doesn’t have Paul claim there is a two-body resurrection theory and then rebut it; he just has Paul argue vigorously for the one-body theory, knowing full well that would do the trick as far as the forger needed.

      This is actually how forgeries typically operate: the purpose of the forgery is obvious from the absurdly ginned up content promoting whatever the forgery was created for. And sometimes they even acknowledge this objective openly (as when 2 Thessalonians was forged saying that 1 Thessalonians was a forgery–amusingly–in order to then have their fictional Paul reverse what the actual Paul had said).

  26. mrgoodwraith December 31, 2012, 1:16 pm

    Richard, it’s interesting to me that

    The messiah of course was always known to have to be Davidic

    but according to some “Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” sites I’ve seen, the Messiah was also “always known” to have to not be a descendant of Jeconiah (based on Jeremiah 22:28-30), and yet the author(s) of Matthew, the “most Jewish” gospel, included Jeconiah among Jesus’ ancestors (Matt. 1:12). Even if you credit the arguments put forward at and elsewhere that seem to point to a (not well explained) lifting of the curse on Jeconiah’s line, why would the Jewish Christian(s) who ginned up Jesus’ genealogy have included Jeconiah at all? Why not have him descend from David through some other (fictitious) line, as in Luke? Any theories about that?

    1. That’s a modern thing. I’m not aware of any ancient source making that argument. Indeed, it’s a pretty desperate Jewish apologetic. I’m not surprised it would never have occurred to ancient Jews. The Jews for Jesus analysis you link to is correct about that (b.Sanhedrin 37b-38a shows you what ancient Jews thought about that kind of argument).

      As you must well know, contradictions are routine even in the OT by itself, much less between the OT and NT. The Jews were never deterred by ignoring prophecies in the Bible and as a result saying contradictory things. The whole OT is proof of that. That the NT would continue to be written with the same disregard for consistency as the whole OT had already been is thus what we should expect. Not something we should deem surprising.

      As to why Jechoniah was chosen, a more pressing question is to ask why the only women named in Matthew’s genealogy are OT whores (several articles have been written on that point). Compared to that, explaining Jechoniah is easy: there was no one else available. He was the last living king at the start of the exile. Therefore any genealogy to continue David’s male line had to go through Jechoniah.

      Which points up the fact that God promised in the OT elsewhere that a son of David would always rule, and in Jer. 22:28-30 that a son of David would never rule. So the contradiction already exists in the OT, before Matthew even got started.

  27. Greg G December 31, 2012, 5:45 pm

    Dr. Carrier,

    Could the definition of Q be too restrictive in that it excludes Mark? Mark 8:34 says you should “deny yourself” and “take up one’s cross”. Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23 are nearly verbatim copies of that verse. Matthew 10:37-38 and Luke 14:27 have harsher sayings about “leaving” or “hating” your parent and taking up the cross and they are very similar to Saying 55 in the Gospel of Thomas.

    Mark seems to be familiar with the verse but may be quoting it from memory, as if he wasn’t rich enough to have a text in front of him. Matthew and Luke copied his version but didn’t recognize it when they saw it in the Q. Thomas also had the benefit of the text, apparently.

    If I recall correctly there is at least one place where Mark and the Gospel of Thomas have similar passages not found in Matthew and Luke. Other topics are found in Mark and Thomas and either Matthew or Luke. This seems to indicate a common source.

    If Mark was quoting Q from memory while Matthew and Luke were correcting Mark from their texts, wouldn’t that explain their agreements against Mark that Goodacre uses in his argument?

    I’ve been reading some of Goodacre’s arguments online but I haven’t seen him mention the Gospel of Thomas. Does his theory of non-Q touch on that?

    1. Could the definition of Q be too restrictive in that it excludes Mark?

      Yes. This has been pointed out extensively by Goodacre and others. McDonald makes use of it to propose an alternative to Q (see my past review).

      And there are more examples than you mention, too. The idea that Q excluded Markan details like the passion is simply wholly untenable and I cannot believe scholars still can possibly think this. Examples like that prove only two possibilities: Luke used Matthew and Mark, or all the Synoptics used a previous (now lost) complete Gospel (which is not Q as Q is usually defined). MacDonald’s is the best case I know for the latter thesis, but I am ultimately not convinced. He cuts too many logical corners, IMO. Indeed, MacDonald is aware of the fact that there is abundant evidence that Luke did use Matthew (and thus not just some lost Gospel in common), so his thesis incorporates Matthew also as one of Luke’s sources, making for a rather complicated theory. A far simpler hypothesis is that Luke simply used Mark and Matthew. Full stop.

      Goodacre has argued that GThomas is based on the Synoptics, not Q (in his latest book). I’ve seen some of his case, and others who’ve read it confirm that his argument is fairly conclusive.

      There just isn’t any evidence left for Q. One can say “possibly there was a lost Gospel used by all the Synoptics” but possibly does not get you to probably. And there aren’t many arguments you can make from a merely possible premise.

    2. NateP January 4, 2013, 5:58 pm

      Greg, I think you make a decent point. And although I’m certainly aware that Q has quite a few problems (and I’m not trying to defend it outright), isn’t there a much more direct reason that many scholars reject the idea that Luke used Matthew and Mark? Namely, any instance where Matthew adds extra material to a triple tradition pericope, Luke never adopts those additions into his Gospel. Never. That is a little telling isn’t it? Dr. Carrier, do you have convincing reason to assume that Luke, using Matthew, would be accepting of whole episodes that Mark didn’t have, but would otherwise tow the line in copying Markan material and never including Matthean additions to that material? Am I missing something in calling this at least some evidence for Q?

      1. First, even were that true, that would simply not be sufficient evidence to reject all the other evidence. You don’t get to run the numbers on only the evidence you want. You have to run the numbers on all the evidence. The balance of evidence is simply overwhelmingly in favor of Luke using Matthew. There is no getting around that.

        Second, your premise is false. Luke 22:63-64 essentially combines Mark 14:65a with Matthew 26:67-68, quoting Matthew verbatim in the process. So much for him “never” using triple tradition material. And this is in a section Q is not supposed to contain (the passion/crucifixion narrative). So, double evidence against the Q hypothesis. Done and dusted.

        It’s worse than that since the pro-Q argument is absurdly circular. For example, Matthew adds material to Mark’s discussion of Judas and John the Baptist, which Luke then uses. So in what way is Luke “not” using Matthew’s additions to Mark? Luke does that often! Only by defining “Q” in a circular way can those instances be ignored. Which is illogical. The evidence plainly shows that sometimes Luke used Matthew’s additions and changes, and sometimes he didn’t. You can’t dodge that with semantics. Yet this is what Q advocates do: they call these “Mark-Q overlaps” and dismiss them, telling people like you that Luke never used Matthew’s redactions of Mark. Yet what is a Mark-Q overlap? A place where Luke uses Matthew’s redaction of Mark. D’oop!

        It’s even worse than that, since the notion that redaction was expected to be verbatim is absurdly naive and against all we know of redaction of other works in the classical age. Thus, for example, it has been extensively shown that Luke uses Matthew’s nativity narrative by rewriting it. Luke in fact deliberately reverses elements of Matthew’s narrative, specifically to argue against the themes and messages of Matthew. That he doesn’t use the exact words of Matthew is irrelevant; because redactors often did not.

        Another example, is that Matthew precedes his Sermon on the Mount with a generic healing of many and follows it with the unrelated event of healing the Centurion’s son; Luke follows the exact same sequence when he converts the Sermon on the Mount to a Sermon on the Plain. The Q hypothesis cannot explain this (as this entails a Gospel narrative with events in temporal sequence). It looks like Luke just lazily followed Matthew’s sequence at this point, with some simplifications and changes.

        And I’ve just given some examples. Goodacre deals with this argument extensively in his works. It should be a dead argument by now.

    3. NateP January 8, 2013, 12:21 pm

      Richard, I hope you’ll note from my previous post (6 above, I think), that I’m a big fan of yours and do not wish to argue with you over things that I don’t believe are of critical importance. Whether or not there was a Q or whether Luke used Matthew, makes little difference to me in my overall understanding and assessment of the New Testament, especially if the Historical Jesus wasn’t even historical in the first place. (here’s the newly deconverted atheist coming out in me). That said, before I deconverted, I was a biblical studies student focusing on the synoptic gospels for much of my coursework and my thesis material. So please know that, even though I don’t have time to write out every point that could be brought, I HAVE indeed done my homework on this issue. You implied that I’m selecting only evidence that I find pertinent and weeding out the rest. Trust me, that’s not the case. I in fact started my post by saying “I’m not trying to defend it (Q) outright”, and I’m truly not. I am aware of the lines of reasoning that call Q into question. I see both side of the convoluted argument. But for you to fast-fowarard to a conclusion that Q is “done and dusted” and “should be a dead argument” is really not warranted. Let me implore you to stick to your brilliantly laid-out methodology proposed in Proving History….what I mean is….you’re right to instruct students of history to 1) acknowledge where a consensus exists, 2) reject the notion that a consensus = established truth, but 3) respectfully address the consensus with all the evidence you can muster, with the posture of understanding that the burden is on you, when you have the currently minority view. This is why you instruct doubters of a HJ to NOT say “Richard Carrier has proven that Jesus is a myth” because that conclusion has to be argued for convincingly, and not taken as having overturned the consensus until the argument has been vetted, etc. That’s great stuff, truly! I have and will continue to applaud you for it.

      But I think you need to do the same thing regarding Q. You’d be right to say that Q is far from the current consensus that an HJ enjoys. But Q (as opposed to Lk using Matthew) is by far the dominant view in amongst current NT scholars. That is a fact. Goodacre would tell you as much. So on to Step 2 then…we should reject the idea that Q exists merely because the 2SH is the more dominant theory. Doing both these steps (acknowledging the majority view AND denying it as established truth) are equally important.

      Again, I’m not in the business of defending Q, but let’s be honest enough to say that numerous scholars, no slouches in their fields, concur that Lk using Matthew is a tough claim to justify, the “minor agreements” (to which I think you’re referencing) notwithstanding, as they in some sense truly are a different category of agreement than what one would expect if Luke’s source was Matt. and not Q. I think you’re giving those multiple (and very detailed arguments) a rather short shrift. To put it in perspective, Goodacre links (on his very own site) to an article written by Timothy Friedrichsen ( where the 2-Gospel Hypothesis (as opposed to the 2SH) is taken up and evaluated in a thorough analysis. Friedrichsen points out that the “Team” deals very little with the secondary literature that has been a part of this debate for ages. Notably, he’s glad the Team at least TRIED to address the arguments of J.Fitzmyer, which are these:

      “1. Luke never reproduces ìthe typically Matthean additions within the Triple Tradition.
      2.Luke occasionally has versions of material similar to Matthew but in a different form.
      3.Why would Luke have wanted to break up Matthewís sermons, especially the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating only part of it into his Sermon on the Plain and scattering the rest of it in an unconnected form in the loose context of the travel account?
      4.Apart from [the preaching of John the Baptist and the Temptation], Luke never inserted the material [common with Matthew] in the same Marcan context as Matthew.
      5.Analysis of the [material shared with Matthew] reveals that it is sometimes Luke and some- times Matthew who preservesÖthe more original setting of a given episode.
      6.If Luke depended on Matthew, why did he constantly omit Matthean material in episodes lacking Marcan parallels?”

      But ultimately he concludes that they don’t deal satisfactorily with the majority of these arguments. You, Richard, might very well differ with Friedrichsen here, as I’m sure Goodacre would. The point is that arguments like these from Fitzmyer (and indeed Kummel, and Sanders, and Stein, and Kloppenborg), can’t be dismissed out of hand as “done and dusted”. They’re still being argued out, and vehemently so. It may turn out that arguments for Q are ultimately discredited, but that’s far from having occurred already. So with the highest amount of respect conceivability, I encourage you to forge on in your analysis of NT sources, I think it will yield much fruit, as much of your work has already. Just please don’t fall into the very trap that you warn your readers of – don’t call a debate dead when it’s far from it. Take on Step 3 with all the gusto in to the world, take current trends of thought into account, but put them under the scrutiny of evidence, as you would with all things.

      1. I’m sorry, but yes, we can say their arguments are done and dusted. That they keep using them only establishes their lack of understanding of logic and their irrational dismissal of evidence. If everyone uses fallacious arguments and ignores evidence, they cannot constitute an authoritative consensus no matter what degrees they have or how much prestige is attached to their names. Bad arguments are bad arguments. Clearly and plainly refuted arguments are clearly and plainly refuted arguments. No consensus of experts can ever tell you the sky is green, when you can plainly see it’s blue.

        As for when an argument from consensus is valid, see my discussion of that point in Proving History (index, “consensus”). Notably, I there prove that biblical historians are the worst at generating valid consensuses. They are driven more by desire and opinion and post-hoc rationalizations of traditional or personal views (and I’m not the only one who has said so: I cite several other scholars in the field who have reached the same conclusion). In this case, the evidence is clear-and-away in Goodacre’s favor, and indeed my examples alone prove the arguments your “consensus” has been leaning on are devoid of fact or logic. Goodacre only nails the coffin shut with hundreds more. It is therefore appalling to me that there are still deniers clinging to tradition like a religious dogma in this field. It’s like Galileo and Riccioli all over again. Only Riccioli had better arguments.

        We must stop deifying consensus in the field of biblical studies when the evidence simply isn’t there to support it.

        I do not claim this for historicity, since there the evidence is at least ambiguous enough that the truth isn’t obvious. In the case of Luke’s reliance on Matthew, however, the evidence is clear, obvious, and unambiguous. Reason and evidence are therefore not guiding those who oppose it.

    4. NateP January 10, 2013, 2:01 am

      Richard, I do love how strongly you stick to your guns, and how you champion logic/reason against any would-be adversity, but I still need to push back a little. Forgive my many typos, past and future, please, as I’m typing fast in all these posts. I will, however, spend some time amending comments that I made previously that, I see now, were overstated or stated badly. Those amendments will be sprinkled throughout this…

      “As for when an argument from consensus is valid, see my discussion of that point in Proving History (index, “consensus”)”…

      Please understand that I’m making no such argument from consensus, as I do not in fact claim to support Q with any strong confidence at all. In fact, what I’m really doing is suggesting that it’s unwise to call any argument “dead by now” when it has a LACK of consensus, or even wide agreement. I’ve not had a chance to read any of Goodacre’s books on Q (though I have now read a lot of the content on his Q-related website), but the point is that the relevant NT scholars have read his books. Kloppenborg even wrote a praising review for “The Case Against Q”, while he was writing his Critical Text of Q. This example, and others, simply show that many NT scholars are not “deifying consensus” regarding Q, but rather reading Farrer, Goulder, and Goodacre, wresting at length with their points, conceding some blows to the 2SH at times, and raising counter-questions at other times. In short, the debate (maybe we should say conversation) IS happening, but it’s NOT over, and just because a scholar doesn’t see Goodacre’s proposal as air-tight and sufficiently explanatory does not mean that they’re “rejecting reason and evidence”. If they were so obviously rejecting reason and evidence, even after carefully reading the “clear, obvious, and unambiguous” evidence against Q, then you (or I) would be right to call for the resignation of these men and women, since they would be unashamedly mocking all the basic principles of historical and literary research. The fact that no champion of reason/evidence is calling for such a widespread exposé shows that, in the same way as the HJ debate (though not the same degree, obv.), there’s much more convincing to do. So, far from being an argument from consensus, this is a call to patience and diligence, due to utter lack of consensus. No deifying here 😉

      “I’m sorry, but yes, we can say their arguments are done and dusted. That they keep using them only establishes their lack of understanding of logic and their irrational dismissal of evidence… Bad arguments are bad arguments. Clearly and plainly refuted arguments are clearly and plainly refuted arguments.”

      To the specifics, then. We agree here, btw, and I’m guilty of making some bad arguments earlier. Unless I plan to defend my “Never” statement with much semantic gymnastics and equivocating, I must admit that I overstated the case in that instance. It’s a more straightforward process if we don’t try to endlessly categorize the types of agreements that Mt/Lk have against Mark, which ultimately just aims to minimize the force of those agreements…better to just admit that there are substantial agreements, and proceed from there. I can even agree with you that a lot of the Mark-Q Overlap points do reduce to semantic dodging. However, these points are raised in response to the problematic agreements, and they’re just one response among many that don’t necessitate Luke knowing Matthew. Furthermore, they have less to explain (amount of text-wise) than does a critic of Q (since although my “Never” statement was far overstated, there still are FAR more pericopes where there is double-tradition additions/omissions/changes to Mark where Luke doesn’t seem to use Mt. at all). All of these instances must be explained away by saying that Luke was editorializing in his own distinct fashion, so we shouldn’t expect him to copy Matthew. This is a fair argument, convincing to some, not convincing to others, and still far from proven, obvious or settled. The numerous instances of “doublets” remain problematic for many students of the synoptic problem, especially so on a theory that Lk knew Mt. Since, I do not have a copy of Goodacre’s books handy, I cannot say he fails to address the doublet problem in them, but after looking in vain on his website for any mention of that issue, it’s hard to call it a “clearly and plainly refuted argument”. Could you point me to a place where that problem has been soundly and definitively solved? I did a word search in Google Books’ preview of Case Against Q, and I was perplexed by the fact that Goodacre interacts with key scholars like Fitzmyer and Kummel a time or two in the whole book, and maybe 2-3 times with a scholar like Friedrichsen with whom Goodacre has acknowledged a good banter about the central issues. Why not much more in-depth interaction with those that it would behoove you most win over? Certainly we can’t call these scholars guilty of an “irrational dismissal of evidence” if their ideas/arguments aren’t being interacted with in a thorough manner when a “Case Against [them]” is put forth. When I wrote papers on source crit. and redaction crit., my professors would never have let me get away with referencing key pioneers of that field only once or twice. They taught me that if your goal is to question or overturn the dominant view, you MUST engage the “biggies”, show that you understand them, and pick them apart in detail. Again, I haven’t read Goodacre’s book, but I’m puzzled as to how he could accomplish this if he hardly ever references the best opponents he could be dialoguing with (Kloppenborg indeed yields zero references). I’m just puzzled by this.

      Lastly, the most insightful treatment of the synoptic problem that I’ve read is Sanders/M.Davies. Earlier I perhaps made it sound like I thought Sanders was a Q supporter. He clearly is not a simple 2ST advocate. My point in mentioning him was to say that there exists many variations on this particular theme. Just when you think one argument is settled (and even that is often debatable, as per above), another problematic horn seems to arise in this synoptic sh*tstorm. Sanders/Davies conclude that Goulder’s theory has much more going for it than the classic 2ST does, but also that Goulder (and Farrer) could be improved by positing a multi-tiered complex of gospel relations. The exact diagram of relations could never be known exactly, as some may involve a proto-Mark and/or a deutero-Mark, and/or an intermediate form of Matt or Luke, and/or a sayings source (that we could call Q), and/or even a passion narrative source. Probabilistic statements could be made about all these different elements, but nothing that most scholars would feel confident in classifying as relatively certain (in Bayesian terms). Some diagrams are better understood with a dependence of Lk upon Matt, and others are better understood with a complete independence. Derivatively, then, the claim about Lk knowing Matt is likewise probabilistic at best. Sanders seems keen on a theory by Boismard, who would agree with Goodacre that the Luke we have today used an early form of Matthew, but even this schematic maintains a skeletal Q that Matthew drew from. And this is just one of many possible schematics….bottom line, my good man Richard….until I see Goodacre (and company) thoroughly refute all these more complex alternatives, or show the superiority of his case with something more than Ockham’s Razor to discourage complexity (whereas we’ve observed that redaction and dissemination processes were often quite complex)…until one of these happens, surely we would do well to avoid saying “case closed” regarding Q. Sorry this turned out to be much longer than I imagined it would – thanks for reading it all. Cheers!

      1. My previous comments are already adequate refutation of even your revised argument at this point. For example, “they have less to explain (amount of text-wise) than does a critic of Q” is false: they don’t even have an explanation for how Luke can quote Matthew’s crucifixion narrative verbatim, and stitch together elements Mark and Matthew put there. The Q theory is completely incapable of explaining that, as the Q theory denies any crucifixion material was in Q. That passage alone kills Q.

        That’s just one example. Of hundreds. The sky is blue. No matter how many Kloppenborgs claim it’s green. So we know there is some serious malfunction in the way opinions are being formed on this matter. The Q advocates are not listening to reason nor attending to evidence. And we can demonstrate that conclusively. That eliminates their opinion as having any weight in this debate. Just as astrologers’ opinions don’t carry weight in astronomy.

        Goodacre has also written more books than just Case on this subject. Yet now you are talking about what’s in Case as if that’s all he has done. And indeed you even confess to not having read Case anyway. This is not how to proceed.

        Even your general point is weird–I don’t have to “name” a person to refute their arguments. For example, in my chapter on the resurrection in The Christian Delusion I crafted it to conclusively refute the arguments of the McGrews. Without ever having to name them or waste word count quoting “their” versions of apologetic arguments. I just present the facts and logic as it actually is. That it refutes them is thus simply an efficient outcome. Given that hundreds of scholars may have written on any given point, that is the better way to proceed, rather than to name drop and waste massive wordcount on useless historiographies, when all we want to know is what the evidence is and what it logically entails. That’s why you need to attend to what the evidence is and what it logically entails. Not whose name gets dropped where.

        Since you don’t really seem to know what the evidence is that I’m talking about, I’ll help you out here (and again, this is just one example):

        Mark 14:65a reads “and some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, ‘Prophesy!’” which Matthew 26:67-68 expanded to “then did they spit in his face and buffet him: and some smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, ‘Prophesy unto us, Christ! Who is he that struck thee?’” Luke 22:63-64 combines Mark with Matthew, repeating the concluding text of Matthew verbatim: “and the men that held Jesus mocked him, and beat him; and they blindfolded him, and asked him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is he that struck thee?” Except for dropping “unto us, Christ” to economize the passage, the Greek of Luke here is identical to that of Matthew (legontes, Prophêteuson [hêmin Christe]! Tis estin ho paisas se?). Luke then combines this with Mark’s detail that they covered his eyes, which Matthew omitted (or rather altered: in Matthew they spit “on his face” instead of covering it). Luke thus combined Mark with Matthew, recast mostly but not entirely in his own words, to make what he deemed to be a better passage. That Luke knows the details Matthew added, and even borrows his exact words, is sufficient proof that Luke knew and used Matthew.

        This is not the only instance of this. But it’s one of the most important, because it’s in the crucifixion narrative, where Q is not supposed to exist.

    5. 3 things: a) this post was originally about the HJ debate and not the synoptic problem, and b) I’m finding it hard parse out the specific point I’m wanting to make, as opposed to a classic defense of an under-nuanced 2SH (which apparently is what you take me to be advocating)…don’t worry, I’ll take the blame for the lack of clarity, though it’s never a subject that one should speak in blacks&whites about…and c) we both have much bigger fish to fry in our lives.

      Because A-C are all true, it’s probably prudent for me to not push things further on this topic. Maybe one day, if there’s a way to make my devil’s advocate case more clearly (to distinguish it from the many indefensible arguments that I’m not, and would never, posit), we could resume this discussion. If that never happens, I will worry not, for that will mean that you’ve had more time at your disposal to discuss mythicism with Goodacre and other NT scholars. I really believe that’s a much better use of your time, and I remain behind you 100% in your endeavors toward such important ends. Cheers.

  28. John Andrew MacDonald January 1, 2013, 9:46 am

    Hi Dr. Carrier. Seasons Greetings! A brief thought on note 19 above: Paul was originally going after Christians, until he switched sides and became a Christian. This is problematic from the point of view of history because if this is what actually happened, Paul’s former employer would have gone after him for desertion. Here are a couple books (one online) that explore the idea that Paul lied about his conversion experience: (1) Operation Messiah (2)The Eternal Return

    1. Actually, it’s possible Paul’s former employer did actually go after him. See my remarks earlier.

      As to the linked theories, speculation is idle. You don’t get knowledge from it. “Possibly, therefore probably” is a fallacy. Sometimes we have to just admit we don’t know what happened.

  29. Richard, one thing i was wondering about is this. Does mimesis and literary emulation show up prominently in ancient greco-roman biographies of ACTUAL historical figures? Or is it more exclusively the earmeark of fictive narratives? The reason i was wondering this is that such a verifiable correlation showing an inversely proportional relationship between emulation and historicity could strongly reduce the prior probability that the gospels are about a historical man. (since the level of emulation in the gospels has been proven to be very extensive.) I realize that that wouldn’t necessarily negate the potential relevance of the Pauline material in support of historicity.. but it would seem to show the so called ‘biographies’ of Jesus are existing in a void of actual historical data about an HJ. And such an observation could have strong implications for the whole historicity debate. What are your thoughts on approaching it from this angle?

    1. The unfortunate answer to your question is that classicists have pretty much shown almost all biographies are fiction–even those of historical people. The only likely exception are political figures for whom biographers had actual contemporary histories and documents to work from, yet even those are peppered with anecdotes that are probably fictional. It’s frustrating. But alas, appears to be the case. See my previous discussion and bibliography.

      We generally can’t trust biography unless (a) we can corroborate a detail in some way (e.g. as when we found an inscription recording the official words of Claudius that Tacitus would paraphrase in his Annals) or (b) we can identify there having been a reliable source available to the author at least in concept (e.g., Arrian’s use of eyewitness sources, or the general fact that certain details like when a battle occurred were kept in state records or public inscriptions). And both can be done by degrees (e.g. finding Tacitus corroborated on a speech once allows some trust in his other speeches where (b) would apply, i.e. we can reasonably expect there may have been a reliable source for him to work from, but not to the same probability, hence we’d still have a lingering warranted doubt).

      That said, to your literary question, for such biographies I haven’t looked into mimesis of the sort MacDonald explores (since once I confirmed biographies were bogus in general, it became moot), but I can confirm, for example, that Suetonius uses ring composition (an artificial way of building narratives also present in the Gospels) to compose his biographies of historical persons. This entails a certain disregard of historical facts like chronology and a certain tendency to make things up to force a fit with the resulting chiastic structure. And I am certain mimesis of some sort did occur in biographical writing, too; for example, for my dissertation I studied the repeated use of the “olive monopoly” legend, in which the same (wholly implausible) story is told of some five or six different “wise men,” sometimes tweaked to convey a slightly different “moral to the story.” Thus, biographies of real people were being built by copying stories told about other people–stories that often were never actually true about anyone (as even Aristotle was sharp enough to conclude when he relates one of the earliest known examples of olive monopoly legend…he knew enough business economics to tell the story was simply impossible and could never have actually happened).

      So, with respect to what you were hoping, unfortunately, no, we can’t build a reference class favoring ahistoricity out of markers like mimesis. Bullshit was written about everyone, whether they were historical or not. All the presence of mimesis allows us is the ability to eliminate evidence, i.e. the more a biographer does that, the less we can trust they are doing real biography, hence the less we can trust the rest of their biography (except maybe where we can do (a) or (b) above). But a completely fake biography could just as easily be composed for a historical person as a non-historical one. Therefore, eliminating the Gospels (which I can conclusively do, for this and many other reasons, as I explain in my next book) only gets us a 1:1 ratio of consequents, i.e. they become evidence for neither historicity nor myth.

      There is only one conceptual exception, but it is exactly the kind of thing we can’t do with Jesus: it was proved that the second half of the biographies of emperors in the Historia Augusta are entirely fake based on the fact that, unlike the first half, the second half did not match up any names or facts with persons and events confirmed in inscriptions. That did not permit concluding the emperors didn’t exist, since they at least could be corroborated in inscriptions (and numismatics and so on), but had that not been the case, then we could certainly conclude they were non-existent. But alas, we can’t do this for Jesus, since we have no reason to expect any such corroborating evidence to survive (e.g., his being mentioned in contemporary inscriptions and coins).

  30. Are there any good books on the martyrdom of Paul? I made the mistake of buying one with the title, that unfortunately turned out to be hella uncritical catholic hagiography.

    I’m curious as to why we think Paul was martyred in Rome when 1) he says he wants to go to Spain and 2) he plans to first go to Jerusalem with The Collection. Yet Luke-Acts very conspicuously says nothing of The Collection, as if it in the end wasn’t accepted, or otherwise proved an embarrassment to Paul. Is it possible (or rather is it probable) that Paul never returned from Jerusalem?

    1. We can’t really know. 1 Clement says Paul died in Spain. Which entails (a) the legend that Paul died in Rome did not exist in the first century (and is therefore a second century fabrication) and possibly (b) Paul actually did die in Spain. That’s my take. We can’t really know for sure, though, since we have few to no sources of any worth. (Luke, for his part, is making almost everything up.)

  31. Elle87 April 3, 2013, 10:03 am

    This is extremely interesting. Goodacre seems to be a good scholar whose work is largely underappreciated.

    Just out of curiosity, is he a Christian (not that really matters, since if I’m not mistaken he has spoken against faith-based scholarship)?

    1. I don’t know what Goodacre’s religious beliefs are. His scholarship is consistently objective, so his beliefs don’t really matter in my view. They only matter to me when they appear to be undermining a scholar’s objectivity. But if I were to place a bet, I’d put my money on him being secular, but not more money than I could afford to lose.

  32. PeterScharf June 25, 2013, 6:44 am

    Hi Dr. Carrier.
    What about 2 Corinthians 5:16? Here Paul teaches about Christ as a historical figure.

    ” Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.” (NASV)

    Paul teaches that something radically new happened when Christ died and rose from the dead. Now everything is new. He who is in Christ (is a believer in Christ) is a new creature. Paul teaches that now when Christ doesn’t live here on earth, now when He has the ressurected body, body form heaven (1 Cor 15) and lives in Heaven above, he says, we shouldn’t know ( recall) Christ according to flesh, “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh” once. So Paul admits that in the past christians knew Christ according to the flesh.
    How do you cope with that passage? Perhabs, here is the key why Paul is notoriously uninterested in recalling Christ’s life when he lived in the flesh and why in his letters we can hardly find historical informations about Christ. Kind of Pauline mysticism propagated in the early christianity.

    1. Paul is not talking about Christ there but the Christians, i.e. it is our flesh (and the whole world of flesh) he is referring to, not Christ’s. That’s evident from the context (no one Paul is writing to ever knew Christ in the flesh…not even he did). See Romans 7-8 for what Paul is talking about (our being in the flesh or not). Hence the NIV transl. is “So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer”; NRSV, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way”; etc.

      That’s why Paul says we know “no one” (not even each other) “according to the flesh.” It’s not as if we all have lost our flesh and no men of flesh exist in the church. So clearly he isn’t referring to the flesh of the person known, but the fleshly existence of the person doing the knowing: they know each other not in the way men attached to the flesh know things, but in the way men attached to the spirit know things. Thus, knowing Christ “according to the flesh” means being materially aware of the story of Christ, physically hearing it told, and so on, which is not enough–and no longer the case once you are baptized, as then you are “in” Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and thus know him spiritually. Which makes you a new man.

  33. Afzal July 6, 2013, 1:39 am

    Philippians 2: 6-11 is styled as a pre-pauline xtian hymn. does this mean -in spite of his own perhaps exaggerated protestations as God authorised spokesperson – got this bit from ‘those in christ before him” as per Goodacre?

    on timing:Paul’s 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ‘sons of perdition’ is that an oblique reference to Hadrian and his assult on the temple?

    1. (1) One must distinguish underlying fact from marketed narrative. Paul will certainly have learned all sorts of things from Christians before him (he himself says he persecuted the church), but he insists he learned it all by revelation, because if that were not true, he could not be an apostle (Gal. 1). The assumption Christians held (and thus he was forced to hold as well) was that revelation was the only legitimate way to learn the things of the gospel and thus be an apostle (as opposed to merely another Christian brother).

      (2) 2 Thess. is a forgery. Consequently, I have not studied it for this project.

  34. Vince Hart July 8, 2013, 10:25 pm

    It seems to me that the perpetrators of religious persecution are not generally known for having a particularly clear idea of what it is that their victims actually believe or practice. At various times and places, Jews were accused of practicing ritual infanticide. The early Christians were accused of incest and cannibalism. I have no doubt that Paul had all sorts of ideas about what the Christians before him believed and practiced, but I see little reason to think that they would have been accurate. I can’t imagine that we have any way to assess the degree of continuity between Paul and his predecessors, particularly as he never tells us why he was opposed to the Christians in the first place.

  35. I’m going through some of Goodacre’s (excellent) archives, and it appears he’s long held that Paul changed his story between 1 Cor and Gal:

    I’m trying to read C.K. Barrett on Paul’s thought at the moment, and he suggests that “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” is a result of Paul having the lost the support of the Antioch congregation who first commissioned him to evangelise.

    1. That violates Ockham’s razor. There is no evidence Paul changed his story. He uses, in fact, the exact same vocabulary in both places, and in both places mentions no other source of information but visions (and scripture). So one would have to add an ad hoc supposition to get Goodacre’s position, which actually halves the relative probability of his theory being true (Proving History, pp. 80-81).

      Barrett’s thesis is even more wildly ad hoc (it is full of unattested assumptions). It’s probability plummets geometrically compared even to Goodacre’s.

  36. Matthew Morales August 24, 2013, 6:00 pm

    Dr. Carrier,

    I just found this debate the other day, and I thought you did an admirable job in representing the case for a mythical Christ. I also respect Dr. Goodacre and find myself largely agreeing with his Case Against Q. I do think that he takes a bit too much for granted when it comes to the historical Jesus, however. A couple of questions:

    1) I noticed that you do not call into question the Pauline Epistles in the debate. What are your thoughts on the seven so-called “authentic” epistles? Are they authentic? And if so, do you see the possibility of there being interpolations within them?

    2) The notion of a Pre-Christian Jesus cult is something I had not yet heard convincingly argued. The verse of Zechariah which Philo quotes is interesting. While all extant manuscripts have only the High Priest Jesus being crowned, it seems clear that Zerubbabel originally appeared in this passage alongside him. In the text as we now have it, it seems unclear as to whom the title “East/Branch/Rising” applies. In English translations at least, the third person is utilized, and so it seems unlikely that it is Jesus, who is to be told to “behold” himself. Is it not possible that Philo capitalized on this uncertainty in order to insert his Logos as the receptor of the title? That is, Philo might have believed that this Jesus beheld the one called “Rises”, whom he identifies as the incorporeal Logos, since prior readers were left in the dark as to whom “Rises” was.

    In any case, Zechariah certainly has much to do with the formation of Christianity, with its messianic concepts and even the quote that, “They shall drink blood like wine” in Ch 9. I look forward to more from you on the topic.

    1. 1) Very high probability they are authentic (except Philemon, which is more questionable, but that contains nothing relevant to historicity). I have read Detering, and his case against them is fallacious and ignores strong counter-arguments. Yet I am not aware of any better case than Detering’s.

      2) Note that one must distinguish a Jesus belief from a Jesus cult. That there was a theological entity known as Jesus before Christianity does not mean any cult was paid to him (possibly, but we have no actual evidence of that). As to the grammatical point, probably not. Zechariah is told to put a crown on Jesus and say to him (Jesus) that God says “behold, the man.” There is no other figure present or mentioned, much less any other priest there (so it can’t be some other priest this Jesus would then at that moment be seeing…the scene clearly establishes Jesus, the one crowned, as the priest being described by God, whom God calls the priest who will build the temple, which of course is correct for the originally intended meaning of the verse, as Jesus ben Jehozadak was the legendary first priest of the second temple–and that is specifically the interpretation Philo says is incorrect, because no human man would be so described; at most one might infer Philo thought the divine Jesus descended to found the second temple, but that would be going beyond the evidence available).

  37. Mattias Davidsson April 12, 2015, 10:40 pm

    Regarding #5 in the list I just once again listened to the debate, and it struck me when Goodacre said something like: “It would be an insult to James [meaning Jesus biological brother] if somebody claimed he never existed”.

    I mean, yes, I guess James would find that weird if he indeed was the bio-brother of Jesus and actually met him, talked to him, fought with him, dined with him…

    BUT on the other hand, in that case (James actually being the bio-brother of Jesus) is it not very weird that not once is Paul using the information he got about the actualy physical, on earth, brother of James? Would James not be equally upset about Paul not using ANY of the knowledge that surely James could (and would have?) passed on to Paul? And is it even slightly likely that Paul would not use this knowledge? To me and my present understanding, this is really a clear case AGAINST historicity.

  38. Mattias Davidsson April 12, 2015, 10:46 pm

    …getting so used to being able to edit comments. Anyhow, I forgot the followin point:

    Would not James be pissed-off if Paul specifically claimed that he did NOT get any information about Jesus from him (James), or any other living being by means of them speaking to Jesus? Would he not be pissed if Paul instead claimed it was HIS firsthand (relevatory) conversation with Jesus that gave him the information he now preaches?


Add a Comment (For Patrons & Select Persons Only)